Thursday, February 03, 2011

Coram Deo or Else the Historic Present of Evil

Congress on Your Corner
This was the sign "Congress on Your Corner" constituent meeting.
I wrote this essay, for a class that will end this Saturday, February 5, 2011

I am hoping that you are capturing the real essence of this "construct", "Coram Deo", and the importance of that dialogue [so often spell and written as "dialog" too] that took place in our first session.

I also remind you that when one learns something very important, this same thing would stick in one's memory;  as we are learning the mere present becomes part of our personal history at every single moment, more so on the times in which we are really alert and eager to learn; within a context of a larger circumstance, the "present" could be known, as a whole as, "the historic present". In this regard many people usually observe in their conversations, phrases about it, like: "These historical Times or these historic times." There is a semantic difference between those words, "historic and historical"; however, for the most part these terms are used interchangeably nowadays; nevertheless, if you decide to delve into it you can, and you will perceive some nuances in their meanings.

Anyway, little we knew about that almost at the same time of our discussion, and around 10 o'clock a.m. in Tucson, Arizona, a heinous attack was being perpetrated by a 22-year-old disturbed individual.

As we learned the events that took place depicted by the media, we understood that the life of a brilliant promising little girl was horribly taken away from her, in a very brutal and abrupt way without compassion, all together with the lives of 5 more people. All of them now are the unfortunate victims of a shooting geared to assassinate the U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the first place, who in fact was dramatically bounded in the head, and now she has miraculously survived the massacre.

Lately, these types of unspeakable rampages are seemed more often, that in the past, in the news; and so their frequency should bring our attention to the roots of these sporadic cases of dementia, which in turn should be seemed as the same roots of evil.

Notwithstanding, what is evil? A guy who passes a red light just because there is nobody there, or he knows that nobody is watching? A person who steals money from the elderly? A politician that uses his influence and power for enriching himself or herself?  A dictator who does not want to leave the power, and so maltreats the people who oppose his regime just to preserve the status quo? Where does the evil reside or comes from? What is the source of evil?

As Faust (Goethe) learned when he just sold his soul to Mephistopheles, sometimes the evil resides in ourselves.

Faust once he was exhausted and overwhelmed by all the knowledge that he acquired, his fame, the fortune and those pleasures that he enjoyed in abundance; he understood that the evil resides in the capacity of every single individual to make choices, in the freedom to opt for the seemingly best option possible according to some determined elected criteria, and not only just the search for the shortest path or an easy way out.

Faust's evil was in direct proportion of his crooked ambitions, and these ambitions came from his way of thinking, which in fact would have determined and conditioned his feelings and Behavior.

All that evil was the sum of the lack of a truly ethical examination, and reflection over the consequences of his decisions, and actions.

Faust finally made the most painful and difficult choice, and he painfully repented too when he saw and comprehended all his bad choices while experiencing his "Memento Mori" i.e., facing and remembering that he needed to die and deliver his most precious possession: His Soul.

Theretofore, critical thinking is essential to do the right thing, or at least the best thing, not just for one time but at all the times; because, by thinking critically and creatively, we are compelled to examine closely our reality; to test and retest the validity and credibility of our information's sources as the logical structure of our thoughts.

We are demanded to make proper inferences, whether inductively, or deductively, and value judging what is the most important and dear to us based upon our experiences, perceptions, and educated assumptions. Thus, we have the innate power to choose from a variety of options.  We are supposed to use our free-will and capacity of judgment to distinguish what is right from what is wrong; what is good from what is actually bad; the truth from what is being fake or it is false.

We have the abilities and so we can understand and feel what are the prospects of evil for us and more importantly for others and our environment.

Our actions do reflect our positions and dispositions clearly.

Therefore, read carefully, this text as a corollary [in the sense of a natural consequence; first of all, derived from a spontaneous as genuine dialog that occurred in class; and on the other hand, for our interest and curiosity to understand thoroughly and with great attention to the details that which rest behind those Latin words: Coram Deo.

Yes, it is "Coram Deo", a construct made of two words [no just one], they are two Latin words, and they mean, “before the face of God". That is in the Christian sense, but a Buddhist, or any one irregardless of an assumed position about it whatsoever, would or should have, at one point or other, needed or feel the need to examine the question according to their degree of integrity, energy, predisposition and respect for understanding, first the question, then its difficulty, and finally the available answers stated in the history of civilizations. This is know in research as literature review.

It will be nice if we could understand or examined with more patience this subject, as honoring the human effort in development this question and giving or finding plausible answers in the last 5 millenniums:

How it could have been originated; if absolutely we do not eat "answers"? Neither, we survive on formulating questions. We have stomachs, we can feel those intestines moving inside ourselves, especially, when they are empty, and "tangibly" we know what hungry means because we can feel it very well; and certainly books or ideas are not food. Why, then, we feel this urge to know, this curiosity about it, to find the meaning of life and its origins.

It is an ontological question, it involves our fundamental "being", and if we discussed "the being" in the most general concept, then therefore, we need to go "there" and ask somehow: What is reality? What is this existence? Does fiction exists if is not reality? How our beings became to be the way we know them? Was Descartes right about the "Cogito Ergo Sum" or the only perception of any object external to ourselves determines our own existences? Is there a supernatural being, Omnipresent, Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent that are judging our behavior, personal choices and affairs, or we are just part of an entity that has grown from nothing? And therefore, what is nothingness?

How well we answer these questions will determine the way we will live.

Suddenly, those words should come to our minds again: "Coram Deo". These words could mean many things to different people; however, they could be interpreted as our individual position against those unknowns that are always present in our lives since day one of our upbringing.

Some people are just fine by finding those answers around themselves and within their local communities, others search in different places in the world, others also are looking back into the past, looking for meaning in their lives by understanding the archeological records of those different ancient cultures as proofs of their beliefs. In different ways, there is this renew feeling or need to be near to what we do not know; perhaps is our minds, this intellectual capacity to understand that we still the lack or the need to answer the ultimate and most difficult questions. We have a pretty good idea about how the universe looks like, within many other universes. We know how the matter and energy interact at certain level within the space-time dimensions. 

We have found and discovered Universal Laws and we have elegant theories to explain our world around and inside us; however, we need to solve numerous excruciating societal problems and crises. Still, those extremist views and other toxic ideologies are seen to be one of the major problems that our civilization is currently confronting. The war has not face, the enemy is everywhere,  does not have nationality, nor belongs into a territory, like virus spreads, capturing young and innocent minds that are filled with resentment. An enemy whose best weapon against us is the use of misinformation, sabotage, ignorance, and the worst, terror.

Don Miguel de Unamuno

Besides this situation, we face our individual lives with our dear relatives and friends; as Don Miguel de Unamuno put it, and perphas, we all could identify with his position, "with reason, against the reason or without reason, I do not want to die!"; moreover, from the Roman times a voice spell for us those words, "Memento Mori", that is, "remember that you are going to die," as preparing us  to live accordingly in a "Coram Deo" mode.

Also, by searching and dedicating ourselves to clarify our ontological or theological positions, and answering those questions with humility and seriousness, working really hard, we soon realize and therefore see that the inquiries do conform as a fundamental cornerstone within our beliefs system, our world-view or paradigm. We need to be careful and cautious though, when we engage into this type of lucubration, because it takes time, energy, dedication, and you need a lot of determination to continue improving your understanding on the subject; no matter how long it takes you, and not matter how difficult it is, at the end you will not have only your position but also your feet on solid grounds.

So, Coram Deo it is really an attitude, towards the self and others. An attitude of respect, of devotion. A unique awareness of our vulnerabilities in confronting our individual existence with the ghosts and byproducts of our own ignorance.

Ergo the source of evil is mainly irrationality, but also the lack of understanding and empathy, and ignorance. If you factor all these "attributes" together, there you have a formula to create zombies or monsters or both. 

One of the best forms of combating irrational beliefs is by, incidentally, improving our critical thinking skills and our creative problem solving. Now, I will mentioned Socrates, who stated the following thought before he was about to follow his death sentence, and so moments before he would have ingested the hemlock:

"The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our separate ways, I to die, and you to live. Which of these two is better only God knows.

The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David (1787).

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