Insistency Of Consistency…

What’s In A Name…

I’m often troubled with how religions, as well as how religious people can be treated on social media.  I see memes and assertions daily poking fun at religion, at religious people, and in many instances, calling for others to step away from religion.  I find this unsavory on one level, and sad on another.

I have many atheist friends, and I understand why so many doubt or disbelieve in a higher power.  I get it.  For many, atheism is the right choice.  I would defend a person’s right to be atheist with all I have in me, despite that I am not one.

As a point of clarification though, if a person is against religion – if he or she speaks out against, or puts effort toward to pulling people away from religion, they are not an atheist, they are an antitheist.  They would also be a bigot.

Raise Your Hand If…

By the cursory definition that an atheist believes in an absence of deities, somewhere between 2-13% of the human population are declared atheists.  This suggests that the remaining 87-98% of the human population are either unsure of deities, or otherwise committed to one.

One data source I used suggests that 6.5 billion of the planet’s 7.1 billion people believe in a higher power.  Of that 6.5 billion people, 78% claim a religious affiliation of some sort, though many are not active within their associated affiliation.

If that large a percentage of the world’s population believes in a god and has even a lose religious affiliation, and if a person feels compelled to make fun of or to attempt to pull their friends and loved ones away from religion, they are not only antitheists and bigots, but they are also fighting the largest of losing causes.

On Simple Amusement…

One of the great ironies I see with those who poke fun at religion, and of those who would have religion abolished if they were so empowered, is that very often these same people are socially liberal.  That is, they are defenders of causes such as LBGT rights, cannabis legalization, and freedoms of expression, yet they are actively against a belief in the divine.

The antitheist, despite the probability that they are socially liberal, are too often compelled to tease and even torment believers, and to treat them as though they are doddering ignoramuses who are lucky enough to keep from tying their own shoes together each morning.  Again, I find this unsavory, but more deeply, I feel that making fun of a great majority of all humans to be repugnant.

If I, in the presence of a socially liberal friend were to poke fun at a gay or transgender person, I would be immediately rebuked and taken to task.  Still, the urge to poke fun at those who find salvation in prayer is entertaining, if not uncontrollable for many who I have just described.

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Give me light.  Give me life.  Keep me free from birth…

Be Consistent With Your Hate, As Well As With Your Love…

All I’m suggesting here is consistency.  If you’re okay with other people smoking pot, having same-gender consensual sex, and implore on behalf of the freedoms of choice, and you don’t make fun of anyone for it, then please be okay with someone who believes in god and chooses to pray.

As there is no need to shame or criticize someone because they have a pot leaf on their t-shirt, there is also no need to shame or criticize someone for having a cross or a star as their profile picture.  Conversely, if you’re going to poke fun at someone for believing in god, please take time to pick on the coloreds and the fags too.

We all have the right to stand for what we believe in.  There is no need though, at all, to make fun of someone’s beliefs for the simple satisfaction of a smirk or a laugh.  We can do better than that.  As a species, it’s time we practice to understand.  Be well.  rc

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If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Rick Astley.  Don’t blame me on this one.  I put it to my social media community to choose this week’s song.  You can all blame, Drea!!!!

Catharsisaurus Rx…

The blender in my head…

I’ve live pretty deep inside my head.  I am continually haunted by the complexities of modern life, and how they may be impacting my reality, assuming there is a reality. That doubt, of my own reality, is the heart of the thing.

On the surface I train clients, check on my mother, text my daughter, and reassure my dog.  Underneath all of this, my mind is bombarded by tiny pellets of doubt, all day long, that are slowly deteriorating the shield which protects my rational side.  Among my greatest fears is that this shield will parish before I do, leaving the chaos in my head to play unbridled havoc with my mind as I age.

My inner Cartesian has come to appreciate those frantic moments in my life, like when my frozen vegetables fly out of the bag and land all over my floor because I pulled them too quickly from my freezer.  That things like this always happen at the worst possible time also serves me well.  Those moments snap me out of my doubt, if only for an instant, and halt the existential banter between all the Roys within.

The life within the life…

I regularly entertain the life within the life.  I imagine waking from a nap on a summer’s day, my right cheek stuck slightly to the warm concrete beside the swimming pool of my youth.  The distant chatter of Marco and Polo awakens me.  I am 12 years old, and the life that I have lived since will have been only a dream.  Reagan never won.  I never married so I never divorced, and the internet was all in my imagination.

Perhaps though, I’ll awaken in an asylum, and not by the pool.  My arms tied behind my back, and with a crayon between my toes I write my suicide note on a foam wall.  This life I write from right now will have been a peaceful dream, and what lay ahead, a nightmare.

And don’t get me started on my lifetime of chronic bad dreams.  Where do I go when I dream…?  Is what I do any less real than what I do when I’m awake…?  In an active mind, I often feel that the only thing separating my memories of life from my bad dreams  are the words memory and dream.

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Kinda hopin’ Really hopin’ I don’t wake up here…

Occasionally I consider that all other people are just extras in an orchestrated game between the gods.  I am at the center of their illustrious amusement – just a silver ball in their game of pantheonic pinball.  At the end of the game, I wonder, will the gods rise in unison and offer me the ultimate thumbs up or thumbs down, based on how well I performed bouncing off the obstacles they set before me.  Ever-present is the feeling I am being watched and judged.

The illusion of conclusion…

Even if I am real, where and how am I real…?  Between parallel universes, infinite universes, or an eternal universe where anything that can happen will happen, I find myself right here, right now, and in this glorious life.  Although in the quantum world, I’m only probably here, and probably now.

Physicist Brian Greene tells me freewill is only an illusion and suggests that mathematics supports this.  The calculations of my future have already been laid out, he says, and that I have no say in my say.  However, I don’t steel tips off tabletops in restaurants when nobody is looking, and I don’t push people down the stairs – even when they deserve it.  Sounds like free will to me.

Some scientists suggest existence as I know it is some kind of holographic image created in an alternate reality, and is smaller than the tip of a pen.  Others say I am slave to the algorithms within a cellular automaton.  Just the thought of that has me pining to be a slave building a pyramid, for at least then I would exist in a simpler state.

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Holographic Youniverse…

The idea that some being in another dimension might be administering my every thought and every motion by way of a joystick bubbles under the surface of my daydreaming as I clean my studio.  On one hand this appeals to me inasmuch as if it is true, then I am exonerated from all indiscretion and responsibility.  However, if I’m not a Sea Monkey in a jar on some extraterrestrial kitchen counter, atonement and responsibility are not only my duty, they are my only hope.

Dog is one of us…

When my eyes lock with my dog I feel love and truth – simultaneously.  That emotion is a daily confirmation that I am real.  When our eyes break though, I can’t help wondering if my dog is actually an angel sending signals back to God, or an observer sending recommendations back to the mother ship.  I wonder the same thing with many of my human contacts too, you who is reading this included.

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“Stroolde calling Orson, come in Orson…”

I flash back to a time in school when I was taunting a special needs kid.  My friend Jeff stopped me and said…

“Roy!  Don’t tease Milton!  What if he’s God and he’s just testing you…?”

Jeff was joking, but I’ve never been able to get that thought out of my head; that anyone else might be God, or a designated representative of the Junta Grande.

The scratch ticket and the interwebs…

I feel guilty for having won the lottery of existence.  All my needs are met – exceedingly.  I’m able to enjoy and appreciate so much.  That I get to make a living doing what I love, and do so in such a beautiful place seems unjust to me, on behalf of those who can’t.  I wonder why I’m not a knobby-knee’d Ethiopian child with fly on one eye suckling his mother’s dry tit.  Yet I seem to be me, and this seems to be my time and my place – probably.

Living in the internet age has only thrown gasoline on the fire of my doubts.  I wonder if this increased connectivity with people and information around the world isn’t just an expanded test by my maker.  It makes no sense that I have instant access to most of the much of the knowledge ever attained and so much information, even if it isn’t always accurate.

Are my social media friends and my analog friends truly connections, or are they an audience watching me and trying to influence the way I bounce off the bumpers in the pinball game of my life…?  They might just be 7-billion lesser gods.

When I look the grocery clerk, the beggar, or the barista in the eyes, I often wonder if they’re thinking,

“He’s on to us…”

That people so seamlessly merge in and out of my digital and analog lives makes me feel increasingly uneasy.

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My maker…?

The known universe is precisely 54 years old…

Let’s assume I am real.  I see memes on social media daily that remind me how small and insignificant I am relative to the immensity of the universe.  This is bad internet juju in my opinion.  I am the only component in the universe that I have absolute dominion over.  If ultimate inter-connectivity is inevitable, then the universe can’t fulfill its own destiny if I fail to fulfill mine.

I was dead for nearly 14-billion years before I was born.  I’ll be dead again in a decade or two more.  I better get this thing right while I’m still here.  It’s all pretty overwhelming at times, this work of performance art which I call my life.

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At the end of the day, I suppose my reality is simply my choice – my decision to carry forward without worrying too much about any of this.  Whether or not I’m a spec in the universe, the center of it, or an organic shuttlecock in game of badminton between gods, so long as standing in nature stirs my heart, and my daughter returns my phone calls, I will choose to act and feel real.  I will though, always have my doubts.  Be well, and thank you for taking the time…  rc

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Enjoying God’s creation, in his creation, and where I feel most real..

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If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Psychic Ills.  Enjoy…

Tolerance, Tole-Rant, To All You I Rant…

I asked a friend recently about hostility on social media. He replied by saying, “What’s the use of having an opinion if you can’t cram it down somebody’s throat”. Of course he was joking, but many I know truly subscribe to that belief…

My Belief…

I don’t believe in god, not in the sense of a divine being – man on the throne kind of stuff. Nor do I believe in a singular intelligence or designer, however vague, ethereal or non-specific it might be. At best I believe in an accidental system, and that beneath this system exists an underlying current of higher purpose pulling society in a singular direction. I believe that as time carries forward the stream of that current narrows.

As human complexity increases and that stream narrows it appears to me that we may be headed for a social eruption of some kind. Whether that eruption takes place in the next few years or few hundred, I have no idea. When I step back though, and attempt to take a big picture view of society, complexity, and directionality, it appears this eruption is unavoidable, so I want to get this off my chest while I can.

No Fight In Me…

On the topics of religions, god, and higher purpose, I have two basic rules; I don’t argue on behalf of, nor do I proselytize my beliefs. I also choose never to argue against the beliefs of others. That is, as I hope my beliefs will be respected by others, I ensure that the beliefs of others are respected by me — unless those beliefs involve hatred.

As the futile debates over religions and god causes schisms, what I do seek are occasional discussions that might otherwise fill those gaps. I tend to think the wellness of culture is absolutely dependent on religious tolerance. If useful discussions can’t be had, I simply disengage from all conversation. To attempt to change a person’s beliefs, mine or yours, is a supreme violation of consciousness.

Probably All That Can Ever Be Known…

In the appendix to his book, The Evolution Of God, Robert Wright masterfully explains what I believe is all we can ever truly understand about god, higher purpose, or why we even think in those terms. Wright speaks of an early hunter-gatherer walking alone through the woods alone at dusk. Suddenly there is a noise. The noise stops the man in his tracks. For a split second he thought he saw something associated with that noise, but can’t be certain whether or not he did. He looks again and sees nothing. Rather than continuing in the same direction, the man adjusts his path. He does this as to exhibit caution in order live another day – to push his genes into the next generation.

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The idea though, that he thought he saw something served him much better than not thinking he saw something. That is, if that guard had not been put up, he may have well walked into danger, and not survived another day to spread his genes.

And that’s where the idea of god begins and ends for me; as an evolutionary presence to ensure we protect ourselves, both physiologically and culturally, from things that may hurt us.

Fast Talkin’ Dawkins…

The primary tenet of biological evolution is that traits which serve getting genes into the next generation survive, and traits that don’t serve that purpose get weeded out in time. If cultural evolution parallels biological evolution, which Richard Dawkins himself stated early on in his career, than religion must be a trait that is serving the advancement of culture. After all, religions have not been weeded out over time, only transmogrified, misused and abused.

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At its very core religion is where all culture began. All art began as sacred art. All governance began as sacred governance. Albeit art and government are now (mostly) secularized in the modern era and in the western world, we have early religions to thank for providing us this framework that today keeps chaos in check – despite what we see on the evening news.

Did You Read Anything Up To This Point…?

I know there are people who have read this far, and ready to take me to task. Don’t bother – that’s kind of my point. However asinine my beliefs may seem to you, they are my beliefs and I value them as I value my child. Try and talk me out of loving my child or my beliefs, and you have lost the argument so there is no need for me to speak.

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I have a great reverence and appreciation for religions, though I subscribe to none. I actually believe that rituals are the most important aspect of the human experience, and like art and government, all ritual began as sacred ritual. Whether we believe in a higher power or not, to me, is not as important as behaving as though there is one.

Where religions go in the future can’t be predicted, though billions will try to chart their path, as billions more try to extinguish them. History though, makes a great case that religions may change over time, and may evolve, but for those who would like to see them disappear, I’ll suggest their very presence is the most vital part of culture, and a necessary trait for cultural survival.

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I believe that a successful outcome for humanity is absolutely dependent on religious tolerance. If one steps back and takes a big picture look at the evolution of culture, I’ll suggest it will be hard to disagree with that. Be well. rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from The Mountain Goats.  Enjoy…

Roots, Branches, Leaves, Weeds, And Pests…

I recently blogged about my one-month disconnect from information media, and information technology.  While I was on this self-imposed excommunication from communications, I read a book recommended to me by my daughter.  The Search For God At Harvard, by Ari Goldman, helped reconnect me with my Jewish heritage, and offered me some food for thought about how I might choose to live my life going forward — or perhaps not, we shall see.

I will be writing soon about some decisions I have made with regard to my faith, my lifestyle, my fitness, and my distaste for most things modern.  More on that in two weeks.  

After reading his book, I established an email discussion with Ari Goldman, a former religious editor for The New York Times, now a Graduate Professor of Journalism at Columbia University.  We exchanged several emails, and he used the discourse the write the following article for The New York Jewish Week.   I’ll suggest he lowered his standards just a smidge to write about me, but I am grateful just the same.  Below is the article — republished with the author’s permission.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 Ari L. Goldman

Special To The Jewish Week

Writing a book, I recently told a friend, is like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean. You never know who might find it, read it and think of it.

 It’s been 20 years since I wrote my first book, “The Search for God at Harvard,” and I still occasionally get notes about it from unexpected places. Sometimes I learn more from my correspondents than I ever put in that original bottle.

 The most recent note came from a man named Roy Cohen, not the infamous lawyer who died in 1986 (and spelled his last name Cohn), but the Roy Cohen who is a fitness trainer and the proprietor of a small gym in Fallbrook, Calif., just north of San Diego.

 He writes: “In an age where I have felt overwhelmed by humanity itself — modernity and all that goes with it — I recently took a 30-day sabbatical from all information media, information technology, and all social media. In short, I lived completely unplugged for 30 days.”

 Definitely my kind of guy, I thought. That may be a strange admission for a media columnist, but I have to confess that I approach all information technology with considerable skepticism. Don’t try to find me on Facebook, and I don’t do Twitter.

 Roy went on about his technology fast: “In this process, I took to reading again, rather than listening to books on i-Tunes, as I have done for nearly a decade. Among the first books I chose to read was ‘The Search For God at Harvard.’

 “My daughter, a student at De Paul University suggested your book, and assured me it was right up my alley. You see, I earn my keep as a fitness trainer, but all of my non-working time is spent contemplating religion — for all its beauty, all its liability, and all its embarrassment. I love religion — ritual in particular.

 “I was raised Jewish — Reform, bar mitzvahed and moved on. Despite this — that my background is Jewish, my family is Jewish, and that I have read countless books on Judaism — I have never truly known what it is like to be Jewish — it has always been an afterthought. I have never even tried. Perhaps that’s because Judaism was thrust upon me as a child rather than cultivated.

 “Having read your book, though, for the first time in my life, I can see what it means for someone to be Jewish — to love it enough that it becomes prioritized in such beautiful and creative ways. As I read your book, I marveled with envy at the love affair you have with your faith — complete envy.”

 All this was nice to hear, of course, especially because my book, about a year that I spent at Harvard Divinity School, was pilloried by many observant Jews for bending halacha a bit too eagerly. Among other things, I wrote about reporting with a pencil (rather than a pen) on Shabbat and about “tefillin dates,” an activity that suggests both sex and prayer. I wrote back to Roy that it was I, in fact, who envied him. I wished I could take a 30-day media fast, and I could certainly use a gym — and a personal trainer.

 I asked Roy for more details of his technology fast and suggested that he try a weekly one, namely Shabbos. He wrote back that “in hindsight” he realizes that his technology fast was “making up for decades of unobserved Sabbaths.”

 “With regard to life without technology for 30 days,” he added, “it was peaceful, empowering, and probably formative to some degree — but those transformations might have more to do with what I did during those 30 days than what I did not do: reading, gardening, cleaning — ritual. I have a great passion for ritual, especially when there is a physical component to ritual.”

 So what did he learn? I wondered. “If there are lessons learned from a month unplugged,” Roy wrote back, “they are as follows:

 * “Television holds little value to me anymore.

* 80+ percent of my e-mail use is unnecessary.

* Books on i-Tunes have no soul.

* Facebook is a fair distraction in situations not well suited to substance; waiting for a late client, waiting room at a doctor’s office, etc.

* Texting holds a great deal of utility in the scope of my life — more so than I had imagined.

* Writing essays (a hobby of mine) is much easier with modern word processing than on legal pads. I am grateful for MS Word.”

 In short, technology is not bad. It just has to be used intelligently.

 And there is one other value to it, I realize. These days you can throw your note in a bottle into the ocean and do not have to wait for a message to come back to you in a bottle. Just open your e-mail. You will surely find some silliness there, but also some wisdom.

 Ari L. Goldman is a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. His “Mixed Media” column will run regularly.

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Please check back in two weeks to find out how bench presses, lunges, blintzes, mezuzahs, and Shabbat have influenced my own private religion.  Thank you.

Oh, and there is this by World Party, enjoy…

 

Black or White, My Way Or Yahweh, Fitly Or Fatly…

This week there is less a tease for my Friday column – and more of a setup.

As societies, we keep reinventing ourselves – to a point where we are bursting at the memes.  Each time we reinvent ourselves in the name of human progress, some important things fall into the cracks and crevices which form between our so-called advancements. I often think tolerance, respect, and mindfulness need be kept on short leashes, that we ensure they make it from one generation into the next.

Here is a excerpt from this Friday’s column on prejudice:

“It seems, relative to the turmoil of recent decades, that racial prejudice in America might be on the decline, and that racial tolerance could be on the rise. Though absolute racial harmony may never happen, I am grateful for recent progress.

I won’t get too happy though — just over the hatred horizon there is an age-old prejudice on the rise once again; one involving god, God, or the belief in gods.   I recently watched a TED lecture by Richard Dawkins, calling for an outright war against the belief in God — what he calls, “militant atheism.”

Conversely, many Christians look down on atheists and agnostics more than ever, as the scum of the Earth, and would’t want their daughter to marry one.  It seems that as we have become more accepting of the variance in human skin colors, we are less accepting of contrary opinions on just who made and who dyed the skin — or not.  Let’s face it, we just need somebody to hate.”

Please check back this Friday, July 30th, and to see how this might relate to the concept of fitness. Thank you. rc

Oh, and there is this very important lesson on bigotry from Shakes The Clown (warning — some bad language):