flwyd: (Vigelandsparken face to face)
Religions are moral exoskeletons. If you live in a religious community, you are enmeshed in a set of norms, relationships, and institutions that work primarily on the elephant to influence your behavior. But if you are an atheist living in a looser community with a less binding moral matrix, you might have to rely somewhat more on an internal moral compass, read by the rider. That might sound appealing to rationalists, but it is also a recipe for anomie—Durkheim's word for what happens to a society that no longer has a shared moral order. (It means, literally, “normlessness.”) We evolved to live, trade, and trust within shared moral matrices. When societies lose their grip on individuals, allowing all to do as they please, the result is often a decrease in happiness and an increase in suicide, as Durkheim showed more than a hundred years ago.

Societies that forgo the exoskeleton of religion should reflect carefully on what will happen to them over several generations. We don’t really know, because the first atheistic socieites have only emerged in Europe in the last few decades. They are the least efficient societies every known at turning resources (of which they have a lot) into offspring (of which they have few).
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, "Religion is a Team Sport."

While many European countries have low native birthrates, the successful ones have high immigration rates. I see this as a transitional phase in group selection. Haidt argues that religious communities and practices are a group adaptation: groups of humans with a strong religious bond are able to overcome free rider problems and outcompete—as a group—groups which are less cohesive or whose cultural practices are less effective at bringing collaboration to fruition. For most of human history, one's membership in a religious group was generally from life through death: leaving a religious group meant leaving a tribe, or having a conquering tribe's religious system forcibly replace the conquered tribes.

But now large group "superorganisms" (including religions, nations, governments, and companies) don't have to be tied to a human lifecycle. In the 21st Century, humans have considerable ability to move between groups. Much as an animal organism doesn't die as its cells come and go at a steady pace, a paper entity can grow and thrive so long as it can get a continual influx of new resources, even if those resources shift focus to providing outcomes beneficial to the group rather than reproducing on their own. This is particularly true for companies: two parents often work for different companies; a baby born to the couple is not generally part of either company's culture; and there's no assumption that the child will grow up to be part of the company as an adult. Workers might be part of a company for a few months or a few years (and rarely more than half their lives), yet companies like IBM and UBS are older than roughly half of the countries in the UN.
flwyd: (Taoist goddess Doumu)
I watched Kūmāré at IFS tonight. It's a documentary about a raised-Hindu guy from New Jersey who decides to become a "fake" guru. He grew his hair and beard out, learned some yoga moves, started wearing billowy orange robes, and imitated his grandmother's accent. He moved to Phoenix, AZ (so nobody would recognize him) and started attracting followers.

Most of the film is documentary footage of group sessions and individual interactions. Some of them are silly (but not in a trolling Borat fashion). Most of the scenes involve serious personal growth for the people involved. What's fascinating is that being a fake guru is a lot more like being a fake author than a fake doctor&endash;if you talk and people listen, you're a teacher. This believability is compounded by the fact that what Kūmāré teaches&endash;the guru is in you&endash;isn't far from what many "real" eastern mystics teach: god is in everyone, but you need help to realize that. In the end, Kūmāré finds it very challenging to tell his students that he's just a guy named Vikram from Jersey because they've gotten so much actual value from his guru persona.

This film is a good example of what I like to think of as religion as a spiritual placebo. When someone like me or Kūmāré leads a ritual, we realize that the specific words that people say and gestures that they do don't cause a spiritual experience or personal growth. But like a sugar pill can trigger your body's natural healing processes, a good ritual can trigger your mind to go into "whoa mode."

You should definitely watch this film if you've spent time around new age or alt-religious communities. Even if just casually, like living in Boulder. Easily-offended religious people may get upset, but they should watch it too, because being frequently upset is the main pastime of easily-offended religious people. There's a trailer and other info on the Kūmāré movie site.
flwyd: (Vigelandsparken thinking head)
The Sadducees believed in total textual authority of the original Torah. The Pharisees added the history of law decisions. It would make sense to see Jesus as a rebel advocating for non-textual authority through direct experience. Insofar as the gospels quote him citing scripture, it's because he was arguing with people who insisted that the only truth was in the book.

The Passion

Sunday, November 7th, 2010 09:30 pm
flwyd: (Taoist goddess Doumu)
Following up on the success of "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson announced a new film, "The Compassion of the Buddha" followed by a sequel, "The Dispassion of the Lao Zi."

(Aside: there are lots of figures famous for passion and compassion, but very few individuals are famous for the degree of their dispassion. Politicians are famous, judges generally are not. And judges in religious contexts are generally not especially dispassionate.)
flwyd: (Om Chomsky)
The Pope made a speech to the Queen of England which could be interpreted as comparing atheists to Nazis.
As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny.

I leave open the question of whether Pope Benedict XVI prefers the sobering lessons of religious extremism from the 16th and 17th Centuries. It's true that many of the violent extremists of the 20th Century were explicitly atheistic: Stalin and other Soviets, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the Khmer Rouge. But many other violent extremists were religious, even if their target selection wasn't motivated by religion. U.S. segregationists and South African apartheid advocates, conflicts in Rwanda, Guatemala, Vietnam... World Wars I and II were not about religion, but aside from the Soviets, all the major players were at least nominally religious. And regardless of the private views of Nazi leaders, their extremist persecutions were largely ethnic and social, not religious: being a nonpracticing Jew didn't buy reprieve, nor did they distinguish between Christian and atheist homosexuals.

Leonard Shlain wrote something interesting in The Alphabet vs. The Goddess: the conflicts between communism/socialism and capitalism in 19th and 20th Century Europe can be seen as a new phase in the continent's history of religious warfare. The communists don't believe in God, but they have religious texts (Das Kapital, for instance), prophets, and a sometimes-violent fervor based on a set of ideas.

So far the 21st Century has provided one major ideological conflict: Wahhabists and other extremist Islamic groups in a decentralized fight against imperialism and secular and insufficiently-religious governments. And there are conflicts which mix nationalism with religion that have spilled over from the last century: Israelis and Palestinians in the near east and Muslims and Hindus in Pakistani/Indian border lands. But the bloodiest conflicts, in eastern Congo and southern Sudan, are about concerns much older than religious conflict: land and resources. And as the world population grows and the climate gets more volatile, these sorts of conflicts can only be expected to spring up more often. The important thing isn't what the folks involved believe, it's what they have and what they want.

Minor Adjustments

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 09:45 am
flwyd: (xkcd don quixote)
Now that we're back in Guatemala, we've successfully readjusted from Honduran vocabulary:
Salva Vidas is water, not beer.
Sodas are aguas, not refrescos.
Mantequilla means butter, not some strange variation on sour cream.
A fist full of currency is actually worth something.
Baleadas (tortillas with beans, eggs, and onions) are not to be found, but if you look hard enough you may find atol de elote (hot liquid corn with sugar and spices).

The town of Antigua is kind of like Mayan ruin sites, except:
The ruined temples have Catholic, not Mayan, symbology.
The ruined temples have small maintained areas where the culture still worships.
Outside the ruined temples, people sell candles, not replica stone work.

We've been staying at a hotel called Ummagumma. It's only been open for a few years, but it totally feels like a place backpackers would have hung out after gathering with several species of small animals and grooving with a pict.

Big Penguin

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008 11:14 pm
flwyd: (requiem for a dream eye)
Left Behind is the magnum opiate of the people.

God of Nouns

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008 10:59 pm
flwyd: (Taoist goddess Doumu)
Monotheism is the belief that "God" is a proper noun.

Polytheism is the belief that "God" is a count noun.

Pantheism is the belief that "God" is a mass noun.

Polyatheism is the belief that "God" can be any part of speech as long as it helps communicate.
flwyd: (pentacle disc)
388 communities and 420 people are interested in bad religion, but only five people are interested in good religion.

Mormon Naturists

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007 06:12 pm
flwyd: (Vigelandsparken heels over head)
From the FAQ at LDS Skinny Dipping Connection:
How can you be a nudist and respect your Temple garments at the same time?

As members of the Church, our commitment to our Temple covenants comes before any other interest - or at least it should. Our garments play an important part in those covenants. As such, Mormon nudists will be more frequently covered than non-Mormon nudists. We are naked any time that it makes sense NOT to be wearing our Temple garments. Swimming is an indisputable time to NOT wear garments, and therefore skinny-dipping is the central naturist activity for our family (and also the impetus for the name of this web site.) Many Church members participate in various athletic activities without their garments (Church basketball, for example) - it would seem equally appropriate to do so in a naturist environment. As members of the Church it is vital that we NOT look for extra opportunities to be separated from our garments. If you don't like to swim or play sports, then your naturist leanings may remain purely mental (or spiritual.) It's an attitude more than an action anyway, and it need not be manifest in any particular activity.

Does "Body-Acceptance" place the flesh above the Spirit?

LDS members believe that all humans were literally created in the image of God, possessing a physical body after the pattern of His own. More than most religions, we acknowledge the divine nature of our bodies. No one mortal body should be deemed more or less perfect (or divinely patterned) than that of another person. Physical perfection is not an aspect of our trial on Earth - ALL bodies are mortal and imperfect. Regardless of their conditions or abilities, our bodies are adequate to the task and purpose that our Heavenly Father intends for us. Body-acceptance asserts that fact. Despising our own flesh does not elevate our spirit. Denying the DESIRES of the flesh allows us to be more spiritually minded. Body-acceptance also helps us overcome our natural tendency to covet the physical attributes of another person, or to elevate a person merely because of their physical features. It is based on the idea that the worth of a person's soul is not derived from the body that they were dealt (or have even worked to attain.) Accepting the body we are given, respecting its functions and properties, caring for it wisely (Word of Wisdom, etc.), displaying it only in humility, comporting ourselves with modest behavior - by doing all of this, we become MORE spiritually minded, not less. It's also important to mention that Body-acceptance should never be a euphemism for physical neglect, as that would also come into conflict with the Word of Wisdom.

Swimsuits and skimpy clothing create "hot zones" - calling attention to the "forbidden fruits" of the body... When naked, there are no more hot zones - just bodies, with all their parts esteemed equally. The "forbidden" zones are still forbidden from touch - but there is no great mystery made of them. They are simply part of a complete body.

Calling naturism "more an attitude than an action" which "need not be manifest in any particular activity" is a bit like being against "homosexual acts" but not homosexuals. Maybe they're Schrödinger's nudists; they both support and oppose removing their clothes. It just happens to be the case that every time they're observed the probability wave collapses to the second option.

They acknowledge the divine nature of their bodies but believe that denying desires of the flesh (which are, ipso facto, divine desires) is the proper way of spirituality. Nobody said Mormons were the most logically consistent folks, but I think it's great that some people recognize some opportunities to be stark naked in Utah's stark landscape.
flwyd: (santa fe church ironwork and cross)
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the pro-life Catholic Church spends a lot more energy opposing abortion than opposing the death penalty. In every place of worship, and around many believers necks, sits a sculpture of an ancient device for killing a prisoner in public.

(I've heard that Catholic organizations have started taking stands against the death penalty, war, and other politically-charged death situations. I applaud this direction and hope the world's largest organization takes a more public and active role in these campaigns.)

Book Title

Friday, April 20th, 2007 12:13 am
flwyd: (inner maiden animated no words)
Clearly I need to write a book titled Chalice in Wonderland. I'm just not sure if it should be fiction or free-form religious theory.

Google's got 170 hits for the phrase, including an episode of a live action series based on a Disney movie and an album "In Wonderland" by the band Châlice. But I think it's still got possibility.
flwyd: (java logo)
If a poor and despised Indian tried to get a job at a company testing Java software they would throw him out with a ClassCasteException.
flwyd: (Trevor over shoulder double face)
One of [livejournal.com profile] tamheals's friends in Florida once told us that "Colorado is the lesbian capital of the world." While it's a great place to meet other girls while hiking, walking your dog, or pursuing higher education, I don't know about in the world.

On the other hand, we do seem to be ahead of the pack in gay pastors leading large evangelical churches.

Unfortunately, we're not such a groovy place that evangelical pastors admit they're gay, gain acceptance from their congregation, and argue for equal rights for same-sex couples. We'll leave the gay marriage legalization to liberal and nonreligious places like Spain.

I hope Ted and Paul can come to terms with their sexuality and find healthy ways to satisfy their needs and desires. I hope the evangelical community can accept that they followed and respected gay/bi men and welcome them in their community as the people they are. It's What Jesus Would Do.
flwyd: (pentacle disc)
My OKCupid profile lists my religion as "Other and laughing about it." In the "You should message me if..." section, I invited folks to ask what the "other" is and just what's so funny. [livejournal.com profile] lonelocust asked, and the answer got a bit lengthy. I figured the answer might be of interest to the public at large.

As for my Other... I am a polyathiest: I believe in the nonexistence of many gods. More broadly, I find value in religious practice, which is in large part a communal expression of metaphor. Because it's communal, we come to know and trust each other. Beacuse it's metaphoric, we have mental tools to handle events and situations in public and private life. But I don't mistake the metaphor for the real thing.

For instance, a ritual about Demeter and Persephone provides an opportunity for participants to reflect on changing seasons and harvests using the intimately familiar tools of human relations. So in one sense, I believe in these gods; I tell stories about them. But I don't think that Demeter lives atop Mount Olympus and personally oversees the annual changing of the color guard.

When asked, I typically identify as Pagan (by which I mean Neopagan). I practice with other Neopagans, ranging from an annual festival in the mountains with about 1,000 people to a group of about 10 that met privately two or three times a month during college. I like the attitudes of a lot of my fellow Neopagans and often feel an ecstatic connection to the world in Neopagan-styled ritual.

But I don't limit myself to Neopagan dogma. (It's an eclectic bunch, so there are several dogmae to choose from. And even though witches prefer cats, there's plenty of dogma around.) For one, I don't paint Christianity with a broad brush. A lot of pagans are (justifiably) frustrated with closed-minded relatives, xenophobic evangelists, a thick book where women play a minor role, and 2000 years containing crusades, witch hunts, and suppression of science. But they tend to conflate all Christian people, practices, and ideas under the same umbrella of negativity.

As a polyathiest, I can appreciate the artistic beauty of a cathedral while condemning the practices of the priesthood; welcome Jesus's teachings of love while challenging the focus on the afterlife; have a great time at a Blind Boys of Alabama concert while raising a disapproving eyebrow at lame rock about Jesus; acknowledge Christ's role in Martin Luther King's nonviolence while arguing with people who think war in Iraq is guided by God; appreciate the metaphors of birth, life, and death while being suspicious of the prevalence of sacrifice and savior metaphors in our culture's tradition. Like Joseph Campbell, I'm fascinated by the stories people tell and the rituals they perform, and I don't want a label for census purposes to prevent me from exploring something that might be interesting and fun.

So with an explanation that deep and intellectual, why am I laughing about it? Because I like to laugh about everything of importance. I like to make religious gatherings an opportunity for mirth and (ir)reverence. I include puns and jokes in quarter calls I write. I even led a ritual based on (and set to) Dark Side of the Moon when the new moon fell on April Fool's day a few years ago. And despite the high-level irony and humor of it, it turned into a very serious and moving experience for many of the participants. I also lead non-verbal rituals and excercises which can be both very playful and very serious. I laugh (often inwardly) when having fun, and if religion wasn't fun, I wouldn't do it. (People who practice religion without having fun typically do so because they think God wants them to do it that way. A God who's opposed to fun is a metaphor I choose not to participate in.)

This explanation is unedited and not particularly organized. I would like to write a more formal essay and post it on my website. In the mean time, I welcome questions and suggestions of points that could be clarified or expounded upon. Let's start spreading the term "polyathiesm," the belief in the nonexistence of many gods. I notice [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz is on the bandwagon. I think in many situations it's better than "pagan," since there's more in common between Dragonfest and an anthropology convention than a 5th-Century village outside the Holy Roman Empire.
flwyd: (over shoulder double face)
The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his Father, in the womb of a virgin will be classified with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated Reformer of human errors. -- Thomas Jefferson


Friday, April 14th, 2006 10:52 am
flwyd: (over shoulder double face)
The Bible was Holy Ghost written.
flwyd: (big animated moon cycle)
From an off-topic email on the Dragonfest discussion group.

See... the Wiccan Rede isn't actually a guide for living your life. It says "If you don't hurt anything, do whatever you want." There are two main problems with this rule.

(a) It doesn't give you any suggestions. Eating Cheetoes on the couch watching reruns of Leave it to Beaver is following the Wiccan Rede to the letter.

(b) It doesn't give any guidance on how to behave when harm is involved. There's nothing in the Rede about joining the Army. There's nothing in the Rede that prohibits punching your best friend. The Rede doesn't even address the Trolley Problem. And really, what's the point of an ethic that can't be used on an out-of-control trolley?

Now I'm the sort of eclectic frood who uses philosophy to provide moral and ethical direction and religion to provide experiential and metaphorical direction, so a loosey-goosey religion like Neo-Paganism is just the thing for me. But for people who are looking for direction in their lives, the Wiccan Rede provides little more than a Magic 8 Ball.
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