Category Archives: Religion

Religion

Proof of Human Evolution

It has occurred to me that the proof for human evolution is right in front of our eyes.  

Literally.

One of my favorite places to think is in the sauna at my gym.  The endorphins from the exercise have saturated my brain so I’m naturally high, and the heat makes me quickly relax as the sweat pours out of me.  It is at this transition between a hard, intensive workout and deep relaxation that wonderful insights will often present themselves.    

This gym has its amenities that include not only the sauna, but a pool, Jacuzzi and steam bath as well so it is quite popular with a very diverse group of people.  It also happens to be located very close to San Francisco one of the most diverse places on the planet.  Young, old, fat, thin, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Persian, Spanish speakers, French speakers, there is no limit on the diversity found there.  It is a veritable Galapagos of human specimen contained on three levels and 55,000 square feet.  

Now in order for living and irrefutable proof of human evolution one must simply do the following.

Go into the men’s locker room at my gym and open your eyes.

Boom!  There before you, is living walking proof of evolution while it dries itself off, applies deodorant, takes a dump and combs its hair.  

Not to be rude and trying to be as genteel as I can, the best evidence lies in the last noun of the previous sentence.  Hair.  

When you enter a locker room with an incredibly diverse array of men you will see hair, and a lot of it.  Hair will be in places it shouldn’t be, like on the tops of feet.  There will often be more hair running down the back than on the tops of heads!  Sometimes the hair is so plentiful on the torso it is as though they might be wearing a very poorly knitted sweater! 

michelangelos-david

The image of man we most commonly see before us in a gym locker room (or any changing area for that matter) could not be farther from the more classical male portrayal best represented Michelangelo’s David.  If one had never seen the nude male form before, was first shown a picture of David, then an image of one of the hairier specimens from my gym’s locker room, they could easily be forgiven for not believing the two examples are representations of the same species.  

The battlefield for this debate on evolution lies in the classroom.  There are monumentous debates among the states as to how the history and scientific books should be worded in regards to evolution vs other ‘theories.’  But just as Darwin emerged from his study and traveled afar for proof of his idea, our young people too engage in ‘field trips’ to further solidify and provide actual proof of what they have learned.  

As my gym locker room is a paradise of living, breathing scientific proof, yet undiscovered by the academic community I propose we arrange ‘field trips’ for the most mature of our young scholars.  What they will see is indeed shocking, but true science isn’t for the faint of heart!  Just march those wide eyed students right on through the middle from the door to the shower and back out again.  Let them pause to scribble down a few notes, snap a couple of pictures and gather undeniable evidence for consumption by the outside world.  Let the realization that we are indeed descended from the apes sink in right before their own eyes in all its musty, odoriferous and fuzzy glory!

 tourbusA revolution is at hand my friends.  It should have occurred a century ago at the Galapagos islands but nobody lives near the Galapagos islands so how could we be absolutely sure this wasn’t some anti-religious plot to confuse the faithful?  Well friends, my gym is in Daly City near San Francisco.  And San Francisco is a place everyone wants to visit if they haven’t already.  Perhaps in addition to field trips we could also make my gym’s locker room a stop on the big bus open top tour line!  Surely then everyone would then see for themselves and the case for evolution will disseminate far and wide as they return to their home countries!   

 Science is so exciting especially when new discoveries are made that completely overturn long held beliefs!  

A revolution indeed!  

A Divine Thought

As I ate lunch today I was thinking about what ‘God’ may say to us should he manifest himself and look around.  

I think he might wonder how human beings have twisted their thinking so much that they believe it God’s will to kill other human beings and to do it in God’s name!  

For the religious person, God created everything so what would give a person the right to kill another of God’s own creations?  In the eyes of a supreme being wouldn’t this be the height of arrogance?  And furthermore, the religious books are quite specific when they say “Thou shalt not kill.”  I mean it is only one sentence and short sentence at that!  It would be rather hard to analyze this sentence and the four words that comprise it to arrive at an interpretation that means the opposite!  

Yet, the three majors, Christians, Muslims and Jews simply cannot get the most important commandment through their collective heads!  

If the religions could not do this correctly then why should anyone pay even a moments attention to all the other nonsense they’ve spewn forth throughout the ages?  

Finally, this thought just suddenly entered my head.  I believe it might actually be a miracle because I was eating pizza and thinking about painting when this thought suddenly barged in and implored me to write it down!  By God this might have been a mystical experience, a vision such as the Saints have had in the days of old!  

Perhaps God has revealed his will through me!  

He says:

“Let’s start over; the only commandment shall be; Thou shalt not kill.  That’s it, once you can get that right we can worry about all the other stuff.  Just concentrate on that and in your services to me, just repeat it for 45 minutes.  You can sing it, mumble it, give a homily about it, but only repeat this over and over, nothing else.  When the call to prayer echos over the rooftops say nothing else but that.  Jews – what you call Kavanah, just put those four words in the center of it, nothing else.”

Very clear direction there.  Unfortunately given humanities track record I would imagine the following will happen:

  • They will forget it in the next 5 minutes
  • They will find a way to interpret it with the opposite meaning
  • By some miracle the killing will stop, but then people will be imprisoned, or perhaps tourtured, or perhaps interrogated by enhanced methods if they happen to be in the USA.   

Then we will have to wait another 3,000 years for God to intervene again.  Or maybe his instructions will come through a vision or mystical experience as it was known in the old days but whose name and definition has changed in modern times and can be found in a copy of Psychiatry Today.  

The ISIS takes a page from Spanish Conquistadors!

While reading my Lapham’s Quarterly I came across the “Requerimiento” (Requirement).  This was a written declaration of sovereignty and war, read by Spanish military forces to assert their sovereignty over the Americas.  

 “It was used to justify the assertion that God, through historical Saint Peter and appointed Papal successors, held authority as ruler over the entire Earth; and that the Inter CaeteraPapal Bull, of 4 May 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, conferred title over all the Americas to the Spanish monarchs.[1] The Requerimiento probably had its origins as early as the 8th century in the Dawah messages sent to non-Muslim nations by Arab conquerors, demanding that their recipients submit to Islamic rule (see Aslim Taslam).[2]

History repeats itself indeed!  The ISIS is taking a page from the Conquistadors who most likely took a page from 8th century Arabs!  So much for religion being about peace, love and not killing people.  

The Christians might say that this was during a more primitive time so it is unfair to compare.  My response to that would be another question.  Wouldn’t the teachings of the Bible be universal and timeless since it is supposedly the word of God?  Therefore, the only answer could be it is man’s understanding of scriptures that have changed.  Yes, the Western nations still make war but in all fairness I do not see any “Christian” armies marauding around, trying to take over more land and threatening people to either convert or die.  The Christians already went through that phase back with the Inquisition over 200 years ago.   

I do however see “Muslim” groups marauding all over the place and killing people.  The elite clerics of various countries stress that this is not Islam and these groups should be condemned.  It is hard to say this is not a characteristic of Islam when it keeps repeating itself over and over again.  Extremist groups are a concentrated version of the overall religion and belief just as condensed milk is an extreme version of cow’s milk.  And when I look around I do not see even the extremely concentrated versions of Christianity beheading people.  

————————–

The Requerimiento document: written in 1513 by jurist Juan López de Palacios Rubios of the Council of Castile:

“On behalf of the King, Don Fernando, and of Doña Juana I, his daughter, Queen of Castille and León, subduers of the barbarous nations, we their servants notify and make known to you, as best we can, that the Lord our God, Living and Eternal, created the Heaven and the Earth, and one man and one woman, of whom you and we, all the men of the world at the time, were and are descendants, and all those who came after and before us. But, on account of the multitude which has sprung from this man and woman in the five thousand years since the world was created, it was necessary that some men should go one way and some another, and that they should be divided into many kingdoms and provinces, for in one alone they could not be sustained.
Of all these nations God our Lord gave charge to one man, called St. Peter, that he should be Lord and Superior of all the men in the world, that all should obey him, and that he should be the head of the whole Human Race, wherever men should live, and under whatever law, sect, or belief they should be; and he gave him the world for his kingdom and jurisdiction.
And he commanded him to place his seat in Rome, as the spot most fitting to rule the world from; but also he permitted him to have his seat in any other part of the world, and to judge and govern all Christians, MoorsJewsGentiles, and all other Sects. This man was called Pope, as if to say, Admirable Great Father and Governor of men. The men who lived in that time obeyed that St. Peter, and took him for Lord, King, and Superior of the universe; so also they have regarded the others who after him have been elected to the pontificate, and so has it been continued even till now, and will continue till the end of the world.
One of these Pontiffs, who succeeded that St. Peter as Lord of the world, in the dignity and seat which I have before mentioned, made donation of these isles and Tierra-firme to the aforesaid King and Queen and to their successors, our lords, with all that there are in these territories, as is contained in certain writings which passed upon the subject as aforesaid, which you can see if you wish.
So their Highnesses are kings and lords of these islands and land of Tierra-firme by virtue of this donation: and some islands, and indeed almost all those to whom this has been notified, have received and served their Highnesses, as lords and kings, in the way that subjects ought to do, with good will, without any resistance, immediately, without delay, when they were informed of the aforesaid facts. And also they received and obeyed the priests whom their Highnesses sent to preach to them and to teach them our Holy Faith; and all these, of their ownfree will, without any reward or condition, have become Christians, and are so, and their Highnesses have joyfully and benignantly received them, and also have commanded them to be treated as their subjects and vassals; and you too are held and obliged to do the same. Wherefore, as best we can, we ask and require you that you consider what we have said to you, and that you take the time that shall be necessary to understand and deliberate upon it, and that you acknowledge the Church as the Ruler and Superior of the whole world, and the high priest called Pope, and in his name the King and Queen Doña Juana our lords, in his place, as superiors and lords and kings of these islands and this Tierra-firme by virtue of the said donation, and that you consent and give place that these religious fathers should declare and preach to you the aforesaid.
If you do so, you will do well, and that which you are obliged to do to their Highnesses, and we in their name shall receive you in all love and charity, and shall leave you, your wives, and your children, and your lands, free without servitude, that you may do with them and with yourselves freely that which you like and think best, and they shall not compel you to turn Christians, unless you yourselves, when informed of the truth, should wish to be converted to our Holy Catholic Faith, as almost all the inhabitants of the rest of the islands have done. And, besides this, their Highnesses award you many privileges and exemptions and will grant you many benefits.
But, if you do not do this, and maliciously make delay in it, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their Highnesses; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us. And that we have said this to you and made this Requisition, we request the notary here present to give us his testimony in writing, and we ask the rest who are present that they should be witnesses of this Requisition.”
——–Update 10.6.2014——————–
I always enjoy when after I’ve written a post on some thought or idea, a mainstream publication also writes an article on that same idea.  It lets me know that my ideas are not that far off and I’m not completely crazy.  
AlJazeera posted Confidence men and their masquerade  which compares ISIS to the Spanish Inquisition.  To be honest, I think my comparison with the conquistadors is more on the mark but the Inquisition and fanaticism of the Conquistadors are one and the same so I won’t split any hairs.  

Ebola Virus – Kent Brantly and God

I was watching the news this morning and they went to a live feed where Dr. Kent Brantly survived the Ebola virus and is going to be released from the hospital. 

It is wonderful that he has survived and he is very courageous going into an extremely dangerous zone to try and help people.  

In his speech this morning he gave much praise to God and said his recovery is directly related to God’s intervention as a result from all the prayers.  

I found it curious that a doctor would thank God for a cure more so than the drugs and treatment so I looked up the organization he works for and it is called Samaritans Purse which of course is a Christian organization.  I’m not very familiar with them but for any group that goes into dangerous situations in order to help people is worthy of the highest praise.  

Perhaps this belief in a divine being that directly intervenes in our lives as the result of prayer is worth something since it does cause humans to act kindly and try to help people even when it puts their own lives at risk.  I would imagine that without this belief people would be a lot less willing to put their own lives at risk to help others.  I’m sure many still would but I think it would net out negatively if everyone suddenly stopped believing in God.

As for my own opinion about God should he exist I think he is doing an absolutely terrible job since he has let 1200 Africans die of Ebola but decided to save Dr. Bradley.  Perhaps nobody prayed for all those Africans or they didn’t pray intensively enough?  Perhaps Africans don’t given enough money to the church and thus God deems them unworthy of saving?  

Apologies, it just infuriates me to see people praising God and giving him credit for helping one person when many hundreds have died from the same disease.  

God – You’re doing an awful job and I humbly request a new one as soon as possible.  

Africa Dinner

BBC News – UK non-Christian claims ‘absurd’, senior Tories say

BBC News – UK non-Christian claims ‘absurd’, senior Tories say.

I came across this article today and had to comment.

What I find hard to comprehend is that we have more education, more knowledge and more science readily available to our populations today than at any other time in history.  Yet, our societies cannot shake free from thousand year old beliefs full of magic, fairy tales, and made up stories (many of which have since been discredited) that make up religion.

Here we have two seemingly intelligent men who have risen quite high in politics.  Yet they demand that the UK is a “Christian” nation.  They are correct that Christianity took root in the UK and have influenced the country for 1,500 years.  In this case the UK is a Christian nation.

But the UK was pagan before the Christians came so wouldn’t it also be fair to say the UK is a pagan nation or is 1,500 years the cut off.

I had to laugh when I read this:

“We are also a very tolerant nation. In fact one of the great Christian values is tolerance and respect for other people, people of other faiths, other views. So I think our Christian heritage sits very comfortably alongside our plurality and our tolerance as a people.”

Yes, if we read the history books we see how tolerant the English are/were of all the countries they colonized.  The list is rather long and can be found here.  I’m sure all the natives really appreciated the Christian tolerance of the British when they were being invaded and subjugated.

As a consequence of colonization there has been mass immigration to the UK from the colonized countries which certainly hasn’t sat well with the white natives!

It’s not that the conservatives didn’t try to stop it.  Just a quick look on Google and I came across one of the most famous speeches against immigration called the “Rivers of Blood speech” .  In this speech a conservative member of Parliament tried to warn his countrymen about the dangers of letting in all these colored colonial subjects into the UK!

Well, Enoch Powell was right; this is why London is now called Londinistan.

It seems to me that the demand the UK be known as a “Christian” nation is just a cry to try and hang on to the past, a past when there weren’t very many immigrants, which is what old conservative white men do best.  Their ancestors went out conquering other nations and when the mess comes back to haunt them (albeit with a 300 or so year lag) they get all upset about it.

But to throw them a bone, I would say that Europe is vastly more tolerant of immigrants than most countries in the world.  Change comes slowly and the immigrants should do their part and try to fit in to the host culture.  After all, if their culture is the most important thing to them, then wouldn’t it serve them well to just go back?

If the old white men want to call the UK a Christian country let them do so.   With so many immigrants holding other beliefs the UK is actually a multi-religious country no matter what a couple of old Tories say.

It’s just a shame that no matter how the argument turns out, Christianity, while it does have its good parts, is just one more way for mankind is trying to explain his own existence, which like the other religions, is not based in facts.

In the end, these two Tories are simply saying that since the traditional bed time story of the UK has been read for the past 1,500 years it should really be considered the official bed time story and that’s that.

 

MBA and Christianity?

21st century capitalism through a 1st century worldview!  (MBA and Christianity??)

It simply amazes me that with all our progress and all our magnificent universities of learning that have no comparison throughout history, the majority of humanity is still bound by the ancient beliefs from a time when humanity knew very little about anything!  

Perhaps the reason is that we do not have a solid explanation for these basic questions and therefore invent stories to comfort us against the terror of simply not knowing?  
 
1.)  Where am I from?
2.) What am I?  
3.) Where am I?  
4.) What does the source, the origin of all creation?  

So what spurned this post?  We’ll this advertisement I just saw on Facebook.  

MBA Christian Worldview

 

Being rather familiar with Christianity, I have a hard time reconciling true Christianity with an MBA.  An MBA is learning how to best increase profits, nothing more.  True Christianity is divesting yourself of all you own, your family, friends and following Christ.  I fail to see how the two are compatible.  

This world I live in seems to get more ridiculous as time goes on.   

Just for the record I wonder how Christians would react if they saw an advertisement for an MBA with a Muslim worldview, or a Jewish worldview?  This just shows that the people who created this add live in a bubble and know very little about the rest of the world.  Therefore, why value is their “worldview?”  It would be like asking a child their opinion of a college course!  

 

 

 

lucid-dream-flying

Dream as Reality, Reality as a Dream

At 36 years of age, I have come to a concrete realization that this world I live in is completely absurd.  

It is similar to a lucid dream, where the dreamer becomes aware of the improbability and often outright impossibility of his surroundings and thus realizes he is dreaming while inside of the dream.  

I have had the good fortune to travel the world, learn languages and delve deeply into the mindsets of other cultures.  These fortunes enabled me to escape from the fishbowl of a small environment and see the enclosure from the outside, as well as compare it to all the other enclosures I have been recently exploring through language study and travel.  Through these studies I found such a sense of freedom and excitement that I have never been able to stop or quell my desire for more information, more learning.  I found freedom from established traditions, mindsets, beliefs and biases.  I found great excitement for the unknown, the new, the exotic, the blasphemous, the feared and the heretical.

Recently however, time, money and obligations have limited my actual travel but in its place have come books, magazines and a need to devour more knowledge.  A great discovery I’ve recently made is Lapham’s Quarterly.  This publication pulls the golden nuggets out of history and complies them in a neat publication according to a central theme.  I have decided to pay much less attention to the daily noise of the news, the gossips and the outright stupid splashed along the T.V. screens.  Instead I have turned my focus to books, mostly historical nonfiction, and anything similar to Lapham’s Quarterly that really adds to my knowledge and gives me a greater understanding of this world I currently occupy.

Through these studies, travels and continual quest for more knowledge and in order to simply make sense of my surroundings, I’ve come to the conclusion that this world I live in is absurd.  Now that I’ve given my introduction let me put down some examples from the silly to that which has changed the course of the world.  

1.  High Heels


-   Once cannot venture outside without seeing multitudes of women wearing the most ridiculous form of footwear that while being extremely uncomfortable, also causes grotesque foot problems such as bunions.  The high heel was designed in 17th century Persia as a riding shoe so that the rider could stand up in the stirrups and maintain balance while shooting his arrows.  

After I learned this I can no longer look at women in high heels the same way.  I do not find them as an attractive addition but rather as an absurdity akin to one wearing over sized clown shoes.  

2. The suit and tie

We men did not escape this evolutionary comedy of the fashion trend either.  The origin of the tie is that it was essentially a bib worn to protect the shirt from stains.  The bib has just gotten smaller.  The suit on the other hand came out of military uniform fashion.  The military is regimented, disciplined and serious.  The businessman being formal in all his dealings must give an air of seriousness and formality and thus what a better fit than the military uniform without the military trappings?  So here we are, men running to our office to sit in our cubicles typing away in a modified military uniform and small bib.  

Once you know the origins of why things are the way they are life becomes completely bizarre.  

3. Wars 

I have recently been reading books on WWI and II as well as checking the facts on many historical wars through Wikipedia.  The conclusion I’ve come to is that war is absurd.  What is even more absurd is how quickly a leader can convince the people about the “just” reasons for the war.  

World War I is the most raw example of this.  In brief, a rather significant regional assassination happens and then due to country alliances we end up with millions dead.  It is as if monkeys wrote the framework of this play and gorillas carried it out.  We do not retain the right to consider ourselves separate from the animals.  The absurdity of the reasoning behind the war combined with the very real consequences are simply incomprehensible.  

As for the absurdity of reasoning for war, this has happened very recently in my country.  The slogan is “defending freedom.”  Now whenever war or soldiers are mentioned this is what a good portion of the population mindlessly blurts out.  Need to start a war?  Just have the leaders say we are “defending freedom.”  This slogan has had some wear and tear but still has at least another decade of durability before it is worn out. 

My conclusion is that humanity is still very primitive and that this period in our evolution will be looked upon millennia from now as just branching off from the animals.   For any reason, any reason what so ever millions and millions can still be convinced that extinguishing the life of another is the appropriate solution for whatever ideology, belief or passing issue of the day holds sway.  

It is as though we are not fully conscious.  For if we were fully conscious then the fibers of creation should tear apart while everyone screams in writhing agony for the atrocity, the unnatural, the unthinkable that has occurred.  

4.  Religion – Christianity

I hold no qualms with the overall spirituality and trying to connect ourselves with that which is unknown yet pervades everything including our own existence.  I also am inclined to give a bit of a pass to those that need religion, a set framework to tell them exactly what to do since the majority of adults are unable to discover a spiritual side on their own.  Most adults no longer advance mentally/intellectually and thus how could anyone expect them to make progress with that which cannot be seen, experienced directly or understood?  

To get straight to the point here, after all my travels, experiences, studies, meditations, reflections and so on, I can definitively say that Jesus was just a man.  I have extricated myself thoroughly from the fairy tale, the bedtime story that we use to sooth our fears about that which we do not know but which we pretend to hold every answer (unless it is a mystery of course *inside joke for those raised Catholic*).  

To stand up against 2000 years of history which has reshaped the world, billions of believers and an institution which has outlasted governments and call it nonsense is frightfully empowering as well as bewildering.  This belief, that a simple peasant is the son of the unknown which in our feeble minds we call God.  This God, the soothing blanket which keeps us warm and secure against that unknown void, that veil behind which nobody has seen yet everyone must go is a creation of our own imagination.  It is my opinion that we cannot even conceive of the true nature of the Great Spirit, الرحمن,  יהו   or whatever we have decided to call the unknown.  

I have been connecting the dots for some time now and the tapestry is complete.  Now, explaining exactly how I’ve arrived at this point would fill up a book which one day I may write but one can find clues in my previous posts from the past.  But let us just say that a good many things in the Bible have turned out to be fabrications, metaphors, or just plain wrong.  The world was not created in 7 days, humanity didn’t start with Adam and Eve, Jesus had brothers and was married and many of the miraculous acts happened in other cults/pagan beliefs long before Jesus.

If Christianity were a corporation it would have gone out of business a long time ago.  Anyone who puts their money and belief in a corporation that has been so wrong so often throughout history would be an investment opportunity for the slow witted.  

So why do so many people believe?  The reasons are as varied as the stars but I would say the main reasons are tradition, security and the need to believe there is something more than the disappointment that is often found here in this existence.  

The ship guiding my belief out of Christianity set sail a very long time ago and has visited many ports.  I recently read a book which seems to me as my final bill of lading summing up what I already knew and putting it in a well researched, organized intellectual format.  That book is called “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” by Reza Aslan.  

Jesus was just a man and I feel as though I’m in a dream when I see so many clinging to this fabricated story even though we have more universities and more learning than at any other time in the history of the world.  

The old religions die hard.  

5. Reality

Most people at this point will either have stopped reading or want to know what my own opinion on creation/reality may be.  People are so eager to know the opinions of those they disagree with not so they may consider the idea but rather to have the opportunity to defend their beliefs.  One cannot readily do this until they know the beliefs of the other.  

In any case, here is my belief.  

I have no idea where I am, what I am or where this environment came from.  All I know is that I have thoughts.  These thoughts come and go and I do my best to control them.  

This “I don’t know” is a very thought out, deep, reflected upon statement.  It is just as probable to me that we are in a computer program designed by a highly advanced civilization as it is that this universe is some advanced biology student’s creation and we sit upon a shelf in a small jar surrounded by millions of other universes in small jars.  The reader of this post may scoff but I have not said that I know we are in a small jar, I’ve said the opposite with a very clear “I don’t know.”  The jar example is one possibility out of infinite possibilities the majority of which I believe I cannot even comprehend.  

The book that really got me thinking about this was “Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story ” by Jim Holt.  He interviewed the brightest minds as well as researched the major philosophers in trying to discover the answer.  Obviously the book never comes to the supreme truth and Jim’s own opinion is hidden in an unrelated paragraph in just one sentence in the middle of the book that most people might miss.  

I enjoyed reading all of the theories but one of my major takeaways was the realization that I cannot comprehend these theories the way the men who created them can.  Any one of them would take me years of study and even then I know I do not have the raw intellectual fire power to get there.  

So all I can do is continue to explore and be completely fascinated as well as a little terrified at not having the answer.  All I know are what my senses, studies and inquiries have gathered.  Here we are, talking monkeys on a biological rock flying through space where only a fraction of us are trying to figure out what is going on while a good majority are quite certain they know the secrets of the universe, the divine and everything in between already.  

This dream began with my birth and will end with my death.  The longer the dream persists the more bizarre it becomes.  The best I can do is to be nice to my fellow dreamers, help those having a nightmare and try as hard as I can to fly.   

 

Christianity and its non-Christian Origins

I saw this post on Google + and it was so good I had to borrow it.  I have re-posted here so that I’ll always have it.  

Written by:  Yonatan Zunger – from Google +

Since I’ve heard that there’s some kind of religious festival going on this weekend, I thought it might be an interesting time to write something about the history of how Christianity came to have such a blend of non-Christian origins in it. There’s actually a very interesting history to this: in essence, it isn’t so much that Christianity absorbed external elements, as that through the tumult of the first six centuries CE, a bunch of European religions mixed and combined, and the Christianity we know today was the result of that — it got its name on the label, so to speak.

To realize how big the difference between what came out and what came in is, just pick up the Christian Bible and read through the discussions between Jesus and the Apostles. This was, originally, a Jewish reform movement, responding to the particular skews and corruptions that had shown up in the (Pharisaic) leadership, concerned with economic reform, (e.g. Luke 12) a hard shift away from ritual towards personal piety, (e.g. Matthew 15) and a serious mystical trend. (Largely cut out of the “canonical” texts, but very present in the Egyptian texts) The first radical change came with Paul, who was interested in converting outsiders — something that the earlier “followers of the Way,” as they called themselves, had very little interest in. But if you compare even Paul’s early churches with (say) medieval Christianity, or even most modern branches, you’ll see very little in common. How did this happen?

Let me start by setting up a few bits of history. We’re in the Classical Roman Empire, say around the year 100 CE. Rome is expanding everywhere; there’s a well-practiced routine when a new barbarian tribe is encountered. The Romans make offerings to the gods of that tribe, saying that they will build them a temple in Rome if they let this tribe be joined to the empire; then they go to war, win, and start to fold yet another tribe into the center. The erection of that temple isn’t something accidental: it’s part of what’s called the “Pax Deorum,” the peace of the gods, and what it really is is a public statement that these new people are being folded in to the society. These conquered barbarians aren’t at quite the same level as true Roman citizens, but they’re part of the Empire now, and light-years above those barbarians outside the gates. The physical mechanisms of the Empire are backed by a deep civic notion of “Romanitas;” to be a Roman is to be part of this great thing, to have a particular relationship to the outside world: we will conquer you and you will join us. And to be part of Romanitas is to have the weight of the Empire behind you.

And then it stopped working. Hadrian makes it halfway up Britain and builds a wall; and the Romans start to realize that they’re at the logistical endpoint of where they can conquer. A climate cycle drops food production down and leads to widespread famine and disease across Europe. Worse climate cycles to the east start to push nomadic tribes further out in search of resources, and they start to hit an already-weakening Empire. Without the constant influx of resources from conquered tribes, the underlying lack of planning in the Roman economy (and system of succession) starts to show; and from about 180 to 280, the Empire essentially collapses into an infinite sequence of famines, plagues, civil wars, and barbarian incursions. The last of these wars, the War of the Seven Emperors, is ended in 287 when Diocletian personally executes his last rival, and sets up a new regime. 

Diocletian’s empire was very different from Caesar’s in a lot of interesting ways, but the one I want to talk about today is that notion of “Romanitas.” Once, to be a Roman meant that you were ready to conquer everyone that you met; but the later Roman Empire was in no state to do such a thing. The central question of civic identity — of what it even meant to be a part of this empire — didn’t have a good answer, and with it, the whole question of what held the Empire together at all was up in the air as well.

Now switch over and look at the religion of the time. If we rewind back to the year 100, the Latin word religio had a very different meaning from what we think of today: it was the set of public rituals that the society participated in. These were tremendously important in a lot of ways. First of all, they were a key economic glue. Roman society didn’t have a notion of “taxation” in the modern sense; but instead, leading citizens were expected to regularly have sacrifices to the Gods to honor their good fortune in various things. At a sacrifice, animals would be killed, their first fruits given to the Gods with various prayers, and what followed is what we would today call a “big damned barbecue.” A Roman could expect to go to a sacrifice every week or so on the average, and this was the primary access that most Romans had to meat. (So when I say “key economic glue” I mean “a major part of how the society got access to food.”) Second, they were the way in which people defined their civic nature. Today, we define our nationality in terms of things we learn in school, what we read in the papers and discuss in the media — all things which didn’t exist in Rome. The expression of nationality was the common rituals that people went to. (And this, incidentally, is why the cult of the Emperor was so important: by sacrificing to the Emperor, you were indicating your loyalty to the Emperor and the Empire) Public actions were the main way that people communicated their thoughts.

One thing you may notice is missing from that list is anything which resembles our modern notion of “faith.” This wasn’t an unfamiliar concept, but it wasn’t considered to be part of “religio.” People had household gods with which they had a personal relationship, and actual priests had relationships with their gods, but nobody was generally expected to have a deep and abiding religious faith in each god that showed up through the gate. But the urge for deeper religious experiences was certainly there, and ever since the time of Alexander the Great (around 300BCE) one of the main ways this manifested was in “mystery cults.”

Mystery cults were the religious secret societies of the ancient world. You could join some of them by simply walking in the door, and for others you had to know someone, but what they all had in common was that you would be initiated, participate in secret rituals, gradually learn more and more of the secrets of this god. These cults often taught a combination of mysticism, philosophy, and theology; they offered a chance to see into the world beyond; and they offered a close confraternity among the members. And they were quite separate from “religio” proper, bearing it about the same relationship that gentlemen’s clubs in Victorian England bore to Parliament. 

There were a few categories of mystery cult which were becoming particularly popular in the first few centuries CE. The first was the cult of Magna Mater, which was basically the worship of Isis gradually transmuted into a pan-European religion. Consider that ancient Egyptian religion was already extremely, incomprehensibly ancient: the pyramids are a great work of the late Stone Age, as much older than the Romans as the Trojan War is older than us. The knowledge of hieroglyphs had already passed out of the world, but the infinite number of mummies and inscriptions and magical practices were still very much there. Add on to this that, even thousands of years earlier, Egyptian religion had highly favored spectacular, awe-inspiring temples where people went for rituals, healing, miracles, surrounded by fire, strange smokes, talking statues — and that this tradition was still very much alive — and you have a great factory of religious beliefs which were immensely popular in the Roman world.

Second was Mithraism, a religion that we still understand relatively little. Mithras was a warrior-god, of Persian origin; he has many similarities to similar warrior-gods spread across the Near East, not least the version of Yahweh worshipped in the western Levant which later became a core part of Judaism. In Rome, his worship became very popular among the army, starting with soldiers who had served in the east. The rituals were very secret, part of the brotherhood of joining the Roman Legions; underground caverns, secret dances, sacrifices, rituals that we know very little about today because they were actually fairly good at keeping their secrets, and quite deliberately didn’t write many things down. 

The third was ascetic monasticism, something which never really caught on in Europe but which was a huge deal in Egypt for hundreds of years. There was a tradition of hermits retreating off into the desert to pray, fast, and generally mortify themselves, and these hermits were considered to be avatars of purity itself, holy, powerful, capable of great magics, and mad as a bag of clams. (As a side note, The Book of the Fathers, a book on how to be a good monk written in fragments from the 4th through 10th centuries, has lots of examples of the stories of early monks, who were basically Christian Egyptian ascetics. Something like two thirds of these stories end with either “and then he/she starved to death” or “and then he/she died in a sandstorm.” These guys werehard-core.

And Christianity — Paul’s Christianity, the kind that wanted to spread — joined in to this mix. This early Pauline Christianity worshipped in secret, because it was defiantly anti-religio; this was honestly a holdover from its Jewish roots, with the Jews being rather famous for their (often violent) unwillingness to sacrifice to other gods. But it had many other familiar features: secret meetings in (literally) underground churches, intense personal faith, mystical healing, close confraternity between the followers. Unlike many of the other mystery cults, it was built fairly strongly around concepts of morality — another holdover both from its Jewish antecedents and from Jesus’ own focus on reforming Judaism towards personal religiosity. 

These religious traditions competed with each other pretty openly. If you read Apuleius’ The Golden Ass (arguably the first novel), you’ll see all these conflicts show up in people’s daily lives. Laws were passed banning Christians from serving in the army — it would destroy unit cohesion, you see, and the men might feel uncomfortable. (Le plus que ça change…) And they also combined: Christianity became popular in Egypt, and people combined it with both Egyptian asceticism (to form the seeds of monasticism) and Manichaeanism, another Persian import from which Christianity got its notions of the duality of God and the Devil. The healing magics of Magna Mater stayed popular across the board, and Christians found themselves doing basically the same things. 

(There’s a whole history here, too, of how these religions related to the earlier Roman political order.)

And around the year 300, these religious and political trends started to come together. The political order of the old religio made less and less sense: giant, formal, public rituals to the gods of old Rome didn’t pull people together the way they once did. But the underlying needs behind them, both civic and economic, were still there. By the time of the civil war that followed Diocletian’s retirement (a very interesting story in its own right), Mithraism was in a bit of a downturn, apparently not providing quite enough mysticism relative to simple brotherhood; Christianity had folded most of the magical elements of Magna Mater into itself, and had done a better job of conversion through its strategy of focusing on women, and soldiers, many of whose mothers had been converts, started to use it as their secret brotherhood ritual. Against this background, Constantine (one of the warring emperors) made it the quasi-official religion of his army, and soon after won control of the Empire. 

What happened here was that a religious trend of secret societies, previously illegal in many situations, which thus tended to forge close relationships among the practitioners, suddenly became an official Thing which people realized they could further their careers by converting to. Many is the Roman nobleman of this period who went to bed one night, a contented pagan, and woke up the next morning a bishop, and a few hundred thousand solidi poorer. (That was the going rate for a bishopric) But this new religious system had communal identity baked so deeply into it, and held people together well enough (after all, that’s one of the big things Constantine used it for!) that it started to become a substitute for this now-missing identity.

Several things happened over the next hundred years which reinforced this, but perhaps the most dramatic was the sack of Rome in 410. It’s hard to express how world-shaking this was: imagine if, on 9/11, rather than destroying the Twin Towers in New York, the Taliban had simply marched in to New York City andsacked it, and the government was powerless to do anything about it. That’s roughly what happened then. And yet: the Goths who sacked Rome left the churches untouched — they, too, were Christians. Augustine used this as the jumping-off point for his book, The City of God, which crystallized the ideas that had been building up over the years: Christianity united its believers in a sort of world-spanning empire. This notion of Christianity as a social identity, rather than as a religious faith, became the cornerstone of European society for the next thousand years.

This answered the question of “how do we deal with those barbarians?:” If they were Christians, then you could use this common language of Christianity to establish relations with them. If they weren’t, you could convert them or kill them — or point your own friendly barbarians their way. It also provided a new social glue for the society, so long as everyone came over and converted.

And what you might notice is missing, again, from this picture is the modern notion of “faith.” It was important that everyone be a Christian because that was part of being part of the Empire, but the details weren’t quite as important. So the common variety of “conversion” in the Late Antique Empire went something like this:

A priest shows up in a village. The village is generally having some kind of major problem or another, whether it be a failed local irrigation system, or a famine, or a plague. The priest calls people together in the name of his god, and fixes the problem: either by prayer, or by getting people together to fix the well, or by pulling in external resources. (Most of the time, incidentally, the priest didn’t successfully fix the problem, in which case he simply would move on to the next village and try again) On success, the village praises God and converts. They have to give up “pagan rituals” — i.e., they have to adopt the forms of Christianreligio rather than whatever they did locally. But the underlying importance of the sacrifices (economic, civic, etc) was still there, so what was important was to do them in a Christian way. Do them in a church, not a cemetery. Praise a saint rather than a god, and so forth.

And then the priest would move on to the next town, racking this up as yet another successful conversion. But nobody was left behind in this town who actually had a particularly deep understanding of Christian doctrine; and in fact, owing to how bad travel was in the Empire at this point, it was often 100 yearsuntil the next priest would reach a particular village! So Europe “Christianized” by adopting a shared set of practices and religious language, but not a shared religious faith in the modern sense of the word. 

The results of this weren’t fully appreciated until nearly a thousand years later, during the Counter-Reformation: in response to the rise of Protestantism, the Catholic Church started to try to root out “heresy” in its own world, and discovered (much to its shock) that the average Christian had absolutely no ideawhat the religion was supposed to mean. (A truly fascinating account of this can be found in The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, which studies the record of the heresy trial of some random schmuck who was grabbed by the Inquisition. The title comes from his attempt to explain just how the world was created.) 

So when we talk about a “Christian syncretism,” what was happening wasn’t that Christianity deliberately or accidentally took on bits of other religions. Rather, most of the conversion of Europe — and very similarly, most of the conversion of other parts of the world later on — happened very quickly, with groups of people agreeing to take on the structural forms of Christianity, praying to saints in churches and so on, but with very little emphasis on constructing a shared “faith” in the modern sense.

In fact, this modern notion of faith came largely out of the Protestant reformation. The Protestants started out with a notion that people should have a direct, personal familiarity with scriptures and a much more personal relationship with God: ideas which hadn’t really entered much into the Christianity of the preceding millenium. The Catholics, in response, tried to “purify” their own faith and make sure that everyone was on the same page, using much the same techniques which they had developed for ensuring that there were no secretly practising Muslims or Jews in Spain after the Reconquista. (Yes, I know. You were expecting that the Spanish Inquisition would show up in here at some point.) Several centuries of spectacular bloodshed later, it was a commonly accepted idea in all branches of Christianity that Christianity was, first and foremost, about individual faith, and a common understanding of doctrine was what bound Christians together. But this hadn’t actually been a feature of Christianity ever since the days of Paul, and the Christianity of the 19th century is a very different beast from that in too many ways to count. It was a new thing.

So today, when people tell you about how Christianity has “borrowed” ideas from non-Christian religions, or that this or that holiday is actually a pagan festival in disguise, your surprise isn’t coming from the fact that Christianity ever was really a common religious language rather than a unified faith: it’s coming from the fact that, over the past few hundred years, Christianity has deeply rewritten its creed, and largely forgotten its own history. These things aren’t alien to Christianity at all: they’re the deepest part of its origins.

For more information, some places to start:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybele
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mithraic_mysteries
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_I_and_Christianity
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_God_(book)

The best sources of all on this subject are books. Peter Brown’s The Cult of the Saints or The Rise of Western Christendom give an excellent snapshot of the Late Antique transition and can get you started looking for other things. Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms is a great way to see what ground-level faith in the sixteenth century looked like.

Consciousness and Emotional Intelligence

Once again, it has been a very long time without a post.  It is not that ideas have ceased to run through my head but rather, I feel that blogging has become more of a chore than something I really want to do.

Actually, that is not the case.  I think I have a complex in knowing that people will read it thus I must be careful with the words and ideas that are typed out onto this screen.  It would be much easier if I could just let the ideas flow and my fingers press the buttons.  Then I think too much and decide not to post.

Luckily, a perfect moment has arrived where I’m alone and I simply do not feel like doing anything else but writing.  I do not want to read, nor watch Netflix, nor play any games and I surely don’t want to venture onto any social networks.  I just want to venture into that familiar trance where the rest of the world slips away and I’m alone with my thoughts.

And speaking of thoughts, one of the main ideas that has been racing through my head is this idea of Consciousness.  I have come to the conclusion that we are not fully consciousness   It is like being only half awake or like walking in a fog.  How did I come to realize this?

I’ve found that there are short flickering moments where I look around and really appreciate the beauty of the world around me.  For a brief instant I understand the true value of friendships and the wonderful feelings that connecting with others truly brings.  It is as though I am in contact with the true essence of consciousness, of life, of mind and of all that surrounds me.

Perhaps, living in this beautiful town by the coast I experience these moments a bit more often than most.  Or perhaps, I have simply inundated my brain with so much wine, tea and then exercise that it has short circuited somewhere and thus redirects my focus to the joys of being alive a bit more than usual.

I believe we all have these moments and with a bit of practice such as with meditation can have them with more frequency.  It seems to me that this increased “consciousness” would be a major step forward in human evolution.

As I look around at the world today I do not see this.  I see people walking around in a fog.    They go about their daily routines as though they are programmed.  People live in a closed environment, and this environment is closed by their own choosing whether they realize it or not.  For all this talk of “going social” on the internet I find that most people are not inherently social at all.  If you simply say hello to a stranger these days it would seem more of a shock than a nice pleasantry deserving of a response.

Or perhaps I am more acutely aware of this because I am in the sales profession.  It is my job to connect with people and I’ve become very good at it.  I know how to say the right words, give the right facial expression and how to adjust to different personalities.  I can easily draw people out of their shell and get them to interact.

I think it is possible to develop one’s mind to a higher level of consciousness.  One exercise in which I do not have much experience is meditation and is something I’m very curious about.  I’ve found that I cannot rest my mind for more than 8 seconds before it wanders off onto some common topic or daily activity.  I actually tried to think of nothing many times today only to find myself thinking about certain things the day was going to bring.

And speaking of wandering I believe this post has done just that.  A higher level of consciousness happens when someone dies.  For a few hours or maybe even a few days we really appreciate our loved ones and recognize their value.  But sure enough, these feelings slowly melt away as we return to the daily monotony.

Standing on a mountain with a beautiful view and to realize that we are just organic, self aware beings living on a rock that is flying through space in a universe of perhaps infinite size is a grand thought indeed.  I wonder why we cannot hold onto these thoughts and use them to really appreciate being alive?  How is it that religion has distilled the magnificent into repetitive drudgery and simple fairy tale stories that 95% of the population easily accepts?

Yes, most of us are asleep and I feel that in this moment of time only a select few can make that leap forward.  They are those that can “think freely” and release themselves from all the mental programming they received in their early years.  To truly be a free thinker is a difficult and uncommon thing indeed!

In regards to emotional intelligence I’ve recently realized that most people are not good at this at all!  Perhaps I am being too harsh as it seems to be a skill and thus would take practice.  Being a sales person I have plenty of practice at this as I must do it daily.  But I do believe it is something I’ve always been relatively good at by the simple fact that I like people and I care about others.  Maybe I am just selfish in that by making others feel good I myself feel very good.

Briefly glancing at the definition I can confirm that put simply, Emotional Intelligence is simply being able to recognize the other persons emotions even if they show no obvious outward signs.  Or perhaps I am deluding myself as it is a combination of minute signals that betray the feelings inside.  In any case, I am glad I can read them.

Now for something I cannot understand.  The idea of murder, of killing, no matter the circumstances (war, freedom, whatever you want to call it) is so repulsive and horrible to me that I do not like to read about it, do not like to see it in the movies and sure as shit do not support it no matter what the government says.

Yet, I find that a very high percentage of my countrymen are readily willing to accept murder of others so long as the reason given is plausible.  The only conditions are that they take place far away and to people they have no connection to.

I think that if someone walked into their living room and shot the visiting neighbor in the head (even if they were a bona fide terrorist) than their willingness to accept murder might drastically change.

Yet, when it is far away and for “freedom” then all of a sudden everyone is for more missile strikes.

And this my friends is the reason I do not believe that most people have enough “consciousness” and almost no emotional intelligence.  They walk in a trance, willing to believe almost anything.  Even if that “thing” is the opposite of what the mainstream are believing.  It is as though people need to join others in their opinions and beliefs.  If people were to truly think freely then would it not follow there would be an almost limitless amount of opinions and beliefs in the world?

But no, we have liberal vs. conservative.  Catholic vs Protestant, vs Buddhist vs. Muslim.  And you know what?  My opinion and belief is the correct one while yours is wrong.  Yes, with all the education and seemingly endless list of colleges most of the arguments come down to our own belief being right.  And we KNOW it is right because it was what was taught to us.

How mundane, boring and completely stupid.  Consciousness?  We only receive flickers from time to time.  Emotional Intelligence?  It has been dashed against the rock of cable tv and a couple of generations that only understand two words.   I and me.

 

Embassy Attacks

I just wanted to write down a few thoughts about the embassy attacks that are occurring.

The first is that I find it completely despicable that Romney has used the events to score political points. That was a very stupid move which all the pundits pointed out the day after he made it. I just heard on the news this morning that some are starting to agree with him as the attacks continue to spread.

They say that the Obama policy has made America weak and these attacks are proof of that.

How completely idiotic can we get? The reason that the USA is unpopular in Muslim countries is due to the support of Israel and the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Those are the two principal reasons (bar none!) and even though they are 100% apparent it is something you will not hear much on the news here.

And guess who started the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

George W. Bush – Republican

Who has supported Israel? – Well every single administration has so no blame there. Obama has in fact taken steps to stand up to the Israeli lobby unlike most of his predecessors.

After reading the above, a Republican would think me an apologetic liberal. Keep reading and you will see this is not the case.

My second thought is how far the Muslim world has fallen from their days of glory with the Ottoman Empire and occupation of Spain. Spain is what I know and I know that the Muslims brought science, math and much learning to the rather uncivilized Christians of the time.

My how things have changed.

I try hard to come up with reasons for these attacks and can only guess that they may be related to the following.

1. Unstable Governments – These countries really have no or very rule of law at the moment
2. Thugs and terrorist groups have more leeway now that the dictators are gone and can run amok.
3. Due to the dictators, their societies have really not progressed in the past 40 years or so and have actually digressed.

On one hand I understand that a society needs time to adjust and terrorist groups would take advantage during time of weak government.

But in the end, these reasons and excuses have to stop. Much of the Muslim world needs to take a hard look at themselves and yank their societies into the 21st century.

To put this into very blunt perspective let us look at this example.

The most notable achievement of one society is that it has just put a robot on Mars to conduct scientific analysis.   The most notable achievement of a few other societies are that they go berserk at something offensive on the internet (imagine that!), burn buildings and kill people while screaming about God.

The people (young people especially) of those countries are going to have to fight their own terrorists in order to drag their societies into the 21st century.

The internet is full of offensive material. I can assure you it is not just Muslims for those of you who have never used the internet before.

Just had a thought pop into my head. I wonder if the TV reporter in Egypt was just being careless with this story and didn’t realize how much havoc it would create or if it was done on purpose.

——-

*9.29.2012 – Update – Well, had some issues with the blog and this post got erased.  Trying to put it back as it was but the story in Libya also keeps changing.  Apparently it was a terrorist attack by various religious zealots.  So, as of 9.29.2012 I only have two comments.

1.  It looks like regular Libyans are grateful to the USA for helping them get rid of Gaddafi.  I was highly encouraged by these two articles.

1.  Hundreds of Libyans hand over their weapons – USA Today
2. After Quaddafi – Foreign Affairs

And finally, I still find this extremely funny:

Following Cultural Awareness Class, Marines Burn Down Own Embassy