Public views in U.S. are shifting toward support for evolution. I never understood this one. Maybe it because I’m Jewish and the child of a scientist, but I never saw the conflict with Genesis or the Bible. Genesis doesn’t really weigh in on the subject. Even a literalist view (which I certainly don’t have admittedly) could leave a lot of room for alternative interpretation. Opposition to evolution in the developed world is peculiar to the United States and is primarily found among evangelicals. Most others do not share this belief. I would truly like to better understand the reasons for opposition to evolution, because it’s so foreign to me. Perhaps there is a much deeper issue at play. If we could get at that, we might be able to address the real difficulty.
Evangelical Christian demographer, George Barna investigates whether the US is a post-Christian nation. He concludes that the US is moving in that direction:
Bill McKibben complains that Obama is too patient on global climate change in the Guardian article below. However, we can’t expect Obama or any president or congress to do anything on their own. Politics never works that way and never has. Churchill responded to Hitler only because he really had no other choice other than to surrender to a brutal, maniacal dictator.
Environmentalists complain incessantly about how little Obama has done for the planet. However, it’s not his job. It’s our job and the job of activists. If not enough people accept climate change or the urgency of solving the problem, it’s up to environmental leaders to change the discourse and persuade people otherwise. If they aren’t up to the task, it’s their fault, not that of Obama or any politician.
Politicians like Obama will respond, and respond with urgency, if enough people demand it. Right now there is insufficient political space for Obama to do anything on climate change. Environmentalists must stop whining about the failure of political leaders and create the space themselves. This kind of action is what the planet is calling for us to engage in.
The job of a president (or any political leader in a democratic society) is to push people when they are not quite ready to do something, but need the extra lift to get them going. A president cannot create something out of nothing (only God–maybe–can do that in Genesis 1). It’s the job of the rest of us to move us to a place where the president can act without getting totally eviscerated.
From a spiritual point of view, humanity needs to act locally as members of broad-based coalitions and groups. We have depended far too long on individual leaders to do this work for us. By acting on our own as part of collective movements that transcend nation states, ethnic groups, socio-economic classes, and religions, we move humanity toward authentic empowerment by serving as co-creators.
In a move to assert their rights in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and to bring attention to gender inequalities, Mormon women put out a call to wear pants to church. We may think of women as having achieved parity in many sectors of American society, but in religious institutions women often find themselves caught in the backdraft of ancient traditions and historical precedents.
In my own Jewish tradition, for example, women have found themselves arrested by Israeli police simply for wearing a prayer shawl (talit) while praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In fact, there is nothing in Jewish law that would prevent women from doing this: it’s simply a custom that men in authority don’t like.
This is another example of religious institutions trailing behind other sectors of society in promoting economic and social progress. In the modern world, organized religion has in fact mostly stood as an impediment to the expansion of freedom and to cultural advancement. In contrast, spiritual thought and practice is much more attuned to the unfolding consciousness that is very gradually bringing humanity to a higher state of awareness and living.
Thanks to these Mormon women for helping humanity move forward just a little bit further.
I hope Chris Hedges is wrong, but he might not be. One thing I would say: the Egyptian military has its code and laws and would not probably not accept a radical Islamic government. Morsi had better be careful with them. How this plays out will determine the future of the Arab Spring.
(via Jack Joffe)
I just saw Rachel Maddow’s program this evening. Did you know the extent to which Democrats have been winning unexpectedly in heavenly Republican districts? Obviously there’s the stunning victory in New York 26, but there’s much more going on. Democrats are winning everywhere: for Jacksonville mayor, for Tampa mayor, in New Hampshire for a state senate seat, and in Wisconsin for a state assembly seat. In a 50-50 Maine state senate district, the Democrat won by over 40 percentage points. In Ohio a Republican state senator who voted for the union busting bill resigned after relentless criticism for that vote. In Alabama, a state senator flipped from Republican to Democrat. The Republican governor of Florida (Rick Scott) has a 29% approval rating, while Republican John Kasich in Ohio is cratering in the polls and Republican Scott Walker is doing poorly in Wisconsin. In Ohio a poll showed an 18% lead for the opponents of the union busting bill.
What’s going on? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this quick of a political turn-around? This is more dramatic than what happened after the government shut-down in 1994-95. Now you never know what will happen down the road, but what were the Republicans thinking? Their strategy makes no political sense. It’s as if the end of the world were coming, and the Republicans tried to grab as much stuff as they possibly could before all hell broke loose. Busting unions, destroying Medicare, eviscerating social programs, offering tax-give-aways to the super-rich and corporations, gutting the environment, criminalizing abortion, and much more does not seem to be working out so well for them politically.
Honestly, I can’t make sense of what they’re thinking politically. It’s totally illogical and just plain bizarre. They could have caused a lot of damage and still maintained some semblance of political viability, but they chose instead to take a wrecking ball. The only thing that I can postulate is that Republicans were not thinking politically, but were instead doing the bidding of a few very powerful super-rich people such as the Koch Brothers. In other words,, Republicans had marching orders and happily walked the plank. Somehow, I guess, they think that these guys will rescue them or do something. I’m not sure, but that’s all I came come up with.
They are handing the 2012 general election on a silver platter to the Democrats. Why????? Do you have any ideas out there? It makes no sense. I’m perplexed.
Now, that said, I am concerned for our country. Yes, I want far-right-wing crazies, nut-jobs, and loony-tunes to lose, but our country needs at least two viable competing parties. Without that either party will probably mess things up even more. I can’t imagine that Democrats will know what to do with the massive majorities they might win in next election if things go as they seem to be going. We need two real parties with serious ideas that must compete with the serious ideas of the other party. Right now the Republicans are nuts, like invading locusts destroying everything in their paths, while Democrats are gleefully watching the self-destruction, but they don’t have any real ideas. Now Obama, I believe, has a vision, but the Democrats as a whole are pretty much empty. So where does that leave us as a country?
What I wish for are two parties: one which is expansive, trying to move the nation forward by advocating expenditures that will improve our quality of life and develop a new strategy to keep our economic global prominence; and another party that stands for fiscal responsibility that creatively figures our ways to save money, keep taxes reasonable, and act as good managers and stewards of our resources.
What’s happened? Where are these parties? I consider myself a progressive independent, a strong supporter of Obama, who has no alternative but to vote Democrat in light of the madness that currently passes for Republican policy. But that’s not what I want. I want a Democrat party that stands for something meaningful and hopeful and a Republican party that recognizes itself as a solid citizen watching over expenditures carefully and supporting change while also understanding the value of tradition. Instead, the Democrats just kind of float along living in FDR’s shadow, while the Republicans have gone off the deep end. Where is the imagination and creativity? Where is honor and responsibility. It exists with a few individuals, but it’s absent from political groups as wholes.
This is a wild time. Maybe we have to go through it as a country, but we are sure facing tremendous uncertainty and volatility unlike anything I can remember and really know about historically, at least since the Civil War. This is, I think, part of the great shift happening at a global level. We are entering a new period of history and consciousness, watching the collapse of old systems (including political ones) while new ones emerge. Perhaps we should not get caught up in the day-to-day, political and social earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but look through and beyond that to the world that is coming–for us and the globe. Perhaps nation-states will disintegrate as new forms of governance emerge that act at both global and local levels. A lot of people focus on up-and-coming countries like China, but perhaps we need to look toward the new structures that are emerging that have nothing to do with nations or political parties, but with movements–such as environmental activism or freedom movements in the Middle East or micro-financing or the post-religious “spiritual but nor religious” phenomenon or whatever –that are creating systems that we can’t even really seen just yet.
I have for a long time sensed a global shift and world transformation bubbling up from the depths, but experiencing it is completely different from envisioning it.
Any thoughts out there in the blogosphere and web world?
It’s occasionally possible for the facts to change the minds of climate change deniers. The politicization of this issue in the U.S.. as well as the anti-intellectual and anti-scientific basis of American evangelical Protestants and the power of corporate interests, has made the U.S. one of the only places in the world to have such a substantial number of people who deny the clear conclusions of science. In the U.S., this follows the pattern of denying other scientific assessments, including evolution, damage to the ozone layer, the use of marijuana, the age of the earth, the dangers of nuclear power. and much more.
http://www.slate.com/id/2293607/pagenum/all/ (via Dianne Bazell)
At last a realistic and practical way to deal with the rapture and its aftermath: http://eternal-earthbound-pets.com/ (via Michael Rebic)
Former General William “Jerry” Boykin is busy promoting Christian dominionism, targeting Islam, and promoting “Christian warriors.” This is one wierd world. George Bernard Shaw was right when he said that “earth is the insane asylum of the universe.” I guess General Boykin and his allies are not very familiar with cultures and traditions other than his own. Just living in his own little isolation chamber, I guess
Here’s one way the environment and a religious tradition (Hindu) can come into conflict.
This is an excellent analysis and survey by U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Michael Oren: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/04/25/the_ultimate_ally?page=full
Huckabee wants Americans indoctrinated at gunpoint by David Barton, pseudo-historian who claims the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation. Barton apparently denies that the First Amendment protects the religious rights of all US citizens; rather it protects only those who are Christian. Another Oy vez.
The Source (God) is not something you believe in. The Source is something you experience, People who believe in God attach themselves to an abstraction, a disembodied thought. People who experience God have nothing to explain or justify. The Source simply is. It is not separate from life and creation, but integrated with life and creation.
Here is my dissertation: “The Interpretation of Religious Symbols in the Graeco-Roman World: A Case Study of Early Christian Fish Symbolism” (3 vols): Yale University, 1993. Please note that the pagination in the PDF files, though close, is not exactly the same as in my original dissertation (due to formatting issues).
I originally intended this as part of a comparative study of ancient symbols, including the menorah for Jews. Given the length of the project, this was not practical. However, I regard my dissertation as comparative project whose goal is to understand the nature of religious symbolism.
There are many things that I would now change, including writing style. Of note is the Avercius (Abercius) inscription text, which has several errors; for a correct edition, see http://mysticscholar.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/AverciusText1a.pdf. I also wish that I had included a section on the use of fish and fishing symbolism in the gospels. If interested, take a look at the text of a talk I gave on this topic in “Essays and Talks” in “Larry Kant” (http://mysticscholar.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/FishNTTalk1.pdf).
I have also somewhat changed my views of Freud and Jung. I always appreciated them, but my dissertation is more critical of them than I would be now.
See my talk: Laurence H. Kant, “Reassessing the Interpretation of Ancient Symbols,” Hellenistic Judaism Section Panel on Erwin Goodenough, American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, Anaheim, November, 1989: This piece deals with symbol interpretation and the early Jewish interpretation of symbols, particularly the menorah: © 1989, Laurence H. Kant, All rights reserved: MenorahTalk1
This is a summary of my view of how a symbol conveys its meanings.
The Dalai Lama cedes his political role. Clearly the Dalai Lama understands the Western idea of “separation of church and state,” its importance for entry into the modern world, and its role in fostering healthy civil institutions. Of course, there are many traditions that Tibet will maintain, and it will adapt on it own terms. Perhaps we will how a society can maintain its deep spirituality while developing democratic, secular institutions. This is impressive:
A fascinating discussion of religion and politics that relates to Tibet, India, and China
Despite the understandable talk about the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolt in Egypt (and throughout the Middle East) has not been about religion, but about economic opportunity and freedom. This is a secular issue. While this does not guarantee that religious extremists will not come to power in the midst of chaos, it suggests that there is tremendous pressure against that scenario.
This is hate speech as far as I am concerned. It is ugly and unacceptable from anyone, especially from a member of the US House of Representatives. Maybe he’s getting the media attention he craves, but these remarks dehumanize a group of people and create a context for discrimination and violence.
I don’t agree with Religion Link’s description (http://www.religionlink.com/topic_110131.php) of the Muslim Brotherhood as “not simply a religion, but a way of life.” Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood believes that. Yet, even though the Muslim Brotherhood is not monolithic, it also believes that Egypt should be an Islamic state, as should other Muslim countries in the Middle East. It does not historically affirm freedom, openness, an entrepreneurial economy, or secular democratic values such as a free press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. Unlike Iranian Shi’ites, the Mujhadeen, and Jihadists generally, the Muslim Brotherhood is not wedded to intimidation and violence as the primary means of achieving its goals, but it is willing to use violence when it sees fit. For example, members assassinated King Abdullah I in Jordan in 1951, tried to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, were implicated in the assassination of Anwar El Sadat in 1981, assassinated a number of moderate Arab leaders in the 1950’s, and perpetrated other terrorist attacks including the Hebron massacre of Jews in1929. Since the 1970’s and 80’s, it has renounced violence and has spoken of Islamic democracy, but given its history and its hostility to generally accepted democratic values, it would not be unreasonable to view its democratic advocacy very skeptically. Further, Hamas (which rules Gaza) is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it has consistently used violence against both Israelis and Palestinians as an important tactical component. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood views Israel as the enemy of Arabs and Muslims. The Muslim Brotherhood has also had a long-standing, well-documented admiration of, and support, for Nazi ideology. In general, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt now uses moderate tactics, but its goal is still an Islamic state. And, remember, calling for Islam to be a part of government is not the same as calling for an Islamic State, with Sharia law and all its accoutrements. There’s certainly the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood has changed and will continue to evolve into a democratic movement, but there will have to be more evidence to trust that.
Here is a link from Juan Cole, suggesting that a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is unlikely. Many Egyptians who are religious and who oppose the current government also have democratic, secular values. And there is a long tradition of secular politics in Egypt. There is also widespread support for Islamic values, but not necessarily for an Islamic state: http://www.juancole.com/2011/02/why-egypt-2011-is-not-iran-1979.html . I hope Cole is right.
That said, in the final analysis, prosperity and peace in the Middle East depend upon Muslim/Arab societies developing democratic traditions and cultures of openness, That will be good for everyone, including the US and Israel, in the long run. Of course, the “long run” can take a long time, and there can be a lot of turbulence and suffering in-between.
See Laurence H. Kant, “Jewish Inscription in Greek and Latin,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, 2.20.2:671-713. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1987 at the following two links: JewishInscriptions1; JewishInscriptions2
See my talk: Laurence H. Kant, “Early Jewish Synagogues in Epigraphic Evidence,” Archaeology of the New Testament World Group, American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, San Francisco, November, 1992: © 1992, Laurence H. Kant, All rights reserved: SynagogueTalk1
Our lives are holy texts, chapters in the sacred scripture of humanity.
Our lives are sacred stories. We are here to tell them and inspire others.
I received this over email:
A burglar broke into a house one night. He shined his flashlight around, looking for valuables when a voice in the dark said, ‘Jesus knows you’re here.’ He nearly jumped out of his skin, clicked his flashlight off, and froze. When he heard nothing more , after a bit, he shook his head and continued. Just as he pulled the stereo out so he could disconnect the wires, clear as a bell he heard ‘Jesus is watching you.’ Freaked out, he shined his light around frantically, looking for the source of the voice. Finally, in the corner of the room, his flashlight beam came to rest on a parrot. ‘Did you say that?’ he hissed at the parrot. ‘Yep’, the parrot confessed, then squawked, ‘I’m just trying to warn you that he is watching you.’ The burglar relaxed. ‘Warn me, huh? Who in the world are you?’ ‘Moses,’ replied the bird. ‘Moses?’ the burglar laughed. ‘What kind of people would name a bird Moses?’ ‘The kind of people that would name a Rottweiler Jesus.’
Idolatry is seductive because anything can be idolatrous, including worship of God.
Free will means the choice to be who we are.
Judaism thrives in a sliver of Indonesia: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/23/world/asia/23indo.html?hp=&pagewanted=all
“The Tibetan spiritual leader gave $50,000 to a new center devoted to studying the power of meditation.”
“Contemporary Tibet conjures a mysterious mental image. So imagine how much more mysterious it was 100 years ago when travel was difficult and few foreigners were granted entry. A rare photo album provides a glimpse of that cloistered culture.”
I am reflecting on the fundamental shift away from institutional religion. It affects every religion and every religious community globally: churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, etc. It cuts across the ideological and political spectra. As educational attainment increases, so does disaffection with traditional religious modalities. Yet the vast majority of people still seek to explore the fundamental questions of existence, matters of ultimate concern (as Tillich says), interconnectedness, community, ethics, and love and relationships. Why are so many religious institutions unable or unwilling to address the hunger for meaning and purpose that so many yearn for?
Looking forward to commenting in the future on these topics.
A friend of mine asked me about the origins of Gnosticism. Not everyone agrees on the origins of Gnosticism. The term itself is disputed, because many do not even believe that there is a coherent phenomenon called “Gnosticism.” Of those who do accept the idea of “Gnosticism,” there are some who see it as a second century C.E. Christian movement, but there are others who see it as first a Jewish movement (this is my view). And there are others who see Gnosticism as a kind of “pagan” (whatever that means) philosophical spirituality. Take your pick. It all depends on how one defines “Gnosticism,” I guess. My favorite sourcebook for Gnosticism is, Bentley Layton, Gnostic Scriptures (Anchor Bible Library).
For a comprehensive view of Gnosticism as a Christian movement, see Simone Petrement, A Separate God. For the Jewish origin view, see Guy Stroumsa, Another Seed; also Carl Smith, No Longer Jews. From my point of view, if you look at a text like the Apocryphon of John, for example, this essentially reads as a Jewish text. For Jews living in the Hasmonean and Roman periods, there was constant apocalyptic ferment and messianic crisis–even more so after the destruction of the Temple in 70. The Gnostic view makes sense in such a context. Elisha ben Abuya was not the only Jew to have speculated about a “second God” (hence his nickname, “Aher,” “other”); that kind of speculation can be found in one form or another in Jewish mystical texts in antiquity right through the Kabbalah and Lurianic mysticism. The Christian theory really only works if you define “Gnosticism” in certain terms, thereby making it Christian. I can define pretty much anything into existence by using that kind of logic. It’s like putting on blinders, and then saying that anything you could see without the blinders are really figments.
My own view is that Jews had more widespread influence on non-Jews during the Graeco-Roman period than is generally understood. “Pagans” may have picked up some of the ideas from Jews (as magical papyri seem to indicate). and that could have been one of the avenues that Jewish gnostic ideas traveled to Christianity. Also, as Jews,some early Christians would have received these ideas directly from Jewish tradition.
“In his recent book, The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology (2008), the great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh asserts that Buddhism, as a robust type of humanism, allows people to learn how to live on our planet not only responsibly, but with compassion and lovingkindness. …”
Below is an interesting piece by Stephen Prothero. I agree with a lot of what Prothero says. The goals of different religions are not the same. Eliding the differences inevitably leads to misunderstanding others. For example, talking about who will be saved is a Christian question, which most in the world do not even share, because they are not interested in salvation at all. Christians are focused on the person of Jesus Christ, while Jews and Muslims are focused on texts and words. Talking about God makes no sense to many Buddhists. Many influenced by New Age approaches desire reincarnation, but Hindus want to liberate themselves from it, and Buddhists view it as ultimately an illusion. Confucians uphold political and social order, while Daoists are political and social minimalists. Plus the goal of sameness is not a goal that all share. Jews view themselves as different, and Christians and Muslims want others to be like them.
Where I disagree with Prothero is his idea that “God” or “wisdom” is not one. The fact that there are different goals and multiple truths does not negate the oneness in which we dwell. Oneness does not mean that we don’t share fundamental values (e.g. the Golden Rule) and share important spiritual outlooks. Further, the fact that we have different goals and purposes does not negate oneness. It just means that our definition of “oneness” and “unity” is too limited and narrow, since it does not make room for multiple truths, paradox, and contradiction. There are not two choices–difference or sameness. That’s a false dichotomy.
Idolatry is making an object, a person, or an idea into a fetish. That is what both sides of this debate do. The “lumpers” privilege commonality and sameness, while the “splitters” privilege separation and difference. In so doing, they end up defining “God” or a “higher power” or the ultimate energy or “nirvana” or “heaven” or “nature” or “wisdom” in simplistic and objectifying language. They cannot envision unity as complex, multivalent, or chaotic. But perhaps that is what the oneness of “God”–or whomever or whatever you prefer call it–is.
There is not one path or one truth, but many paths and many truths held together in a paradoxical unity.
In this regard, mystical approaches offer a lot, because, with the loss of the ego/self, paradox is not a problem to be solved, but a dynamic energy in which to live.
©Laurence H. Kant
Shabbat: Letting go of time.
Taking time to meditate and pray is one thing. Living in meditation and prayer is quite another.
An interesting approach to reconciling science and religion on the issue of natural selection and evolution. Personally I never had the conflict.
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