03-16-16 9:10What Prayer Does

Andina: I was raised as a Christian, but I have always had so many questions. Like, what is prayer supposed to do? Change God's mind? Doesn't God already know what you want? Is He going to heal your sick friend just because you and the folks at church specially asked Him to? Are people really healed by prayer?

There have been studies done on intercessory prayer. There is no evidence that praying for people causes them to get well faster, or have better luck, or any other indication that some providential entity has intervened on their behalf.

When people say, "I'm praying for you," it's supposed to make you feel better because people are sympathizing with your situation. This is certainly a nice gesture. However the studies showed that surgical patients who were informed that they were being "prayed for" actually fared worse - they had longer recovery times and more post-operative complications. It was hypothesized that these patients perhaps feared that their conditions were worse than they thought they were, to put them in need of "extra" help.

Joy2theWorld: Prayer is not about us changing God's mind, instead it is about God changing our minds.

How? I have never really understood how people think this works. Does He rearrange neural network connections? Change the levels of our hormone balances? In what fashion would He be able to arrange for these physical changes to occur?

Seems like we would have more direct ability to "change" our own minds than a non-physical entity.

Andina: I want to understand what I believe. I'm agnostic...but, I want to believe in God, or something like it. And I really want to have something to teach my children so that they have some foundation from which to begin their own search.

If you are looking for a good moral or spiritual foundation to teach your children, I'd recommend Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths, the Eight-fold Path and the Five Precepts are as excellent a set of moral principles as you can find in any religion, without requiring faith in any kind of supernatural posits or divine interventionism.

Additionally, meditation is every bit as effective as prayer, if not more so, for calming the mind, providing solace and strength in adversity, and learning to avoid the attachments that lead to suffering. Studies demonstrate that Buddhists can actually be shown to be happier than people in other faith categories.

BBC News - Buddhists really are happier

Good luck in your search for understanding! Let me know if I can help.

03-16-16 9:10Forgotten Americans

Toucan: Trump supporters are the Forgotten Americans. Those 'Forgotten Americans' are now engaged, and the GOP must not fail them again.

The forgotten Americans believe in American exceptionalism. They love their country, but they feel its politicians have let them down. They see their cherished Judeo-Christian values under attack. They worry about America's economy. They want to see her borders secured.

These forgotten Americans and their values must be embraced by the GOP if they want Trump Supporters back.

The GOP has failed its conservative base by promising them conservative reform which will never, ever happen. Gay marriage and women's right to choose are not ever going to be cancelled.

Pretending that borders can be "closed" without Iron Curtain levels of oppression is another one.

Pretending that capitalism works is the worst. It has never worked without massive levels of exploitation. Humans need more than markets alone can provide. As long as the GOP keeps promising more "free enterprise" at the expense of social systems that work, people are going to be lost, broke and disillusioned.

03-15-16 9:10Thoughts on Proselytizing

HaloThere: People think I'm trying to proselytize to them and I'm not, I'm really not. I just care about people, and I'm trying to share God's love and His great gift to us. If you truly believe that someone is going to suffer everlasting torment, and just don't do anything, that seems very wrong.

It's like there is a runaway truck barrelling toward you at high speed, and you don't see it but the guy next to you does. Shouldn't he warn you, push you out of the way? Or should he just stand there and let you get run down?

I think if you truly care about other people, you should care about giving them advice that is sound.

WolfandaHalf: In Halo's mind it is sound, though.

Well how is that good enough? Suppose that truck was barelling down on you, and instead of pushing you out of the way, the guy next to you just hands you his lucky rabbit's foot and tells you "Good luck!" The guy gets an A for effort. He cares. But what good is his caring going to do for you? His advice is meaningless.

Just having things be sound in one's mind is not good enough. It creates a big disconnect between what people think, and what is real and what really works. This disconnect leads to error.

If you want to make sure your advice is sound before you give it, you check. If there is no way to check, there is no reason to think it is sound.

WolfandaHalf: Its ABOUT good intentions, not fact.

How convenient.

However fact is what separates good advice from bad, regardless of intentions.

HaloThere: That's what Christianity is - a way for you to dodge that truck.

Christianity is like a bunch of people standing there yelling at you to dodge a truck when there is no truck.

It doesn't matter that some guys a long time ago said the truck was coming. People say a lot of things, and that can't be verified.

It doesn't matter that they have these warm, spiritual feelings and they attribute them to the guy who built the truck.

It doesn't matter that you can't prove that there could never be a truck.

The fact remains that there is no reason to think you are in danger from a truck.

People have no business telling you there is a truck headed for you, and you will suffer for eternity if you don't dodge it, and only they have the thing you have to say in order to dodge it, when there is no reason at all to think any of this is true.

Claiming that there is a hell and they have the secret to save you is like yelling fire in a crowded theater. It is wrong.

HaloThere: YOU dont see the truck. Doesnt mean its not going to come.

Do you see it? What color is it?

HaloThere: Oh, you'll know it when you see it. :-)

This is a dodge. Have you seen it, yes or no?

Metaphor aside, what is your personal experiential evidence that Hell awaits some in the afterlife?

HaloThere: I have been the the presence of The Lord.

I'm not talking about "God." I know many people consider transcendent experience to be personal evidence that God exists, and that seems ok. I'm not enough of an atheist to argue the point.

But there is no believer that I know of who has actual, personal experience that Hell exists, or that accepting Jesus as your savior will keep you from going there in the afterlife. That is the "truck" in the analogy, isn't it?

Well, that is not something that people experience or can verify firsthand. It's dogma.

Repeating unconfirmed rumors about terrible things that you heard were going to happen is dishonest, and it creates a lot of fear. That seems wrong.

WolfandaHalf: But you are always going on about Buddhism...isn't that your "cure" for the speeding truck?

It's true, I will not hesitate to bring Buddhism into the conversation. I have sometimes wondered if that doesn't seem like proselytizing, lol!

But I actually think that is different, and I will explain why.

Buddhism is addressing a very different problem with a very different solution. To carry on with the analogy, Buddhism is more like noticing that your foot hurts, and realizing that it is because there is a truck which occasionally runs over it. It's not killing you, but it is causing suffering. The premise is one that is readily observable - life has suffering.

What Buddhism offers is a set of tools for removing your foot from the path of the truck, and greatly lessening the suffering from the unavoidable collisions. They are not magical solutions - "think this, and a deity will save you from the truck!" They are techniques and guidelines concerned entirely with the immediately attainable.

There is nothing I would offer from Buddhism that any person could not verify for themselves.

To the extent that Christianity offers its own set of tools for avoiding suffering - which it does - there is a lot of valuable wisdom there. But as far as the "onrushing truck" is concerned - a terrible afterlife fate for all who do not fall in line - it appears to be a lot of speculation, nothing more. I think presenting this speculation as if it was true is the problem of proselytizing.

03-13-16 9:10The Threat

BrahBrah: This article said that the upper middle class is a threat to the country! I am still scratching my head trying to figure how exactly someone who studies through school, goes on to college, gets married and THEN has children, stays married and in a stable relationship is a threat to the country.

That person is not the threat. The threat is from the inoptomizations of the system. Part of the inoptomization is the misconception that success is related to merit.

Not every person who planned to do well in school, then go to college, then get married, then have children and then stay married, was able to do so. If only good people succeeded at this, and only bad people failed at this, then it would be a test of merit. But, it's not. For one thing, it's extremely difficult, and even good people who try can fail at things which are extremely difficult. For another, success at every one of those depends highly on preconditions. Lastly, with this as the only model for success, even people who work hard, best adversity and learn how to be happy are not able to flourish or be considered any kind of success if they are not a financial success. No matter how hard you worked or tried, no matter how much success you had at non-financial efforts, if you are poor you are a dumb loser who didn't do enough.

The answer is not to pillory the upper middle class, and indeed no one thinks it is. One part of the answer is to uncouple financial levels from merit. They are utterly unrelated. However we are programmed by scarcity to think that he who has more, is more. So that would be hard to change.

02-17-16 7:10Is Sex Like The Movies or the Bathroom?

ReggaeShark: Did you hear what happened in Texas? They killed the funding for Planned Parenthood and closed most of their clinics. A year later, unplanned pregnancies in Texas are up 27%! That's a lot!

The article I was reading about it said this: "Access to birth control is one of the most important rights for a woman to have -- how else can we have any control over our bodies, lives, families, destinies?"

Of course there's the old aspirin technique, does anyone think of that anymore?

Reading through the article, I mused aloud, "Well, I suppose there is one other way to control your body, life, family and destiny - control what your body does, and do not have sex." To which my husband, seated nearby, was like, "Wait, what?"

This led to an interesting discussion. Playing devil's advocate for the "Just Say No" side, I suggested that sex was like going to the movies. If you can't afford a ticket, you just don't go, and that's that.

Hubs suggested that it was more like a pay toilet (remember those?). It's not like, if you can't afford it, you just don't go. You have to find a way to go anyway. You don't have a choice, at least not forever. Sex is a biological imperative, programmed into the genes from before we had bodies. People have to have sex the way they have to go to the bathroom, because it's how bodies work.

I actually agree. There is no force in the universe, no society so restrictive, no taboos so damning, that they stopped people from having sex. People have always had lots of sex no matter what. (Not every person, but most people.) Pop concerns like "we can't afford a child" are having no more effect at preventing people from having sex than the threats of shame, hell and damnation of previous eras.

So, saturation birth control - full access for every person, with strong supporting health structures at every level of society - is the only way we can prevent unplanned pregnancy, and preventing unplanned pregnancy is the only way we can have control over our bodies, lives, families and destinies. We are so lucky to live in a time when such things are even remotely possible.

Wendy: I don't agree that birth control is a right. In other words, you have the right to not have someone keep you from obtaining birth control, but no one is required to buy it for you.

I disagree. Society works much better when we make sure that people who can't afford their own birth control get it any way. They are the ones who need it most. Standing around telling them they should not expect a birth control hand-out makes society worse. Just like in Texas right now.

Rights are what we make them. We should make them what works.

02-11-16 11:12Theistic Evolution

Betty: Science and religion are not in competition. I believe in God and yet I don't deny evolution. I just believe in theistic evolution...that evolution too was God's work.

I find "theistic evolution" to be a cheap security blanket. There is no evidence that evolution was rigged to occur by a sentient being or that it is affected at any point by magical intervention. It seems to occur as naturally as water flowing downhill, arising as a direct result of the properties of matter.

The point of evolution is that it does itself. What is there for a "God" to do?

Betty: I said I believe in evolution, does it matter who gets the credit?

Does the truth matter?

Betty: Reguardless of how you feel about it, theistic evolution certainly makes more sense of Genesis than literal creationism - wham, someone turns on a light and gets to work with the playdough.

What makes sense about it?

Betty: The truth does matter. IF you know what the truth is, it would be good to know.

As far as I can tell, the truth is that everywhere people have looked for "God" in natural processes they have found instead only natural processes. There is not any evidence at all of divine intervention. So, at this point the statement containing verifiable truth would be "There is no evidence that God 'made' or 'is doing' evolution."

Betty: However, I am not aware of any significant evidence to define the actual truth at this point.

All evidence points to natural processes which do not appear to be directed by an intelligence. I know "all" evidence isn't entirely definitive, but I do consider it significant. I certainly don't think it is in any way truthful to try to ret-con God into the process, just to backfill the justification for the Genesis story.

Betty: It makes more sense, because it accords with scientific evidence, rather than some fancy story that everything was created in one go and nothing has ever changed since.

The Genesis story can be arranged or updated to more closely resemble what we have discovered about our origins. But I don't see how positing a sentient intelligence with magic powers as the most important part of the system accords with scientific evidence.

Fenlay: I learned about evolution in school but I do not believe a lot of it occurred.

Then why do scientists say that it occurred? Are they lying? What reason could there be for scientists to pretend evolution occurred when it didn't?

Fenlay: Well, clearly, those who support the theory believe it did. It doesn't mean it did, just that they believe it did. Do you believe that scientists are always right, 100% of the time?

Nobody is always right. But science is a process of error correction.

You don't have to take a scientist's word that he is right. His work can be checked. When his conclusions are incorrect it can be shown with evidence.

Fenlay: Scientific conclusion can be checked, but what does that prove? They would be checked according to the criteria and calculations that the scientist(s) designed and used for their particular experiments.

Not necessarily. Young upstart scientists like to look at things in new ways. Very often old conclusions are confirmed by entirely new experiments.

Fenlay: What makes their method(s) foolproof? Simply because they say their methods are foolproof??

I don't recall any scientist ever saying that their methods are "foolproof." However the methodology of a scientist is laid bare for his colleagues and every other human to study and replicate. No one is required to simply accept any conclusion on his say so.

And very often, scientific conclusions are shown to be correct because they work. They allow technologies or cures or discoveries that would not work if the conclusions were wrong.

Fenlay: Like they say, nothing is certain except for death and taxes.

Nobody claims that everything in science is "certain" either. However there is such a thing as being almost certain, based on mountains of evidence which has undergone every conceivable scrutiny.

And in science you don't have to be 100% right, you just have to be close enough to work, and be prepared to refine as you go.

02-11-16 11:12Neptune

Mellie: You are a hypocrite, complaining about faith, when you use faith every day just as much as anyone else. Me believing in God is no different from you believing in the planet Neptune.

I am willing to bet you never looked in a telescope strong enough to actually, personally see Neptune. Yet you believe it is there because you were told it was there and you chose to believe it is out there. Welcome to faith.

You don't have to take the word of people who tell you it is there. You can look through a telescope and observe Neptune yourself.

Since this claim is something you can check, it's not similar to stories about deities.

Furthermore, no one is saying that it is important to believe in Neptune. I certainly don't have any particular "faith" that Neptune, the planet, is out there somewhere. "Believing" in Neptune has not really been required - so far.

If some reason arose where I really needed to determine one way or the other whether Neptune existed, I would not just "choose" to believe or not. I would go to the observatory and tell them I needed confirmation of Neptune and I would learn enough about what Neptune is to determine for my own self that Neptune exists. I could actually find out. That's what being real means. I would be able to take any person with me and point the telescope at Neptune and say, see, that's what they mean, that is Neptune.

People are saying, not just that God exists, but that it's very important to believe in God, and in salvation through Jesus. They are telling me that it means the difference between spending an eternity of bliss in Heaven or an eternity of torment in Hell. Yet, there is no way to check about any of this. No way to check and see if there is a God, and if there is a Jesus, and if there is an afterlife, and if there are in fact two separate afterlifes, and if Jesus actually has anything to do with either one.

How can this stuff be true, and even critically important, and there be no way to confirm or verify it? Doesn't that seem kind of...convenient?

Mellie: Still a hypocrite! You have some problem with people learning about God from the bible because it was written by men. But, then you said you would have to "learn enough about Neptune" to determine yourself that it exists.

You would have to read books - written by men. Chart the stars and follow maps - written by men again. And still when you do see it you would have to believe what other men told you it was.

This is silly. Neptune exists and you can verify what people say about it. You could arrange to see it yourself through a telescope in an observatory. You can even watch Triton, its moon, circle around Neptune from one night to the next. It really is out there and can be looked at by anyone who would choose to go through the effort to make the confirmation.

Mellie: People believe what they want to - who are you to say they are right or wrong?

I am able to find out.

02-11-16 8:12Mandatory Health Coverage

GrannyNelson: I still don't agree that any government should force an American to purchase healthcare. What about freedom of choice?

Car insurance is not the same. You are required to cover another person's car and yours if you don't outright own it. But this is your body and your healthcare we're talking about. Make it available and affordable? Sure. Make it mandatory? No.

I can't agree. Your health affects others in the same way your driving affects others.

And, there is no reasonable case to be made for "choosing" not to have health insurance. No matter how healthy they think they are, every person can be exposed to diseases or have serious accidents. When that happens, a lack of financial arrangement is a terrible burden on not only the patient, but the family, the hospital and the entire society. Creating this burden on self and society by choice is not a reasonable choice.

Everyone needs a financial arrangement for health. The only reason one might "choose" not to have it is because they can't afford it. If that's the case with car insurance, well then, tough luck, you might just have to walk. But, you can't choose not to drive your body around. You have to use it. You have to drive it, and it might crash, so it has got to be provided for.

The reason it seems so lame is because it is nothing but a stopgap, a partial measure.

The only reason we have this insane rigamarole with "mandatory insurance" involved is because we can't get people to understand that national healthcare works better. It's not evil, it's not even very different in appearance from what we have now. It's just one big insurance company that is not for profit. The pool of risk is really big, so the risk is shared plenty widely enough to cover everyone. The fees from the system go back into the system instead of into the pockets of profit-holders. The performance of the system is answerable to us, the self-governors of our public systems.

It works in other countries. It would work here too.

On a side note, I really have to laugh when I think about this whole, convoluted game we play called "money." It really is just an insanely complicated cultural system of means testing. It may well always exist, because people love it so, but I think it could be unhooked from sustenance in a way that only those who wanted to play would have to. I think most people would. But having the option? That would truly be freedom of choice.

GrannyNelson: Can you explain please how my health affects others in the same way my driving affects others?

I would be happy to.

Your good health is important to others, as is theirs to you. If you are sick with a preventable infection, you are at risk for infecting others. If you are impaired by ill health, people around you are at risk from your impairment. If you incur great debt because of illness, you might have to go bankrupt, which could also destroy the finances of your spouse and means much less for your dependents.

Even more, your health matters to your family members. If you are the emotional center of your family, they will be deprived when you are too sick to hold everyone together. And if you die a needless death from a preventable disease, your loss will haunt your loved ones with even more grief.

Thanks for asking!

GrannyNelson: First of all, people do not have to have car insurance. You only need car insurance if you want the priviledge of driving a car.

All the more reason it makes sense for mandatory health provisions. There is no excuse for not including everyone, because everyone has the privilege of driving their bodies around whether they want it or not.

GrannyNelson: My driving can kill or injure others or damage their property.

Your bad health can kill or injure others or damage their property, particularly if you are impaired by illness. It can also kill or injure you and you are a person too.

GrannyNelson: Yes, I could have a preventable infection that could make others sick, but whether or not I have health insurance has nothing to do with that.

It most certainly does. If you do not have health coverage your infection will be worse - it will not be treated well or at all. It will go on longer and be more virulent, giving you the opportunity to infect many more people than you would have if you had access to timely medical intervention.

GrannyNelson: Hospitals are not going to turn away people who need care.

That's not a reason to continue as we have been. Hospitals having to take people who can't afford hospital care is not working. Health care reform is not just about people getting care, it's about paying for care and who and how.

GrannyNelson: It's really not the same as car insurance at all, is it?

Driving a car and being a person are very similar in that they are dangerous, and it's usually pretty cool but occasionally things go wrong, and when they do it can be very serious and extremely expensive. It is similar in that we all do it together and it requires a great deal of cooperation to make it work for everyone involved.

It is similar enough that the rationale for mandatory car insurance pertains equally if not more to health insurance. Car insurance was not always mandatory, but over time the requirement was adopted by every state because it worked better than the alternative. Coverage for all participants works better for health for the same reasons.

02-10-16 9:50Separatness

Elton: I heard a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh. He said, "Do not be deceived by the illusion of apparent separateness. Nothing including you exists in isolation, separate from the fullness of Reality. "

Is this all that Religion provides? A solution to the feeling of "separateness"?

An enlightened master was asked about separateness. He said, "Not one. Not two."

It's kind of like photons. Is it a particle, or is it a wave? The answer is that our minds are not grasping what it is exactly, so some times it seems to be a particle and other times it seems to be a wave.

In some cases it is useful to treat things as separate and other times it is useful to treat them as continuous. Things are actually neither and both. Not one. Not two.

Read more in the Archives.