Nov 26, 2014

Can a Continent Turn from Loneliness and Self-Absorbtion

Can a Continent Turn from Loneliness and Self-Absorbtion

Pope Francis addressed the European Union yesterday.  In a well-crafted speech he challenged Europe to combat the divisiveness of individualism and polarization and remember its founding motto, "Unity in Diversity". The European Union formed by coming together to combat threats and build a better society. Recent crises have left nations pursuing policies of privatization of resources, placing the desires of individuals over the common good of all people, and those that create a moral vacuum filled only by extremism.

The future of Europe – added Pope Francis - depends on the recovery of the vital connection between openness to God and the practical and concrete ability to confront situations and problems

Christianity is not "a threat to secular Europe but rather an enrichment". In returning to its Christian culture, Europe will regain its "soul" and arise from its "loneliness"

Ultimately, what is good for Europe is also good and true for the United States. We are not strangers to loneliness, self-absorption, a growing disparity between wealthy and the poorest of poor, colleges that keep the poor from attending, and growing radicalism.

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Nov 14, 2014

Our National "Brand" is in Decline

Our National "Brand" is in Decline

Each year the Country Brand Index (CBI)is published. This report explores various factors to assess the "brand" 118 countries ranking them according to their strengths. The basic premise supporting the idea of country branding is that nations with a better image will inspire more people to invest and travel there, and buy products developed in that high ranking nation.  Think about corporations, if Apple's logo is on a tablet we immediately think high quality and solid construction. That is branding.

Not all counties qualify as having a brand, in fact the report shows that only 22 meet that criteria.  According the international report, the United States has dropped from an overall rank of #1 in 2009 to #7 in 2014.  Our value system, heritage, culture, quality of life are not in the top 10.  We did score #2 in business potential right behind Japan.

America's entrepreneurial spirit is still vibrant. That is part of our culture, much of this nation was settled because men and women tamed the wilderness in pursuit of progress and building a better life for their families.

The other aspect of our founding principles seems to be lacking.  According the this report our moral values and culture are in decline. Where and when did this change? Is it the media, breakdown of traditional values, lack of a two-parent household, personal technology, a relativistic philosophy, denial of freewill and belief in determinism?

Each week at Sunday Liturgy, Christians pray a creed in which we acknowledge the need for faithful unity in belief in Christ. Perhaps unity is the answer. A nation that unites under God is one where its people care for their neighbors, lives a moral life, fights corruption and greed, remembers its past, and protects its future.

You, the one
From whom on different paths
All of us have come.
To whom on different paths
All of us are going.
Make strong in our hearts what unites us.
Build bridges across all that divides us;
United make us rejoice in our diversity.
At one in our witness to your peace,
A rainbow of your glory.
-- Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB 
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Nov 11, 2014

Christian Service vs. Laziness and Control, What Will Win Our Heart and Mind?

Service to others is a pillar of true Christianity.  I have had the privilege to visit many Catholic School, speaking to principals, teachers, parents, students, and priests about these schools. They all stress their commitment to service.  Pope Francis delivered a recent homily in Casa Santa Marta where he focused on the unprofitable servants.

Jesus said to the Apostles: “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” (Lk. 17:7-10)

Pope Francis suggested that without service a Christian “becomes ‘a Christian out for himself, to serve himself.’ His is a ‘sad life’, ‘the many great things of the Lord’ are ‘wasted’”. This “sadness of life” begins with laziness, which distances us from work and promotes ease and selfishness. Giving and serving promotes empathy and understanding, which leads to compassion and truly fruitful human connections (opposed to virtual connections), leading to a life of action and purpose.

Further distancing ourselves from service is our desire for control.  We too often desire to be masters of our own surroundings and activities. Service is acting with humility; serving, not controlling others. This often leads to sins of pride, arrogance, and an attitude which tramples on others, all of which are contrary to authentic service.

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Nov 9, 2014

Hacking The Human Brain Is Too Much Sci-fi For Me

I am not sure what is more scary human cloning, or the the the ability to control the human mind. If this were a sci-fi novel or movie we are living in the part of the story that directly precedes the story. 

The fact what his technology has already been effectively used on a mouse proves that it is possible. Do we trust technology enough to alter our very DNA, allowing an outside sources to influence our thoughts, control our actions, or change our feelings? Do we trust corporations, researchers, and governments enough that this technology would be used properly and be completely secure?

I've often said that science fiction writers are the prophets of our day. What have we witnessed in this area of fiction.  Star Trek had the Borg which used implants to strip people of their individuality connecting them to a collective consciousnesses.  Dr. Who introduced us to the Cybermen which did the very same thing. This list could grow. All of these fictional stories show the horrors that can happen when humans give control to technology.

God created us to be who we are and how we are. We should not re-make ourselves following our own design. Modern history has shown that when we deny our identity as God's creation tragedy quickly follows.  In the 20th century, two nations, Germany and Russia experimented with an atheistic governmental philosophy that stripped men and women of their dignity.  The atrocities committed by those governments in the name of science are inhuman.

God is the only architect of creation and is the only one who should modify creation. Our role in this world is steward, that is the caretaker of God's creation. To take care of this world and its wonders we must understand it and continue to learn about it, thus the need for advanced science. We can even repair what needs repair.

Altering the very design of life crosses the line into sin. Recall for a moment the story of Adam and Eve. They chose to become like God by gaining for themselves knowledge of good and evil. To "hack the human brain" is choosing to be like God in re-designing the human mind. The consequences of the first sin were quite severe, what will the consequences of this sin be? 
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