April 1, 2010

The Sun Exists Always Beyond the Clouds

Justin Katz

Already, with the rains, the bushes had begun to bud, and by this morning, flowers were asserting themselves on the landscape. Now the sun is working its way from behind the clouds, and though we'll be a long time drying, the day will come, and the greenery will be all the more plentiful for the soaking.

The flooding probably cemented an especial feeling of relief at the dawn of spring that had already been likely, this year, given the economy. Emerging from the gloom won't be easy, and being under water with respect to employment and basements alike has most certainly been a burden too much for some. For them, recovery will mean dramatic change.

Which isn't necessarily the worst of outcomes. The point, though, is that if we want to, and if we strive to, we live in times during which recovering from adversity is almost always a reasonable expectation. That cultural reality brings to mind something Fr. John Kiley wrote for the latest Rhode Island Catholic:

Considering the threat that came from persecution and invasion, disease and division and reflecting on the coarseness of private life in previous centuries, it is little wonder that the promise of eternal life held greater attraction for ancient and medieval man than heaven does for modern generations. Previous eras knew they would face their maker through violence or disease much more quickly than modern man reckons.

The promise of heaven provided much more relief for the oppressed and beleaguered believers of the past than for the comfortable and contented masses of the modern Western world. Terrorism, unemployment and social unrest are certainly major contemporary issues but they are not the threat that slaughter, starvation and scarcity were to our ancestors. Sadly, the consolation of heaven is much less compelling for a modern believer than celestial solace was for the weary generations of the past.

That sense of something more is still critical in life, because the clouds always return, and there are battles that must be won in the cold, wet, weary days that can only be won when they are not mistaken for existential crises for the eternal soul. Here, I recall a passage from the very first editorial published in First Things, back in 1990:

Religion best serves public life by relativizing the importance of public life, especially of public life understood as politics. Authentic religion keeps the political enterprise humble by reminding it that it is not the first thing. By directing us to the ultimate, religion defines the limits of the penultimate. By illumining our highest purpose all lesser purposes are brought under transcendent judgment. ...

... Temporal tasks are best conducted in the light of eternal destiny. Religion points us to the last things, framing the final direction that informs our decisions about life, both personal and public. The chief service of religion, then, is to teach us that the first things are the last things.

The word to which all such discussion dissolves is: perspective. The problems of day-to-day life, even when they have the rarity of hundred-year storms, matter very little in the scope of forever, and when forever is something to anticipate joyfully, we can derive meaning and hope even from the stains that the flooding leaves behind.

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magine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Posted by: Stuart at April 1, 2010 4:52 PM

Just another example of how our visiting Leftists have nothing original to say.

Posted by: BobN at April 1, 2010 5:15 PM

You want original?

I have flown above the clouds, and the sun is there during the day. Not so at night.

But I have yet to see the person with the levers and switches that they told me about in Sunday School. Therefore, I have to assume that the stories about heaven being "up there" were based on the fact that no one had ever been up there, so it could not be proven or unproven.

But now it can. The proof is in, and there is no heaven above us and no hell below, unless you include cast oil and natural gas stocks as hell.

There is one place we are all going. Death. That's for certain. No one has even been proven to have returned, nor has anyone reported on the long term experience.

We have names for that. Superstition. Stories. Tales. Beliefs. Faiths. Bullshit. Etc.

Whatever floats your boat. It does not give me solace to accept suffering now because we will be forever in joy at some point in the future. If that makes me difference, so be it.

I do believe that a certain degree of acceptance of those things that we cannot change is a healthy attitude, though.

But in the same vein, we should not assume that the world always works in a fair way - accident happen to the most righteous among us.

So, there, you want original...you got it.

Posted by: Stuart at April 1, 2010 5:46 PM

"The word to which all such discussion dissolves is: perspective. The problems of day-to-day life, even when they have the rarity of hundred-year storms, matter very little in the scope of forever, and when forever is something to anticipate joyfully, we can derive meaning and hope even from the stains that the flooding leaves behind."

You cannot seem to summon up this perspective when it comes to your description of RI politics and UNIONS -can you? Why not? You can't see the struggle in a longer view? It is black and white to you. Jeez, I thought maybe a flood or a hurricane would force you to deal with others differently. And exactly what catholic religious grounds can you go to now? What higher ground?

Posted by: David S at April 1, 2010 7:34 PM


I'm confident that if you pause and think for a moment without the a priori objective of proving me to be whatever it is you imagine me to be, you'll see how much your rejoinder misses my message.

Perspective doesn't obviate the need to deal with problems. I don't spend every waking moment in fever over the existence of public sector unions. I oppose them, but if I win, I win, if I lose, I lose. What's important is that I followed the path that I thought to be right. And if I'm wrong, well, I'll be happy to acknowledge when I've come to that conclusion.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 1, 2010 7:45 PM

>>>What's important is that I followed the path that I thought to be right.

"thought" is past tense.

Are you still 100% sure of all the things you were when you started out?

And, BTW, in your world view is intention what counts?

Posted by: Stuart at April 1, 2010 7:51 PM

"What's important is that I followed the path that I thought to be right. And if I'm wrong, well, I'll be happy to acknowledge when I've come to that conclusion."

But you as a true believer will never allow yourself to come to that conclusion. It is important to follow a belief, but doubt is the equal part of that belief that brings about perspective. It is done in the present time in all things, not in some flowery future.

Posted by: David S at April 1, 2010 7:57 PM

Stuart, your recent post is certainly more persuasive than your first dismissing faith based on a famous song. Weak. FYI - there are many famous songs & lyrics that support faith and God.

Yet you are incorrect that there is proof that heaven and hell do not exist. The lack of proof that they do is not definitive proof that they do not. Science 101. Also, your view is not accurate. Religion or faith does not mean that life is fair. I don’t believe it was ever meant to. That’s an extreme oversimplification often used to discredit religion. For most of the faithful, faith is not an explanation of suffering. Faith is a powerful tool; a path.

I won’t argue that accidents or tragedies happen to good people. But again, that does not discredit faith or religion.

It is easy to deny faith or religion based on tragic events. Many of choose the mystery and challenge of faith. You can choose to believe you are more righteous because you don’t.

Posted by: msteven at April 1, 2010 8:07 PM

No, you're merely raising another aspect of perspective. That a belief might be wrong has no bearing on whether daily struggles should be seen as existentially significant.

To your point, though, of course doubt is important (although subsidiary to, not equal to, belief). If we really trust in our beliefs and, moreover, think it to be important to correct them when wrong, then we must test them against the most dangerous of doubts. I've written this before, multiple times, but y'all read what you want to read. "True believer." Pshaw.

I believe to my best understanding, and if I determine that my guiding principles ought to lead elsewhere, then I'll undertake to convince my coreligionists that they ought to reform their beliefs, as well. The distinction, perhaps, between my view and the one that you're encouraging is that I don't take the possibility of being wrong, even in fundamentals, to be evidence of the inevitability of that result.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 1, 2010 8:09 PM

For clarification, the previous comment was directed toward David.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 1, 2010 8:10 PM

msteven, you cannot dispute Scientology, which claims to be the true religion and that we all have aliens inside us! You also cannot dispute their view that a lot of money will buy you enlightenment. In fact, a lot of more mainstream Christian sects equate money with success in faith - something I'm sure your Lord would disagree with.

In any case, if you read my post carefully, you would have seen that I disputed the claim from before - the false claim that Heaven was up in the sky and that hell was below us. This was a line of BS fed to and believed by millions. That is false - whatever faith you have.

Also, death is proven by any reasonable standard. Afterlife is not proven by any reasonable standard - there is a difference.

People need an explanation for largely random events. As we see with politics, this usually means they make up their mind and then bend those events to fit.

There is an interesting teacher of religion in NC who wrote a couple books - he's been on NPR a couple of times. He was not only a teacher of religion, but strong believer himself. Then he set out to do real research for many many years. You might enjoy reading his thoughts, as he has dedicated his entire life to this quest:

Like the republicans who tell us that "now they know" that when they had power, they mismanaged it, so do the priests and the leaders who state "yeah, we were wrong about this, wrong about that, wrong about the other things, but we are still right about the big picture".

Hey, we each have our opinions and beliefs. I like to think that the reality is often vastly more spiritual and uplifting than the word, and the more we rely on quotes as opposed to experiences, the less we see.

It truly is amazing and miraculous, but maybe just in different ways than we first think.

Posted by: Stuart at April 1, 2010 8:49 PM

David;Stuart-why all this talk about an afterlife?I mean,who knows?I guess everyone finds out9or not)when they die.
This has no bearing on whether there is a Creator,because that is a separate issue.
Assuming the Big Bang Theory is correct,who(or what,since the part cannot understand the whole)brought the hydrogen and brought the spark?We haven't the capacity to know that.
Robert Milliken,father of the Atomic Theory,said the closer he got to the essence of the atom,the more he believed in God.
Food for thought.
Just think-as finite beings,we cannot understand the concepts of infinity or eternity.Good thing.Our minds would self destruct if we could ever see the truth,because we are only minute motes of dust in Creation.But of course we each think we're so important.
BTW,I really don't know sh*t.Just throwing out ideas here.Politics gets tiresome.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 1, 2010 9:08 PM

I cried when I watched Contact........now that was a spiritual scene and closer to my beliefs.

There is no time and space, I guess.....a hour could be a second and life is the blink of an eye. Cool scene....

Posted by: Stuart at April 1, 2010 11:07 PM

Thanks for the thoughtful commentary Justin. Very appropriate during this difficult Easter season here in Rhode Island.
Isn't it amusing how topics of faith always draw a pavlovian response by those who proudly proclaim they have none? Take pity on those poor souls.
To have faith is to have an inner strength and peace that remains through the worst of times.

Ah yes John Lennon, a guy who preached world peace but could never practice it in his own life. It that doesn't describe a liberal I don't know what does Stu.

Posted by: Tim at April 2, 2010 8:53 AM

>>>>John Lennon, a guy who preached world peace but could never practice it in his own life

It is certainly true that all human beings have failings, which is part and parcel of the condition.

That is not a bad thing. There is no perfect person, and there never will be....well, Maybe GW Bush, but other than him....


Posted by: Stuart at April 2, 2010 9:17 AM

Stuart, I am defending those who claim theirs is the “true” religion. It is you who are closer to that by asserting there is no God, no heaven or hell. Because a physical location may not exist, does not mean it is false – anymore than the lack of physical proof of a soul or even ones spirit (which you refer to) means they do not exist.

I agree that many do need an explanation for largely random events”, but this does not mean a scientific or earthly one exists. Science, like religion does not have all the answers. That is one of the reasons why they are not mutually exclusive.

As far your comment about republicans and religious leaders being incorrect, you fail to acknowledge the same occurring with others – many of whom would agree with your world view. There are also examples of errors made by democrats. Mismanagement and “being wrong” has occurred by democrats, socialists and secular leaders, some of whom were atheists. That being the case, how can those who make mistakes be trusted about the “big picture”? Didn’t you say there was no perfect person? Well, other than Barack Obama.

Yes, we each have our opinions and beliefs. I certainly agree that we should rely more on experiences than words. But it was you who initially responded with lyrics. Also, while you scoff at the arrogance of those who believe in things they cannot see such as God, heaven and health. The ridicule of those who have those beliefs is no less arrogant or self-righteous.

Posted by: msteven at April 2, 2010 12:07 PM

Those lyrics, if it is not already clear, are speaking to people to drop their preconceptions of lords, gods, deities, rules, kings, presidents, ceo's and everything else and accept that we are all equal.

And there is nothing more spiritual than that!

Like it or not,hundreds of millions of people have been killed and tortured in the name of authority and ideology. Part of the solution, therefore, is to drop the pretense that any of us are more "blessed" than others, and accept all fellow humans as brothers and sisters.

Certainly Obama is not perfect! However, at the same time he has the stomach and perseverance to do a job that few can handle with any grace. I could never do it - even with all the perks.

Seeing as I like to build consensus, I do agree with the part of Justins post which seems to say "don't swear the small stuff, and it's all small stuff", At the same time, the whole idea that the reward for being good, ethical and moral comes sometime later (after we die) is too long of a time frame for me. I prefer to think that we have our own internal guides based on the Golden Rule, which can put us in heaven or hell right here and right now (or somewhere in between, where most of us spend our time).

It was wimpy, wasn't it, who promised "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today " - it seems like fundamentalist religions instead promise us a hamburger after we have no digestive system to enjoy it.....

Posted by: Stuart at April 2, 2010 12:49 PM


I know what the Imagine lyrics mean. Do you know what the lyrics of Amazing Grace mean? Or will you play the ‘words don’t mean as much as experience’ card on that?

Who is saying that some are more “blessed” than others? Sounds to me like you are – in that people who choose to believe in religion are less “blessed” than others. If I recall, the Bible does refer to all humans as brothers and sisters.

I’d say that every President in my lifetime has had the stomach and perseverance to do the job with grace – with the possible exception of Bill Clinton, whom I believe is a human being lacking in basic integrity. Not saying he was a bad President, just a bad person having nothing to do with his political affiliation.

You are incorrect when you say that the only reward for being good, ethical & moral comes in the afterlife. Most people of faith would say that there are earthly rewards also. If there were no positive consequences to faith in the present, there would be less of a draw. Most people, even religious ones, live in the present. Where you are misunderstanding is that you seem to believe that people of faith think they are exempt from pain & suffering because of an omnipotent and just deity. A reasonable person of faith knows better.

Posted by: msteven at April 2, 2010 4:52 PM

Just the very writing of "person of faith" or posts from Justin of "return to faith" are, IMHO, indications that some believe either they or their faith makes them better or different than others. It does not.

A very wise person I once met told me this "Real morals is what you do when no one is looking". When the priests are raping kids and the Christian presidents are dropping bombs on innocents, it's hard to buy the idea of faith being of much benefit.

As far as grace or gospel, I love it. I've sung amazing grace a number of times and felt it too. I play guitar and love doing Rod Stewarts version of People get Ready. I also go a couple of others when the spirit hits me.

I learned about spirit at a very early age and have had many different experiences outside of the norm - so I know of what you speak.

I do have a thing against dogma...because I have yet to see anyone who followed it closely become what I consider an enlightened person. I know that goes against "faith", but I only believe what I see or experience with my own eyes or mind.

As to the afterlife, I take it like old Ben Franklin, who also did not believe in the divinity of Christ. He said "I suppose I'll find out soon enough".......

Unlike Old Ben, though, I think I may end up in a better place, because his dozens of women friends and booze and opium, etc. probably disqualify him. I'm a straight guy - family values and all.

Posted by: Stuart at April 2, 2010 9:52 PM

The irony of non-religious people thinking they are better than religious ones because they aren’t arrogant about their beliefs.

“When the priests are raping kids and the Christian presidents are dropping bombs on innocents, it's hard to buy the idea of faith being of much benefit.”
---- What an excellent point. Because Christians have done bad things, that reflects on all Christians and all Christianity. Of course I haven’t seen you quote famous people who have rejected religion such as Mussolini or Mao Tse Tung. Gee, why not? Following your path, it’d be fair to say that these two accurately represent what happens to people when they reject religious faith. I don’t believe this but it I can play your anecdotal game too.

“I do have a thing against dogma...because I have yet to see anyone who followed it closely become what I consider an enlightened person.”.
----- I have seen both sides. I’ve seen and experienced positive changes as a result of becoming more faithful to religion. I have also experienced people going ‘over the top’ and in my view … it did not have a positive effect. Just because a person uses a knife to kill does not mean knives are inherently bad. Not unlike most in life, a good thing can be used wrongly or perverted. Blaming the tool is way too simple. Unfortunately, people today want simple.

Of course you can have family values, integrity and morals regardless of religion. It is the over-simplification of religion (or most things, including political affiliation) – good or bad – that I object to.

Posted by: msteven at April 2, 2010 10:47 PM

Ah, but communism or strong lack of religion is a dangerous dogma in itself.

Not to make any excuse for Mao - who, BTW, is still a celebrated hero in China, but there is a difference between someone leading a revolution and, with a billion people involved, it getting out of hand - and having priest wearing the garb abusing kids!

All people are subject to evil, especially when they consider others above them are more "right" than they are. However, I don't think the kids being abused fits into that mold. Let's compare like to like.

As far as politics and religion, I see very little connection myself in our two party system. Most catholics I have known - as well as Jews - have traditionally been Democrats. It used to be that the rich new englanders (non-catholic christians) were republican.

But such distinctions seem crazy in our diverse public life today. The GOP uses religion as another one of their divisive weapons - often preying on the less intelligent and easily influenced in order to tell them how to vote. However, I consider that to be purely opportunistic.

No true Catholic, it would seem, could support the endless war policies of the GOP, But some have become so scared of gay marriage and other freedoms that they appear to have been swayed to join with their traditional enemy.

Posted by: Stuart at April 2, 2010 11:46 PM

I’ll agree with one thing – that lack of religion can be as dangerous as religion. In other words, what makes belief dangerous is more often how it is used than the actual belief.

You missed the point, possibly intentionally since it goes against your view, but I’ll repeat. Mao Tse Tung was one of the worst human beings ever – responsible for the killing of more people than Hitler who BTW also led a revolution that got out of hand and is still celebrated by many. But to indict an entire country, an entire ideology because of the acts of a some associated individuals is just as fair as indicting an entire religion or in your case, all faiths because of individual acts. You are no better than the racists who use the fact that higher percent of African-Americans commit violent crimes as justification for their racist views. The belief that there is a relationship between Christianity and more specifically Catholicism and sexual abuse of children is just plain intellectually absurd.

The GOP uses religion as a divisive weapon – as opposed to the Democrats. Please. If you believe that only one of major political parties uses or has used religion as a divisive tool preying on the less intelligent, then you truly live a very small world where the sky is green.

The endless war policies of the GOP – another complete bunch of bull. The current President is a Democrat and has the ability to pull out all our troops from Iraq (which he pledged to do during the campaign) & Afghanistan (which he pledged to do. Yet he has increased troops in Afghanistan (where more troops have been killed than when Bush was in office) and has stayed the course in Iraq. Tony Blair was a leader of the liberal party in UK. It isn’t about a war policy, it’s not about partisan politics; it’s about dealing with reality.

Posted by: msteven at April 3, 2010 2:19 PM

I may be wrong but my opinion is that a Dem President would not have been hot and heavy into invading Iraq - which was completely unrelated - after 9/11

that is, of course, an educated guess - but not made from some web site I read, but rather multiple books written by inside players with actual interviews and experiences of those on the inside.

Bush and Cheney pretty much fired ANYONE who did not tow the war line. When the truth was brought to them, the messenger was fired. They demanded ONLY loyalty and not honesty.

According to my reading, it was not a simply mistake, but the result of thousands of intentional actions and decisions. Maybe I am blind, but I don't see that being done by a decent President who listens to those around him or her.

As to monday morning Quarterbacking - such as what is happening now, that is more of "you broke it, you own it" and not really relevant to the starting of the Iraq War. If Obama does not continue the pullout, it will be an issue in his re-election campaign, but certainly not the only issue.

Tony Blair was simply, as has been said, GW's poodle. The simple fact of history, even relatively recent, is that the UK has been one of the most militaristic, colonialist and imperialistic countries ever to exist. Liberal there tends to describe their citizens, not the untold hundreds of millions they lorded over for their wealth.

Posted by: Stuart at April 4, 2010 2:00 PM

Let's see-the British,French,and Dutch were colonialists?No kidding.
Oops,forgot the Belgians-real abusers
And we're the bad guys Stuart?Outtasight!!

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 4, 2010 5:05 PM


You are wrong. While I agree that invading Iraq was a risk, was unprecedented to the extent that they had not directly attacked us (of course neither had the Taliban). The view that there was no value, no benefit, that Bush/Cheney made up all the intelligence about Saddam & Iraq, which the entire international community depended upon because they had none and that the only reason other countries helped through troops and/or money was because they feared Bush would attack them. That the only purpose was because Bush and Cheney are evil and deranged enjoyed putting young people to death.

Then your “not related to the starting of the Iraq war” is lame. Obama has the power to end a war, which was started on lies, has no value and according to you, is the equivalent to invading Sweden. Why on earth would a good and just man continue to support such an action? But he gets a pass from you because he didn’t start it? Now that makes sense.

Wrong isn’t the appropriate word for you. That implies you even try to be correct. All you do is demonize and demagogue.

Posted by: msteven at April 4, 2010 8:44 PM
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