Having Faith in Faith: More Reflections From a New Father

A parent is a deity without power. On the one hand, Amy and I are totally responsible for every facet of Mendon’s well being.  But on the other hand, he is as fragile as a robin’s egg dropped in the middle of an interstate freeway. If we are honest with ourselves, we can not really stop terrible things from happening to him. Unlike Zeus who tames the lighting in the sky, or Yahweh who parted the Red Sea with a simple utterance, I have all I can do to keep track of the pacifier!

If I am really honest, I can not prevent other people from being clumsy or hurtful. Nor can I guard Mendon’s peace and solitude from the grotesque intrusions of emotional turmoil, physical sickness and ultimately death. All I can do is take each day on faith.

But when I use the word faith I am not talking about the flimsy Hallmark card version which gets peddled by lazy preachers and shallow advertisers alike. Bad things will happen to me, to Amy, to Mendon, and to everyone else for that matter. To have faith that bad things won’t happen is not a sign of piety but delusion.

What is needed is the kind of faith which helps us understand that even though bad things happen, it is a good thing that they do. I’m talking about having faith in faith. This is the only attitude which allows us to accept the full weight of responsibility. To be faithful is to believe that no matter what happens to any of us, life will persist. Long after I have come and gone, I will be part of a life cycle that is never ending. This is also true of Mendon.

That said, I believe rituals can help to honor the sort of limitations I have been describing here. For example, by choosing to plant my wife’s placenta in a space that has special meaning to our friendship, we symbolically marked our entrance into the sacred guild of parenthood with a religious act of humility. It was a lovely ceremony. Without a shovel I kicked enough dirt to create a 2 foot hole. We took the ice block with its purple and white veined organic mass from the plastic biohazard bag, and then planted the thawing flesh in the earth. All I said was:

Thank you for this space. Here we can honor God for giving us life. We can honor these woods for giving all of these plants and animals life. Out of life came life. And when our life is over, we will return to this earth. When Mendon’s life is over, he too will return to this earth. Out of this earth will emerge new life. In spite of the worst calamities, life will grow out of life. Even in the darkest crevices of the abyss, and in the hottest tubes of bacterial hell, life will persist. Even if our planet were to perish tomorrow, galactic life will go on.

If we are to accept our limitations, and take on the responsibilities of growing up, it is life that we must embrace. We must accept it, even with all of its magnificent terror and shocking beauty. Not my life. Not the life of humans alone. Not even the life of our planet. We must have faith in life anywhere and everywhere. The fact that there is an anywhere is what we must have faith in.




Having Faith in Faith: more reflections from a new father

Becoming a parent is like being appointed a God without any divine powers.

On one hand, I am intimately responsible for every facet of Mendon’s well being and sustenance. In a frighteningly real sense, his precious life is placed in my care as if I were the maker of his heaven and earth.

Yet, on the other hand, he is as fragile as a robin’s egg caught in the middle of an interstate freeway. If I am honest with myself, I can not really stop terrible things from happening to him. Unlike Zeus who tames the lighting in the sky and Yahweh who parted the Red Sea on command, I have all I can handle to keep track of  where the pacifier went!

Even if I were the most conscientious and doting father conceivable, I still cannot prevent other people’s clumsiness and foolishness, harness and control the elements,  or guard Mendon’s solitude from the unwanted intrusions of sickness and death. All I can do is accept this paradox for what it is and take each day on faith. And I’m not talking about that cheap and easy Hallmark card style faith which promises all will be well. Bad things will happen to me, to Mendon, and to everyone else. To have faith that bad things won’t happen is not a mark of pious devotion but a sign of profound self- delusion. 

On the contrary, I am talking about the kind of faith which helps us understand that even though bad things happen, it is a very good thing that they do. I’m talking about having faith in faith.This is the only proper attitude which allows us to accept the full monstrous weight of parenthood without getting sucked towards the extreme poles of delusional self-grandeur and pathetic hopelessness.

To be faithful is to be alive with excitement. No matter what happens, life will persist. Long after I have come and gone, I will be part of a life cycle that is never ending. Even after Mendon lives his life, he too will return to the place he sprung from.

To grapple with the complexity and terrible responsibility of being a parent, we need to find ways to make rituals out of our limitations. We need to find ways to celebrate our inconsistencies; to honor our mistakes; and to accept that we are not going to get it right.  

One ritual in particular helped my wife Amy and I to honor our limitations. By planting my wife’s placenta in a natural setting that has special meaning to our 15 year old love affair, we wanted to not just save her internal organs from the incinerator at the hospital,  but to physically mark our entrance into the sacred guild of parenthood with a religious act of humility and interconnection.

 So we did. It was a lovely ceremony. Without a shovel I kicked enough dirt to create a perfect hole. We took the ice block and its purple and white veined organic mass from the plastic biohazard bag (issued to us by the nurses in the maternity ward) and planted the thawing flesh in the earth. All I said was: thank you for this space. Here we can honor God for giving us life. We can honor these woods for giving all of these plants and animals life. Out of life came life. And when our life is over, we will return to this earth. When Mendon’s life is over, he too will return to this earth. Out of this earth will emerge new life. In spite of the worst calamities, life will grow out of life. Even in the darkest crevices of the abyss and in the hottest tubes of bacterial hell, life will persist. Even if our planet were to perish tomorrow, galactic life around it will go on.

Life is what we must have faith in. If we are to accept our limitations and take on the responsibilities of parenthood, it is life that we must embrace. Not my life. Not the life of humans and animals alone. Not the life of our planet. But life anywhere. The fact that there is an anywhere is what we must have faith in.  





48 Hours In: a new father remembers his innate goodness

On June 22, 2016, on Wednesday morning at 1:46 am in Rochester’s Highland Hospital, Mendon Joseph Payne came into the world. By all accounts he is a perfect baby.

Writing as a gushingly charmed and improbably wonder filled new dad, I completely concur with this assessment. But truth be told, there is no such thing as an imperfect baby. As far as I can tell, there are no cute babies or ugly babies; there are no crack babies or healthy babies: there are just babies. They are all perfect, unprecedented, miraculously inspired creations.

Essentially that is who we all are. 

Sadly, along the way, we gradually begin to unlearn our perfection. We become adults. We begin to despise each other for imperfections that we simply invented out of thin air. These artificial standards such as height, weight, mobility, strength, head shape, skin tone, birthmarks,  penis formation, hearing and vision aptitude, lip and tongue placement, and hundreds of other physical features are recorded and ranked thus robbing us of our gift to be perfect.


I often wonder if all forms of social, personal, and spiritual violence stem from an unwillingness to accept our innate flawlessness. This is certainly a fundamental tenet of many eastern religions. The Buddha taught his disciples: “We already have perfect compassion, perfect wisdom, perfect joy. We only need to settle our own minds so they can arise from deep within us.” And according to Lao Tzu, “When there is no desire, all things are at peace.”

Yes indeed. If we could just peer into the eyes of our enemy and perceive them as the absolutely perfect baby they came into the world as, we could never bring ourselves to seek their destruction. But we allow ourselves to grow up. We get “older.” We turn into someone else. We become imperfect. Somehow our language is no longer good enough. The way our hair looks is wrong. The way we sit or stand is no longer proper. We begin to believe that everything we do could be done by someone else- only better; and through this ceaselessly hostile process of self denial, we grow to despise not just other people but ourselves as well.

So here I am, only a mere 48 hours into this university of awareness called fatherhood, and what I am witnessing each time I gaze into the mirror of Mendon’s eyes is a picture of my better self. I see my reflection through his eyes and it makes me love myself again. All I see is what I need to see. Everything else is incinerated into the infinitude of his dusky cobalt blue pupils and redeemed. He reminds me.

That said, the ultimate quest is to apprehend everyone-not just Mendon- with this same gaze of unconditional idealism. I want to pass by a stranger at the bus stop and see their purity too. I want to feel the same radical acceptance with them as I do when I am swaddling my newborn son. During these past 48 hours I have been reminded that people are capable of tremendous acts of selflessness, compassion, integrity, courage, mindfulness, and respect. I have been reminded that each baby who comes into this world is alight with these virtues without even trying. They are messengers of God’s faultless sublimity.

If only we all could remember that we are still those babies! We are also manifestations of God’s transcendence and completion. Each of us came into this world naked but clothed in goodness. We were all soaked in the same bloody, purplish fluid of the placenta yet glimmering with radiant hope. We cried a little just to tell the world that it is worth crying for. Our rapture was to breath. Our holiness was to sleep. Our sainthood was to smile. Our divinity was to be alive.

Drone Strikes are Mass Killings Too

Why do we use words like “mass killing” to describe the horror of San Bernadino and Orlando but never use this language to describe 207 Pakistani children killed in drone strikes since 2004?
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the total number of civilians killed in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan exceeds 1,200. The number of injured civilians in these countries exceeds 4,000. Why do we call the slaughter of innocent civilians in American led wars “operations” but call acts of individual rampage in an Orlando nightclub a mass killing?
As far as I can tell, the only difference between one attack and the other is the size of the guns used and the color of the flag sewn on the uniform of the person who squeezed the trigger. In both cases, the lives of the individual victims matter very little. All that seems to matter is their symbolic worth as representations of concepts such as impurity, evil, communism, capitalism, terrorism, imperialism, heathenism and barbarism. 
Although I am already anticipating the backlash which I will face for speaking my unfiltered truth, I really do not care if people find what I have to say offensive. I find terrorism offensive. I find hatred of homosexuals and people of different sexual orientations to be offensive. I find disgracing the Prophet’s compassion to be offensive. I find Just War Theory to be offensive. I find violence against children to be offensive. I find assault rifles and drones to be offensive.
What else can I say? Killing innocent children with hellfire missiles in Pakistan is no less a sin than the hate crime Omar Mateen committed in Orlando. Either we stop justifying all warfare or we accept the consequences of war completely.
George Payne is a free lance writer and founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International.

Sanctioning Hate Offends Both Christianity and Islam

The only difference between a self proclaimed Christian pastor who condones the massacre in Orlando and a self proclaimed Jihadist who actually carries out the ambush, is that one uses the Bible to justify their violence while the other uses the Qur’an.
Although the self proclaimed Christian pastor may not pursue their victims with the same militant vengeance as the self proclaimed Jihadist, they still harbor the same vile feelings inside their hearts. For example, in captured video footage on YouTube, it can be seen how some pastors have no problem whatsoever saying that more people should have died in that night club.


If given a free pass from law enforcement- and tolerated by an indifferent society- these ministers of destruction would no doubt authorize their foot soldiering congregants to shoot up every LGBTQ bar, restaurant, night club, gym, art gallery, school, and affirming church in America. If sanctioned to use assault rifles with immunity on who they view as sexual infidels, they would choose a more lethal weapon to enforce God’s wrath than an AR-15.
To be blunt, these self proclaimed Christian pastors authorize such killings nearly every single Sunday when they preach justified warfare from the pulpit. In the sacred name of Christian democracy and the holy commandments of capitalism, they pray for our soldiers, place offerings in their coffers, pump fuel in their tanks, and promise that they are on a mission from God. Of course we don’t call these killings mass murders; they are “strikes” and “operations.”
But what if these soldiers are not on a mission from God? What if they are just on a mission from their government or hometown church? They certainly are not on a mission from Jesus, who said: “Love your enemies. Pray for those who hate you.” Matthew 5:44

Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Memorial Address at Muhammad Ali’s Funeral Service

Berkeley-based rabbi Michael Lerner spoke as a representative of the Jewish faith at Muhammad Ali’s memorial service in Louisville today, and delivered a fiery sermon calling for a litany of social change, including the ending of drone warfare, the ending of Israeli West Bank occupation, and literally dozens of other things—commanding multiple standing ovations.

Here’s the text of Lerner’s presentation, as pulled (unedited) from closed captioning:

Master of compassion, gold of Compassion, send your blessings To muhammad ali and send your Blessings to all who mourn for Him and send your blessings for All the millions and millions of People who mourn for him all Over this planet. I came here as a representative Of american jews so — and to Say that american juice played An important role with African-american struggles in This country and that we today Stand in solidarity with the Islamic community in country and All around the world. [applause]

We will not tolerate politicians Or anyone else putting down Muslims and blaming muslims for A few people — [applause]

We know what it’s like to be Demeend. We know what it’s like to have a Few people who act against the Highest visions of our tradition To then be identified as the Value to have entire tradition And one of the reasons that we At tokun magazine, a magazine of Progressive jews but also an Interfaith magazine have called Upon the united states Government to stand up to the Palestinian government that he Has jews is to understand that God haas created everyone in Gold’s image and that everyone Is equally precious and that Means the palestinian people as Well as all other people on the Planet. [applause]

I know the people of louisville Has a special relationship to Muhammad ali and I had a Personal relationship in the 1960’s when those of us were Indicted by the federal Government for our varies stands — Various stands against the War in vietnam. I want to say that although he Was cheered on as the Heavyweight champion of the World, the truth is — tall Honor to him — but heavyweights — Heavyweight champions of the World come and go and sports Heroes come and go. There was something about Muhammad ali that was different. At the key moment when he had That recognition, he usinged it To stand up to an immoral war And say no, I won’t go. [applause]

And it’s for that reason that Tens of millions of americans Who don’t particularly care About boxing do care about Muhammad ali, because he was the Person who was willing to risk a Great honor that he got and the Great fame that he got to stand Up for the beliefs that he had, To spreek truth to power when The rest of the people around Him said no, no, you’re going to Lose your championship, and it Was taken away from him for five Years, but he stood up and was Willing to take that kind of a Risk because of that kind of Moral integrity. [applause]

So I want to say how do we honor Muhammad ali? And the answer is the way to Honor muhammad ali is to be Muhammad ali today. [applause]

That means us, everyone here and Everyone listening. It’s up to us to continue that Ability to speak truth to power. We must speak out, refuse to Follow a path of conformity to The rules of the game in life. We must refuse to follow the Path of conformity. Tell the 1% who own 80% of the Wealth of this country that it’s Time to share that wealth. Tell the politicians who use Violence worldwide and then Preach nonviolence to the Oppressed that it’s time for Them to end their drone warfare And every other kind of warfare, To close our military bases Around the world, to bring the Troops home. Tell those who invented mass Incarceration that it’s time to Create an — a living income for Everyone in our c.E.O. Tell judges to let out of prison The many african-americans swept Up by racist police and Imprisoned by racist judges. [applause]

Many of them in prison today for Offenses like possessing Marijuana that white people get Away with all the time. [applause]

Tell our elected officials to Imprison those who authorize Torture and those who tran big Banks and investment companies That caused the economic Collapse of 2008. Tell the leaders of turkey to Stop killing the kurds. Tell israeli prime minister Netanyahu that the way to get Security for israel is to stop The occupation of the west bank And help create a palestinian State. Tell the next president of the United states that she — [cheers]

Tell the next president of the United states that she should Pass a congress institutional Amendment to make all Legislation funneled by congress And the slate legislatures or All other sours of many — money Be banned, all other money, make It all public funding. Tell her that the way to achieve Homeland security is not for us To try new ways of domination. The strategy of domination of The world of the other to get Security has been tried for the Last 10,000 years and it doesn’t Work. The way to get security is for The united states to become Known as the most generous and Caring country in the world, not The most powerful. [applause]

We could start with a global and Domestic plan to once and for All end global and domestic Poverty, homelessndness — Homelessness, hunger, inadequate Education, inadequate health Care. Spiritual progressivities.Org, Come and join us. I want to affirm our commitment To the well-being of all muslims On this planet as well as the People of all faiths and secular Humanists as well. We wish to may honor to the Muslims of the world adds they Continue the fast of ron dom and Share the loss of muhammad ali. Peace be upon them, peace be Upon the prophet muhammad, peace Be upon all of humanity and Peace be upon us. Amen.



CRCDS Must Move in More Ways Than One

Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, one of the last bastions of liberal Christian theological education in North America, has announced they are selling their historic 1100 South Goodman campus to an undisclosed buyer. In a persuasive letter addressed to the CRCDS community, school president Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle acknowledged, “The world around us is changing and it is now time for Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School to consider in a new way how, to best carry out its mission in the rapidly changing landscape of the church and the world in the 21st Century.”


Citing several reasons why this move must be made at the right point in time, for the right price, and for the right purpose, Dr. McMickle pointed out that the building is no longer sustainable and that the campus resources are no longer in high demand from the students. He said, “The number of students who commute to campus continues to rise and these students have no need for our dorms; they do not eat meals in the refectory, do not require a physical library, do not need a campus bookstore and do not have the time to enjoy the beautiful campus grounds.”

The president carefully explained this is the right move. With revenue from the sale, the school can purchase a new space, and in doing so, recalibrate and reconstitute what kind of seminary it wants to be. As Dr. McMickle put it, “Great care will be given to the discussion of exactly where the school will be located in the future and just what kind of facility will best meet the needs of its mission. Should we build a new campus? Can a renovated existing structure meet our needs? Should we commit to remaining within the city limits of Rochester or explore opportunities in the surrounding suburbs? What is the best physical space for delivering the type of education CRCDS has come to exemplify over the years and what are the opportunities for utilizing space to meet new needs in our community and beyond?”

The president also used this letter to expound upon the multifaceted legacy of CRCDS and its  remarkable history of forming progressive leaders in a multitude of locations such as Hamilton, NY, downtown Rochester, Chester, Pennsylvania, and its present spot on South Goodman. Clearly one of the school’s prime and unique assets is its special adaptability in the face of rapidly changing theological and ministerial landscapes.  Employing an analogy that has made McMickle one of the nation’s most revered biblical orators, he compared CRCDS to Ancient Israel, “moving with God from place to place, rather than a temple complex where the school’s identity and physical location are inseparable from its mission and purpose.”

IMG_20160308_100711117Practically speaking, the president contended that the school just doesn’t need that much space anymore.  It is clear based on trends in organized religion that the  landscape is changing in terms of church attendance and membership, careers in ministry, donors, alumni/ae relations, and the struggle for seminary students to afford the ever-rising cost of higher education.

The landscape is also changing in terms of what a modern American seminary should look and feel like. In order to survive another 200 years in an increasingly urban, multicultural, interfaith, deeply ecological, interdisciplinary and overtly political environment, CRCDS will need to not only change the way it is structured geographically, but to change the way it is oriented and commissioned to teach the Gospel. As Dr. McMickle said in his letter, “God has presented us with a great opportunity to lay the foundation for a new period in history of our school.”

CRCDS History

Writing this reflection from the perspective of a proud CRCDS graduate (2004- 2006) I am totally on board with this monumental transformation- both in physical location and the school’s call to a new embodiment of community service. At the same time, I do have one critical remark to make and one point of advice for the school.

The critical remark relates to the supposed lack of interest in campus resources. This may be true of the students who pay to use these resources as part of their all ready inflated tuition, but one of the reasons why the school has been declining in enrollment and suffering financially has less to do with the worth of the campus resources and more to do with the school’s lack of ingenuity.  In crucial ways it lost some of its focus on being a community center and social justice hub. For example, students may not want to eat in the refectory, but there are thousands of hungry kids in our community who do. Why was CRCDS not more imaginative in working with charter schools and other organizations that serve youth to bring these hungry minds and bodies to campus?

What is more, current students may not need the library and bookstore, but there are plenty of under -serviced people in our community who would be delighted to use the beautiful library and to have access to books and computers in general. And although it may be true that students are too busy to leisurely enjoy the campus grounds, there are nature- deprived people in our community who would jump at the chance to tour the campus and/or use its facilities for workshops, seminars, retreats, office space, teach ins, conferences, voter registration drives, encampments, blood drives,  concerts, pray ins, die-ins, worship services, podcasting and radio broadcasting, meditation, and so much more.

Lastly, it may be true that the campus was built for a different theological era, but the cardinal virtues of charity, compassion, openness, collaboration, and community engagement never go out of style. Far too often the doors were locked at CRCDS. Far too often the classrooms were empty and the halls were silent. Far too often the dorms were empty when they could have been filled with summer campers, foreign exchange students, boy scouts, hikers, recuperating soldiers, and even the homeless. Far too often the school was a cloister on a hill rather than an epicenter of raising political and social consciousness.


So no matter where the school ends up, it will only thrive if it is fully engaged with the public.  In other words, the only way to succeed as a progressive and liberal Christian seminary today is to be a community center, social innovation hub, and beacon for interfaith work. Ultimately the people will support the institution but the institution must exist primarily to support the people. For it is clear to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear that no liberal Christian seminary in America can survive in this secular, irreligious and virtually distracted world if they are just training ministers to be “pastoral, prophetic and learned.” It is hard for me to say this out loud but the world does not need more pastors: it needs more social change agents. The world certainly does not need more prophets: it needs people who can do the hard work of social change. And the world does not need more learned people. God knows there are far too many of them already. In the words of the mystic and theologian Howard Thurman, what the world needs more of “is people who have come alive.” The world needs compassionate people who know how to transform their spiritual care into active hope.

That being said, it is always easier to criticize and judge problems than it is to get in the ring and offer your support to find solutions. As an alum I am willing to be part of an alumni oversight committee to help facilitate questions, concerns, and ideas about the move.  Or better yet, I would be willing to form an alum group to ensure the school remains fully engaged with the community after the move.

The bottom line is that I believe in the legacy and future of CRCDS. Although it has shortcomings-just like any other institution-it also has a tremendous track record of cultivating brilliant and dedicated servants of the Christian faith. It has been at the forefront of numerous social and political battles including the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the disabled rights movement, the anti-war movement, poverty and income inequality, and America’s global political hegemony.With this impressive history under its belt I know in my heart that the school is well positioned to be a leader on all of these issues for the next 200 years.

Yet in doing so it will behoove the school to always remember that Jesus of Nazareth was not a Christian: he was a social change agent. Jesus did not found a church: he founded a social justice movement that broke down every institutional barrier imaginable. And Jesus did not put education ahead of service. As he repeatedly taught his disciples throughout his rabbinical ministry: to serve is the highest form of education and to love with unconditional compassion is the highest form of knowledge.

George Payne

Gorilla’s Killing Exposes the Tragedy of Zoos

The latest incident at the Cincinnati Zoo should remind all of us just how unnatural and dangerous these facilities can be for both human and non-human animals alike.

In this case, a 3 year old boy rushed out of his mother’s arms and fell into a gorilla’s open air cage. Harambe, a beloved gorilla at the zoo, was shot to death out of concern for the boy. According to zoo officials, the incident was the first in the exhibit’s 38-year history.

But even if it takes another 38 years for this type of incident to happen again, it would not have happened in the first place if a wild creature was not confined in an artificial environment. I will even go so far as to say that it was not the sharpshooter’s bullet that killed Harambe; it was the fact that he was confronted by human onlookers in a confined pen. That is what ultimately sealed his fate.

Jane Goodall put it best when she wrote, “The voice of the natural world would be, ‘Could you please give us space and leave us alone with our own lives and our own ways, because we actually know much better how to do it than when you start interfering.’

At the very least, it is  deducible that so many of the vestiges of normalcy and security which gorillas have relied on for millions of years are stripped away in the captivity experience. When dependent on natural defense systems such as the rain forest and jungle, gorillas not only have the freedom to be gorillas, they also have the ability to seek out every environmental advantage at their disposal. Zoos not only deprive them of their inalienable right to exist in a liberated state, they also deprive them of their pursuit of well being and happiness.  “A zoo is a prison” wrote Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer.

That being said, in every way except the safe return of the boy to his terrified family, this event was tragic. The fact that scientists can not resist examining gorillas outside of their natural habitat is tragic; that people pay to watch a caged animal yearn for wilderness is tragic; and that a 3 year old would stumble into the powerful grip of a confused beast is tragic also. Certainly the death of Harambe is a tragedy: just as I believe the killing of nameless gorillas all over the world is tragic. 



Can Philosophy be Taught Online? One Professor’s Stance and Stand

Trying to teach philosophy online is like trying to teach swimming online. It just doesn’t work. As much as I can sympathize with the plight of modern day learners with their bumper to bumper, multitasking, full throttle ahead lives, the point of Philosophy is to help people reduce and transform this stress, not to sanction and co-op it by using the same medium which causes so much of the anxiety, distraction and sense of overload in the first place. As Thomas Hobbes said, “Leisure is the Mother of Philosophy.”

As a counter-cultural tool of spiritual and political resistance the art of philosophizing aims to create more space in our lives by helping us to focus on one thing at a time; it slows us down and grounds us in the most primordial experiences of personal and interpersonal communication. Rather than feed into our socially conditioned drive to do more and become more, the discipline works to shift our attention from the kinetic pace of worldly success to the slow but ultimate goal of self awareness. This is a dynamic, sensational, tactile, semantic and multidimensional dialogue which occurs in person and in real time.

When we choose to communicate over wires and  screens we are not fully present with other people in a way that allows the mechanics of philosophy to work properly. An instructor may see a student’s body and they may hear their words but they can not sense their presence in a room; nor can they gauge how their expressions are being analysed by other students. I tend to think that the best philosophy teachers are listeners who can hear silent moments of transition before they happen; they can play off the pregnant moments of creative agitation, and they know when to hold onto or let go of a moment based on an intuitive flow of the discourse.  This artistic science can not be simulated virtually. 

Unfortunately so many vital pedagogical skills are nearly impossible to replicate  over the computer.I am referring to one’s physical mobility within the classroom itself, the cultivation of empathic sensitivity, the use of well timed humor, classroom design and ambiance, the implementation of physical rituals, and countless other psychological, emotive and aesthetic qualities imperative to good teaching. As I see it, there is the real thing and there is something like the real thing. Why should we settle for a pale imitation of the genuine experience? Why choose to live in Plato’s  artificial cave when we know how to break the chains and walk out into the sunlight of the Real?

Kids on cell phone

Although the discipline has impressive capacities for social adaptation and technological versatility, surely it is not reading chapters in a book, thinking alone, posting a response in a discussion forum, and then waiting for others to find time in their hectic lives to offer a response back. This may be a form of research, communication, or even learning, but it is not Philosophy. Nor is Philosophy watching YouTube videos, listening to lectures, or having conversations in virtual chat boxes that are interrupted by a constant parade of images, sites, pop up ads, and other distractions that come with being “connected.”

Part II 

Nevertheless, a true philosopher always looks for flaws in their own presuppositions. Upon further reflection there are too many counterexamples for my position to be irrefutable.  For example, there are those who can’t learn in a classroom due to ailments, handicaps, or anxieties of some sort. Am I willing to say that these students are not able to philosophize when they can only safely use the online forum? What about the poor who can’t afford to go to college yet have a library card and internet access? Are they also denied the opportunity to philosophize because of their station in life?  How about prisoners and other members of society who are denied access to traditional academic opportunities?  Is online learning somehow a feeble substitute for the learning they would receive outside the prison walls? 

It was Bertrand Russell who once wrote, “To teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralysed by hesitation is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can do for those who study it.”

With Russel’s words in mind, is my thesis essentially outmoded, misguided and hampered by prejudice? Can one hold an absolutist position without ignoring the realities of people who have vastly different learning needs? Am I just failing to live up to my own potential as a teacher when I turn my back on this challenge? Why can’t I make the medium work for my own particular style? Isn’t that what being a creative teacher is all about? Good questions all around.

But we do lose something necessary  when Philosophy is uprooted out of the classroom and transplanted onto discussion boards. Skype may be an impressive piece of technology, bit it is not the same as being with your students in a physical setting.  Finding a good teacher online is wonderful, but doing philosophy requires much more than logging into a website, or following a YouTube channel. As my personal struggle persists, the question at the heart of the matter continues to be: What does it mean to philosophize other than to access, absorb and announce information?  

Besides,  what happens when teachers begin to lose all of their classroom time? How much closer are we to the day when robots and recorded programs will be deemed more efficient and cost effective than human teachers?  How much closer are we to the day when this prehistoric and most human endeavor will be dropped from our school curriculum all together?

At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, the reason I choose not to teach online has nothing to do with the quality of learners who gather there for help and inspiration, the unique challenges of the medium, or the inherent value of sharing ideas with people of different backgrounds. I choose not to teach online because I believe it is important to protect and preserve-if only symbolically- the role of in-class teaching which is currently under threat in academia. Frankly speaking, I am deeply concerned about the fate of a discipline that I cherish, and I can not bring myself to participate in something that inevitably harms it. 

I fully realize that I may be a lone wolf crying in the wilderness. But at least my voice is crying for the survival of something that I love. Even if I am the only one who hears it, at least I am listening to a sound that I trust.