GEORGE TEMPLETON: COMMENTARY
By George Templeton
A Civilized Clash
The school newspaper said that A Night of American Music was this week. I could hardly wait to hear the Camptown ladies sing “Oh de doo-da day”. Imagine my dismay, when I encountered a long-haired male playing a toilet seat. That was followed by dissonance sounding like a cat running on the piano keys, with no melody or rhythm. My friend left at the intermission because he could not take it anymore, but I had to stay to get credit and write a review. I explained how the experience had expanded my horizons, not realizing that others would count it as “appreciating music”. Providence would lead me to make the same mistake.
It was in the late seventies that I received an unexpected phone call. I, along with my boss, had to immediately show up three layers higher in the company management hierarchy. It couldn’t be good.
I had been ordered to create new automation for a large customer. There was a dilemma about funding equipment to do “good, efficient” engineering in my department. Politics allowed killing two birds with one stone by merging the two objectives. It would cost just under a million dollars. It was my problem to define and justify the program with the help of experts. It would require appearing before a dozen top managers who would receive my detailed plan a month ahead of time. They would give me the opportunity to defend it in an hour long inquisition.
This was not like other programs where a capacity expansion, cost reduction, or new product was involved. It was a no-brainer to get a marketing letter concerning the customer who wanted this. It would probably improve reliability and quality, but I would have to attach numbers to that. I would fail if I could not do what I claimed. So, I decided to appeal to emotional arguments about things like leadership and the tide in the affairs of men.
As I walked through the big boss’s door with my heart in my stomach, I didn’t have a clue. The first thing that was said was that I would be fired if I ever made claims like that again. I asked what was wrong, and the boss explained that ambiguity would not be permitted and had to be removed from the program before it could be presented. My question was, “How will I justify it?” The reply was “Just ask for the money”. That is what I did. The big boss must have greased the skids because my program passed the inquisition, for the first and only time, with no debate.
My lesson is repeated in many forms of human endeavor, whenever one feels compelled to emotionally motivate while avoiding the risks of measurable accomplishment. But business, unlike politics, understands about team work.
We evaluated progress every quarter. First, I would write an employee review while each team member wrote one of their own. Then we would meet and discuss our differences and agreements. Next, I would write another review combining the two. Last, we would meet and discuss a final review, affirming that we were all “made of the right stuff” and that the future was open. There were places where the employee could comment. My review required approval by management and personnel. This took about six single-spaced typewritten pages per employee. The key concepts were honesty, candor, mutual understanding, participation, and concrete accomplishments measurable at a time and a place. It was a dynamic process where plans were developed and modified. Of course, this practice varied depending on height in the hierarchical pyramid, but the general idea of distinguishing between opinion and fact can be applied anywhere.
Business plans are a tool for avoiding the pitfalls of emotion. Human reality always suffers from a tension between object and process, between why and how. It needs legs to stand upon. When we focus on objects, the world becomes fixed and outside of us. When process is viewed as more important, we recognize the subjectivity that is part of change and become more receptive. Process evolves, adapts, and is internal.
We met to ponder the question; will the average citizen have a home computer? In the beginning, there were none. Big computers, in business and industry had become commonplace and well known. Would the layman need a computer to find the roots of a polynomial and solve symbolic algebra or differential equations? No, but small businesses, of which there were many, would need help with billings, bookings, inventory, payroll, and cash flow. We thought that business needed a micro-computer version of COBOL! We did not anticipate spread-sheet programs or the computer as a tool for communication and entertainment. When the best minds in science and business cannot get their five year plan correct, why should we think that the ancients could accurately foresee events thousands of years into the future?
The preacher explained that in Christianity all you have to do is believe and accept God’s grace. Wrong religions require you to do things! This is the ambiguity of religion. It insists that it precisely knows what cannot be known.
Does Revelation predict an unavoidable future? Will the Lord of Hosts come one day to massacre the millions who do not consider him the Messiah? At issue is whether Revelation has a symbolic or literal meaning. The former is in agreement with a much older interpretation, that the seven-headed beast represented Rome’s Seven Deadly Sins, and the latter sees its heads as Muhammad, Saladin, and even modern rulers with nuclear technology.
Craig Koester’s Great Course, The Apocalypse, Controversies and Meaning in Western History, explains that apocalyptic fervor began in the late middle ages with popes and rulers calling each other the Antichrist. Its power comes because it legitimizes players as part of God’s plan.
Thomas Muntzer was one of those who heard direct instructions from God and saw himself in Revelation. He was executed in 1525 when he acted out his beliefs by participating in a revolt. Another example was Melchior Hoffmann who claimed he was one of the two witnesses described in Revelation 11. Melchior preached that the kingdom of God would arrive by 1533, but history did not cooperate. He was arrested as predicted, but died in prison ten years later. More recently, William Miller and his followers calculated that the time of Christ’s return would be Oct. 22, 1844. Charles Taze Russell’s followers announced that the resurrection of the dead would occur in 1925. The Bible ends with an affirmation that the second coming will be soon, but we are still waiting 2000 years later.
People take the phantasmagorical images of Revelation to reason a negative view that things can’t get better. They have a selectively literal interpretation of the Bible. They reject the responsibility, risk and opportunity of an open future for the closed certainty of the Apocalypse. Crystalized beliefs order the world.
Politicians talk about closing Islamic mosques (silencing speech that could inspire radicals), tracking and keeping data on Muslims (assumed guilty and can’t be proven innocent), segregating refugees in camps (the enemy), and stopping immigration (allowing Christians only). In the same breath, they say we have always welcomed immigrants. They must know that history does not agree and that their own speech promotes paranoia. They have a disregard for the separation of Church and State, and a lack of compassion for people fleeing the same terror we seek to avoid.
Augustine, the second founder of the Christian faith, explained that the irony of human wickedness always bears the appearance of an intelligible good.
ISIS wants a battle between infidels and Muslims. It is a necessary precursor to their Day of Judgment. They are teaching youth that it is moral to hate and kill, altering minds for generations to come. Those who die in Jihad go directly to Paradise! They believe in the second coming of Jesus. However, next time Jesus will be a Muslim, kill disbelievers, and convert the world to Islam.
Conservatives see this as clash of civilizations. They talk like impartial observers considering concrete but disagreeing claims, but they cannot separate themselves from their own beliefs. They are caught up as participants in that clash. The reality is the process, not its objects. The seer seeing himself is the key to finding a middle ground compromise.
How can reconciliation occur when the objects, idols and literalism of religion intermingle with geopolitics? Everyone wants a process leading to a world without injustice and suffering. The legs of Christianity and Islam stand on the common ground of Judaism. Could the idealism of radical religion be turned to constructive compromise? We are free to believe, but freedom is a process, not an object. We must not allow religion to create an alternative universe that replaces the contingency of life with the certainty of an absolute that is always wrong. All cultures and religions have some valid points of view. The idealized world is not true.
PoliticsThe intelligent commentator, William Buckley must be turning in his grave. Our popular politics seems like a cross between Jerry Springer’s shocking circus and Glen Beck’s polarizing show. Politicians have the idea that if they can get you pregnant, you won’t give up the baby. Their hallucinations, magic, and outlandish inventions will not preserve us. How it is in our back yard is not necessarily how it should be everywhere. Simple solutions are a flag for politics akin to a square wheel. It rolls kind of bumpy, making little progress if at all.