Lenten Observance: Day 9

Tao 17 and 18:  Today’s chapters deal with the leader who walks lightly, who keeps him/herself in the background so that the people think that what happens is due to them.  And of how encrusted ways of framing beliefs reflect a failure in the system.  The first is rather appealing to me — get the people to think of themselves as a cadre, because nothing productive will happen without their support.  This chapter is a bit puzzling, as one could read it as the leader gets what s/he wants done, but makes the people think that it is their project.  And that seems to me a lot like what the Tea Party does — ostensibly a grass-roots movement, but one that started with corporate (well, big-money) interests.  And the Fascist movements have tried to frame themselves as reflecting a deep-seated anger and resentment in the lower and middle classes, while hiding their own puppet work in framing the issue.  There is one statement in ch. 17 which suggests otherwise: “If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.”  This suggests an authentic listening to the people, and respecting them, as well as giving them (or simply recognizing) power.  This verse has some power for intructors and teachers — you recognize the abilities in students to make their own way, and let them do so — of course, there have to be guidelines they recognize against which something can be judged.  In a way, it is the spirit behind the birth of Protestantism — give the people the chance to read the Bible on their own, by making it available to them in their own languages.  Against this is the rather rigid hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which places the teaching magisterium in a favored place in the pursuit of truth (bishops and the Pope have a bigger megaphone).  Of course, as we see in Southern Baptists, or the Missouri Synod of Lutherans, conservative leadership has led to its own kind of orthodoxy, which is intent in quashing heterodoxy, or any beliefs other than the officially sanctioned belief.  Ideally, Unitarians value this freedom more than anything (so that a movement that had been part of Protestant Christianity has become a much wider intellectual and spiritual movement), but even there one can see tendencies towards rigidity and control.  When the official variant of Christianity in Massachusetts was Unitarianism, people like Emerson, Thoreau and Parker were seen as dangerous radicals, going too far.  As Unitarianism moved west, it became even freer so that the theism (even Christianity) of Emerson, Thoreau and Parker was replaced by humanism in much of the West, culminating in the emergence of a strong religious humanism in the early years of the 20th c.  And the official response from 25 Beacon St. was often that those guys in the West had gone too far.  As some younger UUs today are being more eclectic and inclusive than their forbears, and incorporating the idea of spirituality and even God back into the Unitarian mix, hardline humanists are crying that they’re going too far.  Of course, that we have total control over what the mind thinks and what the heart feels is an illusion, just as much for those who would herald the gospel of Dietrich as those who would herald the gospel of Jesus.  But I do think that we can hinder the discussion and the development of people’s spirituality, and that seems to me wrong, wrong as ultimately futile, but also wrong from a moral and ethical perspective.  “If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.”

Ch. 18 has a variety of instances where when the  Tao is lost that we fall into categorical thinking.  The final line,” When the country falls into chaos, patriotism is born.”  That line seems a lot like the statement that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”  Instead of a love of country and its people, we have a lot of people shouting jingoistic statements which claim (falsely) to be the truth.

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