Revelations of a Modern Prophet
An Earth Manifesto publication by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain
Absolute Truths and
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
psychologists Dominic Johnson and Jesse Bering speculate about this:
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.
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
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.
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
do know how to pay attention …
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too
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
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
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.
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
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.”
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.
fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying the
--- 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!
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.
not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.”
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
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
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
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 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
“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
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
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.”
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:
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
--- 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
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
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
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
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
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.”
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
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.
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
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.
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
--- 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
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
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!
must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly preach, but it must do
both if it
would live forever.”
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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).”
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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.
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
"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
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
“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
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.
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
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.
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
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!”
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
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
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
“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.
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
--- 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
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
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!
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
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
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
“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!
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
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.
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.
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
A Digression on
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
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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”!
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.
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
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.
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
Evolutionary Stages of Understanding
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Correlation of Left-Brain Specialization and the Suppression of Female Deities
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Enantiodromia: The Pendulum
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
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.
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.”
Scientific Perspective of Existence
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.
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
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
--- 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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
The body of a primitive people’s beliefs concerning its origin, early
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
in his comic strip Calvin and Hobbes:
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
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
lies in projecting our human purposes, criteria, preferences, hopes and fears
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
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
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”.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
act to save ourselves!)
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.
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
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."
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!
Bible reveals to us the character of our god with minute and remorseless
It is perhaps the most damnatory biography
that exists in print anywhere.”
--- Mark Twain, Reflections on Religion, 1906
“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
“The idea is to write
it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight
--- 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
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.
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.
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
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!
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!
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
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.
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
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
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
”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."
Religion and God
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!
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
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
“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
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!
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.
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!
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,
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.
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.
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
Here is another
insightful excerpt from Mark Twain’s Corn-Pone
“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.”
to Think about God
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
pop-culture guru once made a curious observation:
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
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
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?
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
What if there is no God, no hell below us, above us
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
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die
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
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one.
--- Imagine, John Lennon
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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!
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
… 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
--- 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!
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
seek the truth, elusive though it may be
Explain it to me once again, slowly, honestly,
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
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.
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.
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!
“I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I
approved of it.”
--- Attributed to Mark Twain
Germinating Ideas for Inclusion in this
"May your memory of her continue to be a blessing to
A friend at a New Year’s Eve party asked
each dinner party guest:
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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:
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.”
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."
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.
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.
not mere extremism that makes folks at the fringes so troubling; it's extremism
wedded to false beliefs.
"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
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.
A 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
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
He lists 12 environmental problems facing
humankind today. The first eight have historically contributed to the
collapse of past societies:
Deforestation and habitat destruction
Soil problems (erosion, salinization,
Water management problems
Effects of introduced species on native
Increased per-capita impact of people
Further, he says four
new factors may contribute to the weakening and collapse of present and future
Buildup of toxins in
Full human use of the
Earth’s photosynthetic capacity
Chapter #18 – The Decline and Fall of
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.
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
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
7. There is a massive influx of
people and their customs from abroad that creates divisive tension and
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."
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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
“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
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
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.
“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
"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too
lightly: it is dearness only that gives every
thing its value."
--- Thomas Paine
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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
it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
look what's going down
Buffalo Springfield lyrics, For What Its