#Charlottesville and Getting Real

I spent some time in the Czech Republic not long after the Wall fell. One day I was sitting in a small park with a statue at its center. The statue showed a Soviet soldier protecting a woman—presumably Czech—from a Nazi. This in graphic form was the story the occupying Soviets had told the Czechs for many years. The older folks of the village performed a ritual when they walked through that park: each walked up to the statue, spat… Read more

On the Suppression of Knowledge

This week a New York Times headline reads “Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Climate Change Report.” The article includes a link to the 693 page report, and can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/07/climate/document-Draft-of-the-Climate-Science-Special-Report.html The suppression of climate change information has partly to do with politics, partly to do with economics, and partly to do with religion. But there’s nothing new about the impulse to suppress. The Hebrew prophet Amos, who died in 745 BCE, famously said, “Let justice roll down like… Read more

#Epicurus and Atomic Moderation

Working out the implications of what it means that “mind” is a function of the brain is perhaps the greatest challenge—both medically and philosophically—of the twenty-first century. People are working on it. For example, the work of philosopher Martha Nussbaum builds a complex understanding of moral value for naturalists. Her realization that every emotion has a history reveals much about human emotion and how we can cope with emotions we prefer to ignore or rid ourselves of. Our every thought… Read more

Steal Your Fire, Drink Your Tea

In the late nineteenth and into the twentieth-century a good many Unitarian congregations sponsored Prometheus Clubs. These were forums for dangerous ideas—some new ones, such as quantum mechanics, and some old ones, such as looking at nature as non-dual. Prometheus. Chances are that if you’ve heard of him, you’ve learned that he’s the god eternally punished by Zeus for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humanity. That’s only part of a very old story. The ancient Greeks believed… Read more

The Danger is in Not Being You 

There is a story that has been told in various ways about a rabbi named  Zusya. As Rabbi Zusya was dying, he told his visiting students that he was very afraid. The students were shocked and said, “But rabbi, you have always told us that God is full of love and kindness!” “I’m not afraid of God,” said Rabbi Zusya. “I know that God will not ask me why I was not Moses or Isaiah.  I’m afraid that God will… Read more

A review of Why God? Explaining Religious Phenomena by Rodney Stark 

Before I say anything else, I should say: Read this book. Whether you agree or disagree with the central point, this is a valuable book in the ongoing discussion of religion in the US. What is Stark’s central point? “Only religion can make existence meaningful.” A sociologist of religion, Dr. Stark falls into (or perhaps leaps into) the usual trap of seeing non-Western, non-monotheistic religions as “primitive.” He embraces Christian supersessionism and exceptionalism and the time-worn Western argument that polytheistic… Read more

Until the Cows Come Home

(being a personal summary of the Zen story of the Ten Bulls*) As the youngest, it was my job to find the cattle each evening and bring them back to the barn. The herd might be anywhere across the rolling hills. I’d walk and walk until I found fresh dung or perhaps caught a glimpse of them far away. As I got closer, I’d hear the lowing of one cow or another and top a hill to see them, not… Read more

Loving What Happens

Amor fati. The love of (your own) fate. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus appears to have been the first to put this together as a Latin phrase in writing. In Yoruba, it’s called “ayanmo.” The concept has been around—I suspect—as long as humanity has been suffering life’s ill effects. Fate. It’s what happens to you and what you do with what happens to you. Because that’s the thing, isn’t it: we don’t amor our fate a good deal of the time…. Read more

The Lesson of Sunday School Cards

My dad was out of work a lot when I was a kid, so we traveled from town to town in the Southeast. Consequently, I attended all sorts of churches, from strip mall storefronts to white wooden boxes with a steeple on top. The churches were always in the Pentecostal / Apostolic range, which in those days meant that nearly everyone attending was poor and everything about the operation was a bit out of date. Out of date isn’t always… Read more

The Stories We Listen To; the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Our elders teach us things. Sometimes, later, we change our minds about those teachings, sometimes not. Sometimes we take those teachings lightly, only to realize the depth of the wisdom later. My father told a story about the family just up the road. It was the Great Depression, and the farmer and his wife had six kids. They couldn’t afford to feed their children, of course. No one in that neck of the woods could. The father came up with… Read more