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Steven B. Herrmann's Book SPIRITUAL DEMOCRACY (Review Essay)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) October 19, 2014: Is a new spirit of spiritual democracy emerging in our contemporary world? In his new book SPIRITUAL DEMOCRACY: THE WISDOM OF EARLY AMERICAN VISIONARIES FOR THE JOURNEY FORWARD (2014), Steven B. Herrmann, a Jungian psychotherapist in Oakland, California, suggests that a new spirit of spiritual democracy may be emerging in our contemporary world.

At the present time, an army of Muslim militants is trying to establish an Islamic State in parts of Syria and Iraq. It remains to be seen if they will succeed. But it is clear that those militants are not part of the new spirit of spiritual democracy that may be emerging in our contemporary world.

Less violent examples of certain other people who are manifestly not part of the new spirit of spiritual democracy that may be emerging in our contemporary world also come to mind -- for example, the Roman Catholic theocons that Damon Linker writes about in his book THE THEOCONS: SECULAR AMERICA UNDER SIEGE (2006). Disclosure: I come from a Roman Catholic background. However, for many years now, I have not been a practicing Catholic. Today I would describe myself as a theistic humanist, as distinct from a secular humanist.

However, even though Steven B. Herrmann does not happen to advert to the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church (1962-1965), I would point out that the council did inaugurate a new irenic spirit in the official attitude of the church to all non-Catholic religious traditions. This irenic spirit is not exactly the same thing as what Steven B. Herrmann sees as the spirit of spiritual democracy, but it surely was and is a step in that direction.

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Over the centuries, Christians oftentimes persecuted and killed Jews. See James Carroll's book CONSTANTINE'S SWORD: THE CHURCH AND THE JEWS: A HISTORY (2001).

At times in the past, Roman Catholics and Protestants took turns practicing genocide by massacring one another in large numbers.

In light of such historical events, the irenic spirit that the Second Vatican Council ushered in is a welcome step in the spirit of live and let live. It is not a catastrophe in our lives if certain other people around us do not come from the same religious tradition that we come from. So we should strive not to catastrophize about them. For if we do, we will tend to hate them and project all kinds of negative stuff on them. After all, they are our neighbors. Both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scripture recommend that we should love out neighbors.

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In connection with the irenic spirit that the Second Vatican Council inaugurated, I'd like to mention my favorite scholar, Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003), who served as the elected president of the Modern Language Association in 1978. Ong's thought is forward-looking. As a student of his thought, I have also been forward-looking. See, for example, the anthology that I and Paul A. Soukup edited, COMMUNICATION AND LONERGAN: COMMON GROUND FOR FORGING THE NEW AGE (1993). (Bernard Lonergan [1904-1984] was a Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian. His philosophical masterpiece is INSIGHT: A STUDY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING (5th ed., 1992; orig. ed., 1957).

In his essay "Voice and the Opening of Closed Systems" in his book INTERFACES OF THE WORD: STUDIES IN THE EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS AND CULTURE (Cornell University Press, 1977, pages 305-341), Ong does not happen to work with Jungian terminology in this essay, as Steven B. Herrmann does in his new book. However, in that essay, Ong sounds unmistakably enthusiastic, but he does not sound as immoderately enthusiastic as Steven B. Herrmann does in his new book.

Incidentally, I would say that Ong's "Voice and the Opening of Closed Systems" should be read in conjunction with his 1958 essay "Voice as Summons for Belief: Literature, Faith, and the Divided Self," which is reprinted in AN ONG READER: CHALLENGES FOR FURTHER INQUIRY, edited by me and Paul A. Soukup (2002, pages 259-275). For a discussion of Ong's thought that is relevant to Steven B. Herrmann's brief discussion of Melville's novel THE CONFIDENCE-MAN (pages 201, 270-271), see Thomas D. Zlatic's essay "Faith in Pretext: An Ongian Context for [Melville's novel] THE CONFIDENCE-MAN" in the ambitious anthology OF ONG AND MEDIA ECOLOGY: ESSAYS IN COMMUNICATION, COMPOSITION, AND LITERARY STUDIES, edited by me and Paul A. Soukup (2012, pages 241-280).

In "Voice and the Opening of Closed Systems," Ong works with systems terminology, as the title of the essay suggests. He works out a position that he describes as open closure. In open closure, one holds one's own principles firmly, but still remains open to encounter and dialogue with other persons who hold different principles.

I think that Steven B. Herrmann does say some important things in his new book about the spirit of spiritual democracy. However, I admit that separating the wheat from the chaff in his accessible book is not easy to do. But I will undertake to do this here to the best of my ability.

Unfortunately, in his new book Steven B. Herrmann sounds like he is really high on his own thoughts -- exuberant, triumphant, elated, grandiose. On the wings of Jungian theory, he is up there flying like Icarus.

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For a time, it can be thrilling to fly high like Icarus. However, sooner or later, it becomes necessary to come down to earth. Of course being down to earth is not as thrilling as flying high like Icarus. Compared to the thrill of flying high like Icarus, being down to earth is admittedly mundane. At times, it can even seem tragic. But it really isn't tragic, provided that you can come down to earth gently enough to avoid a crash landing. Crash landings are not pleasant.

Compared to Steven B. Herrmann, C. G. Jung, M.D. (1875-1961), always sounds characteristically down to earth in his published works. Perhaps this can be attributed to his professional persona as a medical doctor -- what Aristotle refers to as his ethos.

In any event, in my own admittedly scholarly way, I will try to be down to earth in the present review of Steven B. Herrmann's high-flying book. Granted, I do not typically sound as down to earth as Dr. Jung at his best manages to sound. But I tend to be a bit more concise in expressing myself than he characteristically is.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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