Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

God, what a meal.

A cynic, a compassionate atheist, a pragmatic Christian, and a fundamentalist Christian, all received an invitation to God’s banquet.  The cynic got there first, wanting the satisfaction of proving its non-existence before anyone else did.  He was disappointed to find a beautiful table set for four and full of all sorts of beautifully presented and delicious looking foods.

The pragmatic Christian, worried about propriety, figured that being too early might be a form of disobedience, but also worried that being late might have dire consequences, arrived merely respectfully early.

The compassionate atheist, fascinated and curious, arrived exactly on time.

The fundamentalist, breathless, arrived ten minutes late.  He had spent the ten minutes interpreting the various possible meanings of the statement “You are cordially invited by God to a banquet” before departing.

“Well,” said the Christian, “Isn’t everything so beautiful!”

“Its lovely,” agreed the atheist

“But what does it mean?” asked the fundamentalist.

“I see nothing!” spat the cynic.

The atheist grabbed a helping of mashed potatoes with a silver spoon, and looked around to see if anyone wanted more.

The Christian looked longingly at the mashed potatoes.  They looked delicious, but should he eat them?

“I see no mashed potatoes!” spat the cynic.

The fundamentalist gasped, “What are you doing?”

“I was invited to a lovely banquet which began at seven o’clock,” began the atheist. “The time is now seven oh two.  I am serving the mashed potatoes.”

“But who are you to serve the mashed potatoes of God?” asked the fundamentalist.

The pragmatic smiled. He had prayed about it and know knew they were to eat the potatoes. “We’re the guests of God, of course we can eat them,” he drawled, holding up his crystal plate.  The atheist dutifully spooned some on, still looking around for more takers.

“I find no pattern of mashed potatoes in Scripture,” the fundamentalist said suspiciously.

“I see no mashed potatoes,” the cynic insisted.

“What do you mean you see no mashed potatoes, they’re right in front of you,” said the atheist surprised.

“Ha!” cackled the cynic, “I thought you’d never ask.  God is an illusion, this is the banquet of God.  There is no God, therefore, there are no mashed potatoes.”  He leaned back triumphantly in his overstuffed and comfortable dinning chair.

The pragmatic Christian and fundamentalist, scandalized together, cried out “That’s blasphemy!”

Atheist, simply shook his head, and took another bit of roast duck.  “Whatever, Cynic.”

“I knew your free thinking would destroy in the end, Atheist.  You share these simpletons’ disillusion,” Cynic sighed happily.

“Cynic, I have always been more concerned with truth than with not believing in God.  I observe that I am in a magnificently appointed room full of delicious food.  To deny the existence of the veritably of the real merely to fit an existing theory is the antithesis of science,” Atheist paused, ” As such it is your department, and not mine.”

“Are you saying that you believe this is not some sort of illusion?  You fool! I’ll blacklist you!  I’ll end you.  You’ll never publish again!”

Athiest smiled warmly. “I’ve no doubt you could Cynic, you’ve alway held more public support than I in social affairs. Still, all the more reason to enjoy this now, while its in front of me.”  Atheist held some green beans out to Pragmatic and Fundamentalist Christian.

“Thank you, kindly” said Pragmatic.

“I’ll take nothing from your fated hands!” cried the fundamentalist. “Your kind are a cancer on this earth!  You have stolen the Holy food of God and you don’t even believe in him!”

Cynic’s bitter eyes picked up at the mention of cancer.  “Yes!  A cancer, thats what man is!  A festering carbuncle on the buttocks of the earth!”

“Oh, I agree, Cynic, I agree,” gushed the fundamentalist. “Man is filth. A disgusting aberration not worthy of this table of God.”

“I see no table,” growled Cynic.

“Nor do I, Cynic.  My mind could never comprehend the beauty of God.  He would never present my filthy sinning carcass with such splender.  This must all be an illusion created by my own mental filth,” said Fundamentalist piously.

“We are all filthy vandals,” Cynic conceded.

Pragmatic Christian had been listening with growing concern to this speech. “Uh, Fundamentalist, we are brothers, so I hate to correct you in front of our enemies, but what you are saying is wrong.  Man sins, yes, but he was created in the image of God. He is full of incomprehensible value and worth as a result.”

Fundamentalist laughed, a single explosive sound. “Ha! You and I brothers?  I share no parentage with you and your secular humanist plop.  The intrinsic, incomprehensible value of man?  The Bible says all men have fallen short of the glory of God. Fallen short, Pragmatic.  Who can comprehend the ways of God?  Clearly, this room is trap of Satan, a trap of pride and vain glory.  Man and all his work are worthless!”

“Worthless!” agreed Cynic.

“Come Cynic, let us leave this illusion of joy and return the true reality of suffering and pain.”

Cynic rose stiffly, offering his arm for Fundamentalist.

Tears welled in Pragmatic Christian’s eyes, “But brother, you haven’t even touched the food given to us by our Father!”

“For twenty minutes I have sat here, and God has not feed me one bite!” said Fundamentalist primly. “Unlike some people, thought I may starve, I will not presume upon God.”

“But,” began Pragmatic, “You cannot sit at a table God has layed in front of you and told you to go to and talk of starving.”

Fundamentalist smiled condescendingly. “Oh, Pragmatic, who are we to presume to take matters into our own hands? God will build what he wishes.  When we try to do God’s work for him, can’t you see we are usurping Him?”

Pragmatic sputtered, “But its right in front of you and He put it there for you to take!” to Fundamentalist’s back as he walked toward the door arm in arm with Cynic.

An awkward silence descended on the banquet hall.

“So,” said Pragmatic Christian.

“So,” agreed Compassionate Atheist.

“I’ve never really talked to an atheist before,” said Christian.

“I don’t often talk to pragmatic Christians either,” said Athiest.

Pragmatic cleared his throat, “I’m a little afraid of you, to be honest.”

“Yup, me too,” said Atheist around a bite of pheasant.

Pragmatic Christian was delighted.  “I am afraid you will corrupt my mind with your evil atheist ways, are you afraid that I will convert you to Christianity?”

Compassionate Atheist smiled gently before answering.  “Well, no.  I’m afraid of other things.”

“Like what,” asked Christian wide eyed.

“Oh,” began Atheist, “say, an Inquisition.”

“Oh, is that all,” laughed Christian. “We don’t do that anymore.”

Atheist nodded.  “Why is that Christian?  If God is the same today, tomorrow, and forever, why is it that you don’t do that anymore?”

“Well, because God never asked for that!  That was evil men who merely used the power of the Church for evil!” said Christian confidently.

“Ah,” intoned Atheist, “and what will keep that from happening again?”

“Well, that would never happen today!  My Christian leaders are working hard to seize political power so they make sure bad things like abortion and homosexual sex don’t happen.  I am sure they could prevent an Inqisition too when they run this country,” he said helpfully.

Atheist choked a bit on his merlot. “Uh, um..mmmm. Uh, Christian, why did the Inquisition happen again?”

Christian leaned back into the velvet chair, ready to tell a story, “Well you see the Church left its position of spiritual power and, pursuing a ends-justifies-the-means school of thinking, seized political power.  This power was used for good at first, but gradually, the level of power the Church had began to attract evil men who eventually…” he trailed off, his face a mask of betrayal and shock.

“You seduced me, Atheist, you used your evil demonic power to make me think evil of the Church!” Christian yelped. “At least I am not responsible for the Nazi’s!”

“I never knew the Nazis” said Atheist quietly.

“You lie, Atheist, you lie like your father the devil!” shouted Christian.

Atheist sighed.  This had happened before.  He mentally counted to ten and then back down. “Christian, Hitler claimed he would bring back traditional family values.  He was supported by Christians, and often used Biblical points of view to justify his position.”

Christian, realizing he was standing, sat back down. “Well, I’ve heard that before, but Hitler did so many un-Christian things, that I sort of forgot it. I’ve never understood how people who loved Jesus could support something so horrible.”

“Well, it has a lot to do with those two characters who just left, ” said athiest with a wry face. “A skeptic, which most Atheists are, would have investigated Hitler’s claims. It takes Cynic and Fundamentalist to manage a genocide.”

“Yeah, I thought you and Cynic were best buddies, but he seems to really hate you,” said Pragmatic Christian, side stepping the second half of the comment.

“Its all about skeptisim, Christian.  I believe in asking why, and trusting what I see over what somebody tells me.  Cynicism are often mistaken for being skeptics like me, but we have less in common than you and Fundamentalist.”

“Really?” said Christian, “I thought all you godless heathens were alike. Uh.. no offense.”

“Not at all.  Cynicism is about being mentally lazy, assuming that conventional wisdom is true.  Skepticism checks everything to make sure it is as true as it can be.  It looks at all the options and chooses the most likely one.  Skepticism never says that God isn’t real, only that he doesn’t seem very likely within the limited parameters that we can test,” said Athiest.

Christian looked puzzled. “But how does that make Fundamentalist and Cynic alike.  Cynic hates God, hates anything religious, anything spiritual, honestly, even hates anything beautiful.  Fundamentalist is convinced in the beauty and power of God. How come they get along so well?”

Athiest smiled. “Cynic believes that he can figure out anything by consulting what people all ready think.  He only uses the powers of his mind to look at established wisdom.  Fundamentalist believes that he can figure out anything by consulting what people think about his Holy text.  He only used the powers of his mind to look at established wisdom.  The only difference between Cynic and Fundamentalist is where they draw their inspiration.”

“I often thought something like that,” admitted Christian. “Fundamentalist is so concerned with what what has been said about the Scriptures, he often gets distracted from the message, arguing about dispensations and translations.  Neither one really thinks about what makes things true or investigates things.”

Now it was Atheists turn to look surprised.  “I didn’t know that you were that interested in asking why or investigating things, Christian.  I guess I sort of assumed that you were like Fundamentalist.”

Christian grinned.  “Well, you can’t interpret scripture without asking why.  The Bible is a very large book and a skilled charlatan can make it say anything.  We always have to check what scripture says against other scripture to make sure it all fits.  When someone says they have some new doctrine you can’t say ‘Ok’, no sir!  Paul compliments a group called the Bereans for being, as you call it ‘skeptical’.  In my church we call that ‘Being Berean’ and its a good thing.”

Atheist and Christian shared the last piece of pie.  Christian privately thought he had won a great victory for the cause of Christ with Atheist.  Atheist, in turn, found it delightfully ironic that the best Christians were the most skeptical ones. When the last morsel of pie was done, Christian turned to Atheist.

“Compassionate Atheist, what do you think of this banquet we have had.  Do you still not believe in God?”

“I don’t know, Christian.” He said. “I see a beautiful meal, but I never saw anyone make it.”

“But someone had to make this all!”

“Well,” Atheist said “I admit the mousse was divine, but I can’t say that God made this because with the test methods I have, the most reasonable explanation would not be God.”

Christian looked pained.”But if not God, who made all this beauty?”

“I don’t know Christian.  But I can agree with you that it is beautiful,” said Atheist.

“How? What is the source of beauty if not God?” cried Pragmatic Christian.

“I don’t know Christian, but I will enjoy finding out.  The joy of my life to understand mysteries,” said Atheist solemnly.

Christian looked shocked.  “But that is the joy of my life, to discover the mysteries of God. Surely, Atheist, it cannot be your joy to discover the mysteries of his Creation?”

Atheist chuckled, “Why not Pragmatic Christian?  Did you assume since I have never met your God that I saw all the world as a empty gray?  I love life.  I love to explore.  I found your statements about the intrinsic value of man deeply moving.  We agree on so much.”

Christian spoke quietly “I guess I did assume that about you.  Do you really see the world as thing of great of beauty to be explored?”

“I do,” said Atheist.

Then you are doing the work of God.  To bad you will burn in hell, dear friend, thought Pragmatic Christian.

“Well, I wish you luck, Atheist.  I hope we meet again,” he said aloud.

And I hope your “being Berean” delivers you from this madness before Fundamentalist seduces you or kills you, or Cynicism comes calling on the heals of disillusionment.  You’re much too valuable to lose, dear friend, thought Atheist.

“I’m sure we will, we have so much more to talk about.” said Athiest aloud.

July 8, 2008 Posted by | Paranormal, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ruled by madmen

PART I

It is not hard for us as human beings to believe everyone is born with different capacities based on the organs which they receive. If you are born with long, strong legs, a slight build, and heart which responds well to aerobic training, you have the capacity to be a marathon runner. This doesn’t mean you will be a marathon runner, merely that if you chose to, you could be. Where as, if you are born squat, broad, stubby, and with skeletal muscle that responds well to resistance training, you have the capacity to be a Navy seal. This “navy seal” guy might really want to be a marathon runner. He might compete in many marathons and work out 6 days a week. He might become the best bulldog shaped marathon runner ever. But despite his drive, he will regularly get trounced by people who are more physiologically ideal for the task. Ditto if the bean pole guy decides to become a special forces member. Training can only improve our innate capacities; it can not create them. This is seen most clearly in women’s versus men’s athletics. Some women are better athletes than men, but in general women are smaller and weaker, so they compete with other women instead of men.

Evolutionary biologists believe consciousness is a meta organ. Consciousness is like man’s freakishly large brain, or upward pelvis. All have unique attributes that helps us to advance ourselves. Consciousness is not as clearly understood as the angle of the pelvis, however. Our understanding is largely gleaned from things which we understand better in other disciplines.

The brain is a very advanced computer. The mind is ALL the software on the brain at a code level. Consciousness is the operating system which allows the different parts of the mind to relate to each other. The mind presents us with an environment which is subjectively real, but objectively false. For example, when the mind is dreaming, one may dream of people who are long dead. This dream is real. The chemicals and electrical activity that the brain is experiencing during the dream are objectively real. The dreamer’s body responds in an identical way as if the experience were truly happening in that moment. But while the dreaming itself is real, the dream has no counter point in reality.

The consciousness is the buffer between the reality outside the mind and the reality within it.

A classical explanation of consciousness in self awareness. This self awareness is seen as the line of demarcation between man and animal. Realistically, however, consciousness exists as a gradient based on mental function. Higher mammals with advanced social structures, such as wolves, elephants, and chimpanzees, all experience symptoms analogous to mourning when a member of their social construct dies. Mourning is indicative of consciousness, because mourning expresses an inability to rectify the object reality (non-existence) with the subjective reality inside the mind where the loved one continues to exist. Memories of interaction with oneself and another imply a concept of self.

Back in the human experience, psychologists define sanity as a continuum of communication with reality. The deeper the communication with reality, the more sane the person is. In other words, the more effectively the consciousness divides the reality within from the reality without, the greater the person’s sanity. Very few people are profoundly mentally ill. The National Institute for Mental Health says that 1 out of 17 people suffer from serious mental illness. Using this left side of a bell curve, it might be reasonable to believe that around 1 out of 17 people populate the right side of the bell curve. These people represent what can be called hyper realists, who have profound and meaningful communication with reality. The remaining 15 people will fall somewhere between.

The most common manner in which consciousness fails to provide a buffer between the inner and outer realities is known as magical thinking. Wikipedia says magical thinking “…is nonscientific causal reasoning that often includes such ideas as the ability of the mind to affect the physical world, correlation equaling causation, the law of contagion, the power of symbols, and the meaningfulness of synchronicity …” More simply, magical thinking is the idea that things in the reality of the mind effect things in the reality outside the mind. Most people engage in magical thinking to some degree, despite the fact it is madness. Indeed, studies have proven a direct link between propensity to magical thinking and propensity to psychosis. (Eckblad & Chapman, 1983, and Thalbourne and French, 1995)

Within man’s social groupings there will be some truly mentally ill, some truly mentally healthy, and many retaining enough mental health to function normally in the reality outside the mind, but suffer from grievous disillusions in the inner reality. A simple example, again from Wikipedia: “31% of Americans polled expressed a belief in astrology and 39% considered it scientific according to another study.” So one out of three people believe magic determines reality to some degree.

Recall the example of mourning: the mourning process is a gradual reduction of distress as the inner reality learns to accept the death which the outer reality has already confirmed. However, perhaps a full third of the population does not feel the need to accept the outer reality of death. They choose to believe instead that death is not real. The loved one has not ended, but merely changed state and continues to live in an unseeable, unprovable reality called the afterlife. If pressed, the bereaved might admit why they believe so strongly in an afterlife: to believe something actively argued against by reality brings them less distress than allowing their mind to agree with reality.

The ramifications of this to man’s social groupings are enormous and terrifying. Man is a highly social animal who forms groups whenever he interacts with other members of his species. These groups will always have a leader. The leader will be the person who offers ideas which cause the least distress, and the ideas which cause the least distress will be the ones farthest removed from reality. To be very clear: The leader of most human groups will be the one who has the deepest internal mental illness, while exhibiting the greatest outer mental health.

A hyper realist will rarely be seen as a leader, for his grip on reality denies him the ability to provide simple answers to the complicated and interconnected problems which plague mankind. The truly mentally ill have an obviously insufficient grip on reality and are not sought to be leaders. As far as “the center of the bell curve” is concerned, the best leader is the one who grips as much reality as possible but has the most heartfelt belief in non-reality. He is the one who can provide simple answers. He is the one who can substitute correlation for cause and make trustworthy sounding fictions.

Imagine, a corporation on the verge of bankruptcy. The stockholders meet together to decide whom of the various executives available is the best candidate for the job. One candidate says, “I have analyzed our situation, I have consulted the world’s leading experts on our situation, I have run every number, and my conclusion is this: We can save this company, but it will be risky and difficult. We will have to do many unpleasant things and be very unpopular with certain groups of people, but I think we may be able to save it.” Another says “I believe in this company! I believe in America and the American system! The great people of this company have pulled together against adversity before and they can do it again!” Most often, the executive who states that it is his personal belief, and the personal beliefs of others, that will make the company work, will receive the job over the executive who takes an honest assessment of the risks.

In short, the cynics cry that we are ruled by madmen is not false, but reasonable and likely. People who are a little mentally ill (which statistically most people are) will be most pleased with a leader who appeals to their latent illness without alienating their overt sanity. Remember the opening line of this blog? “It is not hard for us as human beings to believe everyone is born with different capacities based on the organs which they receive.” It is however, hard to accept, that different consciousness will decide the capacities of a human as well. Some people are prone to be realists, some are prone to be mystics. A mystic might discipline his consciousness to accept realism, and realist might grow up in culture that values mysticism. We all have different capacities based on what we inherited. The humanist hope however, of a wise world, undistracted by beautiful fancies and noble lies, is not to be had anytime soon.

The best we can hope for is rule by realists rather than mystics. If history is any indication, this a rare and unlikely state of affairs. Thankfully, realists are up against, not other realists, but against people who think they can change the world by thinking about it. Realists will prevail eventually. Its just too bad the mystics have to take so many good people with them in their orgiastic self destruction.

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Paranormal, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment