8-24-13 7:22Similarities in Religions

Macy: All religions are really saying the same thing, aren't they? Are they really different or the same?

People are very prone to in-group/out-group distinctions. The differences are emphasized for the purpose of out-group exclusion, or minimized for in-group inclusion. They are an expedient.

Macy: The truth of the matter is, we're all probably wrong.

Probably, but there are degrees of wrongness. Some assertions can be shown to be very much less wrong than others when they have lots of evidence to support them and when they produce results that work.

The entire project of science and reason is to gradually become less wrong.

8-21-13 4:20Christianity - What's to Like?

Surrender: Christianity - faith in Christ - is the ONLY path to Heaven and God.

My question is, why would anyone want this to be true?

Surrender: It really doesn't matter why anyone would want this to be true or not.

Oh, I disagree. I would be very interested in knowing why people want this to be true.

Surrender: I really don't think it matters with God that a person is all of those wonderful things like compassionate, loving, giving, etc. God says that good deeds and the way a person acts is not enough to experience everlasting life in heaven. It will be held against them because God says so.

Why do you like this?

Surrender: It's what God says. If God says Jesus is the way, the truth and the light, I am inclined to believe him.

That is what people say He says.


Surrender: Who says people want this to be true?

They seem to. In the utterly arbitrary world of unsubstantiated belief, where there are a million different claims and each one is exactly as good as any other, some people have chosen this.

So why pick this one, out of all the available choices, if you don't want it to be true?

Surrender: I never said I like this.

Unless this belief has been forced on you, it's your choice to believe it. Maybe you should pick a belief you like.

Surrender: I'm just humble enough to know that I don't make God's rules nor do I dispute them.

Everybody has a different idea about "what God's rules" are, which ones have to be followed and which you can ignore, etc. You are choosing your particular set of what you think God's rules are.

Surrender: I didn't like some of my parent's rules either, but they were what they were whether I liked them or not.

This isn't like your parents' rules. This is like a person telling you that they know what your parents rules are. There is no way you can check with your parents to make sure this is really their rules, but you are choosing to believe people who say that they can tell what your parents want even though you can't. Why believe them?

Surrender: That's what God says he is.

How are you more qualified to interpret what God is saying than any other person?

Surrender: Why are you always asking Christians these questions? Maybe you should go and start a group about Buddism where you can discuss with like minded people...

I haven't been around much lately, but did this group change from Religious Debate to "go away and only talk to people who agree with you"? Do you realize how inappropriate it is to tell me to leave just because you can't handle what I have to say?

Surrender: ....instead of constantly bringing your negativity and obscure comments to the Christian table. It really is just annoying.

The "Christian table" is a buffet of negativity, from persecutions, to inquisitions, to holy wars, to witch hunts, to repressions, to unnecessary guilt and fear, to coverups, and continues to this day in unwarranted in-group / out-group division-mongering. I am sometimes annoyed that such a cruel, horrific, exclusionary, prejudiced, and outlandish idea is presented like there was some reason to think it's true.

But I don't fear it. I don't tell Christians to go away so that I don't have to face what they are saying.

Cruelty and false propaganda should be challenged. If my simple questions are annoying to you, then at least that is a start.

Surrender: You just don't get it and you aren't going to get it. You might want to finally understand this and move on with your one track thought process unless you can debate instead of using comments that simply irritate.

Go away and stop talking to you? No way.

I am interested in challenging precisely this kind of division-mongering, and if you can't handle talking to me, and if no Christian can handle talking to me, perhaps that will be an even more effective demonstration.

Surrender: May your journey bring you happiness in this life.

It does, thanks, but I am not going to go away.

Surrender: I am not the one pointing fingers at who is and isn't saved. God is.

The only thing I hear is you. When I listen for what God says, I hear many interesting things, but none of them is "You have to believe in Jesus or you will fry in the afterlife." So why should I think you hear God better than I do?

Surrender: What it boils down to for me is no matter how much I may not like God's rules, no wishing for them to be different will change them. No matter how much I try to look the other way regarding them, they will still remain whether I oppose them or not.

Tell that to Martin Luther, or the founders of 33,820 other Christian denominations.

The "rules" are entirely dependent on the statements and interpretations of people. If they existed elsewhere and could be discerned independently, there could not be so much disagreement over what, exactly, the correct practice or beliefs of Christianity are.

What it boils down to is, since the rules are just things people say, you'd think God could forgive people for believing in something different, even if it doesn't happen to involve Christ, and let them into Heaven any way. I don't see why anyone wants to believe in a God who stands by while people fry for an honest mistake.

8-20-13 4:20Summer Contest

Earlier in the summer I almost had a chance to participate in a sidewalk chalk contest. Unfortunately the event was rained out - halfway through! But luckily I took some pictures of the practice piece I did in my driveway.

Here's a detail:

8-19-13 4:20Feeling a Connection

Lovey: When I go to church sometimes, and other times too, I feel this very strong energy in my body, like a connection to God.

Do you think the feeling of being connected to something, or drawing energy from outside of yourself, is any evidence of God, or would you explain it a different way?

I don't think I would explain it at all. I have felt this and many other very unusual and invigorating sensations. Sometimes I don't know what they are.

Oh, I could have fun speculating - it was God! It was aliens! It was the collective consciousness! It is The Force...it surrounds us and penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together! But how could I possibly determine which of these or the infinite other possible speculations is correct?

I don't need to pick a speculation. When I feel something, I just feel it.

8-19-13 4:20Religion and Gods

DragonLady: I saw this on facebook recently. What do you make of it?

"Religion to me refers to something made up by people, not God. I abhor the term because being Christian is who I am, based on my relationship with God."

Religions were made up by people to serve individual and social functions. They are based around a narrative which brings together the world of facts with the world of values to provide personal wholeness and social cohesion.

For example, in Christianity, the world around us (the world of facts) and the moral order (the world of values) are brought together in the story that the world and the moral order were both created by an omnipotent god.

Humans are also responsible for creating the "relationships" they have with the supernatural, including gods, spirits, totems, ancestors, magic, etc. Humans are conditioned by survival to see fortuitous favor and feel personally attended by random occurrences.

Because we evolved as prey, it was very advantageous to assign agency - powerful and possibly malevolent - to every rustling bush, and see meaning in the patterns of the weather and the tides of personal fortune. And, because we evolved as social animals, we have a great need to understand other minds, and see the workings of mind around us.

So, depending on the culture, when people perceive a presence or see signs that remind them of an intelligence, or when they observe the fates of life being turned for (or against) them, they are quick to assign these experiences the supernatural agency described by the story of their culture, be it gods, spirits, the ancestors, voodoo or what have you.

Cherry-picking and confirmation bias assure that they will mainly remember the times when it supported the story and ignore or forget any information that contradicts the main narrative.

All of which occurs without the intervention of any kinds of actual supernatural forces.

Which is not to say that religion and gods are useless. I think it is possible to gain the social cohesion and personal wholeness offered by religion, and the fun of gods, without having to believe any supernatural explanations at all.

For example, I invented a religion called Neoism, which brings together the world of facts and the world of values through direct observation. And during the holiday season I sometimes activate the "Thrift Store Gods" to help me find good presents for my children. I can let the power of coincidence and the work of looking coalesce into the magical experience of finding exactly what I'm hoping for, or something even better.

Nothing has done more to elevate the human condition than an accurate understanding of reality. I think it is possible to work for accurate understanding and enjoy the mystery and wonder of our magical minds at the same time.

That's my take on it, feel free to argue any point. We could use some rousing debate around here!

8-19-13 4:20Questions about Buddhism

Pennywhistle: Aren't you a Buddhist or something? I've always wanted to know about Buddhism. Can you describe the rites and rituals you practice, and the gods in your religion? Can you talk about dharma, karma, the caste system, the atman/Brahman, and the path to Enlightenment?

Seriously, I could spend hours looking this up, or just give the question to you.

I can give the topic a go from my point of view. I practice Zen.

religious rites and rituals

There are a great many different "Buddhist" rituals in different places, because Buddhism blends very easily into existing practices and beliefs. However as far as I can tell, the only "ritual" which is indispensable is meditation, because it is a practice of actively training the mind. It is the training which produces results, in terms of actually lessening suffering.

On a personal note, a few years ago we added Bodhi Day to our list of celebrated December holidays. We wanted to give the children some more tangible exposure to Buddhism, and the simple candle-lighting we do on Decemer 8 is a great way to kick off the holiday season.


The Buddha said that gods are not important. As far as I can tell this is accurate.


Dharma sometimes refers to the teachings of the Buddha, and other times seems to refer to "things that happen." I would say the basic teachings of the Buddha and "things that happen" are both good to learn from.


Some people seem to think that karma is like a cosmic scorekeeper, tallying everything on a balance scale of good and bad. But karma, as I was taught, is not a supernatural force. Rather, it is the observation that effects arise from causes.

It is easy to see that sowing ill tends to produce ill, while sowing good tends to produce, if not good, then at least better. Of course nothing is guaranteed, and sometimes we absorb the effects of other people's karma, and sometimes things happen for reasons we cannot discern. However my understanding is that karma means, generally speaking, that you reap what you sow.

the caste system

It's not part of Zen. I thought it figured a lot more prominently in Hinduism. I do know that Buddhism was a kind of rejection of Hinduism of its day. The Buddha was said to have been a severe critic of the caste system.

the atman/Brahman

From what I understand, "atman" or "soul" is a prominent feature of Hinduism. However the Buddha is said to have taught "anatman," or "no soul." As with discussion of deities, the Buddha said that the question of the existence of a soul was a distraction from enlightenment.

the path to Enlightenment

The Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path are about as concise a description of human wisdom as exists. It is a very simple formula for recognizing suffering and working to lessen it.

From what I have seen, using meditation and the guidance of the Path, one can significantly reduce the role of suffering in personal experience. I have also noticed that it seems to cultivate a clarity of thought and perception which leads to great wisdom, compassion, and happiness.

Thanks for the chance to talk about it. I'd be happy to elaborate if you have any questions. :-)

8-18-13 2:30Aliens and UFOs

Jesse: I was wondering about your take on aliens and UFOs. Do you think there is other life out there?

Given how quickly life formed on this planet, I think it is practically inevitable. Life seems to be able to form wherever there is liquid water, and where the chemicals have enough heat, energy and pressure to form complex chains.

Intelligent life may not be quite as likely, however. There may be millions of planets full of microbes for every planet that evolves lifeforms more complex than sea slugs. There may be millions of planets with complex plant and animal forms for every one that has a creature which evolves intelligence.

But the hunt is on. Just last week they found another planet in the "Goldilocks Zone" - not too hot, not too cold - and there very well could be life there right now. We don't have any way to check at the moment. But we are getting pretty good at detecting planets around other stars these days, so more discoveries are bound to follow, perhaps some where we can detect life.

All of that has practically nothing to do with UFOs though.

Jesse: What about UFO's actually coming here?

It seems extremely unlikely. Carl Sagan - who knew as much about space as any human being - said that there was really no way that living beings from another world could literally come here in vessels. It's just too far. Space is unimaginably big, and lifeforms are almost totally dependent on their own complex ecological environments to survive.

Just about the only kind of being which could travel between stars would be some kind of computer intelligence.

Jesse: Have YOU ever had a sighting?

There was a pretty famous sighting in Phoenix in the 90's. It made the national news. A bunch of people photographed weird lights in the sky heading along I-10, including my dad. He was really taken aback by the experience. I think it was later explained by the airforce as flares dropped by aircraft or something.

As for me, a fellow I was dating and I used to watch comet Hale-Bopp in the evenings on his deck and see the stars come out. One night I spotted a weird triangle of stars that I had never noticed before. It was completely stationary and just looked like stars, but in a new place. I pointed to them and asked, "Has that always been there?" My boyfriend looked up and said, "I'm sure I would have have noticed that before." As we were both wondering what it could be, all three stars blinked out. They were gone.

No explanation. But, I don't really have any idea that it was "aliens." Just some weird thing I expect.

Jesse: I think there is life elsewhere in the universe. I, personally, think its selfish to think we are the only ones.

I don't really know anyone who thinks that. But "life elsewhere in the universe" is a completely different prospect than alien vistors here. One far from suggests the other.

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