For Joel Welty

I heard in church Sunday that

If you asked [both theists and non-theists] about their belief in god, they would be far apart in their definitions or lack thereof. But if you ask,

How do your beliefs make a difference in your life?

– they would both point to a transcending of self.

This leaves one with a number of questions, writes the sermon’s author, Rev. Kaaren Anderson.

Is belief in god the key to spiritual experience, or a description of it? Might theists and atheists be talking about much the same thing? And which is the more important religious question: What do you believe about a supreme being? OR what state of being do you seek to embody?

Anderson points to two examples from either side of the aisle; the one of Abraham, who, in offering a band of strangers the comforts of hearth and home, has an unexpected encounter with God. The other example is of a friend, who while at a restaurant has her food become the target of a homeless woman, desperate, near-raving, and hungry. After the woman bolts out of the restaurant with her food, Anderson’s friend receives the restaurant’s courtesy/apology replacement food to go.

Upon finding the homeless woman again out on the street, despite the potential danger posed by this woman (described as “simultaneously” crying, convulsing, and shouting), the friend offers the carry out food, with no outward judgment of what she may have been going through, and is awashed in a feeling that could only be called

divine

in its transcendence of egotism and selfishness.

If you can accept the story of Abraham as parable, then it is also his act of abandoning selfishness towards strangers (in a tribal setting no less, where strangers quite usually meant danger) that

ushers in the holy.

Basically, in stating that he meets God in this situation, we may assume that it means that feeling of doing something so beyond ourselves that we reel from the magnanimity of it all.

A member of my church, Joel Welty, passed away last night. He was an atheist, and came very strongly from the Mark Twain school of theological cynicism (indeed, he both wrote and published

as

Mark Twain, as well as played him in one man shows.

My experience in knowing him only a little gave me a bit of that unknowable spark, simply because he was so kind and intelligent, and despite his cynicism about institutions in general, he very obviously cared deeply about the world and the people in it. He would tell stories about how, in World War II, there was the knowledge and acceptance of homosexuality in the military; no one cared who you slept with, so long as you had their back when things went south.

I’ll never forget his perspective and insight. It changed how I looked at historical events, and I will never forget, and always endeavor to provide it and his name when I can. I think he may have preferred it that way, rather than having us offering prayers to an unconfirmed deity that probably neither of whom would have appreciated.

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Science? Religion? Both?

A lot of these points stem from an argument I had with a friend who contested the notion of Evolutionary theorists as being “anti-God.” What follows are my thoughts on the whole business.

It seems that whenever a hardline atheist or a hardline religious person try to make their cases against the other, they come off as hypocrites. Despite his viewpoints, Richard Dawkins cannot state by absolute fact that there is no god. While his arguments tend to stem from the notion of an Abrahamic god (one could argue that our flawed worldly perception of the God of the Bible would not be cohesive with a God that did show itself), he ignores his role as a scientist, and that is “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There is a lot, an unimaginable amount, unexplained about our universe, and it is the height of hubris to assume we have found the answers to the Big Question, and that that answer is, “there isn’t one.”

Faith, on the other hand, is to a degree incompatible with science, so it strikes me as odd that there are attempts to validate elements of the Judeo-Christian faiths with pseudo-scientific movements. What essentially are attempts at discrediting scientific theory really only do harm to faith. Science is the process of always questioning, always testing, and always maintaining curiosity about what makes the world function. Faith, by its very definition, is unquestioning, so attempting to explain the happenings of the Bible, for instance, with a scientific approach only dilutes Faith.

Speaking as an agnostic, my beliefs stem from a constant attempt to reconcile the spiritual unknown and the established laws of the world that have been explained through scientific discovery. I know that there is a lot of evidence that many would say negates the validity of religious texts, but perhaps all this scientific discovery is a way of truly enriching our spiritual understanding. Think about it! With all that we know to be complex and interactive about the biosphere of earth, about the unimaginable depths of the universe that only Math can get to the bottom of, wouldn’t that do more credit to an ultimate Creator than what men have written in their limited knowledge thousands of years ago?

It may very well be that science does disprove the existence of what we have thought to be a Supreme Being, but it is these attempts in the meantime to undermine an objective search for truth (whether from Theists or Atheists) that do nothing but harm to the overall Spirituality of Human Nature.

To put it in brief, to answer whether or not we will ever come to the truth of the whole matter, I will say firmly, “I don’t know.” But, if we do, we probably won’t like it.

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Mark Twain weighs in from beyond the grave

I stumbled on these excerpts from a collection of Mark Twain’s previously censored (by his estate) works. The collection’s editor, Bernard DeVoto, alludes to the subject of these stand-alone parts of an unfinished whole as Twain’s criticisms of Theodore Roosevelt’s war in the Philippines, but they seem chillingly prophetic to the situation of today and the last ten years. I could sum up and paraphrase it all, but honestly, it would not do to try and distill the words of a literary genius. Besides, it is seeing the words of a man from over a hundred years ago that really hit the mark.

From his Letters of the Adam Family:

“…[I]t was impossible to save the Great Republic. She was rotten to the heart. Lust of conquest had long ago done its work; trampling upon the helpless abroad had taught her, by a natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home; multitudes who had applauded the crushing of other people’s liberties, lived to suffer for their mistake in their own persons. The government was irrevocably in the hands of the prodigiously rich and their hangers-on; the suffrage was become a mere machine, which they used as they chose. There was no principle but commercialism, no patriotism but of the pocket. From showily and sumptuously entertaining neighboring titled aristocracies, and from trading their daughters to them, the plutocrats came in the course of time to hunger for titles and heredities themselves. The drift toward monarchy, in some form or other, began; it was spoken of in whispers at first, later in a bolder voice.

It was now that the portent called “the Prodigy” rose in the far south. Army after army, sovereignty after sovereignty went down under the mighty tread of the shoemaker [Theodore Roosevelt?], and still he held his conquering way – north, always north. The sleeping Republic awoke at last, but too late. It drove the money-chargers from the temple, and put the government into clean hands – but all to no purpose. To keep the power in their own hands, the money-changers had long before bought up half the country with soldier-pensions and turned a measure which had originally been a righteous one into a machine for the manufacture of bond-slaves –  a machine which was at the same time an irremovable instrument of tyranny – for every pensioner had a vote, and every man and woman who had ever been acquainted with a soldier was a pensioner; pensions were dated back to the Fall, and hordes of men who had never handled a weapon in their lives came forward and drew three hundred years’ back pay. The country’s conquests, so far from being profitable to the treasury, had been an intolerable burden from the beginning. The pensions, the conquests, and corruption together had brought bankruptcy in spite of the maddest taxation; the government’s credit was gone, the arsenals were empty, the country unprepared for war. The military and naval schools, and all commissioned offices in the army and navy, were the preserve of the money-changers; and the standing army – the creation of the conquest days – was their property.

The army and navy refused to serve the new Congress and the new Administration, and said ironically, “What are you going to do about it?” A difficult question to answer. Landsmen manned such ships as were not abroad watching the conquests – and sunk them all, in honest attempts [to] do their duty. A civilian army, officered by civilians, rose brimming with the patriotism of an old forgotten day and rushed multitudinously to the front, armed with sporting guns and pitchforks – and the standing army swept it into space. For the money-changers had privately sold out to the shoemaker. He conferred titles of nobility upon the money-chargers, and mounted the Republic’s throne without firing a shot.”

Excerpt 2:

“[…] I pray you to pause and consider. Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war, a war against a helpless people, and for a base object – robbery. At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused the change? Merely a politician’s trick – a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: Our Country, right or wrong! An empty phrase, a silly phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, it was thundered from the pulpit, the Superintendent of Public Instruction placarded it in every schoolhouse in the land, the War Department inscribed it upon the flag. And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor – none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, “Our Country, right or wrong,” and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that that is an insult to the nation?

For in a republic, who is “the Country”? Is it the government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the government is merely a servant – merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is “the Country?” Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Is it the school superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn’t.

Who are the thousand – that is to say, who are “the Country”? In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country – hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Only when a republic’s life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it is in the wrong. There is no other time.

This Republic’s life is not in peril. The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. It has swung itself loose from its safe anchorage and is drifting, its helm is in pirate hands. The stupid phrase needed help, and it got another one: “Even if the war be wrong we are in it and must fight it out: we cannot retire from it without dishonor.” Why, not even a burglar could have said it better. We cannot withdraw from this sordid raid because to grant peace to those little people upon their terms – independence – would dishonor us. You have flung away Adam’s phrase – you should take it up and examine it again. He said, “An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war.”

You have planted a seed, and it will grow.”

– Twain, Mark. Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings. Ed. Bernard DeVoto. New York: Harper & Row, 1991. pp. 107-111

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Worldly Things and a Solution of Stone Soup

I gave up long ago ever thinking I could escape my financial debt. While this may seem like a very depressing statement, it is a personal analysis that more or less stems from the overall ineptitude and lack of foresight in the brains of those operating the economy at large. While I do not absolve myself of responsibility for my financial instability, I like many did not have a firm grasp on what financing and credit were all about in my mid-20’s. Yet, in the midst of not having been able to make rent on time while in college, I became swamped with credit card offers from institutions specifically targeting people like me in this position.

Whether in the category of Student or Working Low-Income, companies providing these offers used people in my position because they saw long-term payoff in the form of interest accrual. We weren’t going to use our credit in a thoughtfully paced and responsible manner, paying it off every month we used it; no, we applied for those credit cards because we saw them as loans for paying off larger bills, so we could level out the playing field in our lives. A lower credit card payment every month was much better than the pressure from an energy company turning off our electricity, or a bank aggressively charging overdraft fees on a daily basis. But interest would accrue over time, requiring larger payments to actually pay off the balance of these cards. Larger payments that didn’t really exist for people who received either modest or below-modest income.

I don’t know. I wonder if the expectation was that our generation was going to find the same career placement their forebears did in the wake of college, and eventually gain the income needed to pay off the credit card bills we were singled out and targeted for in what was essentially a smash-and-grab scheme for long-term interest profits. In any case, that didn’t happen, financial institutions did not receive the amount of return they expected, and the mentality that operated this scheme on several levels contributed in large part to the financial crisis we are in. For the first time on a really mass scale, the failings of a system that worked on a premise of imaginary money have been laid bare.

In the documentary film Collapse, the views of a man named Michael C. Ruppert were the main focus. The claim for a documentary being entirely about him and his views are that he has been loudly and actively predicting the global economic meltdown we are currently in since 2001, and predicts resoundingly that our current societal structuring will not survive this collapse. In a global structure and a population that relies almost entirely on oil (outside of food), he states that in our functioning as a collective energy-producing global machine, we are currently experiencing entropy, in keeping with all governance of energy under the laws of thermodynamics. “There is no such thing as infinite growth,” he states, “but that is precisely how our world economy is run.”

He goes on to tear apart the various methods we have on the table at getting to alternative energy, such as the obvious myths of “clean” coal and corn-based ethanol (which, energy trade-off wise, causes us to use more fossil fuels actually creating the ethanol than the energy it will itself produce). The electric car is even unrealistic, in that “there are seven gallons of oil in every tire [produced],” as well as in creating the components of the vehicle, shipping it, et cetera. Basically, if oil runs out, this option would also be entirely unfeasible. He shines the light of possibility on solar and wind energies, decrying projects like putting a giant solar collector in the desert as unrealistic (they supposedly can only provide energy locally, in that local grids have to use it before it is transferred any further distance).
What originally put Ruppert on the outs with many as a “conspiracy theorist” were his suddenly not-so-extreme viewpoints as to where this entropy would take us. Initially, I found him to be a man completely without hope and with little faith in humanity. Then the filmmakers revealed his other side. While speaking of the inevitable breakdown of the current global paradigm, he begins to espouse the importance of people in being able to band together and become interdependent. Basically, going back to a tribal society where everyone has an important role to fill, and all work towards the common good. This, he stated, was the only thing that was going to allow humanity to survive, as well as hoarding organic seeds, which realistically would allow these communities to continue to thrive.

I have felt that money would no longer be the issue, which is why I don’t try to worry about paying all my bills off by a certain time. If the global economy is any indicator, money will be exposed blatantly, flagrantly to the light of day as the meaningless pieces of paper we always knew them to be. The real value is in those skills and resources that lead to our survival. Chief among them is our interdependence with one another.

I’ve been talking with some friends and family, and in several conversations the subject of communal farm living comes up. The more and more I think about what Ruppert says about the inevitability of this collapse, the more I firmly believe that this is the way to consolidate with one another. Everyone I know is struggling to get by, and that’s one thing to live that way, but if we were all together working towards our own food production and resources, surely one could not say we were poor.

This could be dismissed as a bunch of malarkey, but think about it this way: The so-called “American Dream” that has been force-fed us (two-story house, two-car garage per couple, etc.) has only been around since the economic boom after World War II. That is only two generations, three if you can count some overspill into this one. It won’t be around for our children to enjoy. The method that has been time-tested throughout history is the collaborative and local community.

So I gave up ever thinking I would escape financial debt. I have instead replaced a perceived dearth – and by perceived I mean “if I think about it hard enough, it really doesn’t exist” – with the wealth of a community of friends who help each other in time of need, a church community that serves as a haven for both comforting and intelligent thought, and a family that has come together strong in times of distress and emergency. With these kinds of things in place, how could anyone consider themselves poor?

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An Introductory Note

I started this journal mainly to try and formulate all that I can about myself and my opinions of the world. A lot of it will be centered on a recurring theme that I adopted most recently: That of the Grey Area.

The Grey Area is the meeting point between ideological opposites, in what mainly appears in a world of dualistic alternatives. It is not necessarily the place where philosophies and ideals become diluted to the point of being ineffective, but the places where both points of view co-exist, because after all, isn’t that exactly what is going on in the world? Despite one side’s best efforts at establishing a majority position, the alternative or the opposite point of view tends to persevere, no matter what.

Public opinion in America is like a pendulum, swinging wildly from left to right, pushed either way by a media set on having its gaze-locked viewers believe one way, thinking their neighbor is their enemy because they differ in their outlook on politics, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, shoe size, breakfast of choice, etc. My mind is set on making the pendulum come to rest in the center, and be a part of the national conversation that is fighting back against the loud-mouthed, beat-you-over-the-head select few of pundits, politicians and authors that are riling up the less educated.

I hope this best sums up and predicts the style and tone that you can look forward to in further posts. It is a pleasure of mine to discuss matters of social justice, education, politics, and spirituality. I will start out with some general posts that will hopefully define my point of view on these subjects. I claim to be a moderate, but I guarantee a lot of the things I believe in are left-leaning in how they refuse to remain static, solid concepts of the world that many right-leaning people tend to define themselves by.

Thanks for reading, and I hope what I have to say from here on out can be informative as well as personally satisfying.

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