Separateness

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Poetry_PoleTwo years ago, my sweetheart and I put a “Poetry Pole” in front of our house.  Each week I try to put up a new poem for passerbys to read.

George, a neighbor down the street, is one of several regular readers of our pole. George is 86 years-old and spent most of his life running his own restaurant with little time for reading. But after retiring, he decided to start reading all the things he missed. Though George is a refreshing outspoken atheist, all his kids are into Buddhism and have encouraged him to recently read up on Buddhism, with their most recent recommendation being Thich Nhat Hanh, who I have read a bit of.

As often happens, George caught my sweetheart and I today when we sat on our front lawn sipping drinks and chatting.  He came up to me and pulled a crumbled yellow sticky note from his pocket and told me, “Sabio, I’ve been saving this to ask you to explain it to me”, and handed me the above quote.

My explanation was a follows:

George, let’s start with the simple notion of “self”. (Readers will know where I am going). We all have this illusion of ourselves as being different and set apart from other people — separate. But think about how when your kids return on holidays, they often return to their Middle School personalities as they relate to each other. You see, we have no “true self”. Who we are changes depending who we are with and what our environment is like. We are not separate, we are connected and dependent. And “self” is just one such example.

But I said, I don’t think we are here to awaken, but instead, like squirrels and cockroaches and bacteria, we are just here. But I do think that waking up occasionally from such illusions of separateness can be very useful.

George was thankful for my insight, but I warned him that Thich Nhat Hanh may disagree with a good part of what I explained. We both smiled and then shared more stories.

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Proof of Miracles

image_1552939090437This weekend my lover and I took a long walk in a local wooded, hilly park. It is the end of winter with barren trees, dull colors and cloudy skies — all with a beauty of its own. Without foliage, dead fallen trees stood out as they litter the forest floor. With all these trees, both of us reflected and confessed that we, ourselves, had never seen a tree fall. For all these dead trees around us, not once had we been in the forest when even one of them had fallen, and yet here they are – hundreds of fallen trees.

The Bible, and other religious texts, are full of stories of miracles — really big obvious miracles. Not subtle miracles like finding a hundred dollar bill on a sidewalk when you we short on money or like the dead sea being parted, or blind people being cured and the dead brought back to life.

One of my standard arguments against miracles has been that nowadays with almost everyone with a camera in their pocket, we get youtube witnessing of robberies, killings, accidents, hurricanes and more, but never youtube videos witnessing miracles. With all the amazing miracles religious people base their faith on, it seems they only happened at a time when there were no cameras and thus no evidence. And if they happen nowadays, it is only a miracle that no one is catching them on their cameras.

But consider the dead fallen trees as miracles. It is obvious that miracles happen, the Bible tells us so, we can read about them on any walk through the Bible. It is obvious that trees fall, we can see them in the forest on any walk. Just because we don’t see the trees fall, does not mean they don’t. It actually takes very like faith, with such trustworthy evidence, to know that trees fall or that miracles happen.  No?

Please tell me you see the problem with such logic. If you don’t, and this story moved you, then you need to embrace some religion if you haven’t already.

For fun, on my poetry blog, I tried to capture this little essay in a poem.  If you have time, tell me which works best.  See here.

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Insects & Fake News

Starting about three weeks ago we saw the media flooded with headlines like these:

So, if we listened to all the news — we were soon doomed.  But then two scientist decided to double check the study all this hype was based on and found it hugely lacking.  Listen to this great short 13 minute podcast here for the details, but here are a few main weaknesses of the original article:

  • They did not count bugs themselves but review articles by people who did.
  • They searched all bug articles using the word “decline” so they had a huge bias there.  Searching for articles with “increase” yielded even more studies.
  • They ignored many other confounding points.

Conclusion, and I hate to agree with Trump here, you should not blindly trust the media.  Consumers beware.

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Campfire Religion Stories

prehistoric-campfireThis is part of the ERB series.

Imagine thousands of years ago, children sitting around campfires asking their parents difficult questions about the beginning of the world. That is probably a main source for religions’ many myths.

Kids start asking deep questions between 3 to 5 years-old. This is when “why” and “how” questions start. Studies show (and all parents know this) that a child will not be satisfied with a “we don’t know” answer, or an answer too hard to understand. And when kids aren’t satisfied, there is hell to pay. So parents are forced to make up stories.  Thus, religious stories are born.

Take almost any religion and you will find all sorts of explanatory stories to the questions of these iron age “pre-schoolers”:

  • How the world began
  • How humans came to be
  • How to avoid suffering
  • How the world will end
  • What happens when we die

We know that religion prospers in times of trouble, but in times of prosperity, religions wither. So let’s use Judaism as an example.

You can imagine campfire stories that answer kids’ questions above. The Jews have a rough history: they’ve been ruled by the Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans, the Muslims and more. So imagine an impoverished Jewish girl, during the exile to Babylon who was raised on the stories by her mother about all the former great kings of Israel and how Jews are God’s chosen people. The child asks the mom, why they are suffering now and the mom says, don’t worry, God promised us a new King will come and save us from our oppressors. Us Jews will live in a great world soon, once again. The child then has some hope and falls asleep and a new story is added to Judaism. This is how religions grow — it is all due to three-year olds.

See my next post on how Christianity uses the Messiah story.

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Notes:

  • Children’s’ Questions: An article addressing kids ages for questions and their satisfaction with types of answers see this 2009 article in Child Development by Frazier and others.
  • Insecurity and ReligionSee this post in Epiphenom.
  • Messiah: The word “messiah” comes from the Hebrew word “mashiach” which meant “an anointed one”. “To anoint” means to put oil on, which is what was done to kings in the sacred ceremony that starts their reign. The Greek word for anointing in oil is xríō (krio or chrio) and “the anointed” is Χριστός (Christos).  So, for those of you who don’t know, “Jesus Christ” just means “Jesus the Anointed One” or “Jesus the King” — “Christ” is not his last name.  Smile.

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The “No True Poet” Fallacy

The following is an obviously false argument. Can you see the deception?

Angus puts sugar on his porridge.
No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
Therefore, Angus is not a true Scotsman.

In courses on logic, there are both formal and informal logical fallacies (see the fallacy files here), and this is an informal fallacy called, “The No True Scotsman” fallacy.   It is also called a ploy because it is a commonly used rhetorical trick — however, it usually only works on believers — it preaches to the choir:

  • no true Christian/Muslim/Buddhist would believe…
  • no true Republican/Socialist/Democrat would …
  • no true American/Russian/Canadian would…

And the list goes on.  Well, today, I want to illustrate how often the “No True Scotsman” ploy is used in the world of poetry.  Interestingly, you rarely hear novelists telling you what or how novelists should write, but you do hear this by poets.  You rarely hear novelists lamenting that people don’t read their type of novels any more, novelists are smart enough to change their styles to find an audience.

I enjoy a variety of poetry so I find it very silly when a poet makes a declarations that “Poetry is [something]” or tries to be a prescriptive proselyte saying “Poetry should be…” or “Poetry should not be..” because these are all variants of “No True Poetry/ Poet should…” — a logical fallacy.

So I searched the web for examples of poets telling us what poetry should be.  Then I grouped them into some of the common types to illustrate the axes-to-grind or ideologies that people use to fuel their poetry prescriptions:

    • Elitisms:  Better than prose writers, non-poets or others
    • Anti-Reason: Some form of anti-reason, anti-rationalism, anti-reductionism, anti-science
    • Idealism: Some form romanticism, mysticism or idealism. Idealize nature, the Absolute, Love, Beauty or some ideal as the true object of poetry.
    • Emotionalism: Reaching into the soul, self discovery, self exposure…
    • Style Prejudice: poetry should rhyme, be terse …
    • Activism:  Some self0righteous activism, declaring their true politics or voice to save society and stir others from their blindness.

Poetry can be anything.  All the above are just fine. But without an audience, it is like a tree falling in the woods.

Elitism

  • However, if a poem can be reduced to a prose sentence, there can’t be much to it.
    [James Schulersource]
  • He who writes prose builds his temple to Fame in rubble; he who writes verses builds it in granite.
    [Edward Bulwer-Lytton]
  • The crown of literature is poetry. It is its end and aim. It is the sublimest activity of the human mind. It is the achievement of beauty and delicacy. The writer of prose can only step aside when the poet passes.
    [W. Somerset Maugham]

Anti-Reason

  • Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.
    [Novalissource]
  • Even when poetry has a meaning, as it usually has, it may be inadvisable to draw it out… Perfect understanding will sometimes almost extinguish pleasure.
    [A.E. Housman, source]
  • Science sees signs; Poetry the thing signified.
    [Augustus and Julius Hare]

Idealism

  • Poetry should… should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.
    [John Keatssource]
  • Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
    [T.S. Eliotsource]
  • Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.
    [Samuel Johnsonsource]

Emotionalism

  • All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.
    [Wordsworthsource]
  • If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?
    [Emily Dickensonsource]
  • Poetry is plucking at the heartstrings, and making music with them.
    [Dennis Gaborsource]
  • A poem might be defined as thinking about feelings – about human feelings and frailties.
    [Anne Stevensonsource]
  • Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.
    [Percy Bysshe Shelleysource]

Style Prejudice

  • One merit of poetry few persons will deny: it says more and in fewer words than prose.
    [Voltairesource]
  • One distinction between poetry and prose is that poetry should be memorable.
    [Karin Gustafsonsource]
  • Poets are soldiers that liberate words from the steadfast possession of definition.
    [Eli Khamarovsource] **not epic poems or plain language poetry
  • Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.
    [Edgar Allan Poesource]
  • Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.
    [Rita Dove source]
  • No poem is easily grasped; so why should any reader expect fast results?
    [John Barton,  source]
  • Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.”
    [Rita Dove]
  • I would as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down.”
    [Robert Frost]
  • Poetry, like the moon, does not advertise anything.
    [William Blisset]
  • A poet must never make a statement simply because it is sounds poetically exciting; he must also believe it to be true.
    [W.H. Auden]

Activism

  • … one of the definitions of poetry might be that a poem freshens the world.
  • [Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manuel.  In excerpt here (p6-7), Kooser gives an example of Jared Carter‘s poem: “Fire Burning in a Fifty-Five Gallon Drum” (also at googlebooks .]
  • The aim of the poet and poetry is finally  to be of service, to ply the effort of the individual work into the larger work of the community as a whole.
    [Seamus Heaney, quoted by Ted Kooser in The Poetry Home Repair Manuel.]
  • A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.
    [Salman Rushdiesource]
  • Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
    [Percy Byshe Shelley]

Pleasantly Broad

  • Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.
    [Plutarchsource]
  • Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.
    [Khalil Gibransource]
  • Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.
    [Carl Sandburgsource]
  • Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.
    [Robert Frostsource]
  • Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.
    [Robert Frost]
  • The poem… is a little myth of man’s capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see — it is, rather, a light by which we may see — and what we see is life.
    (Robert Penn Warren, Saturday Review (22 March 1958), source)
  • Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing.
    [Dylan Thomassource]
  • Poetry is the impish attempt to paint the color of the wind.
    [Maxwell Bodenheim]

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I’ll pray for you !

When someone is sick or suffering, if a Christian says privately to them, “I’m praying for you.” or “I’ll pray for you.” I can see how that can be comforting. But saying it out loud in front of others or saying it to a nonbeliever is strange. Worse, is saying it to someone who is not hurting, especially when they say it in front of others, or say it because they mean they are praying for the poor nonbeliever.

This is obvious holiness signaling: “Look how righteous I am.” “Look how holy I am.” “Look how kind and caring I am”.

Such talk makes me think those Christians have never read these supposed sayings of Jesus in Matthew 6: 1 – 7

1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

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Why God Changes

A God Anyone Can Believe In

If someone tells you that “God” was the force, event or power that started the whole universe, then it is very reasonable to say, “Well sure, if that is your definition of your word “god”, then I have to say such a thing may indeed have existed or even still exists. The universe may just be eternal or have a cause, but either way, it is reasonable to be agnostic (not taking a stance on believing or not believing) on that sort of “god”.

Theism’s Spiced Up God

Theist have stories to support a god who acts in history. Their god is usually all-loving, all-powerful, all-merciful and cares for humans (and especially believers) more anyone else. Believers believe praying to this god will not only grant them a better afterlife than others, but also make their own lives better and better for those they pray for.

We have no evidence of such a god, of course, and indeed, we have lots of counter evidence. But this doesn’t stop theists who are told to have faith and not doubt at a fundamental level.

When a Theist God Changes

This post was inspired because I just watched a TED video by Paul Stone Williams who left conservative megachurch as pastor and CEO of church planting organization who then came out as trans and (expectedly) lost everything. She recovered and her preacher son also converted his view on trans individuals, and you can be sure their god changed. Now they would not say that, but instead say they started to more deeply understand god himself. But what happened is that they stayed in the god business (too big of a loss to totally drop out) but tweeked their product — their god  — for a new, receptive market. (see Huffington Post)

Was this a good change? Certainly, and as long as they continue to do good in the world, great!

Bottom line

There is no god like the one theists imagine, and so the only way for that imaginary god to change is for the theist to just imagine up a different god. Theists will say that they have come to understand their god more accurately, but they are only telling you that they have decided to change the fiction in their head.

Caveat #1: That is not to say that imaginary fictions can not make us better people, of course. See my posts on your modular god.

Caveat #2: What people really believe is actually and fortunately very different from what they confess to believe. See my post on “Most Christians Don’t Believe“.

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