No clue

On my way into the sanctuary of the Unitarian church, I pick up a book from a stack along with a supplemental photocopied sheet. I was told in advance that tonight’s Jewish service will be led by a community elder in lieu of an actual rabbi. Except for the yarmulkes on the heads of many of the congregants, the room looks just as it did the last time I was here. A few rows ahead of me I spy one of the amply-bearded gentlemen from the Quaker service I attended several months earlier, only here he is paired with a woman and dons a tie-dyed yarmulke or “kippah,” the little round skull cap often worn by Jews as a sign of respect to God above.

Traditionally, yarmulkes are worn by men. Here, a few women wear them too and several of the designs are surprisingly playful. A few rows ahead of me, a woman has one that appears very elaborate. I get close enough to see that each quadrant of her cap sports an intricately hand-painted Teletubby, the popular cartoon characters that resemble chubby baby aliens.

I open my prayer book to have a look inside, only to realize it’s upside down. Hebrew is printed on the page from right-to-left instead of the usual left-to-right so Jewish prayer books generally open in the opposite direction from those I’m used to even when they contain English translations. I flip the volume over: On Wings of Awe, a prayer book for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What is normally the last page is the first page here and I think briefly about how this would make a good metaphor for Judaism vis-à-vis Christianity: everything’s wrong side up and backwards! Only the relationship between the two is far more nuanced than that, and the way books are printed in Judaism is so basic that my finding it surprising speaks more to a very personal ignorance than any universal truths. For someone married to a Jew-by-birth, who came of age surrounded by Jews, it’s astounding how little I know. I would probably be paralyzed with embarrassment if it weren’t for the fact that my lack of knowledge has found fierce competition with Phil’s.

In point of fact: Phil and I inherited a menorah from his family. It’s the kind where each of the wicks feeds into a common basin of oil. When we first got married, I made a special trip to the hardware store for the right lamp oil and even purchased a tiny funnel to pour it into the menorah’s small opening. I went online to read about the lighting of the Hanukah candles, but I skimmed the entry thinking Phil would know the specifics. Growing up, his family celebrated both Christmas and Hanukah.

A day or two into our first Hanukah, I realized it was time to pull it out. “How do we do it?” I asked Phil. I had a lighter at the ready.

“I have no idea,” he said.

“You’re joking,” I insisted. I had always assumed Phil knew more than he was letting on, that he was feigning Judaism amnesia.

“My dad always lit it.”

“You really have no clue?”

He was dead serious. “None.”

We were both hovering over the menorah. Just because neither of us knew what we were doing, didn’t mean we weren’t going to light the thing. I tried to recall the rules from my brief internet search: was it right to left, or left to right, and how many days exactly into the holiday were we?

Phil was getting impatient. “Just do it.”

“Fine,” I said. I held my lighter to each wick until I had created a little Hanukah inferno. After several minutes the wicks sucked up all the fuel and the flames died out. “Happy Hanukah!” we cried, batting at the smoke.

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86 thoughts on “No clue

  1. Corinna,
    What a bitter sweet experience for you both. Just my initial thoughts: After reading this post and the comments from your “New Year” post, it seems to me that we, we who are here with you on this journey, at least, seems to place some extra burden of responsibility on Judaism to maintain their religion and traditions with as little change as possible. We can’t keep Christianity from all its strange twists and turns…from the CD’s and rock bands and the storefront churches….or from all the “nones” who are streaming out from them. But, darn it….someone has to maintain stability, and it sure must be the Jews. But it seems to me, after reading this post and from my relationships with friends who were, as was your husband,” born into Judaism”, but who now barely bring the traditions and cultural pieces into their lives, that “nones” come from all walks and corners of religious life. We all save and cherish things that we value and then discard what is left either consciously or by default…simply letting things fall into disuse when they fail to resonate meaning for us. Why should this be any different for those raised Jewish…or Jewish by culture?

    Maybe it is the whole idea of religion that is becoming archaic….and some of us are just on the front edge of that movement.
    Merrill
    .

    • Hi Merrill, I think some of the more observant would actually agree with you in that they see their job as keeping the “fire” of their ancestors’ faith maintained just as it has been for centuries and keeping it going even in our modern times.

  2. Thankfully you avoided using the adjective ‘holocaust’ (“hanukkah holocaust”), since although referring to exactly such a smoky conflagration (a Greek word that means ‘sacrifice by fire’), it carries a bit more baggage to Jews. 🙂

    I know you’re likely getting to this point, Corinna, but the MOST important element of ANY ritual is the MEANING that drives the process, the symbolized actions that explains WHY we follow certain prescribed steps. The point is NOT to accomplish some task in a goal-oriented manner (eg to light the menorah: if so, then “Honey, get me the blow-torch!” would suffice), but to imbue the process with specific meanings, and to share the significance with family. You were expecting your husband to share that which he didn’t know, hence why you were somewhat disappointed. On the other hand, rituals are clearly not important to him, so perhaps you need to ask why it’s important to you?

    Not everyone understands that reason and symbolism drives the process, and not vice-versa; not everyone values that as a valid assumption or prerequisite for a ritual! Hence why some are content to display devotional religious objects at the seasonally-expected time, as if to show their neighbors their faith, with the process being devoid of any meaning. Who’s to say that their assumption isn’t as valid as anyone else’s?

    Dave

  3. I have relied on Google and our children’s preschool (run by a Reform temple) to learn about Jewish ritual… as well as colleagues at a Jewish organization that once employed me. My Jewish husband was raised Jewish, went to Hebrew school and had his bar mitzvah, but his family did not “observe” all rituals. They did not keep kosher, they did not worship every week at the Temple… His parents made a decision to give their sons a Jewish foundation, and then let their sons decide how much or how little to pursue it. My husband’s father told me he was a “cardiac Jew.” Jewish at heart. I liked that a lot.
    When I worked for that Jewish organization, we hosted a seminar led by a Jewish ethicist. He was explaining the 613 commandments or “Mitzvot” in Judaism and how those that are still possible to be followed (many no longer can be after the destruction of the Second Temple) relate to medical ethics. I had a larger question, though. “What happens if you break one of the laws? How does Judaism ensure that the laws are enforced? Where’s the accountability?” (I was bound by my understanding of the Christian perspective on the Ten Commandments.) And my boss (a Reform Jew) said, “It’s not about accountability, or enforcement. It’s about the choice, every day, to be Jewish, in the ways you can.” I liked that a lot, too.
    Better no clue than no intent and no action.

  4. Hi Corrina—

    Like you, I have to admit not knowing much about Judaism’s practices, despite having a close friend (and my son’s godmother) who’s Jewish. Regretfully, the only formal services I’ve attended have been praying the kaddish at her parents’ funerals. Maybe that’s an allegory for the chasm between Judaism and Christianity. Like Merrill said, many of us have preconceptions about Judaism’s ancient nature and are surprised it has changed along with Christianity, and just about every other major religion and social structure, over the centuries. Obviously, its not a monolithic faith; like Christianity, it has conservative and liberal wings, and many different traditions (Hassid, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, etc.). Its not static nor unchanging.

    I think to be fully-informed Christians, we need to appreciate our Judaic roots as a foundation, rather as a threat to be eradicated. History has more than enough lessons on how that’s turned out.

  5. Just curious — has your husband enjoyed your search? Do you talk over where you have been or what you think about it all with him? I see you as bubbling over with all your experiences and wonder what he thinks about it all. Tell him “hi” from us all!

    • Ginger, yours is a very interesting and thoughtful question! Even though our journeys may be personal, they are not taken in a vacuum. I think if my husband were still alive, he would be totally bemused by the time and energy and thinking that I have put towards Corinna’s blog, and I do believe he would have been a good listener as I chattered on about the people I have “met” here and how their words have changed me. As it is, my family and friends have “enjoyed” hearing all about this mining expedition……it is a compelling story!

      • I like that – personal, but not taken in a vacuum. You can tell that you put a lot of effort into your thoughts. It’s amazing how this blog does that, and I certainly sense everyone’s personality. And even though I am not able to check back very often because I work full time and am going to school, and trying to keep some sort of sense of normalcy at home (like dinner with/for my family!) I think about it a lot. It would be fun to meet one day.

        • P. S. You must miss your husband very much. I have not had the sorrow of losing my husband. But the husband of a friend at church died from pancreatic cancer. It was such a blow to her — everyone was so worried about her, especially her kids. She retired so after and began traveling all over the world. And she became a liturgist at church and a Bible storyteller. (We try to “tell” the Scripture reading when it’s a narrative in worship, rather than read it. It’s so much more interesting that way.) Anyways, over the course of time her countenance has lifted and she just glows now. (besides the fact that at 75 years old she still exercises everyday!) She recently told me she is alone, but not lonely. She’s the most beautiful lady, and I hope I am like her when I reach her age.

  6. Corrina said:
    “Fine,” I said. I held my lighter to each wick until I had created a little Hanukah inferno. After a several minutes the wicks sucked up all the fuel and the flames died out. “Happy Hanukah!” we cried, batting at the smoke.”

    I bet Jesus, Moses, Abraham and Judas Maccabeus were looking down and laughing their collective tushes off!

  7. Yes, Merrill – I agree with you on the “telling your friends about the people you’ve met on the Blog” – you get some REAL looks when you tell ’em that the people who are visiting you – from across the continent – you’ve MET on a Blog. . . .ha, ha! You can see the “Wah?” look all over their faces! I, too, am interested in what your husband must think of all this, Corinna – mine just shakes his head. . . he learned a long time ago to put up with my idiosyncrasies. . .smile. .

    • Carmen, you should have seen the looks I got when I donated a kidney to someone I met on a blog! You can get as close to someone sharing your heart in a virtual way, as you can if you live next door and have coffee. Well, maybe not exactly, maybe it does take the face to face contact. I’m sure you and Patti are finding that out!

      I don’t have a lot to say about Judaism. I’ve read a lot about the Holocaust. I suppose groups of humans have always tried to exterminate other groups of humans, but what Nazi Germany did to Jews (and other minorities) seems especially heinous to me. There are so many stories that show mankind at its worst — and at its best. There are endlessly fascinating questions such as, why didn’t they fight back? and why didn’t the world try harder to stop it sooner? and how would I feel if I were a Jew today, with so much history of hatred directed toward my religion?

      Is Judaism a religion, or a culture, or both? Is it the only religion that’s also a culture? I don’t think there’s a “Buddhist culture” or a “Christian culture” in the same way. Or is that just the way it USED to be? I wonder if observant Jews think of themselves as “more Jewish” than nonobservant Jews? I wonder if there are similar attitudes of “I’m more right than you are” among the Reform, Conservative, Hasidic, etc. groups as there are in Christianity between, say, Baptists and Catholics?

      • Wow Shelley! Now that’s HOSPITALITY!!! You get the prize! Talk about a special ‘yewman bean’.
        . .all those questions you articulated resonate with me. What I have always wondered, more specifically, is this- “How could a survivor of the Holocaust ever believe in God?” Or is it a simple acknowledgement of evil? Questions, questions. .

      • Hi Shelley! You’ve raised some basic questions…some uncomfortable. Why didn’t more people help? Even the US doesn’t come out well with this one. We all know about Einstein coming here to get away from the Naziis. He was welcomed with open arms of course, and went to a prestigious university. Many (I don’t know the count, perhaps hundreds) of Jewish German professors also got out of Germany when that was possible. Many (most?) ended up in Southern black colleges, where they were in many ways rejected by the local white cultures (surprised?). One of the long-term results of this was that the two groups (Jews and blacks) grew close and supported each other strongly during the civil rights era. I think some of that bond is still there now.

        You may also know about the “St. Louis” a ship containing hundreds of Jews that got out of Germany, sailing around to many countries–including the United States–that refused them entry. Some of them already had visas to come into the US (as I recall). The ship eventually went back to Germany where….well, you know the rest of the story.

        Re your question about Judaism a relgion or culture….the answer is ‘yes’. Properly speaking, Judaism is the religion, though ‘Jewish’ can refer to the religion, or the culture or the nationality–those three are not necessarily the same. Israel is surprisingly secular, a real surprise for American Christians going to the land of Jesus. I’m sure that many religious Jews don’t see secular Jews as truly Jewish in some ways (more a surmise than a fact), but there is also a unity there that may seem surprising at first, but then is not once you understand the situation there. We went to the Golan Heights, a major point of contention even today, captured by Israel in the Six Day War. You can stand there with Israel at your back, Syria in front of you and Lebanon to your left (North). Israel is surrounded by enemies that would love to see it disappear. Egypt is a big question for them–now even more. Jordan has been kind of a friend, but…. Israelis–religious or secular–are a family that have each other’s back, and they are daily aware of the threat.

      • Hi Shelley, Interesting questions! Unlike Christianity, Judaism doesn’t emphasize what a person believes so much as the actions one takes daily. So that does spell a different sort of path but ideally the destination is similar.

        • Good clarification, Corinna, Thanks. True, if you are a religious Jew, you may not be a person of faith in the sense that a Christian would understand it, though generally, religious Jews–I think–would all say they believe in God.

          Your phrase about not emphasizing belief so much as “the actions one takes daily” struck a chord with me. Last week, I was listening to “On Being” from a few weeks ago that featured Joy Ladin, the first trans-gender person to teach at an Orthodox college. That was quite an eye-opener–and she used the same/similar phrase. Did you listen?

      • Actually, “Why didn’t they fight back?” is sort of an offensive question. The Holocaust victims fought back in every and all possible ways, once they realized they weren’t really being ‘relocated’ to ‘labor camps’. Please remember that a horror such as this had never been committed before — it was beyond anyone’s imagination at the time.

  8. Put this rambling in the wrong place and now moved it here.
    Corinna, looking forward to this part of the journey. Know almost nothing, but consequently not overloaded with falsehoods. Worked as a (please pardon the ignorant phonetic spellings) Shabbish Goy in the 60′s, tape recording Bonds-For-Israel pledges because of stricture on congregational writing during holy day services. Vocal bids sometime became excitedly competitive but not always accurately remembered on fulfillment. Members of the congregation ran the spectrum of welcome to distaste for me and my job. Being backstage, cantors were frequently my pleasant companions; one I remember, giving me the wink as he sipped some supposedly restricted broth, saying, ” Gotta lube up and go play some shofar for the kids!” Reminds me of a backstage episode I had with a Notre Dame cathedral priest after mass who said, “You shoulda been here last week; we have the original crown of thorns which we display sometimes.” “My,” I said, “Aren’t you worried about theft or defilement?” He smiled, (laughed actually) and said, “That’s okay, we have 5 more.”

    Back to topic, just skimmed a bit about Hasidic movement. Interested to hear more of its history and shape and what’s with their Christmas Eve actions, or lack of actions.It shook out of a search comparing “Eye for an Eye” and “Love, and Turn the other cheek.” Disappointed in on-line claims that retribution did not specify an actual “eye”, but rather financial punishment and recovery. Have naively accepted for years that those two concepts represented the watershed of division between old and new testaments. Can’t wait for more of your findings.

      • Corinna, I read an article you wrote about being a guest at a seder. You wrote, “thought of how rare it was for Passover to fall on a Sabbath. Normally, they’d be able to turn off the stoves themselves. ” Actually, extinguishing a fire is prohibited and Shabbat AND on major festivals, so the fact that Pesah was on Shabbat really didn’t make any difference.

    • “An eye for an eye” was an ancient rebuttal to the prevalent practice of punishing severely anyone who injured a member of the nobility. In fact, it was common in the ancient Near East that a person could be executed for injuring a person of higher rank. “An eye for an eye” introduces the philosophy that retribution should be limited to a cost parallel to the injury.

  9. Hi Shelley and Carmen

    You guys are asking some very profound questions. I know a lot more about history than I do religion, especially WW II. The question of “how could this happen?” comes up often. I don’t think there’s a single right answer, but there have been some consistent historical opinions about how the Holocaust could have occurred.

    First, Europe was awash in anti-Semitism long before Hitler. Since the Dark Ages, there was always some level of prejudice, either obvious or just under the surface. During the height of the Black Death, there was a conspiracy theory that Jews were poisoning water wells. Thousands of Jews were slaughtered; it got so bad the Pope issued an encyclical saying the Jews had nothing to do with the plague. Hitler was able to capitalize on that, taking advantage of that part of human nature that loves to blame others for the world’s problems. Second, Germany under Hitler was a society built on fear. Although relatively few Germans were members of the Nazi Party, it extended right down to the neighborhood level, so you couldn’t be sure if your next-door neighbor was a Gestapo informant. Combined with a Germanic culture that emphasized duty to higher authority, it created a toxic environment that even those who knew about the gas chambers said nothing. Finally, the state was excellent at lying to its people. There is a very short book on Kindle called “How do You Kill 11 Million People?”. The short answer is, you lie to them. You tell them they’re being transported east to new reserves set aside for them. You tell everyone else you’re not killing people, just relocating them. So, if you live in a culture that never much cared what happened to Jews, and the state, to which you’ve sworn your personal allegiance, tells you they’re merely being moved, you go along wit it. A lot of people believed it until it was too late.

    Here’s a chilling example: A few years ago, I read a book about the Nuremberg war crimes trials. The prosecution was questioning the commandant of the Auschwitz death camp. After admitting he oversaw the death of two million people, he said he wanted to make it clear he never tortured anyone, and punished guards who unnecessarily abused prisoners. He was in the business of killing people, not tormenting them. When asked if he felt any remorse, his answer was “Does a rat catcher feel bad for the rats”? The Nazis were very successful at completely dehumanizing their enemies, to the point where most otherwise normal people committed unspeakable crimes. The book’s author said the commandant’s tone during his testimony was like that of a factory manager telling you how many refrigerators or cars his factory built—no malice, just business as usual.

    Of course, this is greatly simplified summary that omits a lot of other issues, like personal responsibility in an evil society, etc. But you get the idea.

    As to how someone can still have faith in the face of the Holocaust, that’s a question I can’t answer. But the Holocaust wasn’t a unique act of evil; it was perhaps the worst period in humanity’s long history of killing its own. Evil people and evil deeds have always existed, just as good people and good deeds have, too. I guess its up to each of us to discern God’s actions in the world, and to reconcile the existence of evil if we believe Him to be all-good and all-powerful. Maybe the question isn’t so much why evil exists, but how we personally respond to it?

    • Tim, I think anti-Semitism wasn’t only confined to Europe. The Allies refused to bomb the tracks leading to the crematoriums and all countries (including Canada) could have taken more Jewish people who were desperately seeking a friendly country to take them in. Yes, evil has certainly always existed and it has taken many forms.

    • “Evil people and evil deeds have always existed, just as good people and good deeds have, too.”

      I don’t think ‘evil’ and ‘good’ is all that helpful of a mental construct, since it’s largely a vestige of the old Zoroasterian beliefs which over-relied on the human brain’s use of binaries (God is good, Devil is pure evil’; etc, Most of real life isn’t black-and-white like that model suggests).

      Instead, the sad reality is that humans don’t HAVE to be “evil” or have “evil intentions” to carry out what we narcissistically label as “inhuman” acts (as if it provides some protection for us as individuals). Most people just need to find themselves in the right (wrong?) authoritarian social setting that enables individuals to use the old, “but I was only following orders” excuse. That’s the truly scary lesson offered by Stanley Milgram’s social psychology experiments in the 1960’s, where up to 2/3 individuals administered what they thought was a lethal shock (450V) to someone when they were ordered to do so by an authority figure:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

      The study has been replicated numerous times, and many permutations conducted, all of which demonstrate the same thing: the dangers of blind trust and faith in an authority figure, which is all the more justified in the person’s mind if they actually believe they’re doing the work supported by the ULTIMATE authority figure, God. It’s why good Christians were able to justify killing infidels in various recent wars, and why good Muslims carried out Jihad in service to Allah. It’s partly a factor in explaining what happened at Abu Gharib.

      Speaking of which, I recently saw a TED Talk video delivered by Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who conducted the Stanford prison experiment in the early 1970’s (he was an expert witness for the Abu Gharib trial). The video’s up on YouTube.

      Dave

  10. Good summer evening to you all:
    I am going to weigh-in with my minority report this evening. Here’s what I believe: God has no will…no intentions …..
    no personal interest here at all. What ever it was that created this universe and all within it, as amazing as it is, was not an entity that has any way of “watching over” this little insignificant planet upon which we live…..on which we try to survive…at least some or most of us have that goal! Tim, up the way, used the words “God’s actions,” which for me have no meaning…..it is not God’s actions that we should be concerned with at all; it is our human actions and our human interactions. I don’t believe that God has chosen to bless some…and to turn a blind eye on others. It is not about “Good” and “Evil” for me. It is about personal human responsibility. The Natural Laws keep the universe moving forward, I guess I would say, although I can’t believe that my human words do it justice. Humans came along as part of these Natural Laws…..we are just one piece of this universal interdependence. We have developed different capacities than some of the other species…..how we have used those capacities has always been part of our human joy and is intertwined in our worst horrors. Yes, we have the capability of thinking and making choices.

    I am with Walt who talked earlier about their being some universal sense of Moral Laws. These Laws and basic principles are in place in every culture, although, as noted, there are cultural variations……but really not as many as you would think. But I have great certainly that they are in place…. and this is where the personal responsibility enters in. In each case of human atrocities, which has been the focus of much of this thread, it is possible to trace back to the choices of humans, who are influenced by so many things that can turn people away from the Moral Laws: political scenarios, economics, personal gain, the need for power, the divisive nature of belief systems, fear, individual disabilities,…these are arranged in no order and are not all equal…and this is certainly not a definitive list; they are but what comes to mind. And I would also give voice to the other end of the spectrum: those things which hold us upright…keep our compass straight….be they from within ourselves or from family structures, from our religious instruction, or from the legal apparatus, they all too hold sway. But ultimately we are each responsible for our own choices, our own decisions no matter the context.

    It seems easier to put that responsibility on God…..on God’s will…God’s plan. What ever you call it. But I hold that this would be begging the question. If you want to give God full credit for all the good…..you also have to fully believe that God is responsible for all the bad….all the atrocities. I prefer to keep my God out of this score keeping Let us place the responsibility on humans—-individually and as the groups they form. They are the ones with the power to make a difference….it is up to them….up to us…. to decide which kind of difference will be made.
    Minority report completed.

    Spiritual but not Religious…..
    Merrill

  11. Hi Merrill—

    There is a lot of sense in what you say. Actually, much of it is consistent with the first few chapters of Mere Christianity, where Lewis discusses the universal sense of moral right and wrong. Obviously, you and I have a different perspective on the source of what that sense is, but we both agree it exists. And I think we both agree on the degree personal responsibility plays in our lives. In my previous post about the Nazis, I summarized how the Holocaust could have happened. But it never would have happened if individuals hadn’t made choices, first to elect Hitler, then to stand by when the state began harassing, then persecuting, and finally, murdering Jews and other “undesirables”. Perhaps its best summed up in Burke’s saying: “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.”

    But I do think in some cases it does come down to good and evil. Dave mentioned the Milgram experiments and how, under the guise of authority, otherwise ordinary people can commit terrible acts. However, if you read through the Wikipedia link he provided, or look at other commentaries on Milgram, many psychologists and historians drew sharp distinctions between Milgram’s experiments and Nazi atrocities. The subjects of Milgram’s experiments were subjected to a fair amount of coercion and browbeating when they objected to delivering what they believed to be shocks to their subjects, nor did they know what they would be asked to do before the experiment started. Death camp guards knew full well what they were doing, and what the result would be. Being an SS guard at a death camp was pretty much a voluntary assignment. If you didn’t like the idea of overseeing the killing of children, women, or old men, you could request a transfer to a less stressful assignment, with no repercussions. To me, that speaks to the evil men can do when they, as you said, choose to.

    History also shows that even the worst Nazis knew they were breaking some kind of universal moral code. When it became clear Germany was losing the war, the Nazis began trying to cover up evidence of their genocide, by destroying the camps (usually killing a many prisoners as possible as they did). Adolf Eichmann, who to me is one of history’s clearest cases of a truly evil person, tried to transfer his responsibility to others during his trial, despite the fact that during the war he boasted he could die a happy man knowing he had the blood of millions of Jews on his hands. You don’t try to dodge responsibility unless somewhere in the depths of your conscience, you know you did something wrong.

    People, whether as individuals or in groups, can commit acts most societies define as criminal. That does not make them evil. We’ve all done something wrong in our lives, and most of us, myself included, have done a few things we dearly wish we could take back. But we are not evil. To me, that definition is reserved for only a very few people who know what they are doing is wrong (by the moral code you mentioned), but choose to do it anyway, with no sense of remorse, at least until they get caught, and that universal code comes crashing down on them.

    So, short story, I think you, Walt and I all agree there is near-universal sense of right and wrong in most cultures, and there always has been. We also agree it is the individual who, in most cases, chooses right or wrong actions. Where is God’s place in all of this? He gave us the free will to choose right from wrong, and won’t take it from us, even when we commit the worst of acts against one another. The evil we do to each other is as much a choice as the good we do, and He forces us to do neither.

  12. BTW, another area where Merrill and I agree: I think using both God and Satan as scapegoats for the choices we make is misguided. “The devil made me do it.” is just as bogus as “I was just following orders.”

  13. I hear you in that, Tim. I am not saying absolutely that this “evil” does or doesn’t exist at this point…..although I am still inclined toward personal choice and responsibility….I don’t know why some people are so easily bent away from the Moral Code…….even when they KNOW they are defying the Moral code……but it serves their purposes to do it anyway. Evil? Could be, Tim. I’m still considering why this happens. The thing about being on this blog is that we can have this conversation…..I can tell you that I am not at all sure about “evil”…..you make shake your head…but we go on….and, surprisingly to me anyway, we do agree about many things! I like that!
    Merrill

    • Hi Merrill and Tim:
      This is honestly exciting to be here. As I was standing on the sidelines, reading Tim’s comments, almost all I can say is: “YEAH! What HE said!” 🙂 Sorry, but I’m really tired right now, so I may have missed some obvious points, but I got the impression that you two are NOT saying anything much different.
      One thing I might add (and Tim, you’ll remember that Lewis made the point that God gives us free will and allows the evil, but it’s the only way that any of his creatures will come to love him freely (OH, I really need to go to sleep). I spent 10 years in a Calvinist milieu, which emphasized the sovereignty of God and spoke so much against the free will of people that we come out practically as puppets and God the initiator of evil.

      Merrill, I don’t think I fully understood what you were saying about evil. To me, the essence of evil is the fact that we are free to act according to our own self interest–which to me has issued in everything up to including slavery, the worst evils of capitalism, and the Holocaust.
      I’m to bed! YAWN.

      • Walt, I think that I was responding to the way the word “evil” is often used in Christian circles……as a separate entity lurking around …looking for some unsuspecting Soul/soul to attack and take down. You are couching it in very different terms. “Free to act in according to our own self interest”—–for me, it is that business of HOW we define “self-interest” that puts it back into that arena of personal responsibility, In that some people find going outside the Moral Law to be in their self interest….or in the best interest of the greater good?. It sounds to me like this is the essence of evil for you, if I understood correctly. I will have to consider this…..it certainly makes a lot more sense than the “Lurking Evil” I mentioned earlier! And, of course, being in the minority here, I just disregard the parts about who gives us free will and why we have it….see that as part of the Natural Laws. But, again, that is just my read on it!

        • we give the devil too much credit, I think. I do believe in spiritual beings, including angels and demons. I don’t know their power exactly. Believe I believe in Scripture, I know there is a message for us there about these creatures but, like many other dogmas, there is a mixture of what it actually says, what we are afraid of, medieval superstition and tradition. I do believe also in Satan, mostly because Jesus speaks of him, and I have no reason to say he doesn’t exist. To whatever extent he is active in the world, he is limited, so he is not something I even think about much of the time. Most of the evil in the world, I think, is brought about by our own “self-interest”, free will (although we certainly are limited in its exercise by circumstances and beliefs). The thing you’re thinking about actually does come out of the Bible, but it is an exhortation to Christians to remember to be on guard–we never have to give in to that “evil lurking power”. There is much mythology lurking about in our culture, so I am always skeptical first, try to apply common sense, and bring the bible to bear on it if I can. Mostly, I just have to trust God about it–assuming he exists, of course! 🙂

  14. Merrill–
    Same here! I’m willing to bet most of us have more in common than we would have ever thought, if it hadn’t been for Corrina’s blog!

    • Tim, surely we find commonalities with the bigger ideas….those principles and Moral Laws cross many lines. I still bridle with much of the more fundamentalist Christian dogma and practices, but I think you find some of the objectionable too. Some of it seems quite toxic, and disables human’s from having that ability to “act freely” in their personal journey. That never seems like a good idea to me…..it is is against Natural Laws to my thinking. MET

  15. Wow, is this an interesting thread. Tim, I read both your links and they are terrific. Merrill, I would love to hear what you think about the first link from Huffington Post. The rabbi gives what I think is a compelling argument for the beginning of the universe. What dya think?

    The 2nd link has a quote by a Rabbi Sacks: “Jewish faith is not about believing the world to be other than it is. It is not about ignoring the evil, the darkness and the pain. It is about courage, endurance and the capacity to hold fast to ideals even when they are ignored by others.” I think this capsulizes my feelings of admiration for the Jewish people as a whole. They bounce back. (Well, maybe not BOUNCE.) They are resilient. As TIm pointed out, they were hated and persecuted long before the Nazis did their work. Whatever you and I think about the state of Israel, it is a living monument to courage, endurance and holding fast. It seems as if, if you are a Jew, whether you’re reform or conservative, you have this — what? reputation? spirit? of resiliency. Not to say non-Jews don’t. Not to say every Jew does. Maybe one reason is that emotion, freely encouraged, freely expressed, seems built into the Jewish faith. They wail, they dance. I contrast that with my Lutheran upbringings — ugh! No visible emotion ever. I connect the ability to express emotion with health and resiliency. Just my opinion, I could be wrong.

    Gosh, the links Dave posted, what food for thought. I can’t get Mr. Zimbardo’s TED talk out of my mind. Too bad he had to talk so fast. It’s hard for me to describe evil, but I know it when I see it. I agree with Merrill that there are Natural Laws, Moral Laws. Where did they come from? Did humans just think them up? I don’t think we’re that smart. I think, as Rabbi Lurie says, there is an “uncreated element” from which the laws come.

    The Milgram experiments, the Stanford Prison experiment, Abu Ghraib, the Jim Jones/Guyana mass suicide — all suggest that evildoing in one’s life can begin by not questioning authority. Mr. Zimbardo talks near the end about practicing to be a hero, about consciously planning to do good, to help, so that when you’re called upon to make a choice, you will be more likely to bend toward good. This is an amazingly great idea!

    • I, too read the articles and watched the video – both excellent resources with interesting ideas! Actually, Shelley, I thought of you immediately when Zimbardo speaks about looking for a chance to be a hero – it seems to me that you recognized the opportunity (not everyone does, as he points out) and seized it!! The opportunity for good people to do terrible deeds(under certain conditions) is juxtaposed with the idea of an ordinary person doing the extraordinary – I like they way he ended the talk. I got the feeling his speed speech was induced by all the brilliant ideas he has!

    • Homewithin, yeah he really had to step on the accelerator at the end, as he was trying to jam too much material into a single 20 min TED segment. There’s another 1 hr 50 min presentation he did at MIT on the same material where he was able to expound, including discussing not the striking remarkability of “pure evil” when it occurs, but it’s striking banality of evil, the sheer boringness of those personalities who engage in “evil” acts that is most striking:

      He discusses a 1970’s study in which women could be coaxed into shocking cute puppies: I’ll leave it to Philip to tell the punchline of whether it was a greater or lesser % than men.

      Tim, Milgram was a Jew who was interested in studying how otherwise mundane ordinary people could engage in such acts as the Holocaust, even viewing their work as simply solving a logistical problem as if a waste-disposal engineer. If you don’t understand the cultural influences that drove people to commit such acts (eg a long history of blood libel against Jews fueled by millenia of hatred/pogroms against Jews for killing their Jesus, etc), you’re missing the entire point of the work.

      Yeah, there’s some valid criticisms about selection bias in Zimbardo’s original prison experiment (the ad mentioned “prison life”, etc), but that only raises more disturbing questions whether people attracted to work in corrections facilities are applying for jobs for the added benefit to control and torture others, i.e. serving as a magnet for those 1% who possess sadistic tendencies (and screens like MMPI psychology tests are used as per-hiring screeners in an attempt to weed out these types, but are only effective if the person isn’t a sociopath who is clever enough to spot the questions are being asked to screen them out, and they lie).

      That’s exactly the POINT that Zimbardo is making: since good people can perform evil acts if placed in the wrong situation, tight oversight and consistent policies are needed to prevent recurrences like Abu Gharaib (if that even IS the goal: unfortunately, the more-typical reaction is only to drive such practices deeper underground to prevent such embarrassing disclosures from occurring, in the first place, keeping them well out of sight by shuffling detainees overseas. I suspect that abuses of Abu Gharaib wasn’t the “accident”, just the unauthorized disclosure of photos, and the whistleblowing; hence why we see so many anti-whistleblower laws arising. I’d be shocked if one result after Abu Gharaib isn’t that MPs are still barred from carrying phones with cameras while on duty).

      I’m a bit surprised that these studies are not more well-known: such work of social psychologists in the 1960’s/70’s is the material presented in the curricula of most psychology 101 courses, and Milgram’s study has even spilled over into the mainstream media (they made a movie on it). Deny these findings at your own risk, as you can trust and believe that the US military DOES understand these same principles of human nature, and having served in the military (where my supervisor was a psychiatrist) I can assure you that the techniques of social psych are well-understood by those working in the gov’t, being part-and-parcel of mil psy ops and military intelligence: it’s defo not “news” to them. Heck, it may even been introduced as part of my officer indoctrination training course (I can’t remember if it was, as I’d heard of it long before that in high school and undergrad, but it may have been presented for those who missed it). The principles are not exactly rocket science, or hard to grasp (although whether you’re WILLING to is entirely another matter, since some people have blinders for accepting any ideas that don’t jibe with their worldview, which is also another well-understood trait of humans that is exploited).

      Dave

      • Dave said:
        If you don’t understand the cultural influences that drove people to commit such acts (eg a long history of blood libel against Jews fueled by millenia of hatred/pogroms against Jews for killing their Jesus, etc), you’re missing the entire point of the work.

        Yes, I agree,as I pointed out in my first post on the subject.

        • Oops-Hit the post button too fast..

          Yes, I agree,as I pointed out in my first post on the subject. In my follow-up comment, I was simpy pointing out the differences between Milgram’s experiments and the choice death camp guards made, as it related to Merrill’s comment about choice vs. lurking evil. However, I do agree with the basic premise; whenever people give up their ability to think for themselves in the face of authority, they give themselves permission rationalize virtually any act.

  16. Carmen, thanks for your kind words. Actually I define a hero as someone who does the next right thing. And that’s all I did, and it’s what I bet everyone on this blog does every day.

    My mom would always say, “If no one else will do it, you be the one.” She came to believe that because she was very interested in the holocaust (Elie Wiesel was her hero), and she was deeply moved by the Kitty Genovese murder in New York, when a woman was brutally beaten to death while people in neighboring apartments either watched or turned away. So she did what Zimbardo suggested, she brought up my brother and me to “be the one” who does the next right thing.

  17. Wow, how did a story about nearly melting a menorah morph into a discussion of the nature of good and evil?! Shelley, your Mother is to be applauded for the way she brought you up. Having heroes in life is important—they’re like markers in the road that help you decide what direction to take. Mine are Dr. King and Harry Truman. And good morning to you, Walt—hoped you got a good night’s sleep!

    I liked Merrill’s comment about evil “lurking” around waiting to trap people. As Walt mentioned, people can get trapped into extreme Calvinist thinking, making it easy to blame amorphous supernatural spirits for the wrongs we commit. Some people seem to want it both ways; they want God to give them the free will to do what they want, then they want to blame Him when they make poor choices, like “Why didn’t He stop me”? My father wasn’t particularly religious, but he consistently pounded that message into me; you make the choice, you deal with the consequences. I’m not very conservative about most things, but I get all clenched when people try to blame “the other” for their mistakes. You can blame God, you can blame Satan, you can blame society, you can blame your parents for bringing you up wrong, but in the end, it comes down the choices you make .

    • “You can blame God, you can blame Satan, you can blame society, you can blame your parents for bringing you up wrong, but in the end, it comes down the choices you make.”

      Yeah, someone really should inform Cain (who killed his brother, and got away with murder after being protected by YHWH) of that concept, or Abraham (who almost murdered his son, Isaac), or Moses (who killed an Egyptian, but was blessed by God despite being a murderer), or Joshua (who engaged in mass genocide against Canaanites and other enemies of the Children of Israel), or David (killed the guy he cuckolded, and got away with it), or Elijah (killed 400 worshipers of Ba’al), or…..

      The entire Bible is premised on the idea of murder being perfectly OK, if it’s done when directed by God. See the SLIGHT problem with that?

      Dave

      • PS the story of Job clearly depicts Satan as a member of YHWH’s Team, the ‘Elohim’ (plural, referring to the “Divine Counsel” of spirit beings, with God at the head and all angels as underlings). Even though the core poetic elements in it indicates to be be the oldest work in the Bible, it was subject to late post-exilic revisions: a narrative frame was attached on the older poetic “core” to provide a set-up and conclusion which fit then-current ideology.

        In the introduction, Satan (the prosecutor, accuser), is clearly depicted as acting as a member of God’s court, who authorizes Satan to put righteous Job under a stress test just to see if he breaks under the torture. According to the prologue of Job, the story of Job wouldn’t have happened had not God authorized Satan to inflict pain, and hence allow Job to undergo suffering.

        So YHWH is depicted as the authority figure who voluntarily allows suffering to be experienced by test subjects, and Satan as one of His underlings who carries out the work of torturing and killing. You don’t see a SLIGHT problem with that kind of command-and-control organizational structure? Or is it OK with you, since God can do no wrong?

        BTW, that plot element was added as a narrative prologue of Job centuries later, whereas the older “core” of the Book of Job is written as poetry, not as narrative (as the intro and conclusion are). Apparently some later redactor wasn’t satisfied with the nebulous “God works in mysterious ways” efforts of the more-ancient poet, and felt the need to introduce a Satan character into the introduction of the story. Likely his goal was to define or introduce Satan into Hebrew beliefs, reflecting the influence of Persian Zoroasterian beliefs (remember that pre-exilic Judaism didn’t include the concept of Satan as the source of evil). So the idea of Satan as the source of evil was as foreign a concept to pre-exilic Judaism, wheras in Zoraosterian beliefs, Ahura Mazda (analogous to YHWH) has an adversary called Angra Mainyu (meaning ‘destructive spirit’), analogous to Satan. Given the tendency to accept ‘black and white” thinking (dualism), you can see why the fit with Judaism was a natural fit that just made sense to many.

        It’s well-documented that the intrusion of dualistic thinking into Judaism occurred due to Pharisaical syncretism with Judaism:

        http://imaginenosatan.com/Volume%202/2-8.html

        This explains the presence of scriptures in later Torahic scriptures, such as:

        “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7, KJV)”

        “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? (Amos 3:6, KJV)”

        “Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good? (Lamentations 3:38)”

        Those works are all LATE additions to the Tanakh, and that’s the kind of position-shift that has occurred over time that suggests not a Divine origin to the Torah, but the works of men who react to the then-current trends occurring in their surrounding dominant culture.

        Dave

        • Dave.,,,,You are so intelligent and your posts are always so filled with biblical history with.academic accuracy which will prove your point of view. But, frankly, sometimes they weary me because I already believe that the bible was written by men for men….with the hand of very few women involved, although I am sure you will have citations for when they were involved! LOL It is filled with “inconsistencies” and with “history” biased toward which ever and what ever positions/actions these writers were attempting to put forth at the time. And while I am sure that parts of it are true, it seems that they are intertwined so thoroughly with all the other material that they are nearly indiscernible for many of us.. But carry on if this is your mission!!

          What I am supporting as my position here is not iINSTEAD of Christianity or Judaism or other established religions; it really is about what was BEFORE that……..the basic Natural Laws and Moral Laws and what ever might else might be, but which is outside of my very small human mind. I am just tired of having to fit my beliefs in to the constructs and context of all these belief systems that rose up as a result of the needs of humans to “figure things out.” I can live with the ambiguity of not having figured every thing out…in fact that is one of the things I cherish: doubt.

          This is what I learned from MY mother: Adversity builds character………. Live with it, Learn from it. Take responsibility for what is yours. And go on a stronger person. I am sure that this is close to the life lesson that most Jewish mothers will teach to their children. It teaches perseverance and self-reliance and a sense of self.
          All pretty useful tools in the world!
          Merrill

          • It also teaches you to be tough in the face of difficulties and conflict….which I might need at this juncture! I just speak my truths as simply as I can. What more can a person do? MET

          • Hi Merrill:
            I call my life a ‘zigzag journey’. I suppose part of that is due to the fact that my parents were rather passive/non-assertive in teaching me certain things about life….although we DO (I’m with Tim re italics!) have to “fit” our thinking into other people’s (first our parents et al) as we grow from childhood–that’s how we first make sense of our world. I’ve spent much of my last 10 years “unfitting” my own belief system from much of what I was trained into as a Christian by two very different systems of theology. I also am “growingly” comfortable with ambiguity about things in the Bible, and growingly distrustful of human systems of intepreting it. (I really think God has a sense of humor on the interpretation thingy–he’s left us with more ambiguity than humans are comfortable with.) I do, however, have an absolute belief in a good God (the one behind the moral law, which we are free to violate, unlike Natural Law–e.g., gravity). I also believe that Jesus gave himself to die to “pay my bill” because I just can’t keep that moral law (and he proved it by the resurrection).

            I am this week rereading C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, which I first read 42-3 years ago and was the straw that broke the camel’s back of my doubts (Tim please note). As smart as he was, he was able to write for the “common man” with uncommon common sense and simplicity about all these things. I feel like I’m returning to some of my “roots” because, although he was an Anglican, his version of “mere” Christianity was not distinctly anything but common. One refreshing thing about it was the fact that he pointed out that one does not have to understand all the theories of how it’s supposed to work to believe it. When I think of the abortive mess we got into here over “imputation”, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to bring up some of what he said. Oh well….

            Merrill, I think you know me well enough from this blog that what I just said is not directed at “converting” you–but don’t corner me on that. It’s more to help you understand where I’m coming from so that my mentioning Satan, for example, doesn’t make you lose your cookies 🙂

            • Got it, Walt! Actually, I appreciate that there is great respect behind your words—and Tim’s too. I never feel like you are trying to convert me—Good luck with that one anyway! LOL MET

                • Hi Merrill & Walt

                  I got a chuckle from your exchange about converting. I think I’d be a terrible missionary because I couldn’t sell hot chocolate to an Eskimo! The whole idea of “converting” someone seems a little odd to me. Merrill, you and most of the other “Nones” I’ve met throughout my life seem perfectly okay to me, so there would be little point in trying to change you or them. Now, if, by some of the ideas people like Walt, Patti, or me have discussed, you become interested in taking another look, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. That would be more in line with what Corrina is doing on her search, because its and affirmative choice someone makes on their own, to seek something else. To me, converting someone and coercing them are almost synonymous, and, traditionally, converting someone also meant converting them to your denomination. It wasn’t enough to “make” someone a Christian; you had to “make” them a Baptist, or a Catholic, or an Anglican, etc. No wonder so many people are turning away from denominational churches. One of the most loathsome lines I’ve heard come out of Christianity is “winning souls for Jesus”. What the he*l does that mean, exactly? Faith isn’t a contest to see who can drag the most butts into the pews, or ram doctrine down somebody’s throat. Through the middle of the 20th century, of course, that’s pretty much what conversion and missionary work was all about, accompanied by often-disastrous results for those being “converted”. I much prefer the tactics of St. Francis and Mother Teresa, who, by the examples of their lives, showed what it is to lead a Christian life. Needless to say, I don’t even come close to them, but I still don’t need to be first in the “win souls for Jesus” contest.

                  Now, I believe there was mention made of cookies earlier…..

                  • Tim, a friend of mine who has been a life-long devout Catholic and I have also been having conversations about religion along the way. Today he was expressing his admiration for St Francis who said something like this: Preach the gospel, and if need be, use words. I really like that very much! It translates beyond Catholicism and beyond religion in general.

                    Don’t look to me for cookies. My oven hasn’t worked for over a year, and I find this to be a very convenient excuse. The best I can do is Oreos……and I will be happy to bring the milk, too, as long as you like 1%.
                    Merrill

          • Hi Merril,

            Dave.,,,,You are so intelligent and your posts are always so filled with biblical history with.academic accuracy which will prove your point of view. But, frankly, sometimes they weary me because I already believe that the bible was written by men for men….with the hand of very few women involved, although I am sure you will have citations for when they were involved! LOL It is filled with “inconsistencies” and with “history” biased toward which ever and what ever positions/actions these writers were attempting to put forth at the time. And while I am sure that parts of it are true, it seems that they are intertwined so thoroughly with all the other material that they are nearly indiscernible for many of us.. But carry on if this is your mission!!

            Obviously I’m not writing to convince only YOU: there are other readers here, too? 😉

            Just realize that you are offering a CONCLUSION that you arrived it (“I believe the Bible was written by men for men” etc.) without offering any evidence for HOW you ARRIVED at that conclusion. So the other readers are only able to compare your opinion vs theirs, which is hardly persuasive for people like me.

            See, in MY approach to life, I don’t care what conclusions other people reach as much as if they can share WHY they reach a particular conclusion, ie what evidence they used to reach it. Otherwise, we’re simply in a battle of opinions (pointless, as everyone knows the old saying: “everyone is entitled to their own opinion….”). However, all opinions ARE equally valid only IF detached from the body of evidence that constitutes reality, as unsupported theories, AKA hypotheses. In rationalism, opinions detached from evidence ARE equally valid, as they’re all just unsupported hypotheses. The next question becomes, “huh, so why do you think that?” That’s why I have that pesky tendency to want to explain WHY I reached a conclusion. Not accepting that approach is why believers feel their hypotheses (driven by gut reactions, desires, etc) feel their belief system is just as valid as that of a rationalist, who can present TONS of evidence to support their conclusions/beliefs.

            That concept relates to Corinna’s original post, BTW (watch me tie these two concepts together, LOL!), since people will go through religious rituals as if the physical/mechanical motions are actually what matter, when it’s actually the REASONS underlying the ritual, the meanings symbolized by the action, that imbues it with meaning. Otherwise, rituals simply are done for the aesthetic benefits (my non-JW family aren’t believers, but they put up Christmas trees/lights because they DO look pretty in the Winter), or as a showy displays for others, or even as rote superstitious exercises for those with undiagnosed OCD tendencies (where a person has to turn a light switch on and off 100 times before leaving a room for some reason they cannot explain: they do it since they think some benefit will come from doing it, or some harm from NOT doing it).

            Jesus sort of hinted at this same point of thing by telling his apostles that they shouldn’t rely on rote memory when praying, but should pray from their ‘heart’. Of course, he immediately completely obliterated his very point by giving the World a MODEL prayer, which consequently was memorized and offered by rote by many! Jews understand the power of rituals and rites, a power which the Catholics understood and elevated to new levels in Christianity.

            “What I am supporting as my position here is not INSTEAD of Christianity or Judaism or other established religions; it really is about what was BEFORE that……..the basic Natural Laws and Moral Laws and what ever might else might be, but which is outside of my very small human mind. I am just tired of having to fit my beliefs in to the constructs and context of all these belief systems that rose up as a result of the needs of humans to “figure things out.” I can live with the ambiguity of not having figured every thing out…in fact that is one of the things I cherish: doubt.

            That’s great, but HOW did you reach that conclusion? 🙂

            Eg, you assume the existence of “moral laws”: on what evidence do you base that hypothetical claim? You’re offering a pre-supposition which I don’t accept: I’d demand that you prove the existence of these so-called “moral laws” of which you speak. Because in MY book, it appears a lot like an ‘appeal to supernatural forces’, a way of saying “God” without using the name. In the World I inhabit, all concepts stem from minds, which are emergent properties of living brains: if there’s no physical brain, there’s no concepts, including “moral laws”.

            I’m not shopping for unsupported World views that make me feel all gushy and warm inside, or resolve my personal conflicts or let me get comfortable with doubt (aka philosophies of living, which religions offer); I’m actually quite comfortable with the unknown, and don’t desire the illusion of comfort with uncertainty (I’ve taken enough statistical analysis to know that science doesn’t demand 100% absolute certainty as religions offer, and that such absolutes don’t even exist). I’ve had a gutful of that kind of thing in my life, and you’re really not offering anything novel or new, just another reworded and rephrased version of the same ol’ thinking.

            This is what I learned from MY mother: Adversity builds character………. Live with it, Learn from it. Take responsibility for what is yours. And go on a stronger person. I am sure that this is close to the life lesson that most Jewish mothers will teach to their children. It teaches perseverance and self-reliance and a sense of self.
            All pretty useful tools in the world!

            Sure, those all are valid aphorisms and life lessons collected from millenia of human existence, and they do work well, if applied properly (wisdom is knowing WHICH situations they apply to, but even that’s no guarantee: you can look before you leap, and STILL break a leg on landing). These aphorisms aren’t novel, new, or confined to religion, but simply life lessons, eg Aesop Fable’s offered such truisms 2,500 yrs ago and they also likely stem from much older oral stories and aphorisms.

            BTW, unlike the stereotype straw-man created by believers, rationalists don’t reject ALL past collected wisdom, but simply point out that life is rarely as black-and-white for aphorisms to serve as absolutes. All such rules of thumb need to be reexamined, as they’re only that: rules of THUMB, guidelines, which are often contradictory. Morality is far from simple, and anyone who tells you otherwise is likely missing important elements.

            BTW, I don’t see that Jews are particularly any more resilient than any other extant group who has survived: do they have any choice BUT to be resilient, or are survivors just supposed to curl up in a ball to die? Isn’t that the point of surviving, to transcend the experience and live well, figuring out how NOT to undergo a recurrence of the past? Understanding that point perhaps explains why most Jews are quite hesitant to talk about Jesus, the failed messianic claimant: their ancestors had already died as martyrs on THAT sword, and something about a history of 2,000 yrs of religious oppression and persecution by Gentiles sends an unmistakeable message of not wanting to offer their rationale, which is a chilling effect that persists to this day. Jews have a strong motivation to adopt an outward appearance of tolerance and religious co-existence, as they’re likely the benefactors.

            But the fact is, EVERY human alive today is the descendents of survivors. Those who’s cultures were exterminated don’t have anyone to tell their stories, and history is often written by the victors.

            Dave

            • Dave, I appreciate your response to my thoughts. I do want to say more, but I will have to mull over what I want to say to you in return. I think that, ironically, we share more in common than you might think; it is that we have arrive at our destinations in very different vehicles! ……check back later for a less abbreviated version.
              Merrill

  18. Merrill—

    I wish we could use italics for emphasis on this blog, because I dislike using capitals, but anyway…

    I was born a Christian but wasn’t raised in a church-going family. I wasn’t really exposed to much doctrine until I switched a parochial school for the seventh through twelfth grade. Maybe because I was a “late starter”, I never fully bought into the Roman Catholic doctrine, or any denomination-specific doctrine of exclusivity (e.g. “we’re the only ones who are right and everyone else is wrong.”) . Your statement; “it really is about what was BEFORE that” strikes a chord. I think most religions started out as a way for people to wrap their heads around concepts that, as you said, are outside our ability to comprehend. (You DO NOT have a small mind, BTW). What you refer to as Natural Law, and I refer to as the Mind of God are pretty much the same thing. One thing I’ve come to believe is that God really doesn’t care what you call Him. I remember reading an newspaper editorial about a city that removed its nativity scene form the front of City Hall. Of course, the city caught hell from fundamentalists (more of the fabricated “war on Christianity”). The writer said if God rally is omnipotent, He can’t be “harmed” by the removal of a nativity scene.

    I get very nervous around Christians—or anyone else—who are convinced they have God “figured out.” Maybe the different images of God described in Scripture are His way of telling us not be so sure of ourselves when we say “He is like this….”. Last week, during a lull in the action on the blog, I was reading some very early entries, In one of them, Frank and a biblical “literalist” were trading opinions. Frank, I believe, said he was an artist. His description of God was very visual and poetic; it was beautiful, but I’m more of a practical, linear thinker, so his description didn’t really resonate with me. However, I think God was simply showing Himself to Frank in a way he could comprehend, just as He shows Himself to me through more traditional liturgy, and to you through your concept of Natural Law. We’re all looking towards the same thing, using the faculties that work best for us, but no single one of can fully describe what we’re seeing. That’s a pretty awesome—and humbling—concept. To me, it all comes back to that phrase from Romans..” the law is written on their hearts.”

  19. Dave, I figure I had better get this response off to you before I had any more versions from which to select! You obviously have grown weary and frustrated with my “unfounded, un-researched” posts, “Will she ever substantiate any thing that she says…or just continue to blather on'” you might be saying.

    When I joined Corinna’s blog, I believed I might be a clear voice for “liberal religion. Anyway, that was the plan. Many, many posting and entire threads later, my journey has changed, I still believe I represent a group of folks who are spiritual…..believers on some level, but who are not Christians .At least I am one of them. And I am here.

    When I arrived here, I knew what I didn’t believe, but could not articulate what I did think is “true” about this place in which we reside. This was a more difficult task for me than the discarding of Christianity almost 50 years ago. I will continue to have ambiguity….have unknowns….carry doubts….but I think that this is a good place for me to be. To not be too certain.

    I have suggested many different things in the past months, sometimes just to see how they felt to me once they were out in the light of day….I’ve read what others, including yourself, had to say, and I’ve done some reading and research on my own…..Through all of this….and much time spent on my own “threads,” I have reached some point of “knowing,” certainly as much as anyone knows or doesn’t know. I am now strongly agnostic….if one can put a qualifier on agnosticism? And I have taken a few short trips into what it would be to call myself an atheist. I have hung some other pieces of a belief system in place.

    But the point is NOT what I believe or disbelieve…….it is how I got there. We have definitely taken different vehicles to reach where we are now. Your vehicle seems to be almost entirely based on the rational, the logical. You search for the evidence a person uses…..the latest proofs, documented research. This seems to work for you.

    I, on the other hand, have been relying on my intuition and my life experience—-both legitimate ways of reasoning…Really they are!. Could I go to the internet or to a library and find the science and the hard academic research behind my beliefs…..pretty sure I could if that is what I wanted to do. I am not making this stuff up–check out the deists–there are some pretty hard hitting scientists and academics in their ranks. But at this point, I choose to trust my intuition–backed by my experience–to provide me with what I need to know……me personally. I am not interested in trying to convert anyone to my point of view.

    I don’t know you, Dave, as it seems you prefer to present just your public front to us on One None….I respect that, but more’s the pity, because you provide us with no context in which to hear your words. Which is probably your intention. You might think that I am a bit naive and simplistic…..I am not. I was a science major, so I totally get the hypothesis and the scientific method business…since then I have “evolved” into a writer and a thinker…where things are not always so black and white. And , although I try to speak simply, I am a highly complex person, an intuitive introvert who has been puzzling with these issues for as long as I can remember. I have learned through time to never devalue this intuition…gut instinct….It has great power for some of us. I don’t always rely on it for answers! Logic and rational thinking are also in my repertoire…..but in this spiritual realm, it seemed better suited for me.

    I am not going to respond point to point to your reply to me because I don’t think it would be in either of our best interests to do so! I did not take any of your comments personally–it was more of an indictment on my non-scientific methodology! LOL And I was not unhappy at all that you felt called to challenge my words.

    I hope you have stuck with me through all of these words….and more words….(with out any citations, even!….LOL)
    I would just say that I appreciated the opportunity to respond to your thoughts.
    With respect.
    Merrill

    • Hi Merrill,

      Dave, I figure I had better get this response off to you before I had any more versions from which to select! You obviously have grown weary and frustrated with my “unfounded, un-researched” posts, “Will she ever substantiate any thing that she says…or just continue to blather on’” you might be saying.

      I’m actually a “different strokes for different folks” kind of person, and chalk a lot of that type of thing up to differences in style, personality, etc. I don’t have any pretenses of forming personal relationships here, so I see little point in engaging in the usual social amenities, or trying to form ‘alliances’, etc (as depicted on reality TV shows). I’d like to think this exploration is a bit more refined than that.

      In the final analysis, I am fully able to read and consider other viewpoints, and don’t feel the need to “protect” my beliefs or reevaluate my World-view for fear of it being altered, or find that it needs to be rejected (!): instead, my life is BASED on seeking out new information, and discriminating what is potentially fallacious or opinion-based vs what is backed by compelling evidence, and worthy of conditionally accepting; then I decide on MY life course. We all pay our money, and takes our chances when choosing what we do with our lives. I don’t want to do that for someone ELSE, as that’s a personal responsibility that SHOULD NOT be delegated to others. At the end of the day, you have to answer to the man in the mirror, and can only blame him for OUR choices.

      People reveal more about themselves by HOW they present their arguments and comments: I cannot help but look at statements in a rational manner, analyzing them for reliance on possible fallacies, etc. It’s not difficult, but it does have to be developed amd practiced, just like any other skill. In fact, to turn OFF that part of my brain now would be difficult, as I’ve spent decades learning and developing rationality earning a doctorate degree 30 years after being raised as a believer. I actually feel I possess a lot of common sense, and try to keep things as simple as they need be; I actually have a difficult time speaking (mild aphasia, due to a brain tumor I grew up with), so actually enjoy writing.

      When I joined Corinna’s blog, I believed I might be a clear voice for “liberal religion. Anyway, that was the plan. Many, many posting and entire threads later, my journey has changed, I still believe I represent a group of folks who are spiritual…..believers on some level, but who are not Christians .At least I am one of them. And I am here.

      When I arrived here, I knew what I didn’t believe, but could not articulate what I did think is “true” about this place in which we reside. This was a more difficult task for me than the discarding of Christianity almost 50 years ago. I will continue to have ambiguity….have unknowns….carry doubts….but I think that this is a good place for me to be. To not be too certain.”

      As long as you’re actively researching and LEARNING on an issue in an honest manner, then it’s perfectly reasonable NOT to come to a conclusion: in fact, that is exactly what the scientific methods requires, maintaining an open mind. But that’s a benefit of the scientific method: unlike the Bible, no theory is EVER written in stone, eg if compelling evidence arises tomorrow to indicate that Darwin’s theory of evolution and a better theory is presented, then the scientific method would DEMAND that scientists don’t hold onto Darwin when there’s evidence that suggests a better theory exists (as if it were a sacred cow that we cling to since we’re comfortable with it). That’s a difference between religion and science: by definition, religion acts as if men 3,000 yrs ago had some GREATER access or insight to information about the World, or the supernatural!

      A good example is the Bible’s use of the concept of “Holy Spirit”, where understanding how ancient men viewed how nature operates helps us to put ourselves into their ancient frame of mind. Otherwise, modern men are likely to project OUR modern understandings of natural processes onto ancient men, leading to anachronisms, or worse, thinking they had special insight into how nature operates than we do (mainly by their being so mysterious).

      Ancient people didn’t know that SOUNDS came from someone’s voice box, traveled through air molecules as waves, entered the ear canal of the listener to stimulate their cochlear nerve, which converts the sound into electrical impulses that carries it to the auditory processing centers in the brain: that kind of neurological insight came millenia later.

      Instead, ancient men who wrote the Bible conceived that ideas traveled across empty space as a mysterious ‘spirit’, coming from the sender to enter into the listener’s lungs (they noted the eustachian tubes that connected the ears to air passages which descended into the lungs). Once in the lungs, they thought the spirit was absorbed into the blood to be processed in the heart, which they conceived of as the center of cognition (humans didn’t know what the brain did until later).

      Hence, ALL mortals possessed a spirit which they used to communicate with others, or to motivate a particular action from a distance in others. The word ‘spirit’ is Greek, and lives on in words like ‘respiration’ (note the reference to the lungs in the suffix ‘spire’), or even in the word, ‘inspiration’. Mortals can inspire other mortals, as musicians often speak about being inspired by great composers, etc.

      So the Holy Spirit was the agency coming from God to communicate with mortals and angels, or to grant mortals the gift of speaking in tongues (after being “filled with Holy Spirit”), or to fuel Jesus’ perform miracles of healing, etc. It was conceived of as God’s active force, which is not really any different from a mortal’s active force; hence why it has the adjective “Holy” attached in front. You can see that the phrase, “inspired by Holy Spirit” is actually a circular reference: it’s actually like saying “Xeroxed by a Xerox machine”.

      That’s why Jesus said that the only unforgivable sin was to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit: he said that after the Pharisees had suggested that the source of Jesus’ power for performing miraculous healing was actually the Devil, and not God; in effect, Jesus was saying that to doubt the source of his power being from YHWH was the only unforgivable sin, since it twisted the source of his power and giving credit to Satan. M’kay, seems a bit like taking the passive-aggressive approach, rather than simply striking them dead with Holy Spirit, “Ananias and Sapphira” style. That kind of thing (failure to act against blasphemers) is excused by apologetists as a show of God’s mercy, when the obvious question is where is this show of mercy at OTHER times? Then we’re back at the “mysterious ways of God” kiss-off answer.

      In the last 2,000 yrs, Christians have conflated this flat-out incorrect theory of communication and source of God’s agency into becoming a completely separate being from God and Jesus, hence part of the Trinity; to modern men, it all seems so mysterious and hard to understand (which is in keeping with the whole “mysterious ways of God” meme). You know what ELSE is mysterious? How some people can be easily bamboozled by not spotting nonsense beliefs which are based on theories of sound that have long been disproven! We KNOW how sound works in 2013, and it isn’t “mysterious” in the least if you’re willing to learn, or refuse to engage in “special pleading” for God and His Holy Spirit to protect what is clearly a belief based in ancient ignorance. 🙂

      And that’s EXACTLY what believers are forced to do, in order to protect the idea that ancient men had some special insight.

      That bias is incompletely unfathomable to me: we don’t think superstitious men who killed witches 200 years ago were more enlightened than us, so why objectify those who lived 2,000 years earlier? Older beliefs are not better: that’s just more backwards, and hence become mysterious. In my World, THAT kind of thinking is Hell.

      Again though, this Holy Spirit explanation is so gob-smacking unenlightened, rooted in ignorance of ancient men circa 30 CE that it alone should serve as incriminating evidence that YHWH, the God of the Bible, is not the “intelligent designer” of ANYTHING: He even doesn’t know the BASIC principles upon which “His” creations operate (physics, human anatomy, cosmology, climatology, biochemistry, etc).

      Jesus showed his ignorance of the basics of public health and the role of basic hygiene in disease prevention by objecting to the Pharisee’s (quite verified) protestations of the oral laws forbidding a Jew from engaging in his apostle’s unhealthy habit of eating food without washing their hands first: it’s actually one of the arguments which potentially COULD be used to point to a Divine source bestowing practical wisdom to mankind, with YHWH having special insight into disease prevention as the ‘Intelligent Designer’ (we’re all familiar with the scientific studies that repeatedly have demonstrated the value of hand-washing as the single-most important means to reduce and/or prevent disease transmission). Instead, Jesus got the wrong end of the stick in that argument, and used their protests to make some other mystical paradoxical point (Jesus once again relied on the argument from paradox: a logical fallacy strategy which made him seem to be clever and insightful like a Buddhist sage, until he overdid it enough to turn it into a nonsensical cliche’).

      I have suggested many different things in the past months, sometimes just to see how they felt to me once they were out in the light of day….I’ve read what others, including yourself, had to say, and I’ve done some reading and research on my own…..Through all of this….and much time spent on my own “threads,” I have reached some point of “knowing,” certainly as much as anyone knows or doesn’t know. I am now strongly agnostic….if one can put a qualifier on agnosticism? And I have taken a few short trips into what it would be to call myself an atheist. I have hung some other pieces of a belief system in place.

      You DO realize that the existence of God is NOT an issue which depends on whatever label you give yourself, right? In other words, you may be testing atheism as a label to see how it feels to YOU (and to see what responses you get from others), but that has NO VALUE in answering the question of God’s existence, right? Such labels have NO BEARING on the issue of whether God does or does not exist: in science, that would be described as being an ‘independent variable’ for which no correlation on the outcome actually exists.

      So you’re actually on the flip-side of believers who fervently meditate, study the Bible, and pray to God asking for proof of God’s existence, being given a personal “sign”. However, any ‘sign’ they DO receive (perhaps a smile from someone, a coincidental occurrence, etc) is NOT likely compelling evidence or proof to others, since it’s internal evidence (not verifiable or repeatable), and the whole exercise is simply begging for an excuse to engage in creative “confirmation bias”, AKA twisting the meaning of a sign into some shape that fits their desired outcome (eisegesis is a trait which believers are familiar with, the tendency to interpret the Bible into what they WANT it to say, and not what a plain-reading of the text gives).

      But the point is NOT what I believe or disbelieve…….it is how I got there. We have definitely taken different vehicles to reach where we are now. Your vehicle seems to be almost entirely based on the rational, the logical. You search for the evidence a person uses…..the latest proofs, documented research. This seems to work for you.

      It’s not only worked well for ME, it’s worked well for humanity: that’s the essence of the scientific method, which has given us cures for cancer, solved energy problems, fought drug resistant strains of bacteria and virii, etc.

      Cartoonist Gary Trudeau puts it well in his Doonesbury Comic strip:

      http://www.gocomics.com/doonesbury/2005/12/18/

      I, on the other hand, have been relying on my intuition and my life experience—-both legitimate ways of reasoning…Really they are!. Could I go to the internet or to a library and find the science and the hard academic research behind my beliefs…..pretty sure I could if that is what I wanted to do. I am not making this stuff up–check out the deists–there are some pretty hard hitting scientists and academics in their ranks. But at this point, I choose to trust my intuition–backed by my experience–to provide me with what I need to know……me personally. I am not interested in trying to convert anyone to my point of view.

      Well, it’s good you’re not trying to convert others, since your intuition and personal experience are some of the weakest forms of evidence available, and worse: it does OTHERS absolutely no good, since they would have to rely on YOUR intuition (the shrewder ones would ask for some proof of your ability to offer desirable outcomes for others, based on statistical analysis and scientific study. We’re back at needing proof…).

      Not saying it’s TOTALLY useless, but psychologists and psychiatrists spend their entire careers studying how the mind is susceptible to being fooled by others (remember the thread where I posted of magicians and pickpockets who exploit the art of deception?) and the mind is even capable of self-deception (aka delusions). In fact, studying the human mind is what got me initially interested in science, reading works about the experiences psychiatrists had with their patients (eg “Love’s Executioner” by Irving Yalom, MD is highly recommended reading, a book I read as a teen, or Oliver Sacks works on neurology, eg “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”, or his latest on his encounters with blindness).

      I don’t know you, Dave, as it seems you prefer to present just your public front to us on One None….I respect that, but more’s the pity, because you provide us with no context in which to hear your words. Which is probably your intention.

      The REASON is intentional: I actually have a bit of disdain for those who try to use persuasion of emotions and personal relations to “win” arguments, rather than letting the strength of my arguments speak for themselves. The truth is ALWAYS the truth, and lies and fallacies remain as such, whether they’re delivered with a smile or with a flat affect. People reading are free to make up their own minds, and I’d encourage NOT allowing one’s emotions to cloud reason, since the clouding effects of emotions on logic are well-understood and manipulated (as discussed on prior threads about emotional use of music, or “love-bombing” that cults use to target would-be recruits, etc).

      You might think that I am a bit naive and simplistic…..I am not. I was a science major, so I totally get the hypothesis and the scientific method business…since then I have “evolved” into a writer and a thinker…where things are not always so black and white.

      Religion offers black and white: that kind of duality thinking is the HALLMARK of religion, and in fact the antithesis of science (which often deals in probabilities, not absolutes). So for you to say that science deals in absolutes only has me wondering what science background you have experience with, as (and don’t take this the wrong way) you may not be as committed to the scientific method and rationality as you may tell yourself? It’s none of my business, but just saying that your claimed beliefs MAY not correlate with the ideas you’ve expressed.

      Now, everyone has the fundamental right to be hypocritical (and note that is a RELIGIOUS term, by and large: ‘inconsistent’ is a more scientific version of the same concept), but again, it’s your life to do with as you please; not really any of my business….

      And , although I try to speak simply, I am a highly complex person, an intuitive introvert who has been puzzling with these issues for as long as I can remember. I have learned through time to never devalue this intuition…gut instinct….It has great power for some of us. I don’t always rely on it for answers! Logic and rational thinking are also in my repertoire…..but in this spiritual realm, it seemed better suited for me.

      And that’s fine, just as long as you realize that there ARE some issues that have been resolved without a question or doubt (or at least to the satisfaction of those who don’t demand absolute certainty in their lives before deciding on their course of action, when such absolutes don’t exist except in their minds), eg evolution and natural selection are FACTS; while details of the exact methods may change with time, the theory won’t be disproven (just as Newton’s theory of gravity was not disproven by Einstein, just refined for situations that weren’t relevant to Newton, eg special relativity’s effect on gravity, black holes, etc). Just be sure not to confuse your personal right and choice to remain ignorant about the evidence which IS available with the evidence not existing: the former is an ‘appeal to personal ignorance’, which says that since YOU don’t understand something, then no one else DOES, either. That’s obviously wrong: you and I likely don’t understand the intricate details of nuclear physics, but that doesn’t mean the knowledge doesn’t exist and isn’t being exploited and used on a daily basis by others.

      I am not going to respond point to point to your reply to me because I don’t think it would be in either of our best interests to do so! I did not take any of your comments personally–it was more of an indictment on my non-scientific methodology! LOL And I was not unhappy at all that you felt called to challenge my words.

      Well, that’s good to hear, but frankly, I didn’t expect you to take it personally. Many people often have their personal beliefs so intertwined into their egos that they interpret any challenge to their BELIEFS as a personal attack, but I didn’t get that sense that you WOULD. Obviously this group is a bit unique, and maybe that’s the point of the journey: in order to explore other beliefs in an honest and sincere manner, it’s NECESSARY to set one’s own beliefs aside, to suspend them temporarily to examine other beliefs; the only tool any of us HAVE then IS rational analysis (I suppose someone COULD pray to a Christian God to tell them if Hindu beliefs are the “wrong path”, but that’s obviously missing the entire point!).

      It’s the hardest thing for many to set aside what they believe, but it’s necessary to take off one’s rose-colored glasses of their beliefs in order to perceive the many colors that actually exist, and not just see everything in shades of red.

      I hope you have stuck with me through all of these words….and more words….(with out any citations, even!….LOL)

      Are we done? Can I be excused now? Did I pass? 🙂

      I would just say that I appreciated the opportunity to respond to your thoughts.

      And I appreciated the opportunity to respond, as well: I believe that’s the entire POINT of exchange or conversation, right? I wouldn’t bother responding if I didn’t have a lifetime full of experience looking into the topic of examining belief systems, and approaching the question from many different angles. It wasn’t by choice (no one picks their parents), but out of sheer stubbornness of my will and self-determinism. I wouldn’t have chosen any different life course, and as I’ve said to Corinna, religion is a force that must be dealt with at SOME point in everyone’s lives, it’s so prevalent that we’re literally immersed in a religious World. Life’s too short to hand over control of one’s life to others who CLAIM to have answers when they actually don’t.

      There’s an old truism that says that just because we can ask a question in a manner that doesn’t violate rules of grammar and proper syntax, that does NOT mean that the Universe owes us an answer that we want. Despite what some seem to think, the Universe is not a magic eight-ball created for our amusement and personal entertainment to answer our questions. 🙂

      Regards,

      Dave

    • Merrill, I greatly admire what you had to say, and I say ditto what what Tim wrote in response. Thank you so much.

      I’ve been touched by the writing and thoughts of so many. You know I’m a Christian, and there was a time when I used to rely entirely on logic–possibly like Dave–but I have found over the years that our logic is always flawed. I think God made us both logical and intuitive, and the balance is difficult to maintain. Much of what I object to about much so-called “Christian” thought has been the over-reliance upon logic and the road that strategy has trod has rather fenced out Jesus at key points–it’s difficult to follow someone if you’ve pushed him off the road. There are fewer zigs and zags on my own journey, and I have much to learn from my fellow human beings.

      Thee are a couple key times in my life when I almost walked off the road–usually from being greatly hurt by other Christians. It was at those times that I think God put up some barbed wire to keep me in long enough to take a second look. I believe very much in free will, but I also believe that my Father is not passive when it comes to fighting for his children! And boy, am I glad!! 🙂

      • Walt, thanks for your words of support. I will be continuing to rely heavily on my intuition….I may not be able to prove and to verify and to authenticate…..but I do know what’s in my heart without all of those things, and it seems to be leading me in the right direction. That may not work for everyone, but it is where I need to be right now. Merrill

      • Walt said:

        You know I’m a Christian, and there was a time when I used to rely entirely on logic–possibly like Dave–but I have found over the years that our logic is always flawed.

        And what other kind of logic would you have us use, when you and I know you are unable to show the existence of any other type of logic!

        Thanks, but human rationality is all we’ve got: it’s not like there’s any other option (and your God(s) alone would be able to put the silly question to rest once and for all, by proving their own existence YESTERDAY).

        I think God made us both logical and intuitive, and the balance is difficult to maintain.

        Who said it’s an either/or proposition, as if scientists DON’T rely on intuition?

        You’re making a mistake based on your own personal ignorance (not uncommon with those unfamiliar with how science actually operates; or worse, you’ve been intentionally misled from the pulpit who is equally ignorant of science, but is VERY MOTIVATED to perpetuate such straw-man arguments, since they know science is bad for their business). Fact is, intuition, hunches, ‘gut feelings’ and creativity (even fantasy) absolutely ARE required to develop hypotheses, serving as the ideas which are the grist for testing in order to potentially become theories. “Creative brain-storming” AKA not placing ANY limits on suggestions, is the first step of developing hypotheses.

        Examples in science are many, eg German Chemist Frederich Kekule is said to have experienced a dream where he saw a snake biting it’s own tail (this was after years he’d spent investigating chemical structures): the dream led to him suggesting (and more importantly, allowing him to prove) the chemical structure of a benzene ring, which was later confirmed by others (amongst other methods, by using crystalline analysis techniques, some 70 yrs later).

        Einstein was a genius, but that wasn’t for only coming with ideas that he expected others to take on his authority as a genius: Einstein understood the need to explain WHY we came up with his hypotheses, and for those ideas to be tested and confirmed by others before being accepted as theories. Many of his hypotheses have long-since been confirmed by other scientists, hence why they’re accepted: they were CONFIRMED via experimental evidence (eg relativity was confirmed via astronomical observations).

        In fact, that’s WHAT the word ‘theory’ means: ideas, models of reality, that work to explain some observation that have been verified by scientists, using reproducible experimental methodology or by developing other protocols to test.

        That’s the difference between idle speculation, ‘trusting one’s inner ding’, and intuition: scientists understand the difficult part is not dreaming up different creative and far-flung hypotheses, but the next steps: explaining WHAT circumstantial evidence they have for proposing their hypotheses, in the first place, which is often necessary in order to garner enough interest to motivate other scientists to verify or disprove their idea. The HARD part often is developing a method to PROVE the hypothesis. That’s where faith-based approaches have utterly failed.

        The main problem with trusting intuition is that reality isn’t exactly obvious (as much as we’d like to think): our senses can play tricks on us, a fact that has been verified repeatedly by neurologists and psychiatrists. So our past daily experiences and ideas of “normal” colors our observations; this tendency serves as a sort of “confirmation bias” towards conservatism, rejecting any ideas that fall outside of our past experiences, or that doesn’t fit into our current model of reality. Fine, but that’s a recipe for staying stuck in a mental rut, as carrying old assumptions only causes us to miss important clues that others likely have noted, but suppressed. That was the genius of Einstein: he was able to see that our daily experience on life on Earth limits our understanding to imagine things more broadly, to consider that this orb is not all there is to experience in the Universe, eg there’s nuclear reactions occurring in suns, black holes, etc.

        But even on Earth, who would’ve thought that intestinal bacteria played any role in stomach ulcers (when the prevailing idea was they were caused by stress), or that organisms could not only survive in boiling water but THRIVE (they do: thermophiles do quite well living in underwater jets heated from volcanic activity), photons display properties of waves AND particles (duality), or that species are composed of individuals with many different traits wherein some differentially reproduce under certain conditions? None of those ideas are intuitive or obvious, but rejecting them as non-sense or because they conflict with one’s personal beliefs also means staying in a rut, and needing to reject tons of experimental evidence simply because someone doesn’t WANT to accept it.

        Fortunately, scientists are generally aware of the potential fallacy of appealing to personal intuition, since it’s a non-starter for other (except for generating hypotheses to test, or to develop a possible theory). If the need for evidence applies to Einstein, it certainly applies to the non-genius, non-Nobel-winners, too. 🙂

        BTW, there’s an interesting article in today’s NY Times about Mormons who are forced to confront that Joseph Smith’s “God-given” model of reality may be based on the oldest scam in the World, thanks to the information age of the Web:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/us/some-mormons-search-the-web-and-find-doubt.html?hp&_r=0

        It’s almost like some social psychiatrist somewhere is engaging in clinical trials to see how much cognitive dissonance believers can handle, before they throw in the towel and admit they’re only grasping at straws, with the blind leading the blind?

        Dave

        • Hi Dave:
          I’d really like to engage in some intelligent debate with you, but your answers are so incredibly long and twisted that I just have to give up at times….this is one of those times. I think you trust your reason too much. You said that that’s all we’ve got, but that is patently not true. We are made for community, but I get the impression that you feel your own reason is sufficient. I’m not sure why you think you have to put down people you don’t understand. If you would take some time and think about what the people here are saying to one another–people who are of different faiths (or none), different mindsets, and different abilities–you’d realize that one of the things we value is respect. We are all human beings and (according to “my” faith), made in the image of God. We respect and learn from one another. One of the things the collegiate commentators here have reminded me of is the value of community and the value of other people’s thoughts, which includes yours, btw. I have great respect for my own reason, but it IS flawed simply because I don’t know everything and I have learned to realize how much my own mind is full of assumptions–and I rather suspect that God (you know, the one you insist on calling “your God”–ie, my “version” of God) has a great sense of humor in allowing us to think we are islands. Each one of us here is full of crap at times, and I think we all recognize that (though there some marked exceptions), and we try to take it in good humor and go on.

          I have frequently asked you to respect others but you don’t. I don’t see any reason to continue to read such. If something is really worth saying, it’s worth saying with brevity (I know I don’t always do that). But mostly, we need to speak with one another with large minds, large hearts, straight words, and be open to the possibility that others just may be as smart or smarter than we are. In any case, respect goes a long way in getting a hearing.
          Walt

          • Hear, Hear, Walt!

            In the most recent thread, Frank sniped at a new poster, and someone called him on it. He got over it, said “oops” and moved on. I was raised to show good manners towards others, which seems to be a universally-expected behavior. I am the first to admit I don’t always do so, but I try to make amends when I fail. Just because we can’t see or hear each other doesn’t exempt us from being considerate. I, for one, have learned a tremendous–and humbling–number of things about how others of different (or no) beliefs look at the world. Being spiritual is no guarantee of being a good person, but nether is it a reason to be labeled ignorant or superstitious.

            BTW, Dave, Walt is right–reason and science aren’t always correct, and least in some things. In your reply to Ginger, you mocked Jesus’ understanding of pubic health because his disciples didn’t ceremonially wash before eating. Most archeologists agree the water in the mikvah, the basins provided for ceremonial cleaning, was rarely changed. The washing was ceremonial and not meant as a hygienic act. So, after a good number of people “washed” in a mikvah, Jesus was probably smart not be sticking his hands in it! 🙂

            • Thank you Walt and Tim,
              We all need to remember that behind the names and words on the Blog, there are human beings. Being here is not an academic or intellectual pursuit for me. I am trying my best to find my way through the world, which is not always an easy task in my life. I am looking for my words–and my thinking– to be heard and valued, not to be dissected and discredited. This reflects my feelings; they are mine, and I own them. We are a diverse group, and I am grateful for the respect that I am awarded here. I hope this is what I return to the rest of you….if at some point, I rush to judgment— something I am working on not doing….please remind me of what I have said here this evening!
              Merrill

              • Merrill, none of us are separate from our feelings, thoughts, beliefs, reason or logic. In fact, its the amalgam of all these that make us individuals. So its unrealistic to say “I appeal to reason only”. That’s an artificial divide that none of us can really maintain. There are a lot of reasons I enjoy this blog, the first of which is Corrina’s writing and description of her journey. The second is everyone’s point of view on her latest subject. Each of us puts the same amount of thought, feeling, and experience into our responses, so each of us deserves the same respect. My belief system may be traditional, but its not static. There’s always more to learn and new ways to challenge myself, and challenge others. But it starts with listening. And yes, you fulfill that role quite gracefully!

                • I think that I learn the most from people who do not mirror my own beliefs….people who are fair- minded…..and people with a great sense of humor! Many of you here fit that bill…you consistently so!
                  MET

          • PS: Dave, I plan to look over the article “Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus” during the next week. Sorry I didn’t get to it before now. Even though it is difficult to carry on a conversation with you, I said I would get back on this and I want to look at what this man has to say. I will be gone for the next week and now sure how much access I will have.
            Walt

  20. Wow, Merrill. This is probably one of the most profound and impassioned statements I’ve read about spirituality. One of these days I might explain how I base my faith evidence, but now’s not the time. I think everyone just needs to read and ponder what you wrote. Thank you!

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