DISCOURAGED ? –visit the devil’s yard sale ! [a book review]
Below is my modern mash-up (simply updating pronouns, gender and style) of a parable written by William Rathvon in 1911. The original portrayed an auction, as the devil was “going out of business” — but perhaps that was a bit premature in 1911? — being prior to two world wars. Well, fast-forward to where he’s now holding a weekend yard sale, hoping to cash out before the apocalypse arrives either to snuff or “rapture” his potential buyers; or before Jesus descends from the heavens onto the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (which would disrupt Lucifer’s rummage sale) — so, queue the medias’ search-lights in Jerusalem! ~see Acts1:11. (Note: I consider myself a Judeo-Christian believer – yet only God knows if I qualify – so please recognize that my sarcasm is not directed at Jesus, but rather at some widespread misinterpretations of the Bible.)
Indeed these notions have spilled out of “the churches” — dangerously infecting the general public of western civilization, and beyond. If you believe the end is near, or that your life or human civilization is at risk of becoming dark, or worthless, or even over, be alert! (Belief shapes experience, which, for example, is why BigPharma spends millions doing double-blind experiments, including into placebo-effects about the power of belief.) If belief affects personal physiology, is it too far-fetched for it to affect our social mindset, too? Well, perhaps “the end” is greatly exaggerated? But hey, every life seems to have an end! – or maybe a coda (a “next chapter”)? – or a sequel? — so let us recall that there have been at least five major global extinctions of life across deep history, yet life continues. And now we have “Extinction Rebellion” — young people vigorously resisting a “sixth”. Well, all stories do have an end, so what do YOU believe about “The End”? What story do you occupy, or anticipate?
Clearly the devil has not read Professor Bart Ehrman’s disruptive new book, ARMAGEDDON: What the Bible Really Says About the End — or he wouldn’t be so hasty to liquidate his tools. (Ehrman is a prominent, some might say “infamous”, church historian.) I’m confident the devil doesn’t want you to read a free sample excerpt ! — so, do it anyway ? OK, here’s my modern version of Rathvon’s parable:
THE DEVIL’S YARD SALE
It was recently announced that the devil was holding a weekend yard sale, and would offer his tools for sale to anyone who would pay his price. On the first night of the sale they were all temptingly displayed, and a bad looking lot they were: malice, envy, jealousy, holier-than-thou (a.k.a. “pride” ~see v.16…), hatred, sensuality, deceit, betrayal, and all the other implements of evil were spread out, each marked with its price. As a centerpiece, there lay a harmless looking wedge-shaped tool, much worn and priced higher than any of the others.
From among the crowd, someone asked the devil what it was for. “That’s discouragement,” was the reply.
“Well, why do you have it priced so much higher than all the others?”
“Because,” replied the devil, “it is more useful to me than any of them. With it, I can pry open and get inside anybody’s consciousness, even when I couldn’t get near them with the uglier, more complicated tools; and once inside I can use that person in whatever way I desire. It’s so battered because I use it with nearly everybody, as very few people are aware that it belongs to me.”
“You say you use this wedge-of-discouragement with nearly everybody — with whom are you unable to use it?”
The devil hesitated a long time and finally said in a low voice, “I can’t use it to get into the consciousness of a grateful person.”
It should be added that the devil’s price for discouragement was so high that it was never sold. He still owns it, and is still eager to use it.
REVIEW quotes of Ehrman’s book:
“Vigilantly persuasive.” —The Washington Post
“Lucid and compelling.” —Library Journal (Starred Review)
“Ambitious.” —Publishers Weekly
“Well-argued [and] certain-to-be-controversial.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Ehrman is always highly readable… posing thought-provoking questions about what readers believe and how those beliefs affect their actions. Lots to ponder here. –Booklist
A SHORT STAGE-PLAY FOR SCHOOLS, CHURCHES, RECOVERY GROUPS
Rights to this stage play are granted to anyone who wishes to perform it. Please credit MeridaGOround.com
PREMISE : : (NAOMI’s TRUE STORY)
Self-awareness: In her childhood, Naomi had delighted in her father’s enjoyment of worship, wishing she could become a rabbi someday, which was impossible for anyone of her gender (at that time). She is devastated at age 15 when her father is murdered by an armed robber on a Brooklyn sidewalk
Thematic situation: She becomes numb inside, isolating herself from her soul, rejecting any thoughts of the divine for several years. She can’t discuss her pain with anyone.
Mystery and irony: She focuses on her studies, deeply immersing herself in literature especially, and wins a scholarship, eventually reading about suffering and struggle in the works of great authors.
Inciting event: In college she is haunted by “a presence” of her late father. She avoids any thoughts of “God”, whom she secretly blames without admitting it to herself.
Opposition: She struggles with her mental health while resisting thoughts of the divine.
Battle and defeat: Admitting to herself that she has a problem needing outside help, she finally decides to discuss her pain with her literature professor, rather than a spiritual counselor or a medical practitioner.
Self revelation: She accepts her professor’s suggestion to write about reconnecting with her soul. This recovery plan delivers profound healing, inspiring her in her studies, helping her to graduate with top honors. It eventually becomes a major theme of her professional life.
New equilibrium: Naomi learns that she can become a rabbi, after a rule change. As a new rabbi, while preparing for group-study on the topic of “recovery of soul”, she encounters a letter written by Albert Einstein to “a grieving father who has lost a child.” She recognizes a kindred sufferer, and pursues that person’s story relentlessly, discovering a universal application, blessing many people with its utility in a powerful nondenominational way, which is today visible online. <END OF PREMISE>
INHABITING MY STORY, My Soul
Adapted for stage from a true account of recovery from great loss
[Set] A narrator’s lectern, two chairs, desk, laptop
[Characters] Naomi, a college student
Dr. Berk, Naomi’s literature professor
Narrator [reserved seat in front row]
Albert Einstein [optional character, could read his own quotes]
[Naomi enters Berk’s office, dressed in black] Professor Berk, thanks for making time to see me.
[Berk, already seated on stage] You’re one of our top students, Naomi. Of course I’d make time. Have a seat. How can I help you?
[Naomi] Maybe I’m losing my mind. I feel like I’m being followed, professor …
[Berk, interrupting] Have you reported this to campus police?
[Naomi] No, I haven’t. This “stalker” is my late father. I’m so confused. Maybe I need to be medicated? His presence is following me everywhere!
[Berk] Naomi, let’s avoid a ghost story, and let’s also delay tinkering with brain chemistry for now. Think carefully, as what you’re experiencing might be a gift.
[Naomi] Such a gift? — or such a heavy burden?
[Berk] The choice hinges on your interpretation. Let’s reflect on some of what we’ve covered in class, with Hamlet, with Wuthering Heights, and writings by Gabriel García Márquez. Can we sense the heartbeat of creation right now, by becoming attuned to mystery, embracing life’s magic instead of needing to control it? You have choices: you can believe life is tragic, followed by oblivion; or believe that we’re here to improve community, making a better world. I want to encourage you to give yourself a creative writing assignment about the soul of your father. Now, please tell me about him.
[Naomi] OK, yes. Well, he wanted to be a teacher, but when he came home from World War Two, I’m told that his father persuaded him to take over the family business, which he eventually did, reluctantly. Later, I noticed he was happiest on weekends, going to temple, telling me Bible stories at bedtime, and singing psalms with me. He inspired me as a child — resulting in me always wanting to become a rabbi when I grew up — which admittedly is a dream not allowed for women. But when I was 15, he was murdered by an armed robber on a Brooklyn sidewalk one evening while out walking with my mother. My faith was frozen-numb that day. I was not able to discuss this trauma in any depth, not with my mother, not my school mates, not anyone. I couldn’t even pray, as I was deeply disappointed with the divine. And now this “haunting”. I’m weak and weary, Dr Berk.
[Berk] Dear, dear Naomi, I’m so sorry for this hard news. But clearly you still have a depth of feeling and thinking, perhaps –my sense– given to you by your father. The papers you’ve written and the questions you’ve asked in class tell me much about you both. You come from a tradition of the great prophets — of Abraham and Moses and Deborah and Samuel — and they were all touched by a Presence, too. You’re not losing your mind, Naomi. You’re encountering your soul — and your father’s soul, as well. Invite his memory in. Study with his soul. Continue to learn from him. And please write about this learning for your own mental health and development.
Perhaps your inability to discuss the event with those close to you is due to the magnitude of this universal question: why is there suffering? But be alert about asking a flabby question, such as why two plus two is not five. (The ancient Greeks saw that truth is that which is not a lie. ) Instead of being distracted by whether mistakes in arithmetic are good or evil, I suggest seeing problems as basic opportunities to learn. (Please know that I’m not diminishing your challenging situation!).
Now I’ll make a few suggestions of reading selections which might help, while trying to avoid meddling in your faith tradition. But we will need to consider literary and textual criticism, so be forewarned that reading between the lines, asking hard questions of the Bible text, will be vital. Literalism is a thorny problem. Our own interpretation is central. Listening for insight is key. Good readers such as yourself might be offended by this first famous title: How to Read a Book. Well, don’t be! Instead, be brave to question the text, which has been re-assembled from thousands of fragments. And we don’t even have the originals! So reading between the lines is listening to the ages, questing for guidance and meaning. Next, the Book of Job, where God and the adversary, often called satan (the accuser, in biblical Hebrew), made a bet about whether satan can get Job, a man known to both parties as perfect and upright, to curse God to his face, without killing him, all of which seems an effort to explain why bad stuff happens to good people. Eventually God bluntly tells Job in chapter 32, initially thru the words of a young neighbor named Elihu, that God alone is an utterly Awesome Being, and Job has no right whatsoever to question. Do you see what I mean about reading between the lines, Naomi ? — What? — we can’t even ask why people suffer? Let’s not read this account literally, especially considering that the name, Job, means “hated” in the original ancient language. Ask yourself: who would name their child Hated ? I would argue that this is an allegory instead of a history. Next then, contrast Job’s experience over-against the outlook of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher (translated as the Philosopher, in one version), where life is fleeting — but should be enjoyed. And then, the Story of Joseph — [ unspoken note: chapters 37-50, but 38 can be skipped as it as another story entirely ] — as Joseph’s story is about severe difficulties happening to him, to enable a providence of divine blessings. Joseph’s jealous elder brothers sell him to slavers, but God ultimately meant it for good, moving him into a powerful position to rescue a vast population. Fast forward now, Naomi. IF you’re inclined, you could continue to unpack the problem of suffering by exploring writings by Gottfried Leibniz, who coined the word theodicy to defend God against charges of being unjust or indifferent or impotent. He suggested that we live in the “best of all possible worlds.” And then you could consider a satire by one of his contemporaries, Voltaire, who wrote Candide, about a huge historical tsunami which actually demolished the city of Lisbon one Sunday morning in 1755, during the very hour of prayer, killing thousands who were at church, as well as those who stayed away.
There’s a deep mystery here to bless you, if we will have it. Like Jacob wrestling fiercely with someone in a dream where he’s given a new name, Israel, meaning — God’s-in-charge — Naomi, don’t let go until you get the angel-messenger’s blessing. Wrestle to learn! God is the Teacher!
[Naomi] You seem to be a person of faith, Dr Berk. Of what denomination?
[Berk] Denominations imply division, Naomi. I’m of a maturity by now which avoids such positions as being of minor significance. Reading is my ongoing act of devotion. Reading feeds my spiritual appetite, my soul. But “what to read” is a weighty question.
[Berk exits, excusing himself]
[Naomi opens her laptop, then swivels in her chair to address the audience.]
[Naomi] Dr Berk’s intervention awakened me from feeling abandoned and adrift. While I had plenty of self-doubt about my purpose and potential, I began to glimpse applications of what I was learning about human struggle, and was able to regain my own balance. Soon I found opportunity to help a college classmate recover from a painful loss of love, helping her revive from despair of a broken heart, including thoughts of suicide. And I was soon able to touch other lives with gentle words of encouragement and inspiration. I realized that I could share insight without needing “credentials” as a therapist or clergy member. Most importantly, I felt whole again, and saw a future calling to help others, which was very satisfying. I was awakening about the same time as my religious culture to the value of women as benefactors and healers of society. My ability to pray returned naturally. [Naomi busies herself at the desk]
[Narrator, rises to lectern from front row of audience to speak] : Naomi has been much comforted by Dr Berk’s wise counsel, accepting his suggestion of a self-assigned writing project, pressing ahead with her studies. He has helped her immensely to re-focus. Then, in her senior year of college, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York decides to admit women. From Cornell, she graduates Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude, and enters that first seminary class, graduating and thus fulfilling her dream of becoming a rabbi. After all, the concepts of wholeness, holiness, and health derive from the same root-word. And thus she grows to realize that a central part of her future ministry will be in helping people reconnect with their soul.
[Naomi stands, >>> the Narrator drapes Naomi in a prayer shawl ]
[Naomi sits back at the desk to work at her laptop.]
[Narrator] Soon Rabbi Naomi, while researching a topic for group discussion, comes upon a letter from Albert Einstein replying to a little-known doctor in 1950: to “a grieving father who had lost a child”, to whom the famous scientist writes:
[Einstein ?] A human being is part of a whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself and his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. [Pause]
[Narrator — as Naomi types on laptop, in background] Naomi finds ample evidence of Einstein’s letter, but, beyond the doctor’s name, nothing more. Then, after much archival digging, she discovers the man was not a medical doctor, but rather, a lawyer, and a rabbi, and a military chaplain. She’s gripped by his story, as she feels a kinship with his pain and loss. And she’s impelled to locate more details, traveling far and wide in that effort. [Narrator sits]
[Naomi stands at lectern, holding a document] Rabbi / Chaplain / Captain Robert S. Marcus of the 9th Tactical Air Unit, was highly decorated for his service on the beaches of Normandy, France; and as a liberator of the concentration camp at Buchenwald, Germany, where he rescued 904 Jewish children, eventually finding passage to safety for them. These children became his personal mission. He took it upon himself to become their father, their mother, their rabbi, their teacher, their advocate. One of the boys he rescued eventually became an author and a Nobel laureate, named Elie Wiesel.
Later, sadly, Rabbi Marcus, while aboard a ship in the Atlantic, learns that his own firstborn son Jay, age 11, has polio. Marcus arrives too late even to say goodbye. [PAUSE] In his grief he writes to Professor Einstein for insight. // Eleven months after losing his son, Rabbi Marcus dies of a heart attack, at age 41. [PAUSE]. [Naomi sits]
[Narrator rises] Please wait. This story is not shared as tragedy. Yes, tragically, one man rescues 904 children but losses his own son, most dear. Yet perhaps there is joy ahead — discernible in a truly hard saying by another rabbi, Rabbi Sha-ul, later known as St Paul: “Always be joyful. Pray continually, and give thanks whatever happens.” [Unspoken: : 1Thes5 ncv ; see also Psalm 100.] . . .
But is it even possible to be grateful after the death of a child? [pause] Personally, I must argue yes. I lost a younger brother to a drunk driver while he rode his bicycle home from work. He was only 19. [pause] I’m grateful to my parents for their stability and example; I’m grateful to have known him; I confess that I’m grateful he was dead-on-arrival. And I’m grateful for this lesson: that drunk driving is like a guest pissing on the carpet of our home, on our social fabric — a lesson I needed, and respect. We’re all guests here, after-all ! // >>>Narrator sits].
[Naomi, stands w/document] I looked at length for Rabbi Marcus’s letter seeking insight from Einstein, in the professor’s archives and elsewhere, without results. After learning of the rabbi’s early death I felt that I could now let go of him, but I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I kept Einstein’s letter to Rabbi Marcus taped to my desk, meditating over Einstein’s words, daily.
In just a few sentences, without using the word “soul,” he describes an eternal life in the here and now of Wherever-land, a life of which we are nearly blind – yet it’s the only life we are sure of. Einstein believed we have the power to free ourselves from the delusion that we are entities separated from the ongoing whole — instead, we’re woven together as strands in a beautiful tapestry — a single organism!
But hey — Einstein was often termed an atheist by many Jews and Christians — a charge he vigorously and frequently denies, stating that while he didn’t believe in a personal God (viewing such a position as childlike) … [EDIT ? / see footnotes] … he repeatedly stated:
[Einstein ?] I am not an Atheist. [. . . ] I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being. [. . .] In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.
[Naomi concludes] Every once in awhile we catch a glimpse of this oneness that not only surrounds us but flows through us. The key to detecting that unity, I believe, centers on sharpening our spiritual attitude, and seeking our destiny, which is our assignment: to encounter our own soul — and, to recognize the souls of others.
If the mission of what Einstein called “true religion” is to help us see the underlying oneness of all things, then as a rabbi, I consider it my mission to spread the word about a faith that can unite all people of all religions and races — a meta-religion of universal connectedness, a unity which holds us all together.
To that end, while still conducting worship for my Jewish congregation, I started a study group which is open to people of all faiths, (and none). You can find it meeting in a Presbyterian building in Los Angeles, and online. It’s there for you to help you encounter your own soul. I’ve named that group Nashuva, a Hebrew word meaning return. But however you encounter your soul, may you be blessed in that pursuit, by that reunion.
Within us all, this soul-force is guiding and teaching us to experience the oneness which Einstein so beautifully described. We ignore it at our pain and peril ! Yes, meeting our soul can transform our lives, and our world. Blessings can be ours today, if we will have them! Amen.
Adapted for stage by MeridaGOround, from : EINSTEIN and the RABBI, by Naomi Levy
Einstein source (entry#5, of 12): https://www.learnreligions.com/albert-einstein-quotes-on-a-personal-god-249856
“I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.” Albert Einstein to Guy H. Raner Jr., Sept. 28, 1949, quoted by Michael R. Gilmore in Skeptic magazine, Vol. 5, No. 2.
Einstein source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_and_philosophical_views_of_Albert_Einstein
This firm belief, a belief bound up with a deep feeling, in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God. In common parlance this may be described as “pantheistic” (Spinoza). Agnosticism and atheism. Einstein said people can call him an agnostic rather than an atheist, stating: “I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal god is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.” In an interview published by the German poet George Sylvester Viereck, Einstein stated, “I am not an Atheist.” According to Prince Hubertus, Einstein said :””source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_and_philosophical_views_of_Albert_Einstein
: : TaxMan, SuperHero : :
Screenplay Premise : : A LOST WORLD : God Gets Another Do-over
The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is presently a deep and wide trend in society, identifying itself as “spiritual, not religious”. From a marketing standpoint the idea below could have legs, as it speaks both to “end times” and/or “climate disaster” while also addressing spiritual hunger while countering literalism and “originalism” – neither of which is very defensible among thinking viewers. We are at a tipping point, and perhaps on the cusp of disaster. This could be a great adventure! (The stories we internalize shape our reality.)
A LOST WORLD: God Gets Another Do-over Reference, video > Plato’s Atlantis, In Our Time. [BBC, on YouTube, 22 Sept.2022] Reference, film > On the Beach w/Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire. 1964. NOTE: the film is available on youtube, but sound quality is poor, and CGI-subtitles are flawed, yet hilarious. (The film is “post WW3”.) Reference, book > How Jesus Became God. (Bart Ehrman)
Preface Humankind are better creatures than we have imagined. We’ve been lied to by our institutions — religions, politics, economics — insisting that humans are “fallen sinners” and that “greed is good”. ¿Can original innocence become guilty? ¿Guilty of what? — maybe nothing more than gullibility, over-reacting to apparent adversity, or loneliness. The future of humanity will depend on a critical mass of “me’s” awakening to a desire of becoming “my best self”, while helping our neighbors along the way.
DEEP WEAKNESS of main character:
Argus Maragos, — a Greek fishing boat captain, who privately disagrees with his pastor, Pete, about how to read the Bible, but has avoided speaking out — while steaming to home port one day, is suddenly hurled onto a nearby reef just beyond the harbor, in a cataclysmic event, a perfect storm, which instantly wipes out virtually all global communication/information services, blinding all reports of what has happened. (Morse code is the only remaining outreach, for those few who have electricity, gear, and know-how.)
Was it a nuclear exchange, an asteroid strike, a solar pulse (coronal mass ejection), or a supervolcano, like Toba in Sumatra, or WahWah Springs in Utah; or maybe alien killer-robots?
The survivors among his crew and those at his church, some of whom think that Argus may be onto something, debate among themselves about what happened and how to survive in a suddenly low-tech world, with very differing outlooks.
Captain Argus reads between the lines of scripture, while Pastor Pete insists on the literal Word of God (in King James English, only), both seeking preservation of community (or control of other people), setting them at odds in their dramatic quests.
PLAN of the Main character to OVERCOME ALL OPPOSITION:
Captain Argus is convinced that the wisdom of the ages that’s contained between the lines of scripture will deliver his growing crew of survivors, supporters, and fellow worshippers, so he needs to demonstrate that his outlook has enough merit to defeat the rigid literalist approaches, using compelling logic [from “Logos”— a word which derives from principle/reasonableness, rather than from Latin for person – “mask”, which in Greek is the source of our English word for hypocrite: actor, “mask wearer” a theatrical term ] — to assert that that old superstitious way of reading scripture is tragically flawed, controlling, and manipulative.
BATTLE This is the CLIMATIC SCENE just before the APPARENT DEFEAT:
Argus is excommunicated from his faith-community as a heretic, for blasphemy, and for denouncing preaching that insists that God is wrathful toward sinners and apostates, instead of being merciful and redemptive. Then there went up a mist; but soon a rainbow arched across the heavens.
SELF REVELATION Here the HERO adjusts the PLAN.
Deep private dialog within himself, in sweaty prayer [in voice-over, lips not moving] similar to Abraham negotiating with God (see Gen.18 v.20-end) hoping to save people about to perish wholesale (reminiscent of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah) in which Captain Argus sees God’s mercy demonstrated in a way that eventually will regenerate community, with focus of them rebuilding their seafaring way of life on the coast. Argus had avoided unpleasantness at church, but he now has deep dramatic need to expose the political pronouncement that “Jesus is God”, as declared by Emperor Constantine, who wasn’t even a Christian until many decades later, when he professed while on his deathbed. (Argus asks “How can a son be the Father of All Life?”.) In 325, at the Council of Nicea, Constantine traded recognition of Christians as loyal Roman citizens, for their loyalty to the empire — a devil’s bargain which largely contaminated the church. Ever since, preachers everywhere are taught not to touch this “settled doctrine” lest they lose their jobs.
ADJUSTMENT Argus resolves to build an old-style sailing vessel to explore whatever remains of the world. He now has 12 disciples ready to study with him and work on this project, one of whom is a spy. (He does not view himself as a modern messiah, but simply a realist with metaphysical leanings and spiritual appetite for truth.)
At first they build a few out-rigger canoes for localized fishing, and then a sea-worthy sailing vessel in which to look for other survivors and trading partners — in the tradition of Argos, the ancient shipbuilder who outfitted the original “Argonauts”. [Gus’ surname in Greek means “carpenter” // Jesus was said to be the son of a “carpenter” although the Greek word tekton means builder, or stone mason.] Ultimately Gus demonstrates that literalism misleads, while truth reveals itself to be “that which is not a lie” — a classic “definition” of something impossible to define.
Statutory copyright is claimed for this entry, by the owner of this site, MeridaGOround.
Some casual musings on casting, in no particular order:
PHILOSOPHY & GARDENING : ADAM’s Mum & EVE’s Papá
Historian Yuval Noah Harari has said : my most central idea is simple. It’s the primacy of fictions, that to understand the world you need to take stories seriously. The story in which you believe shapes the society that you create. ~ from NYTimes interview, with David Marchese, Nov 7, 2021
Philosopher David Hume imagined an adult Adam opening his eyes in the garden, having no experience upon which to base any perceptions. (Blink!) Adam can conclude nothing. But interpretation is everything. How to proceed? How to process the story of humanity born into Nature’s reality?
The bully-world preaches “us versus them” — insiders, and outsiders — our tribe, and all those other folks. Yet a longstanding “minority” position is that we humans are all ONE. Einstein reflected upon this:
A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind. (quoted from p.13, EINSTEIN and the RABBI, by Naomi Levy.)
We can hold to this, in part, because one is the only real number — everything else is fractions, and factions. Yet humanity is a rainbow of colors all streaming light — but only if we will allow ourselves to sample, to refract and behold them. However there is often tension between interpretation of stories, and reality.
We all arrive here like Adam or Eve, genderless initially; innocent according to some; or guilty of the sins of our ancestors according to others — attempting to fathom the story we’re awakening into — asking ourselves: “are we awake yet, or is this still dreamland?” Big questions pose themselves : what is consciousness? what is real? who am I? who, these others? who’s narrating? am I inventing everything on the fly? Is it too late to sleep-in today?
Who are you?
Since my own arrival in this global theater many decades ago, I have favored a minority position (along with Carroll’s Alice) — that the world is not what it seems – which is to say not “fallen” – but perhaps reality is merely distorted in a fractured mirror. So often, so many of us are persuaded that the senses reign, reporting all there is to be known – that it’s all a hot mess, with nature being indifferent to our plight. And so the questions persist as the story unfolds: What is allegory? What is apocalypse (revelation) ? How are we to read this story? Are we willing to do our own thinking, or should we allow an authority figure to tell us what is “settled” dogma, the majority view — “it’s true because they said so”. Well, curb that dogma!
Every culture has a creation myth. With an open mind, let’s now revisit two famous creation stories which are prominent in modern western society, favoring neither, curiously questing for truth: a science story (Darwin, mostly); and a religion story (Adam & Eve).
The religion story is older, so we’ll look there first. The word myth regarding Adam and Eve might find you preparing to decamp, but please stay. Rest assured that I don’t intend to damage anyone’s faith, instead seeking grounding on reason, with some help from the Bible.
Creation myths began in pre-history, and were forms of both philosophy and entertainment, shared around the campfire at night, after we invented language. They ask how the world came about – but especially, why bad stuff happens, like: why did a tiger eat little Gorq – stuff which is a theme of the Garden-of-Eden story, proceeding to the first murder, in chapter 4.
A Tiger is coming by Kenn Amdahl
A tiger is coming, I don’t know his name
But he moves like a shadow at dusk.
He waits with the sureness of death for his claim
In the stillness of spice trees and musk.
A tiger is coming , I’ve not seen his face
But I’ve heard the grass sigh in his wake.
There is no philosophy in his cold eyes
And his fangs leave no room for mistake.
The tiger who comes, I can’t say who he loves
But he whispers a name to the moon.
His muscles ripple like silk when he turns —
Yes, a tiger is coming here soon.
Source: The Wordguise Alembic, Volume One (fair use)
In ages past, a philosopher named Leibniz, in an attempt to defend God against charges of either indifference or impotence, named such bad stuff theodicy, and he advanced a view that claimed that our world is the best of all possible worlds. Another philosopher, Voltaire, (their lives overlapped; Volatire was 50-years his junior) wrote a satirical-fictional account titled Candide, after a huge, nonfictional tsunami hit Lisbon, Portugal, during the very hour of prayer one Sunday morning in 1755, killing thousands, in church and out. Bad stuff!
The account of Adam and Eve, from Genesis 2:6 – thru chapter 4, was an effort to explain such bad stuff thousands of years earlier. But many of us have been told by parents or clergy that this second account of creation is literal – and that the entire Bible is historically true. (Einstein once said that just because you believe in something doesn’t make it true.) Ironically, those who read their Bibles as history may not have noticed that there are two distinct creation stories present.
Genesis 1 sets forth a radical account of creation in which God (Elohim, plural in Hebrew, remembering that the Bible was not written in English) — God spoke everything into being – a spiritual creation, an ideal, without dust-infused people – where humankind had dominion over all the creatures, and “behold it was very good”.
Genesis 2 (v.6 and beyond) is quite different, so both accounts can’t be true, as they are contrary to each other, yet many readers conflate them into a single story. But they were each written at different times and places, set down from oral tradition by different human authors with different writing styles. How do we know? By using a powerful tool which we’ve come to call rationality, or logic (narrowly termed biblical criticism in this case.) Let’s ask ourselves this: When God said Let there be light (1:3) – how could there be light on Earth before there is sun, moon, or stars (as in 1:14)? Or, from chapter 2, comparatively: how could humans arrive before plants, animals and rain? In this second story we encounter a different name, LORD GOD, (Jehovah, “the existing one”). Wait, I thought the Creator’s name was Elohim! (More on such topics later.)
Some of these same readers seem quick to blame woman (see 3:20 – Eve; life; life-giver; mother of life) for eating and sharing “the apple”. Well, go have a look for an apple in that story. Read carefully. Ain’t no apple! (If this be you, you’ve swallowed stem, core and seeds of a cultural fruit.) If, as a result you feel duped by religious culture, don’t walk away. Instead, let’s ask ourselves about the story’s utility. The human mind seems always to want to blame somebody; and if it can’t blame woman, then it blames God who gave me this woman. After all, in the second version of the story God gives lonely Adam a little piece of Adam’s own self! Well, what can we gain from such a story, rather than rejecting it outright? Surely it has instructive purpose or it wouldn’t have lasted this long.
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Perhaps you’ve heard of modus operandi from reading Sherlock Holmes or watching police shows, in which carefully detected habits of mind are often key to solving mysteries. Couldn’t this second creation account be there to help us understand the behavior of the human mind? — to catch it in the act of deception or lazy habit?
You may have heard of an old film Inherit the Wind, about the Scopes Monkey Trial, documenting a quest to prevent discussion of evolution in public schools — based upon an actual court case in which science does battle with religious sentiments. (There is also an episode of The Simpsons, titled The Monkey Suit about this event.) How will we ever understand life if we unreasonably restrict discussion of ideas in public education? If education has become “what to think” instead of “how to think” — our society is in deep trouble.
Did you know that Hitler took over national funding of German churches by the state shortly after he rose to power? See STRANGE GLORY: Bonhoeffer, by Charles Marsh. Did you know that “scientific atheism” was the official religion of the Soviet Union, enshrined in their constitution? It could be argued that in the USA we have an analog to the Soviet position, redlining discussion of intelligent design in our schools, ruling it an intrusion of religion into education. This asserts a junk argument not unlike the Soviets. Let me explain:
Our First Amendment was created to protect the state from the church, and the church from the state. It’s a brilliant balancing act which has been eroded and is now under attack, because strident people on both sides of our creation myths have become warriors over words, over stories, and have rejected rational approaches. (Can you hear the sound of jackboots marching today, wanting to tear down that wall of separation?) But the jackboot could be on the other foot, if separation of church and state is lost. Yes, prohibiting discussion of origin-of-life evidence in biology class is anti-scientific, and anti-philosophical, which is to say anti-educational. The study of origin-of-life has nothing to do with religion. It’s a scientific inquiry. But a lower court has decided otherwise, (see Dover School District case).
What do you think you know about “Intelligent Design”? Many have heard that a court decided ID was an attempt to import religion into biology class. (The actual decision declared that students could not even be told there was a book in the school library about intelligent design.) But was the judge’s finding that ID was “not science” a valid finding? (Turns out that many scientists have been rabidly against ID research, and the deck had been stacked in the Dover school board decision by such biased scientists and lawyers.) Earlier, a highly-regarded biophysics professor, Dean Kenyon, was removed from teaching freshman biology at San Francisco State, for his position on ID. (His assignment was restored later by a faculty vote of 25-8, all biologist colleagues voting against him.) What gives? Is ID a scientific inquiry, or not?
Ideas on design and evolution, in my view, have been wrongly red-lined by courts — but science has some “storied” issues of its own on this topic. Apparently there’s been some major fakery of evidence in the past (eg: Ernst Haeckel’s Embryos), thumbing the scale in favor of a case for evolution — chance, over intelligent design.
But let’s be very careful that we not conflate ID with “young-earth creationism” as so many journalists have done with a knee-jerk examination of cursory sources. So I’ll cite two sources arguing credibly on behalf of intelligent design — one for the religion crowd, by a former legal journalist who is also a former atheist, now a pastor: THE CASE FOR A CREATOR. And another author with three science degrees, including a PhD (Cambridge U): SIGNATURE IN THE CELL. Both books are science-centric, and well told.
As a retired designer, I may be biased, but I don’t recall ever having seen a design without a designer. I also have a scientific bent, with a deep respect for basic principles, that is, for grounding – for a solid foundation. Most designers start with a plan. Randomness, like evolution, rejects planning, favoring chance. So, how long would you need to shake your box of Lego’s before the Eiffel Tower assembled itself? Well, 13.7 billion years (the age of the known universe) is not enough time. Chance has been debunked by rigorous origin-of-life research – by math. Signature… overrules spontaneous generation thoroughly, establishing that there aren’t sufficient probabilistic resources (time and particles) in the universe to assemble even the simplest of cells. Many of us were told in biology class that life came from “spontaneous generation” – brewed in pond scum or near volcanic vents. Yet there is no evidence for this teaching. Zero! Not scientific!
Einstein once said “make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This is a central aspect of intelligent design, which, ironically can no longer be discussed in American public high school biology classes. Yet discussion is how we learn! And both Michael Behe’s mousetrap-analogy, and the RNA molecule itself, still need their simplest parts.
Could there have been a Divine Design, a Principle that spoke beauty and order into being, roiling the heavens with Life? Or, is chaos a creator? — Sounds like a reasonable discussion to me, especially if hard evidence is lacking for either claim (see “argument from ignorance” in Signature…). Real science proceeds by asking What is the best explanation? Intelligent design can’t be ruled out by baseless arguments claiming spontaneous generation. If we can’t discuss origin-of-life rationally, science education has been snuffed.
Logos, a Greek word from where we get our English word logic, is another word for reason, or principle-of-order. It’s a safe foundation. Yes, logos is also thought by many to be another name for Jesus of Nazareth, see John 1, where it is rendered Word.) But this could be a restrictive assignment for a rich Greek word. And it should be noted that this same Jesus was declared to be God-in-the-flesh by Emperor Constantine three centuries after the crucifixion, to quell a church fight — yet Constantine didn’t become a Christian until decades later, on his death bed — and his political decision has not been challenged by the mainstream church – see Bart Ehrman HOW JESUS BECAME GOD. However, we need not discuss church history in biology class! Origin-of-life is a scientific quest, in a scientific age. Church history is a separate topic, altogether.
If we look at the friction between science and religion raised by Darwin, termed “non-overlapping magisteria” by the late Harvard biologist, Stephen Jay Gould, we will notice some unscientific storytelling, and some flabby logic. What we have here are distinct belief systems — “churches”, if you will. Professor, there is overlap! (It is further complicated by various science disciplines holding forth with differing scientific methods – “doctrines”.) And many scientists are noticeably strident about refusing to even consider the rigor of ID research. (By the way, there is no discussion of the origin of life in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. His book is mostly about changes after life began.) Why is the science community refusing to think about this major question? <end of excerpt> more available.
Thanks for reading this excerpt. Inquiries for the author, by interested publishers, could be left in the comment section – for future private exchanges.
¿¿ DEMOCRACY, or SHARIA ?? — WE CAN’T HAVE BOTH !!
The supreme arrogance of a court, and a public, that pretends to believe in self-rule! Can morality be forced? Unless we are willing to allow for diversity, we will kill democracy. No group will ever completely agree, so society must be able to flex to remain stable. None of us is as smart as all of us! Have we learned nothing from prohibition, from attempting to outlaw alcohol? Jesus himself said “let both [tares and wheat] grow together until the harvest.” (Matt 13).
SIX Catholic jurists should not get to dictate to the entire populace without announcing they have thrown the First Amendment under the bus. (A sixth Catholic justice, Chief John Roberts did not concur completely with the other five, but wrote a separate opinion supporting the demise of Roe v. Wade.) Sonia Sotomayor, a seventh Catholic justice, seems balanced about democracy’s nature, and need for tolerance. The remaining two justices are Jewish. One, Justice Stephen Breyer, has announced his retirement at the end of the court’s term this year. So, seven Catholics; two Jews. (I wish separation of church and state were more highly respected; and believers were more inclined to illustrate their ideals with their lives, rather than by enforcing their ideologies onto others.)
Conclusion: the First Amendment is now dead, and America is a theocracy, ruled by a half dozen Catholic lawyers. Welcome to Banana Republic of America, where the religionista-majority judges do all the driving, and choose the route.
BOOK : : FINDING THE MOTHER TREE, by Suzanne Simard
If you’ve read Richard Power’s OVERSTORY, you will recall a character named Patricia Westerford, who is modeled after this author, Suzanne Simard, a forester who is now a professor. She’s written a brilliant book which is structured like a mystery and a life quest for the holy grail of Nature’s nature — communication between species. In my view, her discovery is worthy of a Nobel prize. Here’s a quote from the book:
We emphasize factions instead of coaltions. In forestry, the theory of dominance is put into practice through weeding, spacing, thinning, and other methods that promote growth of the prized individuals. In agriculture, it provides the rationale for multimillion-dollar pesticide, fertilizer, and genetic programs to promote single high-yield crops instead of diverse fields.
She goes on to tell her account of her own radical research to prove that some forest species communicate and cooperate through fungal networks, rather than competing, as long asserted. She faced a male-dominated culture dedicated to waging chemical warfare against nature, and was able to prove that their methods largely lacked basis or merit. Her research has changed the industry, and the planet.
Her storytelling is lively and gritty, while her vocabulary is a bit lofty at times. But Suzanne Simard‘s victory is sweet, and profound — earth shaking, even.
Amazon book link: FINDING THE MOTHER TREE: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest
For those not inclined to read, here’s an 18-minute TED Talk by her.
INFILTRADAS : : Live Music w/Brunch
A pleasant surprise this morning. We went for breakfast, but wanted to get home before walking got too hot. We heard this group’s first tune. I found a youtube video posted a month ago. But I don’t find a website. (They’re on facebook, which I won’t use.)
2nd-Amendment Crime Against Civil Society
Don’t dismiss this act as that of a sick person. It’s an act of a sick society! As a native Buffalonian, I’m wounded, and ashamed. America is utterly intoxicated — drunk on false “liberty”. Mass shootings are now a daily event in America. The Second Amendment, badly misinterpreted by a right-wing Supreme Court, is now understood to say that individual citizens have a right to own military assault weapons, when in fact the 2nd-A assigns the right to each state’s national guard: “A well regulated militia…”. So where are these “regulations” from Congress on individual gun owners, when Republicans in Congress won’t raise a finger to control toxic gun policy — afraid of the gun lobby, afraid of losing their next election? What have these elected officials done to defend America against gunner-bullies? — Nothing. They’re cowards. They serve themselves. And they deserve to be replaced. A vote for any Republican is a vote for more daily mass-murder. (It’s ironic how Republican legislators, and their jurists, are so passionate about defending the yet unborn, while turning a blind eye to those neighbors who are already living next door.)