Wednesday, October 01, 2014


This series within the strip follows the idea of the Holy Fool 
that was used in the comic strip called "Brother Juniper."  It's also part of the story of the historical Saint Francis.

The world is confronting many issues of confidentiality and disclosure, which emerge from and deeply affect the prioritizing of authority.  We ask who can know, who has the authority to decide what is censored or hidden, and when it is justified to turn out the secrets that may make previously trusted authority ineffective.  “Consent to be governed” is particularly challenging when it has a religious component.  Two interesting cases reward reflection.  At the liberal end of the religious scale is the slow investigation by Starr King School for the Ministry where a student who had been a dedicated activist in the larger world, even taking damage for the cause, evidently turned the same weapons (disclosure) against the seminary.

Most lay people who have a simplistic understanding of law do not understand the nature of authority in the Western legal world.  The first fact about law is that it is useless without enforcement -- note “force” is in the long word.  Law is derived from war.  It is meant to prevent the violence of war, not justify it.  War derives from nations.  Nations derive from consensus.  When the consensus is lost, the people do not consent to be governed.  They march, they fight, they leave, and the nation dissolves.  It’s in the news every day.  In Europe and her empires, authority finally went to Christendom -- we still swear by God.

In Europe -- not so long ago -- there were long periods of time when people fought mercilessly, ceaselessly, just as the Middle East is doing now.  Ever hear of the Thirty Years War?   The disorder was so violent and bloody that even the king’s claim of being authorized by God was contested.  There were competing kings, all claiming to be God’s favorite.  So the Pope stepped in, on grounds that he was closer to God -- in fact, a personal and historical confidante.  When he could make that claim stick, he could mediate between nations and authorize kings by crowning them.  Until the Roman Catholic church became so corrupt that it triggered both the Protestant movement and the Reformation, everyone mostly went along with a religious consensus.  It began to break down when the Pope at the time of WW was so afraid of the claims of the Nazis and the possibility that the authority of the church would be diminished, that he failed to challenge the Holocaust.

Today we have lost our religious consensus.  We don’t even agree that there IS a god.  The Pope has to rely on reason, compassion, good will, fancy buildings and juju to maintain his authority.  He uses big rule books and some formidable old crustaceans who know things that will keep their underlings under control.  (I’m exaggerating to make the point.)  Then pedo-predation is revealed everywhere and introduces a new consensus, that children must be protected.  When it becomes apparent that the church representatives have not obeyed this rule, which is rooted in the teaching of Jesus, the whole justification of the church as a source of virtue is destroyed.

One of the control management mechanisms was undoubtedly knowing about and threatening to reveal corrupt behavior among church leaders.  Now the revelations have emptied that element of control and revealed that corruption was tolerated for convenience and to protect the reputation of the church.  Before the trial of this ancient and disposable old pedophile, Ex-Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, now confined in the Vatican, the only crime prosecuted was Paolo Gabriele snitching on the previous Pope by “liberating” his confidential papers.  Both of these men are accused, confined and tried by the Vatican as an autonomous nation by its own laws, though it is only a claimed diasporic "nation", scattered around the world as the international corporation it really is without God’s authority.

The REAL reason the Roman Catholics will not allow secular prosecution of their priests is that it is a challenge to their sovereignty.  If the secular nations can enforce their laws on the Roman Catholic church, the next thing after prosecuting pedopredators will be civil prosecution of financial corruption.  If nations begin to investigate and prosecute money matters, the sanctified exemption of the church from taxes, sheltered transactions, and the protection of the inventory of their assets will be removed.  If anything can trump the RC “machine,” it will probably be abuse of children.  Some forces have been waiting for this moment.

Now let’s change focus back to the other end of the spectrum, the liberal seminary of the Unitarian Universalists, Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley.  In this context, the ultimate source of authority is the Protestant claim of individual conscience, a matter of relationship between the person and his or her God -- or at least their better self.  Now that we’ve pushed God out of the room, individual conscience, esp. as enacted in social activism, has claimed precedence over everything else and allies with political forces.  Civil disobedience challenges authorities when there is a consensus among some persons that the laws are unjust.  This is how we resist slavery, starvation, cruelty, abuse of children -- issues of injustice and abuse generally generating consensus.  Though Americans may be arrested for demonstrating, persons are generally protected from violent harm and may sue for damage.  One of the weapons effective against overbearing authorities is disclosing privileged information, like the Pentagon Papers, or the recent Wikileaks breaches of internet secrecy.

At Starr King seminary, which is well-known for supporting individuals who are social activists, a new president of the institution was chosen that some students did not accept.  They didn’t resort to violence, but they did break confidentiality by distributing records of the process, which they evidently assumed would bring the consensus to their side.  It’s unclear whether any opinions were changed.  But consensus did not achieve authority.  The social activism in this case was seen as fouling the nest of the mother institution, which continued with its planned course of action but used its authority to withhold degrees of the suspected tattlers and start an internal investigation.  This is not secular, not accessible to civil secular authorities.  It’s a “Vatican” crime.  Sovereignty within an institution.  In fact, the institution of the seminary inside the institution of the denomination which has standards of confidentiality and ministerial performance of its own.

It would be wonderful if everyone could know everything, reflect on it rationally and come to opinions that were clear, actionable, and valid.  It can’t happen.  Partly it’s a matter of the unforeseen consequences of knowing, partly it’s the ease with which most people can be scandalized and overwhelmed by their own personal opinions, and partly it’s the old Jack-says-you-can’t-handle-the-truth. 

Much of life is negotiated by being a tight-wire walker -- not looking down.  They say 1% of men [sic] are psychopaths.  That means there are maybe four in this little town of 400 or so.  They say one-fourth of boys and one-third of girls are sexually hassled or outright assaulted in their lifetimes.  As a minister I knew of maybe ten men in ministry and a few women who acted sexually outside the guidelines, but they were rarely identified or defrocked.  One of the worst was, but a wrong-headed congregation hired him anyway.  I never heard how that turned out.  We’ve been confused by the sexual revolution as well as the impulse to “level” authority figures, not holding them to a higher standard, so that they feel entitled to indulge themselves.

Human beings are a roaring mess and it’s a wonder any of us survive unscathed -- maybe none do.  The least we can do is arrive at a consensus we can all live with and stay aware to the extent that we can bear it.  Not easy to do in a nation of immigrants obedient to inner voices from far different places.  That means if we know that children are being abused, whether sexually or in some other way, then we’re all obligated to do something about it.  But if we are just objecting to the choice of leaders of some movement, we should probably be the ones to move on.

I've used comic strips as illustrations.  This article describes how a sense of humor can be effective, an idea missing from the above cases EXCEPT by the inspired cartoonist.

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