Jeremias and I had a beautiful train trip up from Hildesheim to Nütschau today. It got sunnier and sunnier as we traveled north. I had all but forgotten that it was summer, it has been so chilly and cold. Of course, the upside of that is everything is so green! The very opposite of California where fires are raging out of control… The train was… actually, the three different trains were all very comfortable and Jeremias filled me in a little bit more on the history of Sankt Romuald in Rodenhof (Hildesheim) and the foundation there. I had forgotten that Benedikt was at one time Jeremias’ abbot when they were both stationed in the Holy Land together. And Jeremias was 14 years the prior of the monastery at the Sea of Galilee, over which he oversaw the building, and the church at the site of the multiplication of the loaves. After he stepped down as prior, the congregation then asked him to oversee more buildings and do fund raising, and that was when the big move began away from them and eventually to join Benedikt in this new experiment back in Germany. And then Jeremias, after having had a positive experience of us in California in 2008, suggested that the two of them affiliate with Camaldoli. I also found out further that the whole community, including the two new perspective members will be staying in Italy for two weeks, so we may get to spend some more time together. I suggested that they might want to go to Ravenna (mainly because I want to go to Ravenna, and they have a car!).
We are now actually in the city of Oldesloe, only about 100 km south of the border with Denmark, guests of the Benedictine monks of the Benediktiner-Kloster Nütschau, staying in the Haus Ansgar guesthouse. And the whole group is here: the young prior Johannes of this community, whom I had met in Rome in 2016, a monk from the famous monastery at Montserrat near Barcelona, two nuns from Kylemore in Ireland, and a diocesan priest from Nigeria who is studying here in Germany, along with Jeremias and I, with Fr. Dorathick from Shantivanam chiming in via Zoom for some sessions, make up the religious contingent. The other four participants are Petra, the sociologist and convener of this AI FORA project, along with her all German team, all young social scientists, one an expert in ethics, another whose major area of interest is philosophy and political science but also dabbles in theoretical physics, and an even younger undergraduate student, all associated with University of Mainz. After our introductions, our first session ended with, you’ll never guess… two line dances accompanied by music off of Petra’s computer. She is modeling some of the exercises she does as part of her space spaces projects, “ice-breakers” I suppose we would call them, interactive participatory practices. I do think it is the first time I have danced in full habit, at least in public, but I hope it will not be the last. After Mass with Vespers and then dinner, we had our official opening session in which, as part of another exercise called a “fishbowl,” more about the program was explained to us, partially through us asking questions of the four social scientists. I was happy to find out at dinner that almost none of us religious knew what it was really about, but I discovered during the fishbowl that I was actually pretty close.
AI FORA stands for artificial intelligence; fora is related to the Latin word forum for a gathering of people like a marketplace but also serves as an acronym for ‘AI For Assessment.’ The basic issue is that more and more decisions everywhere in the world are being made based on algorithms that Artificial Intelligence comes up with based on objective data––concerning everything from job training and incarceration to decisions concerning immigration, especially decisions based on race and age. But AI making objective decisions is coming under more and more scrutiny and criticism since some factors inevitably get left out. The aim of our team of social sciences is, first of all, to create safe spaces for vulnerable people to express their needs and fears, and then set up dialogues between them and the folks who are making these big decisions based on algorithms. Their case study already done in Germany was around migrants. The other places were chosen for the combination of cultural and religious factors: Germany for Protestant Europe, Spain for Catholic Europe, China for Confucianism (and Taoism?), Mexico for Catholic Latin America, California for, well, for being California (!), Nigeria for Africa, Iran for Islam.
What I still don’t quite get, and these were my questions when I took the empty chair in the fishbowl (some of you will understand that reference which I am too tired to explain): Why spirituality? Why Benedictines? And why Fr. Bede? The answer I got was, “So, you want to know everything tonight? This is what we will figure out in the days ahead.” I am glad that she doesn’t, nor does the team of social scientists, know for sure yet. They’re just being driven and drawn by an intuition and a devotion. But I already noted one small point of convergence in Bede’s writings: the gradual development since the time of Galileo and Newton of “a materialistic philosophy and a mechanical model of the universe” which has affected all of society in the social, political, and economic system of the West especially, even art, morality, and religion. Bede says, “It’s basic principle is reductionism: it is the reduction of everything to certain material principles and to its material base.” The antidote to that is something dear to my heart (and I do hate to keep saying, “I told you so,” but I did). The antidote, as far as Bede was concerned, is in the recovery of the perennial philosophy, the traditional wisdom according to which “the order of the universe is seen to be threefold, consisting not only of a physical dimension but also of a psychological and spiritual world.” These three worlds were always seen as interrelated and interdependent. And algorithms simply cannot take those other two elements into their consideration. And the more dire conclusion of that is even though the materialist, mechanistic reductionist model doesn’t recognize nor take into account the psychic or the spiritual, yet it has released psychic and spiritual powers into the worlds that it cannot control.
That’s enough for tonight. Tomorrow starts with Vigils and Lauds together with the monks here but I am going to opt out and do my own; it really is a terrible chore to try to follow the German. But I will show up for the Qi Gong session at 7:30 before breakfast, and then back to work.