Monday, January 29, 2007

Talking people to death

I listened to Christian radio on the way home today. R.C. Sproul was speaking about eschatology, focusing on Matthew 13: 38-40, Luke 21: 24 and the idea that Gentiles would trample Jerusalem until the end of the age. So are the prophecies that Matthew and Luke put in the mouth of Jesus during His ministry preceding His crucifixion, in part duplicating Mark, in part coming from something else in common, in part from words unique to Matthew or Luke, likely written after the burning of the Temple by the Romans. Sproul goes on from there to wonder if it matters that Gentiles are still trampling Jerusalem some, such as with the mosques on the Temple mount. Maybe the true end times won’t come for thousands of years more because of that, says Sproul, though he also says he doubts that. Sproul doesn’t go so far as to wonder if the end of the age might never come. I do, because I have a basic question that Sproul didn’t address at all.

What if these prophecies are wrong?

It’s not such a clever or original question. I’m sure Sproul has a standard answer prepared for that. Maybe it’s about prophecies in particular. Maybe it’s his general reason for believing the Bible to be God’s authoritative word. I may have even heard him talk about that at some point. I don’t remember, though I do know I’ve heard him quote both Martin Luther and Augustine as saying the Bible is definitely without error. So why believe dead men? Beyond that I know I’ve heard a lot of words about the Bible, and none of them are that great. Any time I want I can go to the first chapter of Genesis and be sure it’s wrong. I can speak with God about it. He says it’s wrong. It would be one thing to say it was the best creation myth people could manage 3000 years ago, just as one could look at any part of the Bible in the context of the culture and people who wrote it.

But what about this business of saying it is God’s authoritative word for all time? You know, if you’re wrong about that, it’s a big mistake, either way. It’s trying to have an open mind about such things that set me up for understanding the power of saying that God is whoever and whatever God is. To do otherwise is to set yourself up for God to be on the other side of the issue than you are. I hardly ever hear either liberals or conservatives worry about that. Is it lack of imagination about how badly one might be wrong? I doubt that. I think it’s pure pride along with how comforted people are by others believing exactly what they believe. I doubt R.C. Sproul will ever look in his mirror and be confronted with that in this life. I don’t know why exactly. I know that such doubt is not to be seen in humans when they talk as he does. Call it faith, but is it true faith or false faith?

Who but God can know?

I decided to embrace that question at one point. It was the only thing that made sense to me, that God is trustworthy, while trusting anyone or anything else is easily attacked. If God’s not trustworthy, what difference does anything make? So why not pray to God and see what happens. It takes patience. It takes a lot of things. It takes a real God, not a character in a book. So I’m not surprised few people emphasize surrendering to God about one’s beliefs. That’s not a traditional choice, unlike reason, tradition, the Bible or experience not necessarily involving God.

It’s worked for me, but as in my last blog, I hear others relying on traditional words, and I know it can’t work in the long run. What would R.C. Sproul do if he knew that all the words he uses only brings everyone he knows one step closer to death? I don’t know. I’d probably still just ask him what if biblical prophecies are wrong. He’s not going to take my word for it that his faith is suspect. His loyalty is to Jesus and to God, as the Bible describes. Those descriptions won’t show him his error, and if that’s because they are just characters in a book that God has no interest in, there are many people following the same wordy way to death.

Live your life to end poverty. Live your life to end strife. Why should God care about you otherwise? Many of my fellow liberals would say God is not so tough, that He loves everyone. How do you know?

God tells me there’s so little I can do individually to end poverty or strife, He wouldn’t push me even to do as much as I do. Still that’s what matters, not words. God matters most of all, and there are no words that speak for Him. What a great truth, and hardly anyone can believe it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The difference between abstract and real

Thursday night on HBO, they were showing a documentary about evangelical Christians by Alexandra Pelosi (yes, the Speaker’s daughter). I had mixed feelings about watching it, so I dragged my feet until 10 – 15 minutes into it before turning it on. At that point the subject was indoctrinating kids to be against evolution. Ken Ham, Australian creationist, was speaking to the children in a church audience. I’ve seen him before. He is extremely simplistic in attacks on evolution, saying things such as how Noah’s flood was just as likely to have created all the fossils found by science as the accepted scientific story of geological time. He even had a slide that said: God said it; I believe it; that settles it. It was something like that if not the slide’s exact words. My focus was mostly on the first two parts of that. There are other possibilities about what God said, you know.

Afterward, the film interviewed at least 3 children of elementary school age. They were sold on believing in creation according to the Bible, not evolution. Why? Because the Bible is true. God wrote it. How did they know? No one asked, but I suppose the answer is that everyone in their life told them so. Who’s going to disagree with that?

I was surprised by how much emotion those children brought out in me. I bet it was because they were children. I can see children as innocents as much as anyone, and here they are being used by adults to mirror the fantasies the adults cling to so that they can feel secure about life.

I feel secure from ideas that it took me a long time to see simply. Attacks on evolution are all lies, you know. Evolution is a fact, from comparative anatomy, from fossils, from population biology, from molecular biology. People will argue against that, even some smart people, but only in the way a defense attorney will try to keep a guilty defendant out of prison, with misdirection and suggestion.

Human nature gets so extreme in that. It’s not enough for people to preach that the best way to live is found in the Bible, the Quran, or A Course in Miracles, they have to say that God wrote the book of their choice. God says their way is best. Who can argue for anything else? Only with considerable conflict can someone argue for something else.

This is what the children of religion are raised for. So are the children of atheism, though I suppose without the same degree of indoctrination. People raise their children to carry on a tradition. I’ve watched this, having gone to many different types of churches. Only the children going to charismatic churches are taught it’s OK to speak in tongues. Only the children going to conservative churches are taught that it’s OK to say Jesus is the only way to God. Only the children in liberal churches are taught it’s OK to think the Bible might be wrong in places. Part of that is love, to teach one’s children what one believes to be true, but part of it is giving one’s own burden to one’s children, giving one’s pride and idolatries to them, one’s sins.

I rarely think of that. I think of the future, how children may believe their parents for the time, but someday any house of cards will collapse, even the one that says the secular world is all there is. It’s somewhat abstract to picture some future time when all the lies of the present have collapsed. Then what? That’s even harder to picture.

Yet to watch children right now being told what I’m sure is a lie is not abstract. The children are trusting, but they’re being told lies. In turn they’ll tell their own children lies, until the lies collapse. That’s the generation that suffers the most, when the lies collapse. They’ll know they’ve been lied to. They’ll wonder why. They’ll reach out for something else. Who knows what they’ll get? It won’t be people who love them as parents who’ll be trying to sell them their next belief. My goodness, this is my resentment, isn’t it? Why yes, it is! I can feel it right here. It’s mental, but it’s not abstract. There are so many memories I could connect to it, so many ways to live that I’ve rejected, though to some degree accepted at the same time.

One thing I’ve rejected is the perennial philosophy, that all religions are true. There may be some truth in all religions, but it is very well camouflaged in some. It’s just been 4 or 5 years since I discovered my preference for saying all religions are false, not true, even my own liberal Christianity. I’m not sure exactly what’s false about my own religion, or I’d change it, but there must be something wrong somewhere, about the exact nature of God, the exact nature of the world, the exact nature of life or of me.

That’s abstract. I could work on fleshing it up with examples, things in my life that led me to say, “Yes, that’s it,” about all religions being false. There are such examples, but there not important to me at the present. What’s important me was how different it was to me to be confronted by a real life example that all religions are false. It was harder than I expected it to be. After all, I feel quite confident that all religions are false. So what’s the problem?

One problem is my worldview. If everyone is full of it, what kind of world is that? Fortunately not everyone is full of it about everything. Only a few are that bad, and I suspect even they could talk about something real if they were speaking to me as my patients used to or my clients do now. I’ve always helped people with real things, not fantasies. Sometimes I help people with their fears provoked by some fantasy, but those are real fears, fears that are countered by truth and love, also real things.

Yet I’m not sure I’ve adapted to just how much people are full of it compared to when I hoped to be a more typical liberal who thinks everyone has something worth saying. I focus on the future instead, when all the lies of today have collapsed. Maybe they’ll be new lies, but I have no emotions from those.

Belief that any holy book is God’s instructions to us is already dead. It will just take time to lose any appearance of being alive. Belief in the traditional God, a distant Creator who has made the universe perfect for those who obey Him, a God who is perfect is every way, is dead. Belief in nothing beyond the physical is dead. My intellectual beliefs are broader than that. It’s my intellect that accepts the full range of God being whoever and whatever God is. But there is a narrower part of me that sees all sorts of beliefs as dead. Their proponents can argue all they want, but their arguments are like arguments against evolution. They are contrived and only convince those who already believe in the position, theist or atheist.

That’s abstract. There are people I’ve observed at church or on the internet who I think of as I write things like the above, but they’re just characters, not real people like my family, patients and clients.

And those kids on TV. How were they to know how untrustworthy Ken Ham is? Isn’t anyone who speaks from the front in church close to God? How old does one have to be before realizing the answer to that?

Older than these kids. There’s nothing I can do about it. Even in writing this I don’t intend to spread my ideas. I write because I realize I’m still adapting to just how evil human beings are. Some people think it’s just conservatives. Others think it’s just liberals. Still others have different groupings. It’s everyone. It’s human nature.

Yet not everything about humanity is evil. In fact just guessing, I’d say the world is getting better. So culture and God are improving us, giving us disciplines that keep our lies and selfishness in check some. I’d even say these kids that made me change the channel may have remarkably contented lives thinking traditional Christianity is exactly how they should live. I don’t begrudge them that. Those who will suffer on realizing that their parents lied to them have my sympathy. I don’t have to hate their parents to be sympathetic.

Yet to be utterly serene about all this doesn’t work, either. I wish it did. I think it’s a real problem that so many people are serene about the needs of the poor, but even when it comes to something like evolution, it’s not OK that so many traditionalists waste resources trying to keep the Bible as being the last word. And none talk about even the possibility that God knows that the Bible is not the last word and that evolution is correct.

I’ve tried to say that being on the wrong side like that is not my concern, that it’s up to God whether to be concerned about that. It hasn’t worked to make me serene. I think it’s because God is not serene about this. He may know perfectly well that it won’t matter in 500 years, but today people are lying about nature and about God. It’s a basic issue in one’s religion how God sees such a thing. Is it abominable sin and that’s that, even if the sin’s perpetrators will someday be forgiven? Or is God above all that? Any human being who answers that is just speaking out of his or her beliefs, so I ask God.

God says, “Look at those kids.” It’s not abstract. It’s real. If I could only say this one point well, it would be worth so many words. God has not been abstract to me since He first spoke to me 18 years ago, since He was the one who answered when I prayed, “God help me!” An experience is not abstract. Interpreting an experience is likely to become abstract, but that’s not the only way. One can stick to reality. One can try to find fantastic metaphors that explain something.

It may be fantastic metaphor that I connect everything I experience spiritually to God. Maybe the reality of God is quite different, but there is a reality for me to experience. As Paul wrote, the Spirit lives in me, and I live in the Spirit. It may be metaphor, but it’s about something real.

I think about the abstraction that all religions are false, and I know it’s true. I’ve argued for that before. I can do it again. It is what it is. I remember those kids being suckers for creationists, and it pushes me just a little toward crying. Maybe they will learn the truth. Maybe it will take some number of generations. It is about human nature, and human nature is what it is. But the first is accepting something abstract, and the second is accepting something real, something that is on the wrong side of God. The first is much easier. The second requires knowing the real God in order to appreciate the problem. It’s not a little thing. So many people talk about God as an abstraction, even believers. It gets in the way of knowing the real God. First things first.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

3 years later, anti-gay T-shirt is still wrong

Almost 3 years after the fact, a San Diego federal judge has ruled for the Poway Unified School District in a summary judgment against the family of Tyler Chase Harper, who had sued because his school pulled him out of class when he wore a T-shirt that attacked homosexuality with a reference to the Bible, Romans 1:27. Tyler Harper has since graduated, but the case was continued on behalf of his younger sister, Kelsie Harper.

The judge was John A. Houston, a 2003 Bush appointee, who recently ruled strongly against the Escondido City Council for trying to deny illegal immigrants the right to rent an apartment in Escondido. The City Council gave up before wasting even more money on the issue.

Conservative Christians are not giving up as easily. Kevin Theriot, lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund finds the judge to be incompetent regarding the right to free speech. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune he said, “The court just misapplied the law and doesn’t understand what free speech is all about.” Ah, those liberal Bush appointees. Will we ever get a President Christian enough for the conservatives?

Theriot has other cases about being able to attack homosexuality in schools. He should know that the First Amendment doesn’t let people say whatever they want, wherever they want. So then it’s just a matter of nitpicking, isn’t it? It’s just a matter of deciding exactly where one person’s rights end and another begins. That’s what these cases about what is said about homosexuality in schools are about, not about incompetent judges. Shame on Mr. Theriot for being dishonest about that. I wonder what God says about such lies, nothing good I think. I wonder where I can wear tape on my T-shirt about that.

I learned from the Dover, PA case on intelligent design that actually reading the judge’s ruling is much better than reading anyone’s sound bites. That applies to this case, too. It’s 30 pages and a lot of that consists of boring procedure, but there are some interesting points there. The judge says that being hostile to a religion’s beliefs on homosexuality is not the same as being hostile to a religion. Gee, that didn’t occur to me. I doubt Mr. Theriot liked that conclusion, even though the judge documents everything he says, unlike Mr. Theriot. It’s an interesting read for anyone who has the time.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The voice of God

Recently I visited a message board where a man gave a testimonial for “A Course in Miracles”. One thing about it that struck me was how he stated Jesus wrote this, as if that’s a fact. Of course Bible-believing Christians speak or write of the Bible this way, referring to a verse or section as something God said or wrote, when surely some man held the pen, and it’s at least debatable how much that man was inspired by God, debatable how much anyone can be controlled by God in that setting. So there is a precedent for people saying God wrote a book. Still I would think that if God could dictate words, the Bible would be much more straightforward, useful, and obviously divine than it is. So would be “A Course in Miracles”. Instead what is obvious is that some disagree with that for one of these books or both, but why?

A secular way of looking at it would say that psychologist Helen Schucman wrote “A Course in Miracles”, that she wasn’t a scribe for Jesus, as she said she was. Meanwhile some Bible-believing Christians might say Satan wrote this book, using Dr. Schucman to do his bidding. Both ways are too simple, I think, as the story of where the book came from is familiar to me and deserves better, even better than an adoring fan saying Jesus wrote it. What Dr. Schucman described was hearing a voice explaining that what she was hearing was a course in miracles. She wrote this down and continued accordingly, taking several years to complete the book. Many have written from their own spiritual experience similarly. There’s no question that those writings differ a great deal.

My biggest problem with “A Course in Miracles” is that it is yet another version of the power of positive thinking, saying that love is everything, that there is no sin, only a deficiency in love, that negative emotions are the enemy. I don’t think emotions are so easily divided between positive and negative. Fear can give us prudence. Anger can give us determination. Love is not necessary devoid of anger. Love can be fiercely protective instead of just being someone who knows only serenity. Sometimes I look at my needy clients and wonder how much they’ve been hurt by those who say things are fine the way they are, that one should simply accept everything.

What emotions God has or would like us to have is a big subject, but I mention this much to point out that no one’s version of how to live is so perfect as to be obviously God’s way. I know I’ve encountered all the major prescriptions for life, many supposedly dictated by God, yet there’s always something wrong with them. Why? If there’s anything to this idea that God can communicate with us, shouldn’t someone get it right?

An atheist can answer that easily saying an experience like Dr. Schucman’s can only be psychosis or imagination, so of course it doesn’t amount to that much. Yet there are other possibilities, but if one is to believe in spiritual experiences, what is the best explanation for how much the voice of God varies?

The two things that are hardest to get across about my experience of hearing the voice of God is just what the experience is like and just how much skepticism and questions of mine have been defeated in the process. I vividly remember my road-to-Damascus experience 18 years ago. I wrote before how this wasn’t a perceptual change of the world around me. My attention was suddenly on that light because what I thought about it had changed drastically, in a startling way. An instant before it had been mere sunlight. An instant later it had become the presence of God. How? Why? Why me when I didn’t believe such a thing was possible? I don’t know exactly. Something happened to me cognitively. My nature pulls at me to describe it in terms I can understand, a brightening of the light, a burning bush, whether to make it easier for me to talk about for myself or for others. But that’s not what the experience is. It is indeed something that people can dismiss as all being in my head.

Yet what are they dismissing? I previously described the cascade of images and words with which God defeated my skepticism, the ones that followed His saying the only words He said to me then, “You’ve always believed in Me.” I like the word “cascade”. It alludes to the sense of my being overwhelmed by “my life passing before my eyes”, as if hit by a waterfall, and to the many metaphorical connections between water and Spirit. But it doesn’t do justice to the memory I have even now of how my mind was flooded with images and words of how I had indeed always believed in God, from childish believing to being confirmed to rejecting tradition for science. At the time I wouldn’t have said this was rejecting religion and embracing God, but that’s what God was telling me now in this instant. I had images and words from my college physics days talking about why God made the universe the way He did. I had images and words from when I was exploring the Unitarians earlier in the eighties. Lastly there was the prayer I had prayed and meant two days before, the Prayer of St. Francis, as I realized that helping people was something I trusted much more than other ways to live. All this happened in a few seconds, at which point there was no skepticism in my head about anything. It’s never been quite like that again, but describing what it has been in later experiences would be just as difficult.

My normal skepticism soon returned but only for things other than the existence of God. That first experience remains proof enough of God for me. It doesn’t prove God exists beyond my brain. Atheists could be right about that, even if I doubt they are right. I was skeptical enough about what I should do about God’s existence that it took a second lesser episode to convince me that whether this was something important to God or just important to me, I should explore it. There were more words the second time, confirming that God is real, that God is love, and some other things. God has become more fluent as I have become less surprised by Him. I’m sure that’s not coincidence.

God’s presence gradually built up for me in prayer, first just as the abstraction to whom my prayers were directed, then more than that. I described this before. One thing that I’m sure is hard to appreciate about that is that as much skepticism as a reader would have reading that, I had at least that much skepticism during the process, only I witnessed it, and my skepticism was dealt with over years, not by some magical sentence or concept, but by having an ongoing relationship with God. I didn’t have to rely on imperfect words to analyze spirituality. I lived it day after day, year after year.

I think of that when I think of how easily someone can dismiss God as my “imaginary friend”, as has been done by someone commenting on this blog. First of all, what exactly is imagination? Where does it come from? Many assume that’s something we do willfully, but is it? Neuroscience doesn’t know anything like that.

That’s the questioning attitude I’ve hit God with again and again. He has no problem with it. He is indeed the God for whom I rejected religion as a teenager and embraced science. He tells me what He knows, which is less than everything, and with time I’ve come to understand more than I once did. Atheists don’t do that for me. Traditionalists don’t do that for me. They just preach their dogma and ridicule anyone who says it doesn’t work. I don’t see how such proud and idolatrous people can know anything about God.

This takes me back to those who quote God in print. How many of them have questioned their understanding of what God says? There is no way the real God can put His pure thoughts in my head, if He even has thoughts, if He even uses words. You might as well believe God can make me breathe water, not in this universe. Just because the Bible portrays the spoken word as so powerful doesn’t make it so. I’ve written about this before. I hear God’s voice in my language, my concepts, with no facts included that I don’t already know, yet what I hear as God makes priorities in what I know that I had no idea were in me. God gives me the direction, strength and comfort I ask for in ways that amaze me. But He has limits, as anyone who follows God will encounter. Will they accept traditional explanations that the limits are a matter of their not having enough faith? That’s not what God tells me. He tells me He has limits, that He is not the traditional God of superlatives and perfection. If He were, this world would be heaven already.

I wrote a lot before about what it means to me to follow the God whose voice I know rather than traditions that can’t answer my questions well enough. I didn’t address the issue much then about the discrepancy between what I hear and what others hear. It still bothers me. How can I be the best listener God’s ever had? Well, I ask a lot of questions, as science taught me, and not a lot of people who hear God’s voice have been trained that way. I stand on the shoulders of many who experienced God as more than an abstraction, like Paul. I suppose many people read Romans 8:9 as something abstract or otherwise separate from reality. From everything I’ve read, Paul experienced the Spirit in an almost tangible way, the Spirit living in him, as he lived in the Spirit. There is so much of reality that Bible-believing Christians reject, either physical reality or spiritual reality, because they take the words of the Bible to mean what they say they mean, even more so the reality of God and Jesus behind the words.

Maybe even more important is I know 12 steps. They taught me to use my faith rather than trusting myself. They taught me the acronym for HOW the program works, through honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness, and experience shows that it’s enough to be willing to be honest and willing to be open. To write that Jesus wrote any book as a statement of fact is dishonest, however much one thinks the ideas of “the real Jesus” are in this book. This is what advocacy does. It twists words into rigid positions that shut people off from God.

I surrendered. God surrendered, too. How many times each of us did that, who did it first, and how the sequence went from then is beyond me. It doesn’t matter. We are where we are. I hear the voice of God, even if no one but God believes that. That voice is inspired by God in a way that my own voice is not, yet it is my language the voice uses, and my language is limited. I’m sure others hear from God as well, as they have for a very long time, but it’s such a difficult thing to talk about in words. It’s easy to make mistakes that human nature tends to make like oversimplification, overgeneralization, and failing to ask questions. So writings that quote God are full of mistakes, whether from thousands of years ago or recently. It is human nature. It is the nature of the physical world in which such writings exists. It makes me that much more sure that words are flawed, ambiguous and human, that words are never God’s words, not now, not ever, even if something behind those words comes from God.

People have thought there is virtue in not questioning sacred words. Yet there is enough experience now to know the opposite is true. There are no sacred words. Not questioning words allows mistakes to go uncorrected, keeps real-life experience from invalidating presumptuous conjecture. It is not faith not to question. It is foolishness. I am utterly devoted to God, and in that faith I want God to be portrayed accurately. So I question every voice of God, including my own. God says to me that this is the way to Him, when it is combined with a desire and willingness to hear Him despite the difficulty, for anyone who wants to know that. It’s not a way to be found in print.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

How far can liars go?

Senator Joseph McCarthy did all right for himself telling lies about how many Communists had infiltrated the US State Department. As soon as he did that in February, 1950, his demand as a speaker skyrocketed. He published a book. It didn’t matter that the Democratic majority in the Senate called him a fraud. Republicans backed him. McCarthy gained a committee chairmanship when Republicans took the majority in 1953.

He thereby had power to have televised hearings if he went after a big enough target, like the Army, which he did. But it wasn’t as popular to attack men in uniform with secret lists of Communists in defense plants as it was to say there were so many nameless bureaucrats who were stabbing us in the back, plus people could now see how much of a bully McCarthy was directly. By the end of 1954, McCarthy was censured by the Senate, and never was a serious factor in politics again. He died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1957, at age 48.

Modern authors, including Ann Coulter, have tried to defend McCarthy. A large part of that is pointing to the Venona project that showed that the Soviets did have spy networks in the US. The thing is that whatever kernel of truth is at the core of McCarthyism, in trying to tell that truth and garner fame for himself, McCarthy told a pack of lies, and when he went too far in that, most people realized it.

Going too far with lies is something that happens regularly. The Salem Witch Trials wouldn’t be as well known as they are, except the accusers went too far. If they had stopped short of overflowing every jail in the region, we wouldn’t know of them now any more than other 17th century trials. And not everyone would know how many innocents were victimized.

It should be comforting that lies are caught like this, but I can’t help but look at stories like these and realize that lies aren’t caught until they become this flagrant. Politics, religion, and other parts of life are full of lies, for the same reasons that McCarthyism was and still is. People like simple stories of good guys and bad guys. People like stories that reinforce their prejudices. Some people like the fame and other rewards they get from telling stories. None of that requires stories to be true.

Consider a story yesterday that I heard in passing through John Gibson on the Fox cable news channel, but discovered from Media Matters was picked up by two radio talk shows as well on the same day. It’s about a story posted two days before on insightmag.com, a site controlled by the same Rev. Sun Myung Moon company that owns The Washington Times and UPI. The story is that Hillary Clinton’s people are pushing a story about Barack Obama having been educated as a Muslim. The article quotes Obama’s books about his years in Indonesia up to the age of 10. It has no other quotes attributed to a person by name. It cites no other place where “Clinton” is pushing this story except for this particular article.

Despite that being everything the article says, each of these right-wing talk shows reported this as fact, not mere rumor, using the opportunity to slam both Clinton and Obama to varying degrees, for her vicious political tactics, for his background in Islam, according to the whim of the commentator. No one even mentioned that the undocumented report that Clinton had anything to do with this might be a lie. This is from right-wingers who are forever saying how smart and responsible they are. Yet for a good lie, they’re willing to be na├»ve.

It’s not just the political right. This is what people do. At one time it was more understandable. I can see that some stories in the past were just filling in fantasy where there was a big unknown. So it is understandable that the creation myths in the Bible from 3000 years ago were the best people could do then. To say that one God made everything and ran everything was as good a story as any.

It’s not now. Now people have to lie to say, “evolution is a lie”. It might not be fair to call everyone who says that a liar. Some are just repeating what others say, others who should know better, but have their own reasons to say tradition and the Bible are right, and scientists are not to be trusted.

A somewhat different group of people say scientists are lying about global warming. Time will show the truth.

The irony is that scientific skepticism is one solution to how much lying is part of human nature. One alternative to waiting for someone like Joseph McCarthy to self-destruct is to question everything, as I learned to do in science. If that were more of a norm in our culture, right-wingers wouldn’t get away with calling rumors they like “fact”. Nor would left-wingers, theists, or atheists.

I tend to be optimistic about the future, maybe more than is reasonable. I expect us to realize the hope that’s in the genetics revolution, the neuroscience revolution, the internet revolution and other advances in science and technology. But now and again I wonder about the future. Warnings of ecological and economic catastrophes don’t bother me. One has to assume a number of bad things for the future to be that bad and that we won’t be able to adapt as a species when we always have before. But I do wonder about our nature and how it doesn’t necessarily follow someone like Bertrand Russell in his reasons for why love and truth are the ultimate good things. In fact we embrace hatred, indifference, and lies regularly. How limited is the number of people who reject such evil?

I’ve learned to hate lies, to weed them out by questioning everything. Some might find that remarkable in someone who hears God’s voice. You don’t understand how skeptical I was of God if you think that. And I have continued to be very skeptical of what people say, for good reason. People lie a lot, and they only sometimes make that obvious. They also don’t make it obvious that it’s everyone across the spectrum of politics, religion and otherwise who lies. Scientifically questioning everything would be a powerful obstacle to such lying, but will people accept that? Such acceptance has been awfully spotty so far, something people might use only on their opponents. Scientists are only human. They can be partisan, but the technique of questioning everything makes no such distinction. One either follows that technique or lets many lies continue.

So I don’t know what the future is for liars. Will they become extinct? Will lying continue to be profitable? Will there ever come a time when broadcasters who lie are disemboweled on national TV after reporting some number of lies? If it’s a slow week for lies in broadcasting, one could substitute preachers or others who are dogmatic about spirituality.

Would that be a strange future, where lies are not tolerated, but hatred and brutality is? That’s what I wonder about. As much as I agree with Bertrand Russell that a good world would be filled with love and truth, is that where humanity is headed? Time will tell. The repudiation of lying as a way of life would be a hopeful indicator.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The wisdom of South Park

“Logic and reason aren’t enough. You have to be a dick to everyone who doesn’t agree with you.” -- Attributed to Richard Dawkins by South Park.

I know, the real Richard Dawkins didn’t say that, not that I’ve seen anyway. The boys behind South Park were putting words in his mouth to oversimplify his position, for both clarity and humor. I did see Dawkins’ column on The Huffington Post where he says he’s not demeaning everyone’s God with his book, The God Delusion, just the ones with personal Gods. Abstract Gods like love and other entities are OK with him. Who knows? Maybe he’d even compromise further and say that any God compatible with evolution by natural selection may not be a delusion. That would be sporting of him.

It’s too bad that Richard Dawkins is only human, as so many other dicks are, both theists and atheists, even some women. They only know what they’ve experienced, directly or second-hand. They don’t know what’s beyond what they know, not just in terms of the ultimate origin of the universe or anything in it, but also what might be right here with me as I write this that we don’t understand yet, inside 4-dimensional space-time or outside it, coursing through it, as outside air courses through my lungs. It sure is nice that science completely explains my conscious experience and God’s place in that, only it doesn’t. It does only if one accepts the words of crackpots who say anyone who experiences God is nuts.

Atheists are going to keep this up for the foreseeable future. They will compliment themselves for how smart they are. Traditionalists will compliment themselves for how good they are in sticking to the old ways, how blessed they are or will be. They’re all liars. May there be a pox on both their houses. I’ve been saying that since I gave up finding common ground with atheists through science or with conservatives through Jesus Christ. There is no such ground for a liberal Christian. Even among liberal Christians there are several groups who don’t like those with different beliefs. This is human to make beliefs so important. Can we do any better?

“Who knows? Maybe just believing in God makes God exist.” – The Wise One, just before all the atheist otters kill him, on South Park.

I write a lot of words trying to illustrate the possibilities for God. I like the idea in this quote. Maybe God truly evolves as out beliefs do. Even more fascinating is if believing in God doesn’t just bring God to life in my mind, but beyond me as well, not even just in terms of culture, but something beyond physical existence. Who knows? God tells me He doesn’t mind being like Tinker Bell this way, only He tells me He’s pretty sure He existed before humans did. Still He is changed by us.

Maybe it’s impossible to open most people’s minds to possibilities. They don’t want to know. Then there’s the sticky issue that not everything we dream up is possible. Where is the line between possible and impossible? I’m quite sure it’s not in Richard Dawkins head or any other dick. In the end many possibilities are dead ends. I am who I am. The world is what it is. God is whoever and whatever God is. I know few believe me that I can communicate with all of these. In fact many people shut me out, especially on those subjects they don’t care to hear. The rest have been enough, though, especially God. I never would have guessed. God is not a dick, but is a source of love and truth, the only one I trust to cry on, not an empty closet, but a presence, not self-hypnosis, but things that are completely unexpected, like what God needs from me. People could know more about this. Most would rather not and use labels to emphasize that, like “delusion” or others.

You just can’t trust everything people say. Even they may not understand exactly why they say it.

Speaking of dreams

I’ve also been having this recurring daydream for a time. I don’t think I’ve had it as an actual dream. I suppose technically it’s a vision. There’s almost no plot. It’s just a vision of half a dozen people hanging around this large fictional house where Dad just brought me, strangely without anyone else from our family. I seem to be somewhere between my teens and twenties. Dad’s been dead for twenty years, so this is far from realistic. It is what it is.

At first I thought about this in terms of the volunteer work I do with the needy, a substantial minority of whom being homeless. The scene does look like the people who hang out around our building, before or after getting services, waiting for rides, whatever they’re doing. In the vision this is clearly a house, though. Somehow I know we don’t own this house. The furniture belongs to the owner. Who knows where she is? I’m not even sure I saw Dad. I just know he brought me here and now has gone off somewhere.

Among those strolling through the yard are two Navy fighter pilots, F-14 pilots, in their flight suits. They say that something happened to their plane. They don’t know where it is now or how they wound up here. They’re just waiting for the Navy to pick them up. “Really, that’s your story? You’re sticking with that?” After that I don’t bother finding out more about the others.

Strangely the pilots look like Kevin McKidd playing Lucius Vorenus in HBO’s Rome and James Purefoy playing Mark Antony. Well, those characters are surely dead by now, whatever happens to Lucius in the rest of that series. Somehow I have the characters before me who are lean and mean, not the happy-go-pillaging Titus Pullo, the power engorged Caesar or the boy Machiavelli Octavian. I like that portrayal of Octavian, even though it seems so extremely precocious. Octavian is usually played nothing like a boy destined to become the great Augustus.

It was clear to my Twilight-Zone-conditioned mind that these pilots are dead, even before I recognized their faces. Dad spent much of his career as a civilian advisor to those who looked after the engines for F-14’s. He’s dead now. I suppose it all means something.

What am I supposed to do? Only one thing occurred to me. Let them sit down. So I invited them in, but as sternly and intimidatingly as I can, which at this point in my life is considerable, told them to be on their best behavior. The owner could come back at anytime, and anyone caught with their feet on the furniture might regret it forever.

That was it. That was my role. I don’t know who needed that, if it was Dad or some military men generally. Maybe no one needed it, and my mind was just playing. Either way, letting them sit down was the thing to do. It’s like it is with my clients. I do what I know to do. I never get the complete story of why my clients have been beaten by life. I get bits and pieces of the story and go with that. The alternative is to do nothing. I find that unacceptable.

So is there life after death? There is as a concept, whether or not it exists in any more real way than that. So it comes up in my mind in various ways, including symbolic images like these. So I approach it as I approach life before death, as best I can.

Some don’t want to do that. They say it’s ridiculous to consider life after death. As I saw someone write in a comment recently, “When you die, you’re just fucking dead!” I used to think that was the only possibility. I’ve never seen a body that looked capable of coming back to life. I used to have no problem with the idea from mainstream neuroscience that the mind is nothing more than the brain. I’ve seen dead brains. There’s nothing going on in them that can support a mind, so of course there’s nothing left of us when we die.

That changes as soon as you allow the possibility that there’s more to the mind than the brain. Working with brain illnesses and injuries, with normal humans, and with experiments in animals shows quite strongly how important the brain is to the mind, but is it everything? Neuroscience explains so little about our will, about just how extensive our memory can be, about dream-like experiences, it’s not a settled issue that everything about the mind can be squeezed within a brain.

It’s a problem to think that way, because where then would the rest of the mind be? One has to postulate an existence beyond the physical universe, and many people don’t want to go there. They want everything about life to be physical. Maybe they’re right. I can’t explain my life purely through physical mechanisms, but maybe I’m missing something. Time will tell.

Until then, arrogant people will insist on an atheistic worldview just as other arrogant people insist on one particular theistic worldview. I’m convinced none of them know of what they speak that well. They all make mistakes. None of them have my experiences.

So many people pretend they know whatever they need to know and decide how to live from that. I don’t believe it. I know a lot, but it’s not enough to tell me how to live. Things come up for me, from other people or from within me, and I don’t understand that much why. I just do what I know to do and speak to God about the rest. It’s not that strange. Some people just think it is.

I don’t think I’ll see this vision again. There is a sense of completeness in me about it. Where in the brain is that? Is it even in the brain? Was it just play? Was everything about Dad gone as soon as the blood stopped going to his brain? Is that true for everyone? Do some people grow spirits in their lives, whatever that means? Did Dad need me to tell him to sit down? Did I need to tell Dad he could sit down, whether or not he exists any more, whether or not it was Dad or just someone close enough?

There are many questions. I need to know there are many answers, that there are many possibilities. For those possibilities I have one response. I do what I know how to do. I do what I know is right. Sometimes events give me reasons to regret not knowing enough, but that doesn’t alter my basic approach. Let them sit down, unless God tells me not to.

Why is that so hard for people?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Suddenly a recurrent dream

Maybe just in the past week I’m suddenly having this recurrent dream. How strange. I never have recurrent dreams. I have a recurrent theme of nostalgia, but those dreams always vary. This new dream doesn’t, not in the part that wakes me up. I have a feeling that I’m doing some traveling in the dream before that, but that part’s nothing special, just a routine travelogue.

Then comes the part where I arrive at my new home. I didn’t have to memorize which freeway exit to take. The freeway just stops there, narrowing down from about four lanes to one over about 10 feet. Then the one lane road becomes the dirt road leading to my house about as quickly. Then the dirt road becomes a field as I can’t stop before passing my house. Then the field ends as the ground falls away into something that looks like a greener version of the Grand Canyon. I stop before then, before the nick of time, well within the field. No part of the car in hanging over the edge. There was actually some margin for me to have stopped even slower.

I didn’t appreciate that in the dream. In the dream I slam on the brakes as soon as I see everything changing, yet it takes so long to stop. It’s hard to really appreciate how unrealistic something in a dream is during the dream. As I was braking in the dream it didn’t occur to me that my car was braking about as quickly as an ocean liner. I observed that it was, but my mind was on whether it would in fact stop. I didn’t want to get into the sort of cartoon physics that one can have in dreams. Please just stop naturally.

The first time I had that dream, I’m sure I wasn’t thinking much. “OhmiGod! What happened to the road?” That was about it. Then I was glad I stopped. I suppose I shouldn’t go so fast.

Then it happened again and again. My expectation became that I was going to stop eventually, before needing to resort to cartoon physics over the canyon, so I started thinking differently during my braking. I thought about how I really need to pay better attention on the freeway the next time that the road is ending. Why is it I keep missing that anyway?

It’s amazing how we accept everything at face value during a dream. That sudden freeway ending is just the way it is. I have to adapt to that. I have to do better so I can stop the car at my house instead of shooting past and having to back up each time. It never occurred to me that it actually turned out all right hurtling past my house and backing up this way. Maybe that’s what the previous owner had to do. No, dreams are much simpler. This isn’t good. How do I fix it?

On waking, I still wonder what this means about what I should do differently. Am I going too fast, either in driving or more metaphorically? I don’t see how. After a few times of reacting to this dream that way, other possibilities hit me.

What if it’s not about me? It is about me at least in the sense that things are happening I’m not anticipating. Things are happening in my family like that. So one does the best one can and is grateful if that’s enough. If not, one can reassess later. Nothing is going on among those I know where they won’t survive, where they can’t reassess if it goes badly. The car doesn’t go over the cliff, after all.

Now I’m wondering if it’s even less close to me than that. After all, no one close to me planned this freeway to end so abruptly. It’s not as though my actions meant much. I predictably slammed on the brakes and waited. That was it. The rest was up to my car.

OK, so who’s playing the role of my car in my dream? God, do you know?

How do I explain my conversations with God? Both traditionalists and a New Age writer like Neale Donald Walsch always portray God as a fountain of wisdom. He spouts differently for different people, with many more words for Walsch than any of the rest of us, but He always knows what He’s doing, in English no less. God’s the one with a plan. It all ties together in the end. But what if it doesn’t?

If I had known I was going to start hearing from God, I would have constructed a traditional God. It’s not the God I hear from, though. I suppose that relates to my understanding that God doesn’t run the physical universe. Science taught me this. Recently I’ve been making comments elsewhere how I’ve come to believe that there aren’t physical miracles, only mental ones. God to me is not defined as the creator of the universe. My understanding is that the spiritual side of the universe is much larger than the physical side, and I don’t know who created either one, if anyone needed to.

For me God is whoever answered when I first prayed, “God help me!” Fortunately that wasn’t a one-night stand, as it does take years to develop a conversation out of that.

So now I sometimes hear God express things that aren’t traditional at all. God tells me of His regret. She tells me She realizes She’s been projecting something onto me when it really was Hers, apologizing for that, vowing to do better. Tradition would say I’m a vessel like a car, and the Spirit is driving me. The Spirit is the one applying the brakes. Well, it ain’t necessarily so, kids. God is not perfect, even if He won’t listen to someone He doesn’t know on that point.

So what is it that has God speeding to the end, speeding so fast He shoots right past our home?

Have you heard of The Blasphemy Challenge? It’s a contest where some rationally minded people are going to award DVD’s of a movie denying the existence of Jesus to people who make a video in which they deny the Holy Spirit, telling the contestants that if they do that, they are cutting themselves off from God forever, according to Mark 3:29. Gee, doesn’t that sound like fun?

I suppose anyone who does that sees themselves as simply expressing what is within them anyway, that there is no Holy Spirit, no God. Maybe some would allow God in some sense, but not the Holy Spirit of the Bible. I understand that. I don’t find the Bible to be authoritative. I do find that I experience God as the Bible describes the Holy Spirit, as the Helper, but not many people have that experience. I understand those who deny the possibility of it, both theists and atheists. I also understand the existential joy of saying what is within oneself. Perhaps the organizers are mostly hoping to facilitate that same joy in others.

On the other hand, what is the chance that all of this is the work of children of Satan? By Satan, I don’t mean a compact being who has features of a goat. I don’t believe in angels, either fallen ones or ones who kept their place. So Satan can only be a metaphor for me, but it’s such a good one, for rebellion, for pride, for malevolence. I only know of such things existing in human beings. Animals can hurt others through instinct. I’m not sure anyone but humans hurt others in such a calculating way.

But who does atheism hurt? It hurt me. It kept me from God for years. Of course traditional, unbelievable religion kept me from God as well. Maybe it couldn’t be helped. Maybe the falseness of so much of religion has to be completely torn apart before it can be rebuilt in a true way. That’s not the motivation of those behind The Blasphemy Challenge. They just want fellowship, whether that’s in hell or not.

Atheists try so hard, as if the world would be so much better without religion, as if people’s natural hatred, indifference and falseness are better than those qualities when helped along by the pride and idolatries of false religion. People on a mission can wear such blinders, regardless of what sort of mission it is, for religion or against it.

So one could see all such people as simply following their natural ways, but God doesn’t. He’s told me this a lot. He’s not interested in being fair. Those who stumble into the truth are more valuable to Him than those who just as randomly stumble off in another direction. The way traditionalists worship Him as some Asian despot is not true. If it were maybe they wouldn’t be such hypocrites. Yet some people follow tradition to find the real God. I did. Some people follow atheism out of disgust with religion, but then find an emptiness that makes them turn back to God in some form. I did that, too.

Both atheists and traditional theists can dismiss all that, saying they know a simple truth, either from science or the Bible, and that’s what everyone should believe. They are fools, useless to God, ignorant of even the possibility that they’re wrong, even more ignorant to the certainty that they are all wrong in some way. Then they act to cement their foolishness, and God shakes His head.

Human nature can be so petty, so self-centered, so arrogant, and so ignorant. It lets us survive biologically, but it doesn’t take us to be the best we can be. People argue about what the ideal culture is to do that. I came to believe that there is something spiritual that can help me much more than anything cultural. My culture helped me to believe that, but it was my own experience that made me sure of it. Many people refuse even to consider the possibility that’s true. So they push for everyone to be atheists and say some very foolish things in the process.

Anyone can deny the Holy Spirit if they wish, but those who think Mark 3:29 was pure fiction without any reality that triggered the author to write it are very unimaginative people. What is God going to do about it? God tells me He’d like it if everyone who says, “I deny the Holy Spirit”, burst into flames as they did, but He can’t do that. Besides there were enough people consigned to flames for their beliefs in the past. So maybe there won’t be any consequences now, except that God wants to go home and leave such foolish human beings to their nature.

Traditionalists say God is only waiting so He can take some perfect number of believers with Him. God has told me the number. You wouldn’t believe it. Traditionalists most certainly wouldn’t believe it, yet God will do what God will do. Some of us get a brake or some other device to talk to Him about it, but only those who believe in a cartoon God can expect the unbelievable. And those who insist there is no God will be without Him altogether.

“I want to go home.” “Me, too, but not as quickly as You do.” Yes, that’s what the dream has been saying.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Wingnuts fooled me again

I wasn’t likely to see Steven Spielberg’s Munich in the theater when it first came out. The thought of watching a subject that depressing and disturbing in a dark cave makes me shudder even now. Still any chance of my seeing it then was quashed by the political reviews of it in my local paper. I forget who it was writing that. I thought it was George Will, but I don’t find a column from him on the subject. I see Michael Medved and Dennis Prager wrote harshly about it in columns still on the web. The good reviews from actual movie reviewers didn’t reassure me. Those same reviewers liked JFK, too, despite how ridiculous some of that movie sounds to me. Just the image in my mind of Kevin Costner pushing a conspiracy theory about that makes me glad I didn’t see it. Even on TV I wouldn’t make it past that part. I can watch Ed Begley Jr. insist that 9/11 was a government hoax if I want to scrutinize the craziness of conspiracy theories, how they are such a house of cards built on one improbable interpretation after another, yet some people love them.

So those on the right claimed Munich was as preachy as that, saying that there’s no difference between Israelis killing Arab terrorists and Arab terrorists killing civilians. It’s not that I believed them, but it didn’t make the movie attractive to me.

Then I actually saw Munich last night. Did these critics? I guess they must have from the specificity of some of their comments, but wow. They watched this movie only to grind their axes, only to fill in the words for a reaction they were already going to take. People claimed it’s unrealistic. Yes, it’s unrealistic. So is how medicine and the law are portrayed in the movies and on TV. Real life is much less emotional, at least on the surface. And the detailed workings of real life can be very different than as portrayed in many movies, as with the plot device in Munich where our hero is sent off on his own, not a government employee, having to ally himself with people of questionable loyalty to carry out assassinations, when in fact it doesn’t seem the Mossad saw assassinations as requiring such deniability. So the major theme of disillusionment that comes over the main killer is not realistic, as he journeys from reluctant killer to more cold-blooded to going crazy over the loss of 3 comrades and the fact that his becoming a target also targets his family. It’s over the top. But how over the top is it? Does it dramatize a reality as Saving Private Ryan did for what it was like to hit the beaches on D-Day in 1944? Do espionage heroes have to be like James Bond?

Some of the right-wing commentators called this reaction “guilt”. No, this is not guilt. This is fear, determination, regret over the loss of comrades, regret for the loss of a normal family life, maybe regret for the loss of a normal job. I’m sure with a transcript of the dialog one could pick out phrases that makes it sound as though the hero thinks killing terrorists is wrong, but that’s certainly not the impression the movie leaves me. The movie makes me think our hero would kill anyone who threatened his family if there were no consequences for doing so.

Are right-wingers that afraid of emotion? Does it have to be so absolutely right for them that they feel nothing negative about what they’re doing, as innocent civilians die in the crossfire?

The attacks on Munich are so much like other expressions of opinions, whether it’s creationists attacking evolutionists or the left attacking anyone who doesn’t go as far as they do on immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Narrow point after disputable narrow point is made, all in service to the fundamental opinion that was made before any discussion began, whether that point is the Bible is right, war is wrong, or conservatives are 100% right and others 100% wrong. Debbie Schlussel makes many such points in her attack on Munich from December, 2005. She attacks a portrayal of Golda Meir as indecisive. That’s not how she looked to me in this movie. She writes the movie portrays the Mossad as killing innocent people at whim, when the movie shows the exact opposite. She complains that the movie shows one Arab target of assassination as having a cute, piano-playing daughter, as if it could only be a balanced presentation if families of the murdered Israeli athletes were shown similarly. Oh, please.

Other writers follow this pattern. Look at all these reasons we give. It must be true that we’re right, that this is terrorist propaganda Spielberg has made. Only they’re not right. They’re dead wrong on many facts. They’re dead wrong in not hearing every voice in the movie, which cover an entire spectrum from pro-Arab speeches by terrorists to unapologetic Israeli views.

As far as I can see, it’s this diversity that the wingnuts attack. They much prefer propaganda where there’s only one message, one right, one wrong. That’s not what Munich is, as much as the right wing now has their myth that this is terrorist propaganda. Munich is saying war is hell. It does not say war is wrong, unless someone is determined to find that message there, either from the left or the right.

That was my surprise in actually watching Munich. This is what got such caustic complaints? Yes, from the left and the right, there is such hatred for anything that is not with them. I don’t suppose those addicted to such rhetoric burn out the same way the hero in Munich did. They will fight until they die. Then a new generation may do exactly the same. Cultural evolution is a slow process. But culture does change. How much does it change? Is this “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality destined to be with human beings for good, with only the exact issues changing or will there come a time when such strife is seen as counterproductive? I don’t know. I won’t live long enough to find out.

For now I know that the world could do with much less poverty and much less strife. Does that mean 90% less or 100% less? I don’t know. I don’t see wingnuts helping in any case, unless it’s the educational benefit of negative examples.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Can God spell "nostalgic"?

I had a nostalgic dream last night. Not only was I back in medicine. I was all the way back in residency at St. Louis City Hospital, with scores of patients separated by flimsy curtains, patients with limited abilities to talk about their symptoms, something that’s both a positive and a negative.

There was a medicine resident in my dream who never existed in reality. Like so many characters in dreams he was either a composite or an extrapolation from real people. He was annoyed with me because the exam I wrote in the chart of a patient of his differed from his exam. Oh, they always did. There are so many points to an exam that are subjective. Even so, the specialist’s exam trumps the generalist’s ordinarily. If you don’t like that, become a specialist.

Instead I hear this complaint, “Don’t Goldwater me!” What? What language is that? I didn’t figure it out during the dream, but that stuck with me on awakening. Let’s see. The only context I used “Goldwater” recently was about my memory of Barry Goldwater saying about Vietnam, “We could have won that war.” So in my dream “Goldwater” is a synonym for being a revisionist? Yeah, I see that. It’s kind of awkward. Who was this dream character to make that allusion?

Was it me? Was it someone else? Some people have the view that anything going on inside my head, as dreams presumably are, is me. Oh, I don’t think so. There are all kinds of images of women in my head that are definitely not me. The repository for these images, wherever that is, is part of me. The images themselves are not. They are traces of the world in me, processed by me in some way, but still separate, like food that is not absorbed, no matter how long it might get hung up in my gut.

Somehow my dream drew from a lexicon in which Goldwater was a verb meaning to engage in revisionist history. As a neuroscientist I wish I knew where such a lexicon was even more than I do personally. Is it in my head? Was it a potential symbolism that didn’t reach full fruition until my dream character said the word? Was it sitting somewhere waiting to be used by whatever entity floats through my brain? How many entities do live in me anyway, either permanently or passing through, in dreams or otherwise?

It’s become my habit to ask God questions I can’t answer. God says He doesn’t know about these. He assures me He doesn’t make up new words. He assures me He didn’t make up any of them.

This has come up before. How does God speak to me not only in English, but my English? In 18 years, God never has used a word I didn’t know. In 18 years, God never has presented me with a fact I didn’t know. He is amazing at giving me direction. I can be confused about any number of options, and He narrows that down to the one best way very quickly. He gives me strength. He gives me comfort. Yet He’s never given me winning lottery numbers or sports results ahead of time. In fact when I tested Him on the latter, He didn’t do well at all, less then 50% I’d say … hmmm, why not 50%?

So whatever God’s cognitive and precognitive abilities are, it’s clear we’re using my brain a lot in our interactions. We both agree that God can only spell “nostalgic” if I spot Him the “n”, the “o”, the “s”, the “t”, the “a”, the “l”, the “g”, the “i”, and the “c”. What’s wrong with that? I’d do that for anyone. I’ll certainly do that for God.

Spirituality is a cooperative effort. I’d hate to try to sell that either to traditionalists who say God is perfect, and we exist merely on what He drops or to mystics who see themselves as Indiana Jones using their wits to travel their spiritual journey to their own glory. I can’t imagine trying. I only mention it because my dream brings it up today. Somewhere in me or around me there is a machine that makes words out of slightly different words that come in to me. Presumably we all have similar machines like this. So we have languages.

People 3000 years ago did not understand that. I don’t blame them. They had no science. They didn’t understand physical forces. They didn’t understand biology. They didn’t understand neurolinguistics.

So ancient people believed words were something magical. The word “apple” was referring to some perfect apple somewhere. All these real apples fell short of that perfection in shape, color or taste. They were imperfect. Reality was imperfect. Somewhere beyond this reality was a perfect God, who used words to create the world.

No, He didn’t. I suppose it’s still possible God wrote a perfect equation to trigger the Big Bang, but I doubt it. Words definitely aren’t enough. There are no magic words, no matter how many times the witches on Charmed cast spells and people in the TV audience believe that to be real.

Whatever it was that let my dream character say “Goldwater”, I’m sure that process is available to me when I’m awake. I just don’t need any new words beyond what my world has given me. I would like several more pithy phrases, but it seems I have to rely on my brain for that, not the world. The world gets a lot of things wrong.

Then there are my words with God, my words both coming and going, but when they come to me from Him they are ordered in a way I just can’t equal. Some atheists would be apoplectic in their ridicule of that. Those who rely on God being the just-so God of conservative Christianity would be just as dismissive, less agitated, but more vicious in damning me to hell for my weak God. Why? It doesn’t seem out of strength to me.

It’s not that there are understanding people in between. There are a lot of confused people in between. There is an understanding God. He knows love is a cooperative effort. He knows that He changes, that He needs human beings. Needs them for what? Needs them for what they can do that He can’t, like spell, only He doesn’t care about spelling. He cares about ending suffering, whether on a large scale or for an individual. And for that people reject Him or use false images of Him for their own purposes.

Reality is not at all like Indiana Jones.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The reality of morning

The dawning of a new year is not much different than the dawning of any day, but that each day dawns anew changes everything.

When they were intermittent, my spiritual experiences would tend to come later in the day. My road-to-Damascus experience came about 3 PM. Subsequent times when I forced to say, “this is not natural,” usually started even later in the day. Such unnatural events took time to evolve. They would begin with my facing some issue I had. Ideas would come to me, but during the day I might be too busy to explore them. The ideas would keep tugging at my sleeve. Then finally I’d have time to pay attention to an elaboration of what was in my mind. It might be a few words. It might be some images. It might be that the whole universe suddenly decided to be devoted to my issue, from what is real to how does one best live to why do ideas keep coming to me, instead of everyone having their share. Then I would see answers everywhere, metaphors everywhere. And who rigged the universe this way just for me?

It’s a big topic to go into how these spiritual experiences went, who might have shown up besides God, what they meant to me, why I never decided to make them go away forever. There was something loving and trustworthy in these experiences I didn’t get otherwise, even if they were scary sometimes. In many respects they are no different than a lot of people have experienced and written about in the past three thousand years.

There is one aspect I would notice again and again, though. I would be up late talking with God, or maybe someone impersonating God, or maybe some metaphor for God in some worldly form. I might be feeling frustrated and confused, going to sleep finally because I couldn’t think of anything better to ask God. Then in the morning, the world was clean again. Whatever these parties were, there was no trash to pick up, no leftover food. I remembered my frustration and confusion from the night before. I was no closer to a way past that in the morning, but in the morning such frustration was just a small part of my life, while in the evening it was the key to everything.

You might think that would teach me something. I did. I was determined to keep my spiritual life in perspective. I put up with the side effects of antipsychotic medicine for a time to keep God in just a corner of my life. Wasn’t that the best way? Here was the reality of morning, where the world works by the physics and biology I learned in school, and I am free to live as I choose. Over there is the idea that there is a greater reality, a spiritual side to the universe beyond everything physical, and a God whose agenda isn’t limited to my being free. From that first experience when God assured me that I’d always believed in Him, no matter how much traditionalists would have seen me as inferior to them in that, God moved on little by little to give me the help implied in my questions, helping me with direction, strength and comfort. Then there was more, to understand God’s needs, His dependency on being loved, not as some Asian despot, but more personally.

If you read this as just words, it’s easy to keep it at arm’s length, but imagine if God in as complete a form as anywhere in the Bible teaches it to you Himself, not in a summary as I write it, but through all the ins and outs of how He gives love and receives love. This is not a little thing.

Throughout my spiritual experiences, there are a number of phrases that came to stand for my feelings regarding some aspect of them. “This is not a little thing,” was one such phrase, just as “this is not natural,” was another. People can challenge the validity of how I label such feelings, but they don’t experience what led me to make such conclusions. I can’t describe everything. I can’t remember everything. I’ve been surprised how poor my memory of spiritual experiences is even minutes later. They can be that dreamlike. Yet my spiritual experiences are completely different from what I actually dream.

As much as I would like to share my experiences with others, it’s very limited what I can describe. There was so much happening at times, with no scorecard about who was doing what and what is metaphor or to be taken literally. Yet there are some handles on the experiences, such as how ordinary the world usually seemed in the morning.

Rationally minded people would say aha, it’s the reality of morning that’s real. It’s real that the world is understandable, that there are no invisible characters, that to perceive those is either to revert to a childlike way of seeing or pass over into a paranoid way of imagining possibilities beyond what’s confirmed by our senses. I think I remember seeing the world like that in my twenties. Back then God was just something abstract for me, maybe the embodiment of the laws of physics, and the only thing that happened to me late in the day was I got tired.

Now it’s different. God is with me constantly. He and She use each of my limbs on occasion. I can feel the Spirit living in me in a way I never would have guessed Paul meant in his writing that phrase. God has a tactile presence, a voice, a will, a number of needs, all of which gets along with me, but are separate from me. And all of that is at a minimum first thing on awakening. Even then if I ask God a question, He responds immediately. God says He does not sleep. I sleep. God says He is not withdrawn from me in the morning. I am relatively withdrawn from Him as I sleep. It’s always been that way. So I have always seen morning as more real, because I was raised that real meant the absence of a spirit like God.

So while I don’t wake up that differently from the way I did thirty years ago, the difference that is there is not a little thing. Now I don’t just get dressed with external clothes, but by engaging again with the God whom it not long ago took me all day to find. Now we’re back together before I leave my bedroom. We stay together until I fall asleep. Then it’s off to my dreamland, where either there is no God or God is everything and never expresses Himself as one thing. Then it’s morning again, when I’m closest to feeling twenty, but decide each morning I’d rather be with God.

People decide for themselves which the true reality is, whether it’s the most minimal reality one can believe, the most fantastic or something in between. I believe that last one, not because I’m clever, but because God was persistent with me. He says I was persistent with Him. Some things are relative, after all. Some things aren’t, such as morning being the most minimal time of day. Where’s my coffee? Now do you want your whole day to be like that or not?