Are Religious People Peaceful?

It’s a common belief that religion brings peace to a hateful world.  Without religion, how can men even be moral?  What will be their compass and guide?  Let’s just turn on our television sets and see how peaceful religious folks are.

First he goes on and on about how he’s a Christian and believes in forgiveness.  Then in the next sentence he’s talking about execution because of what Michael Vick did to some dogs.  Execution.

This is all very confusing to me.  Hmm.  Jesus Christ.  What sort of character was He? Luke Chapter 7, verses 36 through 50.

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

– The Holy Bible, Luke Chapter 7, verses 36-50

Or maybe we can look into the Gospel of John 7:53 – 8:11?

53 Then they all went home,

1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I can’t see Jesus executing Michael Vick.  Is it just me, or is it always the Christians wanting to execute everyone and entangle our nation in “holy” wars overseas.

Where in the Bible does Jesus say, “Go out and kill thy enemy?”  I can’t seem to find that in the Bible.  Oh wait, there’s the Old Testament Jehovah.  Right Right.  He’s the one always killing people He doesn’t like.  There’s only one true God.  Hmm, I suppose Jehovah was Jesus before  being put into a man’s body.  So who was God while Jesus was walking on Earth?  Well God is composed of three parts – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit you doofus!  So I guess the Father is Jehovah.  He’s the the one with anger issues, always calling down plagues and ordering the Hebrews to commit genocide.

But as for Jesus, He tells you to love your enemy.  (He’s working to convince the Father to have a change of heart, who still wants to throw practically everyone in hellfire)  He told you to never harm your enemy, and even if they attack you, you’re to be as passive and gentle as a dove, and if they kill you, they kill you.  You’re not supposed to worry about that because when you die, you’re taken to heaven to be with your savior for all eternity in a mansion and glory forever.  (And my grandfather tells me the Bible doesn’t contain a single contradictory idea or statement.  It was composed by 40 different authors over thousands of years!  When I read the Bible, it’s more akin Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)

Let’s take a look at Matthew Chapter 5.

7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

….

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

– The Holy Bible, Matthew Chapter 5

When Jesus was about to be executed on the cross, a party came to take him away.  His disciple Peter drew his sword, trying to save him.  Jesus rebuked Peter and then told him,

52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

– The Holy Bible, Matthew 26:52

Peter was explicitly told not to resort to violence.  Jesus then healed the servant’s ear, and was then taken as a prisoner, and later executed.

As you watch this next video, ask yourself whether Ben Stein is a peacemaker.

When I watch videos like this, I just can’t get over how these “Christians” appear to be “spiritual” but then advocate and stand for everything that’s contrary to what Jesus taught.  (Though then again, maybe they’re servants of the Hebrew Jehovah?)

And did you all catch his statement that scientists are all murderers?  “It’s just my belief.”  “Good word, good word.”  I wonder how he reconciles that belief with Einstein, who was a pacifist.  I too am a pacifist, yet I believe in evolution.  I’m even a scientist too.  How can this be, when apparently the ideas of evolution and science inevitably leads a person to murder everyone they don’t like?  *Shrugs*  And remember, education is worthless.  There’s no value in anything taught in universities.

I know exactly what he means about military spending.  The United States barely spends any money on its military. I mean, look at this.  We definitely need to spend more.  There’s us on the right, and the REST OF THE WORLD on the left.   I think the title of this pie-chart says it all.

Execute Julian Assange?  No trial, no rule of law, and a complete rejection of the first amendment?  Execute members of the New York Times?  Even so, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin are top presidential contenders.

Oh, and remember, Wikileaks doesn’t contain anything that they haven’t already reported to you.  Don’t look into it for yourself.

Listen to this fear-mongering back in 2003, rallying evangelicals to support the war in Iraq.

“I believe God has raised George Bush up for this time in history to crush Sadaam Hussein.”

– John Haggee, back in 2003

This is what you’ll see if you watch TBN and Fox News.  It’s so bizarre when Christians take these obscure Bible verses and try to interpret vague prophecies in light of current events.  If any other person was saying the same sort of thing, but not in a religious context, we’d say he or she was insane. But when he’s on TBN, he’s a holy prophet of the God of this universe.  And I love how there’s a dove down there at the bottom right as he’s talking about weapons of mass destruction and how we need to preemptively attack them before they attack us.  (Psstt.  Sarah.  Sarah Palin.  They call this idea the “Bush doctrine”)

These are just a few examples of how nasty religious folks can be.  Sadly, I don’t think these people are the exception.  There are a whole lot of evangelicals out there who hold beliefs like these.  And if all this shows one thing, it shows that religion by itself isn’t enough to make a person good.  History will definitely confirm that.  Holy books like the Bible are filled with so many strange, cryptic, and contradictory ideas, that the book can be interpreted in any way a person wants and justify practically anything.  There’s a lot more in there than “love your neighbor”.  Listen to all the bullshit Hagee is going on about.  The Bible is huge book, filled with all sorts of things.  I’ve read it cover to cover many times.

“I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”

– John Adams, writing to Thomas Jefferson

Late Night Stargazing

There’s nothing more wonderful than waking up late at night and having nothing to do.  No work, no school, no phone calls – nothing.  It’s pitch dark outside and the only sound you can hear is that of crickets chirping.  That’s when I like to slip out and make my sojourn into the darkness of the night, deep into the forest, parking myself in this distant field here, out in the middle of nowhere, rural Missouri.

As I’m making my way there, my eyes are slowly adjusting to the dark.  The stars in the sky, once washed out by the street and city lights, now are coming into view.  I sit down beside those trees you see there, relax, and think about absolutely nothing.  I just sit there and reflect on the universe.   The experience is just like that of this video.

The darkness hides the world.  It’s sort of like a Christian closing their eyes during prayer.  It’s a time to focus the mind away from all of that, and think about something deeper and more profound.  I like to think about life, love, and the nature of our universe.   And when I finally get tired of that, I lay on my back and look up.  I see this.

If you’ve never had this experience, I highly recommend it.  In this world it is so easy to forget what’s really going on all around us.  And no, I’m not talking about “current events”.  It’s a common belief that to be informed about the world, you’re supposed to read the news.   I skim the news here and there, but do we really need to fill our minds everyday with all the murders, wars, and natural disasters to be “informed”?  I don’t know, but that doesn’t seem to me to be what’s really important.  That’s not life.  That’s not reality.  That’s not the “news”.   Oh, I suppose you’ll miss the politicians posturing, won’t hear the lies about our so-called economic recovery (regardless of the fact that none of our fundamentals are sound), or hear the religious bigots trying to shove religion down our throats, but I think we can live without most of that.

I became a physicist because I got tired of that world.  I felt like to continue existing within the “normal” world, I’d have to dumb myself down to a level I just can’t stand any longer.  I got tired of business and all the crooked scumbags you deal with.  I’m tired of Wall Street and their casino, or the Federal Reserve playing God with our lives and the economy.  I’m tired of greed.  I’m tired of religion, holy wars and superstition.  I’ve had enough with it all.  I’m not living that way anymore.  I’m not playing the game any longer.  I’m not going to fight with everyone around me to get to the top of the greasy pole, nobody ever being satisfied with their lives, and always wanting more, more, more.  I decided to spend my time connecting with the universe, and I haven’t found a better way to do that than to understand the laws which govern it.

Physics is the only subject I’ve found which does that.  It connects you with everything around you.  The only other subjects I’ve found which are almost as powerful are biology and neuroscience.  Studying life, the brain, and the natures of the creatures around me is definitely a passion of mine.  Thinking on those subjects, the “normal” world seems to fade into the distance, becoming a small spec, like a single star in the night sky.

Richard Feynman talked about physics adding an emotional pleasure to the things you see around you.  It enhances everything.  Everything becomes far more complicated and grand, the small and the large.  Even the “simple” things in life become so complicated that no matter what may be going on in your life, you can’t help but be left with a feeling of, “Wow, something really amazing is going on here.”  I spent all day today studying vision science and the brain, and the more I learn, the more I’m overwhelmed at all my brain is doing.  In my brain, trillions of operations are taking place in parallel, all to give me this simple experience of sitting here, typing out this blog post for all of you.

It’s all so chaotic, yet at the same time it’s ordered.  It’s yin and yang.

I made the mistake in my earlier years of pursuing wealth instead of following my bliss, as Joseph Campbell always said.  He relates a rather wonderful story in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces.   This excerpt is a little long, but it’s worth reading it all.

In an ancient story called “The Conference of the Birds”, a flock of a thousand birds, during a time of great upheaval and darkness, suddenly glimpse an image of wholeness—an illumined feather. They thusly feel encouraged to take a long and arduous journey to find out what amazing bird this illumined feather belongs to. This narrative in poetic form was written in the eleventh century by the Persian Sufi mystic Farid ad-Din Attar. It tells about a remarkable saga with many long episodes that precisely describe the psyche’s perilous journey to seek the Soul of souls.

When the illumined feather floats down from the sky, one of the wisest of the birds reveals that this feather is in fact a precognition —a visionary glimpse of the Simorgh, the Great One. Oh, how the birds are buoyed up then. The birds are of many different kinds: short-beaked, long-billed, fancy-plumed, plain-colored, enormous, and tiny. But, regardless of size, shape, or hue, the birds who have witnessed this sudden and evanescent sight of the lighted feather band together. They make thunder as they rise up into the sky, all in order to seek this radiant source. They believe this sovereign creature to be so wondrous that it will be able to light their darkened world once again. And thus the creatures begin the grueling quest.

…. there are some birds who also wander off the path and those who flee it. The birds are, in essence, questing for the fiery phoenix, that which can rise from its own ashes back up into illumined wholeness again. In the beginning, the thousand birds set out to enter into and pass through seven valleys, each one presenting different barriers and difficult challenges. The thousand birds endure increasingly hostile conditions, terrible hardships, and torments —including horrifying visions, lacerating doubts, nagging regrets. They long to turn back. They are filled with despair and exhaustion. The creatures receive no satisfaction, nor rest, nor reward for a very long time.

Thus, more and more of the birds make excuses to give up. The attrition rate continues, until there are only thirty birds left to continue this harsh flight that they all had begun with such earnest hearts —all in quest for the essence of Truth and Wholeness in life —and, beyond that, for that which can light the dark again.

In the end, the thirty birds realize that their perseverance, sacrifice, and faithfulness to the path —is the lighted feather, that this same illumined feather lives in each one’s determination, each one’s fitful activity toward the divine. The one who will light the world again —is deep inside each creature. That fabled lighted feather’s counterpart lies ever hidden in each bird’s heart.

At the end of the story, a pun is revealed. It is that Si-Morgh means thirty birds. The number thirty is considered that which makes up a full cycle, as in thirty days to the month, during which the moon moves from a darkened to a lit crescent, to full open, to ultimate maturity, and thence continues on. The point is that the cycle of seeing, seeking, falling, dying, being reborn into new sight, has now been completed.

There is one last advice given to anyone else who might glimpse such a lighted feather during darkness and long to follow it to its source. The counsel is presented by the writer of the story, and in absolute terms —as if to say, there will be no more shilly-shallying around regarding “Ought I to go where I am called? or not?” The definitive guidance is this:

Whosoever desires to explore The Way
Let them set out—for what more is there to say?

– Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

My feather is physics and studying the nature of the mind.  It has eventually lead me to things like this.

This video mentions a creator.  I myself am an agnostic.  I don’t feel confident enough to make such grand claims as to knowing the origin of the universe, but it’s a good video nonetheless.

I think the hardest thing for me to think about is, “Wow, it’s all really there.  When I look up at these stars, there’s black holes, quasars, supernovas, it’s all going on.  Billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars.”    Then I get a phone call asking me to do some software work because a report needs changed.  I sigh and think, “This is so trivial and stupid.”  Then I’m in class and the professor is asking us to memorize pages and pages of information, worthless regurgitation.  A thought runs through my mind, “Our brain didn’t evolve to regurgitate pages of random facts.  Studies show that a few months from now we won’t even remember half of these random facts we’re memorizing.”  I get angry and then I tell myself, “There’s no use getting angry.  I can’t change any of this.”  I let out a sigh and just do what I’m told to do.  I’ve been trying to keep myself from running down humanity all the time, but I can’t help it.  When I look at the world and what we as humans spend our time doing, Shakespeare comes to mind,

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
– William Shakespeare

Or maybe this might be the better quotation,

Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery.
– William Shakespeare

When I’m forced to do all kinds of bullshit to earn money, that’s certainly how I feel.  I can’t help but laugh to myself when I hear students say to me, “This is ridiculous.  Why do we have to do this?  Honestly, why can’t we use our calculators on this math exam?  We have to divide numbers out by hand, and for what?  When we’re on the job, it’s not like we won’t have access to our calculators or be asked to do engineering work without our computers and materials.”  I just smile back and shrug silently thinking, “Life’s full of bullshit.  You better get used to it.  It’s not like it ends in the workplace.  Before you know it, you’ll have a boss who asks you to do all sorts of ridiculous things, even more ridiculous than not having access to a calculator on a math exam.”   I remember working as a network administrator of a medical clinic.   I was idle in my office, caught up with everything.  They had just hired a new manager and she walked into my office and said, “You don’t have anything to do?  That’s not fair for you.  I’ll find something for you to do.”  I was then escorted to the storage room and had the joy of inventorying each individual q-tip and band-aid.  Those students will have their fun later.  Thinking on that note, how about one last Shakespeare quote for the night?

Expectation is the root of all heartache.
– William Shakespeare

Pope Says People In The 70s Were Ok With Paedophilia

I don’t like posting about religion.  I don’t like discussing religious issues.  I don’t like to even think about religion at all.  But today you’ll have to bear with me as I briefly discuss an issue which disgusted me.   While we were all enjoying the holidays, the Pope felt that he needed to share this with the world:

In his traditional Christmas address yesterday to cardinals and officials working in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI also claimed that child pornography was increasingly considered “normal” by society.

“In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,” the Pope said.

“It was maintained — even within the realm of Catholic theology — that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than’ and a ‘worse than’. Nothing is good or bad in itself.”

….

“We cannot remain silent about the context of these times in which these events have come to light,” he said, citing the growth of child pornography “that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society” he said.

Source:  http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/world-news/popersquos-child-porn-normal-claim-sparks-outrage-among-victims-15035449.html

I want you all to remember that this man is considered the voice of God for over 1.1 billion people.  In the 1970s people were ok with paedophilia?  Uh, no they weren’t.  The world has never been ok with priests sexually abusing children and we’re still not ok with it.   Apparently my parents generation felt this sort of behavior was “fully in conformity with man and even with children.”

Utopian Dreams Never Work Out

Utopian societies are never all they’re cracked up to be.  Immanuel Kant warned us that humans will struggle to build a “perfect” society because we’ll have to construct it with the crooked-timbers of humanity.  David Buss, in his book Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of Mind, tells a story which is worth sharing,

Imagine a society in which all men and women received exactly the same income. Every able-bodied adult worked. All decisions were made communally by both sexes, and all children were raised collectively by the group. How would people react when actually faced with this social arrangement? Such an experiment was in fact conducted in Israel among those living in a kibbutz. Two anthropologists, Joseph Shepher and Lionel Tiger-studied three generations living in a kibbutz, a total of 34,040 people. In their classic 1975 book Women in the Kibbutz, Shepher and Tiger tell that they found, astonishingly, that the division of labor by gender was actually greater in the kibbutz than in the rest of Israel (Tiger, 1996). Most striking, however, were the strong preferences exerted by women: Over time they began to insist that their own children live with them rather than be raised collectively by other women. The men tried to veto this move, considering it a step backward, giving in to bourgeois values at the expense of the original utopian dream. The mothers and their mothers stood their ground and outvoted the men of the community. So the utopian experiment of communal child rearing reverted to the primacy of the mother-child bond-a pattern seen in every human culture (Buss, 198).

Have you ever wondered why your parents will do practically anything for you and love you unconditionally whereas they probably care a lot less about other people’s children?  If you, the child, crash the car into their mailbox, you might get yelled at, but chances are your parents won’t get the police involved, or file a lawsuit for the damages.  But if a stranger’s son or daughter wrecks into the mailbox, they probably will want compensation.  Why?

Why do you feel this special bond with your brothers and sisters, and go well out of your way to help take care of them, but are much less likely to help a stranger?  We’ll all reply, “Well, they’re family.  Of course I’ll help them out.”  But why do you feel such a strong urge to help your family?  Why not help and love all human beings equally?

Your brain is hard-wired to think that way.  You share half of your genes with your mother and father, and your siblings share most of your genes as well.  On this Earth, our bodies are all competing to exist.  Unconsciously our brains are wired to help those who most share our genes.  The more genes they share, the more precious they are to us, and the more we must go out of our way to help them.  We’ll even go well out of our way to help strangers, sometimes even doing crazy things like rushing into a burning building to save someone we don’t even know.  But as noble at it sounds, that’s innate to our psychology because they’re a fellow human being who also shares a great deal of our … or should I say your genes.  And if you’re honest, we all know that we’re much more likely to rush into the burning building if it’s our child or loved ones in there, and much less so if it’s a total stranger.  How many brave men have rushed into the flames to save a parakeet or a rat?  Why are you not worried when you crush a grasshopper under your feet as your pace your lawn, or destroy the habitats of other wildlife on this planet to put in new apartment buildings?  Why are you more loyal to your fellow human beings as opposed to other animals on the planet?  Why is it cruel to do experiments on humans, but just fine to hack away at a dog or monkey’s brain in the name of science?  It could be a person just looking out for themselves because they don’t want their brain experimented on, but studies seem to indicate there’s more to this.

From an evolutionary perspective, offspring are a sort of vehicle for their parents. They are the means by which their parents’ genes may get transported to succeeding generations. Without children an individual’s genes may perish forever. Given the supreme importance of offspring as genetic vehicles, then, it is reasonable to expect that natural selection would favor powerful mechanisms in parents to ensure the survival and reproductive success of their children. Aside from those of mating, perhaps no other adaptive problems are as paramount as making sure that one’s offspring survive and thrive. Indeed, without the success of offspring, all the effort that an organism invested in mating would be reproductively meaningless. Evolution, in short, should produce a rich repertoire of parental mechanisms specially adapted to caring for offspring (Buss 199).

If you have another explanation for why people are this way, I’d love to hear it.  People are capable of love and affection, but are also prone to a strong self-centered nature which primarily concerns itself with close friends and family, and rarely anyone else.   Even the best of us have to fight urges to look the other way when someone we don’t know is suffering.

To love my parents, my brothers, or other close family members happens without me even thinking about it.  When they’re in need I have an emotional response which drives me to help them.  I’m carried to help them and feel guilty if I don’t do what I can to ensure they do well and thrive in this world.  Other people, on the other hand, to help them requires “duty” and “justice”.  It’s no longer an innate emotional response to help but now resides mostly in my rational mind without feeling.  Most of the time, you have to find a reason to help them such as, “The world will be better if we treat each other this way or that way.”  We have to execute these duties with little feeling.  That’s why it’s difficult to form utopian societies.  We’re simply not equipped with the emotional hardware to care about those outside of our close circles and family.

The women in the kibbutz had no choice but to love their children more than the others.  It’s in their genes.  It’s part of what it means to be a human mother.  The family is something we’re wired to love and protect.  If we don’t have a family, we try our best to find something akin to it with a close group of friends.   I once had a woman tell me she could love any man just the same.  I questioned whether that was really love.  If you try to be a jack of all trades you end up being nothing at all.  To love everyone equally, it seems, runs into the same problem – you end up loving nobody at all.  Human love has a strong emotional component to it.  The object of that affection is given preference over all others.