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Guernica by Pablo Picasso. 1937

No Value is Value Neutral

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By Thomas Schmidt

One of the best things about Spokane Faith and Values is that we have been having an informal ongoing discussion of how to discuss our values. I have been giving much thought to this discussion, and have learned a lot. I would like to add a few more tentative ideas in the hope that others might reply, adding to or disagreeing with my thoughts. Then I can learn. And one surprising thing that I have learned is the prevalence of the attitude, among people of faith, is that they regard one person’s values, if they are sincerely held and expressed, are as ‘valid’ as another’s: not merely that all values should be respectfully considered, or possibly containing valuable points or approaches to our global experience, but that they are , shall I say, unarguable! I challenge that, not to dismiss respectful discussion and argument, but to hopefully enable us to better manifest the kingdom of justice and love.

First, it seems to me that there are two differing attitudes about what purpose our writing about our values serves. When one of us presents what we think is a devotional description of a value another may take it as that person’s offering to argue, discuss, learn, and evaluate. Instead of just enjoying the presentation, possibly having feelings nearing those of worship, the viewer may see deeper considerations and be led into more of a critical analysis, from ‘What a beautiful sunset!’ to ‘Those brilliant colors are caused by heavy carbon pollution!’ Both responses are valid, no matter how unexpected. For instance, when I first saw Picasso’s Guernica in NYC I saw artistic techniques used to heighten human feelings. My friend was horrified, and criticized Picasso’s prostitution of art for propagandistic purposes. He called me a pinko — dilatant, I called him a fascist exploiter of proletarian artists.

When one of us describes God as a transcendent being, a traditional theological view with great suggestive power, another may jump in with a feminist or liberation theological critique that such a view is Eurocentric, patristic, and could lead to exclusivist and racist, or anti-Semitic assumptions. The one who innocently presented that view might detect offence when none was meant, and withdraw. But when the person who feels offended cries foul, doesn’t reply, or leaves the field, the one who offered the critique will feel shorted and offended because they believe that how we view God can lead to very bad social consequences and failure to responsibly self critique when the world is crumbling is very important, and a very high value. My wife use to kick me every time I made God a male.

When one, the other, or both harbor offense discussion is closed and all value is lost. We neither enjoy nor learn. All growth stops.

Are we discussing values for devotion or for spiritual growth? Both are valid, useful, needed, and ought to be allowed. If we perceive offense most often none has been meant, or at lease there is no maliciousness or one-upmanship intended. Not all of us are socially adept, my major problem. Paul’s advice here is helpful. The one thinking they are offended could best go to the source and inquire, maybe taking an observer with them. Then the incident could be talked out, and in this group I suspect resolved with good intentions, corrections, or mutual understanding.

In fact I want to suggest (with a tongue in a serious cheek) that we institute a Law of Righteous Discussion (fat chance!) and agree that all offences must be confronted and adjudicated. Furthermore, whenever anyone negatively characterizes another negatively they must, at the same time describe how they themselves fit their own negative characterization. This is the Law of Ownership of Onerous Projections.

I am only half joking here. For instance, if you think me arrogant, please tell me. Maybe I present myself so, or I may have at times superior knowledge of a subject and you at that time don’t handle disagreement well. Many things other than arrogance may be happening. So check it out. I suspect neither means to put the other down. Please tell me; to withhold that knowledge from me is itself an act of arrogance. To condemn another who may have many valuable ides countering our own while not pointing out possible counter points or exceptions, is itself the height of our own arrogance. If we don’t somehow risk a bit and honor each other and see how we both mean well, instead of calling names, neither grows, neither learns, and neither God nor creature is served.

What do you say?

About Thomas Schmidt

Thomas Schmidt
Thomas Schmidt is a retired psychotherapist and chemical dependency counselor who belongs to the Sufi Ruhiniat International order of Sufi’s and is a drummer in the Spokane Sufi group and an elder at the Country Homes Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church. He is a member of the Westar Institute (The Jesus Seminar people). He studied for the ministry in the late 1950’s at Texas Christian Church and twice married Janet Fowler, a member of a long tern TCU family and a Disciple minister. He was active in the Civil Rights Movement, studying philosophy at Columbia University and psychology in the University of North Carolina university system. He has taught philosophy and psychology, and was professionally active in Florida, North Carolina, and, for 25 years in Spokane. He has studied and practiced Siddha Yoga, Zen Buddhism and, since the mid 1970’s, Sufism and the Dances of Universal Peace. He has three sons and three grandchildren. With the death of his wife, Janet, he is continuing their concentration on human rights, ecology, and ecumenical and interfaith reconciliation.

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