Alan Watts suggested that belief is stagnant and unyielding to change, whereas faith is open and accepting of what is. I often say I have faith the universe is unfolding just fine no matter what any of us believe. We are such insignificant little tubes of matter, constantly ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing stuff that isn’t us, then exhaling, excreting, and sloughing off that which once was us but is now something else. We exist for a moment, comparatively so brief as to be virtually non-existent to anything but our pitiful little selves. Calm down and enjoy the ride. As Jim Morrison said, “No one gets out of here alive.”
Category Archives: Spiritual
Recently, I came across an article on Axios.com with the title “America is losing its religion.” In the article, the author (Bryan Walsh) opens by saying, “New surveys show Americans’ membership in communities of worship has declined sharply in recent years, with less than 50% of the country belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque.” He goes on to list the Gallup poll results he rests his premise on and concludes with the following thought: “But conventional religion’s power is on the wane, and it might take a miracle for that to change.”
I can’t say I’m bothered in the slightest about this trend. Being an atheist, I have a somewhat dim view of organized religion, especially when it’s used to deny rights to others based on some cockamamie interpretation of words that were uttered thousands of years ago, when life, economics, and society in general were much different than they are now.
On the other hand, I understand, and empathize with, the desire for community that religious observance brings to those who practice, but belief in a supreme intelligence/being that literally created us and watches over us is, IMO, patently absurd. I find acknowledging and appreciating how physics, chemistry, and cosmology (in other words, science) explain where we came from far more compelling and beautiful than anything to be found in any religious text I’ve read. And to be clear, my general attitude toward religion is, “what you believe is none of my business … until you start telling me or others we are required to believe as you do or we’re damned.”
So … here’s the deal. If attending services at a “house of worship” is your cup of tea, and you attend with others who share your beliefs or your faith (however you define those) I say “zei gezunt,” which is Yiddish for “be well” or, as I tend to think of it, and somewhat more ironically “more power to you.” Just keep it to yourself. Don’t bring it to the commons. Enjoy it for you and those who you consider part of your fellowship, but don’t for one minute suppose you can tell others this is the ONLY way. Do that and you will richly deserve to be shunned by others who don’t feel as you do.
PS – You can read the article, which contains a bit more detail than I’m including, here.
I came across this graphic on Facebook today. It struck me, as the concept has struck me for decades, that this should be part of any truly progressive agenda. I have been an “ordained minister” since the late sixties. I have performed approximately 50 weddings, which was the main reason I became “ordained.” It wasn’t to lead a congregation or even to claim tax breaks, and I claim no special relationship with the universe. In fact, I am an atheist.
One thing I learned early on, though, is the State considers a church a business, an organization, with the lone exception (that I can think of) of taxation. By not taxing religious organizations the State is giving them an unfair advantage over any other type of business and is, in my less-than-humble opinion, violating the 1st Amendment to the Constitution by—in fact—making a law respecting an establishment of religion.
Even more egregious is the situation depicted here. Mega churches are nothing more than income sources for their “leaders.” I believe this is Joel Osteen’s “flock,” as well as his home. Why does a follower of Jesus, a poor itinerant, and one who purports to be a spiritual leader, need a house that could probably accommodate the entire village of ancient Bethlehem? If nothing else, these huge and “Osteen”tacious abominations should pay their fair share of taxes on the revenue they get from their “flock.”
As some of you know, I am working on a couple of memoirs, as well as my autobiography. In doing so, I’ve been slowly going through all my photos and files, culling out items that I can use in these documents. While I am hopeful I can make a little money from these efforts, I’m hardly depending on it and I am mostly working to preserve my memories (which are beginning to fade) for myself and my family, especially my two daughters.
What follows is the funeral service I wrote and gave for my mother, who passed away over 15 years ago. I had not seen this since I recited it that day. It was a little difficult to read. Although I did not give it attribution at the time (I may have mentioned it, though I didn’t write it in the “script”) the first paragraph is the section “On Death,” from The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran.
I am not a religious man, though I believe I am spiritual and have a deep and awesome relationship with the universe as I understand it. I did attend four years of Hebrew school and am bar mitzvah. I am also an ordained minister in the First Church of God The Father. I claim no special connection to, or knowledge of, the infinite and received this ordination in order that I might perform weddings. I have performed around 50 of them. I’ve also done a couple of funerals, but they were all in the family. Here’s the text from one of those funerals:
You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life? If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath form its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
On behalf of Steve and Angela, their daughters Blaire and Erika, Brooke and Paul, Myself and Linda, and our daughter, Aimee, thank you for being here today to honor the memory of our Mother and Grandmother. I must tell you I agonized for a while over using the word “welcome” in the little pamphlet we prepared for this day. I thought “Is it appropriate to welcome someone to what is a sad and solemn occasion?”
However, the more I thought about it, the more it became apparent to me this is a very intimate moment for our family and, in reality, you are more than welcome to be here to share it with us. We are profoundly grateful for the love and respect you show to our mother’s memory by being here today. What I really want to do, what I’m going to try to do, is speak not so much of my mother, though I will certainly be speaking from my experience of her, but more of our mother. I want to try and express just a little of what she meant to all of us.
How does one sum up a life of over 80 years in just a few sentences, especially when ours is so intimately intertwined with hers?
First of all, let me say this will not be a traditional Jewish funeral service, though there are two prayers that will be recited in honor of our mother. For our family, you might say Judaism was like the sun; you didn’t have to believe in it for it to shine its warmth on you. Our early life was filled with a great deal of Jewish observance and celebration. We belonged to the Sun Valley Jewish Community Center, later to be renamed Valley Beth Israel. Mom was, for a time, quite active in the Temple’s Sisterhood and counted many of her friends among the congregation.
She was not, however, (at least in her later years) an observant Jew. Despite this, she held on to her Judaism in certain, small ways which had meaning for her and which gave her comfort. For instance, she always had a mezuzah on her door, and she couldn’t help but utter a Kenahorah (Kayn Aynhoreh – no evil eye), whenever she remarked on something good that happened.
When my maternal grandmother died, my mother took it very hard. I had never seen her so upset and the memory of her distress stayed with me – at times haunted me – for years. As I grew older and began to contemplate the mysteries of life, I felt a need to know that she would grow old gracefully and that she would, when the moment came, be able to peacefully accept and embrace her death.
When the opportunity would arise, I would find a way to discuss death with her, so I could figure out how she saw things. We also talked at times about religion. When I asked her if she believed in God or an afterlife, she always responded with one of two expressions. Either she would just shrug her shoulders and give me a look, as if to say “I don’t know. Who does”, or she would wave her hand dismissively, as if to say “Why bother thinking about those things?”
Most people elicit, at one time or another, virtually every emotion we are capable of, and our mom was no exception. She could be endearing, warm, and comforting, and she could also be tough, uncompromising, and infuriating.
All of us have weaknesses and frailties. If I had to point to one of my mother’s, it would have to have been her bluntness; her habit of telling you exactly what was on her mind. Sometimes, it was hard to remember she was also a kind and thoughtful person, who was capable of giving a great deal of her self for others.
In many ways, her habit of speaking her mind was not necessarily a bad thing. When Stephen’s Sister-in-law, Erika, called the other night to express her condolences, she told me of a conversation she had with her father, Wence, shortly after he had learned of Mom’s death. She said he told her something she had not thought of before. That the one thing you always knew for certain with Annette was where she stood. That she was incapable of artifice or, in many ways, subtlety. What you saw was, indeed, what you got. I believe this honesty of hers caused her a great deal of heartache over the years, but it is, I also believe, a good quality; not a bad quality.
As I think back on my mother’s life, I can point to what I consider to be three wonderful achievements she is responsible for. They are, of course, my brother, my sister, and (I like to think) myself.
To be sure, none of us have become famous or wealthy. But I think each of us has become what she had hoped for us; responsible adults, striving to fulfill our dreams and accomplishing many of the goals we’ve set for ourselves. We couldn’t have reached the point we are at today without the values she instilled in us. We couldn’t have become the people we are today without the lessons we learned through her guidance.
She brought us into this world, and it is now our solemn duty to help her leave it. Her passing marks the end of a large chapter in our family’s life. I, personally, do not believe in an afterlife; at least not in any way that I have learned from the many religions I have studied. Nevertheless, I do believe in some sort of continuation of her life, if only in the hearts and memories of those who she loved, and who loved her. I came across a wonderful quote, which I think concisely states my feelings about this.
Death does not extinguish the light; it merely puts out the lamp because dawn has arrived.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’ sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.
Mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) – Shoveling dirt on the casket. This mitzvah is known as hesed shel emet, true loving kindness. Traditionally each person at the graveside, beginning with those closest to the deceased, puts three shovels of dirt into the grave – replacing the shovel in the earth for the next mourner, rather than handing the shovel directly, to avoid “passing on death.” This mitzvah demonstrates our continuing concern for the deceased as we make sure their final journey is completed – some say we should use the back of the shovel to signify this is different than any other use we make of the shovel.
Another quite simple Photoshop effort, though all this is is a compilation of a quote I’m fond of and a photo of what is referred to as the pillars of creation, located in M16, the Eagle Nebula, over thataway.
If you study cosmology, and you’re not blinded by any particular religious dogma, it becomes clear that our evolution as a species (the human one) draws a gravity-assisted line from the first hydrogen atoms to who we are now. That we have reached a point in our evolution where we have been able to understand how we and our universe came about and developed over billions of years, I find every bit as awesome as the thought of some bearded white dude thinking us up out of nothing. Actually, I find it more awesome.
Understanding cosmological (read, primarily, stellar) as well as biological evolution is, to me, far more beautiful and compelling than anything I’ve learned from all of the world’s religions, including the one I was raised in (Judaism) and the one I was surrounded by (Christianity). I find it far more compelling and reasonable and, again for me, all the proof I need that we don’t need a “God” or “Gods” to explain how we came to be and where we’re headed.
There’s a “tripwire” somewhere
Out there, downstream
Where . . . I’m not sure
Some discover its presence early
For some the revelation is a surprise
Everyone’s waiting for it
Our entire lives
Some wait with dread and trepidation
Some with simple resignation
Many in anticipation
Of what lies on the other side
Are there any who give it no thought?
Like our animal brethren
Who live their lives on a daily basis,
Not as an ongoing saga
Many of us prepare
In numerous ways
I know I’ve been waiting
For as long as I can remember
Now, however, I’m beginning to
Sense its presence more acutely
I feel its approach
Though it’s still amorphous and indistinct
And each time someone younger than me passes
I swear I can feel its hot breath on the back of my neck
Amy Coney Barrett considers herself a “Constitutional Originalist.” What, exactly, does that mean? According to Merriam-Webster, it is “a legal philosophy that the words in documents and especially the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted as they were understood at the time they were written.” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/originalism)
Think about what that means. If we are to interpret the Constitution based on the realities of the day in the late 18th century, then shouldn’t the only people allowed to vote in national elections be white, property-owning men? What do we make of the 3/5 clause of Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution and how do we reconcile the 14th Amendment (passed in 1868) with the “original” intent of said Article?
In my less than humble opinion, this concept of originalism is as flawed as belief in the Bible being the infallible word of God. Both require one NOT believe in evolution; I don’t here mean biological evolution (which many Bible believers don’t recognize as real) but the natural evolution of society and its economic, political, and general attitudes toward what’s good and just for a people. Our laws, our habits, our customs, our culture, even our morals change over time; sometimes imperceptibly and others rapidly and definitively.
When the Constitution was written, the framers included (Article V) the ability to amend it and, in fact, the first ten amendments—the Bill of Rights—were needed to ensure adoption of the nascent Constitution by some of the States who wanted more guarantees of freedom from unnecessary restrictions on the States and individuals.
Inasmuch as there is a method by which the Constitution can and, in fact, has been amended how can a logical argument be sustained that it must be interpreted in light of the reality of nearly two hundred fifty years ago? This makes absolutely no sense. Two hundred fifty years ago virtually none of the structures, organizations, and technologies we currently enjoy existed. How do we interpret their use and ownership if they weren’t around when the document was written?
Originalism is a sham argument and should be completely ignored. Any jurist taking such a position is, IMLTHO, an intellectually dishonest poseur and should be ignored . . . if not ridiculed. This includes Amy Coney Barrett who, if she had any integrity at all, would not allow this raw power grab and farce of a nomination process to continue.
The United States’ rogue Attorney General, Bill Barr, gave an interview to right wing dick bag, Mark Levin, the other day and I came across this tweet and response that highlights what I think is a deeply troubling reality about religion in today’s United States.
Putting aside Barr’s constant projection, what Soap And Science, PhD says about how much of the religious world views science seems on point. Science is based, above all else, on provable facts and reproducible evidence. Conclusions may be reduced by some to dogma, but they will not be able to withstand the scrutiny of others who can show reality is otherwise. We’re constantly updating our scientific knowledge as we learn more.
Not so with religion. Most all religions, certainly the major religions of the world, are built on dogma. For Judaism it’s the Torah, the Old Testament. For Christians it’s the New Testament with a nod to the Old Testament. For Islam, it’s the Koran with a nod to both the New and the Old Testaments. For Hinduism, it’s the Bhagavad-gita, and for Buddhism it’s the Sutras of Buddha, as well as others. I certainly don’t hold myself out as a religious scholar, so please don’t hold me too strictly to my list. I’ve likely missed quite a few and, perhaps, mis-characterized one or more of the others. All these books might as well have been written in stone, as they are accepted (mostly) as the word of the Almighty. (NB – I don’t think the Buddha was seen as a God, per se, but I think the basic theme here is correct.)
What concerns me most about the point Soap And Science is getting at is the concept that religious nutbags like Barr are, indeed, jealous of how well science works and, in fact, that it serves to explain the world far better than any religion has or is capable of doing.
While it pains me to do so, I don’t see any other conclusion than that the right—representing, in part, fundamental Christianity—will not hesitate to use violence when they realize they’re not getting their way. They are more than capable of perpetrating every vile thing they accuse the left of currently doing. In fact, that it’s in the very nature is proved by their accusations when there’s no evidence to substantiate them. They are hateful and violent; ergo so is everyone else, especially those they fear the most.
As Rachel Maddow is fond of saying, “watch this space.”