Monday, January 30, 2006
It seemed likely that a chief disadvantage would be the loss of most of my friends, estrangement from employers and relatives...real damage from a practical point of view.
So I relented and lost myself instead.
Each person to whom you can not tell the truth, or think you should not tell the truth is yet another you have set beyond your lonely little pale.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
I just had to cheer up Greg at The Talent Show. Citing Daou's dour analysis, he was expressing his disappointment at how gutless the Dem leadership is in wasting the gifts corrupt and arrogant Republicans have handed them and how uncoordinated the Democratic leadership is with its would-be "netroots" support. Supposing that my particular life and thought are somehow anecdotal evidence of bigger themes I hope I see in the world may be a mistake. Nonetheless, what I commented there expresses a gratitude I feel toward all the liberal bloggers meek or mighty who won't let truth be trampled or facts forgotten.
I never registered any party affiliation, the workings of caucuses and conventions seem like the TV frosting on a cake made of cow poop. I have always hated crowds, distrusted populism and mob psychology and marketing as a political skills. Slowly, under the accidental tutelage of liberal bloggers, my own ideas of how-to-prioritize and how-to-solve social, economic and other shared ills of the world are merging with notions of how electorates are reached, re-educated and moved to vote. We may not be in control of much more than our own voices at this point but that is no reason to still those voices.
Ideal solutions will come faster when enough of us think substantial electoral reform is needed. New ideas in politics could enter the debate directly as new parties rather than waiting for an exhausted and failing member of the big two parties to pick up the idea, sterilize it and put it out with the old garbage. Those badly needed reforms are as distant as vacations on the moon.
Would you cheer up a bit if I told you that I came to blogging as a total naif but through reading blogs like yours, I have sharpened my arguments, found my political allies, got my facts and priorities straight? [OK, I ain't perfect but I am making PROGRESS!]. My point is that If Dem leadership is feckless and can't do what leaders must, i.e. change the mind of the crowd, then WE who are blogging against the corrupting nonsense are at least forming ourselves into a cadre that can preserve and strengthen a vision. WE will hone and hang on to pre-tested battle cries that will be ready when the leadership or a more energized candidate or two come around and squarely face their task.
As an older, financially comfortable, technology adapted blue state voter, I had always assumed I was a moderate.
You don't know who you are until you start talking back.
Blogs don't appear to reach the level of influencing whole political parties. That is changing. And blogs ARE changing minds one reader at a time.
WaPo, FWIW, is agreeing with me today:
Blogs Attack From Left as Democrats Reach for Center
By Jim VandeHeiWashington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 28, 2006; Page A06
Democrats are getting an early glimpse of an intraparty rift that could complicate efforts to win back the White House: fiery liberals raising their voices on Web sites and in interest groups vs. elected officials trying to appeal to a much broader audience.
These activists -- spearheaded by battle-ready bloggers and making their influence felt through relentless e-mail campaigns -- have denounced what they regard as a flaccid Democratic response to the Supreme Court fight, President Bush's upcoming State of the Union address and the Iraq war. In every case, they have portrayed party leaders as gutless sellouts.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
If the world were like an ever shifting terrain of sand dunes, would your religions and traditions serve you as compass or as lane lines spray painted on the sand?
What makes you so sure of your answer? Do you know how hard we try to see changelessness in the flow of existence?
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Short circuited gratification of primitive desires that avoids the good if arduous work those desires were meant to motivate...that is what pornography is.
Shokai was reaching for an example or defining instance of "zen porn". It started me thinking. Then I came across Surrogate's dissection of a particularly sleazy ploy Rush Limbaugh is operating. I'd hit a few mentions of Limbaugh's self promoting scam earlier this month but the write up on Jesus Reporting kinda tipped my mind to finish my thinking. I say "ah HA!" where you may groan "oh no, here he goes again"....
Humans are political animals as surely as they are sexual. Politics is an absolute necessity. It is the means by which we share the wells, the fields, the roads, the oceans, the hazzards and just generally the wealth of the planet. That sharing is going to happen whether its is a bloody brawl or a civil debate. We hope, in expressing political opinions, to change minds, to bring about a shared understanding of some problem facing us all so that a shared effort might result. Does Rush Limbaugh change any minds? Do any but those who want their fears condoned and their ignorant suspicions complemented even listen to people like Rush or Bill O'Reilly? A frisson of outrage, as satisfactory as a good sneeze, is mostly what their listeners get. They are presumably providing their audience some politics but actually avoiding effective persuasion by appealing only to those already persuaded over one-way media: much as masturbation is sex without contact, confrontation or consequence.
O'Reilly is not quite as mercenary as Rush , eschewing the unbelievably crass and hypocritical tactic of "SUPPORT OUR TROOP'S (subscription to my sewage)". What are they selling? More factual information than other news sources? More learned opinion than other journals of commentary or OpEd pages? No...they are selling a little excitement to an audiance that does not want to talk face-to-face with real people who don't share their opinion. All this does is make me the more certain that these are not political commentators but rather entertainers. They relate to their subject matter the way the cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys relate to football: just along for the ride to add a little titillation for the fans. Pandering to an audiance that seeks excitement without having to get wet or dirty or buy anyone flowers or just generally having to confront ANY consequence whatsoever...its political pornography if you ask me.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Shooting yourself in the foot on a regular basis only differs from a volley of hostile fire in that you can never see or get rid of the enemy.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Research to develop weapon systems as a way to be safer by being more intimidating to our enemies, always a moral dead end, hit a practical dead end in the 50's . Our new enemy is us. It became us by the way we handled our second newest enemy, an enemy who doesn't mind a little death and has uses for martyrs. Our previous generation of enemies are now our trading partners because we found ways to give each other alternatives to conflict. Our WWII adversaries go arm in arm with us to the G7 meetings because we were once generous in victory. And our original enemy is now and has been for decades our staunchest ally. If we called for the research that provides the good news, don't you think we could, as a by product, produce a little less bad news? Wars are even less likely to happen by neglect or accident than medical progress. The missing ingredient is a national leadership with positive priorities instead of a "We'll lead, you bleed" attitude. "Positive priorities" could mean anything but let me assure you, war is a negative priority.
Progress seldom comes all tied up in a package so we settle for incremental and accidental improvements but the good news will keep coming if only we avoid letting our insecurities make the world less secure.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Sunday, January 15, 2006
But then again, maybe its not just me that reads the obits. The folks who choose and edit the news I see on TV are accused of thinking "if it bleeds, it leads". They probably do. But that is also an accusation of the audiance they serve. The lurid, the sensational may sell better than a presentation of all that happened in a day, the boring town meetings, the housing starts, the humdrum to which most of us march. But the "gotta get more viewers than the other outlets" mentality into which journalism is squeezed by the markets for media induces a deadly spiral. That slow positive feedback loop culuminates in news spining down the same drains and channels as entertainment because giving those most susceptible to advertising just what they desire to watch is "working" in the view of the accountants and investors . The humdrum and the good news I long for would be dismissed by the editors retorting "that's not news". They say this because the line between whats news and what sells grows blurier by the season. O'Reilly doesn't sell because he is right, he doesn't even sell because he is wrong. He sells because he projects a moderately infectious sense of outrage. Its an act perhaps but it is well rewarded for entertaining so well.
If the local news devoted equal footage, minutes of "who" and "why" and interiews to each death in the viewing area instead of just the violent ends, gun sales would go down, gym shoe sales would go up, we would vote against any candidate who took tobacco company money and we would stop watching TV.
I can imagine that. But fanciful scenario that it is, it is still marked by the deadly embrace of audiance appetite and broadcaster balance sheet. That is why TV, with the exception of CPB stations, is not going to lift a finger to feed something a little more akin to reality into the channels and radio likewise.
Breaking that embrace is left to the self discipline of the reality-based. We who get our news or color-correct our news by reading blogs great and small are at least fighting back. We have to behave as a market segment and spell out financial consequences to editors and advertisers if we hope to ever see more realistic news. I don't have too much pride to borrow a tactic from that handful of cranky Christian crackpots who spam the FCC with "indecency" complaints.
Here is what I am going to do.
- Find the editors of my local stations. This is usually one of the top results of a Google search such as would yield: Results 1 - 10 of about 25,300 for "WCVB editorial contact". (0.44 seconds). Use the call sign for each station you might watch.
- Write them a letter asking why their news coverage included a minute or mor each for two homicides and did not mention how many died in area hospitals from AIDS, cancer or heart disease.
- Allthough our household participation in the economy is already on this footing, I will assure the editors and any of their local advertisers that I have quit watching the news and where feasible switched to alternative providers of whatever the sponsors were selling.
Update: NYTimes reports how a schlocky "dead guy" idea can draw 300000 hits in two weeks. The audience is a lot sicker than the media? Well, I am gonna give the media a get-well card anyway.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
I never took originality as being the point of Dr. King's success. Even his basic technique for awaking America's conscience was openly borrowed from Ghandi and its roots in the work of H. D. Thoreau were made plain. Most of us know more truths and could bear witness to more immoral governement, business and civil conduct than we will ever have the courage to stand up and proclaim. No, MLK is celebrated because of where, when and before whom he had the courage to repeat the message that was blowin' in the wind: Treat us like humans as we are not less. Only give us the chances you give yourselves. If his messages weren't already known and gnawing at the country's self flattering vision of its own fairness, who would have listened? The ideological foundations of the civil rights movement were laying around for decades like a sword no one would heft because there was not armor to protect those who would brandish it. What was original, what galvanized so many who had let the knowledge of injustice sit quietly in their politics, was the courage to stand before those whose fear and ignorance had won the dirty little victory over their consciences. Everyone knew that was a dangerous stand to make.
The truth that gives you life is never entirely your own. If you won't personally face the enemies of that truth, you are never entirely alive.
So, take Monday off if youv'e got it off. Think for a moment what legacy this day will really carry in the future. Will it be the remembrance by Americans that we were, more recently than most comfortably admit, an openly racist country but we no longer are? Will it be a celebration of a particular man and his example of courage?
Footnote: The martinlutherking.org website is hosted by stromfront so that explains why its a putrid dumpsterful of twisted crap. But how, does a hate_server wind up at the top of search results for Martin luther king? They load up a meta:keyword list in the header that search engines will match to nearly any topic one is looking up. One more reason Bush did well in Nebraska. This is what was in the header:
<META NAME="KEYWORDS" CONTENT="martin luther king jr, Jesse jackson, NAACP,
integration, Kwanzaa, Black history,
White Civil Rights, fascism, racism,
slavery, hate, hate crime, segregation, discrimination,
race, prejudice, abortion, institutional racism,
anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry, hatred, prejudice,
bias, Holocaust, Israel,
democracy, terrorism, militia, Jews, Jewish,
diversity, anti-Semitic incident,
racist, discrimination, Holocaust denial, neo-Nazi,
Nazi, tolerance, civil rights,
kkk, extremism, extremist, hate crimes, skinheads,
Middle East, Islamic Extremist,
education, White supremacy, minority, bias,
religious freedom, Constitution,
religious right, Christian, free speech, war criminals,
school prayer, religion,
Friday, January 13, 2006
Not that I haven't noticed the big blogs don't do this but I'd like to suggest a topic. After all, only the huge franchises like Atrios have the traffic to bring out the commentator in everyone: if I just said "here's your thread folks", the absence of comment would be hard to take, like nobody showing up for a party you throw. Anyway, I KNOW there are some ET lurkers out there in British Coloumbia and this is the week for your coming out party.
Amanda did my hit counter, which will pass for my ego's alter ego, a world of good by discussing her pet theory of what turns people conservative. Replying to her in the comments at Pandagon, I said
My bottom line is that politics is more profitably viewed as a field of applied practical psychology than as a branch of law or of economics or of anything with abstract notions of good, evil or common wellfare being debated and decided, i.e. marketers and actors enter the political arena with considerable advantages.
I think that is so. But there is so much more to say on this matter, so lets hear it!
If I had Dubya on the couch, I'd give him a bigger, drier pretzel. But since it is just you, gentle reader, can you tell me a little more about your father....
Thursday, January 12, 2006
"Language was invented to ask questions. Answers may be given by grunts and gestures, but questions must be spoken. Humanness came of age when man asked the first question. Social stagnation results not from a lack of answers but from the absence of the impulse to ask questions."
"Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves."
"Every extreme attitude is a flight from the self."
"The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than of deep conviction. The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt within than the assailant without."
"The compulsion to take ourselves seriously is in inverse proportion to our creative capacity. When the creative flow dries up, all we have left is our importance."
"The devil personifies not the nature that is around us but the nature that is within us- the infinitely ferocious and cunning prehuman creature that is still within us, sealed in the subconscious cellars of the psyche."
Timothy Madigan found in Hoffer's True Believer, a timely and apt analysis of the fundamentalism that powered not just Bin Laden's attacks but the responses to those attacks. I share their perception that fundamentalism and fascism are different flowers growing from the same stunted psychological roots. In that 2001 essay, he cited Hoffer's insights into the very similar moral dead ends reached by all leaders who use hatreds, and fears to solidfy their power. But far more important, Hoffer had an understanding of the crowds that lend themselves to the enterprises of these primitive and loathsome leaders. I had my own words for this and this blog has been littered with my attempts to put the matter clearly but Madigan and Hoffer speak well enough for themselves [my emphasis]:
The weakness of the West, and its moral decay, were frequent themes of Osama Bin Laden’s recent video sermons. Ironically, views not dissimilar were expressed by the Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson just days after the bombings, when the former stated that secularism, homosexuality, abortion and feminism had weakened the moral fiber of the nation and made it vulnerable to attack, as well as to God’s wrath. As Hoffer so well understood, True Believers think alike, regardless of the content of their thoughts.I imagine Madigan would not feel a need to correct or change one one word of his essay in light of the course on which Bush and his coterie of cryptofascists have led our nation. Hoffer, like me, would be sadly shaking his head....and speaking out. Don'e one you, dear readers, sit quiet hoping this madness will just pass. From a lifetime of hard experience, Hoffer digested the ruin and rancor of the world in the 30's and 40' to write his book in the 50's. What has changed since then?
True Believers of all kinds share certain characteristics, including contempt for those who don’t have a holy cause themselves, and respect for fellow fanatics. Hitler and Stalin, for instance, each admired the techniques the other had used to gain and maintain absolute power, and both expressed contempt for the democratic leaders Churchill and Roosevelt. Most of all, Hoffer writes, "A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrines and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence." The less control people feel they have over their lives, the more attractive the message of mass movements will be.How then does one combat True Believers? Can one make a love of democracy and the advocacy of individualism a holy cause itself? "Though hatred is a convenient instrument for mobilizing a community for defense," Hoffer warns, "it does not, in the long run, come cheap. We pay for it by losing all or many of the values we have set out to defend."
The soul that sees itself as powerless will often fuse itself to the powerful...when has it ever been otherwise?
"Power to the people" then, is not so much a cry for the blood of some ruling class as it is a formula to keep the course of history sane and humane. Power comes from the muzzle of a gun only if too many people misplace their innate power to resist nonsense.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Examples are too abundantly provided by the Whitehouse for me to chose, I am overwhelmed. My favorite of the moment is the whitewashing of Sam Alito: we should believe he is as neutral as distilled water on a host of critical social issues and freedoms. OK, I stretch things a bit when currying favor with a prospective employer so I will give Alito the benefit of the doubt about his writings to the Regan administration when he was looking for work. But what excuse beside innate appetite for such company would exonerate his participation in Concerned Alumni for Princeton?
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Fortifications protect you from seeing the whole story better than they protect you from the weapons of your supposed enemy.
No, today's breath of hot air is about personal withdrawing, sometimes called "retreat" in a religious context. Being a perpetual outsider in the world of beliefs, I constantly garble the activities of the religious since I see nothing but the externaly evident part of a largely internal procedure. Religious hermits, monks who abjure comforts and company in an attempt to draw nearer some kind of truth or perception by subtracting what is distracting or even "sinful"...with all these, I imagine I share a primal need for peace and quiet. People who wish they could just live in complete isolation may only resent the interruptions that others pose to a rich inner life. I imagine that in quiet, I could think my thoughts clear through to their conclusions. We would-be or part time hermits might not be crazy and if we got our wish, could manage not to go crazy. But how would we spend our hours of isolation when not chopping our own wood and carrying our own water? I find it very hard to keep my mind from returning again and again to making sense of things I learned , heard and experienced in the company of others. We are born and raised in company, we evolved with community. We do not need language to worship or to understand, but only to talk to each other.
For most of us, withdrawal from the din of living is refreshing but best taken in small doses. I suspect we take vacations as much to get away from who we are at work as to rest from the work itself. I have fellow workers whose vacations I enjoy very much.
But there is another kind of withdrawing, a scary prospect but more liberating than the typical shuning of din and interruptions of others and their business and agendas. Recognize, for instance, that our resentment of the talkative not only congests our understanding of the talker but replaces our own thoughts with annoyance. If it is not to be a conversation, why waste the chance to at least listen? Analysis, judgement and assessment are subtle forms of resistance but they are going to take place whether or not you struggle to gainsay or one-up your chatty companions. And if they never pause to ask you what you think, would they take in the wit of the rejoinder you distracted yourself to produce? The withdrawal I want to suggest is, in even the worst and sloppiest company, to pull away from yourself and just be there as a listener. I ask you to try it as a kind of meditation, a kind available in elevators, on street corners, in the midst of office holiday parties.
I have heard it said by a psychotherapist, whom I know to be a great listener, that The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson had, and the Dalai Lama has, a gift of making the person who has been granted an audience feel that they, who have come with their question, are actually the most important person in the room. I don't think Mother Teresa's vocation ever prompted a vacation either. Did any of those leaders plan an invasion?
Monday, January 09, 2006
But why should I worry? The bush league would never harrass someone just for saying bad things about them. Of course not!
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Friday, January 06, 2006
Most religions that proslytize do not disguise and may even boast that their gift to the prospective convert is to be born again: not just to change your mind or add some knowledge to it but a transformation that is, and claims the need to be, a wholesale replacement of your identity and world view. And a goodly number of us also bristle at that prospect, not from arrogance as much as understanding that we cannot just abdicate our individual responsibility for what kind of person or how good a person we will be. And some of us are so miserable having to sleep in our own skin that we might gladly strap on these stiff masks of self confidence, fancying we have tossed out the trashy parts of ourselves.
I hate to take a defensive tone but, shod with cleats, I know I tread a field of bare toes when I discuss religion so please read my disclaimer before getting offended.
What if, instead of getting a new mind by studying a religion, you got a new religion by learning how to study your mind?
A mind is something you actually have, isn't it?
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Science And Politics, the third Carnival of the Liberals .
Trying to channel Ambrose Bierce again...
Consider, for instance, how some people find the most contrary news still favors their truths. Item 9 there is particularly blatant but this person's "facts" and thinking on several of the 14 points are liable to make your head explode.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Reading their quotes is a chilling experience. Stop and think: what keeps us from that depravity? Did the Germans have less education, were their religious institutions stronger or weaker than ours? How exactly are we so very different?
Yes, I am recycling links from other posts. They just blew me away by showing how much a human being could know and not know at the same time.
Monday, January 02, 2006
Seven Things to Do Before I Die [the list would number hundreds if free of this format]
1. Bicycle across north america [i.e. Canada and Alaska too]
2. Write a song that everyone can and might even want to sing
3. Hike the AT
4. Finish that climb of Mt. Washington with my son
5. Write a/the killer app for media center computers
6. Go a month even, only saying yes if I meant yes, only saying no if I meant no.
7. Help, even the tiniest bit, to ease the human overload our poor earth carries...I promise not to live for ever.
Seven Things I Can't Do
1. Tell you Greensmile's real name [so why would you assume any degree of honesty or accuracy for any other answers here? How, then, could you much care?]
3. cook [which, I suspect, is an ORGANIZED activity one conducts in a kitchen]
4. keep on track, stick to deadlines
5. loose my temper with people
6. keep my temper with things
7. Resist making a subordinate clause out of some damn connection that has tickled my silly brain. Women get their periods, the best of them quite regularly, which may be why I find them so damned attractive since I am very lucky to drop in a comma now and then and may go half a page before I let you take a breath.
Seven Reasons Why I Blog
1. There are so very many species of bullshit out there, adding a ten millionth voice can still find a new target. If Doctor Seuss's elephant can hear the "who" only by dint of the tiniest "who" speaking up, perhaps the RNC's oil sucking, Cindy Sheehan ducking elephant will finally hear?
2. I will never get my shit together enough to write a book.
3. Sometimes I need to vent
4. I am fascinated by my own writing.
5. Writing is like any other muscle and wants a workout.
6. After 50 years of silence, it feels strange but good to clear my throat and let my life out onto the pages,
7. Who, in their will, said "screw the money: this is what I hope I taught you!". My kids will read this if you don't.
Seven Things I Say Most Often [to be completed: I will extract the full text of my blogging output and run it through a concordance generator I have yet to code up...it will tell you what you should already know...kinda like the meme thing if you ask me]
UPDATE: concordance compiled. articles and prepositions 5 to 20 times more common than any noun, then pronouns. The top end of the list: ....you 265, I 266, in 327, that 380, is 479, a 571, and 645, to 697, of 824, the 1137.
That is not distinguishing. Tossing out all the glue, the pieces I seem most inclined to stick together are sort of like this:
- time 17
- values 17
- fear 18
- human 21
- others 21
- self 24
- right 25
- need 26
- work 27
- person 33
- think 34
- people 36
- see 39
- world 43
- life 44
Hmmm, that is not seven...so sue me.
Seven Books I Love at the moment I am writing this list.
1. "The Dragons of Eden" by Carl Sagan
2. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," by Douglas Adams
3. "Pirke Avot" [there are over 100 translations with commentary...you must read at least 49 of them.]
4. The Department of Defense budget: my paycheck, you tax dollar, your congressman, your retirement money, who knows whose lives? What mere fiction could be interpreted into such cosmic drama?
5. "the C programmng language" by Kernighan and Ritchie.
6. "Thoughts without a Thinker" by Mark Epstein
7. "Born to Kvetch" by Michael Wex.
Seven Movies That I Watch Over And Over
1. There are no movies I watch over and over...I just replay them in my mind.
2. Inherit the Wind.
3. Its a Wonderful Life.
4. [they make movies in color????]
5. Walk on Water
7. Babette's Feast
Seven People I Want To Tag Next
[are you KIDDING!? I hereby snuff out this retarded electronic bastard of the chain letter. If you allowed that every living human had their own blog, the number of times this meme could be passed on would be a bit more than 11. Thats right the log, base 7 of the earth's present population is only 11.617982073918129481192924467027]. [click on the links for a chance to suggest, via commenting, a name/url that deserves to be tagged. Your own name, would be especially fitting here]
1. No! I really want to waste time
2. No! I really want to waste time
3. I have nothing better to do.
4. You have nothing better to do.
5. If you don't supply your own name, ping the loser you are tagging.
6. Nobody is doing anything that important with their time anyway
7. If more than 7 names are submitted, IP addressess from which superflous names come will fall under surveilance or be loaded into the heterodocs firewall's shitlist.
The seven non-bloggers I'd have picked if these questions had not included so many now-centric pop culture questions:
2. John Steinbeck
3. Ernest Hemmingway
4. My father
5. His father
6. Dalai Lama
7. Larry Kushner
Sunday, January 01, 2006
The year end audit of this blog turns up some damning deficits.
- Infrequently follows its original guideline of brevity.
- Why, oh why can't I remember to run the spell checker?
- Seldom adheres to its claimed independence from current events and news makers.
- Repeatedly engages in unflattering "analysis" of various aspects of "conservative" thought and personages without the benefit of engaging in much if any dialog with anyone who identifies themselves as conservative...all the while inveighing against polarized, them-us bashing.
- Vocabulary: it means exactly what I want it to mean, no more and much less.
- And, hardest to achieve but most damaging when bungled: consistency, semantic and otherwise, in discussing or dismembering various sacred cows.
Also, by making a post out of this, I can just link back to it whenever the topic comes up and my usual "bull in a china store" abandon would discourage or confuse some readers.
If you are already tired of my pomposity and cluelessness about where the center of the road is, just remember this one thing about my use of the "G word" before you hit the Back button or consign me to some sulphurous imaginary barbecue pit you lug about in your heart:
The greatest good most religions bestow upon believers of powerful deity is to nudge the believer off the throne of creation: to be constantly thinking "and this too, god has given me" is at least to put oneself in a healthier relation to the universe and perhaps to fellow human beings. A very few people I know give me a sense that I am in the presence of a person who has that constant thought...it is humbling[ and I understand humility to be a high achievement of benefit to me and others]. Yet I can see an empty throne and still act with compassion toward my fellow creatures. Wonder just is and needs no source and so it is with compassion.
I wish to cast myself as the loyal opposition to the literal believers who buy myths rather than mine metaphors without concern whether it was man or god who placed the gems in those metaphors. Leaving out mystical and philosophical dubiousness which may be endlessly and pointlessly debated, I base my opposition on life-and-death practicality: religion, even in recent history, even in western democracies, has a bloody past to live down. Some how I missed all the headlines and history book chapters in which mobs of outraged athiests burned people at the stake, drowned them for witch craft or beat them senseless in a homophobic fury. Dr Biobrain has posted a usable round up of some logical weaknesses and gross inconsistencies that plague any Christian who wants to argue with you that he has "the" truth and I know inconsistencies of that sort run like deep fissures through all the Abrahamic religions.
But I don't like the tone of Dr. BioBrain's post. It represents an approach to the religious [and we really can't go on talking like Christians were the only ones posing this challenge to public discourse...belief systems are bugaboo no matter what prophets or stories they are wrapped around] in which the only thing at stake is the credibility of the stories and authorities by which they justify their values. Face it, in a pluralistic society, we live with their values and not their myths and we must share at least some of their values. This of course is why liberal and reformed flavors of the major religions are so much more palatable and productive as factions of a pluralistic society: they can engage you in a discussion of what is right and wrong for you, themselves and your communities to do and to legislate without getting into an idiotic shouting match about what authority they are quoting. I know from extensive experience that Reform Jews have such discussions within their own ranks on a steady schedule...it gives them practice for interfacing their values to those of the greater community.
Of course, values are NOT always agreed upon. But why muddy [or bloody] that debate by recourse to personal and unquestionable absolute authority when the value is only up for debate because it must be lived up to by the full, here and now, community? When faithfully holding certain beliefs is itself the value, the debate freezes in a circular argument. I do not kid myself: there are a small handful of forms of religion that are not safe nor tolerable because of their own intolerance but in the end, the very sickest of those, sometimes literally, drink their own koolaid. The sect that wants no social contract except the one it conceives of with its god is, I fear, a hazard and a thorn for the broader civil society. It cannot hear its values being called wrong without succumbing to a paroxysm of umbrage: its authority is always seen within its own ranks as being questioned by a broader body politic when actually that body just doesn't care. Ironically, the salvageable good within these closed and theocratic world views is lost in the battle their faithful feel obliged to carry on with the outside world.
I should finish with a confession. I will say just a bit about my religious background but for that too, their must be a motive. It is not fair, and in the end, I think even weakens my voice to be coy, to try not to be coming from any particular place. So, unimportant as I still consider it to be, I will mention a few ingredients that have been tossed into my religion stew.
- Earnest but sparse christian upbringing : my siblings and I were asked if we wanted to continue Sunday school and voted it down.
- The only example was my dad, an man who obviously had more than a few spiritual bones in his body but who had no taste for organized religion. He had a long struggle with christian science.
- By the time I got my BS, I was a doubtless and convinced atheist [but I doubt I would have been a very convincing one.]
- I adopted Judaism rather lightly but have gained most of what little religion you may detect in my thinking from decades of discussion of all things sacred and profane with other Jews.
- I attempt now to broaden the party to this discussion via blogging.
- Recently came across poems written in my college years demonstrating misgivings about whether "I" was not a mirage, an effect of the way brain gives rise to mind...40 years later, those misgivings are only more articulated.
I may always have these logical stumbling blocks with religious leaps-of-faith:
- Having a single word for everything that is beyond your knowing does NOT really stand in for all that missing knowledge, does not suffice for knowing. Does not justify or enable one to act as if they knew.
- First learn by the most remorseless and unsentimental means possible all that you can objectively know, prove and share. Only after that, see what remains necessary for you to hope is true.
Mercy can not be granted through clenched teeth.
Mercy does not mean giving people less punishment than they deserve. It means keeping yourself from second guessing god and adding to the punishment he has seen fit ot mete out.