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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.

Abrahamic Faiths, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Religion, Taoism

Pure Religion

As I see it, none of the world’s major religions are pure.  That is, everyone of them in one way or another serves in practice to obscure the truth as much as to reveal it.  None are unadulterated.

This is especially true on “the village level”.  That’s the level of the religion as it is manifested in practice.  But even their holiest or most sacred writings strike me as at least a bit misleading at times.

I think a large part of it is because large religions serve many purposes.  They are not just about seeking out and living according to the way of things — however that way is conceived.  For instance, almost all of them concern themselves in one way or another with propping up the existing social order.  Or — especially in the case of Middle Eastern religions — meddling with human sexuality.

On the whole, the major religions strike me as ores.  They are varying degrees rich or poor ores, but they are ores.  You have to learn how to refine them into something purer than their natural state if you want “pure religion”.

Belief, Christianity, Cultural Traits, Culture, Education, Faith, Family, Fun, God, Honesty, Intellectual Honesty, Mysticism, Nontheism, Parent / Child, Play, Reason, Religion, Skeptical Thinking, Thinking, Truth, Values

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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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…”

Alienation From Self, Aristotle, Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Christianity, Cultural Traits, Culture, Ethics, Eudaimonia, Happiness, Human Nature, Ideas, Judaism, Life, Living, Memes, Morality, Morals, Pride, Purpose, Quality of Life, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Self Image, Self-Flourishing, Values, Well Being

Pride in Aristotle and Christianity

“The description of the proud or magnanimous man [in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics] is very interesting as showing the difference between pagan and Christian ethics…”.  — Bertrand Russell.

SUMMARY:  Pride to Aristotle was a virtue, and a means to happiness, but to Christians, it is a sin, and a means to unhappiness.

(About a 7 minute read)

In Judaism, pride is called the root of all evil, a valuation that seems in part to have been carried over into Christianity, for Christians regard pride as the first and foremost of the Seven Deadly Sins.

In Catholicism, the Seven Deadly Sins are not to be confused with “Mortal Sins” — they do not automatically damn you to hell if you fail to repent of them before death, but they are pretty much bad enough anyway.

In contrast to the Jewish and Christian views, pride was an actual virtue to Aristotle.  Which of course, raises the question, “Why did Aristotle think pride was a virtue?”

Continue reading “Pride in Aristotle and Christianity”

Belief, Buddhahood, Buddhism, Christianity, Consciousness, Cultural Traits, Culture, Enlightenment, Ideas, Islam, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Knowledge, Meditation, Memes, Mysticism, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Satori, Self-Integration, Spirituality, Transformative Experience, Zen

“Help! She’s Going About It All Wrong!”

SUMMARY:  The importance of having the right beliefs in order to attain spiritual enlightenment is grossly over-emphasized both in Western and Middle Eastern cultures.

(About a 5 minute read)

I have a friend who, in my esteemed opinion (esteemed by me, at least), is going about it all wrong.  By “it”, I mean spiritual enlightenment, of course.  She’s going about it all wrong.

Not that I myself am an authority on spiritual enlightenment.  The closest I ever came to it was that time I saw Terri’s breasts in the moonlight.  My friend — who is not Terri — has never shown me her breasts despite incessant hours of begging on my part and hence, I don’t know yet if she’s a reincarnation of the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, or not. But even if she is, she’s going about it all wrong.

Continue reading ““Help! She’s Going About It All Wrong!””

Christianity, Cultural Traits, Culture, Human Nature, Ideas, Intersubjective Verification, Knowledge, Learning, Logic, Observation, Philosophy, Quality of Life, Reason, Science, Scientific Method(s), Scientist, Subjective Verification, Thinking, Truth

Paul’s Brief and Saucy Primer to the Scientific Revolution

SUMMARY:  Several things or factors had to come together for the Scientific Revolution to take place.  The factors include logical reasoning, empiricism, peer review, and at least two basic worldviews.

(About a 7 minute read)

If you’re like me, your first question about this blog post will almost certainly be, “How did Paul’s briefs ever come to prime the Scientific Revolution?” I myself would say that’s a pretty good question!

On the other hand, if you’re NOT like me, but you instead suffer from a dangerous infestation of sanity, you probably already know that the Scientific Revolution is arguably one of the most consequential events in the entire intellectual and material history of our noble and esteemed species of poo-flinging, fur-challenged super-apes — and that it is still unfolding. Moreover, that knowledge may have gotten you to wondering how such an extraordinary thing ever got started?

As it turns out, that’s a huge question. Huge!

Continue reading “Paul’s Brief and Saucy Primer to the Scientific Revolution”

Art, Christianity, Creative Thinking, Creativity, Cultural Change, Cultural Traits, Culture, Human Nature, Idealism, Ideas, Ideologies, Intellectual Honesty, Invention, New Idea, Obligations to Society, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Society, Thinking

What Do Intellectuals Do, Anyway?

SUMMARY: American culture has a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism.  Consequently, few people understand or appreciate the role intellectuals can — and often do — play in a society.  In fact, many intellectuals can be seen as similar to cartographers in that they create ideas that can be used as guides to reality.  When they do so conscientiously and accurately, the whole society can benefit.

(About a 6 minute read)

It is a truism among people who study such things that American culture has, almost since the founding of the Republic, harbored a virulent anti-intellectual streak.  But the founders themselves were anything but anti-intellectual.

Franklin, for instance, was the leading American intellectual of their day, and Washington — possibly the most prominent non-intellectual of the era — often made efforts to improve himself in that department, for he did not think himself an equal to the others unless he could muster at least a passing familiarity with the great ideas of the time.

But almost with the deaths on the same day of Adams and Jefferson, American culture developed a marked anti-intellectual streak.  Some people have attributed that streak to the democratic suspicion of anyone who might appear to be smarter than oneself.  But while that might sustain American anti-intellectualism, anti-intellectualism seems to have gotten its start in religion.

Continue reading “What Do Intellectuals Do, Anyway?”

Abuse, Bad Ideas, Christianity, Ethics, Morality, Morals, News and Current Events, Politicians and Scoundrels, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Seduction, Sexual Abuse, Sexualization, Spirituality, Values

Should We Keep the Catholic Church?

(About a 3 minute read)

It seems it has been at least 20 years now since the first credible reports of wide-spread child rape and sexual abuse by Catholic priests began making the news.  Since then, the reports have spread to nearly every industrialized nation where the Church has a presence.  Even Poland, I recall, has reported victims in the thousands.

I suppose too, the documented numbers are most likely well below the actual number of victims.  Ten thousand children in all of Australia?  Seems incredible it should be so few over 50 years.

Continue reading “Should We Keep the Catholic Church?”

Christ, Christianity, God, Love, Poetry, Religion, Spirituality

To That Man Standing Behind the Pulpit

(About a 1 minute read)

You are a mystery to me, preacher man,
A not-quite-Christian mystery,
How you stand behind a pulpit on Sundays
Wearing that ridiculous second-hand
Chicken-suit, thumping out words
Against homosexuals, fornicators,
Abortionists, feminists, liberals,
And just about everyone else,
Except those who march
In perfect step with you.

To me, your sermons are as relevant
To the spiritual mysteries of Jesus
As is your tenaciously worn bird outfit.

You don’t have the wisdom
Of most common people,
Let alone the wisdom of Christ.

I wonder where in all that you shout
Is God? I suspect when you say
You’ve found him
Somewhere moving inside of you,
What you found was intestinal gas.

I’ve read about your seven mansions,
Your impressive fleet of cars,
And your 26 million dollar private jet
That you’ve appropriately donated
To yourself, the poor in spirit.

I’ve also read about how
You at last take your bird suit off,
Revealing your true authenticity,
When you’ve flown into Washington
To deal out the Evangelical vote
To the false whores of politics and power.

I know my words can’t change you
Because it’s quite obvious
To all but your devout followers
That not even the Word can do that.

I’m just writing this poem to warn
Others there’s a man who stands
Behind a pulpit who preaches salvation
But can’t save himself and can’t love.

Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Buddhism, Christianity, Deity, Enlightenment, Free Spirit, God, God(s), Hinduism, Human Nature, Islam, Judaism, Life, Love, Mysticism, Religion, Satori, Science, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-determination, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality, Taoism, Transformative Experience, Wisdom, Zen

If I Were a Theist, I’d Still be a Madman

(About a 3 minute read)

If I were a theist and believed in gods, I would be an insufferable theist.

Indeed, my opinions might be a tad insufferable already.  At least, I think that could be a reasonable conclusion based on the number of encouraging emails I get from my loyal readers that include a pic of someone’s buttocks, along with the usually brief message, “Thinking of you, Paul!”.

Continue reading “If I Were a Theist, I’d Still be a Madman”

Buddhism, Christianity, Consciousness, Enlightenment, Hinduism, Human Nature, Ideas, Islam, Judaism, Life, Meditation, Mysticism, Myth, Nontheism, Quality of Life, Religion, Satori, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality, Taoism, Transformative Experience, Wisdom, Zen

Why Fools Point at the Moon

(About a 7 minute read)

It is a charming, ancient conceit that fools are secretly the wisest among us.  Everyone has heard that somewhere or another.  It is pervasive not merely in Europe — home to the court fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear — but worldwide.

Every culture seems to recognize the truth of it.  In Europe, fools are fixtures at the court of kings.  In the far East, they are sages.  In Africa, they are sometimes deities who wear multi-colored hats.  And among the Native American nations, they are Raven and Coyote. Jung would recognize the fool as an archetype of what he believed was the “collective human subconscious”.

But why do humans so often think wisdom is a property of fools?  It is easy to see why we ascribe it to wise men and women, but why specifically to fools?  What does the fool actually represent to us?

Continue reading “Why Fools Point at the Moon”