Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Growing Discontent About Religious Practice

The following article was originally posted on this blog 19 December 2014.   Given the social and economic uncertainty following the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016, this article takes on a new resonance.  Those who were mainly responsible for the election of Mr. Trump and those who have continued to follow and support his actions since consist mainly of far right, more fundamentalist religious leaning folks.  Because the larger majority of citizens do not fall into this category, serious divisions are continuing to develop in our social structure.  Ms. Newer’s clear reporting on the decline of religious participation in recent years foreshadowed what we see taking place today.  More people are apparently rejecting fundamentalist religion and opting for a more personal sense of spiritual practice.

Certainly, the debate over religious interpretation will always be with us.  However, it is incumbent upon each of us, now more than ever, to determine what values best represent us as individuals.  Strong personal beliefs are what lead people to act upon those beliefs.  We are witnessing a strong system of beliefs that in my opinion clearly does not represent mainstream Christianity nor what is essential spiritual practice in any major religion today.

I hope you will take the time to read this article and examine your own system of beliefs and what course of action they may lead you to follow.

Religion and the Rise of Atheism

Recently my friend, Lloyd Agte, forwarded an article to me asking if I wanted to weigh in on it.[1]  The article posed the question: “Will religion ever disappear?”  The author is Rachel Nuwer. It was a fairly long article so I printed it out in order to be able to mark areas I wanted to respond to specifically.  As I read the piece I thought of several of my friends who identify themselves as atheists.  I also realized my comments might end up too long for a simple email response.  So, here is my attempt to “weigh in” on the discussion.

First, here is my disclaimer.   I am a retired Unity minister whom one might expect to be biased to begin with.  That said I have over the years modified my belief systems in many respects.  I do believe in God, though my perspective is certainly different from traditionalists or fundamentalists.  I hope you will see what I mean as I proceed.

I used to argue that there are no “real” atheists.  They were simply folks who did not believe in God by that name or characteristics.  Surely they believed in the Cosmos, the “greater than I” aspect of self, or some other concept of life that most persons would include in the broad definition of God.  Generally speaking, most atheists do not believe in some form of life after death, no divine plan that is responsible for the unseen order of all that is.  For those persons, there is one shot at life and this is it.  Oblivion follows. 

While the article points out that atheism is growing, both in sheer numbers as well as a percentage of the world population, it is still a relatively small population.  Should such growth continue, one could postulate that religion, as we know it would eventually disappear.  Of course, the reverse could be true as well, given the proclivity of “believers” to hold on to their faith.

In the course of my education, I was introduced to a definition of religion in its simplest of form.  Religion is a system of beliefs.  Interpreted most broadly this could cover almost every conceivable set of beliefs one might subscribe to, including atheists.  Their “system of beliefs” would include such things as one life to live, nature as a system of adaptations supported by scientific principles.  Indeed, science would be the cause celebre for explaining the physical world and all of its forces.

The article also pointed out that religion’s appeal is that it offers security in an uncertain world.  So, the more secure and satisfying the world appears to be, the less need for the support offered by religion and the greater tendency to see scientific thought/principles as the reason for the way things are.  I was reminded at this point of early humankind who placed great emphasis on “gods” of nature; the movement of stars in the skies, the rotation of the seasons, and eventually the understanding of development through evolution.  Icons were developed representing these unseen forces that appeared to bring order and security (or the lack of it when necessary to correct the faulty behavior of humankind).

The author indicates that in countries “where the majority of citizens have European roots are all places where religion was important just a century ago, but that now report some of the lowest belief rates in the world . . . People are less scared about what might befall them.”  She goes on to say, “As climate change wreaks havoc on the world in coming years and natural resources potentially grow scarce, then suffering and hardship could fuel religiosity.” 

One of the principles the author shares has to do neuropsychology of the species.  This principle states that we have two basic forms of thought:  System 1 and System 2.  System 2 evolved relatively recently and enables us to plan and think logically.  System 1 is intuitive, instinctual and automatic.  What this suggests to me is that we are born with System 1 operating for all of us no matter the circumstances or location of our birth. “It makes us prone to looking for patterns to better understand our world, and to seek meaning for seemingly random events like natural disasters and the death of loved ones.”  There is more in the development of this concept in the article, which I will leave for you to read on your own.

It seems to me that we might conclude, at least for now, that religion developed in the pre-science period where explanations for the world came mostly from the natural, intuitive nature.  A system of beliefs developed and modified over time based on a faith in things unseen, but taken as true for lack of any other explanation.  As scientific knowledge grew a new set of explanations came about that for some seemed in opposition to religious beliefs.  This is the crux of the matter.  Is religion/atheism a simple case of either/or?

For me, the conflict exists due to the distortions of religious systems based on controlling the masses and bending their independent will to the “higher authority” represented by the church.  If you are going to believe the world (our earth and everything that ever existed on it) came about in all its glory in seven days, you are unlikely to ever accept any other explanation regardless of the demonstrated reality of modern scientific methods.  Most religions long ago resolved, at least in part, what appeared to be a contradiction between religion and science.  Again, for me, the problem of religion comes about through the absolutism of Fundamentalism, which today seems to be growing, especially among the religious right.  Is this the result of the uncertainty existent in our world today—economically, environmentally, and physically?  I would argue that it is.

Finally, I distinguish between religion and spirituality.  Religion, as a system of beliefs, may exist independently of one’s spirituality.  Religion requires persons to subscribe to a set of principles and codes, often at odds with the way the world works today. It excludes those who do not subscribe to the “rules.”  Spirituality, on the other hand, subscribes to few, if any, codes of conduct or religious practices.  Spirituality is a view that is inclusive rather than exclusive.  It is intuitive in nature.  Rather than seeking hard and fast rules, it operates as a blending force that sees all things as part of something greater.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In a world that appears often to be out of control, hurtling toward oblivion, persons may tend to defer to the concept of a “god” ultimately taking care of us when we realize we cannot take care of ourselves.  I would like to go on here about children and their natural tendency to believe they are taken care of.  This goes beyond the care of parents. I believe they intuitively know they have come from and are heading toward something greater than themselves, but which INCLUDES them.

The author’s conclusion is that “even if we lose sight of the Christian, Muslim and Hindu gods and all the rest, superstitions and spiritualism will almost certainly still prevail.  Humans need comfort in the face of pain and suffering, and many need to think that there’s something more after this life, that they’re loved by an invisible being.”  I do not subscribe to the “invisible being” concept.  I subscribe to the principle of All That Is as an interconnected, omnipresent essence in all and through all that embraces us and responds to us according to our beliefs and actions.

I hope you will take the time to read the article by Rachel Nuwer footnoted at the end of this article.

Rachel Nuwer is a freelance science journalist who contributes to venues including the New York Times, Smithsonian and Scientific American. She lives in Brooklyn with a large orange cat.
--Slate profile

Another Article you may like: 18 Apr 2017, BBC Future

How Western Civilization Could Collapse

Sunday, July 9, 2017

It wouldn’t be Sunday Morning Without CBS!

For as long as I can remember “CBS Sunday Morning” has been a ritual TV program in my home.  Charles Kuralt, the founder of the weekly program, had been a favorite TV feature personality even before he launched the first “CBS Sunday Morning.”  Following his expanded view of the world was a no-brainer to follow.
Not a Sunday goes by that I fail to be informed of something new, something that excites me deeply or that brings me to hearty laughter or soul-searching tears.  IMHO, this is the best program on television.  Real LIFE with all of its verities awaits exploration.
No other TV program could get me out of bed at 6:00 AM so I could have my coffee and be ready to start watching by 6:30 AM.  I am not going to try to tell you about the variety of programming that makes this an experience to remember every week.  You just have to listen for yourself.  I hope you will.
Now, for my Sunday morning walk along Rickreal Creek!

Having returned from a nice walk along the Rickreal Trail I have photos to share.  Unfortunately, with limited skills transferring phone photos to my hard drive as an album, I have not identified the photos as I would with individual downloads to my hard drive.  Hope you will enjoy the walk.  Notice the tall trees that are probably at least 100 years old.  The low creek level is much different from winter and spring runoffs, but you can imagine much deeper waters.  One of the last photos shows the end of the paved trail, but a gravel portion leads on to the housing development up from the creek.  The last photo shows one of the lovely homes along the creek trail.
There were numerous runners and walkers today and no fresh dog poop on the walkway.  A thankful event.
As I neared the end of the walk, returning to the starting point, I was struck with the relativity of time and space.  This is the same walk I took the day before.  Today I stopped often for the photo taking and yet the walk seemed to take less time and shorter in distance.
Here are the photos.  Enjoy.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Drift Creek Trail 2017

It was one of those Sunday mornings that occur now and then for me.  It was the urge to get out of the house and head for the hills!  I put a few things together for a hike and headed toward the Oregon Coast, where I most often go when the “get out of the house” message strikes. Since it was going to be another day of 100+ heat in the valley, it would be great to avoid it if possible.
Several years ago I discovered the Drift Creek Falls Trail.  The trailhead is located on a mountain road about 12 miles east of Hwy 101 and about seven miles west of Rose Lodge.  The road varied from paved, to gravel, to one lane or almost two.  It was a typical mountain road with low maintenance.  Portions of it, I discovered, had been recently repaved.  It wasn’t any wider, but at least a relatively comfortable drive.
I should mention here before going further into my story, that in my opinion there are some drivers that should never be allowed on these mountain roads.  The many sharp curves with limited views ahead require patience and low speeds.  Some “weekenders” seem to think they are the only ones on the road until they roar around a curve and are face to face with me!  I found that only a couple of those drivers were willing to slow and yield an inch of road.  I was the one who pulled to the right, off the road edge, to allow passage.
When I arrived at the trailhead, there were already a number of carloads of hikers there.  The trail descends around 500+ feet with a few “ups” but mostly “downs” until one reaches the 240-foot suspension bridge hanging 100 feet above the canyon floor.  Of course, that meant the return hike was mostly uphill, with a few refreshing downhill sections.
The first time I took this trail, I was unaware of the cardiovascular condition that I was developing.  I became concerned as I headed back up the trail.  I had not paid attention to how long it took to reach the falls, so had no real sense of how long it might take to reach the parking lot at the trailhead.  I was about to think I wouldn’t make it when around the next turn I was at the lot.  I was never so glad to see my truck!  At the time I really believed a miracle had taken place that transported me from where I was down the trail to the parking lot.
This time, with a good heart and cleaner arteries after triple bypass surgery on January 31, 2017, the trip was much easier, but I was still surprised at that last turn in the trail that brought me to the parking area.
Once back on the road I headed on down to the coast, hoping to arrive at Mo’s restaurant for a great seafood lunch.  I almost never go to the coast without eating at one of the several Mo’s.  Unfortunately, it was the prime lunch period.  I visited three different locations along the coast only to find long lines outside waiting to get in to eat.  I ended up driving home and poaching my own salmon for dinner.  Not nearly as good as what Mo’s puts on the table!
All things considered, it was a wonderful day in the Oregon country.  This beautiful state has a little bit of everything that makes living here a real joy.
I assure my friend, and fitness trainer, Jackie, that I hydrated appropriately as she would have urged me to do.  And I apologize to my friend, Judy, for taking the hike without her, since we had planned on doing it together.  Maybe next time (if I risk another trek).
I hope you will enjoy the photo review of the hike. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Engagement Is A Two-Way Effort

Not much new to say here except that if you want interaction with someone or some activity, it will require engagement.  By definition, engagement means interaction and involvement, which, of course, means taking part.  When you take part in something, you are engaged, involved.

There is a school of thought that suggests a person only has to do his/her personal inner work in order for relationships—with people or activities—to work out for the best.  In other words, it doesn’t make any difference what others do in that relationship or activity.  I am here to dispute this.  It DOES make a difference if others in a relationship or activity also DO something that shows their involvement.  All parties need to be engaged if a relationship or activity is to be resolved to the benefit of each of those parties.

You can do your work on your own.  You can gain a measure of satisfaction as you do your own work.  You can feel resolved.  However, a relationship involves more than one party, so it requires all parties to be actively engaged in securing the best possible outcome for each person.  The same is true for any activity involving more than one person.

You cannot make someone else engage.  When the other party or parties do not choose to engage, one of two things happens.  Either, it becomes clear that the relationship no longer exists in actual terms, so you turn your attention to releasing the other party.  Or, you hold fast to your work lovingly embracing the other party until such time as a light begins to dawn in his/her own mind and heart. That can lead to reaching back regardless of whatever risk one may feel.

In his book, “Anger,” Thich Nhat Hanh uses an example of a parent/child relationship to illustrate engagement.
My dear child, I know you suffer a lot.  For many years, you have suffered a lot.  When you suffer, I suffer, too.  How can I be happy when my child suffers? So I recognize that both you and I suffer.  Can we do something about it?  Can we come together and search for a solution?  Can we talk?  I really want to restore communication, but alone, I cannot do much.  I need your help. 
It is often a risk to reach out to another person with whom there has been a long-standing separation due to disagreements or other issues.  For satisfactory resolution for each party, sooner or later that risk may need to be taken.

The bottom line:  ENGAGEMENT IS A TWO-WAY EFFORT ultimately.  Until a way for engagement occurs, hold fast to your love and your dream of healing and happiness.  You will always benefit from your effort.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Time For Change

In my 80+ years on this planet and as a citizen of the United States of America, sadly, I have done very little in terms of social/political action, other than support emotionally those causes with which I identified.


It has taken the utter shock of the election of a racist, misogynistic, degenerate liar to bring me to a point where I can no longer simply sympathize with those who are on the front lines actively seeking social/political justice.  I am committing myself to doing something from here on until sanity and integrity and social justice are fully embodied in the government as a whole and the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court in particular.

It is an absolute disgrace that we have now in the highest office of our country, as the supposed leader of the free world, such an ignorant, arrogant, careless and self-absorbed individual as Donald Trump.  The world has taken notice.  It will not suffer the misjudgments and critical actions of this despot seeking self-aggrandizement at the expense of literally every single citizen of this country.

We have seen in the Women’s Marches around the world, and particularly in Washington, DC, that we will not stand for the agenda this miscreant is attempting to foist upon us all.  Now, as never before, we are all called upon to STAND UP, SPEAK OUT, and ACT POSITIVELY to correct the outrageous error in judgment demonstrated by the election, without a majority of the popular vote, of Donald Trump.

To begin with, I plan to engage in follow up activity generated by the Women’s Marches.  I know I will have compatriots in this venture.  I invite each of you who have taken the time to read this far to find an activity that you can commit yourself to supporting.  Do it financially.  Do it emotionally.  Do it in person.  JUST DO SOMETHING!

We can no longer sit on our hands waiting for SOMEONE ELSE to make things right.  We cannot trust our representatives in any level of government to automatically act on our behalf.  They ALL have too much commitment to the moneychangers who support their candidacy for office.  As a registered member of the Independent Party of Oregon, I expect to do what I can to discover, encourage and support individuals for a variety of offices—from school boards to the State House—who genuinely have my interests at heart.

Who are YOU waiting for to take action on YOUR behalf?  Find your own cause and take your own actions.  That is the only way the change YOU WANT can ever come closer to manifest reality.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

MY PERSONAL MANTRA: Its Application and Results

In the process of my current reading of Hindu religious philosophy and about the subject of personal mantras, I suddenly became aware of my own.  It was quite simple, yet personally powerful.
I began immediately to use the mantra.  As thoughts or feelings would arise I would speak my mantra, either within my mind or outwardly through my voice.  As I lay down for a nap, a usual string of thoughts about people in my life or events I was experiencing would flow into mind.  In response, I spoke my mantra.  It was like a light then surrounded those persons or events and a kind of release occurred.
This morning I first began my meditation with relaxed breathing.  Next, I found my attention directed to a fantasy process that was very familiar to me since it had been the basis of many meditations in years past.  In the fantasy I was walking down a path into a valley.  My senses became inwardly alert as I approached a huge boulder and I reached out to touch the rock gently.  I spoke my mantra and the rock came alive. 
I continued down into the valley, finding each of my senses quickened by some place in the journey.  Finally, I arrived at a favorite meditation spot, a grass covered piece of Mother Earth beside a bubbling stream.  I spoke my mantra and felt more alive than I have for a long time.  It was as though the stream, passing by, but remaining ever the same, was actually flowing through me.
As often happened in this meditation I would notice in the distance a person coming toward me as he or she walked along the stream.  I spoke my mantra silently toward the man as he approached.  Then, I saw that it was my son, David.  Again I silently spoke my mantra.  Our relationship has been broken for a number of years, finally resulting in complete separation.  In the speaking of my mantra, it became crystal clear to me what I needed to do.  My working out of the karma of this relationship was revealed.  In a very real sense it had nothing to do with what my son might or might not do. 
Almost as quickly as the realization came to me, there suddenly appeared with David, his wife, Christina.  My relationship with her was at even greater odds than with David.  I spoke my mantra silently several times.  Then a soft but powerful light enveloped them both as the vision slowly receded.
I was again alone in my meditation, but I was not the same.  A path had been revealed to me.  If I follow this path, as I allow my mantra to go with me and before me, the result will be resolution.  Simply “seeing” a possibility where I was unable to see one before, gives hope.
In Hindu philosophy all is Brahman, absolute God.  Brahman is primal Self and is personal self—All in All. The continuum from Creator to the created is the stream of life that flows through each of us moving us inevitably through all cycles of life.  Everything that occurs in that process—people, events, knowledge—is Brahman.  A mantra is designed to help the student become clear and balanced and “attain the state devoid of differentiation between knower, knowable and knowledge.  This culmination of meditation is samadhi.”  -- “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” Sri Swami Satchidananda          
Regardless of my years, I am a novice, perhaps far from samadhi. A light has begun to break through a crack in the wall of self that has held me in the box of my own determination. I speak my mantra to that crack in the wall and my Real Self sees the sides of the box fall flat revealing the fullness of All That Is—Brahman.