Faith Versus Superstition, the Theory of Randomness and Statistical Probability in Religion, Part 1

14 05 2011

Do Superstitions dominate religious devotional habit?

Faith versus superstition. The theology of randomness? Does God indeed order (command) and order (arrange) every event and occurrence in our lives? Most people believe God has a particular system or way that He goes about running things. And, although many profess to believe that God employs unconditional forgiveness, acceptance and love (through Christ) when dealing with his creatures… and that the old system of rewards and punishments based upon the “Law” has been irrevocably replaced by the new system wherein any “reward” one might receive is exclusively based upon the merits of Christ versus individual performance, merit or attribute (behavioral, emotional or cognitive)… the truth is nobody really believes it. At least nobody I know.

We believe we should believe it. We talk about believing it. We even tell others that we believe it. Perhaps we even convince ourselves, during our “best” moments, that we really do believe it.

Is Religious behavior attempting to cover our bets?

However, in actuality, I believe, we put more faith in superstition or in superstitions. Bottom-line, where the rubber meets the road, when face-to-face with life’s uncertainties, we employ our tool kit of familiar superstitions to navigate and overcome. We have an uncontrollable human tendency to use any and all means to control the uncontrollable. The illusion that this is possible is persistent and powerful.

You don’t have to look very far to see that really bad things are happening all around you all the time. Divorce, death, disease, unemployment, bankruptcy, addiction, mental illness, natural disasters, violence… only tops the long list. It’s pretty natural to want to get and keep yourself safe from such things. Since it holds that if you believe God controls it all… you wanna keep on His good side. You definitely don’t want to piss Him off. In the attempt to do such, we turn to various systems and strategies that we believe will work.

A trip to Las Vegas should convince you of this aspect of your nature. The opulent neon decked hotels, plush accruements, glittering gaming centers, attractive staff and plethora of “give aways” were not built and are not maintained from all the losses incurred by the casinos. Anyone who has a 6th grade knowledge of probability and statistics should be convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that it is impossible for them to ever win. It is a mathematical certainty that they will lose. It is a law that is as immutable and pervasive as the force of gravity. Humankind has found ways to work within the laws of gravity to “conquer” the sky employing avionic principals. However, no one can been the cold rigid laws of mathematics.


Sometimes, in Relationships –with God and others- you must choose between being Right or being in Relationship

7 05 2011

Theology doesn't create relationship with God

Theology seems by its nature, unspiritual. In the same way an autopsy is a matter for the dead, not the living. Roughly defined, theology is the Science of God.

The ‘scientific method’ consists of “systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.” We attempt to grow in faith by the application of the scientific method. Our life experience affirms or denies our beliefs. If we get our science right, things will go well for us.
Unfortunately, by the time be become old we encounter enough tragedy and disillusionment to strip away most of our original fundamentally held beliefs. Some become old before their time.

As I have become older, the box labeled ‘knowledge’ has continued to shrink in size, while the box labeled ‘mystery’ has expanded. The less I know, the more I believe. If not believe, put into storage, muttering, “I don’t know and I don’t care”. I guess that is belief of sorts. Interestingly, mysticism is listed as a synonym for theology. In my perspective they are much different. Mysticism is defined as, “belief in intuitive spiritual revelation”… which seems more experiential and personal. In that regard, I would label myself a Christian Mystic (add hedonist, bohemian, some might say reprobate).

God "touches" us through his creation

Every denomination has their particular hobbyhorse. I’ve belonged to a couple. Assemblies of God (Pentecostals) emphasize “spiritual gifts”, Four Square believers were strong on “teaching”. If you’re a Presbyterian, you gotta have the RIGHT theology. The Good Book states, “knowledge puffs up but love builds up”. I suspect that if my box labeled “knowledge” is larger than my box called “mystery”, I got a serious spiritual problem. I think it works similarly in human relationships. When we presume to know how and why another person thinks, feels and acts… and unyieldingly defend that position… it is likely to cause a rift.

If we are honest, we don’t have a clue why someone does, thinks, feels the way that they do. Most of the time we don’t know why we do, think or feel the way that we do ourselves. How much more, should we accept that we really don’t have a clue about God. Why does God do the things He does. What, why, how and when are questions that 99% of the time we will never know. Knowledge is not a foundation for any relationship. Presumed knowledge is even worse. Bottom-line, we can “know” or we can “grow”.

Accepting life on life’s terms. Ourselves, just he way we are. People exactly as they are, not as we want them to be. And, most importantly, God; unknowable but not unapproachable, unpredictable but not undependable, bursting the bonds of theology but reflected in the art of creation.

Wrestling with Our Inner Angels and Inner Demons We Encounter our Common Humanity

1 05 2011

Wrestling with Our Inner Angels and Inner Demons We Encounter Our Common Humanity

It’s a broken world. Full of broken people. One popular song attests, “love is the only house big enough for all the pain in the world”.

I have chronic arthritis in the RIGHT hip. It is with me always. Sometimes every step brings with it stabbing pain. Other times it’s just a mild interference. I’ve tried a multitude of supplements. I frequent an acupuncturist monthly. Intermittently I’ve tried aqua-exercise, Tai Chi, Yoga or various stretches. Doctors told me several years ago that I would need a hip replacement within 12-18 months.

Ironically, my houseboat has severe damage on its right side (i forget the nautical term). The hull is cracked, the protective guard has been stripped away and sections of the right wall are damaged. Last year the (same) right side incurred damage that required it be extracted from the water and repaired. It was out of commission for a month.

My 2000 VW Euro-van camper retains several injuries to it’s right side; one on the front fender from hitting a deer two years ago and another to the rear tail light and right rear bumper from backing into a guard rail. The right (passenger side) door is broken and has been jimmy rigged to open with the aid of shoe laces and a bottle opener.

My other vehicle, a 2000 Sebring Convertible, has a smashed right front fender as well as a severely dented right rear fender, incurred from various negligences of mine. I got a dent guy to at least pop out the rear fender so that it doesn’t look so heinous.

Added to all that, there are broken relationships: Divorce after a 30 year marriage. Ignoble ending of a 10 year business enterprise. Relational fallout and disenfranchisement within my community of business associates and friends from the foregoing.

Then there is life: Getting old. Accrued disappointments. Dissipated visions and dreams. The general unmanageability of life. Financial uncertainties and pressures. All the freakin’ details! It’s really too much. It’s like herding cats. Trying to get all my ducks in a row.

If I had my way, I would build a metaphorical kingdom where everything functioned relatively well and without much maintenance. People would get along and like me. I’d get my way most of the time. I would have more than enough money, food, friends, amusements, indulgences. I would be well defended against interruptions, danger or crisis. I would live without care in relative ease. After all, that’s the American Dream.

My suspicion though is that God prefers me connected to the world, connected to other broken people, connected to my own humanity.

I’ve wrestled with a host of inner demons and inner angels. I’m on a first name basis with most of them. Some have become pretty good friends.

Self acceptance, inner peace and occasional happiness have been hard won. The battles have left me scarred and with a permanent limp… on the RIGHT side.

God don’t draw straight lines. Life, by design, is a circuitous path of dynamic interactivity with the unknown.

21 02 2011

LIfe's progressive journey is circuitous not linear

I’m not sure how we came to believe in the idea that progress was supposed to be linear. Look around you. Try wandering through the woods, off the beaten path. Survey the world of natural creation. How many perfectly straight lines do you see? Trees and plants spend their whole existence stretching toward the sun, but they aren’t straight. The rivers relentless circuit through the mountains, driven by gravity and guided by terrain, is anything but direct. God’s “natural order” may be founded upon powerful unchanging physical laws and principles but most times it expresses itself in endless chaos and upheaval. Nothing that is LIVING remains in stasis. The only way to finally get your “ducks in a row”, is to kill ’em all and lay ’em out straight.

Israels 14,000 day two week journey going from Point "A" to Point "B"

Yet, we cling to the notion that the “best” route between point “A” and point “B” should be a straight line. It doesn’t matter if our destination point is about life and romance or about career and money. We don’t easily tolerate delays or detours. Zen masters would say, the journey IS the destination. The Exodus from Egypt to their “Promise Land” took them 40 years – some 14,610 days. It was a trip that could have been accomplished in 14 days, 1/1,000 the time. The easy /convenient interpretation is that they screwed up. That’s why God “punished” them and made them wander around. However, one of the intentions was to train and prepare the next generation to safely inhabit and enjoy their forthcoming inheritance.

Much of my early spiritual life, I have felt like I was dragging God along on my various adventures of faith. I had noble, world impacting things I wanted to do. Unfortunately, He rarely underwrote or “blessed” my escapades in the way and or in the time that I expected. He seemed forever distracted, unwilling or apathetic. Looking back, I think a lot of my frustration came from the expectation that life, properly lived, was supposed to follow a straight, direct course. Especially, if one had “Friends in high places”, either GodFather, or FatherGod. But what if life is supposed to be circuitous by Design? What if God doesn’t draw straight lines.

Blind mans path through the corn field.

In 1916 the American zoologist Asa Schaeffer observed that an amoeba placed on a cylindrical surface always moved in a spiral path around the cylinder. To further study spiral movement, Schaeffer blindfolded a right-handed friend and instructed him to walk a straight line across a country field. Schaeffer plotted his friend’s track, which described a clockwise spiral form until the man happened to stumble on a tree stump. From Gurldoggie.

When you finally get all your ducks in a row, they and you will be dead

There are many things that can’t be learned any quicker than they can be learned. Run fast, get out of breath, collapse on the path, recover, get up and sprint some more, run into a tree, bandage your wounds, start running again, anon. Or, hike at a steady, moderate pace pausing for an occasional rest and to take in the pretty view. Maybe arrive at the same moment. At least the journey will be more fun.

We’re just pilgrims together on a circuitous adventure. We’ll reach our destination soon enough. Then, all our ducks will be a straight line… ’till then, happy wandering.

Devaluation of the doll or guy: beautiful mind & youthful spirit meets crinkly lips, sagging gut and stuttering gait. Welcome to fifty-something.

17 02 2011

Kissing is for old people too

While driving my 15 year old daughter to school this morning, she commented on my crinkly lips. She expounded about how nasty looking old people’ (like me, my girlfriend, her mother, her mothers boyfriend) mouths get. How utterly repulsive it was that people my age kissed each other. Yuck. They should just stop doing that at my age except maybe during special occasions like anniversaries. She didn’t say it with any particular malice in her voice. It was more stated like an obvious, unarguable fact.

Our society, though it espouses equality, values people disproportionately. “Old” people are certainly marginalized. Kids and teens are devalued as well. Unfortunately, in many venues, points are still deducted for gender and ethnicity too. Beyond the base measurements, people are sized up by weight, height, build and other physical characteristics. Is the person short, obese, ugly? Do they have pimples, curly hair, big nose, small chest? Do they dress well? What do they do for a living? How much money do they make? Where do they live? Who do they know?

All these facts are measured, assimilated, calculated and a final valuation is made. As if we were buyers and sellers at an expansive social bazaar. We make assessments about someone else’s value. Is that person worth my time and attention?

Gee, I think I am worth 1000 X. She’s probably worth about 500 X. I’ll avoid her. That other women looks like a 1500 X, if I capture her attention, I could boost my worth to 1100 X. And, if we dated, I might hit 1400 -1500 X. Like it or not, there are social economic axioms based upon unwritten but very real valuation schemas. All this is not new though.

Classic Product Valuation Model. Too Often People Become the Products

A cryptic passage from the old testament book of Leviticus, outlines one valuation model used, back in the day: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
–the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be (50) fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary.
–If the person is a female, the valuation shall be (30) thirty shekels.
–If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male (20) twenty shekels, and for a female (10) ten shekels.
–If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male (5) five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be (3) three shekels of silver.
–And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be (15) fifteen shekels, and for a female (10) ten shekels.

In ranked order then; Men and women in the workforce (age 20 to 60) were valued the highest- bringing 50 & 30 shekels respectively. One got 20 shekels for young boys, between ages 5 and 20. Retired men, over 60 brought 15 shekels. Young ladies and retired women were equally valued at 10 shekels. Little tykes were considered least valuable, bringing 5 shekels for the boys and 3 for the girls.

A 4,000 year old overt “biblical”? model of valuation compared to today’s “covert” socio-cultural model. Not a lot of real progress in societal consciousness. We all do it though. Even those of us who consider ourselves “enlightened”, open-minded, non-racist, humanistic. We make value judgements about others. We make value judgements about ourselves. We calculate our worth and worthiness based upon cultural standards and other peoples opinions. In addition, many of us wrestle against the weight of lingering childhood messages that we had little or no value. Or we only had value as it related to doing something or being someone FOR somebody else. We had little or no intrinsic worth.

Them be my sentiments

So, how many shekels am I worth? Upon what scales am I to be measured? What criteria am I using to value myself and others? Are the weights that I’m using accurate and true? Again, to reference scripture, Proverbs states, “The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.”

The Writers Muse; an inspiring angel sent by God or a demon bitch from hell?

15 02 2011

The Writers muse. From whence do we derive the inspiration and discipline to write?

I have a love -hate relationship with the written word. I love words. I love to play with them like toys. I like to play word games. My favorites are Scrabble, Super Scrabble (you gotta try it!), Boggle and Quidler (first encountered it at the annual Mensa conference in 2009). I just finished my first ever crossword puzzle with occasional intervention from my girlfriend. I’m really not a fan of the medium.

Over the years, I’ve been encouraged by many people to write. Usually their comments have come in response to one of my particular emotive, picturesque “shares” at a “recovery” meeting. I can be quite funny, that is when I’m comfortable and not trying to be. I’ve attended several comedy classes over the years; stand-up, comedy writing and improv. I’ve learned, for me, comedy is like sex. The more rehearsed and scripted it is, the harder it is to perform well. Therefore, I think a career as a comedian or as a gigolo is out of the question.

I have felt disqualified as a writer in times past for a several reasons. I am not a reader. I enjoy reading science fiction anthologies at bedtime and that’s about it. I’m a good researcher. I’m very good at finding the information I need, when I need it. I even love bookstores. I just don’t like to read. Thus, it has felt hypocritical to “name” myself a writer, when I don’t read. It’s like some unwritten creed that a writer must adhere to. Is it arrogance or grandiosity? Really, I think it might be some kind of learning disability. However, I have learned that speed reading works for me. I can quickly digest an entire book without ever even tasting its words. And get the gist of it.

In 1998 I wrote a 100,000 plus word novel. It was the hardest, loneliest work I have ever done. During that time I scanned several books on being a writer. The wisest advice that i got was, “if you can NOT write, then don’t.”

My angel muse. LIttle kisses of inspiration upon the brow.

Devil Muse sent to torment our thoughts which can only be relieved by expression

I’ve just finished a four day writing marathon. I’ve been crafting an expansive blog site for the international trade field. I imagine it taking on mammoth proportions. I’m intending to build a community of 50+ contributing authors. I’ve designed it to have over 100 pages and posting categories. Yet, I don’t read blogs. I have never followed any blogger… ever. I don’t think i have even read one blog post in my life all the way through. The very fact that this post is over 650 words proves it.

One of the reasons I am working within the Blog medium is that I don’t have the fortitude to spend another year or two of my life in obscurity and pain… only to emerge with what I believe to be the next great american novel or best selling business book… intending to announce my newest creation and garner immediate popular acclaim… but wake up in an empty theater. I throw a party and no one comes. What I think to have been brilliant is deemed irrelevant.

Blogs are safer. Less risk of major rejection. Better to take being ignored in small, reasonable doses. My hope is that the process will carry me to expanded publication opportunities.

Why write? Walking the beach yesterday, my head was abuzz with words. They were swarming incessantly, endlessly jabbering. Sometimes I felt like i was being bitten by horse flies. Other times it felt like I was being touched by angels feathers. Whether from God or hell, I was driven to keep writing. Maybe to perform some kind of exorcism; to cast the tormenting phrases in my head into the internet abyss. Maybe to be a channel of inspiration.

Hell if I know. I’m just a reluctant writer. Caught between two muses. A-musing isn’t it?

The Declaration of Dependency. The unalienable right to Death, Bondage and the pursuit of Unhappiness.

4 02 2011

Certain unalienable rights are presumably "granted" by one creator

The Declaration of Independence states. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration of Independence represents the cornerstone of the “American way of life”. Presumably it stands for something more. The belief is that all people everywhere, regardless of race, creed or color are born with certain “rights”… just because they are alive.

Sounds like a noble ideal. Fairly incontestable. However, for this postulate to be true, it’s inverse must also be held as “self-evident”. After all, independence depends upon choice. If someone else is making a choice for you- be it your parent, friend, employer, or government- you’re not independent. You’re not free to choose. You’re a slave. In robbing you of choice, you’re dignity has been stripped away.

It matters not if I agree or disagree with your choices. It’s irrelevant that your choices appear unhealthy, unrighteous, or even blatantly self destructive. You have the inalienable right to exercise your freedom of choice.

You have the right to Death- whether by slow burn, by gluttonous rampage, by the alcoholic installment plan, or by an ignoble explosion of unprotected sexual promiscuity.

You have the right to Bondage- whether by emotional dependency to your lover, perpetual underemployment, numbing out in front of TV five hours a day, or by burgeoning indebtedness.

You have the right to pursue your own particular brand of Unhappiness- Whatever makes you feel miserable, depressed, negative, isolated, hopeless… you maintain the exclusive right to pursue what makes you most unhappy. If you grow weary with one brand of misery, you are free to try another.

We all have the right to our particular brand of death, bondage and the pursuit of unhappiness

If I attempt to step in, force you to change, try to rescue you… I am robbing you of your rights. In principle, it doesn’t matter if it is your right to a particular brand of happiness or unhappiness. It doesn’t matter that I am well meaning and believe I am exercising compassion. In my attempts to control or coerce you – whether by stick or carrot – I “take” something from you. Specifically, I rob you of your your human dignity.

There certainly are exceptions in matters of minor children or with those who impinge upon the “rights” of others in the exercise of their free will. Strong intervention is called for and appropriate. Hence the plethora of laws, rules, regulations, anon. However, I think most would agree that government intervention has grown to preposterous proportions. “The Lord’s Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, there are 1,322 words in the Declaration of Independence, but government regulations on the sale of cabbage total 26,911 words.” Notwithstanding, government bureaucracy, we need to keep to “our side of the street”. “Live and Let Live”.

I admit, it is hard. It’s heartbreaking to see a loved one suffer. See them continually make choices that represent gross self destruction. We should engage. We need to let our voice be heard. Be honest. Be bold. We must exercise our right to our own opinion and viewpoint and let that be known to those we care about. That is love versus apathy. However, we must always remember that it is ultimately their life. It belongs to them. They own it. To assume otherwise is trespassing. and violating. and plain dumb. and doesn’t work anyway.