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 spirit?

monika pudlovskytė, “Forest Spirit”. License:

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.”

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.

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.

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.

thanksgiving, black friday, and the start of the perverted holiday season

thanksgiving, black friday madness

“Shopping Christmas Presents” taken by Andreas Nilsson

If you look objectively at the evolution of what is referred to as the “holiday season” in the United States, especially with Thanksgiving and Black Friday, you’ll have to admit that some rather strange and even contradictory traditions have come into place over the years.

First, let’s look at the holiday of Thanksgiving itself. It evolved from harvest festivals held in Great Britain, and was supposed to have been based on the first Thanksgiving celebration held in the early 1600s in the American colonies—held either in New England or Virginia. The New England celebration was purportedly attended by many Native Americans, and people celebrate what was supposedly a peaceful and amicable relationship between the colonists and the First Nations people.

Native Americans look upon this celebration as a time of mourning. For this, like the landing of Columbus in the Americas in 1492, was a prelude to centuries of genocide in the Americas. Even today, Native Americans suffer from poverty, oppression, and displacement, and struggle to hold on to cultural traditions that once united people within the various First Nations.

But the Thanksgiving as celebrated by most Americans literally whitewashes this history. It reinforces an image of benign character and generosity of European-born Americans that obfuscates the bloodshed they inflicted on millions of First Nations people. For such whitewashing to become synonymous with the start of the Christian holiday season is strange. Certainly it is not in keeping with what Christ taught.

But Black Friday is even stranger. Black Friday first got its name in the 1950s because of workers calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving, and also in response to the traffic on this busy shopping day. The phrase gained popularity in the 1980s. While the modifier “Black” prior to any day usually described a calamity, retailers in the 80s tried to redefine it by sharing the observation that most retailers operated at a financial loss for most of the year (in the red), but starting the day after Thanksgiving they would start making a profit (in the black). President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the Thanksgiving holiday from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday in November in order to allow retailers to have a longer Christmas season.

But Black Friday as it exists today is the culmination of a gift exchange tradition gone mad. The benign act of gift-giving has become perverted into a mad dash of materialism, with gift-giving eclipsing almost all other aspects of Christmas. This mad dash has literally caused injuries and deaths in the United States. In 2008, shoppers pushing to get into a Walmart at its opening trampled a worker to death and injured several other employees and bystanders. Literally hundreds of people stepped on or around this worker, and made it difficult for fellow employees to get to the worker to help him. Even when police and emergency service people arrived, they also had great difficulty getting to the worker, as crowds single-mindedly continued to stream into the store. A website has been keeping a tally of deaths and injuries in the U.S.

Self-described Christians complain about a “war on Christmas” because it has become customary to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” to take into account the fact that not everyone celebrates Christmas. These “war on Christmas” zealots would likely be offended if a Pagan came up to them in May and wished them a happy Beltaine. But these so-called Christians cannot see far enough to the end of their noses to realize that many non-Christians would be justifiably offended if Christmas was pushed on them. Such alleged Christians don’t want to see this because they believe that acknowledging the legitimacy of any religion besides Christianity is itself an attack on Christians. Yet these same people don’t complain about Black Friday—they just complain if the Walmart store in which people are being trampled has a sign saying “Happy Holidays.”

It is clear that the holiday season has been tainted by Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and as such, it would make sense to observe these days differently from the way they are celebrated now. Many Native American tribes observe the day as a “National Day of Mourning.” They also have suggestions for those wanting to observe the day in this way.

As for Black Friday, an alternative called “Buy Nothing Day” evolved in Vancouver, Canada in 1992. The campaign has been promoted by and is now celebrated in 60 countries. It advocates literally buying nothing on Black Friday as a protest against the rampant materialism of our overconsumptive society and advocating a simpler and more people-connected way of living. People can mark the day by staying home with friends and family, going out and visiting nature, giving away one’s excess possessions to thrift stores or the needy, or participating in protests against the destructiveness of the modern consumerist lifestyle. Many people participating in Buy Nothing Day see this as a means of restoring the true spirit of Christmas and the holiday season in general—a time of reflection, and a time of connection with others.

Given that the Western materialistic consumer lifestyle is causing major destruction on this planet, Buy Nothing Day is an important observation to make. It can also be an important component of a truly spiritual holiday season, regardless of one’s religion.

The Earth Epic Calendar sets the change of the year at the time of the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere), which currently is around December 21. Pagans celebrate the Winter Solstice, or Yule, at the same time. Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8 to mark the day when Buddha reached enlightenment. Hindus in the United States created Pancha Ganapati, a five day festival that serves as a Hindu alternative to Christmas. (The festival is celebrated in honor of the Hindu deity Ganesha.) Jews celebrates Hanukkah sometime between late November and early January.

It makes sense to look at the holidays as a time of reflection, as it is often after the last harvest when there is little work to do in the fields in the Northern Hemisphere. The day of the Winter Solstice has the shortest day and the longest night. It is an excellent time to reflect on the past year and think about the coming year, regardless of one’s religion. The commercialism that has taken over much of the spirit of these holidays is temporary, and will eventually burn out as resource depletion puts the brake on this consumerist culture. These days can truly be silent nights and holy nights if we allow them to be.

practical ways to connect spiritually without religion

Pexels / Pixabay

We engage in spiritual practice to remind ourselves of and connect ourselves with our higher selves, that which we consider to be greater than ourselves, and/or the source of truth, life, beauty and wonder.  What this spiritual practice would look like depends on the individual. There are many practical ways to connect spiritually without religion.

The Baha’i Faith, for example, requires its followers to offer prayers a certain number of times per day. It offers some flexibility on the number of prayers, but followers must select the prayers from one prayer book. Those who personally feel moved by the prayers will benefit, but those whose hearts are not stirred by those words—however beautiful they might be—should not be judged or criticized. Everyone has had different life experiences and it should not be surprising that the same things won’t necessarily move everyone’s heart.

It is good for us to keep the Divine in our hearts as often as possible, and the ways to do so vary as much as there are people on the Earth. For those who haven’t succeeded in keeping the Divine in their heart at all times, below is a list of ways that some people keep the divine in their hearts, and perhaps It may even stimulate further ideas. This is definitely not an exhaustive list.

  • Meditate by emptying your mind of all thought

  • Meditate by listening to your breathing

  • Meditate by maintaining complete awareness of the world around you. Notice every detail from the largest to the smallest.

  • Go out into nature and notice everything around you. Close your eyes and hear everything around you.

  • Prayer

  • Lighting a candle and staring at the flame

  • Watching the sunrise or sunset

  • Watching the stars at night—especially when the stars are not obscured by city lights

  • Closely observing the behaviors of a pet or a loved one

  • Watching children play

  • Find the quietest place possible and enjoy its silence

  • Listening to beautiful music

  • Reading poetry

  • Reading books on spirituality or religions

  • Wearing something as a symbol of your spirituality

  • Creating an altar with symbols of things that are deeply meaningful to you

  • Putting up art in your living space that inspires you spiritually

  • Playing music that inspires you spiritually

spirituality without religion in the future

geralt / Pixabay

Many people cannot relate to the spiritual practices of any current religion.  They certainly should not be expected to. Many people long for a connection with the Divine but do not necessarily feel it with the religions present in their time and geographical area. It is understandable that one might not feel that connection. Some people affiliate with a religion since it seems to be the easiest way to associate with the Divine. But for a lot of people such affiliations ultimately feel empty.  As such, they seek a meaningful spirituality without religion.

So how can the spiritual practitioner wanting feel a connection with the Divine do so without religion? To understand that, its important to understand why we yearn for spiritual connection.

One important aspect of spirituality is to feel the connection with something greater than ourselves. It’s easy to feel disempowered by the institutions that dominate our current lives. But a photograph of the Earth from space, a beautiful sunset, or a spectacular view of the stars at night (untainted by urban light pollution) can help people understand that there is a bigger picture that we belong to. Being able to see this bigger picture gives us a greater sense of purpose, as well as clarity as to why we are here.

Another purpose of spirituality is to contribute to an ethical framework from the broader big picture perspective. This ethical guidance also comes from realizing that we are part of a whole much greater than ourselves. This bigger picture perspective helps us see the impacts of our actions more clearly.

A third important purpose of spirituality is to help us see the beauty of the present moment, even if at first glance it might seem dark, stark, or even a living hell. Being able to see the beauty of the present moment and have gratitude for it, even when it is difficult, can help with one’s sense of purpose and bring joy and celebration to places where it might not have been perceived as possible before.

In the absence of religion telling you what to think, it is important to turn within and think about what it means to be in contact with the Divine, what one’s own ethical framework would look like and how to connect with the beauty of the present moment.  Not relying on an institution to guide us means that we can be open to the quieter whispers that can beckon us from our surroundings, and new messages from unexpected sources.  Practical suggestions for connecting with the Divine can be found in the next blog post.

All these things contribute to a life of purpose. Each of us is here for a reason, though we might not be cognizant of what that reason is. Life can often show us clear signs, but we also need to be open to “course corrections” via other clear signs that might contradict what we had previously thought was our purpose.

religion and spirituality in the future

TechLine / Pixabay

As the world transitions to a new period that will likely be without the modern conveniences that have defined this era, what should religion and spirituality in the future look like?

An important difference between religion and spirituality as practiced nowadays is that many, if not most religions are now providing narratives that have become alternative realities.  People have been structuring their lives around these alternative realities.  This might not have been true of these religions when they were new, and even today, it’s not true of many people following these religions. But centuries of human imperfection—including the desire to seek power over others—have turned these religions into alternative realities around which people structure their lives.

These alternative reality narratives seek to explain why they believe that well-being of the world depends on as many people converting to their religion as possible, as if this was the will of God and the Universe. Often, the effort to grow the the religion has eclipsed the spiritual lessons to be garnered from the writings of the religion, or have replaced the religion altogether.

Now and in the coming ages, people should feel free to practice whatever religion that enables them to feel the closest to the Divine, and–for the most part–in whatever way they choose. If people find comfort and derive strength from the writings and practices of their religion, and help them feel closer to the Divine, then generally, it is good for them to stick to whatever gives them strength and inspiration.

But the religious inspiration needs to be reality-based. The practice of the religion needs to inspire people to connect the Divine as part of their efforts to address the challenges of the present, instead of an alternative reality. If, instead, the religion casts the present moment in a narrative that changes the present reality and the challenges that we must respond to, then religion can only serve to undermine humanity’s progress.

The question, “What would Jesus do in this situation today?”–or Muhammad, Buddha, or others—is certainly appropriate, given that these prophets offered a lot of valuable guidance as to how to respond to the challenges of their respective times,. Much of what they did and said in their time on Earth is relevant to many (but not all) of the challenges we face today. However, we must always be asking ourselves if our answer to that question is truly inspired by the Divine or by our own prejudices.

are you kind?

Aleksandr1982 / Pixabay

These are strange times.  These are scary times.  This is a time when anything can happen and a lot of it is not pretty.  Things are going to change rapidly and drastically, and we won’t always know where the storm will strike next or how violent that round of the storm will be.  Our world is turning upside down and people will be running about and reacting to the moment. In such moments, when people are tested to their limits, their reaction may not be what you want it to be.  The test for all of us during those moments is really going to be the answer to this simple question:  Are you kind?

It’s easy to lash out and throw negativity at others when you are being bombarded with negativity yourself.  But you must not.  If you remember anything else you ever read anywhere, remember these things:

It is the only thing that will get us through these trying times.
It is the only thing that will get us through these trying times.
It is the only thing that will get us through these trying times.
And just in case I haven’t emphasized it enough, it is the only thing that will get us through these trying times.

Tune in with whatever can help you remember that.  One thing that works for me is listening to some Grateful Dead. Because there ain’t no time to hate. Barely time to wait. We’ve some things to talk about. Here, beside the rising tide…