Tuesday, January 27, 2009
A few months ago I was blogging on the Archeology blog of a Swedish archeologist named Dr. Martin Rundkvist. Martin was curious about me and asked me to give a profile of myself for him to publish on his blog. Below you will find a link and the text of my story.
I don't know where else to start than from the beginning. I was raised Roman Catholic and always felt drawn to do something to give back to humankind, to be great and benefit my fellow man in some way. Some might call that a "vocation" or a "calling" I suppose. As a Catholic boy the most obvious and highly encouraged manner of "ministry" is to enter the priesthood, especially in this day and age of priests' shortage. It would be in my twenties that after reading Camus and Sartre and others that I realized even atheists want to "do good", but when I was growing up I bought the demonizing portrayal of intellectuals and scientists promoted by some in my faith.
I mottled my way through school, always a little bored. I am from a small town and though my mother had a graduate degree and has done post graduate work since, I never really found anything to light that fire in me. Eventually, about my sophomore year of high school I started doing theatre; I found some enjoyment in it. I consequently met my wife while rehearsing for Gilbert & Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore that summer some 20 years ago. She turned me on to literature and art, her father was an English teacher. I began to read with fervor.
My undergraduate education was a bit of a floundering blunder as well. I had to take a semester off and work and regain my footing. I moved into a house with a couple of philosophy majors and that set me on the journey which eventually lead to monastic life and seminary, priesthood and back again to secular life, marriage and children.
I suppose you can say I've gone through stages in my development, but my path was not a typical one. Rather than being inspired by the life of some great saint, my inspiration for entering the Catholic monastic life actually came, in large part, from Siddharta by Hermann Hesse. I read the Pali Tipitaka and Bhagavad Gita as readily and willingly as I did the Bible. I found the writings of Sts. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila to be no more spiritual than those of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.
I was moved by the humanism of Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, to study personalism / phenomenology and pursue theological studies, but being the extremist that I am I had to "go to the sources". I decided after my undergraduate studies to enter seminary in Krakow, Poland and study under the professors of the Pontifical College founded by Wojtyla in his former See of Krakow. I entered a religious community that could make that happen for me, learned Polish and began those studies.
In my seminary studies in the monastery I had a great deal of time for study and reading and I eventually read myself out of Catholicism. By the time I had finished my seminary studies I already had a deep desire to leave and enter the Orthodox Church, which I felt embodied the Historical Christian Church and a more eastern mindset than Catholicism.
It didn't help that all this time I had contact with my wife who was desperately trying to get me to leave the monastery to marry her. I had left her behind as a good Catholic boy is told he must do to "serve" and "minister". I couldn't bring myself to leave though. I went ahead with ordinations despite my growing doubts that I was cut out for a life of celibacy and the Scholastic / Thomistic framework of Western Christian theology. My distaste for Catholicism grew more as a young priest. I was serving as many as fifteen masses a week, in ten different locales, teaching in a school, leading numerous youth and prayer groups and all with a growing distaste for some of the very basic tenets of the faith. I felt prostituted, as if the monastery I belonged to had pimped me out to the local and neighboring dioceses. I left after just thirteen months as an active priest.
My wife and I were received into the Orthodox Church where we were married shortly afterwards. We spent seven years in the Orthodox Church and baptized our children there. I even repeated seminary studies. I won't get into the gory details, but I was a square peg trying to fit into a very small round hole. My theology was obviously at odds with that of some of the more narrow-minded clergy and hierarchy, though I think you'd be hard pressed to find a great theological mind in the Orthodox Church who didn't have a very eclectic background and tastes, e.g. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware or Rev. Deacon Andrei Kureav. Ultimately though it was the ethnic xenophobia that many Orthodox have towards "converts" that led to my recent decision to join the Episcopal Church.
I have long had a desire to reconcile science / reason with theology / faith. With varying degrees of success I have managed to do so and keep my faith though sometimes I've come to the brink of losing it.
Recently, my studies have been in reconciling the sound theory of Evolution with the Biblical accounts of creation, which as far as the symbolism involved in the Scriptures hasn't really been much trouble at all. It seems to me that anyone who takes a six-day-creation viewpoint simply doesn't understand mythology and hasn't done enough non-biblical reading to grasp the heart of the story.
My most recent concerns present more of a challenge as I begin to look at the idea of Original Sin, which is key to the entire concept of a Christian soteriology or "Theory of Salvation". If man was not created in the beginning as one pair, man and woman, Adam and Eve, then who sinned that humankind needs salvation? If we believe that man evolved over tens of thousands of years, maybe more, from a lower and less advanced animal, how on earth can we believe that one of those first sentient beings was culpable enough for his own actions to be responsible for "damning" all his progeny? If I manage to pull through this one with my faith I'll let you know.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Check out this BLOG page:
This link is to the introduction to the book Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong by Wendall Wallach and Collin Allen. I found the reviews for this book intriguing and had to mention it in my own BLOG. I will surely have more to say about this later, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to mention this book and BLOG while it is still “hot” news. The book goes well beyond the Isaac Asimov sci-fi thriller I, Robot recently made into a film starring Will Smith. The book takes a philosophical approach to the matter and outlines the future of hardware and software and how moral decision will have to be made by “thinking” robots or perhaps better put how we will have to program robots to be moral.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
I did a little research including reading the artist's 1979 publication, The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage, which details an explanation of the work and the actual production of it. The following are some of the basic elements of the pieces symbolism and creation.
The piece is nearly as large as the main floor of most people's homes. The work took 5 years to produce and the artist’s studio, for all intents and purposes, became a community studio with multitudes of people assisting in production and research. The china plates alone took 3 years to produce. Her team's schedule seems to have been china production and painting in the morning, needlework in the afternoon, and research in the evening.
One thing I found interesting from her "diary" of this time period was her decision to make and embroider the placemats, a decision which was not only pragmatic because of the difficulty associated with trying to embroider a 30 foot long table cloth in a circular pattern, but also symbolic. In the Middle Ages embroidery of emblems upon clothing and items was a sign of power, worn and used by church officials and rulers. These placemats would honor the female tradition of producing these symbols and also would themselves resemble the "fair linen" which is used to cover the plate during the Eucharist.
Judy said of the 39 guests, actual and mythological, which she invited:
"I've invited these women together to dinner in order that we might hear what they have to say and see the range of our heritage, a heritage we have not yet had an opportunity to know".
The 999 names on the table cloth were painstakingly researched and choices made based on the following conditions:
1) Did the women make substantial contribution to society?
2) Did they attempt to improve conditions for women?
3) Did their lives illuminate an aspect of women's experience or provide a model for the future?
The piece was moving and very rich with detail, beauty, and significance.
OH!!! I so forgot to mention that I saw Paul Giamatti walking down Broadway Ave. at like 43rd. He lives in Brooklyn Heights so he must have been on Broadway to see a show. He's looking a little scruffy w/ a couple week old beard, but still very cool. If I hadn't just lost Danell and consequently my 5th Ave. cannoli, which she was nibbling when she got lost in traffic, I totally would have said hello. Most recent thing I've seen him in was the HBO mini-series biography of John Adams, but I really like him in the Illusionist from 2006.
We got to go see the Letterman show being taped, January 5th. Kate Hudson was on as the guest and the musical guests were Glasvegas from Scotland. Dave was his usual self, the Ed Sullivan theatre was gorgeous, but the real kick in the seat was Paul Schaffer and the Late Show Band, more specifically I really liked Will Lee, the Bassist (http://www.willlee.com/home.php ). He had energy and style and when Paul retires in a few years I could really see him stepping into those itsy bitsy shoes, Paul is practically a “little person”, much shorter in person than he looks on TV. And Kate Hudson is smoking hot; she looks so much like her mother Goldie Hawn.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
That is not very pious of you. I think our church is still on if you need another option.
UUs have churches? Kidding. I found a great quote about churches by Walker Percy check out my Profile page, hee hee!
Lorri Romesberg at 10:16am December 21
Once again a troublemaker:) It's the winter soltice. Us UU's can't miss a chance to celebrate that.
Michael Thomas Merren at 11:37am December 21
Right on, you all and the Druids, the Wiccan Witches and Warlocks and the Church of Satan. Hee Hee!
Michael Thomas Merren at 11:38am December 21
You know I pick on you only because secretly I wish I was a UU like you you!
Lorri Romesberg at 12:22pm December 21
They are doing a search for a called minister. You could come to the dark side.
Michael Thomas Merren at 12:26pm December 21
Many are called but few are chosen... besides I think it takes a special kind of someone to believe without expressing much by way of doctrine...
Lorri Romesberg at 12:31pm December 21
It is more of a question of do you decide what you believe or do you have someone tell you what you must believe.
Michael Thomas Merren at 12:38pm December 21
I get the whole a la carte faith thing, even the Roman Catholics are doing that now, i.e. Democrat John Kerry, pro-choice / anti-Rome, faithful Communion going, Mass attending... Or Joe Baptist who goes to church w/ his Lutheran friend, the Russian Orthodox Grandma who wants her Methodist grandson to go to Confession and Communion at Christmas, I ... Read Moreget that - that is America. BUT _How much of a tenant is there? What is the basis if there is no Scipture no Rit or Rite per se that is "standard" and obligitory.
Michael Thomas Merren at 1:04pm December 21
I take back the lack of rite or ritual part I just found a partial copy of Services of Religion and a couple hymns which look like rehashings of old Latin hymns. Interesting.
Lorri Romesberg at 2:06pm December 21
I guess I have a real problem with lying to clergy pretending that you believe in things that you don't believe in because you are supposed to believe in them or you are going to hell. I am not really into that kind hypocrisy.I also have a real problem believing that people who are raised in other cultures and other religions are condemned ... Read Morebecause of where they are born. Certainly doesn't that show you that there is perhaps some truth to be learned from other people around the world. If you are forced to believe in one doctrine, doesn't that limit your growth?That said UU's certainly were stronger in revolutionary times and have a rather long history. There is a certain pride of our ancestors; such as, Susan B. Anthony, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwim, etc. that does leave us in the past somewhat.
Michael Thomas Merren at 3:25pm December 21
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Harvard University were UU too, I think Harvard is Arian Christian now.
Michael Thomas Merren at 3:33pm December 21
I agree with you that anyone who thinks that just because you are born Hindu or Buddist you can't enter the Kingdom or you'll be damned is off the message for sure. Many a pope and pastor will burn in hell, if in fact anyone burns in hell, and many a Buddist or Muslim or African Spiritualist / Naturalist will be in Heaven, if you believe in that ... Read Morekind of an Anthropomorphic Paradisio.And by the way one should never lie to clergy and in my opinion clergy should never lie to the faithful, even if he thinks it might save his butt... if he can't believe it, he shouldn't teach it!
Michael Thomas Merren at 3:40pm December 21
I don't think I could probably be accused of believing in one doctrine. I found my way into Catholic Monasticism by reading Beatnik poetry and the Buddist Tippi Taka, Hermann Hesse's Sidhartha and the Bhagavagita. I studied my way out of Catholicism into Eastern Orthodoxy with a heavy leaning towards Gnostic Christology and in the end decided I be ... Read Morebetter served or serve in a church that would allow me to pursue evolutionary soteriology rather than Calvinist / Augustinian "Theology of the Fall". I am a happy heretic I suppose :) or a bad UU!
Lorri Romesberg at 4:21pm December 21
Since you follow no one doctrine either, perhaps you could be called a UU too. Many eventually succumb to dark side.I grew up Methodist and was often forced to pray for things that I didn't believe in (i.e. my salvation) and to profess faith in things that made no sense to me (i.e. the trinity). I certainly believe that there will be more ... Read Morebuddhists in heaven (if there is such a place) than clergy who preach intolerance of others. I certainly am not very well read on religious philosophy but I do know what brings peace to my soul.
Michael Thomas Merren at 4:59pm December 21
I don't know if I'd say I follow no doctrines, but I have a hard time circumscribing my faith with clearly defined religious definitions and currently find myself flittering in interdenominational limbo. I do find truth and comfort in the idea of a savior, I'm not sure what exactly what we need saving from since the creation story is a Babylonian ... Read Moremyth, maybe even predating Judaism. But I find in human nature a real inclination towards evil, one not easily overcome, this I believe is what we need a savior for, to heal that rift between, as Paul says, “the good which we desire to do and yet do not”.
Michael Thomas Merren at 5:00pm December 21
The dichotomist nature of man is probably best seen in the poem by Robert Frost:Some say the world will end in fire,Some say in ice.From what I've tasted of desireI hold with those who favor fire.But if it had to perish twice,I think I know enough of hateTo say that for destruction iceIs also greatAnd would suffice.
Lorri Romesberg at 6:21pm December 21
I guess that is certainly one of the pervasive differences in religious opinion. I think the majority of Unitarians would feel that people are basicly good but that they make bad choices for any number of reasons. I wonder how the idea of 1 out of every 100 people being a sociopath plays into that. Although I do believe that most sociopaths have childhoods that make that outcome make sense. Is that evil or merely a person's maladaptive way of coping with awful circumstances?
Michael Thomas Merren at 9:40pm December 21
I think I fall into the camp who feels there is a remote good in all of us, "created in the image and likeness of God" who we gleen from the scriptures and experience in the natural world as good (that is unless you look at floods, hurricanes, sunamis, cancer, drunk drivers...). But I've met enough of those sociopaths and even a few psychopaths I ... Read Morebelieve to know that sometimes good isn't all that we are. Tendencies to be immoderate, illicit, cheat... those can't all be environmental I don't think anyway.
Lorri Romesberg at 9:45pm December 21
No. Certainly there are many people who have horrible lives that are able to be caring, helpful, and wonderful people. Why do some go one way and some go another? I don't think that you can say that people are born evil, however, since many obviously have reason to be and yet choose not to be.
Michael Thomas Merren at 9:50pm December 21
I think we're on the same page... at least in the same library. Regardless of where evil comes from, if it indeed comes from anywhere other than through human agency, it surely isn't passed on like a genetic defect or a sexually transmitted disease like Western Christians since Augustine have propagated.
Lorri Romesberg at 10:08pm December 21
This is actually one of the reasons why I love the Harry Potter series. The idea that it is our choices that determine who we are even if we have the same abilities or background as another person. I read an essay by one local minister that described Harry Potter as "dangerous" fiction because both the good and evil characters had the same powers... Read More. Apparently the good characters should possess some completely different qualities from those who are evil. To me that argument completely missed the moral lesson. (See how you read famous philosophers and I read children's books.)
Michael Thomas Merren at 10:20pm December 21
I must admit I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, but not for "moral" reasons. I have watched all the movies. I've never had a problem with fictional witches... which is the objection most reborn Christians seem to have w/ them. For that matter the C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien books are equally charged w/ "magic" and by their standards ... Read Morewould / should be banned. The equality of good and evil characters' powers arguements is a new one to me. Let's think about it. How does life really work? If we look at those around us, the good as well as the bad, we do all start w/ more or less the same talents. Some of us are given an opportunity to grow those, others aren't. Honestly, sometimes it seems those "evil" ones are given an unfair advantage or are given what they need to nourish their talents and develop them. From a moralist stand point I guess you would always hope that good would triumph over evil, but from what I've seen of the series that is the case. Again no objection!
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I've seen rave reviews for this book and read an article adapted from this book when it was yet forthcoming (Seed May / June 2008). This is a really important piece of non-fiction, something to consider borrowing from your local library or purchasing for your home library. Paul discusses "meat science", "carbon and water footprinting", rising hazards to health as humankind has to raise more livestock to meet consumption needs...
The following description was available on We-read an application of Facebook:
Paul Roberts, the best-selling author of The End of Oil, turns his attention to the modern food economy and finds that the system entrusted to meet our most basic need is failing.In this carefully researched, vivid narrative, Roberts lays out the stark economic realities behind modern food and shows how our system of making, marketing, and moving what we eat is growing less and less...more
Paul Roberts, the best-selling author of The End of Oil, turns his attention to the modern food economy and finds that the system entrusted to meet our most basic need is failing.In this carefully researched, vivid narrative, Roberts lays out the stark economic realities behind modern food and shows how our system of making, marketing, and moving what we eat is growing less and less compatible with the billions of consumers that system was built to serve.At the heart of The End of Food is a grim paradox: the rise of large-scale food production, though it generates more food more cheaply than at any time in history, has reached a point of dangerously diminishing returns. Our high-volume factory systems are creating new risks for food-borne illness, from E. coli to avian flu. Our high-yield crops and livestock generate grain, vegetables, and meat of declining nutritional quality. While nearly one billion people worldwide are overweight or obese, the same number of people—one in every seven of us—can't get enough to eat. In some of the hardest-hit regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, the lack of a single nutrient, vitamin A, has left more than five million children permanently blind.Meanwhile, the shift to heavily mechanized, chemically intensive farming has so compromised soil and water that it's unclear how long such output can be maintained. And just as we've begun to understand the limits of our abundance, the burgeoning economies of Asia, with their rising middle classes, are adopting Western-style, meat-heavy diets, putting new demands on global food supplies.Comprehensive in scope and full of fresh insights, The End of Food presents a lucid, stark vision of the future. It is a call for us to make crucial decisions to help us survive the demise of food production as we know it.Paul Roberts is the author of The End of Oil, which was a finalist for the New York Public Library's Helen Bernstein Book Award in 2005. He has written about resource economics and politics for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Harper's Magazine, and Rolling Stone, and lectures frequently on business and environmental issues.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Here is a link to a free article on the ground breaking work of Dr. Lambros Malafouris.
"This paper presents the possible outline of a framework that will enable the incorporation of material culture into the study of the human self. To this end, I introduce the notions of extended self and tectonoetic awareness. Focusing on the complex interactions between brains, bodies and things and drawing a number of different and usually unconnected threads of evidence from archaeology, philosophy and neuroscience together, I present a view of selfhood as an extended and distributed phenomenon that is enacted across the skin barrier and which thus comprises both neural and extra-neural resources. Finally, I use the example of a gold Mycenaean signet ring to explore how a piece of inanimate matter can be seen (sometimes) as a constitutive and efficacious part of the human self-system."
Seed July/August 2008 ran a short piece on this author, which outlines his theory concerning the use of tools and the expression of the man in physical culture... as integral adjuncts of the human mind, tectonoetic awareness of the extended self.
As I understand it he is proposing that the idea that man is sole proprietor of agency in any given action is a fallacy. In his chapter of the work Material Agency: Towards a Non-anthropocentric Approach which he co-edited, he proposes the example of the relationship between the potter, the wheel, and the clay. According to him, and his research is thorough, the potter is reacting to the clay and the wheel as much as he is acting upon the clay by means of or in conjunction with the wheel. In this example, which of the said actors is the "agent" of the material change? We can't say in good conscience that the potter is the sole proprietor of agency upon the material. Neither can we say that the clay makes the pot or the wheel since neither of these materials has agency in and of itself. The wheel can no more make the clay into a pot than the pot can make itself into one, but the potter can not make a pot without the clay or the wheel. Additionally, it would be difficult to say that the pot it the same pot that the potter had envisioned when he sat to the wheel, if in fact he had any preconceived notion at all as to make he might desire to make.
In a program on the Discovery channel last night entitled, How Stuff Works, Aluminum, Series / Specials (2009) Practical Uses of Aluminum, I heard a crane operator describing the challenges of his job as follows:
“It’s not up, down, left, or right. You have to become the crane. It isn’t about action, it’s all about reaction!”
This example seems to fit into the example Malafouris gives quite readily. The crane operator is responsible for moving 60 ton pieces of aluminum, pressed into 40 foot long bars around at the end of a tether, by means of a heavy crane. His assertion that it is “all about reaction” makes a great deal of sense only when we remove the totality of agency from the human operator and place it, at least in part, in the crane and even in the aluminum bar itself. If the operator were to assert his agency and try to man-handle the aluminum with the crane the result would be disastrous.