Showing posts with label Religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Religion. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

God Knows When You're There

Because my father preferred going to the early morning service, and he preferred to sit in the choir loft of the chapel, we used to joke that only God and Clay Lee ever knew the Campbell family even went to church.  My Mother was more sociable and would have preferred the eleven o'clock service, but she was outnumbered and outvoted.  So, there we sat, the Campbell clan, Mary Taylor Sigmon playing the chapel electric organ, and sometimes a soloist, worshiping in anonymity,

My grandfather, my father's father, believed in sitting on the ground floor (a concession to my grandmother) but on the second to last row.  He believed you should save the last row for late-comers.  He believed in entering quietly and leaving expeditiously without any gossip or glad-handing.    My grandmother was equally averse to gossip, but oh, how she loved glad-handing.  When I was there with them, that often led to Grandaddy saying, "Stay with your grandmother; I'll pull the car around."  That way, they both got what they wanted.  He escaped quietly and quickly, and she got to visit almost as long as she wanted to.  

My oldest brother once asked a fairly obvious question: "Why even go if all we do is sit in the back?" My grandfather answered, "God knows when you're there."  

A lot of people probably thought I had given up on God, the church, and the community a long time ago.  Nobody knows when you watch church on television.  I don't know what I would have done if my church hadn't been on television.

I never felt like I had any business expressing my opinion on the progress of the United Methodist Church and no business getting involved.  Most of that, I think, is that I hadn't yet found my voice.  Even though I was constantly writing, it wasn't ever communication because I never let anyone see it.  I had to get pretty close to death before I became willing to let anyone see my words.  

I sometimes worried that people might think I had forsaken them, that my silence made them think I no longer cared.  My father taught me to worship in silence, away from the eyes of men, because it wasn't the eyes of men I was praying to.  In all those years of silence and my lack of involvement, there was never a time when I wasn't intently aware of what my church was doing and what became of the people in it.  God knew I was there.  

Now that I've found my voice, I'm still not entirely sure the best way to use it, but I feel much more confident in using it now than I ever have.  

Monday, February 5, 2024

Margaret Key Volunteer Award

I've been thinking of writing a Christmas story.  When I was little, this really remarkable woman gathered artistically leaning people at church to craft Christian-themed ornaments for a giant tree that would sit in the sanctuary at Galloway Memorial.  Her name was Margaret Kea, and she was always especially kind to me.  She was the one who encouraged me to make a painting to enter the Jackson Arts Festival.  I painted a tiger using the grid method to copy a photograph.  It won first place in my age group, but in all the putting together and taking part in the Arts Festival, the painting was lost, but I was given the ribbon.  

Part of my research for the story led me to find this article from 1988, where Mrs. Kea was given an award recognizing her volunteer work at Mississippi Methodist Rehab Center.  Many articles mentioned her being involved in arts oriented things, but I found this story, by Rebecca Hood-Adams, particularly revealing of her character.

I'm always learning things I don't know.  In this article, she mentions that there was a skating rink at the Livingston Park by the Zoo.  In all my studies about the Zoo, this is the first I've heard of a skating rink.


REBECCA HOOD-ADAMS Columnist The Clarion-Ledger Aug 28, 1988 

One Mississippian gets paid for time in blessings shared A walk in the park led Margaret Kea to the halls of Mississippi Methodist Rehabilitation Center, where she helps others stand tall. ; Eight years ago, Mrs. Kea encountered Peggy Bowland. Both women were walking for exercise, and as they fell in step, they found common ground. 

"We became each other's psychiatrist," Mrs.Kea says of her friend who died this past spring. "We'd talk about whatever was on our hearts as; we walked together." ; 

They exchanged histories with Mrs. Kea, 67, '. Reminiscing about her girlhood in Jackson. "It was like a small town then," she says. "We never locked our doors, and we spoke to everybody on the street. We knew everyone by name." 

Mrs. Kea recalls her Claiborne Street home in a town "so quiet at night that you could hear the lion roar from the zoo all the way to our, house." 

Sweet childhood memories 

There were jaunts to the Jitney to buy Banana Kisses, two for a penny. Afternoons at the skating rink in Livingston Park, where the big pipe organ filled the air with music. Evenings when the gang gathered at her home to make fudge and dance on hardwood floors.

Life in Jackson between the Depression and World War II was filled with simple pleasures. "On Saturday night we'd park the car on Capitol Street and watch the people come and go," Mrs. Kea says.

 Graduation from Central High School. A year at Belhaven College. A job as a telephone operator and then as a secretary with Mississippi Power & Light Co. 

The post-war boom brought change. A girlfriend arranged a blind date between Margaret Bridgers and Luther Kea, an agent for the Internal Revenue Service. "I was kind of leery at first," she remembers. But a six-month courtship grew into a 40-year marriage.

Life was not always easy for the young matron. She lost an infant son and then remained childless for five years. "I'd been praying so hard for a baby," Mrs. Kea says. "Finally, I got down on my knees one night and told the Lord that I'd never ask for a child again, that I'd accept his will." That's the month she became pregnant with Chip, 31, now a Port Gibson accountant.

The years flew by. Cub Scout den mother. President of the PTA. Sunday school teacher at Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church. Along the way, Margaret Kea broke her leg and vowed that if she ever got off crutches, she'd help somebody else.

"But I got busy and didn't do it," she says, remembering how she shared this need to aid others with her walking buddy. Peggy Bowland encouraged her and together they volunteered at Methodist Rehab. "A friend had told me that there were boys out there that couldn't even wipe a tear from their eyes," Mrs. Kea says. "That jerked something in me." 

But Margaret Kea has not found her Thursdays at Methodist depressing. "It's a place of courage and determination and hope," she says. "Patients establish deep friendships with everyone. Then when they finally are able to take that first step or lift a fork, there's a whole cheering section rooting for them."

Little deeds, big results 

Mrs. Kea's volunteer hours are spent in quiet service. She reads to patients, writes letters for them. Mostly she loves.

"My favorite thing is to just sit down beside somebody, put my arms around them and let them know they're cared for. I don't get paid, but I sure get blessed in return."

"Margaret offers spiritual strength and guidance to help patients through the long rehabilitation process," says Nellie Paul Farr, director of volunteer services at Methodist Rehabilitation Center. "She's not always recognized because her deeds of kindness are quietly given."

That will change Sept. 14 when Margaret Kea is one of 10 honorees at Goodwill Industries' 1988 Volunteer Activists Awards Luncheon.  She was tapped for her service at Methodist, although she could just as readily have been honored for her work with the Community Stewpot or Lakeland Nursing Home. And four Jackson women who've met for 12 years in Margaret Kea's home for weekly prayer already have had an opportunity to repay some of the spiritual strength she has lent them.

Two years ago Mrs. Kea developed cancer, the same disease that claimed her friend Peggy Bowland's life. 

"My prayer circle nursed me through like they were my own daughters," Mrs. Kea says. "You know, we're made strong by adversity. And you have to continually keep a problem in order to keep humble."

Courageous advice from One Mississippian whose heart is as brave as the lion roaring through Margaret Kea's memories. Are you One Mississippian who volunteers at least one hour per month to make Mississippi a better place? Send your name, address and telephone number in a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Rebecca Howl-Adams, The Clarion-Ledger, P.O. Box 40, Jackson, Miss., 39205.

You will be sent a One Mississippian button. Rebecca Hood-Adams' columns appear Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

What I'm Reading: The Question of God

 Next week, I'm beginning to read "The Question of God" by  Armand Nicholi.  The book is a series of fictional conversations between CS Lews and Sigmund Freud.  

Armand M. Nicholi Jr. is a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor.  The novel discusses the difficult and painful relationships that both Freud and Lewis suffered and how their experiences in life might have shaped their concept of God.  Both, having survived World War I, were said to suffer PTSD for the rest of their lives.  The book takes place shorter after Freud was diagnosed with cancer, but before he took his own life and before Lewis adopted children who were war orphans that became models for the children in the Narnia series of books.

The book was interpreted as a play by Mark St. Germain, which in turn was made into a film directed by Matthew Brown, starring Anthony Hopkins as Freud and Matthew Goode as Lewis.  Hopkins played Lewis in the 1993 film, "Shadowlands."

The Question of God by Armand Nicholi on sale at Amazon

Saturday, January 20, 2024

How We Pray

 I see a lot of talk about people praying for help or hoping that God "hears their prayers."  In Christianity, we've cultivated this idea that if you need something, and if you've been good, then you should pray for it, and, like Santa Claus, God will give you what you asked for.

I've always wondered if it worked that way.  Jesus said that God is like the shepherd looking to rescue his lost sheep, so it's clear that when we're in trouble, God knows our needs and begins working on what we need long before we ask for it.  

Sometimes, people use prayer to thank God for the blessings we've already received. Do you think that's necessary? I'm sure God knows that once you admit you're aware of him, that makes you about as grateful as you're capable of being.  

Maybe the best use of prayer is a time to pause in life and willingly and consciously try to connect with the higher power.  Just for a moment, you're like the limp and lifeless Adam in the Sistine Chapel painting, reaching out your feeble finger to touch the omnipotent finger of God.  All your needs, he's already noted.  He's already noted all your gracious thoughts.  Prayer is a moment in time when you can recharge your life's batteries by touching the infinite source of power, and you can do it as many times, every day, as you need it.  

Saturday, August 26, 2023

What Happened to Feist-Dog

This project that I’m calling “Lies My Mother Never Told Me” has been openly banging around in my head for about a year and a half now.   Quietly, these stories have been whispering to me for forty years.  The funny thing about whispers is they sometimes say, “Go now!” and they sometimes say, “You better not.”  

What makes this project interesting is these are real people with real stories, and they all have histories and are interconnected.  I can put my finger down and say, “I want to start here.” in, say, 1963, but the story doesn’t end there; it feathers out like the Mississippi River Delta into time and space, spreading farther and wider, dropping more and more rich loam.  What makes this project dangerous is that these fingers, these feathers of time, reach into real people with real lives and descendants.  The story doesn’t stay in 1963; it reaches out through the seventies, eighties, nineties, and the millennium. It reaches until today, and if I write about things in the past that were painful, it could hurt somebody today.

For example, when I went to the McMullen Writer’s Workshop, the featured speaker was Andrew Aydin, a fascinating young guy who wrote a graphic novel about John Lewis.  So, I’m going to the lecture, and I’m thinking this is really cool because I’ve been into graphic novels longer than most. Lewis was a guy who really interested me, and this is pretty important work, and one of the first things out of Aydin’s mouth was how much he appreciated the school putting him up at Fairview, and in the back of my mind, I think, “Oh.”

Fairview is beautiful and a great representation of what Jackson can be like, and the food is really good, but, to me, that was Bill Simmons’s house, and even though he and Ms. Corley from St. Andrews made it into this beautiful inn, it’s still his house, and his history is so deeply intertwined in everything “Lies My Mother Never Told Me” is about, that I can’t really talk about the story without talking about him.  I can talk about pieces and fabricate whole sections that avoid him, but the story of how Mississippi moved from 1954 to 1994 involves Bill Simmons and some really unpleasant things about him.

Even writing just that sentence makes me nervous.  I’m pleased about what’s happening with Fairview, and I wouldn’t ever do anything to damage their reputation, but going to Bill’s house and having him show me all his books on the Civil War and what I call the “questionable anthropology” he studied for twenty-five years are part of the story–part of my reflection on his story.  The newspaper and radio program he wrote are part of the story.  The schools he created are part of the story.  

I can’t tell this story without talking about Bill Simmons; most importantly, I can’t tell the story of Bill Simmons without pointing out that I really liked the guy.  I know many brilliant people who also liked the guy.  As a writer, I can reconcile that.  That becomes part of my story, but I'll be criticized as a historian (which I am not).  Historians have written about all this.  Stephanie Clanton Rolph wrote about it, and I’m reading her book now for reference.  I think her work on this is much more important than mine, but Stephanie is a lot younger than I am, and she didn’t have all the sort of interpersonal connectedness I did.  I can’t tell you how to reconcile the facts that Bill Simmons was this brilliant guy who appreciated art and music and history but also believed and taught some of the most putrid, hateful things I ever heard.  Both statements are factual, though.  Maybe part of why the universe draws me to this story is that somebody really needs to make the point that it’s a lot more complicated than just saying he was a horrible guy.  

Another part of it is that I deeply love Galloway.  It’s a part of me, like a limb I didn’t use for twenty years but really need now.  People have already pointed out that there are painful parts of Galloway’s history in this, and if I loved the church, do I really want to dig all that back up?  

The answer is that I don’t want to bring all that back up without strongly making the point that Galloway worked through it.  Love and acceptance won out, even though getting there was rough.  Goodness won out, and Galloway was much stronger in 1970 than they were in 1960 because of it.  A sword has to pass through the fire to become strong, and we passed through the fire.

I wrote that long piece about why I was baptized by WJ Cunningham, not by W.B. Selah or Clay Lee, making the point that I never met Cunningham and didn’t really engage with his future in any way other than what I saw on paper, but it turns out that wasn’t true.  Joe Reiff helped make the connection that he was Lori Trigg’s grandfather, and I knew Lori well.  A guy in my pledge class was deeply taken with her; the rest of us were absolutely devoted to her. I very likely met her grandfather one of the years she was voted on the Millsaps Homecoming court, but I knew him as Lori’s grandfather, not the former pastor at Galloway.

Another thread that I’ve been interested in but can’t really make up my mind about is that Riverside Methodist Church didn’t die out.  They took the money the Boy Scouts paid them for their building and built a smaller church in Rankin County.  They have a website, and it's given me some tantalizing bits about what they’ve been up to over the last fifty years, but do I have the right to try and talk to them about some potentially painful and embarrassing things in their past? 

I can’t actually tell my story without telling the story of other people, too.  That’s one of the reasons why I post big pieces of it on Facebook, so people I know can pick it apart and correct me when I make mistakes and either privately or publicly challenge my perspective.  It also gives them a chance to tell me pieces of the story I don’t know, which is really interesting because these stories are fifty years old, and I’ve been digging into them for at least forty years, but every time I write about it, somebody tells me something new.  

My dad believed the only way to deal with Mississippi was to keep looking ahead.  Tear down all that antebellum stuff and build modern new stuff.  The past is but the past, and we’re all about the future.  I understand his point of view, and sometimes I agree with it, but the past is the stock and the roux that binds this stew together.  We’re not yet to the point where we can say the past has no hold on us.  I know that my dad, and Mayor Danks, and Mayor Davis tried to put a modern face on everything so the world wouldn’t judge us for the sixties, but those stories are a part of us, and it’s important to tell them.  I may not be the guy to tell them.  I may be better off writing about Dinosaurs, Robots, and Space Ships like Ray Bradbury said I should.  These stories don’t leave me, though.  They percolate through everything else I try to do.  

Even if I say I will stop working on “Lies My Mother Never Told Me,” it won’t be true because there’s more to writing than just moving my fingers across a keyboard.  I’ll still lay in bed, putting pieces together in my head while I wait for the alarm to go off.  Photos of brilliant people I used to know hiding in a corner of Hal and Mals will still catch my eye.  

I haven’t written about Feist-Dog in a while.  There’s a million other dogs living here, so he’s running around sniffing butts.  This is feist-dog’s story, though.  The day Medgar Evers was shot, Feist-dog was on the radio.   The day men ran Ed King off the road, Feist-Dog was on the radio.  The day Rev Cunningham left Galloway and the days Bill Simmons and Jessie Howell opened their schools, Feist-Dog was on the radio.  He’s just an imaginary dog on the radio, but this is his story.  I’m just a little boy who saw parts of it, and tried to piece together the rest.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Sunday Sermon July 30 2023

 The governor came to church today.  It’s good for the church when he comes, and it’s good for him when he comes, and I don’t mean politically (although that might have been a consideration.)  I can’t promise there weren’t twenty people around him praying that Jesus would remove the scales from his eyes, but I’m pretty sure he knew that was part of the job when he took it.  

There’s a lot going on in his life, including a second run for governor of Mississippi.  A little bird told me he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his reception at the Neshoba County Fair, so that might have something to do with him being butt in the pew this morning.  To my way of thinking, a candidate who is a little dissatisfied with the job he’s doing is a lot more beneficial than the guy who thinks he can do no wrong.

I like Tate.  We have a lot in common.  When he was a student, I used to talk to Matt Henry about him when they were both KAs at Millsaps.  Matt liked him too.  I wish I could talk to Matt about anything again.  A lot has changed for Tate since he left Millsaps.  A lot of his views have gone from fairly moderate to, I don’t know what to call them now.  I honestly don’t believe in my heart that Tate honestly believes in a lot of the things he’s been pushing for lately, but I think the men pulling his strings and making promises about his future career that they’ll never keep are leading him astray of his own judgment.  

I’m not the guy who’s gonna say Mississippi needs a Democratic government because, quite frankly, considering the state of the Mississippi Democratic Party right now, other than about four people, I wouldn’t trust them to organize a fish fry.  A lot of people think Presley can turn it around, but that’s an awful lot to put on one guy.  We’ve had strong Democratic governors before, but they served when there was a strong Democratic Party backing them up.  People call William Winter Mississippi’s greatest governor, and maybe he was, but he had a team of some of the sharpest guys I ever met behind him, both on his staff and in the legislature.  

With a word, Tate could do more good than I could with a year's effort.  Good for Mississippi and its people.  With just a few words, he could make huge strides in healing the schism in the United Methodist Church in Mississippi and solving the hospital crisis in Mississippi.  I don’t think that word is coming.  I think there are men with a very impractical vision of Mississippi holding carrots in front of Tate’s nose and dangling swords over his head.  Those words aren’t coming.  

Not long ago, a senior member of Tate’s party told me he thought “market forces” would solve the problem of Mississippi hospitals.  It was a moment that took my breath away a little.  I didn’t say anything, but what I wanted to say was, “Dick Wilson came to me thirty-five years ago and said you wanted to run for office, and you were a solid conservative, and I should give you a listen–which I did.  Somewhere along the way, you and some other guys changed the definition of what a conservative means, and now you’re as useless as tits on a bull when it comes to solving Mississippi’s problems.”  I didn’t say that, not because I’m a gentleman, but because I don’t think he’d listen to me, and I didn’t want to get in a fight in front of people.

After Sunday School, I thought, maybe some of us who Tate either knows or knows of should go see him with hats in hand and talk to him about what Jesus wants for Mississippi, and I don’t mean what Jesus wants for the unborn babies of Mississippi, because right now being a born baby in Mississippi can be a pretty sketchy proposition with way too high of a chance for a horrible ending, and he’s much more able to solve this than me or any of my friends.  I’m not good at begging, but I’d beg for the people of Mississippi.  I’d beg Tate Reeves to remember what he was taught at Millsaps and make choices based on what the people who are trying to live here need, not based on what some conservative talk show host says is important.  You going on Fox News isn’t going to save one malnourished baby or one heart attack victim living in an area without a hospital.  

Going to church should mean more than just going to church.  Cary was sick today, so Susannah delivered the sermon.  Her sermon was about presenting a welcoming face to the world and the good it can do.  In it, she discussed her time ministering to Aids victims at a time when most people weren’t very educated about how Aids spread, and there were few effective treatments for it.  She made the point of how powerful a simple human embrace could be for someone whose own family is afraid to hold them for fear of the disease.  She didn’t know the governor would be in the pews before her this morning.  She didn’t even know she would be preaching.  I know he heard what she was saying.  Whether it reached into his heart is between him and Jesus.

If I could talk to Tate today, I’d tell him that his heart is a lot more likely to tell him the truth than whoever is whispering they’ll send him to Washington in his ears.  Hopefully, he realizes he’s not the first guy they did this to.  Tate’s smart enough to pass comprehensive exams at Millsaps.  He’s smart enough to figure this out.  He just needs to listen to a higher power.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Tolkien and Creation

Because his life wasn't as full of so many personal tragedies as his friend Lewis, Tolkien never vacillated between belief and atheism as Lewis did.  Tolkien was born a Roman Catholic and remained one all his life.  Many people have written about how Tolkien's theology helps inform and shape his fiction.

Despite his devotion to Catholicism, Tolkien believed that the Romans, by converting Britain to Christianity, had destroyed, displaced, and erased the complex cultural mythos that existed there when the Romans arrived.  He held up Stonehenge as proof that, before the Christianization of Britain, there existed a thriving, complex, and developed culture with a fully developed mythos of their own.  

Whatever these proto-Britons believed, all we had left of them in Tolkien's time were these stone "henges," massive rings of carved stone distributed around the middle and south of the island nation.  Tolkien died in 1973, Missing the discovery of the Lindow Bog Bodies, which date to the time around the building of the henges, and suggested a surprising (and disturbing) possibility that the proto Britons practiced human sacrifice.  Greek and Roman writers had for generations accused these so-called "druids" of human sacrifice.  Here was the proof.  

In Leeds and again at Oxford, Tolkien made a living for himself as a linguist.  In particular, he was an expert in Germanic and early English languages, making a name for himself by interpreting and studying Middle English epic poetry.  Before and after the First World War, Tolkien was known for his study and interpretation of Beowulf.

Tolkien decided he could use fiction to replace the lost British mythology, and he would use Beowulf and the Prose Edda as his models.  This became The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the Simmilarion.  

Like all mythologies, Tolkien had to address the issue of creation, in particular, the creation of man.  Like many cultures, the proto-Semitic races that became Judaism proposed a creation story where the progenitor god created men from the soil.  Nearby cultures suggested clay, dust, and even the foam of the sea.    All these near-eastern myths shared a similar concept.  Men were impotent copies of the progenitor god and would be used by the god or gods as pawns in some larger game.

Tolkien was aware of the pointy-hat, fake beard-wearing "neo-druids" who pranced around Stonehenge on the equinox, but he didn't think much of them.  He was convinced that they and the horror writers of the sixties who produced works like "The Wicker Man" had it all wrong.  

In Tolkien's mythology, men are still pawns of a progenitor god, but he creates several levels of creation, each possessing less and less of the divine spark.  First was the Istari, the Wizard class, which had a shade that became the Balrog.  Then came the Ents, and their shade, the trolls.  Elves and Orcs, Dwarves and Hobbits, and then men.  As the creative spark of earth wore on, all these sentient creatures would filter down to men, and men were all that was left.

Tolkien never intended for his creation to replace or weaken Catholicism, but I've heard quite a few uninformed people call it satanic.  We assume that most mythologies come from generations of people blending their stories together; Tolkien does a pretty credible job of it working alone.  Perhaps it always was just lone writers working alone all along, only we renamed them prophets.  

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Darwin's Reputation and Dark Matter

Critics of Darwin like to say "evolution is only a theory", which is true, but misleading. Evolution is a theory as opposed to a hypothesis, but there's a heck of a lot of work which substantiates the theory.

I've seen supporters of Darwin who come back saying a theory is the "highest form of scientific thought", which isn't true, but is more accurate.

The highest form of scientific thought is a law. Laws are theories worked out to a point where we can model them mathematically and use these models to accurately predict outcomes. That's the difference between Newton's Laws and Darwin's theory. Evolution will probably never become a law. There are too many variables and too many aspects of the process we don't understand to ever become a law.

People generally credit Darwin with the idea of evolution, but the concept that life changes gradually over time from one form to another predates Darwin by some four thousand years. That concept on the formation of life is actually contemporary to the creation story in Genesis, although from another culture.

What Darwin brought to the table was this idea of Natural Selection as a mechanism to drive evolution. Darwin saw random chance as the initial movement in Natural Selection which is how he ran afoul of religious people. Had he said God motivated natural selection, the religious community probably would have embraced him.

Natural selection is a pretty solid concept and comes pretty close to something we could model mathematically. The aspect of random chance creates a problem though. The problem is time. Just relying on random chance in conjunction with natural selection, there hasn't been enough time since life began on earth to explain the variety of life forms we see now.

There has to be some other force or forces acting on evolution besides random chance and natural selection. I'm not saying it has to be an intelligent force (there's simply no evidence for that) but there has to be something, and if we knew what that something was we probably could develop mathematical models for evolution.

Even though there's no evidence for it, I happen to believe there is some sort of intelligent force driving evolution. It's probably not a kind of intelligence we currently understand though, which would prevent us from finding any evidence for it. It might be something much closer to the Greek concept of universal forms rather than the Abrahamic concept of God.

If you have trouble believing there are layers to evolution that are still invisible to us, consider this: science is only now becoming faintly aware of what they're calling Dark Matter and Dark Energy which we still have no way of measuring or perceiving but can only deduce its existence mathematically.

It'd be one thing if dark matter and dark energy were rare and distantly removed from us, but if current thinking is to be believed, dark matter and dark energy are far more common in the universe than the matter and energy we know. The idea that the most common elements of the universe are completely invisible to us and undetectable by us should really change your perspective on the very nature of reality itself.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy -- Shakespeare; Hamlet Act 1,

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Illusion of Justice and the Reality of Forgiveness

Have you ever considered how much we spend on the concept of justice?

All over the world, hundreds of thousands are in prisons. Maybe even millions. We pass around lawsuits like Christmas cards and the people: police, lawyers, judges, clerks, wardens, secretaries, guards, bondsmen, on and on, every country has an army of people all trying to find justice.

And the armies. How many wars have we fought seeking justice? All of them? How many died fighting wars for justice? How much property destroyed? How many wounded inside and out?

The thing is: for all we've done to find justice, but have we ever done it? Even once? Did we even come close? Or, was it all just vengeance?

Tom and Ben get in a fight and Tom shoots Ben in the head. Whatever happens in the future, however wrong and illogical his thinking was, in that moment Tom thought he was justified in doing what he did. Only now Ben is dead, and whatever was happening between the two of them, now it's a matter for us all.

Justice is the one thing we can't have here. Justice would be to turn back time and make Ben no longer dead and have these men resolve their differences without injury. Because we can't go back, because we can't undo what was done, justice is something we'll never have.

Because we want only this justice we can't have, our mind slips back into the most primitive parts of our brain and brings forth the only answer we've ever known: revenge. "You killed him so now we'll kill you".

It's not justice. We had one dead person, now we have two. Even if we don't kill Tom, we have one dead person and another in prison or some other punishment we devise to satisfy this craving for revenge. That's not justice though, that's just two suffering people.

Jesus offers us an alternative. Instead of vengeance, he offers us redemption, mercy and forgiveness. You don't have to believe in Jesus to see this though. Logic will tell you these are superior choices.

No matter how much the beastly side of our brain screams out for it, logic tells us that punishment doesn't cancel out any transgression. You can't undo what's been done.

Justice is an illusion. We can never have it. Forgiveness though, forgiveness is real and available to us all.

Some of you may think, it's easy for me to talk about forgiveness because I've never been transgressed against. You're wrong. I've been sinned against many, many times and I've sinned many, many times as well.

This is hard. It goes against human nature to forgive, our nature cries out for revenge and only revenge. We're not bound to our nature though. We can transcend beyond it, if we choose to.

Friday, March 6, 2009

James Randi and Anti-Religion

Recently James Randi posted a video questioning the validity of some archaeological research currently going on in Nazareth with regards to sites mentioned in the bible. Randi uses this as a platform to call the whole bible into question. While I agree with him that a lot of this "archeology" into biblical sites is questionable, I can't agree with making the jump from that to a general dismissal of religion.

In the video, Randi demonstrates a pretty developed knowledge of the bible, a knowledge greater than what you see in most Christians, yet he strongly maintains he doesn't believe any of it, so much so, that the wants you not to believe it either.

What would motivate someone to learn so much about something they don't believe in? James Randi professes he has no religion, but I would suggest his religion is anti-religion. He is both priest and evangelist for anti-religion and that's what motivates him to learn so much about the bible.

People have such a strong desire for religion that they maintain it, even if their religion is anti-religion and whatever human trait motivates Christians to try and gain converts also motivates Randi to seek converts to his belief system.

This desire to convert people to our own point of view isn't limited to religion. You see it in sports, politics, art and pretty much every other aspect of human activity. It is ubiquitous. We say it doesn't matter if other people think the way we think, but clearly it does, even if it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Historically, a great deal of suffering has gone into this idea of making people believe what we believe. We'll fight wars to push our beliefs and gladly torture those who disagree with us. Atheists like Randi claim to be enlightened and advanced, but really they're doing exactly the same thing they criticize believers for.

I worry that atheists like Randi are motivated by the belief that we know everything and what we don't know isn't worth believing in. The fallacy of that philosophy is actually much more evident than the fallacies they want to point out about religion, but they'll never see it.

If we can't trust the religious not to make unfounded archeological claims to support their beliefs, can we really be all that sure to trust the anti-religious won't do the same? If so, who can we trust for a genuinely objective opinion on these matters?

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Lack of Faith

I'm beginning to worry that we're losing faith in everything, especially ourselves. From politics to the economy to culture and religion, nobody seems willing to trust anyone anymore.

The flagging economy and the falling stock market has a basis in tangible matters, but most of it is just a massive lack of faith in the system and its ability to correct itself. Recently on another blog, people were discussing a possible local criminal case and someone commented "forget about it: it's Mississippi", as if it were a forgone conclusion that justice can't be done here.

They say it started with the Kennedy assignation, then the Johnson era credibility gap and finally Watergate just blew everything out of the water. Whatever "innocent" trust we ever had in ourselves is just gone now. I think this might fuel a lot of the anger and inflexibility between the parties. Nobody is willing to trust the "other guys" to be anything but corrupt.

If I could do one thing for this country, it would be to get people to believe in each other again. "The other guy" acts an awful lot like you would in the same situation, and that's really all you need to know to understand him. Yes, there are people who abuse the system, but most of them get caught and the system always works to correct itself. Eventually, the system flushed out even "untouchables" like Scruggs and Abramoff and corrected itself.

Life's never been simple or easy, but even though the system breaks down from time to time, it always pulls itself back together because it's our nature to make things work and do the right thing. Things have been tough for a while now and they're liable to be tough for a while longer, but we will right ourselves again and we will do it because, in the end, we can trust each other: we have to.

You don't have to believe in God to understand what Jesus meant when he said "consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin...yet even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these..."

Things will fall into their right place because they are meant to; that's how the system works. Certainly we have to be vigilant and mindful of what we are doing, but we can do that, we do it every day.

Have faith in God, but have faith in each other too because we are all just lilies of the field.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Death of Atheism

You would think that atheism was simply the lack of religion, but it's not, atheism has become just another religion, and that trend is increasing. Does real atheism cease to exist if it becomes just another faith?

If you search for atheism on youtube, or the blogosphere, or any other part of the web, one thing becomes very clear: the most vocal atheists aren't just pro-atheism, they're very, very anti-religious.

Atheistic evangelism has become a very active part of life on the web. I'll probably get a few hits and emails just for mentioning it. The problem is that if atheism becomes just another religion then it ceases to have any use as an alternative to religion.

When religious groups start tearing down other religious groups (as can be their nature) red flags immediately go up. They're labeled a hate group or worse and become targets of groups like the southern poverty law center or, but the same standard doesn't apply to atheist groups. When atheists attack other beliefs, it's called enlightened and reasonable.

I completely get that part of this is payback for all the crap religious groups have pulled over the years, but are we really improved when atheist groups start adopting the tactics of the Westboro Baptist Church? What's next? Will they adopt the tactics of Al Quaeda?

Perhaps these patterns of behavior are so ingrained into the human condition that atheists had no choice but to fall into them. Atheists have given up on the search for their own ways of being and bought property on church row.

Go to a college campus. At the beginning of each new school year religious groups set up tables in public places so new students can find their own denomination to join up, and right in among them, the atheists have their own table advertising their own spaghetti suppers and bowling nights.

There was a time when atheism was a legitimate alternative to religion, but it has long since become a matter of them playing the same game as the religious, just with different jerseys. Don't be surprised if the next time there's a knock on your door, it's an atheist wanting you to give you a copy of his atheist watchtower pamphlet.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Jimmy Kimmell Previews the Pope Channel

Earlier I reported that the Vatican now has their own YouTube Channel.

On his show Jimmy Kimmell gives us a preview of some the offerings on the Pope's YouTube account.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Pope On YouTube

Twenty-First Century Pope

In a pretty tech-savvy move to reach the flock, Pope Benedict XVI now has his own YouTube Channel. It's even in HD!

From their YouTube Profile:
This channel offers news coverage of the main activities of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI and of relevant Vatican events.
It is updated daily. Video images are produced by Centro Televisio Vaticano (CTV), texts by Vatican Radio (RV) and CTV.

This video-news presents the Catholic Churchs position regarding the principal issues of the world today.

Links give access to the full and official texts of cited documents.
Holy See (Vatican City State)
Watch the Pope on YouTube here, but be careful about leaving flame comments on his videos. God is watching you.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Rational Flea

A flea hears from other fleas that there such things as mountains. Being a rational and inquisitive flea, it decides to set out and see for himself if it is so.

A fleas segmented eyes are made so that it can only focus on things a few inches away. Everything beyond that is a blur, so it cannot see any mountains. Fleas have acute senses of smell and taste, but since mountains have no smell or taste the flea can't detect any mountains that way either.

Fleas have moderate, but limited intellectual properties, so our flea is unable to create a tool to detect mountains or devise a system to deduce the presence of them either. The way fleas are made, he can start at sea level and walk straight up the side of a mountain and never know it.

Because he can neither detect, nor deduce the presence of mountains, the flea decides that there is no such thing, and the fleas who say there are mountains must be either deluded or fibbing.

This particular flea though, lives in the wool on a goat living in the Alps. He has, in fact, lived his entire life on a mountain, even though he has no way of knowing it.

Human beings have set out to discover God in the same way as this flea. Some of them, because neither their senses, nor their tools, nor their reasoning can detect God, have decided that there must be no God, and anyone who believes there is must be either deluded or fibbing.

Fleas cannot detect mountains, but that's not an accurate test of whether there are mountains or not. Likewise, humans cannot detect God, but that's not an accurate test of whether God exists or not.

A flea may be correct if he says he doesn't believe in mountains because he cannot detect them, but he goes beyond his bounds if he says that there is no such thing as mountains.

Likewise, a man may be telling the truth if he says he doesn't believe in God because he cannot detect God, but he goes beyond his bounds if he says there is no God, because he has no way of knowing whether there is or not. Hubris leads us to believe the only things to exist are those our meager senses can detect or our limited intellect can deduce.

Just like the flea who lives on the goat who lives on the mountain, I believe we would be amazed at the remarkable things that do exist but are beyond our ability to detect them.

Image: Mountain Goat Statue Near Corviglia - St. Moritz, Switzerland

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Radical Proposal For Peace

How do you respond proportionately to somebody who's willing to die to attack you? You can't, and that's Israel's dilemma. That's also why their enemies have chosen this tactic: it's almost impossible to defend against.

A person who's already decided to die attacking you will attack from a school or a hospital or a mosque. They don't care. Attacking from a place you might be reticent to counterattack might give them a few more minutes to inflict whatever damage they can while you hesitate.

The only thing Israel can accomplish with counter attacks is to diminish the enemies capacities before they build up enough strength to inflict more damage.

It's a catch-22 though. The collateral damage from their counter attacks creates more fanatics who are willing to attack them, so each counterattack may end the current round of attacks from that area, but it lays the groundwork for the next round. It is literally a vicious cycle.

So, how do you break the cycle?

It's brutally painful, but one tactic might be to adapt a policy of no reprisals. If Hamas or Hezbollah launch missiles or mortars into Israel, simply don't respond with violence of any kind.

If counterattacks had any hope of ending the violence, then I would never suggest such an outrageous course of action, but since counterattacks don't end the violence, one has to look at the total body count here, not just which side has the most casualties and a policy of no counterattacks dramatically reduces the total amount of suffering in the region.

Nonviolence may be the only hope for dealing with an enemy that's willing to blow themselves up to attack you or launch missiles from a school playground. An enemy who's already decided to die attacking you isn't going to stop for fear of counterattacks. They don't care what you might do to their countrymen either. All they care about is inflicting as much damage as they can before they die.

It may be inappropriate to refer to the teachings of Jesus in this context, but there's a real genius behind his lessons to give your coat to the man who stole your cloak or turning the other cheek.

Israel can break the cycle of violence if they respond, not with guns but with love. If they worked to build up these areas and improve the lives of the people who lived there, despite the attacks, then their enemies would soon learn that life is a lot better with Israel than with the people who are encouraging them to attack Israel and the violence would end.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mecca and Israel

People say there's no precedent for the Jews returning to Israel. Indeed, nobody has ever repatriated their land after nearly two thousand years in exile the way the Jews did. That doesn't mean there's no precedent though, there's another historical incident in the region that's worth mentioning here.

Image: The Kaba in 1880; Source Wikipedia

Mohamed began his ministry in the city of Mecca where he was born. The existing powers in Mecca saw Mohamed and his followers as a threat, so the newly formed Muslims escaped to Yathrib (later called Medina). When they were strong enough and made the right alliances, the Muslims returned to Mecca, conquering it and the rest of the Arab Peninsula.

Likewise, the Jews were born in Palestine (then called Judea), but the existing power (Rome) saw them as a threat so they were exiled to Europe. Although it took nearly two thousand years, when the Jews were strong enough and made the right alliances, they returned to Judea (then called Palestine) to reclaim their land and re-establish the nation of Israel.

To be fair, the Muslims took control of Mecca in 630 c.e. and the Jews claimed their independence in Israel in 1948 c.e. One would hope that in thirteen-hundred years, human beings would have grown in civility, and indeed I think they have in many ways, but the moral implications and similarities of both events remain applicable.

I'm not wise enough to say whether or not the Jews had a right to take their land back, but I can say that morally it's not all that different from the Muslims taking Mecca. Both were done for the same reasons and both either displaced other people or forced them to convert.

I would like to point out one difference though. For the Jews there is no site more holy than the temple mount, yet when they returned to power they allowed Islam to maintain a mosque on the site, completely under muslim control, but when the Muslims returned to Mecca, they immediately took control of the Kaaba, destroying any non-muslim statue or reference in it or near it, including statues of Jesus and Mary.

I'm a believer in the two-state-solution in Palestine, but for it to work, Islam has to agree that the Jews have a right to establish their own state. One step toward that might be pointing out that what the Jews did in 1948 wasn't really that different from what the Muslims did in 630.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mohammed's Hope for Peace

If you read the Koran or study the life of Mohammed, it's pretty clear the one thing he really wanted was peace for his people, yet considering the violent strife within the Islamic community and violent strife at almost every border of the Islamic community, peace is something that's eluded Mohammed's followers, almost from the beginning.

Although we, in the west, tend to concentrate on violence between Islam and other cultures, violence within Islam is almost as prevalent. Mohammed himself was threatened by the violence of Arabic tribalism which is why he entered a period of self-imposed exile in Medina. For the lack of peace, he left his home and became a refugee.

I have no idea what it means to receive messages from God, but I do know what it's like to be a man who deeply wants peace and happiness for his people, so it's easy for me to sympathize with Mohammed on that level.

Mohammed created the Constitution of Medina, which was a watershed accomplishment in the very concept of peace among differing people and the traditional greeting among Islamic people is "As-Salamu Alaykum" meaning "peace be upon you". Despite all this, almost from the beginning, Islam has been embroiled in violent confrontation.

You would think peace was possible. Islam is a very disciplined religion, much more so than Christianity and its followers are very devout. If Mohammed wanted peace then there should be peace both within Islam and without, but why isn't there?

Part of the answer may be that, from the beginning, Islam had violence thrust upon them. Mohammed had attained peace in Medina, but soon afterward armed forces from Mecca attacked them. In response, Mohammed left the path of peace and became a man of war.

By unifying the people of Medina and using ideas from outside his own culture (see Salman The Persian), Mohammed was able to repel the attacks from Mecca and force Mecca into a treaty.

That may have been the turning point. To protect his followers, Mohammed made the transition from prophet to general and in the years to come he used his army to conquer not only Mecca, but most the Arabian peninsula.

Instead of maintaining peace in Medina, he became a man of conquest. Elements of a warrior's code found their way not only into the Islamic culture but also into the Koran itself.

I can't posit that Christians are any better than Muslims in this regard. Christians have their own history of violence to deal with that's at least as substantial as Islam's. Jesus may not have been a warrior himself, but his followers certainly took on that mantle.

I would say though, that it's very difficult for a warrior culture to ever find peace, and for one to truly follow Mohammed, it may be necessary to divorce the prophet's desire for peace from his own actions as a military man.

We're trying to come to a point where the people of the world can practice their different faiths without fear that anyone will attack them for it. To do that we have to eliminate all traces of tribalism or primativism or any warrior's code that tries to tell us that the only path to peace and safety is by eliminating anyone who believes or behaves differently from us.

Islam is truly a religion of peace and Christianity is truly a religion of love, but how far are we from either of these in reality? Particularly, we who descend from the faith of Abraham must rededicate ourselves to the real values of our faith beyond the interceding fallacies of tribalism that followed.

Peace? Love? The choice is ours.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Cruel God

People say the God of the Old Testament is cruel and if you read it, it seems so.

It's really a matter of perspective though. Writers of the Old Testament ascribed everything in life to God, and since life can be cruel God comes off as cruel sometimes too.

If a city like Sodom is destroyed by a volcano, they felt compelled to come up with a reason so they said the people in the city were sinful and that's why God destroyed them.

I don't know if the people in Sodom were any more sinful than people anywhere else, but there have been several cities destroyed by volcanoes through the ages and people of faith want to know why.

It's hard for people to accept that we don't know why cities are destroyed by volcanoes: probably because they are built near a crack in the crust where magma can force its way through to the surface, but that's not a reason to say God is cruel.

The Old Testament, particularly the Torah, covers a vast period of time and these disasters stand out. It doesn't mean God is cruel though. There are other parts where God is shown as kind and merciful, but those parts aren't nearly as memorable as the more painful ones.

What's missing from the Old Testament is the Jesus message that all things work for the good, and even though life is cruel, it's not the end of the story--there is another life that comes after this one where justice and mercy reign.

If that message were clearer in the Torah and the Old Testament, then God would not seem so cruel. That's why it's so important that Jesus came when he did to give us this message of hope.

Children too think their parents are cruel when they don't get their way and it can take many years for them to understand how much their parents really loved them, especially in the dark times.

God is our parent and the bible is the story some of us wrote along the way of our life with God. There are parts of the story we didn't get exactly right because then and even now our perspective is that of a child and like a child we can't always see how much our parent loves us no matter what happens.

God isn't cruel. God loves us. That doesn't mean things will always be pleasant though. It does mean that we will make it through the unpleasant bits, then and now. There is love and there is hope, no matter what happens.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Is There a God Delusion?

One of the major tenets of books like The God Delusion and The God Part of the Brain is that we invented God to make ourselves feel better about death and the various insecurities of life.

I don't subscribe to that theory. People use their faith in that way, but, I believe the impetus for our concept for God comes from a very different place: probably from God himself trying to reveal the truth to us or from our own latent ability to see beyond our senses.

Let's suppose for a moment though that it is true; that we invented all this just to make ourselves feel better, to have some comfort and hope faced with the certainty of death and the uncertainty of life.

What kind of cruel person tells people this without offering anything as an alternative?

It's one thing for some over-read, middle class twit like myself luxuriating in the relative ease and security of the west to speculate that God doesn't exist, we at least have the consolation of knowing that we have it fairly well in this life, but most of the world isn't nearly so fortunate.

Most of the world needs some sort of comfort and assurance that their lives have meaning, that they're not just the fodder of evolution and random chance. Even if it is just a delusion, it gives them hope and with hope, even the most unfortunate life becomes bearable and full of potential.

Even though it's controversial, I highly recommend the film The Last Temptation of Christ. The film is the fictional account of Jesus speculating what might happen if he escaped the cross and lived rather than sacrificing himself.

In it, the Jesus that didn't die encounters Paul, preaching about the Jesus that did die. Jesus comes to Paul and says "I am the man you are preaching about", expecting Paul to embrace his new life as an ordinary man, but Paul gets angry. He says that the people he preaches to need the Jesus who died. Jesus says "You can't save the world by lying" and Paul replies:
I created the truth out of what people needed and what they believed. If I have to crucify you to save the world, then I'll crucify you. And if I have to resurrect you, then I'll do that, too.

...You don't know how much people need God. You don't know how happy he can make them. Happy to do anything. He can make them happy to die and they'll die. All for the sake of Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth. The Son of God. The Messiah. Not you. Not for your sake. You know, I'm glad I met you. Because now I can forget all about you. My Jesus is much more important and much more powerful.
Death is inescapable. We all know that. We have all always known that. If the concept of God gives us hope in the face of this unerasable but horrible truth, then it is worthy of us, even if it is a delusion.

If a man's search for truth should lead him to the conclusion that there is no God, that's fine, but don't evangelize it, don't shout it, not without something to offer in its stead because it's better for men to live with a delusion but have hope then to know the truth and have none.

Where's the mercy in taking away hope? Where's the love? There isn't any.

People who don't believe have a tendency to consider themselves superior to those who do, because they at least know "the truth".

Maybe that's what they use to fill the void left when they abandon faith. Considering oneself superior in life can go a long way toward replacing the hope they abandon, but that too is only a delusion, because none of us are superior to anyone, no matter what we believe or don't believe.

Science offers us information, not "the truth". Certainly information is innately and uniquely valuable, but it's not God.

One thing that's very clear from the history of science, is that no matter how much information we uncover, there's still more left to be uncovered. Science brings us no closer to complete knowledge now than we were ten thousand years ago.

I'm capable of abandoning my faith. I've done it before. But after very careful consideration, I choose to embrace it now

Maybe I am deluded for believing in God or believing that our lives extend beyond these physical bodies. Maybe I am. But, you know what? I'm satisfied with that.

I'm satisfied with it because I know my limits, and one of my limits is that I need God. I need to know there is more to me and the people I love than just what I perceive.

Official Ted Lasso