Molecules in Motion…

Monterey 2011 - Oceanside Highway

 

A theist told me that without god I’m just molecules in motion… 

Correctamundo!

We are molecules in motion.  Only not just.

We are also heirs (at the very least) to 5 thousand years of history, 14 thousand years of civilization, 50 thousand years of behavioral modernity, 3 billion years of biology, 14 billion years of physics, chemistry, and cosmology.

We are descended from the cosmos — “A way for the universe to know itself.”

Not  a p a r t  from it, but a part of it.

We are particles that dream. Atoms that love. Star dust configured to comprehend its own existence.

We are kin and kindred to every earthly organism that is or ever was and perhaps ever will be.

We sail across an ocean of  human toil and pain and blood…and of  hope.

We are curators of knowledge. Co-authors of the human story.

At our feet, all of human achievement, above us endless possibility, within us untapped potential.

And the truly beautiful part, the sweetest, most succulent, warm and fuzzy, spine-tingling, uplifting, stupefying, humbling, unequivocally, undeniably most beautiful part about it…

Is that everything I say is true and proven true.

We are all molecules in motion.

You’re goddamn right.

Common: The Believer

Funny to think of the (falsefied) uproar Common’s presence in the White House caused last year (ahh…politics).

The Chicago native has endured–over 21 years–because of his unique and unparallelled ability to straddle the line between poetry and rap.  It’s not hip hop for dummies.  This most clearly evidenced with his inspirational track The Believer off his 2011 album The Dreamer/The Believer.  I find it to be insightful and sometimes moving music that gives me a little something new each time I hear it.

His line, “If he could how would Ernie Barnes paint us/look at the picture, it’s hard not to blame us,” is in reference to Barnes’ custom of painting his subjects with their eyes closed to symbolize our blindness to each others’ humanity.

Likewise, in the verse, “Destiny’s children, survivors, soldiers/in front of buildings their eyes look older,” Common uses the now-defunct R&B group’s name and song titles as a metaphor to describe the saga of young life on the streets.

And lastly, with, “That ain’t the way the Langston Hughes wrote us/soul controllers on the shoulders of Moses and Noah,” Common laments how urban youth, despite possessing biblical potential, are running around with guns; it’s such a shortfall to how poets (and visionaries) such as Langston Hughes described African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance–which was the first real exposure the modern world got to the potential contribution blacks could make to culture and thought.

I love stuff like that. 🙂

Anyhow…

P.S.  The lyrics are included below.

– John legend – Hook –
I believe in the light that shines and will never die
Oh I believe the fire burns, we stay alive
They will talk about us
Like they talked about the kings before us
They will talk about us

– Common – Verse 1 –
These are the words of a believer, achiever, leader of the globe
Feeding souls of those in need
I bleed the blood of the struggle
Walking over troubled puddles
Hustles in my chest, no hustle no progress
Extremities of life and it’s process
Birth of a son, death of another
With love I caress both mothers
And tell ‘em, who’s in control is the One that’s above us
I walk where money talks and love stutters
Body language of a nation going through changes
The young become dangerous, pain gets spent into anger
Anger gets sent through the chamber
It’s tough when your own look like strangers
We are the sons of gangsters and stone rangers
If he could how would Ernie Barnes paint us?
Look at the picture, hard not to blame us
But time forgives, in the Chi where the young die often
Do they end up in a coffin because we haven’t taught them?
Is it what we talking? We really ain’t walking
Dues hustlers pay, how much did it cost ‘em?
Find myself on the same corner that we lost ’em
Real talking, in their ear like a Walkman
Thoughts spin around the corner to the World
When I see them, I see my baby girl
Believe!

– Hook –

– Verse 2 –
The lord lives among us
The young ‘uns hunger becomes a means to get it
By any means necessary, under pressure
Children feeling lesser, with the steel upon the dresser
Kill-at-will aggressors, Destiny’s children
Survivors, soldiers, in front of buildings their eyes look older
Hard to see blessings in a violent culture
Face against weapons, sirens, holsters
That ain’t the way that Langston Hughes wrote us
Soul controllers on the shoulders of Moses and Noah
We go from being Precious to Oprah
Cultivated to overcome ever since we came over-seas (seize)
The day and the way that you can see we determined
Solar keeps burning, shorties know to keep learning
Lessons in our life, but life stripes that we earning
Took Gramp’s advice that Christ is returning
Like a thief in the night, I write for beacons of light
For those of us in dark alleys and parched valleys
Street kids spark rallies of the conscience conquerors of a contest
That seems beyond us, even through the unseen, I know that God watches
From one King’s dream he was able to Barack us
The prophets, nothing can stop us
Believe!

– Hook-

[John legend]                                                                                                     I know I know I know our dreams won’t turn to dust
They will talk about us
I know I know I know our dreams won’t turn to dust
They will talk about us
I know I know I know our dreams won’t turn to dust
They will talk about us

Irrational Belief

What God would just leave us in a world like this
And call it love?
The gates of heaven should open into oblivion
that under this firmament
–where the seconds saunter spitefully by–
full of dancing fools and lovers,
whose eyes fix on peace
and call it nothing
My bond is to my brother’s keep
‘Til I take his eye for my belt loop
(Just for the snivel in him)
I. Draw. My. Every. Breath.
to climb.
–To find–
My rainbow ends in her arms
her hearth
friendly faces, ocean-side vespers, humble feasts
What world could be as Divine as this
–where the years take wing upon swift gales–
That has no God?
Only selfish fools and lovers
whose eyes fix on nothing
And call it peace

What I Believe

I have a love/hate relationship with labels.  The clarity is great but the rigidity sucks.

When I noted that I am a spiritual atheist, some people ascribed to me their stigma of atheism.  Others considered spiritual atheism paradoxical.

I am a human being who does not believe in deities nor any connections or derivations thereof (divine books, origins of birth, miracles, etc.).  I do not deny the existence of any god, I just don’t subscribe to it.  I don’t know what happens after we die (of course, what I don’t know is infinite).

However, I am a believer and proponent of the connection I share with other people–all people, in fact, all living things–the earth, and the universe.  We are cosmic beings, made of celestial material; we come from the universe and to it we will ultimately return.

And we are alive.  I know of no other comparable fortune.  What’s more, we are aware of this gift and can enjoy it for the blessing that it is.

Plus, we are the inheritors of 200,000 years of human history.  I am the beneficiary of the sacrifices and accomplishments of all those who came before me from families, merchants, soldiers, kings, scholars, and philosophers to theologians, artists, inventors, and masons, even bakers and cobblers.  Their achievements have made our lives possible.  They have progressed us–technologically, scientifically, and morally–to our highest point in recorded history.  I believe we have a responsibility to continue their work and leave an even better world than we inherited.  They are examples, not the pinnacle, of how high we can go.  We honor them by striving to exceed them as they exceeded those who came before.  I believe it is our duty, our obligation, to do so (We have a LOT of work to do).

I believe in a world without suffering, where we are each free to pursue our own happiness, so long as it does not infringe on the happiness of others or abandon our sense of responsibility to one another.

Some will call it a pipe dream, an impossible quest for a perfect world; but I respond (echoing Vince Lombardi), perfection may be impossible, but in striving to achieve it, excellence may be attained.

And that’s what I believe.

The Non-believer’s Guide To Prayer

The title is a bit misleading (Guess I just liked the sound of it).

This post is really for the non-religious.  Being skeptical of a theistic, intervening deity–which I am–is not the same as being cynical of any greater power whatsoever–which I am not.

I was never much of the “praying type”.  It  always seemed kind of selfish to me.  Even when I prayed for other people, I was doing so because I wanted good things for them.  I suppose there are worse things you could do with your time.  But I always like the concept of praying, putting good vibes out there.

A key aspect of myriad religions and philosophies, prayer covers a wide range  topics and there are innumerable methods and purposes.  In general, I consider prayer as a kind of active, focused, positive thought.

I posted a blog recently discussing my rejection of religion.  It sparked several wonderful conversations with friends,  family, and fellow internet geeks on both sides of the issue, and has helped me more clearly define my own beliefs while being introduced to new ideas and perspectives.  I can already tell this is just the beginning of my exploration of the subject.

However, I’ve already come to the startling and identity-smashing realization that I am an Atheist. I have likewise become entrenched in my rejection of religion and furthermore believe that religion is in desperate need of a new reformation–as happened with Christ, Mohammed, the Great Schism, and the Protestant Reformation.  Religion is the bridge between a people and their deity.  As such, religion must reflect both sides to be relevant, which most of today’s Western religions do with plummeting effectiveness. Civilization is in peril because modern technological capability is being governed by iron-age theosophy and agrarian morality.  (But more on that another time.)

This is not a rejection of faith or even God.

Epistemologically speaking, “God” as the Creator, exists.  The proof is existence itself.  I exalt that “trinity” of creation, destruction, and recreation.  My limited and casual understanding of the sciences suggests to me that these forces are at least interwoven if not one.  While violent and terrifying from our subjective view these dynamics are, in reality, nothing more than the restructuring of particle groups and the principles that drive it.   I believe, by the intricate flawlessness of these organizing principles, that some kind of intelligence drives them or comprises them or perhaps originated them.

I won’t speculate as to  what kind of intelligence that might be or how it works.  Nor would I hazard a guess as to sentience, especially not sentience as I know it.  This, to me, is one of the places where reasonable people can, for the time being, come to their own conclusions.

For me, the  staggering actuality that I–a collection of individually lifeless molecules, inexplicably arranged into sentience–am able to experience even this infinitesimal speck of all that is, has been, and will be, is more than miracle enough to compel my continual, embarrassed, and humble gratitude.

The question is, how exactly do I show that gratitude?

Again, I am an atheist, theologically speaking.  Yet there are “higher” concepts that I do believe in:  Salvation, enlightenment, even bliss.  These ideas still hold profound meaning for me.  To my mind they are all modes of thought, or more accurately, modes of thought procession. From perception and understanding to joy, forgiveness, and guilt, thought is how we experience existence.

This means that thought has power–unequaled power from the human perspective.  So logically, I must therefore believe in the power of positive–and negative–thinking.

What I mean when I say positive is anything that drives us toward the combined states of individual contentment, environmental equilibrium, and social exceptionalism.  In other words, I’m talking about states of happiness, balance, and growth as individuals and as a species.

  • I define happiness as the cessation of need, the tempering of desire through both achievement and self-control, and the unfettered pursuit of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual interests.
  • I define balance as maintaining a respectful, pragmatic equilibrium between the utilization and replenishment of our natural and cultural resources.
  • I define growth as progressive improvement in the quality of life and equality of opportunity for all people.

Experientially, these are modes of travel not destinations (to steal a motivational poster slogan).  Salvation, enlightenment, and bliss are the ultimate forms of these modes.  Our belief systems are how we achieve such modes which serve as the highest material functions of belief.  In plain terms, faith can help make us better people.

Prayer then, along with reflection, meditation, and study, have their place as ways of attuning and refining thought positively, regardless of belief.  You can pray to God, Allah, Yahweh, Mormon, or Buddha; you can pray to Oblivion; you can pray to the Blind Luck of the Universe if you want.  The purpose is to give profound thanks for the opportunity to experience Life and to seek, within yourself or from God, the capacity to endure, overcome, and achieve.

I find something very reassuring about that.

And if praying is not your deal, then don’t do it.  There are people of even devout faith who rarely pray.

Besides, if you’re doing it right, no one should know the difference.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

-Matthew 6:5

( Praying hands: http://www.prospectorjewelers.com/About_Us/Praying_Hands.htm.  Kohlberg’s stages of moral development: http://klooste-mycave.blogspot.com/2010/10/gender-typing-are-there-flavors-as-well_22.html.  Buddha statue:  http://blogs.babble.com/famecrawler/2010/10/18/what-is-aqua-buddha-rand-pauls-campaign-is-getting-a-little-crazy-watch-the-ad/)

Losing My Religion?! I Lost It!

Note:  I’m talking about faith and religion here.  Just a warning in case the topic is not your thing.

To follow by faith alone is to follow blindly.

-Benjamin Franklin

I come from a Church-going family.  We didn’t go every Sunday, but most Sundays for the majority of my childhood.  When I got older my mother allowed me to choose whether or not I wanted to attend.   Predictably, I stopped going–although more from a lack of interest than a lack of belief.  In fact, quite the opposite.

Still, over time Sunday became more synonymous with football than church.

A good decade after I’d last set foot in a church, I got a job as a custodian for the Park Village Elementary School (I know, lofty ambitions).  It included an overtime gig opening up the gymnasium for a Nondenominational Christian church group on Sunday mornings.  I did it from time-to-time.

The church was called the Vineyard and they were some of the best people I have ever met.  They were friendly, jovial, courteous, and kind.  And more than that, they seemed genuinely happy.  They were able to actively enjoy each others’ company and each moment as it came.  The key was their faith.

I grew curious.  The pastor readily made time to talk to me about life and belief and whatever else.  Those conversations were amazing.  They helped define the 2nd half of my intellectual–and spiritual–life.

It started me on a journey to rediscover my own faith.

Only problem was, try as I might, I couldn’t find it.

I am a student of history and philosophy.  And in studying those fields, I learned things that irreparably damaged my road back to religion.

I have a much more objective understanding of the Bible’s historical context. I see syllogism and allegory in the Christian Bible.  I do see truth, but what I don’t see is even remotely believable literality. I know how the Bible came to be.  I know where many of the stories come from.  I know how the meaning of certain biblical terms has changed over time. I see how the various denominations pick and choose what they want to believe.

Besides, time exalts and mysticizes history.  People freely believe that phenomena considered impossible now was somehow possible a thousand years ago.  I understand why they believe it and why they would want to.  I just can’t believe the same.

When I try to look at Christianity objectively–which is virtually impossible since Christianity is the foundation of my values, morality, and culture–I see the same holes and inconsistencies that I do with, say, Islam or Mormonism.

However, I also understand the very human desire to continue, to not end once this life is over.  I share that desire vehemently.  I likewise share the desire to have a greater purpose for my life.  I’ve felt the comfort of believing there is a God who loves us–me as much as anyone–and wants the best for us all.  I, too, can see the beauty of a world without suffering.

Those hopes are indescribably powerful.  I think they’re essential to the human composition.  It drives our social and moral evolution.  It’s why I find logic in Pascal’s Wager.  It’s also why I find Atheism lacking even though I find it logical.

But these are issues of faith, not religion.

Religion is the rulebook.  And I admit, part of me wants that rulebook.  Part of me wants the religion of Jesus Christ to be true, for cruel and evil people to suffer while the virtuous are blessed for eternity.

But the rest of me looks at some of those rules (eating shellfish being an abomination, stoning disobedient children, the submission of woman) and not only do I NOT accept it, I don’t see Providence in it.  All I see human judgmentalism in those rules.  I only see inequity.

And I don’t buy the whole “His ways are mysterious” bit.  Strange, he made it possible to understand astrophysics yet made an enigma-hidden-in-a-riddle-lost-in-a-mystery out of why eating lobster is a sin.

I find the idea that someone must burn in hell with rapists and murderers–simply because they are gay, and despite any other qualities they might possess–not only offensive, but ludicrous.

What’s more, I don’t believe in evil.  I think people learn and continue cycles of abuse and neglect.  People have chemical imbalances and structural deficiencies in their brains.  People get indoctrinated into belief systems that embrace fear and anger and hatred–and they have mental and emotional compositions that make them susceptible to that kind of messaging.

Not only could an omnipotent God see those potentially insurmountable flaws within us, It would have CREATED them.  Damning or saving us based on a rulebook, inattentive of  those shortcomings, is cruel and unfair.  It’s like condemning someone for being blind.  What “loving” God, ruled by nothing but Its own Will, would choose to be cruel and unfair?

However, from a human perspective, punishing those that hurt others can be appealing.  The thought of Adolf Hitler burning in hell makes me all warm and fuzzy.  And I don’t possess the magnanimity to wish him anything better, but that only reflects the cruelty within me.

So, for the above reasons (and enough more to fill a book), I came to the conclusion that I reject religion.  It’s a personal conclusion, of course.  That decision is profoundly individual.  And it’s trans-rational.  Echoing the sentiments of St. Paul, it has to make sense and it has to feel right.

I consider myself a spiritual atheist.  I could perhaps call the force of creation in the universe, God.  The fact that everything, from the most insubstantial subatomic particle to the most enlightened abstract thought drives instinctively and unstoppably toward organization suggests, to my mind, a possible kind of intelligence.  However, the nature of that intelligence is factually unknown and unknowable thus far.  Will Durant expressed it best:

We are moments in eternity and fragments in infinity.  For such forked atoms to describe the universe, or the Supreme Being, must make the planets tremble with mirth.

As for what happens when we die, I can’t say, and I don’t think that’s the point.  I hope there is some kind of eternal me (and you!) that lives on.  I continue to hope, but it’s not my focus.

Some might find such a perspective restricting.  I find it liberating.  I search for what affirms and optimizes existence.  It’s things like life and love, compassion, kindness, honesty, sincerity, truth, friends and family, faith and philosophy, music and story.  They all profoundly enrich the experience of being.

I can’t imagine that any wise and loving God would wish for us anything else.

I don’t.

(Angel image from: http://samscotti.blogspot.com/.  Atheism image from: http://chan4chan.com/archive/tags/arrogant)

Fundamentalist Atheism

“We are fragments in infinity and moments in eternity.  For such forked atoms to describe the universe, or the Supreme Being, must make the planets tremble with mirth.”

-Will Durant

I hate fundamentalism.

I’m okay with people holding strict beliefs in whatever religion they choose (I almost never agree with it but I respect it and on some occasions even admire it).  What I cannot abide is the intolerance in which fundamentalism–fanaticism, really–is awash.  This fanaticism isn’t about a particular religion.  It’s about the dictate that one’s own belief system is must dominate all others.  Any belief system can fall victim to fundamentalism, most of them already have.

Fundamentalism is not about piety.  It’s not about faith.  A person can believe devoutly yet respect other people’s choice to believe differently.  Fundamentalism is about cultural destruction.   It’s a gloved word.  The ironically fundamental flaw of fundamentalism is cognitive dissonance.

We are imperfect beings; our beliefs and behaviors conflict with each other.  This conflict inevitably leads to exaltation of one belief (or set of beliefs) to either the repression or oppression of  others.  In a fundamentalist’s cognitive dissonance, the belief is always exalted.  For example, a fundamentalist Christian father, who abhors homosexuality, learns that his son is gay.  Fundamentalism would force the father to either use his paternal  influence in oppressing his son to prevent him from being actively gay or in repressing his love so that he may disavow his child.  This in turn forces the father to disregard contradictory biblical teachings and promote those that support his actions.  It’s hypocrisy.  More importantly, it’s virulently unappealing to those who don’t share the belief and therefore doomed to fall short of its goal.

Most religious fundamentalists are counterbalanced by their share of detractors.  For some reason, atheistic fundamentalists do not.  All atheists tend to get lumped together.  This may be because atheism is typically not a religion.  There isn’t really a shared system of atheistic beliefs–outside of the assertion that there is no God.  However, atheism is a faith; it’s a faith of oblivion, but a faith nonetheless.

Many atheists shroud their belief in what they would call deductive reasoning.  But the existence of God is scientifically unprovable.  Either way.  Anyone telling you there isn’t a God is stating an opinion, not a fact.  Of course, it’s their right.  And my problem is not with atheism in general, but rather with its fundamentalist manifestation.

I’m sure you’ve seen the type.  Brazen.  Rude. Dismissive of  the cultural and even evolutionary significance of faith in the human experience.  They forget about hope and purpose and belonging.  They ignore the soul’s requisite to continue.  They mock piety as simple-minded credulity.  They laugh at people’s most dearly held beliefs.   Atheistic fundamentalism, like all fundamentalism, seeks only to destroy opposing views.  And worst of all, atheism offers scant metaphysical assurance in return.  It’s pure vitriol and psychological violence at its worst.

I am an agnostic theist.  I don’t believe in the Biblical miracles and I am cynical about the divinity of Jesus Christ.  Still, I find profound truth in Christ’s teachings as well as hope and inspiration in the tenets of many religions, especially Christianity.  I am a product of Judeo-Christian culture–as is half the world.  My social and moral values are defined by it.  Yet it’s not how I identify myself.  I think people take the bible far too literally and interpret it through their own neuroses to justify their own moral point of view.  But that doesn’t invalidate the entire belief system.  Personal faith is a fiercely intrinsic, trans-rational choice.  We are wholly ignorant of other people’s spirituality and have no place in trying to define it.

I don’t begin to think I have any kind of answers.  I’d be audacious to challenge whatever answers others may come to.  But I do take umbrage with anyone who tears down another person’s faith to glorify their own.

(Coexist image from: http://www.geardiary.com/2010/11/29/coexist-a-shirt-for-every-os-at-woot/)