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

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

 

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

 

Immigration and the Church

In the days when Jesus was around, Israel was a theocracy. A theocracy is a nation run largely under the control of religion. The same was true in western culture when the Holy Roman Catholic Church dominated political entities and nations in Europe.

In Matthew 12, there is a confrontation between Pharisees and Jesus because he and his disciples are picking grain and eating on the Sabbath:

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.

It wasn’t until the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 that state was declared independent of church and had rights beyond the King (titular head of the nation who endorsed the idea of a state church). In its Constitution, the United States took the idea of separating state from church as a mandate. Today, church and state still are separated by legal and ideological arguments but few lawmakers and citizens are able to properly separate the two. Admittedly, there is conflict in interpretation not only between the US Government and the several religions but also between the religions themselves.

Trumpian religious groups (largely evangelical) have the attitude of the Pharisees claiming that religious principles trump state principles (enjoyed the pun). It is easily seen that Trumpians would prefer a theocratic rule of law.

Other religious institutions support humanistic and compassionate ideals as the higher ethic. Jesus’s rebuke of the Pharisees is right on the mark for today’s immigration debate:

“…If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”

The separation of church and state works best when the state manages state responsibilities and the church manages spiritual and ethical responsibilities. It is a tough choice for conflicted citizens: should we sacrifice immigrant’s lives because they violate state law or should we seek compassion and mercy as a separate influence on the matter.

Trumpians are Pharisees.

Ancient Mariner

 

Share First, Bicker Later

Will Rogers is mentioned from time to time in past posts. He is a member of mariner’s “Heroes of Human Life Hall of Fame.” In today’s post, mariner draws from Will’s life an example of genuine compassion and true insight into the rules of survival for the human race. Will was a world famous humorist with a sharp, deeply exposing wit. If one reads any of his material or his biography, one is taken with the realism, clarity and depth that lay behind his humor. His primary target always was the abuse of power to the disadvantage of the average person. Needless to say, government was a favorite target. A few joke lines will bear this out:

֎Every time Congress makes a joke it’s law, and every time they make a law it’s a joke.

֎Everything is changing. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.

֎I can remember way back when a liberal was one who was generous with his own money.

֎Anything important is never left to the vote of the people. We only get to vote on some man; we never get to vote on what he is to do.

֎If we ever pass out as a great nation we ought to put on our tombstone, ‘America died from a delusion that she has moral leadership.’

֎Liberty don’t work as good in practice as it does in speeches.

Born November 4, 1879 in Oologah, Indian Territory, USA [now Oklahoma]

Died August 15, 1935 near Point Barrow, Territory of Alaska, USA (plane crash)

Will was born on a Cherokee Indian reservation. He carried the social philosophy of the American Indian with him his entire life and lived by it. Simply, the American Indian did not have a profit-based culture. If a hunting party returned with three elk or gatherers returned with vegetables and fruit, it was shared equally among the tribe members – without challenge or prejudice. Native Americans may have bargained for improved benefits but not for the sake of profit. Will was the breadwinner for his family and farm workers; he shared his income across the board. It was sharing that drove his and the Native American’s economy – not profit. The hunter, gatherer, breadwinner, entrepreneur, whatever it is called, seeks value-added resources that are shared – not hoarded. One’s individual value as a human is not based on who is richest. Will would not say, “I’m more worthy because I drive a new Lincoln and you don’t.” Will would not say, “I will not share with you because you did not hunt today.” This last comment is a reflection on mariner’s favorite, all time most frequently heard comment: “They ought to get off their butt and get a job!” Is that sharing or what?

– – – –

What is obvious at this point is our heritage, our most common assumptions about what is right or true, and our automatic reflexes in political situations – they carry our past as though our history was tagged to our genes. The white man’s western culture echoes the Greek and Roman dynasties and the rights and privileges of power; the western religion echoes the stringent and highly organizational Holy Roman Church; the Dark Age morality and the evolution of business into massive profit centers evoke modern capitalism.

Conversely, the Native American had no experience with Greece or Rome or capitalism. Their world began and ended with Mother Earth, the source of life and the end in death. In 1604, Native Americans still lived in the Stone Age – unmarked by the genes of history engrained in the white man. Native Americans, by some miracle, had a balanced faith, stable social culture and a neutral relationship with the environment.

No, they are ignorant savages said the white man. Where is Rome? Where is power? Where is class stratification? Where is wealth? The overwhelming presence of European ethics and morality, along with the tools of power and its abuses, led a genocide comparable to Myanmar today.

Will Rogers had a foot in both worlds. He struggled through most of his life trying to find a role for himself in a society that did not recognize idiosyncrasy or unsophisticated behavior as a value. Not until Will was discovered in classic Hollywood or YouTube tradition was he able to walk the white man’s world at the same time preaching through humor his ethical roots carried from his Cherokee background.

We cannot step away from 2,000 years of accumulated western influence. We are of the west. But like a ship in heavy seas, we can work the rudder to find a safer and more productive way to survive. We can reason with ourselves: why take from ourselves? Why abuse nature instead of building it so we and nature can survive together. This is more important today because the grandchildren of today’s millennials will live in a world we cannot imagine. Western culture will transition to a new ethical standard; what’s true or right or justifiable will not follow the rules of European history. If our society does not trim its sails and man the rudder, our fragmentation will not survive with any discernable ethical base. In other words, the future will not be a nice place; there will be little intellectual difference between a human being and a robot.

The keyword given to us by Will is ‘share.’ Do not judge first – share first. Do not measure wealth or class, measure sharing. There will always be political and ethical issues among us. Deal with them after all of us have shared our circumstances. Sharing is participating in the two great commandments. After all, sharing came before Greece and Rome invented hoarding.

Ancient Mariner

In Irons

Mariner knew the whole of US reality is a circus when the press made fun of how Donald held his water bottle. Funny thing, mariner holds his water bottle exactly the same way. The reason is familial palsy.

Donald is the ringmaster. Worse is that the entire news industry has joined the circus. So has Congress. So has forty percent of the electorate. The President’s cabinet is a group of foolish clowns worthy of eighteenth century British cartoonists. If Donald actually had the powers of a Roman Emperor, he would be Nero fiddling while Rome burned. As it is, he is Don Quixote fighting with windmills. Meanwhile, the United States dwindles in morality, international power and cultural meaning – noticeable on a daily basis.

The nation is a ship in irons. Its sails flap uselessly while the future blows by. Meanwhile, China has a global effort fully active on every continent and in every important nation – including our neighbors; China soon will be the international force that defines world markets – including the US role in those markets. But Donald Q is chasing the windmill of isolationism.

Night after night, news media focuses on Donald’s affair with a whore. That the viewers of news accept both the behavior and the coverage as de rigueur is frightening; morality has become a rubber band stretched by entertainment value. Can the reader hear the calliope?

Racism has been welcomed back to the circus by Donald. Immigration is a global issue as economies, cultural abuse and war force human families to leave what they know, what they own, and likely, what they love. In Donald’s US circus, add religious intolerance to the show. Quietly, the Attorney General removes laws protecting any disadvantaged person regardless of their plight.

There are some good acts; the Me Too movement, California’s defiance of many of Donald’s efforts at disassembling the fabric of American ethics. But it is a disrespectful circus we watch. There are menacing shadows.

Mariner has decided to leave the circus tent. There is solace in silence. Mariner retrieves news from foreign press and other websites that are not taken in by the music. This savage time will pass as it always has throughout history – but at what cost?

Ancient Mariner

A Biopsy of the Christian Faith

It all started with Jesus. Today, Jesus might be found in Black Lives Matter or some other rebellious, antiauthority group. He was no saint, for sure. When Jesus said, “The first will be last and the last will be first,” that was a literal statement. The authorities of the time, both governmental and religious, were the oppressors. Jesus devoted his life to caring for the plight of the common people and resisted sources of oppression. His pastoral approach and absolute commitment to his cause was remembered by many and in time led to authors writing about him and advocating his principles.

Authors had little factual data to draw on in those days. It was a time before the printing press, dictionaries, and fact-driven accounts of history. Conceptual writing depended largely on metaphor and hyperbole. These limitations about data allowed writers to emphasize the qualities of Jesus that were unique and deemphasize political and cultural content.

The significance of Jesus’s life is not to be taken lightly. It is difficult even in today’s data driven society to articulate the spiritual qualities that are drawn from his life. His core values of absolute empathy, unlimited forgiveness, and selfless dedication remain the bastion of western civility two thousand years later.

֎

It is difficult today given Hollywood heroes, news heroes, and documented heroes to understand how Jesus became an international icon. Without the media we have today heroes would be hard to find. What elevated Jesus to hero status and the source of spiritual inspiration was the hardship of daily life at the time. Oppression was the political device for managing the masses. If one was a commoner, one’s life wasn’t worth much. Church versus state didn’t exist at the time; there was only state. If one expressed critical views about the Emperor as godhead, one likely would be imprisoned if not worse. Common citizens longed for purpose and value in their lives; they wanted to be saved from their plight.

The term ‘Christ’ is derived from middle Greek ‘Christos.’ The first reference to the word is in Acts 11:26 where its use is noted in Antioch, a city located in Turkey. Early followers of the Christian movement were considered agitators and troublemakers and suffered greatly. To Christians, it seemed reasonable that respecting others rather than oppressing them would provide a way out, a path to a better life. Jesus was the personification of this path. His message and the politics that came with the message spread quickly in the Roman Empire.

A century or two later, the story is told of Emperor Constantine that, at the end of a successful battle, he saw clouds in the shape of a cross and took them to be a sign of divine intervention by the god of the Christians. He issued a decree that Christians were not to be persecuted throughout the Roman Empire. Within a few years, Christianity was practiced openly around the entire Mediterranean region. The popularity was good and bad. The Christian message was good but local theology and doctrine ranged from outright magic and demons to sublime isolation. The effect of parochial preference overshadowed the core message of Christianity. Constantine was confused by all the variations and decided there had to be one theology, one doctrine and one ritual. In 325 AD he summoned Christian leaders from across the Empire to gather in the city of Nicaea and establish the official version of Christianity.

The result of that gathering is what most people today consider to be the Christian religion. The collection of books that comprise the Holy Bible was determined at Nicaea. Key doctrines of faith such as the Trinity, transformation and salvation were established. Principles of ritual were clarified and centered Christianity on the authentic principles of Jesus’s life: empathy, forgiveness and dedication.

 

[Mariner is certain that is the shortest exegesis of Christianity he has ever written.]

 

֎

A biopsy will be taken that includes parts of theology, faith and ritual:

Theology – A Christian believes in one God. A Christian believes in a loving God. A Christian believes in God as a singularity, meaning all that exists is God; God is not a personal, opinionated or historically interactive God.

Faith – The relationship between a Christian, Jesus and God is one of spiritual coexistence. This is expressed as a triangle called the Trinity. Sharing in the spirituality of the Trinity allows transformation and salvation to occur – a state of being wholly within the Grace of God’s love.

Ritual – Living in accordance with the life and discipline of Jesus; experiencing God’s power through a combined effort of empathy, forgiveness and selflessness; sacrificing the physical nature in behalf of the spiritual nature (laying down one’s life for another is a transformative act).

Mariner wants to clarify an important term before describing the state of the biopsy. The word ‘empathy’ is used frequently when one would expect the word ‘love.’ In mariner’s opinion, the English language is short on words for the various kinds of love that exist. Something isn’t right when we say, “I love God” and also say, “I love the coffee table.” During the time of Jesus, it took three Greek words to say love: eros, meaning physical attraction; philos, meaning brotherly love or friend love; agape, meaning love of God or conversely God’s love of humanity accompanied by a feeling of awe. It seems correct to combine a genuine feeling of empathy with acting in behalf of that empathy, and further to commit one’s self to continuously perform in behalf of empathetic opportunities – in other words, the core behavior of Jesus.

֎

The biopsy.

Generally, theology is in rough shape. Surprisingly, in recent decades more Christians have grown comfortable with a God that is a singularity while still advocating faith and ritual. But for centuries Christian education began by starting with page 1 of the Old Testament. Few students if any stayed with Sunday School long enough to learn the New Testament – the Christian part. The Old Testament, aside from a theistic relationship full of lamenting about God’s fickle ways, presents an image of God which is very anthropomorphic and very much a God who will interfere with history if what’s going on isn’t to God’s liking. A large majority of Christians with just Old Testament exposure still relate to the Old Testament God to help them with their daily activities or otherwise blame God for acting against them if bad things happen.

In the New Testament, God is a love power, a power that created the universe and all that exists. God drives a hard bargain for believers because believers must expand God’s love in order to benefit from God’s love.

Faith, too, is in poor shape as Christian practitioners cut short the dynamic of living hand in hand with God and thereby be transformed into a life of infinite reward. Faith in anything is hard to come by these days. Cultural stability for all of humanity is not readily available. The human tendency is to batten the hatches and retreat to a less troublesome spot where the stormy seas are kept away. However, this is a good time for Christians to measure their faith. Instead of retreating, step out into the world to improve the situation. This behavior requires a Christian to have faith that God will ‘respond’ with feelings of comfort and wellbeing despite the physical and emotional tribulations of spreading the quieting power of God’s love. Remember that Christianity is a transformative religion; somewhere it says your faith will make you whole.

Ritual is in critical condition. Many parts of ritual have ceased to function. Ritual is where Christians execute the core values of Jesus’s life: empathy, forgiveness and selfless dedication. Too many Christians are pew Christians. In Matthew 28:19-20, Christians are charged to go forth and spread the Word. In churches, this is called evangelism. Further, the Word can’t spread in pews; empathy can’t be served in pews; forgiveness can’t be served in pews. The church service has become the primary act in a religion that calls for finding salvation by giving one’s personal, face-to-face actions to people in need. The church service has a role in restoring theology, faith and ritual but the God relationship is outside.

Finally, selfless dedication to the church building has replaced selfless dedication to God and spreading God’s love. For too many Christians, the buildings and assets are sacrosanct without the accompanying theology, faith and ritual found in Jesus.

֎

Sociologists would step in at this point to explain the ill condition of Christianity by reflecting on the influence of changing culture, good and bad economic security, and the will of the flesh as core to the survival of the species. Economists would defend the importance of wealth even at the poorest levels of society. Scientists, educators and data experts would say that Jesus’s Israel no longer exists. Even Joseph Campbell would imply that the Jesus myth has faltered.

Mariner holds that these are excuses but not reasons for ill health in the biopsy. Religion is the responsibility of the individual. It is a personal search for a richer experience. Even without the gathering at Nicaea, humans would search for quality values in life. Many stop at wealth; many are incapable; most seek comfort, avoiding spiritual responsibility as an enriching experience.

More than ever before, our times need Jesus walking the streets spreading the love of God. Jesus, however, gave his life on the cross; it’s time for Christians to pick up the cross and take his place.

Ancient Mariner

 

Philosophy Recipe: Stir and Bake a Long Time

Philosophers are underappreciated. To most of us, embroiled in the intense competitions of the present to make a living, raise children, and root for the Chicago Bears, philosophers are too droll, write boring stuff and write in a dense, laborious style. However, it is philosophers who set the stage for what we believe, what is moral, what the value of life is, and invent the glue that makes sense of human culture. As a new era of history begins, it is philosophers that set the compass.

If one went to college or had an excellent history class in high school, one is aware of the Age of Enlightenment. References set the dates of enlightenment between 1650 and 1800 AD. Notable names of the era, philosophers all, are Bacon, Descartes, Hume, Voltaire, Grotius, Rousseau, Spinoza, Hobbes, Newton, and many more; check Wikipedia or your library for detailed contributions.

We should note that the philosophical burst previous to the Age of Enlightenment lasted over 700 years from about 650 BC to the time of Christ and included Xenophanes, Socrates, Plato, Euclid, Aristotle and others; again reference Wikipedia for more detail. From the time of Christ until about 1500, authoritarians, pragmatists and utilitarians took over to form the Holy Roman Empire and the Dark Ages. The philosophical growth during this time leaned more to the standardization of religious philosophy and practice. Little profound technical or economical change occurred except for mechanical improvements to daily life such as improved water and sewage and the beginning of practical medicine.

As mentioned, religious practices also are cyclic. Comparing historical cycles, Saint Augustine and the Nicene Council occurred in the third century AD; the Holy Roman Empire was established in 800, the Reformation began to emerge in 1500 and today religion worldwide of every spiritual inclination is under duress as pantheism grows in popularity.

Back to the Age of Enlightenment, toward the end of that Age, the Industrial Revolution emerged, throwing labor-based economics to the wind. Needless to say today in similar times, the underlying progress of science, technology, communication, relatively improved education and a newly discovered spherical world led to a hodge-podge of government theories, economic models and disruption in social class stability that cyclically reoccurs across all of human history.

Assuming a harmonic cycle of history, lasting about 600 years give or take, history indeed repeats itself. Comparing cycles (the last one started around 1550-1600), we today are at the point of the Luddite labor rebellion in 1811, the food shortage/population explosion during the Napoleonic wars in 1803-1815, and the Civil War in 1860. In other words, there is cultural turmoil among the masses. Old values, particularly related to human values versus economics, have shifted sufficiently that previous behaviors seem unproductive.

It often is difficult to make sense of the evolution of cultural value because we can’t see the forest for the trees. Events occur every day around the world that shift philosophy, religion and culture tiny bit by tiny bit. A simple example is moving from marriages arranged by families to sacramental marriages to freewill marriages to homosexual marriages to increasing numbers of legally-based marriages sanctioned by the State. Shifts occur event by event, conflict by conflict, official recognition by official recognition. Change is not a consistent path: there are ups and downs, movement is forward and backward.

With a little distance in time, however, one can identify the evolving harmonic cycle. Today, it may be difficult to identify the current harmonic cycle because of all the trees but there are signs – as confusing to us as signs for early H. sapiens during the Iron Age, Baal worshipers 600 years before Christ, Dark Age serfs, the Luddites, and the Reaganites.

Further, there are many similarities between recent lifestyle improvements and those lifestyle improvements that occurred during the Roman Empire. It may be an intellectual reach but in terms of improved daily life, radio, television, air conditioning, plastic and the invention of the combustion engine may be comparable to an easier life in Roman times. Also similar is the lack of a tour de force of philosophers during the Roman era. Noted a few paragraphs ago, the occurrence of a philosophical era did not happen from the time of Christ until the Age of Enlightenment. Daily comfort easily displaces the need for a new philosophy of life. Fortunately, cage boxing, baseball and curling have replaced savage entertainment at the Coliseum.

Will we, in this modern cycle without a philosophical era, suffer the lack of philosophic discipline? As we shift from technical reality to Artificial Intelligence as reality, will we have a new philosophy to hold together unfamiliar ethics, economies, human values and a new harmonic cycle?

Understand that futurists are not philosophers. Futurists predict events and conditions; philosophers interpret and create ideas. Lacking a philosophical groundswell to guide us in this harmonic cycle, will we suffer corporations as we suffered the authoritative behavior of the Holy Roman Church? Will we be forgotten like serfs during the Dark Ages? Many educated and respected futurists, including the renown Yuval Noah Harari, fear that as corporatism separates from humanism as a reason to sustain profits, the wellbeing of ‘useless’ humans will suffer simply because they aren’t needed. Sadly, this is normal behavior throughout history. Today, marketing to more humans means more profits. In the future, it is likely that profit will be built into the corporate model because corporations will control human value without human preferences.

So it is, without a bond of philosophic interpretation, that our next generations must deal with rootless perceptions of what is right, what is moral, what is just. It is the wild, wild west all over again. Oh, for a philosopher’s recipe.

Ancient Mariner

 

 

Did it ever occur to the reader

Did it ever occur to the reader that analog clocks with moving hands and digital clocks with numbers tell different times? Mariner is old enough to remember when only analog clocks existed. Consequently, like everyone else, he grew up reading the whole face of the clock, not time-specific minute markers. If you would like to have the reading experience of an Evelyn Wood speed reader, quickly look at an analog clock for just a tenth of a second. Two things occurred: First, you did not subvocalize the minute marks, which is what speed reading is like; your brain took a picture of the whole face.

Second, your brain immediately perceives values on the clock face to be behavioral rather than temporal. For example, if one is preparing to leave the house for an appointment, the time on the clock face says, “Wow, I’d better get ready to go, it’s almost ten!” Almost ten is purely relative to the viewer’s situation and has nothing to do with finite measurement.

On the other hand, a digital clock zeroes in on the minute as the primary information. Again, the brain takes a picture of stationary digits but another mental step is required to convert the digital picture into a behavioral response. Because the brain perceives the digits as digital value alone, it is possible to look at a digital clock solely to know what minute it is without having a behavioral response. This effect actually is handy for people who don’t sleep well; they can check a digital clock throughout the night and avoid having to deal with behavioral responses.

Being the old generation yet again, with a digital clock mariner must momentarily search to construct meaningful human context for a digital value. Using an analog clock, however, he automatically has a human response. In his house, there are many analog clocks.

֎

Did it ever occur to the reader that our relationship with numbers – no matter why we use them from telling time to building pyramids to astrophysics – is the same as our reading of a digital clock? Our brains need human comprehension of value before numbers have meaning. For example, on sequential days Betty bought 7+4+19 = 30. Thirty what? If we say elephants, that’s a lot of elephants; if we say penny candies, that has a different behavioral response – either example is a response meaningful to humans – a value that numbers alone don’t possess.

When Albert Einstein wrote his “Special Theory of Relativity” in 1905 (he was 26), he had to devise demonstrations that made his theories understandable. He could have shown his mathematical formulas all day to no avail. However, by cleverly relating the special theory to a behavioral experience, people at least had an inkling of what Albert was talking about. One of his famous demonstrations was the elevator thought experiment. To view an entertaining reproduction with a quadcopter in an elevator, see: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=albert+einstein+elevator+theory&&view=detail&mid=5DCA66974B5DEE42C8CD5DCA66974B5DEE42C8CD&&FORM=VRDGAR

The moral of this epistle is that as humans we are bound to a human view of reality. How much more is there to the Universe, the flower garden, the weather, even of ourselves that we cannot see or experience? What is the Universe really like beyond our senses?

Ancient Mariner

Mariner’s Wife

Poets have their unique qualities. Edgar Allen Poe carried an overarching mood in his poems; examples are “The Raven,” “Annabellee,” and “Al Aaraaf.” Billy Collins wrote with a light touch; for example, “Man Listening to Disc.” And the injection of the self into the poems of Robert Frost was unique; for example, “The Road not Taken.”

Mariner’s wife is a serious and talented poet. She has won contests, writes about every aspect of life and, with seeming ease, can create poetry from events anyone else would dismiss without a thought. She, too, has a unique quality in her poems. She injects a twist of thought in her poems. It’s a twist the rest of us would not imagine yet we are forced to take note of it. In the following poem, his wife addresses the relationship of humanity with their God. As we relate to the human condition, we are led to a heavenly twist:

                         At the Gathering of the Great Congregation

At the gathering of the great congregation,

The Lord made his way down the aisle,

Shaking hands, smiling, nodding,

Reaching out to touch a shoulder

Tousling the heads of the infants

Catching the eye of everyone—

Amazing how he acknowledged

Each of us individually.

 

He mounted the steps

Paused briefly before the altar

Then moved over to the pulpit.

There was a great hush

As at the beginning of the world.

Now at last,

At long last,

The meaning of life would be revealed

And the purpose of our deaths.

 

The Lord said, “In the beginning…”

And paused.

A ripple of laughter spread through the congregation.

“Well,” he said with a smile,

“How did you expect me to begin?

In the beginning, I started a story.

It started with light and stars, and galaxies,

And earth and animals and a garden.

And you.

It was a story and you were part of it.”

 

A murmur of puzzlement arose from the congregation

As they turned to each other in dismay.

A hand went up.

The Lord acknowledged a young man.

 

“Is that it? It was all just a story?

We were just characters in a cosmic play?”

 

The Lord smiled. “Just a story. Yes.

But what more could there be?”

 

Voices, questions began to emerge

From the murmuring congregation.

 

“You put us through birth and death and suffering,

Through war and disease

And fear and pain

For a story?”

 

The Lord said,

“Things happen in a story.

If you want to keep it going,

Things have to keep happening.”

 

“But why,” the young man persisted,

“Did you make us suffer?”

 

The Lord replied,

“It was a big story. It had to contain everything.

Worlds, even.”

He paused and added quietly,

“I suffered, too.”

 

Now there was anger as the questions jabbed out.

“You suffered? Give me a break! It was your story,

You started it. You could have made it better.

We didn’t have to die.

We could have lived forever in the garden.”

 

The Lord was patient and kind. He said,

“One of you could have lived in the garden, perhaps,

But not two. Two is conflict and conflict is lack of peace,

It is pain—and it is also story.   Once there were two

The story spun out inevitably.”

 

An older man interjected,

“Are you saying you had no control of it?”

 

The Lord turned toward him and said,

“I could have wrapped it sooner.

At any point I could have said

‘And they lived Happily Ever After.’

But you do understand, don’t you,

That that would have been the end of the story.

Is that what you wanted—the end of the story?”

 

Someone asked, “Is the story over now?”

 

The Lord laughed. “It doesn’t seem to be.

Wherever two or more are gathered in my name

The conflict—the story—continues!

But that is not a bad thing, is it?

It fills up the universe, and our lives

Yours and mine

With joy and glory, companionship,

Fulfillment and love—yes,

It is true that part of it is also doubt

And hardship, pain and grief.”

 

A young woman stood up and said,

“Let me get this straight.

If there were peace on earth

And the brotherhood of man

Lived in right relations with each other—

Are you saying that would be the end of the world?

The end of the story?”

 

The Lord said,

“Yes. A story can’t continue if nothing happens.”

 

“So our choice is—live in conflict or not at all?”

 

The Lord said, “If you live, there will be conflict.”

 

“So what is the point,” came the plaintive cry

From somewhere within the great congregation.

“It seems like bad people advance the plot

Better than good people. You must really

Love the villains.”

 

“Oh, I do, I do,” the Lord said.

“I love them all. I love you all.

The point is—it is a story.

Be glad you were in it.

I’m glad you were in it.

“Oh, my questioning children—be at peace.

Your part of the story is over.

I thank you for the part you played

And for the indelible contribution

You made to the unfolding story of life on earth.”

The Lord raised his hands in benediction,

Turned and paused at the altar

And walked back down the center aisle

Through the quiet congregation

That was silent in his passing.

 

After he left the sanctuary

There was a brief pause before the murmuring began.

It grew louder and more insistent,

With cries of “It’s not fair!”

“He didn’t tell us anything!”

And, “I don’t believe any of it!”

 

And the Lord smiled,

Knowing that his will would be done in heaven

As surely as it was on earth.

 

MKM

June, 2014—after Annual Conference