Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Science, schmience

Speaking of partisans, I stopped by a place where they have a very different view of science than I do. I was looking up criticisms of Francis Collins as a way of looking at the enemies of the idea that science and faith can be compatible. Those aren’t just atheists who believe that science has squeezed out any place for God. On the other side are those who see science as being arbitrary and therefore untrustworthy. paulhartigan at open source theology states that science is just another language through which human activities are conducted. It changes. At one time Newton’s model of gravity was scientific truth. Now it’s Einstein’s general relativity. Who knows what comes next? He criticized Collins as “inept” because Collins accepts the idea that the scientific revolution has indicated that the universe doesn’t need God. He wants to put these uppity scientists in their place. Collins doesn’t do that.

Newton and Einstein, I’ve heard this before. Whether it’s someone conservative or someone New Age, somehow this contrast is supposed to show that science is arbitrary. Yet the models they pick are two of those most impressive in science. Before Newton it was observation that it was simpler to think the Earth went around the sun, but Newton made it all make sense. Newton’s representation of gravity is still what NASA uses to put a spacecraft on Mars with astounding precision. General relativity is a little better, as has been shown experimentally, but it’s not as if Einstein’s model makes Newton’s model invalid any more than one portrait of a celebrity negates another. Einstein’s is better than Newton’s when it comes to stars bending light, but they both describe something real called gravity very well.

Now philosophically one can imagine that some greater reality might take gravity away tomorrow. Maybe it would be good for scientists to remember that. Yet who makes any decisions based on the universe being so unstable? Many of us believe that there is a fixed reality beyond our individual perceptions of the world. Science is a way of exploring that reality. It is more than a language. It is a method to explore reality that has paid off much better than using mere words to do that.

But it’s true that science proves nothing. The reasons behind my faith in God prove nothing. If one wants a fantasy world that can be absolutely anything, science is not helpful for that, no matter how much people butcher quantum physics to mean that there is no objective reality.

Men like Sam Harris fear religion, fearing that it will indoctrinate people to make bad choices, fearing that religion promotes violence. It’s not just religion. Nationalism is at least as violent. Any group can use words to mean whatever they want them to mean. I don’t fear this that much. People in general look at tangible consequences, not philosophy. Of course if disagreeing with some philosophy would single me out to some state police, I would be quiet about that. We’re a long way from that in the US in 2007.

But subcultures do have their own way of looking at things that lets partisans be so dismissive of any other way. It’s not news, but I think it’s a helpful reminder from time to time that our language and concepts do vary a lot, just not so much that I distrust the reality of science.

In keeping with that, I notice that almost all of the comments at this theology site favor that science can say nothing about God, while almost all the comments at a site saying science has disproved God agree with that. If every clique is wrong about something, who’s going to tell them? It seems beyond me.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The meaning of a moment

At the Beyond Belief 2006 conference, there was more than one allusion to the conversion of Francis Collins by a frozen waterfall. I’ve read about this many places. Here is a sympathetic interview about it. Here, here, here, here and here are some tough criticisms.

One thing about the critics of Francis Collins is how they all attack this moment by the waterfall. “Why should there be any meaning in this?” they ask. “Why should this be a Christian moment?” Sam Harris asks why the three parts to the waterfall, which Collins associated with the trinity, shouldn’t remind someone of Romulus, Remus and the wolf who saved them. Others mention Greek gods or Zoroaster. Harris says that such symbolism can point to anything.

No, it can’t. It can only point to what’s already inside someone’s head. It’s not the waterfall that points to God. It’s the waterfall combined with what was in Francis Collins’ head that made it point to Christ for him. To talk about the experience otherwise is just being silly. That may sound like the beginning of an atheistic interpretation of conversion experiences. I’ve heard atheists say often enough that I’m only Christian because of my culture. It's only just cultural if there is no God. But I think the important point, and maybe everyone already knows this, is that no experience stands alone. It’s not the frozen waterfall that converted Francis Collins. It’s what was going on within him. And what was going on within him was coming to Christ, not to any other god, not to an atheist worldview. Critics write as if an experience only matters if it converts them on their reading about it. Well, that’s not how it works, is it?

I’ve written before how I see crosses in any tiling of square tiles. I’ve studied this enough to know that I prefer a cross that’s 5 tiles high and 3 tiles wide. In a pinch I can get some pleasure from seeing a cross that’s more cut off than that, if the tiling doesn’t allow the full 5 X 3 image. Taller crosses don’t do as much for me. If I decide to see crosses that are two tiles thick instead of one, it’s not as good. A simple 5 X 3 cross is my cross. It’s not necessary that anyone else can see it. I can see it. Give me enough blank tiles, and I can see many, many crosses.

Did God put them there? Did he convince an architect or workman to put a tiling somewhere just for me? That seems doubtful, but maybe. If God goes through time tweaking things here and there, maybe He planned ahead for me at some point. It’s not necessary, though. I can see crosses in cabinets, other things. I can hear God in love songs. There’s always something to remind me of my one true love, invisible to those who don’t feel that way about God. I doubt that I’d see God in a frozen waterfall – too tall and too cold for me. It’s a matter of personal preference.

Sometimes I think about how that preference came to be. It’s like how I react to pretty women. I’m not sure what age I was before I always, always knew very quickly who the most attractive woman in a room was. Of course there are subcategories for that, ones that I suppose I learned after learning the basic elements of attractiveness. Who’s smiling the right amount? Who’s talking the right amount? Who’s the most approachable for me? Somehow my brain never has been interested in men the same way. Men don’t make me smile the way women do.

It’s easy to see that started with biology, even if science still doesn’t know exactly how. Yet not all of those refinements came from biology. Some came from my culture. Some came from my individual experience. I may have some precise preferences that no one else shares exactly. Some basic preference is biological, such as men in general preferring a woman who’s waist is 2/3 the size of her hips. Others will do, of course.

I suppose I follow my culture in steering away from heavier women. The individual preferences seem most important to enjoying just being in the presence of someone I like, someone who reminds me of someone else I once liked, things like that. I know an element of this is simply trial after trial to refine who I think the perfect woman is and how close to perfect is still attractive enough, not through anything intellectual, but purely by how women make me feel. Then intellect is very useful to keep me from doing anything stupid about those feelings.

Why should the faith I marry be any different? It doesn’t start with the same biology, but it may indeed start with some biology. As I mentioned yesterday, one can read about our needs for power, knowledge, love, and goodness, as well as how we tend to look for hidden things and see the God-shaped void that religion always has filled. Raise someone in a cave and won’t he or she find gods in nature? It’s hard to know, but it’s plausible.

So what’s the best way to fill this void? Some say it’s by being purely intellectual. Right. I’ve read the works of such people. Their premises are those of someone who doesn’t get out in the world enough. Their ideas are selective, often even arbitrarily selective. It’s just as much baloney as it would be for someone to say that what pleases him or her in other people is all determined intellectually. Then such people criticize Francis Collins for an emotional moment.

A cross is a transitional object by which I am in the presence of God, the God I know, the God I first heard 18 years ago tomorrow in a road-to-Damascus experience, but with whom I had some relationship before, maybe all of my life, maybe even before. I am quite sure that no one who went through that experience I had would be unmoved by it. I am not sure it would be possible for anyone actually to reject it, minimize it yes, but not deny it entirely. That’s not true for people who merely hear about it. For them it’s easy to reject. It’s idiocy. It’s insanity. Those two can pretty much cover everything as far as denying reality, not some external reality, but the inner reality that makes us say and do everything we say and do, not the excuses we give for that, but the true processes within us that psychology and neuroscience would love to understand, but are still far away from doing that. Some are sure there’s no God in that. I’m sure there is, if anyone would care to loosen up on their definition of who and what God is.

A conversion experience is a crescendo, but it is not an entire symphony. It’s not even the climax of a relationship with God. It’s a first kiss that opens someone’s eyes, someone who didn’t see the kiss coming. There are so many sexual references to religion, to a wedding between God and humanity. I don’t know if that’s because we are such sexual creatures or because there is this element of joining between God and humanity, maybe both. Maybe it’s the same neurons that reach for God as reach for a parent, a spouse, or a child, out of love, either way or mutually. How often do we make mistakes for any of those categories?

Francis Collins didn’t lose his knowledge of the chemistry of water while looking at a frozen waterfall. He didn’t lose whatever geology he knew relevant to rivers and waterfalls. They weren’t nearly as relevant as that here was this vertical object, reaching from somewhere near heaven to the ground. It made him surrender to something that had been growing inside him. To mock that is to mock many things that make us human, among them how we have relationships with people and things, whether we want to or not. To say that it’s best to be rational about such things is to postulate a purely rational human being who doesn’t exist.

So what is God really? I am content to be unsure. Those who say science has proven there is no God overstate their case. Those who say the scientific revolution is meaningless as far as showing the traditional view of God to be wrong underestimate science. Wordy people of many types forever get lost in their words. But there are experiences that can get the attention of the most wordy people. What they do with those is up to them.

Monday, February 26, 2007

What partisans don't get

I watched the first morning of the Beyond Belief 2006 conference, held last November near my home. Such smart people, but they don’t know how much they don’t understand. Neil deGrasse Tyson gave a nice talk where he pointed out several great scientists from Ptolemy on who invoked God for things they didn’t understand, but not those things they did understand. On the panel to discuss that talk was Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic and regular columnist for Scientific American. Shermer takes a different approach to things he doesn’t understand. He pretends he understands them as being trivial. In 2003 he wrote in Scientific American that transcranial magnetic stimulation reproduces all spiritual experiences. Really. Well, actually it’s not all of them. It might even be none given how other researchers have failed to reproduce these results. Such work was also doubted by John Horgan, who described his visit to this researcher in his book Rational Mysticism.

One of the themes of this conference is what might replace this tendency to attribute the unknown to God. In the part I watched it didn’t seem to occur to them that people from all parts of the political and religious spectra do the same thing – they pretend to know what they don’t know, whether they put that knowledge into God or into some hypothetical simplicity that lets human beings stay within whatever prejudice one prefers, whether with a self as psychology understands it or a self that is a delusion, whether in a reality that is purely physical or one that has a spiritual side.

So there is this tradition to attribute the unknown to God. Is it so different to attribute the unknown to something trivial instead, so nothing will intrude on the science we think is certain? I hear scientists mocking the former, but not even considering the latter.

It is true what Tyson was saying that even great minds have decided that God knows the rest, whatever they didn’t understand. For a good scientist, that’s not so much about physics or biology any more, but there is still consciousness to wonder about. Some treat consciousness as a trivial expression of the brain. Some like Susan Blackmore can write well about that possibility, but then Blackmore goes off into her training in Asian mysticism elsewhere.

Few scientists are so pluralistic. Watching the Beyond Belief 2006 conference is much like reading atheist blogs. It’s simply assumed over and over that there is no personal God. I had rejoinders every time someone claimed that, but this conference is not about examining possibilities or why someone as devoted to science as I am is also devoted to a personal God, not the traditional God, but the God I understand, who did not plan the universe or life or conflicts with science at all. That’s the only God I could believe in. I don’t know how close my God is to George Coyne, who said that the only people who think there’s a conflict between faith and science either don’t know faith or don’t know science. This conference has problems with both. People here say science means God is impossible. Whatever sense of connection one has with the universe is unrequited, they say. We should deal with that. That’s not science.

Essential to that view is the belief that so many spiritual experiences are meaningless, from conversion experiences, even those that last a lifetime, to prayer and other communications with God, to charismatic gifts, to ordinary daily experiences of following God. It’s one thing to say that all this is no different than believing in the Tooth Fairy, as juvenile-minded atheists of any age do. It’s something else to prove it. So partisans just assume it, just as fundamentalists assume that whoever disagrees with them is wrong.

I shudder to think how many pages it would take to document this trait of atheists and fundamentalists. I know that after I was sure such prejudice was theirs, I became as sure that subsets of liberals have the same problem, whether that be about denying mysticism, putting limits on New Age fantasies, pro or con, or being utterly tolerant toward everything as if all religions really are so true as to make criticism evil. Then there’s politics. I have to think that anyone who wants can see how narrow-minded partisans often are in either politics or religion.

Instead I’ve been thinking about what partisans are missing by being so partisan. I thought about that watch these videos from the Beyond Belief 2006 conference. Partisans certainly miss the intellectual weakness of their positions. I watched many scientists look at how Isaac Newton attributed the stability of movement of so many bodies in the solar system to God, while Laplace had further mathematics to find a physical solution to this problem, but with his own areas of uncertainty in which he looked to God. How is it so different to have faith in further physical solutions as opposed to faith in God? It’s true the former encourages people to look for those solutions, but nowadays I suspect they would anyway.

What is missing? I don’t think what’s missing about the universe is likely to matter so much. If it’s God who really does run the universe through physics, that’s a very strange God. Unless He changes the rules tomorrow, the distinction doesn’t mean much. Likewise with biology. Evolution is a fact. There’s no reason to think God directs weather. If He does He’s very strange about it.

Ultimate realities about the universe don’t seem to be what’s missing from atheistic science the most. What’s missing is about us. There is a God-shaped void in our brain. Evolutionary psychologists write about this, though I haven’t read one who actually uses the term, “God-shaped void”. Yet they describe our need for power, knowledge, love, and goodness, and how likely we are to seek that from hidden places, given how much our brain is biased toward hidden things evolutionary. Of course if such things are indeed the work of evolution, someday the genes responsible will be identified. That would be good, rather than having to talk about this in the abstract. However it turns out, atheists underestimate how easily God can be replaced.

Partisans in general never seem to appreciate the likelihood that their opponents are right. If it were just a matter of which restaurant in town is best, that wouldn’t matter much, but today partisans are fighting over the most fundamental truths of who we are and who the world is, trivializing both from whatever direction their partisanship comes. Religion Explained is a good book about why people are religious, by atheist academic anthropologist Pascal Boyer. I’ve seen it on the reading list at a number of atheist sites, but have the owners of those sites actually read it? Because Boyer attacks many simple reasons atheists give to put down religion, saying that the reason for religion worldwide is much more organic, which he describes atheistically, but nothing says there isn’t a God that fills our God-shaped void.

Whenever we reach the point of knowing the genetics of our God-shaped void explicitly, maybe it will be possible to be scientific about what best fills that void. Now it’s up to individuals. So atheists can claim that reason and being one’s own master is the best way to live, while others claim that God is vital, and there’s no way to really know. That’s one thing partisans don’t get, that there’s no way to know they’re right in their prejudice. They also don’t get that alternatives are just as likely to be as good, maybe better ways.

I don’t remember when it hit me that my basic belief is that God is whoever and whatever God is. I do remember realizing that is what has gotten me to where I am with God. When I first was moving toward God, I wondered if I would change 180 degrees. That’s not what happened. My conversion experience wasn’t like Paul’s. It didn’t tell me to switch sides. It told me I was going the right way, and that now it was time to add more. So how much would I have to compromise my science for this new thing? None, because the God I came to knew does not conflict with science. He doesn’t do physical miracles, but he does do mental ones I’ve experienced again and again.

Partisans don’t want to hear that. They want to mock the God of my understanding as so conveniently being complementary to science, as Isaac Newton’s God was to his science.
On one side partisans don’t understand the value of God. On the other side partisans don’t understand the value of science. Debates of atheism vs. fundamentalism are pure ignorance of something neither one understands, that science and religion really don’t conflict. I’ve given up listening to them, except this one at The Salk Institute last November. It had so many stars, but they don’t get it.

It’s really better for science to stick to science. It seems the courts will deal with intelligent design as that idea deserves. And faith is something many people don’t understand. My faith is not in spite of reason, but for things where reason is useless. It is a leap. It is trust. And if it turns out that trust is for something completely within my brain, the value of such a God is just as great for me in the present. Partisans of many types don’t understand that one.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Partisan blinders

For a few weeks I’ve been thinking about writing a separate blog about how to think like a scientist. I get frustrated listening to partisans butcher both scientific issues and other issues with natural cognitive distortions like oversimplification, overgeneralization, and black and white thinking. People rarely appreciate being challenged about those, of course. Everyone thinks their own opinions are so correct. It would be so much better if it generally were understood what it means to think well, beyond how so many people can identify ad hominem attacks and straw man arguments, correctly or not.

The thing is that thinking like a scientist is very straightforward:

1) Use good data
2) Use good arguments
3) Consider all possibilities

Is there anything else? I’m not sure there is. It can take a lot of technical expertise to do those few things well, but is there something else? I can’t think of it. That technical expertise is important. One argument that creationists use throws out all techniques that measure the age of things as greater than several thousand years. Such arguments rarely appreciate just how many radioisotope techniques there are, not just carbon dating, or how many less specific indicators there are for the age of things, such as how long it takes for tectonic plates to move or volcanoes to change a landscape as much as they have, on top of even older sedimentary rocks no less.

It takes more than a little stab at a little bit of the data to think like a good scientist. You have to make sense out of all of it. This has been the great Achilles heel of philosophers who worked for thousands of years to be very good at arguments, but were terrible at premises. If you do arguments well, but data poorly, it’s just garbage in, garbage out. The scientific revolution found a way around that. That is its greatness.

So why is so much of society still resistant to the scientific revolution? In some sense science is very natural for us. We believe what we see. Yet we also find ways to believe what we want to believe, and in that, we are not at all natural scientists. People don’t want to consider all data, all arguments, and all possibilities. They only want to look at what helps their beliefs.

I’ve thought of detailing that about global warming. A nice starting point came out recently in the IPCC report on global warming, one that estimates the likelihood of human activity being the cause at over 90%. So how do skeptics attack that? They make ad hominem attacks. If they do get to any specifics, it’s something like Antarctica being less affected than one might think, as the report mentions. OK, but how about the rest of it, that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have gone up almost 40% in recent centuries, that the unvarying turn upward of global temperatures is unprecedented, even though prehistoric temperatures did vary quite a bit? It’s a very simple story, even though it’s uncertain how dangerous or expensive it will be to humanity. What’s so hard about getting the simple story straight, then being stubborn about what to do in response if one wants?

I’m not sure about that. Why do people insist on manipulating facts instead of just sticking to where things really are just a matter of opinion? I don’t know. It’s something about control. The way it relates to thinking like a scientist is easy. People don’t want to look at all possibilities. They want certainty, and not just any certainty. It has to be an acceptable certainty, true or not. That’s it. That’s what people would have to change if they want to think like scientists. They can’t be so certain. They could be certain about some things, but not everything.

It’s a simple way to go to think like a scientist. I fell in love with it as a teenager, looking at all the wonderful things science knew then. Science knows even more now, and is on an unshakeable track to learn more, such as with the genetics revolution. Yet many people prefer to think naturally than think like a scientist, with whatever blinders their partisanship tells them to wear.

It’s a simple problem. Again and again the answer is that people don’t look at all the facts, all the arguments, and all the possibilities. I’ve decided not to do a blog where I just point out example after example of that. Maybe it’s something that’s needed, but I’ll leave that to others. Partly that’s because there’s an example of this that scientists don’t look at much. It’s how atheist scientists go after religion, because they’re so sure religion is all superstition.

PZ Myers is one. Yesterday he went after the staff of a Florida school because they prayed after hours using prayer oil on students’ desks. Ed Brayton did so a few hours earlier. Myers uses the following words: “stupid”, “lunatics”, “deranged” “…you are a disgrace, a confused and deluded kook, and you are screwing up. Get help. Your delusions are affecting your performance and your life,” “because they use the excuse that it is ‘religion’ everyone backs off, gets all deferential, and pretends they aren't dealing with a team of quacks, clowns, and slow-witted, thoughtless incompetents,” “I say fire the lot of them,” and “Jebus. Magic goop. Prancing, chanting shamans. If the kids do poorly on the test, we know the reason: idiots running the classrooms. This is what religion does, it rips up your brain and infuses it with credulity and sloppy thinking.”

Well he did say “if the kids do poorly”. It’s not as though he’s completely prejudiced about the situation. It’s amazing how some people can diagnose others at a distance. The mental health professions should look into this ability.

Brayton is more restrained, calling this attempt at “divine cheating” “perverse” and alluding to someone having a “screw loose”.

How many atheist scientists are there who don’t think that religious people are idiots and insane? I don’t, but I’m not an atheist. Some might say that means I don’t think like a scientist. They might add a fourth feature to thinking like a scientist, which is to have contempt for any notion of a reality beyond the physical universe. Of course, they would make exceptions for believing in parallel universes or other speculation that involves neither spirits nor God.

What is the objective evidence that religious people are idiots and insane? I suppose some are. I suppose some scientists are if one can stretch the definition of “idiot” to mean habitually saying and doing things that don’t make sense. Maybe even PZ Myers would admit he’s not thinking like a scientist with that rant. So why do it?

Now I’ve never used prayer oil. I’ve only rarely said intercessory prayers. I’ve prayed them as they come to me. I don’t know if any ever helped anyone. I don’t know that there ever has been a physical miracle in response to prayer. I do know that some remarkable mental things have happened to me following prayer. Long-standing resentments have gone. I have prayed for direction, strength and hope and gotten exactly that. Who’s to say that God can’t help children in school be less distracted for a test, just because some who believe in Him ask for His help? Myers and Brayton don’t make scientific arguments to the contrary. They just ridicule the idea.

It’s a free country. Those who choose to ridicule whatever possibility they don’t like will continue to do so, from any place in the political and religious spectra. And some people like this will continue to boast how much they believe in truth, science, whatever. It’s a lie. I know how a good scientist thinks. He or she thinks with those three features I wrote down above. If someone has better criteria, it would be interesting for me to read them. Exploring all possibilities has paid off for me before. I know partisans don’t like to do that. I’m not sure what besides partisanship would make people resist looking at all the possibilities. Not even idiocy or insanity explains that.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Abu Ghraib

HBO premiered a documentary last night about the torture of prisoners by Americans at Abu Ghraib in 2003. The administration and its fellow travelers dispute the word “torture”, something they have tried to define as causing organ failure or death, not “mere” psychological torture or pain inflicted without persistent damage. Quibbling about words sounds like the tactic of someone with something to hide. Of course at Abu Ghraib there was indeed torture leading to death. No one was punished for such murders, only for embarrassing the Army by taking pictures. The na├»ve soldiers actually believed the story that a prisoner who died from torture had suffered a routine heart attack. They didn’t realize they were photographing a murder. Without pictures, no one except the Army and the prisoners would have known how bad it was. Even with these pictures, only the Army and prisoners know how much worse the actual interrogations were. Strange how perfect crimes go wrong.

I don’t know how important it is that from the President on down, no one has taken responsibility for the systematic brutality that was captured by the pictures at Abu Ghraib, and for what? I’m sure it’s wrong, as opposed to some other issues about the war in Iraq and fighting terrorism that aren’t as clear to me, yet so many accept this and fight over things that make me shrug. I do know that there was systematic brutality. This documentary establishes that for anyone who hasn’t gotten that from newspapers and other TV already.

Will any politician ever be willing to get to the bottom of this or the top if that’s the more appropriate finding? Many people have been more loyal to the Army or to President Bush at this point than to the principle that it’s wrong to torture people, pretending that with this one exception of approved stress positions gotten carried away at Abu Ghraib, everyone is sticking to the regulations about acceptable torture. Right, I find the sight of Army officers and administration officials staring into the camera saying everything’s fine, our soldiers are stopping just short of real torture, to be more chilling than any of the pictures from Abu Ghraib. And think of all who called CBS traitors for airing these pictures in the first place.

There were plenty of prisoners at Abu Ghraib who were there by mistake, no matter how evil some of them were. I was once taught that America stands for the principle that it’s better for 10 guilty men to go free than one innocent man to be imprisoned. The reality of American justice hasn’t often been that careful, but when did we go to the idea that 10 men would be tortured, innocent, guilty, who cares, so that maybe one man would say a little bit more about something, truth, desperate lie, who cares? Many Republicans have signed on to this shift in what America means. That shouldn’t be forgotten. If Americans want this, their votes will signal that. I for one don’t want America to stand for torture. That’s my vote.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A less hateful world

Unlike fear, there is no rational basis for hate. Perhaps one can identify people without whom the world would be better off. That’s no reason to hate them. One might say the world would be better off without the uneducated or the selfish. That’s a reason to promote education or institutions that favor selflessness. Maybe that will eliminate the uneducated and the selfish in future generations. Why punish or kill the uneducated or the selfish in this generation if they’ll just come back in the next one? It’s no solution. Yet it is a solution to focus on the future and not worry about expressing vengeance in the present.

Hatred is not so patient. Hatred may not act in the present out of impotence, but it would if it could.

Unlike fear, there is no semi-objective way to look at the world and ask how much hate there should be in a person if he or she could take in the facts of the world without bias. If one can take in all facts objectively, why would there be any hate? There’s only hate when people look at their political, religious, or personal opponents and say, “It’s their fault!”

Anywhere one looks on the internet or in the real world, one does hear other people being criticized for what they say or do. Often that’s a hateful criticism. I would like to get away from that for the above reasons, that there’s no rational basis for hate, that it does no good, even in the intellectualized form of hate one can see where there are no obscenities, but the words are thoroughly biased toward someone else being the bad guy.

One principle that gets away from hate is to understand that our greatest enemy is in the mirror. It’s my own bias that causes me the greatest upset. In the language of Buddhism, my delusions and my attachments cause me the most trouble, more so than the biological and cultural nature of so many people. I like that aspect of Christianity that also says look at myself first, as with Matthew 7: 1-5. So I look at myself.

One way I try to be more objective is to be a scientist toward the hatred, indifference, and falseness that so many people embrace. It is the product of biological evolution and cultural evolution that we are this way. Whether one is polite about one’s evil intent or obnoxious, it is natural and acceptable by one’s subculture, if not the overall culture. People have cognitive distortions in almost every opinion they have. They oversimplify and overgeneralize. They use black and white reasoning. They deny this if challenged. They can’t be mistaken. They start from being right. The words they use to explain that must be defensible.

Even with that much, I’m starting to lose my objectivity. I hate how people butcher reasoning in what they say, how they ignore so many possibilities, how their prejudice is so important to them. I know why this is. This is one reason there is so much strife in politics, religion, and everything else. It adds to all other reasons that make all partisanship corrupt. And I’m sick of partisanship. I don’t have to think about it. As in that link, I’m having a perfectly good day, and then I’m grumpy because I see some excessive display of partisanship. I’d like my clients to escape from not having health insurance, but it’s not going to happen because politicians would rather push their own fantasies and play “gotcha” with the other side.

See, I’m losing my objectivity again. I’d rather just kill all the bad people than sit and watch objectively. I won’t do that because practically I can’t and the consequences of how much killing I could do are unacceptable to me. Some say I’m immoral because of that, that the only way to be moral is to see such killing as wrong. Perhaps that’s right. Yet I am what I am, just like everyone else.

So at some point I admit I can’t be objective. People are evil for how much suffering they cause and for not wanting to diminish that. I’m hurt by that. Others are hurt even more than I am. It helps some to understand how natural this is, but that is also why blaming others and not helping others is so ingrained in people, why hatred persists even when culturally acceptable hatred shifts from physical violence to verbal attacks.

Where is hatred going? I would like to think that as people improve materially, they have less reason to hate other people, but that doesn’t seem to be happening, does it? It does seem that hatred is more verbal and less physically violent than it once was. Why should that ever go away?

I turn to God, and I have a hard time getting a straight answer to how much God hates this world. I was raised in the Episcopal Church, where there was a determination in the 19th century that God has no passions. Does that mean a passionless love? That’s not the God of my experience. And love can mean hatred of things that threaten the object of that love. Maybe if God can see a big enough picture, He doesn’t need to hate, knowing that all this blaming other people is just something people have to get through. Then again maybe even God doesn’t have that wide a view.

Will people ever get away from hate? Atheists seem to think that if everyone gave up on the delusions of religion, there would be much less hate. Fundamentalists seem to think that if everyone joined their cult, there would be much less hate. Perhaps there would be for a while, but intellectualized hate is so subtle, and controlling other people is so much in our nature, I don’t know that hatred will ever leave us. Maybe someday we’ll have implants that will keep us from blaming people the way we do. It’s going to be a while before we get that far.

So maybe fear will decrease, but hate will stay with us. That’s not necessarily a good combination, is it?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A less scary world

From time to time I realize how things I do are less frightening than life once was. I don’t worry about what I eat being tainted. It’s sealed. It has dates on it. Manufacturers suffer from publicity if they aren’t careful. I don’t need to be superstitious about eating the right things. Science has learned about fats, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, vitamins, and how they relate to health, not perfectly, but enough to feel confident that I know what a healthy diet is. It’s my choice how close to stay to that. It’s not my personality to be completely safe. On occasion I’ll eat at Taco Bell or Jack-in-the-Box and the 6 hours of diarrhea that follow will remind me that’s not the perfect choice. But until I’m in a group that’s more at risk from too much E.coli in my food, it’s not that dangerous.

How different it must have been in the ancient world. No wonder people counted on God to bless their food or strictly stick to dietary laws that some argue were for dietary safety more than a fantasy of holiness. Yet I would bet that some ancient people who followed the diet of their religion felt more secure than some today who feel compelled to buy vitamins and follow individual superstitions about their food. The world is less scary, but people remain spread out along a spectrum from being afraid to being secure.

Has that spectrum shifted? It’s hard to know. The world is less scary, not only with respect to food, but with respect to being the victim of violence, for most of us, with respect to tomorrow’s weather, most of the time, and with respect to the disruptions of war, disease, and economic instability. So my bias is to say people should be less scared. Are they? It’s hard to know. As I cruise the media and the internet there is so much fear. There is fear about conservative Christians making the US into a theocracy. There is fear of what Muslims will do on their way to take over the world. There is conservative fear of what freedom in sexuality and the marginalization of Christianity will do to them. There is atheistic fear about what the irrational beliefs of any religion mean for the future.

Some of that fear is amplified for the purpose of sensationalism. Some of it is overstated for rhetorical purposes. Still it’s clear that people are afraid and sometimes vote their fears. There is something real about fear. How much? That’s such a hard question to answer. As I go about my daily life I don’t have much fear, and that seems realistic. I imagine some extreme fear where I am simultaneously being chewed by a shark and engulfed by flames, and that seems avoidable. It’s safe to bet that my fear of being in a shark tank will never need to reach my consciousness except for a moment of imagination like this.

I desire to live with a realistic amount of fear, not denial, not awash in unrealistic fear. That’s how fear would seem to be the most useful to me. The culture of fear opposes me in this. It preys on me. Media personalities like Glenn Beck would have me fear Muslims more and fear global warming less. Others have their own agenda. I can’t resist them all, especially those fear-mongers who are closer to my own prejudices. One brake on that is that so many fears some push on the public are far away from my daily life. I know how to resist that, to pay attention to my life and not some media rantings. Of course that invites denial, but maybe it’s enough just to be curious about the outside world, to wonder how much there is to this talk of global warming or terrorism and read enough to understand that both are far away from my daily life, not everyone’s, but my daily life. I’d vote against both, but mine is not a swing vote. It won’t make a difference.

How many people want me to be afraid so they can manipulate me? Advertisers do. Politicians do, including so many politicians masquerading as news people. Those in religion want me to afraid so I will take their prescription for my fear. I’m sure some people want me to be afraid just for the existential joy involved in being able to scare me.

If I listened to all those people seriously, maybe the world wouldn’t be a less scary place than it was hundreds or thousands of years of years ago, but I don’t listen to them that much. And I’m convinced that apart from propaganda the world is less scary than it used to be, at least since the risk of global thermonuclear war was greatly diminished. Still it’s up to individuals whether they feel secure enough or need to turn to some system of beliefs or course of action to help them.

I wasn’t that fearful 18 years ago when I turned to praying again. I was just afraid that I didn’t have any good ideas to help my marriage or career, both of which weren’t going to kill me, but weren’t making me happy either. God helped me in ways that I didn’t expect, didn’t understand, and that sometimes made me more afraid. Yet after these new fears passed, my world is even less scary than science has shown it to be. I’m not immune to fear now, but I have a constant companion for anything that happens to me, someone I can consult. I’m still not going in any shark tanks. I’m not stupid. God doesn’t require me to be.

Many atheists ridicule me for that, saying I’m unrealistic and would recognize the dangers of all religion if I weren’t so intoxicated. There’s fear in that, isn’t there? Like any other fear, I listen. I ask if there’s anything there that makes sense or is someone just venting his or her own fear or pushing fear even more than that. Is there any realistic fear of the God of my understanding? I’ve thought about it. It is stimulating to meet God. It is disorienting. It can be frightening. But is it something reasonable to avoid? I don’t think so. Anyone is welcome to suggest some greater fear, but the only suggestions I hear lack any understanding of the God I know. Atheists are busy bashing the traditional God. I understand that. Maybe someday they’ll completely smash Him and realize to their confusion that the real God has always been someplace else, someplace they don’t like any better, as it still implies that atheism is not the pinnacle of realism.

I wish life were color-coded. One could more easily see that this is fear-mongering or that is hate-mongering. I am convinced that science gives us many reasons to be less afraid of this world than people used to be. Maybe someday that actually will let people shed their superstitions. Yet I have also met the God I understand, and in Him there are even more reasons to be less afraid. People resist all of this, sure that they will find something better in their own beliefs and superstitions than what is beyond them. I’m sure that’s natural. It’s also natural that fear-mongers and hate-mongers prey on people, just like bacteria and bears. There is a way out of that for people, to be less sensitive to liars, to trust an empirical way to knowledge that is flawed, but mostly reliable. Some people are too afraid to go that way, better to stick with the fantasy, fear and hatred they know. Maybe the next generation will find it to be less scary.

However it might happen, there is an even less scary world ahead than this world where so many labels on my food make me its master. I understand God is in that world even more than this one.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

It matters who God is

I was following some links today and came across a controversy between PZ Myers of Pharyngula and Vox Day of Vox Popoli. A questioner on the latter blog challenged Christians about whether they would follow God’s order to kill all children in sight under the age of 2, if it were beyond question that this is indeed God’s order. Now this is not a new idea. For centuries Jew and Christians have been discussing the obedience of Abraham when God told him to sacrifice Isaac and the obedience of Israelites when God told them to commit genocide in their conquest of Canaan. I don’t hear theists saying about those examples that they would disobey God. I myself doubt that anything in Genesis is history, so the story of Abraham and Isaac is a parable for me, but not necessarily a parable from God. In part it is a parable contrasting the God of Israel with those gods who did require child sacrifice. In part it is reassurance that one could follow God blindly, and He will make things turn out right. But is that reassurance from people who didn’t know that God exercises no power over the physical world? It is not beyond question that the God of the Bible is not the real God. If the real God can’t save or resurrect Isaac, it makes Abraham’s understanding of the situation more critical.

If the God I know told me to sacrifice my son, I would ask questions why. The God I know never has asked me for blind obedience. If He did, I can see myself saying, “I don’t understand.” I never disobey God, why would I need to, but I am always honest with Him. My experience is that God knows all of my consciousness. That makes it easy to be honest with Him, since I can’t hide anything from Him anyway. So that means if it doesn’t make sense to me, that’s what I’d say to God, even after whatever questions I had about this being an imposter. Maybe that means that I’m not worthy. Maybe instead that means I’m exactly who God wants to talk to. Who was the source of the biblical view that values blind obedience? Was it God? Was it men? God tells me here and now that it was men. This is the God I know, not a God who is only words on a page or the God of a tradition that I see to be corrupt in many ways.

Now if the God I know told me He has been holding back from showing me just how much physical power He has and that it’s His intention to stop some religious strife by killing everyone on one side, and needed my help for some reason, I would help Him. Kill all Muslims, all Hindus, all Christians, all Jews, all atheists, or everyone of a particular ethnicity, whoever His target is, if I understand it, I would help Him. It would be moral because God finds it to be necessary. However many billions, if I understood why and that it’s God without any possible doubt, I would help Him. It would take me more than a minute to understand, and if God would ever do this, I can’t imagine why He hasn’t done it already. This is a big part why I don’t believe in a traditional God, because a traditional God would have ended all this strife long ago. There are good reasons why the real God hasn’t done that with His limitations.

I think about this need for me to understand on more issues than this one. When I first heard from God directly, in that road-to-Damascus experience, I questioned Him. As I wrote before, his response blew away my doubt. It hasn’t been so dramatic since then, but the process has been similar. I need to understand. I need to trust, too, since I can’t understand things perfectly, but God never once has objected to helping me trust Him more. Why should He? Why should blind obedience be a virtue? Isn’t it love to respect each other’s needs? Why should God need blind obedience? Yet my need to understand is obvious. I need to have faith in what I do, or I won’t do it well.

Vox Day takes the approach Abraham took. Of course he would do what God says, with the provision that there is no doubt. Vox believes in the traditional God. That God can be trusted no matter what. Communication from Him can overcome any imperfection I have in hearing Him or understanding His morality. Real communication isn’t so easy. The God of my understanding might turn out to be who atheists say He is, a creation of my imagination. I don’t think that’s true. There are too many aspects of my relationship with God that I think are beyond my imagination. Yet in the end I would do what God says, too, as long as I understand. I doubt I could understand killing babies. I doubt the God I know would have a reason for that. The God I know could convince me if He does.

So it’s close between Vox and me. Vox believes in a different God than I do. I assume we’re not both right, but what do I know? I trust the God I know. He’s explained to me how I’m wrong before.

On the other hand PZ Myers seems to think that killing is immoral even if God says so. I’ve heard atheists say this multiple ways. Some say that if God is immoral, they will not follow Him. I certainly don’t deny that there can be morality without God. I agreed when I read Bertrand Russell reason his way toward saying that the ultimate good things are benevolence and knowledge. These have good consequences. That’s generally true.

I also agree with evolutionary psychologists who argue for evolution having given us an innate morality because of the selective value of cooperation. One might describe the basic message of this morality as it’s wrong to hurt people like oneself. Cultures have worked to extend this natural principle to all people, even beyond human beings, and extend it to helping people in various ways as opposed to just not hurting people, but the basis of all this is just that it’s more competitive for natural selection, even if the cultural extensions of our biological morality might not have a competitive advantage.

So how does that make God immoral if He wants to kill some people? That’s the problem, isn’t it? If we want to make the world better for people, and God decides that’s not good for Him in some way, by what principle is God immoral? Just because we say so?

I suspect that principle is that atheists are sure God is imaginary. So it’s not God deciding people need to die. It’s a kook deciding people need to die. Then one at least could say that the kook is heavily outvoted about what is moral. I didn’t see that in the hundreds of comments on Pharyngula, but I was skimming. PZ Myers’ comments are easier to understand if that’s the case. If the premise is that one can be sure of the supreme being’s orders, and you can’t accept the possibility of that, then of course the whole thing is ridiculous.

Vox Day makes a different attack, “If you are going to debate the legitimacy of a belief system based on the potential danger it presents, secular scientists are vastly more vulnerable than Christians.” With the God I know, there’s certainly more chance of mass killing in the absence of God’s morality than from those following the real God. I think that’s true for any kind of false faith, theist or atheist. People have shown considerable capacity to come up with reasons to kill others, just as people spend a lot of time saying some other group is the bad one, often in a reciprocal way.

Lost in that is who is God? Atheists have a simple answer. There is no God. Those who believe in the God of the Bible have a simple answer, too. I think they’re both wrong, and I’m glad that I can have a relationship with God that doesn’t involve any of them. Neither God nor I have asked each other a question as hypothetical as the one that got all this started. It’s the practicalities that matter. I asked God for help, and I got help. I needed direction, strength, and comfort, and that’s what God gave me. I wanted some physical miracles, and God showed me He doesn’t do that. Instead of learning about all that, some who hear that God speaks to me in words wonder if I’m God’s assassin. Well, I haven’t killed anyone for God yet. I don’t expect to kill anyone. But those who think it’s always wrong to kill someone might better think that through again. I haven’t known God to tell me anything that made me say, “Why didn’t you do that before?” so I doubt God is planning mass killings for the future that He could have ordered today.

It is a strange controversy. If there is a God who is in charge, He doesn’t seem to be raising assassins. If there is no God, then no one has to worry about how they will respond to his orders. It’s really all about the possibility that those who believe they follow God’s orders aren’t. But that’s possible whether there is a real God or not. It’s clear God doesn’t prevent murders falsely made in His name. I would say that’s because He can’t control those who don’t know Him, but however it happens, there have been murders committed in God’s name. So what? Does anything either PZ Myers or Vox Day says make a difference to that?

Atheists want to find some magic words that make God go away. It’s not going to happen.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A day without blogs

21st Century Press
February 10, 2061

President Maria Conchita Bracamonte today proclaimed every Tuesday as a day without blogs, citing last year’s studies from the University of Wyoming and National Autonomous University of Mexico that Tuesday is the worst day of the week for baseless rumors, building on Monday being the day for the greatest number of new topics. President Bracamonte thanked Congress for the Cooper-Patel Act passed last month, which authorizes the President to take steps such as this in furtherance of the 30th amendment.

The President reiterated her administration’s commitments to the intellectual health, emotional health and physical health of the nation, three of the Eight Ways to the Future that she emphasized in her re-election campaign. Bracamonte suggested using the prohibition against blogging on Tuesday productively by making Tuesdays for exercise, for family and other needs.

Department of Information spokesperson Ousmane Fields explained that the proclamation does not require people to turn off their implants, but only the automatic recording features that post their every thought and image. Recording for one’s own use or future public use is unaffected by the proclamation.

Also today Attorney General Ted Robinson warned members of the opposition who persist in referring to the Department of Information as the “Ministry of Truth” risk prosecution under the provisions of the Cooper-Patel Act to enforce the freedom from lies and freedom from hate guarantees of the 30th amendment, in its modification of the first amendment. General Robinson referred to the “Sense of the People” section of the Cooper-Patel Act that defines lies, excluding satire for one-time rhetorical purposes, but holding that satire becomes a lie when used repeatedly in place of the facts of the matter. Hateful satire, however, is prohibited in all cases. Robinson acknowledged that the 14,000 pages of the “Sense of the People” section on lies and 23,000 pages on hate can be intimidating to read and that it is his intention to give people at least one warning of their being in violation of the Act before prosecution, but people should take that warning seriously.

Similarly Robinson warned that persistent references to the Cooper-Patel Act as “Sinaloan Justice” will also be prosecuted. Sinaloa was the 63rd of the 84 states to ratify the 30th amendment in 2058, making the amendment part of the US Constitution.

Friday, February 09, 2007

All partisanship is corrupt

I wrote before how I was getting sucked in by politics again. I was expecting that no one would be humbled by the November elections despite how well the Democrats were expected to do. Well, this time the predictions were correct, at least the predictions were that tilted the most toward the Democrats, ignoring this mystical power Karl Rove was expected by some to have on voter turnout. I’ve heard Republicans being sad to lose Rick Santorum and George Allen. I’ve heard plenty of recrimination about how Republicans should have paid more attention to fiscal conservatism and not taking bribes. If no one actually ate crow, maybe some had to smell crow. The actually eating might be for 2008 or maybe it will be the Democrats who find it’s their turn to be humbled again.

This should be healthy, but I wonder. My experience this morning is discouraging. I had a good morning except for one thing. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but some minutes later I realized my mood had changed. I was happy. Then I was grumpy. It was all because of this political cartoon in the San Diego Union-Tribune, depicting Nancy Pelosi as crying for a bigger airplane. Now I spent a lot of time on the internet yesterday. I went by Media Matters, as I often do, where it was pointed out how Tony Snow said that it was a silly story to portray Speaker Pelosi as demanding a larger plane, indifferent to the cost to the public. Still the RNC came out with an attack e-mail at the same time listing many negative comments about Pelosi from obvious partisans. Anyone interested in the facts found out there wasn’t a story here, just Republican partisanship. Yet today here is this cartoon, completely out of touch with reality, purely an attack on an opponent, the San Diego paper being thoroughly Republican. Do facts matter at all?

Satire is an accepted form of expression. One problem with it, though, is there comes a point when the satirical presentation is so different from reality that while the word “satire” may still apply, it’s much more truthful to call it a lie. The San Diego Union-Tribune lies all the time. This cartoonist regularly provokes letters to the editor about how much of a lie his cartoons are. I’ve always shrugged about this. People are what they are. I haven’t had much luck confronting people anywhere along either the political or religious spectrum with how much they lie, how much they’re not looking to the facts of a matter, but where they can beat their opponents or defend their position.

There’s been another firestorm this week involving Republicans blasting Democrats. This time it wasn’t as important that partisans lack credibility in their attacks, as evidenced by the attack on Pelosi, because the facts of the matter were on the websites of the two women John Edwards hired to run his blog. There are so many places to start reading on this one, but wherever one starts the picture emerges that both sides are just blasting away at each other. It starts with Bill Donahue saying that anyone who talks about his Catholics this way should be fired. Then defenders of the bloggers fire back about how vicious Donohue has been in the past, while others support Donohue as being exactly right. Little rhetoric focuses on whether it’s really OK to talk about other people any way you want. Finally Mr. Edwards addressed that. I agree with his statement with one exception. He accepts the bloggers’ word that they didn’t mean to malign anyone’s faith? Oh, come on. Reportedly from his spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri has come the news that no one from the Edwards campaign looked at the offensive bloggings ahead of time and Edwards still hasn’t met either blogger in person. So maybe Mr. Edwards doesn’t really understand what was written or maybe he’s just telling a little lie. I don’t think this successful trial lawyer is dumb enough for the former.

When Amanda Marcotte equates the Holy Spirit with ancient mythology and says so many other contemptuous things that I’ve lost track, in as forceful a language as possible, I can’t imagine the slightest possibility that she didn’t mean to malign anyone’s faith. She certainly maligned mine. So should she be fired? I don’t care. That’s up to her employer. Lots of people malign my faith. I wish they wouldn’t, but if they were all fired or dropped dead, the US economy would grind to a halt. Europe would be almost completely depopulated. It’s not necessary just for me.

What interests me more than the big guns blasting away at both sides are the little lies, like John Edwards lie that his new employees didn’t mean to be bad. Of course they did. He could have accepted that differently, without lying. For some reason he didn’t. I’m sure it’s politics, just as his decision whether to fire anyone had to rest in politics. How amazing it was to read in the DailyKos and similarly leftist blogs how quickly some would abandon Edwards forever if he fired bloggers who were like them or be drawn to him even more if he kept their sisters on. That is indeed politics, not morality, not anything else.

There was a time when I said, “A pox on both your houses,” a few times. Mostly I did that when I gave up finding any common ground with atheists or fundamentalists, but extremist politics is similar. In religion, I paid more attention to liberal religion once I was sure I never was going to find a larger group for fellowship than that. Yet liberal religion is divided into several groups, many with non-negotiable ways of seeing things if not beliefs. The middle ground for politics is similar. I’ve been reading the blog The Moderate Voice regularly. They tell little lies there. It’s not always from the same perspective. Sometimes it’s a little Republican lie, sometimes a little Democratic lie, sometimes a little lie that breaks away from both mainstreams. Anyone can see for himself or herself. It’s all the same politics, pushing an agenda, twisting the facts, denying wrongdoing in oneself, magnifying it in your enemies.

I’m sure it’s done because it works. If the American people demanded civility and scrupulous honesty, we’d have civility and scrupulous honesty. They don’t. In fact they seem to appreciate a good scrap to weed out losers.

Somehow all of that was in this cartoon this morning, not at first, but in me to mix with whatever this cartoon added. It made me grumpy. It didn’t help for me to say that none of this matters. It’s window dressing. It’s the fans misbehaving in the stands, with no bearing on the serious game being played in the field. Well, some of it is. But for any problem in our culture, it’s this sort of silliness and lying that keeps there from being a solution. I know the suffering this causes, the lack of health care, the lack of a secure income, the foreign policy adventures. Lots of people talk about such things, but they talk about them as partisans, and all partisanship is corrupt. Look at that cartoon again. Look at cartoons that attack Bush or other Republicans. There are lies among them, too.

It’s not that fun to watch without the numbers regarding the election. I’m humbled by it if no one else is willing to be.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

If it’s just me, it doesn’t matter; if not the problem is huge

Recently I was led to a site about contemporary Christian music and found this interview of Grammy-award winning Christian singer Rebecca St. James. As much as I admire Rebecca’s music, passion for God and attitude of surrender, which I share, we don’t see God the same way.

“I believe worship is the greatest thing we can do here on earth,” Rebecca says. “It’s our human Christian calling; it’s what we’re created to do. I love worship. There is such a need for it today.”
I’ve heard this before. I’m not sure where. I know Rick Warren said in his book The Purpose Driven Life that God’s 5 purposes for us are for worship, for fellowship, to grow spiritually, to serve others, and for evangelism. Warren wrote, “It’s all for God.” He wrote that God’s only purpose in doing anything is to glorify Himself. I know I’d heard all of that before Rick Warren got many people to read it. It never rang true to me. It’s based on that traditional view of God as omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving and all-good. If that’s true, why isn’t there heaven on Earth right now?

Of course people can argue about that. It’s not an accident that Bible-believing Christians have settled on such a homogeneous view of God. The above view can be defended well enough, given how many people there are in this house of cards all telling each other there’s no problem.

But who’s right about God, regardless of any arguments? Rick Warren and Rebecca St. James could be right about God. Just because I think their God makes no sense alongside the world I experience doesn’t prove anything. Atheists might be right that the concept of God is pure fantasy, no matter how much my experiences have been helpful and beyond me to fake. Any other religion might be right. How can one know?

I’d like to take credit for deciding to trust God and junk everything else, but that’s not my part. I just started praying again in my thirties, and some things happened that I still don’t really understand. I know they don’t fit the simplistic ideas people have, from traditionalists to secularists. That’s what really set me free. Seeing really is believing.

I remember when I realized there were two possibilities. It took me about 6 months after God first spoke to me to see it that simply. One was that whatever I was experiencing about God was wrong, and something else was right, or maybe no one was right. The other possibility is that as metaphorical or otherwise indirect as my experience might be, that’s the real God.

I realized that if I was wrong, I could live with that. I’d explored essentially all religions before that and adapted to the possibilities that one, all, or none were correct. If all that I experience is just me, it doesn’t change that.

But if what I hear is God, He/She is very different than some say. He helps us not like He’s playing with dolls, but out of love. Glory? What’s that? I love God for who God is and what God has done for me. God tells me He/She loves me for who I am and what I’ve done for God. What is talk of glory apart from an attempt to suck up to God as if God were one of those Asian despots who ran things when the Bible was being written? Or sometimes people speak of God’s glory as they pretend He’s on their side, when He’s not, when He’s with those who are detested by those first people.

It would be one thing if worship were just about group prayer or group fellowship with God, but to pretend that we are nothing without God, that God does everything good and something else does everything bad is talking to someone who doesn’t exist. It’s not the God who speaks to me, the God to whom I’m married. That God likes how music and teaching help people, but doing glory to Him? – people don’t have the slightest idea how to do that.

The greatest thing anyone on Earth can do is love, love God, love neighbors, and love enemies. I used to say that a lot, but then it becomes a problem to define love, especially with loving God and loving enemies. It’s hard to get a straight answer from enemies about that, but God tells me what loving Him means to Him. It has nothing to do with worship. If that’s just my fantasy, it doesn’t matter. But if it means there’s a problem with tradition, then it’s a huge problem, and so many people are clueless about it, even people I otherwise like.