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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.

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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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Why Was Sodom Destroyed?

Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.

Ezekiel 16:46-50

The strongest argument for the existence of Yahweh just might be that He is necessary to explain why America is on the cusp of destruction today.  It was only a dozen years ago, folks were talking about the New American Century — as if it were inevitable.  But it seems that it sorely pisses off Yahweh when a rich, prideful nation refuses to aid the poor and needy.

“Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”

Quick! Hide the underclass!  Ah, too late!

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Can Men and Women be Just Good Friends?

I had a drinking game I liked to play when I was in school.  The goal was to guess someone’s religion based on their answers to a short series of questions.  The catch?  The questions couldn’t be about religion.  Instead, the questions had to be about love and sex.

The game fascinated me.  I got so into it, I would keep a running tally of hits and misses from which to work out a “career average” for correct guesses.  I couldn’t get over how often you could match someone to the religion they grew up in with no more than the answers they had given you to three or four questions about love and sex.

To be sure, I did not try for the denomination.  The categories were Catholic, Liberal Protestant, Conservative Protestant, Jewish, or Mormon.  In other words, I wasn’t dealing with a lot of religious diversity.  Back then, most everyone fit into one or another of those categories.

I can only recall one of the core questions now, but it was my favorite because I felt it did more work than the other questions in allowing me to figure out someone’s religious background.   If I was asking a woman, for example, I would phrase the question this way, “Do you feel men and women can be just good friends, without having sex?”  Followed by, “Why or why not?”

I read a blog post tonight that reminded me of that game.  Specifically, the woman claimed it was all but impossible for a man and woman to be platonic friends.  She said she’d only in her life had one boyfriend she wanted to be real friends with.   And making friends with him had taken 20 years from the time the two of them broke up to the time they were “just good friends”.

Twenty years to make a friend?  After reading that, I figured maybe he and she didn’t bring to the problem the world’s best people skills.  But I also took a look at her “About Me” page, and noticed that her religion fit her attitude that men and women cannot be just good friends.

Religion isn’t everything, of course.  Lots of other things influence how easy it is for men and women to be just good friends.  For instance, the older you are, the easier it gets.  And the biggest influences of all are arguably the individual people involved.  But religion does seem to have an influence on what we tell drunks in college bars about our attitudes towards sex and love.  Of that, I’m reasonably certain.

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Fearful Little Lives

He was talking about sin, and about how society didn’t want to hear about it anymore.  He said, “‘Hell isn’t fashionable these days”, but he said it like he regretted it.

—  Overheard in a bar

A few days ago, Tom Rees posted on a sweet little study that suggests people who are scared of one thing, tend to be scared of many things.  Teach people to fear hell; they will end up fearing their own shadows.

But if that’s the case, then it might make you wonder about all those times you’ve heard someone complain no one gives a damn about hell anymore.  Basically — if the study is accurate — those folks are complaining the rest of us aren’t living the fearful little lives they think we should be living.

Strange world, maybe.

I figure the odds are excellent that anyone who complains about a lack of hell in your life must be an authoritarian.  What do you think?  Good guess?

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Is it Moral to Take Advantage of an Idiot?

Is it moral to take advantage of the village idiot?

Suppose on Friday, your local village idiot signed over the deed to his house to you, thinking he was going to be raptured yesterday (Saturday, May 21, 2011), would you now be under any moral obligation to return his house to him?

Should banks forgive the credit card debts your local village idiot racked up in anticipation of his not having to pay them off?

In general, to what extent should politicians, preachers, pundits, corporations, neighbors, or society as a whole be allowed to exploit the world’s village idiots?

Should the world’s village idiots now be allowed to sue Harold Camping for damages to them?

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Richard Dawkins on Nonsense and Evidence

A couple days back, The Washington Post asked Richard Dawkins to comment on the current round of end of the world lunacy that has been so successfully ginned up by Harold Camping.  One of the questions The Post asked Dawkins was the misleadingly phrased, “What does your tradition teach about the end of the world?”  Here is a small, edited portion of Dawkins’ response:

Why is a serious newspaper like the Washington Post giving space to a raving loon? I suppose the answer must be that, unlike the average loon, this one has managed to raise enough money to launch a radio station and pay for billboards.

I won’t waste any more time on that, but I do want to mention a less trivial point arising from the question posed by the Washington Post: ‘What does your tradition teach about the end of the world?’ It’s that word ‘tradition’ that should raise our critical hackles. It refers to a collection of beliefs handed down through generations – as opposed to beliefs founded on evidence. Evidence-free beliefs are, by definition, groundless.

Science is not a tradition, it is the organized use of evidence from the real world to make inferences about the real world…

Among the quaint principles of the European Enlightenment was the notion that customs and traditions should be subject to justification by a weight of logic and evidence — that is, by a weight of reason.  Apparently, not everyone has taken that notion to heart, nor do I suppose it will ever be that case that everyone will appreciate that notion — or even understand it.

By the way, anyone interested in transferring their life savings to the author of this blog is most welcome to do so.   I do not anticipate that I will be among those fortunate to be raptured.  Yet, you may be assured your generosity will console me.

Meanwhile, Sandra over at Paradise Preoccupied has started a fun discussion of the books she hopes to write in order to help us all get through the end of the world.  They have promising titles, such as: Ashes, Ashes All Fall Down: Entertaining Kids In the Final Hours ($9.99).  Enjoy the fun!

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The Two Most Important Causes of Human Religiosity?

Thirty-five years ago, I signed up for a college course in comparative religion because, as a hopelessly idealistic 18 year old freshman, I figured religion in general would last for 10 more years, then die out, and I wanted to see what the hullabaloo was all about before it was gone forever.

Of course, I could not have been more wrong about something. Looking back, I had made — not just one — but at least two cognitive mistakes.  First, I was thinking of religion as mostly a primitive attempt to explain things — a proto-science.  That is, I had bought into the ancient and outdated notion that folks had invented the gods  in order to explain what caused thunderstorms, diseases, love, and other such catastrophes (however much outdated, that notion is still around, though).

That first mistake led directly to my second cognitive mistake: I believed science could and would replace religion because it seemed natural and inevitable to me that truth would replace falsehood.

In other words, I thought (1) religion largely offered us little more than false explanations for things, and (2) true explanations would inevitably displace false ones.

Nowadays, I think I have a somewhat more accurate view of how we humans came to be religious animals.  In fact, I think there is more than one cause of our religiosity.  But one of the things I do not think played much of a role in the evolutionary origins of our religiosity was any need to explain things.

It might be true humans are an animal that feels some need to explain things, but I do not believe that need gave rise to human religiosity.   For one thing, religions in general seem to place much more emphasis on the antiquity of their beliefs than they place on their explanatory power.   But if religiosity arose as an explanation of things, then wouldn’t that be turned around?  Wouldn’t people be much more inclined than they apparently are to demand that their religious beliefs accurately explain something?

Today, I think there might be as many as a dozen reasons humans are a religious animal.  But I think, of those dozen reasons, two are by far the most important.

First, I think  Theory of Mind offers us a powerful explanation for how religiosity originated in our species.  “Theory of Mind” is a name for the human tendency to assume that other people, besides we ourselves, have minds.  The polar opposite of  Theory of Mind would be the notion that we (i.e. you yourself) are the only thing in the universe with a mind.  If one wants to know how we humans evolved religious behaviors, then I think one could do much worse than to study how we humans evolved our Theory of Mind.

The second most important cause of human religiosity, so far as I am concerned, is the mystical experience.  The mystical experience occurs when subject/object perception comes to an end while awareness yet continues.  If you are passionate enough about mysticism to be interested, I have written about that mystical experience on this blog, including in my post on the vital topic of How to Marry a Beautiful Woman by Discussing Mysticism“.  I firmly believe the post should be required reading in all kindergarten level courses in comparative religion.

Near as I can figure out, a large proportion of mystical experiences involve what can be described as “an experience of god”.  But even those that do not involve “an experience of god” tend to have a wee little inspirational effect on people.  I, for one, can easily imagine any and all mystical experiences as likely to inspire religious behaviors.

Those are my best guesses these days for how human religiosity came about.   Perhaps oddly enough, if either one of those guesses is true — let alone if both of them are true — then human religiosity is not going to die out of our species any time soon.  In fact, if those guesses are true, a strong case can be made for the notion that humans will be religious so long as humans are Homo sapiens.

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In Japan Are Ten Thousand Gods…

In Japan are ten thousand gods, and they all apologize for being gods.

But here, in this capital of fundamentalism, there is only one god, and it is you — who must apologize for not being Him.

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Worshiping Idols

I am not a very profound man, but I am sometimes curious.  Of course, I used to say much the same thing to my ex wives when I wanted sex, “I am not a very penetrating man, but I am sometimes horny.”

Unfortunately, that did not amuse either one of them.

Tonight, besides recalling some of the more alarming ways in which I have in my time successfully — but unintentionally — brought about the destruction of two marriages, I have been thinking about idols.  If I understand the concept correctly, an idol is something that we worship instead of worshiping god.

Moreover, it is said we do not always know we are worshiping an idol when we are worshiping an idol, and not god.

I understand that last point — that point about not knowing — very well because both my ex wives were quite fond of pointing out to me (and sometimes to their friends, to the neighbors, to our community, and to the local newspaper and TV stations) how much there is about life (and the marriage bed) that I don’t know.

Now, it seems to me that, when people talk of idols, they most often mean statues, paintings, or other representations of their gods.  However, can a notion or an idea also be a representation, an image, that is worshiped in place of god?

If it can — if an idea can be an idol — then worshiping an idol might be at times a bit like loving — not your wife — but merely your idea of your wife.

For some reason, all that has been said so far reminds me of my friend Michael.  Michael is much more intellectual even than I am.  In fact, he is so oriented towards ideas, so oriented towards thought and thinking, that I used to joke to him, “Michael, you are so intellectual that surely you must at one time or another have been convinced you lost your virginity when you read the chapter on sex in your biology textbook.”

To give him credit, Michael would shoot back, “What do you mean “at one time”?  You are talking about my first love, Paul.  Please show her some respect!”

Michael is both more intellectual than me and smarter than me, but there is a way — a sense in which — he is more likely to worship idols than me.  That is, Michael is a bit more likely than me to love the idea of a thing more than the thing itself.

Now, all this talk of idols, to my mind, seems to raise an important question: How come that scamp Michael gets laid more often than I ever did? How can a belief be thought of as having the same relationship to reality as a map has to its terrain?

The fact I would ask such an abstract question in the very middle of a conversation that, it turns out, is largely about getting laid has perhaps offered you a fresh and disturbing insight into why that scamp Michael gets laid much more often that I ever did — even when I was married.  Nevertheless, I think we should be asking that question because that question might shed some light on precisely how an idea can be an idol.

So, then, how can a belief be thought of as having the same relationship to reality as a map has to its terrain?  Please allow me to suggest:

A map can be thought of as a way of stating (or symbolizing) the notion that “x is the case”.  For Example: “The map shows the tree is 500 feet from the house.”

A belief can be thought of as a proposition stating (or symbolizing) the notion that “x is the case”.  For Example: “I believe the tree is 500 feet from the house.”

Therefore, there seem to be at least some similarities between maps and beliefs.

But if those statements are true — if a belief can have the same relationship to reality that a map has to its terrain — then doesn’t that explain to us how it is possible for an idea to be an idol?  And doesn’t it explain that to us even if it does not explain to us the even more vital question — the question that is fully capable of driving men mad — the question of how it is the scamp Michael gets laid much more than I ever did?

Let’s review our reasoning here:

  • Images can at times be idols
  • Beliefs can be images
  • Therefore, beliefs can be idols
  • Hence, it is opposed to both reason and nature that the scamp Michael gets laid much more often than I ever did.

Yup.  We have a sound argument there.

Yet, if it is true that beliefs can be idols, then many, many questions come to mind.  Many genuinely serious questions.  Among those serious questions is a nagging one: When we worship god how do we know we are worshiping god and not just our beliefs about god?

That is, suppose, when I am worshiping god, I am also thinking of god (i.e. I have a concept of god, a concept of what I am worshiping). If that is the case, then am I not worshiping my belief rather than my god?  Am I not worshiping the map, rather than the terrain?

In asking those questions at this hour of the night, I am perhaps strangely reminded of something I wrote a few days ago: “It is in the night that our thoughts can become our hunters by pursuing us.”

What if  it really is the case that, when we worship god, with a concept of god in mind as we worship god, we are not really worshiping god then, but an idol?  What if that is really true?  What if the logic here is sound? And what if we took the thought seriously.   Really took it seriously.

Would that thought not become the hunter, then? W0uld it not pursue us with other thoughts?  Thoughts such as:

Can I worship god without experiencing god? Can I worship the terrain without experiencing the terrain?

Is it possible that so long as we worship an image of god, rather than god, we will not experience god?

Some long time ago, after a day spent foolishly sitting in the rain beside a lake, I wrote a short little poem to commemorate what an absolute idiot I was to have sat all that day in the light rain and drizzle.  I recently posted the poem to this blog, but here it is again — because I think it says something about how it might be possible through meditation to experience a thing without, however, experiencing an idea of it.  The poem is called, “Meditation” — That is, I thought it was somehow much better to call it, “Meditation”, than to call it, “An Idiot Sitting in the Rain”:

You sit in the evening
The rain on your face
Watching thoughts rise
And watching thoughts fall
And you don’t know the names
Of the things that you see
But you know what to do
Or not do.

“But you know what to do or not do.”  It might be said by some folks that, obviously, I didn’t know enough back then to come in out of the rain.  But I recall I was pretty happy right where I was that day. For one thing, that was long before I learned the scamp Michael was getting laid much more often than I ever did.

I am not a very profound man because I am perhaps too often a thinker, and thoughts of something are never all that profound when compared to experiencing the thing itself.   Nevertheless, I am curious what you make of all this?  For instance:

  • Can beliefs be idols? If so, how?  If not, why not?
  • Is it possible for a strong man to be driven into blubbering madness by a mere scamp?
  • Can meditation open a way to worshiping without idolatry? Why or why not?
  • Does it not offend both reason and nature that the scamp Michael has gotten laid much more often than I ever did?
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“The West Talks, The East Walks”

In spiritual matters, the West talks, the East walks.  Of course, that’s a gross simplification, but it is to some extent true enough.

For instance: The thing that impresses me most about the official morality of the Roman Catholic Church is how the theology of it — the theoretical basis for its morality —  is this vast and imposing Gothic cathedral constructed of incredibly elaborate logic and reasoning.  The Cathedral is set for all to see on the top of a large hill.  And people do see it — at least now and then — and they are often duly impressed, even intimidated, by what they see.

But who lives there?  Who actually lives in a Cathedral?  I know plenty of people worship in them, but I don’t know of many people who actually live in them.

I think that is too often the case with official Roman Catholic morality — it is an ideal.  Even when it somehow impresses us, awes us, it remains an ideal.  We might venerate the ideal, but we do not live it.

But how many Zen masters do you know of who are that merely idealistic?

I had occasion to wonder about all of that yesterday — after reading a post by the always acidic PZ Meyers.

If, when it comes to criticisms of religion, you are accustomed to the 5% or 10% acid solutions that you might find, say, on this blog;  or even if you are accustomed to the 30% acid solutions that you might find in the writings of Richard Dawkins, then it is still possible you might have no concept whatsoever of the fuming concentrations PZ Meyers is capable of.

Yesterday, I read one of the mildest posts I’ve ever seen PZ Meyers write about religion.  And I will quote from that post in a moment.  It is so mild only an exceptionally thin-skinned person would be offended by it.  Yet, please don’t visit his blog expecting that weak level of acidity to be the norm.

The background here is that Meyers got hold of a lavishly reasoned blog post by a Roman Catholic theologian, Ronald L. Conte, Jr., on the question of whether “unnatural sexual acts” are  “moral to use as foreplay”  prior to intercourse? In answer to the question,  Conte states:

The expression ‘that use which is against nature’ refers to unnatural sexual acts, such as oral sex, anal sex, or manual sex. Saint Augustine condemns such acts unequivocally. He even states that such unnatural sexual acts are even more damnable (i.e. even more serious mortal sins) when these take place within marriage. For God is even more offended by a sexual mortal sin that takes place within the Sacrament of Marriage, since this offense is not only against nature, but also against a Holy Sacrament.

Now, I have in the past seen Meyers take a passage like that one and rip apart its logic, prior to turning like a hellcat on the author himself.  But yesterday,  Meyers was gentle in his response:

Dang. Well, at least Augustine didn’t explicitly forbid rubber wetsuits, fuzzy handcuffs, vibrating crucifixes, octopus, ceiling-mounted swings, clamps, chocolate pudding, flavored lubricants, Wonder Woman costumes, rubber chickens, exotic headware, whipped cream, video cameras, Silly String, roller skates, trampolines, nitrous oxide, balloon animals, feather boas, ball gags, or bungee cords, or I might be going to hell.

So, I had a laugh, and that probably should have been the end of it.  But it was about then I was possessed to visit Conte’s blog.  Now, it has been decades since I read much theology, and I had forgotten how elaborate, intricate — almost ornate — it can be.  Still, it was for awhile interesting enough.

Yet, I don’t think I can sustain such an interest.  Conte’s theology seems to me speculative, ridiculous, and irrelevant: As an example,  consider his remarks here:

The two consenting adults argument is rejected by Catholicism, not only on sexual ethics, but also on ethics in general, because sin is first and foremost an offense against God. You can sin against God without apparent harm to another person. But from the point of view of faith, sin does do harm to self and neighbor, even if that harm is not readily apparent.

I think such notions are largely groundless.  Any college sophomore could come up with something just as speculative. At best, those notions seem to me ideals.  But even at that, they would be someone else’s ideals.  That is, it is not an ideal of mine to, say, take it on faith that “Sexual Act A” harms both me and my neighbor despite there is not a shred of evidence that is the case.

Yet, if you accept Conte’s argument that he is fairly representing the mainstream thinking of the Roman Catholic Church, then you can easily enough see how such thinking might lead to the Church asserting that, say,  gay marriage harms both gay married couples and their straight neighbors even though there is not a shred of evidence suggesting that is the case.

Someone who was so inclined could easily write a book responding to that one paragraph.  But to me, the bottom line might be that Conte’s theology — at least what very little of it I’ve read — quite often seems as poorly grounded in logic and evidence as when a kid says, “Let’s pretend…”.   The difference might be, the kid knows on some level that he’s merely pretending x is the case.  But does Conte know he’s pretending x is the case?  Does the Church know?  Does the flock know?  And does it really matter that anyone knows?

Roman Catholic morality,  as represented — or possibly misrepresented here — by a tiny sampling, seems to be an ideal.  Granted it is supported by elaborate reasoning, but it is still an ideal.  And, as I’ve tried to point out, such ideals are like cathedrals: However much we might venerate them, most of us don’t live in them.

“The West talks, the East walks.”  Oversimplified as that is, I fear it will be true to a surprising degree so long as the West relies on unrealized theologians while the East relies on realized masters.

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Late Night Thoughts (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.