Archive for religion

Fundamentalist Atheists

It looks like the atheists are getting a bit more antagonistic with their bus ads:

Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.

“What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant.”
— Robert F. Kennedy

It’s fitting since the atheists who put messages like this on buses are as detrimental to the goals of science as Muslims who fly planes into buildings. All this really does is let atheists know what it feels like to see shortsighted fundamentalists do things in their name that they know is counterproductive.

“An eye for an eye, and soon the whole world is blind.”
— Mahatma Gandhi

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Seeds Of Destruction

One of the strongest calls I have to humility is my arrogance. When I interact with someone and know with some certainty that I could overcome their obstacles more easily than they can, I see that everyone has been unwittingly deceived about the world through the life they’ve lived and I am no exception. We’re all doing the best we can.

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A Personal God

Over beers tonight Kristen asked me, “you used to be a Christian, what was it that you liked about it?”

The God of my youth was a very personal God. Jesus loved me in a very intimate and individual way. Not that He loved me more than everyone else, but there is some best part of me that strives to be just, fair and respectful to everyone. I don’t always manage to show that part of me, because of fear or anger or often just bad timing and lack of omniscience. God though could see the person that I wanted to be and cherished that person.

It’s been a while since I’ve known that God. It troubles me because it seems at times that everyone around me wants me to just do well enough to get by. I lose touch with that best part of me. I forget what it feels like to be loved for more than what I provide and, more importantly, I forget what it feels like to love people for more than what they provide me.

In my sense of separation, I forget that, as far as I can tell, the best in everyone else in the world is much like the best in myself.

A craftsman pulled a reed from the reedbed,
cut holes in it, and called it a human being.

Since then, it’s been wailing a tender agony
of parting, never mentioning the skill
that gave it life as a flute.

— Jelaluddin Balkhi (“Rumi”)

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Competition Versus Cooperation

Jenni and I watched The Kite Runner this afternoon. As I was watching the movie I kept noticing that I was having a hard time getting into the story. I would start thinking about the characters and the author and the director and the actors. I would get so focused on the meanings of everything that I would lose the heart of the story.

That seems pretty much par for the course for me as of late. Particularly since I’ve started working on the computational modeling stuff quite a bit I’ve been sort of dissecting everything that goes on around me.

For example, I was just in the Giant buying some noodles and there’s a woman whose job it is to come up to the front of the store, pick up any items that were brought up by customers but not purchased and then shuttle them back to their proper places on the shelves. She’s in her mid-50’s and looks somehow beaten by the world.

When I see her, I consider, “what does it do to a person’s cognitive functions to have her job?” More than that, I see how doesn’t make eye contact with anyone, just looks steadily down and goes on her way picking up boxes with a blank look on her face, and think, “what did it take to get her to accept doing this crappy job and what can be done now?”

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The Existence of the Soul

I’ve been contemplating whether or not I exist for the last couple days. It’s a strange question to attempt to answer. It seems like it has meaningful practical consequences for how I live my life though.

I’m into spirituality in a vaguely secular humanist kind of way. I have been writing for the last few years as a part of a process for mental development based out of combining cognitive psychology and assorted spiritualities. There’s no real structure other than a sort of relentless personal (and interpersonal) honesty.

It does seem to be doing something to me though. I seriously want to quit my job and spend all my time working on reducing the amount of poverty in the world. I’ve discovered I’ve got nothing against hard work, I do, however, absolutely hate wasting my time.

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The Tao That Can Be Named

I mentioned a nascent computational model of empathy the other day. Empathy starts off as recognizing a similarity in reasoning with someone different from yourself. When applied liberally, it means recognizing that the billions of starving people in the world are also people like yourself in a very personal and troubling way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus and Gandhi as of late. People who were unreasonably idealistic, but who stood by their ideals and changed the world. I don’t know whether or not I can accomplish something on the order of what they did, but I can try. In the end it isn’t the actual doing that matters to me, since the world is chaotic and beyond my control, but it does matter to me whether or not I can honestly say to myself that I tried.

Back in high school, there was a girl who had a thing for me. Even though I was lonely and womanless, I wouldn’t give her the time of day because I was a Christian and she was a slut. Now, at the ripe old age of 30, I can see that actually she was the victim of lots of nasty rumors and I had my head crammed up my ass.

I remember how certain of the time I was of how I saw the world. That one recognition — that I have been mistaken about things that I was certain of — has been driving my thinking more than anything as of late.

I ran across an interpretation of the Tao Te Ching which starts with:

Tao doesn’t have a name.
Names are for ordinary things.

Stop wanting stuff. It keeps you from seeing what’s real.
When you want stuff, all you see are things.

Which I interpret as “You don’t know what the fuck is going on. If you can just manage to not forget that and confuse your perceptions for reality, you’ll be fine.”

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Awareness — Renunciation Isn’t The Solution

I’ve been off DeMello for a bit, so I thought I would continue:

Neither Is Renunciation The Solution

Anytime you’re practicing renunciation, you’re deluded. How about that! You’re deluded. What are you renouncing? Anytime you renounce something, you are tied forever to the thing you renounce. There’s a guru in India who says, “Every time a prostitute comes to me, she’s talking about nothing but God. She says I’m sick of this life that I’m living. I want God. But every time a priest comes to me he’s talking about nothing but sex.”

Very well, when you renounce something, you’re stuck to it forever. When you fight something, you’re tied to it forever. As long as you’re fighting it, you are giving it power. You give it as much power as you are using to fight it.

This includes communism and everything else. So you must “receive” your demons, because when you fight them, you empower them. Has nobody ever told you this? When you renounce something, you’re tied to it. The only way to get out of this is to see through it. Don’t renounce it, see through it. Understand its true value and you won’t need to renounce it; it will just drop from your hands.

But of course, if you don’t see that, if you’re hypnotized into thinking that you won’t be happy without this, that, or the other thing, you’re stuck. What we need to do for you is not what so-called spirituality attempts to do — namely, to get you to make sacrifices, to renounce things. That’s useless. You’re still asleep. What we need to do is to help you understand, understand, understand.

If you understood, you’d simply drop the desire for it. This is another way of saying: If you woke up, you’d simply drop the desire for it.

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Computational Models Of No Mind

Imagine tens of thousands of years ago a couple of our ancestors manage to work out some symbolic representation for something, probably danger.

Symbols are, after all, mostly useful for social formation initially. An aggregate of communicating individuals will, in most situations, have a competitive advantage in spotting threats or food or whatever.

Eventually the symbols become more fine grained and they are used for a wider variety of social functions. I can signal that I want water or a rock or food, whatever.

Humans, eventually get the hang of recording the symbols in such a way that knowledge can aggregate. The already intense survival pressure on the capacity to manipulate symbols for oral communication goes up again.

This aggregation of symbols eventually becomes history and progresses to science.

I’ve been thinking about the Buddhist concept of “no mind” or not knowing. It’s such a counter-intuitive instruction since how does one use a brain, whose basic function is thought, to stop thinking.

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The Ethical Atheist

Stumble send me wandering into the ethical atheist’s questions for God.

It’s weird reading atheists argue with Christians. I feel like Gulliver in Lilliput listening to a vehement argument about which end of the egg to crack. This is what the atheists lead off with:

Why don’t you show yourself? You supposedly made us and want us to believe in you, right? Why the big mystery? You’re also omnipresent, right? Why don’t you show yourself to all of us at once and have a personal discussion with us? You can pick the date and time, we’ll all stop what we are doing, I’m sure.

I actually argued pretty much this question slightly drunk post-Oktoberfest this past weekend. I mentioned working on the Habitat House a couple weeks ago, and one of my friends told me that it was nice helping people who needed houses, but belief in God was silly.

I’ve been in a mood about the God thing in general. The only thing I seem to be sure of when I talk to other people is that they’re all wrong. ☺ Here’s where I stand on the subject of the divine at this point in life…

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