Saturday, March 31, 2007

The ambiguity of "deserve"

Since October 2003 non-religious-right evangelical Christian Fred Clark has been writing semi-regularly on his blog slacktivist about the Left Behind novel by Timothy LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. So far I’ve read all of Clark’s pages written during 2003 and since the beginning of 2006. Clark mostly writes about a specific page or two, humorously and perceptively wondering why this book was so badly written in a style that talks about action instead of portraying action, with all the characters speaking the way the authors speak, is utterly unrealistic about human behavior, and pushes a theology that is so much about, “we know the truth, and you don’t,” without much justification for such pride. It’s engaging reading, Clark’s words that is. It may be a much more enjoyable way to read Left Behind just through Clark’s quoting and discussion of it. I’m sure I’ll get to 2004 and 2005 eventually. Currently Clark is up to page 258 in this book that amazon tells me has 352 pages. I wonder if Clark is on a pace to write more pages than the book has, but not so curious for me to count them.

Gee, if the plan is to go through all 12 books on this blog, Fred may need a replacement at some point.

Clark obviously knows theology, something he demonstrates in pointing out the flaws of the authors' brand of dispensationalism. At one point Clark used a standard description of salvation by God’s grace. He said Christians don’t deserve salvation. It all comes from God, as traditional Christianity says it does. God is everything. We are nothing. Jesus did everything to save us on the cross. We can add nothing. There was a time I just accepted that. Now I doubt any absolute like this. There is so much about traditional religion that is black and white thinking, something loved by human nature, but rarely an accurate depiction of anything.

Why didn’t God prevent this suffering or that? Because He can’t or He would have. Why not? Well it’s a long discussion that begins with God being whoever and whatever God is, not the perfection we want Him to be. Instead of what seem like obvious answers to me, tradition finds excuses to make God perfect despite appearances to the contrary, rationales for why any unsettling issue is part of the great plan that God knows and we can’t. Right.

I’ve lost count of how many ways such traditionalism unravels, unless one is committed to believe the best apologetics can do. One way is in considering this idea that grace is 100% God. The basic idea is understandable. I can’t earn God’s love. Well, that makes sense. How is it love if I have to earn it? Yet only a small change in the verb makes that so different. Do I have to allow God to love me? A Calvinist would say no, but must people would make the analogy to interhuman love where of course one can reject love or accept love. A parent may always love a child despite being rejected, but the power of that love changes if it’s rejected.

What’s more my dictionary’s definition of “deserve” is to be worthy, which is in turn defined as valuable or useful. Who decides that? If God loves an octopus, doesn’t that mean there’s something about that octopus that is worth God’s love?

There are so many points in theology where a word is used as a symbol that is more restricted than the word’s general meaning. We don’t deserve God’s love in the sense that we’ve done anything to earn that love, but we do deserve God’s love in some sense as God’s love for us proves. Otherwise God loves every rock and every bit of vapor in the universe, and theology is very far off the truth of God’s love.

Do you love me for who I am or for what I’ve done? I understand answering that as just the former, but to say the answer is neither is a very different thing. And what’s so wrong about saying, “Both”? It’s not like I can take back what I’ve done. Love grounded in what I’ve done doesn’t have to be conditional on it.

I helped people in my career and now in my volunteer work. Did I love all of my patients and clients? In some sense yes, but that was sometimes a very distant love that let me care for all of them, even when I didn’t like who they were and felt nothing positive about anything they had done except having come to me for help. My caring for them was more about me than them, but even then it wasn’t entirely about me. If these people were hamsters, I wouldn’t have done much for them.

One can say that God’s love is so much more than that, deity that He is. How? It must matter that people are human beings, not squirrels, not that rats with puffy tails aren’t cute, but our brains let us conceive of God and come to Him, even if everyone misunderstands that. I can’t imagine that God’s love is any different than what came through me as a professional, except that this is a minimum for what God’s love is. Why shouldn’t God’s love be more for those who do what pleases Him?

OK, so God is like a parent who doesn’t play favorites. He loves the prodigal son the same as the son who has stayed with Him, and God’s joy at the return of the prodigal confirms that instead of being a slight to the son who stayed, except in the inferior mind of that son. I understand this as a parent. I don’t allow favoritism exceeding say 20% toward one daughter than the other, not always the same one. They can each play me for more love if they want, for a greater expression of the love that is theirs whether they ask for it or not, but it all works out close enough to even.

Yet I never would say my daughters don’t deserve my love. Who they are to me deserves my love, even if they don’t understand that. I made them. Perhaps God doesn’t say that about us biologically, but He still may have made us spiritually, becoming the first element in the love between God and us, building on our need for love that perhaps biological evolution gives us. That’s more complicated than the Creator Father, but many things are more complicated than ancient simplicities.

I have a history of love with my daughters, much of which I’m sure they don’t remember, including those times when they were merely dependent on me, not capable of any selflessness in that, even though people often call just childish dependency love. My daughters brought out my love for them not because their looking toward me was loving, but because it was so needy, and they were who they were to me. That made them deserve my love.

So many people who recognize our not deserving God’s love as proper theology act and speak otherwise. The authors of Left Behind do that. Fred Clark comments on this a lot, how the heroes of Left Behind focus on their own selfish desire to be saved, then force a few others of their choosing to be saved. Not only do the authors believe one is saved by surrendering to some magic words and magic beliefs, the whole concept of the book is about those who deserved the Rapture vs. those who didn’t, and those who will be on board for the next bus to heaven vs. those who won’t. Meanwhile Jesus of the gospels taught that salvation was about giving up everything and following Him.

I wish theologians would allow that we deserve God’s love, or He wouldn’t love us. We can’t earn God’s love. We can’t force Him to love us. But we are not such scum to God that He will not love us, even those of us who come as close as they can to that. Still we have to be open to God’s love as any human being has to be open to be loved by another human being. And we can work at our relationship with God, to find love within us for Him, to deepen what we get from God, to increase the expression of love between us both ways.

I don’t know if it’s missing out on that process of building up love that is most responsible for people failing to live their lives to end poverty and/or live their lives to end strife. Whatever it is, something tells evangelicals that it doesn’t matter what they do, except when it does. The authors of Left Behind see accepting God’s grace as a one-time deal, and those who get in on the first phase get a better deal. Do they deserve that better deal? Their words would say no, but everything else would say yes, we believed the right way when you didn’t.

I admit it. In coming to believe that God is whoever and whatever God is, I believe that my beliefs are superior to anyone who has settled on one specific theology, a theology that is merely one possibility out of countless possibilities. But people with such a theology believe they are right, because God Himself revealed their theology to someone, because someone who thought through their theology was so enlightened, or because reason shows their theology or anti-theology to be flawless or at least the best bet. I’ve explored all the major theologies. They are artificial and not to be trusted. So I think the superior way is not to trust them.

Does that make me more deserving of God? Yes and no. In coming to God directly for help with what is true, I find I get more attention from God, deservedly so. But am I doing something anyone else can’t? Not to my knowledge, I’m not. And if God were not inclined to love me, could I demand that He love me? No, I have no sense that I deserve God’s love in that sense. There’s no getting around that “deserve” is an ambiguous word.

Theologies are ambiguous, in part because they use words like “deserve”. God is ambiguous. I suppose neither can be helped. What can be helped is deciding where I am and who I am in this fog, only it didn’t work well for me to do that on my own. I needed help. I prayed for help, as I was taught to do. I got help. Then I did better. That’s not so ambiguous.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Getting nature exactly backwards

In his work Optica, Euclid developed Plato’s ideas about vision into a mathematical model. That model is useful to understanding perspective despite that its understanding of vision is exactly backwards. Both Plato and Euclid believed that vision comes from something leaving our eyes and perceiving objects out in the world.

I think of this sometimes when I’m out looking at some scene in nature. It seems more natural to think that I am reaching out to see my surroundings. My focus of attention seems to bring some things into more detail. It seems that I’m actively looking while the scene is passive.

Yet at this point in the scientific revolution there is no question that what is actually happening is that photons are flying at me from everything I see, from the smallest leaf on a tree to the smallest detail on a distant mountain. No only that, but there are many more photons I don’t see, all the ones that are flying around in different directions from the one very narrow range of directions that will enter my eye. As long as the sun is above the horizon, these photons keep this up. It doesn’t matter whether someone is looking or not. It’s interesting that people ponder whether a tree falling makes a sound if no one is listening, but not whether the sky is blue is no one is looking. Do we think vision is more real?

Besides how wrong our instinct is about how we see, thinking about this reminds me how much there is I’m not seeing. Forget about all those parts of the EM spectrum I can’t detect, from radio waves to x-rays. Just in the visible part of the spectrum, there are so many photons bouncing off the distant mountains that make them just as bright in every other direction as well as mine. If I could see all of them, the mountains would be much brighter, and in 3-D, too. But I only see the light I’m used to, the mountains I’m used to, not what they really are, despite my bias that my everyday perception of them is what they really are.

Just in those paragraphs there are connections to getting other things backwards. It’s actually the horizon that moves up, not the sun that moves down. Then there’s the issue that Plato thought there was an ideal reality for which the world of our senses is merely shadows. Despite Plato’s low expectations for this world, science has found an order to our world that many find stunning in its simplicity and comprehensiveness, one that is indeed perfect or nearly so, at least for those things we understand such as our molecular makeup and how electromagnetism is involved in that.

Some understanding doesn’t suffer from getting vision backwards or thinking the sun orbits the Earth. The rules of perspective don’t depend on which way sightlines are going. The tides are as predictable whether one understand the true relationship of the Earth, moon, and sun or not. But when it comes to looking for a fundamental reality, is that in this world or in some other place where Platonic ideals reside?

What is the true nature of those mountains I see everyday? Those who still believe Plato would have that true nature be in some perfect world, a world I think only intellect could love, except it does conveniently support the idea that there is a perfect God in contrast to our imperfect world. That idea continues to be part of many Christian theologies as it has been from the beginning.

In recent centuries, though, science has been demonstrating something. Modern optics lets anyone realize the above understanding that a mountain is lit up in many directions and how that relates to its 3-D structure and reflectivity of its surface. Satellites provide perspectives beyond anything I imagined standing on the ground. Geology shows not only the rocks that make up the mountain and erosion patterns, but now can show the mountain’s place in a much larger story of plate tectonics, how it is that ocean sediments can become the highest peaks in the world.

Plato can’t compete with that. And there are so many places in life where science now has built up an understanding far beyond what ancient people knew, such as with the biochemical and physiological basis of life and death. There is no need for Platonic ideals in understanding that.

Still some people hold out for Plato and tradition. My greatest wish for the intellectual discussions about this would be for people to seriously consider the possibility that Plato had the fundamental idea of a perfect world beyond our imperfect Earth exactly backwards. People have their own reasons for wanting God to be perfect and unchanging, more than just conservative Christians. What about the other possibilities?

What if the physical world is perfectly real, and the spiritual world adapts to that, whether that’s a more traditional God having only real materials and real human beings to work with, not some idealized “essence” of them, or a Spirit that is much less controlling than the traditional God, but is also quite used to dealing with the physical reality that is, not some master plan.

Did God really change from a tribal warlord to a more universal agent of love? Those who follow Plato must say no. God has always been perfect. We just see different sides to Him in different contexts. Again that’s not just conservative Christians saying that. I myself suspect that change is more about the people involved putting so much of themselves into their images of God than a change in God, but who knows? Maybe it isn’t all a communication problem between us imperfect humans and a perfect God. Maybe God has learned a great deal from watching us, and has changed His agenda.

Unfortunately there’s no science to open anyone’s minds when it comes to whoever and whatever God is. Some put God into the same universe we’re in, in everyone and everything. I don’t experience God that way. I think atheist scientists have it right when they say they find no need for God to understand our world and our life. Maybe even consciousness actually will be understood someday in a purely material way.

But I’ve experienced God, and He didn’t seem physical. He seemed both mental and beyond anything I could dream up, different from what I would have dreamed up if it had been truly up to me. Whatever explains that, it’s a real experience, though one I find easier to understand as the spiritual side of reality than the physical side that is my brain. That’s always where I start in thinking about God, from the God I’ve experienced. So many people start at the other end, from some Platonic ideal, wherever that resides. I think that’s exactly backwards. There’s precedence for that being the case.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Grandmother cells

I was watching UCSD-TV last night, a presentation from last year by Christof Koch of Cal Tech, with his pink hair, matching tie, German accent, and occasional inability to find the obvious word in English. It didn’t remind me at all of Mike Myers playing “Dieter”, no. It was interesting to watch him demonstrate a phenomenon I’ve seen before where someone was fluent in scientific jargon in English, but got stuck on describing ordinary things in English. Science is indeed its own culture, a global one at that.

Koch described experiments involving the placement of depth electrodes into the temporal lobes of epilepsy patients at UCLA, in order to plan surgery to best cut out their seizures. Researchers used the opportunity to record from single cells in the amygdala or hippocampus. They found cells that responded to many different pictures of particular famous people, such as Bill Clinton, Halle Berry, or Jennifer Anniston, or famous places, such as the Sydney Opera House. A cell they found that was excited by Bill Clinton didn’t care if Hillary was in the picture or not. Another cell that fired away with a picture of Jennifer Anniston was silent when Brad Pitt was in the picture with Jennifer (This was from a couple of years ago). A cell that fired away at various pictures of Halle Berry, including one as Catwoman, was silent to another woman as Catwoman.

I discovered that John Horgan, a much better writer than I am, wrote about this at the time, so I’ll leave the rest to him, except for my memory of how this wasn’t supposed to be the way the brain works. When I was in neuroscience, the smart guys said it would be too limiting to have a single cell stand for something as specific as one’s grandmother. It might sit idle for years. How would it be able to recognize grandmother in every context in which she might appear or as she grew older? They thought it more likely that the brain extracts features from a scene and makes judgments about those features in a broad, cooperative effort, one’s grandmother being recognized by many associations to specific features, using cells that could recognize many people that way.

Horace Barlow (Barlow, H.B. 1972 "Single Units and Sensation: A Neuron Doctrine for Perceptual Psychology?", Perception 1, 371-394.) wrote the first publication I know that tagged this problem as being a matter of grandmother cells. His idea was that one would have to show not only that a cell is selectively activated by one person’s image, but that stimulating that cell brings that person’s image to consciousness. Researchers have yet to report on that second part.

Then there’s the question of how are all these cells organized in the temporal lobe. What are they mapping? The amygdala is about signaling us that there is an emotionally significant stimulus around, something to eat, someone to have sex with, or something to run away from. Does it really contain cells corresponding to everyone we know or are these results about archetypes of men and women we’d have sex with, spend time with, or want to be like? Or places we’d like to visit like the Sydney Opera House? How long a wish list like this might we have in our temporal lobes and how specific does it get?

Neuroscience will remain limited by how clever we can be at challenging the brain with a stimulus and then recording a reliable response. People keep pushing ahead with both of those, though. I expect that the most predictable outcome of this is that there will be something to surprise anyone.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


When I was a senior in high school I had a Humanities teacher who decided to have some fun with us one day by arguing that there is no such thing as selflessness. Everything we do is selfish in some way, unless we’re a slave or a prisoner. For those of us who are free, we’re always doing what we choose to do. Therefore what we do is always selfish, no matter how noble it might be.

Most of the students felt there was something wrong with that, but no one did well saying why. That bastard didn’t let us off the hook by showing us how to defeat his argument. Maybe he didn’t know. Maybe he actually believed it. Teachers can be so subversive.

It wouldn’t be hard for me to defeat this idea today. I spent a career helping people. I still help people in my retirement as a volunteer, something I started when my time was still valued in money. It’s true that there always has been something for me in that, but often that is much less than what I give up, what I endure, even what I suffer sometimes for the sake of others.

Then I’m also better able to recognize a logical fallacy now than I was in high school. Ah, once again here is the old problem of black and white thinking! This time is the version of that which says things can have only one reason or only one thing can be going on at a time. No, selflessness can coexist with some selfishness. It’s true of sex, of friendship, of many things everyone experiences, even if many of us limit our selflessness to a few select friends and family. Selflessness doesn’t have to be absolute.

I would have acted much differently in my career as a physician if it had been all for me. I’d have spent more time doing the most lucrative thing I did, being an expert for lawyers. I’d even gone on and be something more lucrative, being a whore for lawyers, saying whatever the highest bidder wanted said. Of course there was something selfish in my not doing that to my self-image, but not being a whore left me time and the inclination to be selfless in some ways. Someone has to try quite hard to be nothing but selfish in one’s life.

Only someone with little experience at selflessness would believe our self-preservation or self-sufficiency negates being selfless at the same time. Experience is the only way I learned that I can choose to be selfless for reasons that aren’t entirely selfish. I didn’t start off to be selfless for anyone. I grew up in an angry home where everyone needed to watch what they did and said for their own sake. That doesn’t teach someone to do anything extra. I was going to be a researcher because I loved the orderliness and beauty of science, the way it transformed the world into something more intimate, and because I was good at learning science. I wasn’t good at research, though. I had trouble making equipment work right. I’d wander into some dead end and stayed with it instead of moving on to something productive.

So if I’d stayed in physics, maybe I would have been a theoretician. I got the highest grade in the class in some courses where math was key. But I tired of physics. For one thing there aren’t many women in it. So I already had shifted into biomedical research, then medical school. That gave me a different alternative to not being good at research. I could help people. Unexpectedly I was good at that. In turns out that growing up in an abusive home can train someone to read other people well. People who know they need help are even easier to read than people who lie about themselves in big ways. There is this threshold where people give up being self-sufficient and only tell little lies. They open up, hoping someone will in fact help them, even somewhat magically.

Today when I help needy people, I know the one thing I do that alleviates suffering the most is to act in a way that helps people with their anxiety and shame about being needy. That’s often worse than someone’s material deficiencies. No magic is needed to help anxiety and shame, just knowledge about how there’s almost always something to do that helps someone’s fears and an attitude that there’s nothing real about shame. Everyone fails. How easily someone fails or how deeply that person fails rarely relates to our society’s myths about that, that people who work hard do well, that people who are talented do well, that good people do well. Life has ways of chewing up almost anyone. People are lucky if they avoid unemployment, substance abuse, mental or physical illness, family strife, legal problems, and being a victim of crime or natural disaster, even if they don’t know how lucky they are. Many of my clients today have more than one problem from that list. They all feel some shame. They don’t need to.

I didn’t know that in my twenties. Only a few people feel shame about being ill. People generally don’t believe that disease comes from sin any more. So few people I helped in my twenties had shame. They had anxiety. They needed someone to tell them how they didn’t need to be afraid. So I usually could do that. Why did I? I seemed to be good at it, so that was good for my self-image. But there was always something else. It feels good in me when someone else relaxes. I’ve trusted that feeling a lot more than verbal expressions of gratitude, some of which are not credible. I’m glad that most people express gratitude rather than not, but it’s seeing someone be better from something I did, even just temporarily, that was so seductive in teaching me selflessness.

Now it’s easy to say that’s something selfish in me, that it’s a matter of my pride in being able to do something that helps people. It was at first, but then I knew quite well that I had some talent for this. The next thousand people I helped after that weren’t necessary for me to reassure myself of my talent. So then there is this vicarious joy in seeing someone else feel better. Is that selfish? One might say so. I’d have a lot harder time helping people if it made me feel disgust each time. Yet I could get a similar joy much more easily in other ways. There are so many other experiences where I don’t have to work at all to get a similar joy, such as eating, listening to music, or watching TV. Those truly are selfish. No one else feels anything with my doing those things. I may even feel good in sympathy with a TV character that doesn’t exist. There’s some waste in that.

It’s different to feel joy in sympathy with a real person, even if that person just moves on from one suffering I can help to another where I’m impotent. Now that I’m a volunteer, the selflessness is clearer, not just because I’m not being paid, but because the burden on me is clearer than it once was. The needy are not easy to help. There’s little money in it. If there were there wouldn’t be so many needy. Some with illnesses suffer more than my average client, but there are many resources for someone with the right health insurance. To some degree all my clients on are their own. They can get limited help, but no one cares for them the way a physician is responsible for a patient.

Intellectually I can write for a very long time about the value of helping people, yet that’s not why I do it. That’s an excuse that makes me more comfortable about surrendering to the real reason. It’s like when I read Bertrand Russell in my youth reasoning his way toward saying the ultimate good things are benevolence and knowledge. He would have said “love and truth” like many religions say, but he was emphasizing that love needs to be an active love and truth needs to be practical. I agreed with him. It’s comforting to see someone write what I want to hear.

I want to be doing the right thing, for myself as well as for whatever there is greater than me. I don’t have to do that. I could rebel against my conscience. I can use slogans and theories to excuse myself from my conscience, but in me my conscience is too compelling for me to do that or maybe my self is too weak to resist. My conscience is like my body. It’s something attached to me, but it’s not me. I know it’s some combination of biology, culture and God. Others would make that simpler, but I’ve read what people say about this from many directions, and they’re all narrowed-minded on the subject, trying to be an advocate of atheism or a theism that has God alone doing everything. It’s more than any such oversimplification.

I don’t help people because of the vicarious joy that tells me when I’ve done something to help them, no matter how small or transient that help might be. That’s far too little to keep me at it. I help because I wandered into a life of helping people, and my conscience kept me at that more than I would have without it. I can write about surrendering to my conscience, first little by little, then in a big way. I can write about that as surrendering to God, and it’s the same story. Whoever and whatever God is, it’s the same story, even if God is more than my conscience, as I suspect, and my conscience is more than just God’s creation, as I also suspect.

There are several things about helping people that are giving up part of me. It’s nothing new. Matthew 25: 31-46 is a compelling direction about helping people, even if many Bible-believing Christians ignore it. They ignore God in the process. At the same time to give up to my conscience and/or to God helps me. I wish differing views of religion didn’t obscure that so much. So many people want to say that they run their lives rationally, not some conscience of mysterious origin or our rebellion against that conscience. It’s not true. I’ve yet to see any human being who is purely rational.

So whom do we trust? I’ve trusted myself at times. I don’t think I’m that good at running my life. That’s what drove me to prayer in my thirties. There is something greater than me. I at least have a conscience as an expression of that greatness, maybe some communication that is more spiritual as well. I don’t see how to utilize either fully without selflessness. It’s tricky to learn to give up control of oneself. There are people masquerading as something greater who aren’t that at all. It takes time. For one thing there is an element of reinventing the wheel in this as our cultural role models aren’t very good at balancing selflessness and what I need to be healthy.

There is such a thing as selflessness, and it’s a very good thing. Give me that high school teacher back to be my student for a year, and maybe I could teach him that despite all his cynicism. What an afterlife that would be, but if God wanted me to do that, I’d trust Him. I’ve learned to trust Him for deciding what is worth doing.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The most challenging aspect of mystical experiences

The 10-year anniversary of the Heaven’s Gate suicides is a few days from now. It’s the sort of thing people think of when they read about someone hearing from God. There are so many cults. There are stories like those of Jim Jones and David Koresh, where there were signs of disaster very early on in their egomania. There are more functional cults like Scientology. Will they be mainstream religion in 100 years? Even with the most established religions, weren’t there plenty of people calling their founders nuts at the time?

Yes, and with good reason. I’m sure many such founders were nuts. Maybe you have to be nuts to found a religion. Otherwise people would see through it. But the successful religions had people to make whatever craziness there was into something that could endure. Cults where everyone kills themselves aren’t going to be able compete in the cultural evolution of religion. Even circumcision was a significant obstacle, one no doubt done away with for Christians both from a sense of what is good marketing and reasoning about why people should be free from rules, sometimes. Someone who can manage that is not entirely crazy.

People who express fear about mystical experiences turning into suicide remind me of people being afraid of someone losing all their money in the stock market, being afraid of a policeman being killed on the job, being afraid of a chute not opening if they go skydiving. Actually I’m afraid of that last one. It may be less than one chance in a million, but since I lack any desire to go skydiving, that’s enough of an excuse for me. I’m afraid of heights as it is.

For all those sorts of fears there’s the same answer. There are rational, prudent things anyone can do to try to avoid the dangers that have been demonstrated through the misfortune of others. I’m not sure why so many people were taken in by Marshall Applewhite claiming to be the new Jesus, but disagreeing with him would not be hard for most of us.

So the fact that many people having mystical experiences are crazy isn’t what I think is a great challenge. It’s not essential for those having mystical experiences to leave their rational side behind. That first big experience of mine I had no skepticism for four hours, but then it came back. It hasn’t gone away again completely. If we’re otherwise healthy, we can integrate experiences of things that aren’t physical into everything else we are, emotion, experience, reason. Some people have trouble with that, but people also have trouble with their semi-rational thought being filled with logical fallacies. That doesn’t negate the fact that there is such a thing as good reasoning. You have to learn how your own experience fits with those of others, whether that’s mystical experience, emotional experience or intellectual experience. Otherwise you start from biology alone, and human beings have not accomplished much that way.

Bad mysticism is like junk science. Someone can beat up on all mysticism because of the former. Someone can beat up on all science because of the latter. Neither means much. It can be difficult to explain the difference to someone who knows nothing of healthy mysticism or the beauty and strength of a large, replicated, randomized, double-blind controlled study, but one can learn from experts about either.

Instead, I see the greatest challenge in mystical experiences as how one can take them seriously when different people meet different Gods through them. There were many experts on Christian mysticism until the scientific revolution came along and questioned who and what God really is, unless there is some strange metaphysics that makes science an illusion. Religion in general has not adapted well to that. Some liberals try to follow a God compatible with science, as I do, but there are almost as many Gods that way as there are liberals. Traditionalists deny the problem. New Age believers create an entirely new set of beliefs that conflict with science, as if it escapes the problem of the scientific revolution to fantasize about where science is headed.

I’ve mentioned Neal Donald Walsch here a few times before. I’ve mentioned other New Age writers, writers of Eastern mysticism and traditional Christians who quote God directly, as well, all of whom describe a God who is not the God I know. Sometimes the God I know knows more about science that theirs knows, knows better than to say there’s only one reason for something, has different priorities than theirs, has needs to be loved that others don’t know about at all. It’s suspicious that this is mostly what I know personally that these other people don’t. Is God just about me?

Consider a being named Kryon that author Lee Carroll channels. Here is a speech Kryon gave at the UN last year – well, actually it was at the library auditorium for a New Age group, but doesn’t it sound like sci-fi where the alien representative comes to the UN to address the people of Earth? I can translate some words that came out of Lee Carroll’s mouth into different words I use. Carroll speaks of “the angelic realm” as other New Age believers do. Since I don’t know there are angels I might say “the spiritual side of reality” or “the non-physical side of reality”, which mean the same to me.

Carroll uses the word “vibration” a few times, which I can’t read as the physical meaning of that word but a metaphor about someone influencing someone else, knowingly or not. I can almost hear a similar metaphor for the way Carroll uses “energy” as many New Age believers do, a word meaning some sort of power sometimes, but virtually meaningless other times.

No matter how much I try to translate Carroll’s words and concepts into mine, though, he says things about God I don’t believe at all. He says God can predict the future. I haven’t found that to be the case, apart from what God plans to do Himself. The future hasn’t happened yet, which Kryon actually agrees with. His prophecies are of a potential future, but still closer to an omniscient God than the God I know.

Yet beyond points like that, this is a simple message that Lee Carroll delivers for his alter ego. It’s simply about hope, about the Illuminati providing money to cure AIDS, about economic growth in Africa similar to that in China, about Hamas acting less like terrorists, and that 2012 will bring an end to war instead of the catastrophe others are predicting.

Is this enough hope to be God? Do the details not matter? God tells me the details do matter. It does matter whether hope is true hope or false hope, even if false hope is better for us than no hope at all, as Karl Menninger believed. But is this the only part of God that can get through to Lee Carroll, some sense of hope that turns into all these New Age ways of saying it? God tells me He doesn’t know. Lee Carroll feels hope because his biology favors hope, his culture favors hope, and/or God favors hope. There’s no meter in our brain or our consciousness to tell the difference.

I am sufficiently rational that I would like to document a reason for my hope better than Lee Carroll does, even it were the God I know that tells me to be hopeful. I’d like to have some reasons that there likely won’t be economic or ecological problems in our future to overturn our gradual progress technologically and growing understanding that people are the same everywhere. I don’t think I can find convincing ones, or I might be writing about that today.

So what does it mean that someone else doesn’t do that? One thing it means is that I’m not convinced by Kryon’s speech. Another thing it means is that human nature is more intuitive than what the culture of science has taught me. And if people say that intuition comes to them from God, does it? I doubt it. The God I know knows science as well as I do and values its reliability.

So is there another arm to God that wants this New Age group to receive hope Kryon’s way? That’s what I don’t know. My God says no, that’s not what He wants. Such hope has no staying power. There is no God that would settle for this.

In the end, there are things I cannot know. I know I have mystical experiences that eventually became God speaking to me in brief responses to issues as in these recent paragraphs. I’ve asked Him for a straight story of everything about the world, about life, and about me, but that’s beyond Him, as it would be for Him to suddenly become flesh. Do I know who and what that is? No I don’t. I just know the God I know is consistent, loving, speaks in my words and concepts, lacks the ability to give me facts I don’t already know, and has a capacity for cutting to the heart of an issue I don’t understand at all. That is just one way I experience the Spirit. She never will want me to commit suicide or do anything risky. If some other voice ever says the opposite, it won’t fool me, not after this much time. She agrees with me about how few human beings can be trusted, spirits, too. Is She just me? Maybe, but the really interesting answer would be if She is not me, not my brain, not my dream, but something yet to be understood.

In the meantime I need to make sure that I do the best I can to integrate my mystical experiences with the rest of me. I would suggest Lee Carroll do the same thing. Why does his God have to ramble so? We humans do that, but shouldn’t God be better? I don’t expect him to listen or anyone else. I listen to myself and to God. It is suspicious that we don’t all get the same message from one God, but it’s still worth exploring.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Simon bar Kokhba

In my youth I read Jews, God, and History by Max I. Dimont. A section of that book is about Simon bar Kokhba, leader of the second century Jewish revolt against Rome, 132 – 135 CE. Bar Kokhba, meaning “son of a star”, was proclaimed to be Messiah by respected Rabbi Akiva. That led to Akiva being tortured to death by the Romans. A brutal war ended with the defeat and death of bar Kokhba. This being at least the third major revolt in 70 years, the Romans dispersed the Jews from Judea and even changed the name Judea to Syria Palaestina. It has been Palestine to some ever since.

It certainly seemed that bar Kokhba had more support for being Messiah than Jesus did when Jesus was alive. Dimont’s book portrays bar Kokhba as very much the hero. Another side of this man came out when letters were discovered from bar Kokhba to his followers in the sixties. The letters speak to punishment and reproach. They are short, so there’s not much to go on to know exactly what the personality of bar Kokhba was, but you know, he might not have been a nice guy, this Messiah. Histories already had described a harshness to the man, such as this, “Christian author Justin Martyr tells that Simon commanded Christians 'to be lead away to terrible punishment,' unless they denied Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and cursed the man from Nazareth (First Apology 31.6).”

Was Jesus really a nice guy despite facing the same messianic challenge? The gospels say He was, except when He was angry, which turned His words harsh as in John 8: 44 or turned His actions violent as in turning over tables in the temple. The latter always struck me as enough to get someone crucified. Of course the gospels were written at least 40 years after the fact. How sanitized were they? Who was the real Jesus?

It’s impossible to know. Bar Kokhba was indeed the military leader people expected the Messiah to be. So of course he barked out orders and expected to be obeyed, son of a star and prince of Israel that he was, or the disobedient would be punished. It’s hard for me to picture him as a nice guy even when he wasn’t barking out orders, though. Jesus was a different sort of Messiah. How much different?

It’s always interested me that my fellow liberals mostly accept the same source for who Jesus was as conservative Christians do, the gospels. Some point out how different from this the historical Jesus might have been. I forget which one of John Dominic Crossan’s books I read that lists the very many ways the “real” Jesus has been portrayed, from illiterate to a well-trained Pharisee, from political to apolitical, from humanitarian to someone quite separate from people, from impoverished to middle class. What was His true cultural context, anyway?

Then there’s the issue of how crazy was He? Of course no one would follow a floridly psychotic man, but a lesser degree of lunatic might be just what God needed, to have followers as Jim Jones or David Koresh did, though not with such selfish intent. I would guess Jesus was at least as crazy as bar Kokhba. Something commanding had to well up within Him to attack the temple and get Himself crucified.

This came to me today as a result of Rob Knop’s follow-up post of why he is a Christian. Rob thinks Jesus was a cool dude. Now I suspect no one in first century Judea was a cool dude, but Rob goes on for a few paragraphs to specify his admiration for Jesus, why he has no problem with Jesus as leader of his religion, even God incarnate, whatever that means. Rationally minded people feel the need to give rational reasons.

I might give rational reasons for following Jesus myself in some other setting. I certainly admire things about Jesus. I admire His saying, “Not my will, but Yours” during His last night before His death. Whether that was the real Jesus or the character Jesus, I admire it.

But there are no intellectual reasons sufficient for me to follow Jesus. He might have been just as distasteful to me in person as it seems bar Kokhba would have been. Apart from the Spirit I wouldn’t be a Christian. Apart from that road-to-Damascus experience 18 years ago and its confirmation in many experiences since then, I wouldn’t believe in a personal God. I wouldn’t believe there is very likely a non-physical side to reality, even though I can’t prove that. But I became convinced, and a couple years after my first experience, the Holy Spirit led me to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It wasn’t rational. It wasn’t crazy either. It was experiential.

Imagine trying to explain that on ScienceBlogs, and how that does not require me to compromise my beliefs in mainstream science. The non-physical side to reality is not about science. I try to be empirical about it, but it is a more personal and subjective empiricism than science is.

I am a liberal Christian. The Bible reads to me as if it was written by men, not by God. While my basic belief is that God is whoever and whatever God is, Jesus as well, I doubt the virgin birth. I think Jesus was biologically like anyone else. I doubt a flesh and bone resurrection. If God had such power over biology for either of those events, I think we’d see Him using it a lot more today, if only in smaller ways.

So I am not traditional, but I am very mystical, and some rationally minded liberals would reject me for that just as much as atheists and fundamentalists would even without being clear on the concept of liberal Christianity.

Everyone has their stories, atheists why they’re atheists, Bible-believing Christians why they rely on the Bible, Rob Knop on why Jesus was a cool dude. For each one I think of how they could be wrong, as I almost always do reading politics or religion. Partisans don’t see the possibility of being wrong. They were blinders in some sense. Their mission is to speak for their cause, not see the weaknesses in it.

This is what people do. It’s full of lies. What if Jesus really was just like Simon bar Kokhba? Then He is still my Lord and Savior as the Spirit has led me. What if the culture said Simon bar Kokhba should be my Lord and my Savior? A visceral revulsion grew in me as I wrote that. So many atheists say that’s a meaningless emotion, that one can only trust reason to make such judgments. Anyone who says that does not have the Spirit within him or her. Spirituality is not mere emotion. It involves the integration of everything we are, both emotions and reason, and even then there seems to be more, more that lets me go into a prayer confused and let God reorder my priorities, very quickly coming to a direction that I can't manage just sitting and thinking. Nonsense, some would say. It’s a free country.

Jesus is my Lord no matter how crazy or harsh He was. Bar Kokhba cannot be because the Spirit that lives in me and I in the Spirit says “no”, in terms that are clear to me. To describe them to others, I’ve tried that several times. I think it’s impossible. People will believe what they want to believe. Then they’ll die. It was amazing how many people didn’t understand that Rob Knop was describing ordinary, rationally minded, liberal Christianity, not invented by him, when that’s an easy faith to understand. There’s so much more than that. Few want to know.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Not a PZ sycophant!

I discovered the blog of Rob Knop this week, Galactic Interactions, another one at ScienceBlogs who thinks PZ Myers is too harsh on religion. That’s at least 3, and Rob even goes farther than the others to make a target of himself with his liberal Christianity. It is a thing to behold how atheists attack liberal Christianity in just as demeaning a way as any other religion. What did liberals ever do to them?

Rob explains how science means God doesn’t make sense as Creator, which I like better than how Francis Collins sees it. Rob sees God as Sustainer and Redeemer, or in my language, sustainer and redeemer. He wrote a little on why he believes in God as sustainer in his last piece, though only in theory, not as it applies to him personally. He’s going to write another one about God as redeemer. I hope he writes something else before then, because there are a lot of comments from atheists who aren’t following him, mostly asking how he dares claim it reasonable to believe in God.

He does that without referring to a spiritual, non-physical side to reality. I can’t manage that. I can’t see God in a non-dual reality or as artificial unless that artificial quality is just how atheists think our brain makes our consciousness in a completely physical way. So for me God is Spirit. It is a lot easier to be vague about such things in one’s own life than if you start talking with people who believe differently. I’m sure being forced to be specific can be a good thing, though probably not if for the other person only agreeing with him or her is specific enough.

In an earlier piece, Rob pondered how “a PZ sycophant” would respond to what he was writing. It turned out not only sycophants, but PZ Myers himself answered, too many times for me to keep count. PZ didn’t resort to “kook” or “idiot” this time, but he wasn’t gracious either. People on the internet are just so right about everything.

It’s important to me that not everyone who believes in God is a kook or an idiot. It’s somewhat meaningful to me that many support PZ Myers in using that language. I wish they didn’t, but I don’t see a way for me to tell them they’re wrong in that, especially not with so many other harsh putdowns being fair game in politics and religion today.

I know the experiences that have caused me to believe in God as sustainer and redeemer and how those experiences don’t conflict with science. Whether or not consciousness really can be explained in purely material terms affects what God is. It doesn’t affect who God is to me. I would love to get that across to any atheist, as well as the fact that science has not nailed down that consciousness is purely material. I don’t know that any on the internet will listen. It’s a pity. Understanding that might spare a lot of hard feelings, even with God.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Waiting for people to move

I had a dream where I was in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. It had the best reading material I’ve ever seen in such a place. While I was waiting I looked through an atlas of the world that it so happened I donated to the room.

I had to wait for all the patients to go in. Then I could rearrange the chairs. There was this empty spot over there that cried out to be filled with a chair. There were three rows packed together, making it hard for patients to climb into the more interior chairs, as on an airplane or at a theater. So I moved those so some were back to back, and some fit elsewhere in the room. There, every chair now has easy access.

I suppose I could have tried to do that before the people went inside. People might have even welcomed the diversion of standing up so I could move their chairs. It’s not as though I would have had to pick up people while they’re still sitting in the chairs. I might not have realized that there were other options to just waiting.

That’s a strange thing about dreams. Dreams are incredibly creative in terms of the look of things, the symbolism of things, the diversity of things, including many things that can’t exist in reality. Yet when it comes to imagining other possible courses of actions in the midst of a dream, it’s like that part of my mind is still asleep. I just do what I do in the dream. I don’t ponder my options until after I wake up.

I know what it’s like to have to wait for people, though. If that were just a matter of minutes, even hours, as at the doctor’s office, it would be easy. But I’m sure the rest of my life is not long enough to wait for some things. I think of all the things my needy clients need, such as health care, a job they can hold, and housing they can afford.

Of those, at least health care is as straightforward as rearranging chairs so none are blocked. Some group has to decide what care is necessary. Some way has to be established for everyone to pay for that care. There haven’t been the votes to do that on a comprehensive scale in the US. Some people here don’t want limits. Some people here don’t want to pay for others. Maybe the US can keep up that attitude toward the poor for centuries. We certainly have kept it up for decades while other countries have decided it’s not OK to leave people without health care. There isn’t a doctor that’s going to call us out of that waiting room of a position.

I don’t dream of frustration, of waiting for things that won’t happen for years, if even during my lifetime. My dreams last minutes. Something has to happen on that time scale to fit them. But it does interest me how quickly I connect a dream to something that’s real once I awake. Maybe that’s why I always remember my last dream of the night so well. It always connects to something.

I can describe the connection to waiting for people to move politically well enough. Now about people moving spiritually, which might be the only way they’ll be much movement politically, that’s harder to describe. What do people have to abandon to move toward the real God? That’s something more than a chair. Will people alive today ever do that? Not many of them will. And the next generation? Probably not many of them will either.

Can you imagine a waiting room where people stay so long that they keep making new generations of people? It makes it much harder to rearrange the chairs. Fortunately there are indeed more possibilities than were in my dream.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Basic dualities

Between God and me, I’m the one who says I’m not God. That’s just one way I can tell us apart. Some would call even that much delusional, though. Atheists say I’m delusional because there is no God. Post-modernists/Buddhists/New Age believers say I’m delusional because I’m in fact as much God as everyone and everything else is. While the latter is seen as religious and the former isn’t, there is a connection between the two. Both deny a duality between the material universe and something spiritual, meaning only something non-physical, that lies beyond, alongside, and/or within the material universe as a non-physical part of reality.

Atheists say there’s no reason to believe in anything beyond the physical universe as all spiritual experiences that purport to be evidence of such a thing are worthless, mostly because of their subjectivity. Of course it is objective that people have experiences one might label as spiritual experiences, but it is certainly arbitrary where one goes from there in analyzing them. Believers in a non-dual reality say that spirituality is just another side of the same coin as the physical universe. Actually I wish it were often put so concretely, but however someone says it, it is a denial that the material and the spiritual are different things.

There are two reasons why I don’t take the latter seriously. One is that it’s hard for me to see my spiritual experiences as not involving a separate reality. Some insult my intelligence for that, but it’s not just me. It’s the world as well. My spiritual experiences were about love and goodness not to be found in our world. Our world is hateful, indifferent, and false in many ways. One can argue that’s all necessary for our eventual spiritual evolution, but why? I don’t see a satisfactory reason. I see a world that is fundamentally manipulative, dangerous and unloving. My experiences of God are both a different quality from this and come to me not from sacred things in the world or through nature, but as an experience within my consciousness, separate from the world out there.

If my experiences of God are of this physical world, then they are something my brain can do to fill a void in my life. I’ve been willing to see this possibility from the beginning, that atheists might be right. But why believe this about a universe where spirit and material are the same things? What is spiritual then? Answers to that might include the connectedness of the universe or some global consciousness. So why would such connectedness or consciousness lie to me about being separate from me, which is my experience?

There are answers to that, of course, but then comes that second reason I don’t take such non-dualism seriously. Its proponents don’t know science. They have fantasies about quantum physics and neuroscience. Larry King had several guests on his show last week claiming that the Law of Attraction, a New Age fantasy about electromagnetism, is a great secret to life and completely documented scientifically. Right. These are not people who understand the material world well enough for me to listen to them about how everything spiritual is within it. God, who never has let me down as far as telling me the truth, tells me they don’t know spirituality any better than they know science. I believe Him.

There is something else I believe. I believe there is nothing real to the concept of sacredness. Many who believe in a duality between the material and the spiritual believe that the spiritual reaches into the material as sacredness. It is a very old trait for human beings to see the world as a combination of the sacred and the profane. It would seem that this duality led to the Old Testament concept of clean or unclean rather than that being a new idea among the Israelites.

Even most Christians haven’t hung on to everything the Old Testament declares to be clean or unclean. Biology has shown only one kind of flesh. Whatever one might say biologically about circumcision or menstrual blood, it doesn’t point to anything spiritual about them. Yet this idea is what sin is all about, about uncleanliness that eventually destroys one’s body. But the idea that sin causes death hasn’t held up to science. The causes of death strike good people and bad people alike. They can be identified as strictly material processes without any need for some additional spiritual factor.

“Spirit” cannot be the life force that people thought it was, now that we know the completely material processes that determine our life or death. “Sin” cannot be seen the same way either. It can still mean opposing God, but not be about unclean things as it once was. There is healthy or unhealthy in either a material or spiritual context, but there is neither clean nor unclean. There is neither sacred nor profane.

This is what I believe, from living my life, that there is a duality between material and spiritual, but no real duality between sacred and profane, only in people’s minds. Even defining those words is difficult. All I mean by spiritual is that there is something more than the material things known to science. That spirituality doesn’t shine through into sacred objects is just how I experience it. I experience Spirit as Paul described the Spirit living in Him and he in the Spirit, without the difficulties Paul had in linking this to his tradition. God is what God is, and He is not of this world, so He tells me.

Is there some other authority? People speak authoritatively about these dualities, from atheists to fundamentalists. I’ve listened, but as I’ve mentioned objections here to what I’ve heard, there’s always something that people leave out or gloss over.

There is spiritual, but not sacred. That’s my opinion. Some rational liberals are like that, but they tend not to believe in a God as personal as the God I know. I certainly don’t reject mysticism the way rational liberals do. Meanwhile most of religious talk is between those who believe neither in the spiritual nor the sacred and those who believe in both. If they’re both wrong as I believe, how long will it take for many people to see other possibilities? Is it 100 years, 500 years? Maybe it’s never. Maybe the spiritual is only for a few people.

Of course, maybe I’m wrong and either atheists or traditionalists do have the answer for the long run. Only every time I talk to God about it, He says they don’t even have these basic dualities right. What a strange world.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Michael Medved?

I saw an interesting bumper sticker today for KSDO radio, which I used to listen to many years ago. So I tuned over there, but it’s become a Spanish station, which is of limited value to me. Next up the dial from that used to be a rock station, but it’s changed to talk radio. All these stations that aren’t on my push buttons are unknown to me now.

The talk show host on this second station was unfamiliar to me. First he was talking about the ACLU in Florida going after a monument to the Ten Commandments recently placed on public land. He was speaking as if that’s such a bizarre thing to do. Doesn’t he know that the Supreme Court ruled against the Ten Commandments in Kentucky two years ago? Of course they also ruled for the Ten Commandments in Texas at the same time. The Florida monument sounds like the Texas one, but one reason the Texas one was allowed was that it had been there for 40 years. Will putting up brand new monuments in order to stand tall for God be as acceptable? The courts will decide.

This talk show host said nothing about that. He said this monument is certainly not an establishment of religion. So why not let the courts say that? Well, it’s because the courts might not say that, isn’t it? They might find that this monument is illegal, because it’s being placed for religious purposes, to further religion, which the Supreme Court says is indeed part of establishing religion and therefore prohibited in the United States. Who is a talk show host to say otherwise? He’s most likely just another guy. Isn’t it interesting how in the US the opinion of just another guy can trump any expert on any topic, as long as the listener goes along with that?

So who is this particular talk show host? I still didn’t know. I listened to him go on about how important religion has been to the US. To point out how much better our religion has been to us than others have been he brought up the story of how a Mayan religious leader is going to cleanse a temple in Guatemala after George Bush visits. What a “dysfunctional” society that was, says our host. Well, OK, compare Mayan human sacrifice with torture and burning that European religion carried out. I’m not sure which one I’d choose. I know good things about Christianity. That’s why I’m a liberal Christian. I don’t know what good things there might have been to the Mayan religion or why they feel the need to purify their temple after George Bush. If that’s about a duality between the sacred and the profane, I reject that, but I reject that in Christianity, too.

What is the point here? It sounded like, “How dare they say our President is unclean?” Well, that’s what sacredness is like everywhere people find it important. Doesn’t this guy know anything?

Finally he said his name. This was the Michael Medved Show. Michael Medved? I know Michael Medved. I used to watch him 30 years ago on PBS when he and Jeffrey Lyons replaced Siskel & Ebert on their original show. Medved might have even been the one on that show whose taste in movies was more like mine. I knew he had become a conservative voice in bashing Hollywood from time to time, but I didn’t realize he was making a career out of a full range of conservative propaganda. Yes, he is.

And his qualifications? Why, they’re just like everyone else’s. He is blessed with a pleasant voice. He usually speaks in sentences. And there’s something in him that lets him say conservatives are right and liberals are wrong. Evidence regarding that is barely necessary.

This is politics in the US today. I keep thinking it must have been even worse in the 19th century, that modern political propaganda is a step up from portraying Abe Lincoln as an ape. Then again people are still people.

It’s up to the listeners. It’s like what I see in comments on blogs now. I see some popular blogs where very few comments challenge the star of the blog. It’s not that such challenges accomplish much. I’m sure Michael Medved can explain why he knows more than the Supreme Court on any case, just like any other pinhead on the subject. I don’t think it’s how opinionated the speaker is when it comes to how corrupt political propaganda is. It’s the listeners. If they want to believe that just another guy is smarter than the Supreme Court, then this will sustain that guy acting as if he’s smarter.

That’s not how I listen. A couple of my push buttons on AM are pretty shaky selections. If some radio station wanted to air talk that’s not mere propaganda, they’d have a shot at taking over one of my buttons. Michael Medved is not that. He really makes a living at this?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Some good debunking

There were a couple of times at the Beyond Belief 2006 conference when something was said that I wish I could package for New Age believers, one about “quantum consciousness” and another about studies promoting prayer. I’ve tried to make these points to some fellow liberals before, without obvious success. I’d rather have someone else say them from here on out, so here are a couple of examples of that.

Stuart Hameroff was speaking about quantum physics in consciousness. Hameroff is the anesthesiologist who is partner with mathematician Roger Penrose in promoting this idea. Hameroff spoke of many things, including how he thought microtubules went through state changes due to “quantum forces” and how “quantum entanglement” provided coherence over the brain.

The quantum force I studied as an undergraduate in physics was the electromagnetic force. Why aren’t people who talk about quantum consciousness specific about that? One could make detailed calculations about how electromagnetism would be affecting a microtubule. Maybe Penrose has done that, but here there’s just hand waving and suspiciously vague talk instead of focusing on the perfectly concrete issue of what force is meditating this phenomenon of consciousness.

There were physicists in the audience. One was Lawrence Krauss. Krauss had a simple comment, “From a physics perspective, everything you say is nonsense, and maybe I’m being too polite.” Among objections Krauss raised was how limited entanglement is as an observed phenomenon.

There is no doubt that there is a connection between what the front of the brain does and what the back of the brain does. One can imagine that the quantum mechanical term “entanglement” relates to this, but using that word is to turn it into metaphor, the same way “energy” is often used in a spiritual context. It’s not the physical meaning of those words that can make sense in the brain the way New Age thinkers use them.

Then Richard Sloan gave a talk about studies of prayer in medicine. He showed how claims of long lists of these whittle down to a small number that are actually studies. Then that number is reduced all the way to four by requiring a good study design. If there is any real benefit in these, it’s small. God is not moving heaven and Earth in response to these prayers for the sick.

My own impression is that there never have been physical miracles. That’s been the result of looking at case histories of purported miraculous healing of individuals and always finding a problem in them, whether a likely mistaken diagnosis, a treatment other than prayer, or some other gap in the story. Nature always has been at work as it is today. I find plenty of reasons to pray from the direction, strength and comfort I have received from God over the years, but those don’t require physical miracles.

Prayer studies have results that match the above much better than the idea that prayer work through nature.

Many people believe otherwise, whether those are conservatives who believe God controls everything, New Age thinkers who believe they could control everything with the right knowledge or atheists who believe prayer does nothing. Some people believe that quantum physics explains consciousness, with benefits that I have trouble exploring because it is such nonsense. It is a difficult thing to keep an open mind. There may not be an atheist on the planet who is interested in how my experiences led me to believe there is a God. I’m sure I would lose most of them with my first sentence on that subject. But I would hope that I could write this story in a way that lets someone understand the possibility that there is a God.

Stories like quantum consciousness and that there are supposedly many positive studies on prayer don’t seem to be told by those who know their subject. They are quickly debunked as pseudoscience by someone who knows mainstream quantum physics or mainstream medical research. The method of that is no different from debunking creationist arguments against evolution. One exposes the botched definitions, the false premises, the analysis which ignores all data that goes the other way, and a pervading bias in even other ways. Yet it’s never enough to reduce the conflict to its essence, that we don’t know that much about consciousness or God. We do know that evolution is a fact. We do know some things, but people find hope in less certain things. I do. I find hope in a God that I’ve experienced.

Sam Harris doesn’t understand why my God is different from Poseidon. I would tell him how Poseidon is a force of nature who cares nothing about me while my God loves me in ways I can detail, but are not objective. It’s not practical for me to try to do that. It’s not practical for me to try to explain why I don’t believe the stories many other people tell, especially when they include points that are objective such as whether consciousness relates to quantum physics or prayer has done great things physically. Everyone deals with such stories one by one. How many get far enough with that?

When I was in grade school I occasionally played chess with a boy who was more serious about it than I was. A few times he played with his huge book of chess openings on his lap. He followed the book until I did something not in the book, because it was a stupid move. Then he’d try to see why it was a stupid move. He always did. Then he’d win.

Maybe the internet can become a better repository of ideas than we have had to date. If someone brings up anything on quantum consciousness, they could get a good refutation of the idea at the same time. That could work for the more objective things. When it comes to hearing the voice of God, this seems less likely to work. God doesn’t speak to me through a computer screen, through another person, in a strange language or even with strange concepts. He speaks through me in a way I understand, in ways that provide me with direction, strength and comfort, as they have for 18 years. It’s not a stupid move to listen to Him. I decided before I took this seriously that either it’s really God or it’s something in my brain that I need to be God. Either way, it works for me. But there are other things out there that are definitely stupid moves. I’m glad some people point those out.

Friday, March 09, 2007

What does God want?

The Carnival of the Godless #61 is up at Hell’s Handmaiden. There is a specific theme this time, which is, “Things God wants.” Some of the entries aren’t serious, but many are. There are serious entries about faith, the Blasphemy Challenge, a couple of questionable facts about atheists, religious education, religion in politics, pseudoscience, greed, religious diversity, the death penalty, and what James Cameron thinks is Jesus’ DNA, but none of those say their subject is what God wants.

There are two posts about contraception, both provoked by Contraskeptic, who is caught in the vice of believing that both abstinence and contraception are sins. If so, isn’t Natural Family Planning just another method of contraception? I guess that leaves sodomy or having babies, but then you can’t be doing sodomy for contraception, or that’s forbidden, too, if it isn’t already. So God wants nature to take its course in all things? It sounds like a strange definition of God to me.

The God I know doesn’t forbid contraception for the sake of babies any more than He forbids pharmaceuticals for the sake of prayers for healing. I suppose one can confuse what God wants with what a Luddite wants.

So out of all that, some say God wants nature to take its course, to make more babies, to prove the Creator knew what He was doing thousands of years in advance with commandments that never need revision. It’s easy for me to say no, that's not God. Why isn’t it easy for someone else? Contraskeptic mentions the Bible verse to “be fruitful and multiply”. So if God really said that and if He meant that to apply for all time instead of just to his audience at that time, in this case to the first round of humans He made, apparently the same Adam and Eve as introduced in chapter 2 of Genesis, though the Bible isn’t explicit about that, then maybe God really does want to fill the Earth to overflowing with human beings. Should we check back with Him about that maybe? It has been a few thousand years.

Contraskeptic also refers to Psalm 127 which says children are a heritage from God and that a man is happy who has a quiver full of them. He quotes Martin Luther who gave a sermon against coitus interruptus, saying it violates “the order of nature established by God”, and is therefore sodomy. John Calvin said the same thing. So did others. OK, I think it’s clear that if one wants to make a god out of a few Bible verses and tradition, one can say logically that God is in charge of nature, and we should not do anything contrary to that.

Thank God that Christianity has at least adapted to the scientific revolution enough to say we don’t have to let nature take its course, at least for many Christians. We can heal people in non-spiritual ways. We can compensate for disabilities with various devices from wheelchairs to voice synthesizers. We can even perform in vitro fertilization for couples who can’t conceive naturally. And yes, we can let couples avoid pregnancy until they’re ready, maybe even permanently. Why not ask God if He has been behind this rather than assuming it is all against His will? The Bible prescribes prayer and laying on of hands for the sick. So have pharmaceuticals been against God’s will, or are they just as much a blessing from God as anything else?

For those of us who are liberal there are verses in the Bible to justify not being burdened by tradition. Everything Paul wrote in Galatians about circumcision applies to any other burden that some false teacher tries to force on someone who is free through Christ. Luther and Calvin didn’t see that as applying to coitus interruptus. Maybe they were wrong. Who knows what God wants better, Luther or God?

I’ll give this to atheists. It is a legitimate point that many religious people have ridiculous beliefs. This is one way that can happen. Take the Bible, tradition, and reason, and you can get some amazing beliefs, such as God not wanting contraception. On what principle might this make sense? If we needed more people a secular group might decide this, but that’s hard for me to see as God’s desire here. Does God really need billions more people to come up with whatever magic number of people saved He wants? That’s not my impression. I don’t hear anyone saying they’ve heard from God that this is what He wants.

I know I’m impotent to talk to many religious people about this. I’m not going to convince Jehovah’s witnesses that their prohibition against transfusion is equally ungodly. I’m not going to convince fundamentalists that Genesis is all myth. Take some part of the Bible verbatim along with reason, with or without tradition, and you can wind up just about anywhere.

Sometimes experiencing God’s voice directly doesn’t help that. It might only make things worse. I’m just as impotent at convincing atheists that what is missing from all the above folly is God. Yet that’s how this strikes me. It is a fact that not once on Contraskeptic’s blog to date is there any mention of asking God for direction, for understanding. It’s just the Bible, teachers, and reasoning. I haven’t gotten much out of that approach.

I ask God about this and get a very clear answer. This is all idolatry. It’s worshiping the Bible, teachers, reasoning. It’s about garbage in, garbage out. And that’s what passes for religion to any casual observer.

God wants love, to receive it and give it. Is that so hard to believe? People who want Bible verses that support that can find them. Yet if all the resentments atheists express mean anything, they mean God’s love goes astray among those who claim to follow Him.

Leaving God out of the discussion is one way that happens.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Waiting to talk about the real God

Speaking of atheists being defensive, in my twenties I knew they’re were two reasons why I couldn’t take Christianity seriously. One was how many Christians said ignorant and hateful things about evolution. The other was the problem of evil, which I took as enough of a reason that God doesn’t make sense that I didn’t go further. Having made it through Confirmation, I knew theists made excuses for God’s responsibility for evil, that He somehow has to allow evil in order to allow free will. Strangely I can see something in between our all being finger puppets and the amount of evil we have in the real world. Why can’t God? Likewise any thoughts I had about how God might be compatible with science didn’t go very far. If His own people don’t care about that, why should I?

None of that was on my mind when I started praying again in my thirties. I needed help. Why not sees what happens? I knew I was sincere that if God was listening, I wanted to have Him teach me. Then came this road-to-Damascus experience 18 years ago. Then came this gradually more effective prayer life.

I’m not sure when those two objections of mine fell away, but at some point after experiencing God, I had two easy answers to those objections. Christians who say ignorant and hateful things about evolution aren’t following God, but idolizing the Bible. God isn’t responsible for evil. God would have people live lives of love and truth, not hatred, indifference, and falseness. Then any natural tragedy, like death or hurricanes, has biological and physical reasons, not things over which God has power.

Those seem so natural to me now that I believe in a God who has limitations. I can’t remember my twenties perfectly, but I don’t remember these solutions coming to me then, even for a moment. I always blamed God for creationists. If He wanted to fix them, why didn’t He? For evil, it was even worse. I couldn’t imagine God in His traditional meaning subjecting people to this world, not to build character in people, not because His hands are tied, not at all.

Yet all it took was some experience with God, and I was suddenly saying that everyone has the wrong God, theists and atheists both. I think atheists make powerful arguments, as with the link above. Anyone who thinks the Bible came from God should go to an atheist site that lists all the objections there are to Bible verses and decide for yourself about the Bible. It amazes me that theists try to defend the perfect God of tradition against all objections. Yet apologists argue as well as they can. For many it’s good enough, not for me.

But I’ve experienced God. He’s convinced me that neither the ignorant nor hypocrites are His people. I came to define God as the one who answers when I pray, “God help me!” No serious person likes that. I don’t know why. I like functional definitions. Science taught me it’s not always possible to look past that. But people want to look past that. I’m sure the current battle between atheists and traditionalists will go on a long time. I’m not sure why. No words on this subject will end poverty or end strife. I’m not sure what more words on this subject can do. I was stuck in my twenties, with no role models through whom to believe in a God who made sense. The eventual solutions I found are not clever, yet I couldn’t see them. God is whoever and whatever He is. Seeing it that way solves some problems. It creates more problems for people who want to know God better than that. People haven’t even gotten to that yet. So many can only see atheism or tradition. There is more than that.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The God-shaped void in our brain

Recently in The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer nicely summarized the two theories of how evolution created our brain in a way that push us toward religion (a nice summary apart from his use of the questionable word “adaptionist”). Non-adaptationists focus on traits that have us looking for God in a way where God has no selective benefit for us. Natural selection presumably has given us the perceptual trait we have of paying inordinate attention to odd things and the possibility of hidden things in our sensory images. That would have benefited us in both our roles of predator and prey. But it also sets us up to look for unseen gods to explain things for which we see no explanation in our senses, something non-adaptationists don’t see as an evolutionary benefit for us.

Adaptationists focus on traits that should have given us evolutionary advantages as a group, such as cooperation and selflessness. We all look for power, knowledge, love, and goodness. They help us, even if the specifics of our models for them aren’t entirely true. Somewhere in there evolution has created a God-shaped void, something that may be filled by God or may be filled by much more ordinary things. Until there are actual genes that are known to do this, it is speculative to say evolution is the cause of this God-shaped void.

Jonah rightly points out that both these theories are likely to be correct.

Judging from the comments on The Frontal Cortex, many atheists would rather not concede that there is even this much of a need for God in them. For them God is simply a lie, told by some people trying to have power over others. Yet if everyone has a God-shaped void in them, everyone fills that void with something, God or no God. So it’s up to the genetics revolution to detail the genes behind the relevant neurophysiology and see if it’s actually fair to summarize this as a God-shaped void. In the meantime, though, I suspect it is and as such, the protests of atheists sound to me like the protests of creationists insisting that none of their people came from apes.

Maybe it is best to fill our God-shaped void with empiricism and nothing else. I think that’s true about physics and biology. But when it comes to how we live our lives, I haven’t found empiricism to tell me enough. So I found God and found Him to be very helpful. Is there something else that works better? Show me the data.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Looking for love through sex

I lived in Mission Viejo, California from 1984 through 1995. In 1994 a native of Mission Viejo, the porn star Savannah, whose real name was Shannon Michelle Wilsey Longoria, committed suicide at the age of 23. She had just crashed her Corvette into a fence in the Universal City section of Los Angeles, while intoxicated. She and her male friend weren’t far from her home at that point, so they walked the rest of the way. Shannon had facial injuries from the crash and got on the phone to get help with these while she sent her friend to walk her dog. When help arrived she had shot herself in the head. Anyone can speculate what emotions played out this way when she saw her broken face. Adult Video News reported her conversation with her manager Nancy Pera just before Shannon killed herself, the essence of that being that Shannon was distraught that she wouldn’t be able to keep a dancing engagement in New York, where she could make up to $5000 in an evening. She needed the money.

The AVN obituary mentions Shannon’s award for Best New Starlet for 1992 which led to many imitations of “her infamous ‘kiss my ass’ acceptance speech”.

Before she could work legally in the adult entertainment industry, she was a music groupie. She lived with Gregg Allman for two years before she was seventeen and had a miscarriage at one point. Her relationship with Allman reportedly ended due to her cocaine and heroin addictions. Axl Rose was also a notable among many other musicians she had sex with, in part because Shannon’s sexual rating of Rose as a 1 on a scale of 1-10 made a tabloid paper.

How Shannon became a music groupie is less publicized. Stories about her reported a rumor of sexual abuse by her stepfather Joe Longoria. The Longorias divorced when Shannon was 2, but he continued to be her father. In any event, at age 13 Shannon was living with her grandparents in Mission Viejo when she learned that Joe Longoria was not her biological father. Mike Wilsey was. After that she became “wild”. The Wikipedia story mentions that it was often the case that Shannon (who hated that name) was looking for a serious relationship through sex, while most of her partners weren’t.

One story quotes Shannon this way about her father: "Where was he (her father) when I was dating Gregg Allman when he was 25 years older than I was? Where was he when I was on heroin? Where was he when I started doing porno movies?”

I first read this story in a long article in the Los Angeles Times. It was sometime after I started Al-Anon in June 1994. There are things about this one can summarize as being something addicts do: blaming others, making bad choices about whom to trust, staying stuck in the same dysfunctional rut, panicking. Then again, we’re all addicted to something. It’s just that some addictions are more functional than others. One thing that stands out in my memory about the LA Times article was how they made a point of how much porn actresses use cocaine before performing. Is that because porn is that awful that they need to be intoxicated? Is it because cocaine works so well toward performing in a way that makes a woman a well-paid star? Is it because only addicts perform porn, as they’re the ones who feel no additional shame about it? So they use cocaine before doing anything?

It gets complicated, but there is an element of this that’s simple – looking for love through sex. I did that in college and for some years after that. Many of my partners were doing that. My ex-wife was doing that. Sometimes when both my partner and I were looking for love through sex, we still didn’t find it in each other. My ex-wife and I found enough love to get married, but not enough love to stay married when things about her I didn’t like didn’t change and things about me she liked did change. Looking for love through sex is not as doomed to failure as looking for love in a bottle or a needle, but it fails often enough. It also succeeds often. How many of us 6 billion human beings are children of love and how many are children of sex? That’s a difficult statistic to come by, but I bet there are some differences between the two groups.

Al-Anon is about being addicted to another person, even if it’s just the memories of an alcoholic parent that one can’t shake or fill with love from someone else. There is a better way to look for love than many of the ways that come to us biologically or through our culture. There is God. No one is taught to look for love in God that well in our culture. Some are convinced God doesn’t exist. Some are convinced God is some system of rules their church enforces. There are many obstacles. 12 steps is one way around those obstacles, but you have to have something worth getting away from to make the leap to being dependent on God that 12 steps entails.

I would say the human condition alone is enough to run from to leap into God’s arms, but not that many see it that way. Not many even think God has arms to leap into. That is a metaphor, of course. What is the reality? It’s something strange.

I forget if it was before or after my road-to-Damascus experience that I visited the closest strip club to Mission Viejo one evening when I was in a bad mood. It was sometime in the late eighties or early nineties. I had been to at least one strip club before then, The Palomino Club in Las Vegas. That was an overwhelming experience where even the waitresses seemed to have stepped out of the pages of Playboy, not the kind of place for a man on a budget like me.

Close to home the strippers were just ordinarily attractive. It wasn’t entirely nude as in Las Vegas, not quite as provocative. I knew going to this club that I wasn’t going to find love there. I was just looking for intoxication and not from alcohol, which I don’t like. I like the intoxication of arousal, whatever chemicals surge in my brain when I see something sexually provocative. Strippers do more than that for me, though. They are real people doing something I understand. For whatever reasons I find it much more interesting to watch women rather than men, in any circumstance. I don’t know that I’ve had strippers as patients or clients, but I’ve had prostitutes as both, maybe even one who was emotionally healthy. They are interesting people with stories that aren’t all tragedy, but are also about how one copes with tragedy.

Then there’s the beauty of women, especially nearly naked women, that seems to hit me differently than just a chemical arousal. I’m sure my whole brain is heterosexual, my perception, my cognition, who knows in how many ways. However it works, I was sure the experience would treat my mood. Who knows how long it would do that, but if I didn’t stay too long, it was worth the money.

So I was settled in, people watching, mostly the women, when something surprised me. It might seem like nothing to most people, but it has stayed with me more than any other memory of the adult entertainment industry. It was a kiss on my left cheek. I can almost see the woman who did that, one of the more mature women there, with lots of curly hair, red maybe.

Like the other women there she put her top back on after her dance and walked among the audience picking up dollar tips. I may have been somewhat cheap, but I wasn’t going to stiff a woman who goes to that much trouble, unlike a few guys there who were either very cheap or out of dollars. Unlike the other women, this woman gave each man a kiss on the cheek when she picked up her dollar. I barely noticed she was doing that until she came to me. Then there was this kiss that I can still feel on my left cheek whenever I want.

My goodness, what was that? My intellect came up with some things, that it’s the traditional price at a kissing booth, that maybe this is her marketing strategy, not that she gets more money at that moment, but maybe for her next dance or another day. Maybe this is her way of being different from the other women. Maybe it’s a control thing, how she can do this kiss that no man will refuse. Maybe she’s genuinely grateful.

My emotions knew something immediately. I am starved for affection. Is she? It’s hard to say. Does she kiss the men just for fun or even some intimacy for herself, as opposed to those thoughts about her strategy? One can do all of that at once, of course.

That I was starved for affection was the most certain of all this. I’d like to write that this little wake-up call made me realize that my need was for affection more than arousal, so then I went out and got the affection I needed after that. Our culture isn’t like that, though. Arousal is easy to buy. Imitation affection is a little harder, but straightforward, if your budget allows that. Real affection is downright expensive, if you can find it at all.

I’ve been helping people all my life. People appreciate being helped, even to the point of an occasional gift, but their love for me is shallow, and I wouldn’t be able to help them well if my need for affection became part of helping them, so both in my career and in my volunteer work there are explicit rules against getting too involved with those I help, so I don’t.

I get along well with my co-workers. A couple of them are the sort of people I appreciate a lot – women who will almost always laugh at something funny I say. I love predictability and when people complement each other. I get awards for what I do, but do I get a kiss on the cheek? No, I don’t. Maybe I could if I asked for one, but it’s not the kiss. The kiss is a symbol of affection. That’s why I still remember that kiss from a stripper, for its symbolism. There is some pleasure in the kiss by itself, but not much to remember. It’s the feeling of being loved that matters, and I didn’t see my getting more of that from this stripper, as much as I appreciated her gesture.

People get so strict about love, as if love has to be this utterly selfless benevolence, based on knowing someone so thoroughly that the other person has proved worthy of this supposedly unconditional love. Well, good luck waiting for that.

It’s no wonder that so many of us settle for less, for a sexual relationship that might have some love in it, maybe more with time. They often don’t, as Shannon Longoria discovered.

So I remember this kiss because it felt like love and helped me realize how much I wanted love, regardless of why this stripper did that. Could she be expressing love with that? In some sense she might be, sure. The fact that she kissed all the men means it wasn’t anything about me, but about love she was giving everyone, if it wasn’t entirely manipulative. I do that differently in my work, but I do that, even to the extent of being a little manipulative myself sometimes. Still love might not have been part of what she was doing. It’s hard to tell from a single moment.

Not many people will just give you many moments so you can see what they’re about. God will. Among the possibilities I thought of for that stripper’s kiss that night, God using her to wake me up was not one of them. It was only later when that kiss kept recurring in my cheek, and God took the credit for it that I was willing to believe that. If God loves me, why shouldn’t She kiss me on the cheek? I’m not one to argue with that. I’m not sure how to explain it to someone else, but that’s true for so many aspects of how I experience God’s presence. It’s all love, and it comes not only with these imposing “I AM GOD” moments, but in so many little everyday things, too, some of which come through other people.

I know how many people think that’s artificial, that I can’t count on God telling me it’s Her kiss I feel any more than I could have counted that this stripper was handing out any real affection when she kissed me. Hey, I grew up hoping for love from every woman I had sex with. God is a better deal than that, even if atheists are right about Him.

I have other stories to say atheists aren’t right. Knowing those, I trust discovering how much God’s love is not a distant, abstract, cerebral thing. I came to God as I did, not only through the particularity of Jesus, but through many experiences. I don’t see any duality of sacred and profane in that, but rather unity. Jesus is in the needy, to help and be helped.

Following some links on the web reminded me of all this the last week. In late January there was a PETA ad that imitated the State of the Union address with a video where a young woman took off her clothes for some reason, good or bad. I found that through links to those who thought the reason was bad, here, here, and here. Comments on those sites were mixed, some thinking a woman taking off her clothes in that way was no big deal while others thought it was degrading to women.

People get very opinionated about sex. The religions of Abraham say sex outside of marriage is always bad, as is some degree of alluding to sex publicly. Many women and some men think the use of women commercially is degrading and manipulative, even more so when those women take their clothes off. All these people think there is shame in public sexuality, some thinking that’s about the women, some thinking that’s about the men who coerce the women to do that. So there is shame in it, because people put shame in it, rightly or wrongly. So women who take their clothes off for money are often like Shannon Longoria, addicts who already feel so much shame that the shame of performing sex for money doesn’t inhibit her. In fact it gives her benefits such that when she’s faced with losing those benefits, even temporarily, she kills herself.

Even addicts have a hard time understanding shame. No one wants to look at this blackest of emotions. People would rather talk about the things that make them feel merely guilty, something they regret doing, not the feeling that they are worthless scum, unloved, unlovable, and a failure at being able to do much about it on their own. People who feel shame medicate themselves, with substance abuse, with food, with distractions by being intellectual or focusing on other people, with hobbies, with losing themselves in work, or with sex.

Sex is a powerful thing. It’s intoxicating all by itself. So is the romance that can go with it. Then it also might lead to something that actually does lessen shame instead of covering it up, love. We know this instinctively and culturally. We act out our knowledge that sex is about love in some way, about union, about empathy, about babies and whatever love that represents to someone.

It’s another impossible survey, but I wonder how many people do look for love through sex. The percentage could be very high in women, maybe surprisingly high in men, something that’s obvious when someone is “virgin stuck” but present a lot more than that phenomenon. If we were good at loving one another just as we are, maybe we could live happily ever after with whomever our first sex is with. Then again even the woman I lost my virginity to had absolutely no interest in a love relationship. I knew that. Some part of my brain didn’t. I adapted, but not without some shame over that “virgin stuck” label.

So I understand the shame associated with sex. I think it could be a lot less in a healthy society, but the reality of this society means there is a lot of shame with sex. I know that when either feminists or fundamentalists see public sex that they find to be degrading, they feel shame themselves or would if they could feel anything. But whose shame is it? I’m sure sometimes whoever is being seen as the victim does feel shame just as those watching expect. But sometimes they don’t, and that’s not always because they’ve medicated themselves not to feel shame.

I doubt that as many as 50% of those working in the adult entertainment industry have overcome their shame in a healthy way. Healthy means it’s stable, has more benefits than negative consequences, and is what a person would choose at their most rational state. I’m sure one could write a long time on that definition if one could actually measure such a thing. God has been a healthy solution to my shame. I don’t care who disagrees with that. You don’t live in me. How many healthy solutions are there? I don’t know. But I don’t think they preclude a woman taking her clothes off for a living or even a political statement.

I don’t know how healthy that stripper was who kissed me on the cheek. She was charming. Was that fake or real? Who can say? One can say that Shannon Longoria was not healthy. She had gotten off of heroin at the time of her death, but was still using cocaine. Plus nothing mental is bad enough to justify suicide. I’ve helped enough people to be sure of that. There is always a living way out. People rarely understand that, or they would have gotten themselves out of a painful situation already. Still it’s true.

But to save the life of someone else like Shannon, how much of our culture needs to be reformed? Let’s see, there’s porn, drugs, music, Hollywood, families, maybe the Mission Viejo schools … it’s easier and maybe more accurate that all of our culture needs to be reformed to be more a culture of love and truth than just the opposite.

Some of those things are harmful. Some are for self-medication. Some are both at the same time. So what happens when you take away the medication? It might be something like Prohibition, where people ignore the law. You don’t get a culture of love and truth by taking away things people use as substitutes for a lack of love and lack of truth in our seriously flawed culture.

Fundamentalist say their subculture provides everything someone would need instead of looking for love through sex before marriage. When has it done that for everyone? It works for some, at the price of what I find to be a false faith, not truth. And I wonder about the capacity of fundamentalists for real love for lots of people, not just those who are behaving well.

Feminists have their own prescriptions. One comment on the PETA video said it would be fine if society had as many male strippers as female strippers. Hmmm, I could close my eyes with the male strippers and just listen to the music. I could make that work if I had to, only I’ve gone to strip clubs once or twice a decade, so no one is keeping their job on my account. It did work for professional tennis to just impose equality on everyone, but I think sex is more complicated.

Most of all I don’t think many of those with opinions about what is degrading know much about shame. People adapt to their shame. It’s that or die. There is no going back to remove the lack of love or other failure that gives people their shame. What you see in the world is people coping, some better than others, some that I admire while some I feel actual hatred for, even though I try to discipline that hatred into something productive.

I admire women who take their clothes off. I don’t know whether such a woman has overcome her shame in a healthy way or a sick way. But I know that I don’t add to her shame. I love everyone, even the ones who insist on being hateful and lying, ignorant and arrogant. I can help anyone in my professional capacity, even if I wouldn’t turn my back on some of my clients in the parking lot or invite them to my home. Real love is not infinite.

I also know that there’s a chance that a woman who takes her clothes off has overcome her shame in a healthy way. I admire such a woman. So I admire all women who take their clothes off. The ones who aren’t doing it out of freedom are facing some major challenge to do that for a living, so I admire their struggle. I’m sure I’m wrong about some of them. It’s not really my choice that I admire all such women, though. I’m a born optimist. Maybe those of you who would take this away are right, but you can’t show that you are right until you can show where the love will come from to replace all the ways that we cope with the world as it is. And you don’t show love with hate and indifference.

Mike Wilsey said this after the death of the daughter he never knew: "People ask me if pornography is wrong. I say you can judge a tree by its fruit."

But what tree are we talking about, the tree of being human and needing love, the tree of not having a good resource for love or model for love, the tree of doing the best we know how to do, which sometimes isn’t very good at all? Wasn’t Shannon your fruit, Mr. Wilsey? We’re all addicts. Someday this will be common knowledge.