Saturday, May 18, 2013

God, Morality And The American Dream

Put your big boy pants on because I'm going into the weeds.

No, not really. Philosophical discussions have no end and that is the only definitive philosophical statement one can make with philosophical certainty.

I am looking at some seemingly disparate sources: A. O. Smiths New York Times review of Gatsby, Pain & Gain, Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring; Henry Kissinger and a Sherwood Anderson short story from "Winesburg, Ohio".

A.O. Smith addresses the movies mentioned above as a progression of America's entitlement culture. Not the perceived entitlement some people attribute to only the poor, but to all of us. It began with the mythical American Dream of freedom for purposes of not just worship, but acquiring things. At first it may have been land. Today it's 'a headlong embrace of materialism' without a stable moral perspective. Smith also calls it 'commodity fetishism'. I have attended Lakewood Church here in Houston on several occasions and Joel Osteen skillfully melds a moral perspective into material success. Nuances connecting God, Morality and The American Dream can be overlooked by some and lend rationale to others who strive harder for the latter.

Robert D. Ryan, authors an article entitled, 'The Statesman, In Defense Of Henry Kissinger', (The Atlantic, May, 2013). In his defense of Kissinger's foreign policies, Ryan reminds us of the times in which they took place. 'Other, luckier political leaders might later discover opportunities … where before there were none.' Thus, ' Ensuring a nation's survival sometimes leaves tragically little room for private morality. Discovering the inapplicability of Judeo-Christian morality in certain circumstances involving affairs of state can be searing. The rare individuals who have recognized the necessity of violating such morality, acted accordingly, and taken responsibility for their actions are among the most necessary leaders for their countries, even as they have caused great unease among generations of well-meaning intellectuals who, free of the burden of real-world bureaucratic responsibility, make choices in the abstract and treat morality as an inflexible absolute.'

Sherwood Anderson published Winesburg, Ohio 1919, there were still Civil War veterans alive and active in their communities. I note this to show how far back Anderson's following observation goes and its relevance to contemporary discussions going on today:

"The beginning of the most materialistic age in the history of the world, when wars would be fought without patriotism, when men would forget God and only pay attention to moral standards, when the will to power would replace the will to serve and beauty would be well-nigh forgotten in the terrible headlong rush of mankind toward the acquiring of possessions, …"

See? It's what I am addressing today, May 18, 2013. Anderson seems to separate God from moral standards and I am not certain this can be done without a beginning point be it God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Confucius, Emerson, etc.

Here is another observation regarding the media. Sound familiar? Remember this was written in 1919.

"In the last fifty years a vast change has taken place in the lives of our people. A revolution has in fact taken place. The coming of industrialism, attended by all the roar and rattle of affairs, the shrill cries of millions of new voices that have come among us from over seas, the going and coming of trains, the growth of cities, the building of the interurban car lines that weave in and out of towns and past farmhouses, and now in these later days the coming of the automobiles has worked a tremendous change in the lives and in the habits of thought of our people of Mid-America. Books, badly imagined and written though they may be in the hurry of our times, are in every household, magazines circulate by the millions of copies, newspapers are everywhere. In our day a farmer standing by the stove in the store in his village has his mind filled to overflowing with the words of other men, The newspapers and the magazines have pumped him full. Much of the old brutal ignorance that had in it also a kind of beautiful childlike innocence is gone forever. The farmer by the stove is brother to the men of the cities, and if you listen you will find him talking as glibly and as senselessly as the best city man of us all."

T. S. Elliot describes the still point of the turning world in his poem the Four Quartets. It is undefinable, it is where everything occurs yet nothing changes.

"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.


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