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God, Man & Jerry Brown’s Ignatian Indifference

Feb16

Our friend Dan Balz did a nice job after he scored a sit-down interview with Jerry Brown, in advance of Crusty’s formal annunciation that he’s running for governor. We were especially intrigued when we read this:

If she wins the GOP nomination, Whitman will have a sizable financial advantage over Brown. She has already put $39 million of her money into the race and could spend $150 million or more by the election in November. Brown can’t compete with that kind of money, but he said of Whitman, “Her money is not kryptonite.”

Asked how he will prepare for that, he offered a lesson from St. Ignatius. He would summon all the “Ignatian indifference” that he could. That is, he added, the idea of eschewing attachments to wealth or glory and preparing “to do the will of God, however it manifests.”

“Here we have the will of the people,” Brown said, “and how it turns out will be fine for me.”

Huh? Wussup with that ?

Was Jerry really saying he’s preparing “to do the will of God?” And if so, how come Balz didn’t make that the lede of his piece? Because if that’s what Jerry is saying – that he is bracing for Meg’s onslaught by preparing “to do the will of God” — then by golly, he’s right in there with Pat Robertson and Rick Warren, isn’t he?

So we called Jerry’s office for some clarification. Brown wouldn’t come to the phone for a quick theological discussion, but spokesman, Sterling Clifford (who sat in on the Balz interview but who was raised Mormon, not Catholic and certainly not Jesuit) said Jerry was trying to explain “Ignatian indifference” as an acceptance of God’s will, which he distinguished from the election, which is a matter of the peoples’ will.

We weren’t convinced.

Wasn’t Jerry saying that in preparing to accept eMeg’s multi-million-dollar attacks, he would be doing God’s will? “Jerry was not saying that,” Clifford said. “He was saying he’s making an effort not to take the personal attacks too seriously.”

When we checked with Balz, he agreed that Brown wasn’t saying he’s preparing to do the will of God but, “That the will of the people is in this case like the will of God — that is, whatever the voters decide he will accept.”

OK, but flashback to 1998. We were there when former Attorney General Dan Lungren got in some trouble talking about the role of God in public life as he launched his campaign for governor.

Is Brown on the verge of doing the same thing? It’s a fair question because Brown’s theology is deeply embedded. He took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Los Gatos in 1958 where, according to biographer Roger Rapoport, “It seemed to Jerry there was no limit to what you might accomplish if you let go of your personal ambitions and committed your life to the greater glory of God, as his instrument.”

Of course, Brown was released from those vows two years later, when he left the seminary. By then, however, he was ingrained with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which were designed by the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) to help “conquer oneself and regulate one’s life and avoid coming to a determination through any inordinate affection.”

Though not a Jesuit priest, as he might have become, Brown has never cast off the doctrine of contemplatio ad amorem – with its belief that the spirit of God can be found everywhere – in chaos and order, intelligence and ignorance, fame and obscurity — and that contemplation and action go hand in hand because being is active.

The same clash of concepts, unity of opposites, battling dualities (think: against Prop 13 and for it, for example) has been a hallmark of Brown’s theology, ontology – not to mention politics — throughout his life, as suggested in his comment to Balz that he would do the will of God and the will of the people at the same time.

It was no accident that the young Jerry was fascinated by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit paleontologist and phenomenologist. About the time Brown was in the seminary, Teilhard was silenced by the Jesuit hierarchy for his attempts to synthesize theology and evolutionary biology. As Brown biographer Richard Rappoport described Teilhard’s theories, he sought “to reconcile humanism and grace, nature and the Cross, prudence and heroism, freedom and obedience.”

It’s not hard to understand why Brown would – then and now — be attracted to a priest who wrote: “Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”

In Jerry time, it was a mere nanosecond from the study of Teilhard to the Tassajara Hot Springs, the Carmel Valley Zen retreat that Brown and his one-time aide de camp Jacques Barzaghi used to visit; to E.F. Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” and onward to C.K. Chesterton, who was labeled “The Apostle of Common Sense,” in a book by Dale Ahlquist, published by (drum roll here) Ignatius Press.

It wasn’t coincidence that in his first interview heading toward this election – with Calbuzz back in April of last year — Brown said he is planning to be an “apostle of common sense.” We saw then, an echo of his 1992 Winter Soldier presidential campaign in which he autographed copies of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense.”

But the phrase – actually the title of Ahlquist’s 2003 book — pays homage to Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), the 300-pound, cigar-smoking English writer, journalist and Catholic convert who labeled common sense “that extinct branch of psychology” and who wrote: “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and also to love our enemies, probably because they are generally the same people.”

Chesterton, who attacked both socialism and capitalism, who defended the Catholic faith and the common man is just another in the line of thinkers whose ideas seem woven into Brown’s  rhetoric.

His thinking seems little changed from the window into his psyche he offered in the 1975 commencement at the University of Santa Clara – the Jesuit school he had attended for a year before joining the seminary. In part of that speech, Brown reached back to the Father Teilhard de Chardin who, he said:

“…saw that there was an evolution of the mind as well as the body. The evolution of the spirit was bringing the divergence of this planet together, not only the nuclear problems, the problem of learning to live with people who are very different, the problem of one generation accepting the different lifestyle, of accepting one another. I think we can very well think of the philosophy that all diversity is being converged toward a greater unit. That’s the way I see things and it won’t be done unless each one of us can do this for ourselves so that together we can do what none of us can do separately.”

His spokespeople can deny it, but Jerry Brown has always seemed to see himself as an instrument of God’s will and an instrument of the people’s will, simultaneously. He has never had any interest in imposing his religious beliefs on others but to assert that he is not shaped and driven by his Jesuitical ontology is to deny the obvious.

Brown’s first guru was not Baba Ram Dass, who published “Be Here Now” in 1971, but his forerunner — Ignatius — who told Jerry and all the other would-be keepers of the flame and sword from the 16th Century onward: “Age quod agis” – “Do what you are doing.”


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There are 5 comments for this post

  1. avatar sqrjn says:

    Vox Populi Vox Dei – to believe in democracy is very akin to having a religious faith. The AG’s comments are inline with things he has been saying his entire career. True he is a very pious man. But he is not claiming any special status in the universe as you accuse.

    The voice of the people, the voice of god. The maxim is interchangeable. One of the best attacks the AG will have against Whitman is that she is impious. She is attempting to subvert the will of the people, to buy her way to prominence. Its not crazy self-centered egotism that the AG is expressing, its humility before the democratic system. You guys totally missed the point and made a left turn to crazy.

  2. avatar Divebomber says:

    In a way, I agree with sqrjn, but in a different direction… I say, “So what?” Mr. Brown is a spiritual man? OK… so what? What are his solutions for the current problems California faces? Frankly, I’m surprised you guys spent an entire article focusing on whether Mr. Brown is someone who will lead with Judeo-Christian ethics as his guide. Normally, people who carp about the religious beliefs of politicians are hiding their fear that the politician will abolish abortion. Since I don’t see Mr. Brown heading that direction, I come back to the “what’s your point?” question.

    However, unlike sqrjn, I don’t think you guys “made a left turn to crazy”. To me, it seems more as though you were trying to blunt the point so that it does less damage for what will obviously be an interesting race for the governor’s office. I can’t help feeling that there a slight “shill” tendency towards the “D” side.

    And as for Ms. Whitman “attempting to subvert the will of the people, to buy her way to prominence”… man, you must REALLY dislike our current President who set new standards in buying prominence.

    Welcome to big politics, dude.

  3. avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

    Salus populi suprema lex esto. I surmise that Jerry Brown has declared in that interview that the rule of the people shall be the supreme law.

    I, as a state Assemblyman, when working with Brown as governor found that he defines what the voice of the people says in sometimes unpopular ways. He reduced highway building even though the tax money for the missing highways that drivers wanted had been or was to be collected at the pump. He appointed Rose Bird as chief judge of the Supreme Court and watched her tear up laws on death penalty and other prohibitions popular with the people. Those were just two of many contradictions.

    On a personal level I am glad that he has married. As I watched him awkwardly dance in the 1980′s with a songstress late at night at Eilish’s Bar, I gave his social development little chance. The subsequent growth may indicate some Brown progress.

    Strange bird this Jerry Brown! I did not mind carrying three of his welfare change proposals into law or how he handled the Los Gatos forest fire in my district. But no highway advances and those Bird-like appointments. Strange! Very strange! So do not be surprised at the results of electing him as governor if, indeed, he is to be “ordained” that again.

    – Editor’s note: The writer is a former Republican Assemblyman and Congressman from Los Gatos

  4. avatar joecool says:

    This article is all about trying to innoculate Jerry from his “Gov MoonBeam” past: But it won’t work; tables are turned this time. No post watergate mood to elevate his strangness into office. And while Californians are mostly too far left to save, this year he will have to have real “common sense” answers which don’t lend themselves to his party if he is to be elected. If only the state Reeps were smart enought to galvanize behind Meg…

  5. avatar sqrjn says:

    N.B. I was in no way trying to imply calbuzz was less than neutral. “left turn to crazy” is my idiocentric idiom based on sinister being the root of left. (not intended as a reference to party affiliation) I thought the piece had alot of good background.

    - Ian Frazer: former and current nobody

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