Black Belts and Brown Shoes

Philosophy, Politics, Religion

Humans have such highly-charged brains which has led us to accomplish some pretty amazing feats in our brief history. Space travel. Global communication. Combustible engines. Mass media.

It is equally amazing and mystifying how we waste that surging intellect on the oddest social constructs whether it’s what color shoes to wear with what belt or how no one looks each other in the eye when they’re in the elevator. There are books written on the subject of etiquette and how to avoid social miscues that draw unapproving looks from fellow hominids.

I’m fairly certain some of those odd social hang ups have some sort of survival root such as not making eye contact with strangers. Some of them though, like the belts and shoes, not wearing white pants after Labor Day and fork placement in a table setting, have no important basis. To me they are preferences that have somehow become “proper.” This is stupid of course. Many of these fabricated faux pas are things that don’t really matter in life and yet we spend so much time trying to adhere to them.

Why are we so concerned about this stuff? I woke up one morning and made a mental note of every action I took that was designed to fit some social norm. Yep, it started with my belt and shoes; then the right color of socks with my pants; then brushing my hair; then holding the door open for someone.

It’s probably that herd mentality that runs so strong in our DNA. Our survival has become irrevocably linked to social connections. We need each other to make it in this world, especially now that most people don’t know how to grow their own food or build their own shelter. Somewhere along the way though, these insignificant habits have become ingrained in that social necessity.

What’s worse is people who refuse to play along with some of these dumb rules are labeled misfits, non-conformists and abnormal. We even diagnose people with a disorder when they don’t pick up on specific social cues. We also make these social norms part of religion. Not only do we make people outcasts because they’re different, we also try to tell them that they’re going to hell too. There’s something wrong with labeling someone as diseased because they won’t make eye contact or their obsessively absorbed with a hobby or they just don’t care about matching their belts to their shoes.

To me, that’s dangerous. Criminal behavior is one thing. There are acts which work against the societal model on which our survival depends. But behaviors considered odd that have no effect on others is not the same thing. And therein lies the tragedy. What is considered different sometimes becomes anathema. We begin to judge people’s worth and abilities based on how they dress themselves. We interpret someone’s skill level with how well they fit in with others. We try to draw conclusions about each other on things that are, at the end of the day, preferences.

I firmly believe that we’re smarter than that. But yet again, this whole habit of judging based on immaterial social norms is based on one thing: mental laziness. We don’t want to think. Looking beyond someone’s appearance and odd behavior requires work. We actually have to invest time into getting to know someone and we just don’t want to do it. So we take shortcuts and pass judgment based on whether people know how to dress, use a salad fork for their salad or how neat they keep their desk.

Yes it does take a lot of energy to get to know someone and it’s not always feasible to do that with every person who crosses our path. But there is one thing we can do when it comes to dealing with people who are different: stop judging them so quickly based on superficial habits. We don’t have to take them to dinner or become their best friend. But we can reserve judgment until we’ve had time to know them and understand where they’re coming from.

We can do this because we have such high-capacity minds. Maybe it’s time that we used them.

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God Threshold III

Philosophy, Religion

You take a photograph with a digital camera. You upload it to a computer. When you look at the image on the screen, it’s a familiar scene that you’ve just recorded. Underneath it though, is code, lots of code. While you see a picture, the image is produced on screen through a long string of coded information that the computer needs to display said image.

It’s not really all that different from your brain processing your sight. You open your eyes. Images are processed and the information is sent to your brain through signals in your nervous system. It is your brain that actually produces the image.

But there’s a tremendous difference between how a computer and a human brain translate and display images.

You can take two computers and connect them with a wire. That forms a network. Using software you can take the code of a photograph and send it to the second computer through the wire. The second computer, regardless of its operating system and sometimes regardless of its internal architecture, can then take that code and produce the exact same image that you first saw on the first computer.

The brain does not do that. If you witness two cars hitting each other on a street and a person standing next to you witnesses the same wreck, both of you can walk away with different interpretations about which driver was at fault. People disagree on what they see even if they see the same exact thing. You can show the same picture to two people and they can both see different things.

The point? No matter how much two people relate to each other whether it’s verbal or physical, it is impossible for one person to completely transmit their own personal experience to another. We can all look at the same thing and agree on the details of what we see but we can’t all see it the same. We can all listen to the same songs but we can’t fully share those songs between each other so that each person has the exact same code as another person.

No matter what we process through our experiences and reason, it is all colored by our individual minds. And every individual mind has its own color.

People, while they can communicate like a computer network, cannot have their brains wired together to share information and then experience that information in the precisely same manner. At the end of the day, all we really know is what we process through our own minds.

Is it any wonder then, that we can never fully agree on what reality is? We can all look at the same picture but we all have a different perspective.

Perhaps I’m wrong and reality does exist. It still doesn’t matter. We can never fully know reality because said reality would be processed by each of our different, unique minds.

Much of this boils down to the same question which I’ve posed many times on this blog: can something exist that is beyond our ability to experience? By that I mean is there something that we don’t possess the physiological necessities to experience? We didn’t have the ability to see bacteria until the microscope was invented. But even then, we had been experiencing bacteria (illness, etc.) despite the fact we couldn’t process its existence through base, empirical means. Our minds are incapable of processing the microscopic life form. But through technological advances, we can and did eventually experience it through sight.

I am speaking of something that can exist beyond any ability to experience; something that no amount of technology could ever find for us?

Or is the whole universe accessible to us and we can’t we just can’t experience it yet?

First World Problems

Philosophy, Politics, Religion

first-world-problems-51
If it’s one thing I can’t stand to hear from someone is how some particular thing is “destroying our nation.”

Whatever it is, no it’s not. Our country is just fine. Lately every single politician, political movement, religion, atheist, communist, socialist, fascist, congressman, president, governor, mayor and the Post Office is destroying our country.

What exactly is so bad that some sort of harbinger has been unleashed declaring the end of the United States? Are we slugging it out in the streets for a top spot in bread lines? Do we face some kind of energy crisis? Are armed guards kidnapping random people in the night? Do we wake up to assault gun fire and mortar shelling every day like they do in Syria? Any genocide going on?

No. None of that is happening. We don’t have any REAL problems. We bitch about the political fighting in Washington, tax breaks for the rich, lazy people on food stamps, etc. But, I’m sorry, those are not nation-destroying troubles. Ronald Reagan’s Iran Contra scandal, George Bush’s recession, Bill Clinton’s philandering, George W.’s warmongering and Obama’s fight for his healthcare plan have not destroyed this country and none of it will.

Do we have problems? Yes, we do. The government spies on everything from our phone calls to our top scores on Angry Birds. Politicians on both sides lie about facts and use fear and anger to generate fervor among their electorate. Our economy at times seems to hang by a thread. The public denies scientists when they don’t like what scientists have to say.

But by and large, these things ARE being held in check. We still have our smartphones and our memes. We still drive our gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. We still have McDonalds, buffalo wings and Pizza Hut. This Sunday our nation will sit collectively for five hours while we enjoy our annual descent into junk food and beer during our beloved Superbowl.

Can things escalate to the point that our country will be destroyed? Of course. But we’re nowhere near that point. The fact that we’re so much in arms about the NSA, political discourse, climate change, economic regulations, welfare costs and healthcare shows that we do at least care about what’s happening even if we keep electing 90 percent of incumbents in Congress who do nothing about it.

And I won’t lie, sometimes I get caught up in the drama of it all and join in the chorus of doomsday. But I think enough is enough.

I’m not saying we should never be worried. I’m saying stop it with the histrionics. Let’s keep our eyes on the realities of our world. There are countries with genuine war zones, food shortages, widespread disease and genocide. But it’s not our country. Our issues are, at the end of the day, first-world problems.

It’s the deep paranoia and the actions that people take based on that paranoia that can cause serious problems. But even then, that won’t be the end of us.

How to Find a Skunk

Philosophy, Politics, Religion

Skunk

During the height of his steroids scandal, a reporter asked pitcher Roger Clemens about his opinion on those who accused him of juicing. His response was a quote from his mother.

“Never get into a pissing contest with a skunk.”

This is pretty good advice, especially when it comes to social media. In the past couple days I’ve found myself soaked quite a bit in skunk urine thanks to the discussions surrounding duck caller Phil Robertson. In case you haven’t heard he made some ill-advised comments about the lives of African Americans prior to the Civil Rights movement and the sexual effect of a woman’s vagina vs. a man’s anus. Like many of the great debates in our time, the intellectual back and forth has been aired out on Twitter and Facebook.

Most of the time when there’s a controversial news topic, I shy away from the online bickering. I once lost a friend (well on Facebook anyway) about the Trayvon Martin shooting. When I do venture into a hyped discussion, I try to keep my opinions on topic and usually I stick to it.

Couple of things I’ve learned about social media squabbles 1) you never change anyone’s opinion about the subject matter and 2) you never feel better after unleashing your view on said subject matter.

My  latest foray into online debate centered on Robertson’s incendiary comments and how 1) he was entitled to make them, 2) A&E was entitled to kick him off the air, 3) Biblical edicts are sometimes relative (i.e. slavery, bacon, gays, etc.) and 4) I have a poor habit of “selective reading” as one of my friend’s friends put it.

I had a long night answering comments from people who claim 1) that Christianity is under attack,  2) that my education is inadequate, 3) that Muslims have free speech which Christians don’t, 4) that my remarks really miss the point, etc. etc. etc. etc. Luckily I think I survived the night with most of my friends and followers lists intact.

I knew what I was getting into but I just couldn’t help myself. Why do I, and others for that matter, feel the need to argue even when they know they can’t win? For me, I guess there’s this hope that maybe I can at least get others to see a different point of view. Their personal stance may not change but they’ll broaden their perspective. Hopefully.

This never happens. Ever.

I think that social media and the Internet in general fuels people’s sense of self-importance. Maybe because we feel that we can broadcast our opinions to the entire world in an instant it somehow gives those opinions some sort of credence. It’s particularly enticing when you know that your message is concentrated to people you know. (Only egomaniacs spout their opinions for everyone on a blog.)

Unfortunately though, online “debates” usually become nothing but a bunch of people sharing opinions that everyone already knows. No one becomes educated or enlightened. It just turns into a digital yelling match and the volume of your voice does not make you right. (Except for me. I’m always right.)

Word of advice though, when you see a skunk, turn around. Walking away doesn’t mean the skunk is right about gay marriage.

Extreme Christ

Religion

Jesus earring

So there’s this tattooed, progressive, vulgar woman making the lefty church rounds spouting her particular message about Jesus Christ in her own distinct way. Minister Nadia Bolz-Weber’s delivery seems to speak to today’s generation of disillusioned youth seeking some kind of spiritual catharsis from an unconventional source.

Her style is really nothing new. But lately she’s been drawing a new audience — regular folk. Turns out that you don’t have to be some violence-desensitized, angst-ridden twenty-something in order to be turned off by traditional, organized religion. It’s a rising trend that shows no sign of slowing. The most rapidly growing religious identity in the U.S.? Athiesm, agnosticism or unafilliated.

People have problems with religion, at least the traditional model be it Catholics, Protestants or Evangelicals. They’re just not filling the pews anymore. Some feel the exodus has to do with the political involvement with conservatives in government. Others blame secularization. Personally I feel there is a bit of hypocrisy in how people act compared to what they profess to believe. I also think  too many people use their religion to justify divisiveness, violence and outright avarice.

In the past maybe young people felt obligated to stick with religion despite their reservations but I don’t think that guilt is working anymore.

Movements from unconventional ministers like Bolz-Weber are growing and in different manifestations. Many of these non-denominational churches are centered on a dynamic personality, like Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer. Others are based on a theme like Cowboy Church. I once went to a service crafted entirely for bikers. People are capitalizing on those seeking God in a nontraditional setting.

It bothers a lot of people. Even Pope Francis, the loose-talking Jesuit recently named pontiff, is facing backlash from traditional Catholics irate that he’s doing such cavalier things like not judging gays and granting interviews to athiest journalists.

I’m a faltering Catholic, a heavily liturgical denomination. The mere presence of a guitar at a Protestant service rubs me the wrong way because the only version of Amazing Grace I’ve ever heard was accompanied by an organ. Sadly, contemporary is just not my cup of tea. I can see why some are repulsed by Francis, Bolz-Weber and Biker Church.

Yet, so what? To me all of those who have been devoutly religious their entire lives should be happy that the prodigal children have found another path to the same destination. Even if they don’t like the way the message is presented, they should at least rejoice that the lost are found.

Some of the deniers are more afraid that the newcomers are changing the message. Legitimate fear, maybe, but I think that fear is usually based on the notion that unless someone’s worshiping the way they worship, then they’re not true believers. Ironically, this is the large part of the reason why people get sour on God in the first place — worshipers look at those who believe different and condemn them for being different. This irks me particularly with Christians because Jesus preached the exact opposite. There’s a certain instance in the Bible when His disciples walked up to Him complaining that there was a man performing miracles in Jesus’ name. He rebuked their intolerance.
“Anyone who is not against us is for us.”

-Mark 9:40

God Experience

Religion

symbols

My first experience with God wasn’t a happy one.

It was in a CCD class. My teacher was going over the experiences of hell. Some woman had gone to the depths of the inferno in some dream and came back to tell people what it was like. She was some sort of inverted prophet.

The teacher told the story as though she was recalling a memory about a past storm. She described the fire and how the flames burned hotter than coals.

I don’t know why, but her talk got to me. I was only about 12 or so. Since I’d been born, God and the devil and heaven and hell were nothing more than theories, beings who were out in some ethereal world that had nothing to do with me.

But that day, the reality hit me that my actions did matter. Somebody was watching and keeping tally. I didn’t look at it though, from the stance that I had heaven to gain by doing good. I became all about avoiding hell. For all I cared, I could get stuck in some dentist’s lobby for eternity as long as the fiery coals weren’t sticking to my skin.

How did the talk from some volunteer Sunday school teacher get to me? It wasn’t as if she were a nun or a priest. She was just some mother who was trying to get through to a group of teenage kids.

I never shared with anyone that experience and how it thumped my soul into action. I started sitting closer in the front pews, while my parents stayed in the back. I paid attention to the homilies and the gospel readings.

Profound effect. Still didn’t know why.

I looked at ways to avoid hell. Someone told me if you died wearing a scapula or a rosary, you were guaranteed refuge in heaven. Then they taught me about confession and how if I died after confession my soul would be cleared and I’d be safe. Others told me to lead a good life and do good things and God wouldn’t condemn me. The inferno and my escape from it was always on my mind.

What bothers me now is I never questioned it. I never tried to investigate the teacher’s claims or ask myself why I got so scared.

Since then, I’ve come to believe that it was because of my first memory as a child. When I think back as far as I can, the first thing I remember happening to me was burning my hand on a barbecue pit. I was at some family get together, some second cousin’s graduation or something. I was walking around and I remember my hand sticking to some 55 gallon drum cut out as a pit. Searing pain, that’s what stuck with me. It burned and wouldn’t stop. Family members scrambled around me, some relative grabbed a bag of ice and put it on my arm. I’m not sure if it helped or not.

That’s it, that’s all I remember from that day, that moment. Talking to my mom about it one day, she was surprised that I remembered that, I was only about 18 months old, she said. She told me she kept bandages on my hand for a long time, even had to put a sock on it to keep me from hurting it again while there was raw skin exposed.

Maybe my mind connected hell with burning my arm. Maybe it’s bullshit. I don’t know.

It’s taken many years but the effect of putting hell off has waned, though not entirely.

Now, 34, I don’t know how God works and how people go to heaven or hell. I see good people, great souls, who don’t go to church or tout any religious ideology. I’ve met righteous muslim people and Jewish There are good “church-going” people, judgmental, narrow-minded, who have no business being rewarded for their intense dislike of things that are different.

I do believe there is a God but I think He’s more of a mystery to me than that day in Sunday school.

So, at a crossroads now, not knowing where I’m heading or what to do about it. Boat listlessly drifting in an open sea.

I’m not an atheist but I now see where they’re coming from. There is so much unfathomable evil in this world and this God that believers describe doesn’t seem to fit with that reality, or reality as we know it.

How can a God who drowned the whole world let genocide go unchecked? I mean a vile genocide, like Rwanda or Cambodia. People hacked to death, heads cut off in public. Women raped. Outsiders tortured. But no God.

Athiests see so many people utilizing religion as a channel to dominate and justify heinous activity. I see now how evil the institution can be and how they really believe that it’s ok to kill, rape, torture and destroy those who think different.

How can you blame someone for thinking that no divine would let these things happen?

Sure there are testaments, Bible passages, inspirational stories that are offered by ardent believers that there is something great and unknown.

I can’t say I don’t believe in that ideal. What I can say is, I’ve slowly  shed off the memory of the day I became firmly entrenched in the idea of hell. I’m awake now. The afterlife is uncertain again and I can’t go back to sleep.

God Threshold II

Philosophy, Religion

galaxy cutout

Regarding the God Threshold.

Can something exist that we don’t have the physiological ability to experience? If it does exist, do we have the ability to comprehend and/or identify it? Can we ever fully understand that unknowable unknown?

I am not talking about something like a far-flung galaxy, a parallel universe or string theory. Those are things that we don’t yet have the capability to understand; we have the ability. I am referring to an ultimate unknown. We are all endowed with reason and the ability to process our experiences. How do we put our thumb on something that’s beyond both?

Heisenberg states that we cannot know the exact location and velocity of a given particle at the same time. It lends to not being able to know two things about one thing at the same time. How do we know something when we know nothing, and can experience nothing about it?

It’s an important question I think. If we think that everything is within reach or could become within reach, then to me, we make ourselves the center of the universe. If  nothing exists beyond our ability to experience, then we feel that nothing is beyond our grasp. It is then our universe; everything else is just a part of it.

To be continued…

Slavery, Bacon, Gays and Jesus

Philosophy, Religion

chain

One of the things that has always bothered me about the Bible is the flexibility of the social codes. So many Christians are willing to tout the infallibility of the text and yet claim some of the more unsavory aspects are no longer applicable.

Jesus didn’t have a problem with slavery. (More often than not, the Bible referred to them as “servants” but really, they were slaves.) He never condemned it. He never advocated that a person’s life is their own. In fact, he actually healed a man’s dying servant. He was willing to save the slave’s life but not give them freedom. The Bible is riddled with rules that delineate the relationship between master and slave.

There were many times during the days of American slavery where owners would use the Bible as justification for their owning slaves.

But today, we have a moral repulsion to slavery. It’s even an established right in America that you can’t be owned by anyone.

Then there’s divorce. Jesus was pretty clear on this one.

“Now I say this to you: anyone who divorces his wife — I am not speaking of an illicit marriage — and marries another, is guilty of adultery.'” (Matthew 19:9)

Sooooo, either there are a sea of adulterers out there (half of all marriages) or we’re not having a whole lot of proper marriages.

I’m willing to bet that a lot of divorced Christians don’t consider themselves adulterers. I can’t stop myself form typing out that Evangelicals have the highest divorce rate among Christians.

Many times I hear the arguments from fellow Christians that Jesus preached during a different time in history, when slavery was allowed and divorce was frowned upon. They say that the times have changed since He walked the Earth.

This applies to the entire Bible of course. Polygamy, slavery, stonings— they were legal, encouraged even. Divorce, eating pork, women serving food while on their periods—they were forbidden. Yet so many Christians want to use the Bible to justify their positions to castigate homosexuality, hate Muslims, legislate morality among others.

Homosexuality is a personal favorite. Just like eating pork and divorce, it is condemned in the Bible. Why is it that views on divorce, premarital sex and ham have relaxed but not on being gay?

Bottom line: if values change from one era to another, then we can’t cherry pick elements out of the Bible that we want to apply and others that we don’t. Buffet-style morality based on the Bible isn’t based on the Bible at all.

When you do that, you’re selections aren’t Bible-based— they’re really the mores that WE want to see enforced. If you really believe in God or Jesus Christ, then you would already know that people don’t have the authority to play Solomon with the Good Book.

Let’s just admit that Christians are using the Bible and its text as a front for their own personal fears and hatred of things they don’t like. When they say that the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, they’re really saying that THEY personally think homosexuality is wrong and that they have the authority to deem it so.

Well, we are not God or Jesus.

But we are divorcees, gays, bacon lovers, sinners and most importantly, free.