Lie to Me

You know the show Lie to Me? The main character (played beautifully by Tim Roth) is Dr. Cal Lightman, a famous scientist who has created a foolproof way to tell if someone is lying.

Now, imagine with me, please, that Dr. Lightman is standing in front of you, and he is holding a gun. Also, that gun is pointed at the person who is the most precious to you. If that is yourself, then that gun it pointed at you. Otherwise, it is pointed at your wife, daughter, mother, etc. Got it?

OK, Dr. Lightman speaks. He says: “I will ask you a question, and you must answer me honestly. I mean truly honestly. Remember that I will know if you lie. And if you lie, even just a little, I will pull this trigger.”

And here’s the question:

Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?

Ouch! A classic hobson’s choice: If you say yes (I have written previously that the virgin birth is highly unlikely, although certainly not impossible), then you are probably lying. Even most Christians have a dark corner of their soul where they doubt the virgin birth a bit. And so, the person you love the most is going to die.

On the other hand, if you state truthfully that you doubt the virgin birth, even a teensie bit, you stand a chance of losing your salvation. Salvation is by faith after all, according to many, many verses in the NT. For example, Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew 10:37 – 39

If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.

Suffice it to say, that the standard held up in the Fox’s Book of Martyrs is pretty high: You have to be willing to die for your faith. Thus, the standard of faith is absolute, unwavering, unquestioning belief, even in the face if imminent death to yourself or your loved ones.

After all, the folks who were persecuted by Nero in Fox’s Book of Martyrs were willing to die rather than simply place a pinch of incense at the foot of a pagan idol. The pagans did not even demand that the Christians cease to worship Jesus. No, their beef was that the Christians insisted that their pagan gods were not gods at all, but rather demons and such.

At the time I first read Fox’s Book of Martyrs, I found these folks admirable. Now I simply find them stupid. Don’t get me wrong: I do not endorse or approve of the tactics of the Romans in the persecution of Christianity during the early centuries of our current era. (Neither do I endorse or approve of the actions of the Catholic Church during the period following Constantine.) But the pagans did have a good point, if a poor way of demonstrating it: Christianity is a pretty exclusive club. You are either in or you are out. And near as I can tell, the difference between in and out is in what you believe. Specifically, what you believe in terms of hard, specific historical facts like the virgin birth.

I did it myself when I was a Christian. I insisted to everyone I knew that the choice they faced was the Dr. Lightman choice. Jesus is the way, and the only way, to God. If you would be saved, you must surrender everything. You must buy it all, hook, line and sinker. You must be willing to die, or even to see your most beloved one die, rather than deny your faith. Otherwise, you are not a Christian at all. You are simply an imposter: A wolf in sheep’s clothing. A tear, waiting to be rooted up on the day of judgement and burned in the fire.

If that’s true (and I will admit that I sincerely hope not), I am royally screwed at this point.

Yeah, no kidding. I will burn in Hell. No doubt about it. If the Christian gospel is true, then I am damned.

Bummer.

The reason I say this is because I have looked at the hard, specific, historical facts that I am required to believe in order to be a Christian. In fact, I have made it one of my life’s tasks to understand the evidence (or lack thereof) for the truth of these facts. I have spent hundreds of hours of study in doing so. Certainly, there is no one that I have met who has studied this stuff as hard as I have, and few who have done nearly as much.

My conclusion? There is no way to know for sure. But the virgin birth is highly doubtful in my mind. Thus, I would be forced to answer Dr. Lightman truthfully: I do not believe that the virgin birth is necessarily true.

Now here is my final question, and the point of this blog: Because I have made a serious study of the culture, history, and language of the ancient world, so that I could better understand all of this, and because I have earnestly, and with all my heart, sought to understand this, and because I have concluded that I do not believe in the absolute truth of the things that religion claims, shall I then be damned by God?

I mean, what about the poor, dumb bastard who drifts through life with a vague idea of what is going on, but never bothers to question what he is told from the pulpit. Shall he go to heaven because of his laziness, while I burn in Hell because of my diligence?

Shall I believe six impossible things before breakfast, as Lewis Carroll said in Alice in Wonderland? Is that the price of heaven?

I mean come on! Is that fair? You tell me.

Bennett

I despise hypocrisy. In myself, most of all. (Yes, I admit that I am a hypocrite from time to time, but when I catch myself at it, I am very annoyed, and try very, very hard to root the hypocrisy out of my soul.) Anyway, the most hypocritical person I am aware of, the very Mother of All Hypocrites, would undoubtedly be William Bennett.

I remember Bennett very well. I was a 30-something year old Evangelical Christian during the first Bush presidency, when Bennett was appointed Drug Czar. We were all very impressed with Bennett in my Christian circle. His books were for sale in the bookstore at the mega-church where my wife and I attended. I think I even bought a copy of the Book of Virtues, but when I tried to pile through it, I found it to be too dense and dry for me to absorb. It also seemed very preachy, legalistic and moralistic (no surprise). Anyway, I did not read much of it, but I will certainly admit that for a time, I thought that Bennett was a great guy, and I agreed with his goals and actions.

Eventually, though, the media broke the story, and, like many other Christians, I got the bad news: Bennett had been concealing a sordid side of his life. He frequently travelled to Las Vegas where he engaged in high-stakes gambling. In the process he lost millions of dollars. Eventually, but only after the story broke, a contrite Bennett swore that his family had never been put at risk, that his gambling days were over, etc.

Now, aside from the obvious embarrassment, the truly astounding thing (at least to me) about all of this was that the entire time Bennett was addicted to gambling, he was the chief persecutor of the substance known as cannabis (or marijuana as it is frequently called). Under Bennett’s watch, prosecution of non-violent drug offenders skyrocketed. At it’s peak, Bennett’s Drug War had imprisoned 640,000 black men, about 1 in 4 black men in the US, and more than twice the number of black men in college, during the same time. The vast majority of these were for marijuana, a substance arguably less damaging than alcohol. And certainly not anywhere near as potentially damaging as a severe gambling addiction.

Not that there is any trouble finding hypocrisy in the War on Drugs in this country. Take the Reagans. Nancy Reagan famously coined the term “Just say no.” I remember this stuff as well. I loved Nancy at the time. She looked so proper in her beautiful dress giving her Just Say No Speech.

What I did not know at the time, though, at least according to the tell-all books by the Reagans’ daughter, Patti Davis, Nancy abused prescription drugs the entire time that she was living in the White House.

Like I said, hypocrisy is not hard to find in the so-called War on Drugs.

Black Like Me

My mother was black.

Well, technically, I suppose she was multi-ethnic. Her father, James Acker, was a young black man when he was shot to death by the police during a shoot out in Houston, Texas. He had just escaped from Huntsville prison, where I was later in the prison ministry for several years. It took my Mom many years to find her father’s grave. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Houston. My mother was seven months old at the time. She never got to meet her dad, who would have been my grandfather.

Back to Mom. She passed for white as a young woman. But her mother, and likely her stepfather, knew the truth. It was the Big Dark Secret.

I met her stepfather several times. Covey Clay was the most evil, racist, ignorant man I have ever known. He terrified me. Most of all because he terrified my mom. Given that my mom was what Covey would have called a “little nigra girl”, and given the attitudes that he expressed to me more times than I can recall, I have no doubt about my mom’s fate as she grew up in that house.

She was raped. Probably daily, or at least very frequently, by her stepfather.

In the light of this knowledge (I only recently figured this out), I can understand my mother better. When I was growing up, she was pretty much crazy. I never had a single conversation with my mother that I was not acutely aware that she was  not all there. (The famous quip from Ace Ventura comes to mind: “The engine is running, but no one is behind the wheel.” That was my mom.)

Periodically, my mother’s dysfunction would take a much darker turn. She would become extremely depressed, withdrawn and moody. Her connection to reality would shred. She would become very delusional, having many conversations with people who were not there. Eventually, she would attempt suicide, but always unsuccessfully. I never understood if she was genuinely trying to kill herself, crying out for attention, or simply out of control of her actions.

In the light of her childhood trauma, much of my mother’s bizarre life makes more sense. My parents repeatedly told me the story about how they met when my Mom was only seven, and my father was only 14. According to both of them, they decided to get married within a few minutes of meeting each other. That seems creepy now. A 14 year old proposing to a 7 year old? That would never pass muster today.

In the light of the times (the Great Depression), and the incredibly dark story of my mother’s racial background, that kind of makes sense. It took my dad 7 years to get her out of there, but eventually he did marry my mom when she was only 14. He was 21.

During their early years together, my mom passed as a white woman. Thus, I was raised racially and culturally white. We were taught as kids to hate one group in particular: Rednecks. Bigots, Racists. Men like my step-grandfather.

Eventually, by the time she died, my mother looked completely African. I almost outed her as a middle aged woman when we were living in Taiwan and my dad was a U.S. Air Force officer. I asked her if her father was black. (I had met my grandmother and knew that she was white.) She was completely flustered by my question. Eventually, she got my dad involved, who insisted that, no, my mother’s father was white. (Which is obviously a lie, given my mother’s appearance by the time she died. Whatever.) Even then, I told my mom I did not believe her. Her distinctly African features were already beginning to emerge.

So how does that affect me? I no longer self-identify as white or caucasian. I am a multi-ethnic person. I am beginning to embrace the African American side of my heritage. I have become much more interested in current African American culture such as rap, hip-hop and the like. I still look pretty much like a white guy, but the black man is leaking out.

More later.

AND??????

One of my dear old friends submitted a comment to my blog post I Am Not A Sinner which ended with:

AND???

In other words, what happened next? Good question. That’s the purpose of this blog post, to talk about the aftermath of my spiritual tsunami. I described the event itself in my earlier blog post (also annoyingly entitled I am not a Sinner, go figure).

Anyway, as I described earlier, I eventually came to the conclusion that the entire concept of religion is rather preposterous. The idea that the Creator of the universe with all of its wonder has an intimate relationship with me, in which He (She? It?) monitors my very thoughts (including this one!) in real time. I mean, really.

After all, every spiritual experience I have ever had has been completely subjective. Can I really trust my own experience? I knew all too well how thoroughly I am capable of deceiving myself. I therefore decided to chuck the entire question of God as a meaningless, silly question with ultimately no answer at all.

Fundamentally, I finally understood that I am alone in the universe. That life actually has no purpose, meaning or significance. That I am, as the old song says, merely Dust in the Wind.

Now, that sounds depressing. Let me tell you: For me it was incredibly liberating.

An interesting side effect: I became much more humble. I know what you are thinking: There you go bragging about being humble.

No, not really.

You see, I now understand how truly broken I am. And how fundamentally I really know nothing. Nothing at all.

That’s the thing about doubt: Once I understood, I mean really understood at a gut level, that I really don’t know anything for sure, then my faith collapsed, and I became humbled.

Interestingly, faith made me kind of an asshole. I heard a piece on NPR once about a woman who wrote a novel in which the main character was someone she described as:

A white, wealthy, middle aged, conservative, Christian man who thinks he’s good but he’s not.

And why was he not good:

Because he had empathy for people like him, but no one else. People of his gender, race, religion, culture, social status, sexual orientation and political views. God forbid that he would ever talk to or treat a homosexual, feminist, Democrat, or such like a human being.

That was me. For me, faith was a form of hubris: I was completely and totally convinced that I was right, that there was an ultimate truth, and that I could know it. That I had the line on the truth, straight from the mouth of God.

That hubris has collapsed. In the process, I began to do things very differently.

Like a couple of weeks ago, when I was in San Francisco, I found myself sitting down on a park bench with homeless guys, and hanging with them for a while. I had some incredibly sweet conversations with really decent men, who were simply homeless. I have been homeless too. My momentary success, and apparent financial wealth, have simply served as a barrier between me and the homeless. Once I remembered how much we struggled when we were living in Texas during the 80s, I knew: I am not different from them. I am the same. Only our circumstances are different.

The barriers fell away. I became open to people I have never even considered talking to. Like a young, black, homosexual hairdresser from Vallejo who I met on the Muni. We became fast friends, exchanged emails and are still communicating. Before my tsunami, there is no way that I would ever become friends with someone that different from me. No problem now.

And of course there is my most important relationship: My marriage. At first, my wife resisted my spiritual journey. She wanted me to remain a Christian! However, I persisted. Now she constantly tells me that I am, by far, more loving, kind, gentle, compassionate, and sensitive than I have ever been. She would not go back to the old Jeff, that’s for sure!

The key, at least for me, was understanding that there actually is no purpose. That life has no ultimate meaning. That the quest for understanding and significance is another form of delusion. That all we have is this present moment, the very breath that I am taking as I write this.

This moment. Now. There is nothing else.

So, how shall I then live? Optimize the moment. Which for me is simple: Be as loving, empathetic, sensitive, and such as humanly possible. Allow my feelings to express themselves. If I am sad, allow the sadness to wash over me. Understand that it is simply a feeling. Like the weather, it will pass. And then there will be another feeling in that moment. And so on and so forth in a constant progression of moments.

Will I survive in some way when I die? I have no idea. The issue does not bother me though. I suspect that the software just stops running. That won’t be so bad. I certainly won’t be there to care about it.

Ultimately, in a few thousand years at most, I will be utterly forgotten. And then a few billion years after that, the Earth will be destroyed (by the Sun if nothing gets it first). If our species has not escaped from this rock by then, every single thing that every human being has ever known will be lost forever. And that includes me.

Shall I then by any action of mine affect the lifespan of the universe? Shall I somehow change the fate of all mankind? Doubtful.

I can then be free. I am free of religious delusions. I understand now at last who I am and what this life is all about. And that pleases me.

More later.

Virgin Birth

I am fully aware that authoring this post makes me a heretic, as that term is defined by many Christians. Whatever.

In order to be a Christian, I had to believe, as a matter of faith, that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. You see, if Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, then he couldn’t be God. That would mean that he could not die on the cross for our sins, come back from the dead, and so forth.

Thus, the Evangelical Christian religion hinges entirely on this one question:

Was Jesus Christ born of a virgin?

For any practicing Christian, the answer to that question must be a resounding: Yes! Otherwise, if there is doubt, then the entire belief system collapses. That was certainly the case with me.

So, the question becomes:

What evidence do I have that Jesus was born of a virgin?

In my mind that evidence is wanting.  I have seriously studied the scriptures, as you can tell if you read this blog. For me to doubt the virgin birth does not take very much at all. I only really need to doubt one thing: The conversation between Mary and the Holy Spirit in Luke 1:26-38 (NIV), which reads:

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Now, it is pretty obvious that there are some serious problems here. First of all, the only witness to this entire conversation was Mary. Second, the account was only written down around 70 years after the actual events at the earliest. Thus, Mary, Joseph, and everyone else involved in the events were all dead. The (supposed) added credibility of having Elizabeth (Mary’s relative, possibly an aunt) witness to the divine incarnation is evaporated once I understand that Elizabeth (who was older than Mary) was dead and gone before all of this got written down.

My father told me what he considered his “great heresy”. It went basically like this:

There was a nice Jewish girl named Mary. She was desperately and hopelessly in love with this young Jewish man. They lived in a small town called Nazareth in an ancient time. Because they both lived within a rigid, terrifying cruel religious culture, they knew their relationship was doomed: Mary had been given by her father in an arranged marriage to an older man named Joseph. Mary and the young man both knew if they consummated their love, that they could be stoned. If Mary became pregnant that would be the ultimate catastrophe. Yet the temptation proved to be too great for them. In an awkward compromise, the young man only penetrated Mary very gently and very shallowly, to avoid breaking the hymen. Nonetheless, he transmitted his seed, and Mary conceived.

When Mary became pregnant, they were both terrified. They came up with an insane plan: Mary would insist that she was a virgin! Thus, the conception must be divine! Knowing that her only other choice was either death or a life of terrible hardship, Mary agreed.

The plan worked beyond her wildest imagination! The priest examined Mary and declared her a virgin. Everyone acknowledged the miracle.  Joseph even agreed to support Mary and her son without having relations with her. Mary took the secret with her to her grave. Not even her own son knew the truth.

There is a rule of logic know as Occam’s Razor. This rule states that, when faced with two explanations for an event, choose the one which is simpler, and requires the fewest assumptions. In order to believe Mary’s account, we must assume:

  • God, the creator of the universe, the pre-existent, single cause of everything, craves an intimate and personal relationship with me, and is capable of monitoring my every action, including my own thoughts.
  • God has a very strong opinion about the way in which I should live my life, and has codified those preferences in the old testament law contained in the bible.
  • God will punish the slightest infraction of that law with an eternity in a place of torment.
  • Although I had no active participation in the event, I am nonetheless damned to eternal torment due to the original sin by my ancestors, Adam and Eve.
  • God decided in order to satisfy his own wrath to horribly torture and kill his own son (also divine).
  • If I believe all of that with no doubt, I will no longer be damned. Instead, I will go to a wonderful place when I die.

Six assumptions in other words. In order to believe my father’s account, I only need to believe this:

  • A teenage girl who was angry about an arranged marriage had sex with a random guy and lied about it.

Not sure about you, but I’m going with the simpler explanation.

More later.

Empathy

Empathy is an interesting thing. It causes me to behave in a way that seems at first glance to be against my own self interest. But it is?

I have been pondering this. Empathy is at the core of what makes us human. We are so social, as social as any creature on the planet. And we are fairly unique in having empathy.

One guy I love to listen to is Jeremy Rifkin, who talks about empathy a lot. As Rifkin points out, empathy is something we are quite selective about. We tend to have more empathy for some folks than others. In the beginning, humans really only had empathy for their own family group, and regarded all other humans as hostile. (Paleolithic humans still live in pretty much this same way today.) These humans had tremendous empathy for their own family members. But for others, not so much.

Enter religion. As Rifkin points out, religion gave humans a way to expand their empathy set: By identifying another creature as being part of my religious group, I get to have more empathy for that person. I have seen this play out in my own life and the life of my family. For example, there was recently a flood in our area, and some folks we knew lost everything. My wife and I know these people because of religious affiliations from the past. As a result, we gave them clothes, food, etc. Another family down the street who was not in our religious group, we did not even care to look in on them.

So, this family is inside our empathy set, which is defined, at least in part, by religion.

Given that empathy causes me to give away things I need and make other sacrifices, the question is: How did empathy arise in human consciousness? I think I have an answer for that one.

Assume a proto-humanoid male is in the rain forest in some ancient time. He has an interesting mutation: He has developed what Rifkin calls “mirror neurons”. That is, when he sees another creature who he identifies as being like him who is having some kind of experience (say intense pain), his neurons light up in exactly the same manner as the creature who is suffering. In this way, this individual experiences (to a certain extent) the suffering of the other creature.

This causes our male humanoid (we will call him Lim) to suffer more than other humans around him. But he is also able to relate to the experiences of other humans better.

One day he comes upon a female. She is badly hurt! Her ankle is seriously twisted and bruised. She cannot walk at all. Worse, she has been stranded here for some time. She is very hungry, thirsty, and tired.

He finds that he feels some of her distress as well. He ponders what he has done when he has been in a similar situation. Suddenly, he has a remarkable idea. He will bring her food! So he goes to a place where he knows there are some ripe berries, and uses a large leaf to carry a bunch of these back to the female. She hungrily devours them with great joy.

Then he goes to the river and after some fumbling finds a hollow gourd that he fills with water. Again, she receives the water gratefully.

Finally, he lies down beside her and cuddles with her for warmth. In this manner, they fall asleep together.

The next day, she is feeling much better. She finds that she likes him, so they have sex. She continues to enjoy his company, so she stays with him, and they have several children, which inherit this odd mutation. Because these young children are able to exercise this new-found ability to form empathetic bonds, they make exceptionally good mates, and they easily find a partner, and in turn reproduce again.

And so on and so forth, until the entire human race runs on empathy.

Remember this, please: Evolution encourages one thing, and one thing only: Reproduction. Whatever improves the chances of reproduction (including the rearing of competent, viable adult offspring who can in turn reproduce) will be selected by evolution. Thus, although empathy seems to be against my best interests (in the sense of material belongings, time, etc.) it dramatically improves my chances of reproducing. In this way, the development of empathy is fairly obvious.

More later.

Hallelujah Diet

As I have written previously, my wife and I were (and arguably she still is) Christian. As such, we proved vulnerable to a scam known as the Hallelujah Diet, the creation of a 79 year old Baptist preacher  turned fad diet creator named George Malkmus. When my wife was very seriously ill, she sought the advice and counsel of Tim and Anita Koch at the Hallelujah Acres center in Lake Lure, NC. We spent a great deal of money to send her to that place, and for a time, we faithfully followed their advice.

In my view (and I think my wife agrees, although she is welcome to comment), the Hallelujah Diet made her condition worse, not better. Probably most of the wasting that occurred in her could have been avoided if she had not been advised to eat such a radically low calorie / low fat diet. And worse, the advice got even more damaging and harmful the more serious her got. It’s kind of like these people can’t figure out the definition of Einsteinian Insanity: Not only do they want you to keep doing the same thing when it’s not helping, and you are getting worse, they want you to do it even more! Thus, when she started getting a lot of nausea, lightheadedness, etc., they advised her to reduce her calorie intake even further, and limit her diet entirely to juice!

Probably the worst effect of things like the Hallelujah Diet is that it distracts you from the real issue: In this case Seratonin Syndrome. We spent huge amounts of wasted time, money and stress chasing a dietary solution, when the answer was there all along in my wife’s meds!

I told my wife that I don’t just want to sue these people: I want to go down to Lake Lure, NC and put my foot up their ass. However, I will calm down eventually.

More later.

Evolving Culture

I have been kicking around the question of how culture evolved. Near as I can tell, this is the mechanism, but please let me know if you have another view.

Basically, human beings are general purpose computing machines. I have pointed this out previously. That distinguishes us from other species on the planet, for sure. No other species is even remotely close to us in terms of demonstrated abilities to solve problems.

We refer to this as human consciousness. Our ability to think, reason, debate, justify, rationalize and so forth. I call this the Human Consciousness Program (HCP), which I liken to a piece of software.

Turns out other organisms on this planet are running bits of genetic software too. Take for example the worms that infect the brains of ants. These nasty little buggers manipulate the ants’ thinking patterns, and basically force them to imitate a berry. This in the hope that birds will eat these poor ants, become infected with the worms themselves, and allow the worms to complete the next phase of their life cycle.

While all this is incredibly bizarre, it points out that the ant is simply running a piece of software, which the worm has cleverly learned to hack. (I say cleverly in slight jest, because calling these particular organisms worms is rather charitable: They don’t even have a brain.)

So, assume for the moment that all of the various organisms on this planet (especially the ones that tend to move around and do stuff) are simply running bits and pieces of software of varying levels of complexity and sophistication. Thus, a lobster has (likely) a bit less in terms of software than a dog. Each of these bits of software lets the organism do what it needs to survive and reproduce. Otherwise, of course, that software wouldn’t be there. Because, again, evolution only promotes one thing: Reproduction. Thus, the lobster is very good at doing all of the things a lobster needs to do in order to eat, excrete, rest, defend itself, and find a mate. It has all of the software it needs to do so, and so does the dog.

Now, with humans, the organism took an interesting direction. We have the ability to find food, and adapt our eating patterns to exploit that food, in virtually every single environment on this planet. Thus, the Inuit are a paleolithic hunter/gatherer culture that exists to this day in places like the Alaska North Slope, deep into the Arctic. The Inuit survive almost entirely on things like whale blubber. Likewise, the Khoisan live in places like the Kalahari Desert in Sub-Saharan Africa. These two environments are as different as is possible on this planet while still being above the ocean’s surface, and yet human life has managed to thrive in both of these locations.

How is this possible? No other species has achieved even remotely so great a penetration of this planet. The answer, I believe, is that human consciousness allowed us as an organism to problem solve in each potential location. To figure out through a process of intelligence how to take the organisms that live in that space, exploit them, make them edible, and survive in that place.

This is what we call cuisine: The use of locally-appropriate ingredients to make food that humans can enjoy and thrive on. We have many regional cuisines, and they are each appropriate and adapted to the local conditions of that area (assuming they have not been wildly distorted by modern processed foods).

Thus a form of culture (cuisine) is what we have used to become the dominant species on this planet, at least in terms of dietary choices. Culture is the key: Through the use of culture (and that includes things like modern technology), we have managed to exploit the resources of this world.

Now, follow me here. Assume there is a general purpose organism loose on this world. This organism has the ability to exploit pretty much any environment on the planet. It simply figures out how to live in that area, using locally available resources. In this way, this organism spreads and thrives everywhere. Would this not become the dominant species on the planet?

More later.

Transformational Thinking

The Human Consciousness Programm perhaps could be compared to the personality, but the HCP also includes all of the autonomic stuff, like sensory processing. I was playing with this a bit today while walking. I do a 2 mile loop most days with my dog, Diogee. While we were walking, I was playing with my sensory perception functions. Like switching awareness to the visual: Focus on that for a while, and notice how I can focus on different things, and how other things fade into the background when I do so. Similarly, switch my awareness to my hearing, and notice how I can focus my attention on a bird. Or there! That’s Diogee walking beside me. Or the sounds of my own footsteps. Or the sounds of my own breathing. And now switch to the emotional state. Ahhh! I have some anxiety going on. What is that about? OK, I need to pay some bills.

Again, thinking about thinking, as broadly as possible, and especially if I include things like emotions and sensory awareness in the generic term “thinking”. All while engaging the “Watcher”, or unbiased, nonjudgmental observer, as the yoga crowd likes to call it. The part of me that can observe myself.

I was pondering how similar this approach is to Christianity in many ways. For example, while I utterly reject the idea of sin, listening intently to my own thoughts makes me acutely aware of my own dysfunction. I definitely know that I am far from perfect, which is certainly consistent with the idea of sin. Also, the act of reprogramming is very similar to repentance. After all, the Greek word translated as “repent” in the NT literally means to turn down another path, or to change your mind. Repentance never really worked for me very well, though. I have analyzed why it didn’t, and near as I can tell, due to the cultural issues within Christianity, I was focused on the wrong things. Like sex, once again.

I was immediately told after I got saved about how bad sexual lust is, and how I should never, ever masturbate. This from all of my male Christian single friends. I, like the lemming I am, immediately take a solemn oath with my buddy to never masturbate again, ever. Broke that one within 24 hours, with great condemnation. This thing had me balled up for years, during which I made no real progress spiritually. All this negative energy about masturbation and male heterosexual desire, generally.

Eventually, I figure out that all of my male single Christian friends were masturbating just as much as I was, and were all just as condemned. And the message from the pulpit only made it worse! I was actually invited to seminars where I could be set free from masturbation!

Of course, that’s all bollocks. Masturbation is something I should keep private but certainly not condemn myself for. It is a harmless and healthy release, after all. And sexual desire is a great thing overall. I wouldn’t be here without it! So deciding that a basic autonomic response like sexual desire is somehow “sinful” doesn’t help me at all. Although I have no doubt that my male single Christian friends were well-meaning, they were obviously just as deluded as I was, and the culture was keeping them just as immobilized. This example is one of the most glaring, but there were many others.

In order to help me spot things that are broken inside me, I basically set up a watcher to keep track of my emotions and to tell me if I am feeling anything negative, like resentment, sadness, sullenness, loneliness, or fear. Once I spot that, I go after what’s driving it. Generally, given enough time and thought, I can figure it out. Almost always, there is some form of selfishness or greed behind it. Like insecurity over Ruth leaving me. That’s really my selfish little greedy desire to keep her with me. Fear over the impact on my life if she were to leave me, etc. Not wanting to have to endure the pain, discomfort and stress of a break-up. And so forth.

Solution: Understand and accept that Ruth can leave me if she likes. She is perfectly free to do so, and there is nothing that I can do to directly prevent it. I do not own her, regardless of what the Marriage contract might say. Would it be painful if she left me? Definitely. Would I survive? Very likely. Would it make the slightest difference in the lifespan of the universe? None at all. And, after all, I don’t even know if I am going to take my next breath. So how does creating a stressful emotion like insecurity help either me or Ruth? Am I not simply detracting from both our joy, peace and happiness by surrendering to a parasite emotion like insecurity?

And it’s all about stressing about the future, anyway. Which, again, does not exist. Worrying about the future is meaningless. (Not to say that I do not need to be responsible and make plans: I do. That’s different from fear, worry or stress, though.)

How then shall I live? First, by loving Ruth as unselfishly and purely as possible, I will be a person she wants to be with. My insecurity and persistent need to be constantly reassured sure as *&^# won’t do that! Instead, I will cultivate an attitude of quiet, humble confidence. I will aspire to be a person who will lend to her joy, peace and happiness. I will enjoy the present moment that I am spending right now in her presence, and cherish the journey that brought this amazing creature to me.

So, by carefully and methodically listening to my own thoughts, I am trying to become a better person. Inherent in that process, though, is a sense of humility. The more I get inside my head, the more aware I become of my own imperfections and need to be more empathic. How broken and selfish I am. And, hopefully, I make some progress in the quest to become more selfless and empathic in the process. Again, a similarity to taking on the mind of Christ from the Christian perspective.

Of course, there is no end state. This process will keep going on for the rest of my life.

More later.