Category Archives: Humanties for the Unbound Mind

Exploring the study of people, places and times

Book Review ~ The Study of Believing

The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved & Why it Endures, Nicholas Wade less than $15.00

Faith InstinctNicolas Wade is a science writer. He writes articles so that those without specialized degrees can achieve some sense of what it is that we have learned. I was quite taken with his book, Before the Dawn. I’ve checked my archives and, for whatever reason, I haven’t reviewed that book. Another bit for the to do list. Wade is currently in the middle of a rather public controversy regarding his latest book, A Troublesome Inheritance. He addresses race as a piece of our DNA heritage and shows why he feels it is important to identify who we are at the genetic level. Scientists who developed the work he uses in his analysis are not happy with his conclusions. Whatever the outcome, the argument is a bit like the battles over IQ; we are still not able to accept that some folks are better (or worse) at some things, but that does not make them better (or worse) people. Well, back to the discussion at hand.

One does not have to be a non-believer to subscribe to scientific evidence of evolution. I don’t believe I have seen anything specific on whether Wade adheres to a faith of any flavor, however the book is written from the view point that faith is a social interaction shaped and formed by the requirements of the society and culture in which it grows. Some scientists entertain similar thoughts, others are quite reluctant. Let’s look at Wade’s central hypothesis and see what that tells us about religion, culture, and ourselves.

Wade begins his analysis with what anthropology has learned about the earliest forms of religion, some aspects of which we can see in the few cultures of today that have not experienced the onslaught of modern intervention. Basically, group activity such as singing, dancing, and music making. These activities draw a society together and inspire the desire to risk one’s own life for the safety and success of the group as a whole. Anthropologists are divided on a theory that the development of religion can be thought of as “group evolution.” In other words, did this growing change occur, not as a survival tool of the individual (especially since it often demands personal sacrifice), but as a tool for the survival against other groups which were less cohesive. It is an interesting thought journey.

In addition to the binding of a group into one based on these sometimes very intense group activities, Wade adds the consideration of a moral code. Sometimes, to get folks to obey rules that are structured towards group survival rather than individual survival (don’t steal, murder, sleep with someone else’s spouse), it becomes important to put the enforcement aspect in the hands of a supernatural entity. First, because he/she/it can be given an all-seeing, all-knowing presence, and secondly to remove the punishment of infractions from the hands of a priest or leader who could become the target of retaliation. A study conducted by Jared Piazza at the University of Kent discovered that he could reduce the frequency of cheating in small children of a certain age by introducing an invisible Princess Alice to watch over them. His work is quite interesting in regards to the development and enforcement of moral codes.

According to Wade, as societies became more complex, and knowledge spread, the structure of religion became more complex. Not only did the faith instinct drive the level of warm bodies in the pews, it became a way of preparing young people and nations for the sacrifice required to go to war. By creating and holding the loyalty of individuals to group goals, nations were able to get sizable numbers of their populations to surrender the need to protect self and immediate family to a greater goal of protecting the nation. An unbiased look at our history of wars that involved devotion to one religion or another – or even a sect or denomination within religions – shows us that emotions run highest when our religious beliefs or doctrine are challenged. When religion is not the key element, nationalism (an extended form of family) becomes the glue of society.

Wade develops an interesting topic, and one that helps us understand a bit of how cultures and civilizations manage to meld persons of varied backgrounds into a functioning society prepared to defend whatever the core beliefs may be against “others.” The part that becomes worrisome to me is developed in the last few chapters, most specifically, Religion and Nation.

For the most part, modern nations have developed around common societal goals and history. Common language, common ethics, and common ethnicity. The earliest settlers (invaders) of America along the Eastern Seaboard, were predominately Protestant. Having left behind religious persecution of one form or another, they sincerely believed they were involved in a divine cause. Consequently, they went about life in their new home in a rather Biblical way – clearing the home they chose to create of anyone or thing not included in their vision of a holy land of destiny. Problem is, they were late arrivals on a continent filled with peoples who had arrived over the course of a long history, some nearly as recent as they, and some that arrived in multitudes in the ensuing centuries. The battle for the heart and soul of a new society waged for many decades; and that battle has yet to be resolved. It is important to note, whatever version of American history a Christian may see, by 1776 only 17 percent of the population belonged to a church. Current day evangelical beliefs were not even on the horizon.

Sociologists look to a couple of theories to explain the level of religious participation in modern countries. If a country was born in insecure times, or is still suffering from economic, health, or political insecurity, then the population tends to be more religious. This does, in some ways, fit the American landscape since many of the arrivals on these shores came because of religious, ethnic,  or economic persecution. Another explanation of the rise and fall of denominational loyalty comes with a “marketplace” analysis. Throughout the history of religion, a new idea or doctrine finds enough adherents and structure to become the orthodoxy of the age and then begins to slip in “market share” as new and younger sects become aggressive in acquiring faithful members. Some scholars look to falling numbers in church attendance in Europe as being due in part to established churches. Here salaries and facility maintenance are guaranteed and there is no need to seek new members for fresh cash flow.

But these analyses only go so far on the American landscape of nationalism. Per Wade, “The usual glues that hold nations together are a single dominant religion, language, ethnicity and culture. Until 1850 or so, the United States fitted this mold, being essentially an Anglo-Protestant culture. Many of its people originated from England, Scotland or Northern Ireland, and other Europeans became American by adopting at least the language of Anglo-Protestantism.” That is, if we leave out consideration of the nations the new arrivals replaced. As of today, however, there are many ethnicities, religions, languages, and cultural histories. What, then, was the glue the kept Americans from breaking out in multiple civil wars, such as the centuries-old battles of Northern Ireland?

Wade proposes that it is an American Civil Religion, a shared belief in the vision that was America. A country that believed to its core that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” (Constitution of the United States). For some time, although the road was very bumpy and the price was paid with many lives, we sincerely believed in the vision. Even in times of ignorance, there were those among us that fought for the over-reaching belief in a unified humanity, and a deep-seated respect for individual rights and obligations. We worshiped a vision that always seemed just a bit further down the road. Wade sees the glue of the American nation as a belief in “specialness,” in being the ones that can achieve what human societies have failed to do in the past: equality of opportunity, respect for differences, freedom to express. What Wade does not address, and perhaps did not see coming, was that something happened on our way to the vision.

Sadly, and this is a personal opinion, the vision has morphed into something that the Founding Fathers were most likely trying to avoid. The prevailing “religion” of the country is no longer a faith of giving, loving, and supporting. It is not even a faith of the Puritan heritage of work to eat, monogamy, and respect of a neighbor’s property. Now, we believe it is perfectly okay to enforce our beliefs on others. There are many that fear Sharia Law because it is affiliated with Islam and yet insist similar practices and judgement should be instituted under the name of Christianity. We worship the current resident of the White House as if he walks on water (he does not) and many of us steadily refuse to see any opinion that does not fit in our worldview. Somewhere along the line we decided we were the moral compass of the world and no longer cared about the accumulated wisdom of more ancient civilizations. There was a time when we valued education in order to understand the successes and failures of previous civilizations. America built some of the most prestigious schools in the world. Now statistics indicate that a large portion of us see education as an elitist pursuit and blame the universities for fostering liberal attitudes and “un-American” activities.

Religion, and faith, is a powerful tool, both for and against the members of a society. Belief in something is often what drives us, inspires us, to do our best, or worse. Be ever so careful of just what it is that you place at the center of your faith universe. I leave you with a few quotes from the American philosopher, Eric Hoffer. Author of True Believer.

We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.

Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.

Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.

 

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Reflections ~ Thoughts on a Holiday in Transition

This has been a rough year on a several levels for myself, and the world around me. Icons that we looked up to have left us. Emotional and heart-rending votes were taking place in a number of countries, and violence continues to take so many in circumstances few of us really understand, or stop to figure out. When the world is jumbled up around us, we sometimes seek peace in the smaller things, the smaller world, that we know. All the hubbub of this year drove me back to basic ideas, places where I knew compromise was not an option. It also walked me through the morning after. These are my vaguely connected thoughts on a Christmas in transition.

This blog started with a desire to explain something of why Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah means so much to me; what it says to me that touches me so. Leonard Cohen, a Canadian musician, song writer, and novelist, acquired several prestigious awards. He is one of those we lost this past year. One of the magical things about this piece is the flexibility it provides. Cohen provided a framework with references to King Saul, King David, and Sampson, and led us through one of life’s mysteries: how can love be so precious and yet, sometimes, so painful. There have been dozens of lyrics added to the framework and the melody, some by Cohen himself, some by others. It is a melody and a theme that touches many, perhaps even with some understanding. My favorite line (if a favorite is possible): “Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and broken Hallelujah.”

Why? I don’t see it as a bleak condemnation of genuine relationships, I see it as an honest admission that however passionate we may be, however perfect our union may be, life can and does interfere, and yet we find the joy of a hallelujah, and when things are not as hoped, we find a way to move on.

The final scene in the play J. B. by Archibald MacLeish has the characters picking up the tossed stage props and beginning to restore order. The play is a free-verse modernized interpretation of the Biblical book of Job. After all the devastation J. B. and his family face, the near loss of his wife, and the heart-rending self-examination of “where did I go wrong,” J. B. and his wife pick up the pieces and begin to rebuild. That’s who we are as human beings, when everything is taken from us, we begin again. It is only when we are honest with ourselves that we can admit, whatever praise we offer is a broken hallelujah.

That leads me to my Christmas, which I spent alone, in my own cocoon. Due to the fortunate convergence of a Christmas bonus and a radically priced clearance desk, I decided to restructure my office. First of all, I am not very good with change, especially in my workplace. This was a major deal for me. Second, the desk that was going away had been a birthday present from my husband. It is old, it was battered, it needed to move on – however difficult that might be. As I assembled the new desk, I found that a few screws for knobs and handles were missing. That means a few pieces of the old desk are with me still. I also made the choice to begin using my husband’s office chair. It took me three days to complete the transition and it was a journey of fond, and painful memories, of moving forward, of broken hallelujahs.

before

To me, the thought I wish most to hold on to from this brief reflective time is that we can learn from where we are, and then move forward. We cannot surrender simply because things didn’t work out as we hoped, we re-visit who we are and stay true to that image, picking up the pieces, and moving forward.

after

I have no idea why the picture is tilted – perfectly square on the wall. 🙂

Fair journey, my friends. Know that the universe does not revolve around our own special views, wishes, or even needs, and that is okay. Because we are human, with reason, logic, and passion, we can pick up the pieces and begin again.

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Refection’s ~ Communications in an Age of Dissent – Part the First

This post is an effort to “talk through” a recent conversation I had with a very dear friend regarding the outcome of the election. Because I sincerely respect this person, and his sources, it was necessary for me to re-examine some of my assumptions; to seek some point of view that would allow me to see “the other side.” This was heavy lifting, folks, but if I wanted my friend to see my point of view, I felt it incumbent on me to try to see his. We agreed, in the end, to sit down with a bottle of something or other in four years’ time and sort through our expectations to see what was learned. Yes, we are still friends. For now, here is my perspective on where we are in our country’s history. This first part is my internal conversation to struggle through some understanding of the other side.

George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

waves-circles

Communicating can only occur when we break out of the circles of our own thoughts and accept that an opposing view may have merit – may even at its root share something of our own vision.

As this country, and the world, has struggled through the past year or two, many believed that if we just spoke louder, longer, and with more passion, the other side would understand. They would “get it.” Consequently, the rhetoric escalated, and in a drunken rampage we said things to each other we would have never considered appropriate or truthful in years past. For some overwhelming reason, many supported the winner because he “said it like it is.” But did he? Are we really a nation of people who vehemently hate our neighbors, or, for that matter, anyone who is not white, heterosexual, in perfect mental and physical health, Christian, and English speaking? Really?

There were also many who just walked away, and while denouncing what the machinery of democracy had become, pushed the process of deterioration further by refusing to participate. As mentioned in my previous blog, as a nation we started and ended in a no-win contest. That is where the communication thing comes in. We didn’t. From the very start, we just didn’t.

When I view our current situation from this perspective I see why we are not communicating – we are not speaking the same language. At all. First there is the issue of cascade thinking. This is a process by which a person believes the content of a story because it fits with the person’s preconceived notions. No matter how bizarre or off the charts a “news article” might appear; if it said something horrible about the opposing side, it must be true. I saw one post on social media that said, even the fake news shows she’s evil. If it’s fake news then how can it contribute to an honest opinion? Where is the logic in that?

Putting aside our tendency to remain within our own thought-circle (scientifically, it is very hard work for our brains to do otherwise), if we are going to become one nation again, we need to learn how to communicate. How to express concerns in clear, well supported logic, to reach that place where we can emotionally agree, and find some middle path to success. We can no longer assume that our deepest passions are foregone conclusions that everyone should understand and support. Here, then, is my take on this past election cycle. Remember, the next one began on November 9. Choose well your forward path.

Putting aside the angry, protesting, and outright Supremacist voters, what would make a thinking, logical, being vote for what half of us saw as a misogynistic, racist, anti-LBGT, demeaning, lying, bombastic, ultra-privileged, and uber-rich white guy? (This is a small collection of sentiments I have seen in the past several months, I’ll try to be as direct when we get to “the other side”). Understanding that provides a rather interesting framework in which to see the events of the past month or so, and why none of it seems to phase those who contributed to putting this person in the Oval Office. Here is something of what I learned by doing my best to listen.

There are a number of people in the country who are quite tired of “business as usual.” I think that is actually something we can all agree on. Whoever we supported, we were looking for change. Even if we wanted to see more work in the social services, quality of life, and equal protection under the law departments, we knew that some changes were very necessary. Having Congress at war with the White House was just not getting the job done however that was defined. This was one of the driving forces behind the outsider run Mr. Trump made. He was not Beltway material. He did not care (at least that is the notion he has projected) what agreements may or may not be in place – in his opinion, American business was the single most important criteria by which we should develop both internal and external rules and relationships. Well, in some ways we all feel that way. The health of our economy, whatever our end goals, is an important factor. How we get there is where we diverge in opinion.

Then there is the businessman thing. Long ago I learned that the only calculation that really counts in the business arena is that what comes in is greater than that which goes out, no matter how many zeros are attached. I find it difficult to conceive that a person who lost nearly a billion (at least on paper), and has a record of stiffing his vendors, could be considered successful. But, well, I’ve lost (for me) substantial sums in an effort to achieve goals, some of which might still pay out. I have an issue with stiffing people – whatever the reason. I have been informed, however, that the Trump organization does indeed hire persons of multi-cultural and multi-sexual identity and persuasion, and treats them well. The fact remains, he has built an empire that supports a privileged life-style, so when it comes to cash flow, he has it down.

We have a love-hate relationship with such success. Depending on our social status we may resent those who have amassed fortunes. There are successful people who devote large amounts of their fortunes to programs that support a better, more humane world. We seem to be more kind to the rich when they give something away. This does not appear to be the modus operandi of our current president-elect. Which is, again, one of the reasons so many voted for him. America was built on the Protestant work ethic, an ethic that demanded much of us, one that morphed into a “if you don’t work, you don’t eat” mind set. Except, that’s what happens in a communal setting as well. The cold reality is, if we insist that those who cannot contribute, or those who are doing their best for the very least, shouldn’t share something of the wealth of a nation, then we abandon the compassion that makes us human. No society can survive if it does not find a way to support those who are in need, or to ensure that those who are working do so at a rate that provides for the barest of necessities. If you are a Christian, you might check out some of the writings of the prophets from the Old Testament.

That leads us to the reason that all of the appointments, videos, tweats, and blusterings that half of us deem so offensive seem not to even phase our fellow countrymen. They wanted to break the back of “business as usual.” They want to see people who would think outside of the box, to look at foreign policy with a different eye, one that would see the nation as a producer of wealth and not a distributor of wealth. They see this man as someone who seeks advice from people who have experience from the outside of government – remember, they wanted an outsider and they expect him to find outsiders to advise him. These are people who have built successful empires here and abroad. Whatever we sort out about conflicts of interest over the next several months, or years, those who voted for him see a person who has experience in the world developing profitable relationships – not necessarily diplomat ones. When viewed from this perspective, I can almost see why they are complacent on so many other issues. They just see a different “bigger picture.”

These are a few of the things that I learned by listening. It does not mean I agree, or that I am happy with the outcome. What I do have is a clearer picture of how to approach those who are willing to have a conversation, who are willing to do that thing they so wanted to see – think outside the box. Next, I’ll try to put my thoughts in order to explain what I see as the motivations of the other half of the country.

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The Morning After

It is difficult, when you are building a public face, to know how and when to respond. As an author, I do have to consider the public; but I also must remain true to my own beliefs; beliefs and positions well documented throughout this website. So, here goes my interpretation of where we are the morning after.

Perhaps this election may finally force us to look in the mirror, to see what America has become without make up, the pretty clothes, whitened teeth, and brushed out hair. It is time to look closely at what a night of drunken, unleashed anger and hatred has done to us. We have elected a golden calf. Yes, I am serious, we elected what we “perceived” to be a savior, a hypnotic rush to “something different” rarely stopping to check out anything on either candidate that did not fit in with our established worldview. We do, indeed, deserve that which we have created.

images

There is, of course, the question of the popular vs. the electoral vote and the discussion has arisen for many years about the modern usefulness of the Electoral College. What is important to understand is that the Founding Fathers created a republic, a union of states, not people. Each state had its own history, personality, needs, and desires. Canada pulls this off better than we do, but then they are younger as a country. The provinces have retained their personality and commerce between them can be an interesting affair.

The point is that the founding fathers did not want the states with greater populations to overrule the states that were sparsely populated. Therefore, we have a senate based on 2 representatives for each state and a house based on population. The number of folks in the electoral college is determined by the total number of representatives and senators each state has. The rules for selection vary from state to state – but that was the point. When you vote for president, you vote for a representative of the College that usually follows the sentiment of his or her state, but not always. This is a representative form of government – not a democratic form.

As to this election, we were in a logical conundrum that had few good outcomes.  If Hilary won she had to have a Democratic (or, at the very least a sympathetic) Congress or absolutely nothing would be accomplished in the next four years. I mentioned to a Canadian friend that she may have had difficulty getting her laundry done. By the time the polls closed on the west coast last night, we knew that we were again faced with a few hundred people who take pride in NOT doing their jobs. Hillary’s battles would have been exponentially worse than anything Obama has faced in the last eight years. At last count, the Federal Judiciary has some 103 vacancies with 59 nominees pending. That’s just the Judiciary. There are also several directorates that are vacant simply because a Republican Congress didn’t choose to do their jobs. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of “things undone.” This is not a way to run a country.

Now, we have another scenario. If rumors are true and Trump the Salesman only used the theatrics to get elected and he intends to be a more moderate president than indicated, he will be a disappointment to his base. And that is a real problem. He has awakened a dragon in this country and it will not be easily subdued. His acceptance speech notwithstanding (I watched the first third or so), this campaign was all about hatred. Hatred of other races, immigrants, gays, liberals, Hillary, and women. I know that there is a large piece of his constituency that voted for him based on their own, logically supported reasons, but the loudest part of that crowd is fueled by anger. That does not bode well for us or the world.

If Trump faces real problems in his upcoming court appearances, we are no better off. We are left with Mr. Pence. Mr. Pence is one of the most dangerous creatures known to man – a true believer.  True believers are not interested in facts; they are interested in commitment to a world constructed in opposition to evidence and reason. There are no wins here.

The point is, this country is seething with hatred. We cannot survive on a diet of hatred. We just can’t. If we are to change our direction, if we are to slay the dragon within us, we must start today to create the atmosphere, and the qualified base, to take back our public institutions. We need people willing to work, to do the jobs our founding documents require of them.

We also need compassion. I no longer wish to call myself Christian in public because of what the public face of Christianity has become. I am, however, deeply committed spiritually. It is because of that commitment I will not surrender to the forces that swirl around me. My writing, my life, my voice will not be silenced. I will continue to support my fellow beings on this planet, regardless of race, religious faith (or lack thereof), or sexual orientation or identity.

Now I must prepare myself to respect the office, even if I cannot respect the man who holds it.

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Voting ~ and what it means to you

This is NOT a blog about who to vote for. I do NOT expect to change people’s minds on whether or not they should vote for any specific candidate. What I DO wish to accomplish is to provide food for thought. If there are races in which you feel compelled to withhold your vote, I want you to find the ones you can commit to. Somewhere, there is a race that you can research, that you can determine a choice, I don’t care if it is the local dog-catcher. It’s a long term plan, people. But if we don’t start now…

I have been wanting to write a blog about voting for some time now. Problem is, the history of voting might require something of a tome and that is not what blogs are for. The best way to say what I feel is important is to choose some aspect of that history and go from there. I chose the movie Suffragette as a starting point for a number of reasons that will become clear.

Suffragette

According to the Washington Post, the movie is based on some of the historical elements of the struggle British women faced in and about 1912-1913. Definitions are in order, a Suffragette is a member of the suffrage movement that advocated action, often involving violence of some kind. A Suffragist was a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and they advocated using the political and social system to achieve their goal. Although the Suffragettes brought much needed attention to the issue, it was the latter organization that finally won the vote for British women in 1918. The Union’s membership included men who were of the opinion that it was far past time to involve the other half of humanity in the process of governing the people. Why?

In the early 1900s a woman in British society rarely had the barest of rights. Her employer controlled her from the time she began work (usually in her teens) until she died. It was not uncommon for these men to demand personal service as well as that required in the factory. A woman had no right of consent over her children. Should her husband dismiss her, their children were his to do with as he pleased, including surrendering them for adoption. Many women were abused. They had no avenue of regress. On the other side of the coin, persons who hold the right to define government have difficulty equating those who don’t as equals: whether the difference is gender, or race. Women were, in large part, merely possessions; whatever made them think they had the cognitive ability to vote?

It was not until August 18, 1920, that the United States followed Britain by ratifying the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. This was a long battle that became a more organized effort as early as 1848 when women’s suffrage was organized at the national level by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucrecia Mott. Included in their platform (as it was in Britain) was the right to better opportunities for women in education and employment. This was no light undertaking. Women, and men, died to support the effort. Some in prison, some in riots or protests. Some women were simply beaten by the men in their lives.

After a great deal of sacrifice, the movement began to have success at the state level as Alaska (Territory), Arizona, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington all established suffrage for women between 1910 and 1918.

Another long battle ensued in the United States over the voting rights of blacks. It was not until the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the right to vote was secured by law. There are still legal battles that include practices such as gerrymandering, various levels of testing, and onerous forms of identification. Voting is not a settled matter in this country; those who wish to take responsibility for the selection of the government and the manner in which they govern still have a fight.

Why is this all so terribly important? There are many forms of the thought that a people deserves the government they receive. In some ways this is not true. Once a ruling class is established, the fee to join the club is usually beyond the common person and, therefore, not as easily changed by those with vision. However, there is a piece of the puzzle that does fall within the control of every-day folk. It starts at the local level.

The people we see in power today did not start there. In most cases, their career started at the local level as a council-person, a mayor, a local representative, a state elected official. Rarely does a candidate come out of the clear blue with no public service background. The way to change the available choices is to begin at that level where you can have a personal connection with the individual and truly assess what they can contribute to the community as a whole. It comes from watching how they handle what is happening in your community and how they represent the interests of those that depend on them.

I sincerely want people to vote their conscience – really. But I also want them involved. If you don’t like the way your preferred party selects candidates: be part of the change. If you are frustrated with the choices: think about being one yourself, or banding with others to encourage someone you think would be a good choice. Become involved in your destiny; participate in the process that impacts your life. Too many people have given too much for the privilege; don’t throw it away.

I have attached a document with a link to the voting information for voting and elections in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This is for your convenience so you can look up who is running in your state for what. Don’t go with the Facebook version of the campaign, research those that interest you. Make an effort to be a contributing member in the process.

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The God Box ~ Part the Sixth (and Last)

So, now we have reached the turning point. The end of one journey, and the beginning of the forever journey. The day I threw all the boxes away.

It was while I was active in the Adventist Church that I began to further widen my reading base. I have to admit, there were some authors I avoided because they were caustic, and adversarial, without clear, and logical arguments supporting their assertions. Calling me an idiot for my beliefs will get you nowhere. Telling me why you don’t believe might get my attention. I explored those who believed differently, or not at all. I read their bibliographies, and thought about the reasons they chose the paths they did. I had developed, at least in my opinion, the spiritual maturity to determine if the steam held any substance for my own journey.

I also discovered that the writings of other faiths, and devotional paths, had much to say about the same topics with which Christians wrestled. Some arrived at similar conclusions, even if the source of focus, or worship, was different. The similarities were eye-opening. So much argument, even hatred in the world, when there were so many fundamental points that we all agreed on.

How humans define something they call God has a great deal to do with culture. In the West, where individuality is the purported standard, we tend to find comfort in a God (or Goddess) that is much like ourselves. In the East, deity is represented with interpretive natural forces, animals with specific powers, creatures molded from the attributes of animals, and symbols familiar to the culture. But I still saw a box: a box of human perception. Allegory may be well and good, and it does help us build on what knowledge we possess, but it is still allegory. It is only representative of the real thing.

If I wanted to ever have a sense of the real thing, then maybe all the boxes had to go. How else could I find a way to separate the metaphor from the object defined?

Then something magical happened. I met a man who took my amateur interest in science to a new level. With a background in philosophy, mathematics, medical sciences, and physics, he gave me the key to my own, special space. With his mentorship, I was able to understand, at least at a layman’s level, some of the magic of the universe. I learned how stars were formed, how galaxies worked, how the smallest bits of carbon-based life worked. I found quantum physics, and I grew in wonder.

I have always held that it is not necessary for a Creator to hang around to guide every atom of the universe through its life cycle. A really great Creator would set the whole thing in motion and, with a few simple rules, let it all find its highest, and best purpose. This was a God that needed no box, could not be contained in any one universe, and did not pursue His/Her/Its creation with a petty and unrelenting vengeance.

This was a God I could worship.

I have continued on this journey, this quest to find my place in a beautiful, sometimes violent, sometimes gentle, but always passionate universe. I never cease to find wonder. Wherever there is destruction, new life emerges. Wherever there is an end, a new beginning springs forth. It is a universe that is forever redefining and re-applying the most simple, most basic rules.

I had no wish to walk away from my faith because so much simply made no sense. Nor was I willing to bend scripture into some complex origami project to make it all work. I don’t want a God stuffed into a box. A being that thinks, and acts like the humans around me. What sort of God would that be?

I spent my whole life looking for a bigger box. Then, I realized, I could throw them all away.

Did I give up on prayer? No. What I found was that prayer became a conversation between myself, and something much greater than me. Prayer isn’t a Christmas list, or a gripe session. I do not mean that prayer is cosmic chitchat. There were times when I felt that everything in me would break if I could not find an answer. But when prayer becomes an ongoing conversation, it’s like walking through the day-to-day with an old, and familiar friend. You tend to be a bit more honest, even with yourself. And sometimes, once you are at peace enough to see all of the pieces, and not just the ones you want to see, the answer does become clear. It may not be what you wanted, but you come to understand why a certain path is the right way to go. Is that guidance? I believe it is.

Such a path has also taught me more patience. It’s not always evident, I’m sure, but more than once, when I was unduly held up, took a wrong turn, or couldn’t find what I was looking for, some instance presented itself that told me I needed to be where I was, when I was there. It might be meeting someone I would have missed. It might be avoiding some catastrophe, such as a major accident. It isn’t because I’m special, or particularly blessed. It’s because I have learned to listen to the still, small voice, at least most of the time—especially when it nags. It means I have learned to be open to possibilities. We find the most fulfillment when we work within the rules of the universe that is our home.

The point is that the creation we call the universe does have a course. I don’t think it wants a plan. I think the simple rules on which this creation is built provide it with all the variety it needs or requires. I feel we can find our space within it if we choose to.

Want to solve world hunger? Get up off your knees, and feed the hungry. Want to solve the problems of the incarcerated? Find out why, or what happened, and actively pursue preventative, and restorative plans. Want to end hatred? Start in yourself. Put aside the fear, and learn to know, and respect others. Will we eliminate hatred, wars, abuse? Probably not. That, however, is not an excuse. We are each responsible for what we contribute to the world, not what someone else takes from it.

It’s a very big universe out there, and Whoever, or Whatever, started it all is neither small nor petty. Sometimes boxes are comfortable and they help us grow in relative safety. There comes a time, for some, when the boxes must be thrown away.

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The rest of the story:

The God Box ~Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth

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The God Box ~ Part the Fifth

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The saga continues. While living in southern California, I was introduced into another evangelical congregation. I name this church organization because I still admire much about it. After cautiously investigating the core beliefs, I determined to learn more. Eventually, I became a functioning member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They should not be confused with Latter Day Saints or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their fundamental beliefs are very similar to mainstream Pentecostal beliefs, though there are differences. They do believe that the rules still apply, and that when God says keep the Sabbath, He means keep it. You know, just like you aren’t supposed to steal and covet and murder and such.

Adventists love to study. They have the second largest educational system in the world, and their students consistently score higher than the average population. They are also religiously zealous about health, both in the area of medical research, and in strict adherence to dietary laws. Some members are vegetarian, some not, but all follow some form of Biblically supported diet. Anywhere in the world they go, they first build a clinic, and a school. They have one of the largest disaster relief organizations in the world. First, they meet the basic needs of the people, then they build the church. This was an approach that resonated with me.

I grew comfortable enough that I became a speaker in the organization, and was sought after as a teacher in adult classes. I enjoyed my relationship with a group of honest, still-seeking individuals. Even those who were absolutely sold on one aspect of their faith or another. I still find it amusing that many pages of thought-provoking text were written on such topics as whether or not fermented wine was used in, say, the Song of Solomon. As much as I loved these people, I could not imagine the poet expressing a thought like, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth— for your love is more delightful than [grape juice].”

This organization also has a wide base of scientifically-astute people. Research in the medical field is something that a number of people are aware of (such as Loma Linda University), but there are those in other scientific areas, as well. It was through an Adventist minister that I met my late husband, who was a brilliant research scientist. These people take learning and exploration seriously. There was only this one little problem: there was still an element of control.

Some members buried themselves in church-affiliated reading material. They had little time for anything else. As in all organizations, there was an underlying “them and us” attitude. It never affected the hand outreached to teach or to heal, but there was still this need to belong to something with homogeneity.

I was, again, baptized. (By now I was beginning to feel like an Easter egg). In this instance, the pastor was very clear to the witnesses that this was a reaffirmation, a sign of commitment, and support for my then spouse. He was being baptized for the first time that day. I thought the pastor did a lovely job of clarifying the issue. Before we left the building one of our friends approached me and welcomed me “into the family.” But I thought I was a member of the family. I was speaking from the pulpit, teaching adult classes in biblical studies and aspects of theology and philosophy. Why did I need a bath to join “the family?”

Trapped in another box. A nice box with quite a bit of room, but a box nonetheless. I was still constricted by what others felt was, or was not, good and right. It was respectable to explore the universe, but one had boundaries. Predefined roles, if you will. We were still a group of bungling Homo sapiens writing a script for a sovereign deity that could create universes.

It was a cushy box, but it had to go.

One more installment, folks!

The God Box ~ Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

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