Monday, January 16, 2006

 

Believing we are separate: a psychosis

Craig and I have been having an interesting discussion about a fact of life few are ready to talk about. We humans seem unaware of the illusion of our separation from nature. In fact, we’re quite straightforward about the notion we are not the same as nature. We are forever talking about “man and nature” as though humans were not part of nature. If we truly believe we are separate from nature, we are a danger to our selves.

So, I've been pondering Craig’s explanation for this phenomenon, an explanation suggesting how we come to be conflicted about our relationship with. Craig says, "… we are not separate but our state of mind might embrace a notion of separation or our behavior might suggest separation. Separation itself might not be an illusion but a psychological state and it may have a reality as such." I can take his point. Certainly all of the technology we live with: our houses, telephones, cars, tvs, industries, even food helps ratify this psychosis, this mental disorder in which our connection with reality is lost.

Let's be very clear about the source of this problem. Industry, advances in technology, our warm homes and powerful automobiles, indeed any artifact of creative engineering and science is not to blame for our psychosis, has in no way caused our pervasive psychological disorder. The problem is rooted elsewhere.

Let me get to the problem in a round about way. It may be we’re confused about human meaning here. A philosophy that was widely accepted in the fifties, Existentialism, embraced absurdity -the meaningless of existence - and I think this thinking still lurks in the minds of people influenced by scientific discoveries in the 20th century, people who have come to believe life is without meaning.

To others the meaning of existence is revealed in the Bible. Call it arrogance but for me the illusion of separation begins with the Bible. Traditional religions encourage humans to believe we are separate from earth. God, we are told, places us here for a short time before we go on to our true place at His side.

I believe Existentialism and the Patriarchal religions are both dead wrong. Life is meaningful as I will show and we need no heaven to make it meaningful. Life is filled with rich and significant meaning without superstition. Ironically, I believe the deep meaning of human existence depends entirely on precisely the new knowledge developed by science that led the Existentialists to see only absurdity in existence.

The new understandings of the universe we have learned through astronomy and physics, chemistry and biology have come together for the first time in human history to tell us who we truly are; an amazing and unprecedented achievment. To put it simply, I find profound meaning in life because of my awareness that I am -you are, we all are or could be - the universe aware of itself.

I know people sometimes have a hard time comprehending what I mean when I say we are the universe aware of itself. It seems difficult to grasp the idea that the vast cosmos should come to be aware of itself in something as small as a human being. But such is the demonstrable truth. It is fact, not myth, not intuition. Does it mean I have the universe in my head? In a way, perhaps yes.

To me I am the Universe Aware of Itself is a simple statement of fact that follows on the evolution of the universe from the big bang to now: energy to matter to stars to atoms to gravity to planets to life to animals to you and me. In this process all the earlier creations of the universe come to awareness in us. I am astounded by this fact. I need nothing else to make me see how filled with meaning our lives truly are: all the significance of the universe lives within us, is part of us.

Consider one fact. When we drink water we actually and literally commune with the first matter that came into being in the universe. Science has shown all the hydrogen ever created was created in the first creation of matter. Water is hydrogen and oxygen, so when we drink water we participate in a communion with the beginning of existence. Ponder the meaning of this for a moment. A simple thing like a drink of water literally puts us in contact with the first matter created in the universe. Time is erased. Space itself is compressed into one moment, one act; an act that keeps us alive: consuming water.

Moreover, from the time we were born our bodies have contained the original hydrogen. We are partially made of matter created at the beginning of time. This fact infallibly demonstrates our connection, our communion, with Earth and Universe. It is in this connection -our relationship to all that exists- we find our meaning. For me it is a more meaningful communion than anything religion has offered. And I think those religious traditions will have to find a way to incorporate these facts into their teachings or wither.

By the way, I must not fail to mention all the other atomic elements and molecules that make up our bodies which were also created in the bellies of a star, exploded into space, become part of our solar system, whirled by gravity into a great cloud that eventually became our sun, our planet, ourselves. These facts tell us who we are and where we came from. It is simply not enough to say to the faithful knowledge is sinful.

I must also say Craig’s notion that began this discussion, the idea separation is a psychological state, has been validated over the years. Studies by developmental psychologists have observed children around three or four years beginning to see themselves as separate entities, taking on identities or "persona”.

But it turns out our adult belief, even conviction, about this state, probably a conviction evolved early on in human history, is wrong. We are not separate. It is an illusion to believe we are separate and the belief leads to an unconscious alienation. I call this illusion of alienation our original sin because by believing this seeming alienation we, as a species, damage Earth, its children and ourselves.

I'd even argue evil itself rises from the human illusion of alienation, as evil is found only in humans and nowhere else we know of in the universe.

Were we not convinced of our separateness and consequent alienation we'd take more care, be less cynical about compassion. If we were all aware of our deep connection we'd behave differently and think differently. And yes as I shall argue later on, we'd make better choices.

Convincing people of these truths is a daunting task, perhaps impossible, but I see no other way for human kind given the state of technological progress we have reached. If we fail to see our true connection we can look forward to ravaging the planet and our own species. Some will say this is nothing but a foolish rant. So be it. Maybe there are other ways into a happy future for the planet. I just can't see any other way.

However, there have always been a few humans in every period in every culture who intuited the deep connection, called mystics they did what mysticism does in its best manifestations: Zen for one example. They intuit the knowledge of our profound connection to Earth and all its children, to the cosmos. This intuition is called the "perennial wisdom". In our time science has revealed the factual reality beneath the ancient intuitive realization of the perennial wisdom, but these new factual revelations of science are unprecedented and offer an equally unprecedented global source story of the human reality for all human beings not just the few followers of the mystic vision.

In this new understanding human bodies -like all the life forms before us, which prepared our way- are simply recycled within Earth. For those no longer burdened by the fallacy of heaven and hell our continuing role in the future manifestations of Life on Earth engenders no angst at all. The psychosis ends with the realization consciousness ends with death. Connecting and reconnecting with Earth is our reality. Atom to Atom, molecule to molecule, Life to Life.

No one knows what Life forms my molecules were part of in past ages or what my molecules will inform in the future but the possibilities and the mystery make me smile. My little bits were once out there in space then they participated in the formation of Earth. Now my little bits are part of the endless return of Life in new forms.

Consciousness of the small short term “me” will end and knowing who this embodiment of life on Earth truly is gives my life profound meaning.

But is all this enough to undercut the fallacious psychological illusion of separation evolved over our history? Only time will tell. But we can hope. My own hope is that we will come to see ourselves in a different way vis-à-vis a new understanding of Life.

I propose there is one Life and it is part of the design and organization of the universe like time & space, energy & matter. We know Life emerged on Earth some billion or so years ago when conditions were ripe. Maybe this Life has always been extant in the universe, we don't know. Anyway, I propose we think of all self-reproducing conglomerations of chemistry as simply the different masks – the persona? - worn by the seemingly infinite manifestations of Life. This includes ourselves. So, I suggest there is, in a real sense, only one Life expressed in perhaps infinite forms including ourselves.

What is Life? We don't know. We know it reproduces, uses atoms and molecules cooked into being in the bellies of stars. But we don't know what it is. We seem to think energy and matter are separate forms of the same thing: energy/matter. (E=MC²). I'd like to propose that Life is these two forms existing together, not separated. Life is energy/matter not separated into one or the other. The connection of the two realities is Life. Scientists may well shoot that idea down, but I propose it anyway. Perhaps Life ought be considered part of the universe like energy/matter & time/space. Is there a way to falsify this notion?

In these notes, I’ve been suggesting a human source story. The Bible is a source story. Every culture creates a source story. And these stories are always fundamental to the choices humans make in a culture. Our Biblical Garden of Eden source story suggests knowledge is sinful and women are inferior to men. Source stories influence choices. Our Biblical source story suggests Earth is the center, even the entirety, of the cosmos and from this idea emerges the difficulty our traditional religions have had with science, and what religionists call the sin of knowledge. Our Biblical source story has influenced the development of Western Civilization since Constantine. The same is true of all source stories; all of them influence the development of a culture. The choices, the actions, the ethos, and the ethics of every culture are deeply influenced by the source story it tells and believes.

Today the literal interpretation of our Biblical source stories is under challenge. And part of the reason for our political and religious divisions today is caused by the collapse of the Biblical source story as factual truth in the minds of so many people. That the Biblical source story has been challenged as literal fact causes fear and panic in some because in their minds everything depends on its acceptance.

Now we know only the new universe story is literally true. Only the new universe story told by science reveals to us our deep connection to Earth and all of its children, and has within it the power to lead us to make better choices in the way we relate to each other, the rest of Earth’s children, and the planet itself.

Truly, we now have the greatest story ever told.

Monday, January 02, 2006

 

Tenure Rock 'n Roll

Editor's note: The following was sent in by the god of the forge in sympathy with the trials of academe...

AN ODE TO TENURE

You shake my bones and you rattle my brain!
Too much StarStuff makes a man insane!
String theory here, Brane theory higher,
Goodness gracious,
Great Balls of Fire!

Top down, bottom up!
Sis boom bah
Two bits, four bits!
Diddle dee Wah!

Better not cry and you better not pout:
That Ol' StarStuff will turn you inside out!

Holey Moley! The Pope and the Dope!
Twistors, Quantum Loops and
Boop, boop, a doop!
Thermoes, bobos,
and Great Balls of Poop!

You shake my bones and you rattle my brain!
Too much StarStuff makes a man insane!
String theory here, Brane theory higher,
Goodness gracious,
Great Balls of Fire!


(With apologies to the greatest cosmologist of them all, Jerry Lee Lewis.)

Just remember the real purpose of quantum gravity and high-minded philosophical speculation:
Tenure at a great university of your choice.

Hephaestus

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

 

First Question: Where Did We Come From?

Dear Sean and Liam. I want to tell you a story, this story is the most exciting and the most important story you will ever learn.

I suspect you are too young to take much interest in this letter today but when you’re about 17 or 18years old I reckon the questions I want to deal with here will become important to you, so you might want to keep this letter someplace where you can easily find it. Along the way other people will offer you different ideas. I hope you will test my ideas about these questions against ideas others have to offer you.

Know this too. Science is the source of this new knowledge that my father never could know. But the learnings of science are always subject to change. Science cannot tell us everything about the universe, and science will never be able to tell us the total size of the universe. Some of the things I write about here in 2005 may change by the time you are adults. And that is what is so exciting about science. There are always surprises! And sometimes disappointments. And that's ok. There is one unchanging fact about this universe: Everything always changes. Science always goes after those changes.

OK. NOW TO THE THREE QUESTIONS I HAVE IN MIND: Where did we come from? Who are we? and What is our purpose here on planet Earth? And just so you know, I’m not thinking of local family facts but something a lot bigger as in, “Who are human beings? Where did they come from? What are they supposed to do here on the planet Earth?" In one way or another most human beings have probably asked these questions since human beings first appeared on Earth.

And I think these three questions are the reason religions were invented. Even the word “religion” which comes from the Greek meaning “to link back” suggests religion arose to answer those questions. But because religion didn’t answer those questions for me in a way I could accept, I’ve been seeking the answers all my life and now that I’m 73 and retired, I’ve made these questions and the answers I’m finding the most important thing I can write or think about. That said, I think you’ll understand why I want to share my thoughts with you because I think I’ve found a way to make life happier and more spirituality satisfying.

Like you, when I was a boy I went to Catholic schools. In fact, I went to Catholic schools from the first grade to the end of high school. Nuns and priests were my teachers. And they spent time every day teaching us about Catholicism. It was a lot more than the Catholic school required of you in the Netherlands. Twelve years of religious instruction; very little of it remains with me today.

I do remember one response from the Baltimore Catechism, a series of questions and answers that we were all required to memorize when we were about ten. One question and a typical question was, “Why did God make me?” I’ll never forget the response: “God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this world and be happy with him in the next.” At first I took in these lessons without questioning them in anyway. I just accepted them, put them in a kind of mental storage, which is not quite the same thing as “believing” them. But by the time I was 17 and still in high school under the tutelage of priests I did begin to question. And the questioning itself unglued the ideas I had put into that mental storage. That is why so many religionists demand unquestioning faith.

As soon as I began to question the religious instruction I had been given, it began to fall apart. I don’t know why. It was simply off. It missed the bulls-eye some how. Maybe because it seemed to be all about obedience and obedience is certainly not what I -a rather rebellious boy from first grade on- wanted any part of in my spiritual search. Twelve years of people demanding obedience of me was all the knuckling under I needed. So I started to look for the bull’s eye, the heart of the answer to those three questions: Where'd we come from? Who are we? What are we supposed to do here on Earth?.

It has taken me decades of searching but I think I’ve found the heart of the answer.. And I want to share what I’ve learned with you so you don’t get trapped in unquestioning obedience. ...or superstition which is what a lot of religions - not all - are about: unreal fantasy and superstition.

SO BACK TO THE QUESTIONS: WHO ARE WE, WHERE DID WE COME FROM, WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO HERE ON PLANET EARTH? First question first: Where did we come from? Well, when my father -your great grandfather- was born in 1898 nobody on Earth, not the most eminent philosopher or scientist knew what I know now. Maybe only a dozen on the entire planet Earth knew what I know now by the time my father died in 1948. My father certainly didn’t know about the Big Bang and the origin of the Universe which is the greatest story ever told because that story holds the answers to at least two of my questions. The amazing thing is that the story of the Big Bang and the Universe was first told in my lifetime. Astonishing. Ungelouflik! Amazing. Yes. Why? Because no one on planet Earth knew this truth before my lifetime. No one. Not ever before. Not Jesus. Not Mohammed. Not Buddha.

Ok, no one knew the facts until the mid twentieth century. So what does this newly discovered story of the universe tell us about who we are and where we come from?

FIRST YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT EVERYTHING AROUND YOU, EVERYTHING ON EARTH, EVERYTHING IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE IS ENERGY/MATTER. Energy/Matter is the two sides, the two manifestations of the same thing and that thing is the Universe. By now you probably know about this fact and that Einstein put this fact into a mathematical formula: E=MC². Energy becomes matter, matter again becomes energy and the two forms of the same thing keep changing back and forth. That is how stars are made.

About 14 billion years ago all the matter in the universe was in its energy form and because energy isn’t matter it doesn’t take up any room. Fourteen billion years ago all the matter/energy in the universe was simply energy. Even today a star the size of the sun somewhere out there in space can implode and force itself to get smaller and smaller and smaller and as it gets smaller it crushes all the stuff that’s in it into molecules and then atoms and then protons and then neutrons and a star about the size of the sun might get to be as small as Amsterdam; a ball the size of Amsterdam. A neutron star. Nothing but neutrons which are just a step away from being pure energy: little particle/waves, strings that vibrate. When it gets down to that vibrating essence it is no longer matter. Just pure invisible energy. Some scientists believe that is what happens in a Black Hole.

Well the universe 14 billion years ago was pure energy. No material stuff at all. All the matter/energy was in the form of that intense vibrating energy and it exploded. Yes, there was a moment in time when the universe was very small and it exploded and that explosion has never stopped. The universe is still getting bigger. All that bottled up pure energy went into its combined matter/energy phase and those two aspects now fill every cubic centimeter of this ever growing universe. Where the universe isn’t stocked with stars and dust and galaxies like our Milky Way (and there are billions of those galaxies), where the universe isn’t stocked with matter it is filled with energy.

And that is all there is. There is nothing outside the universe. There is no “outside” the universe. No edge. No place where nothing exists. There is no there out there. Think about that. It’s hard to think about nothing being outside the universe isn’t it? That’s because there is no outside. The universe is not like a balloon that fills a black and empty space. There is no space other than universe space. The universe is the only space and everything in the only space. There is no space other than universe space. It is impossible to get outside of the universe because there is no outside.

OK. So, where’d we come from? We came into being because of that explosion, the explosion that has been going on for fourteen billion years. At first it was all unbelievably hot energy, pure energy. Then it started to cool a bit, and sub atomic particles began to vibrate themselves into being and they joined up - the universe is always about making partnerships and joining up with others. The particles became protons and at a specific temperature the protons joined up and became Hydrogen. The first and simplest matter! It cooled some more and the hydrogen atoms began to clump together and swirl in the embrace of gravity and more and more hydrogen atoms got into the swirl and it went faster and got bigger and began to heat up and it suddenly became a star. The first stars were all hydrogen and a little bit of something else. ...helium maybe? Not sure. I’m not a scientist.

AN ASIDE -an amazing aside- the first hydrogen? That primeval hydrogen? That hydrogen exists today! In fact, all the hydrogen that exists was made back in that early primeval time. Think about it. Water is H2O: hydrogen mixed with oxygen. When you drink a glass of water you consume that primal hydrogen! Your drink of water is a communion with the beginning of time. Indeed, there is a lot of hydrogen in your body. Your body is filled with the first matter from the beginning of time.

Anyway, these new stars, these hydrogen stars were cookers like all stars. In their bellies the new stars cooked that primal hydrogen and some of it became other elements: lithium, oxygen, nitrogen, iron. Gold. Silver. That is what happens in stars: nuclear fusion. Stars fuse elements together and make new elements out of old. The chart of the basic elements on the classroom wall tells you all about this fusion process. Fusing. Coming together. Sub atomic bits coming together to form other kinds of atoms: iron, gold, etc.

At some point in its life, the star will burn up, consume everything in it. Then it will either implode or explode. If it explodes it will send all that stuff it cooked up out into the energy/space of the universe. And gravity will grab it up and start another swirl and pretty soon a new generation of stars is born. And that process of star birth and destruction keeps happening over and over again and more and more elements are cooked into being: aluminum, nickel, everything: all the forms of basic matter; all the forms of matter on that classroom chart.

Eventually one of those new developing stars -our Sun- also developed some planets. Not all of the StarStuff from the last explosion went into making the new star, the Sun. Some of it swirled around the Sun and clumped together and formed our planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars etc. And this actually did happen about 4 to 4 ½ billion years ago. Remember, this is history, Gentlemen, not fantasy or myth. History.

Eventually, one of the planets created out of all the dust and rocks and minerals from the earlier exploded star became our Earth. Our source. And we after billions of years actually emerged from all the dust and rocks and minerals of that exploded star.

Think about that new Earth for a minute. Remember stars had been cooking up new matter and exploding it out into space to form new stars for 10 billion years so by now the StarStuff had everything in it to begin some very interesting creativity. About 2 billion years after Earth was formed it began to develop life. Liam and Sean, you are made of: StarStuff. Your little bits, your atoms were Out There! I think that history is the most exciting thing I can think of. It is hair raising. Everything on Earth is made of StarStuff. Including you and me. We came from a star. We were out there in our little bits, the atoms and molecules that make us who we are.

And that is the answer to one question; where did we come from? Starstuff.

 

Second Question: Who are we?

Well, now Liam and Sean, you know where you came from, where all of us came from, where all the animals and all the plants on Earth came from. And that also tells you the answer to my second question: Who are we?

We are the stuff of stars. But how did this stuff come to life? All the atoms in our bodies were cooked into being in a star. Our little bits were actually out there in space mingling with the stars. Pinch your finger. It was out there once upon a time, a long long time ago. The stuff that is Earth and fish and you and me was out there, then became part of Earth, and then afterwhile began the process that led to Life. Inert StarStuff became LifeStuff. And that process still goes on today every time a seed becomes a tree or an egg becomes a bird or a human.

How did the process begin, how did it happen? How did Life begin? We don’t know. Religionists say you must believe that someone called god started life as though a figure mightier than us but like us waved a hand over the elements and life stepped forth. I think that makes good poetry but it does not make for literal truth. The God story is not factual, not history. And all we can say for now is this: how life formed is a mystery. Science may or may not ever figure it out. There are some scientists who have some hypotheses about it now in 2005 but they haven’t figured out the answer. We also don’t know for sure if Life exists on other planets. It may. It may not. We don’t know in this year 2005. We may know sometime in the future unless people who are afraid of the answer become powerful enough to stop science.

But let’s go on and examine this question further: Who are we? We know that at first, maybe two billion years ago, the life forms on Earth were simple, then as eons of time passed the forms Life took on got more complex. And that tendency toward complexity kept happening with Life. Life likes to show itself in many, many different forms. Think of it as wearing masks. Life like to wear many different masks. Here is a picture of Life wearing a mask we don't like. This is a cancer cell, a living thing.

At first Life formed slime -algae, we still have algae growing all around us. Then it formed maybe a one celled bacteria and then some bacteria clumped together (there’s that universe tendency to get together coming forward again) and out of the clump came maybe a simple seaweed. Evolution had begun. Life, by the process of evolution, had begun to take on, to create, what would become infinite forms. Life. Life is the process that allows the two basic aspects of the cosmos: Energy/Matter, to work together in a process that allows Matter to reproduce itself. Once begun Life began to create an infinite variety of forms constantly over and over through millions and millions of years until about 250,000 years ago people like us emerged from that Earth based process of Life: new Life forms. New masks on the face of Life..

THE MASKS OF LIFE. We know from DNA (which was discovered only about 40 years ago so that my father would not have known all this!) we know from DNA there is only one kind of Life but that one kind of Life takes on many forms. And human beings have known this for thousands of years. Human beings are called persons. There is wisdom in language. The word person comes from the Latin persona which means mask. We are humans with a persona, a mask that covers who we really are.

Now, think of all these Life Forms as the many different masks that Life on Earth wears. There is the mouse mask that Life puts on all mice and the oak tree mask Life puts on all oak trees and the cat mask that life puts on all cats and the human mask that Life puts on all humans with many variations. One Life, many masks. Now stop and think about this fact: because there is only one kind of Life, we human beings are the same basic Life as every other Life form. We wear a human mask on that single basic kind of Life. That’s amazing? Think about this: it is even more amazing when you realize that every cat and mouse and oak tree and human being under the mask of Life is different from all the other mice, cats, oak trees, humans and whatever!

And therein lies our biggest problem. We humans have this terribly wrong belief -this illusion - that the mask is not a mask. We wrongly think we are separate from the rest of Life, from the rest of Mother Earth’s children. We believe an illusion. We are told we humans are a different kind of Life. It is like putting on a Halloween mask and deciding that from now on you have become that mask. That would be crazy. It is exactly the same thing with the Mask that Life has given us and that we wear everyday. It is just crazy to believe the illusion of separateness. Under the mask all life forms are different, but still they are all the forms of Life on this Mother Earth. In the most profound and basic sense we are all one. Remember that. It is the most important idea to know about Life.

SO, You have the answers to the first two questions: Where did we come from and who are we.

So WHO ARE WE? We who were born in the twentieth century literally know now for the first time in history of humanity the facts that tell us precisely who we are and where we’ve come from: We are StarStuff, StarStuff that was born in the belly of a star that exploded somewhere out in space. Our StarStuff got to be part of Earth and went on to become part of that still mysterious chemical-to-Life process. Out of that process we humans emerged as yet another of the infinite masks on the face of Live on Earth.

Now we come to the simplest but hardest to understand question: What is our purpose.

If you have any questions put them in the "comments" section.

 

Third Question: What is my purpose as a human being?

So, Liam and Sean, the first two questions have been answered by science in my time: We who were born in the twentieth century literally know now for the first time in history the facts that tell us precisely who we are and where we’ve come from: We are StarStuff, StarStuff that was born in the belly of a star that exploded somewhere out in space. And our StarStuff got into the region of our newly developing Sun, got to be part of Earth, went on to become part of that Chemical-to-Life process. Out of the process humanity emerged as another mask on the face of Earth Life. We never knew this story before the 20th century. Now there is, for the first time in history, a cosmic story all Earth people can share. There must be consequences arising from this fact. What are those consequences?

In a minute we’ll examine the third question: What is my purpose? But first, another aside. We are something more than just a mask on the face of Earth Life. And this is important.

Earlier I pointed out that all the hydrogen in our bodies entered existence at that first moment billions of years ago when Energy became Matter. Thus we are partially composed of the first materials ever created in the universe. I think it is important to know that don’t you? We are in our selves in a Holy Communion with the universe.

Here is another interesting fact you must not ignore. The atoms and molecules in our bodies were surely used many times over the last 2 billion years in the evolutionary process to make fish and dinosaurs and palm trees and dogs and worms and viruses and germs and elephants and anything else that emerged from Life’s forming processes. Our little bits have been used over and over again until eventually it was used by Life to make us as we are now, wearing the Mask Life gave us. And to survive we’ve been eating other of that LifeStuff ever since we were born so we could grow and reproduce. Make no mistake, Liam and Sean, we are just like all the other life forms and to be that way we must do what life does: Life eats Life.

We’re getting closer, Liam and Sean. We’re getting closer to the truly amazing thing we are.

Let me take you another step. Life eating Life is what resurrection really is. It is the recycle process that keeps Life going and enlarging its scope and creating new forms. Recycling is the engine of evolution. And the recycling produced us, you and me, and what has happened? What is the result of our having all this basic universe StarStuff in us ...making us who and what we are? We’ve used the universe stuff for hundreds of thousands of years and by doing so we have become the Universe Aware of Itself. Got it? Think about that. Who are we? We Are the Universe Aware of Itself
When I first realized this incredible fact, I jumped off the chair. Truly. I did. The hairs on the back of my neck rose up. I yelled and woke the dog. I feel that excitement whenever I think about it! I am an expression of the universe that is aware of being an expression of the universe!
Ungelouflik!

Nobody had ever told me that awesome fact. And it is so important for all of us to realize. And here is what I mean; through this marvelous process beginning with the Big Bang the universe has produced Life on Planet Earth (maybe other places too we don’t know yet). The Life of the Universe has then gone on to produce StarStuff, LifeStuff, that can read and think and learn and come at last to understand that we -you and I! - are Universe Eyes, Universe Ears, Universe Brains!

Furthermore, these Universe Eyes, Ears, and Brains have come to realize their relationship to this universe by knowing literally that we are an aspect of the universe that makes the universe aware of itself. That is knowledge beyond and above anything I was ever taught in twelve years of religious school. It goes beyond anything I learned in the next fifty years of teaching and reading and living. I think knowing we are the universe aware of itself is the most outstanding fact a human can know about being human and as far as I know in this year 2005 nobody is teaching this awesome reality to kids in school.

Now, the third question: What is our purpose? What does it mean to be StarStuff? Here is my answer: since human beings are -together will all other living things- the children of Mother Earth, then Mother Earth and all of her children must be sacred to us.

We share our DNA, the chemistry Life uses to structure its many differing forms, with all of Earth’s children. So they are family. We cannot mistreat family. And if they are sacred we must treat them with reverence. That is our human responsibility. That is our purpose. It is what we must do while we wear the mask given us by Life. Our intentions and our actions must all center on caring, on treating all of the sacred Earth’s children with reverence. And all of our ethics will arise from that understanding, that responsibility. Religions say they are the source of ethics, and by and large they do offer ethical standards, but they are not the only source of good ethical behavior.

Our relationship to the sacred Earth is the most fundamental source of our ethical standards and behavior.

I must clarify my language. What do I mean by “sacred” and “reverence”, “holy” and “consecrate”? If you check with the Oxford English Dictionary, the most highly regarded authority for English usage, you will find that sacred can mean “Regarded with or entitled to respect or reverence similar to that which is attached to holy things.” And holy? The OED tells us that the definition of holy is “consecrated, dedicated, whole, inviolate, to be preserved whole, intact.” Consecrate means “dedicate, devote, make sacred, set apart.” And revere or reverence? What does the OED say of them? To revere is “to hold in regard with deep respect or veneration.” And reverence is “to show deep respect, treat with deference, to esteem or value highly.

I believe we must now begin to think of Earth as sacred, even holy. As never before, we must consecrate ourselves to revere our Mother Earth and its children. So we must treat both Earth and Earth’s children with reverence. And make no mistake, I deliberately choose those words which have been used for millennia to speak about the idea of a god beyond the universe. I believe it is time to focus on what is truly important to us: the Earth from which we emerged, the Earth that sustains us, the Earth to which our little bits will inevitably return to participate in the ongoing and literal recycling of the little bits that make all of Life’s forms possible. All of that is sacred fact.

If the Earth is sacred how do we show the reverence I speak of? First, remember who we are: StarStuff, one of the children of Earth wearing the mask of the human being and deeply related to all the other children of Earth: a member of Earth’s Family. Remember that we wear the Mask and that to believe we are separate from the rest of the family is a lie. An error. A mistake. An illusion that poisons us, makes us miserable, and can lead eventually to crime. The illusion of separateness is indeed the Original Sin; the sin that makes all other sinning possible.

Remembering all that how do we show reverence to the sacred Earth? We have to take care of it and its children. It is as simple as that. And how do we carry out that caring act? Must we all become members of the Red Cross or the Red Crescent? Must we all become nurses or veterinarians? No. Of course not. Caring is based on the way we use the Earth we are responsible for, the way we treat the children of Earth including our fellow human beings. Any man or woman regardless of occupation must be caring, must use the Earth in a caring and responsible way.

That is the first objective. The primary intention. To make money is a mistaken primary intention, one that leads to exploitation of Earth and its children. To become famous, to become powerful, to exploit in anyway are false and poisonous primary intentions and by even nurturing those objectives or intentions is to exploit Earth and its children; always remembering that you -we - I are those children too and exploiting any of us poisons the exploiter.

Life becomes bleak, dark, a joyless experience for the exploiter because all his energies arise from the illusion that he is separate from everything else, that he stands alone, that the only thing he needs to care for is himself. The exploiter will always be discontented. Unhappy.

In brief our primary intention must always be to revere Earth and its children and to care for them. We can do that by taking care of our home, our things, a bicycle, a car, our clothes, our friends. We need to become caring materialists remembering that matter is part of the basic Energy/Matter universe. Caring for our material things is good and helps create a habit of caring. We need to make a habit of caring because that leads to a compassionate attitude.

We have to care for ourselves first because we cannot care for Earth’s other children compassionately if we neglect ourselves. It is also true that making money or working to become the best we can become are acceptable, even necessary secondary intentions that must always be tested against that primary intention of caring. Developing our talents is also good caring. It is good and compassionate caring to help others develop their talents because talent is the way to creativity. Developing our mental capacity is good caring. Developing skills for living compassionately with others is good caring. Developing our strength is good caring. Developing our ability to defend ourselves and other of Earth’s children is good caring. And it may be that learning is the best caring of all because when we learn all we can learn we are best equipped to actively and knowledgeably care.

Why is learning the “best caring’”? Because it is through education that we become best at caring. A deep knowledge of who we are is the best way to learn how to care with compassion!

Compassion is often sneered at, looked upon with contempt by persons caught in the illusion of separateness. So, compassion is not easy to learn. We have to make the practice of compassion a habit we continue for our entire lives. We have to overcome the illusion of separateness and the selfishness the illusion encourages. And compassion is the path along which that practice takes place.

Be clear about one thing. When I speak of learning, I don’t mean learning the way it is attempted in the schools of mass public education. The objective of mass education is not to encourage you to learn -to educate you, to lead you to new possibilities- but to train you in a few skills like numbers and writing and reading so you’ll be ready to join the work force and thereby keep the corporate business financial manufacturing system rolling. No. That’s not learning.

Learning is a hunger. Learning is a joy. If school is not a joy you are not being led to new strengths, new possibilities. If you find out how to learn joyfully you will be the happiest human being you can be for the rest of your life. You will become an educated person. ...persona. Remember? ...the mask? You will educate that mask.

Education is not training in a skill. Education is a matter of leading you -by yourself or with a teacher- in ways that will more fully develop your talents and knowledge. That development is what learning is really about: the fullest development of your abilities, talents, creativity, and imagination; education is the fullest development of mind and body.

Perhaps most importantly education teaches you to think. Thinking is a skill. You have to learn to think the way you learn math or music.

My belief is that to learn is a fundamental human need as much as the need for food. And we enjoy learning as much as we enjoy eating good food. We hunger to learn unless that hunger is somehow blocked or stymied, often by poverty or the brutality of others. Some will disagree but I say to learn is a fundamental human need. So, Liam and Sean, Get loaded with knowledge.

When I was a kid I was sent to a high school that had no shop, nothing they taught required you to use your hands. Manual development was forgot. And they made a virtue of it. They said they were there to teach your mind, implying that minds are more important than bodies. That was a lie. Mind/body is not two separate things. Mind/body like Energy/Matter is One.

So it was a false idea to say we’ll teach your mind. First of all, it was a Catholic school and their purpose was to condition us to the Catholic Teaching, to condition us to accept that Teaching, not to develop our thought processes. Think about that. How many Catholic universities are great universities like Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, Utrecht, Stanford, Chicago, Penn? How about Notre Dame? Catholic U in Washington? You tell me. Schools like Notre Dame and Bob Jones University are more like seminaries designed to create true believers not challenging thinkers. True believers. Faith without challenge, unthinking faith instead of a faith in free thinking.

To become truly free you must learn to think freely and have confidence in your ability to think, come to conclusions and then evaluate those conclusions.

The fact is the Catholic school I attended didn’t offer shop because they didn’t have the money to offer shop. That was not satisfactory because it discounted a natural path of learning: the development of our physical talents. If their purpose was to educate, to open me to learning, they failed. It didn’t happen mentally or physically. When I left that school I was in no way ready to begin the great adventure of learning. They even gave me scholarships to go to two Catholic colleges in Philadelphia. I didn’t go because on some level I knew I was not ready to learn especially at Catholic colleges. Instead, I worked for awhile and then joined the army where I met men who opened my mind to literature, to history, to art. Only then did I begin to feel an excitement I never felt before. Learning became exciting. Fun.

So Liam and Sean, I was beginning at last to learn! And I have never stopped. I was so hungry to learn that I did the four year college course in 2½ years. I gobbled it up. And I hope that kind of excitement for learning happens to you. I don’t care if it’s college or a trade. Either way learn all you can learn. Your father didn’t go to a university but he is a fine craftsman and student of 3 or 4 languages. He’s a model of what a craftsman can do.

So what do you learn? What learning path do you follow? A very great and wise man, Joseph Campbell, a man I knew, said that we should all “follow our bliss.” And he was right. It sometimes feels like a risky thing to do but he was absolutely right. Along the way of bliss there is lots more we can learn too. We can learn about all the manifestations -the different forms - of Energy/Matter. Energy exhibits different forms from unbelievably small vibrating strings (maybe) to electrons to protons to galaxies to you and me. And you don’t have to be a physicist unless that’s your bliss. You can learn about every form Life takes and you don’t have to be a biologist unless that’s your bliss. Learn about all the ways matter forms. Learn about planets, stars, and galaxies. Learn how gravity connects all that together in one vast many layered all inter-related fabric in which there is never nothing because Energy/Matter is All.

Learn about designing. Painting. Carpentering. Working with stone. It’s fun to read about architecture but you don’t have to be an architect unless that’s your bliss. Same for writing, easel painting, sculpture, music, poetry, theatre, the silver screen. The world is yours! You can dig it. Love it! Fill yourself with it and fill it with yourself. And by all means take a risk.

Most of all, regardless of anything else, learn about relationships between human beings, between people and all the other children of Mother Earth’s Life process. Learn how to make relationships survive and flourish. That requires skill. So learn how to take care of Earth and her children, all of whom are our cousins. No matter what your bliss is, develop masterful skills in this area of relationships. Learn how to get along with people in a skillful way. When people don’t know how to relate their blundering leads to the bad things that happen in people’s lives.

Your grandmother, Mimi, is the most skillful relator I’ve ever known. Learn from her. I did. Your Mom did. Mimi is/was known across America for her relational skills. Her work was so important she was featured in Who’s Who of American Women. And I think it is important to note that Mimi didn’t try to become famous. She just followed her bliss, had a great time, and made all the money she wanted to make. Today? Today your grandmother is one of the happiest most caring women alive. She lives everyday with a reverence for Life. And that reverence motivates all of her objectives.

I think I’ve answered the three great human questions. If you have any questions please feel free to add a “comment”. Any comment!

And I have one more essay to add to this. I won’t say any more now. You’ll just have to read Part Four.

Friday, December 23, 2005

 

Christmas '05: Science Does Intelligent Design, A Fantasy

A Christmas Tale from Hephaestus:

“The Wager at the Intelligent Designers Club”

In a space-time, long ago and far away, in a gentlemen’s club rather reminiscent of a place which might have been featured in an H.G. Wells tale of time travel and paradoxes, several professorial-looking gentlemen, looking for all the world like Michael Faraday, William Thompson, James Clerk Maxwell, Ernst Mach, Ludwig Boltzmann, Charles Darwin, Francis Crick, Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein, and Richard Feynman sat at a large table littered with ashtrays filled with cigar butts, half-empty glasses, sheaves of papers scribbled over with symbols and diagrams.

The gentlemen’s gentlemen and other servants had gone home long since, and it was near the end of a long evening of good conversation, academic gossip, and arcane but good-natured banter and jovial philosophical put-downs fueled by something resembling the Irish whiskey of another place and time. The occasion was the annual dinner at the Intelligent Designers Club, and the subject of discussion just concluded had been a contest, a kind of wager, to be conducted over the year to come, the winner to be decided at the next annual meeting.

These ten gentlemen had over the past year each come up with an entry in a contest sponsored by the club to design a cosmological model. The winning model in the contest would be created in an experimental universe laboratory (the EUL) and allowed to play out its destiny, with the results to be presented at a future meeting of the club. These ten entries were the finalists in the contest, but the club’s prize committee had been unable to decide upon a winner, so these ten affable, but argumentative, and inventive gents had repaired to a private room in the club and, fortified by immense amounts of whiskey and cigars, haggled over the differences, resolved the contradictions, and, near dawn, had arrived at a single phenomenological cosmological model.

This “Intelligent Designers Club All-Purpose Experimental Universe”, as they named it, contained a number of variable parameters, e.g. the number of space and time dimensions of the space-time, the number of families of quarks and gluons, the mass of the electron, the value of the fine-structure constant and so forth, which had to be specified in order to determine the evolution of what turned out to be a multi-universe, with non-communicating universes which each evolved independently of all the others, its destiny determined by the parameters chosen to describe the universe in question.

Much debate ensued about the values of the parameters to be chosen in order to yield the most harmonious universe, which would become aware of itself through the consciousness of the living beings arising in the course of the evolution of the universe. The hour growing late, or early depending on your point of view, and the whiskey running low, it was decided to settle the matter by a wager. The multiverse would consist of ten independent universes, a universe for each of the ten gentlemen, who would choose their own set of parameters on the basis of their best guess for peace and harmony and good times for the inhabitants of their universe.

The experimental multiverse would be created, turned on and allowed to play out the destinies of its universes, with the ten gentlemen monitoring the results, deciding who had won the wager, and a final report made at the next meeting of the Intelligent Designers Club, with all of the ten agreeing that their choice of a winner would also receive the prize offered by the Intelligent Designers Club, namely the George Gamow Medal. Then, if any of the experimental universes proved particularly disastrous, the parameters which resulted in these universes would be banned from any future use, and the universes in question terminated immediately, with extreme prejudice as they used to say in another place and time.

So, what was the wager amongst the ten gentlemen and how was it meant to be decided? First, the prize. Each gentleman agreed to put up funds adequate for the salary and expenses for five years of a post-doctoral fellow, not an insubstantial sum. The winner would then have ten post-docs for the following five years, including the one which the winner had agreed to fund himself. This proves that the so-called Matthew effect, i.e. him that hath, gets, and him that hath not, gets even that which he hath taken away, was operative in that time and space. Now, how was it to be decided? Well, even with the relativistic effects and such in effect in the Club’s experimental universe laboratory, the fabled EUL, there would not be time enough to make a rigorous statistical study of the results over an adequate sampling of space and time in each of the 10 universes, so the 10 gentlemen agreed to turn on the machine and let it run for one day, which, with the magic gizmos of the EUL amounted to about 10 to 20 billion years in the time units of a representative small planet in an undistinguished galaxy, which ought to be sufficient to get an inkling of how things would turn out in the fullness of Time.

Each gentleman would select such a planet from his universe, and all ten would probe it in their own chosen manner. This would give the 10 gentlemen time to get some sleep and to think over some appropriate criteria which would be suitable to judge which of the 10 showed the most promise for further development, on a pilot plant scale of course, and which to terminate forthwith, without so much as a fare-the-well. During the long evening they had discussed a few criteria on which to judge, and had settled on general categories of classic philosophy, the Epistemology, the Ontology, the Politics, the Ethics, the Logic, the Physics, the Metaphysics and the Aesthetics which prevailed on the chosen planet in the selected galaxy and let it go at that.

Now, why had our learned gentlemen agreed on such a hasty, unfair, and unscientific approach? Well, as it happened, it was very near the cutoff date for the submission of proposals to the National Science and Humanism Foundation and, as was well known, in order to compete successfully for funds for proposed research and scholarly activities it was necessary to already have obtained the results for which you had proposed the research and scholarship to obtain in the first place, and preferably to have won some sort of award for it. So, exigency ruled even in the cosmos of the Intelligent Designers Club.

Well, you might ask where were the humanists, the women, the philosophers, the playwrights, even the comedians necessary to judge how well the experiments turned out or even, heaven forbid, to participate in the planning of the experiments? Is this the old-boys club approach to science that the rabid feminists had been accusing the Intelligent Designers Club and even the National Science and Humanism Foundation of for years now, without really getting anywhere? Well, maybe they had a point, and maybe that’s just the way this universe had evolved, or “the way the cookie crumbled”, as some old fogeys said. And, by the way, wasn’t Mr. Darwin’s and Mr. Crick’s evolution supposed to take care of the development of women, culture, and all of that, automatically, in the experimental universes, even though the results would depend on the parameters inserted into the model by each of the gentlemen (past performance being no guarantee of future results).

Besides, if either Mr. Crick’s or Mr. Darwin’s entry into the contest turned out the best, wouldn’t that vindicate all their claims, which I must say the other eight gentlemen were getting pretty fed up with hearing anyway? And, weren’t Mr. Einstein, Mr. Bohr, and Mr. Mach philosophers? What about religion and ethics? Well, Mr. Einstein was always going on about Herr Gott this and Herr Gott that, and Mr. Faraday and Mr. Maxwell were well known for their sincere Christian beliefs. What about Aesthetics? Mr. Feynman was a well-known musician (well, a bongo-drum player anyway), an artist, and he liked women a great deal, so that should take care of any sour-grapes grumblings about misogyny. What about Mr. Thompson, or Lord Kelvin, if you insist, and Mr. Boltzmann? Well, Lord Kelvin and Mr. Boltzmann would make sure that the 2nd law of thermodynamics still reigned in other universes, which all the Intelligent Designers wanted to keep in effect to dispense with any spurious claims about eternal life and all that, and, besides, Mr. Boltzmann wanted to check out some base canards perpetrated about the H-theorem by Herr Zermelo, who claimed that all this second law nonsense was just because they hadn’t waited long enough for the universe to return to its original state. Oh, you might object that they had forgotten about medicine and the social sciences. Perhaps they had, but Mr. Boltzmann was very depressed, and that would just have to do in that regard.


The date and place of the trial monitoring for universe number 9, the one designed by Mr. Darwin, is Christmas, 2005 (in local space-time coordinates) on what is called, in the local dialect, planet Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy.

Will this universe (Number 9, Number Nine, …in case you forgot), depending as it does on the state of affairs regarding benevolence, religious beliefs, and the other philosophical categories of this one tiny planet, Earth (what a name, ugh), survive the cosmic cut or will it be terminated with extreme prejudice? Will offerings (well, bribes, really) and prayers to the members of the Intelligent Designers Club affect the outcome? Well, you will have to just wait and see.

Is there a moral to this tale? Yes, I think there are many that are possible, but my favorite is “Beware of invoking Intelligent Design; you might just get what you are asking for”.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. Or, if you prefer, Good night and
Good luck!
Hephaestus, the divine forger.
(This posting of the scientist's cosmic fantasy was sent to Wally Weet by a sometime commentator on this screen who is known only by his pen name, The Good God of the Forge, Hephaestus)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

 

Joy to the World! December 21st, 2005

Celebrate! The Light Returns. Today, the oldest holy day in the northern hemisphere, The Winter Solstice, the shortest day, the longest night, the day when Earth and Sun continue the annual cycle re-assuring us of the Return of the Light, of warmth, fertility, re-birth.
And wasn't that the perfect time for early Christians to nominate as the birthday of Jesus, the one they call the Light of the World??

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

 

Good and Evil 2 -Are they absolutes?

We live in an era when there is no generally accepted idea of what is good and what is evil. Some would say the distinction is absolute: Good is always good, evil is always evil. So says the current Pope. In fact, however; when we look at planetary behavior the matter is starkly different and entirely relative. Good and evil are relative and agreement depends on one’s point of view.

Different religions, different tribes, different parties, different nations will disagree. One says killing oneself is evil, another will say “it all depends”, another will say suicide is the only response one can make to one’s shameful deeds. Result? The debate rages within a society to no conclusion. The issue of abortion likewise. The goodness of badness of sexual behaviors are widely varied depending on the point of view of the persons behaving. Our society largely honors those who struggled against laws of racial oppression. Fifty years ago laws of racial oppression were largely accepted as good.

Why is it that we find it so difficult to come to agreement in these latter days? A hundred years ago one would have completely disagreed with me, finding in American society widespread agreement about suicide, and sexual matters. For most the answers were found in the Bible and in common law. Today both are challenged. So what can we learn from our own rational tradition? In Chapter 6 of Leviathan, (April 1651 -355 years ago) Thos Hobbes offers this analysis of good and evil:

“But whatsoever is the object of any man's appetite or desire,
that is it which he for his part calleth good; and the object of his hate and aversion, evil; and of his contempt, vile and inconsiderable. For these words of good, evil, and contemptible are ever used with relation to the person that useth them: there being nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common rule of good and evil to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves; but from the person of the man, where there is no Commonwealth; or, in a Commonwealth, from the person that representeth it; or from an arbitrator or judge, whom men disagreeing shall by consent set up and make his sentence the rule thereof.”


Thus doth Master Hobbes endorse the reality I have found in my modest experience, to wit; that good and evil are relative concepts notwithstanding the efforts of Pope Benedict XVI, would be tyrants like the current President of Iran, or ideologues like Revs Dobson or Falwell all of whom wish to impose their point of view and their will upon a fractious community. Yes, as the god Hephaestus has said in these pages, it is tough to form a community without a commonly accepted ethos vis a vis good and evil. Tyrants try to impose. In democracies an ethos emerges from debate, debates sometimes debased by demagogues, of course.

But all agreement about accepted ethos concerning good and evil begins with an accepted cosmology within the community. In the case of Judeo Christian communities that ethos has traditionally come from the Biblical stories of creation. Because said stories can no longer be taken in the literal sense the ethos emergent from the stories has broken down. Thus a new ethos will emerge only when we come to accept a new cosmology. My candidate for that new cosmology -and I can see only one candidate for the future and for this planet - is the new universe story revealed by science in the last century or what I like to call StarStuff - see earlier postings.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

 

Christmas Letter from Wally


Hi There! It’s December! Yes it is!! So, Joyeux! Happy Days!
And Frohlich Weinachten!
(That’s German for: Frolic in the White Snow!just kidding)
And here it is time again for our Annual Christmas Carol, Card, and letter!!
To begin I offer my contribution to our national, annual, never to be missed holiday! with: The Christmas Excess Song!
(music lifted from Jingle Bells. Rhymes you should forgive & forget)
Christmas Sells,
Christmas Sells,
Wallets all astray!
O what hell it is to stride
‘Round the Malls for Christmas Day!

*****OK!******

Hi Everybody! Happy Holidays!
You too Bill O’Reilly! Revs Dobson and Jerry Falwell too!
Happy Holidays, you old geezers!
Happy Kwanza! Africa!
Joyful Hanukkah! Jews everywhere, and
Merry Christmas! Christians All!
(Christians, I gotta tell you, you are not being put upon and attacked!
You guys are peaking right now! So Enjoy!)

And to the millions of Buddhists who celebrate every day they are alive:
Right ON, Old Buddy!
**********
And finally to all our primitive brothers and sisters
who still think they’re part of nature and who started
the first and most primal of all these celebrations:

Welcome to the Renewal of the Light!

 

Three Score and Ten



My Little Wren!

Monday, December 12, 2005

 

Holy Holidays

Happy Holidays!

According to Webster’s 1913 dictionary the word "holiday" is a variant spelling of the words "holy day". We are now in the season of holy days: Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukkah, and the Coming of the Light celebrated since pre Christian times in Northern Europe: the Winter Solstice.

When we use the word "holiday" now we usually mean a vacation day, or a festival day. That is because holy days have always been days away from the daily grind. So it was and so it is now. Our Holy Days have become our leisure days too. And they are still Holy: Hanukkah, The Coming of the Light, Christmas, Kwanza.

So, let’s all celebrate our holy leisure days together. Let’s celebrate ALL of them starting with the Solstice! Let’s re-examine each one and bring to each one all the happy, joyful holiness we can muster in our selves. It sounds almost like the Twelve Days of Christmas doesn't it?


To do it right we might take as an example our other great secular holy day when we give thanks: Thanks Giving Day, the day we feast together and forget the pressures of commerce. I think it is a holy day because we celebrate all we have and all our friends have and give thanks together. We celebrate everything every tribe brings to the table with generosity and good humor and respect. There is nothing sour about holy days.

Happy Holy Days!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

 

 

The Tequila Christmas Cake

Marnie sent the following recipe which she got from Miss Sharona. Marnie says,”Eating this cake brought a smile to my face, and a giggle from my throat. Just to read the direcshuns made my mouth H2O!
Happy Holidaze,
Marnie!”

So here is Miss Sharona's and Miss B.Bonneettee’s Tequila Christmas Cake!
• 1 cup water
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 cup of brown sugar
• lemon juice
• 4 large eggs
• Nuts
• 1 bottle tequila
• 2 cups dried fruit
• (Sample tequila, check quality)
Take a large bowl, check tequila again.
Be sure it is of highest quality.
Pour one level cup.
Drink
Repeat
Turn on the electric mixer.
Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl
Add one cup of sugar. Beat again.
At this point it’s best to make sure the tequila is still ok.
Try another cup.
Just in case.
Turn off the mixerer thingy.
Break 2 leggs and add to the bowl and
chuck in the cup of dried fruit.
Pick the ferigging fruit up off the floor
Mix on the turner.
If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers
just pry it loose with a drewscriver.
Sample the tequila to check for tonsisticity.
Next, sift two cups of salt. Or something.
Check the tequila
Now shift the lemon
Sample the tequila to check for tonsissticity
Next, sift two cups of salt. Or something.
Check the tequila
Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts.
Add one table.

Add a spoon of sugar. Or somefink.
Whatever you can find.
Greash the oven.
Turn the cake tin 360 º and try not to fall over.

Don’t forget to beat off the turner.
Finally, throw the bowl through the window.
Finish the tequila and wipe counter with the cat.
CHERRY MISTMAS

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

 

The costs of capital punishment #2

We can be happy today. We legally killed a North Carolina man who committed two murders in the late 80's. We killed a South Carolina murderer too. The Saudis beheaded a criminal and in Singapore they hanged a man for carrying drugs. We’ve legally killed a thousand and one people in our American prisons since 1976. A day like today and a record like ours ought make supporters of punishment by death happy. But does it validate what we’ve done? Has all this killing made us better, safer, happier? Wiser? Or could it be hurting us?

Why have we done this? What is the reasoning behind legal killings? Why are we so enthusiastic about death? Do we really believe death punishes? Punishment for murder ought be something a murderer thinks about afterwards, a lesson learned, something to ponder during a lifetime in solitary without parole. I can imagine no more severe punishment. But instead we inject a chemical. The person sleeps. We call that punishment. Why?

Some believe it sends them to hell. Maybe. Some believe legal killing inhibits others from killing. If so we should allow legal killing to be seen publicly. But we do not. Are we hiding the horror of our belief? There is no evidence to prove punishment by death inhibits killers from killing. Is the belief a mere hope? Or is it a way to cover up, deny, a hidden motive: revenge? Some say death is the way to get killers off the streets. So would life without parole and it would severely punish. Some say the Bible demands an “eye for an eye”. Does it demand a life for a life?

Studies say it cost New York $23 million per person sentenced to die. North Carolina pays $2.16 million per case. California spends $90 million annually on death penalties. Texas tax payers spend $2.3 million. In Florida it cost $57 million to eliminate18 people. All these figures come from the Death Penalty Information Center.

Compare those costs with the cost of life without parole. Apparently the average cost of the death penalty in America is $2million per case. On the other hand, the average imprisonment costs $17,000 per year. To imprison a killer for 50 years would cost $850 thousand. A bargain compared to the death penalty.

So why do we do it? Why do we, supposedly the most enlightened and religious country in the world, do so much legal killing? Why do we prefer death? I believe we want revenge. And I suspect we need to exact revenge because we misunderstand forgiveness.

We have come to believe that forgiveness means absolution or clemency or amnesty or exoneration. NO! Wrong! We do not absolve the criminal when we forgive. Forgiveness is about letting go of the anger and hatred within us. It is about detaching ourselves from the need for revenge. Letting go, forgiving, is for victims, their hearts, their emotional health. Forgiveness removes the physical and emotional stresses of hatred and the anger eating our insides. Forgiveness eliminates the need for revenge. Forgiveness allows us to find the solace of compassion. When we learn to forgive we feel easier, wiser. We remember. We never forget but in remembering we learn to replace anger and hatred with compassion. And we will be a more contented nation while killers remain imprisoned faced with the consequences of their crime.

And having forgiven, we shall no longer, everyone of us, be responsible for killing killers.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

 

Gary Schramm's Charleston Bridge November 2005


Thursday, December 01, 2005

 

DE OMNIBUS DUBITANDUM

A Three Minute Play:
DE OMNIBUS DUBITANDUM,
(Descartes: Doubt Everything.)
By Wally Weet


THE REVEREND
Believe, my son, Believe everything in the Bible. It is God’s Word.

WALLY
Really? I always think, Who should we believe? A preacher who demands unthinking faith or a French philosopher who demands that we think?

THE REVEREND
Wallace, how can you trust your puny brain’s efforts against 2,000 years of Christian tradition which tells us about the presence of Almighty God through his Son, Jesus Christ as told in the Bible?

WALLACE
But how can I believe all that is true?

THE REVEREND
Wallace do you think you know better than the millions and millions of people in hundreds of years before you? They have known the truth and believed it was true. Do you think you know more than they?

WALLACE
But how did they know it was true?

THE REVEREND
Because great and wise holy men told them it was true, because the Bible is true, because the Bible is God’s sacred word.”

WALLACE
But how do I know the Bible is God’s sacred word?

THE REVEREND
Because God told us it was his word.

WALLACE
Where does it say that?

THE REVEREND
In the Bible, the words of the Bible tell us when you read them that these are the words of God.

WALLACE
How do I know a man didn’t write that?

THE REVEREND
Ah, you see, Wallace, this is the point: You must have faith.

WALLACE
I must simply believe that God spoke to a man?

THE REVEREND
Yes. God speaks to us. That is faith.

WALLACE
Some would say it is insanity to believe you hear the voice of God speaking to you.

THE REVEREND
O Wally, I knew you would say that. You say that because you have no faith. And because you have no faith you are lost. You will spend eternity in hell.

WALLACE
Hell? How do I know there is a place called hell?

THE REVEREND
Again, Because God said so, because it is in the Bible, because wise Holy men for 2,000 years have told us so.

WALLACE
Faith? . This is all circular reasoning. No, it’s not even that. Faith? Accepting anything you say, that’s faith. Like, such and such is true because God told us so, we know God told us because Holy men have told us God told us. How can we know God told us because somebody said so? Because it is in the Bible. And because God told some man that the Bible are Gods own words. None of this makes sense.”

THE REVEREND
Right! You got it! It is not about thinking. You cannot depend on thinking which is why you must have faith.

WALLACE
But billions of people who are not Christians do not believe in any God or Heaven or Hell.”
Buddhists, Chinese. People who revere their ancestors. People wh..

THE REVEREND
They are wrong and they are without faith.

WALLACE
They have faith in their own view of life and the spirit.

THE REVEREND
But they are wrong. They will be lost and spend eternity in hell with all the other thinkers and doubters.

WALLACE
They believe there is no hell.

THE REVEREND
Wallace, if you are smart, don’t trust yourself to think you know everything. Copper your bets just in case you are wrong. Any one who has no faith? What I tell them is that the least they can do is copper their bets, prepare against error, be ready to accept Christ before they die so they don’t spend eternity in hell.”

WALLACE
But hell and heaven are just fantasies. Is it true faith to believe just in case? ...to not believe, but to sort of accept your story in case?”

THE REVEREND
It is a beginning. It’s the smarter way.

WALLACE
Not to me. No. It is like accepting slavery just in case you fear you won’t be able to support yourself.
What about seeking truth through learning, thru history and experience rather than through your questionable authority?

THE REVEREND
If my authority is questionable and you have no faith? Wallace, Without faith you are lost.

WALLACE
Circular. Always circular. Always the same message: Stop thinking. And I tell you there is another way to live in contentment without fear of eternity. A way that involves both thinking and faith.

THE REVEREND
I don’t think we have anything else to say to each other, Wallace. Your views are impossible. How do you even begin to challenge the Judeo Christian -the Muslim!- traditions? The wisdom, the insight, the knowledge of God’s word?

WALLACE
You’re right. You are right. We’ve nothing to say because the way to begin to challenge your so called tradition is by not brainwashing our children. By teaching them to question everything. By letting them see that there are other lively spiritual traditions. And most importantly having them learn the real facts about who they are and where they are from.

THE REVEREND
They are the children of Father God, stopping here on their way to eternal life. Or punishment.
That is who we ALL are.

WALLACE
No. Not true, Rev. A false myth. The facts, the real, true facts are different.”

THE REVEREND
And what are these real facts? And, Wallace, where do I find these facts?

WALLACE
The real and authentic and literal facts are in the Story of StarStuff. And you’ll find them in the rocks, the DNA, the story of the cosmos.

THE REVEREND
Wallace, my boy, you think too much. You will never be saved.

END

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

 

First Photograph of Heaven


Monday, November 28, 2005

 

Is God Good?

If you want an all powerful god, there can be no limits to God. We of the Patriarchal Culture say God is almighty. I ask, if there is a almighty God, can that God be good? No. God is neither good nor evil.

The almight Mystery, the infinite, omniscient God to be all powerful must be beyond and include all categories because separate categories are limitations. Those who say God is good, limit God. Result? They always have to wonder why God allows bad things to happen. To wonder thus is silly because by doing so they make God into a limited idol no better than the golden calf. That is idolatry and idolatry is an evil to religious persons. To be truly religious they must see that God is without limit.

Those who say God is good are simply making God into a mere reflection of human beings, a reflection of what we want to be, a mirror image of humans and thus limited. The image of the personal father god may be a hyper-super powerful image but it cannot be the true Great Mystery because the true God is unlimited and indifferent. So God is no more a super and personal human-like father than Satan is a super and human-like monster. They are both images of aspects of our limited selves. And that limitation doesn't work for the all mighty, the unlimited Mystery.

So, the literal idea of God and the Devil at war with each other is a silly idea. It can only be a metaphor of workings within ourselves. The Immense Mystery we call God is beyond competing with anything. The idea that God cares about galaxies, stars, planets, creatures, weather, anything, also limits God. Either God is both loving and hateful thus good and evil like us or God is indifferent. Your choice.

The idea that God looks after each of the 6.5 billion people on Earth (plus any inhabitants of the multi billions of galaxies with their multi billions of stars) every second of their entire lives deciding what should happen for them or what is good and bad for them is a silly idea. The idea that God might become angry at New Orleans for sinning is a silly idea. God is beyond all that and indifferent to the lives of people just as God is indifferent to the actions of the multi billion galaxies of the cosmos.

We like to say, “God is Love.” Yes, love is in the Great Mystery, but Love does not define the Great Mystery because to do so limits the Great Mystery. God can only exist without limits or be a minor god. The Big Daddy image of God is inevitably limited. Therefore God has to be non-personlike and beyond all definitions. If you speak of God as "He" or “She” you limit God. If you limit God you create an idol. Again, limiting God is idolatry. Thus God, the Indifferent Almighty Mystery (I AM!), does not define either Good or Evil.

 

The Problem: Is the Pope right? Is Evil Absolute?

I was taught in Catholic school that evil is a cosmic force that exists in a personal (human-like if monstrous and immortal)form separate from human beings, a force that exists in the Universe but beyond ourselves which we must somehow contend with. I have since come to understand these devilish forces not as literal humanlike immortal monsters but as images, as poetic images of something within ourselves.

Lucifer is a human attribute within us and there is no way we can escape this propensity for evil. That is why humans are inevitably sinners. All human beings are sinners because we cannot avoid doing evil. So, I think it is crucial that we understand the problem of evil within us and determine whether it is an absolute category or a relative matter depending on the situation we find ourselves in.

Many hate the idea of situational ethics, but I see no other kind. I see no evil in the rest of the cosmos. I see only indifference. Hurricanes, tornados, floods, earth quakes, exploding stars, volcanoes are in no way evil even though they cause damage, destruction, and death for all kinds of beings, plant or animal. There is an ancient wisdom in Hindu culture imaged in the goddess Kali. Kali dances. Her dance destroys but out of the destruction Kali causes new creation.

We know that to be true. The Earth and all life on it from viruses to elephants including humans emerged from the destruction of a star. Recycling is simply another way for us to participate in this pattern of destruction and creation. We perceive that pattern of destruction and creation as good. Not evil. It is a judgment we make destruction: sometimes, depending on the situation, it can be good.

We know that life is destroyed in order to sustain life: life eats life. There'd be no life unless we killed something whether it be chickens or asparagus. We know that male lions eat the cubs fathered by other males when they take over the female mothers to breed. There is film footage somewhere of a mother leopard eating her cub, a cub that is threatened by lions or hunters. Some would say that chimps can behave in an evil way. I say that depends on the point of view of the human being watching the chimps act out. For me natural behavior other than human is not evil because we cannot read the minds of chimps, leopards, or lions. Their’s is simply the way nature works and nature is indifferent to individuals and to species.

A visitor from another galaxy might come to the same conclusion about the behavior of human beings: that whatever they do is simply natural to their species and therefore the ideas of evil and good are purely human inventions designed in our own interest, our own wish to protect that which we need or protect ourselves from that which we fear.

Nature does not guarantee protection thus living things either die or succeed and that sets up the process of evolution. When you try to guarantee protection you invent evil.

The propensity for evil is in our unique nature. Evil exists because good exists. We have a system of ethics across the human race that defines what good is and so naturally and inescapably good defines what evil is: any behavior not good is evil. Like stealing. It is not good, we say.

Universally we believe that to steal from one another is evil. To damage another's goods is evil. This kind of damaging and stealing are the other side of caring for one another, giving, behaving compassionately. If we behave compassionately we automatically have to have the opposite in order to define what compassion is. Thus it is bad or hateful, hurtful or destructive to be less than compassionate. The paradox is that in order to have the good -compassion or love - we must have evil -hatred, hurting. One defines the other. It is the necessary yin-yang. If there were only compassion we wouldn't even need a name for evil.

However, imagine this: I’m a primitive man. I find good and compassion in protecting my family. The family across the creek is starving. They too find good and compassion in protecting their family. To survive they attack us or steal from us or try to dominate us. I see them as evil. I attack them back. They see themselves as good. We fight. Some die. To them we are an obstacle to their survival, an obstacle that must be destroyed or dominated. We see them as evil. They see us as evil. We both think we're good in ourselves. Humans create evil just by being human.

Evil is defined by people. To some of us killing is ok if it is in self defense. To others killing is always wrong. Yet we kill millions of cows and chickens everyday. Evil? Or good? Some think anything with a face deserves to live. My friend believes it is evil to kill or eat anything with a face. He has practiced the discipline of not killing and eating a creature with a face for 30 years.

The Catholic church speaks of justified war. So they have ways of justifying what others call evil when it comes to war. So Evil is not always evil. If I take my life, I'm told it is an evil act. But suppose I give my life to save yours. Does it become "good" only because I call it "giving" or "sacrificing" my life? If I fall in front of a car to stop the car from running over you. Will I have killed myself? Or did the driver kill me? Isn’t it evil if I have caused the driver of the car to be charged with murder by deliberately falling in front of him? ...or maybe not.

The new pope has decried our time for being "relative", that is,he wants “absolutes” and deplores "situational ethics." He wants to define the "absolutes". But Good and evil are not cosmic categories like “change”, the one cosmic absolute. What the Pope wants to do is put the genie back in the bottle to another century when the Church dominated the question of good and evil and burnt people at the stake who did not accept the Church's definition. Of course the Church thought those burnings were good.

Now evil and good are defined by many groups as well as by individuals but the church does not want individuals or other groups defining good and evil. Why? Because it is hard to control a society that is not in agreement about good and evil.

Do we know any societies where individuals have the right to decide what is evil or good? Yes. The USA to a large extent gives each person the right to protest; to challenge the laws defining good and evil. We do not see our laws as absolute even if they touch on matters Churches would hold to themselves. See abortion or homosexuality or racial inequality.

So,again, we humans decide what is good and what is evil. Thus they are relative not absolute categories into which we put our actions. And we in the USA like it that way. We rationalize good and evil as it suits our purposes. We call this process of rationalization Ethics. We decide with our ethical arguments whether a behavior is evil or not. Abortion is either evil or good depending on the perspective of the individual. Some agree with the Church's definition that life begins with conception. Others do not. That disturbs the Pope because it puts people out of his control.

Actually, it may be that abortion is neither good nor bad. When nature causes a miscarriage we think of nature as indifferent not evil. Or maybe, in the case of a miscarriage,we’ll think nature is good in that it disposed of a badly formed embryo (note that we do not think of it as a "person". If we think about these ethicl quandries too long we will get a headache. ...which is why some prefer absolutes.

When I was a boy gambling was evil. Today gambling is an industry we encourage. It must be good. Why? For economic reasons? Is that "good" enough? Bombing innocent civilians in their beds during war is called an unfortunate but necessary fact by our leaders. Winning the war makes it necessary to kill the innocent they say, thus making themselves innocent for making the decision. Are they innocent? It depends on the way you define evil. Does mere "winning" make the difference between good and evil? Or is it merely a way to rationalize evil? Can we say killing is always evil?

In civilian life we say killing -sorry- executing a murderer is not evil because the murderer killed thus deserves to get what he did. We rationalize evil to get revenge and punish and thus make an evil act -killing- into a good act. We even give it a good name: executing. But is taking revenge good for us? Or is revenge an evil act??

In spite of the Pope's concerns and in spite of his authority, evil is not absolute. There is no absolute evil. Any evil can and will be rationalized into good and made to seem an unfortunate necessity. The same with good. Good can be made to seem evil. It depends on your point of view, which side of the fence you are sitting on. It is all relative notwithstanding the fact that many hate the idea of relative morality.

The controversy over stem cell research is a good example of what I mean when I say evil is relative. The Pope will say that interrupting the life of only one human egg mass -an embryo only 3 days old - in order to use the stem cells (cells that can become any tissue in the body from bones to blood) for therapeutic purposes - is evil. Fundamentalist Christians like Mr Bush agree with him. But other human beings around the world: Buddhists, for example, plus other billions who are not Christians may say it is good. Thus again we see that evil and good are relative to the situation.

What will happen to the stem cell issue? Some will pursue the research. California has ponied up 3 billion dollars to do so, a law approved by 59% of the population. Some will fight it every step of the way. Christians in Congress have offered a bill to criminalize the California effort.

The fact that evil and good are relative matters can be seen all around us right now in other ways. Do gay people have the right to marry and live like the rest of us? Evil say some. Good say others. We are being led into making evil into good just now by our leaders in the matter of torture. Torture was always thought to be evil. Now we are finding situations in which -we are told by our highest elected leaders- torture is not evil but necessary to win the war against terror. ...that sounds a lot like bombing innocents in their beds.

How about terror? Is terror evil? Is the suicide bomber evil? It depends on your point of view, the way you look at your situation in the world. From the point of view of Palestinians the suicide bomber is a hero. From the pov of the Israeli the bomber is a criminal. etc. We rationalize behavior according to our perceived needs and determine whether it is evil or good. Situational ethics thrives.

Mr Bush talks about eliminating evil. It is a silly thing for him to say. There is no way humans can live without evil. We need evil to condemn those who hurt us. We need good to justify our own behavior. There would be no goodness without evil, only indifference as in the cosmos itself. And we cannot be indifferent because we are constantly moved to actions which impact others by our desires and fears. Unlike the cosmos we cannot become fundamentally indifferent. We always have a stake in some aspect of life that causes us to define goodness and badness as related to that stake.

We are unlike the rest of the cosmos because we have this stake in the cosmos. There is something we want from the cosmos. Fundamentally, we want food and water and shelter. Beyond that we want comfort. We want safety. We want protection. We want control. We want wealth. We want power. These wants can lead us to other wants: the fear of others or the desire to dominate both earth and its children including other humans. And therein and no place else do we find the beginnings of evil, the source of evil. To Live is evil.

Yea, funny isn't it? Evil is just live spelled backward.

Buddhists say that evil lies in our emotional attachment to -our need of - either desire or fear. The Buddhist idea is reflected in the above paragraph, but the Buddhist idea is another story even longer than this one.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

 

Government Prayer in America

We are living through a firestorm of controversy about government prayers in South Carolina and the controversy is doing nothing to resolve the prayer issue, but it is serving to tear us apart. Good communities are based on tolerance and a modicum of cohesion and mutual support. So, let’s try reasoning about the issue of government prayer instead of responding from our hearts.

True, our councils have probably opened their meetings with an invocation to God and Jesus since city and county councils first came into being. That makes for a tradition. And it was an acceptable tradition until communities began to change and become spiritually more diverse. Thus, formerly acceptable traditions are now challenged by an even older and more fundamental American tradition: the rule of law. The question is this: is the challenge to our tradition of government prayer a valid challenge?

In its interpretation of the Constitution, the 4th District Federal Appeals Court, one of the most conservative appeals courts, in a decision affirmed by the Supreme Court says the challenge is valid and that the rule of law forbids government prayer; not public prayer, just government prayer. Result? Many good Christians feel they have been stabbed in the back. After all, Christians have invoked Jesus’ name for three centuries in council meetings.

But let’s look at what this means from another perspective remembering that the Founding Fathers in 1780 looked back over the centuries and saw a Europe drenched in the most savage bloodshed in western history; bloodshed caused by religious conflict. Remember the Inquisition? But times change.

Today there are millions of people in the United States who are not Christians. Don’t forget Jews or communities in Louisiana with large minorities of South Asian Buddhists. In the Midwest and New York there are large numbers of Muslims. Suppose these minority communities voted members of their religions onto local councils. Suppose those representatives opened council meetings with government prayers to Buddha or Allah or Krishna allowing people to infer that the law would be based on religious beliefs. Christians would be properly outraged. Christians know American government does not derive authority from religion.

But some say the law of God does come first, trumping even the Constitution. Really? In a society like ours? There are some Muslims who make the same argument. They say that Sharia, Muslim religious law, should be their foundation law. What happens to Christians in Iraq if Sharia is the law? In the same way, what happens to Muslims in America if we made the Bible our foundation law? What would happen to all the other citizens in this diverse country who would not be able to follow the Bible according to their individual consciences? Convert? Leave? Die? Do we tell them there is only one acceptable religion in the United States? Only one way to believe? No. That sounds like the bloody 16th and 17th centuries all over again.

Religious tolerance is the oldest and wisest American tradition. The Founding Fathers were wise about religion. They deserve our unanimous approval because they made sure we could all believe as we wished. They made sure no government would persecute us for our religious beliefs and they did so by making sure religion would be banned from our official government actions. Public prayer? Yes! Government prayer? NO.

And so even though we’ve had a tradition for two or three hundred years of invoking Jesus at our government meetings, we now have to recognize in a thoughtful, mature, and tolerant way that the Founding Fathers made the right decision and that we can, like some good people who stood praying outside the Oconee Council Chambers a couple weeks ago, pray publicly anywhere we wish except in governmental situations.

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