Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The amazing chart of everything

I’m a little embarrassed about how much of this chart I’m familiar with, but I’ve had to look up these things when seemingly intelligent people bring them up and tell me I should be concerned about them. I admit at one time I thought there might be something to the Nostradamus prophecies, but then I simply read what they said. The actual words don’t match the theories about how he predicted the Kennedy assassination. But the guy who made this chart seems to be serious about it, and I’m sure you all know someone who is very serious about at least one of the items found here.

My obsession with this is partially just curiosity, partially the human tendency to gawk at disaster, but it is also rooted in academics. I was in an African American Studies course in my freshman year in college when the people following Jim Jones all killed themselves rather than disband their group and reconsider their life choices. The professor asked us to think about how this happened, particularly why middle class black people joined this group.

Part of it is mind control, making them repeat the ritual without using real poison and barraging them with long speeches about his view of the world over a loud speaker all day long. But cults almost always begin with some reasonable ideas that seem intuitively good. Those roots are usually not well documented and get swept under the longer story that is easily found once the group has some fame. It seems obviously wacko to outsiders at that point, but those who accept it have a history that has altered their intuitions about what is right, so they can justify the wackiness.

Each one of these nodes has a story like that behind it. A story of how it began as someone asking questions that seemed reasonable. They become conspiracy theories when answers are provided that aren’t based on facts, evidence, and logic that is interpreted by people familiar with the full context. People choose the simple answers of the complex inclusive data. This could remain a small group of gossipy neighbors or grow into a political party with actual power.

In this chart, most of it is real names of people, corporations, and organizations, but the connections and the arrows are almost always a stretch. “THX 1138” was really a movie by Steven Spielberg about a guy who escaped a domed city where the government controlled everything with lies and kept people sedated by prescribing drugs. Why that is right next to the “Birth of the Internet”, I don’t know. Further up, in the historical section, the Rockfellers really did monopolize oil in the USA and they did it with nepotism and corruption. Why that is right next to “Ritual Magick” on the chart, who knows?

Harder to miss, the big arcing arrow from scientific discoveries of the modern world to “DEPOPULATION”. You would need to read a lot of stuff that would challenge your credulity of the authors belief in what they were writing to know why Monsanto and Flouridation are on this chart. You might feel like brain cells were trying to escape as you read it, hoping to find a place where reason and logic still exist. What this chart shows is evidence is not needed once you’ve decided to live in a world of fear where you have no power. In that world, it’s better to give up your powers of reason and, according to the logic of that opposite world, then you’ll see what is obvious.

In the world of facts, people do horrible things to each other in plain sight. I couldn’t find “Organized Crime” on here, but we know the names. They walked around in major cities and people loved and adored them. They were treated like the ones who were fixing the problems that the government and police were causing. Meanwhile, they were building their private armies and throwing bodies in the river. Pablo Escobar appears. He financed social programs while also bankrolling corrupt politicians, guaranteeing that those social programs would not have democratic oversight. They got the blame for what was wrong, he got the credit for doing what was right and the power that comes with it.

When you decide that what you see is not real, that you were taught nothing but lies, and that anything that comes from a respected source is actually designed to control you, then everything is part of the giant conspiracy and your best strategy is to do nothing except tell everyone else about how you figured it out. By saying you are questioning everything, you get to feel powerful, but by not using your powers of logic and reason, by claiming your theory is beyond question, you’ve relinquished the power you actually have.

There are of course bad things in the world. Caligula, near the top in the Antiquity section, was a vicious narcissistic ruler. That’s why we say Rome was “falling” at the time he ruled. Democracy was conceived, then faded and came to light again over a thousand years later. This chart seems to connect that re-emergence more to the Illuminati than to the formation of nation states full of free people. No explanation is provided.

Alchemy was a waste of time but as the chart notes, it led to gunpowder. There are good and bad uses for gunpowder but you could say it would be a more brutal world without it. Many items appear on the chart without comment, so it’s hard to say what judgment QAnon is passing on them.

The paradox of “conspiracy theorists” is they will use real conspiracies like Nixon and Watergate, The Gulf of Tonkin incident, Bush lying about weapons of mass destruction, and Jeffrey Epstein as their evidence that governments and rich people are really corrupt, but it’s not “conspiracy theorists” who uncover those conspiracies! The mainstream information sources that are supposedly covering up the conspiracies are the ones that brought those to light.

Conspiracies that actually happen like a President lying on a daily basis or a small family getting rich off of a Pharmaceutical company selling pain medicine, are not included in this chart. Epstein is being investigated even after he died because living people conspired with him, but this chart only has “Pizzagate”. The same people that missed the Epstein conspiracy are now making up stories about how he was killed by the Clintons. This chart was made in 2018, before the Epstein and Sackler stories broke and the QAnon writers are now catching up with them.

There is a big difference between conspiracies where powerful people are lying and hiding information and working for themselves while saying they work for us, and decisions made in the regular course of people trying to figure out how to make a living in a decent and ethical manner. We use toxic chemicals and precious resources to make life better for most people on earth. Billions of people sleep soundly knowing their taxes are supporting a military operation somewhere on the other side of the world that they would never consider participating in. We do our best to discuss decisions like this, requiring layers of oversight and regulating whatever industry gets to profit from the lesser of evils that we eventually choose. We hope that we get the chance to work on the new problems that we caused by implementing the solutions to the original ones. None of this belongs in the same category, on the same chart, as lizard people using the Denver Airport as their secret base.

This chart is the modern version of Greek mythology; mixing historical figures with imagined monsters and giving them all personalities and character traits that attempt to reflect human traits and failings. But the words and actions of the stories didn’t happen in the real world . It’s done in an attempt to try to explain the crazy world we live in, to reconcile what we know is right with all the wrong that we see. It skips over the hard work we need to do to uncover those wrongs. I hope this type of thinking fades and the methods of science prevail and continue to be improved but there is no guarantee. The record of civilizations is not that great, they kind of come and go. Fortunately, even when the powerful and the structures they built fail, we still have each other.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Superior Hiking Trail Ely's Peak

Earlier section the trail

This is a great little section that is in between two well-travelled sections but feels pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The signage is good and the bridges are maintained. In August, the streams can be nearly dry but water will be trickling through. Most of these are just ditches that can be stepped over but the bridges are abundant because in the spring, they can be torrential. Check the weather and be aware of the conditions of the ground. If it is saturated, flooding can pop up quickly and be very dangerous. We crossed one bridge that had the remnants of hand rails that had been torn off and
another that was twisted. 
In the town of Fond du Lac, find 131st Av W off of Highway 23. Go a few blocks to the trailhead. Follow the creek to connect to the trail. This picture is from the Duluth Outdoor Recreation Map. An awesome resource for hiking in Duluth. They should have them at the visitor's center at the top of the hill. 

If you are coming from the Grand Portage trail, just stay on it and make a left at the sign. If you are in Fond du Lac, use one of the spurs and hook up to the SHT. We went east, toward Ely’s Peak. You’ll get switchbacks, vistas, creek beds and all sorts of flora and fauna. We had a nice breeze so even the bugs weren’t bad. As you near Ely’s Peak, you start to hear some road noise, then you pop out of the woods and you’re on the very busy and high speed Beck’s Road.

You should see a sign for the Superior Hiking trailhead off of that road for people driving and looking for parking, but when hiking, just cross straight over and skirt around that lot using the paved Munger Trail part of the way. Plenty of signs here and probably plenty of people. That will get you over the train tracks then start looking for the trail again, to your left. You can’t miss Ely’s Peak from below. Once you start ascending though you lose that reference. You still have the St. Louis River and dots of civilization to the South, so pretty tough to get lost.

This is a pretty direct ascent but the rocks make good steps and it levels off once or twice. Once you get near the top, there are many spur trails to the peak, too many to try to describe. When you get to a place where there is a deep valley to your left/North and another peak, then you’ve passed Ely’s and you’re on your way to Brandon’s Peak and Spirit Mountain.

If you are looking for the other Ely’s Peak parking lot, north along Beck’s Road, that can also be a bit confusing from the trail. Google maps had trails that weren’t there and I’ve read other descriptions of this area that I have found difficult to follow. After the first steep section up from the Munger, there is a spur off to the left. This links up to the DWP trail right at the entrance to a tunnel. If you don’t see that after a few minutes, turn around and try a different spur.

On some maps, you’ll see the DWP Trail. This is a wide flat dirt trail. To the North, it goes through some businesses and all the way to the Interstate. In the other direction, it parallels the Munger Trail, but not close enough so you can see one from the other. Part of it is a tunnel, under the peak, so on a map you will see the dotted line, but you are walking above it. Google currently puts their pin for the tunnel on top of the rock, which seems kind of useless to me. Getting to the tunnel is pretty easy from the Ely’s Peak parking lot, just north of the railroad tracks that go under Beck’s Road. It has no markings, but you can’t miss it. Take the one path leading toward the peak, take a right when you hit the DWP trail and you’ll get to the tunnel. From there, take a very steep ascent trail to the peak, or a trail going down and to the right that links up to the SHT. If you are coming from the peak looking for the parking lot, do the reverse of the above find the DWP, the path to parking is good size, so just avoid the smaller options. If you get to a business, you went too far.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A bit of politics

When I saw Beto O’Rourke asking the press WTF about Trump’s comments fueling racism and leading to mass shootings, I had to figure out just why these gun legislation bills are not getting voted on. I find it hard to believe that Beto does not know this, so I see his rant as not that different from Trump railing at the press. To solve the problem, he would need to comment on votes for Senators in other states, which is not something political leaders usually do. He would have to explain the historical precedents that give Mitch McConnell the power he has, also something politicians don’t do. Beto doesn’t want to explain how the system is broken, he wants to use the broken system to his advantage.
So I went to Google University to try to pull back the curtain. I offer some solutions at the bottom, so skip to the bottom if you don’t like reading about the history of rules of order. I’m afraid I don’t have much more than “organize and vote”, but there are some specific strategies and priorities that could get McConnell demoted to just another Senator.
McConnell is the Senate Majority Leader. That means the Presiding Officer gives him priority to speak. That is the VP, as per Article 1, Section 3, Clause 4 or the Constitution. But, basically that is just a chair for rules of order, not a position of power. Article 1, Section 4 grants the Senate power to establish it’s own “Standing Rules”. But, those are rather archaic and don’t grant any real power either. They do not fill all the gaps when controversy arises, so there are informal precedents. The precedent of the majority leader being recognized first by the presiding officer (see 1937 John “Cactus Jack” Nance Garner) gives Mitch McConnell the ability to set the schedule and control the agenda of the Senate. By law, any senator could make the motion to proceed with any bill. They could just shout it out and then someone could shout out a second.
So why don’t they? I don’t think it’s “deference” to Mitch McConnell. It’s deference to the donors that would crush them if they opposed McConnell. None of these procedural rules keeps people in power over a majority of its citizens without a system of enforcement to back it up. The enforcement needs money. It’s tough to win an election without it. Whoever has the money is not interested in procedures and majorities. They only need people to do their work and buy their stuff. They figured out how to scam the system and there is no vote that can change that. But your vote does matter, I’m getting to that.
The money isn’t just to pay for some TV time, it’s used to fake studies that show that you should be afraid of the government and afraid of others who really aren’t “others” at all. It’s used to keep the system of poor education in place so people don’t understand the system that is oppressing them. It’s used to distract while they reach into your wallet. More to the point, it funds border security and policing but doesn’t fund training for de-escalating violence or better mental health care to keep people out of the justice system in the first place.
A couple things we can do. One is, flip the Senate so McConnell doesn’t have this power and Republicans don’t have it. Even if they keep the Presidency, the VP as presiding officer does not have much power in the Constitution or by tradition. Even if all we get are votes on bills that are lost or vetoed, we have at least identified who is voting how and we can put pressure on those individuals. Easier said than done though since McConnell is there because of a few hundred thousand people in Kentucky, just like senators in North Dakota or Georgia. But there are swing states and even if you don’t live there you can contribute to the campaigns.
Another is voter suppression and apathy. I agree that voting is unfair and your vote does not count as much as some voters. But it is not worthless. People who want gun control and want children released from detention centers are in the super majority. As long as we continue to lose these battles by slim vote margins, it appears we don’t have power. But remember, women won the right to vote without having the vote and civil rights was changed by people seeing what was happening in states where votes were suppressed. That suppression is still going on, each of us just has to look. If you know someone who says it isn’t, show them.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Living the Dream

I saw this graph at a lecture, and I couldn’t find it, so finally I was able to screen shot it. The lecture was on atheism, but it shows something pretty amazing that has happened in the last 80 years. That’s grandparent age, so it’s not that long of a period of time in political terms. Unfortunately the years were cut off, but as it says, Gallup started asking this question in 1937, so that’s on the left. It goes to 2012 on the right. It’s only asking if you would support your party endorsed candidate if they were one of these categories, so one person could say yes to any or all of them.

Note, that at the time, a black, gay, lesbian or atheist President is not something they even considered asking about. Catholic, Jewish or a woman, that’s it. And women did not do too well. Women rose steadily, probably due to their prominence in the war and work efforts around World War II. They started including blacks and atheists after that war as those were both things being talked about. Blacks started out low, but the civil rights movement moved them up within a few decades. Anyone who reads anything about that time knows this was no easy ride for any of these groups. Finally, somewhere around the 60’s it was recognized that Gay/Lesbian is also a category that someone might answer “yes” to.

I could say a lot more about the two groups who are still polling low, and there are other polls where Muslims come in around the 50% or less level too. I’ll link the talk, where Hemant Mehta did talk about it. What really struck me though is this is the dream of democracy and diversity coming true. Another 100 years earlier, just about anywhere in the world, the only people who could lead their country were people who had a royal blood line for that country. Either that or they killed whoever was there before. This question wouldn’t even make sense to the man on the street in feudal Europe or any other continent. Those two lower lines have continued to rise since 2012 and I believe it will not be that long before the strangeness of this question, because the answer is obviously “yes”, will be as strange as asking someone from a monarchy if they would support a king from a different country or of a different religion.

As a line graph, it looks like more and more people are crowding up at the top. But in terms of population the proportions of people hasn’t changed that much, it’s just that they can openly be who they are without needing to compromise and more of us are fine with all of us getting the benefits of working in and living in this modern world we’ve built. The 70% who once said “no” to these questions are seeing that it’s better to say “yes”. Granted some of them are no longer around but statistically this graph is showing people who changed their minds. Even the younger people participating had to learn this from somewhere. Culture does not usually change that fast, but lessons like this can be learned that fast.

                                           Hemant Mehta: Is Atheism a Political Taboo?

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Intermission Summer of 2019

Summer is always a slow time for blogging for me. It's rainy and cold today, so maybe our one day of summer has past. I do have article #10 ideas, but it's getting to where I need to write a PhD thesis, or just keep rambling. Or, something in between. For now, here's an article that expresses some of the things I'm working on or towards or around. 

Six things I wish people understood about Atheism

1. There are lots of different types of atheists, and we don't all feel the same way about religion.

For me, I've felt differently at different times. Many people have some anger immediately upon leaving their church. As they find more people who have already worked through that, that might subside and give way to more reasoned thoughts about why people think the ways they do.

2. Atheist organizations are starting to do better at helping people and promoting social justice.

Really, secular groups have been around for a long time. Religion might inform your values, but different worldviews can and do lead to the same values. There have always been people who believed in the good works of religion but had private doubts about the theology.

3. Seemingly little things that religious people might not even notice can really drive us atheists bananas, and for good reason.

What Jay is saying here is that religion is everywhere. It's our calendar, many of our holidays, in political speeches, on our money, everywhere. It would be nice if they at least noticed this and acknowledged it.

4. There's a big difference between private individuals promoting their religious beliefs and the government doing the same. But this doesn't mean the government cannot promote facts and ideas that are inconsistent with some religious beliefs.

This one is a little more complicated. There are subtle differences between "freedom of religion" and "freedom from religion". This goes way back to before the Constitution was written.

5. Atheists and other secularists are getting pretty good at participating in public.

This relates to #2, plus, more people have grown up without religion in their homes now. More than that, they have found other ways to develop their world view and value systems and to articulate why they feel the way they do. It's help that they are able to do with less threat of being ostracized from their community. There are now strong secular groups on campuses and those people will go on to fund those groups and they will likely continue to grow.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Atheism for Religious and/or Spiritual 9

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Before I go on, I promised back in the 2nd of this series that I’d talk about the problems of the early Catholic Church. I hope I have spent enough time discussing the Enlightenment era and the flaws in Western philosophy in general. But there are good reasons why I still choose them over Christianity. There are a few things that started gnawing at me about Christianity and the more I looked into them, the more I realized they were foundational problems that could not be solved. That is, they weren’t just cracks in the foundation of Christianity; they were demonstrations that there is no foundation.

The first is the consensus on the existence of Jesus. That’s it really. That is, the entire extent of the scholarly consensus on Jesus is that he existed, and maybe that he was crucified. The dates of his life are disputed, his name is in dispute, everything he said is debatable, let alone what he meant, his family life, if he was a spirit or a man who was inhabited by spirit or if he was born God. All of these questions are played out in the scriptures and some of them have led to wars and schisms (John 14). Holy wars are not cool as they used to be. Claims about what someone did in the past are expected to come with data that can be confirmed and facts that are agreed upon by a number of experts. Part of the statement of the consensus on Jesus is that we can’t recreate any of these details from the documents we have, not the four gospels or with the help of the apocryphal documents.

They spent centuries trying to work back to some original theme and what they discovered was there isn’t one. Instead, we get Peter arguing with Paul (Acts 10), Thomas painted as an unbeliever who repents (John 20), and a fourth gospel that is out of sync with the other three. This was expected and normal at the time the scriptures were written. Authors added to and reworked the stories to bring their new insights to them. But now we have modern history which is expected to be accurate and to let us know when something is uncertain. This leads to a confusing mixing of these two different genres. A historical fact like “Jesus existed” is used to claim that everything written using the name “Jesus” is also historically true. It may be true that Jesus died at the hands of the Romans but that says nothing about how that death washed away sins or the details of how he rose or who found him or who saw him later. The truth of one historical fact has very little effect on the truth of most of what is found in the New Testament.

This leads to the second thing, the order of the New Testament. If that collection of books was simply reordered to the order in which they were written, I think we would all have a very different view of the meaning they are attempting to convey. The first book in the New Testament, Matthew, begins with a birth narrative, connecting Jesus back to King David. That makes sense if you are attempting to tell a story that you think is real. But many believe the story of the virgin birth was concocted later to sell people of that time on the idea of Jesus being God. Gods of that time were born of virgins, so Jesus should be too, so you need a story.

If you want to follow how the stories began and were copied and embellished, start with the Book of Mark. It was written first. It has no birth story. It doesn’t have a resurrection story either. Maybe I should say it didn’t have a resurrection story. Many Bibles have footnotes telling you that the last verses of Mark were added on later, to harmonize it with the other gospels. Matthew and then Luke were written after Mark, sometimes copying, sometimes changing stories slightly, sometimes adding a new story. The gospel of John was written decades later.

To further correct the chronological order, all of the works of Paul need to be shuffled to the beginning. All of them were written and its author died before the first gospel was even heard of. Acts talks about Paul, but it was most likely written by the same author as the Book of Luke. Making sense of the different stories and contradictions is hard enough, but if you were to be presented first with a story of a man who only met Jesus in a vision and mentioned virtually nothing of a family or any earthly travels, it would be disconcerting indeed to then find out about Kings hearing of a virgin birth, to read of encounters with priests, of a man having meals, and telling parables. Was Paul unaware of all of this? For me, it’s led me to consider that this is a legend that developed, not a history that was poorly documented.

This project of ordering the books chronologically is complicated by the difficulty of assigning dates to the writings. That is an inexact science, and the authors sometimes attempted to mask who they were and when they were writing. The complete reordering might begin with the “undisputed Paulines”, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. These would be followed by Mark, Matthew, Luke/Acts then John. The job would get more difficult after that as we would need to sort out the psuedepigrpaha (like 2 Thessalonians), the works that were falsely attributed to Paul or other figures of the time. These were either assigned authorship in error by people who didn’t know any better, or deliberately claimed to be an author other than the actual one as a way to legitimize the message.

This is not just a New Testament problem either. Deuteronomy is the fifth book in the Old Testament, but is now known to have been written much later. Maybe most significant is the story of Eve tempting Adam with the apple. Besides simple facts like no apple appearing in the Bible, the story itself might not be a creation story. It may have been written earlier but it was given its place in the Bible by the people who assembled it, not some original author attempting to write a coherent narrative. It’s a folk tale, probably not intended to be an account of the first man and woman. So the entire reason for Jesus, to save us from the sin that got us kicked out of the Garden of Eden, is a mistake of some scholars in the centuries around the Fall of Rome who received a text and did not question its authorship or authenticity. They were told Moses wrote it and that was good enough for them.

With all of these competing narratives and a lack of scholarship, we arrive in 381 AD at the third thing. In that year, soon after Theodosius became emperor of Rome, he declared that he knew the correct version of all of this. Rather than honor other ancient traditions and allow for freedom of expression of a plurality of religions, it was time to get everyone under one system. To do that would require enforcement of these Catholic ideas using his military power and in many cases, the burning of anything and anyone who didn’t agree. This included not just pagan or Jewish places of worship, but Christian churches that didn’t preach the correct doctrine.

The page Theodosius gets at calls him a “just and mighty emperor” and puts it this way,

“In January, 381, the prefect had orders to close all Arian chapels in the city and to expel those who served them. The same severe measures were ordered throughout Theodosius’s dominion, not only against Arians, but also in the case of Manichaeans and all other heretics.”

It tries to soften exactly what these “severe measures” were but that’s why you shouldn’t get history from only one source, and especially from a source that is biased. By the way, “Arians” here have nothing to do with Nazis. The big problem with them was they were not Trinitarians. They said Jesus was subordinate to God, not part of him. My problem is no one can explain what the Trinity is. Instead of discussing it that though, Theodosius just said he was bored with all the talk and started killing people.

This wasn’t just an establishment of a strong military rule or just a wedding of religion with government it was a closing of minds that had been developing philosophies of democracy and science for centuries. In his book, Confessions, from around 397 AD Augustine wrote, “There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn.” Granted I’m taking this out of context in this short piece. He was confessing his thoughts as a young man and how they led him away from a more pious life. However, from archaeology we can see that technology stopped advancing around this time and we see less works of literature over the next few hundred years. I’m not blaming the Fall of Rome on Christians, but they didn’t prevent it and didn’t even seem troubled by it.

You should check all of my facts here and draw your own conclusions. Nothing I said here necessarily cancels out everything the Church has ever done. It shouldn’t change your relationship to your favorite parable or the community you consider your spiritual home. For me, it led to questions and it was the reaction to those questions from church leaders that eventually led to my lack of a belief in the divinity of Jesus and ultimately anything supernatural.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Atheism for the Religious and/or Spiritual 8

I didn't do anything special for the occasion, but it's been 10 years (plus a week) since I started this blog. Okay, move along.

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Theologians throughout the ages have attempted to straddle the worlds of belief and non-belief, of faith and reason. Thomas Aquinas was banned by the Catholic Church for his writings on this and then given sainthood not long after his death. In the last century, Catholic monk Teilhard de Chardin was told not to publish his thoughts on bridging these two worlds, but not long after he died, a friend published his works, (according to Teilhard’s wishes) and some gave him credit for contributing to the liberal ideas expressed at Vatican II. I find these philosophical thought experiments interesting, and although many do not, and even though I can show they ultimately don’t lead to a conclusion, I also hope to show that having the discussion has brought the people who hold those opposing beliefs closer together so we can work on the common goals.

Chardin became a Catholic monk not long after the turn of the 20th century and then began writing about his thoughts about spirituality. He was rewarded by being sent to a remote monastery in China. That’s sarcasm in case you didn’t catch it. He was also a paleontologist and his work with hominid fossils brought him a degree of fame. Evolution was a big challenge to the church at the time, and here was one of their own making strides in that area. As a contemplative and peaceful man, outwardly it appeared he was at peace with this. We can only speculate how it felt to him to have to choose between expressing his most important thoughts openly and keeping his job and position in the Church that he loved.

Teilhard tried to harmonize evolution and creation by saying that God does the creation thing while evolution builds the physical world. The two are not separate, but happening together all the time. God created and continues to create the world, and evolution is the mechanism that moves that creation forward. Our conscious is part of that evolution, so we have become co-creators with God. There isn’t one without the other, just as exhaling and inhaling are needed for there to be breath.

For him, this helped to solve the problem of evil in the world. The existence of evil is used as an argument that an all loving and all knowing God does not exist, because if one did, it would not allow such pain and suffering. Teilhard said that God does not will that suffering occurs. God is not intervening in the world on a regular basis to cause people pain because of something they did. Rather, God sets the world in motion toward the end, which is a world without suffering, but it is not possible to create that world without going through the suffering. We are part of the creation as it is occurring so we are experiencing what is required for it to happen. Since we are part of it, it becomes our job to prevent or at least reduce suffering, and we evolve skills and strategies to do just that.

I think it’s pretty clear why his ideas were not accepted by the Church. He disrupts the prescribed need to get you to go to confession every week. Less clear is why he decided to remain a monk his entire life and accept their condemnations of his writings and not be able to have them published until he was dead. He obviously wanted his ideas shared even knowing we would never be able to ask a follow up question.

To the scientifically minded, it should also be clear that none of his work comes close to qualifying as a scientific hypothesis. Although there is a certain logical flow to it, he makes assumptions about a need for a creator and endows that creator with attributes that are pulled straight from his theology classes, not his paleontology.

His posthumous following is thus peopled mostly by those who don’t accept the controls of religions, but still desire some sense of a supernatural to give meaning to our existence as well as those who are not too concerned with the rigors of scientific proofs. Many of these followers would consider themselves pantheists, but Teilhard often stated that a Christian sojourner is not a pantheist. He was firmly a Christian and being in the world didn’t mean his life in the world was divorced from his life in Christ. The Christian symbolism of the cross signified this connection and that was meaningful to him.

On pg 116 of the Divine Milieu, he says, “Pantheism seduces us by its vistas of perfect universal union.” But the Divine Milieu is about God and the world, not one or the other, so Teilhard is always working to keep that aspect in his writing, even while acknowledging that evolution is obviously happening and can be observed by us every day and confirmed using our powers of reason and logic. We evolved with animal traits, but we find individual fulfillment in the divine. I would have loved to ask him why he did not find fulfillment in participating in the discovery that we are connected to nature in ways that we have not been aware of before.

He says, “Christianity alone therefore saves, with the rights of thoughts, the essential aspiration of all mysticisim: to be united (that is, to become the other) while remaining one's self.” All punctuation is from the original. This axiom is sometimes expressed by him as “union differentiates”. That is, the essential aspiration of all mysticism to be in union with others, with God, with the world, and yet to be able to be one's self. Teilhard stresses that diving into Christian theology will not cause you to lose yourself, whereas other forms of mysticism or modernism will, “If you suppress the historical reality of Christ, the divine omnipresence which intoxicates us becomes, like all the other dreams of metaphysics, uncertain, vague, conventional—lacking the decisive experimental verification by which to impose itself on our minds, and without the moral authority to assimilate our lives into it.”

None of this works for me. On the contrary, I do find “decisive experimental verification” in metaphysics. They are not vague at all. I can only wonder if Teilhard and I sat down, if we might find we were talking about something different or of the same thing in different terms. But he didn’t leave behind experiments for me to repeat, so I can not verify his findings. Instead, we have physics, which can describe how I came from stars and stars came from hydrogen which was left over after an expansion from a compressed amount of energy. When those explanations fail to explain what came before them, I can still use the same methods to define the boundaries of what I know and what might be true. This “omnipresence” “intoxicates” me. Although there is much left unknown, there is certainty in the mathematical proofs of what we do know so I can “assimilate” that into my life. When combined with biology, we can begin to understand the basis for our morality.

But I didn’t go to the trouble of summarizing his work here just so I could shoot it down. I don’t need to accept his entire thesis to see that he made a contribution, he moved forward the conversation about how we relate to a vast cosmos full of unanswered questions. Teilhard de Chardin was an accomplished scientist and a devout Catholic monk. Many on either side see this as irreconcilable. He could be dismissed as a scientist troubled with cognitive dissonance who came up with some new age answers to explain his faith, or as a man of faith who felt the need to explain his discoveries of the origins of humans in terms of that faith. But as Yuval Harari said in his book Sapiens, it’s in our cognitive dissonance where we find understanding about our cultures.

The question of whether or not Teilhard accomplished his goal of reconciling science and faith, is perhaps the wrong question. What can be shown is that he lived through two World Wars, a time when the future of civilization was very much in doubt, and during a time when churches were struggling with the new theory of who we are and where we came from that began with Darwin, then, not long after he died and his writings began to be absorbed by the culture, the Catholic Church convened a Council, where they said this:

159. Faith and science: "... methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are." (Vatican II GS 36:1)

You can enter the reference at the end into any search engine and bring up the full text. Granted it still is hanging on to the idea that God made it all, but this from 1965 and it is written by the Church. You change one word in that first sentence and make it valid from a scientific point of view, “…the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same place.”  I changed “God” to “place”. The feeling of faith grew out of culture, which grew out of our biology which is a result of the physical laws of the universe. Whether a faith statement is true or not, it’s true that faith is a human experience.

This statement from the Vatican was a big step from 1859 and they have made greater strides since. Not everyone is coming along on those steps, but that is true of any discipline or culture. The question itself has not changed. That is, the question of how we reconcile the feelings we have of connectedness, of mystery, with the answers that we are getting from research and data, knowing that the data leaves much still unanswered. The amount and complexity of the data has changed, but the question remains.

Having sent probes above the clouds, where gods used to dwell and not finding them, having peered as far into space as the limitations of the speed of light will allow us, and finding nothing, the answer that there is a god out there that made all this is becoming increasingly less likely. Having gone beyond the Newtonian physics of cause and effect, into the quantum world, and still being unable to find how the electronic pulses in our brains translate into complex concepts, we are starting to wonder if there is a limit to how much we can know about ourselves. We’ve managed pretty well without answering either of these questions. Countless gods have been fought over until no one was left to believe in them. Science moves at its own pace, providing us with information, while civilizations move as they need to in order to survive.

All of this has involved a lot of pain and suffering. One of the most important things I take away from Teilhard is that God is not going to do all of the work of alleviating that suffering. A purely scientific approach to these questions would say there is no god at all and it is completely up to us to address the suffering in the world. No matter where you stand on that question, I think we can all see that it’s time to put the question of faith vs science somewhere off to the side and find more ways to work together on alleviating the suffering and less time arguing about where it all comes from.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Atheism for the Religious and/or Spiritual 7

The gatekeepers

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I realized I was not a Christian the day that I no longer accepted Christ as my savior.

There are a few people out there that would argue with that statement. That is, there are a few who would define what it means to be a Christian in a different way. Some would argue that it was when I stopped believing in hell, or miracles, or prayer or anything else in the Apostle's Creed. There are a few who would say I was never a "real" Christian". Ultimately, people's opinion about what a Christian really is, doesn't really matter since there is no way to reconcile all of them. And yes, I realize it matters very much to the individual who holds the definition. What is important, is that I can enter the doors of many churches and be welcomed just as I am.

At some point, someone inside that door will start asking me about my beliefs. The difference between mainline and fundamentalist churches is how quickly that happens, and how much it matters what I say. Currently, I'm a member at a church that knows exactly what I don't believe, and still welcomes me. They aren't expecting me to be "on a path" or worried about my soul. They actually welcome me. This is not as rare as you might think.

I wish I could say more about great conversations I have at this church about spirituality or quantum physics or other relevant matters of the day, but honestly, I hardly ever go anymore and even when I did, those conversations were sometimes great but not often and almost always brief. I'm sure if I went there regularly and spoke about the latest evil Bible verse I found, they might not welcome me quite as much as they do now. That's fine. Let's not get carried away.

The pastor there made a social media post of this quote from Barbara Brown Taylor. I'm sure it's sincere, that it is what he wants, but I understand why it's difficult to build a church that really does this. It's not what church traditionally is. We're not to the point where I can say, "traditionally was". They have to offer what people expect when they walk in that door. It's also very hard to advance in the hierarchy of an organization if your mission is to constantly question that organization and its hierarchy. I don't expect any of this to change soon. There will likely be continuing splits, scandals and bankruptcies as we move in that direction.

But as Ryan Bell said to Gretta Vosper, "A church can't call itself progressive if it doesn't keep progressing." That is a challenge for a large organization. I suppose there will have to be a conversation at some point about how to make that progress while keeping tradition somewhere or somehow. But that's not my conversation for now.

What I did, at some point, instead of walking through those doors and waiting to see how long before they asked me some theological test question, I started asking the questions as soon as I got there. Are you LGBTQ affirming? Do you have open communion? Do you preach a literal hell? Does membership require a faith statement? What kind of books do you use in your adult studies? As yet, no one has passed my test.

Acts explains some of the tests for Christianity
Peter talks in credal language
Galatians discusses judging people on their fruits, a better system than most in the Bible

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Atheism for the Religious and/or Spiritual 6

This is the first time I missed a February for this blog. The Ides of March have already been upon us. No excuses. I even had an idea brewing. I have a few favorite podcasts and I want to relate a couple recent episodes from one of them. It’s Bart Campolo, and he includes something from another favorite, On Being. In fact, I’ll go ahead and start with the poem, rather than try to lead up to it. 

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Everything Is Waiting for You

David Whyte
After Derek Mahon

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

The podcast is called Humanize Me. If you follow the link you’ll see a story of a conversation with Conan O’Brien and Albert Brooks. 

The story doesn’t quite complete the answer to the question posed, can insignificance be liberating? Bart spends about a half hour filling in the blanks. It’s not some simple folksy wisdom. We’re all at different places with regards to how well known we are and how others judge our significance, but our approach to the idea of significance can have an effect on our happiness and maybe significantly more than that. He mentions the Tiger Mom who drives her kids to succeed. Whatever you think about that, it will most likely lead them to more success than if she had not done what she did. What her philosophy doesn’t talk about is that at some point in their lives, those kids will be able to make their own decisions, based on that success, and they will no longer need to be driven to succeed strictly for the goal of succeeding. They will be able to enjoy the journey they find themselves on.

With memes and commercials and self-help books and helicopter parents and just everything that is available to us at any moment, we receive a lot of wisdom in small bites, and a lot of it is not for us at this moment in our lives. Like, stopping to smell the roses is a good idea, but if you are on your way to your final exam, better not stop for too long. People will tell you all sorts of reasons for working hard and others will tell you to spend more time with your family. Others will tell you that you can have it all. What I love about Bart’s podcast is that he’s spent some time thinking about what “all” actually is.

In the story that starts this podcast, Conan O’Brien uses the example of President Calvin Coolidge and Bart has referred to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, people who have changed the world in significant ways. We don’t know much about Roosevelt’s private life, and very few people visit Coolidge’s grave. While they were alive perhaps only a hundred people knew them intimately, maybe less. When Albert Brooks tells Conan, “none of it matters”, he’s talking about his movies and his legacy and even the lives he touched because even those will pass and be forgotten. But of course, something matters. It’s true that all of us will be forgotten, so if we despair our individual inevitable end and dwell on the comparison of our accomplishments to those of great Presidents, we have miscalculated where we should be spending our emotional energy, because in the end, we all end up in that same place.

If you are focused on survival then you probably aren’t reading this. If you need to focus on survival, then do that. Hopefully you aren’t creating a sense of panic where there is no need for it. But if needed, you can find help and get to a place of comfort. There are tribes that have room for more and there are ways to find help, so do that first. If you’re already there, reflect on how that happened, what did your tribe do for you, what do you have to be thankful for? Bart tells the story of a chess mentor who teaches a young man not just to play well, but to love the game. Unfortunately, we don’t all get coaches like that, but we can hear about a story of someone who did. It comes around the middle of the podcast. I won’t spoil the story for you.

In February, this theme continued with a call in question from a 15 year old talking about her science class. It was great just to hear something so well thought out and articulated from someone her age. Bart wasn’t quite as happy with this his own answers as he usually is, so he followed up with a redo of it about a month later. I liked both episodes, but you could skip the first one and not miss much. Her question was about how to cope with the dire warnings of the future based on the climate science she is learning about.

In the first one, Bart tried to come up with some analogies, like riding a wave. You don’t control the wave, but you can control the surf board and make it to the end of the ride without getting dunked. He gets a bit dark at times and he apologies for that. He tries to end on a positive note about love. No matter when the end times occur or how, it’s still important to love your kids and appreciate the world we have now. The difficulty of this type of question is a matter of focus. The wave analogy breaks down when you start thinking about where our “waves of life” come from, the things that push us along, some of them are man-made and have levers behind them that we can get control of, and maybe we should try to grab them, instead of just going along for the ride. Or, I’d like to spend time appreciating the world, but there’s a lot of crap going on, and I’d like to fix some of it while I’m here. Bart posits that if the choices we make as individuals lead to a life well lived, then those same values should also apply to what we do as a species, as a whole.

After doing some research and giving it more thought, Bart comes up with some more solid answers to the question in episode 409. One of those is; we just aren’t wired for thinking about the future. Throughout history we’ve survived many disasters, of our own making or not, either by luck or ingenuity and that survival is both due to and feeds back into our optimism bias. I’m not even sure that’s a bad thing. You can check out the optimism bias Wikipedia page and TED talks about it.

Josey, the one called in the question, is a student, so she is just learning about this looming disaster and wondering why everyone is not acting like it’s coming and like it’s the highest priority for all of humanity. Her teacher is not wired to act that way and he has other things to teach. We could get hit by a meteor, our economic system could collapse or we could create nanotechnology that gets out of control and destroys everything. He has to teach all of those things knowing that his students understanding of any one of them could cause a lot of worry. He has also known about them for a long time and has continued to keep his job and feed his family throughout, so he might not see them as worrying. I don’t know what he is thinking, but it’s poor reasoning to equate all doomsday scenarios and conclude they are all wrong because we are still here, but that is part of how our brains work.

This is a problem for anyone trying to get others to adjust their actions to actual threats. Some people will respond to fear but many will get fatigued with constant warnings that don’t appear to be near or present. If you can show that people are trying to solve this problem, even if they are failing, you’ve just shown that someone is working on it, and we can hope they succeed. There are other problems, many more immediate, that also need attention. A constant drum beat becomes background noise. Bart didn’t defend this way of thinking, he just pointed out that we do it.

This isn’t just some psychology problem to deal with when you are talking to your friends either. It is built in to our political structure. To solve the problem of despotic kings a few centuries back, we created a democratic system where leaders can be voted out every couple years. This works great for slowing the accumulation of power but it is not designed for a change in climate that is occurring over many decades. We didn’t plan for this because it is only recently that we can predict such events. It’s only the last couple hundred years that we knew the earth was more than a few million years old. It’s even more recently since we have been able to predict the weather, let alone long term climate trends. We survived a long time without thinking on these scales.

It may be that the action we need is not the technological solution, although we’ll need that too, but we won't get to that if we don’t adjust our thinking first. We need to figure out how to accept and understand the science, understand our place in a vast universe and deep time, see our part as cooperative social creatures including future generations, and learn to discuss all of this with a diverse set of people and cultures knowing our survival depends on all of us getting along in ways we have never seen in human history. That’s a pretty tall order.

At the end of this episode, Bart says the answer to the question is to listen to all his other episodes. That might sound like a cop out or a marketing ploy, but I have listened to a lot of them, so I know it’s not. Bart’s theme of building community attempts to address all of these concerns at different times and in different ways. It takes hours of discussion to even begin to chip away at this and Humanize Me is one effort to do that. They answer it from the perspective of providing comfort to each other in difficult times, even up to and including the end of the world and how to be in a world of difficult choices so we can get together and solve all the world’s problems. The bottom line answer to all those is to care and nourish those close to you and do it in a way that helps to expand that caring and nourishing out into whatever surrounds you.

The summer of Year B covers some problematic behavior of Kings in the book of Samuel
Ecclesiastes really speaks for itself
Solomon upgrades the relationship to God in Kings
There are many ways to interpret Job. One could fit with this story.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Something to consider for 2019

3 words, we were wrong

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I usually do a New Year’s post, and here it is the 2nd already, so, here’s an article that fits in with my current series.

I’ve been thinking about “intellectually honest” ways to approach religion. This is something my fellow atheists balk at, sometimes vehemently. It shuts down any possibility of discussion when you simply call someone’s point of view stupid. It also gives the theist the opportunity to call them stupid, or maybe stupider, because they can’t see that maybe something that has been part of humanity for a few thousand years has some sort of basis and maybe even some value.

The question to engage then is, how do you determine what is intellectually honest? In this article, he recounts a conversation where he wants someone to reconsider a dogmatic position and they answer with how they “can’t do that”. This is definitely intellectually dishonest. Further, their reasoning is, if they reconsider that Biblically based position, and find their grandparents were wrong, they will have to reconsider every other position.

Sadly, their grandparents probably did reconsider some position, so applying new perspectives to traditions is actually traditional. For example, most people in the United States who have slave owning ancestors now hold a different position on that. We all are free to choose whose ancestors we want to agree with. Biblical non-literalists can be found throughout Christian history, even in the Bible.

Atheist or theist, admitting you were wrong is a great way to open a conversation.

The series

Jesus tells us he teaches in allegory, Book of Mark
Allegory of burning cities
"For the kingdom is like..."