Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: religion Page 1 of 2

The Portable Atheist: New Read

The Portable Atheist – Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever – selected and with introductions by Christopher Hitchens is another one of those books that I didn’t write down why I ordered it. There was a reason. It came to me through another book, or a podcast…something. Every book on my TBR list has an origin story. I hate when I lose track of them, and yet I can’t seem to create a system that helps me.

Anyway, it’s been on my shelf for a while now and I’ve been meaning to pick it up. It’s filled with some of my favorite authors: Thomas Hobbes, Percy Shelley, John Stuart Mill, Mark Twain, George Orwell, even Penn Jillette! So why has it taken so long for me to start reading it?

Fear of being mis-judged.

Even writing this, I’m afraid to admit how I really feel, what my real thoughts are. Why? Because not everyone that reads this will understand and some may be disappointed. These are two my biggest fears in life, two things that have held me in mortal terror. I wish they didn’t and I’m trying to repair that rip in my soul, but you probably know how complicated that is.

This morning I posted the picture of the book on my Facebook page with this,

I debated for days whether to post about this book here for fear of being seen by my friends and family as a member of one team or another for exploring a point of view.

I’m not having it. Think what you want. I know my own mind.”

If I could get one thing through to the whole world it would be that I’m not on one team or another, anywhere. I don’t believe in teams at all. In fact, I think the idea of teams is one of the biggest problems we have right now. This whole “if you’re not with me, you’re against me” crap is killing us. From politics and religion to lifestyle and race…please, just stop.

Why am I reading this book? Because I respect the opinions of others and wish to learn more about them, possibly even adopt some of them as my own.

This morning I finished reading the introduction and it was hard. The tone is what I’m not appreciating. It’s something I dislike about believers and nonbelievers alike. This “holier than thou” attitude, as if anyone that does not agree with them is clearly an imbecile and should be ashamed of themselves. It’s not the way to win friends and influence people. In the first few pages, I’ve already found much that I don’t agree with and much that I do. I’d love to sit and talk about it, page by page, with someone who is genuinely curious about humanity and religion.

Why is it that we create religions in the first place? It seems today we’ve created brand new “godless” ones to fight about and beat people with; science, politics, culture, and lifestyle. I honestly think it’s something about human nature, some evolutionary thing that drives us to make an authority outside our own selves and create community and belonging around it. And then we take it and fight to the death over it to stay safe from “others.”

I’m looking forward to reading all these essays. I know it will take me quite some time to read and digest it all. I hope you’ll stick with me and hear me out, maybe even chime in with your own thoughts from time to time.

No Good or Evil: Bear With Me a Bit

There is no good or evil, there is only cause and effect.

This is the sentence that keeps rolling around in my head the last 24 hours or so.

Evil did not cause whatever happened, some previous action did. We can, in many instances, look back and see what caused what to happen, and possibly avoid doing it again, but we don’t seem to do it often enough. There are also events of which we cannot find the cause, either because we don’t have the tools yet or the connections are simply too complex, but they are there. It was not magic, fate, or some other supernatural cause.

I’m still reading Disneyanity and I had a thought…I know…weird.

Must we let fantasy movies, and all movies are generally fantasy, replace religious belief? Must humans constantly create fantastical reasons to make sense of what has happened, or utopian visions of the future, where if only we do this or that, the whole world would be perfect?

There are times when I want so badly to embrace fantasy and hope. I watch movies, listen to music, and read books that entice me to embrace these ideas. How awesome would it be if the love songs were true? What if we could enact some policy or law that changed the world and made everyone happy, healthy, and whole? What if there was a benevolent being that was watching over things, guiding them this way and that with the intention of leading humanity to a bright and wonderful future?

good and evil
The sun rises, further north and then back to the south again.
Natural cycles remind me that things change.

But at heart, I’m a realist. These ideas fail me. When my mind goes there, when I turn the old country music romance songs on for too long, when I throw myself into joyful fantasy movies, obsessively turn the pages of a utopian novel, I find my heart broken when I follow them to their natural conclusions.

Romances end and reality sets in, life costs money, children need to be raised, and you don’t always feel that hot and sexy love for the person you made them with.

The hero doesn’t always win against all odds. The villain has reasons he his hurting others and causing harm and you may have had something to do with it. I can’t just wish my way to a better world.

And each law you create helps one person and hurts another, each policy your government enacts solves one need and creates another.

I know, I probably sound negative and hopeless, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. Having my feet firmly grounded, accepting that good and bad things happen to everyone and we can’t know which is which in the long run, keeping it right in front of me that we all will die no matter what we do, and embracing the fact that humans are simply another (yet extremely creative) animal, another piece of an amazingly intricate puzzle, is what makes me feel like I can take on the world.

These are the tenants that bring me peace…sometimes.

It reminds me of Mark Manson’s book, Everything is Fucked: A Book About Hope. Yikes-a-roni, I looked back and found that I read that book three years ago this week! Thumbing through the book to see if I could find a quick bite to share here…yeah…no. That book pissed me off and made me think. It’s simple and complex, and filled with some incredibly helpful ideas. My advice, give it a chance. You won’t regret it.

Realism is complicated. Can we even know what real is? Is there a “real” that is the reality for everyone at all times? I don’t think so.

I don’t have the answers. Every day on this planet only brings me more questions. But like Cinderella says, “They can’t order me to stop dreaming. And perhaps, someday, the dreams that I wish will come true.” In the meantime, I’ll keep a smile, accept what comes to me, move gently toward what I believe I want, let others do the same, assume positive intentions of others, and live as kindly as I can until the day I eventually die.

And when I do die, just like the attitude a try to keep today, I won’t be looking back wishing I had done something different and created a different outcome. I’ll be looking forward and wondering what comes next.

Disneyanity: New Read

It’s been a while since I bought a book because I saw in advertised in a magazine, but when I saw Disneyanity: Of “Walt” and Religion by Douglas Brode in Reason magazine two months in a row, I had to have it.

Background: Just in case you don’t know this, I am an avid Disney fan. How do I explain this? Here is one photo from high school to shed just a little light.

This is my “backpack,” or what I called it back then, “my travelling locker.”

I had everything I needed in here. All my books, my binders, my pens, along with various high school sundries. I had a locker at school, yes, but using it would require forethought and planning. I was more of a fly by the seat of my pants kind of girl, so I kept everything with me, just in case.

Me. Backstage as always. The “magic” maker.

Just in case what?

Well, what if I were in math class and already done with the assignment? I could work on history instead. And what if I were in the theater, which was where I was most of my day, and I found some downtime between rehearsals? I could work on whatever needed to be done…if I didn’t have to run to my locker and find it.

Knowing me, I’d forget what I was looking for while walking to my locker anyway, wander off and get a coke and a cookie instead.

Writing this I just realized something. This squirrel brain is not being caused by old age.

Like I was saying, I was (and still am) a huge Disney fan. You might even say more of a devout worshipper than a fan. I’ve fallen away at times, especially recently, but I always come back around. Don’t even get me started on the effects of the pandemic on my pilgrimages.

When I started working there, I was seventeen years old. I felt like I was entering the holy of holies, “maybe I should take my shoes off” kind of awe in my whole being. When I was ceremoniously cast outside the gates (fired) at 20, I was a “lost toy,” one of the darkest moments of my life.

And again, when I returned at 26, and finally chose to be home with my kids at 30. And then today…

Well, let’s say I’m worshipping from afar, dreaming of the day I’ll be able to return to the source of the magic.

disneyanity

When I saw this book promising, “a cogent and thought-provoking meditation on Disney Magic as Religious Belief,” I swooned. Could that feeling I’ve had since I was kid be a real thing, not just something I created for myself? Could others feel this way? I had to know more.

I’m 67 pages into the book already and loving it. It’s not what I expected. I’m not sure how I’ll share pieces of it with you, but something will come up, I’m sure. As the religious say, the spirit (or the muse) will speak somehow, if I allow it room.

I’ll leave you with one quote for today, one that sums up my feelings about fantasy and storytelling.

“’Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality,’ philosopher Lloyd Alexander stated, rather a ‘way of understanding it.’ As Disney realized, most people find everyday reality so unbearable that they must seek what appears merely blithe escapism as an alternative. Then again, what’s wrong with that? ‘Why should a man be scorned,’ J.R.R. Tolkien asked, ‘if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out or go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison walls?’”

from Disneyanity by douglas brode

Does this sound familiar, dad? I’ve heard you say it a million times. “I don’t watch movies to see real life.”

In some ways, it is an escape. And there is nothing wrong with trying to move away from what is hurting you, to get some relief. In other ways, fantasy and story helps us explain our reality. It’s easier to hear the underlying problem and solutions offered if we’re talking about aliens instead of foreigners, talking trees instead of gods.

Disneyland was my escape in high school, my happy place where I wasn’t just another theater nerd, not another kid at school to be corralled and contained until I was old enough to be let loose on the world. I was a whole person there, especially once I started working there. Then I was “part of the magic” that millions came to see every year, one of the chosen.

So, yeah, I’m looking forward to reading this gem cover to cover. It feels like more of a collection of short essays about each film, so I may just pull out my favorite pieces, the ones that speak directly to issues that are dearest to me. I’ve found a few I completely disagree with already, so I’m sure you’ll read at least one where I disagree with Walt’s vision of the world.

…sigh…

It feels good to be back here. Thanks for reading with me!

Want read more posts about the book Disneyanity by Douglas Brode? Check out:
Storytelling in the Form of Movies
Silly Symphonies: It’s Research!

Nudity and Purpose: Final Thoughts on Disneyanity

Norse Mythology: New Read

What is mythology?

The dictionary says: A body or collection of myths belonging to a people and addressing their origin, history, deities, ancestors, and heroes. But does that help define it? I don’t think so, so I’ll give you my definition of what mythology is.

Mythology is humanity attempting to describe, define, and explain their surroundings, where they came from, and why they are there, in creative and imaginative ways. All mythology expresses the creativity of the people in the context of where and when they are because humans love a great story.

And what are gods? Again, I’ll give you my definition.

The gods are our subconscious minds, swirling that context around in our heads and coming up with an explanation as to why things are happening. They speak to us in dreams and visions, tell us what we should do or which way to go.

Norse mythology

I picked up Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman because I am of Scandinavian and Irish decent and am not well-versed in the history or the mythology other than the Thor and Loki from Marvel comics, and that is just sad. I’ve been interested in heathenry and ancient religion for a few years now, only taking small forays into the subject, and it feels…real?

That’s not the right word though. It just resonates a bit, the whole acknowledgment of our natural surroundings, not worship in a godlike sense, but an awareness of it, acceptance of this reality instead of attempting to use spiritual means to change what is. It feels so human.

So why Neil Gaiman’s book instead of something more academic? Because I’m just getting started and I’d like to learn the stories in a similar way that children would have, around a campfire or hearth, through stories well-told. And Gaiman is the master of that.

I was not disappointed. This book is beautiful, and I highly recommend it, especially for kids. I can imagine reading this at bedtime with my sons, as we so often did. They would ask a million questions, come up with their own creative answers, and have vivid dreams to tell me in the morning all involving the imagery of the stories we had been reading about Loki’s cleverness and the Giants tricking the gods.

That reminds me…I mentioned in my post yesterday, I have a story to tell. The gods spoke to me in my dreams while I read this book.

My husband and I have been watching Outer Range in the evening. There’s another great story! I’ll be sitting here waiting as patiently as I can for the next season. Oh, there better be another season! Too many questions left unanswered! It’s like a western Twin Peaks.

But I digress.

In the morning, I read Norse Mythology. In the evening I watch Outer Range. Then my youngest son texts me, emotional and stressed: college semester ends in two weeks, work is overwhelming, relationship struggles. Teenage years have nothing on the early twenties. I went to bed that night wondering (in true Mom fashion) if there was anything I could do to help.

I have always had vivid dreams, even as a small child. I was a sleepwalker too, which led to some pretty funny family stories about my night adventures. This night, I dreamt as well.

My son fell into a wormhole of light in the ground and then it closed up behind him and I couldn’t reach him. I put my face to the ground and yelled to him. He could hear me; he would respond to my voice. I tried talking to him, asking him to describe what he saw and so I could possibly help him find his way back. It was so confusing.

After some time, I yelled to him that I was going to go find help, that I’d be back. I wasn’t deserting him. He didn’t respond and I was torn between staying there until he heard me and running for the help I knew I needed. Crying, I ran for help.

The next scene was my husband coming out of the shower. I frantically told him what happened, and he was completely non-plussed. In real life, that is his natural state, at least outwardly. His guiding principle is to let things go, relax, and see what happens. Only things that stick around are things you have to do anything about. And “do” usually means accept it and move on.

I kept explaining how upset he was and that we needed to get back there and help him. My husband smiled and went back to getting dressed. He said that our son would find his own way, he’s smart and capable. Besides, he can hear you for reassurance if he wants it.

That’s when I woke up. I got up, got my coffee and sat down next to my husband and told him the story. He laughed at the hole in the ground, just like Outer Range. Later, I texted the dream to my son. He thought it was bizarre too, sounded like a Twilight Zone. “It’s a big step, granted, but it’s just one.”

I went about my day, finished reading Norse Mythology, did my yoga practice, ate breakfast, and got in the shower. And that’s when it hit me. The gods have spoken.

In the night, my subconscious kept working on the problem. What can I do, what should I do, to help my son? It pulled in all kinds of imagery from my current physical reality, a tv show, a book, a conversation, and solved it the best way it could. Musing about it all morning, I finally heard the message.

Be there to listen and give advice if he asks, but ultimately, he’ll find his way. All of us find our way through life.

If I had been a Norse Viking, a medieval peasant, or an Arabian king, I would have seen much different images in my dreams. My gods would have spoken a different language. But the problem of what to do when your child is struggling with life would have been the same. Humanity just hasn’t changed that much.

I want to know more about the Norse people and what’s left of their culture, not because I want to emulate it, but because I want to honor where we came from. I want to put those pieces of my cultural puzzle in the box with the rest so that eventually I’ll be able to see as much of the big picture as I can.

A new online friend I’ve been chatting with on Boo (Yes, it says dating but it also says friends and I’ve met some fascinating people there) suggested I look into Jackson Crawford’s work. I’ve only taken a cursory look, but it does look promising and I’m excited to dive in. That is IF I can keep my squirrel brain on that track. For now, I’ve squirrelled the information away like a winter nut storage. The topic will come back around again, and then I’ll be ready to feast!

Rediscovering Rituals And Celebrations

ritual and celebrations
Celebrating the return of Spring with some yardwork and reading.

Back in December my brother and I had been talking about holiday rituals and celebrations and how over the years we had lost interest in many Christmas traditions. He told me he was reading Asatru: A Beginner’s Guide to the Heathen Path by Erin Lale, so I ordered it and added it to my TBR shelf. I can’t speak for my brother, but for me, I’ve been losing interest in rituals in general since I was a young adult.

It started with my high school graduation when I felt as if I were being forced to participate in a ritual that I did not believe in. I didn’t accomplish anything but survival of a process I was forced to undertake. I felt as if I were being released from prison while family and friends around me celebrated it as a chosen accomplishment.

My wedding was another ritual that lost its charm once I started looking at the ceremony. I was not raised to be religious, so I didn’t want that kind of ceremony. It would be heretical. I’m also quite the feminist and thought even the secular version of a wedding ceremony smacked of some pretty strange stuff. We chose a generic ceremony, performed by an official I found in the yellowpages.

Today, I’d do things much differently. I’d create new rituals based on my personal beliefs but hearken back to our ancestors and their culture. And I’d explain them and their significance.

Over the years, with children growing up, family dispersing, and life changing all around us, I participated in some ritual, but always felt like I was searching. Christian tradition just didn’t work for me. I always counted myself as a believer, but never agreed with church doctrine. I ceremonies and rituals never sat right with me. I wanted more meaning, more connection with the people around me.

This past Christmas was the best I’ve ever had. Part of it was having my mom here for a week in early December. The other part was discovering, through some Instagram influence and my brother, the heathen rituals of Winter Solstice, and the learning about what the old traditions symbolize. I felt connected to the past, and ready to celebrate in the present with those around me so that our future selves would be connected to this past.

THAT’S what ritual is all about, Charlie Brown.

Our modern age has lost those connections. Whatever rituals we each participate in we’ve lost much of the meaning. And to those around us that were raised in a different culture, we look at others and think they’re crazy, in much the same way that Christians and Heathens looked at each other in ancient times.

The great way for us all to come together in the modern age is to create new rituals and ceremonies based on a combination of the old, but with our own understanding of the world around us. To do start that for my own family, I’m starting a study of the old ways of my ancestors and others around the world.

Today, my husband and I are triangulating a meeting between us, our sons, and my dad and stepmom. Southern California is a big place, so we’re meeting in the middle for a traditional (to our family) meal, pizza at RoundTable. I was excited to be able to do this in the first place, but after my reading this morning, I’m beside myself because I get to acknowledge a personal family tradition and bring back an old ritual and share its meaning.

From the book,

“Clinking of glasses in a beer hall symbolically unites all the containers into one container, so modern-style toasts while sitting down at a table can also be practiced as a sumbel.”

A sumbel is the ritual shared drinking from a cow’s horn to symbolize Audhumla’s nourishing role. Audhumla is the cow that licked the gods to life from the ice.

And, no, I don’t believe a magical cow did any such thing. It’s mythology and symbolic not literal.

When I read that quote above, I thought, “Why do we not know this? Why did we stop sharing the meaning of these rituals when so many of them are around us every day?”

No matter how silly it feels, I’m bringing some of these back to our family’s consciousness. This afternoon, as we sit around the table as a family, I’ll tell this story, create my own blessing, and toast to my family; those with us, those afar, and those that have come before us and wait for us on the other side.

Why do we feel so separated and alone today, even BCBS (before covid bull shit)? I think it’s because we lost the reasons for the rituals we have in our lives, and then forgot that celebrations are not simply places to spend money and get drunk. Rituals, holidays, celebrations, and gatherings are ways for us to connect with the past, the present, and the future. We still need them and the reasons behind them.

Not Blind Faith and Obedience: Nietzsche

From the front cover flap of my Barnes & Noble edition, “…Nietzsche, a despiser of mass movements both political and religious, did not ask his readers for blind faith and obedience, but rather for critical reflection, courage, and independence.”

Apparently, Nietzsche and I have more in common than I thought.

blind faith and obedience

I only was able to spend thirty minutes in this book so far and, like my son, decided to read the introduction pages to get a feel for the significance of it. I’m about half-way through and the margins are filled with “yes” and “shit” and “well, crap” already.

Why? Because the book was published in 1883 and much of what he’s saying about the evolution of mankind…well, it just hits a little close to home. It probably always has and always will.

 “…life is assumed to be valuable just as it is.”

Tragic or comic, suffering or happiness, this is all of life and is not only to be endured but lived to fullest extent. We aren’t here waiting at this moment for the next to be better. We aren’t suffering through one period of life to enjoy happiness in the next. We are, simply, here, right now, living.

Years ago, I read that Nietzsche’s statement that “God is dead,” wasn’t a metaphysical thing. It’s not that the actual God died or that we killed him somehow. He was “referring instead to people’s belief in the Judeo-Christian God. His claim is that many people who think they believe in God really do not believe. That is, their “belief” makes no difference in their lives, a fact they betray through their actions and feelings.”

This struck right to the middle of my heart because it’s something I’ve brought up so many times over the years. I started watching “Messiah” on Netflix this past week. I’m not done yet, so no spoilers, please! While watching, I’ve paused so many times to rail about their reaction to this man. It’s exactly my problem with religious people. You say one thing and then behave another. You say, “God’s will be done.” And then act to change it. You say, “Turn the other cheek.” And then fight. You say, “Thou shalt not kill.” And then contract to murder. And it’s not just Christians.

Those who have turned our government into a religion are doing the same. We say, “For the greater good.” And then get angry when we’re in the minority. We say, “The authority knows best.” And get angry when it’s used against us. We say, “This is what the voters want. Democracy decides best.” And then avoid following the laws the majority voted for.

I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with it. It’s the natural outcome of denying reality because it’s easier. I believe we should acknowledge that our society has changed. We don’t need “blind faith and obedience.” We need “critical reflection, courage, and independence.” But that involves personal responsibility, and most of us aren’t willing to take that on. It’s far easier to be told what we are supposed to do, make others do it, and blame others when things go badly. It’s easier to take the welfare or the tax break, send our kids to public schools, vote for someone else, or force the medical care, than to provide for ourselves and live with the consequences.

Any time I’ve heard Nietzsche discussed, it’s usually negative. I’ve heard him equated with Nazi’s, which now I’m reading was a misunderstanding based on his sisters editing after his death. I’ve heard that his philosophy leads to nihilism and that was his goal. Nihilism isn’t a goal, it’s a crisis, a turning point. At first, we think, “What’s the damn point if we have nothing to work towards, no afterlife or reward at the end?” We struggle through the change, cocoon ourselves and consider the options. Once we begin to think critically, we take courage and emerge independent. We accept this world right here as it is, the people around us as they are, and we live our lives to the fullest, suffering and peace in same space. Reality is far more exciting.

My thinking is that, just as we protect our children with myths about the wider world as they grow, just as we train our children how to take care of themselves in the comparative safety of our homes, only to allow them to grow up, move out into the world, and take on responsibility for their own lives, so humanity does the same. Humanity will move through this crisis, it will struggle and fight its way out of the protective cocoon of myth and belief, to finally emerge in a new and beautiful form. This is what is meant as “God’s Will.” We aren’t meant for blind faith and obedience forever. If it doesn’t, then so be it. Evolution is a relentless bitch.

Now I know what my son was so excited about. I can’t wait to read more, but I don’t want to rush through just so that I can add it to my “Autobibliography.” I need to slow down, read, write, and reflect more. This may take a while, but I think it will be worth it.

Want to start at the beginning? Pop back to my initial post “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: New Read”

Moral Foundations Theory: A Book Review

“The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt explains his ideas on Moral Foundations Theory. I just finished reading it and let me tell you, it was worth the effort. The first couple of chapters sucked me in with his elephant and rider analogy of human behavior, but about halfway through it started to lag. Maybe it got too technical. Maybe it just didn’t feel relatable. There was a time when I thought (and noted), “Yes, but what can we DO about it?” The last few chapters gave me some ideas and some hope, so I’ll rate it A for awesome.

Moral Foundations Theory in The Righteous Mind

The subtitle tells you exactly why I decided to read this book, “Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” I don’t know how many times I’ve wondered to myself (and aloud to my family) why such seemingly intelligent people could be so fired up and ready to physically go to blows over a difference of opinion. I have close friends and family that support and push political agendas that, in my opinion, just seem crazy. Why? What the heck, people? This book helped me make some sense of it.

Now…do I feel better? Do I think there is any hope of avoiding something seriously damaging to our world in the near future, now that I’ve read this book? Not really. Sorry. I’m a pessimist when it comes to collective thought and politics these days. I just don’t see a way out. But I do know that I’m not the smartest person around or the most well-informed, so there’s still a glimmer of hope in the back of my mind. A miracle could happen. There could be, somewhere out there, individuals scattered across the world, that can help the rest of us pull our heads out and turn the ship around. Right?

Yeah…kind of in a mood this week. Sorry.

But this book! His theories and his research have really lightened my mood. There are reasons why things are happening the way they are. There is a way to understand others and come to some kind of compromise. There’s chance that we could start the ship toward living together in peace. It’s a hopeful kind of understanding of the human mind.

“Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral psychology, and an understanding of that psychology can help to bring people together.”

We all actually do have a similar goal, to live in peace, to end violence, for everyone to have enough, but we all come to it from different directions. We’re told not to post our thoughts and ideas on social media. Don’t share your point of view. Keep your opinions to yourself. It’s not polite. But if we can’t talk to each other about these things, how do even begin to understand?

“…self-righteous…means ‘convinced of one’s own righteousness, especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others; narrowly moralistic and intolerant.’”

We ALL are, left and right, liberal and conservative, self-righteous about something.

“Emotions are not dumb. Damasio’s patients made terrible decisions because they were deprived of emotional input into their decision making. Emotions are a kind of information processing.”

This reminds me of what Noah Rashad was saying on Secular Buddhism. The point of emotion is our intuition telling us something MAY be important. Our job is to notice it, pause and make an assessment, and then CHOOSE an action based on that assessment. Haidt here is speaking of patients that had lost their emotions due to accident or defect. Logic and reason will only get you so far. Those who base their action solely on logic and reason will end up doing atrocious things.

“In this chapter I’ll show that reason is not fit to rule; it was designed to seek justification, not truth.”

That is exactly what we do. We have a feeling, think about it some (hopefully), reason why we should have that feeling, and then go with it. Haidt says that when we want to believe something we reason to find out if we can, and when we don’t want to believe something, we reason to find out if we must.

His idea of Moral Foundations Theory is fascinating. He compares our morals to taste buds on the tongue, a limited number of basic tastes that combine to make each of us different. We’re born with a first draft of innate taste buds but our experience revises which ones we use more, rely on, or prefer. That really hit home because I’ve always thought of myself as naturally a conservative person, more likely to prefer less change and stable outcomes, but I’m liberally trained by my experience in the world. I have learned to enjoy some change and look for different experiences, points of view, and ways of thinking.

A whole chapter is dedicated to why we seem to be compelled to form into groups and take sides. And explains why some of us tend to be a bit more individualistic. It’s always safer in groups, that’s why women always take a friend to the restroom when they’re out in public. And groups are safer when we all have similar values and norms. This was my favorite chapter.

“We humans have a dual nature – we are selfish primates who long to be part of something larger and nobler than ourselves. We are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee. If you take that claim metaphorically, then the groupish and hivish things that people do will make a lot more sense. It’s almost as though there’s a switch in our heads that activates our hivish potential when conditions are just right.”

It is easier to live in a group than alone. Self-sufficiency is inefficient, like “The Rational Optimist” points out. But there are degrees of groups, from urban city to rural farms, from suburbs to mountain towns. And what it takes to get along in each of those is different. I keep seeing east coast city dwellers attempt to make laws and regulations for Midwest farmers, and west coast suburbanites dictate what life should look like in the rural south. That’s where the fights begin. Is there a way for us all to live our own lives in our own areas without harassing our distant neighbors about how they live theirs?

Have I convinced you to go get this book? I hope so. One more thing before I go. The last chapter was titled, “Can’t We All Disagree More Constructively?” It’s the chapter that gave me some hope. We all have to live here together, whether we like it or not. The best way to do that is to stop making other people live and act the way we want them to. Instead of lifting up and emphasizing our differences: race, color, culture, location, creed, etc., we could do a lot better by emphasizing our similarities. If we make teams and take sides, good and evil, right and wrong, it’s very hard to meet in the middle. There is no compromise with a partner that is evil and wrong.

We could sit back and take care of ourselves, leave others to do the same, and compromise when we need to so that we can share space without getting on each other nerves. Seems too reasonable. Probably will never work.

If you’d like to read my first post about this book, go back to The Righteous Mind: New Read. If you’re interesting in learning more about Moral Foundations Theory, I have an extra copy of this book that you’re welcome to have. The first person to comment that they want it will get it!

The Righteous Mind: New Read

The Righteous Mind book cover on a desert background.

“The Righteous Mind – Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt

Sigh…I have to find a better way to keep track of why I put a book on my wishlist. Seriously. If you have any ideas, please leave me a comment. I’m think maybe I’ll start adding a section of my idea card file called “Books” and actually write it down: the title, where I heard it or the author, what I know or what brought me to want to read it, and the date. It seems that physically writing things down, not kept in an app or on a website, works best for me.

I’m fairly certain that I heard Jonathan Haidt interviewed on a podcast recently and that’s why I added The Righteous Mind to my Thriftbooks wishlist. The subtitle alone would make you want to read it, right? Why are good people so divided?

The past few years I’ve felt more and more pushed away by my friends and family over politics. Religion? Well, it sure looks like our whole nation has created a new religion centered on politics, so maybe they’re one and the same these days. Maybe The Righteous Mind will help me sort that out.

The great divide came to my notice when Donald Trump was elected, but I know it was growing long before that. People were getting heated and upset, arguments were getting nastier and more personal, debate and discussion, even among close friends, was ending, but the day after the election is what really started to scare me.

Years ago, a friend started a group order from an online organic food company that brought the whole order by truck to our area once a month. We’d all meet there and sort through it, getting our bulk quinoa and whole grains. It was a cheap way to get all the things we couldn’t find in our rural desert town and, when it was small, it was a great monthly meetup for all of us, too.

As the order grew, the management of it was passed to someone else and it started to be less fun and more of a chore, but still worth the time because I got things I couldn’t get at the store. Since my sons were nearly grown and not so much interested in going to homeschool events and park days, it was a chance to see and catch up with other moms I didn’t get to see that often anymore.

The day after the 2016 election was the last day that I picked up an order at that truck. I knew it was going to be a strange time by the tone people were already using on social media. But I believed that in person, things would be different.

When I arrived, the truck was already there and unloading. People were gathered in small groups at their cars, talking and waiting for their name to be called, as usual. I saw a few people I knew, stopped to talk to one friend and then heard my name. As I walked over to get my few things, I overheard conversations that made my blood run cold. I know, I’m dramatic, but it did scare me. And the past eighteen months has built on that feeling in tremendous ways.

I heard tears and actual wailing. I heard comments like, “If I know anyone that voted for him, I’m going to kill them.” “We should find them all out and do something.” “I can’t imagine what kind of a horrible person would vote for someone like that.” There were actual threats over national politics, by people I thought were peace lovers. I said nothing to anyone. I loaded my truck and drove away. Since that day, I’ve spoken to only one person that was there. These are my neighbors, and some were friends.

I could go on about this, but I don’t think I need to. The point is not that one politician, or party, is better or worse than another. The point is that good people, people I had no problem talking with before an election, now were standing there threatening people for disagreeing with them. Standing there among them I heard tones of a mob, Nazi brownshirts, and the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition at a food truck pickup!

And it seems things have only gotten worse over the last five years. And it has nothing to do with the politicians themselves. It’s us. We’re doing this to each other voluntarily. When I heard Jonathan Haidt interviewed, I had to run out and get this book. Maybe it will help me learn why this is happening. Why are we treating each other like enemies? Why are we separating into sides instead of working together? And how can people I have always believed were open-minded and reasonable adults become so violently opposed to the “other side?”

From the introduction, “I’m not saying we should live our lives like Sen-ts’an. In fact, I believe a world without moralism, gossip, and judgement would quickly decay into chaos. But if we want to understand ourselves, our divisions, our limits, and our potentials, we need to step back, drop the moralism, apply some moral psychology, and analyze the game we’re all playing.”

That’s exactly what I crave when I check social media, read articles and books, watch videos, and talk with friends and family, “to understand ourselves.” None of us is outside the battle of division. The best way to calm things down, in my opinion, is to try and understand the other side of every argument. Hopefully, The Righteous Mind will be enlightening.

Want to read my final thoughts on this book? Click over to Moral Foundations Theory: A Book Review. Heads up: There’s a giveaway there!

Are our cultural differences becoming less significant?

Cultural differences quote on desert background.

“The old differences separating one system from another now are becoming less and less important, less and less easy to define.”

From ‘Myths To Live By’ by Joseph Campbell

In my opinion, cultural differences were becoming less important.

The more we all were able to see each other, travel, read and experience cultural differences, religious and political differences, etc., the more we seemed to see our human similarities. It was rough at first, but felt as though things were going to get better. Maybe those differences wouldn’t be so important.

It seems, though, that in response, those that hold power in the old systems are getting worried. That worry translates into power grabs and sometimes violence. It’s a dangerous time to be living in, mostly because it seems so easy for one group to turn on another.

A common tactic, which we are seeing now, fifty years after Campbell wrote this book is to set up divisions, throw out land mines of opposition. False information, gossip, and scare news, are thrown around in ways far easier to accomplish than ever before, especially now that those that live in cities are being ordered to stay at home and not gather with others. People from outside the cities are ordered to stay out of city centers. We all get our information through “social networks” and the national and worldwide news media, through our phones and computers, with no way to confirm what we’re seeing there with the actual physical world around us, except those of us that refuse to comply with those orders.

We humans crave order to our universe.

We can’t stand not knowing what the plan is, who’s in charge, and what the rules are. In general, we’re much happier building up illusions and myths about the world around us, than facing the chaos and uncertainty that real life is. Strange isn’t it? I wonder what kind of evolutionary help that was. What was it about creating stories about the world around us that made it more likely the next generation would survive?

My opinion? The more you can know about others, the more you move outside your own circle, the more you realize that we’re all basically the same with wildly different ways of filling those identical needs of food, relationship, and procreation. Cultural differences slowly become far less important.

The more we stay separate, the more walls we build, the easier it is for us to be used as tools. There is, and always has been, a small group of people that believe they know what’s best for everyone else and are happy to take care of the rest, by force if necessary. And there is also a much larger group of people that simply want to live their lives without the burden of independent thought.

There’s a third group, though. One that wants to be left alone to live their lives as they see fit, take their own chances, and accept responsibility for their own choices. They want to explore the world of people and thought on their own terms, using their own resources. They don’t need a mythology to control the world around them. They want to embrace those cultural differences, the chaos, and live within it, as part of it, with no one to blame for the outcome but themselves. They believe anyone can, and would choose to, live this way if they were only shown it was possible.

I used to believe that third group was growing in size, as I feel Joseph Campbell probably did when he wrote this book in 1972. But this past year has put a lot of holes in that thinking. Maybe we aren’t so evolved as I had begun to thing. I’m still watching and waiting to see what happens. I still have hope that it’s only a minor setback.


Want to read this book? You can get it on Amazon HERE.

Hesitant to Admit

Each time I start a book I take a picture of it and post it to Facebook and Instagram. I was hesitant to post this one. Why? Because so many of us are taught by our church leaders not to question the bible. That the scriptures are the infallible Word of God and therefore cannot be questioned. I’m sorry to say that many of my traditional Christian friends are very close-minded and judgmental of other points of view. I’m not saying they are cruel, mean, and wrong, I’m saying they aren’t willing to consider possibilities. And that’s not a Christian trait, it’s a human one.

My question has always been, if God created man in His image, gave him a soul and discerning mind, why would He not want us to question the world around us? If the bible is so crystal clear, why are there so many vague and seemingly contradicting statements? And if Jesus wanted us to take Him at his literal word, why did he speak in parables and why didn’t he write out the words He wanted us to keep sacred? The answer I’ve come to so far is that He doesn’t, that he wants us to discover Him on our own, one on one, on our own terms. He wants us to come to Him. And He’s been trying to reach us since creation.

So I read, and I read a lot. I read about different religions, other points of view, old writings and new. And I pray. I spend some time each day in meditation and prayer, allowing myself quiet space to hear and experience that still small voice inside me, the one our creator put there. And I come to my own conclusions. And I hold those conclusions lightly. I know many people have a problem with this, but I cannot for the life of me see why. I have decided not to spend my energy trying anymore. There are some things I just cannot understand and I’m ok with that.

Once again, I cannot remember how “The Pagan Christ: Is blind faith killing Christianity?” by Tom Harpur came to my attention or why I added it to my reading list. It was likely an article I read, another book, or a podcast that I heard, but somewhere in my studies this book was dropped into my lap. The title, of course, is intriguing, and the subtitle is something I’ve considered as well. I wanted to know more.

On first glance, if someone were to insist that the stories and themes from the Old and New Testaments were not original, you’d assume that the person was trying to show you why they believe they are fakes, stolen from other more ancient works, not created by the true Son of God. But that isn’t what he’s trying to say at all.

I’ve heard from Christian teachers throughout my life that the similarities between older scriptures and unrelated teachings from other religions were put there by Satan to confuse and distract us from the truth. But that doesn’t resonate with me at all, it never has. When I come across these similarities, it doesn’t discount my faith in one creator god at all. It encourages me to dive deeper into the past, to read more, to pray more. I want to be closer God, to know who or what He really is. The similarities connect me with the past, with other cultures, and with God. They are the common denominator in the equation of life.

When I read about ancient Egyptian myths and their similarities to Christ stories, I think, “God was here too. Of course He was!” When I read about Buddhist teaching stemming from the same timeframe as Jesus, I think, “He was here too!” If God is the creator, that piece that connects every living thing that I believe He is, why would he not be? The common denominator in all scriptures across time and physical space, is the Truth.

I feel that we put a limit on God when insist that one group of people, one time, one person, one group of writings are the only time that God attempted to communicate with His creation. If I am to consider the bible as a completely historical document, it feels ridiculous. There are books that are clearly not historical and we accept that. There are also parts of books that are clearly not historical, and there are parts that we used to consider historically accurate that we clearly do not now. And then there are the parts that are clearly cultural and limited in scope. How can we assume that now, all these thousands of years later, we have distilled the bible and Christianity to what it was always meant to be?

Seeing the bible as a “Truth” document, one that can help me get a part of the picture of what God really is but never the complete picture, resonates in my heart and inspires me. God gave me a mind and a heart, one unlike any other creature He created, one like Him. I intend to use that gift.

This book added to the picture in some big ways. I’ve sifted through it a couple times after reading it, looking for quotes to jump off from and write about, but most of the pieces I highlighted or noted were personally enlightening or so complex that once I pulled them out of context, they didn’t have the same impact. But I will leave you with this one,

“Things are not simply true because someone somewhere first said them, or because they are collected in books such as the Bible. They are true because they ring with full authenticity on the anvil of our souls.”

When I read this and then sat reflecting on it for a bit, my question was, “What if it rings true to my soul alone? Or what if it rings true to a small collection of people but no one else?” My opinion is, then it isn’t Truth. Truth is the same for all people, in all times, in all cultures. The common denominator. What meets that qualification is broad and vague. To me it boils down to, love the creator and treat others as you wish to be treated. Apparently, that is more complicated than it sounds.

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