Wind Chill & Religion

Temperatures are plummeting today in the Northwest USA due a polar vortex, but listening to the news, it is difficult to tell what the actual temperature is.

The actual temperature and the perceived temperature can be very different in any season. For instance, on a blistery summer day, nothing is more cooling than a nice breeze even though the actual temperature is unchanged, mainly because the blowing pulls perspiration off us more quickly, thus cooling our skin.  Air can also seem much hotter than its actual temperature in high humidity.

Similar temperature perceptions can happen in the winter, with low humidity, windy air will steal warmth from your skin much faster than cold still hair. Thus, weather folks have created the “wind chill factor” to describe temperatures as colder than they are — because for the average person, what matters is how uncomfortable or dangerous that temperature may be, given the other factors.

Just as temperatures needs to be evaluated in combination with humidity and wind so as to see the temperature’s real impact on people, a religion should be evaluated in terms of its historical setting, demographics, economics and much more. For instance, there are types of Islam in Turkey and Indonesia that are radically different from those in the Middle East and they all still embrace the same holy book — the Quran. Evaluating Islam in terms of their holy book only is a deep mistake because religion is always in context and its impact differs depending on context.

Christianity and Judaism are the same, evaluating only in terms of their questionable myths and odd beliefs will not tell you about their impact on those who embrace them. Think about the varieties of believers all over the world and over the centuries. This is because religion, like temperatures, needs wind chill factors to help us understand their real impact.



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Myths’ Functions: Fascism & Religion


Let’s start with a myth common to both Judaism and Christianity: The Garden of Eden. The garden was an ideal world where everything was perfect until a serpent tempts Eve who then tempts her man to eat a fruit forbidden by God and after their disobedience everything then falls apart.

How do we look at myths? Religious folks fall across a spectrum of belief about their myths: at one end are those who believe that their myths are totally true and probably shouldn’t ever be called “myths” at all, but at the other end are liberal believers of that faith that feel the myths are total fiction but still useful in their faith for inspiration and/or bonding identity.

But as I said, there is a spectrum, with most believers not really thinking about the issue much because they know it serves as inspiration and identity, so they don’t really care about the fiction vs. non-fiction issue.

My belief, of course, is that these are fictional tales. And I actually think that the people who originally told these stories intended them to be fiction and not taken literal but over time, many began to take them as literal.

I am reading “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them” (2018) by Jason Stanley, Yale Philosophy professor. Stanley has told me something surprising about fascist mythology that I never knew before and which addresses the paragraphs above about religious myths.

Fascist Myths

The definition of ‘Fascism/Fascist” is very controversial as it is certainly a word used almost always with huge political bias. And indeed, as I read Stanley, I can feel that already. But I think we can safely ignore that and still have some of his observations be very helpful for this story.

Stanley contends that

“Fascist politics invokes a pure mythic past tragically destroyed. Depending on how the nation is defined, the mythic past may be religiously pure, racially pure, culturally pure, or all of the above.”

The Garden of Eden myth, like fascist and other political myths, falsely paints their past as pure and better. Americans live with their own myths of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Manifest Destiny and much much more. But this is not the fascinating information — what is fascinating is that apparently some politicians intend their stories to be fictional myths.

Mussolini, in a 1922 speech at the Fascist Congress in Naples said about the political myth he created:

“We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, a passion. It is not necessary for it to be a reality …. Our myth is the nation, our myth is the greatness of the nation! And to this myth, this greatness, which we want to translate into a total reality, we subordinate everything.”

Mussolini confesses that his myth is contrived, intentionally fictional. And it appears that confessions of intentionally fabricating fiction in politics is not as rare as I imagined.

Stanley again tells us:

“The leading Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, editor of the prominent Nazi newspaper the Völkischer Beobachter, writes in 1924, ‘the understanding of the respect for our own mythological past and our own history will form the first condition for more firmly anchoring the coming generation in the soil of Europe’s original homeland.'”

Stanley points out that those originally spinning these myths care not about the factual historical accuracy but instead about how they can serve the future.

Interestingly, Stanley then tells a story how those fascist regimes later insist on the literal truth of their myths and punish those who disbelieve.


Judeo-Christian myths like The Garden of Eden, Abraham, Moses and more are also deliberate fabrication meant as inspiration for the future.  Both politician and religious folks create intentional fictions (myths) which then slowly morphing into doctrinal truths that are not meant to be questioned. The process is universal.


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Sonnet Variants

sonnet check list

Sonnets were first clearly recorded by Lentini in the 1200s — “sonnet” originally simply meant a little sound or a little song. Poets have since, modified his style and called them “sonnets” and the variants are many.  But variations can go so far that eventually a sonnet is not a sonnet.   When learning forms, it is best to define the form so that beginners can discipline themselves with a form.  Free play can then come later.  Above I put what most consider the minimum standards of a sonnet.

Your thoughts are appreciated.



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Details vs Principle: Language and Religion

Learning accelerates when, instead of learning detail after detail, we learn the principles that generate the details. With principles, we can anticipate details.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists about 600,000 words, depending how your count. High School students, on average, know about 50,000 words and the average college graduate knows about 70,000. Of the words in English 70% have Greek or Latin roots, while those roots inform >90% of English scientific words. So, the fast way to learn English vocabulary is to group words by their Greek or Latin roots and thus be able to recognize new words without ever actually studying them.

And so with religion. We can spend our time learning all the details of a religions and then religion after religion do the same. Or, we can start understanding the simple principles of human mind and social behavior that generate religions (their theologies, rituals and associations) and no longer need to worry about the far-flung claims of each religion but instead, see how they truly operate.

Thus learning how religions create authority, enforce behavior and form new ones to overthrow the authorities they dislike, will save us from learning too many unnecessary details.

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Sects & Dialects: False Classifications

Dialects are simply languages which aren’t rubber-stamped as being “official” and thus not given artificial power and authority. It is not that the dialects are inferior, corrupt, poorly functional or lacking in other ways to the supposed official language, this is merely a political classification, not linguistic. So, Mandarin Chinese is the official dialect of China, Yue, Min, Hakka are also dialects — and they are all languages. Likewise, what is called English dialects in England such as Yorkshire, Cockney, Kentish and many more are as much as a language as “standard” English of BBC.

We can see the words “cult”, “heresy”, “unorthodox” and “sect” used the same way to minimize other religions. Here again, this is a political classification between religions fighting each other, it is not a religious study definition. They are all religions.

This is part of my series Comparing Language & Religion. See also: The Primitive Bias (where “primitive” is used falsely)

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A Japanese Proverb in my Dreams

A few nights ago I woke three times to the same Japanese saying in my head, “Sen-Yomi-Oni-Yomi“. Because of its persistence, I wrote it down, hoping I could then fall asleep, and I did.

Having lived in Japan for 7 years and graduated from a Japanese College, I still dream in Japanese occasionally, but I always understand the Japanese in my dreams, just as you understand dreams in your native language. Yet I had no idea what that phrase meant in Japanese. I did know, however, that it had the form of a Japanese proverb (kotowaza) and was not a sentence. Specifically, I knew that it was a Japanese 4-character saying, something the Chinese have too. But I had no idea which Chinese/Japanese characters (kanji) were involved. Unlike English and other European languages, the sounds themselves were not enough. Let me explain.

Any given sound in Japanese can have a few to a dozen of meanings associated with it. And each meaning has a different character — a kanji. In English we see this with synonyms like to, too and two have the same sound but different meanings, but these are few in English while in Japanese almost every sound has many possible meanings.

So, when a Japanese person hears an expression they don’t understand, their brain has an internal slot machine which spins characters through their minds eye until they get a combination that works — one that makes sense.

Take, for example the Japanese saying of 一寸先は闇 (issun saki wa yami) which translates as “one inch in front of you is always dark” which implies that we don’t know the future, yet we still walk forward. Or something like that. But, if I were unfamiliar with the saying, my Japanese Kanji Slot Machine may throw up various characters for the each sound. For the sound “I” (top to bottom): “stomach”, “one” or “meaning”. For sound “sun” there would only be one word possible: a Japanese ancient unit of measure of about 1.3 inches. For se sound “saki”, I might see the words “cape” or “before”. For the sound “wa” I might get “peace”, the particle marker called “wa”, or the word “speaking”. Finally for the sound “yami”, either “darkness” or “sickness”. My mind’s character slot machine would spin these until I get an answer to hopefully fit the context.

So above I illustrate the various characters that my mind started spinning for me to match the proverb in my dream: “Sen-Yomi-Oni-Yomi”. At the bottom right of that diagram, I chose a saying which these characters could make.

Question to readers: Do you prefer a different reading? What do think this was a message my dreams where sending to me?

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My Boy’s Raccoon Experience

My son was 3 years old. We were on a short walk back from visiting the river when we noticed a dead raccoon at the side of the road. Seeing it, my son asked, “Papa, what is that”? It was my son’s first encounter with death. I was a nervous about how I was going to handle it. “That is a dead raccoon, honey,” I replied. He asked if we could walk over and see it. “How’d he die, Papa?” my son asked with an innocent, sad voice and big expectant eyes. Without my thoughts collected, I thought I’d use that moment for a moral lesson. Duh. “Well, the raccoon did not listen to his father. Father raccoon always told him to hold his hand when crossing a street. He didn’t this time and got hit by a car.”

Staring at the dead roadkill raccoon with big eyes, my son then said, “Papa, can I ask you a question?” And I thought, here it comes, the life-after-death issue. I could tell by looking at his eyes that my dear little boy, my first-born child, was going to ask me a deep question. “Sure, son. What is it?” I replied expectantly. My son paused, then asked with hesitation, “May I jump on it.” Relieved of not needed to have a heavy talk, I nonethess inappropriately I let him jump.

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