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   The Implications Associated with Modernity and the Coming of the Age of Aquarius

An auspicious full moon was just setting as the sun was rising on Friday, the 11th day of the eleventh month of the year 2011. An asteroid as big as an aircraft carrier had gone whizzing past Earth inside the moon’s orbit, several days earlier, but it luckily didn’t cause any incident, other perhaps than a brain lapse the next day by Texas Governor Rick Perry -- oops! -- at a debate between an odd field of religiously anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-choice, anti-immigrant, anti-union, anti-government aspirants for the top job in American politics in the White House.

These shenanigans in the heavens put me in a reflective mood.  I remembered the story about a visit Mark Twain made to the Museum of Natural History in New York a year before his death, when he admired the massive meteorites that had been brought to the museum from Greenland.  “It isn’t surprising that Mark Twain was in awe of this exhibit, and also of the one in the Hall of Dinosaurs,” wrote a biographer.  “To him, these were the most fascinating things in the world.  He contemplated the meteorites and the brontosaur, and lost himself in strange and marvelous imaginings concerning the far reaches of time and space whence they had come down to us.”

In my own contemplative mood, I thought, “Why are we here?”, laboring as I was under a delusion that I knew more-or-less precisely where we were at that exact moment in the space-time continuum. 

The Earth majestically spins through space, rotating around its axis once every 24 hours as it orbits around the Sun.  This motion makes it appear as if the Sun revolves around the Earth every day -- as if it rises in the East, traverses the sky, and sets in the West.  At night, all the stars in the sky appear to be rotating around Polaris, the North Star, which appears to be motionless in the sky.  Two distinctive constellations, the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia, can both be used reliably to locate the North Star, to those who know how to use pointer stars in these constellations to triangulate across the sky and locate it. At about the time Cassiopeia appears to rise, the Big Dipper appears to be setting, so at least one or the other can generally be seen from anywhere in the northern hemisphere on a clear night.  It is important for any explorer or adventurer who needs to be able to find their way on a dark night to know how to locate the North Star using these constellations as guides.

Our home planet makes one full orbit around the Sun every 365 days.  The distance we travel every year relative to the Sun is about 585 million miles.  We are thus speeding at more than 65,000 miles per hour around the Sun.  Long before scientists figured out much about the nature of the shiny bodies seen in the heavens, early astronomers wondered why a handful of objects in the night sky seemed to wander around independent of the seemingly fixed backdrop of all the other stars.  It turns out that these objects are the other planets in our solar system.  Since these planets are in their own orbits around the Sun, the combination of our motion and their motion creates the illusion of them appearing to wander against the backdrop of the other stars over the course of a year.

By a curious quirk of the physical movement of our home planet, there is a slow-motion wobble of the Earth’s axis that causes an observable movement against the ‘space-fixed backdrop of the stars’.  This physical phenomenon is known as the Earth’s precession.  This phenomenon has historically been known as the “precession of the equinoxes”.  Wikipedia provides a good technical explanation of how and why this precession occurs.

Astronomers have determined that this angular wobble causes a nearly imperceptible but continuous change in the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, or its “ecliptic”.  As a result, the apparent path of the Sun across the backdrop of the stars slowly regresses a full 360 degrees once every 25,770 years, and it thus passes sequentially through all 12 of the traditional constellations of ‘the zodiac’, and spends about 2.150 years in each one.  The zodiac is a concept in both the science of astronomy and the pseudo-science of astrology.  In astronomy, the zodiac is a ‘celestial coordinate system’ that divides the sky into 12 equal pie-slices that are named after ancient constellations.  Early peoples had projected visions of various animals of the zodiac upon the pattern of stars in the sky, and these are known as constellations of stars. 

The science of astronomy studies objects like galaxies, stars, comets, and other planets, and it is concerned with the physical properties and motion and dynamic processes of celestial objects.  It is one of the oldest of all sciences.  The invention of the telescope in the early 1600s made astronomy one of the most important sciences, because it became concerned with the nature of the formation and development of the universe.  In other words, it was concerned with the physical evolution of the universe.

Astrology, on the other hand, is a form of codified superstition in which a connection is supposed between the physical positions and movements of bodies in the cosmos and the affairs of humankind.  The pseudo-science of astrology uses the concept of the zodiac and its signs, or ‘houses’, to allegedly gain information about people’s personalities and human affairs and other terrestrial matters.  What does your horoscope say, today, eh?  I am a Scorpio, so am astute in such things.

The famous early scientist and artist Leonardo da Vinci, according to Dr. Leonard Shlain, "outright rejected astrology".  Da Vinci called astrology "that deceptive opinion by means of which (begging your pardon) a living is made from fools."

Ancient astronomers had created the zodiac by dividing the whole sphere of the night sky into 12 equal zones of celestial longitude that were each 30 degrees wide.  These zones were all named after a constellation that had been envisioned in fixed patterns of stars in the sky.  Early Babylonian astronomers had imagined seeing mythical creatures in these patterns, and they had projected these visions onto the heavens.  They assigned each of the zones a name corresponding to these mythical animals and other symbols, as follows:  (1) Aquarius, the Water-Bearer;  (2)  Pisces, the Fish.  (3) Aries, the Ram;  (4) Taurus, the Bull;  (5) Gemini, the Twins;  (6) Cancer, the Crab;  (7) Leo, the Lion;  (8) Virgo, the Virgin;  (9) Libra, the Scales;  (10) Scorpio, the Scorpion;  (11) Sagittarius, the Centaur Archer;  and (12) Capricorn, the Goat.

Astrologers use these same signs in their curious prognostications.  Ronald Reagan and many other people have believed in such astrological predictions, so indeed astrology has affected the course of human events, whether or not one believes that the position of the stars at the time of one’s birth has any definite deterministic effect on human beings and their affairs.

Astronomers in ancient times noted that the apparent path of the Sun across the heavens, as it was measured by its position on the annual vernal equinox, appears sequentially in each of the twelve zodiacal zones for a period of about 2,150 years before the precession of the Earth causes it to move into the next constellation.  At the time of Jesus Christ, the Sun had been passing through the house of Aries the Ram for more than 2,100 years, so it was a much-heralded cosmic event that the Age of Aries was about to transition into the Age of Pisces.  This is one reason that a fish became an important symbol in Christianity. 

The apparent path of the Sun has now been moving across the constellation of Pisces in the sky for 2,000 years now, and it is approaching Aquarius, the next constellation it will enter.  The sun will leave the house of Pisces and enter the house of Aquarius in the year 2150 or so.  Will humanity survive long enough to witness this event?  And will a new prophet and a new Holy Book materialize as this epoch approaches?

As the dawning of the Age of Aquarius gets nearer, people may once again begin to imagine all sorts of cosmic significance to this ‘celestial shift’.  We may even have a proliferation of false prophets and an increase in the number of evangelical preachers, End Times believers, cult-like ideologues, radical social conservatives, and assorted other zealots and  charlatans.

As this new Age of Aquarius approaches, the symbol of the ‘Water-Bearer’ is appropriate, in an ironic way.  It is becoming more and more crucial for people to recognize the basic value of fresh water to all species of life, and to begin to see and feel the importance of new ecological priorities that are needed to ensure our survival and prospering on Earth.  Perhaps a new religion and new founding myths are required to give honor to the supreme importance of the ecological health of Mother Earth, for our own common good. 

A new and responsible stewardship ethic is needed, and also a new set of overarching beliefs that are ecumenical and tolerant of the religious beliefs of others.  We should honestly accept Golden Rule moralities and adopt a commendable live-and-let-live philosophy.  We need, in particular, to collectively reject dogmas that serve as justifications for violent conflicts, terrorist attacks and wars of aggression, and we need to better control activities that irreversibly damage the environmental commons and arrogantly treat nature with oddly anthropocentric and rashly domineering hubris.

Mercury in Retrograde!

When things seem to be going wrong, they often happen in clusters of threes.  You know what I mean?  This is folk wisdom, or an urban legend, or an old wives’ tale.  In a similar fashion, believers in astrology attribute many adverse circumstances or negative developments to the planet Mercury being “in retrograde”.  In physical reality, since Mercury is the closest planet in orbit around the Sun, it appears to move backwards several times during each year, from our terrestrial vantage point.  There is an interesting cause for this apparent retrograde motion.

Since all stars and planets appear to move from east to west on a nightly basis as the Earth makes its daily 24-hour rotation around its axis, the motion of other planets in our solar system against the backdrop of the stars makes them appear to change position night after night, just as the moon does.  The derivation of the word ‘planet’, in fact, is from the ancient Greek word meaning ‘wanderer’.  Little did those ancient Greeks grasp that we ourselves are on a wanderer, and that our home planet is not the center of the universe.  Little did they realize the nature of the illusion of the other planets wandering and the real reasons for the apparent retrograde movements of other planets as they make their own orbits around the Sun.

All that wander are not lost, nor are all illusions inexplicable.  Primitive explanations can and should be superseded by more accurate understandings, especially when seeing clearly is crucial to our future well-being.  There is truth in primitive stories and explanations, but the truth is often about ourselves, not about reality, as those who study myths are well aware.

The planet Mercury follows a highly elliptical orbit around the Sun once every 88 days, while Earth takes 365 days to complete its more nearly circular orbit around the Sun.  It is the relative motions of these two bodies that make it appear to us that Mercury periodically goes backwards.  There were three periods during the year 2012 that this occurred:  from March 12 to April 4, from July 14 to August 8, and from November 6 to November 26. 

“Beware these dates!”, say astrologers.  I’ll have to check to see if any of the calamities that took place in 2012 were inordinately clustered during those dates.  Astrologers figure that when the apparent motion of a planet goes backward, or retrograde, then it is inauspicious, and bad luck becomes more likely.  They think this because the motion goes against the “natural order” of the planet’s apparent general movement.  Curious and curiouser!

Dr. Leonard Shlain provides a provocative explanation in his last book Leonardo’s Brain about how the dominant analytical left hemisphere of our brains just “makes stuff up”.  Published posthumously in late 2014, this book gives readers some fascinating insights into the nature of curiosity and creativity and the extraordinary integrative character of the mysterious right hemisphere of our brains, and of the 200 billion neurons in the connective tissue of the corpus callosum.  One theory as to the function of the corpus callosum “proposes that the corpus callosum integrates information from each side of the brain, functioning as a third brain, producing something qualitatively different from what the right and left brain generate individually.”  I like that concept!

In any case, it seems clear that the left brain’s confabulations alone are inadequately holistic, and that for valuable and adaptive creativity to manifest itself, “the right brain must free itself from the deadening hand of the inhibitory left brain and do its work, unimpeded and in private.  Like radicals plotting a revolution, they must work in secret out of range of the left hemisphere’s conservatives.”  Food for thought!

The Roman god Mercury, like the earlier analogous Greek god Hermes, was a messenger god and mercurially volatile cosmic trickster.  One astrology website says:  The purpose of Mercury retrograde is to review and revise our life and our connection with reality.”  Hallelujah!  Maybe, after all, some crucial insights can arise from such interpretations of planetary movements.  The need for us to view our lives more honestly and accurately today, and to revise the nature of our connection to reality, is becoming ever more significant.  This may be a key to a more salubrious future!

Where We Stand

Humankind is embarked on a rash and uncontrolled experiment in profligate resource use, stimulated consumerism, rapid population growth, wide-ranging industrialization, sprawling globalization, dramatic urbanization, rash speculation in assets and commodities, doctrinaire financial deregulation, inegalitarian social policies, uncompromising political partisanship, large-scale monoculture agriculture, status-seeking behaviors and aggressive militarism.  As a result of the mindlessly rash character of these policies, we are generating a myriad of pollutants, toxins and wastes, and we are spewing tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.  These activities are having the effect of harming life on Earth and altering the gaseous composition of the atmosphere and affecting storm and precipitation patterns worldwide.  The impact of all these reckless activities is to extensively modify habitats and ecosystems.  It is consequently becoming increasingly imperative that we evaluate the best ways to achieve a revolutionary transformation in our collective behaviors, and that we proactively choose to alter our priorities to create outcomes that are more consistent with a positive legacy for posterity.

Why Are There So Many False Prophets and Ideological Extremists?

In Matthew 24:11, an interesting prognostication is made of a time when there will be a “beginning of sorrows”:

    “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.”

Why were there so many false prophets back in Biblical days?  To figure this out, we need to consider the reason that the myths, legends, genealogies, and recounting of historical events in the Bible are included the way they are.  Biblical stories constitute an assemblage of plausible explanations, ideas, and speculations at the time they were written.  The Torah, which is the first five sections of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), incorporated many elements from earlier pagan belief systems.  Some of these pagan elements were astronomical, some were linguistic, some were symbolic, some were legendary, and some were purely mythological.  They include stories about deities and an original moment of Creation, and myths about a virgin birth of a savior from a mortal mother and a male God father, and births of a savior near the time of the winter solstice.  A surprising number of different religions feature the story of a deity who dies and is then resurrected three days later around the time of the vernal equinox.  Concepts such as a soul, hypothetical ‘afterlife’ and the Golden Rule, sin, guilt, morality, salvation, and revelation are all adapted from earlier belief systems.

According to biblical scholars, the Old Testament was written beginning around 900 BCE, and it was revised many times over the subsequent 1,000 years.  Then, during the first 200 years after the death of Jesus, the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were written by a variety of authors.  The fact that the Bible was written over such a long period of time, and was extensively translated from its original language, makes it subject to significant revisionism and ideological manipulation.  Fundamentalists today latch onto the Bible and claim it is literally the absolute truth of God’s Word, but this is a very gullible belief, NOT in the least a proof of its supposed ‘truth’.

As Mark Twain once noted:

 “In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at

     second-hand, and without examination."   

I don’t really have a clue why there were so many false prophets way back then.  We have plenty of them today, however, so maybe it’s just a function of imaginings and dreams and fears and egos and attention-getting impulses and control drives and other facets of human nature.  Dr. Leonard Shlain explained how our dominant left brains create the illusion of an “I” that is separate from the rest of the world, and how the more holistic perceptions of the right brain, glimpsed during revelatory strokes of insight, see the world with a much more tantalizing totality.

It is a fact, not a prophecy, that the human race is faced with unprecedented global social problems and environmental challenges today.  To best deal with these problems, it is vitally important for us to understand the true nature of the challenges we face, and to come to grips with their big picture causes and consequences.  Then we need to begin making smarter choices.  Unfortunately, a wide variety of beliefs and opinions exist, and conflicting convictions and stubbornly denial-oriented proclivities are preventing us from accurately assessing the merits of the issues -- and from taking appropriate and responsible remedial measures. 

Why Do We Do What We Do?

Many people solipsistically suppose that we are not animals.  Many curiously think we are not driven by deeply-ingrained biological impulses like aggressive instincts or fight-or-flight responses to threats or animalistic mating rituals.  But a close study of human behaviors is revealing.  All our beliefs, actions and behaviors are powerfully influenced by both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’.

The motivations of human beings, as described by Abraham Maslow in his famous Hierarchy of Needs, can be broadly explained in terms of both genetically inherited behaviors and socially-conditioned behaviors.  We are not machines, but even our complex expressions of free will in the choices and decisions we make are deeply influenced by the nature of our brains and our genetic predispositions and the effects of parental upbringing, peer group conformity, subliminal messages that promote consumerism, ideological ways of looking at the world and other forms of social conditioning. 

The human race evolved from earlier now-extinct species such as Homo neanderthalensis and Homo erectus over the course of the past million years.  The size of our brains has grown significantly over the many generations of our evolution.  For almost the entire span of our prehistory since our distant ancestors descended from the trees and began to walk upright on the plains of Africa, males have predominantly engaged in hunting and females have predominantly engaged in gathering foods and rearing the young.  This specialization in roles was made necessary by the survival needs associated with bearing young that are vulnerable and needy for an unusually long period of time.  Due to this long dependence, long term pair-bonding relationships were required to provide both food and nurturing care for children.

Desmond Morris wrote a seminal book in 1967 titled The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal.  In it, he pointed out the need and propensity for love and committed family relationships, and he speculated that such drives have been both biologically and socially conditioned.  To provide care for children, hunters had to think and plan and coordinate successfully to kill animals for food and warm clothing, especially during the Ice Ages in latitudes where meat was essential for survival.  At the same time, gatherers had to recognize and remember which plants and roots and fruits were good to eat and for use in healing, and they had to be effective in cooperating to protect the young and to satisfy domestic needs while the males were away on the hunt.

These gender roles were crucial for the survival of hunters and gatherers and their offspring who lived in small clans and led semi-nomadic lives following migrating herds of animals.  Then a radical revolution began about 10,000 years ago.  People discovered the benefits of cultivating crops and domesticating animals like sheep, cattle, pigs, goats and dogs for use as food, garments and companionship.  This was the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution that allowed our distant ancestors to begin to settle down in villages and towns. 

A significant shift in gender roles and moral codes accompanied this far-reaching set of changes.  Males had to do the hard work of tilling the soil instead of more risky and adventurous hunting.  Monogamous relationships were required to produce lots of children to work on the farm and provide some security to parents when they got old.  The moral codes and traditions of aggressive hunters and nurturing gatherers were different than those needed on the farm.  In predominantly agricultural times, puritan work ethics were needed, and an assured paternity of many children was required. 

After the passage of 10,000 years, tan Industrial Revolution began with the invention of the steam engine back in the 18th century.  This technological change radically transformed economic and social roles by encouraging urbanization and hard work at factory jobs and in offices.  Profound changes are taking place in human societies in response to new exigencies required by industrialization, promoted consumerism and globalization. Once again, gender roles and moral values have lost their mooring.  Urban living, career work, modern relationships and birth control techniques and new constraints related to high costs of child rearing are all causing unsettling changes in our societies.  So are the expanding number of choices afforded by modern travel and technologies and communications and contraception.

Experts in studies of early child development recognize that changing mother and father influences affect every person in distinct ways.  These influences result in competing sets of values that are internalized in our unconscious minds.  These values can be classified roughly into ‘nurturing parent’ values and ‘strict father’ values.  Each of us has both these feminine and masculine traits inculcated within us, like archetypes in the collective unconscious.  

One set of these values tends to dominate in any given individual.  Both feminine and masculine mores are affiliated with these contrasting constellations of values.  Linguist George Lakoff describes these two contrasting constellations of beliefs as nurturing parent and strict father perspectives.  Both extremely liberal and extremely conservative people tend to have the least healthy balance between these two opposing sets of ideas, feelings, convictions and archetypal role models.

Liberals tend to be empathetic and fair-minded, while conservatives tend to respect male authority, strength, orthodoxy, self-righteousness and impulses to dominate and control.  Liberals value freethinking ideas and compassion for others, and they believe in good communication and helping others and supporting programs that are socially just.  They believe that men and women should have equal rights.  Conservatives value self-responsibility, self-reliance, self-discipline and self-denial, and they believe in tradition, self-sufficiency, and the prerogative of males to have greater power and prerogatives than females.

The constellations of values that liberals embrace generally revolve around basic human rights and the protection of both people and the environment from harmful exploitation, shortsighted expediencies, unscrupulous business activities and increasing inequities.  Liberal people advocate actions that are consistent with the common good, like peaceful conflict resolution, tight control of military spending, cooperative statesmanship, true justice rather than retribution, an affordable and adequate social safety net, a fair and progressive system of taxation, intelligent environmental regulations guided by a precautionary principles, freedoms of reproductive choice, increased safety of firearm use, a ban on public ownership of assault weapons, and equal rights for men and women.

The constellation of values that conservatives embrace revolves around strength and puritanism as right and proper.  They champion an aggressive military, laissez-faire business doctrines, a minimal amount of regulation of corporations, tax breaks tilted toward the wealthy, male authoritarianism, and harsh punishment for wrong-doing.  They support the death penalty, gun ownership with minimal restrictions, greater prerogatives and privileges and power and control for men than women, and opposition to sex education, contraception, women’s freedom of reproductive choice, legalized abortion, homosexuality, and dignity in dying.

Impressionable children do not begin life as ‘clean slates’.  There is a genetic predisposition to the ways we see and feel the world.  Researchers have found a surprisingly strong correlation between the degree to which a person is susceptible to sudden noises or scary images and how strongly they hold political convictions.  Conservatives, it turns out, tend to be much more easily startled than liberals.  Thus, surprisingly, there may actually be a basic biological component of political beliefs!

Researchers reported this fascinating finding in an article titled “Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits” in a September 2008 issue of the prestigious journal Science.  They stated that a strong correlation exists between political views and unconscious reactions to immediate threats.  They found a ’Startle Reflex’ in which people with strongly-felt beliefs manifest either a strong response to a sudden threat or a calmer response.  The greater the reaction to the stimuli, the more conservative a person’s views tended to be.  The calmer the response, the more liberal the political views were found to be.  These correlations were made by researchers who surveyed a group of people in Lincoln, Nebraska, and interviewed them about strongly-felt attitudes on issues like foreign aid, military spending, gun control, the death penalty, the Iraq war, warrantless searches, the Patriot Act, the torture of political prisoners, women’s rights, premarital sex, gay marriage, school prayer, and immigration policies. 

The long and vigorous ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate involves the question of how much influence there is in an individual’s behavior due to innate genetic qualities as compared to their personal experiences and the effects of social conditioning.  Since people have convictions about political issues that stem not only from individual experience and rational thinking, but also from inherited impulses and socially conditioned ones, it brings into question the validity of strongly felt beliefs altogether.  Given the fact that people see and feel the world differently, it is reasonable and propitious for everyone to be more understanding of others, and less resolute or uncompromising.  Let’s all chill out! 

In light of understandings like this, it seems that we should commit our societies more definitively to making fair compromises in order to solve the existential problems we face.  As problems grow more serious and momentous, we should strive to be more broadminded in addressing disputes about them.

Every day on television there is an astonishing amount of contradictory spin given concerning current news events.  Just watch radical conservatives like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity on Fox News, and then compare their views and perspectives on the same issues to those of liberal commentators like Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.  This wide variation in ways of interpreting current events makes it even more necessary that we find non-partisan criteria to help us make sensible public policy decisions and focus on more intelligent long-term priorities.

One way to achieve this would be to change our political system to be more responsive to long-term needs and sustainable courses of action. A Bill of Rights for Future Generations would significantly help.  But politicians are far too influenced by partisan posturing and entrenched interest groups and Big Money.  Expediency sees to be the Holy Grail of politics, and wise decision-making is sorely lacking at the national level.  This is why irresponsible deficit spending has ratcheted up so radically since George W. Bush took office in 2001.  And this is why solutions like that made to deal with budget shortfalls in the state of California by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California legislature were so shortsighted and gimmicky.  Arnold ironically became a kind of ineffective “girlie man” on budget issues, a characteristic he had accused opponents of being, early in his term in office.

The issue of healthcare reform is a classic case in point.  Insurance company profits between 2001 and 2012 increased by about 1,000%, and premiums for health insurance increased by more than 100%.  People’s wages, however, increased only by 25% or so.  This is a distinctly outrageous and undesirable trend.

Gross profiteering in health insurance should be more strictly regulated.  People’s health should be as important as fair and reasonable access to water and electricity, so perhaps we should regulate health insurance corporations in a manner similar to that of public utilities.  The healthcare reform effort is a prime example of one in which conservatives seem to oppose reform altogether, hoping to make President Obama fail even though this strategy seriously harms millions of people who must struggle to pay the rapidly escalating cost of health insurance premiums and treatment denials and pre-existing condition exclusions.

In a free country, everyone should be allowed to believe whatever he or she wants to believe.  But not all viewpoints should be equally honored in our decision-making processes.  The viewpoints that have the most power in our societies should be the ones that are most concerned with the best solutions for the common good over the long run.  Unfortunately, our political system gives the most power to those with the most money and the most domineering attitudes.  It is time for us to actualize some truly positive “change you can believe in”!

An Aside about a Wonderful Believer

I have a good friend who is 92 years old.  She was a lifelong Republican until a decade or two ago.  She became so disgusted with the George W. Bush Administration and its neoconservative policies that she has practically become a liberal progressive.  She has led a colorful and adventurous life, and she likes to philosophize, and she still manages to live an admirably independent and self-sufficient existence.  She sometimes uses a crystal pendulum to assess things, and she is curiously aware of all periods when Mercury is in retrograde.  She even orients some of her undertakings around moments that she determines to be accordingly propitious or unpropitious.

She is a wonderful woman.  It is astonishing to think that religious authorities might have burned her at the stake during the Middle Ages for some of her mystic beliefs.  Religious authorities have done many horrible things in the name of their gods.  It is hard for us today to imagine what a threat females were to the established order in those days, just because they were well educated or had a suspicious affinity for nature or did not properly hew to orthodox doctrines.  Why did authorities repress females so violently and charge them with heresy and condemn them to death?

A Riff on Inimical Attributes of Religious and Political Authoritarianism

Many Popes in the history of the Catholic religion were involved in Inquisitions to suppress heresy and maintain Catholic orthodoxy, and most of them have staunchly resisted reforming the inequities and corruption of the Church.  The vile burning of women at the stake is long past, and terrible misdeeds like those of Popes Lucius III, Pope Gregory IX, Pope Innocent IV, Pope Paul III and Pope Leo X may seem like ancient history. 

But make no mistake about it; all Popes are leaders of an extremely undemocratic and distinctly doctrinaire, inflexible and retrogressive establishment that often powerfully opposes fair treatment of people who are not adherents to their brand of belief.  For centuries, they have perpetuated a pronounced discrimination against women, and against gay people. 

In addition, the Catholic Church essentially forbids having children to many women who WANT to bear children, but are not able to.  This is the effect of their official policies that oppose artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood.  Also, the Church makes having children mandatory for many women who are able to conceive, but DON’T WANT to, by telling them that the use of contraceptives and the practice of abortion are against God’s will.  These attitudes are becoming pointedly preposterous in light of the overarching risks of human population overshoot. 

Before Pope Benedict XVI became the leader of the Catholic Church in 2005, his name was Joseph Ratzinger and he represented the conservative wing of the Church.  His previous position was to defend doctrine “by putting the smackdown on heresy”.  Heresy is an opinion that differs from established religious dogma.  Heresy could thus actually be seen as a healthy perspective from the standpoint of honest debate and the need for our understandings to evolve as societies change and truer understandings arise.  Can’t we find a way to have the moderate and progressive wings of all established religious institutions gain some respect and power, instead of having so many reactionary conservatives in control?

Make no mistake about the fact that countries led by religious establishments, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, are run by intolerant and control-obsessed authoritarian men who are almost as ruthless as medieval Popes.  Religious authorities should not be allowed power in any government any more than someone who believes that terrible things are more likely to happen when Mercury is in retrograde should be allowed to have their fingers on the red button to launch nuclear weapons.

What has caused Popes, mullahs and ayatollahs to be repressive so often throughout history?  What, for that matter, caused terrible dictators like Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler to kill so many millions of people?  What leads to such megalomania and inhumanity?  And most importantly, how can we structure governments in nations worldwide to prevent such ruthless madmen from gaining power?  How can we guarantee that people have protected rights to courageously oppose dictators, dangerous demagogues, fascists, ayatollahs, political extremists and jihadists?  How can we assure that dissenters, whistleblowers and civic-minded journalists are accorded stronger protections?

Democratic institutions, strong national Constitutions, and international commitments to human rights would be a good start.  A strict separation between Church and State would be a good provision to guarantee in every nation worldwide.  The risk of a coup d’etat, nonetheless, or a takeover like Hitler used when he took advantage of a false-flag pretext to gain power, looms large in democracies around the globe.  We need to find effective ways to ensure that governments remain responsive to the most important needs of their peoples, and to everyone in future generations, and to other species of life on Earth!

            Yours Truly,               

                Dr. Tiffany B. Twain        

                    August 1, 2009 (updated 11/11/11 and 12/12/12 and Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015)

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