Richard Rohr: Listening and Learning

Human history is in a time of great flux, of great cultural and spiritual change. The psyche doesn’t know what to do with so much information. I am told that if you take all of the information that human beings had up until 1900 and call that one unit, that unit now doubles every ten years. No wonder there’s so much anxiety, confusion, and mistaking fact for fiction and fiction for fact!

In light of today’s information overload, people are looking for a few clear certitudes by which to define themselves. We see various forms of fundamentalism in many religious leaders when it serves their cultural or political worldview. We surely see it at the lowest levels of religion—Christianity as well as Judaism, Islam, and secular fundamentalism, too—where God is used to justify violence, hatred, prejudice, and whatever is “my” way of doing things.

The fundamentalist mind likes answers and explanations so much that it remains willfully ignorant about how history arrived at those explanations or how self-serving they usually are. Satisfying untruth is more pleasing to us than unsatisfying truth, and Big Truth is invariably unsatisfying—at least to the small self.

Great spirituality, on the other hand, seeks a creative balance between opposites. As Jesuit William Johnston writes, “Faith is that breakthrough into that deep realm of the soul which accepts paradox with humility.” [1] When you go to one side or the other too much, you find yourself either overly righteous or overly skeptical and cynical. There must be a healthy middle, as we try to hold both the necessary light and darkness.

‘We Didn’t Put It in the Agreement because We Didn’t Have Time’

“You have things that weren’t included that we got after the deal was signed. I’ve done that before in my life. And we didn’t put it in the agreement because we didn’t have time.”

Didn’t have time?

What, was there some other place these guys needed to be? Was either leader worried about missing a flight or something? Trust me, Air Force One isn’t going to take off without the president. This isn’t the SAT, and there is no proctor declaring “pencils down” when the hour is complete.

I suppose you could argue that it didn’t matter if the North Korean pledges were written down or not . . .

.. I keep hearing from Trump fans, “Why can’t you show a little optimism?”

Well, because optimism requires us to believe that these latest promises are completely different from all of the previous promises from this regime.

.. The skepticism I have about this latest round of promises from North Korea is the exact same skepticism I bring to the Iran deal

.. One might argue that duplicity is intrinsic to the nature of any regime that is unwilling to subject itself to the limit of free and fair elections. No one’s ever looked at a dictator, tyrant, despot, or ayatollah and said, “Wow, that guy’s a really honest leader.”

.. Trump’s fans are convinced he’s got some unique “don’t mess with him” mojo that will intimidate the North Koreans into keeping their promises.

.. But I think any U.S. leader hoping to successfully negotiate a deal with the North Koreans has to keep all of this history of broken promises in the back of his mind.

Here’s Why You Should Be Skeptical Of That Michael Cohen Prague Story

McClatchy reporters Peter Stone and Greg Gordon rocked the political world Friday when they reported special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, visited Prague in the summer of 2016.

.. But three days later, no other news outlet has confirmed the report, and there are reasons to be skeptical.

.. “The sourcing is relatively thin. It is sourced to two sources familiar with the matter, who are presumably not Mueller shop folks. It’s not clear to me what the universe of people who would know this sort of thing from a distance looks like,” Wittes wrote on Twitter.

How America’s Charismatic Christianity Helped Fuel the Fantasyland Pesidency of Donald Trump

The United States is suffering through an epistemic crisis. From day to day it seems increasingly difficult to know the truth with real certainty. The nation’s leadership came to power atop a wave of “fake news,” only to appropriate the term and wield it alongside its own “alternative facts.” The official propaganda is further muddled by opposing conspiracy theories, heightened by international intrigues, entangled in the pop culture industry, circulated on social media, and blessed by prominent televangelists. Citizens are divided over their trusted sources, forming rival camps according to which websites they are willing to read and which channels they are willing to watch. Along the way, the possibility of knowledge seems to have fallen into a fog of beliefs.

.. First, the great historian Daniel Boorstin—who I quote in the book—has said that, at the very beginning, Americans self-selected for their belief in advertising. The “New World” was this empty slate being advertised to English settlers, and the people who came over in those first few decades were people who believed the promises when, in fact, there was nothing here. Does that count as credulity? It certainly counts as a wishful pre-disposition to believe.

.. Americans are generally too quick to disbelieve official accounts and too quick to believe alternative theories?

Yes, I think that is precisely correct, and I think it is in large measure a result of the nation having been born of the Enlightenment and of fervent Christianity. These are flipsides, too. This extreme credulity and extreme skepticism are yin and yang, or flipsides of the same coin—the operative word being extreme.

.. the sort of extravagant and flamboyant Christian belief and practice that is virtually unique to this country.

..  in the last couple of decades, one of our major political parties has become explicitly and aggressively Christian in this unique sense. Many of its members believe more and more empirically insupportable things about supernatural interventions in contemporary life, and that then bleeds over into believing things that are untrue outside of the religious realm, as with the claim that climate change is a hoax, for example.

.. It’s in the mix with other forces, such as our over-amped Enlightenment skepticism, our extreme individualism, and even our knack for show business fantasies and our obsession with entertainment.

..  If the religious free market was responsible for such widespread and extreme and fervent beliefs in the United States, then why now, when a very similar degree of freedom exists throughout the developed world, are charismatic churches not popping up in Australia or Canada or Denmark at the rate that they do in the United States?

..  it’s not just the religious free market that makes Americans so religious, but a combination of other character traits.

..  When religious belief relies on a literal reading of scripture as history, suggesting that nothing is a coincidence, that there is a certain grand plan worked out in specific detail—that does correlate with belief in conspiracy theories.

.. So why is it that our most fervently Christian fellow citizens support him so strongly?

.. I think there is something there—it suggests that there are other reasons, cultural and economic reasons,

.. Trump has shown a unique willingness to embrace claims that are demonstrably untrue—that Barack Obama wasn’t born here and a conspiracy covered that up; that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination; that five million illegal immigrants voted against him in the 2016 election; and on and on and on. The fact that he is so indifferent to empirical reality and so willing to stand up and embrace explanations that simply confirm his pre-existing ideas or are convenient for him because they make him seem better or his enemies worse—it’s somewhat unkind, I understand, to say that he shares that tendency with religious people, but I think that is shared.

.. you might identify with a guy who is willing to take strong stands on unprovable claims.

.. As Thomas Jefferson said, basically, “people can believe in 20 gods or no god as long as it doesn’t pick my pocket or break my leg.” That is my live-and-let-live feeling, until it starts having consequential and problematic effects on public policy—until it starts dictating our foreign policy toward Israel or our response to climate change or our public school curricula, for instance. At that point, when clear principles of science are denied, or when important political leaders are making official decisions according to their belief in the imminent return of Christ—that’s when problems arise.

The Joy of Hate Reading

My taste for hate reading began with “The Fountainhead,” which I opened in a state of complete ignorance as bonus material for a college class on 20th-century architecture. I knew nothing of Ayn Rand or of objectivism.

.. What stuck was the abiding knowledge that I was not, nor would I ever be, a libertarian.

.. It was only by burrowing through books that I hated, books that provoked feelings of outrage and indignation, that I truly learned how to read. Defensiveness makes you a better reader, a closer, more skeptical reader: a critic. Arguing with the author in your head forces you to gather opposing evidence. You may find yourself turning to other texts with determination, stowing away facts, fighting against the book at hand. You may find yourself developing a point of view.

.. loathing is mixed with other emotions — fear, perverse attraction, even complicated strains of sympathy. This is, in part, what makes negative book reviews so compelling.

.. the authors were too credulous of certain research, and in ways that served their thesis.

.. It can be interesting, and instructive, when a book provokes animosity. It may tell you more about a subject or about yourself, as a reader, than you think you know. It might even, on occasion, challenge you to change your mind.

.. an even more stimulating excitement comes from finding someone else who hates the same book as much as you do

The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society

THE arrival of the “post-truth” political climate came as a shock to many Americans. But to the Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, charges of “fake news” are nothing new. “The deep distrust of the media, of scientific consensus — those were prevalent narratives growing up,” she told me.

.. She was taught to distrust information coming from the scientific or media elite because these sources did not hold a “biblical worldview.”

.. this conviction gives that natural human aversion to unwelcome facts a special power on the right.

.. Ever since the scientific revolution, two compulsions have guided conservative Protestant intellectual life: the impulse to defend the Bible as a reliable scientific authority and the impulse to place the Bible beyond the claims of science entirely.

.. The second impulse, the one that rejects scientists’ standing to challenge the Bible, evolved by the early 20th century into a school of thought called presuppositionalism.

.. Cornelius Van Til, a theologian who promoted this idea, rejected the premise that all humans have access to objective reality. “We really do not grant that you see any fact in any dimension of life truly,”

.. he doesn’t see “how you can teach ‘Christian journalism’ any more than you can teach ‘Christian mathematics.’ ”

.. a network of institutions and experts versed in shadow versions of climate change science, biology and other fields

.. Dr. Jeanson calls himself a “presuppositionalist evidentialist” — which we might define as someone who accepts evidence when it happens to affirm his nonnegotiable presuppositions.

.. “The skeptic looks at something and says, ‘I wonder,’ ” he said. “The cynic says, ‘I know,’ and then stops thinking.”

.. “cynicism and tribalism are very closely related. You protect your tribe, your way of life and thinking, and you try to annihilate anything that might call that into question.”

Fake News, Obama’s Birth Certificate, Economic Nationalism

One of the things the mainstream media doesn’t seem to fully appreciate is that just because Trump isn’t having a honeymoon with the press, the Democrats, or a good chunk of independent voters, that doesn’t mean he’s not having a very real honeymoon with Republicans. They want him to succeed and they want his “enemies” not just to lose, but to be humiliated (hence the popularity of Milo in some corners, and a chunk of my least friendly e-mail).

.. Indeed, I think there’s good reason to believe that the honeymoon is more intense precisely because Trump is under such a sustained assault. Something similar happened under George W. Bush when the Left lost its collective mind and did everything it could to undermine a wartime president. Conservatives — me included — out of a sense of both loyalty and anger rallied to Bush and had a tendency to overlook certain foibles and mistakes for the greater good. We may not be at war — at least not like we were in, say, 2005 — but the Left and the media are clearly at war with Trump. And because Trump often makes it difficult for his allies to defend him on ideologically or politically consistent terms, the attachment is often more emotional than rational.

.. Politics on the right is increasingly about an emotional bond with the president.

.. You do see what he’s doing right? The guy who once literally pretended to be his own publicist hates anonymous sources? The guy who powered his way into politics by claiming “very credible sources” told him that Obama’s birth certificate was fake is upset by “fake news”?

That’s the guy who hates anonymous sources and thinks they shouldn’t be “allowed” to talk off the record? Trump says that not one of the nine sources in the Flynn story exists. But Flynn was fired anyway. Well, that’s interesting.

.. But what Trump is doing is preemptively trying to discredit any negative press coverage, including negative polls. According to Trump, the only guy you can trust is Trump. Trump is the way. Trump is the door. In Trump you must Trust.

.. If you recognize that, great. And if you want to defend it as brazen — and arguably brilliant — political hardball, that’s fine too. But if you actually believe that the only source of credible information from this White House and its doings is Trump himself, then you should probably cut back on the Trump Kool-Aid.

.. What struck me during the Reince-Bannon show was when they both insisted in various ways that they always knew they would win the election (not true) and that everything they are doing has been carried out with flawless precision.

.. The upshot here is that they want you to think that any bad news is fake news because they’ve been right about everything so far. Conservatives — far more than liberals — should understand that politicians make mistakes and never have complete mastery of the details or the facts on the ground. That is at the heart of the conservative critique of government and it does not go into remission when Republicans are in office. Blind faith in experts and politicians is unconservative no matter who is in power.

.. The “administrative state” is the term of art for the permanent bureaucracy, which has come untethered from constitutional moorings

.. The CIA is not the “deep state” — the FDA, OSHA, FCC, EPA, and countless other agencies are.

.. what I do want to say is that when nationalism gets translated into public policy, particularly economic policy, it is almost invariably an enemy of individual liberty and free markets. This should be most obvious when it comes to trade. The Trumpian case for economic nationalism is inseparable from the claim that politicians can second guess businesses about how best to allocate resources. For instance, Trump boasted today:

We have authorized the construction, one day, of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines. (APPLAUSE)

And issued a new rule — this took place while I was getting ready to sign. I said who makes the pipes for the pipeline? Well sir, it comes from all over the world, isn’t that wonderful? I said nope, comes from the United States, or we’re not building it. (APPLAUSE)

American steel. (APPLAUSE)

.. The flagship conference of the conservative movement rose to its feet to cheer protectionism and command-economy policymaking. That is a remarkable change of heart.

Bannon is desperate to launch a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure program in the name of economic nationalism. He thinks it will be as “exciting as the 1930s.”

.. Under the NRA, a dry cleaner, Jacob Maged, was sent to jail for charging a nickel under the mandated price for pressing a suit. Under the NRA, big businesses created a guild-style corporatist political economy.

.. Economic nationalism taken to its logical conclusion is socialism, with pit stops at corporatism, crony capitalism, and the like. When you socialize something, you nationalize it and vice versa.

.. The alt-right nationalists despise the Constitution precisely because it is a check on nationalism. For the unalloyed nationalist mind, it’s us over them, now and forever — and the definitions of “us” and “them” can get dismayingly elastic. (“This is the core claim of populism,” writes Jan-Wener Muller in What is Populism, “only some of the people are really the people.”)

.. nationalism is a passion — one that Rich and Ramesh believe needs to be tempered by adherence to certain principles about the role of government and other enlightened understandings about society and man’s place in it. It seems to me that when that nationalist passion runs too strong, when the fever of us-over-everything lights a fire in the minds of men

.. I firmly believe that society should have some compassion for the transgendered. And that’s true whether you take transgenderism on its own terms or if you think it’s a disorder of some kind. Cuomo is right that people should err on the side of tolerance.