FORTY YEARS: MOSES, WALKING IN CIRCLES

So. God wanted to get rid of all those who had experienced slavery and to accomplish this, he made the twelve tribes walk around the wilderness for forty years.

Forty years? Without meaning to be picky, the area isn’t that big. They must have crossed their own path over and over again. If the idea was to get rid of the “slave mentality,” why couldn’t they just make a camp and hang out until the time was up?

Why did they have to keep walking? Was there a fitness or exercise requirement? Was it like jail where you have this hour or two a day during which you have to keep walking and walking and walking? Why does the idea of walking in circles for 40 years make me laugh hysterically? Garry says we have this same conversation every year, immediately following our ritual viewing of “The Ten Commandments.” It must be pretty funny, because I’m still laughing.

And because this never stops making me laugh, please enjoy. Life with the Twelve Tribes … with WiFi. If it doesn’t play, try http://videocloud.aish.com/movies/Google%20Exodus.mp4


Happy whatever you celebrate!

WHEN NOTHING MEANS ANYTHING

I’m always glad to have a reason to pull this out of my archives and dust it off. It represents years of thought, night-long discussions in college, several obscure philosophy courses and at least one 40-page research paper. How bizarre that now, at long last, I live in a world where everything means nothing. This used to be humor, of a sort. Now, it’s not quite as funny.

We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means and too little time doing the stuff we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke, or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. Normal, but a waste of time and energy because I’m going to explain everything and you’ll never have to wonder again.

Meaning of life

Learning to accept the randomness of stuff that happens is tough. We want life to make sense. We want order. We want our messes and disasters to be important, meaningful.

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life has regularly fallen apart. I know I’m imperfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s small potatoes in the scheme of things. Even in my darkest moments I doubt I’m so wicked that The Big Guy has in for me.

Then I had my epiphany.

You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith by believing in God or if you declare yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no direct proof and for which you will never have proof.

If believing in a loving God makes you feel good, believe it. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the only path (and is antithetical to God — a position with which I disagree) to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

Personally, I don’t know. What makes me smarter than most people is I know I don’t know.

 I KNOW NOTHING. NEITHER DO YOU.

Accepting you know nothing is a big step, so take a deep breath. Your next challenge will be how you can cash in on this new knowledge. What’s the point unless you can awe people with your brilliance — and make a few bucks?

WORDING

You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.

meaning-of-life3

Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me and I know you want to be just like me. Big words can take you a long way, if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.

EPISTEMOLOGY – IT’S All ABOUT KNOWING

Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about, but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.

Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, software, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical.

PHENOMENOLOGY IS THE NEW FAITH

On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. The same reasoning also proves there is no God. Ah, the joy of it.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation.


Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.


In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that almost everything our current administration has said fits neatly into phenomenology. Since the only thing that matters in phenomenology is someones’ experience, you don’t need facts. Figures. Statistics. You don’t need anything but “I felt it, so it must be true.”

Do you feel it yet?

FOUNT OF WISDOM

You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.

meanin-of-life-snoopy

There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself which makes it hard to dispute. The only person who is ever convinced by faith is the he/she who holds it. Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it.


Having more believers or followers doesn’t transform faith into fact.
If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things.
Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists.

So, as it turns out, nothing is what I know and nothing seems like a great place to stay put in this best of all possible worlds. Welcome to my big wide world of nothing.

NO VIRTUE IN VICE

I don’t have much in the way of thoughts about vice. I’m not even sure what it is any more. This morning, in one of those online chat things I do these days in lieu of actual conversations with customer service people, I discovered that “LYING” is only lying if I do it. If they tell me something that is completely untrue and I believe them, it is a misunderstanding. So when they said “We are fixing this and should have a solution soon” and they really meant “This is the way it’s going to be and we’re not going to change it. Ever.” And I believed them, it was my misunderstanding rather than their outright lie. I would normally have categorized it as “vice,” but give the state of the body politic and all the crap I see in the news, I’ve decided telling the truth versus lying is no longer meaningful. If I say something without any basis in fact and claim it’s the truth, but you later realize it is not the truth and, in fact, bears no relationship to truth as anyone understands it … it’s just a misunderstanding.

So how can there be vice if there is no truth?

Fortunately, there still is AD-vice, which is free. Sometimes, it even contains a particle of useful information. I hesitate to suggest that it might also be true because … well … you know … what IS truth?

72-BAFFLE WITH BULLSHIT-Canal-082216_52

As the years have crept by, I have given up a lot of stuff, most of which (it turns out), I didn’t need in the first place. I gave up worrying. I gave up working. I gave up on the lottery, even though I still occasionally buy a ticket (just in case).

I gave up wanting a new car, expecting old friends to call (some of them don’t remember me any more — some don’t remember themselves). I’ve stopped hoping Hollywood will make movies I like. I’ve stopped trying to like “new” music, most new TV shows. Or hoping to remember the names of new “stars.”

Some stuff gave me up. Some people gave up on me. Other things, just slipped away. In the end, it’s the same.

So. Now. If anyone asks me how or why I have given up whatever it was, virtue, vice, or anything, I tell them it was for religious reasons. No one ever asks what I mean by that. But just so you know  …

It doesn’t mean anything.

It’s a misunderstanding. Not a lie. Just a way to end the conversation. No one wants to offend me by asking for details of my beliefs. They might turn out to be embarrassing or bizarre. Thus my all-purpose answer to everyone is “on religious grounds,” “for religious reasons,” or “on the advice of my spiritual counselor.”

These powerful words can make any conversation vanish and I never have to tell someone to shut up. It works on everyone except those who really know me. They will raise one or more eyebrows, and fall over laughing.

It’s similar to (but entirely different than) my all-purpose answer to “How are you?” With the biggest, broadest, fake smile I can muster and with heartfelt enthusiasm, I say: “I’m FINE!” 99.9% of the time, this does the job. Test drive it yourself.

I’m fine. For religious reasons.

VICE | THE DAILY POST

DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID – THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE

“He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.” — Old English proverb, dating to the 14th century.


There has been yet another upsurge of interest in Jonestown in recent weeks. Which is not surprising given the current state of disunion in this country and elsewhere. Jim Jones and Donald Trump share many traits … and more importantly, so do their followers.

This is the most popular piece I ever wrote. It wasn’t a big hit when I first posted it, but it continues to collect views every day, year in, year out.

It is a cautionary tale, a warning for people who believe talk is harmless. To all who blindly follow, keep that long spoon handy.


If you are my age or near it, you remember the Jonestown Massacre. Even if you are younger, if in 1978 you were old enough to watch TV news, you could hardly forget it. Now that fundamentalism is enjoying a rebirth with well-known political and religious leaders (who ought to know better) urging others to murder or mayhem, it’s probably a good time to remind everyone where this kind of thing can lead.

There is nothing remotely amusing about this story. It was horrible when it happened and time hasn’t made it less so.

The Road to Jonestown

The phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” has become common parlance in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow.” It usually carries a negative connotation. The “Kool Aid” references go all the back to the 1950s when it was the typical drink for children on suburban summer afternoons. The origin of the saying is something else — darker, and different. It has become the kind of bland rhetoric about which we don’t give a thought, but its roots lie in horror.

Before we talk about Kool-Aid, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane to that particularly awful episode of American history.

Jim Jones, cult leader and mass murderer, was a complex madman. A communist and occasional Methodist minister, he founded his pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”

The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name was supposed to be a reference to “the people of the world.” While Jones called it a church, it was closer to a warped version of a Marxist commune. Initially, it combined a hodgepodge of Christian references that Jones used in his diatribes … supposedly sermons.

It was never a real church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult. It required a level of commitment and financial support from members plus a degree of obedience that’s the defining quality of a cult.

Read the whole story: DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID – THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE

MY EIGHTH SIN

Remember the seven cardinal sins? I took up the gauntlet, the challenge of adding a new sin to the classics. First, I had to do a quick refresher course on the original big seven. They are:

Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride.

Seven Deadly Sins, Peter Bruegal

Seven Deadly Sins, Peter Bruegal

Really, I’m not sure we need another one. These seem entirely adequate to the task of making the world a wretched place for one and all. But hey, I’ll give it a shot. The original sins are concepts.

1 – From the top, there’s the ever-popular Lust.

Lust encompasses far more than indiscriminate sex or cheating on one’s spouse. Lust is not just for horny teenagers and men in a midlife crisis.

Lust is an intense desire. It is a general term for desire. Therefore lust could involve the intense desire (for) money, food, fame, power, or sex. In Dante’s Purgatorio, the penitent walks within flames to purge himself of lustful thoughts and feelings. 

On this earthly plane, there’s a lot of lusting going on and sex is the least of it. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say sex is the best of it. Possibly the only piece of the “lust sinology” that’s fun and might do somebody some good.\

2 – So how about Gluttony, eh? If you think it means you eat too much, you’d be right, though eating is a symptom, not the disease.

Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony (Latin, gula) is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. Gluttony can be interpreted as selfishness; essentially placing concern with one’s own interests above the well-being or interests of others.

As far as I can tell, our whole society has been doing a lot of gulping … of natural resources, of fancy cars, houses, gadgets, widgets. We also eat too much, but in the overall scheme of things, eating is the least of it. Over-consumption is a the sin and quintessentially American.


greed-cartoon

3 – Moving along, we get to the perennial favorite: Greed. You can’t go wrong with greed. For thousands of years, greed has topped the “most popular sin” list across social boundaries. It’s probably the single most motivating of the sins. It is so popular, it has lost its evil connotations and been enshrined as something to which one ought aspire.

Greed (Latin, avaritia), also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions. Scavenging, hoarding materials or objects, theft and robbery, especially by violence, trickery, or manipulation of authority are actions likely inspired by Greed.

According to Gordon Gecko, “Greed is good.” So, not to worry. Greed is not evil. It’s just business.


sloth

4 – Sloth has a certain quaint charm and in the broader scheme of things, hardly seems worthy of mention. But, it’s on the list, so …

Sloth (Latin, acedia) can entail different vices. While sloth is sometimes defined as physical laziness, spiritual laziness is emphasized. Failing to develop spiritually is key to becoming guilty of sloth. In the Christian faith, sloth rejects grace and God. Sloth has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good men fail to act.

Sloth is not only failure to “do” stuff. It’s also failure to do the moral thing … to do nothing in the face of evil. Failure to do the right thing is a sin, even if it isn’t a crime.


5 – Wrath is a big deal, the cause for much of what ails America these days. If you don’t think wrath is a problem, spend 15 minutes cruising posts on Facebook. Watch the news. There’s a staggering amount of rage and hatred out there. I believe wrath has overtaken greed as the most popular mortal sin of the decade.

Wrath (Latin, ira), also known as “rage”, may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Wrath, in its purest form, presents with self-destructiveness, violence, and hate that may provoke feuds that can go on for centuries. Wrath can persist long after the person who committed a grievous wrong is dead. Feelings of anger can manifest in different ways, including impatience, revenge, and self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or suicide. 

We seem to be in the middle of a wrath epidemic. Politically and socially, we are an angry, hate-filled people. And it’s spreading in ever-widening circles.


6 – Ah Envy! The motivator of crime, the inciter of ambition.

Like greed and lust, Envy (Latin, invidia) is insatiable desire, is similar to jealousy in that they both feel discontent towards someone’s traits, status, abilities, or rewards. The difference is the envious also desire the entity and covet it. Envy can be directly related to the Ten Commandments, specifically, “Neither shall you desire… anything that belongs to your neighbor.” 

Envy is a major motivator of small evils that grow into bigger ones. Back-biting, gossip, eavesdropping are fueled by envy. Greed often starts with envy, as does gluttony and pride. Although it can be hard to tell which sin came before the other one.


7 – Pride is the downfall of the best and brightest. If there’s a sin to which I am addicted, pride is it. It rears its head in so many ways, both subtle and obvious. Believing one is smarter than everyone else, that one is really in control of ones fate (yeah, right!). Snobbery is born of pride, as is xenophobia. It is the sweetest, coziest sin, the beloved of the educated and ambitious.

Pride is my personal favorite. Being prideful is fun.

In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). 


So what could I possibly add to this prestigious list?

ignorance

Allow me to offer Willful Ignorance, a determined blindness to facts, reality, and knowledge. Willful Ignorance fits comfortably in with other popular sins to make up “our body politic.” It certainly should be a sin, don’t you think?

No need to thank me. You can hold the applause.

DOWN THE ROAD WITH FANATICISM AND IGNORANCE

Fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding … and we are feeding it well. 

I originally posted this four years ago. Horribly enough, it’s even more relevant now than it was then.

Inherit the Wind” (1960) was directed by Stanley KramerNot merely based on actual events, the script is substantially drawn from transcripts of the 1925 Scopes’ “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee, where teaching evolution had been banned by the Butler Act.

You would think that we would have come a long way since then … and we did. We passed some good legislation. Civil rights and all that. We eliminated the legalized part of our national evil. But then, we started doubling back.

We’re heading down a bleak, dark road. Again. Apparently we lack a national memory of having been here before and it ending badly. It always ends badly. A nation led by hatred, ignorance, and fear is not headed for a happy ending.

LOOKING BACK ON MY FIRST POST: WITHOUT BENEFIT OF CLERGY:

In a different context, WordPress asked us to share our first post. Well, actually, this isn’t my first post, but it’s the closest thing to the first I’ve retained in archives. Though I started blogging in February 2012, I didn’t really get into it until May. This was published May 22, 2012. It’s too long and rambling, but I’ll let it stand, minus a few typos.

Note that I’m away through tomorrow, so if I don’t answer comments, it’s because I did not bring my computer.


I was Jewish when I married Garry in a Lutheran Church. I said then … and I say now …  any God I might be willing to worship would not care what ritual was used or in what language we spoke our vows. I really believe everyone has the right to live life as they want, to have or not have children. Spend whatever day you consider the Sabbath doing whatever you want.

Travel your path and be glad.

All prayers are good prayers. Goodness is goodness, whether you believe in God or not. Faith is a choice, decency is a requirement. You don’t need a church to know the difference between right and wrong. Some of the worst people I’ve known were ardent church goers and some of the best were skeptics or atheists. I’ll bet that God knows who is who and is not fooled by how often you attend church.

Garry and I were married in his church on Long Island because he had a strong emotional attachment to it. I didn’t have any particular attachment to any religious institution, though still have an attachment to Judaism as a philosophy and as a moral compass. And as an ethnic identity: Yiddishkeit, as it were.

When we renewed our vows the first time, it was in front of a notary, but the next renewal was under the sky in our backyard by a minister of the Christian Reform Church. Maybe we’ll do it again and who knows who will officiate? We intended to renew our vows again for our 20th anniversary, but I was sick that year and I had other things on my mind. Hopefully, we’ll both be available for 25th. That seems like a good number for another renewal.

Marriage is a contract between two adults. It doesn’t require benefit of clergy. Any religion is okay and no religion is okay too. Unless you live in a theocracy and thankfully we do not … yet …you don’t need to believe in anything but your partner to get married.  I hate the theocratic trend this country is taking. I’m baffled as to how God and religion are suddenly the arbiters of what constitutes a family.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness …”

declaration_independence

The bit about pursuing happiness seems to have been lost along the way. Pity because it’s not less important than the rest. It may be the most important. What good is life and liberty if you can’t be happy? Gay, straight, old, young … we deserve the right to marry who we choose and be happy.

If we start defining the meaning of marriage, if we declare that marriage is sacred and exists entirely  for the creation of children, what about people who don’t want children? Are they the next group not allowed to marry? How about people who are too old to make babies? Can they marry? For too many years in a lot of states, people of different races were forbidden to marry … was that okay? They said that it was God’s decree too. Funny how it’s always God’s plan … no individual ever seems to be responsible.

You can interpret “God’s teaching” however you like, but if it’s so clear what God wants, why all the religious debate — not to mention wars — for thousands of years?

Gay, straight, or not entirely clear on the issue, marry if you want to. Or not. Be happy.

I have no opinion on an afterlife. I don’t know.  Neither do you. You can believe what you like but you don’t know anything because God doesn’t talk to you. Or me. Make this life a good one. It’s the only one you know for certain you’ve got.

Carpe diem, my friends. Carpe with both hands and don’t let go until you’ve squeezed that last bit of joy from your world!