On Monday, June 17, 2013, I took part in my first protest. After years of encouraging others to occupy public places and raise their voices, I finally grew a pair and did the unthinkable. I stepped out from behind my laptop and onto the grounds of Halifax Mall, a huge park-like lawn behind the North Carolina General Assembly, along with several hundred, possibly more than 1,000 of my neighbors.
For me, this was a defining moment and a victory over one of my biggest demons – social anxiety. You see, I have an enormous fear of unknown situations, especially those involving large crowds of people. I have my reasons, probably irrational, and maybe someday I’ll write about those, but not now.
The icing on the cake, so to speak, is the fact that I made myself do this thing alone. No one went with me to hold my hand, although I did meet up with a few folks I know via one of the social networks, but the victory over fear was all mine.
I started the day with a project about thirty miles northeast of Raleigh, and figured I’d be there until at least noon (the protest being scheduled to begin at 5pm). I was finished before 10:30, so I decided to just go hang around in the several museums near the General Assembly.
By 3pm I’d toured the entire state history museum and four floors of the natural science facility, and I was getting tired and bored, so, against my better principles I retreated to my truck and sat there for an hour, burning gas, cooling off, and recharging my phone’s battery.
At 4pm I proceeded to the gathering place where a few people were beginning to congregate. I walked over and stood there, alone and anxious until finally my friend Al showed up. A few minutes later we were surrounded by a throng of people. Another acquaintance, Katy Munger, showed up with her table and her interns and proceeded to make me a really nice sign that proclaimed my deep roots in the state, in contradiction to remarks by Republican lawmakers that we protesters were all “outside agitators” bused in from out of state. I suppose since that’s what the Tea Party has to do to build a crowd, they must assume that’s what everyone has to do. Not so.
Finally, my friend James Protzman arrived with his adult daughter in tow. It was her first protest as well, so I was certainly in good company. Maybe next time I’ll cajole my college age daughter to come with me too.
Anyway, here’s how one source reported on the event.
Throngs of demonstrators gathered outside the North Carolina statehouse on Monday, as they have every Monday since April 29th, to engage in the latest chapter in an ongoing showdown between the North Carolinians and their state government in a movement known as Moral Mondays. A clergy-led grassroots movement, Moral Mondays has brought thousands of North Carolinians from all walks of life to the state capitol to pray, protest, and denounce a series of right-wing laws and proposals currently making their way through the state legislature.
The Moral Mondays movement, which is gaining support from five major Christian denominations, was originally spawned as a response to a regressive tax proposal that threatened to cut taxes for North Carolina’s wealthiest 5 percent while also raising taxes on the other 95 percent. But as the movement nears its third month, advocates are expanding their criticisms to include a growing list of extreme bills and laws endorsed by the Republican-dominated state leadership. These proposals, many of which have already passed through the state legislature, would:
– Block the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina
– Institute discriminatory voter ID laws
– Cut preschool for 30,000 children and move $90 million originally slotted for public education to an expanded school voucher program
– Allow for hydraulic fracking in the state.
– Repeal the Racial Justice Act, a 2009 law that allows death row inmates to appeal their conviction if they prove that racial bias played a role in their sentence.
In addition, many of the advocates are expressing concern about proposed budget cuts to state unemployment benefits, which would deprive 70,000 North Carolinians of much-needed assistance if the law is allowed to take effect on June 30th. Over time, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that if the government benefits are allowed to expire, as many as 170,000 people in North Carolina could lose extended federal benefits.
Eighty four protestors were arrested for civil disobedience in Monday’s action. This brings the total number of Moral Monday arrests to more than 480, many of whom are clergy who have never before participated in political activism.
“When laws are most harmful to the most vulnerable, clergy who are committed to a biblical vision of peace and justice ought to start paying attention,” said Rev. Franklin Golden, co-pastor of Durham Presbyterian Church in Durham, NC and a clergy member arrested at the protests.
With both the North Carolina House and Senate governed by conservative Republican majorities, participants in Moral Mondays don’t expect to win many immediate legislative victories through their activism. Instead, activists and their supporters are hoping their prayers and protests will pay dividends at the ballot box in 2014. (source: think progress)
I plan to return next week if possible, and I hope that if you live in North Carolina you’ll make the time to get to a Moral Monday protest as well.
You might want to mark the date on your calendar, because what I’m about to tell you has never happened before, nor is it likely to ever happen again in our lifetimes. On May 22, 2013, Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic church, that skeevy nest of gold hoarding, child molesting… yes, that Roman church, said something that I completely agree with.
During his morning homily, which is the Catholic word for sermon, in case, like me, you happen to be unfamiliar with the term, Pope Francis said words to this effect: “Doing good” is a principle that unites all humanity, beyond the diversity of ideologies and religions, and creates the “culture of encounter” that is the foundation of peace.
Francis went on to say that everyone, including atheists, was saved by Jesus’ sacrifice.
[To]day’s Gospel speaks to us about the disciples who prevented a person from outside their group from doing good. “They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”:
“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”
“Instead,” the Pope continued, “the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil”:
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
“Doing good” the Pope explained, is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty…”
Admittedly, I’ve cut short the remainder of the last sentence above, because the rest of it goes off into theological fairy tales that regular visitors to this space already know I do not believe or accept in any way. Why add to the confusion that this post may already have caused simply because I’m writing it.
Seriously. Who would have ever imagined that one day I would publicly agree with a pope?
Certainly not me! The only part of Christianity that I agree with is that roughly 2,000 years ago, there may have lived a person or persons whose life and works closely resemble the teachings attributed to a Middle Eastern Jewish man named Josh. I do not believe that person was divine, was the son of a deity, had a virgin mother, or raised any persons from the dead, including himself.
I do believe it is probable that one or more persons probably did spread radical political and/or philosophical ideas that eventually gained enough of a following to represent a threat to civic or religious leaders of the day, and that said person(s) was publicly executed and quite possibly became a martyr of local legend, and whose persona and name were eventually adopted by self-serving individuals in the formation of a religion that has been mutating in similar fashion from that day to the present.
I consider myself to be a follower of the teachings of Jesus, as opposed to those of Paul of Tarsus or other apostles of the Christian church. Let me be perfectly clear, I am absolutely, unequivocally NOT a Christian; I do not believe in the Christ figure.
I sometimes study the teachings of Jesus, but I also sometimes study the teachings of Lao Tzu, Mohammad, numerous Buddhist thinkers ancient and contemporary, as well as philosophers, poets, novelists, artists, and many others. I take whatever I find that is useful, no matter the source, and put it to use as I best see fit to use it in my life. I am a human being striving to be the best human I can be, and I require no belief in any form of supernatural being or occult mythology to steer me right, keep me in line, or give me reason to behave one way or another.
In other words, once we get past the ‘do good’ part of the Pope’s message today, for me that’s as far as it goes, the rest of the discussion, for most people, devolves into discussions about saviors, sacrifice, sin, and salvation, all of which are utterly useless and irrelevant to me and many other unbelieving/alternative believing people in the world today.
The pope said that even atheists are good people, if they do good things, and basically told everyone to sit down, shut up, and stop worrying each other to death about differences of opinion between us. If we all behave like decent people and strive to do good things with our lives, the rest just doesn’t matter.
We’ll all end up dead someday, and until we cross that line in the cosmos ourselves no one among us can ever know what, if anything, happens next, and that’s the part of what Francis said today, May 22, 2013, that I will fully approve to the very end of my days.
Do good in the world, and while you’re at it, try to play nice and have fun as often as you can. The rest just personal taste, and that’s the way it ought be. Different strokes for different folks, right?
If we all lived by those three simple precepts, or at least tried to, the world would be a better place in a very short time.
”Divinity reveals herself in all things… everything has Divinity latent within itself. For she enfolds and imparts herself even unto the smallest beings, and from the smallest beings, according to their capacity. Without her presence nothing would have being, because she is the essence of the existence of the first unto the last being.”
Giordano Bruno, 1548 – February 17, 1600
The impact of spiritual abuse can be devastating, as any woman can tell you after sitting in a church where she hears sermon after sermon about her supposed lower position in God’s hierarchy and her need to be submissive and put aside her own desires or aspirations Or as countless LGBT persons can tell you after hearing multiple sermons that they are going to hell and that their feelings, their deepest loving relationships—their very being— are sinful in God’s sight. Spiritual abuse can devastate self-esteem and cause feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness. – quoted from Christian Feminism Today.
I hope no one hesitates long enough for the doors to hit them in the ass on the way out. Churches like this deserve none of you support and even less of your respect.
I’ll have more to say about this one day soon, but right now (I just finished watching the video) I am simply too angry and appalled for anything I could say to be coherent, much less constructive.
“Cosmos is a Greek word for the order of the universe. It is, in a way, the opposite of Chaos. It implies the deep interconnectedness of all things. It conveys awe for the intricate and subtle way in which the universe is put together.”
I’ve had a lot of time to think about a lot of things this week. I ran across the quote above and the article below on Facebook while killing time at the hospital.
I still do not believe in “god” as most people understand the term, and never will, but this really resonates with me and has for many years now. If I have any religion at all – and I don’t require much – it is pantheism or something very close to it.
Theologian Anselm of Canterbury defined God as, “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” Philosopher Baruch Spinoza carried this idea to its logical extreme:
- “By God I understand a being absolutely infinite, i.e., a substance consisting of infinite attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal and infinite essence.”
Physicist Albert Einstein agreed with this definition, stating,
- “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists.”
The word God is an abstract expression which anybody can incorporate into language. It is, “not the exclusive property of any one tradition,” according to religious historian Karen Armstrong’s interpretation of ancient texts. Its meaning has continually changed and has been dependent on one’s particular time and environment. Famed psychiatrist Carl Jung emphasized the psychological significance of this word:
- “I cannot define for you what God is. I can only say that my work has proved empirically that the pattern of God exists in every man and that this pattern has at its disposal the greatest of all his energies for transformation and transfiguration of his natural being.”
Pantheists use God to describe natural laws because they often notice a mysterious order and oneness in our universe, as revealed by physics, mathematics, science, philosophy, as well as empirical evidence. Pantheists tend to believe that everything and every moment are part of a natural order. Cynics view nature as chaotic, but Einstein believed in unity and added,
- “We believers in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
The implication is that in the grand scheme of things, fundamental distinctions may be an illusion. They are the words we use to try to affect things and the words we use to try to make sense of our world. Spinoza said,
- “If men were born free, they would, so long as they remained free, form no conception of good and evil.”
When everything is one, words – which by their nature make themselves distinct from other words – fail at trying to describe what this oneness really means. Any words or descriptions we use (including God) will be insufficient for describing or understanding everything. Thus, Einstein had a parable to answer what God means for a pantheist:
- “The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations.
Pantheists are thus not quick to throw around the word God. However, when someone mentions it, a pantheist has an idea of what it means and what it does not mean. Carl Sagan explained his view of God in a similar way:
- “The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God.”
What is revealed by science can be shrugged off as ordinary random realities of our universe, or they can be elevated to divine status. Divine language used to describe reality, amidst a planet full of weapons and misguided political and religious leaders, is an effective way to highlight and affirm our faith in this world. It’s a way for the adults in the room to speak to the children – and our own child inside – that the air we breathe is God, that every moment is God, and that life is a blessing. This kind of positive faith is what has led to countless scientific discoveries and human advances. Einstein’s attempt at a unifying theory of relativity, for example, is still held today as being the most important equation of science. In regards to how such an important scientific breakthrough came to be, he said,
- “I am of the opinion that all the finer speculations in the realm of science spring from a deeply religious feeling, and that without such feeling they would not be fruitful.”
Arguably the greatest breakthrough in science was inspired by the pantheistic perspective. Einstein even went further to suggest that the “fanatic” version of the atheistic perspective is inspired by psychological torment and religious child abuse [see article “Regarding Atheism”]. Indeed, some people become so deeply invested in arguing against God, that they become blind to a positive perspective. Atheism, ironically, accepts inferior ways of using the word God and related language. It thus allows immature people to hijack the word God. Agnosticism, in turn, leaves open possibilities of God and is a more popular view among many of our greatest thinkers. Pantheism takes a step forward and offers the directly abstract version of God that many agnostics lean toward. When everything is God, we know we will likely never understand “everything” and we will therefore never fully understand “God”. God represents the love and reverence for the mysterious structure of the world as far as science can reveal it. As Ralph Waldo Emerson states,
- “Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool.”
So, the next time someone knocks at your door and wants to tell you about God, tell them that everything is God. Or, tell them what Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe said,
- “If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.”
Their church teases them with an infinite idea of God but then reduces “Him” to a controlling madman. The pantheist God is natural laws and a kind of perfection, reminding us that we are a part of this world and part of its destiny. We are wired for survival to pretend to have control, but everything – God – is what ultimately sways the constellations. The phrase, “I don’t believe in God”, just reinforces old beliefs and may even limit and demote one’s own divine relationship with cause and effect, natural laws, and the order and harmony of the world as far as science can reveal it. Einstein:
- “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.”
The pantheist God isn’t necessarily worshipped, supernatural, or metaphysical. The distinctions between these words and their opposites are not even significant for a pantheist. All our distinctions are human construct. It’s a world full of mystery, with evidence of oneness of our perceived distinctions, and which has no anthropomorphic character as far as science is concerned. One way to consider it: the word God represents this mysterious oneness, whereas just calling it “universe” or “energy” or whatever else tends to suggest pockets of emptiness and chaos (or worse, that everything has been figured out). Carl Jung asks and answers:
- “But why should you call this something ‘God’? I would ask: ‘Why not? It has always been called ‘God.’”
Pantheism’s use of God signifies gratefulness and awe for the signs of unity which inspire love for this world and also inspire amazing human achievement. That’s why some of us call pantheism: the advanced definition of God.
Pictured here are the remains of Burial 9, who lived in what is today northern Vietnam some 4,000 years ago. We don’t know much about Burial 9, not even his name, but what we do know tells us as much about our own culture as it does about his.
Burial 9 is what remains of a young man buried among others of his people at a site called Bac Man. What sets him apart from his peers is the position in which he was interred. Unlike all of the other bodies buried at Bac Man, lain flat with arms crossed, Burial 9 was placed in a fetal position out of necessity.
Burial 9 suffered from a congenital disease known as Klippel-Feil syndrome. His vertebra are fused, his bones were weak. His remains indicate that he was paralyzed from the waist down sometime before adolescence. He had little if any use of his arms and could not have fed or cleaned himself, yet he managed to live at least ten years in such a helpless condition.
According to research led Lorna Tilley and Marc Oxenham of Australian National University in Canberra, Burial 9′s people were a stone age culture with no metal, who lived by hunting, fishing, and husbanding semi-feral pigs. These were textbook hunter-gatherers in the most primitive sense, yet these people took the time to care for his every need.
Burial 9 is not unique in the world of bioarcheology, a term coined in the 1970s to describe the combination of physical anthropology, which concentrates on the bones, and archaeology, which concentrates on cultures and their artifacts, to try to put ancient people into a plausable cultural context.
Such cases include at least one Neanderthal, Shanidar 1, from a site in Iraq, dating to 45,000 years ago, who died around age 50 with one arm amputated, loss of vision in one eye and other injuries. Another is Windover boy from about 7,500 years ago, found in Florida, who had a severe congenital spinal malformation known as spina bifida, and lived to around age 15. D. N. Dickel and G. H. Doran, from Florida State University wrote the original paper on the case in 1989, and they concluded that contrary to popular stereotypes of prehistoric people, “under some conditions life 7,500 years ago included an ability and willingness to help and sustain the chronically ill and handicapped.”
In another well-known case, the skeleton of a teenage boy, Romito 2, found at a site in Italy in the 1980s, and dating to 10,000 years ago, showed a form of severe dwarfism that left the boy with very short arms. His people were nomadic and they lived by hunting and gathering. He didn’t need nursing care, but the group would have had to accept that he couldn’t run at the same pace or participate in hunting in the same way others did. (NYT)
The dominant human culture in the world today – industrial capitalism – reinforces the misconception that ours is the most advanced, enlightened culture ever to occupy the planet, but the historical record tells us otherwise.
If people as much as 10,000 years ago could see fit to make provision for the care of every member of their societies, why can’t we do as much today?
If so called “godless heathens” living in huts could make the time and expend the effort required to care for the least among themselves, why can’t we with our nuclear power, rocket science, and advanced aerial drones find it within ourselves to provide for the proper care, feeding, and housing of every soul upon this planet?
And until we do so, can we really call ourselves civilized?
Wealth erodes through any government regulations, buying off both legislators and enforcers. Wealth twisted the 14th constitutional amendment into a justification for corporate personhood, and it is just as likely to twist into ineffectiveness the amendment to end corporate personhood that is now being proposed by so many reformers. Government and business merge, as in Mussolini’s description of fascism. The only way to avoid rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class.
And once profit has been enshrined as the ruling principle of society, it wreaks terrible damage. Lies are told to justify wars that bring profit to the sellers of military goods and services — decades ago, Martin Luther King called the USA “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” and that’s still true. Harsh and arbitrary laws are passed to fill prisons that are run for profit; the so-called “land of the free” is actually number one in incarceration. The air, water, and arable land are poisoned by big corporations who are in a hurry to extract whatever profits they can in whatever fashion they can. The profits are privatized by companies “too big to fail,” and the costs and subsidies are “socialized,” i.e., borne by the taxpayers.
Separateness has tormented us in assorted ways for 10,000 years, but that can’t go on for much longer; if it does, ecocide will kill us all. In particular, global warming is self-perpetuating and accelerating, due to feedback loops — i.e., some of its consequences (dying forests and phytoplankton, melting tundra and polar icecaps) are also causes. Already we can see increases in hurricanes, floods, droughts, and crop failures, and it’s going to get worse. Some plants and animals are migrating to get away from the heat, but they can’t migrate fast enough; species are going extinct at a rate much faster than the planet has seen in many millions of years. But the species depend on other species, and so falling biodiversity is making the whole ecosystem weak and fragile. At some point soon the entire ecosystem may simply collapse, leaving nothing but anaerobic bacteria. Even rich people will run out of canned food. We need to implement carbon-negative technologies on a massive scale, right away, but that won’t happen while the world is run for private profit. Evidently we need to end the rule of profit.
I’ve had several discussions with friends and acquaintances regarding the recent wave of violence in Gaza over the past few days. It’s a complicated situation at best, but I think the excerpt below, from an article by Khury Petersen-Smith and posted at Socialist Worker sums up my thoughts on the subject as well as anything I’ve seen in print so far.
In the U.S., we’re taught to see Israeli occupation and Palestinian resistance as a “cycle of violence,” at which we must throw up our hands and say “it’s too complicated” to understand or choose a side. But when Israel launches attacks like “Operation Pillar of Cloud,” it makes the situation much less “complicated.”
Anyone taking an honest look at Israeli F-16s bombing a trapped and largely defenseless Gaza has to question the U.S.-Israeli line–one that President Barack Obama, among other people, is “fully supportive of”–that Israel is simply “defending itself” from Palestinians.
But many progressives hesitate to place themselves decidedly on the side of the Palestinians, concluding instead that “violence on both sides” is to blame for the conflict.
Part of the reluctance to blame the nightmare unfolding in Palestine squarely on Israel is a desire to view the situation objectively. Objectivity–seeing things for what they are, as unbiased by beliefs and ideology as possible–is a fine starting point for understanding the situation. But if you look at the past week of violence in Palestine objectively, what emerges is a one-sided slaughter.
The most obvious indications of this are the numbers of Israelis and Palestinians who have been killed since Israel’s “operation” began. As this article was being written, three Israelis had been killed by rockets fired from Gaza–and 118 Palestinians have been killed through Israeli violence. This number includes one Palestinian in the West Bank who was killed by Israeli occupation forces as he protested the Israel Defense Forces’ assault on Gaza.
The wildly lopsided death toll is reason enough to doubt that this is a “conflict” between “two sides.” But it is really just the starkest indication of a deeper reality. That reality is the power relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.
One side, Israel, has established a state on land stolen from the Palestinians, which it controls and “defends” by force. Everything the Palestinian struggle does is in response to this situation, which can only be called colonial.
Israel has the economic, military and diplomatic backing of the most powerful country in the world, the United States. Having systematically disarmed Gaza through siege and blockade, Israel is attacking a captive, civilian population. As Chris Hedges wrote years ago:
Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and Naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control, no army and calls it a war.
Those words unfortunately ring truer today–after six years of blockade and siege–than when they were written.