Who Shaped Your Religion?

Each of us has a religion and a faith (yes, they are different) influenced by specific life experiences, our station in society, our choice of religions and even specific houses of worship. A question that is rarely asked is “Who influenced you the most and set your religious understanding in place?”

Mariner pondered this question recently. Who had influenced him the most to establish his understanding of religion and faith? He had been a Methodist pastor; he had studied theology in college; he had a father who was a Methodist pastor for fifty years. None of these sources forged mariner’s position regarding religion. True, he is well schooled in Christian/Methodist doctrine; he worked as a probation/parole officer; he served on several state commissions dealing with drug abuse and criminal justice policy. While mariner participated in all these activities, they were pragmatic in nature and not experiences that formed his philosophy and understanding of religion.

Mariner became aware that four writers had shaped his religion: Albert Schweitzer Out of My Life and Thought and The Philosophy of Civilization, Joseph Campbell entire body of work, Paul Tillich Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions, and Reza Aslan God – a human history. Albert was a living example of a righteous life; Joe explained the paleological foundation of spirituality; Paul compared the survivability of religions faced with what he called the quasi-religions similar to communism, fascism, capitalism, etc.; Reza explained the sociologic structure of religion.

Albert Schweitzer. Early in the twentieth century Albert challenged the historical conveniences that interpreted the early Christian movement. With a scholarly method that earned him a Nobel Prize in 1952, Albert brought to light the context of first and second century beliefs that showed early Christians were apocalyptic and expected Jesus to return within their lifetimes. In place of the early, very Jewish expectations and the later orchestrated Christian doctrine, Albert reinforced the importance of a thoughtful and sympathetic life. He adopted his term “reverence for life” as his motto. Importantly, he lived his life according to his faith – something most of us find challenging.

Joseph Campbell. Joe was an anthropologist with an ability to interpret spiritual motivation as an act of human behavior. He studied older cultures as well as modern ones and with great insight gave human definition to spiritual phenomena such as transformation, ascension, and soul. He believed that everyone acts according to a set of myths that provide deeper meaning to one’s life. In Christianity the myth of the Trinity is a central belief that provides spiritual and behavioral value for Christians.

Paul Tillich. Paul’s book focused on the vulnerability of religion as a participant in a power game involving politics, wealth, social precedent and diverse cultural interpretations. He suggests that Baal worship is common, undisciplined and accepted even as one proclaims other religious values. An excellent example is the dollar – money. Money is the false Jesus; money is the route to salvation; money defines our worth and value as a human being – but make no mistake . . . we’re Christians.

Reza Aslan. Reza has traveled the world studying religions. His ability to compare commonality and differences between religions is impressive. Reza’s book, God – a Human History, is a culmination of his career as a theologian and student of our relationships with our god(s). His perspective is highly sociological, to the point that some may find his interpretations of spirituality less than spiritualists may desire. His key insight, if mariner may be so brief, is that God is us. Humans invented religion and needed a sense of self that was above the foibles of daily life – humans need a god exactly like themselves. He states that in every religion, just as in politics, doctrine is a manifestation of power and control. His common example is the holy chamber where one can commune with god but only the priests are allowed in the holy chamber. In Methodism it’s The Book of Discipline. In the Holy Roman Catholic Church, it is the Vatican.

As a footnote, there is one more influence. When mariner was twelve years old he read George Santayana’s abridged Life of Reason. Influenced by the book, Mariner remains a naturalist although his interpretation of religion is shaped by the four authors listed above.

Now it’s the reader’s turn: Who shaped your religion?

Ancient Mariner

Soul Mates

Mariner has discovered a soul mate. He is an ex-computer person that has switched to social psychology and philosophy and now writes books about the abuses that we put upon ourselves in the name of modern communication technology. His name is Jaron Lanier. He has written a book: Ten arguments for Deleting Social Media Accounts Right Now. He has an interview on CSPAN that is enlightening[1]. Mariner must warn you that his sartorial splendor leaves much to be desired but his mind is clearly focused. No one that mariner has read has delved into the disruptive consequences of social media as Jaron has.

Jaron starts his presentation by reminding everyone of the science of behaviorism; he cites B.F. Skinner, the major personality of behaviorism. Stated as briefly as mariner can, behaviorism is a person’s response to feedback, that is, if it is rewarding, people tend to return and do it again; if it is negative, people tend not to do it again. Skinner proved in his experiments with animals that manipulating reward or negativity will modify behavior in a predictable way.

Jaron suggests that the Internet and the data manipulators using the Internet have created a negative loop in the communication cycle. This is because negative behavior is more reactive and, importantly, expands in the loop much faster than positive behavior. We can reference this phenomenon ourselves with the racist and Russian impact on the Internet. The negativity flows rapidly and expands until no one can tell the difference between truth and falsehood. Another example is Donald’s constant reference to fake news; the negativity spreads quickly, outrunning positive behavior that requires confirmation. The end result is no information can be trusted.

Jaron warns us that while only five or ten percent of the user group will adopt negative information that is enough to disrupt politics, society norms, and stable platforms for unity and ethical values. To wit: the 2016 Presidential campaign where Donald held forth with negative values thereby overwhelming informative dialogue offered by other candidates.

Listed briefly below are the ten arguments for deleting your social media account[2]. Exploring each one is a whole post. Mariner suggests the reader buy the book or watch the C-SPAN video.

1.You are losing your free will.

2.Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.

3.Social media is making you into an a**hole.

4.Social media is undermining truth.

5.Social media is making what you say meaningless.

6.Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.

7.Social media is making you unhappy.

8.Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.

9.Social media is making politics impossible.

10.Social media hates your soul.

Ancient Mariner

 

[1] See: https://www.c-span.org/video/?447079-2/ten-arguments-deleting-social-media-accounts-now

[2] Courtesy of Christine Pennylegion at https://inthisordinarytime.wordpress.com/2018/07/02/jaron-laniers-ten-reasons/

Stop the Presses

Chicken Little visited mariner this morning; he was concerned about the following clip from Nate Silver’s newsletter (fivethirtyeight.com):

A public opinion poll conducted by Ipsos found that a plurality — 43 percent — of Republicans agreed that “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.” Twenty-three percent of Republicans agreed that “President Trump should close down mainstream news outlets, like CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times.” [Daily Beast]

The gap between conservatives and liberals is no longer a gap. It is a dangerous, sprawling chasm. One expects some defensive reflex from conservatives as a conservative cycle comes to an end but what bothers mariner is the lack of thought in our American discourse. Our opinions are founded entirely on stressed emotions.

Chicken Little sees a striking similarity to Egypt, Greece, Argentina, and even Israel/Palestine. These nations are in the midst of economic and cultural change; violence, death, massive property damage and the collapse of the relationship between the people and their government causes great travesty. Even more scary is the US makes sure as many people as possible are armed with weapons. Dare we think that any day now the electorate will use those firearms on each other?

Aside from physical harm, the ethos of the American Dream is disappearing among those who espouse it most. What happened to free press, free speech and the right of every citizen to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Chicken Little dug out his single shot air rifle and loaded it just in case.

Ancient Mariner

Climate Change – Too Slow to Worry About

Actually, the title is inaccurate in that it suggests there is nothing to worry about. On the other hand, just because it is too slow to cause concern as if it were a tornado approaching, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

The current Atlantic website and magazine has an article presenting the latest findings of scientists who have new tools and insights into climate change[1]. It turns out that in Earth’s history, about 60 million years ago when mammals began to emerge, the atmosphere held 400 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 – the same amount we have in the atmosphere today. The last time CO2 was at 400 ppm (as it is today) was 3 million years ago during the Pliocene epoch, when sea levels were perhaps 80 feet higher than today. Scientists predict the sea level will catch up to the effects of CO2 around the end of the century – which may or may not reach 80 feet[2]. Mariner suggests a homework assignment: using Google Earth, determine how many major cities around the world have an altitude less than 80 feet above our current sea level (The entire shoreline of Florida including the Keys qualifies).

There is more science and environmental change in store, like palm trees in Scandinavia, and an increase in methane from very large swamps covering thousands of square miles. Methane is the chemical that slowly accelerates sea level rise. Mean temperatures in places like the Mediterranean and St. Louis will hover around the 104° mark and have no winter.

This climate future largely is out of our hands. The damage has been done and the results will play out. Interestingly, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wants to hold CO2 to 1,000 ppm – only 600 ppm more than what we have today. What’s an 80 foot sea rise when it may be possible to wipe out mammalian existence in a few hundred years?

Mariner often hears a common retort: “Well, we won’t be around then.” This response, besides pretending to be an ostrich with its head in the sand, is part of the fact that climate change is so very slow. Yet, the end of the century is just 82 years away. One’s grandchild still may be around to endure the slow, slow inevitable impact on world economy, health and survivability near ocean waters.

Given the current US political position on climate change (fake science – no, undesired science), younger voters will have more than racism and greed to worry about at election time.

Ancient Mariner

 

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/08/earths-scorching-hot-history/566762/

[2] There are so many variables, from the planet’s point of view, that it is difficult to predict actual sea level rise. What worries scientists is current annual sea level rise is increasing algebraically; small amounts now but increasing dramatically over time.

Narcissism versus the North American Union

This past Sunday Fareed Zakaria opened the subject of the tiff between Mexico and ‘the wall’. Fareed also could have had a discussion with Canada on the same subject of US contraction and isolationism battled via trade negotiations. The situation with Donald’s recipe of self-aggrandizement, racism and kleptocracy is one that interferes with a marketing/cultural dream that has been around for a long, long time. The integration of Mexico, the US and Canada is one of two current international concepts that can compete with emerging China internationalism. The other concept is TPP which seems to be passing by unrequited. To keep the post short, mariner quotes Wikipedia:

The North American Union (NAU) is a theoretical economic and political continental union of Canada, Mexico, and the United States of America. The concept is loosely based on the European Union, occasionally including a common currency called the Amero or the North American Dollar. A union of the North American continent, sometimes extending to Central and South America, has been the subject of academic concepts for over a century, as well as becoming a common trope in science fiction. One reason for the difficulty in realizing the concept is that individual developments in each region have failed to prioritize a larger union.

That last sentence is blatantly true under Donald’s administration. NAFTA, given its minimal impact in the labor market (unions would disagree – a good example of failing to see the value of an international union), was a first step toward the NAU. The electorate has failed to grasp the enormity of uniting the economic power of the first, tenth and twelfth largest economies in the world. Today such a consortium represents a gross domestic product of $22,192,248 million million ($MM) compared to China’s $12,014,610 ($MM).

Today’s circumstances, where the US is slipping and China is getting its act together, provide a new urgency for pursuing NAU. With unusual certainty, thoughts about internationalism will not exist under the present narcissist kleptocracy.

Obviously there is comparison with the European Union (EU). However, the EU was formed to avoid failure of economies in member nations. Further, the EU made the mistake of not making the Euro its only currency. In the case of NAU, economic integration likely would be more universal. As China grows economically, their relation with other nations follows the EU model, allowing local currency and independent oversight of local economic policy. The NAU represents the idea of a combined economic policy that oversees all members’ policies and a single currency – a stronger economic model.

Tangentially, NAU would be large enough and politically influential enough to compete with what today is runaway corporatism. Corporations gain their advantage by playing in the cracks between the economies of different nations and cultures that are not easily unified financially.

Frankly, mariner’s opinion is that the US is so screwed and dysfunctional that attempts at managing its future remain a fantasy.

Ancient Mariner

Joseph Campbell was Right

It was 2:30AM. Mariner sat down in the living room with his hydrating nightcap of 12 ounces of fake sugar lemonade. He decided to see what crumbs were available at the end of a long TV day. He caught the last half of an old comedy series from long ago when comedies seemed more fresh and creative than they do today. Mariner knew, though, that ‘Your Show of Shows’, the ‘Nelsons’ and ‘Roy Rogers’ wouldn’t make it today – just like properly enunciated lyrics have gone by the wayside in modern music.

After an endless assault by commercials, a movie started. It was a generic Jesus movie – the kind where Jesus clearly is a white Caucasian with coifed hair such that the Breck women would be jealous; his eyes had that odd color of blue that seems translucent. Jesus looked about six foot three. Jesus was no Jew. Mariner watched the movie for about five or six minutes and had to turn off the TV. He sat thinking “Joseph Campbell was right:” Religions, and for that matter all other assumptions about reality, are based on myths.

A myth is something that makes sense and further, it implies a truth that is unaffected by the vagaries of daily life. Each of us at one time or another depends on our belief in a profound principle. The belief can range from the ridiculous to the sublime but the purpose is to carry us through a moment when reality seems arbitrary.

In one of his famous interviews with Bill Moyers, Campbell said the Christian faith struggles with a myth that no longer applies to today’s reality. Without the myth, Campbell says the core truths are still viable but have no common reference to daily life. One can imagine that a scruffy Jewish guy associating with the unemployed who campaigns against the law of the land doesn’t fit the role an Evangelical Christian expects today; history, like the Nelsons, is no longer meaningful. Hence a well-kept, blue-eyed, law abiding Gentile.

But what about those core truths Campbell mentioned? Do we still need them or are they part and parcel of the myth – another time in history, another economy, another place?

Just to establish a generic definition of core truths, generally they are a value system that promotes the merit of being human and requires behavioral allegiance to the value system. Let’s apply this generic definition to something besides religious doctrine:

Among the labor class and well into the middle class the entity ‘job’ is the source of salvation. ‘Job’ is the source of holistic transformation. If an individual has a job, they are righteous; if that same individual does not have a job, they are sinners – the scum of the Earth. This reads more like a prejudice but ‘job’ is sanctification in and of itself.

Further into the middle class, financial equity takes the place of job. Whether one has a job or not is less important but one’s accoutrement speaks to the truth of financial value and a comfortable bank balance is virtuous. Beyond middle class into the very wealthy, wealth is a given; it is continuous success and reputation that become the key truth in the myth.

Mariner reminds the reader that these descriptions of myth are quite general. There is a myriad subset of beliefs that are tied to the larger myths. For example, racism, nationalism, neighborhood, profession, even to the detail of how one manages their children or how well their lawn is kept. Joseph Campbell considered myths as tools for establishing the core truth of a given culture. Mariner notices, with respect to Campbell, that myths also breed prejudice. Core truths, it turns out, are easily compromised.

Ancient Mariner

 

Demographics in Real Terms

Much has been covered in the news about Donald’s base, Bernie’s socialists, mid-country white middle class separation from the US coasts, the Wisconsin flip, California’s succession, women’s vote, Dixie voting bloc, gun vote, pro-choice vote, millennial vote, and suburban vote. There are more issue groups.

Perhaps oddly, mariner does not measure the electorate by news media’s political groupings. Mariner long has been skeptical of the electorate’s ability to be so sophisticated as to know about issues in any meaningful way. Looking at the electorate from a social psychology point of view there are five types of voters:

֎The Advocate. One finds this class of voter in political action groups. They have strong conviction about their opinion and quickly become adversarial. Motivation is idealism; missing link is realism.

֎The Hoarder. Hoarders are voters who look solely to personal wellbeing, that is, investment value, financial security, status values, elitist interpretations of neighborhood, religion, and social behavior – a sort of ‘me first’ view of reality. Motivation is selfishness; missing link is compassion.

֎The Populist. Those who respond to the common cause, whatever that is. Their response is more a decision based on issue popularity and projection of ego rather than a considered opinion of the real ramifications of their cause. Motivation is tribal values; missing link is perspective.

֎The Ignorant. Those who live life as it comes with no overwhelming need beyond daily routines. One can identify the ignorant by what they believe is true. For example, it is common that they believe a party stands for an issue that actually is an issue of the opposing party. What guides their thinking, if they vote, is a neighbor, spouse, overheard conversations and other incidental sources available in daily routines. Motivation is lack of disruption; missing link is abstract thinking.

֎The Cynic. Those who do not participate in any issue whether government, religion, neighborhood safety, trash pickup or any other issue that requires comparative thought and responsibility; this includes voting. Motivation is protecting self-perception; missing link is interpersonal affiliation.

In truth, any democratic vote is not a vote of the entire demographic. The US ranks 31st in voter turnout among functioning democracies; the last vote, the one for Donald, was 54% of available voters. Further, as mariner suggests in his interpretation of voter motivation, a voter seldom votes based on rational reasons. The demographic across these five groups turns out to be behavioral rather than interpretive. The electorate, in summation, will vote for the person who appears to be a copy of themselves.

Ancient Mariner

Changing Signs

Back in the early 60’s, there was a British comedy show called Beyond the Fringe. Eventually it toured in Baltimore where mariner and his wife saw the show. It remains one of the best comedy experiences of our lives. The entire show is online at https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=beyond+the+fringe+1964&view=detail&mid=2391A28FEE931C54B1142391A28FEE931C54B114&FORM=VIRE

Mariner often recalls many of the short bits in the show. One of his favorites is changing road signs around to confuse German troops should they invade Great Britain (it is at 53 minutes on the video). Two men are standing beneath a sign with arrows showing the directions to three towns. The dialogue: “Let’s put Lyme Regis where Great Yarmouth was, Great Yarmouth where Ipswitch was and Ipswitch where Lyme Regis was. . . Here, how do we get home?”

Mariner does not expect the humor to carry after such an elaborate explanation but it speaks perfectly to today’s situation in US politics and culture. Some pieces of news that show we are changing signs:

NPR interviewed an individual in West Virginia of all places who said quite seriously and without malice that we should eliminate the Senate. (Mariner mentioned a few posts ago that the electorate may face conflict leading to a Constitutional convention)

The Republican Party ended Reaganomics by putting the US into the deepest debt in modern US history.

Donald is seeing to it that recent Democratic Party accomplishments (should mariner say recent Obama accomplishments?) are trashed whenever possible. Donald also has put the US at risk by denying climate change and disrupting international relations politically, militarily and economically. Further, the momentum that carries the US as a global leader is diminished by Donald’s immaturity and simplemindedness.

As the Democratic Party ramps up for the coming elections, a platform plank advocates eliminating Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) added 43,000 new members in 2018. It seems millennials aren’t afraid of the ‘S’ word.

Culturally, we are changing signs as well. Women in particular have pushed their agenda into public awareness for everything from abusive sexism to equal pay for every job. What lies ahead, especially with a different Supreme Court, are heated battles over Roe v Wade, voting suppression, gun laws, gerrymandering, privacy and security, single payer health care, and significant reworking of all Federal discretionary programs especially in education, Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security. Last but definitely not least is the role of religion(s) in a state-run culture.

Here, how do we get home?

Ancient Mariner

 

Crosswinds

While destructive winds are blown by the current administration, one notices alternative crosswinds rising in news outlets other than the circus news outlets. Here are a few examples:

Big businesses want lower taxes. Cities—and many of the people who live in them—want lower rates of homelessness. Lately, the compatibility of these two desires is being tested, as local governments across the U.S. float a new strategy to help the growing number of unsheltered people on their streets: Asking businesses to pay a greater share in funding aid. [Sarah Holder, citylab.com]

Solicitor Andre Davis, Baltimore, joined a growing movement of cities suing Big Oil over their contributions to climate change. It’s following in the footsteps of 12 other cities, including New York and San Francisco—but it’s naming significantly more companies and offenses in the case for climate reparations. [Atlantic]

The President’s ire with and dissing of US intelligence is for good personal reasons. The intelligence community has been watching Donald for many years because of his foreign associations and his foreign investment practices. Donald knows they know . . .

Speaking of intelligence services, the United States is the premier practitioner of cyber war and has been at it since the cold war. It is only in recent years that other nations are becoming good enough to hack US practices which they turn around and use on the US. This makes the nation vulnerable to actual cyber warfare – better than a bullet war in that not too many will die intentionally. However, knocking out banking systems, electricity, major manufacturing centers and water utilities is easy to do and has devastating effects; one doesn’t need 2,000 bombers and fighter planes to bomb a manufacturing center as we did against Germany in the Second World War.

In his new book, The Perfect Weapon, David Sanger points to ‘Operation Olympic Games’, where Sanger credits George W and Obama with overseeing the operation which used malicious code to blow up Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. The North Koreans could only suspect American cyber war was behind the excessive failure of their missile testing program. Despite Donald’s simplistic understanding of power, American cyber capability, still the stealthiest and most powerful in the world, can eliminate everything from a nation’s economy to Putin’s net worth. But cyber warfare, because it is easy and not physically destructive like bullet wars, is a one-up game: If nation A does this, then nation B will retaliate by raising the stakes. Not really a big deal to pull off. Cyber war is more like poker than it is like football.

A woman who worked in a restaurant a little more than a year ago has won a primary against a ten-term democratic Representative. She’s a firecracker! Keep track of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. [Politico.com]

Finally, for an entertaining (or frightful) view of the coming elections, do not watch circus news – watch fivethirtyeight.com or politico.com or read the Atlantic magazine or the New Yorker magazine or simply watch balanced news from PBS. All these sources are rational, factual and restore one’s faith in real news.

Ancient Mariner

 

 

Intuition/Personality

A legitimate question was raised as to why mariner did not include personality variables in the last post. There are tons of personality tests about intelligence (Stanford-Binet), skill assessment (SAT, GRE), decision variables (Myers-Briggs), and many general tests (MMPI). There are so many that mariner refers the reader to Wikipedia at:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tests

Every personality/capability/decision test adds understanding about personalities, aptitudes and function preferences – even attitudes. Mariner is not writing a book; he suspects his readers do not want to read a book. His intent always is to inject an interesting perspective into one’s daily schedule. Consequently when the subject is human behavior, he depends on truisms, popular psychology tools, general behavior and a sailor’s intuition.

When mariner was an independent consultant, he had contracts to teach leadership skills, organization methods and computerization of business models. All these subjects rest on human behavior. Mariner often used Myers-Briggs to sensitize how one participates in a group. He borrowed instructional tools from W. Edwards Deming, Peter Drucker and others. One of mariner’s favorites is Deming’s playing card games which demonstrated that employees will do anything, even cheat, to be successful. (One thinks of Sarah Huckabee Sanders)

A personal favorite mariner devised was on the second day of training, when the students were out to lunch, he and his team would move everyone’s materials to a different seat. This caused immense discomfort in many of the students but it demonstrated one’s conservatism in sustaining the status quo – a behavior that inhibits making good decisions.

Mariner responded to a reader’s reply about not including Myers-Briggs. The response suggests that when presented in a group that was predefined (employee groups), 99% used the four letter scores negatively for purposes of self-promotion and elitism. While Myers-Briggs is technically sound, it carries overhead in a behavioral training session.

So, as it states in the blog page about the mariner, tall tales will be told – with some wisdom, mariner hopes.

Ancient Mariner