News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Confession In Search of a Dialog (1)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Confession In Search of a Dialog (1)

When I first saw Ali's title I was glad because I'd been thinking along a similar line. Then I found he was discussing a policy issue while what I'd been considering was a more personal, perhaps confessional, posting. I was thinking that what often gets lost in many discussions and conversations between people of different cultures is the "personal," even intimate details of our lives.

If different cultures can approach any type of authentic discourse, it seems to me, it is this intimate level that it must reach; otherwise real, heartfelt understanding can't and won't take place. (I think that it's significant beyond simple anecdote that most people overcome prejudices when they have a chance to live near and interact with people they previously were prejudiced against.) ...

What I will confess in the following are details of my personal life, particularly in relationship to my children and my other relationships in life. Some on the forum might be scandalized by what I tell. Others might say how stupid of me, while others will judge my lack of character or other defect. To all, I would say that I am a sinful man--I know that.

I have made huge mistakes--not just ethical mistakes but also sins that are perhaps worse than anything ethical. I say this because I accept the notion that sinfulness is not equated with breaking social laws or customs or traditions.

Having said this, I ask others to exhibit unrestrained, unfettered, judgmental remarks to what I write. I welcome your words. I believe that I am as conscious of my faults as any, or at least I pray that the veil of deception be lifted from y heart. So where I can learn and change I will. Where I see prejudice and unwarranted judgment I will call a spade a spade as Americans like to say.

Do not expect me, however, to accept judgments based on cultural values that are patently limited in time and space to one culture. I do not accept the notion that cultural values and traditions have the type of transcendent truth that many ascribe to them.

Some will perhaps say that all this is nice, especially since I write from behind a pseudonym. There's much to that, I think. Indeed, many will say that I do so because of my shame. There's something to that as well I think. Yet, I believe that it is exactly this issue of shame that must be broached in these types of conversations.

Some will see what I propose as typically American, perhaps a la Jerry Springer. I would hope that those who read my confession might do so with the poets Allen Ginsberg in mind or maybe Sharon Olds. I do see that these confessional writers have their detractors, but I’d remind forum members that the confession goes as far back as Augustine, the great northern African thinker.

Martha Nussbaum has proved quite conclusively I think that shame is a culturally formed emotion. What Americans accept as an issue for shame, others might not. At the same time, what other cultures find shameful Americans do not. Indeed, within American society you will find that Americans are as of many minds about what is shameful as they are about any other issue. For some Americans in fact, it is the loss of shame that tells how corrupt American culture and society are.

In this, no doubt, they agree with the other critics of American secular life that they otherwise consider enemies.

My son has told me that he's moving to the southwest to live with his mother and to go to community college there. He's been working at McDonald's ever since he was put on academic parole for bad grades during his first year at college. He decided to party instead of work on school. Now he is reaping the fruits of his desires I guess.

His mother and I divorced several years ago; the formal divorce happened after a spiritual and emotional divorce, a time during which I lived as though I was single.

After moving east with my son, she remained behind with my two daughters. I have five children. Three from my former wife and two by a previous relationship wherein I did not marry the mother of my two other children.

My son has been living with a young woman for about a month or so. His decision to move to the southwest made her cry several times, he said. I feel very sorry for this young woman who is very nice. She works very hard at her job and she has shown a lot of forgiveness in allowing my son to be with her while he has already expressed his plan to move away.

My daughters who live with my former wife have been living what many would consider a dysfunctional life-style. My older daughter (15) has told me that she has experimented with some drugs though she does not do so now. She had a short relationship with a young man for a month or two but she broke up with him because he cheated on her. She’s been sexually active for several months.

I find myself concerned about both of these incidents. I had hoped that they would not replicate the mistakes that I made in my own adolescence. A product of a broken, abusive, drunken marriage myself, I experimented with drugs, had relationships at 15, and became an alcoholic for 10 or so years. I’ve been drug-free and sober for over 20 years now.

My concern for my children is that they be happy. While I believe that the education I have undergone by life has made me into a better person—for all its suffering and pain, both self-inflicted and other-inflicted—I did not trust the workings so much so that I wanted to entrust the lives of my loved and cherished children to its rigorous regime. Yet, it is perhaps only life that will bring them to the infinite, as I understand it in all my sinfulness.

The Greek philosopher Socrates once laughed at the leading politicians and teachers of his time for being unable to explain how we can teach virtue. He pointed out that those that other people called virtuous often raised children who were perceptibly non-virtuous. In his search for a method to inculcate virtue he was very skeptical that such a regime could be found.

I am not a politician nor prominent member of society. I do occupy a position of some prominence, however. While I would never ask others to imitate my life, I had hoped that I could pass on to my children some of the things I had learned from life. Even my religious practice, though, has never been enough. That is, perhaps because I have moved from a churched person to non-churched. This has occurred because of my disaffection with dogmatic and doctrinal religion but also because I could not honestly say that my life mirrored the virtuous life espoused by those churches.

I’m afraid that this short portrait neither does justice to my life nor the lives of my children. It perhaps draws too much on the shadows to make its point and not enough of the light. Yet, I must say that from perspective such shadows do indeed haunt my dreams and waking life.

Perhaps my airing them on this forum is a way to exorcise them. I don’t know whether that is needed, since my confession to the Other is always more important and more salvific than any social or cultural anodyne might offer up as salve for psychic wounds.

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