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           Revelations of a Modern Prophet

                                                                                                  An Earth Manifesto publication by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

Absolute Truths and Other Myths

In the beginning, countless eons ago, the Universe was without form.  There was no Earth, no waters, no Sun, no stars, no galaxies, no matter, no light, no space, and no time.  It was a Void, I reckon.  In this initial state of affairs, unfathomably enormous amounts of energy likely existed, along with a potentiality for the emergence of a highly-structured physical universe in which matter, light, heat, space, and “laws of nature” would spring into being, as if designed by a really smart, mathematically savvy, infinitely powerful and wondrously creative Supreme Being.  What She would have been doing in this state of dark excitement, without space or time, or stuff, or a looking glass, or companions, or even a fathomable purpose, no one can say.

The opinions of those who suppose that a Supreme Being exists suffer from a dearth of explanations for how this Supreme One might have sprung into existence.  All we know for sure is that we human beings are here now, and that we exist in a physical universe governed by unchanging physical laws of nature that have been operative with no detectable interruption since the beginning of time.  These ‘laws of nature’ are physical aspects of reality;  they are not some miraculous divine decree.  Albert Einstein once observed that either everything is a miracle, or nothing is a miracle.  The nature of Nature is the way that it is, independent of our perceptions (for all intents and purposes), and independent of the way we interpret our senses and experiences, and independent of our biases and judgments.  It’s like the biggest miracle ever.

A Contemporary View of Scientific Understandings of Seven Days of Creation

Seven formative stages have been involved in the creation of the world.  In the beginning, a colossal exploding forth of energy into primitive forms of matter took place.  Countless spiraling galaxies of fiery matter were flung in every direction into materializing expanses of space.  As gaseous matter hurtled through the vast emerging reaches of intergalactic space, subatomic particles and atoms and heavier elements were forged in crucibles of nuclear furnaces within stars and during stupendous supernova explosions.  Light and cosmic rays from ancient stellar supernova events continue to reach the Earth long after the events took place, due to the unfathomable distances between us and the times and locales these cosmic explosions occurred. 

This first day of creation lasted more than 9 billion years, and no one at all was around to pronounce it good, or to have heard any such pronouncement.

Hundreds of billions of galaxies have been detected in the Universe, and the average galaxy contains between a billion and a trillion stars.  Nearly all the stars in the universe are moving away from us as the Universe expands, as if all matter is on some sort of 4th-dimensional surface of an enormous inflating balloon.  The speed at which the galaxies in the Universe appear to be receding from us is nearly proportional to their distance from the Milky Way, and the speed seems to increase with their distance from us.  Many extremely dense black holes have formed throughout the universe, like eddies in a raging river.  Wherever sufficiently stupendous volumes of matter have been attracted together that the forces of gravity became powerful enough to warp space itself around the masses, a black hole formed, and even light is unable to escape from black holes, so they are entirely invisible. 

On the second day of creation, starting around 4.5 billion years ago in a remote outpost of the Milky Way galaxy, a solar system formed from a solar nebula by means of the gravitational accretion of matter that had been orbiting a modestly large star that we call the Sun.  Natural processes caused the planet Earth and its Moon and other planets to form in this solar system.  About 500 million years passed during this phase in the geophysical evolution of the Earth.  This period culminated with times known as the Late Heavy Bombardment.  I’ll bet that was locally impressive!  Still, there were no beings around to pronounce these developments good or bad.

And then it happened.  The third day of creation began with a sudden spark, like some divine bolt of lightening.  This spark struck the primordial soup somewhere in Earth’s seas, and inanimate amino acids were galvanized into the first primitive forms of self-replicating animate life.  For almost 3 billion years, these single-celled forms of life proliferated from this original cellular creation in the planet’s salty seas.  Things were starting to get good.

At the beginning of the fourth day of creation, about 540 million years before the present moment, a really epic development occurred.  Some of the single-celled organisms and colonies of such organisms that had been swimmingly occupying the aquatic environs for billions of years finally stumbled upon a mode of organization that allowed them to form increasingly complex multi-cellular organisms.  Relatively soon after the beginning of this marvelous Cambrian explosion of biotic variety, extensive cellular specialization and biological diversification and radiation into new habitats and ranges took place.  Within a short period of geologic time, all of the 35 phyla of animals that exist today sprang into existence.  A wide variety of new species of fish, mollusks, corals, amphibians, arthropods, insects, and primitive reptiles evolved and proliferated as an “evolutionary arms race” took place between predators and prey.  Plants made the challenging transition from aquatic ecosystems to terrestrial ones later during this era, and many species of tree ferns and homosporous horsetails evolved, and entire forests of deciduous trees and evergreens.  This fourth day of creation persisted for 300 million years. 

And then again, another colossal prehistoric development took place.  The worst extinction event in the entire history of life on Earth occurred, wreaking havoc on the plants and animals existing at that time.  Most living things died, including up to 96% of all marine species and some 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species in the course of this “mother of all mass extinctions”.  Cause and effect were operative back then, as they have always been ever since the beginning, and the evidence of the cause of this terrible biotic calamity makes the imagination spin with visualizations of a huge fiery meteor flashing through Earth’s atmosphere and striking the planet with such reverberating force that the most extensive volcanic flows anywhere ever on Earth poured forth for a million years in the Siberian Traps at the antipodes of the impact on the opposite side of our majestic spherical home.

Thus began this fifth day of creation, about 250 million years ago, as life struggled to recover from this biotic devastation.  As this recovery unfolded and evolutionary processes filled the available ecological niches, many new species of life evolved, including flowering plants and numerous types of reptiles.  Dinosaurs eventually became the dominant animals in terrestrial terrains, and they remained dominant for many, many millions of years.  Our cautious little mammalian ancestors first appeared on the biological stage during this Mesozoic Era, but they laid low until their time in the sun would come on Day Six.

Sure enough, along came another cataclysmic extinction event that launched the sixth day of creation.  This was the Cretaceous Extinction, which took place about 65 million years ago.  It was caused by an enormous meteorite impact in the vicinity of the Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico that created a severe planet-wide winter.  In the aftermath of this disaster, all the non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out, along with thousands of other species of plants and animals.  This set the stage for some amazing evolutionary developments over the next 65 million years since then.  That’s a whole coherent story unto itself, and it is continuing its proliferation into the future.

On the seventh day of creation, many evolutionary developments took place, and eventually the biological ancestors of human beings and chimpanzees and bonobos diverged, and a number of species of the genus Homo lived and died over the course of the past 2.5 million years.  Anatomically modern humans finally made their appearance on the scene somewhere in the vicinity of 150,000 and 200,000 years ago, and they reached substantive behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago when a Big Bang of the Mind led to startling awareness.  Along in here is where the story gets real interesting.

How It All Began on Earth

The human race has learned many things about the physical universe and the mysteries of existence and the evolutionary path that our species has taken from the earliest days of our being.  Our remote primate ancestors had descended from trees and began walking upright on African plains in a distant period of prehistory.  Their opposable thumbs and the growing size of their brains allowed them to learn how to make tools for hunting and preparing food to eat.  At some point they figured out how to control fire and use it for light, warmth, cooking, and warding off predators.  As our conscious awareness of the universe developed, reflection and foresight sprung into the neuronal complexes of our brains, and our ability to vocalize utterances improved, allowing us to understand ever-more profound and abstract meanings.  A veritable Tower of Babel of languages evolved, and for Heaven’s sake, there didn’t appear to be any God to supervise their tangled expression.

In the beginning of our species’ existence, as the pre-human gene pool began to diverge from that of our common ancestors with chimpanzees and bonobos, the bodies of our forebears were still covered with hair.  Their jaws and teeth were much larger than ours today, but their brains were only about one-third the size of ours, and much less sophisticated.  One third!  The females of the times still showed sexual receptivity only during times they were “in heat”.  This sexual receptivity was communicated to males through the gaudy visual and olfactory clues of the estrous cycle, a seasonal condition that caused the males to be frenzied with instinctive desire. 

Hierarchies of alpha male dominance likely existed in those remote times, as they do today in many species of mammals.  This social structure helped ensure that the robust genes of alpha males were the ones most likely to be transmitted to future generations. 

Roughly 250,000 generations of our ancestors have been born and died since those ancient days of divergence from our common ancestors that were occurring 5 million years ago in the Pliocene Epoch of geologic time.  Not only have our bodies and brains evolved in quite significant ways since then, but so have our animal natures and our human cultures.  For the preponderance of the time since humankind first evolved from earlier Homo ancestors, those who preceded us lived in small nomadic clans and wandered around during the various seasons of every year hunting animals and gathering edible roots, plants, nuts and fruits for sustenance.

Time Out

For a sense of perspective on these eons of time, imagine yourself standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, gazing far down to the Colorado River that can be glimpsed more than 5,000 feet below.  Contemplate the multitude of rock layers in variegated hues of color that are exposed by erosion in this awe-inspiring abyss. 

These exposed sedimentary rocks speak to us with allusions to the unfathomable eras of time long past.  We can imagine relatively calm equilibrium times being punctuated occasionally by some real earth-shaking events.  Calcium carbonate limestone and silicate chert rock speak of primordial precipitations of microscopic shells of countless sextillions of organisms onto the floors of seas and oceans.  They also speak of sporadic great floods, violent volcanic eruptions, and underwater landslides on continental shelves.  These lithified layers of sediments speak of practically eternal spells of time, and of the constancy of the formative processes that have been in operation since the beginning of time. 

The sandstone, limestone and shale rock layers in the Grand Canyon extend from the most recent geologic epochs near the canyon rim on down to the Colorado River through layers of rock formed during the Cenozoic Era, the Cretaceous and Jurassic and Triassic Periods, the Paleozoic Era and back into lithified Pre-Cambrian sediments that formed well over a billion years ago. 

The amount of physical change that has taken place during this period of time completely dwarfs the amount of change that has taken place in the relatively mere moments in geologic time during which our own genus Homo has been diverging from our nearest living relatives with whom we share a common ancestry.  I remember watching the infinitely changing rhythm and size of big waves cresting and crashing onto a somewhat steep reddish sand beach, and I recall the character and tempo of Nature’s slowly unfolding story coming viscerally to inspire my imagination.

Richard Dawkins provides a vivid understanding of biological evolutionary change in The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution.  Dawkins cleverly uses Chaucer’s famous book The Canterbury Tales as the inspiration for his ancestor’s tales in this exploration of a grand unifying theory of biology.  He has borrowed the rough structure of Chaucer’s story of colorful pilgrims on their journey from a London tavern to the town of Canterbury, and he has taken modern readers on a pilgrimage backward through evolutionary time to the beginning of life, long, long, long before the mythical Adam and Eve became visions in our collective imagination.

Dawkins uses extraordinary evidence of fossilized remains and DNA, as interpreted in scientific understandings of genetics and molecular biology, to trace this journey back along the branches of the tree of life.  As he traces current species of life backwards in time to points where they have common ancestors with other forms of life, he reviews the history of biological evolution in reverse.  As he heads back toward the origin of all life, readers meet humanity’s various ancestral relatives as they converge back in time on common ancestors.  He explores a succession of scientific stories concerned with the formative processes of life at each of 40 “rendezvous points” in the course of this pilgrimage.  A good summary of Dawkins’ Tales can be found in Wikipedia, where a recap of these 40 provocative insights can be reviewed.

The Farmer’s Tale and the Cro-Magnon’s Tale lead us further back in time to the Tasmanian’s Tale, the Gorilla’s Tale, the Howler Monkey’s Tale and on back to such stories as the Hippo’s Tale, the Galapagos Finch’s Tale, the Peacock’s Tale, the Dodo’s Tale, and even the Blind Cave Fish’s Tale, and the Sponge’s Tale and the Redwood’s Tale.  Listen in to Richard Dawkins:

“… we meet up with fellow pilgrims along the route as we and they converge on our common ancestors.  Chimpanzees join us at about 6 million years in the past, gorillas at 7 million years, orangutans at 14 million years, as we stride on together, a growing band.  The journey provides the setting for a collection of some 40 tales.  Each explores an aspect of evolutionary biology through the stories of characters met along the way, or glimpsed from afar -- the Elephant Bird's Tale, the Marsupial Mole's Tale, the Coelacanth's Tale. Together they give a deep understanding of the processes that have shaped life on Earth: convergent evolution, the isolation of populations, continental drift, the great extinctions.  The tales are interspersed with prologues detailing the journey, and route maps showing joining lineages, and life-like reconstructions of our common ancestors.  The Ancestor's Tale represents a pilgrimage on an unimaginable scale:  our goal is four billion years away, and the number of pilgrims joining us grows vast -- ultimately encompassing all living creatures.”

Evolutionary Change

Our primordial ancestors were social animals that co-evolved under conditions in which the survival of the clan was more important than the survival of the individual.  Groups in which males cooperated in the hunt survived with greater success than groups in which individuals did not participate together in this common goal.  Likewise, groups in which females cooperated together in gathering foods and in taking care of the young survived with more success than groups in which individuals shirked this individual and common responsibility.  Groups that cooperated together survived better than groups in which too many individuals freeloaded or cheated or were not willing to sacrifice for the greater good of their clan.  “Altruistic groups” had much greater survival advantages than groups with too many narrowly selfish individuals.

The process of natural selection gradually pruned the groups and individuals of Homo genera into the physical and behavioral animals that we are today.  Homo females developed concealed ovulation and monthly menses.  A vital need grew for a kind of meat-for-sex interdependence with males.  This was because males were the ones who hunted to provide meat for the clan, and meat is one of the best sources of iron, and iron is necessary in the production of hemoglobin in red blood cells, and females had a big need for red blood cells due to the amount of blood they lost every month during the biological processes of menses.  The protein hemoglobin provides a crucial service to physical well-being by facilitating the uptake of oxygen in the lungs and its release to cells throughout the circulatory system.  Oxygen is particularly vital for brain cells, and most other cells throughout the body need to get oxygen from the blood as it pulses past for use in generating energy.

Human females eventually made a mental connection between ovulation and the sex act and the arrival, nine months later, of a little baby.  This caused females to consciously begin exhibiting the overarching concern of “Original Choice”, in which they rejected social misfits and slackers and males with substandard genetic characteristics.  They began to choose mates who were disposed to help provide for their families and better protect them from the many dangers of life on the savanna or in caves.  Dr. Leonard Shlain provides a fascinating perspective about these interdependent associations in his illuminating book Sex, Time, and Power - How Women’s Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution.

Humans also developed a keen ability to perceive the intentions of others, partially through the distinctive feature that highlights our eyes -- the sclera, or whites of our eyes.  The sclera was presumably naturally selected for, because it helped people follow each other’s gazes when they were communicating or cooperating with one another on tasks like hunting that require close contact and good rapport.  This is known as the “cooperative eye hypothesis”.  Our ancestors also developed a keen radar for whether another human was friend or foe, and a sensitive kind of lie and BS detector.  Our abilities to recognize individual faces became remarkable, though remembering the names of others has always been a bit more challenging.  These capabilities were developments that helped promote positive aspects of social bonding and cooperative coexistence.

Facial expressions are innate behaviors that even babies exhibit clearly.  They express six primary categories of universal emotions:  smiling happiness, open-eyed surprise, pained sadness, frowning disgust, scowling anger, and trepidatious fear.  Most people also feel emotions that may be more visually subtle -- like love, affection, hope, shame or embarrassment.  So-called mirror neurons are involved in our easy recognition of these emotions in others.  Curiously, we feel and remember negative emotions with the most poignancy, so they tend to have the most powerful influence on us.  A smile, on the other hand, is the emotion visible from the farthest distance, likely because it has always been important to accurately see if another person approaching is really a friend or a foe.

Religion, Social Cohesion, Obedience and the Suppression of Freeloading and Deviancy

One of the most interesting human cultural adaptations has been the evolution of religious behavior.  A study of the evolutionary roots of religion and ethics is intriguing because it reveals that every known human culture has been characterized by propensities toward religious belief.  The fact that an instinctive impulse like this is pervasive in every human culture indicates that there must have been a compelling survival advantage in holding religious beliefs. 

Evolutionary psychologists Dominic Johnson and Jesse Bering speculate about this: 

“We have inherited the general template for religiosity because those early humans who abandoned the prospect of supernatural agents, or who lacked the capacity to represent their involvement in moral affairs, likely met with an early death at the hands of their own group members, or at least reduced reproductive success.  Those who readily acquiesced to the possibility of moralizing gods, and who lived their lives in fear of such agencies, survived to become our ancestors.”

The deities of various religions may at first have been just a curiosity, but eventually they acquired an extraordinarily useful social role.  Almost all early societies needed to develop a highly effective inhibiting mechanism in the form of anticipated threats of punishment by a god or other supernatural agent for wrong-doing.  In societies throughout the world, spirit gods or the spirits of dead ancestors were supposed to be keenly interested in people’s observance of prevailing laws and taboos.  The gods reputedly punish infractions unfailingly, either in this world or in the next, or both.  In some religions, for better effect, an extremely jealous God was posited that acts with downright vindictiveness toward “sinners” who deserve punishment for their errant activities, like not believing and obeying.

Gods were given this socially convenient role to encourage people to conform by striking fear into their hearts.  Without gods, it was dangerous for anyone in a community to assume a leadership role that involved the enforcement of punishments, because they would run the risk of incurring harms associated with personal resentment and retaliation. 

Some philosophers have speculated, “Fear first made the gods”. Only when priests used these fears and associated rituals to support morality and law did religion become a compelling force and a rival to other forms of governance.  Too often, Church establishments have “stooped to fraud, as with pious legend, bogus relics, and dubious miracles.”  The masses of mankind desire a religion rich in miracle, mystery, myth and hope, and there are profound subconscious reasons why.

Evolutionary change operates on principles of differential reproduction and natural selection.  Genetic variability is a random process that occurs by means of a recombination of genes during meiotic cell division, or through inherited cellular mutations.  But natural selection itself is definitely NOT a random process. Natural selection is almost unerringly focused, in the long run, on eliminating mutations that are undesirable, and on preserving advantageous traits that help individuals survive and adapt to changing conditions in the environment, or to changes in social interrelationships or competitive pressures.

It is easy to imagine why natural selection favored clan members who cooperated in their social groups, for there are distinct survival advantages of cooperation in a group of semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers.  It surely must have often been vitally important for these early peoples to work together to provide for their families and have individuals who felt enough commitment to their clan to be willing to die for their group during intergroup conflicts. 

People are far more cooperative, even with total strangers, than biologists would expect.  This is a behavior that appears to be deeply embedded in human nature.  What biological explanation could there be for cooperation with people who are not a person’s closest biological kin?  Such a high level of natural cooperativeness would probably not arise unless those who deviated from this behavior feared severe censure, inexorable punishment, or mortally dangerous banishment from the group.

Freeloaders and those who selfishly refuse to contribute would have been a burden in a clan group, so a belief in moralizing gods was an easy way to discourage freeloading and social deviancy.  Otherwise, why would our conceptions of immortal gods in their supernatural realm be so astonishingly concerned about things like human sexuality, interpersonal behaviors, and dietary preferences?  The only good explanation for such religious strictures is that human beings have created all gods and invested in them the moral authority of a culture and its interest in having the rules and traditions of social behavior obeyed by all its members.  From this perspective, deities are understandably very interested in human conduct, because such concerns are their very raison d’etre!

  “The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent.”

                                                                                                                                                                --- Stanley Kubrick

Reward Center Calling

“I do know how to pay attention …

   Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

     Tell me, what is it you plan to do

        With your one wild and precious life?”

                                                                   -- The Summer Day, Mary Oliver

Our brains feature a neuronal reward system that encourages us to eat and have sex -- and even to embrace religious beliefs.  The evolutionary reasons for eating and reproducing are to ensure survival and a maximum number of progeny.  Natural selection ensured that we feel a compelling pleasure in eating and mating that encourages people to eat and to have sex.  These pleasures are distinctly different from the true evolutionary purposes of eating to survive, and of having sex to propagate one’s genes into future generations. 

Likewise, people feel deep satisfactions in religious behaviors that encourage them to practice rituals, but these rewards are somewhat different than the evolutionary function of religion, which is to bind people together and make them willing to put the group’s interests ahead of the individual’s.

Experts in the study of our brain’s structure and functioning have made amazing advances in recent years.  They have found an elaborate system of neurotransmitters and hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin that are produced in our brains and affect things like cognition, motor skills, arousal, social bonding, mood, memory and feelings of reward. 

The reward and pleasure centers of our brains are particularly interesting for their effects on human motivations.  Neurotransmitters like dopamine provide an activating stimulus in these reward areas.  They arouse anticipation and create feelings of well-being.  We experience fulfilling feelings when we consume food, consummate sexual activity or achieve an intimate sense of connectedness.  Friendship, love, authenticity and spiritual connection give us a positive sense of belonging.  Curiously, drugs like amphetamines and cocaine are psychologically addictive precisely because they imitate the effects of dopamine.  These drugs provide surge doses of powerful impulses to reward and pleasure receptors in the brain.

Humans are the most intricately social of all animals.  Consider teenagers, whose brains are acutely attuned to dopamine, the neurotransmitter that primes and fires reward circuits and helps us recognize patterns and make decisions.  The brains of teenagers are also finely attuned to oxytocin, the neuronal hormone involved in making social connections feel especially rewarding.  During teenage years, the hormones of young adults are raging, and teenagers see social rejection and peer exclusion as threats that sometimes feel more significant than physical danger or the lack of food.  This is one reason that teenagers indulge in risky behaviors to gain pleasures associated with them, rather than being inhibited by overriding concerns for dangers and unintended consequences of their actions.

The more we explore, the more we discover.  The more we learn, the more we realize that there are good explanations for almost everything.  Consider the fact that teenagers not only crave acceptance and belonging in their peer group, but also excitement and novelty and risk.  These traits almost define adolescence, and they are characteristics that make young adults more adaptive as individuals, so they contribute to our adaptivity as a species.  Genes and developmental processes that play an amplified role during this key transition period have been selected for, over many thousands of generations, because they produce young human beings who are optimally primed to take the big risk of leaving a safe home to move into unfamiliar territory.  This willingness to take risks and master challenging new environments has been critically important for our species in its adaptive success as we migrated and colonized new niches and habitats across the globe.

Our brains consist of some 100 billion neurons, each having as many as a thousand or more synapses.  These neurons have branch-like extensions known as dendrites, along which chemical messages are transmitted to neuronal cell bodies across narrow synaptic gaps.  The cell bodies send chemical and electrical information along nerve fiber extensions known as axons.  During adolescence, these axons become gradually more insulated with a fatty substance called myelin.  This myelin sheath boosts the transmission speed of an axon up to 100 times.  Faster brain functions are beneficial because they work more efficiently, providing us with greater adaptive intelligence.  As this insulation builds up, however, functional flexibility diminishes.  This is why languages are harder to learn as this insulation process is completed as we get older.  As we age our brains literally become less flexibly open-minded.

This may be why astute observers say it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.  This fact provides us with a compelling reason that inflexible political conservatism associated with opposition to change should not so dominate our national decision-making.

Mark Twain once made the interesting observation that “Man is the only animal that blushes.  Or needs to.”  A possible evolutionary explanation for the phenomenon of blushing is that it evolved as a means of ameliorating conflicts.  Since blushing reduces the possibility of deception, it encourages honesty and socially constructive behavior. 

It is noteworthy that taboos like the one against incest arose early in human societies.  One can well imagine why.  Inbreeding can result in severe physical or mental degeneracy within a small number of generations.  This has occurred on many occasions, as when the Hapsburg dynasty in Europe tried to keep their dynastic heritage intact by inter-marrying with their relatives.  The outcome was a considerable number of physical and mental deficiencies in their families, like those of Charles II in Spain in the late 1600s. 

  “The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and

       something to hope for.”

                                         --- Joseph Addison

Politics and Religion

The Seven Days of Creation scenario adduced at the beginning of these Revelations is a modern creation story that provides a dramatic contrast to all the many antiquated mythological Creation stories invented over the long course of humankind’s history.  The Creation stories of all the world’s principal religions have provided, throughout the roughly five to seven millennia of civilization, some positive benefits by facilitating cooperative relationships and providing psychological security and satisfying human needs for belief and faith and belonging.  But staunch adherence by established religions to their concocted founding conceptions has also caused ideological strife, violent conflicts, and all manner of discrimination, persecution and atrocities.  Religious authorities have also often sided with repressive political establishments, and this has caused terrible harm to millions of people over the centuries. 

Politics and religion make strange bedfellows.  When religious authorities form coalitions with rulers who oppose the greater good, these alliances can undermine the most important values of our kind.  Today, extreme fundamentalist believers within religions worldwide pose one of the biggest threats to peaceful coexistence and saner and more civilized courses of action.  In particular, the Religious Right in the U.S. and Islamic extremists in many nations and the ayatollahs of Iran all seem to be committed to conflict-engendering domination and ascendancy.  Aggressive supremacist attitudes are making international conflicts unnecessarily dangerous.  Religious extremism is giving unwarranted and counterproductive amounts of power to reactionary elements of various societies.  Social harms associated with domestic repression and wrongheaded government policies and misguided priorities are radically undesirable.

   “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying the cross.” 

                                                --- Misattributed to Sinclair Lewis in his 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here

Rational decision-making and intelligent judgments about the best approaches to fostering human well-being are being thwarted by entrenched interest groups that are supported by many religious people.  Fundamentalist religious conservatives tend to side with authoritarian leaders and economic fundamentalists in nations worldwide.  This dangerous affiliation makes disparities of wealth and social inequities more pronounced, and thus unnecessarily stokes increased insecurities, stresses, strife, and animosities around the globe.  This unchristian aspect of religions is socially unacceptable!   Moderates, assert control, please!

Philosophical Introspection

I just love astutely insightful perspectives.  Think of an issue where you believed something was true, but later were presented with a different point of view that was so persuasive that you changed your mind.  In a collective sense, a perceptual surprise like this took place when humankind first realized that the Earth rotates on its axis every day rather than that the Sun revolves around the Earth.  This contradicted the apparent fact that the Sun rises in the east every day and travels across the sky to set in the west.

   “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.” 

                                                                                                       --- Voltaire

French philosopher Rene Descartes surveyed the scene in the seventeenth century of much earlier thinkers like Socrates and Plato and Aristotle, and of skeptics like the Sophists and Stoics, and came to convoluted conclusions like “I think, therefore I am” -- and, “So, from what has been said, it must be concluded that God necessarily exists.”  Descartes made the bizarre Ontological Argument that God’s existence can be inferred directly from the fact that necessary existence is contained in the “clear and distinct idea of a supremely perfect being”. 

Wait a minute.  I have a clear and distinct idea that the Sun rose this morning and is moving across the sky exactly as if it is revolving around Earth, but that doesn’t make it a necessary and self-evident truth.  Philosopher Will Durant astutely observed in The Pleasures of Philosophy: “Doubtless some philosophers have had all sorts of wisdom except common sense, and many a philosophic flight has been due to the elevating power of thin air.”  Fly away all …

People claim that God has divine attributes like goodness, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence and eternal existence.  Really?  That sounds much more like a fabricated idea about the particularities of what a respect-worthy God should be like, rather than some sort of knowable truth about the real nature of existence.  These characteristics are framed in the language and concepts of what the nature of a super-human being might be.  By definition, God cannot be limited to some narrow list of descriptive attributes, so we should be especially careful not to ascribe characteristics to God that are blatantly improbable and suspiciously anthropomorphic.

The existence of God is a conveniently simplistic concept that evolved from earlier animistic and polytheistic ideas.  The monotheistic concept of one God is a more sophisticated idea than earlier ones that supposed there are many gods and goddesses, though this sophistication is cast in an exceedingly dubious and unfavorable light by the extraordinary insights contained in the provocative book God Against the God: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism. 

I personally find the panoply of deities in the pantheon of ancient Greece and Rome to be fascinating because these mythological beings embody many marvelous reflections of the archetypal character of our human selves. A study of Goddesses in Everywoman, and of Gods in Everyman, as elaborated by the Jungian psychiatrist Jean Shinoda Bolen, can provide valuable perspectives about both archetypes and stereotypes in our human psyches and cultures.  Considered from this point of view, beliefs in a God reveal much about true believers, and in fact they reveal much, much more about those who believe than they reveal about the probable nature of an envisioned Supreme Being.

Likewise, a study of comparative religion and the attributed character of deities as described in canonized religious texts around the world can reveal fascinating things about the people who profess these beliefs -- and about their convoluted thinking.  Consider the belief that essentially posits:  “Presto, God created everything!”  This is a curiously convenient construct, but no one has yet come up with the impossible -- an adequately honest explanation for how God might have come to exist before the Universe. 

Religions have often times in history served as a type of manipulative propaganda.  A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is through early indoctrination and frequent repetition.  Daniel Kahneman makes this point in Thinking, Fast and Slow.  Our brains, it turns out, function in ways that make it difficult for people to distinguish truth from familiarity.  People involved with the marketing of products or ideas take advantage of this fact, as do religious zealots and censorship-obsessed authoritarian rulers. 

George W. Bush once stated during his presidency, “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”  Too much!  The strategy of catapulting the propaganda is a particularly pathetic goal when it is affiliated with hidden agendas, discriminatory drives, fraudulent schemes, exploitive ambitions, financial improprieties, dark motives, war enthusiasms, and other actions that have big potentials for negative impacts on society as a whole.

There is no doubt that fabricated stories can truly alter our realities.  This theme is powerfully explored in the film Life is Beautiful, in which a father uses his imagination and humor to make up a story in a Nazi concentration camp that he tells to his son.  Even though his story is a fictitious invention, it actually helps the son to survive.  Unfortunately, in the arena of religious fanaticism, stories like those in the Bible, the Quran and the Book of Mormon can have highly negative outcomes for society, despite implied morality that holds religious doctrines to be designed to foster the moral good.  Fanatic evangelical believers tend to demonize those with different faiths, and to regard non-believers as evil, and these attitudes spark anger, animosity and motives for violence or vengeance in reaction.  Much harm has been caused by such self-righteous attitudes.

On the whole, I believe that evidence-based beliefs are preferable to superstition and ignorance.  It is stunning to me that, on the Sunday that this paragraph was written, the top two paperback books on the National Non-Fiction Best-Seller List were Heaven Is for Real (“A boy's encounter with Jesus and the angels”) and Proof of Heaven (“A neurosurgeon recounts his near death experience during a coma”).  Science has not yet found the precise physical location of either Heaven or Hell, and the probability that they exist as literal places is vanishingly small.  Literal beliefs in these storied places are about as reasonable as faith in the existence of a real Santa Claus or Easter Bunny or Boogeyman.  When such literal beliefs are used to get people to deny big picture understandings like the wrong-headedness of allowing giant corporations to damage the foundations of biotic well-being in order to maximize profits, such dogmatic convictions can be dangerous to our flourishing and survival.

And when fervent beliefs in a better fate in some imagined afterlife prevents people from demanding and getting fairer policies in the here and now, this addictive opiate of the people is bad medicine.  Calls for fairer national priorities are demands for the real happiness of the people, not merely solace in an illusory happiness.

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.”

                                                                            --- Karl Marx, 1844

An Aside on Beliefs and Opinions

Mark Twain’s sagacious perspectives inform many of the ideas found in this manifesto.  The great author grafted fine high-class sensibilities that he acquired in the second half of his life onto a sturdy Midwestern working class root stock.  He had traveled from Hannibal, his hometown on the banks of the Mississippi River, to the Wild West during the Civil War and the California Gold Rush, and years later he married into an aristocratic family and settled in the Northeast.  He had also journeyed and lived abroad for years on end, so his opinions reflected the broadening insights gained from these rich, expansive and widely varied cultural experiences. 

Mark Twain wrote his important essay Corn Pone Opinions in 1901.  In it, he explored the pitfalls of unthinking opinions and beliefs.  The essay was not published until 1923, more than 12 years after his death.  It is entertaining and enlightening to delve into his meaning in this article.  He begins by reminiscing about a friend who had been very dear to him 50 years earlier.  “He was a gay and impudent and satirical and delightful young black man -- a slave -- who daily preached sermons from the top of his master's woodpile, with me for sole audience.  He imitated the pulpit style of the several clergymen of the village, and did it well, and with fine passion and energy.”

The black slave alleged that, “You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is."  Corn pone is an inexpensive form of corn bread that is made without eggs or milk.  Such austere recipes were created out of necessity by poor people who couldn’t afford eggs and milk.  Author Greg Beatty has written an excellent article titled Quarter Pound Opinions in which he points out that, using Mark Twain’s analysis, people could be said to accept the opinions of those around them, “especially Americans with their divided allegiances to God, democracy, and the dollar”. 

Just as the corn in their corn-pone was grown in nearby fields, and was ground by a miller they knew, and was bagged and baked by others, their opinions were acquired second-hand from their families and fellow members of their church and others in their neighborhoods and localities.  The spices and herbs that made individual batches of corn-pone distinctive revealed accurate information about the geographical and economic influences that affected the cooks.  Likewise, the shared opinions upon which Mark Twain cogitated and occasionally heaped scorn were often circulated widely because of people’s tendency to parrot the ideas of others in unthinking and sometimes obsequious conformity.

When he remembered the impressive harangues of his friend atop the woodpile in Hannibal, Mark Twain transformed the black slave in Corn-Pone Opinions into a rhetorical prophet of individual freedom.  Mark Twain ostensibly felt that people can break free from dangerous habits, undesirable prejudices, counterproductive opinions and false notions if they were capable of seeing more clearly that their opinions are largely a matter of conditioning and conformity.  I love the idea of this potentiality of breaking through, even if it may be difficult to transcend the deeply conditioned opinions and ideas and beliefs that we have acquired from others like comfortable second-hand shoes.

John Steinbeck and ‘Doc’ Ed Ricketts glimpsed deep truths during their famous voyage on the Sea of Cortez in 1940.  They debated a state of “understanding-acceptance” and came up with the idea that holistic worldviews can lead to breaking through to useful and purposeful social action.  People in our societies are profoundly affected by blind conformity, sheep-like following, and materialistic keeping-up-with-the-Joneses strivings on a global scale, and in ways that are often widely damaging.  People do not seem to bridle much at their blandly obsequious servitude to the persuasive propaganda of advertisers, ideologues, partisan politicians and churches, so it is as though we are completely convinced by marketing, spin, deceptions, and orthodox dogmas.

Here are some of Mark Twain’s insights and a fine example of his subversive wit in Corn-Pone Opinions:

“The black philosopher's idea was that a man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter.  If he would prosper, he must train with the majority; in matters of large moment, like politics and religion, he must think and feel with the bulk of his neighbors, or suffer damage in his social standing and in his business prosperities.  He must restrict himself to corn-pone opinions -- at least on the surface.  He must get his opinions from other people; he must reason out none for himself;  he must have no first-hand views.”

“Morals, religions, politics, get their following from surrounding influences and atmospheres, almost entirely; not from study, not from thinking.  A man must and will have his own approval first of all, in each and every moment and circumstance of his life -- even if he must repent of a self-approved act the moment after its commission, in order to get his self-approval again:  but, speaking in general terms, a man's self-approval in the large concerns of life has its source in the approval of the peoples about him, and not in a searching personal examination of the matter.  Mohammedans are Mohammedans because they are born and reared among that sect, not because they have thought it out and can furnish sound reasons for being Mohammedans; we know why Catholics are Catholics; why Presbyterians are Presbyterians; why Baptists are Baptists; why Mormons are Mormons; why thieves are thieves and monarchists, monarchists; why Republicans are Republicans and Democrats, Democrats.  We know it is a matter of association and sympathy, not reasoning and examination; that hardly a man in the world has an opinion upon morals, politics, or religion which he got otherwise than through his associations and sympathies.”

“Men think they think upon great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently; they read its literature, but not that of the other side; they arrive at convictions, but they are drawn from a partial view of the matter in hand and are of no particular value. They swarm with their party, they feel with their party, they are happy in their party's approval;  and where the party leads they will follow, whether for right and honor, or through blood and dirt and a mush of mutilated morals.”

“We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking. And out of it we get an aggregation which we consider a boon. Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence.  It settles everything.  Some think it the Voice of God.”

Hmmm … This perspective on conformity and approval-seeking reminds me of the ideas of John Fowles in his seminal book, The Aristos, where he examines the many powerful social pressures that motivate people to conform.  He expresses the opinion that it is one of our fundamental human birthrights to be able to think objectively and express opinions freely.  He felt that the healthiest societies would be those in which every person develops a self-made opinion on all issues that concern them.  Such freedoms of independent consideration and expression are vitally important requisites for a healthy democracy -- and for a healthy understanding of our selves, as well.

Is One Religion Absolutely Right?

Here is a thought-provoking question that was posed by Vanity Fair magazine.  They polled about one thousand people, and asked them the following question: 

“Which comes closest to your view?  (1) The world would be a better place if there were one global religion.  (2)  The world would be a better place if there were one global religion, but only if that religion were Christianity.  (3)  The world is a better place because of its religious diversity.  (4) The world would be a better place with no religion.”

What do you think?  More than 50% of people interviewed believed that religious diversity is the best for society.  Just 20% figured a Christianity-only nation would be best, and 12% of the respondents figured no religion would be best.  Only 8% of respondents said one global religion would be the way to go. American evangelicals unsurprisingly believed that having only one religion in which everyone accepted Christianity would be best, but even then only 49% of them endorsed that idea.  Cultural diversity is healthy, while the constriction of people’s choices goes against the grain of our national ideals of the freedom of religion and belief and expression.

    “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”

                                                                                     --- Mark Twain

In his illuminating book The Better Angels of Our Nature, psychologist Steven Pinker writes about terrible historical acts like the torturing of heretics and the burning of women at the stake because they practiced “witchcraft”.  He observes:  “The belief that one may escape from an eternity in hell only by accepting Jesus as a savior makes it a moral imperative to coerce people into accepting that belief, and to silence anyone who might sow doubt about it.”

Wow!  Surely our societies would be better off without fundamentalist evangelical believers commanding power and demanding obedience, especially when they hold the conviction that other people should be coerced into adhering to their narrow theologies.  This is why a strong separation between Church and State is so important for human freedom and dignity.  In 2012, the extreme religious conservative Rick Santorum said that when he watched a speech made by Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to Baptist ministers in 1960, it made him want to “throw up”.  He felt this revulsion because JFK was stressing a fair-minded belief in the importance of the separation of Church and State.  Good grief --that’s gross -- and vile bile, to boot.

Even the apostle Ronald Reagan once said, “… we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs.  And so we must remain.  Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism.  We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever.  Church and State are, and must remain, separate.” 

Presidential aspirant Ted Cruz and his cocksure religious kin may disagree on this point, but that doesn’t mean he is right.  He is too far right, and this should disqualify him from high office.

Let’s recommit our nation to making sure that this remains true.  In evaluating the value of religions in modern times, let us remain open-minded, because there are many crucially important things to be learned about ourselves and the world.  More knowledge and better understandings are the key. And there are many vital things that we should work together to accomplish!

Religious Diversity and Religious Tolerance Go Hand in Hand

Imagine a home with 10,000 rooms.  A directory in the antechamber provides information about each of the rooms and the beliefs specific to the people who inhabit the spaces within.  Each room holds an altar providing a place of worship for one of the ten thousand extant religious sects in the world today.  Each of these religions has its own cosmology, its own creation story, its own dogmas, and its own explanation for the meaning of life and death.  As Jon Krakauer pointed out in Under the Banner of Heaven, referring to the faithful of these various belief systems:  “Most assert that the other 9,999 not only have it completely wrong, but are instruments of evil, besides.”

It is easy to see the problem here.  Steven Pinker poignantly points out in The Better Angels of Our Nature that there is an astonishing absurdity of “… different people being unshakably certain of the truth of their mutually incompatible beliefs.”  When it comes to convictions of absolute certainty of belief, and of fervently aggressive self-righteousness in defense of cherished convictions, perhaps it is natural for hostility toward others to arise. Anyone who happens to have different religious convictions can be subjected to suspicion, contempt, cultural prohibitions, discriminatory repression, and even cruelty and violence.  When self-serving religious authorities exaggeratedly influence entire nations, harsh prohibitions and punishments can result, along with irrational and uncompromising stances, Crusading militarism, bloody Inquisitions, murderous genocides, regional wars or violent terrorism in the name of a particular God.

Most people would agree that it is a bad idea for people to be ruled by governments that collaborate too closely with the authorities of any one particular religion, particularly when those eminences promote discrimination against groups of people like atheists and females and gays.  We simply cannot accept divisive influences of established churches in the spheres of governments and laws.  The rights of all people must be upheld to believe as they like, and no government should be allowed to side with authorities of any one religion or God.  This is why the concept of a sensible separation of church and state is so necessary in nations worldwide.

It is curious that many people who adhere to religious faiths are credulous enough that they feel compelled to deny the greatest understandings ever comprehended by humankind -- the awe-inspiring conception of the physical unfolding of the Universe over billions of years of time, and the unfathomably long saga of the biological evolution of life on Earth. 

Curiosity aside, there can be a great danger when religious fanatics gain control of decision-making processes in any government in the world.  This is particularly true right now of Iran and the Islamic State and the influence of the Religious Right in the United States.  The sustained Republican assault on women’s rights and prerogatives, and Churchly opposition to family planning and the use of contraceptives, and threats of nuclear war between Israel and Iran are all converging on similar understandings:  overarching consideration should be given to the long-term greater good.  Less emphasis should be placed on parochial puritanism or ignorant and discrimination-defending biases of religious zealots.

The above quote from Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven was immediately preceded by this compelling observation:  “I don’t know what God is, or what God had in mind when the universe was set in motion.  In fact, I don’t know if God even exists, although I confess that I sometimes find myself praying in times of great fear or despair, or astonishment at a display of unexpected beauty.”  Aha!

This observation was followed by a classic Krakauer comment that none of the ten thousand religious sects had persuaded him to make a requisite leap of faith to embrace their beliefs.  “In the absence of conviction,” he wrote, “I’ve come to terms with the fact that uncertainty is an inescapable corollary of life.  An abundance of mystery is simply part of the bargain -- which doesn’t strike me as something to lament. Accepting the essential inscrutability of existence, in any case, is surely preferable to its opposite:  capitulating to the tyranny of intransigent belief.”  Hallelujah!

Glimpses into the Murky Waters of Prehistory

The earliest civilizations appear to have emerged independently:  Mesopotamia along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Egypt along the Nile River, India along the Indus River, China along the Yellow River, and in the New World in the Central Andes and in Mesoamerica.  The concept  of a cradle of civilization has a focus on where the inhabitants came to build cities, to create writing systems, to make pottery and use metals, to domesticate animals, and to develop complex social structures that involved class systems.  

It is intriguing that the oldest temple ruins found anywhere in the world are about 12,000 years old.  This age is significantly further back in time than the period in which people began to settle down in agrarian communities.  These ruins are in southern Turkey at a place known as Göbekli Tepe.  It is ironic that Göbekli Tepe was built to commemorate gods of a culture long gone and all but forgotten.  The same is true for the faiths that inspired all of the ten oldest temples in the world.  No one any longer worships any of the gods that these temples were built to honor, and beliefs in those gods -- and hundreds of others -- have drifted into the realm of myth, legend, fancy, conjecture, mystery and obscurity.

As noted in Transcendental Musings, the Creation myth of ancient Greeks says that Gaea, feminine-gendered Earth, emerged from Chaos and gave birth to Uranus, the personification of the male deity of the Sky, and together they gave birth to offspring known as the Titans, who later begat the Olympians.  It is amazing that this Creation myth was the dominant spiritual and cosmological and religious explanation of existence for many centuries in the most advanced civilizations in Europe and the Near East at the time.  Yet it is revealing that the rich and well-developed body of myths surrounding these deities enveloped the Greeks in a mythical connection to their world, and thus provided them with deeply conceived visions of archetypes of human nature and behaviors and idiosyncrasies.

Today most people regard Greek mythology as a quaintly imaginary body of story telling and anthropocentric projections and superstitions.  We can no longer access the state of awareness that prevailed for centuries during the time these myths were the dominant explanations of existence. 

In light of the long evolving history of cosmological conceptions throughout recorded history, now is the time for those who think their faiths represent “absolute truths” to admit that their founding creation stories and scriptures and doctrines are also tall tales that have been invented by human beings.  These stories are simply not divine revelations.  Now is the time for people of all religious faiths -- especially Christians, Catholics, Baptists, Mormons and both Shia and Sunni Muslims -- to admit that other faiths have as much legitimacy as theirs, and to tolerate differences, and to honestly and honorably work together to advance larger humanistic concerns.

A clearer understanding of the founding drives behind religions, and of the ways modern religions have been hijacked by manipulative authorities, is vitally important to help us move forward toward creating saner, safer, fairer and more peaceable societies.  These, I believe, would be cultures most likely to be healthy and sustainable.  This topic will be explored below, after a short digression.

Another Dogmatic Religion

Christianity and Islam each have more than 1 billion adherents worldwide.  But another kind of religion effectively dwarfs these and all others.  It is Capitalism.  Everyone essentially participates in this religion, believing that the possession of money is the best means to achieve happiness, security, variety and salvation in the form of individual freedom.  Some people even believe that more money could contribute to a kind of liberation of the masses.  Capitalist economic systems hold that the best way to salvation is through success in becoming rich and powerful, and that this can be achieved no matter what a person’s background or education or social class. 

Capitalism is a religion in a similar sense to other belief systems because it addresses the same existential issues and anxieties as established religions.  Capitalism is an odd religion of conditioned consumerism, status seeking, avarice, ruthlessness of competition, industrialization, globalization and the commercialization of almost everything.  It plays on people’s hopes, fears, insecurities, gullibility, weaknesses, vices, guilt, shame, passivity, shallowness and misunderstanding, and it manipulates people through the urgings of persuasive charlatans who are like proverbial snake oil salesmen who push people to buy and indulge and believe and conform. 

Capitalism is more like a cult than a lamestream mainstream religion, for its followers pretend that money is the absolute arbiter of social importance, and that the prerogatives of wealthy people should be inviolate.  Capitalism is a secular cult whose object of worship is money and special privileges.  It is a cult that is advanced by advertising that encourages people to consume and to pursue narrow self-interest.  Capitalism conditions people to envy others who have a lot of money and possessions and material goods.  In reaction, those who have the most money and possessions tend to jealously defend the exclusiveness of their money and power and good fortune. 

People are highly susceptible to the subliminal influences of sophisticated marketing techniques and the persuasion of oft-repeated advertising.  While repetition is effective in catapulting propaganda, the naked truth can come out when an emperor is transparently wearing no clothes, and this can surprise even the deceiving dissemblers who propagate the shrewd spin. 

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you

    can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

                                                                        --- Honest Abe Lincoln

The capitalist system subtly encourages every person to turn his or her back on vital human values like economic fairness, social justice, generosity, the overall well-being of the majority, empathetic understanding, good neighborliness, compassionate behaviors, selfless service, kindness, moderation and spiritual pursuits.  This leads to alienation and cultural mania.  John Fowles made a valid point in The Aristos (1973):  “Much more than we let philosophies guide our lives, we allow obsessions to drive them; and there is no doubt which has been the great driving obsession of the last one hundred and fifty years.  It is money.” … “Having, not being, governs our time.”

The Republican Party in particular is obsessed with money and the power and control that it represents.  Republicans are excessively eager to give the full legal rights of real persons to amoral corporate entities.  They are so obsequiously willing to do this that they allow the rights of the American people to be trampled upon to advance this narrow goal.  The stakes are high -- huge sums of money for wealthy people! -- so these stalwart partisans triumphantly rationalize this awkward and patently self-interested legal misconstruction.  They even go a step further and try to endow these amoral organizations with rights and power that far exceed those of real persons of flesh and blood.

If corporations really were people, the way they generally act would be clinically characterized as psychopathological.  The Canadian writer, jazz musician and filmmaker Joel Bakan poignantly asserts that this is the case, and he cites extensive and convincing detail in his book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.  Corporate entities often strive to undermine environmental protections, and even to undermine democracy, human rights, decency and fairness.  Joel Bakan is optimistic, however, indicating that pragmatic and realistic reforms are possible.  We’d be wise to heed his recommendations and work together to fairly fix our economic and political systems.

“Corporations are people, my friend”, remarked Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a particularly barbed and condescending rejoinder that was directed at a heckler in the crowd while he was on the campaign trail at the Iowa State Fair in August 2011.  Mitt could have used a wise word of advice:  Vulture capitalism is hardly something to put on a pedestal, and it is pathetic to crow about it, or to try to pawn it off as being a paragon of virtue or propriety or the greater good of society. 

Corporations often act in ways that harm people by cutting corners, indulging in unfair competitive practices, investing in lobbying efforts to gain more subsidies and tax breaks at the expense of the people, indulging in tax avoidance schemes, cheating customers, circumventing socially responsible regulations, supporting perverse subsidies and working overtime to profit from war.  They also abuse their influence to corrupt our elected representatives and facilitate the externalizing of costs onto society.  These are not honorable or socially desirable things!  True character is revealed by actions, not by public relations.

The willful denial by conservatives of the vital importance of protections of the environment is particularly astonishing.  Giving greater respect to the foundations of the long-term well-being of humanity, and of life on Earth, should be of paramount importance.  It should be regarded as a basic act of hygiene, of aesthetics, and of a smart and sensible regard for human flourishing and survival.

There is something profoundly ethical about caring attitudes of wildlife protection advocates and passionately committed folks like those involved the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and even of birdwatchers and people who love their pets.  Human beings often exhibit an extreme degree of anthrohubrosity, and we are collectively treating wildlife and most other species of life on Earth with a terribly obtuse lack of concern for their health and well-being.  But make no mistake about it, other animals are sentient beings, and they feel pain and suffer from toxic chemicals, and many of them are being driven toward extinction because of our abject failure to take steps to prevent extreme changes in biotic conditions on the planet.

Watch the YouTube video right now of the extraordinarily heartening demonstration by a humpback whale of the joy of living and appreciation for being freed from constraints.  This video shows a group of people in a small boat who rescued a whale on Valentines Day in 2011 by freeing the animal from being trapped in a huge tangle of fishing nets in the Sea of Cortez.  The footage reveals much about the beauty of wild animals living free lives unendangered by human heedlessness.

An Aside on the Perspectives of Mark Twain

My great-grandfather Mark Twain, as revealed in Happy Harbingers in Good Ideas for a Better Future, was sometimes outrageous in his irreverence for sacred cows like Gilded Age concentrated wealth and overly imperialistic national ambitions and pious religious pretensions.  His observations were astute, and often rang true.  His wife Livy helped him edit his writings to make sure he wasn’t too irreverent when it came to his drawling ridicule of things like upper class hubris, absurd religious dogmas and hypocritical sanctimoniousness. 

When Mark Twain wrote his scandalously sacrilegious book, Letters from the Earth, he was unwilling to have it published until after he died.  Apparently he had concerns that were similar to those of Charles Darwin, who had been afraid to reveal his unfolding understandings of the biological evolution of life, because back in those days in the mid-nineteenth century, Bible believing was almost socially mandatory among people of his class in British society.  Mark Twain’s daughter Clara Clemens, in her turn, worked to prevent the publication of Letters from the Earth for many decades after his death, due to its humorously skeptical, controversial and iconoclastic views of religion. 

Mark Twain’s observations about the Christian Bible in Letters from the Earth were derisive and genially scathing.  He wrote that the Bible contains “… some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.”  Sometimes he went beyond sardonic irreverence and was downright cynical in lampooning human pride, ambitions, contradictions, frauds, eccentricities, tyrannies, foolishness and hypocrisy. 

It’s not nice to make fun of anyone’s cherished beliefs, but good satire does have constructive purposes.  Satirical humor can be used critically to focus the bright light of incisive perspective on an issue. This illumination can stimulate us to realize that human undertakings or habitual behaviors or institutional propensities could and should be altered in ways designed to have positive impacts.  Satire seeks not to tear down but “to inspire a remodeling".  Few can deny that our nation and world are in critical and urgent need of a big measure of intelligent remodeling!

“Humor must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it

    would live forever.” 

                                  --- Mark Twain

The harms that humankind is causing to wildlife and habitats on planet Earth is facilitated by religious worldviews that instruct mankind to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to have dominion over all other forms of life.  To have any hope, in the long term, of supporting the 7.4 billion people alive today, and further increases to 9 billion people that are projected to occur by about the year 2040, we need to find much better ways of conserving energy and water resources, and of protecting the environmental commons.  We should scrupulously seek ways to avoid the rash depletion of the Earth’s providential resources.  And we should find ways to mitigate the damages we are wreaking on entire ecosystems.  It is common sense to understand that we will radically undermine the well-being of our own kind if we continue to drive a significant portion of other species of life on Earth to extinction.  Half of the wild animals on Earth have been killed in the past 40 years, according to the Living Planet Report 2014 analysis by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London.  It could not possibly be a good plan to allow this trend to continue!

Humanity’s very survival depends on viewing history and the future from a clear-eyed perspective.  Our survival depends on cultivating new worldviews that recognize trends and the lessons of history and their implications.  In light of this clearer perspective, we can still honor the myths, symbols, mystery and understandings that offer us emotional meaning, wisdom and guidance.

I feel passionately that we need to devote much more collaborative intention and committed energy to addressing the biggest challenges we collectively face.  We need to give more honest scrutiny to global problems and long term considerations, and engage in more constructive efforts to deal with them with civility and common purpose and effective action.

We need everyone to be on board in this overarching endeavor -- especially including the 1% of people who own nearly half of the world’s wealth and thus have a substantial monopoly on the means to help provide financing to accomplish greater good goals.  Great wealth is inextricably accompanied by real responsibilities to others.  These vitally important goals include efforts to clean up the terrible toxic messes we are making, to protect the environmental commons, to create a healthy and sustainable economy, to prevent the externalizing of costs and vast quantities of debt onto society and future generations, to ensure that the social safety net is more secure, to encourage lifelong education, to foster peace, and to invest in undertakings designed to rapidly move our societies toward sustainable uses of resources.

Jesus Was NOT a Conservative!

The most important question for us today is, “What should we do now?”  But for best understandings of where we should be headed, it is a good plan to see the clearest perspective of where we stand in the big picture, and how this state of affairs happened to have come about.  After all, the proper resolution of a problem often lies in knowing the seeds of its genesis.  I feel strongly that good fair-minded understandings are the first step toward realizing truly fair and farsighted national policies.  This belief leads me back to a towering figure in the collective imagination of people in the Western world:  Jesus Christ!

The historical man Jesus was a poor Jewish laborer from Nazareth in Galilee, a region in ancient Palestine.  Jesus opposed the ruthless Roman occupation of his homeland, and he courageously spoke out against the power-abusing priestly class of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Many of the establishment priests in Jerusalem were well-to-do, partially because of their collaboration with Roman authorities and the moneychangers in the Temple.  Jesus championed the interests of poor people and those who were downtrodden, and said that uncompassionate rich people had little chance of getting into Heaven.  By speaking out in defiance of authorities, he risked his life, just like many other religious zealots had done who roamed Palestine back in those tumultuous days.

Ironic and bizarre developments have taken place in the U.S.A. today in the name of this Jewish revolutionary.  Evangelical fundamentalists and Christian Dominionists have thrown in their lot with power-abusing religious authorities and economic fundamentalists to champion the interests of rich people.  How could this outrageous and blasphemous betrayal of Jesus’ principles have come to be?

Though Jesus was a revolutionary during the first decades of the first century CE, the Bible says he anomalously preached that the faithful should love thy neighbor and turn the other cheek when affronted.  This, of course, was strictly for people who were part of the in-group of his Jewish kin.  The same God that he preached about called for stoning to death anyone who “has served other gods” and reputedly brought terrible adversities upon non-Jews like the Egyptians in the Exodus story, and ‘He’ also called for everlasting punishment of ‘sinners’ who do not believe in ‘Him’, or who disobey ‘His’ commandments.

Historians and scholars who have studied the era of the Jewish Revolt against the century-long Roman occupation of their homeland give us an astonishing perspective.  They theorize that the early Christians who wrote the canonized gospels of the New Testament had been forced to distance themselves from the Jewish independence movement that Roman legion troops crushed ruthlessly in the Jewish War from 67 CE to 70 CE.  They realize that the disciple Mark in his Gospel, for instance, tried to erase any hint of revolutionary radicalism or violence or zealotry from the story of Jesus.  The Jews who followed Jesus after the messiah had become a pariah found it expedient to portray Jesus as a pacifist preacher of good works rather than a fierce Jewish nationalist. 

Scholarly writer Reza Aslan says in his compelling book Zealot that Mark, Matthew, Luke and John had very good reasons to tell a patently fictitious story in their New Testament Gospels.  He posed the question why these four apostles absolved the Jew-loathing Roman governor Pontius Pilate of blame for Jesus’ crucifixion, and instead blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus.  He concluded that it was because the Christian evangelical movement had shifted from Jewish Palestine to Greek and Roman cities around the Mediterranean by the time the Gospels were written, so this betrayal of Jews by early Christians makes sense in the aftermath of the utter annihilation of the Jews who had revolted against Roman hegemony and priestly corruption.

“John then adds one final, unforgivable insult to a Jewish nation that, at the time, was on the verge of a full-scale insurrection, by attributing to them the most foul, the most blasphemous piece of pure heresy that any Jew in first-century Palestine could conceivably utter.  When asked by Pilate what he should do with ‘their king’, the Jews reply, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ (John 19: 1-16).”

“Thus, a story concocted by Mark strictly for evangelistic purposes to shift the blame for Jesus’ death away from Rome is stretched with the passage of time to the point of absurdity, becoming in the process the basis for two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism.”  Good God, Christians!

There is a big problem with fervent beliefs that hold holy book stories to be literally true.  Such beliefs can be used to justify prejudices, discrimination, hate, oppression, pogroms, genocides and wars.  And such beliefs have been used too many times in history to rationalize atrocities, as terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists have made starkly evident in recent years.

I feel strongly that we must begin to transcend religious strife and shift our focus so that we take into account more important things and recognize the real costs of violent conflicts, resource depletion, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, militarism, and policies that exacerbate injustices.  In particular, we need farsighted energy policies that are not so favorable to entrenched interests like oil and coal companies.

Controversy in the Service of the Greater Good: The Greatest Deception in World History

Having recently read Zealot, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, it got me to thinking again about how Jesus must have been a revolutionary who opposed the Roman occupiers of his homeland and the corrupt priests of the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Another even more startling hypothesis about Jesus is provided by the scholar Joe Atwill in his book Caesar’s Messiah - The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus.  Just imagine how astonished Mark Twain would have been to discover this stunning perspective.  There is somewhat convincing evidence that reveals the likelihood that the Gospels in the New Testament were re-written by authorities in the Roman Empire.  Some scholars even believe they have found proof that Jesus may not have been a real historical character.  Jesus, they say, may actually have been a fabrication of Roman propaganda. 

The possibility that Jesus may never have existed as a real live person, and was not a flesh and blood Son of God on Earth, will strike many of the faithful as anathema.  Regardless, there is no doubt that Jesus exists today in the minds of many more people than were alive on the entire planet in the first century CE, and that the idea of his existence has become a central tenet in the lives, self-identities, worldviews and hopes of many millions of people.  Let us salute the positive aspects of those beliefs. 

   “And now these three remain:  faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”

                                                                                                                                  --- Corinthians 13:13

New research has found a substantial likelihood that much of the Gospels in the New Testament were written by Roman authorities and their collaborators in about 70 CE.  This was 40 years after the supposed crucifixion of Jesus on a cross and his legendary resurrection after death.  The primary collaborators involved in this literary creation were the Jewish Roman historian Josephus and the families who collected taxes for Rome in Judea (the Herods) and in Egypt (the Alexanders).  This possibility would help explain why Jesus recommended in Matthew 22:21 that the people of Judea obediently pay taxes to the imperial Roman rulers:  “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s;  and unto God the things that are God’s”.

This surprising historical research is extensively explored in Joe Atwill’s compelling book, Caesar’s Messiah - The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus.  Caesar was the title of every Roman emperor, not just the individual Julius Caesar who ruled long before the Gospels were written.  Joe Atwill points out that Roman emperors had a powerful vested interest in subduing religious people who opposed Roman hegemony, so they conspired to add new testaments to the Bible to create a peace-embracing Messiah who advocated that disciples turn the other cheek and love their enemies.  This new Messiah was devised to help the Romans control and manipulate the populace in the far-flung reaches of their empire without having to rely so heavily on costly military efforts to suppress rebellions.

The biblical character Jesus suspiciously happened to live out some of the stories from earlier pagan religions about being born of a virgin mother and then dying and being resurrected three days later.  Jesus, it turns out, resembles a composite of many Messianic leaders of the time.  The stories about Jesus never describe what he looked like as an individual, and they are couched in a literary creation that fulfills Old Testament prophecies and uses complex hidden codes known as typologies.  Remember that virtually no biblical texts are contemporaneous with the events they describe, and that every part of the Bible has been subject to many revisions by later authors and religious authorities.

One thing is highly probable:  Jesus Christ did not exist as a divine being that people imagine him to have been, not any more than God exists as a deity who loves us and intervenes in our lives.  God is not a hyper-moralizing and easily angered being, and ‘He’ is not all but impatiently waiting to judge each of us upon our own individual deaths.  It seems that many conservatives who hold such beliefs suppose that God has already judged us all in this life, and rewarded the worthy with wealth and social privilege, and the unworthy with their more challenging financial lots in life.  These are transparently biased and overwrought rationalizations!

According to Joe Atwill, the status of Jesus as Son of God suspiciously parallels the circumstances of the Roman Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus.  The Romans allegedly concocted this sophisticated tale to more persuasively convince the populace that the father Vespasian was divine and his son Titus was the son of God.  These stories were propagated to usurp the Christian religion and implant a new pro-Roman, anti-militaristic, and more benign set of religious precepts on Jews in ancient Palestine, in the persona of this peace-loving, turn-the-other-cheek Messiah. 

In this shrewdly manipulative political re-writing of the Bible, new testimonies were appended to Old Testament scriptures that claimed Jesus was anointed as the true Messiah, as had been foretold in the Old Testament.  Many Messianic prophets seemed to have been wandering around the Holy Land in those unrest-filled days of old.  The Hebrew term Messiah is the same as the Greek term Christ, and both of them mean “anointed”.  It is provocative to realize that the Old Testament had been written between about 900 BCE and 150 BCE, long before Jesus was supposed to have lived, so the Bible ostensibly had been ripe for centuries to have a manipulative sequel written that featured the appearance of a long-awaited anointed one.

A notable aspect of human nature is the drive to control and dominate others.  Long before Niccolo Machiavelli, one of history’s most famous political scientists, wrote his best-known book The Prince, mankind had been smitten by the ruthless ambitions of master manipulators, including those of despotic tyrants and domineering religious authorities.  This new Roman propaganda in the Gospels of the New Testament is a fascinating synthesis of Judaism and pagan beliefs, and the Romans saw to it that this new story formed a new set of religious doctrines in Christianity. 

Not only did the Romans succeed in using religion as a kind of early opiate administered to gullible people, sometimes forcibly, but they also made wholesale use of the mythologies, rituals, symbols, paraphernalia and cosmic events of pagan religions in the founding scriptures and structure of the Roman Catholic Church itself. Roman emperors thus cleverly satisfied their need to control the populace in their far-flung empire, and particularly in the turmoil-roiled Holy Lands.  This helped them save on future costs of military suppression, because such costs had been very high when the Roman legions slaughtered the Zealots in military campaigns between 66 CE and 70 CE. 

The Romans had originally conquered Judea in 63 BCE.  Judea was the western part of the famous Fertile Crescent, a broad swath of land that corresponds roughly to today’s territories of Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan.  More than 120 years after the Romans had first conquered this region, when the Jewish revolt against Roman despotism began in 66 CE, Nero and his commander Vespasian brutally suppressed the rebels.  Then after Nero died in 68 CE, Vespasian became the Roman Emperor and his son Titus slaughtered the remaining religious rebels, finally completely destroying the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem after a long siege in 70 CE.

According to historians, the rule of Nero is associated with excessive spending, entertainment extravagances and tyranny, so he may have been one of the original “après-moi le deluge” kings.  The emperor Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, a line of Roman rulers that had begun with Julius Caesar and included Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius.  It was during Nero’s reign that a Great Fire took place in Rome in 64 CE, and Nero was said to have “fiddled while Rome burned”.  During this period, wars were bankrupting Nero’s empire and there were widespread political struggles and corruption and a struggling economy and serious religious conflicts.  (Sounds a little like today, eh?  Perhaps it’s time for new and more auspicious religious stories -- and national policies! -- to be conceived.)

The phrase “fishers of men” in Matthew 4:19 is one of the most well-known lines in the entire New Testament, and it is the most important metaphor for evangelical zealotry.  But there is a provocative question about what this phrase originally meant.  At the time New Testament Gospels were written, Roman legions were fighting Jewish rebels in the Holy Land who had revolted due the impoverishment of the Jews under a heavy burden of Roman taxation.  The historian Josephus wrote in The Jewish War about this incredibly bloody war that took place between the Romans and the Jews.  Early in the conflict, Romans vanquished Galilee in the north and killed or sold into slavery an estimated 100,000 Jews.  Naval skirmishes took place on the Sea of Galilee in which Jews were killed by Romans who fished for the men from sinking boats with swords and spears in the waters of the sea.  This sense of fishing for men is a terrible contrast to the allegorical use of this phrase for saving souls by means of the evangelical spreading of “good news” of Jesus as savior!

Vespasian was the first ruler of the Flavian dynasty that succeeded the line of Julio-Claudian emperors.  Vespasian and his son Titus conspired, according to Joe Atwill’s theory, to have a back-dated story written in the Gospels about a divine father and son, in order to legitimize their own claims of divinity.  This story was designed to give credence to the idea that this original Flavian duo was actually God and his son.  It is an historic irony that this story has become a tale almost 2,000 years later that contends a supernatural divinity exists who gave his divine virgin-born son as a sacrifice for mankind’s sins.  This story includes the narrative of our ancestral wrongdoing in the Garden of Eden that has caused so many waves of guilt and shame to wash across us like searing baptisms by fire.

“Apotheosis” is a term that describes the glorification of a person by elevating them to the level of divinity.  The deification of a subject raises them from being a mere mortal to a stature like that of a god.  This treatment probably started out as a kind of hero cult worship in Classical Greece.  Roman emperors liked to deify their predecessors after they had died to give them greater legitimacy and glory, and to secure a rosier personal regard for themselves after they died.  A political satire by Seneca the Younger titled The Pumpkinification of (the Divine) Claudius ridiculed the apotheosis of the inept emperor Claudius.  Satire sometimes has easy and deserving targets!

Deified men were posthumously awarded the title Divus (Diva for females) to signify their divinity.  Traditional Roman religion often distinguished between a “real god” and a Divus, who was a mortal that had become divine by deification.  Christian doctrine portrays Jesus as part of a pre-existing God who undertook mortal existence.  This conception represents a creative new twist on this process of deification that stands in contrast to previous tales of mortal beings who were accorded divinity only after death. 

Throughout history, kings have tried to adopt a cloak of “divine rights”.  This doctrine was so self-serving that it is astonishing anyone actually believed that some monarch derived his or her right to rule directly from the will of God.  Then again, it was no doubt exceedingly dangerous to speak out in disbelief or denial, for speaking truth to power can be doggone risky! 

Toward the end of the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, it was King Louis XV of France who saw the writing on the wall and observed, “Après moi, le deluge.”  Sure enough, after many years of despotic rule and debauchery in his court, and after bankrupting financial policies and high taxes on the peasantry, the flood figuratively did come with the French Revolution of 1789.  The grandson of King Louis XV was the ruler by this time, and the preposterousness of divine privilege had been so clearly exposed that a few brave souls finally stood up and figuratively declared, “The king has no clothes!”  The autocratic rule of King Louis XVI was then overthrown, and he became the only king of France ever to be executed;  his head was lopped off by a guillotine in January 1793.

But I digress.  Perhaps there is Good News in the understanding that Jesus may not actually have existed at all as a real historical character.  The good news is that there would be one less barbaric black mark on humanity’s trail of tears and suffering if Jesus had not actually been nailed on a cross.  Make no mistake about it, however;  plenty of crucifixions took place back in those barbaric days, just as there have been many political assassinations, repressions of dissenters, burnings at the stake, pogroms, genocides and other atrocities that have been visited upon people in the name of gods or in the service of merciless ideologies, or as a result of hateful prejudices.  Notably, the specific crime that merited death by being nailed to a cross in ancient Judea was being a rebel and fighting against the hegemony of the Roman Empire.

An independent film titled Caesar’s Messiah has been made from Joe Atwill’s book.  It can be viewed online right now.  It has not yet been widely seen, but it should be, for its conclusions are important.  In a world where the human population has increased from 1 billion to more than 7 billion in the last two centuries alone, and in which we have used up more resources in the past 100 years than in all of the many millennia of history, the needs for us to find ways to coexist peacefully and to compete fairly, and to honor overarching ecological precautionary principles, have become more important than anything else.  To adapt to rapidly changing demographic challenges and mindless assaults on wildlife and habitats and ecosystems, it is becoming ever-more necessary to find better ways to unite and cooperate together to create a more sane and propitious future.

In considering the provocative book Caesar’s Messiah, think closely about this idea that Jesus may not have actually existed.  The supposition that Jesus may not have really existed is supported by other scholars who have studied the Bible and the Gospels of the New Testament in contexts of the writings of Josephus and some long-hidden Gnostic codices that were found in Nag Hammadi Valley in upper Egypt in 1945, and of the Dead Sea Scrolls that were discovered between 1947 and 1956.

This book about the Romans, Jews and Jesus is not just a debunking of rigid dogmas of the Christian religion.  It contains valuable conclusions that could lead us to devote more energy to work together in the service of greater good goals.  The American people live in a free country, and people should be free to believe in whatever God they like, or whatever prophet, be it Jesus or Muhammad or Mormon -- or angels or the Devil, for that matter.  But one of the most dangerous of all threats to the human race is organized and highly-regimented “religion-on-the-march”, especially when it is taken so seriously that faithful adherents act out its worst and most intolerant precepts.  In this time of ethnocentric strife, and of nationalism and Islamic jihad and a costly militaristic global “war on terror” in reaction, it is madness to allow religions to be the cause of terrorism and preemptive warfare and existential battles and conflicts of religious intolerance between cultures. 

Military aggression and terrorist opposition counter-support each other.  They thus give strength to repressive right-wing authorities in Christian and Muslim nations alike.  The powerful impetus that is engendered by this counter-support is used by authority figures like Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini to augment their influence by distracting, controlling and suppressing the populace, and by eliminating subversives who oppose them, and by repressing those who have differing views or who refuse to conform to preachy moralities, dogmatic certitudes, supremacist gambits and domineering power.

We cannot allow authoritarians to dominate our freedom-loving societies, or to use harsh tactics to enforce their hegemony.  As planet Earth gets more crowded with humans, Golden Rule perspectives need to be honored, and authoritarian church establishments should be rejected when they conflict fanatically, or when they mercilessly discriminate against people or violently assault them in the name of the righteousness of their particular religious creeds.  We must find ways to defuse tensions caused by drives for supremacy and ethnocentric biases. 

The dangers here are manifest.  Donald Trump proposes what might sound like a real effective strategy -- to him! -- to solve the Islamic State terrorist problem by killing every one of those vile extremists and their families too, and punishing Islamic suspects with waterboarding and other Trump-enhanced harsh interrogation tactics.  That's sure to work, isn't it?? -- and if any of them object, we could punish them to the third and fourth generation for the iniquity of their fathers.

Not to be outdone, Ted Cruz promises to solve the Islamic State problem in Syria by carpet bombing the country, and it is almost as if he believes that peace would reign in Syria if only we could kill every Muslim there, sparing only the Christians, who could be protected in a grand and supernatural Passover gesture where the select right believers would be spared from the plague of our carpet bombing perhaps by slaughtering a Passover lamb and using a branch of a hyssop plant to dip into the lamb’s blood and painting it onto the houses of the Christian Syrians like they did on the houses of the good Israelites in the Exodus story in the Bible in Egypt, where marvelous monotheistic righteousness got its start.

God sent plagues upon the land of Egypt to show the people that they should worship the Creator, not the creation.  Well, that’s an interesting hypothesis! 

"Political extremism involves two prime ingredients: an excessively simple diagnosis of the world's ills, and a conviction that there are identifiable villains back of it all."

                                                                                                    --- John W. Gardner

It is irksome that Ted Cruz arrogantly belittles President Obama for being weak because he ended George W. Bush's military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Cruz finds it inadequate that President Obama has only been selective in his bombing is Syria every day since September 2014.  Cruz almost makes you miss that Obama-trash-talking smart-alecky Marco Rubio, who echoed the hateful sentiments of the angry extreme partisans in the Republican echo chamber where the black man in the White House has allegedly been responsible for every social ill and economic woe that exists, despite the evidence to the contrary and the contributory sabotage of Republican politicians in the House and Senate.

“The strength of democratic societies relies on their capacity to know how to stand firm against extremism while respecting justice in the means used to fight terrorism.”

                                                                                                 --- Tariq Ramadan

"Extremism can flourish only in an environment where basic governmental social responsibility for the welfare of the people is neglected.  Political dictatorship and social hopelessness create the desperation that fuels religious extremism."

                                                                  --- Benazir Bhutto

"As people's opportunities to succumb to confirmation bias increases online -- only seeking out information that confirms their prejudices -- ignorance, extremism and close-mindedness have continued to rise unabated.”

                                         ---Maajid Nawaz

A greater clarity concerning the historical facts surrounding religious myths may be important for us to recognize deeper truths.  We should strive to honor truer spiritual impulses that offer us the greatest wisdom, and simultaneously strive to avoid being blinded by manipulative doctrines.  We can no longer afford to allow religious rationalizations to condone damages to planet Earth’s habitats and ecosystems.  We can no longer accept interpretations of myths that justify ecological harms like the ones that say that the Genesis story in the Bible tells humanity to subdue the earth and have dominion over all other forms of life.  Religious leaders should clearly communicate the overarching necessity for us to protect creation and demonstrate a more expansive and proper stewardship of the natural world.  Kudos to Pope Francis for his efforts in this regard!

One of my goals in this manifesto is to convince readers of the vital value of principles of ecological intelligence in our communities, cultures, and countries -- and for the global populace as a whole.  Appropriately, I know that it is a poor plan to alienate anyone by setting forth ideas that are overly controversial, for we are all in this existence together.  In the largest scheme of things, we all share the same common good goals, and need to find better ways to collaborate together to actualize them.

Significant aspects of the greater good can be found in more broadly actualized well-being and in better opportunities for the majority of people to flourish.  Social well-being requires civil measures that help reduce inequities and mitigate stresses and minimize conflicts between people in different social classes.  The greater good really can be extensively described, as I have done comprehensively in The Common Good, Properly Understood.  The propriety in these understandings comes not from dogma or strict ideologies, or orthodoxy, or agendas with ulterior motives, but from open-minded and honest evaluation, and inspired and enlightened thinking, and a dedication to purposes consistent with our collective well-being.

Controversy attracts attention, and can create motivating energies, for better or for worse.  The understandings herein represent an entire flourishing forest of trees of the Knowledge of the Greater Good.  In the Bible, when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God got really angry at their disobedience.  Supposedly God was very jealous and did not want mankind to somehow become immortal by being familiar with the divine Pandora’s Box knowledge of good and evil.  This allegory is a transparent means of setting up the doctrine of original sin, and of absolute deontological good and evil, in order to establish the idea that “those who obey God and follow his path shall be rewarded with everlasting life in Heaven, and those who disobey God and stray away from his path shall be punished in Hell.”  Believe, or else suffer for ever and ever!  What’s with that?

Some people who believe the Bible contains literal truths assert that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is an actual type of tree.  Really?  It sure seems to be a transparently symbolic tree representing moral knowledge and guidance, not immortal prerogative.  Good grief -- Let’s not be stupid!  This story has been used as a naked ploy to establish a sublapsarian religious doctrine that asserts God decreed the fall of mankind to establish a duty for people to seek salvation by believing this story and professing faith to its dogmas and singing glory be to God and being obedient to the dictates and money appeals of Church authorities.  This story in Genesis is nearly as clearly an allegory as the characters in John Bunyan’s book The Pilgrim’s Progress, who are named Christian, Evangelist, Obstinate, Pliable, Goodwill, Hypocrisy, Piety, Faithful, Wanton, Envy, Ignorance, Hopeful, and Atheist -- and who travel through places like the City of Destruction, the Slough of Despond, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair, the Doubting Castle, the River of Death, and the Celestial City.  Literalism of belief, in any case, can be dangerous folly!

Reflections on Holy Book Stories

God rested on the seventh day of his biblical Creation, having gone to all the thankless toil and trouble of having spent six days conjuring up light and darkness, the earth and the heavens, the waters and dry land, and grass, herbs and fruit trees, and stars in the heavens serving “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years …”, and the Sun and the Moon, and all manner of living creatures, and fowl and great sea creatures, and beasts of the earth and cattle and creeping things.  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” 

    “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

                                                                                                                     --- Genesis 1:31

Food for thought:  Who the heck was God talking to when he said “Let us make man in our image”?  Since all Holy Books develop by incorporating many stories and beliefs from prior mythologies, this God of the Bible may in a sense have been talking to the sophisticated successors of Titan and Olympian gods of the Greek pantheon. 

God reputedly rested on the seventh day “from all his work which he had made.”  There is little time for rest in this modern day and age, so I am going to continue relating some curious perspectives in this epistle.  Wisdom counsels us, however, that it is a good plan to occasionally take a day of rest and reflection in our lives.  Wallace Stevens once poetically suggested:  “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around a lake”.  So let’s breathe in deeply, and exhale slowly and appreciatively, and make an imaginative and Nature-respecting circumambulation around some beautiful body of water in the mind’s eye.  Pay particular attention for any signs of guidance from the heavens!

In the second chapter of the Bible, God created a garden eastward in Eden for the first man to tend, but told Adam in no uncertain terms that he must not eat from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”.  In this chapter, God also made the first woman from one of Adam’s ribs.  In the third chapter, a talking snake cajoled the first woman into eating of the tree, despite God’s strict prohibition.  The snake told her that “in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” 

The first woman was naturally curious, and this particular tree was apparently to be desired to make one wise, so the woman ate from the tree and gave also unto her husband some fruit to eat.  An old joke summarizes the story:  “Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent didn't have a leg to stand on!”  Ha!

Anger-prone God, in any case, was so upset about the disobedience involved in the fruit eating caper that ‘He’ cursed all snakes and condemned all human beings forevermore to live in mutual enmity, and made women suffer pain in childbirth, and made it crystal clear that husbands must rule over their wives -- which can be a very heavy burden for a woman.  And ‘He’ cursed the ground so that all future generations of humankind would be forced to eat of the land and grow herbs and grains for food and bread amidst thorns and thistles in the field. 

By chapter six of the Bible, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.  And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth;  both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air;  for it repenteth me that I have made them.”  Shucks -- a divine mistake?

It appears as if this God of the Bible is a fickle God, not a forgiving one, and not caring about compassion or fair-minded justice.  So God sent forth a great flood upon the earth for forty days and forty nights to destroy all flesh, except for six-hundred-year-old Noah and his wife and three sons and their wives and two of every kind of beast on Noah’s ark, one male and one female.  (And probably a lot of fish, because they are not generally bothered by floods.)  Mark Twain in Letters of the Earth relates his humorous version of this story:

“The Ark continued its voyage, drifting around here and there and yonder, compassless and uncontrolled, the sport of the random winds and the swirling currents.  And the rain, the rain, the rain!  It kept on falling, pouring, drenching, flooding.  No such rain had been seen before.  Sixteen inches a day had been heard of, but that was nothing to this. This was a hundred and twenty inches a day -- ten feet!  At this incredible rate it rained forty days and forty nights, and submerged every hill that was four hundred feet high.    At last the Ark soared aloft and came to rest on the top of Mount Ararat, seventeen thousand feet above the valley …”

Orthodox folks believe that the Bible is literally true and historically accurate.  That is quite a leap of faith!  In bright contrast, early religious Gnostics viewed the Bible as myth, allegory, morality tale, legend and even poetry.  Gnosis is a Greek word that means knowledge.  The central idea of Gnostics is that there is knowledge that is superior to blind faith, and independent of it.  Imagine that.

Salvation is the big deal in the Bible.  The Greek word soteria is generally translated as salvation, but it also means deliverance and health, and thus healing.  One who offers salvation is like a teacher who offers wholeness and well-being.  The early intellectuals known as Gnostics believed that there are three types of people:  (1) those ensnared in material things;  (2) those caught up in intellectual thinking;  and (3) those awakened souls who live a life of spirit and soul.  An early Gnostic theologian named Valentinius taught his followers that they could attain a divine state of spiritual fullness through gnosis (knowledge), while ordinary Christians were caught up in confused thinking and could only attain a lesser form of salvation.  Materialistic people, he prejudicially asserted in referring to pagans and Jews, were beyond salvation and doomed to perish.  Yikes!

When the surprising treasure trove of early Gnostic scriptures, gospels and treatises was found in the Nag Hammadi valley in Egypt in 1945, this revealing discovery dramatically transformed biblical studies, as explored provocatively by Stephen A. Hoeller in an online article, The Genesis Factor,  and in Bill Moyers’ ten-part television series, Genesis: A Living Conversation.  Now known as the Nag Hammadi library, this discovery consisted of a collection of 12 ancient leather-bound papyrus books that had been buried in a cave in a sealed jar.  These writings contained fifty-two handwritten Gnostic treatises, which had been preserved despite a condemnation by Bishop Athanasius in 367 CE of a wide range of gospels and writings.  This Bishop of Alexandria claimed that everything other than strict doctrinal conformity to orthodox views was heresy.  Athanasius was a Christian theologian who became known as “the father of orthodoxy”, and he ordered the burning of books that contained alternate perspectives to the official Bible. 

“Where they burn books,” a German playwright named Heinrich Heine noted in 1821, referring to the burning of the Muslim holy book during the Spanish Inquisition, “so too will they in the end burn human beings.”  Ironically, Heine’s own books were among some 20,000 books burned a century later under the instigation of Adolf Hitler and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels during an infamous Nazi book burning that took place in May 1933.  And sure enough, within 10 years, the Nazi’s were burning untold numbers of people, most of them Jews, whom they had killed in gas chambers in concentration camps during World War II.

The famous psychotherapist Sigmund Freud’s books were prominent among those that were burned.  Freud quipped, “What progress we are making.  In the Middle Ages, they would have burned me.  Now, they are content with burning my books.”  Five years later, in 1938, Freud and his Jewish family saw the writing on the wall and fled Vienna for good as the dangers of Nazism encroached on Austria.

“From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable."

                                                                                                 --- Salmon Rushdie

The orthodoxy of Bishop Athanasius was in the process of being established in the year 325 CE, when the First Council of Nicaea was held.  Constantine had convened this council of Christian bishops to promulgate an official version of their creed into a semi-coherent whole, presumably to circumscribe the unwieldy and prolific diversity of beliefs that characterized early Christianity.  The Council had a goal of establishing one specific creed, and to make sure people conformed in professing it, and to exclude those who did not.  The council correspondingly created a whole bunch of strict new church laws, also known as religious canons.

It is provocative to realize that there were literally hundreds of gospels and epistles during the early years of Christianity.  One of the most divisive differences of opinion was whether Jesus was divine and the literal son of God, or instead a figurative son, like many other “sons of God” in the Bible.  After having struggled with efforts to resolve wide disagreements for decades, an orthodox version was pronounced that asserted Jesus was definitely divine, and then all other versions, beliefs and speculations were banished.

Orthodox ideas seem rather absurd in light of scholarly study and introspection.  Consider the contrast between narrowly orthodox ideas promulgated by Christian fundamentalists and the rather more expansive interpretations of people like Valentinius, who almost become Pope in the second century CE.  Those who faithfully hew to Christian orthodoxy hold that Jesus was the divine Son of God and the savior of mankind, AND that personal salvation can only be achieved through faithful believing.  In contrast, Gnostics believed Jesus is an archetype and a teacher who can lead a person to salvation through a process of enlightenment.  Orthodox believers think Satan is the source of all evil in the world, while Gnostics think that ignorance itself leads to many of the things we designate as evil. 

Orthodox believers blame Eve as the cause of original sin.  To Gnostics, Adam and Eve were not actual historical figures, but representatives of two “intrapsychic principles within every human being”:  one, the masculine embodiment of psyche, or soul, and the other, the feminine embodiment of pneuma, or spirit.  A convincing argument can be made that a greater honoring of feminine spirit and perspectives is needed in modern times.  Check out this point of view as articulated in A Feminine Vision of an Achievable Better World - Anima Should Reign!

These concepts are important because creation stories in every culture are frames of reference that help determine the character of societies. Since the overarching challenges facing humanity today are ecological ones, the time has come for us to commit ourselves to truly striving to ensure that the legacy we leave to future generations will be most likely to be a salubrious one.

      “We’d better start saving’ up

          For the things that money can’t buy.”

                                                                  --- Bruce Springsteen

The Delphic Oracle Speaks

The Pythia was the high priestess in the Greek Temple of Apollo at Delphi on the slopes of Mount Parnassus.  This priestess was regarded for centuries as the famed Oracle of Delphi.  This Oracle was established in the 8th century BCE, and a succession of women acted as Pythia and made prophecies for 1,200 years until late in the 4th century CE.  These prophecies were thought to be inspired by Apollo, the god of light, and they were reputedly delivered by the Pythia in an ecstatic trance, or perhaps a frenzied state induced by hot vapors that rose from a chasm in the Delphic rock. 

These prophecies had highly influential impacts on many leaders in the ancient world, so the Pythia of Delphi was one of the most powerful women in the world during her tenure.  Hundreds of the Oracular statements of Delphi are known to have survived since classical times, according to Wikipedia, and over half, stunningly, are said to be historically accurate.  Many of them are anecdotal, and have survived as proverbs.  “Love of money and nothing else will ruin Sparta”, proclaimed the Oracle.  Maybe we need a new modern Oracle to counsel us in our materialistic Western world today! 

The Oracle advised the wise ruler Solon, who was considering what constitutional reforms to make for Athens:  “Seat yourself amidships …”, was the advice the Oracle gave him.  As a consequence, Solon created fair-minded laws and instituted a progressively-graduated tax system and a moderate means by which debts could be forgiven.  This helped create a stronger Athenian middle class, and prevented the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” from growing too dangerously wide.  Ostensibly, we should all seat ourselves amidships today, and demand fairer and wiser national plans!

Carved into the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo was the maxim, “Nothing in excess.”  Our hyper-partisan representatives should ponder this idea of “moderation in all things”, and accept this oracular advice when it comes to making decisions on public spending, budget deficits, corporate perks and ideologically-driven stands on various issues.  This wise perspective provides another simple reason that moderates and liberals within religious faiths should step forward to challenge conservatives who dominate their religious establishments.

   “The world would be a far better place if philosophers, poets or jazz musicians had greater

       influence in our societies.”

                                     --- A pronouncement of a modern reincarnation of the Priestess Oracle of Delphi

If jazz musicians ran the world, in syncopated harmony, with penultimate cool, it would likely be a much better place.  With a little help from truly civic-minded business people and politicians, and visionary poets, Buddhist philosophers, deep ecologists and proponents of peaceful coexistence, we really could dramatically improve the world! 

I love the concept of the nine divine Muses in Greek mythology.  These goddesses were the daughters of Mnemosyne, the personified Titan goddess of Memory, and Zeus, the supreme Olympian god.  They were said to be the divine inspiration for the creation of various kinds of literature and the arts.  Please step forward and take a bow on behalf of music and song, Euterpe, and on behalf of the epic poets, Calliope, you divine feminine inspirations!

I remember a friend telling me she had attended a weeklong silent retreat at a spiritual place in Massachusetts, and she observed that the meditative interlude centered her and put her in touch with her inner self.  She felt that the silent retreat had subtly shifted her way of seeing the world.  Curiously, her intense personal experience gave her an oceanic sense of love for all human beings and sentient animals, yet she felt no particular strong affection for any one of the actual people with whom she shared this cathartic experience.  Ha -- what curious beings we!

Transcendence Beckons

Carl Sagan once said, “A religion that stresses the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by traditional faiths.  Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.”  Now is a good time for us to be proactive and choose to develop the ecumenical and ecological canons of this new faith, and to wholeheartedly embrace them.

To ensure a more advantageous future for our kind, a more enlightened appreciation of existence is called for.  We basically need to develop more holistic Gaia understandings.  The Earth Manifesto essay Gaia’s Geological Perspective: Episodes Since Genesis contains valuable guidance. 

Cultural evolution changes at a much faster pace than biological evolution, so cultural changes are our best hope for helping us successfully adapt to the converging challenges of our times.  We are well-advised to come together and choose cultural “memes” that are most favorable to our collective flourishing and survival.  Maybe this manifesto could function as a handbook for these wiser ideas!

What we really need is a new attitude, a new global perspective, a new belief system that generously satisfies our emotional and spiritual impulses while at the same time integrating the vital Golden Rule principle of acceptance for other people and other faiths.  We need a belief system that is open to loving thy neighbor -- or, at least, to giving thy neighbor a modicum of respect.  Fair-minded “live and let live” attitudes are vital in matters of race, gender, sexuality and religious beliefs.

We would also be smart to come to grips with how to properly deal with criminal deviants by establishing fairer rules of law and punishment that dispense justice in ways that are proportionate to the threats posed to society as a whole.  We cannot afford broad wars on terror, and we can no longer afford draconian punishments against people like drug users.  And in the context of mindless materialism in our times, which is so seductively promoted by advertisers, we can’t afford to let corporate profiteering override all other considerations.  We should identify the real cheaters and freeloaders and exploiters in our societies, according to consequentialist ethics, and determine how to best deal with the problems they pose.

Who would have thought that the biggest freeloaders in a society might be the financial elites who abuse the power of their wealth to rig the system ever more radically to their selfish advantages?  Who would have imagined that our societies might face an existential crisis specifically because a small group of rich and thus powerful people is allowed to grab the preponderance of benefits for themselves at the expense of the vast majority of workers and the greater good of the populace as a whole? 

This, of course, should be no great surprise.  A passing familiarity with Thomas Piketty’s consequential best-selling new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century provides readers with some confirmatory details about how capitalism works.  Once again the ominous words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis come to mind with reverberating import:

“We can have a democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands

    of a few, but we can’t have both.”

Who would have imagined that a narrow 5-4 majority of Justices on the Supreme Court would have sided with campaign financing abuses of influence like the ones currently being perpetrated against the American people?  Who would have thought that so many politicians and judges would side with Big Money in triumphing over the health of the providential commons and the prospects of all people in future generations?

Consider the words of Pope John Paul II in 1984:

   “The needs of the poor must take priority over the desires of the rich;  and the rights of workers

    over the maximization of profits.”                                                      

At the time Pope John Paul uttered these words, about 33 million Americans were poor and 28% of the nation’s wealth was held by the richest 2% of the population.  Today, 46 million Americans are poor and 40% of the nation’s wealth is held by the richest 1%.  Regressive tax-cutting plans promoted by “conservatives” are making these trends worse and worse.  I urge all voters to consider this when evaluating any politician who proposes slashing taxes even further for rich people and high-income earners!

Our long prehistory of hunting and gathering not only required a high degree of cooperation, but also a fair measure of egalitarianism.  This was a dramatic contrast with earlier social groups that were ruthlessly dominated by alpha males.  Picture rams butting heads during rutting season, or baboons fighting fiercely to establish male dominance so that the alpha male could mate exclusively with as many females as possible.

Talk about family values!  Sexual aggression, like all vices, was once a virtue, back before anything was regarded as a vice or virtue, or good or bad.  The process of natural selection helped determine which individuals and their traits were chosen to be propagated forward in time.  Natural selection made these choices with impersonally fateful and mortally final decisiveness as our lineage was pruned into the entire paradoxical panoply of our human nature and character today.

The goal of creating more equality of opportunity and a greater measure of egalitarianism is one that is arguably more crucial to our collective survival and flourishing than the status quo of allowing privileged people the freedom to create ever more inequality of economic gain and political power.  Extreme frustration with the status quo began to be expressed by the 99% of Americans in the Occupy Wall Street movement and related protests around the world in late 2011.  As time marches steadily past, a greater commitment to cooperative problem-solving is clearly needed.  And we should renounce obstinate opposition to progress, along with harsh attitudes toward the poor and merciless defenses of inequality, and the suppression of dissent, and the perpetuation of historically low tax rates for the super-rich.

   “I think, therefore I am (I think).”

                                                     --- Rene Descartes (paraphrased version)

Homo sapiens sapiens is the sole surviving species in our genus Homo.  In this sense, all our biotic eggs are in one basket.  Only by continuing to think rationally, and to respect our capabilities for intelligent foresight, will we thereby continue to be.  And only by honoring vital social and ecological principles and intuitions of the greater good will we improve the future prospects of humanity.

Everything we do that will increase the likelihood of driving ourselves closer to catastrophe, and possible extinction, is an ultimate foolishness and immoral course -- an ultimate faux pas in the face of the processes of natural selection.  This perspective posits that public decision-making must give greater priority to policies and practices that are fairer and more likely to be sustainable.  Such an emphasis is needed because unsustainability implies movement toward riskier and less providential outcomes for all of humankind.

Biological Evolution Today

Some say that human beings may be devolving today because weak and unintelligent people and the infirm are reproducing, to a significant extent, more than the strong, healthy and educated.  But this trend is only a momentary blip in the context of geologic time.  Evolutionary changes tend to speed up when conditions are changing more rapidly, and it seems indisputable that conditions will change more rapidly in coming decades and centuries as human impacts on the environment and ecosystems and weather patterns intensify, and as habitats are altered and many species are driven to extinction.

Now that it is no longer cool to kill outliers in our societies, or those with genetically undesirable maladies, we have temporarily suspended some of the selective pressures that have always been integral to the evolutionary process.  On the other hand, it is enlightening to realize that the effects of civilization itself have significant evolutionary impacts.  The growth of villages and towns and cities has had the effect of making people more secure than in the days when every one of our ancestors was aware in every moment that they would either eat that day, or be eaten. 

Since greater security allows people to feel less anxiety and less stress, their nervous systems produce less of stress hormones like adrenaline.  This allows people to be calmer, and makes them feel better, and decreases their propensities toward aggression and violence, so it subtly encourages social tendencies to cooperate with others.

Success, in evolutionary terms, is surviving and better adapting to prevailing conditions. The transcendental implications of these understandings are clear:  we must collectively act in smarter ways to ensure that we achieve greater good goals for our entire social group, Homo sapiens.  We should demand that our leaders reverse the trend toward increasing inequality, and that they take steps to alleviate the desperate stresses associated with high unemployment, healthcare insecurity, cuts to social security programs, record levels of poverty, and widespread environmental injustices.

A Digression on Dogs

Evolutionary biologists who study the remarkably diverse varieties of “man’s best friend” reveal that all dogs are descended from grey wolves in the relatively recent geologic past, like in the past 15,000 years.  Dogs now come in an amazingly wide variety of appearances and dispositions.  The process of selection that created such diversity may be correlated with the fact that, as dogs became tamer and more secure around humans, they produced less adrenaline, the stress hormone involved in fight-or-flight impulses.  This can have genetic effects on characteristics like the shape of ears and tails and the pigmentation of skin.  Artificial selection and inbreeding have also been contributory factors in the expanding diversity of size, anatomical features and coat colors in dogs.

Dogs are ideal companions for human beings because of their genetic inheritance of wolf pack behavior from their ancestors.  Wolf social groups are characterized by a dominance hierarchy, and all members of a wolf pack are intensely loyal to their leaders.  This instinctive characteristic made their descendants perfectly adapted to human tendencies to love companions that “suck up” to them with eager and enthusiastic appreciation.  This was practically a match made in heaven!  Good doggy -- fetch!  Roll over!

   Lord, help me be the person my dog thinks I am.

                                                                           --- Philosophically Humorous Bumper Sticker

“Use it or lose it” is an evolutionary axiom.  Traits that are not actively maintained by natural selection tend to disappear.  Species of fish that live in lightless underground caverns eventually lose their sight.  Birds on remote islands that have no terrestrial predators lose the ability to fly.  Mammals that once lived in trees where a tail was an important appendage lost their tails once they descended from the trees and began to walk upright on the savanna.  Our vestigial tailbones are a physical remnant of this behavioral change that took place far back in ancient prehistory. 

Even within an individual, “use it or lose it” is an operative biological fact.  An active brain stays more alert and healthy than an inactive one.  Reading, doing crossword puzzles, and playing word games or card games are activities that can help maintain brains in good working order.  The neurons of our brains apparently create a greater number of receptive dendrites when they are actively used than when they are allowed to atrophy. 

This ability of neurons to generate more connections in response to environmental stimuli, and to change adaptively when challenged, is known as neuroplasticity.  To improve memory and the processes involved in thinking, and to prevent neurodegenerative diseases, it is a good idea to engage in stimulating activities.  So, reading is good for your brain;  read on!

Reasons for Religious Strife

All the various established religions compete, in a sense, for adherents.  The pool of people who might want to convert to a new set of religious beliefs is small.  This is one reason that religious authorities dogmatically encourage reproduction among the faithful with a self-serving urgency.  It is just much easier to inculcate children with beliefs when they are young and gullible and their brains are still malleable, rather than trying to convert them later in life to beliefs in myth-like stories and suspiciously unlikely absolute certainties. 

When supremacism and intolerance are distinct facets of the competition for adherents, the outcome can be negative for humanity as a whole.  The reactionary wings of international religions like Islam, Christianity and Mormonism are fighting ferociously for dominance here in the twenty-first century.  This strife has now become a danger to the survival of the über-group:  our species as a whole.  Now is the time for us to cultivate our cooperative natures, and to better moderate alpha male impulses, and to exert a civilized control over excessively aggressive drives and greedy impulses.  The false god personified as Mammon is preoccupied with riches and avarice and material gain.  We should not allow Mammon impulses to remain so dominant in our societies.  Similarly, extreme religious fundamentalism like that demonstrated by ayatollahs in Iran and the right wing of American religious establishments is undesirable because it is a threat to world peace.

Now is the time to foster more farsighted sensibilities.  We urgently need to find better ways to help ensure the survival of our entire social group.  Now is the time for a cultural leap forward.  We cannot afford to allow reactionary factions to prevail.  Now is the time to protect fundamental ecological underpinnings of our well-being.  Now is the time for all nations to commit to a Bill of Rights for Future Generations to guide our societies and ensure that we do not drive ourselves to really desperate straits or even a cataclysmic extinction.

The propensity toward religious belief has been nurtured by shamans and holy men and priests from time immemorial.  This tendency has been exploited and abused by religious authorities in more modern church establishments.  Many types of authorities have abused the power of their influence for selfish purposes, but those who deserve the most severe condemnation are those who unempathetically exploit and harm the vulnerable.  Those who commit thefts and financial frauds are reprehensible, and so are priests who have breached the trust of the faithful by sexually molesting children.

An Interrupting Happenstance

The largest breast cancer charity in the United States cut off funding on January 31, 2012 that had been dedicated to Planned Parenthood clinics for breast cancer screenings.  The backlash to this decision by the Susan G. Komen Foundation was strong and immediate, and the charity was forced to reverse its position three days later, and to emphasize that the organization really was committed to helping women.  It is women, after all, who have been the biggest supporters of this cancer-fighting cause.  Curiously, the Komen Foundation had cut off funding for embryonic stem cell research the year before.  Both decisions appear to have been politically motivated, due to leadership by Nancy Brinker, Komen’s conservative founder, and Karen Handel, its then-new senior vice president for public policy.  Karen Handel had run unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for Governor of Georgia, where she pledged to eliminate funding for cancer screenings provided by Planned Parenthood.  She was forced to resign from the Komen Foundation on February 7, 2012 to defuse the bad public relations furor caused by the funding cut announcement. 

Women’s health should not be a political football.  The Susan G. Komen Foundation should hire staff that is progressive-minded, and they should recruit only people who are committed to an overarching interest in women’s health and well-being.  Ultra-conservatives should let up on their staunch opposition to Planned Parenthood, and stop undermining family planning efforts and women’s and children’s health programs and maternal well-being.  Our best investments would be those devoted to reducing rates of population growth in developing countries, and helping reduce childhood malnutrition, and addressing the driving influences behind big families.  We should do so by altering the tenets of our winner-takes-all economic system so that it more fairly represents the interests of the underrepresented.

No one could convince me that continued rapid population growth in the developing world is a good thing for humanity’s future prospects.  I couldn’t be convinced that 9 billion people on Earth within 25 years won’t involve much more severely depleted resources, diminishing biological diversity, more greenhouse gas emissions, a less stable climate, and more intense social stresses and conflicts.  I couldn’t be convinced that it is smart national policy to allow governments to interfere in women’s personal decisions about family planning and contraception and their prerogatives to make their own healthcare decisions.  I couldn’t be convinced that it will be a good plan to continue spewing rapidly accumulating amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere every year.  I couldn’t be convinced that it is smart for us to continue to mindlessly damage the ecosystems that sustain us. 

In the Bible, after “God created man in his own image”, according to Genesis 1:27, God said unto them, “Be fruitful and multiply …”.  That was good advice when there were few people on Earth, but now that more than 7.4 billion people are competing for resources and causing significant harm to Creation, circumstances have changed.  It is now time for narrowly self-serving churches to alter this decree.  Otherwise, we will continue to wreak havoc on the planet and drive untold numbers of species of life toward extinction.  Any all-knowing and benevolent God would surely change his counsel in these new circumstances.  Church authorities, stop opposing family planning programs!

Human Development

It has been more than 150,000 years since the first members of Homo sapiens appeared on Earth, and during most of this time, our kind lived close to Nature.  Then, somewhere around 10,000 years ago, nomadic wanderers of the Stone Age of human development discovered the advantages of cultivating crops instead of wandering around to find food, and of domesticating animals instead of hunting their dangerous wild cousins.  These advances allowed people to settle down into agrarian communities, and villages, towns and cities began to develop, and eventually great early civilizations began to flourish in places like Mesopotamia and Egypt and China. 

Cultures, customs, values and belief systems shifted seismically with the social revolution inherent in the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and animal husbandry.  At the same time, the roles of males and females changed radically.  Both male hunters and female gatherers had to become more content with new and different roles that were required to succeed in cultivating crops and taking care of animals to provide for their families. 

Every culture ever in existence has invented its own creation stories, its own cosmological conceptions of the universe, and its own explanations for life and being.  The earliest spiritual understandings were forms of animism that attributed spirits or souls to human beings AND to animals and plants and mountains and rivers and the Sun and the Moon and natural phenomena like lightening and winds. 

With revolutionary changes from nomadic to agricultural modes of existence, people naturally began to worship female deities that are generally known as Earth Mother Goddesses.  These forms of worship honored fertility and motherhood and nourishment and annual renewal in nature.

Many cultures borrow elements of their explanations of first causes in the universe from earlier myths.  The Bible, for instance, incorporates many of its major themes from earlier myths, including the concept of a virgin birth and that of a great flood, and that of a ‘Lamb of God’ dying for mankind’s sins and being resurrected three days after death.  Many of the traditions and rituals of orthodox Christianity were adopted from earlier religions that they disrespectfully declared as “pagan”.

  Religion, n.  A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.                         

                                                                                    --- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

“I believe in the resurrection,” a friend told me at a delicious Easter dinner.  I found this really quite stunning.  The Bible story about Jesus being crucified and then resurrected from death is a plagiarized echo of many earlier myths.  Egyptian believers mourned the deaths of their god Osiris, for instance, and Persians mourned the death of their god Mithra, and Greeks mourned the death of their god Adonis, and then the various faithful respectively rejoiced when these deities were reputed to have been resurrected three days later. 

Death and revival themes are powerful in the human psyche as a result of many kinds of natural cycles that involve dying and renewal.  Many stories found in the Bible originated as allegories for natural phenomena, such as the Sun's apparent annual journey through the heavens along the ecliptic through the twelve constellations of the Zodiac and the passage of the seasons of the year.  To me, it seems obvious that the well-known stories of the Bible are among “the greatest stories ever sold”!

The adaptive use of earlier mythologies in the creation of new holy book stories might be seen as a source of hope that current day religions will likewise be able to evolve into accepting understandings that are more transcendent.  Maybe they will begin to honor crucial natural needs, and thereby enable us to collectively actualize a resurrection of hope and respect for vital natural ecosystems.  What we need today is a new form of belief in a resurrection, but instead of a belief in the rebirth of a legendary figure that has died, we need a belief in a global renewal in which antiquated and destructive old ways of thinking are replaced by wiser, more fair-minded, and more ecologically intelligent ways of seeing.

One of the main problems with all established religions is their inflexible character.  When better understandings arise, religious authorities generally stubbornly oppose these more realistic ways of seeing the world.  Established religions consecrate and glorify their own version of explanations for “Creation”, and then when more accurate knowledge comes to light, they are left stranded with absurdly antiquated antediluvian stories as supposed absolute truths.

Anchored to archaic dogma, and unwilling to admit the truth of more modern insights into the nature of the physical universe and evolutionary change, the central tenets of established religions can become outmoded.  Domineering religious authorities often have an inherently reactionary character.  They want to put the ‘smackdown on heresy’ like Cardinal Ratzinger did in his job before he became Pope Benedict XVI.  Such attitudes contribute to a repressive social and political stance that too frequently opposes progress toward a fairer and more enlightened and safer world. 

Our collective salvation almost certainly depends on more accurate conceptions in our fore-thought, so institutions and political leaders that stand in the way of better understandings threaten our well-being and survival.  As global challenges mount, new approaches to helping ensure fairness and sustainability are becoming ever more urgently needed.

The Evolutionary Stages of Understanding

Divine feminine deities began to be overthrown by more war-like male gods in almost every culture about 4,000 years ago.  Many influences have been supposed to explain this dethroning of female deities.  Invasions of agrarian settlements by warring barbarians who believed in domineering male gods may have been one factor.  The creation of private property and inheritance through male offspring, which are associated with farming practices, may have been responsible in part for the shift to honoring male gods instead of female goddesses.  Wealth generated from agricultural surpluses may have stimulated ruthlessness of competition. 

Another provocative explanation for the overthrow of the divine feminine is that shifts in perceptions of reality occurred after alphabets and writing were invented and literacy became widespread in cultures around the world.  These changes caused a radical shift from the feminine-honoring, image-influenced, holistic right hemisphere of the brain to the more traditionally male-oriented and word-dominated values of the left brain.  This was a physical shift in the way our brains function.  More ideas about this remarkable change are explored below in an introspection into the insightful theories of the late neurosurgeon Dr. Leonard Shlain.

People naturally hunger to make sense of the world.  Every society in history has used creation stories they have invented to explain the presence of the physical universe and the mysteries of being, as well as the reasons for existential conundrums like misfortune and death and ‘evil’.  It is illuminating to see the über-context of the development of these ideas. 

There have been Five Stages in the Ontology of Existence, similar to Auguste Comte’s “Law of Three Stages”.  The earliest explanations for everything in the Universe were ‘animistic’;  all physical things and natural phenomena and life forms were conceived of as having intangible souls.  This conception was born of intimate associations with the natural world and anthropomorphic projections and superstitious interpretations of things perceived. These common animistic beliefs were promulgated and promoted by shamans and other early ‘holy men’ and ‘holy women’. 

Animism evolved into a more concrete attribution of ‘divine being’ in which a polytheistic pleonasm of deities was worshipped as the rulers over all phenomena.  A rich body of mythology developed like that which reached its pinnacle in marvelous anthropocentric Greek and Roman mythologies. Pagan priests, mystics and oracles interpreted these gods and goddesses and other deities to common folk.

In the third stage of evolution of explanations, storytellers and self-professed prophets embellished these mythic concepts.  Hopes, fears, vivid dreams and megalomaniacal imaginings inspired a plethora of such prophets.  Each claimed to speak for some divine being.  Eventually this constellation of mythological goddesses and gods finally congealed into a more sophisticated speculation that there is only one God.  Eureka!  This monotheistic epiphany was swaddled in deep human hopes and fears, and packaged into tidy doctrinaire explanations.  Eventually such dogmas and their accompanying creation stories were canonized and given the status of certitude. 

Believers in a new monotheistic God, and even those who doubted, were intimidated by being told that they would spend all of eternity in either one or the other of two kinds of “afterlife” -- either a perfect one or a colossally terribly one.  Those who questioned the veracity of religious dogmas were regarded as heretics or infidels, and were told they would burn and suffer in a nasty place called Hell if they did not accept the new beliefs.  Centuries ensued during which these doctrines became established.  Then for a thousand years of persecutions and crusades in the Western world, it became dangerous to contradict the powerful clerics in Church establishments that enforced their dogmas with Inquisitions and the burning of women at the stake and other heinous undertakings.  Corruption within established churches led to periods of ‘reformation’, but the domineering stance of religious authorities ensured that conflict would rage, and that intolerance of others would become a serious problem in many countries.

As the human race learned more and more about Nature and physics and cosmology and biology, new metaphysical abstractions evolved that theoretically elucidated the workings of the world.  They did this in an insightful yet curiously perplexing manner.  This 4th stage in ways of explaining existence attracted many deep thinkers and philosophers over a period of more than 2,500 years.  It is fascinating to study even an abbreviated summary of all the philosophical speculations they conjured up.  Roget’s Thesaurus contains more than 140 different forms or trains of thought in philosophy, ranging from agnosticism to Epicureanism to utilitarianism to vitalism. 

Most philosophers thought deeply about existence, but they were often so enveloped in established convictions and conventional wisdom that their ideas and arguments may today seem somewhat bizarre and even foolish.  The famous German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, for instance, had studied the more-or-less miraculous nature of the astounding parameters of physics and mathematics, so he postulated that “this is the best of all possible worlds.”  But he appears to have really stretched to reach this conclusion by conforming his thoughts to the belief in the existence of a beneficent and perfect God. 

Circumstances have a way of undermining absurd theories, so when a powerful offshore earthquake killed thousands of the faithful while they were demonstrating their pious devotion to God in churches on All Saints’ Day in Lisbon, Portugal on November 1, 1755, the speculations of Leibniz took on a ridiculous aspect, and philosophical optimism was appropriately ridiculed.  Voltaire wrote his famous short story Candide to satirize the preposterousness of this perspective in that age.

The fifth stage overlapped with these developments.  Scientific understandings had begun to come into their own before the days of Aristotle, and especially in the past 200 years.  Scientists have found extensive evidence about the physical unfolding of the Universe, and about the evolving genetic cellular nature of all forms of life on planet Earth.  Physical relationships described by the scientific disciplines of astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology may seem to be almost as arcane to the average person as ghosts or angels or the flight mechanics of Santa’s reindeer, yet they describe fascinating aspects of the way things actually are.  “Reality -- what a concept!”

Our modern bias toward reason and analysis discredits the shamanistic, the ‘pagan’, and the doctrinal nature of established religions.  But we would be wise to give a greater measure of respect to the spiritual nature of our deepest inner selves.  Our spiritual selves, and our right-brain intuitions, recognize valuable modes of making sense of the world.  Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau exalted instinct and feeling above intellect and reason, and though this is sometimes a crazy approach, we should not overly discount the important ways that images and intuitions and metaphors and myths and parables and emotions shape our perceptions and understandings of the world.  We are well advised to cultivate a better balance between the feminine wisdom associated with the right brain and the cold logic of more masculine values associated with the analytical left brain.

Prometheus and Epimetheus

In ancient Greek mythology, Atlas and Prometheus and Epimetheus were three of the offspring of the first-generation Titan gods and goddesses.  Atlas was a primordial deity who was said to hold up the celestial sphere.  Somebody had to be doing it, right?  Prometheus was renowned for having been a champion of humankind because he stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals.  In Greek mythology, Prometheus was wise;  his name literally means ‘forethought’.  The name of his brother god, Epimetheus, literally means ‘hind-thought’ -- “in the manner of a fool looking backward while running forward.”

One defining characteristic of us mortals is our valuable ability to use foresight to extrapolate from experience.  This ability is crucial to our survival.  It is an ability we would be smart to cultivate in our societies to ensure that our activities do not squander resources, pollute ecosystems, deplete and damage fresh water sources, over-harvest forests, decimate fisheries, heighten environmental injustices, cause dangerous changes in the global climate, wipe out most of the wildlife on Earth, or devastate the ecosystems upon which we completely depend.  We must realize that we cannot continue with impunity to fleece future generations by pursuing such courses of action.  In the grand scheme of things, this long-term perspective is the most essential of all moral considerations.

Consider again the story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that was plagiarized from earlier “pagan” religions, as explained in Inspiration, Imagination, and the Deep Well of Human Impulses:

The Biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is an echo of the earlier Greek myth of Pandora.  Zeus, the supreme ruler of the Greek heavens, gave Pandora as a wife to the slow-witted Titan Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus.  Pandora was thus the first mortal woman, and Zeus gave her to Epimetheus as a punishment to mankind because Prometheus had stolen the gift of fire and given it to mankind.  Zeus also gave Epimetheus a large jar, later mistranslated as a box, which contained all the ills and evils of the world.  Pandora had been given the trait of curiosity and the desire for knowledge, so she opened the box even though Epimetheus had forbidden her to do so.  When she opened the box, she released misfortune into the world. 

Thus the stage was set for Bible writers to borrow this myth and blame Eve and the serpent for disobeying God, who was the more modern incarnation of Zeus and all the other Greek deities in one monotheistic Supreme Being.  God had prohibited Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The rest is history, as they say.  When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, all of humankind ever since have been subjected to suffering, death, guilt, repentance, sinful behaviors, and an “afterlife” for believers in a sublime Heaven and for non-believers in a horrible Hell.  Bible writers who plagiarized the story of Pandora added a clever twist that God punished every woman ever-thereafter for Eve’s transgression by requiring them to be subservient to men and giving them pain and difficulty in childbirth. 

Pandora’s Box!  Herein lies the beginning of the denigration, demonization and male domination of women at the dawn of written history.  One account of Hesiod’s version of the Pandora tale indicates that these stories are “evidence of the shift from matriarchy to patriarchy in Greek culture”.  This source cited the perspective that Pandora had been considered a reflection of a life-giving goddess until Hesiod altered the story to make Pandora an evil, death-bringing human female.  Our myths both reflect and mold our societies, as Dr. Leonard Shlain brilliantly makes clear in The Alphabet vs. the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image. 

Think about This, and the Very Nature of Our Thoughts

The majority of people on Earth belong to the religion and religious denomination into which they were born, and they loosely follow the rituals and doctrines of their faith without questioning them much, and often without knowing a lot about the beliefs behind them.  Most people apparently are comfortable with the communal and identification aspects of their religions, and with the vague reassurance that some mystical Supreme Being may really care about their fate.

Religious people and modern societies have long disparaged primordial shamanism.  It does, however, represent a complex and significant expression of the human spirit that has a ‘historical pedigree’ extending back 30,000 years to the Ice Ages in late Paleolithic times.  The shamanic phenomenon has had a remarkable durative power since antiquity.  It has also existed in striking ubiquity across many cultures worldwide.  The reasons for this lie deep in our psyches.  The roots of our understanding and being are found not only in our experiences, but also in the structure of our brains themselves. 

All of our conceptions, and indeed all our thoughts and ideas and emotions and myths, spring in part from the way our brains are structured.  We all have a kind of ‘hard-wiring’ that reflects universal dispositions of our minds, or ‘typical images’ known as archetypes.  Carl Jung called these evocative images the ‘collective unconscious’.  Myths, religious beliefs, symbols, metaphors, dreams, personas and psychoses are rich mines of archetypes that we inherit as instinctive aspects of our minds.  Our perceptions are strongly influenced by these archetypal understandings, so they contribute in a roundabout way to determining our fates.

The highly-accomplished surgeon and author Dr. Leonard Shlain wrote in The Alphabet Versus the Goddess about the evolution of the human brain into two specialized lobes, as higher thinking functions developed.  This specialization of the brain is known as “hemispheric lateralization”.  Scientists have made surprising discoveries in recent years about the various functions of the right brain and the left brain.  For instance, the right side of the brain is the ancient part of the brain that is most familiar with the authentic needs and drives that stem from the early stages of human existence.  It is the nonverbal hemisphere that generates non-logical feeling states such as love, faith, euphoria, inner peace, mystery, humor, and aesthetic appreciation.  It operates by recognizing images and integrating feelings, and it resonates with metaphors and intuitions, and relates to myths and parables, and is finely attuned to music.  This is the hemisphere of the brain that was revealed to Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, with astonishing import, in the life-altering experience she describes in her compelling book, My Stroke of Insight.

The more recently evolved synapses of the left hemisphere of the brain, in contrast, specialize in reasoning, logic, speech, analytical thinking and abstract ideas.  A harmonious balance between these two hemispheres of perception, and their differing ways of interpreting experience, could provide people with more holistic and valuably integrated worldviews.  We should honor the spiritual natures of our being, and our drives for spiritual transcendence, by honoring the various ways that we search for deeper levels of awareness and understanding.

The Correlation of Left-Brain Specialization and the Suppression of Female Deities

Dr. Leonard Shlain’s intriguing premise in The Alphabet Versus the Goddess merits further evaluation.  Dr. Shlain noted that a historic transition took place around 1800 BCE in the nature of human creation myths.  He postulated that the reason Great Mother Goddesses gave way to patriarchal myths and warrior-like male gods at the time was due in large part to the cultural phenomenon of writing and expanded literacy and associated left-brain dominance.

Here’s why.  Early writing evolved from rock art, and it came in the form of cuneiform ideograms in Mesopotamia more than 5,000 years ago that consisted of more than 600 picture-like characters.  At about the same time, hieroglyphs were developed in Egypt that used more than 2,000 picture-symbols and complex rules of ‘grammar’.  These early forms of writing were still partially right-brain ways of seeing the world through evocative images.  Such complex systems made literacy an aptitude and prerogative of only a tiny fraction of people who were exceptionally well educated. 

When these image-oriented ideas evolved into simpler, more abstract alphabets with less than 30 letters, they could easily be learned by anyone at a young age, so literacy became more widespread.  This caused profound changes in the nature of how we perceive things, and even in the very structure of our brains because “neurons that fire together, wire together.”  Left-brained dominance gained power, and abstract thinking became more pronounced in interpreting the world.  Female deities that had been pictured in images were overthrown by abstract representations of male gods and their prophets, as contained in written words. 

The use of alphabets made cuneiform pictographs and hieroglyphics of early civilizations obsolete, and they were figuratively buried by the blowing sands of antiquity. This led to a sea change from the worship of female deities through representative imagery to a new mode of male God worship in which deities were revealed in written “holy scriptures” that prohibited imagery and idols.

Harsh patriarchal written rules of law almost simultaneously appeared in the historical record.  The most famous is the Code of Hammurabi, named after a Babylonian chieftain who created the earliest extant code of written laws around 1750 BCE.  The Code of Hammurabi prescribed harsh forms of justice, calling for “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” 

The Code of Hammurabi was also distinctly sexist.  It treated women as little more than chattel, like slaves.  The Code of Hammurabi was instituted around the same time that Babylonian Goddess Tiamat was dethroned in the macabre Seven Tablets of Creation story.  In this story, the Great Goddess was violently slain after an epic battle with one of her upstart grandsons Marduk, the male god of gale and storm.  Leonard Shlain wrote that this story is the most violent and misogynistic of any creation myth ever found in thousands of cultures worldwide.  He saw a strong correlation in these developments.

Creation myths can be quite entertaining.  Marduk’s vassal gods complained that their existence was dreary because they lacked worshippers to make them offerings.  So Marduk responded by creating mortals to obsequiously honor the gods.  Ha! -- that story provides a surprising motive for why human beings were created!

Early emotive images and intuitive understandings were suppressed when religious beliefs were taken over by the written word in ‘holy books’.  This is a main reason why the Bible’s Ten Commandments featured such strong prohibitions of images of deities -- “idols”.  The men who wrote the Bible, over a span of many centuries, recognized the importance of repressing images from their new belief systems so that people would more cerebrally believe the Written Word, which asserts that their God is the one and only true God.  The new monotheistic male God seems to have had a desperate need to banish pagan deities and earlier beliefs and Mother Earth Goddesses.  This must have been a really daunting early marketing challenge!  And the new God wanted offerings, sacrifices and obsequious obedience -- and absolute exclusivity of belief.  Contemplate that.

A prohibition of images of the Islamic prophet Muhammad erupted into controversy and violence after editorial cartoons in Danish newspapers in September 2005 depicted Muhammad visually.  The fact that the political cartoons reflected critically on Islam contributed to the righteous anger, but some of this bizarre sensitivity may be related to this phenomenon of the domineering nature of written words on the left hemisphere of our brains.

There is naturally justifiable cause for severe criticism of violent Islamic extremism.  Islam had first gained ascendance in Arabic cultures by some terribly violent means, and the desperate modern fanaticism of Islamic extremists in sectarian conflicts and terrorist bombings is giving Islam a deservedly bad image.  Moderates and liberals, don’t let reactionaries dominate your faiths!

It is noteworthy that long ago there was a true Islamic Golden Age during which many historic Arabic and Islamic cultures attained great pinnacles of brilliant architecture, scientific knowledge, medicine, education, scholarship, art, poetry and philosophy, and they did so by encouraging openness to creativity and self-expression -- not through dogmatic conservatism.  A more empathetic sensitivity to the role of this great religion in the world would accept criticism and spark calls for more liberal attitudes and real transformative reforms, especially including greater freedom for females.

Beliefs in deities have evolved in all civilizations.  Historians of mythology observe the evidence of this evolution, and realize that changes in societies are mirrored by concomitant changes in the gods they believe in.  Which came first, in this case, the proverbial chicken or the egg?  Real chickens and chicken eggs, of course, evolved together.  It seems probable that dramatic changes in societies caused by altered economic or social developments have led to revisions in the spiritual explanations of those cultures.  Natural disasters, or invasions by conquering barbarians, or perceptual changes like the widespread literacy that followed the development of simple alphabets, all tend to influence the ways people make sense of their worlds in significant ways.  In turn, new spiritual beliefs not only affect the way people see the world, but they also facilitate social changes and revisions in moral codes.  Perhaps, indeed, we make our destinies by the gods we choose AND by the beliefs we cling to.

On a grand scale, entire civilizations shape their destinies by the myths they create.  These myths are correlated to the economic and social status quo, and are powerfully affected by trends in changing roles and evolving moral visions, and by the factions that dominate and control societies.  To the extent that we can choose progressive or regressive ideas to form the identity of our societies, we should choose progressive ones.  The same is true of choosing between reactionary ideas and more liberal-minded ones, or the Strict Father constellation of beliefs compared to Nurturant Parent ones.  I believe we should rightly choose moderately permissive approaches rather than harshly suppressive ones.  Long live the human potentials movement! 

Another overarching commitment we should make is to national goals consistent with the greater good rather than rationalizing “tragedy of the commons” outcomes. 

Greg Mortenson, author of the bestseller Three Cups of Tea and Stones to Schools asserted that literacy helps thwart intolerance and challenge dogma and reinforce our common humanity.  He believes that the education of girls and women is one of the best ways to reduce poverty and violence in the world.  This idea is a provocative and inspiring one.  It is thus a curious conundrum that literacy may historically have been correlated with analytical changes in the way we see the world that have had strong suppressive effects on the privileges and status of women in patriarchal societies.  We should now begin to use our left-brained reasoning in conjunction with our right-brained empathetic feeling to transform our societies back into ones that are fairer toward females, and ones that are saner for us all.  Visualize that!

The evolution of writing and literacy has appropriately been heralded as an important development in human history, so it is a grand irony that this development may also have had a devastating effect on the tolerance of differing beliefs, and on the role of women in societies worldwide. It is a provocative understanding that violence against others over religious beliefs may first have come into being because of beliefs in a masculine God.  I believe that a good understanding of the reasons for this could lead to the next revolutionary transformation in our civilizations, and one that could make our societies more fair and peaceful and sustainable.

How, Exactly, is the Medium the Message, Marshall McLuhan?

Dr. Leonard Shlain intriguingly proposed that the process of reading alphabetic writing itself, more than the content of what is read, is the essential factor that has caused a shift of sensibilities from the image-perceiving right brain to the word-perceiving left brain.  This shift causes a profound shift in values.  The prominent linguist George Lakoff’s ideas about the constellations of values that typify the Strict Father can be seen to encompass perspectives generally associated with left-brain thinking;  and his ideas about the more empathetic perspectives of the Nurturant Parent are generally associated with right-brain thinking. 

The right brain is the intuitive-feeling part of the brain.  It facilitates the embrace of love of nature, generosity toward others, heartfelt sympathy, appreciation of beauty, spontaneity, nurturance of children, laughter, playfulness, mysticism, equanimity, tolerance of dissent, forgiveness of enemies, and nonviolence.  In contrast, the left brain is engaged when a person is absorbed in work, focus, organizing, achieving goals, and getting power and money, so in these capacities, the cerebral left brain takes over and there are heightened propensities to be argumentative, authoritarian, strictly disciplinarian, violent or cruel.  It is also associated with a distinct disregard for nature and healthy ecosystems, and a lack of concern for the underprivileged, the weak, the disabled and the mentally ill.

When one tunes in to images that are in accord with accurate ways of seeing the world, then holistic understandings and propitious outcomes become more likely.  Those who tune in to an imageless male God, and who dedicate their purposes in life to such a deity, may find that they have tuned into a few good virtues, but also some harmful biases, preposterous purposes, and extremely conflict-stoking ways of being.  We should choose visionary and intelligent goals rather than narrow and unjust ones.  Remember, the evolution of religion and ethics has its roots in social cohesion -- not in social discord.

Common sense is the combined wisdom of all the senses.  Thus it is “a holistic and simultaneous grasp of multiple converging determinants”.  It is intuitive as well as logical.  Common sense can also be understood as a form of wisdom that is generated in common with others.

Enantiodromia: The Pendulum Swings!

Psychologist Carl Jung pointed out that any superabundance of force inevitably produces its opposite.  This tendency for any one pole to seek its opposite pole has a sesquipedalian name:  enantiodromia.  This principle is similar to equilibrium in the natural world;  any extreme encounters resistance and tends to move back toward a balanced state.  Polar opposites and seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world.  One gives rise to the other, in turn.

On the political scene, the proverbial pendulum tends to swing from conservatism to liberalism, and then back to conservatism in reaction.  American historian Arthur Schlesinger once said that there are tides in American politics that operate in cycles from periods of relative conservatism to periods of liberalism and reform.  “As problems piled up, people were stimulated through reform to resolve them; as people tired of the ferment of change, they lapsed for a time again into conservative repose.” 

“The strife of opposites is an attunement.  From this, it follows that wisdom is not a knowledge

     of many things, but the perception of the underlying unity of the warring opposites.” 

                                                                        --- The philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, circa 480 BCE

People tend to invest exaggerated hopes in leaders who promise to deliver them from problems, just as they did with Barack Obama in 2008, and then they are often disappointed.  The step from hoped-for savior to blamed scapegoat is a short one.  Unfortunately, jumping from conservative bandwagon opinions to liberal ideas and then back again is a poor way to run country -- and it is an inadequate approach in trying to find good solutions to transcendent problems.

When people swing toward extremes, as people in the Tea Party movement have done, there is a counterbalancing tendency to respond in ways that restore an equilibrium state.  Occupy Movement protests in late 2011 and early 2012 were a reaction to extreme inegalitarianism of the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, and to social unfairness, political corruption, and the unjust impetus of right wing conservatism that has tried to dominate American society since the Reagan Revolution and its extreme manifestation in the form of often reactionary, racist and homophobic impulses of Tea Party partisans.

Political extremism ironically tends to strengthen what it opposes.  This tendency is what John Fowles called “countersupporting”.  Violence begets violence, and strength breeds opposing strength, and injustice breeds terrorism.  In reaction, terrorism generates violent suppression.  “All opposition points to the opposed,” wrote Fowles in The Aristos.  “Look how attractive Christianity has made sin.”  That is a grand irony!  He also states:  “The best opposition is always scientific, logical, rational.  The more unanswerable to reason it is, the better it is.”

A Scientific Perspective of Existence

Most people are happy to have faith in some neatly packaged belief system.  They seem to prefer this to studying and thinking for themselves and being open-minded to a clear vision of reality by following reason, logic and intuitive seeing.  Established religions eagerly provide simple and dogmatic explanations for the genesis of the universe, but since their stories tend to be highly improbable, they run the risk of becoming outmoded and obsolete as new discoveries and better understandings evolve. 

Picture this:  Light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, or about 6 trillion miles per year.  It takes about 8 minutes for sunlight to travel from the surface of the Sun to the Earth, a distance of 93 million miles.  The light from Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our Sun, takes about 4 years to traverse the distance from its source to our perceiving eyes.  Marvelous optical instruments like the space-based Hubble telescope have detected light that emanated from the most distant objects in the Universe ever detected.  This light has been traveling for almost 14 billion years before arriving to our perceiving eyes.  That is how vast the Universe is.  It is beyond unfathomable. 

The implications are astonishing and awe-inspiring of this fact that light is arriving in every instant from trillions of stars, each of them at vastly different distances from us.  All of this light is arriving simultaneously as we see it, so this means we are seeing a visible snapshot of the almost eternal scope of the history of the universe in every moment.

Every star is an energetically burning mass of matter that is hurtling through space, away from some apparent central starting point.  The ‘Big Bang Theory’ credibly explains this circumstance.  This vision of the unfolding universe sees it as the result of a massive exploding forth of physical matter from some obscure starting point, as if it came from a colossally energetic nothingness. 

It may be that, in the highest state, all matter is energy that has not yet materialized.  Albert Einstein’s famous equation, E=MC², mathematically expresses the fact that Energy and Mass are different forms of the same thing;  they are EQUIVALENT.  Nothingness (no matter) may happen to be the highest form of expression of the Universe.  This dimensionless high-energy state might figuratively have run down almost 14 billion years ago, through a tendency like that known as entropy.  And then it exploded forth into fiery balls of matter.

One cannot easily imagine that super-charged energetic Void or the processes involved in its winding down and reaching a sufficiently unstable condition that caused energy to suddenly burst forth into matter, its equivalent form.  But this materialization into existence sure appears to have occurred with such force that hundreds of billions of galaxies of burning elements are still spiraling through space in every direction at millions of miles per hour in the far distant aftermath of this seminal event.

Perhaps now is the time for Carl Sagan’s aforementioned prophesy to come true: 

“A religion that stresses the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by traditional faiths.  Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.” 

Faith in primitive myths somehow seems to be more satisfying to many people than the awe-inspiring understandings of modern science.  How else can the fact be comprehended that fundamentalists cling to their dogmas and deny the overwhelmingly extensive evidence of evolution that is found in the fossil record and the discoveries of the scientific disciplines of genetics and molecular biology?  Beliefs in personal deities offering hope in a next life are apparently much more reassuring than the crushing impersonal imperatives of cause and effect, and of the certainties of individually terminal death for each and every living being.

The famous Chinese thinker and social philosopher Confucius once wrote:  “Learning without thought is labor lost;  thought without learning is perilous.”  I advocate that we cultivate clearer and more open-minded ways of thinking;  and never stop learning!

We need not be wild in our speculation about the place we find ourselves.  Humanity has awakened into awareness on a home planet that majestically rotates around a center-of-gravity axis once every 24 hours, and while it does so, it speeds through space at more than 66,000 miles per hour on its 585-million-mile orbit around a life-enabling source of heat and photosynthetic energy, the burning ball of fire that we call the Sun.  A fixed 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth relative to the plane of its orbit around the Sun gives us summer weather patterns in the northern hemisphere when the planet is tilted toward the Sun, and then winter conditions six months later when the Earth is on the other side of its orbit and its northern hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun.  Aware, we contemplate and we imagine.

    “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.”  

                                                                                 --- David Hume

Being a big-brained and curious bunch, we humans have studied and investigated the surroundings in which we find ourselves since time immemorial.  In doing so, we have gained an ever-evolving better understanding of the physical nature and conditions of our existence.  Unlike more primitive mythologies, modern science presents a worldview that is much better articulated and coherent with regards to observable reality.  Its very essence, found in the scientific method, is to remain open-minded and adaptive to more accurate ways of seeing things.

In contrast, religious doctrines consist of speculative stories that have an extremely low order of probability.  Many creation myths like the one in the Bible assume in the beginning what they are trying to explain, i.e., intelligence and complexity, so they actually explain nothing.  Geophysical evolution and the evolution of life by natural selection are ideas that start simple and then explain increasing complexity, so they are much more valid explanations of reality.

Let There Be Light!

Fascinating discoveries have been made about our world.  We have found, for instance, that there is an entire spectrum of radiation that accompanies the hurtling forth of matter in the universe.  Scientists categorize these various forms of radiation according to their wavelengths.  Only a small part of this electromagnetic spectrum actually consists of light that is visible to our eyes.  The entire spectrum ranges from cosmic-ray photons, gamma rays, x-rays, and ultraviolet radiation to visible light, infrared radiation, microwaves, radio waves, heat waves and electric currents.  These things exist, and are not merely some decreed Creationist idea being held in force by a kind of biocentric ‘divine will’. 

I find Gary Zukav’s words in The Dancing Wu Li Masters to be fundamentally ironic:

  “Acceptance without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western religion.

       Rejection without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western science.”

Elemental forces govern all matter, including strong nuclear bonding forces, weak atomic forces, electromagnetic forces and gravitational forces.  All elements of matter have an essential physical nature.  They even have surprising ‘periodic law’ relationships, as can be found by studying the Periodic Table of the Elements.  It’s a great mystery why!  Hydrogen atoms have apparently been fused into all the heavier elements within the fiery crucibles of burning stars.  We can see the results of many supernova explosions across deep space, and we can come to understand that stars have collapsed, and new solar systems have been created, and galaxies have collided.  We, and every atom in our solar system, are all literally ‘stardust’ from earlier stars.

Astronomers and astrophysicists confirm all of these things.  They see that galactic matter had been hurtling through space for more than 9 billion years before our solar system and planet Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago.  They find that life was sparked into existence on Earth, in the form of ancient single-celled ancestors of all living things, hundreds of millions of years after the Earth smashingly came into being.  They also find that life existed for some three billion years as single-celled organisms before these life forms found a way to organize themselves into more complex multi-cellular species of life. 

Biological Insights

The proliferation of species of life into more complex species is found in the fossil record beginning about 540 million years ago during the Cambrian explosion.  This proliferation probably resulted from pressures of predation.  Some speculate that it may even be correlated to the competitive evolution of primitive forms of vision in early creatures in the oceans.  Dr. Andrew Parker advances such a hypothesis in his 2003 book In the Blink of an Eye - How Vision Sparked the Big Bang of Evolution.

On Earth today there are between 10 million and 100 million species of life.  Each and every individual among these species is descended from generations before it, throughout previous centuries and millennia and untold eons and geologic eras.  Some of the ancestors of every species alive today somehow managed to dodge every bullet of extinction in the long punctuated equilibrium history of geologic, climatic and biotic events.

Look up ‘Geologic Time Scale’ in any good dictionary.  This Time Scale gives a remarkably concise snapshot of Geologic Eras:  the Precambrian Era (before the Cambrian proliferation of life into multi-cellular organisms), the Paleozoic Era (‘old life’ era), the Mesozoic Era (‘middle life’ era) and the Cenozoic Era (‘recent life’ era).  Each of these three Eras of multi-cellular life was demarcated by a mass extinction event in which a large percentage of life forms were wiped out, as if eradicated by some meteorite impact or volcanic winter or devastating ice age. 

Today it is human activities that are altering environmental conditions and causing widespread habitat damages.  These changes are driving many species of life toward extinction.  The 65-million-year-long Cenozoic Era is, in this sense, ending -- and a new era of life is beginning:  the Anthropocene.  We are contributing to these extinctions by over-harvesting animals and plants, harming habitats, and contributing to global warming and changes in weather patterns in locales worldwide.  The species of life that are surviving are in the process of adapting to our destructive presence, and they will be the ones that will be the ancestors to all future species that come into existence in the millennia and eons that are to come.  This is thought provoking, and it leads naturally to many of the fundamental ecological insights contained in the Earth Manifesto.

The species of life living right now, it turns out, comprise less than 1% of all the species that have ever lived.  We share the Earth with millions of species of plants and animals that are all descended from forebears, grand forebears and great grand forebears in an incomprehensibly long chain of ancestry extending back through a period of more than 500 million years to ancestral single-celled organisms.  We find that the 99% of species of life that have gone extinct are found only in the sketchy record of fossilized remains. 

Fossils are relatively rare because they are only a miniscule and fragmentary sampling of life that happens to have been preserved in stone or amber from the world long before us.  Fossils contain compelling evidence of the corporeal remnants of creatures that evolved and died out millennia ago.  The processes by which fossils came into being continue at this very instant:  birth, death, evolution and extinction -- and sedimentation, petrifaction, the slow lithification of rock, mountain uplift and erosive exposure.

It is difficult to imagine our lives in the perspective of profound contexts of the vastness of geologic time.  This is one reason why so many people believe in literal interpretations of simplistic religious myths, as if they are valid explanations of existence and geologic history. We can only roughly comprehend the incredible span of time that has existed up until this instant.  We are cogently aware that each of us is alive for all too brief a duration during our individual physical lives, and we ponder the vast eons that will pass after we are dead and gone.  And we wonder how all this came to be, and we hope against hope for some measure of immortality.

I’ve personally found that most things in the world have a pretty good explanation for them, or a variety of convergent good explanations.  The “Presto, God made it this way” explanations tend to be superseded by much more probable natural explanations as experience and evidence are examined more closely, and as knowledge accumulates.

Religion and Science

   “The one thing we do not know is the limit of the knowable.

                                                                                            -- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Human beings have evolved the ability to think and reflect, and to understand many aspects of the unchanging physical laws that govern the universe.  We have been able to analyze the past and make predictions about the future.  Our curiosity and creativity and imagination have also led to an on-going diverse cultural evolution in which a creative spectrum of explanations have been set forth as to how all this has come to be.  Most of these explanations have naturally been solipsistic and self-centered, and they often involve supernatural deities visualized in our own image. 

Most of these belief systems assume that humanity is central to the purpose of the whole shebang, even though we are Johnny-come-lately beings who actually know nothing of the true purpose of the universe, if there somehow is such a purpose.  And most of these mythologies pre-suppose that the Earth is the center of the Universe, though this, alas, is exceedingly far from accurate.

Mythology, n.  The body of a primitive people’s beliefs concerning its origin, early history, heroes,

  deities and so forth, as distinguished from the true accounts, which it invents later.              

                                                                                             --- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Those who believe in religious doctrines generally have faith in a God as described by mythic revelations in one of many “holy books” that have been written in the past several thousand years.  Deists, in contrast, are people who believe in the existence of a God based on evidence of reason and nature, but not on supernatural revelation.  Agnostics go one sophisticated step further, and believe that we can only know about nature and its physical aspects, not about the causative force before the emergence of matter and light, or indeed anything about the Void that we assume existed before Nature sprang into being in all its awe-inspiring aspects of matter, space, time, order, atomic structure, elemental forces, and infinitely eternal change. 

Background History of Religions

All cultures leave evidence of their religious conceptions in their artifacts, icons, records, ruins and burial grounds.  An insightful study of archeology and cultural anthropology reveals the general trend of this evolution of thought, ideas, rituals and beliefs. 

Indigenous cultures were more intimately tied to the land and wildlife than our cultures are today.  They were more closely connected to the elements, to the seasons, and to wild plants and animals.  As a consequence, their expression of what we now call religious beliefs had its genesis in veneration of Mother Earth and the life-giving force of the Sun.  They respected and appreciated animals and the cycles of nature.  Though human beings were much closer to the natural world in ancient times, they had little of the knowledge that science has since given us about the physical nature of Earth and the Universe and life.  In this early context of uncertainty and mystery, beliefs in supernatural entities and superstitions naturally developed to help explain the inexplicable.  

All evidence indicates that human beings in the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt and China revered Earth Goddesses that honored fertility and the annual renewal of springtime.  For thousands of years, the divine feminine was exalted, and the status of women in these early societies was correspondingly high. 

Later, when Sun gods and deities representing fertility and bountiful harvests and varying forms of animism and fetishism and the worship of images dominated, hopes and fears played larger roles in these early belief systems, just as they do in religious doctrines today.  During the days of Classical Greece and Rome, people worshipped a fascinating pantheon of goddesses and gods.  A thorough study of the anthropomorphic characteristics of these deities of early Athens and Rome provides fascinating revelations about human nature and thought.  Check out Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Goddesses in Everywoman for some intriguing observations about human nature as revealed by archetypal impulses in our subconscious minds.  Or check out the Earth Manifesto ‘magnum opus’ Comprehensive Global Perspective: An Illuminating Worldview, and, in particular, see Chapter 22 – The Gaia Understanding.  

Mythological deities like Zeus and Athena and Aphrodite were very real to people back in the days of ancient Greece and Rome.  Though the Creation myths of Greek mythology were once the dominant spiritual, cosmological and religious explanation of existence for many centuries in the most advanced civilizations in Europe, today we regard these gods and goddesses as mere figments of primitive imaginations.  We essentially belittle early polytheistic beliefs because religious beliefs have evolved into more sophisticated and more all-encompassing conceptions of a Supreme Being.  Then after this relatively new monotheistic ‘one God’ conception arose, it became widespread and now undergirds the doctrines of most of the major established religions of the world.  Such conceptions, unfortunately, are peculiarly patriarchal, and demand suspicious exclusivity of belief in a monotheistic God, causing religious conflicts and sometimes-terrible violence and often being used to repress the rights and prerogatives of women in cultures worldwide. 

The Crux of the Matter

Monotheism was an evolutionary leap forward from earlier belief systems, so we regard polytheistic ideas, in retrospect, as primitive and naïve.  But people today are mired in their own myths of often ethnocentric faiths.  Many people refuse to recognize that no one faith has a rightful monopoly on an exclusively true version of God.  There is only one true actuating force in the Universe, independent of the narratives we create about it, and this one real force is extremely unlikely to be accurately understood as a glorified, jealous or wrathful old man as is portrayed in the Bible and the Koran.  In his book God against the Gods, Jonathan Kirsch provides a surprising perspective on one superior and praiseworthy advantage that polytheistic belief systems had over monotheistic ones:  they fostered acceptance of others who believed in different deities than them.

To most comprehensively describe what God actually is, one of the best conjectures we can make is one that unifies and incorporates the truths contained in each and every way of seeing the world.  Every person, regardless of their upbringing, education or indoctrination, has his or her own unique worldview.  This includes agnostics and atheists.  When all of these worldviews are taken together, they represent a mosaic of all the many particular perspectives we have of the greater reality. 

We are all like the blind men in the old parable that were given a task of touching an elephant and then describing it.  In the parable, each man had a different description of the elephant because each had felt a different part of the elephant.  Thus, each one of them had a different perception and point of view.  There were many perspectives and varying experiences -- but only one elephant.

Richard Dawkins points out that, “When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them.  It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.”  Hmmm …  Given the dangerous conflicts rationalized by ethnocentric viewpoints and religious certitudes, it is time for us to find fairer ways of comprehending existence.

The Need for a New Mythology

Think again about Carl Sagan’s idea that a new religion will sooner or later emerge.  Let’s honestly ponder this.  The next step in the evolution of religious beliefs should be one that is inclusive and farsighted, and more ecumenical and ecologically sound.  It must embrace unifying themes, because it is becoming too risky to allow ethnocentric religions to promote divisive doctrines and strive to vanquish all others.  Organized religions should honorably evolve to become more accepting of efforts to improve the prospects of peaceable coexistence and mutual security in the world.  They should utilize the great fonts of faith, mystery and spirituality in new ways that emphasize inspiration, positive connections, peace, long term self-interest, rationality, fairness, ecological sanity, and an acceptance of cultural and ethnic differences in order to achieve goals consistent with sustainability and the greater good. 

John Fowles wrote provocatively in The Aristos:  “All the old religions cause a barbarous waste of moral energy; they are like ramshackle water mills on a river that could serve hydroelectric dynamos.”  Imagine the positive outcomes that could be achieved if these formidable energies were redirected into more wholesome channels.  A fresh and unifying reverence for life might be achieved.  Forceful new doctrines could be cultivated that would gain sway and establish greater human responsibility toward other people, and toward our descendants in future generations, and toward a more auspicious biological health of other species of life on earth. 

   “We make our destinies by the gods we choose”.   

One reason I love this quote, attributed to Virgil, a Roman poet in classical antiquity, is that it gives us hope that by choosing a new concept of the divine, we might be able to improve the probable destiny of our species.  We need a new mode of seeing that has firm underpinnings in concepts of reality that honor justice for all, truer prosperity, and a fairer legacy for the well-being of people in the future.  We should demonstrate greater integrity and commitment through ecologically-sound initiatives.  Our success or failure in the responsibility of properly protecting biodiversity and natural resources will be a crucial element of our legacy.

A paradigm shift is needed that emphasizes the virtues of fairness, peace, inclusivity, sustainability, responsible stewardship, and a committed caring for Mother Earth.  We can no longer afford to believe in a God that says all others with differing beliefs are not only wrong, but evil to boot.   Beliefs in God should not continue to represent a rallying cry for intolerant ethnocentricity, injustice, discrimination, hate, terrorism, repression, violence or aggression in warfare.

Bill Watterson in his comic strip Calvin and Hobbes:

Calvin asked Hobbes:  "Do you believe in the devil?  You know, a supreme evil being dedicated to

   the temptation, corruption, and destruction of man?"

 Hobbes replied:  "I'm not sure that man needs the help."

Too much energy is poured into bigoted religious beliefs, and too much energy is channeled into ethnic supremacy, puritanical prudishness, sexism, racism, oppression, and prejudice against gay men and lesbian women.  Insidious efforts are being made to keep women subservient to men, and to oppose female education and empowerment.  Equally strong efforts are being made to relegate minorities to the status of second-class citizens, and to keep them there.  Condescending and even seemingly hate-motivated animosity is often directed at hard-working immigrants, as revealed by Donald Trump’s inflammatory generalizations about Mexicans in July 2015, just as it was in the days when most of our predecessors immigrated from Europe, Latin America and Asia to escape destitution or persecution and to find better opportunities.  Let’s find better ways to redirect these negative energies!

Anthropocentricity and Delusion

“So much of man’s thinking is an anthropocentric delusion.  The root of the greatest errors in

    philosophy lies in projecting our human purposes, criteria, preferences, hopes and fears into

      the objective universe.” 

                                       --- Baruch Spinoza, 1632 – 1677 CE

The aim of the study of philosophy is to find out what other people have thought in the past AND to find out what the truth of the matter may actually be. Philosophy theoretically seeks truths that are the most probable, and not some mere dogmatic ‘scholasticism’ form of truth that coincides with preconceived notions.  This manifesto has been created mainly to make an incisive exploration of the currents of thought and feeling that flow through written history, and to see the yin and yang, the light and the dark, the female and male points of view, and to investigate and evaluate the ebbs and flows of authority and liberation, of doctrine and illumination, of both progress and the back-flowing eddies of retrogressive dominion.  It is compelling to imagine the impulses behind the cathartic cataracts of revolutionary change that have taken place at various times throughout history. 

No matter what we believe, or how hard we try to understand and explain the nature of the Universe, our emotional and spiritual propensities and our thoughts are couched in limited ideas and conceptions.  All our impressions are rooted in solipsistic, anthropocentric and biocentric perspectives, and our beliefs are naturally biased.  We make curious projections of archetypal aspects of our collective unconscious onto the Universe.  We are intrinsically incapable of seeing the Universe in a way that encompasses the fullness of infinity and eternity.  We cannot be completely objective.  We can’t comprehend the ultimate nature of reality, or of the ineffable or the inexplicable.  Our imaginations are feeble when it comes to visualizing the nature of a ‘Supreme Being’.  Is God a biologically living being?  Or is God an awareness that is part of physical nature that predates life by billions of years and somehow created the Universe and is not actually a form of life? 

We can never know the purpose of the Universe, or whether any purpose exists independent of our lives and our biological purposes and those of other forms of life.  Each person can have a purpose-driven life, of course, without there being a knowable purpose of the Universe.  Every creature has its own purposes of surviving and reproducing to perpetuate its own kind, and of seeking safety and its own animal kind of contentment.

All our established religions represent varying versions of the current myths of our kind.  Science may be a type of mythology of its own, but in contrast to religious myths, it presents a worldview that is much better articulated, coherent, accurate and adaptive with regards to observable reality. 

Religions have many aspects.  They are deeply personal expressions of our inner spiritual natures, and they are also a reflection of cultural belief systems that are internalized within each of us.  At the core of our consciousness, deep within our psyches and souls, our religious beliefs are an expression of profound human hopes, and of needs for meaning, significance, identification, validation, belonging, identity, fulfillment, inspiration, spiritual connection, wisdom, and maybe even enlightenment.

From the vantage point of 1,000 years from now -- should our race manage to survive that long -- today’s concepts of God will likely appear as primitive and as naïve as the mythological deities of old, like those marvelously revealing gods and goddesses in the Greek pantheon.  As Lao Tzu, the famed and provocative philosopher who wrote the marvelously abstruse Tao Te Ching might have said, “That which you say it is, it is not”.

Perception, Knowledge and Philosophy

Do we really want to know about the Universe?  Or are we like the prisoners in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave who had been chained since childhood in a cave in such a way that they could see only shadows?  Those prisoners, according to the parable, preferred to see the customary shadows, and therefore did not want to explore or listen to someone who had actually seen the truer aspect of reality that had cast the shadows.  Are we capable of revising our worldviews?  Yes, we are, and yes, we can, and the wondrous neuroplasticity of our brains makes us ripe for the adventure.

Change-averse people seem unwilling to learn more accurate ways of understanding the world because it means they must face the terrifying certainties and uncertainties of reality.  We might even be forced to change our habits and our behaviors -- oh, chagrin!  And we might find it necessary to accept the fact that each and every one of us will someday die -- and, relatively speaking, our individual deaths will occur not all that far in the future.

Most people cling to ideas propagated by organized religious establishments because they seek a sense of certainty in a world where uncertainty is unfortunately a fundamental fact, and the vicissitudes of fate are a mystery.  In the most modern and arcane understandings of reality, as expressed in quantum physics, there is actually a principle called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that confirms the fact that even the physical nature of reality and perception are rife with intrinsic uncertainties. 

Meanwhile, the ground shifts beneath us.  Change accelerates for our race in a curious relativity that is oddly parallel to the general theory of relativity that Albert Einstein proved mathematically.  Cultures are shifting and technological change seems to be accelerating.  Contradictions exist deep within each and every one of us, and economic insecurities and political conflicts are intensifying.  Extreme inequalities of wealth and correlated pathetic inequities persist in countries worldwide.  Existential questions are fluid, and hot-button social issues perplex us, creating divisive wedges between people and hurdles that prevent us from uniting to make our world a better place.

Simultaneously, global risks are rising.  The moral moorings that guide us are being swept away by a variety of influences, including secularism and profound technological and demographic changes.  Authority figures offer us guidance in this uncertain world, and a shred of certainty, and a sense of solace.  They offer us, and then they’re on us.  It is reminiscent of the old joke that goes, “She offered her honor;  He honored her offer.  The rest of the night, it was honor and offer.”  Ha Ha!

Human knowledge seems to be evolving toward ever-better understandings, though unsteadily.  When we are flexible and adaptive, we can progress and strive to keep ourselves adequately in balance with natural ecosystems.  This is becoming increasingly necessary to ensure our species’ survival.  But such struggles with narrowly selfish and often reactionary forces tend to hinder progress. An intense storm of adverse developments is making progress more challenging.  Resource scarcities, rampant and wasteful consumerism, hyper partisan politics, speculative excesses, mindless pollution, excessive carbon emissions, overpopulation, violent conflicts and unprincipled forms of unfair competition and corruption beset our societies.  I strongly believe that we can achieve wiser courses of action by gaining more accurate and comprehensive understandings, so it naturally follows that it behooves us to be open-minded to adaptive progress so that we will have a better chance of saving ourselves. 

Our fate is not predetermined. The proverbial die is still in the on-going process of being cast.  Architects and construction workers alike know that solid foundations are crucially important to the safety and durability of a building.  We should not scrimp on the integrity of structural materials that go into the foundations and infrastructure of our societies.  It is not too late for us to collectively choose to mix superior batches of concrete, rather than substandard ones that are likely to crumble.

The physicist James Trefil relates an interesting personal realization in the Preface to his book Human Nature – A Blueprint for Managing the Earth – By People, for People:

 “The universe does not give a damn about us or any other living thing on our planet.  As far as our

     survival and well-being are concerned, we’re pretty much on our own.” 

(Let’s act to save ourselves!)

Spiritual Truths

Many of the shamans and priests and bishops and rabbis and imams and monks who have ever lived have promulgated fervent beliefs and spiritual truths.  But these truths are more like Rorschachian revelations of human nature than they are accurate insights into the fullness of objective reality.  All spiritual leaders and prophets have been influenced by natural human drives and propensities and visions, and have been motivated by a wide variety of impulses, intentions and purposes, including the following:  humanitarian concern, altruistic impulses to serve others, seeking meaning, being obedient to convictions, expressing noble aspiration, revealing inspired prophecy, or being driven by ambition, pride, avarice, illusion or desires for personal recognition, glory, fame, delusions of grandeur or compulsions to gain influence and control over others. 

“Religion is nothing but institutionalized mysticism.  The catch is, mysticism does not lend itself

  to institutionalization.  The moment we attempt to organize mysticism, we destroy its essence.”               

                                                                                               --- Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All

Religious establishments are powerful social institutions.  They are extraordinary forces that can influence people in highly positive ways, as well as in horribly negative ones.  They can be forces for ‘good’ or for ‘evil’, for justice or injustice, for peace or conflict.  Their purposes today, as they have been throughout recorded history, are often corrupted by the desire for power, money, dominion, plunder, self-righteousness, discrimination, control, political intrigue or war. The role of religion in governments worldwide has frequently had -- and is currently having -- extremely troubling impacts on the lives of people and on the geopolitics of the world. 

   “Instincts and passion are magnificent as driving forces, but dangerous as guides."

                                                                                                                               --- Baruch Spinoza

It becomes increasingly clear, year after year, that people should strive to create conditions in which the positive elements of organized religions flourish and the negative elements are diminished.  It would be best for moderate and progressive aspects of spiritual doctrines to prevail.  And it would be advantageous for the majority of the faithful to marginalize patriarchal, doctrinaire, reactionary and extremely conservative factions of their organized religions.  Recent years have unfortunately seen fundamentalist forces in churches grab the microphone and the steering wheel away from those who are more sensible, moderate, accepting, progressive, pragmatic and socially intelligent.  The ‘Taliban wing’ of all religions should be emasculated! 

Mark Twain once noted that, “If Christ were here now, there is one thing he sure would not be:  a Christian.”  Twain was highly skeptical of the laughably ludicrous improbability of the anthropocentric myths contained in the Christian Bible and the Islamic Koran and the Book of Mormon.  He recognized the preposterous hypocrisy of the conservative establishment in churches, with their staunch orthodoxy and obstinately absolutist and inflexible doctrines, and their too often bigoted narrow-mindedness.  Let moderates and progressives rule!

“Our Bible reveals to us the character of our god with minute and remorseless exactness. 

    It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere.”

                                                                                              --- Mark Twain, Reflections on Religion, 1906

Humorous Interlude

  “A sense of humor, properly developed, is superior to any religion so far devised.”

                                                                                                            --- Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

Here is a clever and entertaining comedy sketch by George Carlin that can be listened to online at Zeitgeist Movie.com (toggle to minute 11:38 of the 2-hour-long film.)

“I gotta tell you the truth folks; I gotta tell you the truth.  When it comes to bullshit, big-time, major-league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims -- RELIGION.  Think about it!  Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man, living in the sky, who watches everything you do, every minute of every day.  And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do.  And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever till the end of time ...  But he loves you!!” 

“He loves you.  He loves you -- and he needs money!  He always needs money!  He's all powerful, all perfect, all knowing and all wise … somehow just can't handle money!  Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more.  Now, you talk about a good bullshit story!  Holy shit!!”

Modern Ecological Understandings

    “The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight

         to the heart.”                               

                           --- Maya Angelou

The profound realizations of ecology are like a visceral upwelling of a primeval spiritual veneration for Mother Earth and its denizens.  Deep down we all know that we basically depend on natural resources and the services provided by healthy ecosystems.  We should teach our children to believe in a God that favors those who are strongly committed to PROTECTING this Creation.

Perhaps the best way to save ourselves would be by forgetting about seeking salvation through God and by joining others in championing a revolutionary transformation in our economies, national priorities, lifestyles, habits and behaviors. A balanced modicum of discipline is almost certainly required.  We might even stretch a little and adopt more of a “small-is-beautiful” attitude.  Maybe we could go SHOPPING a little less, and prioritize our lives around activities that are more salubrious and truly fulfilling! 

As we are moving into the era of Peak Oil production, we are exceeding the capacity of Earth’s atmosphere to absorb additional carbon dioxide emissions without catastrophic consequences.  Our material demands and population growth are already pushing natural ecological limits.  Our exploiting and polluting activities are beginning to have distinctly detrimental impacts on the ability of our Mother Earth to sustain our growing numbers.  The insights of The Reality and Ramifications of Peak Oil are included herein by this reference.

Some of these ideas were originally recorded around Earth Day in 2009.  In commemoration of Earth Day, let us give attentive awareness to one of the fundamental truths of ecology:  a healthy environment is indispensably important for a prosperous economy.  This is a practical issue, as well as a highly moral one.  We should find good ways to mitigate the pollution of rivers and lakes, and to limit damages to wildlife populations, forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and entire ecosystems. 

Why is it so important to do this?  Because serious adverse unintended consequences in the long term are associated with damaging activities.  This is why our economy should be restructured, and our behaviors and habits should be modified.  This can best be accomplished by using effective incentives to encourage activities that are sustainable indefinitely into the future.  These incentives should be accompanied by disincentives that are also targeted to advance the greater good.  We can no longer afford to be led by head-in-the-sand cheerleader throwback apologists for old school machine-politics and entrenched corporate interests and schemes to privatize profits and socialize costs.

A true, honest, and rapid ‘greening’ of our activities must take place soon.  A mere greenwashing of the status quo is not enough.  All companies worldwide should be required to include all true costs in product prices, including pollution mitigation and other costs associated with ecological degradation, toxic wastes, resource depletion and the adverse impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. The moral good is found in refusing to allow such costs to be externalized onto society and future generations. 

Revelations Regarding Shortsighted Fiscal Policies

The amount of money we are borrowing from our children and grandchildren and foreigners should be reduced.  Deficit spending is an expediency that helps some people make big profits in the short term, but it is nonetheless socially irresponsible and myopic to borrow huge sums of money for short-term-oriented purposes.  We are effectively fleecing the powerless, the disenfranchised, and all people in the future by immoderately using this expediency.  It may be a great game for greedy beneficiaries of these policies in the short run, and it was an urgent and desperate necessity to keep our economy from crashing during the 2008 recession, but it is not smart to keep increasing the national debt faster than the economy grows.  If we accept the short-term exigency of borrowing money, we should do it to invest the money wisely, not to squander it on corporate welfare and unaffordable ‘entitlements’ and low tax rates for those with the highest incomes.

This sentiment flew in the face of developments in April 2009 when economic conditions had so seriously deteriorated that a consensus arose that the federal government must borrow almost a trillion dollars to stimulate the economy.  I am skeptical of the wisdom of some of the purposes in those stimulus measures.  We backed ourselves into a desperate corner where declining asset values and high levels of unemployment made this course of action necessary, for otherwise, inaction and feedback loops could have made the economic recession much worse.  But it may be a Pyrrhic victory to borrow so much money just to stimulate the economy.  We should have strived to make all such stimulus programs “green”, and to take advantage of the crisis as a positive opportunity to create a better and more indefinitely sustainable economy.

We need honest leaders to tell us what we really need to hear, which is this:  we should invest in good citizen goals and intelligent courses of action, and stop rewarding and subsidizing short-term-oriented polluters, extractors, speculators, con artists, war profiteers and other exploitive insiders.  Barack Obama made points such as this during his first presidential election campaign, and we need to now take them to heart.  Bold progressive long-term-oriented reforms must be enacted!

John Steinbeck wrote about a “Congress of honest men” in his Log from the Sea of Cortez.  He was referring to Congressional representatives who declared that we cannot afford to spend big amounts of money on social programs, but then they readily approved much more costly military expenditures.  Today we are led by politicians and business leaders who similarly say we cannot afford to pay-as-we-go, or to put a price on pollution or carbon emissions or resource depletion, or to invest in vitally important domestic priorities, and yet they seem to believe there are no limits to how much money we can shell out for war.  Check out Tall Tales, Provocative Parables, Luminous Clarity and Evocative Truths – A Modern Log from the Sea of Cortez for a deeper appreciation of John Steinbeck’s valuable ideas relating to existence, life and war.

Nobel-Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has written that the full costs of the Iraq War will eventually exceed $3 trillion.  We have mortgaged our nation to go along with aggressive ideologies of preemptive warfare and the overweening influence of the military-industrial-congressional complex.  Let’s change course!

Back to the Future

“God is love,” people used to say in the Sixties.  Hold that thought.

The idea that we need a new spiritual awareness leads us to the conclusion that we need to be more pragmatic and far-sighted about economic and environmental issues.  A bright new awareness should be cultivated that truly respects all of Creation and honors the ethic of wholesome ecological understandings, and we should do this with evangelical enthusiasm! 

“A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary.  Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”                                                                                         

                                                                                  --- Albert Einstein

An honest new religion should be immune to being hijacked into jihad terrorism against innocent civilians, and it should be less susceptible to being used to justify injustice, aggression, oppression or preemptive wars.  It should be effective in diminishing violence, brutality, arrogance, hate and mercilessness.  Its leaders should not be unduly authoritarian or wantonly eager to get into bed with radically conservative politicians.  Religious leaders should encourage the faithful flock to be more accepting of others, and less sexist, and less discriminatory, and less hostile to gay people.  They should act with a more ecumenical resolve, and reject ethnocentric conflict-causing convictions of superiority.  Give us a break!

Religious freedom should be guaranteed in all countries, and people should be free from persecution for their religious beliefs.  At the same time, both the Golden Rule and a strong separation between Church and State should become primary tenets of governments worldwide.  An enlightened ethos similar to ‘secular scientific humanism’ should be incorporated into Church doctrines to guarantee fairer societies around the globe. 

Every religion is grounded in its own traditions, rituals, dogmas, bodies of myth and Rorschach-revealing expressions of human nature.  Each religion has its own specific story, and each and every religious brand seems to stick to their stories, “come hell or high water”.  They stubbornly resist evolving, even in the face of great advances in knowledge and scientific understandings of the physical Universe and living things in such fields as astrophysics, evolutionary biology, earth sciences, anthropology, genetics, neuroscience and psychology.

I personally favor wisdom traditions like Buddhism, which are founded on a search for knowledge and truth, rather than faith traditions like Catholicism, Islam and Mormonism that are an expression of deep-seated yearnings for guidance and belonging, but which are founded on hopes and fears and comforting delusions about an anthropocentric and judgmental God.  As long as we are leaping in the dark, we might as well leap towards clarity and light!

I find it exceedingly interesting that Western religions seem to be focused on controlling people, while Eastern spiritual disciplines like Buddhism are more focused on liberation.  Hmmm … I’m ready to pass judgment!

Church Establishments

Spokespersons for God should begin to accept understandings that are more intelligent and socially beneficial.  Instead of allowing conservative extremists in their faiths to assert control and impede progress, they should advocate more progressive understandings.  This is especially true for Christian and Muslim churches, because together these two faiths claim about three billion adherents.  By fiercely conflicting with each other, these religions are making strife and global conflicts worse.

These churches are unfortunately extremely undemocratic institutions. For instance, Pope Benedict XVI was chosen in April 2005 by fewer than 120 people -- and all of them were old men (Catholic cardinals).  White smoke from the burned ballots of each Papal election vote traditionally goes up from the Sistine Chapel in Rome to announce the anointment of a new Pope.  Before the white puff went up announcing the selection of Benedict XVI, the name of the man they were to choose was Joseph Ratzinger.  He was a Cardinal who had been charged with the orthodox religious responsibility of staunchly defending Church doctrine “by putting the smackdown on heresy”.  

Revelations in March 2010 surfaced about Ratzinger’s role in the cover-up of sexual molestation by priests of trusting children, some of them deaf.  This scandal made it clear that church officials should have spent more time putting the smackdown on sexual predators, instead of protecting them and transferring them to other parishes.  The film Deliver Us from Evil makes it clear that the Church has been egregiously irresponsible regarding priests who abuse children.

As Mark Twain pointed out, “The church is always trying to get other people to reform;  it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example.”  There is a whole hell of a lot to reform! 

Heresy is any opinion that differs from established religious dogma.  An honest perspective of what is condemned as heresy is that it is often an aspect of reasonable debate and possibly greater truth.  Rational skepticism of all religious dogmas is generally well founded, so such perspective could help us see the world more accurately, and in doing so, we might assure ourselves of fairer policy outcomes. 

Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen from his previous position as head of the conservative Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  This was the office that began centuries ago as the ‘Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition’.  Yes, this is the very same Inquisition that had a horrific central role in torturing people and burning untold numbers of women at the stake over a 300-year period during the Dark Ages.  This had to be corrected by the so-called Reformation before a salubrious Renaissance could come about.  The Inquisition represents a terribly tragic and bloody episode in human history.

The great Voltaire was so disgusted with the treachery of the Church in his day that he declared, “Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense.”  He lived during the Age of Enlightenment when the core ideas of the period were attitudes that questioned traditional institutions and customs and morals.  Being open-minded can have positive adaptive value.

Some say that one of the principal problems in the world of debate is that we tend to pretend that there are two sides to every story.  Ha!  I agree with this;  and I alternatively want to play the devil’s advocate.  Some points of view definitely deserve more credence than others.  Some ideas are based on a preponderance of evidence and fact, while others are based on dogma, delusion, illusion or wishful thinking. Almost everyone today realizes that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth, for instance, and that the Earth is not flat.  Presenting both sides of an argument about things like this is palpably absurd.  Teaching the dogmas of Creationism in public schools as if they are equally valid alternative explanations of existence is similarly ridiculous.

Galileo Galilei was persecuted in the early 1600s for supporting the contention of Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who 70 years earlier had published the then-heretical idea that the Earth was not the center of the Universe.  Galileo cautiously agreed with this understanding, contending that the Earth actually speeds around the Sun in an annual orbit.  He had vastly improved the technology of the telescope, and thereby discovered visible confirmation that there are moons orbiting other planets like Jupiter.  This physically contradicted the Church’s doctrine that was grounded in early scientific ignorance and thus postulated that the Earth is the center of the Universe and that every thing else revolves around it.  To regard the Sun as the center of the Universe was heresy, but it turns out to be somewhat more accurate than regarding the Earth as the center of the universe! 

Church authorities put Galileo under house arrest for the last decade of his life for defying their dogmas by espousing this idea of Earth’s motion around the Sun.  It took Church officials more than 350 years to finally admit the now-obvious notion that the nature of ‘heliocentric planetary motion’ is scientifically correct.  Church establishments once again proved they are stubbornly doctrinaire, and not nimble or honest -- and often not exactly reasonable or merciful!

While it is contextually impossible to be truly objective and see the world “as it really is”, some understandings do correspond to reality more closely than others.  It seems clear that, no matter how much it was taken for granted as a fact that the Earth is the center of the Universe, it was a superior understanding when Copernicus and Galileo discovered that the Earth actually makes one full rotation on its axis every day, creating the illusion that the Sun orbits around the Earth.  No matter how fervently people believe in an idea, if it contradicts objective reality, eventually the belief will lose its utility and slip into the dustbin of history.

The Church always exhibits a self-interested need to defend its dogmas because it fears that once some aspects of its primitive worldview begin to be proved false by more accurate understandings, the Church might eventually be forced to admit that God did not make man in ‘His’ image, as the Bible indicates.  In fact, they might be required to actually admit the much more obvious fact, if you think about it:  that human beings have invented every deity, and basically made them all in our own image!  The doctrines that are set forth by religious establishments are generally ones that are simplistic and manipulative and conducive to patriarchal control, and NOT ones that are reality-based, fair-minded, salubrious, or honoring of feminine values.  It is time we began to really honor Mother Earth!

Some people are like Socrates, seeking knowledge and being skeptical and demonstrating a willingness to cultivate reasonable doubts.  Others cherish certainties and embrace ignorance.  Some believe that cosmic and biological evolutionary processes have taken place over the eons.  Others believe in a relatively recent Biblical Creation.  There is extremely little probability that Creationism is a more accurate explanation of the Universe than physical evolution, which has overwhelming evidence supporting it.  For some deeper perspective, see Chapter #101 – The Evolution of Life, which can be found in Comprehensive Global Perspective: An Illuminating Worldview. 

The Dalai Lama succinctly states the obvious:

”Regardless of different personal views about science, no credible understanding of the natural world, or our human existence, can ignore the basic insights of theories as key as evolution and relativity and quantum mechanics."

Faith, Religion and God

Westerners tend to be puzzled by stark divisions in the Islamic faith.  The two primary factions of Islam are the Shia and the Sunni.  It is hard for non-Muslims to imagine that so much strife and violence has been invoked over doctrinal divisions between these two factions.  It must be a really big dispute, right?  Well, let’s look into it:  what is the dispute about?  It appears to be a stubborn disagreement over which of four original Caliphs was the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad after his death.  That’s all this internecine conflict is about?!  Peace, brothers!

Christian faiths themselves have been fractured into so many different branches that it is really hard to figure out their differences. Who can specifically say what the differences are between Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans and Methodists?  A true Jesus Christ savior would have been perplexed by all the conflict that has been fomented in his name, if indeed he existed as a real peace-loving man.  How, he might wonder, could people have lost his most important message about loving thy neighbor and caring for the poor?  How could honorably religious people vote for conservative politicians that pander to the rich and oppress the poor? 

God represents many different things to many different people.  Countless religions and cults and mythological conceptions have been propounded throughout the long course of human history, and almost without exception each one has had its own Creation story, its own moral doctrines, and its own symbolic mythologies.  None of them are absolutely right or wrong.  They are alternative ways of trying to explain the way things are, and to provide guidance.  There is no certain truth, because subjectivity is ultimate.  Absolute truths cannot be found in a quantum world, and the language-oriented constructions in our minds are related only indirectly to ‘reality’.    

“Scriptures, n.  The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane

     writings on which all other faiths are based.”

                                                                     --- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

No one person’s God is a better or truer God than anyone else’s God.  If there really is a Supreme Being, it is a God bigger than the narrow concepts provided by our limited imaginations and our solipsistic, biocentric and anthropocentric thoughts and religious doctrines.  If there is a God, it is a God that presides over ALL of humanity, a God that does not take sides in partisan conflicts, a God whose highest virtue is love, a God that represents Golden Rule acceptance for those who believe differently.  If there is a God, it is a God that equally accepts Muslims, Jews, Christians, Baptists, Mormons, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists, and rich people and poor people, the powerful and the weak, males and females, old people and young, black people and whites and Latinos and Asians, citizens and immigrants and foreigners, heterosexuals and homosexuals -- EVERYONE! 

The Gods that humans have created throughout history have always had qualities that are distinctly anthropomorphic because we have always felt desperate hopes and psychological needs to worship concrete symbols of inexplicable and implacable forces.  Billions of people hope to sway their deities from what seems to otherwise be demonstrably impersonal indifference in the Universe.  They do so by praying and exhibiting righteous devotion in hopes of getting God to grant them personal favors.  But if there is a God, it must be a God that doesn’t side with one person against another, a God that loves peaceful coexistence between ‘His’ human subjects, a God that favors reason and not irrationality, a God that helps those who help themselves, a God that offers salvation to those who most deserve it because of their own efforts to live a good life.  If there is a God, it should be a God that smiles upon those who act with honesty and virtue and compassion, a God that appreciates people who have the attitude that they are going to make the best of whatever comes their way. 

It is no wonder that, in conjunction with the widespread acceptance of mythological deities as simple and convenient explanations of existence, many people have also created a plethora of versions of the Devil.  Human beings have always been quite busy ‘making bargains with the devil’, so maybe that’s why so many people assume such a diabolic entity must exist!

“The fundamental irony of American history is that we follow the better angels of our nature when

  we honestly and compassionately confront the devilish realities we would like to ignore or deny.”

                                                                                        --- Cornel West, The Atlantic, November 2007

At varying depths within each of us there is a laughing philosopher self, a self that recognizes what is essentially a preposterous anthropocentricity of every one of our conceptions of God.  There is a profoundly suspect superstition-like foundation for all cherished convictions about a Supreme Being and an afterlife.  We are all spiritual beings, but true spirituality and religious doctrines do not mix very well.  Doubts lie in wait for every person who is honest with themselves.  Packaged religious beliefs may be convenient and captivating and reassuring, but they are addictively opiate-like in their seductively simplistic temptation. 

Karl Marx infamously observed that "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.  The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.”  People in modern times cherish freedom, so we need not abolish anything, but let us evolve and open our eyes and hearts!

Many people desperately seek solace in the belief that there will be some sort of “afterlife” once we are dead.  By so believing, people tend to be more accepting of an unfair fate in the here and now during their only real life in all of eternity.  Opium may make a person feel dreamily at peace, but it is not a healthy addiction, and neither is naïve acceptance of religious indoctrination.  We should not gamble our lives away on hopes for some future life, especially when our energies would be better spent on joining together with others to demand that a more just world be created here now, while we are alive.  Our human potentials can only be achieved while we are alive;  it is all but certain that no joy or meaning or satisfaction will come to us once we are dead.

There is substantial power in believing, belonging, praising, praying, singing together, and sharing convictions. But the positive social and psychological aspects of religious experiences do not in any way prove that the stories told by established religions are true.  Instead, they reveal much more about us as human beings.  They are like Greek myths revealing archetypal human characteristics that exist within each of us, or like Rorschach tests that manifest subconscious psychological traits.

Our attitudes are vitally important to us personally, particularly our attitudes toward circumstances and adversities and successes, and our attitudes toward others.  We have rather limited control over the circumstances that affect us, or the emotions we feel in response to them, but we can and do choose how to respond to them.  To live well, it is good to have a positive attitude, and to let go of negative impulses.  And it is valuable to live by the tenets of the Serenity Prayer:

     God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
         the courage to change the things I can; 

             and the wisdom to know the difference.

Here is another insightful excerpt from Mark Twain’s Corn-Pone Opinions:

“We get our notions and habits and opinions from outside influences; we do not have to study them out. … We are creatures of outside influences; as a rule we do not think, we only imitate.” … “It is our nature to conform; it is a force which not many can successfully resist.  What is its seat?  The inborn requirement of self-approval.  We all have to bow to that; there are no exceptions. …But as a rule our self-approval has its source in but one place and not elsewhere -- the approval of other people.”

“Broadly speaking, there are none but corn-pone opinions.  And broadly speaking, corn-pone stands for self-approval.  Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people.  The result is conformity.  Sometimes conformity has a sordid business interest -- the bread-and-butter interest -- but not in most cases, I think.  I think that in the majority of cases it is unconscious and not calculated; that it is born of the human being's natural yearning to stand well with his fellows and have their inspiring approval and praise -- a yearning which is commonly so strong and so insistent that it cannot be effectually resisted, and must have its way.  A political emergency brings out the corn-pone opinion in fine force in its two chief varieties -- the pocketbook variety, which has its origin in self-interest, and the bigger variety, the sentimental variety -- the one which can't bear to be outside the pale; can't bear to be in disfavor; can't endure the averted face and the cold shoulder; wants to stand well with his friends, wants to be smiled upon, wants to be welcome, wants to hear the precious words, "He's on the right track!"  Uttered, perhaps by an ass, but still an ass of high degree, an ass whose approval is gold and diamonds to a smaller ass, and confers glory and honor and happiness, and membership in the herd.  For these gauds, many a man will dump his life-long principles into the street, and his conscience along with them.  We have seen it happen.  In some millions of instances.”

Trying to Think about God

If there is a God, it must be a God that loves a healthy environment and biological diversity and responsible stewardship of the natural world.  If there is a God, it must be a God that demands respect for the ecological underpinnings of ‘His’ creation.  If there is a God, ‘He’ surely would not be supportive of our ceaseless human efforts to control and exploit the natural world for our own selfish ends without giving greater respect to the underpinnings of its well-being.

Nature itself is supremely indifferent to any particular individual.  Nature is ordered according to the impersonal certainties of physical laws.  Things take place due to causes and effects that we can’t quite fully understand.  If a large meteorite were to crash through the atmosphere and wipe out a large proportion of all organisms on our planet tomorrow, as occurred 65 million years ago with the Cretaceous Extinction, it would be just another day in the Universe.

If there really is a God, it must be an all-inclusive God that encompasses all of time and space and nature.  God must be infinite, eternal and ineffable.  God cannot conform to limited human concepts or mythological imaginings or superstitious beliefs or doctrinaire ideas that are designed to manipulate the faithful.  God surely cannot be limited to mere anthropocentric projections of our hopes, hubris, ethnocentricities and insecurities upon a Universe that is far more complex than our understandings can ever fully encompass. 

Followers of God should accept the higher priorities of God’s role in loving, not hating.  They must favor the greater social good, and support true justice, rather than narrow partisanship or oppressive religious extremism. God should embody true moral concepts, not jealousy or pride or cravings of adulation and praise. And doggone, religious authorities should stop cultivating attitudes that are discriminatory or regard gay people as abominations, or subvert people’s privacy rights, or oppose family planning and women’s reproductive prerogatives.

It is tragic for humanity -- and oddly paradoxical -- when religious fervor is channeled toward ends that are reactionary or self-righteously discriminatory or extremely sexist or violent.  People who are self-professed born-again Christians have formed alliances in recent years with politicians who adhere to radical right-wing doctrines.  In such bargains with the devil, religious people are often manipulated into supporting shrewd politicians who espouse regressive social policies, aggressive foreign policies and wars.  These religious people have, as a consequence, been swindled into supporting an agenda that contradicts the major moral tenets of their faiths.

As Martin Luther King noted, “Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men but is not concerned about the city government that damns the soul, the economic conditions that corrupt the soul, the slum conditions and social evils that cripple the soul, is a dry, dead, do-nothing religion in need of new blood.”  He wisely added:  “Too often the church talked about a future good ‘over yonder’, totally forgetting the present evil over here.”

Many religions have their roots in appeals to the poor and the downtrodden.  They set forth doctrines that promulgate ideas of what is morally good.  Their holy books speak of love, social justice, peace, charity, mercy and neighborly good will.  After generally terrible struggles against persecution, the prophets of new religions occasionally gain enough adherents to achieve wider acceptance.  Eventually they may even grow into movements and obtain political power, and when they do, they tend to abuse their power with astonishingly hypocritical fervor.  Instead of advancing the ideals upon which they have been founded, they often repressively collaborate with those in power.

In the United States so far in the twenty-first century, religious establishments have helped involve our nation in unjust imperialism and crusading foreign interventionism and preemptive wars and empire-building activities.  They have often directly or tacitly supported politicians whose policies serve to increase inequalities, and are anti-democratic, or who condone unjustified secrecy in the government, or dishonesty or punitive prisoner torture.

What existential irony this is!  What sinister cynicism!  It is amazing that people in positions of power can so dishonorably exploit gullible people and take advantage of the blind faith and willful ignorance of this ‘coalition of the willing’.  Powerful people act this way to achieve narrowly selfish objectives, and they do so with ignoble and brazen hubris when they target people whose religious beliefs are founded on what should be noble ideals, greater good morals, and honorable traditions. Sly politicians exploit such people with disguised contempt, advancing the narrow interests of the rich, the powerful and the privileged.  This is unconscionable!

Our superpower nation, bristling with nuclear missiles, has been acting arrogantly, as if MIGHT is actually RIGHT.  We ruthlessly lord it over others as if ANY means is justified to achieve our ends, no matter how base, selfish, or crassly materialistic these ends may be.  This attitude betrays our humanity.  To harvest peace, we must sow justice!

An ancient Chinese proverb says, “May you live in interesting times.”  Well, we sure do live in very interesting times!  As urgently fascinating as these times are, with all the economic malfeasance that is calamitating our societies, these times are going to get even more interesting as fossil fuels run out and carbon ‘sinks’ fill up, and the climate heats up, and our human numbers continue to increase due to religious and ideological pronatalism (“the encouragement of fruitful multiplying”). 

Future generations will be forced to deal with the consequences of the actions taken during these interesting times.  Experts like Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz point to the crippling legacy we are leaving in the form of enormous debt, which has been incurred in outlandish amounts in the past 15 years for expediencies like enriching the rich and fighting wars without requiring current taxpayers to pay for them.  This must change!

Self-aware, humanity teeters on a precipice. We are powerful, yet vulnerable, driven by strong biological drives, and animated by an ancient hierarchy of needs and desires.  Most people are moved to faith in a God, and their faith has an underlying motive of seeking hope in their lives, assuaging vague fears, and feeling self-justification in their beliefs and biases. 

A pop-culture guru once made a curious observation:

“Life is eternal.  But even if it isn’t and I made it up, I like it!  I mean as long as you’re going to

    make it up (the way that REALITY IS), you might as well make it up the way you like it.”  

This is a surprising way to look at things, isn’t it?  (“Get an Afterlife!”)  To the extent that it is true we make up our realities, we should choose beliefs we like, but only if they are not inimically harmful to our well-being, or to the well-being of others, like our children and theirs.  Let’s interpret reality in ways that are modern and accurate and meaningful.  Let’s choose to see reality in ways that are strongly in accord with spiritual nobility and important human values.  Let’s make ‘growth choices’, not ‘fear choices’;  let’s progress, not regress. 

Sometimes bold action is required, and much can be accomplished through sheer ‘chutzpah’ in acting to get things done.  The force of personality, however, is not always the most trustworthy or reliable of adhesives, or a good lubricant for cooperative endeavors.

The compelling film Racing Extinction makes it viscerally clear that our priorities need to be shifted to give us greater hope for a healthier natural world.  Check it out!  Protect the beautiful manta rays!

Jared Diamond, the professor who has written a book about how societies choose to fail or succeed, indicates that at times behaviors and institutions become antiquated that once had served society well.  When that happens and they no longer serve healthy utilitarian, social or ecological values, the societies must either change or face unnecessary adversities or collapse.  It is high time that we boldly pursue positive adaptive change at this critical juncture in history.  This should involve not only our religious institutions, but also our business, financial and political ones!

Was John Lennon onto Something?

Entertain this possibility:  God is a fiction, like an über-Father-figure icon invention of the human mind.  The soul and the mind and the independent individual self are all, in a similar sense, merely fictions of our imaginations.  Just ask an expert in neurobiology.  This is among the most advanced of the understandings of contemporary scientists and philosophers.  Think about the ramifications!

What if there is no God, no hell below us, above us only sky?

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace ...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one        

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world ...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one.

                                          --- Imagine, John Lennon

Belated Preamble

Feel free to believe what you like.  Yay for you!  And, “Yay for us!”

The essential concept of FAIRNESS that is embodied in the Golden Rule is a basic underpinning of true democracy.  The first Amendment to the great American Bill of Rights establishes the freedom of religious belief.  It should be an overarching requirement in all societies for rules of law to be established that guarantee religious freedoms.  The reason for this?  Because we know that too much conflict has been caused by religious differences throughout history, and the fairest way to prevent this is to guarantee all people equal rights to believe what they like, and to make sure governments do not endorse any one religion over another, or persecute those who belong to minorities.

People have a deep desire to live their lives in freedom and dignity, and to be guaranteed individual rights.  Everyone feels deep-seated insecurities, so most people seek the security of certainties in a world that is ultimately subjective and relative and profoundly insecure.  Each of us has a strong need to believe and to belong, so leaders that represent authority make powerful appeals to our emotions. 

But religious authority is highly undemocratic, and it generally imposes a reactionary suppression of alternate ways of seeing things, censoring information and denying alternate understandings and discriminating against those who believe differently.  People who think they are absolutely right tend to be self-righteous, zealous and sometimes dangerously fanatical.

Not only should every person be entitled to believe whatever they want, but no one should be allowed to impose their beliefs on others.  It may be natural to feel a kind of bemused contempt for others who seem so wrong from the perspective of one’s own strong convictions, but intolerance and hatred are too much of a threat to the greater good to be given an official foothold.  We should all admit that there is always the possibility that our own cherished ideas and beliefs are, in fact, erroneous.  People in different parts of the U.S. live in substantially different perceptual bubbles, like the sensitivities found in the generally liberal San Francisco bubble and the contrasting convictions held dear in the Bible Belt bubble.

“God works in many ways his wonders to perform.”  But God is not a skillful mechanic.  A man drives over a cliff and “by a miracle”, he only breaks his back.  It would be more divine if God made the man a better driver and he stayed on the road. (!!!) 

                                                                   --- Paul Goodman (paraphrased)

People tend to be sheep-like in their beliefs.  Often, beliefs are inherited through genetic and family propensities and a kind of social indoctrination.  This is much more common than that they are arrived at through evaluation and reasoned consideration.  This is one reason why people are susceptible to being manipulated by demagogues, religious zealots, charismatic charlatans, and certainty-proclaiming politicians.  When people seek security in traditional beliefs, this makes them vulnerable to being exploited for purposes completely contrary to the noble aspects of their beliefs. 

Religious beliefs can have a definite positive utility, but they can become detrimental to the true safety and security of those who believe, and of others.  When harmful outcomes occur, the beliefs should be reconsidered or jettisoned, especially when the values espoused have become outmoded or detrimental due to changing circumstances or greater truths or more important understandings of the true self-interest found in the common good.

The late Christopher Hitchens described his experiences in a disciplined English boarding school where he was “compelled to sit through the sinister fairy tales of Christianity”.  This school was in a region where the natural beauty was marvelous, and Hitchens noted the positive influence of many of his teachers who expressed enthusiasm for birds and animals and trees.  St. Francis of Assisi would have been heartened to behold it.  But some of Christopher’s teachers were petty tyrants who tried to impose absolute domination in their small spheres.  This gave Hitchens a cogent early understanding of the tendency for many people to be “micro-megalomaniacs”.  What a concept! 

Hitchens’ experiences at boarding school brought home to him the fact that religion has often been used as “an excellent reinforcement of shaky temporal authority.”  Recognizing that people like to exert power over others, Hitchens soon discovered that words can be used as weapons in schools and peer groups and families.  It is certainly the case that domestic violence is often the result of struggles between people where inadequate respect is accorded to the ones we supposedly love. 

This treatise explores conundrums like these because humanity increasingly desperately needs a new era of enlightenment, and new-found respect for the Golden Rule to get us through the tricky straits of our economic, social, political, spiritual and environmental predicaments.  Thinking clearly about our lives gives us the ability to step outside our everyday ways of seeing things, and to appreciate the rich interrelatedness of all life.  Think about the amazing beauty, diversity, and complexity of all living things.  Yay for them!  But let us not forget their vulnerability.

Politics and Religion in Recent Years

The winds of change are blowing, and the American people hunger for leaders who are more honest, ones they can trust, and ones who act for the greater good.  They want leaders who are committed to more fair-minded goals, and to policies that are consistent with the ideals upon which our country was founded.  Oddly, the Republicans who competed to win the Presidential primaries in 2008 and 2012 were quite retrogressive.  Each of them stumbled over themselves to appeal to born-again-Christian religious fanatics and social conservatives.  The political calculus of this loyalty is understandable, but it is an excessively narrow political loyalty to conservative stances on hot button social issues and failed ideologies.  It has also, since 9/11/01, been a form of pandering to those who have been conditioned to fear terrorists above all else.  John McCain’s views on war and attacking Iran and his once stated belief that we should stay in Iraq for 100 years were frightening and would have been prohibitively costly.  Repent, or fall!  I call on all 2016 Republican candidates to moderate their views and partisan orthodoxy, even if Donald Trump pushes them toward more outrageous stances.

Religion is a vital part of our culture.  This is why the First Amendment to the Constitution included the provision, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  The government is limited by this first provision of the Bill of Rights:  it must remain neutral on religion, and it must not take sides.  Yet many Republican candidates for office declare that we are a Christian nation, and Mitt Romney faithfully stood by the mythology and bizarre tenets of his Mormon grandfathers.  All other American politicians strive to reassure the populace that they have deep personal convictions in God, for otherwise they would probably have little chance of getting elected. 

The Republican coalition has splintered into a struggle between progress-opposing religious folks and change-averse social conservatives and power-hungry apologists for military strength, and those who put top priorities on profiteering and substantial monopolies on wealth concentrated in the hands of the few.  Voices for a sensibly balanced budget, fiscal restraint and far-sighted policies have rarely been heeded in the past 15 years.  When Republicans were the minority party from 2009 to 2015, they united in opposition to obstruct almost all initiatives of Democrats.  Divisive strategies are paramount in our politics, but this severe partisanship is a modus operandi that is harmful, so it is distinctly undesirable.  We do not need a ‘party of no’;  we need a party that supports visionary good ideas to help solve the daunting existential problems we face.

Republican politicians gained a majority in the U.S. Senate in the November 2014 elections, but they have demonstrated little sign of choosing to govern responsibly.  Nonetheless, a surge of discontent is growing among people who oppose unfair economic policies, corporate abuses, regressive tax policies, irresponsible fiscal policies, fear-mongering, military aggression, drone bombings, and the hypocrisy of anti-evolution and anti-choice religious zealotry.  Our leaders need to be able to rise above short-term-oriented expediencies and extreme partisanship, and begin to act with honesty, integrity, fairness and far-sighted intention to make our nation a healthier and fairer country.  Can they? 

When Barack Obama was first elected President in 2008, the majority of Americans expected dramatically positive new directions.  Young people were beginning to recognize how antagonistic the status quo is to their own long-term interests.  Their outlook is naturally solipsistic, but they can be surprisingly alert and intelligent, and they are becoming increasingly aware that their future well-being is being threatened by the status quo of wasteful consumerism, mismanagement, corrupt corporatism, crony capitalism, vituperative partisanship, a conservative-dominated Supreme Court, enormous debt, wars, policies that primarily benefit older people, and profligate uses of fossil fuels that are causing copious emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and associated climate disruptions.

Theocratic movements pose growing threats to democracy and personal freedoms and the separation of Church and State.  So do religious extremism, discriminatory self-righteousness, or blind beliefs in parochial doctrines.  Revivals in the religions of the world should be progressive, not fundamentalist or reactionary or harshly patriarchal.  Unfortunately, it seems to be the case that anxieties and fears tend to propel religious people and others away from moderate views and socially valuable common sense.  The Age of Enlightenment was also known as the Age of Reason, so it is quite curious that today there are so many assaults on reason in the name of established religions!

On Education

Mark Twain included some entertaining sayings in THE PUDD’NHEAD MAXIMS in his book Following the Equator (1897).  “These wisdoms are for the luring of youth toward high moral altitudes.  The author did not gather them from practice, but from observation.  To be good is noble;  but to show others how to be good is nobler and no trouble.”  LOL!

One of these maxims reads:  There are those who scoff at the schoolboy, calling him frivolous and shallow.  Yet it was the schoolboy who said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

I feel it would be valuable for every person to gain more accurate and comprehensive understandings of various religions of the world and their motives. To better understand driving forces behind churches and social mores and their impacts on societies, I wholeheartedly advocate the teaching of a course in religious studies in all high schools and colleges. The defining doctrines of all major religions should be studied, along with the understandings of agnosticism and atheism.  The genesis of all these beliefs should be studied along with more “primitive” worldviews that were ascendant before the more sophisticated (though also more conflict engendering) idea of monotheism evolved. 

The curricula in a Comparative Religion course should be unbiased, and based on a comprehensive assessment of the tenets of each body of doctrine and thought.  It should investigate the history of religion, the genesis of religious thought, and the psychology of religious belief itself.  It could be based on a textbook similar to Philosophy for Dummies, which more or less fairly analyzes the deep underpinnings of religious and philosophical beliefs, even though it has distinct theistic biases.  It could incorporate the thought-provoking insights of the compelling book Spontaneous Evolution.

Young people should be exposed to the essential differences between Western religions and Eastern religions in their explanations of existence and Creation.  They should ponder the fact that Jewish, Christian and Islamic religious beliefs hold that the Universe was created about 6,000 years ago and someday in the future it will end, while Hindu and Buddhist beliefs hold that the Universe has always existed and it always will;  that it will change, but it will never end. 

Science offers a differing understanding, and an intriguing one for which there is extensive and convincing physical evidence. This is the Big Bang theory. Scientists think the Universe will either expand forever or eventually begin to contract and collapse back into a central place in untold billions of years, maybe then ‘to Big Bang again’. The latter outcome would no doubt involve fascinating impacts and explosions, I imagine!  These metaphysical abstractions lie billions of years away, and there are much more imminent things to be concerned about.

  “The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that

   the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death,

     and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.”

                                                                                                      --- Albert Einstein

It would be valid for students to explore the likelihood that all Holy Books contain the words of men, and NOT the Word of God.  The authors of Holy Books sought to provide legitimacy in the words they wrote.  The authors of the Book of Mormon, for instance, reassured readers in the book’s preface that the words the book contained were the absolute truth. They adduced “evidence” of sworn testimony by a number of witnesses who claim that they’d seen “the golden plates and the engravings thereon.”  Joseph Smith claims to have translated these engravings by means of some mysterious process to create the Book of Mormon.  The Golden Plates were allegedly delivered by an angel of God that came down from heaven.  And we lie not, God bearing witness of it,” they asserted.  (It reminds me of Richard Nixon angrily declaring, “I am not a crook.”  It made one wonder what he was covering up!)  The fact that the Golden Plates mysteriously disappeared after their translation explains why such testimony was required.  Phony Moroni?!

The Book of Mormon came into existence much more recently than the holy books of most other religions in the world today, so its genesis and evolution are of heightened interest.  Joseph Smith published his supposed translation of “golden plates” in 1830.  He claimed to have found these plates buried near his home in upstate New York, and declared that they were inscribed with “reformed Egyptian” language.  He supposedly dictated his translation using a “seer stone” in the bottom of a hat that he placed over his face to view the words written within the stone.  Magic!  There is no mention of any drugs or intoxicants having been involved.  After having translated the plates, “Smith said he returned the plates to their angelic guardian”, so there has never been any proof that they existed, except for testimony provided on the first page of the Book of Mormon by the eleven witnesses who claim they had seen the plates, for sure. 

The credibility of the claim that the plates existed is a “troublesome item”, according to a historian of the Mormon Church’s Latter Day Saints movement.  Ya think?  I don’t suppose we even need to bother investigating the fact that no linguist or Egyptologist has ever heard of “reformed Egyptian” language!  One theory holds that Joseph Smith composed the Book of Mormon by plagiarizing it from a number of nineteenth century authors like Oliver Cowdery, Solomon Spalding and Sidney Rigdon.  It turns out that Cowdery happens to have been one of the witnesses attesting to having seen the plates, and who thus appears to have conspired to advance the impact of these scriptures. 

Mark Twain expressed the opinion that a number of Scriptural phrases had been ladled into the Book of Mormon to prevent it from sounding too modern.  He wrote that, if pretentious phrases like “And it came to pass” had been left out, the Book of Mormon “would have been only a pamphlet.” Aha! Ha Ha!

This religious holy book is less than 200 years old, yet extensive mysteries surround its genesis and evolution, so it is no surprise that the holy book of Islam, which originated more than 1,000 years ago, and the holy book of Christianity, various parts of which originated between 1,700 and 3,000 years ago, are shrouded in mystery and have been subject to extraordinary amounts of creative editing and manipulative revisionism.

Mark Twain took note of the absurdities in Mormon scriptures, and wrote humorously in Roughing It: 

“Some people have to have a world of evidence before they can come anywhere in the neighborhood of believing anything, but for me when a man tells me that he has <seen the engravings which are upon the plates>, and not only that, but an angel was there at the time and saw him see them, and probably took his receipt for it, I am very far on the road to conviction, no matter whether I have ever heard of that man before or not, and even if I do not know the name of the angel, or his nationality either.”

Tears and laughter converge in both the poetic and the preposterous, and tragedy and comedy can be seen to have certain unsuspected affinities.  The profane can approach the sublime.  The profound and the nonsensical may not really be all that much different!

A Trinity or Two of Perspective

The convoluted mental gymnastics involved in belief systems of monotheistic religions are stunning.  Religious scholars perplexingly posit one God, a two-fold dualism, and a Holy Trinity.  It is a bizarre and mysterious conception to believe that God is actually a Father, his Son, and a Holy Ghost all rolled up into one being.  It’s real curious, in fact revelatory, that the original creative force of the universe is conceived as a BEING at all.  If a human-like supreme being did create the entire universe, what about the other half -- the Mother, the Daughter, and the Holy Soul?  This part of our humanity has been suppressed by patriarchal religions, so the doctrinal Holy Trinity actually represents only half of any true unity that lies deep within each of us.

The Star of David is a religious symbol of Judaism and Jewish identity.  It consists of two equilateral triangles that are interlaced together, as if two Trinities are intertwined.  This is an evocatively compelling symbolic representation of the complementary male trinity and female trinity both merged together in an essential balance.  This perspective is a valuable way to regard our world because it represents a more holistic, fair-minded, hopeful and healing point of view. 

The ways our brains perceive sensory input affect the way we interpret what we perceive.  Even the language constructs through which sensory inputs are filtered have an influence on how we perceive.  So we actually do make up our own realities to a certain degree.  Cathy Gere states in Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism that “There is no escaping the fact that we read the human past to understand the present, and then interpret it in the light of the future that we fear or desire.” 

We see patterns and then our brains fill these patterns in, to eliminate ambiguities, even when our fabrications do not really correspond to reality.  This can be seen in visual puzzles and conundrums like the generative aspects of perception revealed in the surprising Gestalt Law of Reification, or in psychological projections unveiled by Rorschach inkblot tests.  What we see is often conceived as containing more information than what is really conveyed in the sensory stimulus.

While these ideas are abstruse, the vital point is that errors of perception undeniably occur, and it behooves us to be aware of some sources of such misunderstandings.  Anyone who has experienced altered states of consciousness like those characterized by an energized and impressive focus of attention and competence during moments of “flow”, or by the “highs” caused by certain drugs, may understand that opening the doors of perception a bit wider can stimulate creativity and provide alternate ways of seeing things that are valuably insightful and potentially more holistic than conventional perspectives.

Scrutinize the following sentence.  Oru cabitapileis to dcehiper wettrin wdors from naer grebibsih aer rhatre anamizg.  Tihs si yuor biran at wrok.  I satule this semenig mraclie.  Oru alibtiy ot raed is pherpas eevn btteer tahn oru alitiby to haer wehn it cmeos to filnlig in nosancinsel balkns.  Nwo let su trun oru antetoitn ot sppusoed Edn Teims.

Good and Evil and Judgment Day and ‘the Rapture’ and Such Things

Sometimes I feel that we inhabit a world of melting clocks like the one depicted by Salvador Dali in his famed painting The Persistence of Memory.  Consider those folks who believe in an imminent Day of Doom.  Judgment Day may metaphorically be upon us, but it is not the particular judgment by God of each person when they die, as Christian eschatology asserts.  This is a real judgment that will be a reflection of future generations looking back on the economic, political, social and ecological ethos of today, and judging that we have acted with obtuse selfishness, heedless shortsightedness, harm-engendering denial, and rashly risky behaviors.

The metaphorical Judgment Day of modern times will be “Biblical” in a fascinating and pathetic sense:  Sure enough, all future generations will suffer, and they will do so for our sins.  But in this case, the suffering will be a tangible carry-forward of our shortsighted selfishness in squandering natural resources and polluting the planet, and in contributing to the destruction of habitats, the annihilation of wildlife, and the upsetting of global weather patterns, and in causing many forms of life on Earth to be driven to extinction, and in saddling our descendants with huge amounts of debt and interest expense for generations to come.  

These are sins that reflect an obtuse lack of concern for the nature of the legacy that our actions portend.  Unless we alter our public policies and habitual behaviors soon, will we suffer punishment in an afterlife of eternal Hell for our wrongdoing?  Or will it actually be our children and our descendants forevermore who will be the main ones to do the suffering for our follies, here on Earth?

I offer this ringing prophecy:  There will be no End Times.  There will be no Armageddon.  THERE WILL BE NO RAPTURE.  Hucksters who claim otherwise rank right up there with the most extreme of right-wing Iranian ayatollahs in their religious fanaticism.  Yes, there will be more floods, droughts, tornados, hurricanes and wildfires.  There will be earthquakes and tsunamis, and famines and plagues and species extinctions.  These are natural events, with a little help from human beings in those cases where anthropogenic influences have distinct impacts on outcomes.  We curiously call such natural events “Acts of God”.  Right, “and so it came to pass!”  There will, of course, also be more economic panics and recessions and depressions and wars and repressive regimes;  these are the consequences of human nature and greed and folly and unbridled ambition. 

We should not despair;  instead, we should act boldly to create a more salubrious fate.  We should not even think of welcoming ecological devastation like the Rapture crowd is apparently wont to do, as Bill Moyers pointed out in a thought-provoking speech he gave about beliefs in Rapture End Times and the dangers that such blind beliefs pose to civilization.  See Rapture Mania: Bizarre Beliefs and Epic Epiphanies for related insights and the full text of Bill Moyers’ observations in his speech.

The psychology of End Times beliefs is curious.  Most everyone has seen the cartoon image of a bearded, gnome-like, down-on-his-luck prophet who stands with a roughly-carved signboard that says “The End Is Near”.  Oh, really, is it now?  No, a Day of Doom is not imminent;  rather, the dramatic event that approaches is not the end of Time, but the beginning of a revolutionary transformation that will necessarily take more holistic ecological facts into account, and begin to better protect the foundations of our collective well-being.  If we’re lucky, this transformation will balance gender roles and allow women and feminine values and Mother Earth to be treated with more respect in our patriarchal societies. 

We might, alternatively, suddenly blow ourselves to smithereens with nuclear weapons, or fail to take effective steps to avert ecological collapse, but these would be such colossally stupid outcomes that we should make every effort possible, and then more, to assure that this will not be the insane denouement of our kind.

Rapture believers are not dumb or simply ignorant of the realities of nature.  Their beliefs are like a misguided credulousness that is really a form of madness.  Their certainties of conviction in what are demonstrably delusional stories, especially of malicious attributes of a deity, reveal a type of debasement of any kind of honorable concept of God. 

Zeitgeist Movie makes a convincing case that theories about supposed End Times are actually a misinterpreted astrological allegory that misconstrue the words in Matthew 28:20 about “the end of the age.”  This film makes a compelling case that this verse of the Bible refers not to the end of the world, but to the end of the Age of Pisces and the beginning of the Age of Aquarius.  The phenomenon is correlated to the “precession of the equinoxes”, a visual transformation that is caused by a majestically slow angular wobble of the Earth in its orbit around the Sun.  This slow periodic change causes the Sun to sequentially rise in one after another of the twelve constellations in the sky that ancients named in the Zodiac.  The Sun appears in each of these segments of the sky for a period of about 2,150 years. 

The Sun moved from the constellation Aries into the constellation Pisces at the time Jesus was supposed to have lived, and it will leave the constellation Pisces about the year 2150 to go into the constellation Aquarius.  I recommend watching Part I of Zeitgeist Movie online to better understand this.  But in any case, whether the Bible predicts End Times or not, it is a bizarre anthropocentric concept that does not correspond to geophysical or astrophysical realities on the scale of human time.

In the fairy tale The Chronicles of Narnia, written by C.S. Lewis, powerful forces for good heroically defeat forces of evil.  But things in the real world do not always work out this way.  ‘Evil’ people and ‘good’ people are not easy to identify, because even good and bad are relative, and there is good and bad in every person’s intentions and activities.  Any person who reads Cannery Row by John Steinbeck will find that the main character in the book observes that traits leading to success in our society are often vices such as greed, meanness, egotism and self-interest -- and that traits leading to failure may be the result of virtues like kindness, honesty, openness and generosity.  Go figure!   

The Bible says that we are all paying for the terrible sin that was our due for the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden.  This story is much more like a manipulative construct of Bible writers than the likely justice of a loving God.  Shouldn’t God have been prescient enough to know that human nature is quite susceptible to the powerful allure of forbidden fruit?  The penultimate skeptic, Mark Twain, sure knew about the nature of temptation.  He wrote, “There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.”  Ooh la la!  Give me that fruit!

The comedian Bill Maher tellingly says, I would like people who think more like me to understand that it is okay to stand up and say, “We're not the crazy ones.  The crazy ones are the people with the talking snake."  Downright Religulous!

  It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me,

     it is the parts that I do understand.      

                                                          --- Mark Twain

A Feminist Perspective

The alluring temptations of today are more mundane than the search for the knowledge of good and evil, and they often involve such things as males inappropriately trying to take sexual advantage of females without their consent, or Ponzi-scheme perpetrators like Bernie Madoff trying to get their hands on assets of other people that do not belong to them;  or “rent-seeking” people trying to profit corruptly from the inadequately disciplined largess of the government.  The United States of America is supposedly governed by fair-minded rules of law for this very reason:  we need clear rules to provide guidance for socially acceptable and socially beneficial behaviors.

Harken back to The Alphabet versus the Goddess and Dr. Leonard Shlain’s examination of the curious transition of early civilizations from Mother Goddess worship, with high levels of respect for women and their roles in society, to the starkly contrasting worship of a male God with accompanying restrictions on the rights and prerogatives of women.  One of the changes that accompanied this sexist revolution was a devaluation of symbols and images that had formerly been highly regarded. 

Take snakes, for instance.  As Dr. Shlain pointed out, “Western culture has long reviled the snake, associating it with evil and temptation.  But at the dawn of civilization the snake was a positive symbol of feminine energy.  Ancient Egyptians perceived the snake as a beneficent, vital creature intimately associated with female sexuality, and, by extension, with life.  A snake’s sinuous mode of locomotion is evocative of a nubile woman’s walk and dance.”  Ooh la la, Lenny! 

Serpentine visualizations and metaphorical associations aside, snake-lover associations and women-appreciating organizations alike lament the male arrogance that has devalued the divine feminine and suppressed women’s prerogatives for so many centuries.  Marshall McLuhan’s famous aphorism “the medium is the message” has a more profound meaning than is commonly comprehended.  The advent of alphabets and written words, and the concomitant spread of literacy, have had powerful affects upon our brains and consciousness.  These developments are positive in many ways, yet they have ironically facilitated left-brain dominance and domineering male control. This has aided the oppression of females in human societies because dominant cultures became increasingly patriarchal as these changes took place, according to Shlain’s provocative theory.

Perhaps we all share a degree of nostalgia of the soul for the estranged divine feminine.  Maybe we feel a kind of regretful sadness that the heartfelt feminine within each one of us has been so rudely suppressed in connection with the dominion of male gods and linear thinking and the outsized influence of the analytical left hemisphere of the brain.  We all indistinctly see, as if we are sitting in the flickering light of a crackling campfire that warmly illuminates the darkness with brightness and shadows, that our inner selves could feel greater equanimity and appreciation if we could achieve some sort of transcendent epiphany of expansive feeling and holistic being.

Women have gained increased civil liberties and voting rights and cultural freedoms in the last century in most Western nations.  That is not as true in most Muslim nations where women are strictly required to submit to Islamic cultural conservatism.  There is a significant hangover effect in those societies that are still predominantly patriarchal and repressive around the globe today.  This is a residual influence of the days when patriarchal religions relegated women to a lowly status in which their prerogatives and rights were substantially circumscribed. 

Established religions and male-dominated governments oppose liberalizing changes to this status quo.  Regardless of how this came to be, it is only right and fair that we now commit ourselves, and our governments and social institutions, to the education, empowerment and fairer treatment of girls and women.  We should find effective ways to ensure that females are given rights and privileges that are equal to those of men, despite bitter howls of social conservatives.

Reason, too, can be used to rationalize atrocities.  It can be responsible for wars, imperialism, sexism and rash abuses of natural ecosystems, just as it can be credited for positive movements to facilitate individualistic accomplishment, democratic fairness, environmental protections, stimulating prose, compelling drama and engaging philosophy. Plato noted in the fourth century BCE that effective individual action should be characterized by desire and passion, and it should be warmed and banked with feelings and emotions, and guided by knowledge and wisdom.  I second that motion!

Today, with the advent of visual mediums like movies, documentary films, television and YouTube, there may be a new and offsetting trend that is allowing us to be more aware of the evocative and affective imagery that is most influential in the right hemisphere of our brains. This may be contributing to a valuable and salubrious feminization of our cultures.  There may even be a parallel between this trend of feminization in our societies and a similar trend in the evolving ideas within the Earth Manifesto.  Since nobody has yet read the Earth Manifesto, this theory will have to wait for its eventual corroboration until after these ideas become better known to the general public, or to historians of ideas, philosophy and literature.

Bizarre Concepts, Concluded

“Strange … a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones;  who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short;  who mouths Golden Rules and forgiveness multiplied seventy times seven, but invented Hell;  who mouths morals to other people and has none himself;  who frowns upon crimes yet commits them all;  who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself;  and finally with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him!” 

                 --- Mark Twain

Greek novelist Nikos Kazantzakis imagined Jesus’ first sermon on a hillside above the Lake of Genesee in Galilee, in his book The Last Temptation of Christ.  “Jesus’ voice was tranquil and wavering;  a gawky bird he was, struggling to twitter for the first time; and his eyes, instead of burning, caressed.”  He said, “Forgive me, my brothers, but I shall speak in parables.  The sower went out to sow his field, and as he sowed, one seed fell on the road and the birds came and ate it.  Another fell on stones, found no soil in which to be nourished, and withered away.  Another fell on thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.  Finally, another fell on good soil;  and it took root, and sprouted an ear, and brought forth grain and fed mankind.  He among you who has ears to hear, let him hear!” 

Listen!  Jesus’ message was “Love one another!”  “God is love”, he said.  “He is our Father. He will leave no pain unconsoled, no wound unhealed.  However much we suffer pain and hunger in this world, by that much, and more, shall we be filled in heaven.  Rejoice, for blessed are the poor, the meek, and the wronged;  it is for them that God has prepared the kingdom of heaven.”  A voice jeered at the prophet’s words:  “Pie in the sky when we die!” 

Laughter ensued.  The message, nonetheless, of blessing and redemption and reward appealed to the poor, the meek and the downtrodden, who abounded in those days, as they do today.  Later, Nikos Kazantzakis imagined Jesus going off into the desert alone, seeking God.  He finally realized the terrifying truth that had eluded him his whole life:  he was the Son of God!  Yikes!  Really?  Wow!

The struggle for survival was harsh in those Biblical days.  The land was arid, and most people were desperately poor, so they hungered for a Messiah, a Savior.  Prophets and false prophets abounded.  Perhaps, Judas thought, the Messiah was the entire people.  In our conflict-strewn, dog-eat-dog world, we lose sight of the simple fact that by uniting together, much good could be accomplished.  Unity in narrowly-shared evangelical dogmatic beliefs is a thin, precarious means of achieving a lasting unity that would be sufficient to save us all.  On the other hand, unity in universal understandings and reasoned convictions and sensible commitments to the common good would likely provide a much sturdier framework upon which to pin our collective hopes for a healthier existence, and ways of living that would prove to be sustainable in the long run.

If God created anything, he also created wine, women and song, so eat, drink and be merry!  Of course it is true that over-indulgence in wine can harm one’s health, and relationships between males and females may become rocky, and eventual suffering and inevitable death do not inspire a very happy song.  But those who evangelize about the kingdom of heaven overlook the woes that are partially caused by religious leaders who confederate themselves with the powers-that-be in the here-and-now.  These leaders help, all too often, to deceive people and get them to ignore the benefits provided by nature and the providential ecosystem services available from our home planet when it is in a healthy condition.  The real purpose of human beings is lost in the rabble of zealous and gullible believers in God, and in certainties of conviction in misguided pursuits. 

What is our real purpose?  To live in the present, to appreciate the authentic in life, to nurture the spirit as well as the body, and to enjoy life in balance and moderation;  and to be of compassionate service to society and have mercy and forgiveness for others as well as for oneself.  AND to leave a legacy that renews rather than destroys the hopes and well-being of all our descendants in future generations.

Maybe Mormonism?

A final observation about religion:  John Krakauer indicated, as I recall, in his compelling book Under the Banner of Heaven, that in the early days of the Mormon Church, anyone and everyone was empowered to receive revelations from God.  This quickly became an unmanageable tenet, as one might easily imagine.  It was probably like a bad dream of omnipotence begetting impotence, or a proverbial bad drug trip on LSD.  Maybe it was more accurately like the wildly creative expressions of people at the annual Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of northwestern Nevada, where tens of thousands of revelers gather near the end of every summer in an astonishingly harmonious expression of anarchic creativity, community, music, fire and wild abandon.

During the early years of their Church, Mormon leaders found it too hard to control the flock with a democratic approach to revelation.  So a revelation came from God to Church leaders indicating only the leader of the Church could receive revelations.  How convenient is that?!  Curiously, leader Joseph Smith, after being married for many years and just possibly having become a bit bored with the charms of the Missus, suddenly had a brilliant revelation in the year 1831.  He claimed that God told him he could have as many wives as he wanted.  Oh, I can just imagine what a hell of a good time he had with younger women for a while thereafter.  It turns out that Joseph Smith probably had a good number of his 33 wives before the revelation, and that he was just “covering his ass”.  Who knows? 

But God soon thereafter revealed to Joseph’s wife that she could have as many husbands as she wanted.  Horns on the man!  Predictably, darned if God didn’t set the record straight the very next night with a revelation to Joseph that only men could have multiple spouses.  Whether any of this story is actually true, it suggests an allegorical fact that seems true:  egalitarianism always seems to suffer at the hands of the patriarchal, and those people who are obsessed with control and dominion tend to unjustly prevail.  And made-up stories seem to cotton suspiciously to the motives of those who make them up!

Maybe the 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon, or Warren Jeffs who is currently incarcerated for life in a Texas prison for sex crimes, can provide a more honest and accurate understanding than my satirical one regarding Mormon polygamy and the control traits of Mormon men in their extreme fundamentalist faith.  I want to be fair.  But it irks me that the Church of the Latter Day Saints has helped make Utah the second worst state in the U.S. for women, according to the Center for American Progress, and that the Church has strongly opposed human rights for gay people just as it staunchly opposed religious pluralism in the 1800s.  Back then, having recognized that mankind is challenged to govern himself, Mormon leaders concluded that the best of all possible worlds would be one in which Mormons established overarching power and eliminated the Babel of voices, and the perplexity of choices, by making everyone bow to the orthodoxy of their particular beliefs.  Most people have strongly differing and more fair-minded points of view! 

Utah is one of the most staunchly Republican and anti-progressive of the fifty American states, and the role of the Mormon Church contributes to this pathetically unfair state of affairs.  Shame!!

DIGNITY IN DYING

Life is a terminal condition.  Every living creature eventually dies.  We humans act heroic defiantly, yet we desperately seek consolation and we hope against hope for a better “life after death.”  The father of one of my good friends had a stroke a few months before he died.  He made sure to establish a “do not resuscitate” order as his health deteriorated.  Instead of being helped to die mercifully, however, he was essentially starved to death.  This state of affairs in our nation’s medical ethics opposes allowing people to die with dignity, often because religious dogmas oppose this right.  For instance, the position of the Mormon Church on euthanasia is that it is “a violation of the commandments of God.”

Think about this issue.  Euthanasia is a word derived from a Greek word meaning “good death”.  It refers to the practice of allowing someone to choose to end their life to relieve unbearable pain and suffering during a terminal illness or affliction.  Oregon was the first state in the U.S. that made it legal for terminally ill patients to determine the time of their own death, and to have physicians give patients the means to freely make this choice, subject to a number of common sense restrictions.  Oregon voters enacted this Death with Dignity initiative in 1994 by a very close vote of 51.3% to 48.7%.  Three years later, 60% of Oregon voters rejected an attempt to overturn this law, having seen its compassionate nature.  The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in 2006.  The states of Washington, Vermont and Montana are so far the only others to reasonably allow this kind of dignity in dying, and California passed a similar law that will go into effect in June 2016. 

It is humane and compassionate to allow people the choice of dying with dignity when their death is near or they are suffering terrible pain.  Besides, lifetime medical costs are heavily skewed toward the end of life, so a common sense utilitarian argument can be made that it would be far more sensible to let people die when the end is near than to invest huge amounts of money to keep them alive.  Some drug industry representatives, surgeons and hospitals may disagree, but their deep conflicts of interest in making profits from tortuous declines in people’s health make their perspectives less respectable in considering this issue. 

The fact that we don’t spend enough money to ensure that young people are healthy makes the status quo particularly poorly prioritized.  Investments in the health of young people are a much better use of limited funds than investments in keeping terminally ill people alive.  Young people derive much greater benefits from health care spending in the long lives ahead of them than old people gain in the short time that remains in their lives. 

Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act should be expanded to become legal in all 50 states, with all the covenants and restrictions necessary to ensure that it will not be abused.  Patients and their families and doctors should make end of life decisions, not governments or religious authorities.  Watch the documentary film How to Die in Oregon to see a broader context of this issue. 

The Power of Positive Thinking Leads Us toward a Conclusion

The day after Halloween, November 1st, is All Souls’ Day in many sects of Christianity.  This date is also known as All Saints’ Day, and as Dia de los Muertos.  In commemoration of this day, many people in Mexico and New Mexico and some pagan locales celebrate by constructing and then burning a giant ‘Zozobra’.  This is a tall marionette effigy that is said to represent “Old Man Gloom”.  By burning such a figure, people symbolically incinerate their personal worries and troubles and gloom in the hopefully healing flames.  Recent years have been extraordinarily difficult ones for millions of people, so let’s all imagine a little Zozobra conflagration of our own -- one in which we ceremonially project our troubles into the heavens and symbolically get rid of them. 

Good luck!  A sedulous philosophic sibyl aspiring to attain the status of a percipient prophetess recently received a vivid vision in which she saw a transcendent truth.  Reasonable reasoning, she realized, can get lost in a fog of words and a maze of quibbles.  The essence of what is vitally important can become concealed or obfuscated.  I beseech the Muses to help make the essays in this manifesto more meaningful, clear and widely understood!

Conclusion

Let us pray.  Help us see the true distinctions between moral actions and immoral actions, as they are rightly judged by consequentialist ethics.  Let us grasp the great Garden of Eden epiphany of the fair knowledge of good and evil, of what is really in the best interests of our families, our communities, our nation and humanity in the long run as a whole.  And let us act accordingly.

The Earth Manifesto is certainly not a holy scripture, but its ideas deserve reverence more than the narrowly parochial patriarchal doctrines and propaganda of most of the holy books of old.  Together, understanding the ideas in this manuscript, humanity could improve the collective prospects of our kind, now and far into the future, for decades and centuries and millennia to come.

I believe we should all seek redemption and salvation, while we are able to do so in this life, by choosing to act in ways that are fairer, more intelligent, more ecumenical and more responsible.  Let’s ‘pay forward’ some goodwill, and take precautionary actions to ensure that our legacy is a more positive one than is implied by our current trajectory!  

Rejoice in the world, for every one of us transubstantiates food into energy, and we can choose to channel this energy into enthusiasm, appreciation, laughter, love, community, productivity and salutary social action, rather than into myopic greed, jealousy, anger, hatred or other destructive behaviors.

I seek the truth, elusive though it may be

 Explain it to me once again, slowly, honestly, plausibly

  And elaborate as you see fit, for I am patient and willing to believe

   Tell it to me as it is -- accurately, relevantly and not merely glibly.

The evolution of Creation myths has a rich and fascinating history                   

  A marvelous reflection of the increasing sophistication of human conceptions

    From Babylonian Marduk, Hindu Brahma, Egyptian Ra, and Greek Zeus to modern God

      And on to scientific perspectives, revelations and other various prophetic perceptions.

Thanks for reading!                  

       Truly yours,

            Dr. Tiffany B. Twain      

              April 16, 2016

Revelations of a Modern Prophet was initially written before Easter Sunday in April 2010 with substantial editing and updates annually since then.

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Another image arises as Book Three comes to its 212-page conclusion, and it is a bright image of expanding awareness and personal transformation.  It is an image of Dante furiously composing his stunningly complex condemnation of villains and bad actors and greedy people in his Nine Circles of Inferno.  Dante Aleghieri himself, bereft at his forced exile from his hometown of Florence, Italy, made an imaginary journey through Inferno and Purgatorio en route to a reunion with the subject of his chivalrous infatuation with Beatrice in Paradiso, and in the process he experienced psychological and spiritual growth and healing as he grappled with the intense angst of injustices and unnecessary suffering in the world.

How can we have the audacity to think we can change the world?  Niccolo Machiavelli would have laughed out loud.  Here we are dealing with some of the most powerful motivations in all of human nature:  status seeking behaviors, the thrill of power, the prepossessive allure of money, the archaic impulse of domineering greed, and the whole passel of material and emotional motivations that have driven our kind into the nine circles of Dante’s Inferno.  Then again, Dante himself did manage to transcend the terrible angst of his personal circumstances and made a transformative journey through Purgatorio, guided by rationality and inspired by an alluring muse of passionate yet unrequited love.  He saw deeply that the touchstones of remorse and reconciliation were needed to make his way upward, and he was able to transform his own life.  Maybe we too, collectively, are on a similar journey through the pitfalls of hell and the expiatory passages of purgatory, and maybe we too will be able to reach a relative paradise of a better life on Earth.  It is possible!

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“I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”

                                                                                                                 --- Attributed to Mark Twain

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                                                                      The End                

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Germinating Ideas for Inclusion in this Essay

"May your memory of her continue to be a blessing to you."

                                                                                          --- Sylvia Boorstein

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A friend at a New Year’s Eve party asked each dinner party guest:

   “What is your intention for the new year?”

The best New Year’s Resolution anyone provided was, “To find the story I need to tell in my life.”

I later figured that a renewed commitment to getting outdoors to enjoy the beauties of the natural world was a genuine good plan, but not as good as this:

I believe in the positive value of a chipper attitude.  If nothing else, “Cheer up, for sure enough, things could be worse.”  And, in all probability, things will get worse -- unless we develop a can-do attitude and we DO do what rightly needs to be done for the greater good.

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Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, once warned that we need to prevent the social safety net from becoming "a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”  To imagine giving bigger tax breaks to wealthy people in order to slash spending on the tattered social safety net that we still have seems ludicrous, and yet that is this conventionally conservative politician's ideological bent.

Paul Krugman sets a vivid scene in his Opinion piece titled Republican Elite’s Reign of Disdain on March 18, 2016.  In analyzing why the angry base of the Republican Party is rejecting establishment candidates in favor of Trump and Cruz, Krugman points out that party elites blame moral and character failings of the voters themselves, instead of admitting their role in contributing to the unnecessarily dire circumstances of millions of blue-collar Republican voters due to backwards ideological stances taken by Republican politicians and the obstruction-oriented tactics that have helped cause these adverse conditions.  

"Stripped down to its essence, the G.O.P. elite view is that working-class America faces a crisis, not of opportunity, but of values.  That is, for some mysterious reason many of our citizens have, as Mr. Ryan puts it, lost “their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”  And this crisis of values, they suggest, has been aided and abetted by social programs that make life too easy on slackers."

The problems with this diagnosis should be obvious.  Tens of millions of people don’t suffer a collapse in values for no reason.  Remember, several decades ago the sociologist William Julius Wilson argued that the social ills of America’s black community didn’t come out of thin air, but were the result of disappearing economic opportunity.  If he was right, you would have expected declining opportunity to have the same effect on whites, and sure enough, that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

"Meanwhile, the argument that the social safety net causes social decay by coddling slackers runs up against the hard truth that every other advanced country has a more generous social safety net than we do," and yet they are not experiencing the same morbid symptoms as middle-aged whites are feeling in the U.S.  Paul Krugman continues:

"But the Republican elite can’t handle the truth. It’s too committed to an Ayn Rand story line about heroic job creators versus moochers to admit either that trickle-down economics can fail to deliver good jobs, or that sometimes government aid is a crucial lifeline.  So it ends up lashing out at its own voters when they refuse to buy into that story line.”

And he concludes:  "Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that Donald Trump has any better idea about what the country needs;  he’s just peddling another fantasy, this one involving the supposed power of belligerence.  But at least he’s acknowledging the real problems ordinary Americans face, not lecturing them on their moral failings.  And that’s an important reason he’s winning."

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Conservatives have adopted such a my-way-or-the-highway attitude that it is hard to see how fairness can be restored in our dysfunctional democracy, other than by voters “wising up and throwing the bums out."  The unprecedented stance by Republican Senators of refusing to even hold hearings on a Supreme Court Justice to fill the vacancy left after Antonin Scalia died is emblematic of the extremely oppositional positions taken by uncompromising conservatives on many issues.  Things have gotten much worse than they were 25 years ago when a bruising battle took place over the nomination of Clarence Thomas for a lifetime position on the high court.  Think back to those days.

Justice Thurgood Marshall was retiring from his position on the Supreme Court in 1991 after a distinguished 24-year tenure on the Court.  Justice Marshall had had a remarkably honorable liberal record of jurisprudence throughout his life, and he was the first African-American Justice on the Supreme Court, so it was appropriate to choose another black man to replace him.  But by choosing an ambitious judge who would become the most conservative Justice on the high court, the best interests of black Americans and indeed the vast majority of the people were rudely betrayed.  It was coldly calculating cynicism for conservatives to have chosen such an extreme ideological conservative to replace Thurgood Marshall.  The ideological bent of Clarence Thomas was so conservative that his confirmation was highly antithetical to almost everything Thurgood Marshall stood for.  The political nature of his being chosen, and the degree of political chicanery involved in his being confirmed after Professor Anita Hill courageously came forward to shed light on his character is provocatively told in the HBO film Confirmation.

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It's not mere extremism that makes folks at the fringes so troubling; it's extremism wedded to false beliefs.

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"Peace along with freedom and justice are the pillars for attaining both security and stability and will pave the way towards the eradication of oppression, extremism, and terrorism in our world.”

                                                                                                                                       --- Najib Mikati

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Todd Albaugh is getting national attention after penning a Facebook post detailing the main reason he left his career working for Republicans in Wisconsin.  He says the last straw was when Republican state senators were working overtime to pass a strict voter ID law, similar to laws passed by other conservative legislatures around the country in recent years.  He says that Republican state senators in Wisconsin were “giddy and happy” that these laws would help suppress Democratic voters and would hopefully give them a leg up in local campaigns and presidential campaigns.  Albaugh said it made him sick to see his colleagues working so diligently to deny people their right to vote, and he soon left politics all together. 

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study has found that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, "Who governs? Who really rules?" in this country, is:  “Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.  Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise.  But when policy-making is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously undermined.

                 --- Eric Zuesse, US in an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, Says Scientific Study

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It is no secret that the infamous F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover waged a decades-long war on American “leftists,” civil rights activists, labor organizers, academics, artists, intellectuals, writers, feminists, gay men, lesbians, the disabled, and others marked as “suspicious” and prone to “infiltration” by “Communists.”   This was basically an extrajudicial and quasi-legal harassment, intimidation, violence and even murder.

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It is ironically funny, though deadly serious, that the Republican Party establishment has cunningly built a coalition of economic elitists, staunch proponents of an aggressive military, disaffected white male blue collar workers and zealously conservative religious folks, and then lost control of their political party to opportunistic men who criticize the establishment for not being conservative enough, and who represent an overly divisive, sexist and racially prejudiced constituency that should not have a chance in hell of gaining national power.

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In Virgil’s Limbo, “Here suffer those who did not sin, yet did not have the required portal of our faith.  Their punishment is the denial of Paradise.”  Dante regarded Limbo as the first circle of Inferno.

Every person who lived before Jesus Christ could not possibly have been saved, due to their having lived before Jesus was born, so they could not ever get into Paradisio, according to bizarre, but official, doctrine of church authorities.  There were some great philosophers like Socrates and Plato and a thousand generations of heroes back into legendary times who were consigned to Limbo and were thus cut out of any hope for a blissful eternal life after they died.  This dogma alone is enough to convince me that belief in such an arbitrary God is absurd!

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Overreacting to Terrorism, by Nicholas Kristof, March 24, 2016

Many more people drowned in America in bathtubs, sometimes after falls, in 2013, than were killed by terrorists in 2014 (464 vs. 17).  Of course, that’s not an argument for relaxing vigilance against terrorists, for at some point they may graduate from explosives to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons that could be far more devastating than even 9/11.  But it is an argument for addressing global challenges a little more rationally.

The basic problem is this:  The human brain evolved so that we systematically misjudge risks and how to respond to them.

Our visceral fear of terrorism has repeatedly led us to adopt policies that are expensive and counterproductive, such as the invasion of Iraq.  We have ramped up the intelligence community so much that there are now seven times as many Americans with security clearances (4.5 million) as live in Washington, D.C.  Meanwhile, Donald Trump responded to the Brussels attacks with crowd-pleasing calls for torture or barring Muslims that even Republican security experts agree are preposterous.

On the same day as the attacks, a paper by James E. Hansen and other climate experts was released arguing that carbon emissions are transforming our world far more quickly than expected, in ways that may inundate coastal cities and cause storms more horrendous than any in modern history.  The response?  A yawn.

As an important analysis in Nature Climate Change put it, “The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic Climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far.”

To put it another way, this year’s election choices may shape coastlines 10,000 years from now.  Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have both mocked the idea of human-caused climate change, with Trump suggesting that it is a hoax invented by China to harm the American economy (he now says that last point was a joke).

Doesn’t it seem prudent to invest in efforts to avert not only shoe bombers but also the drowning of the world’s low-lying countries?

“We have a political system that engages quickly and powerfully in response to terrorism and security risks,” notes Daniel Esty, an environment expert at Yale Law School, “but doesn’t seem capable of galvanizing action on climate change and other risks that are less visible and spread over time and space.”

The reason seems to be — how do I put this politely? — that we evolved in ways that leave us irrational.

When we spot a harmless garter snake, our brains light up with activity as we process the “threat.” That’s because as primate brains evolved over tens of millions of years, poisonous snakes were a threat that we are highly adapted to address, with special brain cells that are extremely sensitive to snake images.

Unfortunately, our brains are not well adapted to most of the biggest threats we actually face in the 21st century. Warn us that climate change is destroying our planet, and only a small part of our prefrontal cortex (which worries about the future) will glimmer; then we’ll go back to worrying about snakes or their modern equivalent — terrorists.

Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, says that the kind of threats that we evolved to deal with are those that are imminent rather than gradual, and those that involve a deliberate bad actor, especially one transgressing our moral code. Explaining our lack of concern for global warming, he noted, “Climate change is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, not flags.”

In short, our brains are perfectly evolved for the Pleistocene, but are not as well suited for the risks we face today.  If only climate change caused sharp increases in snake populations, then we’d be on top of the problem!

Yet even if our brains sometimes mislead us, they also crown us with the capacity to recognize our flaws and rectify mistakes.  So maybe we can adjust for our weaknesses in risk assessment -- so that we confront the possible destruction of our planet as if it were every bit as ominous and urgent a threat as, say, a passing garter snake.

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The most plausible threats that could portend a collapse of our global civilizations can be found in developments that parallel collapses of earlier empires and civilizations.  Let's consult with Professor Jared Diamond, who spent considerable effort considering what may have been the primary factors leading to the collapse of early human societies,  Diamond's scholarly conclusions are contained in his compelling book, first published in 2005, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.  In this book, Jared Diamond reviews the causes of historical and pre-historical instances of societal collapse, and he adduced three specific factors, including environmental changes, the effects of climate changes, and hostile neighbors.  While the bulk of the book is concerned with the demise of historical civilizations, Diamond also argues that humanity collectively faces, on a much larger scale, many of the same issues, with possibly catastrophic near-future consequences to many of the world's populations.

He lists 12 environmental problems facing humankind today.  The first eight have historically contributed to the collapse of past societies:

1.     Deforestation and habitat destruction

2.    Soil problems (erosionsalinization, and soil fertility losses)

3.    Water management problems

4.    Overhunting

5.    Overfishing

6.    Effects of introduced species on native species

7.    Overpopulation

8.    Increased per-capita impact of people

Further, he says four new factors may contribute to the weakening and collapse of present and future societies:

1.     Anthropogenic climate change

2.    Buildup of toxins in the environment

3.    Energy shortages

4.    Full human use of the Earth’s photosynthetic capacity

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Comprehensive Global Perspective:

Chapter #18 – The Decline and Fall of Civilizations.

Profound forces are at play in the world, forces of cause and effect, action and reaction, progress and regress, development and decay.  Civilizations have historically survived by dealing successfully with big challenges that arise.  Civilizations grow when they respond appropriately to such challenges  and they enter a period of decline when they fail to cope. 

Many instances in history have shown that the energies of a small minority of passionately creative people can contribute to finding revolutionary solutions to existential problems.  These solutions re-orient entire societies in the direction of positive adaptation to change, and enhance their abilities to survive. 

Throughout history, many civilizations have been seen to grow, climax and decay.  Studies of a number of civilizations reveal that DECLINE generally occurs because of a similar combination of causes:

1.   Resources have been excessively exploited and squandered and depleted;

2.   Political corruption, bureaucracy and mismanagement have become widespread;

3.   An unfair plutocracy becomes established that is characterized by an ever-growing disparity between the influence and fortunes of rich people and everyone else;

4.   The populace grows complacent and is diverted by materialistic indulgences, lavish forms of entertainment, sports spectacles, and wars;

5.   The military, because of a dangerous arrogance of power, becomes bloated, overextended and involved in costly and debilitating foreign wars;

6.   The public is divided by inegalitarian domestic policies and becomes effectively disempowered and disenfranchised, so the populace becomes increasingly cynical and apathetic;  and,

7.   There is a massive influx of people and their customs from abroad that creates divisive tension and disruption.

Think about this.  Seven characteristics of the decay of civilization, and people in nations worldwide are channeling them all as if they were some virtuous Holy Grail!  Especially in the United States!  The historian Arnold J. Toynbee argued that "Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder." 

Some say that the rise and fall of cultures is cyclical.  Even Arnold Toynbee, who did not believe in fatalistic determinism, observed: "The historical cycle seems to be:  from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy; from apathy to dependency; and from dependency back to bondage once more."  Nineteen civilizations are said to have followed this pattern, each one rising and falling over a span of about 200 years.

America’s time need not be up;  but we should not let selfishness and complacency drive us toward inaction, apathy, or despair.  History shows that as empires climax and decay, the ruling elites become increasingly corrupt, anti-democratic and authoritarian in their drives to maintain power.  This dynamic certainly seems to be playing out in the U.S. today as many of our wealthiest citizens become ever more staunchly opposed to paying taxes.  We should resist trends that drive us in regressive directions, and remain vigilant against all moves that could lead to increased domination by authoritarian leaders.  These words were written long before Mr. Trump’s hostile foray into politics.

It is not inevitable that our country will be devastated by class warfare, corruption, religious strife, cultural clashes, the radicalization of religious fundamentalists, despotism, or disastrous population overshoot and ecological collapse.  But the proverbial bull must be seized by the horns, and open-minded people are needed to step forward to valiantly help solve daunting dilemmas.  We cannot allow business leaders and corrupt politicians and right wing conservatives and religious extremists and egomaniacs to advance their selfish interests and goals of domination while the planet slowly orbits toward a combustive calamity of resource depletion and heightened conflict.

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has dominated international politics with its superpower influence.  Imperial empires are generally built by using domineering tactics of economic exploitation and coercive power and control.  In the last 100 years, the types of government that have pursued imperialistic foreign policies have included right-wing fascist ones, authoritarian communist ones, harsh dictatorships and reactionary theocracies, as well as inadequately-controlled capitalistic democracies.  None of these are desirable forms of government from the standpoint of the best interests of citizens and humanity.

All these types of government tend to treat their citizens with a disregard for the best interests of the people.  They utilize ruthless tactics to achieve narrow goals and centralize power in authoritarian structures.  They encourage blind patriotism and belligerent nationalism.  They favor state corporatism and expanded privileges for elites.  They use deceptive propaganda and cultivated “Big Lies”, and often promote pseudoscience and practice secrecy and use mass media to manipulate the populace.  They disdain human rights, espouse unjust doctrines, and restrict personal freedoms.  They suppress dissent and divide people instead of trying to unite them for the common good.  They neglect important domestic priorities and stint on valued social goals.  They harshly punish crime and they intimidate and scapegoat people who oppose them.  They enact laws that oppress workers.  They manipulate the judicial system. They often cultivate fear, prejudice and hate.  They encourage role rigidity, male domination, sexism, racism, homophobia and the pillorying of gay people.  They oppose abortion and intertwine government and religion, and repress artists and intellectuals.

D’oh!  My eyes roll;  my thoughts wander.  So much suffering and harm has been wreaked on people around the globe in the pursuit of power, control, glory and greed.  Ideals of freedom, equality and democracy are rent asunder in the process.  Authoritarian centralization of control, under either communism or capitalism, has often been gravely detrimental to the majority of the people.

In bygone centuries, European imperialism involved a system of economic mercantilism and colonial occupations.  Naval power and strong-arm tactics were used to establish exploitive regimes over peoples in Third World countries.  England, Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Italy all built far-flung colonial empires.  The injustice of colonialism eventually led to revolutionary movements for independence in dozens of countries around the world. 

A new form of empire building has replaced the colonial imperialism of the 16th to 20th centuries.  This new kind of international abuse of power involves economic imperialism that is more subtle and insidious.  International banks, multinational corporations and governments use a rigged international banking system and predatory development schemes to enrich giant corporations and investors and elite in-groups.  Their goal is to increase profits, and to exploit resources and cheap labor, no matter what the cost to the people in developing countries.

The old forms of colonialism may seem downright vulgar compared to these sophisticated new forms of imperialism.  Free enterprise is running amok by advancing schemes of privatization, corporate globalization, increased inequality, excessively speculative development, various forms of institutional bribery and fraud, radical social engineering, surges of militarism, and other forms of exploitive ‘economic shock therapy’. 

Economic inequality is one of the most significant sources of friction in world politics.  The industrial revolution has heightened inequalities of wealth and power between developed nations and developing ones.  The earliest countries to industrialize colonized and exploited non-industrialized countries.  Peripheral societies that have been left behind basically have two strategies to break out of economic and political dependency: (1) by means of revolutionary independence movements, or (2) by imitating the methods of industrialization and using technological innovations and market mechanisms such as currency controls, tariffs and other import barriers.  Opposition to the latter methods by nations in the developed world makes intense conflicts more likely.  It is clear, however, that fairer and more peaceable strategies are preferable to violent revolutions, so we should make greater efforts to create fairer outcomes for people in less developed nations.

Economic development abroad these days generally relies on those who preach the gospel of progress.  Such people unfortunately often ally themselves with forces of austerity, domination and repression in order to advance the interests of investors and those in ruling classes.  Powerful people almost invariably abuse their prerogatives, and the world’s poor become ever more hapless pawns of the rich. 

One percent of the people in the world own almost half of all wealth and assets.  Hunger, meanwhile, subversively festers in the slums of the world, posing a serious threat to the future safety of all.  One of the primary roots of conflict in human societies is instability that results from the systemic abuse of the poor by economic and political elites.

Chalmers Johnson in his Nemesis trilogy provided provocative perspective concerning America and the consequences of efforts to build an imperialistic empire.  Gray Brechin writes about similar themes in his book, Imperial San Francisco, where he investigates the California Gold Rush and its aftermath, with a focus on the growth of urban power, empire, ‘robber barons’, ambition and greed, and their correlation with earthly ruin.

While civilizations seem to pass through various stages of genesis, growth, disintegration, breakdown and dissolution, these stages are NOT predestined.  We need not be fatalistic, and in fact, one of the best things we could do would be to confidently and courageously join the struggle to transform our societies into fairer and more sustainable ones.  By championing resource conservation, recognizing limits, striving together to achieve peaceable coexistence and making reasonable, intelligent, fair and intrepid changes for a saner future, we would have a better chance of avoiding violent conflicts, disintegration and chaos.

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How can we cultivate civilized approaches to barbarically uncivilized behaviors?  When suicide bombers blow up dozens of innocent victims, how can authorities respond in ways that do not promote equally poorly targeted injustices and undermine the legitimate need for republican liberties and democratic fair-mindedness?

In Islam, the concept of 72 virgins refers to an aspect of their Heaven.  This concept is grounded in Qur'anic text which describes a sensual Paradise where believing men are rewarded by being wed to virgins with "full-grown", "swelling" or "pears-shaped" breasts.  Conversely, and equally revealing of the sexism rooted in this religious dogma, women will be provided with only one man in this Paradise, and they "will be satisfied with him".  Good luck with that!

It is revelatory that Muslim societies are so sexually repressive and yet Muslim Paradise is characterized by sensual pleasures, while Christian societies tend to be much more open and permissive and yet their Heaven is regarded as having lots of harp playing and singing and glory and contemplation and communing with the Father, but no sex at all.

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I dreamt of one of those fateful moments when the future fractures into a chaotic freefall of a thousand different potential outcomes, and with this fluid mosaic flashing before my mind’s eye, I floated, oddly calm yet hyper-alert, through an ambiguous miasma of shifting sands of destiny, inchoate emotions in suspense, and a vision materialized of two mirrored palettes inscribed with alternate constellations of consequential implications as this shock revealed itself to the pleonastic phantoms of my imagination.  I awoke with a dreamy sense of uncertainty as to exactly what had transpired, but felt that this kind of fateful punctuation in the normally calmer equilibrium of life was emblematic of times that one faces upon occasion when, for better or worse, an epic change unfolds and the universe seems to skip a beat.

“The universe is big, our minds are small, and we’re never going to get absolute certainty.”  So I suppose out best bet is to seek a somewhat sophisticated stance in which “you’re constantly aware of testing claims about truth, but you’re not either naively cynical or naively trusting.”

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“Ten percent of the big fish still remain.  There are still some blue whales.  There are still some krill in Antarctica.  There are a few oysters in Chesapeake Bay.  Half the coral reefs are still in pretty good shape, a jeweled belt around the middle of the planet.  There's still time, but not a lot, to turn things around.”   

                    --- Dr. Sylvia Earle 

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Mark Twain made funny observations about oysters, reckoning that they are "the most conceited animal there is, except man."  He reasoned that it is reasonably certain that an oyster has jumped to the conclusion that all of evolution took place as a preparation for its existence, but added that the oyster "could not know, at that early date, that he was only an incident in a scheme, and that there was some more in the scheme yet."

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Back in 1846, a shrewd entrepreneur named Sam Brannan had led a large group of Mormons on an voyage to California on a sailing ship that encountered terrible storms in the Atlantic and then searing heat in the doldrums en route to Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America.  The trip took six months and was so filled with hardships that ten people died along the way.  After arriving in California, Brannan started a general store near Sutter's Fort, and was so well positioned to sell supplies to gold miners after the discovery of gold that he became the first millionaire in California, back when a million dollars was really a lot of money.  He later bought a square mile of land in the northern reaches of Napa Valley that has many hot springs, and during a particularly drunken evening, Brannan meant to say he would turn California into a resort like the famous Saratoga Springs in New York, but accidentally said he would make it the “Calistoga of Sarafornia."  This is how the delightful town of Calistoga got its name.

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“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

                                                                       --- Attributed to Mark Twain in Reader’s Digest, April 1934

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"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly:  it is dearness only that gives every thing its value."

                                                                                                                                      --- Thomas Paine

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On Social Mobility:

A growing concentration of income and wealth at the top might be more acceptable if social mobility were increasing, so that more people had a chance to move into the top ranks.  But social mobility has been declining overall in the past few decades.  This is true of individual mobility (people are worse off than they used to be), and of intergenerational mobility (people are worse off than their parents).

The facts are simple and clear.  As social mobility in the United States is declining, inequality is reaching historic extremes and the number of people living below the poverty line is at a record high.  Student debt and the national debt are also at record highs, and our educational system is failing in most poor locales, and many other measures of the tarnished American dream are in decline.  And all of this is directly or indirectly attributable to the abuse of power by the rich that allows them to grab an increasing monopoly on the nation’s wealth.  I exaggerate?  Familiarize yourself with the scope of the problem by studying Common Sense Revival in all its particulars.  Forgive the redundancies;  and weigh in with your opinions and constructive input on how to make the case even stronger for revolutionary reform. 

It is important to understand that public universities are probably the most effective engines of social mobility.  From this perspective it is misguided to allow a good education to change from a public good to a private commodity funded by an alarming increase in burdensome personal debt.  Back in the late 1960s, most of the budgets for public universities were publicly funded, but today the federal government and various state governments provide only a small fraction of needed financing.  This change is a sad reflection of the wrongheaded nature of modern trends that abridge people’s freedoms.  This is one of the “gradual and silent encroachments” that James Madison spoke about with such compelling acuity of insight.

President Obama also provided another important perspective on income inequality and the lack of social mobility:  “The gap in test scores between poor kids and wealthy kids is now nearly twice what it is between white kids and black kids.  Kids with working-class parents are ten times likelier than kids with middle- or upper-class parents to go through a time when their parents have no income.  So the fact is this: the opportunity gap in America is now as much about class as it is about race, and that gap is growing.”  ---  “Indeed it is,” states John Cassidy in Rational Irrationality.  “So what does the President intend to do about it?  And if he can’t do very much, because the Republicans are intent on blocking his every move, what is his big idea for the future?  If, as he rightly says, reducing inequality and boosting rates of social mobility is a multi-year challenge (actually, it’s probably a multi-decade challenge), then it is surely best to start out with some large themes and ambitious goals.  Even if they get diluted along the way, something worthwhile may remain.”

John Cassidy suggests that a new emphasis is need in Washington D.C.  “Rather than simply trying to push the ball a bit farther up the Washington playing field, the President might have been better served to pick up on some of the larger themes that often get left out of the debate in the capitol, but which commentators as far afield as Warren Buffett, Bill de Blasio, and Pope Francis have recently been addressing:  a tax system which, over all, remains heavily tilted toward the very wealthy;  a rampant financial sector, which is itself responsible for much of the rise in incomes at the top of the distribution;  corporate-governance standards throughout the business sector that put stockholder value above everything else, and shower great rewards on CEOs who cut labor costs to boost profits;  and a change in social norms more generally in a society where, to quote the Pope, issues of ethics and morality are often “treated with a scornful derision.”

“Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect an embattled President with a forty-one-per-cent approval rating, whose former Treasury Secretary recently joined a private-equity firm, to overcome his cautious nature and embark upon a moral crusade.  On the other hand, he hasn’t got very much to lose.  And as Bill de Blasio demonstrated in New York’s mayoral race, to the great surprise of most political professionals, going all in on inequality can be a winning strategy.”      

  I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound


    Everybody look what's going down

                                                       --- Buffalo Springfield lyrics, For What Its Worth