08-20-16 1:42  •  Sin vs. Hamartia

SweetTea: The reason we cannot be with God in the afterlife is because of sin. Our sin separates us from God - it causes hurt to Him and He cannot look upon it.

Sin is willfully disobeying God. In the Garden, Adam disobeyed God. So, all humans have inherited this sin. I try not to sin, but it is impossible to never sin. Only through being washed clean in the Blood of Christ can we be redeemed of our sin and enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Houseplant: Yes, Jesus Blood! Jesus blood cover everything!

Perhaps because I was not raised in a Christian religion, I have never been concerned about "sin." It just seemed like an imaginary layer of guilt added onto ordinary human foibles.

I was reading an interview with Dr. A.C. Grayling and I felt that he explained it really well:

"The Greeks have this marvelous idea, so different from the theological moralities where sin is a stain on your soul which you have to work hard to scrub off, and perhaps never quite get rid of. The Greek conception is what they called hamartia, which is the mistaken shot. You shoot your arrow at the target and if you miss, what do you do? You take better aim next time."

"Sin" seems like a cruel method of controlling people through fear. Our mistakes are part of our learning process and are perfectly natural. There is no reason to claim that mistakes offend God.

SweetTea: I don't think sin is hard to get rid of.

According to you it is impossible to get rid of. You said, "I try to not sin but it is impossible to never sin."

SweetTea: Everyone sins or does wrong at some time or another. It is impossible to not.

"Sin" and "does wrong" are not interchangable.

SweetTea: But as a Christian my sin can be forgiven if I ask.

There is no reason to think that you or any other person needs magic forgiveness. Ordinary forgiveness, for and from the humans in your life, is what actually works.

SweetTea: I do need forgiveness, as it is my sin that separates me from God.

Somebody told you that you were "separate from God" and you just believed them? Why?

SweetTea: Because the Bible says so and I believe the Bible is the word of God.

Somebody told you the Bible is the word of God and you just believed them? Why?

Cassa: You cite the ancient Greeks, but you are convenviently forgetting to mention that they believed in an afterlife, with rewards based on how they lived their lives and how they obeyed the gods...

Ancient people believed a lot of weird things. That is why it is important that their ideas be evaluated for merit.

Cassa: ...so I guess those ancient Greeks were also cruel and controlled people through fear.

To an extent, but what of it? We are not obliged to do everything they did just to explore one of their concepts. The purpose of raising the discussion is to decide which is a better approach to understanding human error now.

The Greek concept of hamartia - "the missed shot" - is that your mistakes and missteps are a natural part of the learning process. If you make a mistake or do the wrong thing, you have the opportunity to learn from the experience and the results, and do better next time. This seems like a realistic and compassionate way to understand human error.

"Sin," on the other hand, adds a ridiculous imaginary layer of cause - It's disobeying God! It's because Adam ate the fruit! - and a ridiculous imaginary layer of effect - It's hurting God! It makes you "separate"!! etc.

Well, there is plenty of evidence of ordinary humans, making mistakes, and even learning from them as they go. This happens; hamartia exists. On the other hand, there is no evidence of Adam, no evidence that humans are born with Original Sin, no evidence that there are moral laws created by God, and no evidence that He is offended or separated from humans as a result of certain mistakes. All of that appears to be just as imaginary as Hades, Tartarus and the River Styx.

So, which approach seems like a better way to understand human error? The mean, cruel and imaginary one, or the realistic, understanding and compassionate one?

The medieval concept of magic wrongdoing, because humans are magically tainted with evil, is causing a world of unnecessary angst and guilt, and a dangerously distorted view of cause and effect. A more compassionate and realistic view of the human condition would be uplifting to all humanity, and allow yet greater opportunities for learning and growing.

Cassa: Raverlady, you can't introduce terms like "sin" and "hamartia" without deeply exploring the cultures in which they arose.

I can and am. If you can't separate those terms from their contexts, just substitute "magic wrongdoing" and "natural error".

There is no reason to claim that ordinary human mistakes - made as we learn to navigate an extremely complex reality with limited understanding - are magically bad because they are against "god." There is no evidence of it. There is no evidence of magic wrongdoing. There is evidence only of natural error.

Cassa: Most religions already have a concept that works in their system and you cannot just plug and play other religions concepts and expect the system to still work correctly.

I disagree. Humans routinely experiment with their own systems and frequently adopt different ideas than they had before. That is why Christianity has thirty-two thousand sects. That is why no two people have identical beliefs. That is why beliefs and ideas change over time. As people are exposed to new ideas they are capable of incorporating them into their previous understanding.

In fact, if new ideas are presented in a sufficiently succinct and clear manner, and at the right moment, there can even be a gestalt - a moment of entirely new understanding, after which a person can never go back to seeing things as they did before.

Such moments of transformed understanding are to be sought, at least I think so.

Additionally, I am a proponent of Workonomics, or the idea that we should use ideas that work, regardless of where they "come from," even if they come from another political or ideological framework. The merit of an idea or process is, is it true and does it work? If the idea is true and works it can be employed with success.

This is a specific effort to combat the partisan and ideological compartmentalization of ideas which is strangling human progress. Humans should be free to employ solutions based on their demonstratable merits.

Cassa: You seem to clearly to indicate you think that "hamartia" should be integrated into our thinking in our modern here-and-now systems - if its "better."

Well I think maybe some people could do that. But even better would be to look beyond the "systems," and all the ancient ideas, and simply examine what is.

If you leave the religious systems of the Jews and the Greeks behind and look at people of unrelated systems, if you simply observe people anywhere, you always find the same thing - people, trying to balance their own needs with the needs of the group, trying to make things work, and sometimes failing. Failing more often in youth than in maturity, showing that some of the lessons actually are learned over time.

This is not a high-handed philosophical conjecture. This is pure observation. This isn't just what the Greeks saw or what I see, this is what you or any other person will see if they look. People, trying, sometimes missing, trying again...and often, getting better.

It doesn't matter what you call it, this is what is, and is readily observable. On the other hand, no gods, no moral laws from above, no divine standards, no judgement, no redemption is apparent. There is nothing which can be observed which confirms that any of this is real or what it is claimed to be. All that may be no more real than Hades.

So by observation, "hamartia" is no more than an accurate description of what is occurring, regardless of what it is called.

Understanding human error as hamartia instead of as sin is more than unplugging one idea and plugging in another. It is experiencing the gestalt to see that an understanding of reality can and has been arrived at by an examination of reality. It is realizing that we do not need to believe or follow any system just because a bunch of people have for a really long time. It is seeing that the truth is not in ancient folktales, it is before us, and we are it.

I like to think that there might be a way to get people to see this.

But even if no person who reads this is capable of changing their ideas, well, who cares, it's worth a try. It's fun. :-)

Cassa: There is nothing cruel to me about a concept of being responsible for your actions and learning from them which is what I understand sin to be.

I disagree that sin means no more than this. SweetTea states that sin is "wilfully disobeying God" and I agree with her that is the sense most people will think of when they hear the word "sin."

If "sin" implied nothing more than being responsible and learning from mistakes it would be a perfectly reasonable concept. By reasonable, I mean, acceptable to reason, physically possible, observable, etc.

However we all know that "sin" is actually a supernatural mistake, that is, a supposed crime against God. It is also held, at least in Christianity - the dominant system in my culture - to be the main force determining human behavior - ie, humans are inherently wrong-doers because they have inherited "Original Sin" from Adam and Eve. This spiritual hangover, the "sin nature" as they call it, is the entire justification for Christianity.

It goes, because Adam ate the fruit, all humans are morally and spiritually repugnant to God. Only by the blood sacrifce of a magic being could this repugnance be overcome. As Houseplant puts it, "Jesus Blood! Jesus blood cover everything!"

So, humans are told their entire lives that they are inherently evil-doers and repugnant to the One Good Thing, unless they are covered in Jesus Blood.

This is barbaric, ridiculous, cruel, and completely unwarranted by any examination of the facts. There is no evidence that it is remotely true. Telling children this, before they are capable of critical thinking, and telling them they have to believe it / be good or else they will GO TO HELL!, seems a hideous abuse of trust.

08-20-16 1:42  •  The New Religions

SweetTea: Jesus rose! He lives! He is the proof of Christianity!

IdaKnow: We will never be able to "prove" any religion....ever.

Completely disagree. The trick would be to start with the accurate truth and then make the religion portray it accurately.

There is no reason to use the old religions. We cannot verify their claims and they don't seem to be true. But that doesn't mean no religion could ever be useful. In the age of reason, religion would just need to be true to be useful.

As an example of how this might work, I would offer Zen Buddhism. This flavor of Buddhism is not concerned with claims about gods, souls, afterlives, reincarnations, bodhisattvas or anything supernatural. It claims that you can reduce suffering through techniques, and explains the techniques. It says you can be more moral using guidelines, and explains the guidelines. There is nothing there that any person could not personally verify.

Religion does a lot of important things for society. The fact that most of the legacy religions are bunk is just a historical hangover. We can start over, make completely new religions, using all the amazing, incredible, wonderful "provable" truth we have learned, and embracing the mystery of all yet to know.

It would be cool.

SisterSoulja: Now, if only people could agree about the new ideals, formats, guidelines and truths.

Let's try. Why not?

Truth is the easiest. Statements are true if they are accurate. The accuracy of statements can be checked. If they can't be checked, then you have a different truth - that you don't know.

Guidelines are also easy. They are good guidelines if they work. If they don't work they can be changed.

Business groups and other organizations are able to come together around ideals and formats. It can be done.

I am not even suggesting there should only be one new religion that everyone has to like or agree with. There could be many, with different rituals, etc. But verifiable accuracy should be at the heart of any quest for enlightenment. Religion is of no use at all without it.

SisterSoulja: While I agree with your approach, I think the problem would arise when approaching those who are already deeply, devoutly faithful and strongly convicted to certain tenets.

I don't see any reason to approach them at all. I agree it would be a waste of effort for the most part, so why bother?

But, there are new people coming along every day. Do we really want nothing better to offer them than the old ways?

The old traditions are dying, crumbling under the weight of their unreason. There is a cultural vacuum. I think future generations will fill it with new religions. So I'm floating the idea of a true religion to get the zeitgeist going in the right direction. :-)

IdaKnow: I tend to go with the definition of religion that states it is a belief in a supernatural deity.

Well look how great THAT has worked out for humanity. Obviously a dead end. It's time we expanded our horizons, don't you think?

I use this definition from dictionary.com:

a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

So, usually involving superhuman agencies...but not necessarily. I would say that creating a set of ideas concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe, involving ritual observance, containing a moral code, is taking all of the parts of religion that are useful and important and leaving out only the dead end.

Humans invented religion in order to enshrine a narrative tradition. The tradition existed to bring the culture together and pass the rules to the next generation. It worked by bringing the reality of the natural world - facts - together with what is important - values. This allowed people to internally map the world, and their place in it, and their place within the community, to bring personal wholeness and social cohesion.

Legacy religions were started by ancient people who did not understand a single thing about the cause and effect that dominated their lives. Of course they are filled with made-up explanations, superstitious taboos and tribal out-grouping. They need to be thrown on the scrap heap of history.

But humans still need personal wholeness and social cohesion, as much if not more than ever. So why not create a new narrative tradition - using a true narrative, to the best of our ability to discern - to bring together facts and values?

The true story of what we are and how we came to be here like this is the most magnificent story ever told, the greatest show on Earth. The biological basis for our love and compassion and morality is a far better foundation for understanding how to be than leaning on the dictates of a wrathful non-entity. Techniques that really work for alleviating suffering and creating happiness exist and can be disseminated and tested and built on. Plus, it would provide expression for esoterica usually ignored by secular culture, like transcendence and the technology of spiritual experience.

There is a lot of material there to work with. Just because there is nothing supernatural, doesn't mean there is nothing meaningful or uplifting to say. The new religions need not be burdened by pretending, and can talk about the real reasons for what this is.

IdaKnow: Any type of groupthink is inherently dangerous if it is used as a means of control, rather than a tool as a means to a better life.

So don't do it that way.

Rose: Religion is about faith. I go further and say it's a deeply personal journey one must make on their own. Each must find their own truth.

I don't agree that a system where everybody "finds their own truth" is working, or could work.

If everyone finds their own "truth," it can't be verified to be actually true. So, it could be wrong. And, there is no reason for it to be consistent from one person to the next. Everyone gets to declare it to be whatever they want, or whatever their continent usually says it is, and there is no way to reconcile the differences or determine which description is more accurate. Forever unresolvable conflict is the result.

SweetTea: Jesus lives, and I'm hoping I'm on earth to see His comeback!

Unfortunately, you are not alone, and the attempts to usher this in have serious geopolitical consequences.

So, case in point.

SweetTea: What do you mean?

SweetTea: So now we're getting our current events from BILL MAHR? Please tell me you are joking.

Perhaps you will appreciate this source more:

20 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.

21 Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.

22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

23 But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.

24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

Liza: What is your problem with everyone finding their own truth? Otherwise, don't you think that could get a little George Orwell "1984 ish"?

Etha: Oh, I know what you mean, like those people in A Wrinkle in Time. Remember how they did everything exactly at the same time? So creepy!

Let's see. Every single history teacher in the WHOLE WORLD will tell you that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Every single one. There's not even a law that says they have to use that date. They just do, all of them, like robots in lockstep. Creepy? Orwellian?

Liza: Not the same. Religion has to be a free choice. You're trying to regulate religion. Are you saying this new world religion would be taught in school? Do you realize your example was even Orwellian?

Whoa, slow down. What are you talking about? I never said anything about a "new world religion." Did you read what I actually wrote? Among other things, I said:

"I am not even suggesting there should only be one new religion that everyone has to like or agree with. There could be many, with different rituals, etc. But verifiable accuracy should be at the heart of any quest for enlightenment. Religion is of no use at all without it."

You are making a ton of assumptions, so for clarity here is what I am NOT suggesting:

• Compulsory religion

• State religion

• One religion

• Religion in school

• Ritual uniformity

• Religious Majority

Now please stop panicking and listen to what I am actually saying. There is a reason why all the history teachers say that Pearl Harbor happened on December 7, 1941. It's not because it's creepy Orwellian groupthink. It's because, to the best of our ability to determine, the information is accurate.

The legacy religions from thousands of years ago are clearly inaccurate about a lot of things. People did not used to be concerned with accuracy, but now they are. The religions of the future, whatever they are, will have to be based on something other than made up stuff from thousands of years ago, or they will be as problematic as the old ones. They will need to be verifiably accurate to be of any use at all.

Yes, when things can be verified, everyone who cares about accuracy says the same thing. It's not Orwellian, it's trying to be real.

Liza: I'm basically saying that what you propose would be ripe for abuse (just like any other religion).

Everything is ripe for abuse. That is no reason to do nothing.

What prevents abuse is checks and balances. Currently, religion has none. No one is accountable for what religions claim.

The entire point of making verifiable accuracy a requirement for religions of the future is to provide checks against abuse and other forms of bullshit. Verifiable accuracy is what made chemistry an improvement over alchemy, astronomy an improvement over astrology.

Reason and accuracy work. Why not apply them to the narrative systems we turn to for meaning and wholeness?

Liza: You are talking about policing religion.

If by "policing," you mean holding people accountable for the accuracy of things they claim are true, then damn straight. That would be a huge improvement over our current system of zero accountability, where anyone can claim anything in the name of religion and no matter how hateful, stupid or obviously wrong it is, it gets a pass. There is no reason for this.

Liza: Who would make these checks and balances?

Anyone. Everyone. Any person who wants to know if a claim is accurate is free to check it. If there are discrepancies with the claim they can be demonstrated. Others who wish to know which is correct can check also, and all concerned can confer and compare what they find until the discrepancies are resolved. That is how you find out what is true.

The point is to say things which are accurate, so that when people check them, everything lines up. Why is that less important in religion than anywhere else? It should be more important.

Liza: I just trying to break down how you're going to implement this. So someone starts this "factual religion church" people join and then this group begins policing each other?

If by "policing," you mean fact-checking, why not? Sure, it's harder to preach to a choir who are using critical thinking, but it would keep the preacher on his toes. He should be accountable for the accuracy of what he is claiming is true. Why isn't he?

Liza: I mean they would just basically be one of the other many new beliefs and it would probably just stay in that circle of people.

Maybe people will get tired of being fed a bunch of unsubstantiated claims from thousands of years ago that contradict each other and make no sense, and they will begin to gravitate to religions that are true and work. It could catch on.

Liza: As long as it's all voluntary I don't see a problem with it.

08-19-16 1:42  •  Blame the Path

Appalonia Jones: People need to stop blaming religion for the ills of the world. Religion is a structure of beliefs and so forth, but it doesn't tell people what to do.

It tells people what they "should" do.

Appalonia Jones: Religion is a path. It's well laid out and clearly marked, but you have to do the walking.

You should walk where it tells you to walk.

Appalonia Jones: We are in complete control of the steps we take. We can't blame the path.

We are in complete control of the path. If some of the steps lead nowhere, or to bad places, we can take out the markers telling people to walk there.

Appalonia Jones: Well...Christianity does tell you what to do, but no more than any other path.

The point is, "paths" do tell people what to do.

Appalonia Jones: You're still in control.

No one suggested anything remotely otherwise. That does not exempt the path itself from being evaluated for merit.

Appalonia Jones: Change the path? I guess, if you think the path should be different, you can certainly try.

Of course. The fact that anyone isn't trying is inexcusable.

Appalonia Jones: But depending on how popular and well-traveled the path is, you'd probably have a hard time diverting traffic.

That would be a crappy cop-out of a reason not to try.

Appalonia Jones: Ultimately, people go where they want to go. I once saw some people take on off-ramp and get onto the freeway facing the against traffic. Now I ask you...should we blame that on the road??

Did the road have these?

It probably did. If it didn't, the road could certainly be evaluated for merit and found seriously wanting. But, a road doesn't build itself. The people who built the road and maintained the road and used the road, and even the ones who saw the road are all responsible for ignoring a dangerous hazard.

What we need is a few of these inserted into religion. In Christianity, for example, we need one right where the sign points to "Homosexual sex is abomination" and before each path that says "There is no way to God but through me."

Appalonia Jones: Well since you put it that way, yeah, the path isn't perfect. But what does the merit of a path have to do with the path being responsible for your actions?

"Blaming religion" has nothing to do with suggesting that religion has agency. It is pointing out that there are flaws in "the path" that people are getting hung up on.

Appalonia Jones: What do you mean, "It's inexcusable that anyone isn't trying"? Trying what?

The fact that people stand by and let "gays are abomination" and "Christ-only salvation" remain as part of the Christian religion is inexcusable.

Appalonia Jones: We were given a brain for a reason. That reason is to reason.

This does not justify failing to correct the flaws. It's like saying that it's just fine for Ikea to include wrong directions in their furniture assembly instructions. Why provide good directions that work? After all, people may be looking there specifically for guidance - but they have brains, let them figure out which instructions to ignore.

Appalonia Jones: We don't need to put up a "Don't eat here if you value your health" sign next to the McDonalds billboard.

Look at a pack of cigarettes. Some things create enough suffering that they merit warnings.

Appalonia Jones: Two words: Personal accountability.

Christians are accountable for what their religion is saying.

Appalonia Jones: Are you saying that everyone should divert believers who are following "the wrong paths" (wrong, according to you)?

I'm saying that people should try to get the bad paths out of their religion or at least warn people that we know better now.

Appalonia Jones: I am a Christian and I don't buy the idea that homosexuality is an abomination or that Jesus is the only way to God.

That is what a lot of Christians tell me. All the more reason to change the religion so it reflects what you actually believe.

The UUs did it. The rest of Christianity would do well to follow their lead.

Appalonia Jones: You said that in Christianity we need a warning sign "right where the sign points to "Homosexual sex is abomination" and before each path that says "There is no way to God but through me." Why?

Because those claims are cruel, exclusionary, and completely unsubstantiated. They correspond to nothing that can be observed in reality. They exist only as stuff people say. Promulgating these ideas as true is divisive and creates massive unresolvable conflict.

You don't even believe this stuff. What justification could there possibly be for keeping the signposts which point this way on the path?

Appalonia Jones: I see, you apparently think we live in a perfect world. I hate to burst your bubble, but nothing is perfect.

And, since we live in a world that is lacking in encounters of pure perfection, isn't it a given that flaws exist in everything we interact with?

That is why we use error correction. We may not be able to be perfect, but we can try to be better.

"Nothing is perfect" is no excuse for failing to correct flaws.

Appalonia Jones: The beliefs of Christianity are a matter of history. We can't all just get together and take a vote to change history.

I'm not talking about changing history, I'm talking about changing current official policy.

Appalonia Jones: Homosexuality is an abomination, is a historic part of Jewish scripture. Christ only salvation, is a historic part of Christian scripture.

The Unitarian Universalists got together and declared that they believe in Universal Salvation. That is now their official policy. If they can do it, other people can too.

Appalonia Jones: Just because these things haven't been deleted from our books, doesn't mean that we all embrace that ideology anymore than you might embrace slavery just because it's in American history books.

America has officially refuted slavery. The Unitarians officially refuted Christ-only salvation. If they can do it, others can too.

"It's impossible" is no excuse for failing to correct flaws.

Appalonia Jones: You claim we "know better now." But Christians don't all believe the same way.

Many Christians would feel the need to warn me that I'm not following the path correctly. That doesn't mean they're right. Anymore than me warning them that we're not supposed to judge homosexuals, is right. "Knowing better" is purely subjective.

No. The fact that it is not subjective is what makes knowing so vastly superior to simply deciding. Knowing comes from looking at how things actually are.

You can simply examine homosexuality and how it works in nature and observe directly for yourself that it is not a pathology. It's not "a matter of opinion" that it is wrong. It has no demonstratable wrong. No wrong can be shown of it. Therefore the description of it as wrong is not accurate.

It is also possible to see that labeling it as wrong is cruel, divisive, and causing an untold amount of suffering.

"We don't really know better" is no excuse for not correcting flaws - particularly that one.

Appalonia Jones: Oh, so now UU is the perfect religion. I got ya. ;)

They did something you are claiming is impossible. Jealous? ;)

Appalonia Jones: IMO, uniformity is not the answer. Religion works best when choices exist.

I disagree that Christianity needs to offer both hate policies and love policies so that people can have a choice.

Appalonia Jones: Censoring information limits our ability to make a completely informed decision.

Are the Unitarian Universalists guilty of "censorship"?

"It would limit our choices" and "it would be censorship" are ridiculous excuses for failing to correct flaws.

Appalonia Jones: We HAVE grown since then (well....most of us).

If the majority of Christians have grown, it's time to update the policies of the majority groups to reflect that growth.

Throughout Christian history there have been many, many official declarations of policy and movements where people declared a different understanding than what had been official before.

It's time for a New Reformation.

Appalonia Jones: But, warnings? Unlike cigarettes, religion is not toxic to everyone. For some people, it is helpful.

I am not talking about the entire religion. I am talking about putting "warning signs" on the particular toxic parts of the religion which are helpful to nobody.

Having it a matter of official policy that those ideas are flawed, that they cause great suffering, and that we have learned better, is how the warnings about those ideas are posted.

Appalonia Jones: We are not accountable for the whole of Christianity anymore than white people are accountable for caucasians everywhere.

"White people" is an ethnic designation. It can't be changed. People have no choices about what designation they are. The designation does not represent any kind of policy.

Christianity is an ideology. It is self-selecting. It can be changed. People in ideological groups are responsible for the ideology of the group. Who else could possibly be responsible for it? Christianity will be what the people who have selected themselves into those groups want it to be.

If you think that changing Christianity is impossible, by all means, do not work for it. But, since Christianity is supposed to be about love, you would think there would be a lot of Christians who want better, more loving doctrines...enough so that there would be a widespread movement working within Christianity to have the doctrines updated. However, except for outlying groups like the UUs, there isn't.

The fact that there isn't, that most groups are not working to address the flaws in Christian doctrine the way the Unitarian Universalists have done, is inexcusable.

Appalonia Jones: A New Reformation? That's just insane.

Tell that to Martin Luther. Or the UUs. People who want better can change.

Appalonia Jones: Some people agree with or find value in, those official church teachings, so naturally they wouldn't want to change them.

I don't think a majority really agrees that maligning gays and preaching exclusive salvation is a good idea. Anyone can look and see these are unsubstantiated, cruel, exclusionary, and are causing suffering.

People may not be ready to change it officially today, but as error correction kicks in and people become concerned about suffering, I think it likely that someday they will.

As time goes on I feel confident that the moral arc of history will continue to bend toward justice.

Appalonia Jones: Everyone doesn't necessarily find fault with all of the teachings you might find fault with.

I'm not saying they should agree with me. I am saying they should check and see what actually is.

Dina:If it were that simple, RaverLady, we'd have nothing to talk about.

Believe me, I know what the elephant in the room is. It has been overcome before.

Appalonia Jones: But we're talking about beliefs here, Raver. "What actually is" is unproven...it's simply believed.

Simply believing is not checking. Not checking is the problem.

Every claim can be checked against what actually is to see how it holds up.

For example, let's start with the claim that homosexuality is "abomination," or fundamentally wrong. Why do people think it is? For one, because some people a long time ago said so. Well, people a long time ago said a lot of things. Some of it was wrong. Any other reason?

Next, we ask, can we confirm this claim? There is plenty we can check to find out about homosexuality - namely, homosexuality: how it occurs in humans and other animals, where it appears in the population, what functions it serves, how it affects the individuals and group, etc.

A careful examination of homosexuality, as I stated before, shows no pathology. It is not a mental illness or a defect in development. It is entirely naturally occurring in many species including human, it serves functions, and is no more inherently harmful than heterosexuality. That is the truth about what it is, gathered by checking, to the best of our ability to discern.

Is what we find abomination, or fundamentally wrong? No. There is no evidence to support the claim that it is.

In addition, let's look at the effects of the claim. In this country, the claim is causing great suffering to LGBT people, by demonizing their natural disposition and, up until very recently and still in some places, legally making them second-class citizens.

So, the claim has nothing at all to support it, is contradicted by examination, and is causing great suffering. The claim does not check out.

Next, let's look at Christ-only salvation, the claim to know that humans are inherently damned and only by faith in Jesus can people avoid the "bad" afterlife. Or, as I sometimes call it, Hell for Hindus.

A harder claim to examine? Not really.

First of all, why do people think so? Because some people a long time ago said so. Again, a lot of what they said was wrong. So...any other reasons?

Next, can we confirm the claim? Well, it is about something which supposedly occurs "after" death. We can examine death, and see exactly what it is - it is the end of the functioning biosystem which sustains a discrete genetic pattern, and it appears to happen no differently in humans than in any other thing that lives.

That is it. Nothing can be discerned about what, if anything, could "happen" after that. No person has any more information than any other person on this. The obvious, unavoidable truth revealed by the checking is that what, if anything, happens "after" death is a total mystery to every human, and no single claim to the contrary has anything at all to recommend it over any other. There is no evidence to support any claim.

That is the truth about what it is, gathered by checking, to the best of our ability to discern.

So, the claim that some people know what to do to get a good afterlife is completely unsupported.

In addition, let's look at the effects of the claim. It has resulted in holy wars, inquisitions, persecutions and Crusades. It fosters in-group / outgroup divisions and serves to demonize other groups. It treats other human cultures pejoratively, designating those people too blind or stupid to understand the afterlife like "we" do. It creates utterly unresolvable conflict by putting the unsubstantiated claims of this group above the unsubstantiated claims of others. It greatly devalues reason by pretending to know what no human knows.

It also results in untold amounts of human guilt and fear as individuals quail before the horror of possibly not quite making it.

So, the claim that some humans know about the afterlife has nothing at all to support it, is contradicted by examination, and is causing great suffering. The claim does not check out.

Not because I said so. Because that is what you will find if you check also. Ditto everyone.

Appalonia Jones: But, we can't just go and change the religion. You said, "Anyone can look and see these are unsubstantiated, cruel, exclusionary, and are causing suffering. "

But, obviously that's not the case, or as Dina said, we wouldn't be here talking about this.

I disagree that this is because people *cannot* look and see. It is because they don't.

And thus, we come to the elephant in the room. The "real" reason. The truth is, people feel they cannot change the doctrines of religion because God Wants Them Like This.

Well, that has been overcome many times before, whenever checking revealed something different from what the doctrines were saying.

Eventually enough people check, and How God Figures In is relegated to mythology and metaphor.

Dina: But Raver, how can you expect individuals to make other individuals make these things happen?

How does anyone ever make things happen? Talking about it. Writing about it. Doing activism. Being a strong voice for better. Agitating for change. Leading by example. There are many, many ways. You are doing some of it already.

Dina: Clearly, Appalonia and I think differently than Rome, but we're also aware that we really have zero power in terms of getting the Vatican to change their stance on homosexuality.

If enough Catholics got together for better policies, they wouldn't need Rome.

Dina: It feels like what you are saying is that Catholics who have "figured it out" have some sort of responsibilty to bring everyone else up to speed.

I think humans figuring things out and bringing everyone else up to speed is exactly how we got where we are today...able to transcend flawed systems and create incredible wonders because of figuring things out.

Dina: I can't see how you expect us to make it happen and why you think we've got a responsibility to make the Catholic Church into something you'd like to see it be.

I am saying that people can make their church into something they would like it to be. Is this really good enough? The Catholics I know are well aware of grave shortcomings in the traditional doctrines. I think the people in an organization are the only ones who can make their organization be what they want.

If the organization is not what people want - if they feel the basic ideology is incorrect and cruel, for example - then I have to wonder why people keep doing it.

Religious systems are one hundred percent optional. People do not have to stand for a system that does not reflect their true values. We are not stuck. If we care about how our system aligns with our understanding, but we can't change the system, and see no hope of it ever changing, then we can leave it. There may be better systems which align more closely to what we actually believe, or we can start new systems, or transcend systems.

Change is always possible.

08-18-16 1:42  •  Who the Terrorists Are

KerryTheOne: Why are terrorists and criminals always young males? Or usually? What's wrong with them?

Up until five minutes ago, evolutionarily speaking, those young men needed every bit of aggression and energy they had to hunt the meat and defend the tribe. It was all on them.

It takes more than a few paltry millennia of civilization to learn to control such powerful biological wiring.

KerryTheOne: Except the vast majority of humans, including young men, have impulse control....at least enough to keep from inflicting intentional harm on others.

Are you saying that some young men are "different" from the vast majority of humans?

KerryTheOne: I think brain immaturity, possible emotional immaturity and a surge of testosterone leave young men particularly vulnerable to destructive behavior when certain environmental circumstances are present.

Absolutely. But that describes everyone.

Every person struggles with impulse control and every person "inflicts intentional harm" on others, at some point in their life, mainly while they are learning what to do and what not to do. Many people figure it all out by maturity, many others struggle with such issues life long, but everyone deals with them - to a lesser or greater degree. The degree is the level of pathology.

My point is that humans have always needed SOME people in the group, men mainly, to be very hyper agressive and low on the think-things-out scale. We also need other people to be wimps and thinkers, and everything in between. Human behaviors almost always fall out in a range, where the best shot for the group is to have different members all along the range.

However I do agree most particularly that environmental factors play a role. There are hyper-aggressive cultures which produce more individuals on the far end of the range, and push everyone up the range, our own being one of them.

08-13-16 1:22  •  Is God Transgender?

PixieDust: I heard a theory that God is really transgendered.

This rabbi says that there is a lot of deliberately-confusing gendering of the pronouns used for God in the original language of the Bible, and there are gender anomalies throughout like the "nursing king." He says, "Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel was understood by its earliest worshippers to be a dual-gendered deity."

Like they know.

PixieDust: Who is they?

Any person.

PixieDust: Okay, but the article presented a hypothesis based upon historical data.

What do you think of the hypothesis?

I think trying to second-guess what people thought a long time ago is meaningless. Perhaps the discrepancies mean gender-fluidity; perhaps they are indicative only of a mιlange.

The ancient Greeks definitely had a gender-fluid character in their panoply, Hermaphroditus. Truly, art reflects life.

None of it has anything to do with actual gods of course, and pretending otherwise is the actual problem.

08-06-16 6:20  •  More

Houseplant: We believe in Heaven. We believe that there is more than just this life. i guess you don't? Why not?

I am happy to explain.

1) There is no evidence of "more."

Humans appear to be biological patterns which require functioning bodies to maintain. Consciousness appears to be an emergent property of neurons. Without neurons, no thought. Without bodies, no life. As far as it is possible to tell, from every kind of examination ever done, this life is exactly what it appears to be. Nothing, not one tiny shred, is known of anything "more."

2) Even if there is "more," beyond our ability to percieve, there is no reason at all to think that it has anything to do with Christianity, or gods, or faith, or justice, or afterlives, or salvation, or reincarnation, or the River Styx, or any of the other speculation humans have contrived in their imaginations to fill empty places where there were no answers.

Since there is no evidence of "more," and nothing at all about "more" is known, conjecture is pointless. And pretending to have answers in a knowledge void is very dangerous.

Besides...this existence, this biology, these neurons, are amazing!!! Who needs "more"?!

Houseplant: I really don't believe we were made for death. I think we are made to live forever.

Well, I'm sorry you feel that way. That is some pretty strong attachment, a known source of suffering.

Houseplant: I know it's confusing. Even as a believer, I always wondered about prayer, like why does God help one person and not another?

Think of all the time and energy and human cognitive resources which are wasted on this meaningless question. That alone should be an argument against believing in gods whether they exist or no.

Houseplant: I know what's important. Show love to everybody...


Houseplant: ...and hope they can see God in their lives.

Shoulda quit while you were ahead. Please, don't waste time wishing people could see fairies at the bottom of the garden! The garden is beautiful enough without them. Enjoy it.

08-02-16 6:20  •  Crisis of Faith

StepMomma: Have you ever experienced a crisis of faith? Have you ever felt like what you've always believed just doesn't stand up to logic and reason and faith alone just isn't enough to sustain the belief anymore? What did you do about it? What was the outcome?

My upbringing, thankfully, was almost entirely secular. It wasn't until my late teens that my mom went on a kind of New-Agey spiritual kick. She wore crystals, got psychic readings, read Shirley MacLaine and Richard Bach, etc. My mom explained to me that all matter is just an illusion, limitations are all in our minds, and if you set yourself free you can use Creative Visualization to get whatever you want. Just intensely visualize yourself having your desire, so she said, and it would send waves of intention out into the Universe that would attract it back to you.

She explained all this to me as if it was true and I just sort of bought it, never having had to decide if anything was "really" true before. For a while I simply believed.

It even seemed to work, at first. One favorite technique for New Age newbs is learning to do "cloud-busting," making clouds disappear with the power of your mind. If you pick a small cloud in the sky and stare at it intensely, you can literally watch it disappear. Well, not always. But, often.

I didn't always get what I expected from my visualizations. Once when I was flat broke I concentrated on finding a wallet full of money. I went for lots of walks without finding any wallets, but not long afterwards an acquaintance called with a job offer. It had worked!

I went on cloud-busting and creatively visualizing for awhile as a young adult. But then I started to notice that I wasn't actually getting all I desired, or getting any better at walking on water, etc. I wasn't able to use my mental power to carve clouds into shapes, or anything.

And then I learned about an interesting optical illusion - if you stare at a dot on a page for long enough, it will seem to disappear, because the neurons creating the image become fatigued from overstimulation. If you stare intensely at a cloud, this fading illusion, combined with the constantly changing shape of clouds, makes it sort of look like you are making clouds disappear, or at least change, even though there is no actual effect from you.

Eventually I had to face the fact that my belief that matter is illusion which can be controlled with the mind, and that enlightenment means magically getting whatever you want, did not seem to be true.

So, I tried to figure out what is true.

It took awhile. I did not know how to figure out what was true at first. But in the meantime I got an education, and learned about philosophy, science, history and logic. As I went on, I studied every kind of spirituality, immersed myself in intense explorations of consciousness, and explored the moral imperative of honesty and truth.

So, now that I am middle aged and most of the drama in my life - when I really could have used a reality check! - is behind me, I can say I have a fairly good grasp of what is true.

So, it all worked out.

StepMomma: What conclusions did you come to about how to figure out what is true?


If you can't check, then what is true is that you just don't know.

08-01-16 6:20  •  American Formula

Aleya: The success of America is based on a simple formula that works across any color boundary. Get an education. Get a job. Get, and stay, married.

The simple American formula often fails. You can try to get an education and fail. You can try to get a job and fail. You can try to make a marriage work and fail. This doesn't just happen to losers and failures. This happens to everybody. Everyone makes mistakes learning to navigate life.

We should make it easy to get an education, easy to get a job, easy to make families work. Then there would be less failure at the pieces of the formula, and it might have a chance to work more often.

Aleya: Why don't people just work the formula?

What happens with our education and relationships in particular are often determined by decisions we make in our teens and early twenties - absolutely the worst decision making period in our lives, when we are confused, hormonal and have zero experience at making good choices.

Many times you can make simple, small poor choices in these matters, before you figure out who you are and what you want, and they end up having big repercussions which narrow all future choices. You never really get to start over. You have to start from three steps back, or more.

Having all success in life depend on making all the right choices right up front is not working. Particularly since the main factor in how well you can recover from your mistakes is how much money you have.

Public education lifelong would be a great antidote to this. Americans should be able to get an education no matter what.

MyWay: The formula is bunk! Women don't need men. Men are the source of the problem.

Aleya: You are crazy! Women need men, men need women, and children always need two-parent households.

The "man or not?" debate is a perfect illustration that no formula works for everyone. We need avenues for success that don't require everyone to structure their relationships the same.

MyWay: How about families with two moms or two dads? Why does it have to be a male and female? I would think having two loving parents despite gender would be beneficial, no?

And if two are good, why not more?

Just think, couples would have even more help with the burdens of parenting if we went back to living in extended families. Imagine the benefits to the children of having a huge loving family of grandmas and grandpas, aunties, uncles and cousins all living together! More incomes to contribute to the household, more adults to act as role models, more people to help with the homework, more experienced elders with homespun wisdom to dispense, steering kids up right by working together. What could be better?

Except, people don't WANT to live like that, usually. Sure it's better and more natural, but who cares? Most of us just don't enjoy that kind of life, and if we have a choice we set up our own household separate from our parents as soon as we can.

Similarly, it really doesn't matter that kids would have a second role model, etc, if the adults would not be happy living that way. It's not realistic to mandate "Get married and stay married" as a tool of social improvement. What if you can't find a partner? What if a million other things?

People don't make their marital and family arrangements to improve the statistics for their neighborhood or nation. They just make the best arrangement they can find and can live with.

Aleya: Whites account for the highest percentage of welfare recipients, so I don't just mean this for black people. It seems that everyone would benefit if they changed some aspects of their lives.

Whether you are part of a two-parent family or not is not something you can simply "change." You can decide all day that you want to be in a two-parent family from now on, but that doesn't manufacture the appropriate partner. What if you don't find a great match? Settle?

How are you expecting people to make this happen?

Aleya: They should be trying to find a way.

People who want to be in relationships are already doing their best to be in relationships. Telling them they had better get into a lasting relationship, or else, will not change anything. That is already what they want, or not. If they are not in one there is a reason.

Aleya: They should step up. Some things are more important than your preferences.

This is like telling people that they would be living better if they had more money, so they should get more money.

People are already getting as much money as they can. You don't have to tell people they should get more; they already know they should get more and they are trying to get more, but it's really, really hard to change how much money you have access to. It can't be done just by force of will, and some of it is really just luck.

Your own personal decisions are not the only thing that affect how much money you have, in fact they can be the least factor when things like the class you were born into, and the condition of the economy at any given moment, have at least as much if not more influence on what you are able to do.

Ditto relationships. There is no need to instruct people to "get and stay married" when that is what most already want anyway and would be doing if they could. If they aren't it is probably because it is out of their hands. Everyone who wants to be married and can be married already is.

Aleya: You may have slutted around and avoided commitment, but I always put what is best for my children first.

Well in that case you and hubs had better sell your house, pack up your kids, and move in with your in-laws. Think of the children.

Aleya: You should be thinking of them. General you, I mean. You should strive to do what is best for your child, and that would be being raised in a two parent home.

How? Settle?

Everyone with a good partner is already married. People who are not married either don't want to be or can't be. What kind of person is supposed to "strive" for this? Someone with an inadequate partner?

I would have to see the statistics showing that kids in 2-parent homes where the people don't really want to be married actually turn out better. There is no reason to think that is the case. Kids in happy homes turn out best. In many cases married is happiest. In many it isn't.

Aleya: Don't have sex with or a baby with a loser!

That might help, along with full saturation birth control. However that doesn't make "getting and staying married" the answer. People who are not married can't just strive to "be married."

Again, it's like saying kids are better off in homes with more money. Yeah, usually, but that doesn't change anything. People are already trying to get more money, or get married, if that is what they want. Just knowing how much better off the kids would be if they reached their goal doesn't make the goal happen.

You can't just "choose" to be married or have more money, for the children. Those things are hard to change. Whether you can be married and how much money you have access to are things determined by millions of factors in addition to your personal determination, and especially on what other people choose to do.

Aleya: If you are not happily married, don't have children. How hard is that to understand?

Be perfect, and your life will be perfect! How hard is that to do?

If it were that simple, everyone would already be doing it. They aren't because it's not.

MyWay: But seriously, if two parents really are better, what's to be done?

We should change the conditions so that non-traditional families aren't so isolated.

07-31-16 7:20  •  Violence and Power

Dina: We think ISIS is evil because they are violent, but all humans have within us the seeds of evil.

Violent religion doesn't help.

Dina: Religion is only an excuse, a powerful catalyst.

Excuse, causal agent, catalyst, whatever. It is a major factor.

The Abrahamic Faiths are pornographically violent. Growing up believing that this represents all that is moral and good has an effect on what seems acceptable to individuals and whole cultures.

Dina: Violence and oppression have been around long before people started using religion as an excuse to do so.

No, they always did.

Dina: Until humans stop believing violence is an acceptable way to achieve a goal nothing will change.

Why do they believe it? Where did they learn it? What Sunday School?

Dina: Violence is part of the human condition.

Some people and some cultures are more violent than others. It's not just random. There are factors which feed in to making violent ideologies more popular and significant, and religion is one of the big ones. It's not a coincidence that during the Bush years, American fundamentalist Christians were the largest block in support of war and torture.

The content of the religion is a problem and confused violence is one of the symptoms.

Dina: Problem is the use of violence with humans has become about power.

It has always been about power. Humans have been brutally invading and terrorizing each other the whole time.

Only the last few hundred years, since the widespread adoption of reason, have seen an uptick in the quality of the human condition, changes which actually led to civilized lives for large numbers of people. Since we just barely started, we still have a long way to go, obviously.

But, we didn't just decide, a decade or a century ago, to "start" using violence for power. It has never been about anything else.

Dina: ...although we have such amazing abilities such as empathy, complicated nuance of thought, creativity, altruism, morality, ethics.

Yeah, we use those for power too. That is what they are for.

Dina: Our world is based on Might Makes Right.

Far less so than at any time in human history. We are learning to move beyond it. We conceived democracy, and are even trying to do it. It takes awhile to learn how to manage, but the moral arc of history bends toward error-correction.

Dina: Violence is not only through physical brutality but also economic.

I agree that economic oppression is a major problem and getting worse. In many ways it is taking over for violence.

But, we only just started to see it for a problem. Give us a little time to find better, less violent ways to exploit each other. :-)

Jerrika: Religion is what drives these zealots, Dina! Wake up!!! Get your nose out of your liberal books and go visit some of these cultures. See for your own eyes what motivates the hatred of ISIS, AQ ect......

Religion drives American crazy too.

FineWhine: Oh yeah? You are conveniently forgetting Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot! Do those Atheist regimes get a free pass from judgement?

Dina: Wait, what?

FineWhine: She seems to think religion is (ironically) the root of all evil. She seems so certain if we could rid the world Of religion, and replace it with "reason" (as if the two are mutually exclusive ??) then some "enlightened" utopian society would naturally arise.

I'm pointing out dictatorships that formed without religion. Stalin murdered religious people actually. So how does she account for that?

Hi there FineWhine! So great to speak with you. You are exaggerating and way overstating my position so that you can disagree with it. But, you have it wrong, what you describe is not my position. Thanks so much for the opportunity to clarify. Commence Fisking:

FineWhine: She seems to think religion is (ironically) the root of all evil.

Nope, wrong. I said, violent religion is a source of violence, which it absolutely is.

FineWhine: She seems so certain...

This is just derision on your part, but I'll note that "certainty" is not important.

FineWhine: ...if we could rid the world...

No, I did not suggest ridding the world of anything. Everything is not so extreme and all-or-nothing.

FineWhine: ...Of religion...

No, I especially do not think we can rid the world of religion, nor do I think we should. Religion is very important.

FineWhine: ...rid the world Of religion, and replace it with "reason"

No, I am saying reason gradually displaces unreason, in religion AND out of it.

FineWhine: ...if we could rid the world Of religion, and replace it with "reason" (as if the two are mutually exclusive )...

Reason and unreason ARE mutually exlcusive. Reason requires substantiation. Unsubstantiation demonstrates the lack thereof.

FineWhine: ...then some "enlightened" utopian society would naturally arise.

Since we have begun the systematic use of reason, we have already established democracy and personal property and freedom of market activity. We have invented electricity and combustion engines and computers to do all our toil with ease. We cured diseases and created treatments that saved millions of lives. We ended slavery, enfranchised women and minorities, established civil equality for all, and created a lifestyle of relative safety and prosperity for millions, a larger slice of society than ever before.

Our problems may be as big as our power - like always - but a person from any previous era of humanity would think we already live in a utopia beyond what they could ever have imagined. Incredible achievement and progress and lifting of the human condition has already naturally arisen from the development of reason.

Error correction works. Answers derived by observation and verification produce methods that accomplish far more than anything we could accomplish before. Accurate understanding creates better understanding.

How could it not?

FineWhine: I'm pointing out dictatorships that formed without religion. How does she account for that?

People are complex and sometimes similar things happen for different reasons. Dictatorships in particular are a very natural formation for humans to fall into, a remnant of our tribal days when we needed strongmen to be more or less absolute rulers.

But, since I never said or implied that religion was the only source of unreason, this is really just silly.

To summarize:

A lot of problems are caused by unreason, and by particular brands of unreason like violent religion. However, since we have been systematically using reason, things have gotten a lot better. It's hard, because we are biological creatures first, but when we try we can use reason and have phenomenal success with it.

As we continue along, learning by trial and error, we can expect plenty of misunderstanding and setbacks - that's the error part - but overall, progress to better understanding which further enhances our capabilities. Evidence that this is the case is as close as the incredible diversity of people who share your daily life, as close as the screen you are reading my words on right now.

If you still disagree with this, my actual position, I look forward to hearing about it. Thanks so much, FineWhine!

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