Thursday, August 31, 2006

A dream that evaporated with waking

I awoke with an interesting dream this morning. Its details are all gone now. It was about three ways to talk about some idea that I always talk about. I forget if that was about living in the Spirit, that the spiritual world is very different from what religious people think it is, or that the physical world is so much more corrupt than people acknowledge, both secularly corrupt and religiously corrupt. Whatever it was, there were these three ways to look at it that I hadn’t thought of before, though the truth these ideas led to was one of these things that I already know well.

I know there was one idea that I held on to the longest, though even it probably survived less than a minute. It was about some specific people. I forget who now. I don’t know them well.

Images from dreams last longer. So do emotions. There were images in the dream this morning, but they only illustrated these ideas. I actually still can see a couple of faces from this dream, but I don’t recognize them. The central theme of the dream was not visual, but intellectual. Apparently it wasn’t much for my waking mind to hold on to.

Everyone who dreams knows this as a phenomenon. No one understands the physiology or perhaps even spirituality of it. I used to know something about experiments in state-dependent learning, ones that mostly involve lab animals in drug-induced states, but that was a long time ago. Our brain changes with context in more ways than anyone knows. It’s one of those things that makes me feel secure that religious people are completely over their head in saying anything about who and what God is and secular people are, too, in saying there is no God. Maybe it was that this dream was about. I don’t remember.

But there is a God. Richard Dawkins’ book saying that’s a delusion comes out in a couple of months. How can he be so sure when there’s still so much to know? I’m sure I’ll see enough excerpts from it on blogs to know that I know something he doesn’t know, and that there’s no way for me to teach him. I’ve met God in states of consciousness that are awake, yet different from the wakefulness that couldn’t hold this dream this morning. And neither atheists nor religious people who trust only in words know anything about that.

God never evaporated with normal wakefulness. That’s not a delusion, whatever the reality of God is.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Unfortunately, sophists know sophistry

I watched about 30 seconds of Tucker Carlson’s show on MSNBC this afternoon. He had a guest on about Warren Jeffs, fugitive polygamist who is currently in a Las Vegas jail awaiting his being returned to Utah. The guest was going on about how bad a man Jeffs is, how he is a rapist. Tucker Carlson cut him off as being “self-righteous”.

Self-righteous? Certainly the guest was being judgmental, but I had no sense that he was boosting himself at Jeffs’ expense. The guest was just detailing how Jeffs is a bad man. The only self-righteousness I saw was from Tucker Carlson pulling out an insult like “self-righteous” when he wanted to shut up his guest. Maybe that was a controlling tactic rather than self-righteousness on Carlson’s part, but “self-righteous” sure sounds like a putdown to me. Carlson might have said that Jeffs is not a convicted rapist (as far as I know), if that was his point. To attack the other person instead of the issue is what so many conservatives know to call ad hominem attacks when it’s done to them. Many are not so careful the other way around.

Maybe Carlson would have chosen his words differently if he knew he would be judged by those words. But no one of importance is going to judge Carlson for such an attack in this life. I’m sure that’s part of why so many people say so many things just to beat their verbal opponent, when there’s no defense for those things in the long run, when it’s pure sophistry being employed.

I’m used to using the word “propaganda” to describe most of what is said by people politically and religiously. There aren’t that many outright lies told, though, or incredibly outrageous spin on events. What I usually call propaganda is often sophistry, where people say that their prejudice is supported by reasoning. Take another time when I think Tucker Carlson was spouting nonsense, a show at least months ago when he said that homelessness was all about the mentally ill not taking their medications. As someone who works with the homeless as well as other needy, I know that’s ridiculous. The biggest reason for homelessness is unemployment. I could write Mr. Carlson with specific data, but do you think he’d retract what he said? He might qualify it and say he was talking about long-term homelessness, though his statement isn’t true for that either. One way or another, if there was any response at all, I’d expect to see Mr. Carlson to pull out some self-serving reasoning, maybe based on a few facts, maybe none at all, to defend himself that he knew what he was saying, despite that what he was saying is such a oversimplification, it can only be for the sake of propaganda.

Since I went online in 1998, this is most of what I see from people all across the political spectrum and religious spectrum, defensive, self-serving reasoning. The other day I looked up “sophist” in my dictionary. The key phrase was how a sophist engages in “self-serving reasoning”. Yes, that is what I’ve seen for a long time. I’m sure it’s always been a human thing to do. Only what do I do with that information? For myself, it’s helpful to realize that not only are people engaging in propaganda even when they say they are for the truth, but it often is this particular sort of propaganda disguised as legitimate reasoning.

It’s not as though I’m going to do better calling someone on their “sophistry” than I have on their “propaganda”. I did some searches on Google using “sophistry” with other words. I see more sophists accusing their opponents of sophistry than the other way around. That’s one thing wrong with all these wordy, pseudophilosophical defenses. The guys who know words the best already have their pseudophilosophical insults lined up. If someone doesn’t want a dialogue, I can’t force them or shame them into one.

Maybe even “propaganda” is too gentile. So many people are self-serving liars. If liars burn in hell, that’s where Tucker Carlson and many others will burn. Maybe it’s a professional hazard of relying on words and popularity so much. If God prefers they just die a natural death, then that’s where they will end up. If God chooses to forgive people their lies, selectively or generally, so be it. For my own sanity, maybe it’s best for me to know that liars are liars, whatever other words one might use. My experience is that liars don’t stop being liars for me, maybe not even for God. Maybe that’s one reason God doesn’t even want to deal with them to punish them. He’ll save punishment for actually doing evil instead of just lying about it, if He needs any vengeance at all by then.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

You can fool some of the people all of the time

Today I became aware of a series by Regnery Publishing, which describes itself as the leading conservative publisher in America, since 1947. The series is titled The Politically Incorrect Guide To (whatever). The Panda's Thumb is currently carving up the volume in the series devoted to attacking evolution. There was a earlier one that attacked evolution for a couple of chapters within a larger attack against all sorts of things in science. You don't need to read many excerpts to recognize the tired style of making all sorts of overblown conclusions from a few supposed facts, winding up with some grand, global conspiracy to suppress God and whatever else the author feels like claiming.

I can't imagine I'd find any of the books interesting, but the page for the reviews at I linked above interests me. Both spotlight reviews heap all sorts of praise on the book. Yeah, those nasty science bastards are going to be on the run now! Then there are reviews from some who know some science. Overall it's rated as 3 stars out of 5, but it certainly is a bimodal response. Then one can look at the positive and negative votes for the reviews, the authors supporters and detractors changing places from one being stronger at voting one month, but the other in a different month. There's more potential science in observing the human nature of all this than in the books themselves, I'm sure.

In the end, it's all a waste. Science cares nothing about such fantasies. It amazes me that those who see such godlessness in science and liberalism never seem to think for one moment that God might be on the side of science and liberals, that there is more love and truth there than with those who find so many things to hate. Conservatism is a dead end. Liberalism is a dead end, too, I suspect. People will live as they will live. God will lead those who follow Him, not those who merely claim to. Those who refuse to understand that are already dead.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The vagaries of charity

The San Diego Union-Tribune had a story today about St. Vincent de Paul Village in San Diego having to cut back services for the homeless due to a falloff in donations. After two years of donations of almost 22 million dollars in 2003 and 2004, donations fell to just over $15 million last year and $6.7 million for the first half of this year. 50 employees had been laid off prior to this recent cut in services.

The only factor mentioned for this was the change Congress made to the tax deduction for donated vehicles. This caused the amount the charity received from vehicle deductions to drop from $5.7 million in 2004 to $3.2 million in 2005. The amount the charity made from a vehicle didn’t change, but only the value of the deduction the donor received. Still this accounts for only a small portion of the drop in donations. The timing wasn’t broken down to see if some donors were donating to help victims of the hurricanes last year instead of this charity.

Most of this article is about the human beings involved, the greatest focus being on one couple that is homeless after a fire destroyed their apartment. He is 32. She is 22 and pregnant. The article ends with a quote from her, “I’ve never been so scared in my life.”

I’m sure there are many different directions one can go about the sociology of this. One could write about how different charities have to fight each other for publicity. I’ve particularly disliked how this is done in medicine as if one disease should be cured more than another. One could write about how much it would take to assure everyone in need so they wouldn’t have to be as scared as the above woman. One even could write about how one change in society ripples to affect the rest of society, how tax law changes how charitable people feel.

That’s all so beyond me. I know my personal reaction, how millions of dollars is far beyond anything I can do, beyond anything everyone I know can do. It’s like a force of nature. All one can do is adapt. Yet it is about the behavior of people just like me, over 2 million of them in San Diego County. Shouldn’t I have some understanding of that?

I think I do. I know what it’s like to be busy taking care of my own life. I know I’ve had many patients and clients who were afraid, but they were OK in terms of getting their needs met. Sure, some way to reassure them would have been valuable to them, but that’s not necessarily the highest priority for someone who wants to help them. At the same time, I see clients each day I volunteer who are being neglected by the system and are in a downward spiral as a result. Someone has to know what people really need. That starts with the person asking for help, but extends to other people who know the situation.

After that it’s such a struggle to get government to do more, to get business to do more, to get individuals to do more. How much are we supposed to do? More than we are collectively doing now, the poverty anyone can see should say at least that much.

So what am I supposed to do? For some years I’ve believed I should live my life to end poverty and live my life to end conflict. God says so. I don’t remember exactly how we came to that. It’s in the Bible. It resonates with what’s in me. God in fact will confirm for me right now in words that this is His desire, any time I need that. What does this mean? It means I do as much as I can do for both. That’s not much. I mention whenever I have a chance that this is what it means to follow God. Sometimes I create a little conflict in order to lobby against conflict in some larger context. In every way, I do whatever I can for both, to end poverty and end conflict.

It’s not enough. There’s no way I can compensate for almost $7 million in lost donations, in money, in labor, in rhetoric put together, even if I could find perfect words to say about this. It’s not enough to fix the problem, but it’s enough from me.

I think this is the crux of how to see this. Many people realize that their efforts either to end poverty or to end conflict will not make a difference to the problem. So why bother? Many would emphasize that a community must exist to work in this direction. Yet communities do exist, and they talk their way out of doing everything they can do. A church might earmark 25% of what they bring in for charity. It’s not enough. What about labor? What about rhetoric? Is 25% enough? Is the denominator of what’s being brought in enough? I haven’t found churches to be up to the task of looking at this. I haven’t found many people up to the task of looking at this. Yet I’m sure God is up to that.

God is my hope for many things, not mindlessly, not magically, but from everything I know of Him. I don’t think God looks at the world and says everything is fine. If He does, then I’m way off in my understanding of God valuing love and truth, not the opposite. But I don’t think that’s it. Some say it is the freedom God has given people that causes so much trouble. Perhaps, perhaps this world is worth it for the sake of freedom. I’m skeptical God sees it that way. I suspect God looks at this world and sees something that needs to change, whether that’s the slow change social scientists can track in the real world or the dramatic change predicted by traditional eschatology. So change it will.

I made my peace with God years ago, surrendering to Him, whatever and whoever God is, as every other way I learned about was not right for me. So I live as I understand I should live. Lots of people don’t. Maybe they’re right and I’m wrong. I’ll risk that. Why everyone else risks God meaning exactly what He has said about the importance of charity is beyond me. There are a lot of distractions in life, but none worth being against God.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Arbeit macht frei

I wonder for how many centuries the Nazis will serve as examples of perfect evil. Maybe some find them passé already. I never will. What a story. Men who quote Goethe and appreciate Beethoven become such ruthless, vicious beasts when it suits their purpose. In Hitler’s case, he was even ready to destroy Germany for having failed him in carrying out his fantasies. Anyone who can’t generalize about evil from that isn’t trying.

Not that they were such perfect evil. They were human. Maybe the first Nazi who came up with “Arbeit macht frei” as a slogan for a concentration camp thought it might be true, that prisoners could be freed after they had worked for a time. Or maybe it was a statement that work would free someone from the misery of the camp in an existential way. By the time it was used at Auschwitz, though, as pictured, when people were mostly killed right away, it had gone beyond a cynical deception to be a cruel joke. That’s about as perfect as evil gets in this world, building on something that’s almost defensible into the most grotesque hatred, indifference and falseness.

Now look at how many lies are told today in politics and religion. I would be specific, but I don’t want to kick sacred cows today. I’d rather head in the direction of a solution to being surrounded by lies. Everyone knows some lies are being told. They just think their truths are exempt from that. Well there are plenty of people around to tell you anything you believe is a lie, too. Why not listen to what they say?

I listen to those who tell me that my personal relationship with God is a delusion based on my pride, insanity, or how lightweight they say I am intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, whatever. It amazes me how people tell me this as if they are the first person to think of that, whether in comments to me on this blog or elsewhere. OK, whatever my deficiencies, what do they have to do with hearing from God? So many lies are based on people not looking at the alternative possibilities. Some people believed “Arbeit macht frei” just because that’s what the sign said. Others would have called them naïve, but lots of people do this. They believe the first thing that comes to them or the first thing that comes to them from the universe of ideas that are acceptable to them.

Hearing from God wasn’t the first solution to life that came to me. I was once as devoted to being rational as anyone, rejecting obvious lies about life being all good or some religion being the perfect way to live. The way to live was to look at one’s situation and decide what the best course of action was. In doing that, everyone could mostly decide the same thing. Education is good. A well-paying job is good. Marriage is good. Children are good. Not hurting other people is good. Saving money and being responsible for one’s future is good.

Yet in doing everything right, one can find things going wrong. That doesn’t happen to everyone. Some people do everything right, and their lives proceed well enough. Then they can look down on anyone having trouble and say if he or she would just do things right, that person wouldn’t be having trouble. Ah, that’s how some lies get started. People overgeneralize from their experience. Then they oversimplify, as is our nature. In the end, these are people with good lives, but who know nothing about what they don’t know. Such are people who give me advice. Such are people who back the politics and religion of simple slogans. Such are people who came to Auschwitz and hoped it might be true that, “Arbeit macht frei”. It’s not just cynics who can see past that.

But it does take some experience that things are not what society says they are. The race doesn’t always go to the swift. The contest doesn’t always go to the strong. It is profitable to bet that way, but when that bet loses, the loss is not always because anyone did something wrong. In politics and religion it is. If the economy worsens, those in power are at fault. If some foreign policy goes bad, it’s likewise. In religion, anyone who winds up suffering has only himself or herself to blame for not following the right path. More than one religion sees it that way, because that’s a human idea, not God’s.

It is a human idea that the right path is defined by the right faith, the right works, or some perfect combination of both. It’s something under the control of a human being, whether rationally or as payback for something a person did in a previous life or to pay for sins of one’s fathers. It is justice, just like every ironic twist in an episode of Twilight Zone, including one where an unexpected person is suddenly staring at the wrong side of “Arbeit macht frei” (Actually that was a recent Outer Limits).

And that is a lie. Not everything that happens is just. Understanding that is as old as the Book of Job, but it doesn’t come easily to people. It takes looking at some setbacks oneself, to say, “I did nothing wrong,” then realize there were some things, but not enough to explain all this. It takes reaching out for whatever God one chooses, seeing the shortcomings in that God, and trying again with the real one.

Little of that reaches the level of popular politics or religion. I go around the blogosphere, where it’s so much easier than real life to see people working away at their false premises. Is there anything true here? There is. People’s perceptions of experience are true as being their perceptions, no matter how many lies color their interpretation. It’s not like every lie is as bold as “Arbeit macht frei”. Still something makes people work so hard to be free.

I would simplify my life. I would tell my clients only what they need to hear instead of everything I can think of that might help them, but probably doesn’t. I’m better at that than I was as a young physician, when I’m sure I overloaded patients with things they couldn’t remember. Now I have handouts. Now I also forget more easily than when I was young, which saves me time sometimes. If I forgot to mention this one to a client, how important could it have been? That’s what God says.

God also says He’d rather I attended to Him instead of to these clients, that I could do more good that way, as in Acts 6:2. So far I’ve resisted that, even though I understand the truth of what God has in mind, not so much for this world, but for Him. I don’t think it would be good for me to change the social benefits of working. God doesn’t either. It would be good for Him. He understands my resistance. He helps me with my clients even so, pointing out some resource or some problem I would have forgotten, not pointing out ones that aren’t so important. I haven’t become efficient to the point of only telling people what they need, but it works well.

And these dummies say I don’t know how to talk with God. Instead they work at life, thinking that will make them free. It will just make them dead like everyone else. Our world is full of lies, despite the truths one can find. I don’t see how human beings can free themselves, either as individuals or communities, but there is freedom through God. The only way to find that is true is through God, the real God. It is so tempting for people to say they know that when they have no idea who and what God is, or they wouldn’t come up with these lies about the path to God. God is available in many ways. One has to follow one that works, not one that spits out more hatred, indifference and falseness. It’s not hard to tell the difference. It’s hard to talk about.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Die Gedanken sind frei

For audio file: Gesang auf Deutsch

Die Gedanken Sind Frei............Our Thoughts Are Free

Die Gedanken sind frei,.............Die Gedanken sind frei
wer kann sie erraten;................My thoughts freely flower,
sie fliehen vorbei........................Die Gedanken sind frei
wie naechtliche Schatten...........My thoughts give me power.
Kein Mensch kann sie wissen,....No scholar can map them,
kein Jaeger erschiessen;...........No hunter can trap them,
es bleibet dabei:.........................No man can deny:
Die Gedanken sind frei..............Die Gedanken sind frei!

Ich denke was ich will,...............I think as I please
und was mich begluecket,.........And this gives me pleasure,
Doch alles in der Still,................My conscience decrees,
und wie es sich schicket............This right I must treasure;
Mein Wunsch und Begehren....My thoughts will not cater
kann niemand verwehren,.......To duke or dictator,
es bleibet dabei:.........................No man can deny:
Die Gedanken sind frei..............Die Gedanken sind frei!

Und sperrt man mich ein..........And if tyrants take me
in finsteren Kerker,...................And throw me in prison
das alles sind rein......................My thoughts will burst free,
vergebliche Werke;...................Like blossoms in season.
denn meine Gedanken..............Foundations will crumble,
zerreissen die Schranken.........The structure will tumble,
und Mauern entzwei:................And free men will cry:
Die Gedanken sind frei..............Die Gedanken sind frei!

Drum will ich auf immer...........Neither trouble or pain
den Sorgen entsagen...............Will ever touch me again.
und will mich auf nimmer.........No good comes of fretting,
mit Grillen mehr plagen............My hope's in forgetting.
Man kann ja im Herzen.............Within myself still
stets lachen und scherzen.........I can think as I will,
und denken dabei:....................But I laugh, do not cry:
Die Gedanken sind frei..............Die Gedanken sind frei!

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step,” so said Mao Zedong (1893-1976). I haven’t gone a thousand miles with this particular posting, though I might be able to do that better than I can get those lyrics straight above. I’m sure it reaches over a thousand miles back along what led me here, which is more interesting to me. The recent history is brief. I was watching the end of The Enemy Below, a 1957 movie starring Robert Mitchum as the captain of a destroyer out to kill a U-boat manned by Curt Jurgens, Theodore Bikel, and others. It was notable for how it portrayed the humanity of the enemy. I read that the original ending had both captains dying trying to save others in the end when the crippled destroyer rams the U-boat, but then they went with something more upbeat where only Theodore Bikel dies, despite these crazy men working together to try to save him. Everyone is very respectful. No one is vengeful. I tuned in when the U-boat is being depth-charged. Curt Jurgens defiantly turns on the PA speaker with the march/drinking song/war song “So leben wir”, which is quite stirring and collective. Everyone sings, even though the American sonar can hear them. They had them sing it in English here, including some line about Nazi fellowship. It is still stirring.

Jurgens then plots his counterattack, which is that if Mitchum turns the same way again after he makes yet another attack with depth charges, they’ll fire a spread of torpedoes where the destroyer is headed. They do. Then Mitchum has his plan to take the U-boat down with him. It all works. The ships die. The men mostly live, helping to save friend and foe once they’ve done their duty to kill the other ship or boat. It’s so noble.

I like people being good. I like comradeship, too, which can be a conflict, because one’s comrades aren’t necessarily that good. I’ve known for a long time that I’m enough of a team player to have been caught up in any mass movement. I would have been a good Nazi. I would have been a good Communist. I would have been a good fundamentalist in any religion. I might have been aware of some flaws in their beliefs, but up to a point I could tolerate that.

“So leben wir” reminded me of that. The appeal of meine Kameraden is strong, even if they are Nazis. Being able to look back at everything the Nazis did means there is a part of me that does not accept Nazi fellowship no matter what the appeal of meine Kameraden is. Fortunately I was not born in a place or time that made either Nazis or Communists meine Kameraden. I was able to give fundamentalist Christians a chance at being meine Kameraden, but they failed miserably at that. They failed intellectually, in terms of their behavior, and in terms of rejecting what it means to have the Spirit live in you. I will tolerate a lot for fellowship, but I have my limits.

Yet another German song came to me that is much more about meine Kameraden than some Nazi song. I learned it in sixth-grade, when Mr. Connor taught us many protest songs. He meant what he sang, too. He didn’t sing, “If I Had A Hammer” in a gentile way like Peter, Paul, and Mary. He sang it as if it is really about justice, truth, freedom, and love. I later heard someone comment that this song is only missing mention of the Communist sickle. Yes, that’s accurate. But no one like me becomes Communist any more, so all Mr. Connor did was turn me into a lifelong Democrat – it’s as good an explanation as any.

I remember Mr. Connor teaching us “Die Gedanken Sind Frei” in English very well. I remember the imagery of the third verse, where thoughts break out of prison, like blossoms or butterflies, causing all this damage to the status quo, despite how gentle they are. Sadly that is not the history of this song. It is a 12th-century verse that became a protest song in peasant rebellions of 1524/5. Protestant and Catholic lords both had their soldiers cut the protestors to pieces. Martin Luther was against them as well. It was not for the sake of such rebellion that he attacked the Catholic Church. Authorities weren’t kinder to it in German rebellions of 1848/9 or in the protests against Nazis in the thirties. I haven’t researched this extensively, but did the singers of this song ever win?

Well, they won Mr. Connor’s heart, and mine, too, on this song anyway. Of course, I know thoughts aren’t all that free. Like the child in the above picture, we are handed all sorts of thoughts that we’re stuck with, some good thoughts, some bad thoughts. It takes a lot of work to sort through what is valuable and what isn’t. Even after some effort like that, there are so many people on the internet and in real life sharing so many thoughts that I’m sure aren’t worth anything. Yet it is certainly true that people are free to decide for themselves what thoughts are worth keeping and what to abandon.

It’s not just thoughts that matter. Emotions and spiritual connections matter, too. I found the place in me that would make me a tool of meine Kameraden. As I had to go through many possible fathers, both men and institutions, before I found one who loved me enough for me to call my real father, I’ve had to go through many possibilities for meine Kameraden. It was once other kids I knew, then others in science, then others in medicine, then others in liberal politics or liberal religion. I’ve tried those who also claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but most of them reject me even faster than I reject them if I’m open about my beliefs.

So now I’m aware of how much I have traveled from when meine Kameraden could have been my shipmates in war, trying to kill the enemy, then expanding to include the enemy once the battle is over. Today, meine Kameraden are not human beings. I love my family, my co-workers, and my clients, but none are meine Kameraden. None have sworn “all for one and one for all”, as meine Kameraden have, both sworn and demonstrated it. Meine Kameraden is Spirit, however one cares to see that, one Spirit, many voices. Many people would admit to having no idea what this is. Others would claim to know everything through their theology or other worldview, yet in fact have no idea how Spirit could be meine Kameraden, as I have said. So since they don’t know, I must be wrong.

I’m not wrong. I know the Spirit who lives in me. The Spirit knows me and helps me, in ways the Bible describes, but few believers take seriously. The Spirit offers this to more than just Christians. “Meine Kameraden” is not an idea I made up. It just works better in German for me. Others can use their own words for that, and for Spirit. But as God, people have been selling Spirit short, as impotent or as something so far away, one has only rules to follow in His absence. Religion has it all wrong.

I look at the picture of the child above, and I can see a future. I turn on the mp3 clip of this song, on repeat, and it brings me closer to the future. Maybe what I see is as inaccurate as when the Nazis predicted a thousand-year reich, but I see it nevertheless. I see a world changing slowly, toward love, toward freedom, toward truth. I believe in the truth that there is something more than just human will at work in that. Call this superhuman thing thoughts or spirits, but there is something. Will they have this particular child accepting or rejecting the thoughts of a parent, school, or larger society? Who can say? Some find the truth. Some truths are in between what anyone believes. It’s a hard thing for any one person to get everything they say right. Some would say it takes a community, but every community I’ve seen is more incompetent than I am. I say it takes meine Kameraden, those who have proved their love for me and that they deserve my full love, not just the love I would give anyone. It says something about religion that religion is so bad at providing such people. Religion is only as good as the human beings practicing it, but thoughts or spirits don’t have that limitation. It is a challenge to understand what is real about such nonphysical things, but that can be done. It’s been done for thousands of years.

I listen to “Die Gedanken Sind Frei” again. Anyone who doesn’t get something out of this song either has a heart of stone or brain of stone, I’m not sure which.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Mind, brain, and spinal cord

Throughout my twenties I was perfectly comfortable with the mainstream neuroscience idea that the mind and the brain are one, that any mental process has a counterpart in something neurons are doing. From that point of view consciousness is a trivial thing. It is built up from all of the sensory images our brain makes, both from within us and outside of us, together with our cognition about what everything in those images mean, plus an ongoing memory that gives us continuity, plus feedback from whatever we do that changes our sensory images. This any good neuroscientist knows is what the brain integrates to give us consciousness, a property that simple emerges from all these systems to give us a virtual reality that is very close to the real world, a world we actually don’t experience directly at all, but only through senses.

Our consciousness is so good at tying us to the real world that we don’t ordinarily think about needing our senses to be working in order to know anything around us or even within us. Yet examples come up often enough where this breaks down in some part for us to know the truth of our virtual reality if we think about it. We need our brain, or we know nothing. There doesn’t seem to be any way to get knowledge into us otherwise. Only then some spiritual experience comes along that can make one question that. One can imagine there being a God and a spiritual side to reality, separate from the physical side, that can communicate with us through our physical brain somehow. It’s not essential to abandon a belief that the mind and brain are one to believe in God and spiritual experiences. It’s more that if a scientist as I have been starts to believe in God, many things become open questions.

One thing that isn’t an open question for me is that it’s not necessary for God to do anything to make the physical universe work. Maybe He is the Creator. Maybe He isn’t. Whichever it is, that was a long time ago. Now there is no arbitrary term necessary for the will of God to explain all sorts of physical phenomena, from weather to biology. Nature is a self-regulating system in every way science knows, which in the 21st century is a lot. That people still talk about God being responsible for every lightning bolt that hits the ground is amazingly archaic. One can argue that science is an illusion, that the only reason science seems to work is because God is so orderly about micromanaging the universe. In that case there is no gravity. God just makes all massive objects behave in a way that precisely matches our concept of gravity, even to the point of general relativity being a theory of gravity that works perfectly while Newton’s theory is inadequate under extreme situations. What a strange God it would be who would do that as opposed to simply being separate from the physical world, but one can argue many possibilities.

I do assume that science is valid, and that God doesn’t mess with physics, since no one ever has documented that He does. Some talk about a God of the gaps who only shows up where science is useless, such as explaining the ultimate origin of the universe or for now the ultimate origin of life. I don’t like that idea. It sounds arbitrary. The possibilities for God and consciousness are much greater, which made me wonder more about the mind and the brain.

In the nineties I read Christian apologetics about the mind and the brain. J.P. Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City was one of these. What a waste. If you insist that your arguments prove your position, then whatever arguments you come up with will be seen by you as doing that. That can be delusional, though. Arguments apologists make against the mind and brain being one are just that weak. They use false philosophical dichotomies such as the difference between a property and a substance to create circular arguments about what supposedly can’t be physical. You know, for a mind that can’t be physical, it sure is affected by an incredibly large number of changes in the brain, which are all understood perfectly well through physical mechanisms, different areas of the brain being very different in that. Such philosophy demonstrates no understanding of how neurons in the brain form an image. That part is very well worked out. What’s mysterious is exactly how this image becomes part of the subjective experience called “me”. What is clear to me is that there is certainly no valid argument to say the mind cannot be the same as the brain.

But might the mind be somewhat different than the brain? Is it possible, even if there is no good way to insist that this is the case? Neuroscience certainly shows there are large areas of overlap between the mind and the brain. What part of the mind might not be in the brain? Memory might be one. The mechanism for converting short-term memories into long-term memories is clearly in the hippocampus, but what happens to those long-term memories? Neuroscientists now wave their hands about how those memories become stored diffusely throughout the brain. Really, how? It’s hard to say, something about altered synapses, but altered to do what exactly? At some point neuroscience becomes just as vague and abstract as philosophy. But beyond that there are so many odd phenomena about retrieving memories, such as repression, or the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, where memories are easily accessible at one time, but not another for some obscure reason. There is the strangeness of a distant memory which suddenly pops up with incredible clarity. Where was it?

Some would say many strange things are in our unconscious mind/brain. Where is that? In the 19th century there were large areas of the brain with unknown function to put an unconscious entity into. There is no such territory any more. There is no place in the brain for an unconscious mind. Yet people can believe in that scientifically, while whoever uses the word “spiritual” instead of “unconscious” is seen as a nut.

What is our will? Where do all of our desires reside? Is there a nonphysical part of my mind that grows during life and survives my physical death? I don’t know, but I wonder. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wondering that, no matter how much ridicule it would draw from those who are sure science can explain every bit of our consciousness.

I thought of a possibility once. What if the mind is to our brain as the brain is to our spinal cord? A well-trained neurologist can tell the difference between a stroke or tumor in the brain vs. one in the spinal cord. Sensory and motor pathways cross at different levels on their way from one side of the body to connect with the other side of the brain. Logic and neuroanatomy allows you to know where a deficit is coming from, though the difference can be subtle, and in a comatose patient who can’t give sensory information, it may be impossible to say exactly why one leg is weak. If the spinal cord is damaged, that would make the leg weak. If the brain is damaged, that would make it weak as well. Both of these are physical structures. If the patient dies, one can see what the problem was. One might be able to tell from neuroimaging before that. From that experience we know that there is something besides a spinal cord necessary to make a leg strong.

The spinal cord has certain programs that give strength to a leg. The brain modulates those programs and even drives the spinal cord in its own ways to make a leg do what we want. The brain is a later improvement to an organism a long time ago that was much more spinal cord than brain.

If there is a mind beyond the brain, it’s not physical. We can’t discover it through pathology the way we did that the brain was not just an organ to cool the blood. We have to discover a greater mind the way we would if we were studying the spinal cord and said, “There is more going on here than the spinal cord can do.” No mere argument will show that. Neuroscience may come up against a barrier, across which memory, will, desire, and everything now called unconscious is coming into the brain without a good explanation for it in the brain itself. I would be surprised if anyone suggests such a thing from data within a hundred years. Maybe that will never happen, and the neuroscience revolution of this century will tie up every loose end. Maybe there is no mind beyond the brain, no unconscious either, just some things attended to better than others. God can exist either way. God may be an illusion either way. It’s just something I know will be clearer in the future.

So I wish people would quit fighting over this issue in the meantime. Fortunately it doesn’t draw the same craziness as creation vs. evolution, but it is somewhat crazy to try to discuss this anywhere. As someone devoted to God I say without equivocation that the apologetics on this subject are terrible. They prove nothing except that those speaking are biased. I wish I could pull God out from behind a post to tell people this, to just knock it off. Whatever is real will be apparent soon enough. In the meantime, it’s subduing the person in the mirror that is the most important task.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Disqualifying oneself from serious discussion

OK, one more negative piece, and then I'm moving on.

I was listening to Christian radio on the way home from my volunteer work today. D. James Kennedy was having an anti-evolution show with some guest. Both men call themselves "doctor", a title in stark contrast to how dependable anything was they said. There were the same old attacks on evolution through thermodynamics and calculating enormous odds against the self-assembly of human DNA. Of course counter-arguments to these are easy to find. They've even been easy for me to think of myself in the 31 years since I got my physics degree and 26 years since I got my medical degree. The thermodynamic argument against evolution hasn't changed a bit during that time, and throughout that time it has had the flaw of saying that if it were true, not only would thermodynamics preclude evolution, but it would also preclude the growth of any seed into a tree or egg into a human being. Information does not get around this. There is no term for information in the second law of thermodynamics. Whoever doesn't trust me can read the same thing in Kenneth Miller's book Finding Darwin's God.

Then there is this calculation that the odds against a protein or DNA molecule coming together by chance is some astronomical number. The problem with that is the math assumes this happened in one step from some soup of components coming together. It was more than one step. It wasn't random collisions of components. One can read up on theories about what did happen.

The firmest conclusion I have from listening to such a presentation is that these men have made no effort at all to look at the rebuttals against their arguments. They recommended Michael Behe's book as if there is nothing wrong with it, yet critiques of that book are easy to find and full of valid points. Knowing what I know about this presentation, why would I even believe these men if they said water is wet?

In fact, I don't believe anything they say. Maybe that's a reason I listen. If men like these say something, I know I don't have to take it seriously. I can just listen to see if evangelicals still sound the same. Yes, they do. They have nothing new for me to ponder.

In turn, I know that I can't help anyone who takes them seriously. I tried giving longer explanations of why thermodynamics isn't a problem for evolution on message boards in the past. It just can't be taught over the internet. It can't be taught to anyone who thinks that "randomness" means the same thing as entropy, who can't sit down and review the experiments and equations that show what entropy is. It's a serious topic for someone seriously interested.

Not that many people are seriously interested in anything. They want to use ideas for propaganda. They want to win. I don't know who all is included in "they", but D. James Kennedy certainly is. I suppose it's like that Supreme Court justice said about pornography, that he knows it when he sees it. I know when I see or hear or read someone who is not interested in serious discussion.

Of course it's not just intellectual honesty that matters for that. Yesterday I visited a blog called Liberal Christians where the author was calling Joe Lieberman "scum" and suggesting he move back to Israel. Maybe the author was having a bad day, but I don't accept that as an excuse any more than I accept the excuse of, "I was drunk". Saying or doing evil things are forgivable, but they don't come from nothing.

Now I doubt that any of these people who I would say are not to be considered for serious discussion care what I think. I am not their target audience. Still it is strange when such people say they do this out of faith. I don't know that God has any meaning if He doesn't require more honesty and love than this. So I don't think God is fooled. I think He's knows someone is being bad as well as I do. If that doesn't matter to those being bad, then that's the final proof that what they say is not to be taken seriously.

I wish I could get God's list of who to take seriously. He tells me not to worry, that it's fine just to decide who is serious by what they say and do. After all, people can change, even if some never do. Then there is the likelihood that everyone is incompetent on some subjects, even God. If that doesn't make someone at least a little humble, maybe there is no hope for them.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Despicable human traits

Then what?

OK, one more piece about how people stink, politics stinks even more, and religion stinks most of all, yet they all taught me about God, love, truth and other things I cherish. Then I’m going to try to be more positive. I think it was Daffy Duck who taught me the word “despicable” as he directed it at Bugs Bunny. Daffy was right. It doesn’t matter what a good guy Bugs was most of the time or what Daffy did to deserve being treated despicably. Yet Bugs could be despicable and never suffer the consequences. Who says TV is a waste?

Some environmentalists root against human beings, hoping that nature will someday reclaim the Earth and drive us back into a state where we can’t do so much damage. That’s always seemed doubtful to me. People are so adaptable. Nor do I generally feel that human beings are so despicable as to have me rooting against us in our conflicts with nature or some sci-fi challenge from outer space.

Yet we do have some despicable traits. I have triads for a lot of things, and for some time I expressed our evil as a triad: hatred, indifference and falseness, simply the opposites of love and truth. I’ve thought about this recently. There are at least two types of hatred that deserve special attention, so it’s time I change this to four. So now my take on what is despicable about human beings are these four things: judgment/scapegoats, oneupsmanship, falseness and indifference. I think indifference is actually the worst, so I put it last. Now what do I say? I started to explain these, maybe one each day, but it’s too ugly. You either already have your own examples or you’re a perpetrator of such evil, so I’ll skip almost all the explanation.

I do mention both judgment and scapegoats. The former is more intellectual and rationally defensible, even while being evil, while the later is more emotional and especially oversimplified, overgeneralized or both, such as dumping on liberal politics or liberal religion with whatever attack one pleases. There’s a fine line between dumping on some class of people as scapegoats and oneupsmanship. Hey it is all hate, after all. It’s just a matter of how much pride goes along with it as to its purpose.

That level of analysis depresses me, but I can always get to some question that intrigues the student in me. Do the politically and/or religiously conservative really not think that someone will judge their words and actions someday? Not God, not history, it never will matter? Maybe some people really do get caught up with being validated by the next election or just by one’s own peers that they never think about how vulnerable they are to judgment. What a wonderful shield traditional Christianity is to ever fearing God’s judgment. Of course there is that problem of whether God really promised not to hold one’s life against one who has orthodox beliefs or if that was just human beings promising this. Evangelicals never seem to worry about that, as if atheism is the only alternative to their faith. What if God is a liberal? I leave that for the enemies of liberalism to ignore. God tells me He understand the situation perfectly. He’s the one who told me they’re all dead men walking.

My interest has been what I should do about it. I don’t like fighting fire with fire, though I feel my nature going that way at times. I do like putting water on the fire by pointing out the truth as I see it, but that is such a limited amount of water for most fires. Most fires are blazing way beyond being controlled by facts.

Instead I do what anyone who has read what I’ve written here recently knows. I try to see this as human and move on, forgive that this makes the politics around me and religion around me such turmoil that I will not find a church in my lifetime that isn’t wrapped up either in fulfilling the conservative agenda or denying it, instead of focusing on whoever and whatever God is. God and I focus on that, but we both know no one cares. People are too busy with their own ideas, their own concerns. People only do what they know how to do. All shortcomings in our society stem from that.

I wish I could write a page that would describe the better way of following only God in words that people would believe, but I can’t say I know how to do that. I don’t even know enough about how to do that for God to help me do it. Since people only do what they know how to do, including me, that won’t get done. God says He could give a demonstration, but He has to get into someone’s mind enough to do that, and He can’t do that involuntarily.

I look on the net at those who want to end poverty. What a diffuse effort, some focusing on Africa, others focusing on attacking corporations and greed. I can’t say I cared about ending poverty until God brought me to care about that. Now I live to end poverty, not that I can do that much nor do I know how people in general can do that. It takes God to balance one’s life toward that end. So many are instead trying to do this themselves. Likewise for ending conflict.

Then there are the wise guys on the other side with their hatred, indifference, and falseness. Their evil is natural. Paul wrote that the enemy is not flesh and blood, but evil spirits (Ephesians 6: 12). I think he was wrong. The enemy isn’t the flesh and blood that has become a pawn of evil, but the evil is natural, not supernatural. Anyone can see the pattern eventually. People are so proud, all of us.

I know of one good solution, but people won’t take it. God says He would like to see people learn sooner rather than later that what they’re doing now isn’t working. He says all hatred burns out eventually. There’s no good alternative to waiting for that to happen, as ugly as it is to watch. The question is what to do while waiting. There’s more than one thing. There are private things and public things. As in twelve steps it’s important to be honest, open-minded and willing. Sometimes that’s contradictory, such as in being honest about why I am utterly closed to some idea, but it’s a guide. The real direction is in drawing close to God, learning to say that yes, evil is evil, but it won’t last forever, nor does it usually help to fight evil with evil.

People can be despicable. It’s in our nature. It’s also in our nature to reach beyond that. There is something there beyond our nature, something better. There is help and love. You’d think people would jump for those things, but so many think they know something even better, some fantastic simplicity and perfection that becomes the enemy of what is real, whether it’s New Age fantasy, the fantasy that there is no God or that traditional theology has it just right.

God is whoever and whatever God is. People don’t like that. The alternative is fantasy, and that can turn evil. Anyone can see this, maybe with taking a step back. It’s as obvious as the fact of evolution. You have to want to see everything, not just the parts you like. Then what? Then God can come live in you, and you can learn why that matters. It’s a lesson lost on so many people who think their words say it all. No words matter that much. Life matters, and it is a different life to give up the despicable qualities of our nature for what God can do, as crazy as that may seem along the way.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Ann Coulter, looking for love or something like it

While I’ve written this week about my disappointment with religious blogs, I have found some interesting things on political blogs. In the past I’ve paid little attention to Ann Coulter, figuring she was just another right-wing mouth that would say anything that didn’t get her kicked out of her fraternity. She hasn’t minded losing jobs over what she says, but to be ostracized from her peers would be another matter.

I did notice when she was wearing that eye patch. Any woman with the nerve to face her public looking like a pirate is my kind of guy. I wasn’t listening to her words at that point, though.

Then there was something in the local paper this past year about her fighting with college hecklers. There was some rhetoric about who was really for free speech. Hey, I’m for free speech, but for some people I could see making sure they enjoyed their free speech somewhere else, like when the Nazis went to Skokie, Illinois. Maybe the hecklers had heard enough.

I became more interested when I heard about her becoming an expert against evolution in her latest book. What is that about? I had to look at her book in a bookstore to see. It was true. There she was, followed this tired style of picking out many supposed facts, as if the sum total of such arguments means evolution can only be this sordid atheistic conspiracy involving all of academia around the world, but winsomely she knows better. She did get some things right. She mentions the Cambrian explosion of species, which is a time of interestingly fast evolution. One can say the same about how quickly life recovered from several periods of mass extinctions. One can say the same about how evolution has been right there as the level of oxygen has grown in the atmosphere, constantly creating new species that could utilize the extra oxygen. Despite long periods of stable species, evolution can be rapid sometimes. How? It might all be natural selection, but scientists do wonder about what factors are involved with how fast this can proceed (relatively – it’s still a matter of millions of years). No doubt the coming knowledge that will cover everything in human genetics and therefore likely will reconstruct much about what happened in human evolution in molecular terms will clarify this.

In the meantime, so what? It remains crystal clear that life has changed over the history of the Earth, becoming more diverse, adapting to local conditions. That aspect of evolution is certainly fact. Exactly what sort of natural selection or even some supernatural selection was involved in that has some details yet to be described, but it amazes me just in my lifetime how much one can say now about specific genes changing over time. One can reconstruct the 300 million year history of the mammalian Y chromosome, how the sry gene that triggers a male pattern in many genes in utero came from a duplication of a gene that regulates development of a different body segment, with other genes coming and going over the years. One can talk about how non-mammals do all that differently. There are many such stories. There will be many, many more.

On the other hand is Genesis. Genesis 1: 11-25 is dead wrong about the order of creation of species, whenever that was. Flowering plants did not precede all animals. Not all sea creatures nor all birds preceded land creatures. Why is it anti-evolutionists nitpick so much about evolution, but then swallow Genesis whole as an alternative? Ah, that’s faith. Whether it’s true faith or false faith, it’s some kind of faith.

I like how comprehensive was in refuting Ms. Coulter’s book. That bit of sanity also made me realize what happened. Coulter did not go to the library to do research. Like so many celebrities, even political celebrities, she got help to do “her” book. William Dembski of the Discovery Institute, an advocate of intelligent design, takes responsibility for everything in that section, saying he deserves the flak she is getting about this, though he didn’t actually do the writing. How chivalrous.

OK, that explains how it is just like every other piece of anti-evolution propaganda I’ve seen, except for the barbs only Ann Coulter could insert here and there. Not that Coulter is mentioning the help she got at every opportunity. On The 700 Club last month, she spoke as if everything she knew about evolution was hers. Gordon Robertson even praised how she taught him some things.

Ah, I get it. It’s not just love of God and Bible that has Ann posturing this way. She wants more love than that. Some of the other criticism I’ve heard of her lately fits with that as well. It’s said she hammers the Libertarians ever since they turned down her offer to run for Congress on their ticket.

Heav'n has no rage like love to hatred turn'd
Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn'd.

William Congreve, The Mourning Bride, 1697

Yes, sounds like Ann Coulter to me. There’s also criticism that she speaks as if she is sexually active despite roaring against so many ungodly atheist liberals. Well, come on, we all follow God in our own way. We all look for love in our own way. It’s different if you look at people that way instead of their being controlling and mean-spirited, isn’t it?

Rush Limbaugh always has struck me as a man looking for love, with his pompous claim to excellence, with his provocative, yet predictable take on life, nothing to upset all of his dittoheads. Lots of people who became close friends with food and OxyContin are like that. Fans may be more fickle than either of those, but they’re legal and don’t make you fat. I’m sure a lot of right-wing commentators are following the same path. Left-wing commentators might be, too, but they seem more edgy to me, like Al Franken, Dr. Howard Dean. They may be looking for more iconoclasm than love, my kind of guys.

It’s always hard to tell someone’s innermost motivation from the outside. I’m sure Ann Coulter would claim to be motivated by something like truth, justice, and the American way. Well, what she put out is definitely not truth, meaning it’s not justice either. It is American. I’ll give her that. But maybe America will change. The truth of evolution will continue to become more detailed. It certainly is hopeless to fight that, unless it’s your friends in that fight that matter to you.

I won’t begrudge anyone making friends with the devil. If people knew anything of who God is, they would pick God over the devil. Since they pick the devil, they must not know what they are doing. Of course there is a part of me that would hit anyone over the head to tell them what they are doing. God says He understands this. God says that if He could, a fleet of His spaceships would circle the planet tonight and early tomorrow His spokesperson would be announcing surrender terms to the entire population of the world. Only God doesn’t have a fleet (not yet, He says in my ear). God doesn’t even have one spaceship. God isn’t even corporeal, never has been. He is one Spirit with many voices, but still only one Spirit.

So it takes time. In the meantime, what else is there but let people look for love as they will. One can fight it, but it’s easier just to recognize this is what so many people are doing in their insanity.

It’s like in one of the last Star Trek TNG episodes, where Picard is being tortured by a Cardassian who tells Picard a story about when this Cardassian was a child and had to fight to eat a measly egg. Picard thanked his tormentor for this image, as Picard could then see him as the abused child who grew up to be this controlling, vicious beast, letting Picard see the powerlessness that was underneath all of this insanity. It was this same episode where the Cardassian wanted Picard to see five lights when there were only four, just to inflict this little bit of mind control at the end, for the sake of coming away with some victory. The script lets Picard defiantly bellow the reality, that there are only four lights, as he is rescued. Yet when rescued, Picard admits that had his rescue been delayed, he would have seen anything he was told to see.

I know what he meant, but fortunately it’s not from my own real life that I know that. In my real life I know certain things to be true, no matter what Ann Coulter says. I know other things to be true, no matter what Al Franken says. They can both seek love from their audience with their flawed beliefs. I know what I know. That is an important part of my love, and so it is for God as well. At least the old man and I understand each other, whatever mental form He takes today.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

You can't pace a steak

The death of religion

Late in the course of trying to resuscitate someone, a doctor is liable to try inserting a temporary pacemaker. There are techniques to quickly get a wire into the heart to drive a heart rhythm directly, when medications and electricity through paddles have failed to get a decent rhythm on the EKG. It's a last ditch thing to do. It also doesn't necessarily work. One can get an electrical signal into just about anything, but it doesn't mean the heart will contract effectively. It may be too metabolically disordered or otherwise on the way to death to contract any more, even when there is a good rhythm electrically. There is a saying that summarizes this, "You can't pace a steak."

This may just sound like crude humor to some, but it's more than that. People in health care need to learn that it's OK to quit. They also need to know when to quit. I'm not sure which is more important. They both are important. In the case of a heart that won't even be driven by a pacemaker, it doesn't matter so much. The most perfectionist doctor might only find things to keep trying in such a situation for another 30 minutes. Even the temporary pacemaker isn't used that much. Situations are often too hopeless to go that far.

Still there are plenty of situations where it does matter if a doctor knows to quit, when it's time to quit, before someone's death has been dragged out by hopeless efforts to change reality, causing suffering to both the patient and loved ones, as well as wasting resources. The right time to quit is never going to be something that can be defined precisely. People just have to have some sense that there is such a time, that it's not only OK to quit, but best to quit, though it's probably better to err on the side of doing too much, despite that "first do no harm" expresses the opposite. "First do no harm" dates to a time when there wasn't that much good a doctor could do.

This applies to everything one might do, in any part of life, not just medicine. In any part of life it's good to think about whether what you're about to do might hurt someone, even you. There is this other issue, though. When do we quit? Now some might learn by having someone kindly and softly say, "It's time to quit," maybe with a long explanation about why, all of which has current data and makes sense. It can be hard to put all that together in one moment. Sometimes you need something blunt to soften up those of us with thick skulls through the surprise and brevity of a saying like, "You can't pace a steak," meaning you can pace current through a piece of dead meat, but it won't contract, so why not give up at that point?

It worked for me. I'm capable of much longer discussions about when it's time to stop treating some specific disease, but the principle beyond the specific details is something I have down cold. You can't pace a steak. You can't beat a dead horse. You can, but you'll just have to stop and be unhappy about it. I've never wanted to do the latter, but when it comes to hopeless causes, I have found myself metaphorically pacing a metaphorical steak, hoping that it would become a metaphorical heart again. Horses aren't the same metaphor for me. I don't know horses. I know medicine, and I know steaks. One can argue with both sayings that you can keep doing something hopeless, that people do, but then such an argument lets people see the truth even more strongly, something that is so rare in life.

So it's not crude. It's an effective way of speaking, attention getting, penetrating and true at the same time.

Now the reason I bring it up is that I think we may be at a point where we can see religion as a steak, useful in at least one way, but not in every way religion could be useful, not any more, not fully alive now. It's debatable. I believe it's correct to say all religions are false, whatever truth might be in them, rather than all religions are imperfectly true. It's debatable, but I know my side in that debate. All religions are false. None are worth that much as an isolated package of beliefs and ways to live. There is something to be gained from integrating religions between each other and with other experiences of life, but I don't think it's that much. It's debatable. I don't feel like stopping to argue my side of that. I'd rather talk about what I'm ready to say instead.

What I'm ready to say is that religion is dead. It's still warm. It even breathes. It even walks, but it's a dead man walking. The moment of death just hasn't come yet. I’m not watching a clock in order to write out a death certificate. That’s not for me on this death. I just see what’s coming. What is my greatest evidence for this? It's the behavior of religious people.

I've been watching this for a long time. I think I can tell roughly how religious the clients are at the charity where I volunteer now, as I could with my patients. Religious people may be more polite. They may be calmer. But does religion make any difference beyond that? I used to tell the story of a Catholic woman whom I diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in her forties, at a stage where her only symptom was legs too stiff to sit cross-legged. She worsened and died over the usual course of a few years, handling that with such peace that it might have been the greatest display of faith I've ever seen. That's one.

Now where is everyone else with faith like that? They might be waiting for some challenge to demonstrate their faith, but I feel more certain about faith if it has people living to end poverty and living to end conflict. Where are they? When I look for people on the internet fighting poverty and conflict, I'm not sure they know anything about God. I'm suspicious their efforts are useless, driven only by rationalism as they are.

Maybe I'm wrong about that, but maybe not. Maybe God is headed away from religion, realizing as well as anyone that it's not so much religious people who want to end suffering from poverty and conflict. Maybe not only do people who want that need God more, but God is willing to give Himself to them, even anonymously. Does God care more about compassion than religion?

If He does, He may have as little use for religion as I do. I'm with Him, wherever He’s going. Religion is currently walking and talking, but without the real God, it is surely dead. God will do what He will do. Whatever He does is fine with me, even reviving religion if He wants, any of them, even Scientology if He wants. But the other day, I heard God say, "You can't pace a steak," and I know exactly what that means.

God is very much alive and will remain so. Religion is not, even atheism. When religion can’t do more than it does to end poverty and end conflict, not to mention so many dead-end beliefs, I think religion is dead. It still walks and talks, but its heart doesn’t work, and even God can’t make it live without a heart. Now someone might point out that religion never has had much more of a heart than it has now. That’s true. Religion has been about God, but has it ever been that much from God? God says no. That’s good enough for me.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

16,600 channels and nothing's on

I've been doing a lot of blog searches since I got my new computer and the cable modem. Wow, do the sites come up fast now. Sometimes I just save links to the most promising ones to look at later, when I'm feeling more reflective. When I'm processing so many sites, it's not reflection. It's instinct in response to so many flashes of sensation, a very different state, often caffeine-induced. I remember a Japanese site that came up - interesting pictures, funny looking language around a few bits of English. It's all I needed to know in that moment.

One of my most productive searches was about Marcus Borg's book The Heart of Christianity, about 16,600 hits said google. Many sorts of people commented on that in their blogs. There were some conservatives saying how wrong Borg was, but nowhere near as many as when I search for anything with the word "liberal" in it. Anything "liberal" generates all kinds of negative hits from conservatives saying how awful liberals are.

Hits about this book had a much greater variety. Some agreed with me on a couple of positive points, one that Borg wrote a great chapter saying faith and beliefs are not the same. There is also the central idea of the book that Christianity is about a transformation mediated by the Spirit, after which people should be much more Christ-like. Of course anyone is liable to argue about exactly what that should look like.

I had some negative reaction when I read it, too. Borg strangely considers only two possibilities for who and what God is, the traditional God, which he calls "supernaturalism", and a God closer to God being everything, which he calls "panentheism". Oh come on, there are more possibilities than that. This helped cement an observation I've had, that there is this brand of liberal Christianity that proposes some alternative to traditional theology by going just far enough away to eliminate an objection people have and declaring this to be true. I suppose I first noticed this by atonement through Jesus' example being the liberal alternative to the traditional substitutionary atonement. Why just that? Others have proposed atonement through the resurrection rather than through the death of Jesus. Others see atonement in the actions of people in the present. There are more than two possibilities.

As the overall title to this blog states, my liberalism rebels against such a duality between tradition and something more modern. If traditionalism is right, I want to believe that. If the truth is far different from what anyone has believed to date, then I want to be the first one to understand that. I don't want to be partisan for anything, just for God, because my hope is in Him, that there is a God who is love, with enough other good qualities to make Him my singular loyalty. I'm not sure how my faith became this. I think God put it in me, that plus my experiences that nothing else works, as many people have discovered.

I didn't find a blog where that comment fit into what anyone was saying. I also didn't get my comment in about Borg's approach to seeing the Bible as so metaphorical. Sometimes the Bible is not metaphorical. It's just wrong. There's a difference.

Still on the whole I like what is in this book quite a bit. I'm glad many people see the same thing. So what do they do with it?

The answer to that question has me discouraged. People went many different directions in their blogs after praising Borg. I didn't find many to like. I posted my comments pointing out how God is essential to living according to God, things like that. Can you believe that not one person said, "Thank you for pointing out my error"?

Yes, I can in fact believe that. Everyone thinks they're right. I do. I got used to being right in school. Then God came along and showed me I was wrong. Few people have been able to match Him in any way. Yet everyone thinks they can. It's something very natural. People think their beliefs are right, and many people have lots of beliefs. Even after his great chapter showing how faith is not beliefs, Marcus Borg spends the rest of his book writing about his beliefs. This is what people do.

This is what is on blogs, beliefs that mostly I can see flaws in, beliefs where people have not considered many possibilities at all, beliefs that people are sure are right beyond any reason to believe that. What is there to make of that?

It's human nature. I go to that a lot. People could share their feelings in words. That can be hard to find the right words and lonely if you do. People could share pictures and other visuals. Not many are creative that way, as I am not. So it's easiest to share beliefs as well as people wanting to do that. More than once I have tried to find a neutral way of asking, "Why should anyone care what you believe?" This is not to say, "You idiot!" It's to ask what is there about anyone's beliefs that make them worth sharing. Some see it democratically that every belief matters. I see it that everyone with beliefs will be dead in the future. I want to hear from something or someone beyond them.

That's one sort of feeling that I wish people would express more, their desires, uncolored by so many beliefs about why their desires aren't met or what course of action will meet them. Those beliefs may be right or wrong, but the desire is real either way. I can agree with many desires, but many of the beliefs that go along with them I cannot agree with.

Yet as in many things I am so small, and the world is so big. People will continue to blog about belief after belief, as is their democratic right to do. And I will look and shrug my shoulders. In many ways, this world is wasted on human beings. Will there ever be better human beings? Will there be better machines than human beings? I don't know. I'm sure I could do a blog search about it, and I still wouldn't know. Or I can ask God. God says there will be both, but it will take a long time. I suppose I could have started there, but then what a short piece this would have been.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Subversive acts

So lately I’ve been on this kick of talking about living in the Spirit. In doing so, I realize just how much I know about this comes from those years when I followed that reading schedule in the back of my Bible to read the entire Bible each year. So the gospel of John and everything Paul wrote about the Spirit would come back to me both this way and through my memory. Then I’d see the Spirit acting in my prayers, in my life and at church, differently at charismatic churches than elsewhere, but some in every church.

Likewise my passion for helping the poor came from reading in the Bible, such as Matthew 25: 31-46, which describes how Jesus is in the needy, together with the practical experience of being in a helping profession and learning so much about God’s love and my love from that. Yet churches neglect this. Post-modernists like to deny that there is any objective truth, that any truth is determined by a group of people. Something like this challenges that idea so much. What does it mean to call contradictions and hypocrisies “truth”? It seems to me to be just another lie so that people can avoid being any different than they are.

Then being educated in science was a different sort of influence on me. Just yesterday I was reading something written by a man thoroughly dedicated to the idea of intelligent design. It was junk. It was junk for the same reason everything about ID is junk. The proponents of this only make points to back their prejudice. I had moments myself wondering how something intricate could have been entirely natural. I remember a specific moment like this regarding how complicated protein synthesis is. Yet it’s not that hard to picture a natural process building up to this if one tries to see it, and it’s also easy to see the many places in anatomy and physiology that are not designed well at all, like the human spine. ID really is junk. Only propagandists say otherwise.

Rather than be the atheist toward that so many of my scientific colleagues are, I did something else that was subversive toward a specific ideology. I started praying regularly. I found my prayers were answered, in subtle ways at first. Eventually they began to be answered in words. Now these were words that have been exceptional to me in providing me with direction, strength and comfort. I can’t imagine them coming just from some better part of me. Still God never has given me words this way that included something I knew absolutely nothing about. It could be that atheists are right that this is something entirely within me. If it is, it’s something as remarkable and as unknown as the God I suspect is its source.

If that was everything there was to religion in my life it would be hard enough to connect with either traditional religion or traditional atheism, but there is this other thing. It happened again this morning, as it does many times a day now. I was about to start fixing my breakfast when I had a feeling equivalent to a tug on my sleeve. I said something about whether She really wanted to speak to me or was She just playing. She really wanted to speak to me. So we retired to one of the places that are quiet enough for that. I’ve been having trouble lately knowing how much She loves me. With the various demands She makes on me, it doesn’t feel that loving sometimes. It’s impossible for Her to show me everything She is at a given moment. I am an open book in contrast and make very few demands. Between that and that She has my entire consciousness, She knows how much I love Her, and how much I would love Her no matter who She were, but also knows I have a little doubt, even though I believe Her when She says She loves me even more than I love Her. So She has been feeling the need to tell me who I am to God. I am someone who has done all of the above, read the Bible, go to church, pray as if it means something, together with things that have meant more in recent years than they once did, to be educated in science and to help people through medicine and otherwise. That’s where I was years ago. Then it changed. I did some things for God spiritually that are very hard to explain. Now there’s all this spiritual experience on top of more ordinary things of this world. It’s impossible to explain, as it is to repeat what the Spirit said to me for the hour or so before I got to eat. It’s impossible to build a context for that. There are years of experiences to relate and then who knows how much to explain the meaning of the experiences, things the Spirit can explain to me with an image or two.

So now I have these summary statements, like, “All religions are false, including atheism.” It’s not that every bit of religion is false. It’s that on the whole they are false. Anyone orthodox about any religion is wrong about something. God says so, not just me. What a subversive thing to say, and what impresses me more than that people see it that way is that I have things to say that anyone finds subversive, atheist, liberal, conservative, or religious, but non-Christian. So when did I become subversive?

The things I did on purpose are common enough, read the bible, go to church, pray, be educated, follow my profession, and volunteer beyond that. The truly subversive part was when I was willing to listen to God. He might have said that I should be a thoroughly orthodox Christian. I would have listened. He didn’t. Some would insist that because He didn’t, He must be a demon. Well, you can tell God He is a demon if you want. I just say that God is whoever is in charge enough to talk to me so consistently over the years, in the face of every prayer I could think of asking God what to do with this. That sort of willingness is all I did, plus all those other things I did on purpose.

I’m not sure even my own family stays with this idea long enough to understand this. I didn’t call the Spirit this morning. This all started with my asking God for a little help almost 20 years ago. Maybe He doesn’t give a little help, but rather this huge package deal where people take as much as they’re able. Whatever it’s been, I didn’t do this. I’m not the one who’s subversive. God is. God tells me that none of atheism, liberalism, or conservatism has any chance at all to survive in the long run, that so many words are wasted in promoting each of them. The only benefit is they are so useless that some people will get disgusted with all of them and look elsewhere, as I did. Elsewhere is where God is, not among those who cling to doctrines, rituals, leaders, and institutions as their idols, no matter how many of them do it in unison.

When I let the Spirit have Her way, words can pour out of me. They can be words of prayer, as when I first watched this happen in charismatic churches. They can be words of condemnation, as would be the case if God wanted to use me that way. Fortunately most of what God wants me to do has nothing to do with preaching at people who aren’t prepared to hear anything challenging. That we just do for fun and fellowship.

The truly subversive things God has in mind need no preachers. Time and events will kill every tradition. Some will reject Him when their tradition falls apart or in the case of atheists, reject Him even more. It doesn’t matter. God persists. Those who reject Him don’t. Eventually anyone can become useful to God, as I have. Then God has to show someone like me that He does love me, that I’m not his toy, but His son, even every loving relationship. I’ve seen God is good at that, very adaptable and practical. Just don’t count on having your breakfast on time.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Doing the impossible is always strange

Yesterday the Spirit told me to keep something I wrote to myself. Anyone who has read a lot of what I write might be surprised that I hold anything back, but I do. It’s hardly ever my idea to do so, though. I would let go with everything I’ve experienced. One thing that’s true about my life is how much of it has been a surprise to me. I’d like to make it less of a surprise to anyone who is coming up on the same experiences. So mostly I tell everything.

There is also this place in me that would carve up arrogant and ignorant people with all the skills at oneupsmanship I’ve been taught in my life. I mostly censor myself from being that way myself. Still the Spirit has an even higher threshold for that sort of thing than I do, so sometimes when all I’m writing is something competitive, She loses interest. It’s not the best way, She says.

So what is the best way to get this great message across about living in the Spirit? I don’t know. I’ve never found a way that is all that effective. Liberals, conservatives or something else, everyone has defenses against hearing something they don’t already believe in. And something powerful and unseen, but not powerful enough to have been well understood, people are going to listen to this? No, I don’t think so. After all, it’s in the Bible if all these Bible-believing Christians would actually read the Bible and wonder if it actually means what everyone they know says it means. That’s what happened to me following that reading schedule in the back of my Bible for many years.

Take Galatians 5: 22-23, the fruits of the Spirit. It takes little exposure to have heard of these. Some even memorize them, some with an actual fruit associated with each quality, but I never could take seriously which quality is a strawberry and which is a banana. Suffice it to say the qualities Paul lists are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, whatever Greek words Paul used for these. Now is 9 an exhaustive list? Of course not. Coming out of 12 steps taught me a lot about honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. I’m sure these come from the Spirit. I’m sure going through the entire dictionary would produce many more benefits of the Spirit, some of the words redundant no doubt.

I haven’t even heard that obvious addition to Paul’s words from teachers and preachers. Instead everyone I’ve ever heard says these are the nine fruits because the Bible says so. They also speak as if living in the Spirit means doing everything we can do ourselves to match this list. I don’t think that’s the case at all.

For one thing these words are way off to one side from the extremely dualistic Paul. While I usually experience the Spirit as patient, She is not always patient. Sometimes I need to pick up my pace. Sometimes it’s obvious later why I did. Sometimes it isn’t. I’ve learned to trust the Spirit either way. Where does even Paul say that his list should be as rigidly interpreted as Christians do today? Instead Paul writes of being led by the Spirit (Gal. 5: 18). He is saying good things happen to those who live in the Spirit. His examples became an idol for people to pretend they can follow themselves. That's not living in the Spirit, as someone's overall behavior shows.

Everyone does this. Atheists wouldn’t credit the Spirit for any role in being good. Liberals would want more freedom in deciding what is good. Conservatives would claim they are following some absolute standard that’s better than anything else. Yet everyone is just following themselves, and the hatred, indifference and falseness that comes from that is obvious. One can say a lot about why this is, but one reason is that all these people think it’s impossible for them to follow a real Spirit instead of some abstract and/or mystical Spirit or some abstract good.

I thought that until 1989, and then it took me a long time after that to accept that the Holy Spirit is real. The Bible helped me with that. Between the gospel of John and things Paul wrote about the Spirit, there are several specific things one can expect from the Spirit. One can expect help with prayer, with memory, with learning “all things” (John 14: 26). I had had dramatic spiritual experiences, but it was these little things building up everyday that convinced of the Spirit. She always helped me. She continues to do so.

But hardly anybody believes that. Conservatives might, but I’ll tell any conservative that the Spirit says they’re wrong about something, and no conservative will believe that. They will live or die by their beliefs. Yes, they will. And as with relying on oneself to be good, atheists, liberals and conservatives all wind up agreeing on something – if they haven’t experienced something and can’t believe someone else has, then it must be impossible.

Everyone focuses on conflict over religion, but there are some powerful places of agreement among almost everyone. Almost everyone agrees on the power of modern medicine. Hardly any Christians stick to the Bible any more when it comes to relying on prayer and laying on of hands. They might do both prayer and pharmaceuticals if they are devout, but imagine how many Bible-believing Christians just go with pharmaceuticals most of the time? I suspect there would be impressive unanimity now about that.

So it is with being realistic in many areas. Surely it’s impossible to be directly led by God, isn’t it? That’s what I used to think. It's not that God is against pharmaceuticals. His grace is in them, too. Being led by the Spirit is not that strange, if it's really the Spirit, but it is strange, even if one doesn't try to tell others about it.

God can lead us directly. The Bible says so. My experience says so. People don’t want to hear it. I understand it’s strange. Maybe there’s no way to talk about it that sounds humble or sane, or maybe just I can’t sound that way. The one reassuring thing I know is that it is in the Bible. If you keep reading Paul each year, you can realize just how alive a Spirit he means, a Spirit that can only speak through the limitations of whatever mind She lives in. Maybe the Spirit has to force the issue to get even that much.

Even if She can’t defy every limitation, the Spirit does the impossible. I’ve never seen that physically, but I see it everyday with mental miracles. Yes, it’s strange. One way that it’s strange is that the Spirit doesn’t just tell me what I want to hear. Atheists can pretend the opposite as much as they want. So can liberals and conservatives for that matter. It’s an easy excuse to explain something unexplainable physically. But that’s not it. I’ve paid attention as the good scientist I am. I’ll write about it as it comes to me. Hardly anyone will take it seriously. It’s too strange for the 21st century, unless it happens to you.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Praying for direction

Before the early nineties, I had faith, but I didn’t use it much. I did what I learned in church. Like many liberals I liked the simplicity of summarizing everything we were supposed to do in life as love God, love neighbors, and love enemies, in that order. I frequently used that as a practical guide to look at what I was doing in some situation, and sometimes changed what I was doing to be more loving in one of those categories. I was always glad when I did that and also glad for the simple commandments of the gospels. It’s hard enough to love everyone, much less be burdened with a lot more rules beyond that. Of course many people don’t even have that much direction. Not everyone I worked with seemed to have a conscience.

In that way I lived my life as it seems most people live their lives, doing the best they can with what they know. What they believe they know makes a difference, whether they have liberal beliefs or conservative beliefs or something else, but the method is just the same for so many people. They see their lives as up to them to run, as best as they know how.

I only discovered differently because my marriage to an alcoholic was breaking up, and I figured I should go to Al-Anon to see what help I could get there. 12 steps turned out not to be what I thought it was. I thought it was a self-help group like one I attended briefly in college. It’s much more than that. It is a way of drawing close to God and relying on Him, not self-help at all. One thing it taught me was how to pray. Before this I knew some scripted prayers like the Lord’s Prayer and the Prayer of St. Francis, both of which had special meaning for me, and helped me when I prayed them. Without a script, I could pray for something simple, then wait and see if anything happens.

12 step prayers are not like that. Some people may pray them passively, but people who get the most out of the program aren’t passive about it at all. They are working their program, step by step, issue by issue that comes up in life as they do their program. There are not that many variations on having a life intertwined with alcoholism. The issues that come up are the same as have come up many times before. Books of daily readings are full of the same issues, with Bible verses or other readings that are helpful, and prayers that are meant to be used, to get help from God, not just to fill time.

The first three steps of 12 steps are about admitting one’s inability to manage some part of life on our own, but to accept that God can. The next four steps are about getting ready to have God remove our defects of character. The 7th step concludes those by humbly asking God to remove specific defects one has identified. I had a number of resentments and some envy I wanted to get rid of. Praying for God to do that changed my attitude toward prayer forever. In retrospect there were a couple of times before when I would say now that a prayer of mine was answered by something that happened in my life, maybe a couple of days later. This time was different.

There was one, longstanding resentment that I asked God to remove from me. It was gone in about 5 seconds on praying for this. I could feel it go. It was so strange that I tried to feel the resentment again. It was gone. I still knew that this person had done something wrong intellectually, but the bitterness was gone. I had tried to get over this a lot before, with reasoning how that would be good for me, how I’d like to put so much abuse in the distant past, by myself, with books, with a psychologist. Those things helped superficially, but if I was honest, as 12 steps calls one to be, I had a number of resentments of things that were truly bad acts, over which I’d be happy to rip someone a new one if there were no consequences to doing so, not exactly forgiveness. Of course, in the real world, there are always consequences, something that makes forgiveness appealing. How does one forgive something that is truly hurtful and wrong? Well, that’s something to be learned a different time, but this time was about learning that God could indeed remove the resentment left in this, through prayer. It was the first time I was certain prayer worked. A committed atheist might call it self-hypnosis or something. Fine, I’ll call it God. If such a power is completely within me and not supernatural, then I still want to draw close to it. That never has seemed to be the case. Things like this don’t happen whenever I want, but only when God wants.

Why is that? Why doesn’t God just fix things? Why do I have to ask? Actually I don’t think I do always have to ask, but if I feel uncertain, confused or at all alone, I can do something that I was never taught to do for that, pray. Pray and find that prayers are answered, often immediately. Pray and sense the presence of God building up during those times, even to the point where God is present in my consciousness all the time. Pray and learn what it means to live in the Spirit.

What a big difference a preposition can make. Many conservatives must see themselves as utterly faithful to God through living “by” the Spirit, “according to” the Spirit from whatever understanding their beliefs give them. Those who actually read the Bible must get to a verse like Romans 8:9 and skip right over the part about the necessity that the Spirit dwell in you. One can see that as abstract or mystical, or one can see that “dwell” and “in” are exactly the right words, not by reasoning one’s way there, but by experience, not to say that people must speak in tongues to belong to God, but to say that people must belong to God to belong to God, not belong to reason, a theology, a church, human leaders or whatever other idols a person has embraced.

The 8th and 9th steps are about making amends. The last 3 steps are about continuing to live one’s life by conscience, prayer and integrity. The 11th step is about improving one’s conscious contact with the God of one’s understanding through prayer and meditation, “praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out”. I’m sure everyone prays for more than that, but the 11th step is about seeking and accepting direction this way. How many people pray this way? I’d say I wish I knew, but I suspect very few people pray this way, but rather pray for God to help them do what they want to do, if they involve God at all.

I was listening to a cassette recently, something from before I bought my car with the CD player in 1997. It was Twila Paris’ Beyond a Dream album. On it is a song, “All my Heart”, which has this chorus:

All my love, all I do
All my heart belongs to You
All my life I go through
All my heart belongs to You

Twila Paris is a Bible-believing Christian. I am a liberal Christian. Yet there are many places in her songs where the Spirit swells within me, and I know we have the same faith in terms of devotion, though not beliefs. I could talk with someone like Twila Paris about living in the Spirit. She would understand.

At the same time, many liberals and conservatives won’t recognize this at all. The words may be familiar, but actually living this way is not. Sometimes I try to remember how I came to live this way. My spiritual experiences were impressive, but I was skeptical of them for a few years. Everyone told me I should be, so that seemed the right thing to do.

Then I did the 12 steps, including the 11th step, which one does forever. So I followed direction and direction and direction. Then I realized how much I belong to God. I wish it were a formula that everyone followed, instead of thinking flawed theologies matter or even rejecting flawed theologies. Only God matters, not some abstract and mysterious God, but the God who answers my prayers and is willing to be my God everyday, every moment.

I sometimes write that in ways that get the philosophically minded or biblically minded writing as if their way is better than mine. I don’t see that they have a way at all. I see people saying and doing things in a very natural way as they push the Bible or wax philosophically. That is a choice people can make, to live life naturally or live in the Spirit. It’s not that liberals do that one way and conservatives the other. It’s that some know to pray for direction and others think they have everything they need without that.

I think if everyone prayed for direction, it would change the world. Maybe I’m wrong, and everyone would hear what they want to hear. That’s not how it’s been for me. God often has surprised me with His direction. But I am sure of the power in this. I am also sure that those who thunder with their words, but don’t pray for direction are completely hollow. Maybe someday that will be common knowledge.