The ‘Good News’ Is The Bad News: We’re ALL Making It Up As We Go Along…

What “is”?

Maybe the better question is: “What ISN’T?”

What isn’t TRUE?

Every single one of us faces that question multiple times every single day.  We base the success of a day on how well we navigate that question.  “What should I wear today?  The weather forecast said rain but they’re wrong so often…?”  In our home lives and our business lives, we need to feel as connected as possible to what we think is so — the concrete of existence: what “is”.  That leaves our “spiritual lives”.  How do we approach the question of “is” in this less certain realm?

Some of us go for all the information we can handle.  I’m a string theory guy myself — at least I think I am; I may not grasp its mathematical nuances and complexities but there’s something satisfying about its core logic — as I understand it.  It’s not necessarily a given that the Universe works in a way we can easily comprehend.  I guess that “mystery” becomes “God” in other peoples’ minds.

And that cuts right to the chase: how do you explain the nuts & bolts of the universe?  Do you choose astrophysics or faith?  Do you trust math or do you trust wonder?

Even the astrophysicist will get to a place where her equation doesn’t quite balance.  Something is missing.  Dark matter perhaps?  The astrophysicist will suggest one or two theories based on what she does know and then, if she’s any good as an astrophysicist, she’ll say: “I don’t know.  Yet.”  It’s the “yet” that really matters.  As an answer to a question, it’s a blank space.

The other path — faith — couldn’t care less about science.  It’s got its own story to tell.  A story that looks a lot like reality but isn’t bound by it.  To explain the “I don’t know yet’s” it doesn’t worry about proof or evidence, it’s perfectly happy to accept MAGIC as an explanation: “Let there be light”.

The biggest mystery that faith tries to answer — it’s the draw, really, for most people: what happens after we die?  Aside from physical rot, science offers nothing; not a jot of hope.  Faith offers nothing but HOPE.  Faith offers an “Afterlife” where you get to live a better version of your current life, surrounded by all your loved ones in a lovely place that you’ll get to be in forever!  Sounds awesome!  Sounds phony, too.

Faith can’t offer postcard views of this after life. The can’t point to all the great ratings on Yelp.  No one, as yet, has sent back any sort of verifiable communications from The Undiscovered Country.  It’s a head-scratcher, isn’t it?  But, in fairness, it’s the biggest “I don’t know” we have.  Well, it’s the one with the most emotional baggage.  It’s the one where the answer — the REAL answer — we’re not going to like it.  So we invent a better one — one that assuages the terror of knowing that the very fact of “being” is all any of us has.  When that’s taken from us — the fact of our “being” — we’re done.

Our terror is justified.  But the part where we make up a kinder, gentler story to make us feel better — that’s bullshit. We’re making it up.  Doesn’t matter why.  We’re MAKING IT UP.

Let’s zoom in a little closer to quotidian life.  Set aside, for a moment, what’s true and what isn’t.  We humans live in complex, stratified societies built on a myriad of rules, laws and habits.  Some things we’ve done a certain way for so long that we assume it’s as permanent a thing as a mountain.  A weekend, for instance.

We all look forward to our weekends, right?  We need them.  Without them, we’d go bonkers.  We’d work ourselves to death.  Good thing we invented weekends to solve that problem.  Weekends are a human fiction.  They don’t exist in time.  They’re an invention — that we made up to frame time off from work.

Work, too, is something we made up.  We do it, most of us, to afford living.  We work to get the money we need to pay rent or mortgage and all our other financial obligations (it’s complicated and expensive living in a complex society).  We need more money!  Money, of course, is a made-up thing.  Humans invented money because bartering in a complex society is hard.  How many unstopped toilets should the plumber charge to get a pound of ground meat?

Humans invented Democracy as a way for people to govern themselves (in theory) — without a king or ruler.  American humans invented a Constitution to guide that self-governance. They made it all up.  Before they did — it “wasn’t”.  Ever since this country’s founders did invent Democracy though — it’s fallen on those who’ve followed to maintain this invention — making it better (by amending it) as needed.

Law, too, is a fiction.  It’s a vital fiction — but it’s a fiction we all agree to go along with.

At least, that’s the theory — that we’ll all go along with the same fiction — follow the same rules — and agree to be constrained by the same laws.  Constrained from doing harm to other people, that is.  Experience continues to teach and re-teach us: a certain percentage of human beings are outright rat bastards.  They can’t be trusted to maintain the fiction. They think or act like the fiction doesn’t apply to them.

They’re criminals.

Right now, as we stand here today, the United States of America is in the hands of criminals.  For real.  Criminals have seized control of our Ship Of State.  But not just criminals — traitors.  The very worst kind of criminal.  Donald Trump and the Republican Party have placed themselves squarely outside the rules (made-up as they are) that the rest of us live by.

That has to stop.

But how?  How do you stop someone operating outside the rules while you’re constrained by them?

The quickest way — We admit to ourselves that we’re living inside made-up rules.  We agree that we want to continue living under these rules.  If that’s so then we agree to reconsider the rules in the context of criminal behavior bent on destroying those rules. We don’t have to be led to our own political slaughter just cos the rules we invented say we have to.

That is utter bullshit. And all we have to do is “confess”: we’re making it all up as we go along.

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True Fact: I’m An Atheist Who Loves Churches

I’m always fond of saying (or selling t-shirts that say) “I am grateful to Hebrew School for making me the atheist I am today” (the t-shirts also have “…grateful to Sunday School…” & “…grateful to Sunday School…” versions because I’m all about being inclusive).

I have always been grateful to Hebrew School

I suspect I was born an atheist but whatever lingering doubts I might have had as to atheism’s core truths were quickly tidied up by my religious education.  I attended Hebrew School in one form or another for 8 years.  I was bar mitzvah-ed.  In fact, I was so good at doing the “bar mitzvah song & dance” that the synagogue my family belonged to invited me — at age 14 — to recite torah portions several times.  I was fully immersed in my religion’s ooga-booga — the “conservative” (as opposed to reform or orthodox) version that held onto traditions like the orthodox but didn’t quite turn the synagogue service into a  wannabe church service like the reform temples did.

Mind you, I don’t view my religious education with any animosity.  At all.  I mean what I say: I am grateful for that education.  I consider myself a cultural Jew.  I am damned proud of my tribe’s culture.  I have no use for its religion however.  To a large degree, I have Hebrew School to thank for that.

My fascination with Christianity began with being hated by it.  It seemed a natural question for a curious kid to ask: “Ummm, I get that you hate me, but why?  What did I ever do?”  When you get down into the “why”, if you’re honest about the history you’re reading (as opposed to the religious text — one of my Hebrew School teachers, Mr. Hymen, was very clear on that; the Pentateuch is a religious book, not a history book), the whole reason that Christians hate Jews — the “Jews killed Jesus” story — is absolute rubbish.

Quick diversion… It’s a fact: none of texts of the Old or New Testaments magically wrote themselves. People — men most likely — wrote them. Call their inspiration divine, call it gas. Call it whatever. A person thought it up and wrote it down — inspired in whatever way you like.  Jesus did not write a word of the New Testament.  Paul (the former Saul of Tarsus) however did.  The bulk of the NT is Paul — writing to the new, far-flung churches he was creating and instructing on the just-invented rules and mythology of Christianity.  That HE was inventing.

Back in the 1985, American biblical scholar Robert Funk put together a group called The Jesus Seminar. The Seminar’s 150 members focused on the New Testament’s historicity — and what, if any, of a historical Jesus could be drawn from the texts. The Seminar settled on about a dozen-and-a-half of Jesus’ sayings that all the gospels agree on — that Jesus said (versus things the gospel writers — or Paul — put into Jesus’ mouth).

The Jesus that emerged from the Seminar’s work was big into doing unto others. He wasn’t into forming churches.  Why would he be? He was a lifelong Jew who, actually, hated the institution of the Temple because, to Jesus, no one needed a go-between.  The believe could/should go directly to the god character.

Churches exist for the sake of their own existence — like any institution.  Whatever its founding principles, once you get past the abstract, it all comes down to survival.  Churches need money and believers to remain in the church business.  They are motivated first and foremost by the need to continue “being”.

The Catholic church was brilliant — once it created its message — at selling its message.  One of the ways they sold their message was in the way they ultimately imagined their own sanctuaries.  If money permitted, they imagined them BIG.  Big was the point.

These are from inside Notre Dame de Paris — before the fire.  See how enormous the cathedral is vs how small each individual human is?  That’s the point.  To put a single human in his or her place relative to the power and awesome size of the institution and its church.  It’s a not-so-subtle kind of psyche war the church launches against its own believers.

But, I love it.  I adore the use of architecture to create a visceral feeling.  Churches are all about that, of course.  To put you in the right frame of mind to approach the divine.

There’s a church in Venice – San Pantalon. Like lots of the churches in Venice, it’s beautiful. But this one has something quite special — a painting that fills the entire sanctuary ceiling. The painting depicts an opening to heaven — into which all the people and creatures in the painting are being sucked.  It’s as if a portal to heaven had opened directly above the church — and the painting was revealing that fact.

It’s a brilliant affect.

So, yeah — I’m an atheist who likes visiting churches.  I wouldn’t sit too, too still when the magical incantations began, but I do appreciate the artistry of the people who imagined the church then manifested their vision out here in reality.  For what it’s worth, I’m a big museum-goer, too.

Dear Christians: Stop Listening To Paul; Listen to JESUS Instead

It sucks that an atheist has to explain Christianity to Christians. But — the fact is — atheists have a perspective on Christianity that Christians intrinsically lack (and can never get). THIS atheist — having perspective — sees a distinct difference between Jesus (the supposed “inventor” of Christianity and “Christianity” (his supposed “invention”).

Oy. Where to begin…

Back in the 1985, Robert Funk (an American bible scholar) created The Jesus Seminar. Funk wanted to promote “biblical literacy” via a “historical-critical” approach that viewed Christian orthodoxy with extreme doubt. Funk wanted the Seminar (composed of about 50 critical-thinking biblical scholars and 100 lay people) to identify (if they could) and draw out a “historical Jesus” from the texts — a man apart from any mythos. While the Seminar was most active in the 1980’s and 1990’s, its work has continued up to today.

The Jesus Seminar concluded that (this is taken from Wikipedia’s page on the Seminar) —

The seminar also concluded that at best we can put a dozen to a dozen-and-a-half sayings into Jesus’ mouth — as things Jesus might have said (vs the self-referential things he almost certainly did not say because it would never have occurred to him).

That means that, effectively, most of what we think of as Christianity had nothing to do with Jesus — and everything to do with Paul who was the one person hard at work creating far-flung churches (among the goyim) made up of goyim. The overwhelming majority of the NT is Paul communicating with and building his church communities. And he’s mythologizing Jesus as he goes — converting “Historical Jesus” into Christian Church Jesus.

Real Jesus despised the “church” (in his world – the Temple authorities). Jesus’ whole message was “You don’t NEED a church to have a relationship with god”. Since that’s the case (according to the Jesus Seminar), then why on earth would Jesus advocate for the creation of a “church” to speak for him? It’s ludicrous on its surface.

Jesus preached a simple message — that’s why it’s endured. Simple & doable. Why, even a humble atheist can “do unto others” without contradicting themselves.

For “Christ’s sake” — following Jesus is incredibly simple (and rewarding). I bet following a church can’t hold a candle to it.

Sunday Sermon: The Inexplicable Power Of OOGA-BOOGA

I consider myself an aficionado of bullshit. I don’t “like” bullshit — but I do see how pervasive bullshit is. I see (having fallen for it myself to the point of nearly offing myself because of it) — how seductive bullshit is; I see how easily every last one of us can fall under its sway — and become its slaves.

Bullshit captures us and holds us because it appeals to the lazy, irrational, can’t-be-bothered-with-the-Truth lizard brain that epitomizes conservative mind-think. It sees a mystery — and, where the “gaps” are in its knowledge, it puts ooga-booga instead of a simple “I don’t know the answer to that yet”. It assumes magic must be the answer to what it doesn’t know. Ironically — if it waited five minutes (while someone curious went at the answer), they’d LEARN — it isn’t ooga-booga, it’s biology or chemistry or physics or some other natural explanation that simply needed to be stumbled over.

There’s a reason the religions of the world love to educate children — they can break a child’s capacity to think at the get-go and replace analytical thought with acceptance of mythology and ooga-booga. Did Life-As-We-Know-It begin in a singularity — or in the mind of a physically powerful but emotionally fragile deity?

If you don’t have microscopes or telescopes or celestial navigation or calculus or any of the other human innovations that gave us the TOOLS with which to replace ooga-booga explanations with REAL ones — you’ll give in to the ooga-booga because you don’t know any better. “KNOW” is the operative word here.

On this subject — quick side note here — I recommend this remarkable lecture by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Among other things he touches on naming rights (why do so many stars have Arabic names?)

The point of “naming rights” is that it reflects “discovery”. Being the “inventors” of celestial navigation — a human innovation that put a big chunk of ooga-booga to bed — Arabs (having no competition to consider) named the stars they identified — and fixed in the heavens & their mind — in the language they spoke: Arabic. It’s a great lecture — absolutely worth the time to watch. He touches on ooga-booga, too.

As Tyson articulately explains — even the greatest minds in science have given in to that old, (apparently) hard-wired-into-us urge to give in and fill in the gaps in our knowledge with ooga-booga and its bedmate Magical Thinking.

Those of us NOT beholden to ooga-booga must call out the ooga-booga for what it is whenever we see it. Maybe we should use the term “OOGA-BOOGA” to describe it — instead of “bullshit”.

Even calling it “bullshit” gives “ooga-booga” way too much credence.

If America’s Going To Heal Itself, FIRST, It Needs To Ditch The “Magical Thinking”

Believing in Magic is fun. It’s the deus ex machina side door out of anything hard and overly challenging. Like Life.

In the theater, it’s “god from machine” — an ending that doesn’t actually add up or make sense but — it was time.

It’s why religion proliferates still — even in the face of cold, hard facts that contradict it. Cold, hard facts aren’t nice. Facts aren’t in the “nice” businesses. They couldn’t give a rat’s ass whether you “like” them or not. Hell — “You” don’t even exist to them.

Facts just are. They’re a-political. They don’t ascribe to any particular faith. To look at them, and interpret them, you don’t need a church. You need a mind. When you refuse to use your mind, a church will quickly step in and do the thinking for you. But churches don’t base THEIR worldview on the world, they base it on their foundational texts — written kajillions of years ago by well-meaning but uninformed men.

If the scribes who wrote what eventually was assembled into the Pentateuch (the Old Testament) — including Genesis — had known that microbes and pathogens exist (therefore explaining sickness and disease) or that earth was NOT at the center of creation (in fact, we’re nowhere near it’s center — if there even is one), they would NOT have written the texts they wrote. Their texts would have been informed by their knowledge. It’s kinda how knowledge is supposed to work.

Instead of the “Book Of Genesis”, perhaps there’d be the “Book Of String Theory” or “The Book of Quantum Physics”.

If that were the case, there’d BE no Magical Thinking.

America has always been extremely friendly to Magical Thinking though. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that a bunch of offshoot, whackadoodle religions were born here. You can think of Protestantism as an offshoot of Catholicism (and Christianity as an offshoot of Judaism), but what the hell is Scientology an offshoot of — other than Chicanery? At least Mormonism pretends to be an offshoot of Christianity (though it takes Christianity to crazy bullshit places even Paul would have called it “over the line” and “beyond anyone’s capacity to believe it”. I’m sorry — Jesus visited North America? Um, no — if he existed, he most certainly did NOT.

The reason nonsense like Mormonism & Scientology (and a host of other to-silly-to-speak-their-names beliefs) finds purchase here is that Americans have always had a “thing” for Magical Thinking. We believed, for instance, that not outlawing slavery in our foundational document — our Constitution — would work out for us. The Civil War and its aftermath says we got that wrong.

Magical Thinking starts early. We force it on every single kid. Some of it — sure, it’s endurable: fairy tales, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny… But the rest of it is just pure ignorant masquerading as something else. It’s what adults tell kids when they (the adults) don’t know the answer: it must be god. It must be ooga-booga. It must be MAGIC.

No — it’s not Magic. It’s NEVER Magic. Magic does not exist.

If a surgeon or pilot stepped out to say hello before getting down to work — and they said they had decided to forgo science today; instead they’ve placed the outcome of YOUR surgery or YOUR airplane journey in the hands of MAGIC (better hope it works!), I don’t think YOU would want them to continue.

There’s a reason.

Quick side note. I differentiate between “religion” and “spirituality”. I don’t equate spirituality with magic — though the relationship between them is fraught. Spirituality is awe. It’s wonder at what we don’t know yet. I also don’t necessarily equate magic with any religion’s core message — so long as the core message isn’t its magic. Take Jesus, for instance. One can laugh at Magical Thinking all while happily Doing Unto Others. You don’t need the magic to take a little good advice.

This Is A Moment In Time Where Magical Thinking Could Kill Us…

…that is if we follow Magical Thinkers and their bottomless capacity to believe utter nonsense is real. I draw a very clear distinction between ‘spirituality’ and ‘religious faith’ because there IS one. Even a humble atheist can feel a sense of awe as he or she gazes out at the cosmos — feels its vastness and mystery yet his or her own tiny existence as part of it, too. That’s ‘spiritual’. It’s dogma free. It’s the feelings without the bullshit explanation for them.

Religious faith demands a suspension of disbelief from the ground up. Religious faith is an attempt to explain that awe everyone feels (even the atheists) with a story — pulled, let’s be honest, from some person’s ass. Okay — from their imagination. Same difference really. I say that as someone pulling something from my ‘ass’ right here, right now. What I am doing here is no different in its ‘inspiration’ from whatever those scribes felt thousands of years ago when they first began to scribble their thoughts onto parchment.

I’m not entirely sure why Christianity still co-brands with Jesus. The institutional Christian churches long, long ago dispensed with Jesus’ core message: ‘Do Unto Others’. Instead they’ve all taken up variations on a theme — justifications for their own existence & continuation. Jesus didn’t ‘invent’ Christianity. If such an actual human ever existed, he was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew. What he preached was Judaism and nothing but. A counter-institutional brand of Judaism — but Judaism (it so happens most Judaism welcomes those who question).

Paul invented Christianity. Most of the New Testament is Paul setting up the ‘Church’ — its larger community — and its fundamental concepts. Those concepts did not include ‘Do Unto Others’. They included the mythology to justify Jesus (a character more than a person in their minds) as the messiah character described in the Jewish texts – themselves nothing but mythology, the product of human imagination. In the context of stone cold reality — things that actually happened vs things that actually didn’t and never could — Paul was building a sand castle atop a sand castle.

We stand at a moment in History where our ability — as a society and a culture — to discern what is from what isn’t — will determine whether we pull ourselves out of this death spiral or simply fly into the ground — and lose our Democracy and every last bit of ones freedoms. That’s not hyperbole.

As of last night, we became ‘aware’ that the FBI was hip to Donald Trump’s treason when he fired James Comey. They’d had inklings but refused to listen to those inklings. A failure of imagination. And a failure because of Magical Thinking — that it just couldn’t ‘be’. That the FACTS ON THE GROUND couldn’t be ‘facts’. That what WASN’T was ‘truer’ than what WAS.

When Comey was fired — and Trump repeatedly acted in ways that screamed how guilty he was — that, finally, was enough for reality to overcome the ‘walls’ that had been put up around The Truth by Magical Thinking. I hope we all agree that this cannot be our process going forward. We need to see Magical Thinking for what it is: prettified BULLSHIT.

If America is going to pull itself out of this — correct it’s course — and restore itself to its core — enlightened — ideals, we need to do it with our eyes wide open. We need to take the spiritual messages from religion — ‘Do Unto Others’ — and remind ourselves that all the other stuff was written by clever, imaginative men (it was probably all men) who didn’t know anything about the world they lived in beyond what they could see with their naked eyes.

If the men who wrote the foundational texts of any religion had the knowledge (that’s knowledge as opposed to bullshit) available via the internet today, they would have written their foundational texts WITH that knowledge. The core message would have still gotten through, one hopes, but wrapped up in a better-informed knowledge-base of how The World actually operates — and why.

American Culture Has A White-Christian-Male Bias & It Needs To Go

How many guilty Catholic priests does it take to screw in a light bulb?  Better question — How many guilty Catholic priests (guilty of SCREWING children) does it take before a Culture opens its damned eyes?

That blind spot isn’t the Catholic Church’s alone.  The man who sexually assaulted me worked for a synagogue.  Jews do it too.  And Protestants and Muslims.  I suspect other religions do it, too but I’m not too well-versed in their cultures; I know from Abrahamic religions — they all flow from the same toxic male bias.  The religious elements are all really just ‘overlays’ of male self-aggrandizement.  If you really, really look at them, Abrahamic religions have a nasty habit of making its male believers believe not so much ‘in’ a god as that ‘THEY THEMSELVES’ are gods.

They are not made in Yahweh’s image (Yahweh’s his name, god is his job description), Yahweh is made in theirs.

When you start out — deep down — thinking YOU are ‘the gods’ — and if YOU have control of the Culture (made much easier when you tell everyone that YOU and YOU alone can communicate with ‘the gods’) — things like ‘bias’ just sort of flow naturally.  Like toxic waste from a turd factory.

What we Americans need to grasp is that we begin every conversation or debate about who we are with a heavy bias that distorts our image.  We are NOT that thing the Culture insists we are.  We are not predominantly White-Christian-Male — and never were.

But, when you jealously guard the means to tell stories to the widest possible audience, you risk fooling yourself first and foremost.

White-Christian-Male Culture wants us all to believe their excrement smells like roses.  It doesn’t.  They know better than anyone.

They’ve stacked the deck best they can to keep hold of their Ivory Tower.  Problem is, they’re surrounded — by the rest of us.  We need to overtake them — remove them from their tower and then remove their tower, too.  It all needs to go.

It will start — shortly — with our votes.