Showing posts from July, 2017

Further musings about philosophical foundations

A reader sent these reflections in response to my recent Ethical Musings post, Why we cannot return to our Western heritage : I think your key point is that those who purport western values fail to engage the philosophical and theological depth of that which is foundational to the western European/Anglo-North American heritage. The philosophical and theological traditions that carried the “founders” of the nascent North American republic were shaped by classical studies (conditioned by their own time and context) as well their contemporaries (in the UK and France). I read a study of the philosophy/political theory of John Adams that connected him to a “natural law” tradition mediated through Locke and Hooker. Modern American Christian fundamentalism has lost theological/philosophical moorings — but that is not unlike our political environment that is post philosophical (a la Ayn Rand). In the era of Trump, we live into a myth of accumulation and self-promotion. There is really is no


A friend sent me this personal anecdote after both the Grenfell fire in London and the fire in Waikiki: I was once asleep on the 22nd floor of a Marriott in Cambridge, Mass. when the fire alarm went off. I could smell smoke. It turned out to be a minor fire, and I was able to get back into my room after a few hours. But ever since, when I enter a tall building, I look for sprinklers. They aren’t foolproof but they’re certainly better than nothing. People who check into a hotel or move into a high rise trust the contractors, cognizant government approval authorities, and others have all honestly collaborated to construct a safe building, something that obviously failed to happen in London but may have been true in Waikiki. Standards should improve over time and retrofitting is often expensive, but the responsible parties should still make a good faith effort to keep the building safe. People who do not believe in human sin should consider the Grenfell fire as a case study in greed

Why we cannot return to our Western heritage

Occasionally, I will hear or read a call for the US to return to the Western values upon which it was founded, values that generally include democratic governance, human dignity, civil rights, etc. While I affirm many Western values rooted in Judaism, Christianity, Greece, and Rome, I find the calls to return to those values biased, narrow minded, and historically inaccurate. I live in Hawaii, a state comprised of an Asian majority that exceeds 77%. These patriotic Americans cannot return to Western values that were never part of their heritage. Similarly, in US communities in which a majority of the citizens share an African heritage, those people cannot return to Western values that were never part of their heritage. Indeed, the vast majority of the first ancestors of today’s African Americans to live in North America arrived involuntarily as slaves. Genuine inclusivity calls for the US to incorporate the best of its global heritage, including the values of Native Americans, A

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Lost causes

By nature, I am an optimist. For example, I sometimes characterize the role of the clergy as that of a professional hoper. However, being an optimist and a professional hoper does not mean never recognizing that the issue is settled and the cause is lost. Recent news reports highlight two lost causes with respect to which some people continue to have an ill-founded hope. In the first instance, continuing to hope may feel easier and more moral than recognizing the cause is lost and being overwhelmed with grief. This first instance is the tragic case of a baby, Charles Gard, who for eleven months has subsisted on life support in a London hospital. He was born without the ability to breathe or eat. Without life support systems, he would quickly die. Charlie’s parents, the Pope, and President Trump don’t want to end his life and suffering by terminating the life support because they want to try an untested new treatment that may help Charlie. Roman Catholic doctrine, the hospital, a

Time to simplify and expedite clergy searches

The search processes for diocesan bishops, rectors, and vicars are broken. Little evidence exists, beyond anecdotes, to demonstrate that the current processes efficaciously select clerics who succeed in their new posts regardless of one’s definition of success. Indeed, numerous anecdotes suggest that the processes result in calling unsuccessful leaders at least as often as the processes result in calling successful leaders. Furthermore, the current processes entail excessive and unnecessary delays and costs. Significant improvements are easily identified and implemented. First, eliminate the frequently intentional long interim periods in congregations (parishes and missions) and dioceses. Accumulating research on the effects of long interim periods between permanent congregational leaders generally shows that congregations decline or at best subsist in a holding pattern until the new leader arrives. The same is likely true for dioceses. Other types of organizations general

The value of freedom

When Abraham Lincoln was brought the Emancipation Proclamation to sign, he started several times to sign the document but stopped each time and dropped the pen. In answer to Secretary Seward's quizzical look, Lincoln said, "I have been shaking hands since nine o'clock this morning, and my right arm is almost paralyzed. If my name ever goes into history, it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it. If my hand trembles when I sign the Proclamation, all who examine the document hereafter will say:  He hesitated.'" Never hesitate to celebrate or to share the gift of freedom. Happy Fourth of July!