Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Atheism, the Grinding Axe, and the Mortal Coil

There is an interesting piece in The Atlantic magazine about the first chair of Atheism in a University and the study of atheism as a movement, etc. It lays out the facts, all of which strike me all too obvious; for example, not being a believer in god is vilified and largely unacceptable to the American electorate, etc. But the principal matter here is to treat atheism as a belief and as an oppositional belief to theism. I get that: this is what Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, and others do when they write about atheism. This is a conversation that sells and seems to be the one that most people want to have. They posit their atheism as the correct alternative to theism, as if the facts could be made into correct belief. But I'm not interested really in the theist vs. atheist conversation. I mean, it's there and we can think about it. But this is not of particular concern to me.  I'm looking for a different conversation.

Let me suggest a different way of thinking about the "there is no god" statement. No one will be particularly surprised by my point of view but here are a few points about teaching from an atheism perspective.

First, we all live with the stories that we need and plenty more that we wish we did not have to live with. Consolation stories about god, compassionate nature, enlightened souls, puppies, altruism, goodness, whatever we need are an important part of human psychologies. I take my own solace in things that strike me as factually true, that is, I begin my own consolations with a drenched in acidic truth with the proviso that these truths and facts are incomplete, provisional, and subject to revision. All facts must be placed in those unfinished categories but that doesn't make them less our-best-story-so-far. That go with what we know is better than believe what you wish were true, at least for me. This leads me to my second point.

I'm only mildly interested in atheism as a world view, that is, as a competing narrative to theism. Sure, it's there and it may be more factually true than any theism claim but most atheism is offered up as an alternative with an axe to grind. It wants to tear up the theists ---and sometimes for good reasons. Hitchens does a good job of showing the ills and potential evils of religious belief and that axe he grinds is sharp, effective, and largely irrefutable. So this proves largely uninteresting since the criticisms are so plainly true. But facts never get in the way of beliefs, which is why studying religion will always still be important. It doesn't matter if what people believe is not true, what matters is that they believe it.

So here's my take, my point to add:
I don't treat atheism as a belief. I think of it as a prerequisite fact. All of our very best evidence points to the simple fact that the physical universe can be explained without a god or creator, etc. and life evolving through natural selection seals the deal. And it _really_ does once we understand what is being presented as fact. All theist responses to these physics, chemistry, and biology arguments are lame, inadequate, and usually just wishful thinking, that is, theists need to believe so they do. So, as far as I can tell, the facts are pretty much in, that is, as in as any fact could be. So _let's start there_.

Atheism is not a conclusion, it is a beginning. It's really not unlike what Rajanaka has to say about non-duality. Unity, non-duality isn't a _goal_ we achieve or an insight that somehow changes us. Rather it's just how the world started: it started in less complex ways, likely from singularity, and it unfolds as that process of itself. It's MUCH more interesting to think of "not me" and "like me" than it ever is "just like me" unless we are looking for certain prerequisite needs such as we all love or we all get hungry, things that are _human_ and so shared, natural facts.

If we start by NOT arguing about atheism then we can ask more interesting questions.  As a "Hindu," I ask myself these sorts of things:
*Who are the gods (and the demons) in our stories?  Why mythologize?
*Why express devotion or do ardor in temples?  Why ritualize?
*What is darshan when there is no god there?  What are we doing and why are we doing it?
*If we are what modern science suggests we are, that is, material forms of energy experiencing only mortal life, then how do we construct meaning, morality, and value because _this is all we are_?
As for the theists or the "we are really universal consciousness" or some primordial consciousness or some claim that makes us more than our mortal experience, I think those folks are more (often less) interesting to study. Why do they want these claims? What happens to them when they live with these claims? What do they do and not do with their lives?
I feel no need to participate in some sublime effusion of absolute anything, be that god or consciousness. I'm quite comfortable and not entirely thrilled that death is real, suffering will happen, and I will exit this life only to become memories of others and nothing more. I live with that not as consolation unless what the facts suggest is true is what we think we must face.
Appa thought that mortality creates our poignancy, our importance, our urgency, our value. That we are _only_ mortal and then die to become again the stuff of the world means that living is the miracle, consciousness is a wonder, and we'd better appreciate it now while we can. That's all I got, at least for now. The link is below.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Wall Inside

As Trump goes to Davos and events of the past week once again included talk of building walls, I admit to being a bit slow on the uptake. We can carry on about Trump's wall with practical and honest arguments, declaring it to be unnecessary given rates of real undocumented border crossings or for the colossal waste of money it represents, all reasonable arguments that seem impenetrable to his sycophants. We can even agree that spending that money, even building some portion of that wall does not mean it will either be completed or can't come down soon enough.

So why not trade it for Dreamer legislation, protections for other immigrants ---Salvadorans and Haitians are of immediate concern and there is so much else to do. Is this choice so corrupt, that American taxpayers waste billions of dollars on something we don't need and only evidences our failures of national character? Is this really so unusual? Let us hope Democrats have made a smarter than we think tactical move that will extract some decency from this inane folly.

But it finally occurred to me why "the wall" is so important to Trump and his supporters. It's so plainly obvious that's it may seem to trite to point it out: they need something more to hide behind, an exercise that they repeat again and again. They hide behind the fantasies of their nostalgic past where "America was great," behind "guns and religion" as President Obama so plainly put it (much to reproof), behind the fears, terrors, and shadows of selves they will not interrogate or even acknowledge are in need of deeper consideration. Their wall is the outward and visible form of their inward and concealed fears, a shroud of ignorance that creates for them a real and necessary boundary.

That boundary is imperative, urgent, it will be "big and beautiful" because it stands at the end of a dead end they don't even know exists--- as they stand alone, isolated in the darkness of the unexamined self. Aided and abetted by the State Meida arm of the Party, Fox News, they are given a constant reassurance that there is an "other" out there that they need to contain, a policy that speaks to law and safety when in truth it is merely themselves that they rage against, that that fear more than all. Their other is themselves they project upon their wall. Locking themselves behind this "wall," it is the only way they can cope with living within such a shameless darkness of self-made clarities and conspiracies, hiding from their hearts and averting any reckoning with their failures, their needs, their unrealized hopes. Rather than tear down these walls and begin the more compelling task of looking into lost shadows, they prefer to project them into the world a symbol of their certainties. And the only thing more dangerous than ignorance is certainty.

For the rest of us, I hope we see a way through this latest cloak of hypocrisy and obloquy so that we accomplish some greater good, looking as well into the hearts of those who refuse to look at themselves. We may revile their hatred and mock their ignorance but until we take seriously the walls they build around themselves we won't look more carefully at our own. As we tear down these kinds of walls of toxicity let us understand the importance of making more meaningful boundaries that help us create healthy invitations to relationship. Even with those who might be unwilling to help themselves.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Letter to Men, Part One. To Strive And Not to Yield: Moral Lassitude, Collective Responsibility, and Respecting the Shadow of Corruption

We have intimacy problems. Perhaps like we have never had before. Those problems are not only a feature of our gross failures as men since the beginning of civilization but a result of incremental strides forward as women have empowered themselves and pursued both equality and equity. Not all men resent progress though the majority or near-majority of all races right now support Trump or find him tolerable. That fact points to deeper moral failure; it is a symptom of more serious shortcomings. But even those in the minority who wish to further a progressive understanding of masculinity and relationships that take gender and identity seriously need to make greater commitment. Let’s begin with the difference between equality and equity, important enough to give us a first pause.

A useful definition:

“Equality alludes to the identical apportionment where dealings, values or qualities are concerned. Equity represents fairness, or what may be termed as the equality of outcomes. This involves factoring in aspects of the system that have put particular groups at a disadvantage.” 

(Read more: Difference Between Equity and Equality | Difference Between

We are not equal by certain measures of gender distinction since we are not identically apportioned. When it comes to matters, say, of birthing or perhaps even child nurturing those apportionments are facts of nature that turn to complex questions of human evolution. Our woeful ignorance of natural selection, cognitive science, and social theory is inexcusable, like the rest of our woeful ignorance. That we should be equal under the law and in matters of economics, political franchise, and other basic human rights and social facts seems to me beyond dispute. That we are nowhere near those benchmarks is outrageous and unacceptable. “The Census Bureau calculates that the median woman in the United States makes 79 cents for every buck paid to the median man. The gap widens by race, with black women earning 60 cents and Hispanic earning 55 cents to every white man's dollar.” (Cited from Wiki, dated Mar 8, 2016).

These social facts could be remedied by law in ways that would not even require men to evolve personally, or even espouse different attitudes and views. We could force these changes upon society and may well have to. Conservative men have never willfully agreed to relinquishing any of their privilege, power, or ideological claims to superiority. We have had to force upon conservatives the changes that bring greater justice, both in terms of equality and equity. American men elect men who refuse to act on even these basic matters of inequality and inequity. Alas, we cannot ignore values when they inform actions. We need majorities to change the law even if that causes deeper division and further polarization by gender: the majority of men in America are going to be required to be forced to change. And when has that not been the case? Matters of equality clearly cannot be separated from matters of equity. Our values have not evolved and this points to certain elemental failures I mean to address here first.

Insofar as equity marks fairness, it is in this respect particularly that we need to come to further reckoning of our intimacy values and our self-reckoning. We are failing as human beings and it is reflected plainly in political facts.

I rarely have a moment of patience for conservative columnist Ross Douthat whose prudish backward religiousity makes my skin crawl. Just how men can maintain a moral stance that dictates to women is beyond me, except that it is not: the history of patriarchy and efforts to control and impose our will can never be overlooked. Who willingly gives up power? Who ever wants their authority diminished over their personal preferences? More qualified persons than myself have written about patriarchy and particularly the ways religions have devised their own insidious coercions and rationales. I am reminded that the myths, literature, and poetry can be better than the people who use them for their own purposes but that too diverges from our current discussion. How men believe they can make choices about and over women’s bodies and lives is not utterly beyond me and that is what is so deeply disconcerting. How any person can decide for another in such deeply personal and painful situations is a fundamental violation of autonomy and freedom.

We are not perfectly free. Never as human beings are we beyond the paradoxes and impossibilities that stake out our best ideals. We cannot be free without boundaries and constraints. We want to be both safe and unbound and that involves mutual contradictions that require sophisticated choices. All human decisions happen under circumstances and constraints that are natural, social, and personal. Americans cherish the individual over the group or the State and yet we cannot live any kind of moral life without choosing to govern and be governed by terms that limit our individuality. We live in relationships that place our every choice in contexts of power and authority.

Until we address the relationship between power and authority more directly we’ll lack the tools to understand ourselves more deeply ---and this is no small topic in either form or gravitas. Again, a subject to which we must return. But men are particularly culpable here because we have had the power and what we fear is losing it. “Fear is a mind killer,” Herbert wrote, but it is not merely controlling fear that is crucial to our integration but bringing it into a deeper conversation as the shadow form of courage. We will not have the courage to change and evolve ourselves until we bring fear more resolutely into our conversations as a companion and ally, not merely an adversary. Shadow comes with light but we men, we love to deny the shadow and so burn rather an illumine the soul.

I reference Douthat however to make another point. In today’s New York Times (17 January, 2018) he references extensive surveys and an article by Ron Brownstein for The Atlantic. Douthat observes, “Relative to where American politics stood before his rise, Trump’s campaign polarized America more by class and gender than it did by race. And then, by jettisoning much of the populist economic agenda he campaigned on, Trump’s actual presidency has made class less important and gender more essential to understanding how Americans divide.” He goes on, “But if you’re looking at what Trump has directly changed…it’s with the large female backlash that may be poised to swamp the male backlash that helped make him president.”

And here is where I find myself in reluctant agreement with Douthat ---reluctant not because I take issue with his claim but because despite his reductionism, I think he is correct: “But there is strong evidence that our problems with sex and gender and male-female relations are worsening — which is why it’s understandable that they’re at the heart of how the country has reacted to the Trump presidency, and fitting that this year of public protests and intimate revelations have thrown them into sharp relief.” The current women’s movement is far more complex and nuanced than Douthat contends and that fact demands more equitable and thorough responses. But let us, for the moment, agree that Americans and particularly American men ---no, let us say, just men are in a worsening state regarding their identity and relationships with women.

I would regard myself a man of many foibles and faults, complexities and failures with respect to life and human intimacies. I would also, without attempting apology or excuse, suggest that being a student of literature and criticism, religions and philosophies has brought special attention to certain issues of masculine intimacy. To wit, I have a few opinions about our problems and a few suggestions about what we need to do. Say what we might about the puerile mockery that comes with drumming circles and tearful confessionals, I think Robert Bly has over these past decades done us a serious solid. Every American man should, I think, make a careful study of his Iron John, The Sibling Society, and his Small Book on the Human Shadow. And more importantly, we should not undertake that task without first understanding that the content and concepts of these works highlight more fundamental problems. Let me make this a twofold issue. First, one of individual moral responsibility and choice, and second, one of our collective failure and need.

Men have not learned how to evolve much inner conversation, the real and deeper conversation they need to have with themselves. This conversation must not only look at personal history but it must also take history and sociology seriously, it must take matters of psychology and mythos to heart, it must evolve in ways that dedicate life to a kind of serious personal literacy, enquiry, and self-education. We are ignorant of ourselves, ill informed about nearly every serious subject, and unwilling to do the necessary work of auto-didacticism. We don’t read, don’t take time to contemplate and think, and we estrange our feelings and emotions because we have not created the required resources to develop any serious inner conversation. We cannot hope to become better human beings unless we commit to the content of our humanity as individuals with histories and needs. The constraints of modern life ---time, capitalism, and our willful anti-intellectualism--- are all part of the rationale we make not to work on ourselves. Garbage in, garbage out. We will not have much to work with if we don’t do any work. (Truth to tell, I think I can help with this. I’m not much for carpentry but I know a thing or two about books, ideas, and learning to learn.)

So our first major issue, I submit, is our individual moral lassitude. We will have to go to real lengths in this age of distractions and endless labor to make these efforts to learn more about what history, literature, and art can teach us. We are going to have to make time to think and feel, to register these ideas and our learning by integrating into our own personal stories. We are going to have to learn to write our own story and live with that. When we fail the humanities, we are sure to fail as human beings.

Most of us have never been taught to learn or to think; most of us have had debilitating, enfeebled education, and that means we don’t even know what we are missing because we never acquired much skill or pleasure from “book learning.” It’s not just a matter of poor schooling. Lincoln became himself by little more than his own temerity and without any encouragements from men in his childhood. He was depressed, beleaguered, and suffered but he made the effort to consider who he wanted to be by sheer dedication to self. And more pointedly, he took seriously words and ideas when others rejected his interests. In this age in which nearly all the resources of learning are available for free (it requires little in the way of privilege to access), our inaction and weakness reflects personal commitment that has never been properly kindled or inspired. We don’t do the work for ourselves because we have not been taught by those who have, and too few are willing to teach.

Somewhere between apathy and exhaustion we find every reason not to do for ourselves what would make us better. Better for ourselves and in the vital relationships that are demanded of us as human beings. Scolding like this may not help but it sure can’t hurt. The failure lies not only individuals but in groups, in our collective and how we act collectively. I call this enervation and ineptitude a “moral” failure for at least two reasons.

First, we will require extraordinary efforts. By this I mean extra, more than we are easily willing to admit or to do. We are going to have to make time and make commitments to ourselves. In Sanskrit we call this vrata and I’ll have more to say about that another time. Suffice it is rich and helpful but the core of it is that we are failing at a self-obligation because we are failing others by failing ourselves.

Second, the work is not going to be easy or necessarily fun, and in fact will likely be painful, tedious, and require industry that we’d rather forsake. There is not likely going to be a monetary payoff anymore than there is going to be less ardor as the work goes forward. It’s going to be hard and get harder. And--- you’re not going to like this either--- our proclivity to be doers over thinkers and feelers is going to also get in the way. My second point is that learning to learn and doing the work is going to feel a lot like an unwanted, sometimes hopeless task that’s going to make us feel stupid even as it threatens to bore us to death.

Tough luck, that’s part of the reason it’s a moral sensibility: it requires doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do, not because the bottom line might bring some pleasure or success. Now it’s not all just walking barefoot on Legos ™ for forty-one days in a jungle that is trying to kill you--- though I’d be happy to do that with you too. I’m not even kidding. It’s that as it goes faster and becomes more do-able, the work needs to go deeper and gets harder still. The reason why men have done so little work doesn’t reduce to this point but these disincentives are surely an important moral obstacle. We must face our moral obstacles and decide who we want to be. But to do even a little of that we must see our first level of obstacle as moral. We have to want to do good by becoming better. That’s a lot to ask and what you want may not be what you become but without that desire, well, you’re nothing.

Given these facts, we can’t count on much progress because most will not sign up for the work, much less do it. It’s unsafe and un-fun because we would have to change (a lot) and we’d have to think and feel with the same ardor that we seem to willing to do when things are easy and pleasurable. Katha Upanishad admonishes us not to mistake the good for the pleasurable and however we know that to be true, we have to commit to the deeds that make the difference and the distinction real. What we lack in mentors and leadership, which we so desperately need, we could possibly compensate some with if we were willing to make, as Bly suggested, a collective effort. Nothing quite motivates men to act like the competitions and coercions of other men. How to learn to learn from one another without allowing those challenges to devolve into anger, jealousy, and greed is another matter for our serious consideration.

There is nothing inherently wrong with competition ---there is nothing more natural about nature--- and when it is coupled to the paradox of cooperation we come closer to how we can both survive and flourish. We need a moral commitment to both so that we can act in collectives. Men need to check in on and check other men. Leadership needs to guide with competence and compassion but our strength will at last depend on our willingness to participate in ways that create more permeable and willing boundaries. We need more giving up to get, not loss of autonomy or personal choice as we manipulate ourselves to believe, but with a greater sense of compromise to advace the better angels of corruption. Let me explain that idea a bit further.

Men lock themselves up in certainty, conviction, and habituation. The older we get the harder it is to listen, to doubt, and to change. But to learn we must develop these resources and that means that we will have to move off our marks, sometimes compromise our most cherished or guarded convictions. 

Lincoln gives a good example here of what I mean. We can say honestly that he corrupted his personal convictions when he refused to side unequivocally with the cause and actions of the Abolitionists. He knew he was doing as much; he knew this was a serious moral failing on his part.  He accepted that failing and took to heart the shadow that came with his choice.  He suffered for it and will be ridiculed for it.  But what he did was important: he chose his shadow by reflecting seriously on power, authority, and moral failure.  He burned and he was illumined by this shadow, which entailed a reckoning with corruption.  He did it because, as McPherson and others have demonstrated, he made a political calculation that were he not more incremental and willing to corrupt his personal views then the politics around him would have left us far worse off. To wit, the end of slavery might never have happened had he lost the election on the basis of his uncompromised convictions, or it may have gone on another hundred years. But the argument is that he knew he corrupted himself but did it for a purpose deemed worthy, a more calculated but less justifiable morality. The same can be said of the story of Yudhisthira the Prince and Arjuna on the battlefield that is the Bhagavadgita. But the point is the same: To change we must admit some form of moral corruption but not fail the tests of moral lassitude or lose our moral conviction. We will need real learning and contemplation to know the differences here that can make all the difference.

So let me summarize this, our initial missive:
First, men must commit to themselves as individuals, as persons by recognizing their own desperate need for self-education and improvement. We are failures of personal character and this is moral failure because there are no amoral choices in life. Not to choose or to commit is to lapse. When those failures manifest in power then we get the likes of Cheney, Weinstein, and Trump. We torture, we abuse, and we fail in every way to create decency, integrity, and clarity of purpose. The process of change is going to be hard and that can’t be said too infrequently.

Truth is, I am not sanguine that our necessary project will trickle down or become in any way “popular.” If that were the case then the hard lessons of Mahabharata, Iliad, the poets and critics like Bly, Hitchens, and McCarthy would be our true guides. Instead the majority of men are deciding for Trump. We need to understand why that is true. To be reductive, it is true because are failing ourselves, we are not doing the work either as individuals or in the necessary collectives of conversation

What else would we be doing? We would be listening and reading women’s works to understand better our need to learn; we’d take these matters to heart and, honestly, that seems unlikely. Most would rather watch the game, ignore the issues, or vent their complaints by electing the worst manifestation of their shameless ID in the form of Trump. What it will take to evolve is going to be up to you because you’re not going to get much help from the majority of other men. Remember Thomas Lincoln had no use for Abe’s idle reading and talk. Who do you want to be will require courage because that is the prerequisite to virtue. We will not become good or better without that courage to engage. We will be few but that can make a difference even if it fails to make all the difference.

Second, we need to do this work fwith leadership and in collectives. It’s time to look each other in the eye and work on the material we need to learn together. We need a vast canon of conversation and we’re going to need more emotional intelligence to deal with one another. Bly long ago now lamented the lack of leadership and our unwillingness to act in collectives. We need ways to engage the shadow of our corruption and become better for it.  We cannot do this without acting together to understand these choices and experiences of success and failure.  No matter what you do for yourself and by yourself, that will not be enough. We need each other to compel the better angels.  

The poets are critical, so let’s for now end with one. Take this bit to heart and see what happens. This is not a process that brings immediate results nor can we expect enlightenment or breakthrough as much as the slow, often painful recognition of little by little, again and again. Tennyson is underestimated and while he may suffer from all sorts of shortcoming, the message here should not be forgotten:

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

---Ulysses, lines 65-70

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Few Words about Dr. King and Donald Trump: A Reckoning with America's Light and Shadow

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”
--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In celebration of Dr. King today it strikes me as particularly important to begin with the truth. We need a reckoning with truth itself and, as I see it, we are both succeeding and failing in our aspirations. With Trump the truth itself is under siege. What he deems “fake” is true and his alternative narratives, the ”alternative truth”--- better known by it’s real name, "lying"--- holds nearly half the population in its throes. The very structures of democracy depend on credibility and trust as we contend for meaning. However we have contested in the past for policy and ideology, we today contest for the facts and for the integrity that is necessary to sustain even a semblance of decency. Truth will only fail us if we fail to tell the truth.

We must ask ourselves who we want to be by examining who we really are, who we have been, what we could become. Only by facing the truths of history will we find the better angels of our nature. We have never been wholly truthful or honest with ourselves as a nation and so have yet to enter this conversation as seriously as we might. Now is a particularly good time because Trump is everything about America that we know we have been and the very form of all we must not be or become.

So let us be plain: we have before us in Trump--- this vile, corrupt racist and incompetent narcissist---an example of all that America must never _truly_ become, the very rejection of our ideals, a person who fails even the most elementary tests of decency. In Dr. King's teaching and in his memory we can create an alternative that speaks to an America that we might become, one that is more honest, decent, and true to its impossible propositions. In Dr King we have a chance to ask ourselves about both our failures and our hopes. We can learn about an America that has in its shadow a more vivid possibility for understanding our true identity and our possibilities. That true identity includes the institutions and structures of systemic white supremacy that are as real as our most cherished and valued propositions of equality. We have failed to take our shadow seriously and today, on Dr. King's birthday, I think we have yet another opportunity to reflect. Everyday could be a "new birth of freedom" if we choose King over Trump.

Let us begin with Charles Blow who offers us a useful definition: "Racism is simply the belief that race is an inherent and determining factor in a person’s or a people’s character and capabilities, rendering some inferior and others superior." Trump is racist. Period. This is what Blow and all of us recognize to be a fact. There is no alternative fact or plausible interpretation of his words or behaviors.

Our American racism is built not only on a history that includes the institution of slavery as lawful but on the value of white supremacy as its foundational basis. The history of our politics is the history of these facts, Trump's facts. Trump is a white supremacist, racist as the day is long and the night longer still. This implicit claim to white supremacy is as _fundamental_ to the origins of America as the immortal words of our self-evident truths and ideals. This is America’s shadow truth that follows its light.

To be clear:
White supremacy values, which appear plainly in the American Constitution as law, in the correction of the 13th Amendment, in the entire history of our inequality under the law, are the great shadow truth of America. Lincoln, Kennedy, Johnson, Obama, and King particularly give voice to _both_ the light and the shadow that forms us. They all knew that the words of the Declaration are but half our story, the light of impossible but beautiful declarations of human possibility. We are _not_ ALL light, not in politics, not in spirit, or in any honest assessment of human reality. We are humans seeking a more perfect union with our better selves only when we are willing to see the shadow that follows along with the light.

Trump makes it plain that we are failing and that his very presence in the office of the Presidency is a reminder of our failure. That failure is both political and moral, it is factual and deeply embedded in our national character and in our individual experiences. We speak as if there is only the light of freedom to which we must aspire, but the truth cuts more deeply. To understand America is to see those higher aspirations in the burning light of the truth of our pain, our failure, our shadow that is so vividly presented in the person and in the presidency of Trump.

There will be no American greatness until we embrace both the shadow and the light of our deepest truths. Jefferson the slave owner put into words our light, our most precious ideals, as did the incrementalist and flawed presidency and person of Lincoln. Today we celebrate Dr. King, himself a complex person of great light and real shadow. We know he had his own demons and personal failures. Are any of us exempt? Had he lived I believe he would have had the opportunity to confront these facts of self and politics with even greater honesty.

But what King brings so vividly to our Amercian story and to our spiritual hearts is the acknowledgement that our shadow is just as real as the light that burns brightly. King understood that our founding was not only rooted in uplifting aspirations of the Declaration but in the facts of the Constitution that reveals our deeply flawed American character.

As a nation have not prepared ourselves to do that work, we show little interest in engaging our great task. We argue with and about Trumpism but what we are seeing is a citizenry unprepared and largely unwilling to contend with the contradictions of our history.

In Trump we have a tragic opportunity: he is that darkness of our shadow. Today we celebrate King as the light that can look into that shadow. Dr King gave us an alternative, a land of hopes and dreams that will not forsake the immortal words, even if they were composed by a slave owner, ensconced in our flawed immorality. He taught us, and invited us to look into our souls and to see the darkness as clearly as the light, to examine and contend with the shadow of America so that we might yet create a vision of the shining castle on the hill. It is a day to celebrate King's possibilities and to refute just as plainly the falsity and corruption that is Trumpism, America's latest failure of its greatest promise.