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Late Night Thoughts (Reposted from February 20, 2011)

There are few noises at this hour.   A car passes in the distance.  The house creaks.  The furnace starts.  I have not heard a dog bark in hours.

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…”It is really annoying when people, particularly those in positions of power, can’t even be bothered to take the trouble to lie well.” — Yves Smith.

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…To oppress a mother is to oppress a democracy, for it is mothers who teach the value of democracy to their children.

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…It seems what’s happening in Wisconsin is part of the class war in America that’s been going on for sometime now.  As Warren Buffett pointed out, the war was begun by members of his class, and his class is winning it.

Unfortunately, if rich billionaires like the Koch brothers win the Wisconsin round in the class war, that means they will have managed to break the Wisconsin public service unions.  And if they manage to do that, then the Democratic party will be left as nothing more than a paper man in that state.

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…The other day, I noticed an advertisement that claimed the Bible was, of all the world’s wisdom literature, the most profound.  Now, I’ve heard that claim made before in various ways and places.  But, I confess, I have never understood why anyone would make that claim.

As wisdom literature, the Bible seems to have been often surpassed. And not just by many of the ancient Greek, Roman, Indian, or Chinese authors.  But also by more modern authors.

To give some of the Biblical authors credit, though, their concern for social, political, and economic justice was remarkable for their time, and — thankfully — very influential on the West.

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…There seems to be a sense in which almost all complex, hierarchical societies — even going as far back as to the origin of complex, hierarchical societies some 5,500 years ago — have been scams.   Moreover, it’s been the same scam perpetrated again and again.  And, in essence, that scam has been to fool the masses into believing the society’s elites have the backing of a supernatural order.

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…There are many people in this god-drunk town who cast their blurry vision on science and declare that it, too, is a religion.  The last drunk to tell me that declared, as his reasoning, “Religions are based on beliefs. Science is based on beliefs. Therefore, science is a religion.”

By precisely the same “logic”, “Cats are furry.  Dogs are furry.  Therefore, dogs are cats.”

But, even if his reasoning was logically valid — which it is not, unless dogs are cats — what would not then become a religion?  Indeed, even one’s overwhelming desire to take a shower after hearing him espouse his drunken  “logic” would, according to his drunken  “logic”,  become a religious act.

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Just now, a motorcycle started up, then sped off.  In the day, it would be just another cycle.  But in the night, it seems a story in itself.

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…Humans are natural born cartographers.  We make maps of the world, which we call “beliefs”.   It’s what our species does.

Sometimes, our maps are more or less accurate.  And sometimes, they are fantasy maps, like the ones we made as children to show where a pirate’s treasure lay buried in our backyard.

The accuracy of our maps often matters less to us than the fact they are ours.  Because, for most of us, our maps are something we think of as us.

Now, when we fall in love, she sooner or later challenges our maps…

And, if our love survives those challenges, there’s a chance that our love is true.

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…Tonight, I came across in a faded notebook a line from a poem I once wrote to a woman: “No one has made me wish / To face with grace the challenge / of her morning breath like you, Joelle.”   And consequently, reading that line, I had a sudden and abrupt realization of precisely how it is that I have managed all these years to remain celibate despite the occasional woman who’s now and then been interested enough in me to even read my poems.

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…Once I saw a Seven-Eleven that was closed.  Locked up and abandoned.

Since everything inside the impossibly dark store windows was in place and intact, I eventually concluded it must be a clerk who didn’t show up for work.  But I at first thought: “Not even a president’s death can close a Seven-Eleven. It must be something.  It must be big.”

Perhaps there is inside all of us a thing — a strange, hard thing — that now and then longs for an event so big it will close even the world’s Seven-Elevens.

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…When I met Becky she was in her 30s and would now and then do something completely spontaneous: Always some little thing, but it was an attractive quality.   Even in a city, birds from a branch put to air like her.  So, though they live like the rest of us amongst the concrete and noise, you can see how those birds are beyond the artificial world we have created for them — how they are still native to the earth and sky.  Some people are like that.

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…So far, I have found only three things with power to redeem the human condition: Love, work, and play.  And of those three, love is the greatest.

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…Brett called to invite me to lunch the other day  (Brett was 15 the year we first met at the coffee shop.  I was perhaps 40 or 42).   So, we met at a tavern where the beer is watery, but the food is good, and I enjoyed talking with him so much the time slipped past on rabbit’s feet.

At some point in the afternoon, after we had exhausted half a dozen topics, Brett said he suspected the reason quite a few kids had hung out with me years ago at the coffee shop was because I was for the most part nonjudgmental.   So I told him that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard from a fellow human, if indeed he was actually human. So, I thanked him for confirming a suspicion I’d had.  Then, being an insufferable old fart, I told him a story he’d already heard at least twice from me, and one he probably didn’t want to hear again.

After we had parted for the evening, I reflected on the fact that Brett had certainly been one of the most intelligent people at the coffee shop, and very likely one of the wisest.  Yet, it had never been any one thing that led me to those conclusions.  Like a stream of gold dust, Brett is someone who stands out from the crowd not for any one big thing, but for the cumulative impression made on you by a thousand glittering details.

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…My second wife had a taste for dresses by Ungaro.  Is Ungaro still around?  That Italian knew how to make a woman wearing silk look like a nude.

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…This night, for the first time in ages, I recall once a woman and I spent nearly two years laughing together.  No, she was not my wife, but a co-worker.  We worked together in the evenings, and we’d spend every moment we could with each other.  Then, when I moved on to a day job, I still dropped by her workplace in the evenings to laugh with her.

One day, I invited her out to a movie.  But by the time she got to my place, it was too late to catch a show.  At a loss for much else to do, I tried nibbling on her ear.  Consequently, two years of laughing together led to her having three explosive orgasms: The best in her life, she told me.  After that, you might think she’d be happy.

Yet, somehow, by the next day, she had translated everything — all of it — into guilt and regret.  “You must think I’m a slut”, she said, “because I slept with you on our first date.”

“No, I feel as if I’ve been courting you for two years”, I said, “Besides I’m in love.”

“Even if you don’t think I’m a slut”, she said, “When I saw you this evening, it made me think of myself as a slut, and then my heart sank to the floor.  I can’t see you again.”  And she meant it.

It was much later I realized that, despite our rapport, only one of us had been in love.

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It is almost dawn.

Belief, Communication, Cultural Traits, Deity, God, God(s), Ideas, Language, Mysticism, Quotes, Religion, Transformative Experience

Was the Concept of God an Error in Translation?

“The concept of ‘god’ was originally an error in translation committed when some ancient sage tried to reduce the mystical experience to words.”

Or, alternatively…

“The concept of ‘god’ was originally an error in translation committed when some ancient sage tried to reduce an experience of the weirdness to words.”

Paul Sunstone

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How Mom Raised Me to Think For Myself About Religion

(About a 9 minute read)

We used gold star stickers in Sunday School. You licked them and stuck them to you. I always wanted my teacher to lick them — because I would over-lick them — and I always wanted her to stick them to my forehead.

It was almost the only good and decent thing I could fathom came of attending Sunday School.

When we three sons would ask Mom why we could not stay home to play on Sunday mornings, she would tell us that “Christianity is your cultural heritage and you should be exposed to it.”

That was mildly confusing because not only did I fail to fully understand what “culture” and “heritage” were, but it also seemed to contradict Mom’s almost scandalously old fashion notion that we were not to make up our minds about religion until we had “reached the age of understanding”.  That is, until we were at least 18 and “preferably 21”.

Continue reading “How Mom Raised Me to Think For Myself About Religion”

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Only a Child Can Believe

(About a 3 minute read)

The next time someone gives you directions, take a moment to notice how you feel about them both before and after you have taken them and discovered for yourself they got you where you wanted to go.

Did your feelings change a little bit?  My own feelings change.  Not much, but still perceptibly change.  Near as I can figure, that’s the difference between my believing that something is true and my accepting that something is true.  It’s the difference between my conscious mind believing something, and my whole mind — including my subconscious — believing something is true.

I have a friend who is in the habit of saying, “I believe you, Paul”.  I have known him for at least a decade, and I have yet to see evidence he has believed me even once about anything!

Continue reading “Only a Child Can Believe”

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About Your “God”, Jeff…

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul discusses how the concept of “god” varies from one religion to another with the focus on Christianity, Judaism, and Taoism.

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THE CRITICS EXCLAIM! “It is absolutely certain that Paul Sunstone will someday come to a rich and full understanding of God.  That is sure to be the day Our Altogether Righteous and Just Lord mercifully condemns Paul Sunstone to being eternally chained to Justin Bieber’s buttocks in the hottest regions of hell. Until that day, his opinions and views of deity cannot possibly rise above the ignorant, thoughtless slime that is his post, ‘About Your Gods’.”  —  Merriweather Sterling, Blogs of the Day, “The Daily Burtie”, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, England, UK.

Continue reading “About Your “God”, Jeff…”

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The Wisdom of Uncertainty

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul zealously offers his opinion that to embrace uncertainty is necessary and key to living a passionate, spirited, and authentic life.

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THE CRITICS ENTHUSE!  Zut! The Grand Fraud American of Blogging once more crucifies our world’s conscience and decency by attempting to undermine all that is holy and sacred about life.  He urges us to reject the certainty of every principle that is certain, reject the certainty of every truth that is a rock. I will not lie about the pig.  He is an outlaw, a criminal, a villain.  It is up to our world to deal justice to Paul Sunstone.  At last, he must be guillotined.  The guillotine must be returned to the public service of our world!”  — Aloyse Leblanc, Le Critique Passionné de Blog, “La Tribune Linville”, Linville, France.

Continue reading “The Wisdom of Uncertainty”

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Willful Stupidity and the Good Reader

(About a 4 minute read)

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

I suspect future historians will now and then speak of us as an “Age of Wonders”.  The wonder of our electronics.  The wonder of our communication technologies.  The wonder of our medical advancements —  especially in the field of mental health.   And so forth.

But sadly, I suspect future historians will also speak of us as an “Age of Willful Stupidity”.

If so, they will doubtlessly say our age began over 100 years ago with the Stupid Bolshevik Revolution in Russia that was soon enough followed by the Rise of Stupid Fascism in Italy.   And the historians are bound to point out that the willful stupidity has continued largely unabated straight through to today’s many Stupid Denial Movements.

I suspect future historians will write whole libraries on that one theme alone — willful stupidity.  And I expect — I actually expect — that somewhere in those libraries there will be a book or article with an insightful footnote saying, “The first casualty of willful stupidity is the art of listening.”

Continue reading “Willful Stupidity and the Good Reader”

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Why We Should Make Our Politicians Speak in Hopi to Us

(About a 2 minute read)

English is not the best language in the world for discussing what is truth.

Back in the old days, folks thought of truth as a beautiful woman.  Let’s suppose for a moment they were right.  Let’s suppose truth is a woman.  If truth is a woman, then English is an awkward, clumsy 14 year old boy trying to seduce a sophisticated and confident 36 year old woman.  There are better languages than English for discussing the nature of truth.

The Hopi are a nation of native Americans living in the Southwestern United States.  If I can now recall what I was taught about the Hopi language in my linguistic anthropology course 40 years ago, the language is significantly more sophisticated than English when it comes to dealing with the concept of truth.

In Hopi, you cannot get away with only saying something is true. The language won’t allow it.  Hopi forces you to state how you know something is true.

The Hopi language recognizes three different ways of knowing something is (or probably is) true.  It forces you to pick one of those ways.  There is, for instance, no equivalent of the English statement, “I know you are home tonight”.  But here — expressed in English — are what you could say in Hopi:

I see (or directly experience) you are home tonight.

I hear (or have learned from another person) you are home tonight.

I reason (on the basis of what I have myself seen, or what I have heard from another person, or on the basis of both) that you are home tonight.

Just imagine how much fun we would have if our politicians, pundits, and preachers were forced to speak to us in Hopi!

Here’s the English:  My friends, it is a simple fact that my opponent in this race for the Governorship is a know pedophile!”

Here’s Hopi #1: “My friends, I have personally seen that my opponent is a pedophile!  Oh, wait! It’s not as it sounds!  I really wasn’t there myself.  Not really. “

Here’s Hopi #2:  “My friends, you should be alarmed!  I have it on good second-hand hearsay that my….Oh wait!  It’s more than hearsay..  Well, I mean stronger than hearsay.  That is, it’s admittedly hearsay, but it’s also stronger than hearsay.  Um…”

Here’s Hopi #3:  “My friends, I’ve added it all up to the best of my thinking ability and…Why are you all laughing?  Friends!  Why is everyone laughing at me?”

English, for all it’s many strengths, does not even come close to encouraging the sort of just and fair skepticism that Hopi does.  Rather in comparison, English seems to be a language that encourages people to quickly swallow things as true, rather than to think about how and whether they are true.

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The Key in the Lock to the Door of Life

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul offers his views about the crucial and key role the pursuit of honesty plays in living a passionate, flourishing, and fulfilling life.

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THE CRITICS HEART’S MELT! “Down at the Hartsel Cafe and Salon last Tuesday morning Stella Bailey and Libby Sommer got into it over coffee in a dispute that turned so fierce at times Hartsel’s most famous local celebrity, Ernest the Moosehead, looked about to fall crashing down from his place of honor on the the North wall above the table reserved on Thursdays for the Liar’s Club.  I reckon no one in the whole of South Park Colorado honestly needs to be told the subject of the deafening uproar between the two normally soft-spoken and genteel ladies was none other than Mr. Wannabe Blogger, Paul “Fool” Sunstone. The ladies were trying to top each other in who could more objectively describe what an insufferable ass Sunstone is.  Libby’s final position was that any one of Sunstone’s blog posts was just about as confused and messy as an elk sucked into a jet aircraft engine firing up on the runway of internet blogging.  Stella snapped back that Sunstone’s post, “The Key in the Lock” transcended even a hamburgered elk for a confused mess, and could only be compared to the confused mess the infamous Fairplay Twister had made of Ivor Plumber’s strikingly original racoon-fur toupee. You’ll recall back in ’04, the Fairplay Twister came out of nowhere to inflict 16.4 million dollars of damage and in the process suck Ivor’s toupee right from his head. Suck it from his head in the very midst of one of his traditional Friday night courtships of Jane Basil, right along with a full half of her bodice. Ivor has ever since said, the memory of Jane’s exposed left bosom was the only thing that could ameliorate his profoundly felt sense of loss in the days ahead.  Jane has been even more vocal on the subject than Ivor. She maintains that, had the tornado taken her maiden aunt’s hand-me-down chastity belt instead of her bodice, she and Ivor would be right shacked up today. Now back to Libby and Stella.  In the coldly objective opinion of this blog critic, not one, but both ladies are right.  Right in the sense that Paul Sunstone forever and eternally tops his inner ass with each and every new post of his.  Sunstone has never taken so much as a single back-step in his relentless effort to destroy internet blogging once and for all.  ‘The Key in the Lock to the Door of Life’ is in no way, shape, or form a back-step.  Sunstone, the Contemptable Juggernaut of Confused Fools, ever remains true to his worthless self.  Sorrowfully yours, Gunning Gus.”  — Gus “Gunning Gus” Johnson, The Blog Critic’s Column, “Leper’s Gulch Gazette”, Leper’s Gulch, Colorado, USA.     Continue reading “The Key in the Lock to the Door of Life”

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A Flock of Sparrows for Majel: “The Walls of All My Boxes are Brown”

A Flock of Sparrows for Majel

(About a 2 minute read)

I’ve come to believe most of my “thinking”
Is nothing much more than exploring
the insides of my boxes.

The boxes my mother, my teachers, my peers,
My friends, my culture, and that old guy
Who lived up on the hill in the Victorian,
Gave me mostly when I was growing up,
Something fun to play around inside of.
Something fun for me to play around inside of.

Continue reading “A Flock of Sparrows for Majel: “The Walls of All My Boxes are Brown””

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What is a Mystical Experience Like?

“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”  ― Zhuangzi, 

SUMMARY: While it is nearly impossible to adequately communicate the content of a mystical experience to a non-mystic who has never had one, somethings perhaps can be said about the experience that might shed some light on it.

(About a 9 minute read)

Suppose you came across a community of people living in the Amazon rain forest who had never before seen — or even heard more than a rumor or two — of people like you or of your culture and civilization.

Further suppose, upon learning their language, you discover it is beautifully suited to expressing the interrelatedness of all things, but there is neither any word for “god” nor any words that can be used to express the concept of god.  In short, the people have no concept of metaphysics at all.

The world, to them, is not much more than what it appears to be, and the closest you can come to telling them about god more or less translates into “Big Hidden Man/Woman”, which makes them wonder whether you’re talking about a transgendered human of inordinate size who hides behind bushes and trees.

Continue reading “What is a Mystical Experience Like?”

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What Do Mystics Mean by “God”?

“Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language.” ― Meister Eckhart

SUMMARY:  Mystics naturally speak of the experience that distinguishes them from other folks using words and terms derived from their individual cultures.  Hence, they typically speak of having experienced “god”, but upon examination, their notions of god often tend to have more in common with other mystics than they do with common cultural notions of god.  Central to virtually all theistic mysticism is the notion that god — or ultimate reality — is an all-encompassing oneness or One, despite any appearances to the contrary.

(About a 10 minute read)

I first became interested in mysticism about 40 years ago.  I was a sophomore at university and seriously concerned with finding an objective basis for values.

At the time, I believed — like many people still do — that unless an objective basis for values could be found, “anything was permissible”.  No evil, however great, could be objectively opposed.  And that frightened me.

Unfortunately, the more I learned, the less there seemed to be any possibility of an objective basis.  But then I came across the writings of various mystics.

Continue reading “What Do Mystics Mean by “God”?”