Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Continuity of dreams

In real life I haven’t seen a hundred dollar bill in years, but I saw one in my last dream. I had taken a taxi. All I had in my wallet was this worn, older style hundred, and the driver didn’t have change. But as fortune would have it, there was a Bank of America right there, and I could get 5 twenties for my hundred just like that. I was a little embarrassed that this meant just a dollar tip for the driver, but not all that embarrassed. He hadn’t done anything close to deserving a 21 dollar tip. That’s the breaks.

My dream self is not as clever as my waking self. Now that I’m awake, I know what I would have done in real life, where I’m always thinking ahead toward something like having the perfect change for a tip. I would have gotten different change at the bank to allow for a better tip. I didn’t think of that in my dream. Things just happen in dreamland, even if I’m the one doing them. There’s not much thought involved.

I suppose my dream self doesn’t have the extensive consciousness my waking self has in order to be so clever. I wonder if whole sections of my brain are walled off in REM sleep, cognitive areas no doubt, just as brainstem mechanisms paralyze our muscles during REM sleep to keep us out of trouble. Dreams might work best if we can’t question them as much as some of us do real life. I think I have to be close to waking up to say or think in a dream, “Wait a minute, it doesn’t have to be like this.”

That’s not my biggest neuroscientific observation from this dream, though. What impresses me even more is that I’ve seen that hundred dollar bill before, in a dream an earlier night. There is memory during dreams that I can’t fully access when I’m awake. I remember the part of the dream that’s fresh when I wake up. Before that it’s hazy, even though I can remember some. The dream itself remembers, however. This taxi dream started an earlier night, maybe over more nights than just these two. There were several stops in the trip, which I would guess went up the peninsula to San Francisco, all of which are obscured to me now. But I remember the hundred. It was an earlier night. The hundred in my wallet looked familiar in the dream I last had, where I had the explicit memory from an earlier night. Now I just remember that I remembered during the dream not having any other currency. It’s not the same memory during wakefulness. If there weren’t some overlap I wouldn’t remember my dreams at all, as many people don’t.

Others have written about the state of consciousness in dreams being different than wakefulness. Anyone who wants to explore that can look up what’s written under “state-dependent learning”. When that was the rage, people would have cassette tapes read to them at night hoping they would learn while they were asleep. It’s not that easy.

But there is a memory within dreams that is separate from wakefulness. Maybe if I could suddenly have the sensations of dreamland, the appropriate memories would return with those external cues, but I bet it’s more than that. Psychoanalysts were comfortable calling dreamland “the unconscious”, but I’m not. Where is the unconscious? In Freud’s day there was so much uncharted brain, one could stick the unconscious all sorts of places. That’s not true today. Maybe the unconscious exists as imagination exists, alongside the conscious brain, in parallel. All visions occur in the visual cortex, in theory, in greatest detail when there are sensations from the outside world supporting what we see, but also when we remember, imagine, or dream. When it comes to perception, memory and imagination, we do all of that at once while we’re awake. It’s how we make sense of what we see. Only dreaming is so different, where there is a world that is detailed far beyond our ability either to remember or to imagine. Does dreamland just lie dormant in our cerebral cortex, waiting for REM sleep to return? Is dreamland waiting with its separate memories, separate desires and separate physics?

Whatever the truth is, it’s silly to say that dreams are just a dumping of useless information. They are so much more structured than that, meaningful if only in the symbols that they stir up. My guess is that the parallel world of dreams is more than just giving symbols to our waking self. There are differences that puzzle me. God who has been my constant companion during wakefulness for years is not there in my dreams. He’s not needed. It’s always peaceful in my dreams. I’m never stuck as to what to do in my dreams. Maybe She doesn’t like me, as simple as I am in my dreams. Maybe God just doesn’t reach there. Maybe God is too big to fit there, cut off from everything outside as dreamland is.

There’s also very little sexuality in my dreams. In real life it always hits me viscerally how attractive the prettiest woman in the room is. In dreams that never occurs to me. Dreams are about reliving moments, like all these dreams I have that are nostalgic for medicine, though at the same time there are many strange symbols within them. Dreams are about going places and doing things, if not literally with this taxi ride, then cognitively, like the implications of universal salad dressing. That’s what I dream about. I suppose if I were a sexually repressed 19th-century woman in Vienna, it might be different, but it still wouldn’t be trivial.

Maybe dreams are just an escape from real life, with their own memory and own rules because the brain creates those things easily. Perhaps it’s the brain that holds dreamland and the real world separately, making dreams a playland where even God stays out, but not intentionally, just because the brain can. If it’s something else that is trying to communicate to me beyond what reaches me when I’m awake, I don’t get it. If the message is just live and notice the odd things, I’ve been doing that for some time.

Dreams are what they are. As with God, many people have strong opinions saying they know everything about it. Then where did my hundred dollar bill come from, and where did it go? If it was just flotsam pulled from my memory, why did it stay a while and not just float away?

In the 21st century, we can answer some questions with considerable detail and precision. For others, people just make up answers, as many do about dreams and God. In my real life, I’m very clever about telling the difference. In dreamland, I don’t need to be. Troublemakers don’t get into my dreams somehow, so I don’t need to be clever. I’m glad it’s not up to me to choose one over the other, but it is interesting to see the possibilities.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Universal salad dressing

I had another memorable dream last night. There was a case of industrial espionage at Kraft Foods. Someone stole research Kraft was doing on the perfect salad dressing – low fat, low carbs, great taste, great texture. My dream was about all these people involved after the event talking about the implications of the theft and what should be done. It was like the TV crime shows, but no technology was on display and no one went anywhere to interview anyone. It was just like one of these plays where people stand around and talk, not something that would get a big audience on the big screen or TV.

It’s amazing how novel these dream people are, while at the same time conforming to every expectation I would have of such a scene on TV. Almost all of them are inventions of wherever dreams come from – brain/mind/wherever my extended consciousness reaches at night/whatever reaches into me. Occasionally recognizable celebrities or people I know from real life show up in my dreams, but mostly dream people are unique to whatever dream they populate, yet with unsurprising features. They don’t distract from the themes of the dream either by being strange or by being too familiar. They’re perfectly cast in their roles. Who does this?

It’s not hard for me to recognize themes in my dreams. This certainly is a time to dream about food. Crime shows are the rage. People talking are always the rage. Most intriguing to me is this theme of universality. It’s not just regarding strife at the dinner table with someone liking one food and hating another. It’s about all strife, and the perfect world to end all strife.

That won’t start with salad dressing, but it’s a symbol, you know. I know it is with me. I was not big on diversity as a kid. I was for unity, unity to fix my fractured family, unity to let me fit in with the other kids despite how different I was from them, unity like Malcolm X said Islam promised for him and me. I suppose Malcolm didn’t understand to whom he was talking on that one, nor was that his first mistake about which religion was best, but just because Islam isn’t the perfect religion doesn’t negate the attraction of whatever universal is the perfect religion.

Even as a kid I knew my attraction to there being one way to anything, one truth, one right way, was that then there would be a way for me. So I could imagine one politics and one religion in a utopian way instead of how totalitarian movements actually turn out. In real life, when someone says there’s one way, it’s always the wrong way. I suppose as a kid I hoped to find an exception to that, but I never have.

In all the politics, religions and ways to live I’ve seen, there is none I would follow exactly. There is a God I follow, one that Jesus led me to, but not in the same way as most who call themselves Christian. I’ve wondered about the fundamental truth of this. Is there one God for the universe? Are there many right ways to see that God or just many ways to see Him incorrectly, some worse than others? Perhaps there’s a different God for everyone, a testimony to our individual journeys leaving footprints on some generic Spirit.

In recent years, I quickly get an answer to such wondering. God says to me that while spirituality is a cooperative effort between individuals and Spirit, there is one universe and one God, like it or not. As with visions I’ve described before, the universe God means is much more than the 4-dimensional physical one we see either directly or through machines. The same God who helps me with the most mundane things exists far beyond everything I know, and I know a lot. God says so.

That’s where my dream went, from talk of universal salad dressing that would work for everyone to thoughts of greater universal things. My dreams are always so peaceful on these points while the world is so contentious. God tells me He can’t fix this. People will give up when they feel like it, when the Rapture never comes, when the Messiah never comes, when the 12th Iman never emerges, when the perfect religion finally becomes popular. I think it’s perfect to say that God is whoever and whatever God is, not who people say He is or isn’t, but there’s no enthusiasm for that beyond my attraction to that phrase.

People want power, more power than they can get in an individual life. They will settle for knowledge, love and goodness. Maybe they just want their own salad dressing, but I suspect it’s worse than that. People really believe in their opinions. I understand how often it’s a matter that everyone they trust believes as they do. Nothing inventive will change such people.

People need something real. They will settle for rituals and other things that pretend to be real, but will die when the last believer in them dies. The power that the real God gives is much weaker than what people have fantasized and requires a much longer time to master. So it is for God’s knowledge, love and goodness as well. But God’s things endure while fantasy dies with us. I guess that in 500 years we will understand this better. A better salad dressing will come sooner than that. Foods that counter the obesity epidemic will come. Technology and invention will fix the weaknesses that technology and invention unmasked about our nature.

There is one God, not someone who created a perfect world except for some rebellion, but someone who tells me that He is not the creator at all. He is the Helper, the one who can fill that God-shaped void in our brain with the power, knowledge, love and goodness it craves, but we also can fill it with all kinds of junk if we don’t care to wait for Him.

That is the universality I know works compared to all these that don’t. I remembered this much by the end of my dream, but everyone else was still doing what they do in real life. They stand around and talk. Then I woke up.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Lies are the worst

George Will wrote a column about Pilgrims this week. In it he accepts the conclusions of an English author Godfrey Hodgson that there was no turkey at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. An article by an actual reporter was not as gullible, instead reviewing the back and forth of where such “debunking” came from.

Some look at the only two primary sources about this feast in 1621 and see plenty of evidence for turkeys. In his letter of December 11, 1621, Edward Winslow described hunting fowl for the feast. In his later memoir, Of Plimouth Plantation, Governor William Bradford writes of the great store of wild turkeys. Hodgson, among other “debunkers”, read the latter as not specifically linking turkeys to the feast with the Indians, while the former doesn’t say “turkey”, so of course, it can only mean ducks and geese.

On such wishful thinking people declare much about Thanksgiving to be a myth. Some put it absolutely that nothing but myth connects 1621 with modern celebrations of Thanksgiving. At the same time Texas nationalists proclaim the actual first Thanksgiving to have occurred in May, 1541 in the Texas panhandle, as Coronado found food along the way of his failure to find fortune in the Rocky Mountains and Plains. What a strange definition of “Thanksgiving” it takes to proclaim that.

People are that strange. I regularly write about the lies that fill politics, religion and life in general, so I have sympathy for debunking, yet so often debunking is just more lies, either out of carelessness or maliciousness. Those who proclaim loyalty only to the TRUTH are liable to launch into foolishness about how evolution is just an atheistic conspiracy or about whoever disagrees with them is wrong. It’s not about TRUTH. It’s about opinions dishonestly presented as reliable. It’s about lies.

I can’t prove absolutely that there was turkey at the first Thanksgiving any more than I can prove there is a God, but to dismiss everything over the years that points to either one as mere myth is certainly a lie. People want the truth to be what they want it to be, whether that’s no God or God being what one’s church says God is. Yet God is neither of those. God is whoever and whatever God is. So is history. So is reality. It’s a challenge for people to face that.

Hatred is not purely evil. Our anger can be protective. It can give us determination. Indifference is likewise not always evil. It might be best for something or someone to work out their problems without me sometimes. I don’t find a silver lining like that for lies. I want to say what I have to say without having to fit it to whatever lies have gone before. That’s one reason to embrace the truth. But I can’t embrace the truth by telling more lies, just substituting my lies for popular lies.

It’s so easy in science. Scientists tell lies all the time, even social scientists about Thanksgiving, but the way to undo that is clear. What is the claim? What is the data? How good is the data? Why conflict of interest might be skewing the process? It works. It doesn’t necessarily work at any one time by majority vote, but the lies will die off if the evidence shows the opposite.

I have great hope from my experience in science. It may not matter in the long run that people are such naturally born liars. For now, though, our culture is full of lies alongside what’s true. I don’t think anything is as oppressive as that.

Two things were obstacles to my becoming Christian in my twenties. One was that creationists said such silly things about science. The other was the problem of evil. Why does God allow all this hatred, indifference and falseness? I became convinced God isn’t responsible for any of that. He knows the truth of science. He didn’t create these evils of human nature. We choose them everyday. Some call that a lie, proof supposedly that there can be no concept of God that works.

It can be a subtle thing which is the lie and which is the truth. Encountering a God who always tells the truth makes that easier. The thing is I might have to admit my mistake in hearing God in a certain way. Words are ambiguous. Even concepts are. That makes liars of us all, as is our nature, but there is something bigger than that nature. That’s where so much of religion seems stuck now to me. People won’t give up their flawed ideas about God to reach for a better God, a real God. Atheists are dead set against that as a solution to their objections. Traditionalists deny any problem. Everyone lies about it. That’s where we are.

Thank God for biology that drives us forward as a species whether we know what we’re doing or not. Thank God for cultural evolution that comes up with things like the scientific method because they work. Someday we will be pulled out of the muck of our own nature. In the meantime we will lie left and right and for what? For our petty partisanships and for our egos. They will all die with us.

What lives is harder to see, but it is what God is made of.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The answer to "God help me!"

It’s hard for me to tell if people have learned much from pieces I’ve written since I went online in 1998. I have learned things. Sometimes I stumbled into phrases and metaphors that give me a much better handle on expressing what I know, and having a better handle helps not only express what I already appreciated, but also helps take ideas farther than I could before.

When I first started writing about my spiritual experiences, I doubt that I had a succinct definition for “God”. Like many liberals I paid more attention to “God is love” than God as Creator, but I’m sure neither of those simplicities captured the essence of God for me. Then at some point there came this idea that did do that. I like a definition that God is the answer that I get when I pray, “God help me!”

For me that definition is much more concrete than most definitions of God, even God as creator. The universe is massive. There are many different aspects to creation, from the overall structure of the universe to all the little details. What can I know about God from that, especially when science tells me that if God is the Creator, He is outside all the things explained perfectly well by science? But that God helps me when I ask is almost tangible. It isn’t to those who don’t perceive an answer to their prayers. It depends what prayers someone prays. One can pray for the protection of a family member. If nothing happens, was that God or the natural course of things? It’s similar for praying for someone’s healing in most cases. It can be hard to tell that God did anything.

But the definition I like isn’t about just any prayer. It’s a helpless prayer. It’s a nonspecific prayer. It’s a prayer where I don’t even know what to ask for, regardless of the exact words that come to me to express that. And God answers such a prayer. How many people know that? I don’t know. How many people ever pray such a prayer? How many people wait for God to do something in response? How many people are ready to say that it was God who responded, not circumstances that would have happened anyway?

I’m sure some people shy away from this approach because they see no proof that anything that follows a prayer is from God. Of course there’s no proof. If there were proof, everyone would find the real God and not the contradictory, distant, oversimplified being that traditions force on people. I have never found proof of God in theological and philosophical claims of ways to prove God. I found God as a presence that built up as my prayer life evolved, not in the response to one prayer, but in a pattern, a pattern in which I asked for direction, strength and comfort from God, and got direction, strength and comfort.

I admit that when I started hearing from God in words it was easier to look back and say, “Yes, this is the same God I’ve always known, the Helper, the God who is love, though not the indiscriminating love some of my fellow liberals believe in.” God would guide me through looking at that. Yet to define God as a voice in me that says, “I am God” is not right. I wouldn’t trust such a voice if He hadn’t already proven Himself as the answer to my prayer.

If I pray prayers like, “God help me!” repeatedly and only hear from the same demon over and over again, then what hope is there? What sort of universe would make that a reality, even just for me? A universe where I’ve already lost, that’s what sort. It’s not worth worrying about beyond that.

Is that what people worry about in defining God in terms of personal experience, that it might be wrong? What if it’s right? How extraordinarily liberating would that be? And people don’t worry about defining God in abstract terms that don’t necessarily connect to reality at all, but create a straightjacket for us? How puzzling.

As with all of religion, I think the biggest problem is that people don’t question tradition enough. Traditional Christians accept their traditional view of God. Traditional Muslims accept the Muslim view. Those who see God as existing in everything and everyone draw from Eastern religion and recent New Age traditions to feel secure in their beliefs. What a house of cards, all of them.

God is whoever and whatever God is, another phrase I stumbled on to express a problem with so many religions. Anyone who says he or she knows exactly who God is lies, whether that belief is by revelation, by reasoning or by intuition. So says God to me. No one can prove otherwise. Anyone can believe otherwise, for all sorts of reasons. So how are those beliefs working for you?

I suspect most people would say their beliefs are working just fine for them, or they would change their beliefs. Yet an outsider can see what someone’s beliefs cost them, how what someone thinks is a meaningful ritual or valuable idea is just a waste of time. God can see how many lives are wasted in false faith. Someday what is true will emerge from the discontent with what is false. It’s not easy. It’s much easier for human beings to reject one thing and embrace its opposite, as atheists do. It’s easier to go from one false belief to a different false belief than to find the one belief that’s true. Many of my fellow liberals hate that idea, preferring that there is no truth, so everyone can be equal. That’s not my experience.

God is the answer to, “God help me!” I believe that’s true, but I know that more fundamental is that God is whoever and whatever God is, not what someone says He is.

People don’t jump on that bandwagon. Is that because I haven’t explained it well enough? Are people not ready? Is that because they are so comfortable in their currents beliefs or lack thereof? Is that because people are too comfortable in their lives to ask for God’s help, the real God, not the fantasy that fixes anything by going poof?

To any such questions, God tells me the answer doesn’t matter. God is available to whoever asks. He knows His threshold for helping someone. It’s not the same for everyone. Different people have different needs. Those who think their traditions substitute for the real God may be beyond doing anything with them in this life. It’s not as though God communicates with us so easily that He can do anything about that anyway. I don’t know what God’s limits are. I don’t think He knows either. God has no mirror. But it’s quite clear He could do more for us. We would have to let Him. There are many reasons why we don’t. But anyone who wants to see what happens when he or she sincerely prays, “God help me!” can get a handle on the real God. They don’t need to know anything I think about that. So I can let go. Biological, cultural, and spiritual evolution will change what I can’t change, and I can just pay attention to the answer I received.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ridculing others about sexuality

This weekend I’ve run into a couple of perspectives about one group judging another over different approaches to sex. One is in an interview with Mike Jones, the male prostitute who blew the whistle on Ted Haggard’s hypocrisy. Mr. Jones is surprised to have received only silence from gay rights groups. Apparently gay pride doesn’t extend to whores. It is hard to judge silence, of course, but Mr. Jones contrasts the silence to the multiple thanks he’s gotten from members of Mr. Haggard’s congregation for forcing Mr. Haggard to get the help he needs.

There is a quite verbal judgment of others on display at Feministing, where a link led me to see a sexual purity ball: http://feministing.com/archives/006031.html

I thought about adding my comment to all those calling this incestuous, psychologically damaging, and so forth, but I suppose that would be pointless. I've never had good luck telling anyone that their ridicule of something is off base. Still I wish there were a way to let people who are so resentful about fathers standing in for God to let go of that anger. Teachers are in loco parentis. Someone has to stand in for God the same way. Parents are the obvious choice, and many cultures have chosen the father as the more obvious of the two parents. When girls pledge their sexual purity to their father, they are not promising incest with their father until they marry someone else. They are making a pledge of abstinence, one that they would make to God if God had a visual presence. I'm sure a pledge to their mothers would work equally as well, except mothers don't stand in for God in conservative religion. How vicious to call it incest.

At the same time I know of no study saying there is more psychopathology in girls who have given a pledge to sexual purity. Puberty is a tough time for everyone. Who knows what the best way is?

I've argued before with conservatives who said God's plan for everyone is no sex before marriage. Biology certainly didn't listen if God ever said that. Beyond that I have my own experience to say that God's plan may be more flexible. Circumstances were such that there was no chance for me to remain a virgin for very long when I started college in 1971. There were co-ed dorms. There were movies where everyone had sex on the screen, so why not later among the audience? There were drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Of course there was sex, too.

So I learned in college that I’m the kind of person who gets very attached to any woman I have sex with. To lose her is like having an arm ripped out. Some would call that immaturity or even pathology, yet it never went away. I’ve loved every woman I ever had sex with, even though maybe 70% of them proved they weren’t for me eventually. When I was in medical school, I even loved a woman I dated for a while who didn’t feel ready for sex again after the last time led to an abortion. I would go back in time and try again with her, not for sex, but for love.

I learned more about love before marriage because sex was so prevalent in the seventies. Was it helpful? Or would I have learned that just as well after marriage? I don’t know. My children taught me more about love, from the love they evoked from me, than anything that had gone before. So did I need to learn the intimacy that sex taught me before marriage, what I wouldn’t have learned if my subculture believed in no sex before marriage? Did the skill at intimacy help make me a good physician instead of a researcher? I don’t know.

It is amazing that there should be uncertainty about such a central part of life as sex despite so many thousands of years of experience with it. Yet it’s clear what the conflict is. Sexual desire is incredibly powerful, yet the way of just giving in to it is constantly tested with familiar results: abandonment, disease, untimely pregnancy, becoming stuck with a partner who’s not good for you. Of course these can happen to some degree after marriage, but aren’t these consequences a big part of why culture has tried to resist biology with respect to sex rather than it all being a patriarchy trying to control everyone else?

God’s plan for me didn’t involve my trying to run from my culture as much as it would have taken for my virginity to survive my freshman year of college. God's love hasn’t revolved around sex any more than it’s revolved around eating or around recreational drugs. Maybe a sexual purity ball is an overblown ritual. Maybe it is indeed what God wants for those involved. My daughters can say if my hands-off approach was better or worse for them. They might be wrong. How much do we know about what’s the best way for us? Is it really sensible to educate kids about sex and expect them to decide when they’re ready for sex? It may be the most realistic way of doing it, but that’s not a reason to refrain from asking questions.

Those who say God’s plan is no sex before marriage, for everyone, do not allow questions. It’s certainly an overblown claim. Those who say the best way is whatever feels good do not allow questions. That’s certainly just as wrong as it is just as oversimplified. The things I’m sure of on the subject of when best to become sexual is that puberty is overwhelming and that any aspect of culture meant to delay sex after puberty will be imperfect, yet there are good reasons to delay sex. And that’s just the start of where one can ask questions.

Some people would rather make judgments. It’s human nature. I wonder what our culture can do about that. Judgments may even cause more turmoil than sex does, and the good that comes from sex seems much more than anything good that comes from judgments. Since few take Matthew 7:1 seriously, how about rings to symbolize a commitment to withhold judgment, for everyone?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

What thanks has God earned?

Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy has had a difficult year following the suicide of his son on December 22, 2005. He missed only one game as coach, but it certainly affected him and the team for some time after that. In a rambling post-game comment after the Colts lost to the Steelers the next month in the playoffs, Dungy spoke of how proud he was of his team, how God had helped them through this difficulty. In part Dungy said, “I really thought the Lord’s hand was on this team.”

Some used this quote out of context as if Dungy had said he thought God would give them victory, but didn’t. In context that’s clearly not what Dungy thought. Dungy thought God’s hand was on his team for emotional support, to get through trials. Scoring points was up to the players. UCC minister Dwight Hein added a complete fantasy to the above quote, saying that Dungy was, “in total disbelief that they lost”. No, that’s not true. I watched the comment at the time on TV. It’s also clearly not the case from the longer quote. People are so primed to believe their prejudice over reality.

I can try to understand why people are so primed to believe that someone is claiming God controls victory or defeat in sports. Receivers thank God for touchdowns. Baseball players point to the sky on crossing the plate with a home run. What does it mean to thank God when I’m happy about something that’s happened?

Sometimes God tells me that I’m thanking Him for something He didn’t do. He’s always right. I do often thank God where I know it’s doubtful that He did anything. A light stays green. Something I need is on sale. I quickly find which of 917 hiding places I used the night before for my glasses when I don’t have time to search many of them. God tells me He’s not responsible if I just get lucky.

He doesn’t say that when I’m sure it was God, when I ask for His direction, strength or comfort and get exactly that. I do feel some guilt that while I’m grateful for God’s help in these ways, and I’m sure there’s no way I could create these mental miracles without God, I wish there were more. I also wish reality were sufficient. Yet I understand the peaceful fatalism that comes from believing God controls everything. So even if a family member dies, some will say God must know what He is doing. Tony Dungy was speaking like that this past summer about his son James’ death.

Only there’s no way God even allowed James to commit suicide, much less controlled it. I asked God again about that. He says there is rarely anything but tragedy in suicide. He would stop almost all of them if He could.

There is a choice to be made in theology. Did God make us free? Did nature make us free? Could the latter be true even to a degree that it frustrates God?

It depends how one defines God. If one defines God as being in control of everything or at least responsible in the sense of having created everything, then of course God made us free, directly or indirectly. It makes sense to direct every “thank you” about that freedom to Him. But what if God is something else? I know God best as the one who answers if I pray, “God help me!” It may be very complicated who and what God is, even as simple as theologians and philosophers pretend they know God to be.

I am satisfied that I cannot penetrate the depths of who and what God is, nor can any other human being. I can know what comes to me, including that I want to thank God, even to excess sometimes. I know what God tells me about His desires. He freed me from some of the tyranny of our culture, where almost all rhetoric is false, be it politics, religion, or even sports. I didn’t need Him for freedom that comes naturally to most of us, to walk, to talk, even if I have thanked Him for both of those more than once.

God would reign in much of the freedom we have to hurt each other. He would do it today, with an armada of His spaceships, if He had any. Only He doesn’t. So our cultural evolution and spiritual evolution proceed quite slowly. People say many foolish things. Some are because they don’t care about the context of a quote. They just want to use the quote to push a pre-existing agenda. They have the freedom to do so, not from God, but from nature. Both liberals and conservatives can thank nature and a liberal democracy for being able to say whatever they damn well please. God would use lightning bolts to criticize such speech if He could. He can’t.

He says there’s no need to thank Him for things He can’t do, like hit a home run. If people want to, He doesn’t mind. It puts them in a better frame of mind to reach for things He can do that people generally don’t let Him do, to guide them, to strengthen them, to comfort them. James Dungy couldn’t figure out how to get enough of these from God for his life to look better than suicide. God tells me He doesn’t know why. God wonders if it was His fault, if He should have tried something else on James, but at the same time God knows the suicide wasn’t His choice. He can accept Tony Dungy finding comfort in believing the opposite, but some of us need to know the truth, for God’s sake.

God could do much more for us than He does, but it is a cooperative effort. People didn’t find their ultimate way to God thousands of years ago. They don’t know what they’re doing today. It’s not that God will be different in 500 years. It’s that people will discover how hollow old ways are. That drives many people into new fantasies, but among all this that is false, there is a real God, a God who can be approached from any direction. It takes patience, honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to hear Him, but He is there and can give us things for which He earns our gratitude. He is there whether anyone believes my words about Him or not.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Only a little crow for lunch

Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett told CBS that "a little bit of crow" was on the menu for Mr. Bush's lunch with Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer today. Well, it's good to get one of my recent questions answered.

At the same time, it's so hard to trust finicky eaters. Thanksgiving is coming up. Turkeys can wait. There's been a big increase in the crow population in US metropolitan areas, crows being so compatible with our lifestyle, like rats and cockroaches, so let's start a new tradition. Everyone who's been shooting his or her mouth off erroneously gets a whole crow, not just some little taste of crow. It could be to humility what Yom Kippur is to atonement. Or make the day before Thanksgiving for crow, and Thursday for turkey. How about a presidential proclamation for that, Mr. Bush? That's a statement that would be remembered past 2050.

Oh well, politics is so much about half-measures.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

I think many of us who reached adulthood in the sixties and seventies expected society to have changed much more than it has by now. Tastes changed so quickly and so easily then, for music, for clothes. Habits changed regarding sex and drugs, though maybe a lot of this was that such things became more open. Racial rights, women’s rights and gay rights all broke through obstacles in a stunning way. There was War on Poverty. There was a peace movement that made a difference. Even Jesus was preached in a more free and youthful way in the seventies.

Yet as my children grew up, it was remarkable how some things hadn’t changed further. At one point my daughters’ favorite group was the Beatles, even Simon and Garfunkel. Wait a minute. Those guys are older than I am. I started hearing “cool” from my children, another fashion that preceded me. There’s this stability for what was trendy when I was young, not all of it, but I guess the best of it. It’s fine with me that “groovy” was left in the past for the most part. Of course there are some new variations in music, but it’s all like blues or rock and roll. There hasn’t been another revolution. Weren’t we going to have continuous revolution?

I guess not. It’s seems to be more like an earthquake or volcano erupting. Some tension builds up. It finally breaks through. Then it takes some time to adjust to that and move ahead again. How much time? I look at that list I wrote in the first paragraph, and maybe there won’t be much movement in such things for another 30 years.

Many people speak of how tolerant the newest generation is of homosexuality. Maybe in thirty years that will have translated into some change. Then again maybe not. It took almost 100 years for the Civil War amendments to the Constitution to be enforced. Things do take time.

I know there are a lot of people who want to force change, by publicity, by trying to craft persuasive arguments, even by more aggressive actions. Do you notice how such force generates reactions? I look at a political season like this one, and all I see are two sides each saying their way is right, whether change or don’t change. I would bet they’re both wrong. I bet the final solution our society or the world comes to is different from either side’s vision. I’m sure someday there will be a stability to gender roles that accounts for both biology and our new abilities to be free from biology. I don’t think it will involve women covering up as Muslims want. I don’t think it will be an utterly unisex society. I don’t know where gender roles will wind up between those extremes, though, and I don’t trust those who say they do. There are a lot of social issues like that. Time will fix them, and we don’t know what a stable solution looks like to push our society quickly in that direction.

The anti-abortion crowd finds many things about the genetic revolution to fight. I’m sure they don’t know the future on this issue. I’m sure they don’t know God’s mind. Still they push hard for what they want, using morally charged language. No matter how much they succeed, it’s a drop in the bucket. It’s sand on a highway. The genetic revolution will proceed worldwide. I suspect it will pass a point that is currently considered unethical, to make genetic enhancements to normal function rather than just cure disease. If that’s our destiny because people find such technology works well, nothing people do today will make any difference, even if people all agreed with the Pope. The Pope will die and so will everyone else with our old-fashioned notions. We may wind up like the Borg. What if everyone in the future decides they want that once they have enough information to know that? Who will order that tide to stop?

We are living in a great time of transition, from the Enlightenment, from the scientific revolution. We hadn’t even finished adapting to the Agricultural Revolution that began 10,000 years ago with its subsequent economic competition and war. People who think we are going to find stability in these transitions with the next election cycle, regardless of the results, are living a fantasy. But so many are living a fantasy, as though their opinions matter in the long run, as though they can control the tide.

Our opinions do matter some for the present. I have opinions about what’s best just like anyone else, but I know how small my opinions are compared to cultural evolution.

For me the most tragic opinions are the ones that pretend to know God when I’m sure they don’t. Everyone alive today will die, except God. All He has to do is wait. When our ways fail, He still will be available. I’ve talked to God a lot about this. I understand if no one cares about what God has said to me in response. No one voted me Pope. But is it so hard to imagine the possibility of being wrong about what God wants from people?

The Christian vision of the afterlife includes a judgment where we will be confronted with everything we’ve done wrong. So many people claim to be Christians, but don’t seem concerned over how badly that may go, because of how hateful or indifferent they have been or how false. They think they have a get-out-of-jail-free card, even to get out of hideous torture for eternity, in case God’s vengeance for all this suffering we cause really is that strong. Their clergy have taught them this. What if their clergy are wrong?

The older I get the more I realize that this other shoe I’ve been waiting to see drop since the sixties and seventies, to fulfill the promises of those times, to complete a transition that is over 10,000 years old is huge. It’s bigger than politics. It’s bigger than religion. It’s both cultural and spiritual evolution that few people try to understand, instead being satisfied with slogans. I don’t expect it to fall in my remaining lifetime, but it will fall and nothing of the pettiness in either politics or religion will make any difference.

This is what God tells me. I believe Him.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The God of war

I came across a report of Seymour Hersch speaking at McGill University about US forces causing civilian casualties in Iraq: http://www.mcgilldaily.com/view.php?aid=5450

At times in 2003 I wondered about how many civilians were being killed. We kept trying to kill Iraqi leaders with "surgical" attacks, but killed many civilians in the process without killing the leaders. I wondered if we would continue with such attacks anyway. We did for a time. I have heard an ex-CIA employee say we don't care about who gets in the way of an assassination. That would make us even more ruthless than the Mafia.

Then as we entered Baghdad, there was footage of how our troops fired on any vehicle moving toward them, causing many civilian casualties. The issue has continued in the form of arguing over estimates of total civilian casualties in Iraq and how many are caused by US troops. I haven't heard politicians say our tactics cause excessive casualties as Hersch argues. I don't suppose there are many votes in making that accusation.

In looking at blogs that mentioned Hersch's remarks, I found http://www.redstate.com The response there was to call Hersch names and wonder which level of hell is his. One comment said that only 1/3 of Iraqi deaths are from US troops. So why not 1/10? I didn't find one word that it was even possible that Hersch was at all right in saying some civilians were killed when they didn't have to be. I suppose the only people who deserve to live are US troops and Republicans, right?

It especially interests me how those who are proud of the war in Iraq think God is right there with them. Why of course Seymour Hersch should be in hell as a traitor. If he opposes the war, he must oppose God.

I don't know that God. The God I know tells me He never has favored a war. Many wars are in self-defense, such as World War II. God tells me He has not tried to prevent such a war or even tell people that war should be a last resort. He just never has started a war, even those the Old Testament claims were following God's orders.

Those who believe God started those wars might think God still starts wars, no matter who gets hurt. It's a logical inference. I can't condemn thinking that. I just think it's wrong. It's not the God I know. Human beings are the gods of war, not the God who is love. It's not a simple issue. God knows that. But those who are sure God is with them in their war don't know that. There are plenty of clues to teach them otherwise. Any kind of people dying for no good reason is a clue.