Sunday, August 28, 2011

Suffering teaches us that we are not alone

Sounds odd to say that. After all, we find ourselves in the position of utter desolation, with no one caring, no one helping, no one really understanding. That is one of the forms that suffering takes. In suffering we occasionally find ourselves utterly alone. But we are not.

The great human tendency is to think of ourselves as the center of the universe.

We call it narcissism when others do it. Tell a story and have the other person respond with his or her story. Share a dream and watch the hearer say it was prompted by something he or she told you. Talk about a common human failing and get the response, "I'm not like that!"

The scientific speculation is that newborn infants perceive everything as an extension of themselves. Growing up involves painfully realizing that no, in fact, the world doesn't exist for you.

Enter suffering and its wisdom.

At the dark bottom of the well of sorrow, bereft of friend or foe, I realize that I can do nothing about my circumstances. At least not at the moment. I can get cancer, whether I like it or not; a storm can wash away my favorite spot; parents and relatives can die. I can't even choose when this will happen or when to feel better.

Why? Because I am not alone. Reality, the universe, my planet, my nation, my city, my home, the people I know and don't know, they all exist and will continue to go on their merry way with or without me.

Reality is not just a clever projection. If it were, I would be able to control it. But no, it behaves of its own without so much as a "by your leave." Such insolence to someone as important as me!

This we can learn from suffering: we are not alone, there is a wondrous and scary, glorious and tragic, disgusting and beautiful world of things and people outside of ourselves. They don't really care whether they inflict pain and we can't stop them from doing so if they are determined.

Gautama Buddha realized it at the foot of the tree thousands of years ago. Insofar as I know, however, and I do know very little, he didn't particularly draw a lesson from suffering, other than one antidote, detachment.

I assent to that, but because I am still attached to the idea of Truth with a capital T, I revel in the lesson of suffering. I am a part, a speck, of the universe.

I am not alone.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

God is not a happiness pill

I'm coming to see the problem with both religious and anti-religious people. They think that either God exists so they can get something (salvation, heaven, happiness, a quick parking space downtown) or they deny God because they fail to get that something or avoid something else they didn't want (cancer, boredom, pimples, parking fines). What if God's existence is not about you, for just a moment?

I never for a minute connected the truth or falsehood or even doubt about the existence of God to whether I was getting rewarded or punished suitably by The Big Guy. I never particularly thought God owed me anything.

You could have ten Holocausts, all of them directed against people whose name begins with a C, and whether God exists would be unaffected, as a matter of truth. God either is or isn't. It's got nothing to do with me.

I say (today) that God is. About a month ago I doubted so profoundly that God is, that for all practical purposes I believed God isn't. The change has nothing to do with feeling, nothing to do with thinking myself "saved," nothing to do with heaven and, frankly, I have had pretty good parking karma with and without belief in God.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Changing One's Mind About God

A friend from France writes to ask what changed my mind about God. I try to find an explanation. Belief is not a rational thing, otherwise everyone would believe. It's not knowledge, it's belief. Still, what changes profound, near-atheist agnosticism into faith in God?

To regular followers of this blog, I will make it simple: a reverse process. I am not alone in undergoing this, in either direction, which is why I now attempt to share this. Your mileage may vary; this is not to convert anyone, merely to inspire some thought.

You'll recall that the likely nonexistence of a god led me to a minimalist ethic of survival (see Godless Ethics and Godless Law) and an encounter with modern neurophamacopeia led me to deny, or profoundly doubt, the existence of a soul (see Save Our Souls and Biochemical Soul).

In the same way, I "discovered" the limits of biochemistry, therapy and philosophy. In particular, the inability of the many medications to make a functioning, but rationally sad person "happy" (see All Unhappy People) made me question my insights about the soul. The process of reversal (see How the Christian God came to clash with the Universal Echo and links therein) was, from that point, inevitable: the soul is the foundation of all spirituality and religion.

That's the how. Next come some of the whys and wherefores. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Time to call Allard K. Lowenstein back from the dead

Remember Congressman Lowenstein (D-NY) from Nassau County? OK, how about the architect of the "Dump Johnson" movement in 1968 that ended the political career of one Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was then the sitting 37th president of the United States. That's the guy we need now.

Some courageous liberal Democrat in conventional, professional politics has to start the "Dump Obama" movement. What am I saying? Courageous, liberal, Democratic, professional politician ... isn't that an extinct species?

Sure, there was hell to pay back then. In 1971, Lowenstein, who became head of Americans for Democratic Action started the less-successful "Dump Nixon" campaign. And Lowenstein was eventually killed at 51 by a deranged man. A tragedy.

Oh, and Nixon, I wouldn't have voted for him (was too young, anyway), but today he looks like a liberal firebrand. Of course, his Republican Party political operatives (who, according to one Donald Segretti, called their work "ratfucking") were the guys who wrote the playbook for the neocons of the 1980s and the stolen election of 2000.

But think about it: Barack Obama vs. Michele Bachmann. Aiiiiieeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There has to be a better reasonable, Democratic Party choice than Barack Obama. A candidate who has the guts and the talent to stand for what he believes in and occasionally win one. A choice of someone who is not running for in-house counsel at Goldman, Sachs.

First things first, however. Let's Dump Obama.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Tea Party" folks, I hear ya ...

Somewhere between 1959 and 1979, the world changed for people who kept their noses clean and did what they were told. They were going to be Daddies and Mommies, make a living in some way similar to old Dad, buy a house, have two kids, a dog, a white picket fence and two cars, hopefully send the kids to college. Then came 1968.

The year that Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy were killed, that the Tet Offensive proved the Vietnam war was unwinnable, that segregationist and Goldwater-sympathizing George Wallace lost and election alongside "Clean Gene" McCarthy's children's crusade, that Czechoslovakia showed Soviet Europe was faltering, that ... so on and so forth.

An emblematic year of much more than the year, containing developments that came before it and after. Those who lived through it were never the same, just as those who lived through 1945 weren't and perhaps those who lived through 2001 may have been irrevocably changed.

For many of us it was the gateway to experimentation with hallucinogens and sex and philosophies that the Jesuits didn't teach.

For others it was a hugely confusing and disappointing time. This latter group, which includes some of the nicest people I have ever met, found that the factory and the church closed and Mom ran off to find herself and with other men have children named Granola and Sunshine.

They got angry.

Nothing they had learned fit. Dating wasn't as expected. Marriage wasn't even common for a while, until eventually it became the place for a minority of children to be born. Forget about the white picket fence. And God sure didn't rain thunderbolts on the bad people!

Not even Reagan and the two Bushes could set things aright. So that's why they think they're the "Tea Party."

I don't blame them. I just wish they could accept my sincere sense of pained understanding. Nothing turned out quite the same for anyone else, either. Neither Carter, nor Clinton nor Obama could take us back to Camelot. I hear ya.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

We've seen the ideology of Norway´s shooter and it's right here at home

Upon reading 2083: a European Declaration of Independence, the online manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, the July 22 Oslo murderer, I knew I had seen this movie before. I flashed back to my university research in the early 1970s on the political theory origins of Franco's Spain where — presto! — there were a whole series of connections that fit perfectly.

Essentially, Breivik's harkening to medieval Christian Europe — with his reinvention of the Knights Templar — ties back to a rather broad stream of European political thought last popular in the 1920s and 30s that looks back to a golden age of Christendom, of which a former Hitler Jugend, one Joseph Ratzinger (aka the pope), is also fond as a basis for a revised unified Europe.

In Spain, the movement that Generalissimo Francisco Franco used but discarded — Franco was always a pragmatic Franquist and little else — known as the Falange Espa├▒ola y de las JONS, combined three streams of thought common to the right-wing ideologies of the time.

First, there was authoritarianism, the notion that Spain (put Italy and Germany here and you'll see it fits with minor modifications) was traditionally a society of order that was ruled by one monarch and one faith and one social order.

Second, democracy was a newfangled, humanist, relativist idea that had put individual opinion above the capital-T dogmatic Truth handed down in holy writ and interpreted by the Holy Mother Church, who guarded it, and enshrined it in the upward gazing society of Gothic cathedrals.

Third, the history of the last 500 years is that of a silent siege by a vast, insidiously concealed army hankering to impose a progression of heresies and perversions leading to the money-changers' capitalism and its stepchild, communism.

Never mind the bad history and worse theology — nor the scapegoating of the usual suspects (heretics, Jews, Marxists) as well as laissez faire capitalists and bohemians of various stripes.

None of this was alien to Norway, any more than it was to Germany, Italy and Spain. Remember Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian politician who in 1940 helped Nazi Germany occupy his country without firing a shot so he could be top dog? His name has become synonymous with treason.

Nor, as Stieg Larsson's most entertaining fictional trilogy showed, was it alien to that other Scandinavian paradise, Sweden. Indeed, the whole Wikileaks episode, and now the Breivik affair, seem taken from one of his novels.

Nor, finally, is it that alien to the United States. We have a so-called "Tea Party" — largely an invention of K Street corridor corporate lobbying firms and Fox News — that stamps its boots in the Weimar Reichstag that the U.S. Congress has become, trying desperately to push the country economically off a cliff, so a popular clamor for order will usher in a Cromwellian regime.