Is Penis Worship at the Root of the Bogus Notion of Fetal Personhood?

Source: AlterNet

Author: Valerie Tarico

Emphasis Mine

I’m slow sometimes, but after years of writing about abortion rights it finally occurred to me that “life begins at conception” is one more version of a multimillennial infatuation with the penis as symbol and proof that manliness is next to godliness.

On the surface, conservative Evangelical and Catholic insistence that life begins at conception appears to be aimed at elevating the status of fetus over woman. But just beneath the surface, what it elevates is the status of the penis—and anyone who has one.

What creates the wonder of a new person? Forget about the maturation of germ cells, and the nine-month labor of a woman’s body, and painstaking parental nurture. It’s a sperm, a penile projectile shot forth by the ultimate organ of demi-divinity. Sperm penetrates egg, and voila! A person! A new soul! All the extraordinary and unique value we accord to human life is created instantaneously.

Three Millennia of Penis Worship

Once noticed, the pattern is inescapable. Our ancestors thought that the penis was literally divine. Dharmic cultures worshiped it by whacking stalactites and stalagmites out of caves and air-roots off of trees and carving phallic shapes out of granite by the thousands. Abrahamic cultures took the opposite approach and insisted the penis was so precious and powerful that it couldn’t be seen, even in art, and had to be chiseled off of statues or at least covered with fig leaves.

They also insisted that a man’s magic wand could permanently transform a female from one kind of being to another, from a prized “virgin” into a worthless “whore.” In medieval Catholicism’s recipe for sexual hangups, the prior touch of a penis (or lack thereof) became the most defining aspect of a woman’s identity, economic value and moral virtue. Penis penetrates female, and voila! No longer a whole person! The same magic wand that made her valuable could also do the reverse.

Same Old, Same Old

Fundamentalists who are anchored to the Iron Age by sacred texts and patriarchal traditions still hold to this archaic view, though they may use updated terms like “licked lollypop” or “chewed gum”—and some do offer second chances through “born-again virginity.”

But at least in the West, millennials finally are catching on to how ridiculous the whole virginity thing is. As one Facebook meme put it recently, “I don’t believe in virginity. Why? Because nobody’s penis is important enough to change any part of my identity.”

The idea that a penis can permanently change a woman’s value and the idea that a penis can instantaneously create a new soul both derive from the idea that men uniquely, were made in the image of God and that the penis (circumcised, of course) is the supreme symbol of man’s divinely anointed headship. And once they are packaged together, the idea that life-begins-at-conception starts sounding as transparently male-aggrandizing and silly as the idea of virginity.

No, You Didn’t Build That

Yes, the occasional sperm does end up inside an egg rather than a towel. And yes, sperm-penetrates-egg is a necessary—if insufficientstep in person formation. But the incredible process of making a new person begins long before conception and continues long after. To the trained eye, conception is no more or less magnificent—or critical—than the creation of the egg or the sperm itself, or of the many stages of transformation that come after.

In the subconscious of a patriarchal male or religious institution intent on preserving privilege, the claim that a penis can create a new person—or better yet, a new soul, almost ex nihilo—may flow naturally and logically from man’s god-like qualities and “rightful” dominance. But from an outside vantage the men making such claims seem rather like puffed-up architects who scribble partial plans and then claim they build buildings. Nice fantasy, but in the real world both buildings and people get made one step at a time. Construction is slow and hard and takes teamwork.

Everything’s a Project

In the case of forming a new person, two bodies produce germ cells that independently hold half of a biological blueprint. If each half works well enough and they meet, then a woman’s body starts the structural engineering to determine whether the design actually works. For very good reasons, the answer usually is no; the engineering team rejects the project and dumps it into the porcelain circular file. Most embryonic humans get booted out so fast that nobody even knows they existed. If and when engineering gives the preliminary go-ahead, a woman’s whole body gears up to start building a person. Her circulatory system pumps up blood flow. Her bones and teeth transfer calcium to the construction site. Her digestive system demands enough food for two.

Not only is the process slow and costly—like any construction project, it’s dangerous. Eight hundred American women die every year from pregnancy. Around the world, it’s that many every day. Most of us survive the project, but we do endure nausea and swollen ankles and fatigue, and irreversible wear and tear. When we women choose to incubate a child, which we often do quite gladly, we do so knowing our bodies and lives will never again be the same.

So, patriarchs, love your orgasms all you like, but don’t fall for the weirdly puffed-up idea that they make babies. Penis power is solely limited to fertilizing eggs. And a fertilized egg is a fertilized egg—no less, no more.

Real Fatherhood

Silly-willy worship aside, many men deserve real credit for making children, because they take on the actual parenthood project in a deep and devoted way. Wanting to be good parents of healthy children, they wear condoms till the time is right, put their lives in order, bring home prenatal vitamins and make peanut butter sandwiches in the middle of the night.

When pregnancy ends, they endure labor vicariously (yes, vicarious pain hurts), anxiously awaiting the slimy little creature that will spill out in a puddle of blood. Labor over, they gingerly hold a sweet-smelling, flannel-wrapped burrito and look into eyes that are seeing the world for the first time and fall in love.

Back in the home they have helped to create, they wipe spit-up off shirts and go to work bleary-eyed when illness strikes and a child can’t sleep. In better times, they get down on the rug and play pretend and read stories even though maybe—just once in a while—they’d rather be playing video games or reading the Times. They understand that making something as wonderfully complex as a fully fledged, thriving person takes everything a parent can give for decades, and they give it.

Name It

Conception worship is willy worship. It diminishes fatherhood by trivializing the many other parts of themselves that men can and do bring to the process of creating a new person—heart and mind, labor and love. And it diminishes all of motherhood.

So, if you’re one of the guys who either is or intends to be a real father—please call out posers who think themselves endowed with some divine instrument that can turn an egg into a precious little person. And if you would, while you’re at it, you could do us women a favor by calling out the equally ludicrous conceit that the touch of a penis turns a female from one kind of being into another. Men don’t have magic wands in their pants—just body parts, and exaggerating the power of your dick just makes you one.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington, and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at valerietarico.com.

See:http://www.alternet.org/sex-amp-relationships/penis-worship-root-bogus-notion-fetal-personhood?akid=14206.123424.iljA1A&rd=1&src=newsletter1055467&t=8

We Could Be Witnessing the Death of the Fossil Fuel Industry—Will It Take the Rest of the Economy Down With It?

Source: AlterNet

Author:Nafiz Ahmed

Emphasis Mine

It’s not looking good for the global fossil fuel industry. Although the world remains heavily dependent on oil, coal and natural gas—which today supply around 80 percent of our primary energy needs—the industry is rapidly crumbling.

This is not merely a temporary blip, but a symptom of a deeper, long-term process related to global capitalism’s escalating over consumption of planetary resources and raw materials.

New scientific research shows that the growing crisis of profitability facing fossil fuel industries is part of an inevitable period of transition to a post-carbon era.

But ongoing denialism has led powerful vested interests to continue clinging blindly to their faith in fossil fuels, with increasingly devastating and unpredictable consequences for the environment.

Bankruptcy epidemic

In February, the financial services firm Deloitte predicted that over 35 percent of independent oil companies worldwide are likely to declare bankruptcy, potentially followed by a further 30 percent next year—a total of 65 percent of oil firms around the world. Since early last year, already 50 North American oil and gas producers have filed bankruptcy.

The cause of the crisis is the dramatic drop in oil prices—down by two-thirds since 2014—which are so low that oil companies are finding it difficult to generate enough revenue to cover the high costs of production, while also repaying their loans.

Oil and gas companies most at risk are those with the largest debt burden. And that burden is huge—as much as $2.5 trillion, according to The Economist. The real figure is probably higher.

At a speech at the London School of Economics in February, Jaime Caruana of the Bank for International Settlements said that outstanding loans and bonds for the oil and gas industry had almost tripled between 2006 and 2014 to a total of $3 trillion.

This massive debt burden, he explained, has put the industry in a double-bind: In order to service the debt, they are continuing to produce more oil for sale, but that only contributes to lower market prices. Decreased oil revenues means less capacity to repay the debt, thus increasing the likelihood of default.

Stranded assets

This $3 trillion of debt is at risk because it was supposed to generate a 3-to-1 increase in value, but instead—thanks to the oil price decline—represents a value of less than half of this.

Worse, according to a Goldman Sachs study quietly published in December last year, as much as $1 trillion of investments in future oil projects around the world are unprofitable; i.e., effectively stranded.

Examining 400 of the world’s largest new oil and gas fields (except U.S. shale), the Goldman study found that $930 billion worth of projects (more than two-thirds) are unprofitable at Brent crude prices below $70. (Prices are now well below that.)

The collapse of these projects due to unprofitability would result in the loss of oil and gas production equivalent to a colossal 8 percent of current global demand. If that happens, suddenly or otherwise, it would wreck the global economy.

The Goldman analysis was based purely on the internal dynamics of the industry. A further issue is that internationally-recognized climate change risks mean that to avert dangerous global warming, much of the world’s remaining fossil fuel resources cannot be burned.

All of this is leading investors to question the wisdom of their investments, given fears that much of the assets that the oil, gas and coal industries use to estimate their own worth could consist of resources that will never ultimately be used.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative, which analyzes carbon investment risks, points out that over the next decade, fossil fuel companies risk wasting up to $2.2 trillion of investments in new projects that could turn out to be “uneconomic” in the face of international climate mitigation policies.

More and more fossil fuel industry shareholders are pressuring energy companies to stop investing in exploration for fear that new projects could become worthless due to climate risks.

Clean technology and climate policy are already reducing fossil fuel demand,” said James Leaton, head of research at Carbon Tracker. “Misreading these trends will destroy shareholder value. Companies need to apply 2C stress tests to their business models now.”

The end of cheap oil

Behind the crisis of oil’s profitability that threatens the entire global economy is a geophysical crisis in the availability of cheap oil. Cheap here does not refer simply to the market price of oil, but the total cost of production. More specifically, it refers to the value of energy.

There is a precise scientific measure for this, virtually unknown in conventional economic and financial circles, known as Energy Return on Investment—which essentially quantifies the amount of energy extracted, compared to the inputs of energy needed to conduct the extraction. The concept of EROI was first proposed and developed by Professor Charles A. Hall of the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York. He found that an approximate EROI value for any energy source could be calculated by dividing the quantity of energy produced by the amount of energy inputted into the production process.

To read more, see below…

See:http://www.alternet.org/environment/we-could-be-witnessing-death-fossil-fuel-industry-will-it-take-rest-economy-down-it

How much does it matter whether God exists?

Source:aeon.com

Edited by:Sam Haselby

Emphasis Mine

Two rooms, in two different cities, but pretty much the same scene: one man stands before a few dozen supporters, many of them middle-aged white males, plus a smaller, precocious cohort in early adulthood. As the man speaks, they interrupt him with good, earnest, detailed questions, which he ably answers more or less to their satisfaction. These crowds crave the intricacies of arguments and the upshots of science. The only thing that seems beyond their ken is how their counterparts in the other room could be convinced of something so wrong.

One of those rooms was in New York City, high in an office building overlooking the ruins that then still remained of the World Trade Center; the man was Richard Dawkins, the Oxford zoologist and ‘New Atheist’ polemicist. The man in the other room was his arch-rival, the evangelical Christian philosopher and debater William Lane Craig, speaking in a classroom on the sprawling campus of his megachurch in Marietta, Georgia. If one were to attend both events without understanding English, it would be hard to know the difference.

Whether such a thing as God exists is one of those questions that we use to mark our identities, choose our friends, and divide our families. But there are also moments when the question starts to seem suspect, or only partly useful. Once, backstage before a sold-out debate at the University of Notre Dame between Craig and Sam Harris, Dawkins’s fellow New Atheist, I heard an elderly Catholic theologian approach Harris and spit out: ‘I agree with you more than I do with that guy!’

During the heyday of the New Atheist movement, a few years after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, I was in the wake of a teenage conversion to Catholicism. One might think that my converts’ zeal would pit me squarely against the New Atheist camp. But it didn’t. Really, neither side of the does-God-exist debates seemed to represent me, and the arguments in question had little to do with my embrace of my new-found faith. I had been drawn by the loosey-goosey proposition that love can conquer hate and death, expressed concretely in the lives of monks I had briefly lived among and members of the Catholic Worker Movement who shared their homes with the homeless and abandoned. I actually agreed with most of what the New Atheists wrote about science and free enquiry; what I disagreed most sorely with them about was their hawkish support for military invasions in Muslim-majority countries.

Still, I became fascinated with the question of God as I tried to wrap my head around it for myself. I travelled around the world to meet God debaters, and studied the historical thinkers from whom their arguments derive. I found that I wasn’t alone in doubting the pertinence of the question.

The thinkers who crafted the classic proofs for the existence of God – from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, for instance – were writing to audiences for whom the existence of divine beings was uncontroversial. The purposes of these proofs had more to do with contentions about what we mean by God, and how far into such matters human reason can really take us.

Consider, for instance, Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th-century monk who devised his proof in a fit of early morning ecstasy. His claim, which has been debated strenuously from its first publication until now, was that the very concept of God contained in it the proof of God’s existence – which, to Anselm, was a testament to God’s omnipresence and love. For centuries, his fiercest critics objected not to Anselm’s God, but to his reasoning. Centuries later, the Jewish apostate Baruch Spinoza employed a very similar argument in 17th-century Holland: he took the reasoning but mostly put aside the God.

Today, Spinoza stands as a progenitor of the modern, scientific worldview. The atheist philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein considers him ‘the renegade Jew who gave us modernity’. Yet at the centre of his system is a proof for God, one very much akin to that of the Christian monk Anselm. Where Anselm saw the Christian God, Spinoza saw the totality of the universe. He insisted that this was indeed God, that he was not an atheist. In his devotion to reason, Spinoza became famous for his piety; the German Romantic poet Novalis would later call him the ‘God-intoxicated man’.

Spinoza and Anselm both passionately believed in God, and adopted a similar way of thinking; the difference was in the kind of God they had in mind.

In the 20th century, the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch would take up their basic argument again. She saw in it neither Anselm’s God the Father nor Spinoza’s God of Nature, but the Good – the underpinning of morality and beauty in a post-religious world. When we compare her to Anselm and Spinoza, the question of God-or-no-God seems far less interesting than the argument they shared and the ways in which they tweaked its meaning. I wonder what Anselm and Murdoch would say to each other if they were to somehow meet.

What are we really talking about when we debate the existence of God? I think it can become a shortcut, a way of side-stepping more necessary and more difficult questions. Denouncing others as atheists, or as believers in a false God, can become an excuse to treat them as less than human, as undeserving of real consideration. When terrorists attack in the name of a certain God, it can seem easier to blame their religion than to consider their stated grievances about foreign military bases in their countries and foreigners backing their corrupt leaders. When religious communities reject scientific theories for bad reasons, it can seem easier to blame the fact that they believe in God, rather than to notice that other believers might accept the same theories for good reasons. Good ideas and bad ideas, good actions and bad actions – they’re all on either side of the God divide.

Pope Francis’s provocations in recent years have been palpable reminders of this. When Francis released his recent encyclical on ecology, many non-religious environmentalists received it more warmly than some of my fellow Catholics. Francis himself addressed the document not merely to Catholics, but to ‘all people’, and he has welcomed secular activists to the Vatican to discuss it. (The journalist Naomi Klein was so enthusiastic upon returning, she told me, that she had to remind herself ‘not to drink too much Kool-Aid’.) Meanwhile, the conservative Catholic blogger Maureen Mullarkey dismissed it as an ‘extravagant rant’. Catholic friends of mine found it depressing, while I read it by a lake with tears of joy. The fact that we share a belief in the God that Francis calls upon was, for better or worse, beside the point.

I believe in God, but I often find more common cause with those who say they don’t than those who say they do. I’ve come to care less whether anyone says they believe in God or not, and to care more about what they mean by that, and what they do about it.

 

See:https://aeon.co/opinions/how-much-does-it-matter-whether-god-exists?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=3784398b57-Saturday_newsletter_26_March_20163_24_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-3784398b57-68915721

The strange, short career of Judeo-Christianity

Source: Aeon.com

Author: Gene Zubovich

Emphasis Mine

President Barack Obama insists that the United States defines itself by civic principles rather than by religious affiliation. In an otherwise unremarkable press conference in Turkey in 2009, he said: ‘[A]lthough… we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.’ A torrent of conservative criticism followed, alleging that Obama had abandoned the country’s founding Judeo-Christian values. In recent months, most of the Republican candidates for their party’s nomination have called on the US to return to ‘the Judeo-Christian values that built this great nation’, as Senator Ted Cruz put it. Defenders of Judeo-Christianity believe that they are invoking timeless principles. In fact, Judeo-Christianity is a very recent invention.

The term ‘Judeo-Christian’ supposedly recognises the deep and ancient common heritage of Protestants, Catholics and Jews. The idea would have sent shivers down the spine of Puritans, who saw a diabolical Catholic ‘Papism’ lurking around every corner. Such a shared heritage would have been news to the authors of Pennsylvania’s 1776 Constitution, which required office-holders to ‘acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration’, and which effectively banned Jews from public office.

The phrase ‘Judeo-Christian’ first became popular in the late 1930s, when President Franklin Roosevelt began trying to mobilise Americans against Nazism. So Judeo-Christianity was actually popularised to oppose the anti-Semitism of another predominantly Christian nation. FDR’s repeated recourse to religion in public addresses set him apart from his predecessors, who preferred civic principles. So too did Roosevelt’s willingness to move beyond his own Protestantism and embrace Jews and Catholics. ‘We who have faith cannot afford to fall out among ourselves,’ he told radio listeners in 1936: ‘Religion in wide areas of the earth is being confronted with irreligion…. [Y]ou and I must reach across the lines between our creeds, clasp hands, and make common cause.’

In the 1930s, Roosevelt worked in concert with the National Council of Christians and Jews, for example, an organisation that fought popular anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism. Roosevelt and other liberal Protestants took the lead in promoting Judeo-Christianity. In the works of liberal Protestant theologians, the term Judeo-Christianity began to appear here and there without a thorough defence or justification. During the Second World War, a spirit of national unity finally made the notion of Judeo-Christianity common, as Jews and Catholics were publically welcomed as junior partners in the country’s national life.

Only following the Second World War did someone stop to try to elaborate what ‘Judeo-Christian’ might actually mean. In his book Protestant – Catholic – Jew (1955), the sociologist Will Herberg extolled the virtues of Judeo-Christianity. He argued that Judeo-Christianity stemmed from ‘the collapse of all secular securities in the historical crisis of our time [and] the quest for a recovery of authenticity’. Judeo-Christianity ‘is a religiously oriented civiccooperation of Protestants, Catholics and Jews to bring about better mutual understanding and to promote enterprises and causes of common concern, despite all differences of “faith”. [Judeo-Christianity] is thus the highest expression of religious coexistence and cooperation within the American understanding of religion.’ As Herberg saw it, Judeo-Christianity arose because secularism had failed and three vibrant faiths stepped in to fill that vacuum.

Evangelicals, meanwhile, resisted the encroaching pluralism. In 1947, and again in 1954, working with political allies, the National Association of Evangelicals introduced the Christian amendment into Congress: ‘This nation devoutly recognises the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of all nations, through whom are bestowed the blessings of Almighty God.’ Out of step with the burgeoning postwar pluralism, the Christian amendment was not passed.

By the 1960s, when the inclusion of Catholics and Jews seemed to be on safe footing, the liberal Protestant pioneers of the term moved on to consider how a broader range of religious groups could be included in the US nation. The Harvard scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith urged ‘all Christians to love and respect the faith of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and the others if necessary without waiting for the theologians’. Some theologians in the 1960s began going beyond religious pluralism and encouraged Protestants to embrace secularism. In the process, they left Judeo-Christianity behind.

But others, who emphasised Judeo-Christianity’s anti-secularism, rededicated themselves to the term. Herberg’s insistence in Protestant – Catholic – Jew that secular thought was bankrupt led him to align himself with the burgeoning conservative movement. He joined the conservative journal National Review in 1961 as its religion editor.

At the moment when liberal Protestants and others left Judeo-Christianity behind, fearing the tri-faith model was too narrow to capture the world’s diversity, evangelical Protestants seized on the idea of Judeo-Christianity. As they came to slowly accept the legitimacy of Jewish and Catholic faith, Judeo-Christianity became a way to withhold legitimacy from others. Abandoning their earlier commitment to a ‘Christian Nation’, evangelicals now accepted Catholics and Jews as important allies in the fight against abortion, feminism and gay rights.

In its very brief history, the concept of Judeo-Christianity has taken on several meanings. Originally it denoted a cultural and theological pluralism, meant to unite Americans against Nazism. For this reason, it was widely celebrated by liberal advocates, many of whom ignored Judeo-Christianity’s anti-secular implications, and gave little thought to their relation with Islam and other world religions. Once the implications became clear, many liberals abandoned the term.

Today, the religiously unaffiliated make up about a quarter of the US population and Muslim Americans are becoming an increasingly visible and vocal community. The notion that the US is a nation bound together by civic principles enjoys a more distinguished history than the recently coined idea of the Judeo-Christian nation. It is also obvious that the US is more than a nation of many faiths. No wonder, then, that today Judeo-Christianity has few defenders apart from members of the Christian right, who use it to undermine the legitimacy of Muslims and the rapidly growing body of religiously unaffiliated Americans. The short career of Judeo-Christianity has already lasted too long.

See: https://aeon.co/opinions/the-strange-short-career-of-judeo-christianity?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=fec6fd14ae-Daily_Newsletter_22_March_20163_21_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-fec6fd14ae-68915721

Off-beat Zen

Source: Aeon.com

Author:Tim Lott

Emphasis Mine

Ever since I was a child, I have been acutely sensitive to the idea — in the way that other people seem to feel only after bereavement or some shocking unexpected event — that the human intellect is unable, finally, to make sense of the world: everything is contradiction and paradox, and no one really knows much for sure, however loudly they profess to the contrary.

It is an uncomfortable mindset, and as a result I have always felt the need to build a conceptual box in my mind big enough to fit the world into. Most people seem to have a talent for denying or ignoring life’s contradictions, as the demands of work and life take them over. Or they fall for an ideology, perhaps religious or political, that appears to render the world a comprehensible place.

I have never been able to support either strategy. A sense of encroaching mental chaos was always skulking at the edges of my life. Which is perhaps why I fell into an acute depression at the age of 27, and didn’t recover for several years.

The consequence of this was my first book, a memoir called The Scent of Dried Roses (1996). While I was researching it, I read the work of the psychologist Dorothy Rowe, a quiet, almost secret, follower of Buddhist philosophy. Secret, because Rowe knew what the term ‘Buddhist’ implied to the popular imagination (as it did to me) — magical thinking, Tibetan bell-ringing, and sticking gold flakes on statues of the Buddha.

Truth is not to be found by picking everything to pieces like a spoilt child

It was through Rowe’s writing that I first came across Alan Watts, and he sounded like an unlikely philosopher. His name evoked the image of a paper goods sales rep on a small regional industrial estate. But through Watts and his writing, I was exposed directly to the ideas of Zen Buddhism. I was suspicious at first, perceiving Zen Buddhism to be a religion rather than a philosophy. I wasn’t interested in the Four Noble Truths, or the Eightfold Path, and I certainly didn’t believe in karma or reincarnation.

All the same, I read a couple of Watts’s books. They made a significant impact on me. The Meaning of Happiness (1940) and The Wisdom of Insecurity (1951) are striking primers to his work, and they underlined what Rowe was already teaching me: that life had no intrinsic meaning, any more than a piece of music had an intrinsic ‘point’. Life was, in Zen parlance, yugen — a kind of elevated purposelessness.

Watts, like Rowe, showed me how we construct our own meanings about life. That nothing is a given and, since everything is uncertain, we must put together a world view that might fit roughly with the facts, but is never anything other than a guess — a working fiction. This, too, is a typical Zen understanding — that life cannot be described, only experienced. Trying to see all of life is like trying to explore a vast cave with a box of matches.

Impressed though I was, I more or less forgot about Watts after I finished his books, and pursued my career as a fiction writer. I was weary of introspection. Then, years later, a bad spell in my life propelled me back into a chasm. In 2004, three close friends died in sudden succession. One died in front of my eyes. Another was murdered. A third succumbed to cancer. My depression — and that original sense of meaninglessness — resurfaced. I turned to Watts again. This time, it was as if I was reading for dear life.

No time for received wisdom: a young Alan Watts (L) and friends reading haiku poems written for a contest. Photo by Nat Farbman/Time Life Pictures/Getty

Alan Watts had been prolific in his 58 years. He died in 1973, after producing not only 27 books but also scores of lectures, all of which were available online. They had intriguing titles such as ‘On Being Vague’, ‘Death’, ‘Nothingness’ and ‘Omnipotence’. I stopped writing novels and worked my way through every one of them instead.

I found a DVD of an animation of Watts by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park fame). I discovered that Van Morrison had written a song about him, and that Johnny Depp was a follower. But he remained largely unknown in Britain, even though he was English, albeit an expatriate.

Watts was born in 1915 in Chislehurst, Kent. His father had been a sales rep for the Michelin tyre company and his mother was a housewife whose father had been a missionary. In later life, Watts wrote of mystical visions he’d had after suffering fever as a child. During school holidays — while he was a scholar at King’s School in Cambridge — he went on trips with the Buddhism enthusiast Francis Croshaw, who first developed his interest in Eastern religion.

With penetrating eyes like Aleister Crowley’s, he described himself as a ‘spiritual entertainer’

By the age of 16, Watts was the secretary of the London Buddhist Lodge, which was run by the barrister Christmas Humphreys. But Watts spoiled his chances of a scholarship to Oxford because one examination essay was judged ‘presumptuous and capricious’. And, despite his obviously brilliant mind, Watts never achieved a British university degree. This, perhaps, is another of his qualities that chimes with my own spirit — I too left school with only two A-levels, and am, like Watts, an autodidact.

As a young man, Watts worked in a printing house and then a bank. During this time, he hooked up with the Serbian ‘rascal guru’ Dimitrije Mitrinović — a follower of the Armenian spiritual teacher GI Gurdjieff and the Russian esotericist PD Ouspensky — who became a major influence on his thinking.

At the age of 21, in 1936, he attended the World Congress of Faiths at the University of London. There, he heard the renowned Zen scholar DT Suzuki speak, and was introduced to him. Later that year, Watts published his first book The Spirit of Zen.

That same year, he met the American heiress Eleanor Everett, whose mother was involved with a traditional Zen Buddhist circle in New York. He married Eleanor in 1938 and they moved to America, where he trained as an Episcopal priest, before leaving the ministry in 1950, thus separating once and for all from his Christian roots. From then on he concentrated on the study and communication of Eastern philosophical ideas to Western audiences.

I felt powerfully attracted to Alan Watts. Not only to his ideas, but to him, personally. Watts was no dry, academic philosopher. With eyes hooded and penetrating like Aleister Crowley’s, he was a jester as well as a thinker, describing himself as a ‘spiritual entertainer’. Aldous Huxley described him as ‘a curious man. Half monk and half racecourse operator.’ Watts wholeheartedly agreed with Huxley’s characterisation. He carried a silver cane ‘for pure swank’, he hung out with Ken Kesey and Jack Kerouac (he is even parodied in On the Road as Arthur Whale). His English public school-educated voice was rich and deep, like a prophet’s, and his laugh juicy and contagious.

But it was his thinking that most excited me. He was, if not the earliest, then certainly the foremost translator of Eastern philosophical ideas to the West. In some ways, his interpretations were radical — for instance, he dismissed the core Zen idea of zazen (which meant spending hours seated in contemplative meditation) as unnecessary. ‘A cat sits until it is tired of sitting, then gets up, stretches, and walks away,’ was his forgiving interpretation of zazen. Slightly less forgiving was his comment on Western Zen enthusiasts, whom he mocked as ‘The uptight school … who seem to believe that Zen is essentially sitting on your ass for interminable hours.’ It was a great relief to read this for someone like me, who found the idea of excessive meditation as unhealthy as the idea of excessive masturbation.

Watts also rejected the conventional ideas of reincarnation and the popular understanding of karma as a system of rewards and punishments carried out, lifetime after lifetime. It was this radical approach that made his ideas so fresh — he had no time for received wisdom, even from those who claimed to know Zen inside out.

The idea of walking around with a metaphorical stick to whack yourself with is foreign to a Zen master

Many Zen ideas have become debased into ‘new age’ philosophy, basely transmuted into wishful thinking, quasi-religious mumbo jumbo and the narcissistic fantasies of the ‘me generation’. But before the beatniks and the hippies got hold of it, Zen philosophy, as described by Watts, was hard-edged, practical, logical and, in some ways, oddly English in tone, as it had deep strands of scepticism and humour. (You’ll never see Christian saints laughing. But most of the great sages of Zen have smiles on their faces, as does Buddha.)

Zen and Taoism are more akin to psychotherapy than to religion, as Watts explained in his book Psychotherapy East and West (1961). They are about finding a way to maintain a healthy personality in a culture that tends to tangle you up in a lot of unconscious logical binds. On the one hand, you are told to be ‘free’ and, on the other, that you should follow the demands of the community. Another example is the instruction that you must be spontaneous.

These kinds of snags, or double binds, according to Zen writings, produce inner tension, frustration, and neurosis — what Buddhism calls dukkha. Watts saw his job, via Zen philosophy, to teach you to think clearly, so that you could see through conventional thinking to a place where your mind could be at peace inside a culture that could have been designed to generate anxiety.

But, although he was an entertaining writer who presented his ideas with a brilliant clarity, Watts had a difficult job on his hands — mainly because Zen and Taoism are so fundamentally counter-intuitive to the Western mind. Western philosophers and laymen find Eastern thinkers frustrating because Buddhist sages don’t have the same emphasis on the power of language, reason and logic to transform the self or to ‘know’, in the way Westerners think of the word.

The riddles, or koans, that Zen thinkers speak in are intended to trip you up and make you realise how inadequate words — either spoken or inner dialogue — are in making sense. Zen emphasises intuition and mushin, that is, an empty mind, over planning and thought. The ideal is that your mind can be unblocked from maya (which means both illusion and play) and thus acquire a kind of resonance or instant reflection, or munen, which translates awkwardly as now/mind/heart.

This makes it alien to Western philosophical traditions, which tend to distrust spontaneity, since it supposedly clears the way for the dominance of brute animal instincts and dangerous passions. But the idea of walking around with a metaphorical big stick with which to whack yourself if you make a mistake, or get carried away by your emotions, is foreign to a Zen master.

Zen, after all, was used by the Samurai warriors, who had to strike immediately without reflection or die. Intuition, in a healthy soul, is more important than conscious reflection. Millions of years of evolution have made the human unconscious wise, not reckless. You can find similar ideas in modern books such as Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, which emphasises the value of gut reactions.

Zen started as a reaction against the highly conventionalised and ritualised Japanese society from which it emerged. This must have struck a chord with Watts, who grew up at a time when British society — hidebound, introverted and conventional — was not so different from the self-controlled, ‘uptight’ world of the Japanese. In such a society, spontaneous behaviour becomes impossible.

The word Zen is a Japanese way of pronouncing chan, which is the Chinese way of pronouncing the Indian Sanskrit dhyana or sunya, meaning emptiness or void. This is the basis of Zen itself — that all life and existence is based on a kind of dynamic emptiness (a view now supported by modern science, which sees phenomena at a subatomic level popping in and out of existence in a ‘quantum froth’).

In this view, there is no ‘stuff’, no difference between matter and energy. Look at anything closely enough — even a rock or a table — and you will see that it is an event, not a thing. Every ‘thing’ is, in truth, happening. This too, accords with modern scientific knowledge. Furthermore, there is not a ‘multiplicity of events’. There is just one event, with multiple aspects, unfolding. We are not just separate egos locked in bags of skin. We come out of the world, not into it. We are each expressions of the world, not strangers in a strange land, flukes of consciousness in a blind, stupid universe, as evolutionary science teaches us.

The emphasis on the present moment is perhaps Zen’s most distinctive characteristic. In our Western relationship with time, in which we compulsively pick over the past in order to learn lessons from it and then project into a hypothetical future in which those lessons can be applied, the present moment has been compressed to a tiny sliver on the clock face between a vast past and an infinite future. Zen, more than anything else, is about reclaiming and expanding the present moment.

It tries to have you understand, without arguing the point, that there is no purpose in getting anywhere if, when you get there, all you do is think about getting to some other future moment. Life exists in the present or nowhere at all, and if you cannot grasp that, you are simply living a fantasy.

For all Zen writers life is, as it was for Shakespeare, akin to a dream — transitory and insubstantial. There is no ‘rock of ages cleft for thee’. There is no security. Looking for security, Watts said, is like jumping off a cliff while holding on to a rock for safety — an absurd illusion. Everything passes and you must die. Don’t waste your time thinking otherwise. Neither Buddha nor his Zen followers had time for any notion of an afterlife. The doctrine of reincarnation can be more accurately thought about as a constant rebirth, of death throughout life, and the continual coming and going of universal energy, of which we are all part, before and after death.

Another challenge for Western thinkers when struggling with Zen is that, unlike Western religion and philosophy, it has no particular moral code. The Noble Truths are not moral teachings. Zen (unlike Mahayana Buddhism with its ‘Eightfold Path’) makes no judgment about good or bad, except to say that they are both necessary to make the universe dynamic.

Like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, there is no idea of ‘good’ out to destroy ‘evil’, or vice versa. Evil cannot be destroyed, any more than good can, because they are polar opposites of the same thing, like poles of a magnet. Destruction is as necessary as creation. Chaos must exist if we are to know what order is. Both aspects of reality, in tension with one another, are necessary to keep the whole game going: the unity of opposites.

This can lead to some fairly shocking moral reasoning. When the American composer and Zen follower John Cage was asked, ‘Don’t you think there’s too much suffering in the world?’, he answered, ‘I think there’s just the right amount.’ This encapsulates, and yet somewhat satirises the Zen world view — that the dark and the light, the negative and the positive, the yin and the yang, are all necessary parts of the overall whole.

Behind this thinking is the idea that, for the accomplished follower of Zen, moralists are dangerous because they will destroy everything in pursuit of their vision of ‘the good’. Straightforward greed might result in the destruction of the local village to get their wealth and their women — but that won’t be too bad because it will preserve the wealth and the women.

A ‘cutting-up’ attitude to life gives us dead knowledge, not live knowledge

However, if you are on a moral crusade, you will destroy everything in your wake. And who can deny that the history of the 20th century bears out this view, with Nazi and Communist ideologies causing such havoc? After all, Hitler was an idealist, too. So Confucius — who was not, admittedly, part of the Zen tradition, though he influenced it — puts the greatest value not on absolute good, but on ‘human-heartedness’, or jen. If you are human-hearted, you are unlikely to want to do any great ill, even without a great moral vision to guide you. And, even if you do, the damage you cause will be limited by your own self-interest.

This lack of a clear moral code is perhaps why Zen is not a philosophy wholly appropriate for the young or immature mind. In the 1950s, Watts critiqued the Beatnik appropriation of Zen in his book Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen (1959). The apparent fatalism of Zen seemed to open the door for an individual to do ‘whatever they like’. Watts thought the Beats were childish, although he did suggest that their behaviour also revealed a clever paradox: that absolute fatalism implies absolute freedom. Again, you can look at it both ways.

In fact, Zen isn’t fatalistic. Rather, it accepts something that Western philosophy finds hard to grasp — that two contradictory truths are possible at the same time. It just depends on which way you look at it. The world is not a logically consistent one, but a profoundly paradoxical one. Again, this is illustrated in science, which shows that two things can be one at the same time — light, for instance, acts as both a particle and a wave. The Zen masters say the same thing about human life. Perhaps you are doing ‘it’. Perhaps ‘it’ is doing you. There is no way of knowing which is which. It is like a formal dance so deft that you cannot tell who is leading, and who is following.

While it is refreshing that Zen philosophy is supported in many ways by present scientific knowledge, it is also a critique of scientific thought. The scientific tradition requires things up to be cut up — both mentally and physically — into smaller and small pieces to investigate them. It suggests that the only kind of knowledge is empirical and that the rigid laws of scientific method are the only kind that are valid.

Zen implies that this is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater — scientific thinking might be immensely useful, but it also does violence to a meaningful conception of life. It tends to screen out the essential connectedness of things. We live in an imprecise world. Nature is extraordinarily vague. Science promotes the idea of hard, clear ‘brute facts’ — but some facts are soft. A ‘cutting-up’ attitude to life gives us dead knowledge, not live knowledge.

The fundamental nature of the world is not something you can get too precise about. The basis of one’s life and thought must always remain undefined. Some ideas — such as the Tao, the ‘way of things’ — come to us, we can’t just go out and get them. They are mysterious and unknown.

This kind of thinking is anathema to the modern scientist who thinks that everything can be known and finally will be known. But, Watts argued, it is impossible to appreciate the universe unless you know when to stop investigating. Truth is not to be found by picking everything to pieces like a spoilt child.

It is impossible, of course, to summarise Zen in a few thousand words. In fact it doesn’t ask to be summarised. The first principle of Zen, voiced by the philosopher Lao Tzu, is ‘Those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know.’ Zen is not proselytising, quite the reverse. It asks you to come to it, in supplication, and to tease it out. Another Zen saying is, ‘He who seeks to persuade does not convince.’

But it convinced me. After spending nearly two years studying Zen, Taoism and the works of Alan Watts, I think I genuinely achieved a sort of satori — a freedom from the inner weights and contradictions of ordinary life. When a student asked Watts what enlightenment felt like, he said if felt very ordinary — but like walking slightly in the air, an inch above the ground. And that is exactly how I felt — every day.

I don’t know how long the experience lasted. Perhaps as long as a year, perhaps even longer. All that time, Watts and the Zen idea were there in my head, informing my thoughts and actions. The background noise, the static of worry and gabble that informed my old life had disappeared. My head was clear. The philosophy entirely permeated me. My life was truly more joyful than it had ever been. Nothing bothered me. I felt full of energy and optimism.

Then one day, I lost the vision. I don’t know how it happened. A period of stress and clinical depression took me under and, when I surfaced again, Watts and the Tao had left my thoughts. I was alone again, puzzled and conflicted. I knew the words, but I couldn’t hear the music anymore. The old thoughts and habits I had been conditioned into since birth reasserted themselves. Once more, I worried about things pointlessly, and got lost in the past and the future instead of existing in the dynamic present.

But then, I shouldn’t have been surprised. What Alan Watts taught, above all else, is that everything is transitory. Everything comes and goes. Watts himself did not exist in a perpetual state of spiritual bliss. He died an alcoholic. He had been a lifelong heavy drinker. His later life was not easy — in the last years, he cut a Dickensian figure, working desperately to support his seven children and, presumably, his two ex-wives (by the time he died he was on a third). But he was by no accounts an ‘unhappy’ drunk. He never expressed guilt or regret about his drinking and smoking, and never missed a lecture or a writing deadline.

If Watts’s own example is to be taken into account, being ‘enlightened’ doesn’t always make you happy. Yet it is still something worth attaining. It brings clarity and peace, even if it doesn’t protect you from all of life’s vicissitudes.

My personal ‘enlightenment’ came and went — but I hope it might return. Perhaps this article will be the first step in that direction. It feels like it is. It might be in my hands or it might not. But if I can find the path again, then I will stay on it — until I lose it. And, as the Zen saying instructs, if I see the Buddha, I will kill him. Because the moment you start thinking of yourself as ‘enlightened’, you are not.

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See:https://aeon.co/essays/alan-watts-the-western-buddhist-who-healed-my-mind

Study Shows Religion In The U.S. Is In Decline

YES!!!

YES!!!

Source: Patheos

Author: Michael Stone

Emphasis Mine

Good News: Despite a vocal minority of Christian extremists, religion in the United States is in decline, and secularization is on the rise.

A new study finds a slow decline in American religiosity over time, demonstrating that religion in the United States is declining and mirroring patterns found across the western world.

The new research shows that contrary to anecdotal evidence, the United States is no different than other modern societies in the inevitable move towards secularization.

According to the new research from UCL and Duke University published in the March 2016 edition of the American Journal of Sociology, there is a slow, steady drop in the number of Americans who claim religious affiliations, attend church regularly and believe in God.

The study, titledIs the United States a Counterexample to the Secularization Thesis?”, also finds that these drops are driven by generational differences. For example:

94 percent of Americans born before 1935 claim a religious affiliation. For the generation born after 1975, that number drops to 71 percent.

68 percent of Americans 65 and older said they had no doubt God exists, according to the study. But just 45 percent of young adults, ages 18-30, had the same belief.

41 percent of people 70 and older said they attend church services at least once a month, compared to just 18 percent of people 60 and younger.

The abstract of the study reads:

Virtually every discussion of secularization asserts that high levels of religiosity in the United States make it a decisive counterexample to the claim that modern societies are prone to secularization. Focusing on trends rather than levels, the authors maintain that, for two straightforward empirical reasons, the United States should no longer be considered a counterexample. First, it has recently become clear that American religiosity has been declining for decades. Second, this decline has been produced by the generational patterns underlying religious decline elsewhere in the West: each successive cohort is less religious than the preceding one. America is not an exception. These findings change the theoretical import of the United States for debates about secularization.

Speaking about his research, David Voas, a social scientist with UCL and co-author of the study, said:

None of these declines is happening fast, but the signs are now unmistakable. It has become clear that American religiosity has been declining for decades, and the decline is driven by the same dynamic — generational differences — that has driven religious decline across the developed world.

Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology, divinity and religion at Duke University, and another co-author of the study, notes:

The US decline has been so gradual that until recently scientists haven’t had enough data to be sure the trend was real. The US has long been considered an exception to the modern claim that religion is declining, but if you look at the trajectory, and the generational dynamic that is producing the trajectory, we may not be an exception after all.

Bottom line: This is good news. Despite the perverse Christian extremism of some Americans, things are getting better, and religious superstition is on the decline in America.

See:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2016/03/study-shows-religion-in-the-u-s-is-in-decline/?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=progressivesecularhumanist_031216UTC010338_daily&utm_content=&spMailingID=50901145&spUserID=MTIxNzQwMzMwMDkyS0&spJobID=881523716&spReportId=ODgxNTIzNzE2S0

Another misguided believer claims that science is based on faith

Source: Whyevolutionistrue

Author: Jerry Coyne

Emphasis Mine

I guess it was too much for me to hope that my 2013 Slate essay, “No faith in science,would once and for all dispel the claim that science is just like religion in depending on faith. My point was simple: what “faith” means in science is “confidence based on experience,” while the same term in religion means “belief without enough evidence to convince most rational people.” It’s the same word, but with two different meanings. Yet religious people mix up those meanings regularly—and, I expect, deliberately. I wish they’d read my goddam essay.

So someone’s done it again: Matt Emerson, a Catholic whose blog says, “I teach theology and direct the advancement office at Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA.” He’s also written the book Why Faith? A Journey of Discovery, to be published by Paulist Press this May; it apparently aims to help people maintain and understand faith.

At any rate, Emerson published a short essay in the March 3 Wall Street Journal—”At its heart, science is faith-based too“—that, as usual, conflates the meaning of “faith” as applied to science (but we scientists avoid that word!) versus as applied to religion. Rather than go into detail, I’d recommend you read my Slate piece, and Emerson should have, too!  Here’s a bit of his conflation:

The scientists who made the gravitational-wave discovery, [Italian physicist Carl Rovelli] wrote, were pursuing a “dream based on faith in reason: that the logical deductions of Einstein and his mathematics would be reliable.”

Mr. Rovelli was not referring to religious faith. And scientists generally deem even faith scrubbed of theological meaning to be something unrelated to their endeavors. Yet the relationship between faith and science is far closer than many assume….

Wrong. Scientists don’t have “faith in reason.” As I noted in Slate:

What about faith in reason? Wrong again. Reason—the habit of being critical, logical, and of learning from experience—is not an a priori assumption but a tool that’s been shown to work. It’s what produced antibiotics, computers, and our ability to sequence DNA. We don’t have faith in reason; we use reason because, unlike revelation, it produces results and understanding. Even discussing why we should use reason employs reason!

Here’s an old canard from Emerson and physicist/accommodationist Paul Davies:

Arizona State University physicist Paul Davies has noted that the work of science depends upon beliefs—that the hidden architecture of the universe, all the constants and laws of nature that sustain the scientific enterprise, will hold. As he wrote in his book “The Mind ofGod: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World”: “Just because the sun has risen every day of your life, there is no guarantee that it will therefore rise tomorrow. The belief that it will—that there are indeed dependable regularities of nature—is an act of faith, but one which is indispensable to the progress of science.”

Well, we can’t be 100% certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, but I dealt with this in Slate as well:

You have faith (i.e., confidence) that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has, and there’s no evidence that the Earth has stopped rotating or the sun has burnt out.

I’d bet $100,000 that the sun will rise tomorrow (i.e., day will break, for it might be cloudy!), but I wouldn’t bet $5 that Jesus was resurrected bodily. The dependable regularities of nature are, unlike the tenets of theology, not acts of faith, but observations that we accept as holding widely, because they always have. This is simply confidence based on experience!

Why do people like Emerson mix up these uses of faith? It’s obvious: accommodationism—and also a mushbrained attempt to do down science by saying, “See, you’re just like us!” (Implication: “See, you’re just as bad as we are!”):

Recognizing the existence of this kind of faith is an important step in bridging the artificial divide between science and religion, a divide that is taken for granted in schools, the media and in the culture. People often assume that science is the realm of certainty and verifiability, while religion is the place of reasonless belief. But the work of Messrs. Davies and Rovelli and others, including Pope John Paul II in his 1998 encyclical “Fides et Ratio,” demonstrates that religion and science sit within a similar intellectual framework.

ORLY? How, exactly, do the “findings” of religion resemble those of science? After all, Emerson may believe that Jesus was not only part of God, but also God’s son, was crucified and resurrected, and that we’ll find salvation through accepting that. But if you’re a Muslim, you could be killed for professing such blasphemy, and Jews, of course, don’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. There are millions of conflicting “truths” in religion, but although there are some disputes in science, there’s general agreement that, say, DNA is a double helix, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and that a benzene molecule has six carbon atoms. Theology can offer us NO truths so well established.

But Emerson claims it can, and his claim is laughable:

But just as faith is indispensable to science, so is reason essential to religion. Many find themselves relating to God in a way analogous to the scientists searching for gravitational waves. These seekers of religious truth are persuaded by preliminary evidence and compelled by the testimony of those who have previously studied the matter; they are striving for a personal encounter with the realities so often talked about, yet so mysterious.

In such a context, it isn’t blind belief that fuels the search, any more than scientists blindly pursued the implications of Einstein’s theory. Rather, it’s a belief informed by credible reasons, nurtured by patient trust, open to revision. When I profess my belief in God, for example, I rely upon not only the help of the Holy Spirit. I also rely upon the Einsteins of theology, thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas, whose use of reason to express and synthesize theological truths remains one of the great achievements in Western civilization. Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica” is a LIGO for the Christian faith.

Open to revision? Only if science disproves religion’s claims, and even in that case 40% of Americans still reject evolution in favor of the fairy tales of Genesis. And what, exactly, are the “theological truths” of Aquinas and his coreligionists? Can we please just have a list of five or six? Please?

And here’s the kicker—and Emerson’s conclusion:

To be sure, religion and science are different. But many religious believers, like scientists, continue to search for confirmation, continue to fine-tune their lives and expand their knowledge to experience a reality that is elusive, but which, when met, changes life forever. And if the combination of faith and reason can deliver the sound of two black holes colliding over a billion light years away, confirming a theory first expressed in 1915—what is so unthinkable about the possibility that this same combination could yield the insight that God became man?

There’s a difference between searching for confirmation and searching for truth; religion does the former, science the latter. If Emerson can give us evidence—and not just from the Bible—that “God became man”, then I might take his truth claims seriously. Absent that, we need accept his verities no more than we accept those of Scientology, Mormonism, or, for that matter, Beowulf.

It’s a travesty that the Wall Street Journal publishes tripe like this. Are they that desperate for copy? I doubt that they’d even entertain a piece like the one you just read here.

https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/another-misguided-believer-claims-that-science-is-based-on-faith/

What are the fundamentals of evolutionary biology?

Source:WhyEvolution is true

Author: Matthew Cobb

Emphasis Mine

Dan Graur, who is Professor of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Houston,  describes himself on Tw*tter as “A Very Angry Evolutionary Biologist, a Very Angry Liberal, and an Even Angrier Art Lover”. His Tumblr says he ‘has a very low threshold for hooey, hype, hypocrisy, postmodernism, bad statistics, ignorance of population genetics and evolutionary biology masquerading as -omics, and hatred of any kind.’
Anyway, yesterday he tw**eted a link to a document containing what he called ‘All of evolutionary biology in 12 paragraphs, 237 words and 1,318 characters’. Here they are for your delectation. I’ve made some comments at the end – feel free to chip in (you too, Dan!).
1.Evolutionary biology is ruled by handful of logical principles, each of which has repeatedly withstood rigorous empirical and observational testing.
2. The rules of evolutionary biology apply to all levels of resolution, be it DNA or morphology.
3. New methods merely allow more rapid collection or better analysis of data; they do not affect the evolutionary principles.
4. The only mandatory attribute of the evolutionary processes is a change in allele frequencies.
5. All novelty in evolution starts as a single mutation arising in a single individual at a single time point.
6. Mutations create equivalence more often than improvement, and functionlessness more often than functionality.

7. The fate of mutations that do not affect fitness is determined by random genetic drift; that of mutations that do affect fitness by the combination of selection and random genetic drift.

8. Evolution occurs at the population level; individuals do not evolve. An individual can only make an evolutionary contribution by producing offspring or dying childless.
9. The efficacy of selection depends on the effective population size, an historical construct that is different from the census population size, which is a snapshot of the present.
10. Evolution cannot create something out of nothing; there is no true novelty in evolution.
11. Evolution does not give rise to “intelligently designed” perfection. From an engineering point of view, most products of evolution work in a manner that is suboptimal.
12. Homo sapiens does not occupy a privileged position in the grand evolutionary scheme.
I think the main thing that’s not quite right about this is 5, “All novelty in evolution starts as a single mutation arising in a single individual at a single time point”. While this is essentially true, it misses out two of the most significant novelties in the history of life, which were not created by mutation, but instead by instances of predation that went wrong and instead produced symbiosis, with one kind of cell living inside another.

The first such event took place around 2 billion years ago, somewhere in the ocean. Prior to that moment, all life had consisted of small organisms called prokaryotes which had no cell nucleus or mitochondria (these are the tiny cellular structures that help provide you and me and giraffes and mushrooms with energy). Everything changed when one unicellular life-form, known as an achaebacterium, tried to eat another, called a eubacterium. On this one occasion the eubacterium survived inside its would-be predator and became trapped, losing many of its genes to its host and eventually turning into a molecular powerhouse – the mitochondrion – that produced energy from chemical reactions and was used by the new eukaryotic cell. These new eukaryotic life-forms were a weird hybrid, composed of two different organisms. They were our ancestors.

A second, similar, event occurred around a billion years ago, when a eukaryotic cell, complete with mitochondria, engulfed a eubacterium that had long ago evolved the trick of acquiring energy from sunlight, through photosynthesis. Predation went wrong again, and another form of symbiosis eventually appeared. This gave rise to algae and eventually plants, in which small organelles called chloroplasts, the descendants of the intended eubacterial victim, turn light into energy for the benefit of the eukaryotic host.

What happened after these events took place was entirely down to natural selection, following the kind of processes that Dan describes above. But the source of the novelty – and pace his point 10 above, these were truly novel organisms – was not mutation, but an incredibly unlikely pair of events.

It is striking that these two acts of predation gone wrong were able to open up the potential of life in ways that genetic mutation + natural selection have not been able to do in 3.5 billion years of evolution. Life on Earth without mitochondria – prokaryotic life – is limited to the microscopic because of the physical limits imposed on the transport of matter, energy and information from the environment into the inside of the organism. In the absence of an additional, powerful energy source, prokaryotic life cannot carry out those operations beyond certain tiny physical dimensions. The co-option of the energy-producing mitochondria first enabled eukaryotic cells to grow large, and then, eventually, to become multicellular. Mutation and natural selection were not able to do this. Similarly, no eukaryotic organism has on its own mastered the trick of evolving photosynthesis; the only way the ancestors of plants were able to do this was through symbiosis with photosynthetic bacteria.

 

See:https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/02/22/what-are-the-fundamentals-of-evolutionary-biology/

Bernie Sanders Rejects Theocracy, Defends Church State Separation ww.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2016/01/bernie-sanders-rejects-theocracy-defends-church-state-separation/?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=progressivesecularhumanist_011016UTC010126_daily&utm_content=&spMailingID=50428883&spUserID=MTIxNzQwMzMwMDkyS0&spJobID=841316146&spReportId=ODQxMzE2MTQ2S0#sthash.Es1DSBgM.dpuf

Source: PATHEOS.com

Author: Michael Stone

Emphasis Mine

Rejecting the Republican dream of a Christian theocracy, Bernie Sanders tells supporters it is “dangerous for governments to get deeply involved with religion.”

Justin Scott, an Iowan who takes his politics seriously, asked the Democratic presidential candidate for his thoughts on politicians who “base a lot of their legislation on their religious beliefs” at a recent campaign event in Iowa.

Sanders answered:

Religious freedom in this country is part of our Constitution, and all of us agree with that. And you have many different religions, and people have the right, in this country, to practice the religion that they believe in.

But we also have a separation between religion and state. We know how dangerous it is, historically, for governments to get deeply involved with religion… Let’s not confuse and merge religion and state. That is not what our Founding Fathers wanted, and they were right.

Sanders is right. The attempt by today’s Republican party to “confuse and merge religion and state” is dangerous, un-American, and a repudiation of the secular values upon which this nation was founded.

This is not the first time the progressive candidate has championed secular values. Earlier this year, in an uplifting viral video supporting Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, the presidential hopeful declared:

The problems we face did not come down from the heavens. They are made, they are made by bad human decisions, and good human decisions can change them.

Sanders, the longest-serving Independent in Congressional history, is currently a U.S. Senator from Vermont, and a favorite among progressives looking for an alternative to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Sanders is a friend to freethinkers, and the enemy of conservative Christians. Religious News Service describes Sanders as “unabashedly irreligious” and “the anti-Bible thumper,” noting:

Sanders is the presidential contender most willing to dissociate himself from religion. Though he identifies as Jewish and by Jewish law is Jewish, he has freely acknowledged that he is not a religious person. He scored a solid zero from Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition in its most recent scorecard and a 100 from the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Scoring a zero from Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition is a badge of honor, and should be a ringing endorsement to the ears of every humanist, every atheist,every freethinker.

Last fall, Speaking out for women and gays, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders condemned so-called Republican “family values.”

Sanders, appearing on ABC’s “The View,” said “We have a very right-wing extremist Republicans Party” before explaining what Republicans really mean when they speak of family values:

Look, when Republicans talk about family values, this is what they’re saying: Their family values is that no woman in America should have the right to control their body. Their family values are that if you’re gay, you should not have the right to marry. That’s their family values.

And speaking at the conservative Christian Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, a blunt and plainspoken Sanders stated:

The views that many at Liberty University have, and I have, on a number of important issues, are very, very different. I believe in women’s rights and the right of a woman to control her own body. I believe in gay rights and gay marriage. Those are my views and it is no secret.

Currently Sanders enjoys a loyal and vocal base of support, yet it is not clear if he has the votes to beat Hillary Clinton for the nomination. However, ABC is reporting that Sanders’ popularity is making the Clinton campaign “nervous.”

No Reason for the Season

Source: Slate.com

Author:Torie Bosh

Emphasis Mine

For Christians, Dec. 25 is more than just another religious holiday: It commemorates the birth of their savior, Jesus. But Christmas isn’t just for Christians. In 2008, Torie Bosch explained how Christmas has always been a strictly secular affair for her family—and why you shouldn’t need a religious reason to celebrate the season. Her essay is reprinted below.

Bemoaning the bastardization of the Christmas season is becoming a holiday tradition. In newspaper letters to the editor and in the blogosphere, purists offer chiding reminders that Jesus is “the reason for the season” and that Christmas is supposed to be his birthday party—not a random excuse for shopping and very special sitcom episodes. Adding his voice to the choir this year is megachurch leader and inauguration invocationer Rick Warren, who pleaded in his new book The Purpose of Christmas, “If you’ll slow down for a few minutes … and pause to consider the purpose of Christmas, you can receive and enjoy the best Christmas gift you’ll ever be given.” For Christians, I have no doubt that that’s some sound advice. But I don’t want to slow down and consider the purpose of Christmas. What I love about the holidays are what Warren and his ilk surely consider distractions: the trees, the lights, Santa, and Muppet specials.

For me, Christmas has always been a secular occasion. I grew up in an unaffiliated household. My mother is Catholic, though she didn’t practice for most of my childhood. My father was raised in a devoutly Jewish home, but he always adored Christmas. My grandmother tells, half-fondly and half-sadly, of when he was 6 and asked whether he could become Christian so that Santa Claus would pay him a visit. He eventually stopped practicing Judaism, but his love of Christmas never went away.

When I was a girl, my father would spend hours decorating the tree, the house, and the yard in a manner a bit like that of Christmas Vacation—lots of swearing, lots of tangled lights, and (eventually) lots of genuine pride in the accomplishment. Each year, one of my brothers or I would accompany him to pick out a new nutcracker to add to our family’s collection; the jester, Drosselmeyer, and Civil War soldiers might not have been part of the Nativity story, but they meant Christmas to me. We never celebrated Hanukkah, because it never appealed to him: Christmas was the only winter holiday worth the effort, as far as he was concerned. My father passed away when I was young, but my family’s holidays remained much the same. We focused on the togetherness and celebrating my father’s memory on his favorite holiday. The miracle of Jesus’ birth was far from our minds.

For much of my life, I felt guilt about our happily godless Christmases. I worried that we were leeching off of someone else’s holiday. When Bill O’Reilly railed about “Christmas under siege,” I felt complicit. If I was content to listen to Christmas-themed pop songs instead of hymns, to open presents with gusto instead of heading to church, or to dig right into the meal instead of saying grace, was I diluting the holiness of others’ celebration? Was I insulting Jesus? Cheapening the experience for Christians?

There was no one moment that crystallized my thinking or relieved me of my guilt. Rather, it was a series of observations: Most of the classic songs and movies that celebrate Christmas don’t even mention God or Jesus. Santa doesn’t check church attendance to decide whether he’s going to give a child a present—he checks whether she’s been naughty or nice. He’s the perfect secular judge of moral fiber. To say that the secularists injure the Christmas spirit is much like the claim that two men getting hitched will besmirch the sanctity of marriage. Why should the way I mark Christmas bother anyone? Christians appalled by my secular holiday will no doubt argue that I am depriving myself of the greater joy that comes with accepting Jesus into your heart. But I’m not attempting to take away anyone’s right to go to church or to display a Nativity scene. All I need to celebrate Christmas is a tree, stockings, baked goods, some people I love, and some gifts to give (and, yes, receive).

My family is not alone in celebrating a Christless Christmas. According to a February 2008 survey by the Pew Forum, 16.1 percent of Americans are unaffiliated with any faith. For those of us without a religion to call our own, Christmas is the most enjoyable holiday—I’ve always preferred it to Thanksgiving, whose accoutrements and traditions I’ve never been able to enjoy. Professional football, turkey, and Black Friday pale in comparison with the trappings of Christmas. What was the last great Thanksgiving song you sang or movie you saw?

Some evidence suggests that Christmas itself was merely a reappropriation of the pagan festival of Saturnalia. If that is in fact the case, my godless Christmas is more an insult to ancient Romans than to Christians. Since there aren’t too many of them left, I won’t let it worry me.

The best thing we nonbelievers can do, in fact, is be honest about not celebrating the religious side of Christmas. Each Christmas and Easter, churches have to struggle to accommodate the extra crowds who show up for holiday services. While pews may be partially filled or even deserted on a Sunday over the summer, the holidays see a huge increase in attendance as the CEOs (Christmas and Easter Onlys) stop by. The problem is particularly pronounced in Catholic churches, as Christmas is a holy day of obligation. When holiday church attendance is motivated by guilt instead of a genuine state of religious worship, it creates headaches for everyone—and takes up valuable pew real estate.

Instead of sitting in church, feeling uncomfortable and vaguely dishonest, I can spend the day with my family—sleeping late, opening presents, preparing and devouring the Christmas meal, sipping a beer, watching the inevitable holiday Law & Order marathon. Could I do these things at other points of the year? Sure—Law & Order is a year-round pleasure. But only at Christmas do so many of my friends and family also have time off, and only at Christmas can I see loved ones who have scattered across the country. Whether or not you believe in God, Christmas is a time of year when you head home or host guests, a rare occasion for the kind of togetherness that can drive you crazy, fill you with love, or both.

See:http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2008/12/no_reason_for_the_season.html