THEN SHE SUMMED UP FAITH IN ONE SENTENCE – Marilyn Arnstrong

I had a very dear friend who was going through a terrible time of her life, yet her Christian faith never wavered. She once told me you could sum up Christianity in a sentence.

“What is that?” I asked.

Marilyn Baker

“Christ died,” she answered, “so we would be nice to each other, even before morning coffee.” Then she smiled and took a sip from her cup.

Be kind to everyone. Even when you don’t feel like it. Maybe especially then.

She has since passed on and I still miss her every day. She was the gateway to my understanding that religious people could be honorable and courageous, not merely plotting hypocrites. She was pure gold.

 

FAITH, FAITHFUL OR UNCONVINVCED? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #29

For a guy who doesn’t believe in a god or gods, Mr. Fandango seems a bit obsessed with the issue of god or gods.

His weekly question, based on a statement by Thomas Jefferson, is:



I have always thought it doesn’t matter a bit what you believe in as long as you aren’t beating me over the head to believe it too. I resent dedicated atheists exactly as much as I resent dedicated evangelists. I want you — whatever you believe — to leave me out of it. Believe what you want. There is absolutely NO PROOF OF ANY KIND whether there is or is not a god or gods nor any proof of an afterlife.

What you believe is what you believe. What is more, I don’t have to agree with you, no matter what you believe. If I want to believe we are all reborn as fairies living under toadstools, who are you to argue the point? Do you know something I don’t know? If so, please enter your arguments for and against in the comments which follow this piece.

Why should you believe? Why should I? Because we — you or I — like the idea. We (do or do not) have faith in the idea. We (do or don’t) prefer the concept of heaven to the concept of permanent darkness.

Would it interest you to know that Judaism has nothing to say — at all — about the afterlife? There is nothing in the Torah about the afterlife. Nothing good, nothing negative, nothing at all. You can believe in Heaven and Hell, Reincarnation, total blackness until God calls everyone up for an accounting — or nothing. Actually, to be a Jew, you don’t (technically) even need to believe in God. You just need to follow the rules and your belief doesn’t matter.

If you convert to Judaism, no one will ask about your beliefs. They will ask if you agree to follow the laws, but not what or who or even if you believe in God, gods, or not.

Unlike Fandango, I know I am fascinated with the concept of God/no God/many Gods and faith/no faith/leap of faith. I’ve had a variety of very close encounters and if anyone has reason to believe, I should. I absolutely should. A pastor of my acquaintance asked me if I was waiting for a picture ID before I could accept faith and I thought about it for a while.

“Yes,” I said. “I think so.”

Part of it is having been raised by an atheist mother, a father who only believed if he thought he was going to die (soon) … and the rest of the time, it held no interest for him at all. I studied the subject in school, read mountains of books and still concluded that it’s a matter of faith and I seem to be a bit lacking in the faith department. I don’t disallow the possibility of a god or gods, but I am unsure. Unconvinced.

But definitely interested and particularly interested by the ideas of those who do believe. I want to know why they believe, what made them take that “leap” of faith? I get to the edge  — regularly — but I never jump. Or if I do, it’s temporary. I don’t stay jumped. I always go back to the other side.

I guess I need the picture ID.

EVERYTHING. NOTHING. WHAT DOES IT MEAN? – Marilyn Armstrong

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. These days, it’s not quite as funny as it used to be but to be fair, nothing is as funny as it used to be. The world is a lot more bizarre without being truly funny. As a result, we laugh as much as we can, but it’s not nearly enough.

Who knows when they will take that away, too?

Personally, I think we spend far much time trying to figure out what life means while spending too little time doing things we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you’re sick, broke, or miserable is because of something you did, should have done, meant to do but forgot. I suppose it’s normal for we sort-of-normal people, but completely out-of-the-box for a lot of folks who are (apparently) running the world.

As far as I can figure it, they are the way they are because (a) they know they are going to hell, but a deal is a deal, or (b) they’ve never wasted a brain cell on thought.

Regardless, brooding about eternity is a huge waste of time and energy. More so, because I’m going to explain it all — right here. You will never have to wonder again.

Meaning of life


RANDOMNESS

Learning to accept the randomness of stuff that happens is tough. We want life to make sense. We want organization and order. We want our messes and disasters to be important, meaningful. We need to learn from them because someone told us that God gives us hard times so we will grow and learn from it.

Are we learning? Is the world teaching everybody something?

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life has fallen apart so many times over the years. I know I’m imperfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s small potatoes in the greater scheme of things. Even in my darkest moments, I doubt I’m bad enough for The Big Guy to have it in for me.

Then I had an 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. But not knowing might make me smarter than most people because 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?


IT’S ALL ABOUT THE 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 laughter which isn’t usually the outcome you were looking for.


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 believe it, so it must be true.” Or, conversely, “I don’t believe it, so it can’t be true.”

Fortunately, I don’t believe it. Any of it.


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. For that matter, we could believe Star Trek is real and any day now, the ship will beam us up.

HOWEVER – This doesn’t mean that there aren’t an awful lot of people roaming the earth who believe the damnedest things. Flat Earthers. Republicans. People who believe Fox News is the only real news. Unlike me, they know something. Ask them. They will be delighted to tell you.

Me? I know nothing and these days, it seems like the perfect thing in which to believe. It is my mental sweet spot in this best of all possible worlds.

AIN’T GONNA STUDY LORD NO MORE, AIN’T GONNA STUDY LORD NO MORE …

Someone asked a pastor with whom I am acquainted if he had any proof that praying on the Internet actually accomplished anything. He said “No. The prayer is really for you!” Still and all, the last time we went to church — a long time ago, I have to admit — this was pretty much the way it went.



Bring We In The Sheaves

PASTOR: “Praise the Lord!”

CONGREGATION: “Hallelujah!”

PASTOR: “Will everyone please turn on their tablet, PC, iPad, smart phone, and Kindle Bibles to 1 Corinthians, 13:13. Also, please switch on your Bluetooth to download the sermon.”

(P-a-u-s-e … )

PASTOR: “Now, Let us pray committing this week into God’s hands. Open your Apps, Twitter and Facebook, and chat with God”

(S-i-l-e-n-c-e … )

PASTOR: “As we take our Sunday tithes and offerings, please have your credit and debit cards ready. You can log on to the church WiFi using the password Lord-131. The ushers will circulate mobile card swipe machines among the worshipers. Those who prefer to make electronic fund transfers are directed to computers and laptops at the rear of the church. If you want to use your iPad, please open them. Those of you who use telephone banking, you can take out your cell phones to transfer contributions to the church account.”

(The holy atmosphere of the Church becomes electrified as smart phones, iPads, PCs and laptops beep and flicker.)

AND IN CLOSING …

DEACON: Thank you all for being here today. Remember this week’s ministry meetings will be held on the various Facebook group pages where the usual group chatting takes place. Please log in and don’t miss out! Thursday’s Bible study will be held live on Skype at 19:00 GMT. Let’s see your face too! You can follow Pastor on Twitter this week #PastorCounsel for counseling and prayer.

God bless and have a great day.


I don’t know why, but we felt … out-of-place. And I forgot to bring my smart phone!

THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING AND NOTHING

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. These days, it’s not quite as funny as it used to be … but to be fair, nothing is as funny as it used to be. The world is both a lot more bizarre while being not at all funny. As a result, we laugh as much as we can. Who know when they will take that away, too?

Personally, I think we spend far much time trying to figure out what life means while spending too little time doing things we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you’re sick, broke, or miserable is because of something you did or should have done. I suppose it’s normal for we sort-or normal people, but completely out-of-the-box for a lot of people who are (apparently) running the world. They are the way they because (a) they know they are going to hell, but a deal is a deal, or (b) they’ve never wasted a brain cell on actual thought.

Regardless, brooding about eternity is a huge waste of time and energy. More so, because I’m going to explain it all — right here. You will never have to wonder again.

Meaning of life


RANDOMNESS


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. We need to learn from them because someone told us that God gives us bad stuff so we will grow and learn from it.

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 greater scheme of things. Even in my darkest moments I doubt I’m bad enough that The Big Guy has it 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. But not knowing might make me smarter than most people because 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?


IT’S ALL ABOUT THE 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 believe it, so it must be true.” Or, conversely, “I don’t believe it, so it can’t be true.”

Fortunately, I don’t believe. In or out of it.


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.


HOWEVER – This doesn’t mean that there aren’t an awful lot of people roaming the earth who believe the damnedest things. Flat Earthers. Republicans. People who believe Fox News is the only real news. They know something. Ask them, they will tell you.

Me? I know and nothing seems like a great thing in which to believe. It is the mental sweet spot in this best of all possible worlds.

NOT FINDING ANSWERS, BUT STILL ASKING QUESTIONS

I have not found a religion to follow and it isn’t because I haven’t tried. I have flirted with many, gave a solid try to at least three (formal) religions, though arguably Buddhism is the most informal of formal religions.

Christianity is great — if you don’t look at it too carefully. At one point, I figured it must work because so many people follow it. But then I tried to figure out what Christian actually meant and I got lost between sects and more or less gave up. A row of people all attending the same church can’t agree on what it is, so how am I supposed to figure it out? Also, Christianity requires you to accept Christ. If you can’t do that, you are not a Christian.

If I had to pick a single God, I’d pick Ganeesh. He’s the writer’s God and I appreciate that. But to get Ganeesh, you have to buy at least a piece of Hinduism … a religion far too complicated for me.

I might as well stick with Judaism. Judaism is the original legal system and everything in it is weirdly logical. Even the illogical has its own logic. I like all the laws and the rulings. I love the courts and how you can take your case to an actual jury. I am glad “repentance” doesn’t fix everything. I’ve always considered that a cheat. Be a really horrible human, but repent and hey, you’re good? Bugger that.

Judaism has laws you need to follow. You can be as repentant as you want and apologize your heart out, but it won’t get you past the guard at the gate. Judaism is about work.

Note that nothing in Judaism indicates if there is a Heaven or a Hell. Whatever good works you do may get you into heaven. But quite possibly, they won’t. The stuff you do is for your own sake, good or bad. There’s no guarantee of a reward to come. You get to choose the kind of person you want to be. There’s something deeply existential about this.

Judaism is about work. If you really get into it, it is work that never ends. From your first breath in the morning to closing your eyes at night, there’s always something you need to do. I admire it greatly, but I don’t live that way. If I were to pick a religion, that’s the one I’d pick, but I’m not picking.

I’m sure I will never take the leap to faith. It isn’t because I don’t believe there is faith-worthy shit happening. I’m sure there is. I’ve had too many experiences I can’t otherwise explain. The problem is I’m not sure what I’m supposed to believe. Is there a god? Many gods? No gods but a giant thought? Is it magic? Who is in charge? What does prayer have to do with any of this? Why do churches exist? What’s with the whole dogma thing? Do gods exist because we worship or do we worship because there is a god or gods?

I’m never going to have answers, so I’m never going to walk a defined path. It isn’t because I haven’t spent most of my life searching for answers. It turns out that you can search from childhood to old age. And still not get the answers.

GOD, THE WORLD, THE DEVIL, AND LATE NIGHT TV

Colbert had Ricky Gervais on this evening. He’s not a particular favorite of ours, but we like him well enough. Tonight, he and Colbert got into a mini debate on the existence of God. Gervais, an avowed atheist versus Colbert, the avowed Catholic. No, it wasn’t angry or mean. It was interesting, lively, and thought-provoking.

Colbert asked “Why is there anything rather than nothing?”

Gervais said that was a meaningless question.

They went back and forth for a while, but in the end, the answer is, was, and always will be — we are all agnostics on some level because, unless we think God speaks directly to us — or we are in touch with spirits from “the other side.” We believe what we believe because that’s what we believe. We don’t know anything.

Buddha, Tibet, probably 19th century

Buddha, Tibet, probably 19th century

Garry said he enjoyed it. For once, something interesting that wasn’t politics and I had to agree. But I’m an armchair philosophy and religion nerd. I can talk about this stuff for hours. I never get bored.

I’m a skeptic, closer to an atheist than anything else. But, as I have no direct knowledge, all I can say is “I doubt it, but I suppose it’s possible.”

72-Ganeesha-001

Garry would more likely say: “I believe in something, but I’m not sure exactly what.” The same, but different.Nonetheless, he has an inherent buoyancy and optimism which lets him believe things will work out even when it looks hopeless. I envy that.

Yet, I am living proof that miracles happen. If anyone should be dead, it’s me. I can’t close that door without acknowledging that I’ve had some amazing close encounters of the providential kind. I think it’s possible that whatever God is, he has spoken to me at least twice and saved me when I was dying. Let’s not debate this. It’s complicated. Very.

So my husband, who has seen some of the most horrific stuff of which the human race is capable is an optimist and I, who have been saved more than once, am always expecting catastrophe. Go figure, right?

entry doorway front hall

There’s no logic to this kind of thing. We believe what we believe because that’s what we believe. We can all justify our beliefs, but in the end, belief is faith-based. No matter what you call it. A minister I liked asked me what more I needed … a picture ID with God’s face on it? Because if the experiences I’ve had don’t prove to me that something, someone is watching over me … then what will?

I can’t argue the point. I don’t know who  — or what — is the watcher. God? Satan? Ganeesh? The Lady of the Lake? Spirit of my ancestors? Buddha? A nameless Power? I have no clue and am not willing to speculate. I do not know the answer. I’m not even sure I’m asking the right questions.

The only thing of which I am certain is I don’t have an answer and neither do you. If I ever find an answer, I promise to let you know.

FAITH AND BANDAIDS

A QUESTION OF FAITH

I’ve come a long way since I wrote the first version of this. It’s like time travel. I see who I was “back then” versus who I am now.

Life is change … and change is the single constant. Change is neither good nor bad, but as we age, it tends to be difficult.

75-DawnAtDock-HEAD-2

I broke my back when I was a kid. I was reconstructed when I was 19. For the next 35 years, I refused to pay any attention to my spine. I was not going to be disabled.

“Mind over matter,” I declared. It turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far. I had been to more than a few doctors, all of whom said I needed a new spinal fusion, the old one having disintegrated.

The solution made no sense because after the new, upgraded surgery, I’d be in more pain than I already am. My spine would be immobilized. How was that going to be an improvement?

I believe in miracles, but I don’t bank on them. If you can count on them, they aren’t miracles, right? In lieu of prayer, I took my case to a top spine specialist.

Boston road signs

He said I did not need surgery. “Ignore my colleagues’ scare tactics,” he said. “Your back got you through this far. It’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise, and recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid.” Like fall off a horse? Lift heavy packages?

72-Church-By-the-River-Split-Tone-112715_08

Faith can help get you through times of trouble, but faith in what? Yourself? Friends? Family? It need not be a deity, though I often think it would be ever so nice to believe that an all-powerful deity was watching out for me. Otherwise, faith in something helps. I need to at least believe there’s a future worth living. That’s a big part of getting through life.

Sunshine after a week of rain ...

Faith is a tool, not a band-aid. You don’t apply it like a salve to heal all ills. You still have to take care of yourself and your business. Faith won’t make you young, stop your joints from aching, pay your mortgage, or make you immortal. It can offer you a context in which to see yourself and your problems, make you realize things could be a lot worse and you do have something for which to feel grateful. No small thing.

72-Sunrise-Peacham-Monday_012

I believe there is something, but I have no idea what. I don’t believe we have individual guardian angels looking out for us. It would be nice, but I don’t believe it. Yet, I will not commit to nothingness.

One way or the other, to suggest I have answers would be absurd. I’ll let others duke it out on details. I shall stay unaffiliated.

Meanwhile, whoever or whatever has helped me get this far, I’d very much appreciate it if that force would stay with me.

IF YOU’LL BELIEVE IN ME

I have an equal number of religious and non-religious (and non- traditional) friends. That probably means I’m doing something right. If you get right down to it, I believe in you. And me. I believe in human intelligence. I believe we each have the right to exercise our intelligence as we see fit.

I am not an atheist, but I’m not religious, either. You can not prove there is no god. Nor can you can prove there is a god. I will defend to the death your right to believe whatever. It is your right to believe, disbelieve, question, argue. It’s my right too.

I draw the line at anyone telling me what I should believe.

Steeple and sky

I dislike dogma. Religion by itself is not a problem. It’s the systems, the rules, the dogma that messes up the world. Dogma categorizes everything, puts it all in boxes.

I don’t want to be in a box.

Since no one can prove the existence or non-existence of god, we’d be better off if everyone would stop trying to prove it. If you believe, good for you. Just let everyone believe what he or she wishes. Maybe if we let others do their thing, they will be let us be crazy in our own way.

It has to start somewhere.

I deeply believe in everyone’s right to do their own thing. It’s the last vestige of my optimism, my hope for humanity. The last non-cynical piece of me.

It’s fun to debate big ideas, complicated concepts, but when the last cookies have been eaten, the last wine drunk, it’s time to pack up the arguments and go home, each to our own beliefs.

THEN, SHE SAID “CHRIST DIED SO WE WOULD BE NICE TO EACH OTHER”

IN MEMORY OF MARILYN BAKER, MY FRIEND WHO IS GONE

I had a very dear friend who recently died. When I first wrote this, she was going through a terrible time. The thing she feared the most had come to pass. Her husband was sick, never likely to get better, and her children were pulling them out of the home they’d shared for more than 60 years.

marilyn baker 2

Her Christian faith never wavered. She remained calm, unshaken, even though her world was being disassembled. I was heartbroken. Inconsolable. I knew I’d never see her again. We both knew.

She once told me you could sum up Christianity in a sentence.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Christ died,” she answered, “so we would be nice to each other — even before morning coffee.” Then she smiled, and sipped from her cup.

Marilyn Baker

Be kind to everyone. Even when you don’t feel like it. Especially then. Because maybe you’ll never see them again.

 

THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING – REDUX REDUX

Everybody blogger has a post or two that he or she considers special. This is mine. Why? Because it is a virtual summary of years of thought. Of all night discussion in college, philosophy courses and term papers, endless volumes of philosophy by obscure thinkers, theologians, philosophers, and authors from Douglas Adams to Friedrich Nietzsche.

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!”
Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve run various versions of this post a bunch of times. If you know me — like, you’ve hung out with me in person — you will understand how very “me” this post is. I spent much of my life pondering the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. One day, I realized it didn’t matter. All that pondering had landed me where I began. I know nothing, will never know anything.

You don’t know anything either, because the answers we pursue are unknowable. We can believe, posit, speculate, theorize. We can not know.

So here I go (again), explaining the meaning of everything. This is a long post, 3 times longer than my usual stuff. It might be worth sticking with me, but I’ll understand if you don’t.


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 total randomness of stuff that happens is difficult. We want it to make sense. We want order. We want this mess we call life to mean something important.

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things. It’s hard for me to believe, even in my darkest moments I’m so wicked that The Big Guy has in for me.

One day, I had an epiphany. I knew The Truth.

I considered founding a church to spread my word. A church with no faith in anything. No deity to get pissed off if you disobey some arbitrary rule. Contributions would be welcome since we all need to pay the rent.

This would suit our modern lifestyle, don’t you think?

Faith is opinion in fancy clothing.

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.

As for me, I don’t know. Really. I don’t know and what makes me smarter than you 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?

It’s all in the 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

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, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical.

Phenomenology

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 proves there is no God. Ah, the joy of phenomenology.

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.

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. Cool.

I’LL BELIEVE IN YOU IF YOU’LL BELIEVE IN ME

I noticed I have about an equal number of religious and atheist friends. That probably means I’m doing something right. If you get right down to it, I believe in you. And me. I believe in human intelligence. I believe we each have the right to exercise our intelligence as we see fit.

I am not an atheist, but I’m not religious, either. You can not prove there is no god. Nor can you can prove there is a god. I will defend to the death your right to believe whatever you choose. It is your right to believe, disbelieve, question, argue. It’s my right too.

I draw the line at anyone telling me what I should believe.

Steeple and skyI dislike dogma. Religion by itself is not a problem. It’s the systems, the rules, the dogma that messes up the world. Dogma is a way to categorize everything, to put it all in boxes. If it doesn’t fit in a box, a properly dogmatic believer will beat, pummel, pound, and torture a person or concept until it fits.

I don’t want to be in a box.

Atheism is a leap of faith as is every religion. And it is a religion. My mother was an atheist, or so she declared herself. She wasn’t really an atheist, in my opinion. She hated god, felt betrayed by god. She felt that if there was a god, he wasn’t worthy of her faith.

No one can prove the existence or non-existence of god. Personally, I think we’d all be better off if everyone would stop trying to prove it one way or the other. No one is going to be convinced by anyone else’s proof. Why not let everyone be as irrational as he or she wants? Maybe if we let others do their thing, they in turn will be let us be crazy in our own ways.

It has to start somewhere. Why don’t we take the first step?

I’m sure this makes me the ultimate fence sitter. So be it. I actually believe in everyone’s right to freedom. It’s the last vestige of my optimistic hope for humanity, the last non-cynical piece of me.

It’s fun to debate god, no god, religion, no religion, faith, no faith. Whatever. Big ideas, complicated concepts. It’s particularly fun when you’re stoned. But. No one is going to be converted to your point of view, no matter how well-constructed your arguments may be. It’s intellectual exercise. It makes great after dinner conversation, but that’s all it is.

When the last cookies have been eaten, the last wine drunk, then it’s time to pack up the arguments and go home — each to our own beliefs. That’s the way it should be.

THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING

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 total randomness of stuff that happens is difficult. We want it to make sense. We want order. We want this mess we call life to mean something important.

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things. It’s hard for me to believe, even in my darkest moments I’m so wicked that The Big Guy has in for me.

One day, I had an epiphany. I got it! I knew The Truth.

meaning-of-life2

Revelation #1: The bottom line? Shit happens. It doesn’t mean anything.

I felt like I was 12 again. I considered founding a church to spread my word. My church would require no faith in anything. No deity will get pissed off if you disobey some arbitrary rule. Contributions would be welcome, however. We all need to pay the rent. It would suit our modern lifestyle, don’t you think?

Revelation #2: Faith is not proof. Faith is opinion in fancy clothing.

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 path to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re  making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

As for me, I don’t know. Really. I don’t know and what makes me smarter than you is I know I don’t know.

Revelation #2: You know nothing. Neither does anyone else.

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 in knowing the meaning of life unless you can awe people with your brilliance — and make a few bucks?

Revelation #3: It’s all in the 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

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, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)

Phenomenology

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. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.

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.

Becoming a 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. Not to worry. The only one who is ever fully convinced by faith is the one 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. Cool.


Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve clarified everything. If not, feel free to have your people call my people. We’ll talk.

REASON TO BELIEVE IN WHAT?

Reason to Believe

In Reason to Believe, Bruce Springsteen sings, “At the end of every hard-earned day / people find some reason to believe.” What is your reason to believe?


Believe in what? God? Fate? Myself? The wheel of Karma? The repetitions of history?

All of us believe in many things. If we look at our beliefs individually, many are contradictory, a form of doublethink. Humans have an amazing capacity to accept paradox. In this arena, superstitious atheists can contend with traditionally religious physicists for the top spot in the race for cognitive dissonance.

UU Church 44

I the end, I’m reasonably sure I believe in something but I don’t know what. Nor do I believe in the same thing every day or every hour. I can passionately endorse multiple paradoxical concepts simultaneously without it ruffling my psychic feathers.

I don’t know if the something in which I sometimes believe is sentient, tied to the magic of the Earth — or is the Earth. (Note: If it’s the Earth, whatever powers it has or represents, I bet it’s pissed to a fare-thee-well.)

Why do I believe at all?

Call me lazy. It’s much simpler to believe in something — a deity, a high power, magic, whatever — than to ascribe everything to random chance. When good things happen, I don’t know which makes me feel sillier — thanking a God in whom I believe on alternate Thursdays or expressing gratitude to “fate” which is the same thing by another name.

I follow the course of least resistance. I would like to believe, as do my dogs, that whatever is wrong, a yummy treat will make it all better. Maybe I believe science is magic and the only reason it works is because we believe it will and if we lose faith, everything will stop.

Thank you, Robert Heinlein.

ALL THE ANSWERS YOU’LL EVER NEED

We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means. Why bad stuff happens. Whether or not a malevolent deity has it in for us. 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. To accept the total randomness of events is rough.

Like you, I’ve put a good bit of thought into how come my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but come on! It’s not like I ripped off everyone’s retirement money or slaughtered thousands of people because I think they are ethnically inferior. Whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things.

I was pondering this stuff when I was a teenager, which is why I studied it in college and kept exploring it through the decades since. One day, I woke up and realized I knew the Truth. All had been revealed.

copper-sun

I Don’t Know Anything. Neither Do You.

Suddenly random happenstance is as meaningful as anything else. What a relief to realize I don’t need an explanation. Stuff happens. I spent years — decades — thinking in circles, but now I am perfectly content displaying my lack of knowledge for all the world to see (and admire).

Just like when I was 12. I’ve been considering founding a church. I could enlist a lot of followers. My church  would require no beliefs. It would need no contributions of time or money. It wouldn’t even require that you show up, unless you happened to feel like it. There would be no rules to follow, no standards to live up to. No angry deity to get pissed off if you behave badly. It would ideally suit the modern lifestyle, don’t you think?

Faith and Proof

Faith is not proof. Faith is opinion in fancy clothing.

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

If believing in a loving God makes your world feel rational, that’s good. 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 path to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re  making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

As for me, I don’t know. Really. I don’t know and what makes me smarter than you is I know I don’t know.

Tempus Fugit is a frog.

Tempus Fugit is a frog.

Accepting that one knows nothing is a big step, so the next issue to tackle is how can you can cash in on your new understanding. What’s the point in knowing the meaning of life unless you can awe people with your brilliance?

No one will be dazzled unless you know the right words. Terminology is important.

Big words (4 or more syllables) when used in an appropriate setting, can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds indicating their admiration.

Employing big words enhances your likelihood of getting a management position.

You can write important books.Have a blog 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

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, concepts, and appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)

Phenomenology

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. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.

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.

Becoming a 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.

96-BadMoonRising-25

There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself making it hard to dispute. Not to worry. The only one who is ever fully convinced by faith is the one 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. Cool.

Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve clarified everything. If not, feel free to have your people call my people. We’ll talk.