this sonofabitch old blog is back

An old blog is back. Run for your lives.

via GIPHY

I’d been thinking for a few weeks of starting a new blog and had been brainstorming names for it, when it the idea suddenly hit me. That old Different Dinosaur Soundtrack—er, I mean The Different Drummer Soundtrack—why not revive it? I searched my hard drive, and it turns out that I still had old .xml files from it. Why just display current content when I’d been writing for a long time? While there were some entries that were a clear waste of pixel space, some of them were pretty good. I figure it might make sense to show my old stuff as well.

And there were a lot more posts than I thought. Five hundred of them. Amazing what an .xml file can store. I did whittle them down to about 350.

When The Different Drummer Soundtrack started in 2005, I started it on a platform called Squarespace, because it was the most sophisticated web platform at the time. I wasn’t the LiveJournal type, Blogger wasn’t much to write home about, and WordPress had yet to become of the powerhouse tool it now is. MySpace was the king of social media, while what we now know as Facebook was exclusively reserved for college students, and it wasn’t until a year later that said students would be mortified by a friend request from a middle-aged parent. While Friendster had been around, social media was still consider a new concept people were trying to wrap their minds around.

About a year or two after the this blog was founded, an online magazine from Milwaukee (MKE Online, I don’t think it still exists) nominated The Different Drummer Soundtrack for “Blog of the Week.” The contest would have readers look at the nominee blogs and vote for their favorite. I ended up losing out to someone’s MySpace page (even though I did my best Laverne and Shirley chant), because the editors apparently didn’t know about how easy it was for a MySpace user could mobilize their friends to vote for their.

Here in Madison, this blog also made a few appearances on Madison.com. This news and features website, which has online editions of both the Wisconsin State Journal, the Capital Times, and a few other publications, also had a publication called Post which featured local bloggers, and I made a few appearances there. They even had a print edition of Post. You might still occasionally see a plastic newspaper box out there with that logo on it, It looks like a cheap spray paint stencil with the word “post” and the Madison.com pentacle logo on them. (Yes, they’re closet pagans, I’m sure of it). Such boxes were last seen holding random real estate and grocery advertising rags.

Remember when MySpace was considered creepy while Facebook seemed shiny and clean? Do you remember blogrings? This blog was a member of a couple of those.

I’d started writing The Different Drummer Soundtrack because, well, I had a different perspective on things and I felt it was worth sharing. This is still true. And honestly, I feel like I have a lot more to say now, as we try to act like everything’s normal when the world is anything but.

via GIPHY

So, feel free to explore.  There’s some entertaining reading, from the time that I tried to stalk a Wisconsin U.S. Senator, to lambasting the lamestream media for publicly humiliating someone never previously in the public spotlight, offending the religious sensibilities of a spiritual organization I used to belong to by performing a sacrilegious act describing it in excruciating detail.and gleefully causing dozens of people to unsubscribe with a single post. Some of my more recent posts are from a more recent anonymous blog, but decided to place them here. Finally you can see where I might turn you on to  lesser known music either once popular or perpetually obscure.

In fact, I will conclude this post with a video from some technical geek musicians around my age who are still bringing down the house more than twenty years later—on their own terms.

the convergence of Christian and Baha’i holy days

April 21, 2019 represents an unusual day in that today is both Easter and the first day of Ridvan. This is a convergence of Christian and Baha’i holy days. These holidays are arguably the most holy days for the Christian and Baha’i Faiths.  For me, personally, I don’t regard either holiday as holy, even though I have deep respect for Jesus and Baha’u’llah.

GDJ / Pixabay

The explanation for the Baha’i Faith is easier for me. The festival of Ridvan, starting April 21 and lasting for twelve days, represents the moment Baha’u’llah and his family spent in the Garden of Ridvan prior to his exile to Constantinople.  It was here that Baha’u’llah declared himself to be a Manifestation of God and that no other Manifestation of God would surface for another thousand years.

Baha’is thus believe that Baha’u’llah is the prophet for this day and age.  But I don’t.  I considered myself a Baha’i betwen 2007 and 2014, but ultimately, I saw too many flaws in both the Baha’i Faith and Baha’u’llah’s own writings to believe him to be a Manifestation of God.  I go more into my beliefs about Baha’u’llah and prophets in this post,

So what about my feelings about Jesus Christ?  I have deep reverence for Jesus Christ, what he taught, and the examples that he set.  To me, that is much more important than the crucifixion and resurrection that Christians celebrate on Easter.

What many Christians communicate is that the crucifixion was the moment that Jesus died for our sins, and that if we believed in Jesus Christ as our lord and savior, our sins would be forgiven, too.

I don’t know whether the resurrection of Jesus occurred or not. I wasn’t there. But to me, it doesn’t matter because the most important aspect of Jesus was not the notion that he died for our sins.  In fact, I believe that the moment this became emphasized and made central to the Christian faith, Christianity lost its way.

What is most important is what Jesus taught humankind. His determination to meet with people regarded as sinners and the kindness he showed them is an example that more people in this world need to follow. His admonition “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” is a powerful statement that even today is not fully understood by millions of Christians.

The moment that the crucifixion became a central part of the Christian faith, it invariably elbowed aside Jesus Christ’s most important teachings. It became more important to declare oneself a Christian than to learn from Jesus’s example. The history of violence among Christians shows how far many Christians went to enforce their beliefs on others, even on other self-described Christians.  In fact, the crucifix–the image of Jesus on the cross–is, to me, a symbol of what many Christians have done to Christianity.  Even before I had a better understanding of Christianity, the image of the crucifix is deeply unsettling.

I believe that religion does very little to define the moral character of a person.  The most important measure of moral character is in the actions of a person.  Thoughts are also important to the extent that they can influence actions.  As such, there are many, many Christians and Baha’is who are inherently good people and who embody the notion of “love thy neighbor” through their words and actions.  These are the spiritual people I take most seriously. And they can  be found in all other religions as well as among spiritual and non-spiritual people.  This is something that both Christianity and the Baha’i Faith deny.  But I have observed this to be true.

On this day where Easter and the first day of Ridvan converge, let’s use this time to reflect on the role of religion and holy days, the nature of prophethood and the reason why we are here as human beings.  As we face dark and challenging times ahead, it is important to go back to our inherent love for the world, as it will be needed more than ever in the coming years.

 

what is the nature of a Supreme Spiritual Being?

"Divine Presence" "Supreme Spiritual Being"

KELLEPICS / Pixabay

In the last blog post, I spoke about the existence of gods (small-g plural), ghosts, and spirits. I concluded based on my own experiences and those of millions around the world that these phenomena are, in fact, real. I also concluded that they aren’t to be messed with in this realm. But what about God, a Supreme Spiritual Being, a Divine Presence or a deity that has the attributes of what we might attribute to God?

Mulholland Drive

EvgeniT / Pixabay

Encounter with a Divine Presence

Many people—myself included, have felt the presence of who or what we might call God. I can testify that it is very different than the presence of a lower spirit or deity. This encounter happened to me at the age of 22 when I lived in Los Angeles. I was walking along Mulholland Drive in the early evening on the top of the mountain-hill that separated the San Fernando Valley from the rest of L.A. It was a mostly empty stretch of two-lane road with switchbacks, with few buildings visible, and the lights of the Valley below me. It was while I was walking that I suddenly *felt* this presence. Felt it in a way that was similar to how I might feel the presence of a person near me before I turn around and actually see them. Except this presence was much larger than me and floating above the switchback I was walking around. This was completely unexpected. For me, the presence I felt was powerful, deeply loving, and brought tears to my eyes. This Divine Presence told me that they loved me, and had wonderful plans for me. I was also told other things too personal to reveal here. This encounter occurred two months before I was scheduled to embark on a nine month cross-country journey, one which would change my perspective on things forever.

Did I feel the presence of the Supreme Spiritual Being? Would I call this presence God? I don’t know whether it would be more insulting to God to say that the presence I encountered was certainly God, or if it would be selling God short to say that I don’t know if it was actually God I was encountering. I do feel confident that the source of this presence was aligned with the greatest force for good in the Universe, and as such, was of the Supreme Spiritual Being. At the same time, I honestly couldn’t say for sure if I felt the presence of God themselves or simply a messenger and/or angel representing God.

Honestly I’m not sure to what extent it matters. I would argue that what was more important in this case was the feeling I had from my encounter with what I believed to be God. If I came away feeling loved and unconditionally loving everyone, and with an overwhelming desire to help humanity in any way I could, then I would consider that to be an encounter with a loving deity. And as such, it really doesn’t matter if my encounter was with an angel, a god of this Earth, a Sun God, or the God of the Universe, nor does it matter if they are separate deities or one and the same. It was, without any doubt whatsoever in my mind, a Divine Presence.

How do we know what is Divine?

The Bible has wisdom about this shared by Jesus in Matthew 7:15-20. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

This is sage advice. This quote is referenced in the Baha’i Faith, as well as a Japanese New Religion I used to be involved with. Ironically, I ended up leaving both religions because I concluded that the fruits they were producing were not free from corruption.

But are we indeed qualified to make such judgments? It probably depends on our character. However, I have observed that if we are being led down the wrong way, we can be corrected if we are open to being corrected. I have observed this in my life many times.

I have felt guided for much of my life. I have been guided when I’ve felt most receptive to being guided. I believe that God/The Universe has guided me in and out of spiritual paths so that I could learn from all of them. I have made decisions that on the surface appeared irrational yet ended up being the best decisions that I have made. And I’ve made blunders—that is where my course can be corrected, and it has been corrected many times. And I believe that anyone is capable of being guided if they have an open enough heart.

What does this then say about the nature a Supreme Spiritual Being?

My personal experiences incline me to rule out atheism, pantheism or pandeism, since these deny the current existence of spirit. My experiences also incline me to rule out polytheism—polytheism might be real, but the worship of lower gods could lead us astray depending on who we worship. That leaves monotheism, monism, panentheism, and animism.

Let’s start with monism. The idea that everything in the Universe comes from a singular origin might be true, especially since such a singularity is postulated in the Big Bang Theory. However, the notion that the entire Universe grew out of a singularity has not been observed, but simply hypothesized by extending the observations we’ve made about the growth of the Universe to a logical beginning point. There is so much about the Universe we don’t know, and much of the prevailing theory about its development depends on the existence of dark matter and dark energy that we’ve only postulated about, but have not yet actually discovered. We can’t rule out that some other process might come into play that could take the early history of the Universe in a different direction. Notably, some Hindu teachings speak of a cycle of universes beginning and ending. Some scientists dispute the notion of a singularity and postulate a cycled birth and death of universes. As such, we can only say that we don’t know whether Monism is true or not.

It can be argued that monotheism has a decidedly mixed history on this Earth. Few would view Jesus as a deceiver of any kind or being anything but good, but many would argue that the Christian religions have evolved in ways Jesus never intended, and they certainly have a bloody history that would be inconsistent with Jesus’s teachings. But is this a fault of monotheism, or the way that it developed with modern religions? It should be noted that Hindus, as members of a religion that could be regarded as monotheistic, polytheistic, or fit into other categories, are not immune to sectarian violence.

Some would argue that the logic of monotheism combined with a rigid good vs. evil dualism ends up creating an artificial distinction between right and wrong. This dualism  results in people and practices being labeled good or evil, and the feeling that “evil” in this case must be eradicated. Certainly the Old Testament provides many examples of cruel, dehumanizing treatment of people conquered by the Israelites and it actually implies the belief that these atrocities were somehow righteous in God’s eyes. In writing about this, I wonder if the ultimate purpose of this passage of the Old Testament is intended to glorify such cruelty, warn us about the overwhelming desire for “good” going horribly wrong, or if it’s there to actually test people on their perception of good and evil.

As for the encounter I had in Los Angeles, I truly do not know if my encounter was with a monotheistic God, but I had little doubt this Divine Presence was connected with infinite goodness. Maybe that’s what is more important, the infinite goodness rather than than the question of monotheism. Therefore, I will put the question of monotheism on the shelf for now.

There is also the theory of panentheism, the belief that the Divine is within and part of everything in the Universe. Related to this is the belief in animism, the belief that all things in the Universe possess their own distinct spiritual essence. These beliefs wouldn’t necessarily be inconsistent with each other–could something be a part of or the creation of the Divine and at the same time be distinct?  Nor would they necessarily contradict monotheism—it could instead a way looking at the Divine from a different angle.

Logically, wouldn’t the Universe be a better place if we were to treat everything as of Divine Origin, from a panentheistic or animistic origin?  This is no small question. In fact, this is the question of our times. Our disregard for the Earth these days may have much to do with how divine we think the Earth is.

Animism has been treated by many scholars as a sort of “primitive proto-religion.” Yet modern human beings may very well be the primitive ones. Many so-called “primitive” cultures believe that all living things have a soul. For the, the question becomes how to interact appropriately with animals, plants, and other resources that the earth gives us. Many cultures have a belief that since these have a spiritual essence, they must be interacted with respectfully. Some cultures will communicate with the spirit of the plant they are about to harvest, the meat animal they are about to slaughter, or the tree or branch they are about to cut down, and offer an explanation and/or thanks and gratitude. I know that I have sometimes felt this way about things that occur in the natural world, and even with objects made by humans.

While to modern human beings this might seem quite silly, compare and contrast this with the way we treat our planet. Think about the way a coal mining company thinks about a mountain when they think about mountain top removal mining. They don’t see the mountain for its beauty and spiritual essence, they see it only for the minerals that they can mine, and will destroy entire forests and streams in the process. Furthermore, we human beings have started what many scientists call Earth’s sixth mass extinction caused entirely by human activity. This extinction even extends to insects, many of whom are responsible for pollinating our plants and thus providing us with the food we need.

As such, from the standpoint of pure logic, it makes sense that we regard everything that we take from the Earth as sacred, and that we take only for necessary reasons. The wanton destruction of habitat and ecosystems must stop if we have a fighting chance to survive as a species.

Another noteworthy way that we can look at the question of animism is to ask ourselves if it is just living things (as we know them) that need to be treated with such regard. Astronomers are looking at other planets in our solar and wondering about their ability to harbor life. They are seeing some strong possibilities in Mars’s past and perhaps even the present.

Scientists do not yet know how life evolved out of these organic materials on Earth, but the evolution of the first life on Earth happened very early in its history. What if there was little difference spiritually between the first appearance of life on Earth and the organic material that harbored it? A speculative question, most certainly, but it could underline a notion that the difference between life and non-life is smaller than we might think, and that the level of “spirit” in what we consider non-living things may only differ from that of living things in degree and complexity.

And what about a mountain? Mountains are often highly regarded by indigenous cultures and even religions.The Earth is far from being the only celestial body in our Solar System to harbor mountains. Almost all of the tallest mountains are on other planets, and a recent flyby of Pluto has also revealed mountains, as well as other awe-inspiring features.

Artist’s rendering of Jupiter’s moon Io with a view of Jupiter. AlexAntropov86 / Pixabay

Indeed, couldn’t every star in the sky and every planet orbiting them be amazing spiritual phenomena? Our Sun, which formed from the gravitational collapse of matter into a sphere so hot and dense that it initiated nuclear fusion at its core, operating at millions of degrees, has been burning for 4.6 billion years, while a tiny percentage of its mass—less than half of 1%–formed all of the planets and minor planets, moons, asteroid belt, Kuiper Belt, and the Oort Cloud. Many peoples have worshiped the Sun throughout history, and why not?—life would not be possible on Earth without it. Even the Moon has inspired worship throughout the ages.

All of the celestial objects in our solar system and other star systems have a story about how they coalesced into planets, moons, and other objects. How they spun off into their own form when their star formed., What elements they are composed of, what atmospheres they may have if any, and how they came to evolve that way. And the awe-inspiring vistas to be be found on their surfaces. The photos we’ve been able to take on and of other planets have been nothing short of spectacular and awe inspiring.

So at this point, I have an image of the divine that I would consider to be pretty much panentheistic and animistic.

I am convinced there is a Divine Presence everywhere in the Universe. And everything in the Universe has spirit and is sacred.  I believe this is important that we realize this with the challenging times we face before us.

what is the nature of spirit?

monika pudlovskytė, “Forest Spirit”. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Different religions, spiritual traditions and cultures have had different images the nature of spirit. Indeed, some religions have, at times, taken it upon themselves to take on remarkably precise definitions of the spiritual world (for example, the notion of a Holy Trinity in Christianity) while also usually allowing for the notion that the spirit world, or God, is ultimately unknowable to mortal human beings.

The majority of the people of the world are used to looking upon the divine as a monotheistic deity, as evidenced by the fact that the two largest religions in the world combined–Christianity and Islam–account for 4.2 billion people—more than half of the world’s population The idea that there is only one God, an omniscient God is taken as a given in these religions.

The next largest religion is Hinduism, with 1.15 million followers. Hinduism allows for a wide diversity of thought, embracing aspects of the following:

  • Monotheism—the belief in one universal God.
  • Polytheism—the belief and the worship of multiple gods.
  • Pantheism—the belief that God is the same as reality, and that all things in the Universe compose an all-encompassing God and vice versa. It does not allow for any spiritual essence or beings distinct from what is already in the Universe.
  • Panentheism—the believe that God/the Divine interpenetrates everything in the Universe. Some panentheists believe in the Universe being but one aspect of God.
  • Pandeism—the belief that a Creator God created the Universe but no longer exists as a conscious and separate entity.
  • Monism—the source of everything in the Universe arises from a single origin
  • Animism—the belief that all creatures, places and objects have their own distinct spiritual essence.
  • Atheism—the non-belief in God or spiritual phenomena.

It is worth examining these beliefs and determining what to be true, as that would also help determine the validity of religions that we were raised with. To do so, we need to take a step back and determine what is most likely to be true based on our own experiences.

Pantheism is the belief that everything in the Universe is God and vice versa. Pantheists consider the Universe to be so full of wonder that there is no need to focus on a separate God or spirit power. Modern pantheists believe in the primacy of the scientific method for determining what is in the universe and how it operates.

One of the failings of the Industrial Age, however, is a certain extreme belief in materialism that is quite dominant. This belief states that if it hasn’t been found by science, it doesn’t exist. While most scientists—particularly astrophysicists—understand that “not yet discovered” doesn’t necessarily mean “non-existent,” many people use this unstated belief is used to disparage any sort of spiritual experiences or experiences with the paranormal.

One example of the paranormal is ghosts. The presence of ghosts have been reported in folklore from all around the world for millennia and amid remarkably different cultures that previously had little contact with each other. Other people have had experiences where they see an apparition of a loved one, only to realize later that the loved one died right around the time of seeing that apparition. Still others have instinctively known that a loved one has just died, and then find out later that their instincts were accurate.

Yet many materialistic believers in science believe that such experiences with the paranormal cannot be real, that they are only an illusion or a product of the brain, or only exist because people believe they exist. While this could, in fact, be one of many possible explanations for this phenomenon, logically, there is no more proof for this assertion than there is for the assertion that the ghost is real. A lot of times an atheistic or anti-spiritual mindset insists on the non-existence of ghosts. They don’t consider the possibility that if such a broad swath of people on this planet believe in the existence of ghosts, it might be because there is something to this phenomenon. It’s worth noting that atheism, unlike agnosticism, is a religious belief because it denies the existence of God or spiritual phenomenon solely based on belief. They have decided that the universe is without spirit or God, regardless of what the truth might be. Atheists have been quite correct to point out the way people have been manipulated by religion, but in my view carry it too far when they insist that all spiritual beliefs and experiences are illusory.

My life experiences have unequivocally convinced me that ghosts and other spirits exist, that spirits that many people regard as gods exist, and that some kind of greater overarching spirit exists.

In regard to ghosts, my sister and I discovered some years ago that we had had separate encounters with ghosts in the house we grew up in. We found this out by exchanging stories more than a decade after we moved out of the house.

As a former pagan, I did sometimes feel the presence of spirits during pagan rituals that invoked gods and goddesses. Whether these were, in fact, the actual presence of Aphrodite, Hades, Hermes, Demeter, or other gods, goddesses, or spirits is difficult to say. I think there is some aspect of these deities that are real outside of their anthropological or literary value. But did these deities create us or did we create them?

One clue to this comes from my observation that the Mercury Retrograde phenomenon is real, even though the logic behind the phenomenon of Mercury Retrograde is ludicrous. Mercury, being the closest planet to the sun, appears to go retrograde every 88 days or so. Because the Roman God Mercury (or the Greek god Hermes) is the god of communication and transportation, Mercury going retrograde is supposed to lead to disruptions in those two areas. My observation is that such phenomena seem to be real, but are caused by phenomena other than the planet Mercury.

For that reason, I believe that all of the gods that human beings have imagined over the thousands if not millions of years do exist. They do so because spiritual energy has been generated by people worshipping them. Since so many of these gods might be considered good, evil, or somewhere in between, they actually take on some of those characteristics. And in pagan rituals that I participated in when I was in my twenties, I would sometimes feel the presence of these deities.

Mercury retrograde is itself not a personification of a god, it is just a phenomenon. But belief in and worship of gods can cause these deities to take on the qualities that people visualize them having. I have no way of knowing whether it is possible to know all of Aphrodite’s attributes, or whether there are other attributes and intentions independent of what we humans conjure. In fact, for all I know, Aphrodite can be a spirit that decided to trick humans by responding in a way that humans felt she should respond, and therefore make the spirit “real” when it was not.

Because we don’t know the intentions of these spirits or gods, it makes no sense to invoke or worship them, and the same can go for ghosts. People who impress audiences by engaging in channeling of spirits don’t know who they are channeling or why. Such ability should be pitied , not envied. Maybe there are people in this realm wise enough to walk in those spirit worlds, but how do we really know?

Confucius said it best when he said, “Respect ghosts and gods, but keep away from them.” This is completely rational. It would be like picking up a hitchhiker in modern times—you don’t know what their intentions are and what they are capable of. It’s inherently risky, even if the vast majority of hitchhikers, ghosts, and gods mean no harm. I once saw an updated version of Confucius’s sage advice on a bumper sticker. It said, “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons for you are crunchy and good with ketchup.”

why Mercury retrograde might be real even when it isn’t real

MiraCosic / Pixabay

A little over two weeks ago, astrologers reported that Mercury went into “retrograde”. Mercury retrograde is a period of about three weeks when, from the Earth’s standpoint, the planet appears to be moving backwards. Despite there being no solid scientific evidence of the accuracy of astrology, the phenomenon of Mercury retrograde feels real even to people somewhat skeptical of astrology. Based on my own experience and that of others, Mercury retrograde might be real even when it isn’t real.

Astrology then and now

Complex charts aside, the vast majority of astrology was originally based on a model of the Solar System and the Universe that puts the Earth in the middle of everything. Despite some sun-centric thinkers among the Pythagoreans (a rather fascinating group of people) mainstream Greek philosophy believed that the Universe centered around the Earth. Mainstream Greek philosophy also generally believed the Earth to be spherical in shape and that the Universe revolved around the Earth. Despite this earth-centric error which was disproved with the Copernican Revolution many remarkably accurate calculations were made about the stars and planets.

While astrologers today would not dispute the model of the Universe accepted by mainstream science some of the implications of the old model still exist. As such, the assumption about planets going retrograde is based on a model of the Universe which has now been disproved. Astrologers might claim that the appearance of Mercury from Earth is still the most relevant issue. But can they really argue that the assumptions based on the Earth-centric model of the Universe still hold in the new, science-backed model of the Universe?

Of course there are many types of astrology around the world, and even among Western astrologers, a few have changed their calculations to adjust to a heliocentric Solar System model. In 2015, an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune four years earlier created an uproar on the Internet when it published a scientist’s claim four years earlier that most people’s astrological signs were about one month off due to axial precession.  However, the ancient Greeks had the last laugh on this one because they’d actually discovered axial precession and had taken it into account despite not knowing that the earth wasn’t the center of the Universe. The scientist might have been accurate about sidereal astrology, which is based on the position of the constellations and is most commonly used in Hindu astrology. But most Western astrology has relied on a tropical model based on the position of the planets. As such, claims that the Zodiac had shifted were labeled “false” by Snopes.com, though Snopes did not pass judgment on the accuracy of astrology in that article.

In any case, Western astrology assigns certain characteristics to a pie slice of the Solar System. Each zodiac sign makes up 1/12th of the solar system, though they are no longer the part of the solar system associated with the constellation. Given, though, that the planets are closer to the Earth than the constellations, it would make more sense that the position of the planets would have more of an effect on Earth than the constellations. But back in ancient Greece, no planets beyond Saturn were known to exist.

Comfreak / Pixabay

Still, it’s Greek legends which give life to the constellations, which, like Mercury retrograde, are themselves somewhat of an illusion. They are illusions to the extent that their characteristics are based only on the angle as seen from this part of the Universe. From a completely different point in the Universe, the constellations look very different. So these constellations and planets are based on Earth myths, and specifically Greek legends. (Myths from other parts of the world have been honored with two recent dwarf planet discoveries: Haumea and Makemake.)Yet we are expected to believe that these Greek legends have impact on our personality by virtue of the part of the Solar System we were born in.

Think about it. The Greco-Roman pantheon of gods is, at the most, 3,000 years old.  Most of the planets in the solar system are in the neighborhood of 4,500,000,000 years old. So how is it that a human image of a god less than one-millionth of age of all the planets accurately represent the planet?  The ancient planet that humans call Mercury could care less about the pantheon of gods that humans from a small part of our planet came up with.

The structure of the Solar System

Furthermore, in the way that the Solar System is divided up, there is a certain symmetry to the astrological signs which doesn’t seem to correspond to reality. For example, each of the slices of the Solar System pie are given characteristics of elements–Fire, Earth, Air, and Water— and qualities consisting of either Cardinal, Fixed, or Mutable . Each astrological sign is given a unique combination of elements and qualities, but if you look at them on the chart, they seem to be neatly symmetrical and equally spaced.

Dieter_G / Pixabay

But the more we learn about our Solar System, the more complex and messy it really is. We now know that the gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have qualities that make them very different from Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Recent decades of research has pointed to the discovery of a wide array of Trans-Neptunian Objects. Then we have the Asteroid Belt in which its largest known object, Ceres, was once classified as a planet, then an asteroid, but which now has been promoted to “dwarf planet,” the same status as to which Pluto was demoted to in 2006. This shift was based upon the discovery that there might be more than 200 hundred such planets in the Kuiper Belt and 10,000 outside the Kuiper belt.  Many of these have asymmetrical orbits.  (Though it can be argued that the dwarf planets are more similar to the inner planets than the gas giants because unlike the other planets, the gas giants have no solid surface upon one which might stand.)

As such, can astrologers really have an accurate picture of the Solar System, given that we now know it to be far bigger and more complex than the ancient Greeks knew it to be?

Yet many people swear by astrology, and even those who don’t notice some remarkably similar properties identified by astrology.

My personal experience with astrology

I believed in astrology more when I considered myself to be a practicing pagan in the early 1990s. In fact, I astounded pagans and non-pagans alike with my uncanny ability to accurately guess a person’s astrological sign. I remember a party I went to where I guessed the correct signs with six people in a row! Sometimes it was intuition—I remember looking at a woman and my mind saw an image of a lion’s head, so I correctly guessed Leo. Other times, it was me just guessing based on what I perceived their element and their quality to be. Oddly, when I moved away from paganism to a more monotheistic religion, my ability to guess diminished to the point that my accuracy was less than what might be divined by chance.

Devanath / Pixabay

Yet, going back to the 2015 controversy over astrological signs allegedly, having shifted, I remember investigating this claim by reading the sign I supposedly really have. I was born smack in the middle of Cancer, and I have often found its (admittedly vague) description of me to be fairly accurate. So I looked up Gemini, which I supposedly “really” was, and read the description of people under that sign. The first few paragraphs were inconclusive, then later on I found myself saying to myself, “Not really,” “no way,” and finally “hell no!”

So when people report cars breaking down, computers crashing, printers failing, and misunderstandings all over the place during Mercury retrograde, does that mean that this phenomenon is real?

I think the answer is yes and no. I think the phenomenon of Mercury retrograde is real, but not for the reasons astrologers think.

Mercury retrograde and other astrological phenomena are real only because so many people believe it to be real.

My experience is that these thoughts are so powerful that they can even influence people who might not share those thoughts. And so, after I stopped considering myself a pagan and stopped believing in astrology, I discovered after a period of time that this Mercury retrograde thing still appeared to be real. There would be instances where something Mercury retrograde-like would happen, causing me to look online, and then discover that Mercury was indeed in “retrograde.” There were, of course, a few times when this did not happen, and a few times where Mercury retrograde was approaching within two or three weeks but had not yet occurred.

After a while, however, I felt the need to observe this phenomenon and prepare for it, and doing so has often resulted in a lot of positive outcomes. For example, Mercury retrograde appears to be a great time for reflection as well as finishing unfinished business. I have taken full advantage of this time to my benefit. Maybe it is just in my head, but it’s also in the heads of millions of other people.

Like ghosts that humans around the world have seen for millenia, thought waves and their power on the surrounding environment have not been directly observed or quantified by the scientific community. But it doesn’t follow that ghosts or thought waves don’t exist. We just haven’t proven scientifically that they exist. Many people—including many scientists—subscribe to the fallacy that what hasn’t been proven scientifically it doesn’t exist. For this reason, many scientists assume that the Universe is very empty because they think that all that we have thus far found is all that exists.

The value of mystery

We modern humans have become so overconfident in our technological prowess that we have forgotten about the value of mystery. It is okay sometimes to not know for sure whether something exists or not. It is much wiser to base your actions on uncertainty than false certitude. Agnostics seem comfortable with this way of thinking, whereas some atheists’ belief in the non-existence of God is so strong that their fervor and self-righteous thinking begins to resemble that found in fundamentalist followers of religion.

It is better to accept that some things are a mystery rather than express certainty about a belief that is probably at least partially false. It’s fine to believe something but there’s a difference between belief and unfounded certitude. By calling something a belief, you are stating your own sense of what you think is likely true, but you also allow for the possibility of not being 100% correct. The religious people who state with absolute certainty about what will happen to them when they die are making themselves look foolish. They really don’t truly know—they just read something, decided it was the truth, and then closed their minds to the possibility that something else might be true. This in and of itself is sad, but then when they push hard to make other people share that same worldview, disaster can only result.

So is Mercury retrograde real, real in a different way than previously thought, or is it the product of a large number of misinformed people? I’m going to say “quite possibly” to all three statements and then walk away with a smile. Anyone who is honest with themselves and the world around them should do the same.

Madison WI a microcosm of Earth changes

The city of Madison, Wisconsin, in the Upper Midwest of the United States is a rapidly growing medium-sized city of 255,000 people. Arguably, its most unique asset is an isthmus ranging in width from a kilometer to a little more than a mile wide (1.8 km) that separates Lake Mendota from Lake Monona. On this isthmus is the State Capitol building, the downtown area and just to the west is the University of Wisconsin campus with 44,000 students enrolled. However, recent events seem to make Madison WI a microcosm of Earth changes all over the world and what will likely happen in the future.

The first time I ever saw the Isthmus from an airplane, I was shocked at how tiny the strip of land looked compared to the lakes that surround it. Lake Monona is about two to three miles wide and Lake Mendota is six to seven miles wide. If someone drew a straight line from the northern shore of Lake Mendota to the southern shore of Lake Monona, northwest to southeast, bisecting the southwest-to-northeast running Isthmus at a 90 degree angle, at least nine-tenths of that line would be in one of the two lakes.

It’s strange because a person standing on the Isthmus would be scarcely aware that they were, in fact, on such a narrow strip of land. The Isthmus has a number of hills, and one of the only places one might see both lakes would be from the top of the Capitol. .

Nevertheless, from the airplane flying over the northern shores of Lake Mendota, it seemed like the lakes could easily engulf the Isthmus. Unfortunately, that view might be closer to reality than one might think.

Flood of August 20, 2018

On August 20, 2018, heavy rains devastated the west side of Madison and the nearby towns of Middleton, Cross Plains, Black Earth, and Mazomanie. An unthinkable 11.63 inches of rain fell on Middleton and 15.33 inches on Cross Plains. The Isthmus and the east side of Madison were spared the worst—“only” 3.92 inches  of rain fell at Dane County Regional Airport.

The rising lakes

However, since then, Madison residents have been getting a crash course in hydrology. All that water has had to go somewhere. As it turns out, about a third of Dane County is within the Yahara River Basin, meaning that within the basin, water flows into the Yahara River. The river starts in northern Dane County and connects four major lakes—Lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, and Kegonsa—and then flows into the Rock River just a few miles south of the Dane/Rock county line. (The Rock River, in turn, flows into the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Illinois.)

As such, Lake Mendota began to rise several inches over the course of several days after the August 20 rains. By August 23, the lake had risen five inches. Where the Yahara River flows south from Lake Mendota, the Tenney Locks regulate the flow of water into the Yahara River and to the lakes below it. As it rose, officials had to increase the amount of water being released water through the locks in order to protect the lock and dam from failing. This caused the Yahara River to overflow its banks in several spots along the Isthmus—however a failed dam would have caused far worse damage.

But the Yahara River isn’t the only source of water flowing among and between the lakes. Groundwater under the surface of the Isthmus interacts with the waters from both lakes. There are also human-made storm sewers that divert water from the streets into the lake.

The first place where flooding on the Isthmus became noticeable was Tenney Park itself. Tenney Park has a ring-shaped lagoon that was built out of marshland in 1900. While the lagoon is not linked by a surface waterway to Lake Mendota, groundwater interacts between the lagoon and the lake. The Tenney Park Lagoon flooded onto East Johnson Street–a main thoroughfare of the Isthmus that is 2-3 blocks south of the lake. About a half mile stretch of East Johnson continues to be closed as we speak.

With the floodwaters flowing into the Yahara River Basin, the storm sewers began to back up. As a result, giant puddles began to form in the middle of the Isthmus near East Washington Avenue, a six lane road that bisects the Isthmus lengthwise. As such, one lane on each side of East Washington was closed, as well as several streets that cross East Washington.

For nearly three weeks, the Isthmus has stood on a precipice. Heavy rains on the Isthmus could disrupt the delicate balance being kept and cause flash flooding. The city has released maps of areas that are at high risk for flooding, based on their proximity to the river, one of the lakes, or the storm sewers. The city taped notices to doors in areas considered to be at high risk of flooding. Some homes have sandbags, others don’t, but the lake front properties near Tenney Park have endured damage, as well as some properties abutting the river.

Rain was predicted for August 23, then August 28, and September 1 through 3. Some severe storms barreled through southwest and south central Wisconsin, causing flooding in large parts of western and central Wisconsin, but the severe weather passed to the west and north of Dane County. The area has dodged several bullets.

To be quite honest, these are strange times on the Isthmus. On most parts of the Isthmus, life looks normal. But then one sees floodwaters appearing at unlikely places on the Isthmus that are nowhere near a body of water, such as East Washington Avenue and the intersection of East Mifflin Street and North Livingston Street. Other places like East Main Street have been flooded by the river. The Yahara River bike path is under water.

The Isthmus weekly paper reported that Lake Mendota has, over the years, been kept artificially high for the benefit of boaters, and many people are now questioning whether this should be permitted to continue. But there are other contributing factors to the flood risk Madison faces. To understand those factors, it’s important to understand the history of the lakes.

History of the Yahara River Basin

What we now know as the Yahara river has existed in various forms for millions of years. At one point it carved a 500 foot deep valley through the area sandstone. The last glaciation period had what is now downtown Madison under 800 feet of ice, but the ice tapered and ended wherethe Driftless Area now begins in places like Cross Plains, Verona, and Evansville—all about 15-20 miles from downtown Madison.

When the glaciers retreated, meltwater retraced the path of the Yahara River. A large chunk of ice and stone about 17,000 years ago broke loose and dammed the Yahara south of Stoughton, and created a single giant lake that engulfed the four lakes area. The ice in the dam eventually melted, and the current contours of the lake developed about 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Human beings started being drawn to the area almost 12,000 years ago. One of the first permanent human settlements in Wisconsin was built between the Village of McFarland and Lake Kegonsa. It was a place for nomadic groups of people to meet and interact. Between 800 BCE and 1100 CE, Native Americans built over 1,200 mounds near the shores of the four lakes lakes and the river. These mounds were cone-shaped, linear shaped, and the shape of various animals, including one of the largest bird-shaped mounds with a wingspan of over 600 feet. The concentration of mounds was the highest in the Midwest and the most diverse.

But after the Blackhawk War in the 1830s, Native Americans—particularly the Ho-Chunk Nation—were forced out, though many members of the tribe returned back to Wisconsin. Early settlers in the Madison area were amazed by the mounds but nevertheless dug up and dismantled them.

Madison’s lakes were a big selling point for the city, which became the territory’s capital in 1846. The center of the city on the Isthmus was originally built mostly on swampland, meaning that it had to be drained and filled in as much as possible. The Dividing Ridge, a ridge just west of Lake Monona along part of what is now Park Street, had a spectacular view of the lakes (and many remarkable mounds), but the entire ridge was quarried and dismantled to fill in swamp land and backyard gardens. The winding Yahara River was straightened as it passed through the Isthmus. Left alone, much of the Isthmus would not have been suitable for settlement.

European settlement and the decline of the lakes

It could be argued that the health of the lakes has not been the same since then. Lake Monona had a severe problem with sewage starting in the late 1800s, and smelled horrible. The sandy bottom viewable from the surface had disappeared. Massive growths of aquatic weeds and often toxic blue-green algae (which are actually cyanobacteria) caused the sandy bottom of the formerly clear lake to disappear from view. Boaters had to wash black slime off their boats after use. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the sewage was pumped into Lake Waubesa, and then later to Badfish Creek, which feeds into the Yahara River below Lake Kegonsa. Finally, the federal Clean Water Act of the 1970s forced significant improvements to water treatment. However the growth of agricultural runoff has affected the four lakes, including now Lake Mendota, which still appeared to be clear as late as the 1970s. Initial efforts to develop incentives to minimize agriculture runoff have been marginal in their success, and the problem of algae and aquatic weeds continues unsolved to this day.

Near the capitol, there has been an unprecedented number of high rise buildings constructed, especially since 2013. These high-rises range in height from ten to sixteen stories high, though their height is limited by the height of the capitol dome on top of the highest hill in the Isthmus. Madison’s population growth requires approximately one thousand new units of housing to be built in the city every year and the influx of high tech workers into this boom town has developers gearing themselves more towards upper income tenants. In addition to displacing a lot of water and doubling runoff, these developments are also displacing middle and low income people who have contributed to the unique culture of Madison over the decades. In much of the west Isthmus, groundwater is just eighteen feet below the surface. This means that a lot of buildings are being built into the water table. This water is displaced and has to go somewhere.

The level of Lake Mendota has been rising since 1916 . The Wisconsin State Journal reported that since 1970, the volume of the Yahara River has been 30% greater than the previous four decades, and average annual precipitation has increased by 13%. Precipitation is the biggest factor—southern Wisconsin has been getting wetter. Several days of heavy rains in 2008 caused Lake Delton–an artificial reservoir and a popular tourist area, to overflow its banks–wash out several homes and a highway, and then empty itself into the Wisconsin River, leaving a giant field of mud in its wake. Repeated floods of the Kickapoo River in southwestern Wisconsin caused the entire village of Gays Mills, WI to start relocating to higher ground in 2008, and parts of the old village have been flooded again in 2016, 2017 and 2018, with the 2018 rains setting anew record. Other villages of southwestern Wisconsin have been similarly affected, including Soldiers Grove.

For all the difficulties caused by the settlement of Madison, Madison has also developed a rich, unique culture that has a chance of thriving even as the rest of civilization seems to atrophy. Why I believe this to be the case will be the subject of future blog posts, but I will offer a few examples now. The University of Wisconsin is a powerful research center. One result of this is that Lake Mendota is arguably the most studied lake in the world. People tend to be more ecologically aware, bikes are more likely to be a source of transportation here than elsewhere, and vital neighborhoods provide a sense of community not seen in many other urban areas in the Western world. Madison is not, by any means, perfect, but it has many social assets that can be used to address the issues the region faces.

Are these assets enough to reverse the problems caused by human mismanagement of the region? The history of lake pollution and the increased water runoff due to real estate development exacerbates the trend of lakes rising due to southern Wisconsin becoming wetter. This trend is accelerating due to hyper-development, rapid population growth, and climate change, the latter of which is causing heavier rains than usual to fall on southern Wisconsin. There will need to be major changes to how Madison addresses its water. But will there be enough resources to make these changes possible?

I believe that Madison has the chance to thrive in the face of these rapid changes. But any improvements made to the Yahara lakes, if any, will at best be temporary, as technology and current organization of human societies have mostly just exacerbated the problem. I suspect that due to the effects of peak oil and greater scarcity of resources will ultimately, keep Madisonians from reversing the rise of the lakes. It is possible that by the end of the century, the Isthmus that runs between east and west Madison and many developments close to the lakes will be underwater, a monument to human shortsightedness in its pleasure-seeking ways and hubris. Many such monuments in various forms will dot the world, markers to the changes that are occurring, and a reminder that we human beings need to humble ourselves before we can truly progress.

true independence days

Free-Photos / Pixabay

On the day that citizens of the United States celebrate the founding of our republic, it is good to take an objective look at this institution we refer to as American democracy. The nation founded in 1776 (11.476 EE) is very different from the United States in 2018 (11.718 EE).

In 1776, the United States had a population of 2.5 million people. That’s smaller than the cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago today. The population of the US in 1776 would be the equivalent of the 24th largest metropolitan area in the US today, right behind the metropolitan areas of Salt Lake City , Sacramento, Charlotte, and Pittsburgh. As a state, it would rank 36th out of 50, just ahead of New Mexico and behind Kansas. The estimated US population today is 329 million–more than 130 times larger than the republic at its founding, and the third largest nation in the world. While there is a lot of merit to the durability and relevance of the US Constitution, it is hard to imagine its framers envisioning the society in which we live today, with its size, scale, technology, and horrifying destructive power.

It could be argued that the Industrial Revolution changed the landscape by which our lives are governed. During its development, the number of people employed by others surpassed those who had been self-employed, and even to this day, only one in ten US citizens are self-employed. This means that the vast majority of people are subject not only to the laws of their government, but the dictates of their employer.

The US Constitution is the basis of the relationship between citizens and their government. The government, at different levels, may govern a few aspects of the relationship between citizens and their employers. But for the most part, the employer has all the power. As such, the employer can dictate how a person dresses in public, how they wear their hair, and how they spend their day. Free speech usually does not exist in the workplace, except in whispers at the office and rants outside the workplace. While some freedoms to organize to redress grievances may exist, the reality is that in both the government and the workplace, those in power may ignore those grievances without consequences to their power. Indeed, despite laws dictating otherwise, the government and the employers frequently punish those raising such grievances, or even contemplating doing so. And today, they have within their power an arsenal of tools for surveillance and punishment that deter all but the most courageous people wishing to improve their working and living conditions.

Furthermore, economic incentives push employers to put profits before people. The publicly-owned corporation—a misnomer given that very, very few people actually are able to exercise the privileges of such ownership—has built-in financial incentives designed to maximize profits at any cost (including costs inflicted on others and on the environment) and maximize financial return to shareholders. Those who own privately owned corporations have more freedom to maneuver; nevertheless, such freedom is only available to the owners and/or top managers themselves, who may use their power for the public good but are free not to do so.

This concentration of economic power at the top influences the social sphere at all levels. Most candidates for elected officer are dependent on their donations in order to be elected, and when elected, they will, in turn, do their donors’ bidding while part of the government. Non-profits are dependent on these donors’ largesse in order to continue to exist and thrive. As such, donors have an enormous impact on social policy which becomes more of a reflection of the donors’ biases than an actual instrument of public good. Non-profits who focus on the latter do so at the risk of being underfunded and they often have minimal impact. Even cooperatives, who theoretically operate at their members’ behest, are capable of developing classes of technocratic managers indifferent to the needs of those whom they are supposed to serve. The lust for power and status seems to be embedded in our human DNA.

This power structure that exists in what most people still call democracy, remains unaccountable to those who elect them or who buy their products. The citizens are then often confronted with faceless bureaucracies that show indifference to their needs, or law enforcement that exerts its will and even terrorizes and kills with impunity. This impersonal, impenetrable wall is then given a human face by the mass media, which cultivate public personalities that become the smiling face of this machine. This human face creates an illusion of popular control, while untold numbers of abuses that happen behind the scenes occur. Women, people of color, religious minorities and other non-conformists often bear the brunt of these abuses, and have done so since long before the founding of the republic. Outside the republic, this machine has trained killers that wreak havoc and misery on millions of people in a number of nations overseas. While there are a handful of brave, religiously-inspired people who make small differences in their resistance to this machine, religions have often twisted the teachings of their founders to suit the agenda of this machine, making Karl Marx’s remark “religion is opium” to be self-evident.

This system, however, can crash down due to a number of internal weaknesses. The chief reason is that this system has become overly dependent on increasingly scarce fossil-fuel energy to power itself. No combination of alternative energy sources exists that can even come close to the efficiencies of fossil fuels—even as those efficiencies have been rapidly decreasing. A return to more primitive technologies characteristic of the early Industrial Revolution and before is inevitable. The future is a big question mark.

In many ways, it almost doesn’t matter when this collapse happens because the future is now. We can shape it by turning to those around us, those in our neighborhoods, towns, villages and cities, to create community self-sufficiency and resilience, and return real human faces to that which governs our daily lives. Mass communication and propaganda is inherently weaker than the relationships between family, friends and neighbors. Neighbors, friends and local businesses can cultivate a local-based economy and society with locally-based solutions to local problems. The tentacles of the machine can and do, of course, interfere with such efforts and deprive people of resources and some communities of the ability to forge an independent course. Sometimes the communities that have been the most deprived of resources are able to do the best job in reaching out to one another. Doing the best we can to help our community, and learning from our own efforts and from neighboring communities can help us resist this machine and make it increasingly irrelevant in our lives.

And when it crumbles, as it inevitably will, the infrastructure we create for ourselves will be in place to continue to sustain us, physically, emotionally and spiritually as we transition to a post-technological society. We still have a long way to go in order to become a mature human race, and the transition will give us the opportunity to rediscover our humanity, learn from our mistakes, and grow spiritually as a whole.

understanding knowledge, reason, science and spirituality

source of knowledge and science

ThorstenF / Pixabay

How do we know what we know? Is it handed to us on stone tablets or is it something that we discover, with our understanding of the discoveries changing with each new discovery? It is important when talking about knowledge to distinguish what inductive and deductive reasoning are and are not. This is important because there has often been a false dichotomy between science and spirituality that has often been pushed.

Deductive reasoning starts with a generalization, premise or hypothesis considered to be true and then applies the generalization to a certain instance to determine if the the specific instance is true. One example is this: “Premise 1: All planets in the Solar system rotate around the Sun. Premise 2: Earth is a planet. Inference: Therefore Earth rotates around the sun.”

But deductive reasoning is also used to test whether a premise or hypotheses is true. For example. “Premise 1: All fruits are red. Premise 2: Oranges are fruits. Inference: Therefore Premise 1 is false—not all fruits are red.”

Inductive reasoning starts with the observation of specific phenomena and draws from them a particular conclusion. For example: “Earth is a planet in our solar system and revolves around the Sun. Mars is a planet in our solar system and revolves around the Sun. Saturn is a planet in our solar system and revolves around the Sun. Therefore, all planets in our solar system revolve around the sun.”

There is less certainty to this than there is there would be if the premise was already known to be true. The validity of the conclusion would only be true until a planet in the solar system is discovered that doesn’t revolve around the sun. No such planet has been found yet, but for all we know, it could happen. If it were to happen, we would either determine the conclusion to not be true in all cases, or perhaps we would find other reasons to classify the object as something other than a planet.

Inductive reasoning deals with uncertainty, but it is from those uncertainties that new hypotheses could be tested through deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning opens the door to new possibilities never before considered, and it is through the proper use of both inductive and deductive reasoning that we have been able to technologically advance as a society up until this point.

It needs to be pointed out, however, that personal or institutional bias can warp both inductive and deductive reasoning.

For instance, what is often referred to as “deductive Biblical reasoning” starts with a premise that not everybody agrees with. Biblical deductive reasoning starts with the assumption that everything in the Christian Bible is true and is of the highest authority, an authority higher than reason itself. These are not my words, but words from a Christian writer. Some of the statements say all we need to know about this line of thinking. Examples include “Deduction from the Bible results in absolute certainty.” “Some believe that we can prove the Bible is true with logic. This is an unbiblical rationalism which places the authority of reason above the Bible. In order to prove the Bible, we would need propositions of higher authority than the Bible which is impossible by definition.” (emphasis is mine)

Impossible? Okay. Which Bible? The New Testament wasn’t assembled until three centuries after the first scripts were written. And until the invention of the printing press in the Middle Ages, the Bible had to be hand-copied. Plus, in the last century or so, tens of thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament have been recovered, dating back centuries, and researchers have found that later copies of the New Testament differ significantly from earlier copies. Among these manuscripts found, there are instances where scribes added things to the Bible that weren’t previously there. For example, Pentecostal Christians cite Mark chapter 16, verses 17-18 which claims that believers in Jesus will have extraordinary powers. But earlier manuscripts of the New Testament stopped at chapter 8 of the book of Mark.

Nevertheless, according to Christians who take the Bible literally, all scribes were inspired by God, and thus the changes found in later versions were also inspired. Note that this statement is also a form of deductive reasoning from the premise that Bible is the highest authority.

This effort to promote a type of “science” that has the Christian Bible as its highest authority has created division within American society. It has caused a reaction that itself is sometimes misguided and manipulated. One example is how the biotech giant Monsanto deliberately tried to position itself in opposition to climate change deniers, and insinuated that if people don’t believe in Monsanto’s take on genetic engineering, then they must not believe in climate change either and are as “anti-science” as the aforementioned Christian Bible literalists. This tactic has fooled some liberal-minded people, but as this article from Organic Consumers Association points out  not all claims of scientific proof are scientifically valid.

As a former graduate student, I can testify that there is a lot of biased pseudoscience that get published in the most prestigious academic journals. After all, just as some Christians want to uphold the Bible as the highest authority, there are no shortage of scientists wanting to fend of challenges to theories they thought they had proven. Modern science isn’t immune to ego and politics. Unfortunately, such ego and politics only undermines science as a whole, and bolsters the opinions of those who believe that knowledge is, in fact, handed to us from divine authorities.

For the scientific method to be upheld we must accept that any premise can potentially be disproven and we must be willing to adjust our sense of reality in the wake of new evidence. Understanding the scientific method and understanding what makes something valid or not valid is something everyone should know. The potential for bias needs to be taken into account and should be an impetus for holding a scientific study to greater scrutiny. Most modern journalists (and their editors) either don’t even understand this or don’t care. As such, we must rely upon our own scrutiny, not upon the published word.

In my honest view, inductive and deductive reasoning don’t make the Universe any less spiritual or magical than it actually is. Some of the most spiritual people in the world are scientists. Having examined closely the fruits of creation, they become more filled with awe and wonder rather than existential materialists. There are without a doubt aspects of the Universe that exist today that we have yet to understand, perhaps entirely different dimensions of reality we have yet to discover.

One of the greatest mysteries of science is something that we encounter every waking moment of every day. That mystery is our own consciousness and self-awareness. We know it exists, but we have yet to fully understand its origin or source.

the holiday season 2018

jill111 / Pixabay

This is a time of year that many people around the world refer to as “The Holiday Season.” In the view of most Western Christians, it is a time when Christmas is celebrated as well as the American Thanksgiving and the Gregorian New Year. I, however, have a slightly different definition of just what consists of the holiday season.

Fundamentally, much of the holiday season is shaped by the period of time around the December Solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the day characterized by the longest night and the shortest days, and the point from which the days begin to grow longer. It is the time after which the last of the fall harvest is collected. In most agricultural societies, it is the time with the least amount of work and the most amount of time for reflecting. It is a time that would naturally lend itself towards spiritual matters.

Most Christians agree that Jesus was not born on December 25th.  Many scholars believe that the Catholic Church in the 300s CE declared December 25th to be the day of Jesus’s birth as an effort to compete against popular religions at the time and draw more people to the Christian religion. Many scholars place the date of Jesus’s birth in either the autumn or the spring. Yet, Christmas as celebrated in December has become the cornerstone for both a religious and secular holiday season. Nevertheless, it is a time of year when many religions celebrate important holidays, not just Christianity. It is worth noting that some common themes often emerge when looking at this holiday season.

The nature of the Winter Solstice has an enormous impact on holidays in several different religions. Yule has pre-Christian and Pagan origins, and some form of worship at the time of the Winter Solstice goes back centuries, if not millenia. In Iran, the Winter Solstice is celebrated as Yalda.

The Hindu celebration on January 14 of Makar Sakranti, also known in some parts of India as Lohri or Pangal, is related to the lengthening of the days of the year, despite being three weeks later than the actual December Solstice. It the celebration of the passing of the sun into Capricorn (according to Vedic astrology—Western astrology would date this at Winter Solstice.) Westerners would find familiar some of the themes of this holiday including dedication to the sun and a time for reconciliation between enemies.

The Hawaii-based Himalayan Foundation, publishers of Hinduism Today, saw a need to have a time for Western practitioners of Hinduism to celebrate during the Western holiday season. They decided to institute the holiday of Pancha Ganapti, a five day holiday festival which celebrates the different aspects of the god Ganesha.

Some African-Americans have also sought to redefine the American holiday season for themselves out the need for a spiritual holiday that would reflect their own history, culture and heritage. Kwanzaa was developed as a result. While not tied with a specific religion or spiritual leader.

Other spiritual events and leaders are commemorated during this time as well. Zoroastrians celebrate the passing of their founder Zarathrusta on December 26th. (Historically, many cultures put as high of an emphasis on the death of religious figures as the date of their birth, as evidenced by the fact that Easter was celebrated before Christmas in the Christian faith.) The Buddhists celebrate Bodhi day on December 8th, the day they believe Gautama Buddha reached enlightenment. Sikhs celebrate the birth of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib on January 5. He lived from 1666-1708 CE, and was the tenth and last human Sikh Guru. He was very influential in the religion’s development. At his death, he declared that the collection of holy Sikh scripture known as the Granth replace him as the Guru for all Sikhs.

Many Jews living in Christian dominated countries have chosen to give greater emphasis on the Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah, which occurs between early and late December. Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabean revolt against the Selucid Empire between 167-160 BCE. The successful revolt allowed Jews to practice their religion once again after not being allowed to under the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV, and they were able to rededicate the Second Temple.

Finally, it must be noted that the Islamic calendar may or may not have important holidays during this season. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar whose months are 29 or 30 days and whose years are 354 or 355 days long. Because of the difference in the length of the year between the Islamic calendar and solar calendars like the Gregorian, the dates that Islamic holidays fall will change each year. The “Birth of the Prophet” in Islam fell on December 1 of this year.

The richness of the holiday season combined with the spiritual symbolism of reflection and renewal are among the reasons why I chose the December Solstice as the first day of the year for the Earth Epic Calendar. Its proximity to the beginning of the year to the most widely used calendar in the world is another reason—it makes for an easier transition. But the principal reason I created this calendar is to reflect that incredible amount of gain in our understanding of the world, the Earth and our place within it. I wanted to liberate the calendar from religion, especially when religions date their calendars from the time of their own founding. Religions draw a line between the few hundred or thousand years since their founding and the billions of years prior to that time. I have always known in my heart that such a line was always artificial, and a distortion of our place and heritage on Earth. Only time and God/The Universe will determine whether others choose to pick up on this calendar or not.

Regardless of whether you might choose to take this calendar seriously or not, I truly hope you take advantage of this precious time of year to tune in with this period of reflection, renewal and celebration, in whatever form it may take.

Jerusalem capital dispute and the perversion of religion

Jerusalem capital

rquevenco / Pixabay

President Trump recently declared that he recognizes Israel’s claim of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It has religious fingerprints all over this. The Jerusalem capital dispute is part of an ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, both of whom consider all or part of Jerusalem to be the capital of their respective nations. What makes this worse is the fact that many people who call themselves Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe Jerusalem to be the Holy Land in their respective religions. (In Islam, Jerusalem is secondary in importance to Mecca, but the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque is where Muslims believe the Angel Gabriel took Muhammad on a journey to heaven, and as such, is the third holiest site in Islam as well as the source of a very important holiday.)

Jerusalem has been under the control of many different nations over the millenia, and at various points in history, the city was held by Jews, Christians, Muslims and others. Just look how often Jerusalem has changed hands.

  • Between 13th-11th century BCE–Captured by Jews under the leadership of King David. Both he and Solomon ruled there and Solomon built the original Holy Temple.
  • 722 BCE–The Assyrians conquered Israel and Jerusalem.
  • 586 BCE–The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.
  • 333 BCE –Alexander the Great conquered the region
  • 198 BCE—Conquered by the Selucid Empire (which stretched from Greece to the Middle East)
  • 168 BCE–The Maccabean Revolt established the Hasmonean Kingdom,
  • 63 BCE–The Hasmonean Kingdom fell to Roman rule
  • 70 CE–A Jewish revolt against the Romans failed– resulting in the Roman destruction of the Second Temple and caused the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora.
  • 476 CE–After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman (later Byzantine) Empire ruled the region, although Jerusalem sometimes changed hands between the Byzantine and Persian Empires.
  • 638 CE– Arab/Muslim armies conquered Jerusalem. They permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem.
  • 1099 CE–Christian Crusaders conquered Jerusalem
  • 1187 CE–Jerusalem was retaken by a Sunni Islam dynasty, permitting Jews and Muslims to return to the city.
  • 229-1244 CE –Jerusalem was peacefully transferred to Holy Roman Empire rule from.
  • 1244 CE–the city was conquered by the Khwarazmian Tatars, who expelled almost all of the Jews and Christians.
  • 1250 CE–The Mamluk Sultanate based out of Cairo ruled Jerusalem.
  • 1517 CE–the city was conquered by the Ottoman Turks,
  • 1917–The crumbled Ottoman Empire lost control of Jerusalem, at which time Jerusalem fell under the administration of the British Empire.
  • 1947–The British administration expired in, at which time the United Nations elected to establish Jerusalem as a special city under international rule as part of the Israel-Palestine partition of Palestine
  • 1948—UN mandate regarding Jerusalem was never implemented because of the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948, in which Israeli declared its independence and declared Jerusalem to be its capital. The terms of peace between Israel and Jordan established Israeli control of West Jerusalem whereas Jordan assumed control of east Jerusalem, where the Old City was located.
  • 1967– In the Six Day War of, Israel captured all of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

No nation in the world has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel since 1948, because all nations outside of Israel wanted the status of Jerusalem to be decided in a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. That continued until President Donald Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6, 2017, becoming the first nation outside of Israel to do so.

This insistence on Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is rooted in two religious movements—one among many Jews, and one among many Christians. Zionism was a movement among Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries that insisted that the Jews should have a state in the original Holy Land which they believed to be land promised to them by God in ancient times. The Hebrew Bible, according to many believers, prophesies that God will re-establish state of Israel, reestablish the Messiah from the House of David, and that all nations will recognize the Jewish God as the one God for the world.

The movement encouraged Jews to relocate to Palestine. But many Zionists have insisted on the entire ancient land of Israel, which was supposedly the Promised Land God promised to the Jews, and which includes traditionally Palestinian territory. The rest of the world has viewed this as unrealistic because most of the world believes that peace in the Middle East is dependent on the status of Jerusalem being resolved peacefully in a future Israeli-Palestinian treaty.

But to this day, Israelis have repeatedly encroached on what was previously Palestinian territory through the settlement movement. This movement has Israelis claiming certain plots of land as Israeli settlements, which results in Israelis forcibly kicking out Palestinians from their homes.

Zionism had a lot of support among non-Jews out of sympathy for the fact that the Jews were stateless and dealing with growing anti-Semitism, which culminated in the Holocaust. But many fundamentalist Christians have supported the Zionist movement for their own reasons. Based on the Book of Revelations, these people believe we are living in the End Times, during which point Jesus will return to Jerusalem to usher in a time of peace. Jews are waiting for the Messiah, while evangelical Christians are waiting for the return of Jesus. Christians believe that upon the arrival of Jesus, Jews will be forced to either convert to Christianity or face God’s harsh judgment.

Islam also believes in its own Day of Judgment. Islam has traditionally been tolerant of Christianity and Judaism, seeing them as brothers. However, there are multiple sects in Islam that have developed a much more intolerant version of Islam, and they are influential within Islam the same way the fundamentalist movement is influential within Christianity.

While I recognize Israel’s right to exist, the continued insistence by some Zionists for more Palestinian land is, in my view, religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is an ugly, intolerant, warlike outgrowth from what had originally been peaceful religions—including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. To be frank, fundamentalism is not, in the purest sense Jewish, Christian or Muslim, but instead are cancers upon these religions. Doctrines that insist that certain lands are promised to a certain people are nothing but a complete perversion of religion. What makes this a perversion is that the teachings of love are harmony are pushed aside for prophecy and human views of “God’s will.”

Let’s take, for example, the Ten Commandments which are revered by both Jews and Christians. Much of what is happening in Israel right now is in direct violation of the Sixth, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Commandments.

  • Sixth Commandment: “You shall not murder.”
  • Eighth Commandment; “You shall not steal.”
  • Ninth Commandment:  “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
  • Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Israeli settlements and other territorial claims are a direct violation of the Eighth and Tenth Commandments—against stealing and coveting a neighbor’s property. And the Sixth and Ninth commandment have been repeatedly violated by members of Judaism, Christianity and Islam over the centuries, justifying slaughter in the name of claiming what they believe God gave to them, while slandering each other’s religions.

For all I know, this type of fundamentalism might be a means by which God tests followers of all religions. Perhaps this test asks, “Do you believe in the most important teachings of your religion?”

The leap of logic made by Christian fundamentalists regarding President Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol is nothing short of bizarre. This declaration has angered Muslims worldwide, as well as Palestinian Christians–about whom fundamentalist Christians often conveniently forget. Yet these fundamentalist Christians believe that Jewish control of Jerusalem will lead to peace. How so, when the move is making people angry? Their reasoning is that Jesus’s second coming will establish one thousand years of peace, and making Jerusalem the capital of Israel will hasten Jesus Christ’s return. Yes, people really believe this.

Tossed out the window are basic tenets of human interaction, reciprocity and the Golden Rule. Is it more spiritual for us as human beings to be peacemakers, or is it more spiritual to commit aggression on behalf of one’s religion based on the belief that God or a messiah will sort things out?

This is a classic example of the point I raised in a previous post of how spiritual narrative eclipses our abilities to deal with reality. The reality is that true wickedness comes from the destruction we bring upon the earth and each other. These are the most urgent problems that need to be solved, and yet we are caught in this narrative of non-reality that keeps people from looking at the earth around them and seeing what needs to be done. If these fundamentalists want to fight each other in a battle of Armageddon, it would be far better if they move their armageddon to another planet, leave innocent bystanders alone and leave the rest of us to create a more just world.

During trying times, it is quite understandable that people will turn to narratives that try to make sense of this world. However, to rely on narratives not visible to the naked eye is a lot like suffering from great thirst and praying for water when a tap providing clean water is right next to them.