Patriotism and treason have no meaning when a country is at war with itself.
It takes no effort to be smart. To take the default position, the straightforward interpretation, and the obvious conclusion takes no effort at all. Anyone can be smart. It takes a true genius to be a fool. The multiple layers of pretzel logic some people construct in order to argue a point must be exhausting.
One thing I have observed in life and an idea I have been repeatedly exposed to is that one’s social environment has at least as much to do with one’s behavior as one’s innate nature. Sociologists suggest that putting people in jail might be a less effective way to prevent criminality than making sure people grow up in a healthy home environment, have plenty of legal opportunities for advancement, and are kept away from the influence of those who are already criminals. There are even those that have suggested that labeling someone as deviant in some way can cause that person to internalize and even embrace the label, becoming set in their deviant ways, and that if we instead cast their past behavior as an aberration from an otherwise clean record this would be less likely. This is called role theory.
I know that there are times I have been tempted to be rude since all my efforts to be polite were getting me nowhere and I was being accused of being rude anyways. I figured there was no loss to my reputation if I became what they said I was. Social environment matters a lot. I’ll recount three examples from my life:
One: When two of my coworkers failed to get along, management stuck me in the middle of them since I seemed to get along with almost anyone. However, because I was now in the middle, I had to interact with two troublemakers while each of them only had to interact with one of me. Thus, I was in twice as much conflict. Management soon forgot why I was put there in the first place and started seeing me as the problem.
Two: One of my coworkers often stood in the corner when there was nothing to do. I noticed that my other coworkers simply assumed he was lazy and would not help. Whenever a task appeared, they would do it themselves, grumbling all the time about the guy in the corner. When multiple tasks appeared, they simply worked harder. In contrast, when I was alone with him and something needed to be done, I simply left half-finished items near him. He was slow to respond, but soon enough he stepped in to help without being asked. He didn’t see a point in working when others were handling things so well and he couldn’t easily insert himself into the fray.
Three: I also notice that I joke less when there is someone else in the group to fill that role. The class clown is not always the same person; it is merely the funniest person in the class. How talkative or reserved I am changes greatly depending on who I am with. In school, I used to think I was introverted until I discovered that I could be quite extroverted in the workplace. The venue makes a big difference.
Instead of being quick to judge, maybe we should take note of the situation others are in and walk a mile in their shoes.
When was the last time you were labeled as something you weren’t?
English is an often-inadequate language. One word can mean so many different things. This is especially true with the word “fair.”
According to some, an economic situation is fair so long as the participants are equal under the law. The laws are to be followed by all without exception. Those equally guilty are punished equally. The innocent are left unpunished. Each individual has the same amount of representation, the same rights, and their testimony counts the same in court. Everyone is equally taxed and equally regulated regardless of who they are. Everyone is kept safe as much as possible from theft, vandalism, extortion, and fraud.
According to others, being equally free from interference in our economic activities is not enough. We must also be free from the consequences of the freedom others have to govern their activities. To be fair, there must be no monopolies or collusion. Those institutions that do better shall not take advantage of their new status to undersell their competitors only to raise prices later. Sellers must not use their freedom to sell to whom they want to discriminate against those of certain races or creeds. Buyers must not use their freedom to shop where they want to do the same. Enforcing this kind of fairness necessarily diminishes the first kind.
According to others, it is not enough that we all be free of discrimination and collusion. We must all have the same starting point. No matter the economic means of our parents, we must receive the same education and be given the same amount of seed money. We must also be served the same level of health care throughout our lives so that we differ only in our competence and work ethic. Since the seed money and cost of education must come from someplace, in practice it means that the state discriminates against the most productive members of society by interfering in their economic activities. Enforcing this kind of fairness necessarily diminishes the first two kinds.
According to still others, none of this is enough. Fairness only exists when all outcomes are equal. Those who work hard, those who are lazy, those who are intellectually gifted, those who are mentally retarded, those who follow all the rules, those who actively fight against the system, and all those in between are guaranteed the same wage. That doesn’t sound fair at all.
Finally, “fair” can also mean a carnival. This is the best kind of fair.
One thing I have observed in life and conversation is that many people are confused about the difference between wants and needs. They do not seem to realize that those words only retain distinct meanings within narrow contexts wherein all the actors already have broad agreement over which is which. The terminology cannot simply be carried over to new conversations.
In the general case, all needs are need-fors. A need must have an object. For example, one might need a bridge for crossing a river. One might question whether they truly need to cross the river, and whether they might find other means of traversing it (e.g. a boat), but this does not make the need invalid. If it were so, then no need could pass this test. Even in the extreme case of having needs for living (e.g. air, water, food) where no substitutes will suffice, one could always ask whether one truly needs to live.
All needs are wants and all wants are needs. Wanting a set of roller blades on one’s birthday can also be equally thought of as a needing a set of roller blades for going roller blading, or needing a present for preventing disappointment.
The difference between wanting and needing is only one of relative importance. There is no strict line between them. The terms only make sense when there is a large gulf of importance between two sets of desired conditions. In those rare situations, the less important conditions are called wants and the more important conditions called needs.
So don’t tell me I don’t need cake!
Sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense. This is true not only about the way things are done, but the official historical record of how they came to be done that way. One thing I have observed is that numerous sayings with one meaning today allegedly originated with a very dissimilar meaning totally unrelated that could never have evolved into its current one. Am I being lied to?
Mind Your Ps And Qs
The only way I have ever heard this phrase used is to tell people (especially children) to behave themselves and mind their manners, which is largely another way of telling them not to roughhouse and to say “please” and “thank you.” My parents told me to mind my Ps and Qs before leaving me with the babysitter. I understood P to stand for “please” and Q to stand for “thank you” (ten-Q). This was a common way of saying it in my household. It was a clever pun. On Sesame Street, Ernie once had the same idea.
Only in my early twenties did I read that the saying originated from the time of early typesetting. Those setting up the printing press had to be careful not to confuse lowercase p with lowercase q. Saying “mind your ps and qs” was a way of telling someone to pay attention to detail. How this very different meaning evolved into the modern one is a total mystery.
Later, I read another origin story. This one claimed that in English taverns, ale was sold in pints and quarts. When patrons became rowdy from too much alcohol, they were told to “mind your pints and quarts.” This was eventually shortened to “mind your Ps and Qs.” This explanation makes slightly more sense than the other.
How is it possible to have two completely different origin stories? Historians should either know or not know! Why the controversy? Could this be a macroscopic manifestation of the “multiple histories” of quantum mechanics?
Almost every television detective is stonewalled at some point by someone they are trying to get information from. Usually it means that someone won’t answer their phone or moves slowly in supplying documents. In the general case, stonewalling is what one does when they simply fail to respond to inquiry rather than explicitly declare they won’t cooperate. When a big company never returns your messages, they are stonewalling. Getting questions answered is like interviewing a stone wall. This is a common word used this way and only this way (to my knowledge).
Later in life, I read that the origin of the word had nothing to do with stone walls or failing to answer questions. Allegedly, there was once a gay bar by the name of Stonewall. There had been a fight inside, but some patrons blocked the police from entering. It was a big event and made the national news. Because their lack of cooperation was active and explicit, it is not the same as how the word is now used.
I’m not buying it. Even if the original meaning of the word meant any sort of blocking of access, it’s kind of a strange coincidence that the name of the bar was so fitting, isn’t it?
From my very first day on the world wide web, I kept hearing about something called spam. This was not canned meat, but unsolicited mass emails. How did this slang begin? Only in my late twenties did I find out. Multiple sources say that the word comes from a Flying Circus skit. In it, a couple stops at a restaurant where every item on the menu contains spam. “I don’t like spam!” the lady (played by Graham Chapman) says. Then, the origin story skips what must be at least a half-dozen steps to say that now we refer to junk email as spam.
Why? What’s the connection? The story explains absolutely nothing. It’s like explaining human embryology by explaining how egg and sperm form a zygote and then saying, “And then out pops a successful banker with a house, three kids, two dogs, and a convertible he takes to church on Sundays.” What happened in between? How did the two totally unrelated concepts of canned meat and junk email become linked in enough minds that the meme caught on?
None of these stories make any sense. Even if they are partly true, they leave too much unaccounted for. This must be maddening to sociologists. Why is human culture so confusing and unpredictable?
At least the story of how s’mores got their name makes sense. Believe in s’mores.
It never ceases to amaze me how badly people misinterpret my words – even when using common phrases on which society has already agreed upon the meaning!
A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush
I had always taken this to mean that something you have is worth more than something you merely know about. For example, the television you own can be watched anytime, from the comfort of your living room, and on whatever channel you like, and is therefore worth more than thirty televisions in the store display window.
A bird in the hand can be pet and observed in detail. The birds in the bush can only be heard. Since a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush, three birds in the hand must be worth more than zero in the bush! Birds are worth more in the hand. I use the expression to tell people to go get their hands on those bush-birds.
I recently discovered that there is another way to take the same expression. For some people, the bird in the hand is worth more only because it is certain, whereas the two in the bush are uncertain. Since it is likely one has to let go of (and lose) the certain possession for the uncertain gain of additional possessions (unlike televisions, birds fly away), this expression is used to tell others to be content with what they have and not go after the bush-birds. It is the exact opposite of how I use the expression.
800-Pound Gorilla In The Room
I have always seen this expression to refer to something that is undeniably on everyone’s minds, but nobody wants to talk about. There is even a television commercial that makes use of this, and for years it ran so often that I find it hard to believe anyone missed it.
Now I find that some take this to mean merely the dominant force in some setting, such as an industry. While the dominant force is certainly undeniable, something does not have to be dominant to be undeniable, and even if it is, it doesn’t mean that no one wants to talk about it. Usually, the opposite is true. Thus, this usage is very different than mine, overlapping in only a very tiny point.
Take This With A Grain Of Salt
I had always understood this to mean that the following information was from an unreliable source and was likely exaggerated, though it still might have a grain of truth to it. This is what I was told and it is the only way I have ever heard it used. One day, I read an article wherein the author assumed it to mean that the following information was merely something the listener would not want to hear (thus why it needs salt to make it “palatable”), the expression indicating nothing of its reliability.
Bees – like insects in general – fly erratically and seemingly indecisively. They take indirect paths. When I read of someone making a beeline, they are usually being pursued and dodging sniper fire or keeping their pursuers guessing where they will be one second in the future. Thus, a beeline is an indirect route. If it were a direct route, it would simply be called a line.
Now I hear that a beeline is the exact opposite of this. A beeline is instead a direct route. This makes no sense to me at all. Am I the only one that has ever observed how bees actually fly?
One Man’s Buck Is Another Man’s Buck
This is not even ten percent of the common sayings that have multiple meanings that only I seem to be aware of. Most people are only aware of one meaning even though they aren’t in agreement with each other. We all live in our tiny little bubbles and assume the rest of the world is the same way. This is why there is so much misunderstanding when it comes to the meaning of common words, idioms, and jokes. Often the same word can have very different meanings depending on who uses it, and one man’s buck is another man’s buck (this means that two people can take the same message differently – e.g. buck=deer versus buck=money – just in case you were thinking something else).
Related Post: People Are Different
Sometimes we must go backwards to go forwards.
Chocolate chip cookies were invented by mistake. They were a failed attempt to make chocolate cookies, but Mrs. Toll made the best out of the situation and introduced to the world a new favorite.
Sometimes when doodling alien creatures I mess up. When this happens, I can usually think up a way to salvage the picture and make it more interesting than it would have been originally. Could those stray marks on its back be gills? Genitals? External parasites? Some of my most creative ideas have been mistakes.
The ancient Israelites failed to take the city of Ai because of the sin of one man. Once dealt with, they attempted again to take the city, pretending to retreat and leading the enemy into an ambush. Winning this way would have been unlikely had they not lost the first time.
When I was nineteen I unwittingly insulted a friend of mine and she was rude to me in response. Unable to bring myself to apologize first, she did, I returned the favor, and our friendship was stronger after that than it would have ever been otherwise.
When things go wrong, don’t be discouraged. Instead ask yourself, “If this had been my plan all along, what would my next step be?” There is a way to fix any mistake. All things can work out for good. Even when we fail to do this, God can fix anything. It is never too late.
So, if your current situation had been your plan all along, what would your next step be?
Disclaimer: The following is my analysis based on dozens of books and magazines I have read and pieced together over the years. Most of the concepts I’ve never seen related together before. Most of it I think I understand pretty well, but I have been wrong before. Some of it I know I don’t understand. Input and corrections are welcome.
No one likes to die. Humans take grand steps to avoid being killed. Most religions hold that some form of consciousness outlasts the death of the body and that the soul lives for eternity. How might such a thing work? It would seem to violate physics.
Medical science may one day progress to the point that the physical body can be protected from aging and almost any disease or injury. It might also be possible to upload copies of our minds onto more durable, artificial bodies, or onto multiple, wirelessly connected bodies in case one of them is completely obliterated by a bomb or something. To avoid supernova-sized catastrophes, our bodies could be spread across multiple star systems. This way, something of us would always survive.
If possible, these methods might keep us alive for billions of years. However, we would eventually run into the problem of entropy and heat death. One day, all useable energy will be gone; everything will be homogenous and uniformly heated. Then nothing will ever happen again. By carefully slowing our rate of energy consumption, we could theoretically extend our lives indefinitely – but could our state then legitimately be called life? Awareness requires thoughts, and thinking uses energy. Slowing our energy consumption also slows our thinking. It is not enough for us to live forever in time on a finite amount of energy if our thoughts also become finite.
No one really knows how consciousness works, but one Scientific American article I read long ago suggested that thought rate was proportional to the volume of the brain, while energy use was proportional to the surface area, meaning that we could in fact experience an infinite number of thoughts on a finite reservoir or energy – albeit at a progressively retarded rate. This is very encouraging.
Unfortunately, there was a catch. Heat loss is also proportional to the surface area, meaning that a continually-running brain will heat up. It must be periodically shut down so it can cool. Since the rate of heat dispersion depends on the difference in temperature with the surrounding environment, as the brain uses up energy, the universe will become even closer to equilibrium, and the cooling time will become progressively longer. This requires some sort of “alarm clock” to wake the brain at the appropriate time and no such mechanism is 100% reliable. Given an infinite amount of time, it would eventually fail us and we would never wake again.
There are other limits on time as well. In accordance with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, there is always a non-zero probability of measuring any object to be in a different position than where it was previously measured to be. On the scale of atoms, this manifests as a lot of “jumpiness.” On the scale of people, planets, and galaxies, it means that given enough time there is a statistical certainty that one day they will simply leap across the universe far away. It is much more likely still that only small parts of them will be similarly transported, which in the case of humans can be deadly (imagine if your heart suddenly vanished). This is called quantum tunneling. On infinite timescales, the entire universe could suddenly pop into a different configuration, with a new arrangement of matter and new laws of physics. There would be no way to survive.
There are also limits on space. It is not good enough that we have an infinite number of thoughts if we do not retain them as memories. Is it really life to just have the same two thoughts over and over? What are we if not our unique path through history? If the original body is not important, and memory is not important, what is to separate us as individuals? Otherwise it could be said that we have survived so long as someone else survives. Who is to say it isn’t us? Memory storage requires space. Even with combinatorics, infinite memory storage requires infinite space.
Even assuming the universe to be infinite in volume, we know from observation that it is expanding. Matter is thinning. The farther away a galaxy is, the faster it recedes. Galaxies far enough away recede faster than the speed of light. Light from those galaxies can never reach us even in principle. Nothing can go faster than light in space (the receding galaxies are following the flow of space, not moving in it). This means that an infinitely-sized (or at least continually-growing) brain will eventually be pulled apart by the expansion of the universe and its various parts will lose contact with each other. The only ways around this problem are to use faster-than-light communication (impossible), reverse the expansion of space (good luck with that), or to find ways to store ever-more information in an ever-smaller volume.
Unfortunately, there is a maximum limit on how much information can be packed into a given space. Counterintuitively, this limit is proportional not to the volume it is packed into, but to the surface area of a sphere with that volume. It is called the holographic bound. Holograms have some weird properties. Information in holograms is spread around such that a small part of the hologram can be used to recreate the whole picture – though at a lower resolution. They are also able to hold in only two dimensions the information to recreate a three-dimensional image. I don’t understand very well myself how this works, but it is made possible by quantum entanglement. Since every particle in the universe has interacted directly or indirectly with every other part, in a sense the entire universe is entangled and therefore should also have holographic properties. This is why some physicists have suggested that our four-dimensional spacetime might be a “simulation” running on a computer in a three-dimensional spacetime. Thus, the amount of storage space available is proportional to a two-dimensional area and not a three-dimensional volume.
Probably not coincidentally, the holographic bound of a cache of information is the same as its Schwarzschild radius. Information is stored on matter and increasing the information density to its maximum can only be done by increasing the density of the material. Squash a material enough, and it will collapse into a black hole. The volume of a black hole is not proportional to its mass, but rather needs to be ever larger with every addition to still be called a black hole. A black hole with the mass of the Earth needs to be roughly the size of a golf ball and therefore very dense, but a black hole the size of the solar system need be only as dense as water. The observable universe is so big that to be a black hole it need be only as dense as roughly what we measure it to be. We might be inside a black hole now! To retain an infinite memory, we must grow an ever-larger brain that also grows ever-thinner to prevent gravitational collapse.
Even assuming we find a way to halt the expansion of the universe or a way to send signals faster than light in order to keep different parts of our brain in constant communication (or both), we will eventually run into a math problem. Any finite set of matter only has so many possible configurations. Given an infinite amount of time, something must repeat. Given an infinite extension in space, this means our superbrain will be filled with copies of the same sequence over and over. Some of these sequences will be whole universes just like ours and contain fully functioning organisms with brains themselves – believing themselves individuals distinct from their surroundings. Maybe that’s what we are. Maybe we are already part of a superbrain that has already lived forever.
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“…Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” – Hebrews 9:22
I have a theory that the real reason for Jesus being crucified was not that God demanded blood in order to forgive us of our sins, as I have always been told. It seems to me that a loving God would simply forgive us anyway (though he may still punish us lightly for our own good). I know that I have loved others like this, and I very much doubt that my love is greater than God’s. I think the cross was meant as a message. If God simply forgave us and then told us we were forgiven, we would not have believed him, but if God proved his love by sacrificing his own life, it makes his message much more believable. It also creates an example to be followed. We cannot become loving without first seeing an example of what true love is. When the bible suggests that repentance is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, I suspect that “forgiveness of sins” actually means our forgiving ourselves (and each other) and accepting that God has already forgiven us. In other words, the life and death of Jesus was a “word” from God declaring his love.
“In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God.” – John 1:1
What do you think?
Please read this through and tell me what you think.
In the past couple decades teaching others to practice optimism has become extremely popular. There is a lot of good that comes from being optimistic. It can give people the energy to solve and overcome problems, whereas pessimism can cause one not to even make the attempt, thus ensuring failure. There are also rare cases when a pessimist may involuntarily self-sabotage out of fear even when they do make the attempt. Even while a problem remains unsolved, an optimist will feel better about the future than a pessimist, making the problem less of a problem. However, I see these days more often than not that optimism is misapplied and only makes situations worse.
It is fine to dream of the great, bright, fantastic future, but if you don’t remove the obstacles in your way you will never get there, and you can’t remove obstacles you won’t acknowledge the existence of.
I find that self-described optimists often refuse to even listen to the potential challenges to their plans. They tell those who bring attention to problems that they are simply being pessimistic. Optimists believe everything they think of is perfect. When they push through their plans without vetting them, they only make things much worse. They don’t worry about it; they just come up with even worse plans to fix the new problems they just caused. This is true in business, churches, and especially in government.
There has to be balance. Optimists see within every failure an even greater success, while pessimists see within every success an even greater failure. They are both right; time goes on and the string of successes and failures never ends. Too often optimists treat their plans as if they will permanently end our problems, while pessimists hold out for a perfect plan that will never come.
Positive thinking only takes one so far. You can choose to ignore your problems for only so long before they will make themselves undeniable. Eventually one has to have a genuine solution.
I once too fell victim to the illusion that my emotions could be controlled. Whenever confronted with an unpleasant stimulus, I quickly told myself that I was too strong to be bothered, that there are always ways to fix problems, and I reminded myself of everything good in my life to take my mind off it. I told myself that things would be better in the future. I was better than anyone I knew at “seeing the silver lining.” As the years passed and my problems remained unsolved, I found that my continual efforts to control my emotions were only serving to remind me of why I needed to control them in the first place. The more times my rosy predictions failed to pan out, the less I found myself believing my next predictions in spite of my best efforts. I simply couldn’t keep up anymore and I was completely worn out. I later learned that the path to healing is first not to deny reality and to allow myself to be upset sometimes. This is only healthy.
One can choose to avoid that which he dislikes, but one can never choose what it is he dislikes. One can never choose to be happy.
Optimists say, “You can’t control every situation, but you can control how you feel about the situation; you are in charge of your feelings.” There is a grain of truth to this. After all, you can pound a rock with a hammer all day long and the rock will never feel a thing. This is because a rock has no nerves. However, if you pound on a puppy with a hammer, the puppy will feel pain. It is not your actions alone that cause the pain, but the combination of your beatings with the way the puppy’s nervous system is designed. In other words, the puppy has only himself to blame. This is exactly how most optimists talk.
One need not be physically beaten to feel pain. Because humans are designed to connect with others, they inevitably feel lonely when they are unable to do this. It is a fundamental need. As often as not, I see positive thinking used as an excuse to bully others. I have known bullies to verbally abuse others only to turn around and blame the victims for their feelings, adding insult to injury.
Complaining is good. Complaining makes others aware of problems so that they can be fixed. Complaining allows us to vent so that we might better endure. Complaining about our common struggle is how people bond. Don’t complain about people complaining.
Obviously there are some who complain too much, keeping the attention on themselves and away from the good news that might lift people up, but in my experience it is those that complain about other people complaining that complain the most by far. There has to be balance. I have met many who are so sensitive to hearing bad news that they hear it when it isn’t even said. It is impossible to have a normal conversation with these people for long before they start angrily lecturing about the dangers of negative thinking and making everyone else feel bad for having legitimate problems that they were already dealing with quite well. There is nobody more negative than a positive thinker.
Sympathy is a basic human need, but when people are attacked and their problems belittled it only makes them feel worse, which will only make them more desperate to get sympathy somewhere else. Sometimes those who seem to complain too much only do so because they were first attacked for only complaining a little bit. After years (or even decades) of abuse, they become very needy people that will not simply get better overnight. They need more help than even they know.
Sometimes people need to vent. When people feel they have been listened to, they are able to be much more patient. This is one of the reasons we have free speech in the United States. If people are prohibited from expressing frustration verbally, eventually it will be expressed physically. This is true in the workplace, family settings, school, and in politics. The only way to prevent the use of “second-amendment solutions” is by the tireless pursuit of first-amendment solutions.
There is nothing more discouraging than yet another word of encouragement when a hardship has persisted for too long.
When someone says, “I can’t do it,” they are rarely being pessimistic of the future; they are usually just expressing their frustration of the present. However, this is all it takes for the optimonsters to strike. So often I see people encouraging/bullying people into being more optimistic and less pessimistic. They act as if they think they are helping. Some people actually thank them for helping. I wonder, though, what if we actually helped to solve the problem? We may not be able to solve everything, but what if we at least listened and gave advice? What if we at least did something nice for someone or told them some good news to help make them feel better while they suffer? Getting after people for expressing themselves doesn’t help.
Points to ponder:
“Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well.,’ but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” – James 2:15-16
We are told if we want something to go out and make it happen, but for those things we want and need the most (love, respect, understanding) there is nothing we can do. Love is by definition that which is freely given. If it could be earned or compelled, it would not be love.
There are some things that one can never achieve, yet the optimists keep pressing us to try. They are incapable of understanding that some things should not be attempted and they never listen. Even of those things that can be earned, it does us no good to earn them if we are continually cheated. You can’t force customers to buy no matter how good your product. You can’t force an employer to hire you no matter how excellent your qualifications. You can’t force your crush to like you back no matter how true your love. Life is already too frustrating to also have to listen to the cheerleaders on the sidelines telling us to go out and make it happen, blaming us for our problems and doing nothing to help. Sometimes there is nothing more to do.
Optimism And Religion:
The optimonsters are even more dangerous when they use religion. In Christian circles, we are told that our prayers will not be answered if we ask with a doubting mind. We are told that God wants to grant us our desires and if he does not it must mean we didn’t have enough faith. In other words, the reason you have trouble is that it is your fault. What do you do if you need more faith? Pray for it, of course – this leading to an insidious feedback loop of despair when one realizes that they doubt whether they will ever have enough faith. What sort of a God who loves us enough to die for our sins would then demand faith from us in order to meet our needs?
Among those with new age tendencies, they speak of the law of attraction, of positive visualization, and of “vibrating on the same frequency” as that which you want to come in to your life. This is nonsense. I don’t blame anybody for falling for this; it takes years of testing and a very open mind to be sure it doesn’t work. I am sure it doesn’t work. The best things ever to happen to me and the worst things ever to happen to me both came as complete surprises; I neither visualized them nor prayed for them. At the same time, those things I have visualized and prayed about for decades have still failed to pass as of this writing. Positive visualization is complete nonsense.
These have been my experiences with the subject. Tell me about yours. Who do you know that uses optimism to cover for their lack of empathy?
Inconsistent standards have always confused me and there are many of them. When I grew up, I understood that there were those who were against promiscuity and pre-marital sex, and those who were all for it – or at least more tolerant of it. It was only much later in life when I learned that there were also those who looked down on promiscuous women while praising promiscuous men. Sexist double-standard aside, what really confuses me is the logical incoherence of the position. Who are the men supposed to have sex with if not women? To praise them is to praise the women, too. To put the women down is to put the men down as well. It takes two.
Another example of this phenomenon is the set of cultural attitudes surrounding nudity. Though most of us wear clothes most of the time, nudism is not really a minority position. Many people are already partial nudists and do not realize it. They carve out various exceptions to the rules, but still balk at going all the way. When I was very young, these inconsistencies confused me. Some of them still do.
Lockers: People not only bathe, shower, and sleep naked in private, but do so in front of others. In locker rooms and elsewhere, they change in front of members of the same sex – in public! A locker room is public, isn’t it? Some locker rooms have curtains and some do not. Why the inconsistency? I remember going to summer camp when I was eleven and being absolutely shocked that the guy right next to me changed his underwear in full view of everyone in the dorm. He was soon copied by others and nobody but me thought anything unusual about it. I had been taught that this was illegal! Later in life, I was told the story of how at a different a summer camp one night was so hot that every boy slept undressed and uncovered, neither they nor the counselors thinking anything weird of it. If it is okay for another male to see my body, why not a female? If it is okay for me to see another male nude, why not a female? This was never explained to me.
Family: I have heard that many will change in front of family members of either sex. In many families, the father will shower with the sons and the mother with the daughters. I have even heard of a family wherein the boys were allowed to be naked around the house, but the girls had to cover up. They just thought that was normal! I didn’t understand how they ever got away with it. If I can be naked with family, why not my friends? My casual acquaintances? Complete strangers? What difference does it make?
Blurry People: I discovered later that some homes have translucent shower doors. Yes, they often blur out tiny details, but only just barely. If nudity is such a bad thing, isn’t it still bad to be seen naked through a shower door? It’s not as if we can’t tell. Since these doors are considered acceptable, is it okay to wear see-through clothing that distorts details? Is it okay to walk around naked in the dark at night? Is it okay to be naked in front of someone who needs glasses but doesn’t have them on at the time? Is it okay to be naked in public so long as we cover ourselves with our hands if someone else comes within forty feet of us? Is it okay to walk around in nothing but body paint? Why is it okay for people on television to be naked in front of the production crew so long as specific body parts are shown blurred to the viewers at home? It’s not like we don’t know what’s there. If nudity is so bad, why do we even allow the plot to call for a nude scene at all?
Three Percent: Swimmers often wear the bare minimum required by law. Some cover more than this (Males are much more likely to wear trunks than speedos), while some cover slightly less (Thongs fail to cover the buttocks, the thin back strap covering only that which is naturally hidden anyways). How is it that anyone confident enough to strut around in a tiny bikini – covering a mere three percent of the body and tightly fitting the form so as to leave nothing to imagination – can possibly have any shyness or shame at exposing the final three percent? Based on what I have seen some women wear, I can only conclude that they want to be seen. Why not just get it over with and go all the way? I am still to this day confused about how it is that swimsuits are okay in public, but not underwear (practically the same thing) and how dresses are okay in public, but not slips (practically the same thing).
Only as old as you feel: Those under a certain, ill-defined age are somehow immune to expectations to cover up. Children as old as two years can be seen naked everywhere without trouble. I have even seen topless girls as old as ten, though this is very rare. If children can be naked, why not slightly older children? Why not teenagers? What exactly is the cut-off age? If children can be naked, and by extension are allowed to see other children naked, why are they not allowed to see naked adults? It’s not like they will know anything is wrong. We aren’t born with knowledge of clothes. There is no child in history that has ever been harmed by nudity that wasn’t first taught they were supposed to be harmed. Who teaches them stuff like that? This is child abuse!
Milk does a body good: Breastfeeding mothers are also somewhat more accepted, it being legal in many states. It begs the question: If it is okay to view/display a breast so long as feeding begins in a few seconds, what is so wrong if no feeding occurs for a longer time? One cannot unsee what has already been seen. Would it then be okay to change clothing in public, so long as one hurries? Okay to be naked on the beach, so long as one runs into the water quickly? Okay to jog naked, so long as one doesn’t stay in one place for too long? I have also heard that in one city, nudity in the context of political protest was legalized (first-amendment protected speech). Who defines what is and isn’t political protest? Can’t anything be said to be making a statement of some kind? If an exception can be carved out for protest and for breastfeeding, how about while standing around at the laundromat waiting for our clothes to dry? Why not? If it can be okay to change in public locker rooms, why not the laundromat? How about instead of changing for gym class, we hold nude gym classes? The question of which locker room transsexuals should use becomes moot if we all change together. What about “dressing” as a nude for Halloween? The rules of fashion are already relaxed on that day. Why not relax them just a tiny bit more?
Art: In some places, art nudes are completely unavoidable. They are everywhere! I even see them at the public library in book cover illustrations – in sight of children! If it is legal for a book to be naked in public, why not an actual person? If it is legal for a park statue to be naked in public, why not an actual person? With so many bare stone bodies already around, how can we justify making real people cover up at all? That’s discrimination!
Puzzling Parts: When I was a kid, I understood that my pants had to remain on at all times, but I was allowed to go shirtless, while girls had to keep their shirts on. I believed that they were required to cover both breasts and belly button, though I did not understand why. The swimsuits I saw most often were one-piece. When I did become aware of two-piece suits, I was always under the impression that they were somewhat controversial. I was surprised that they were legal. Later in life, I read that men were not always allowed to go topless. In the nineteenth century, they had to cover far more. If it is possible to change the standards once, is it possible to change them again? Doesn’t the fact that change is possible show the standards to be totally arbitrary?
As the years went by, I noticed swimsuit tops of many styles. Some left the tops of the breasts uncovered, some left the bottoms of the breasts uncovered, and some tiny tops covered nothing but the nipples. I was surprised that these were legal as well. Since there is clearly no requirement to cover the breasts themselves, why cover the nipples? Men don’t cover theirs. Since there is no requirement to cover male nipples, why cover female nipples? What is the difference? If men can go topless, why can’t women go topless? If women in other countries can go topless, why not here?
I have also seen view of the butt (both male and female) gradually become more acceptable in my lifetime – okay in the newspaper and on television (including in cartoons supposedly for kids), but not in person. If my bottom can now be uncovered (even if it is still slightly controversial), does that mean the rest of me can? What is the difference? Is there a hierarchy of shame I am unaware of? It would be very easy for an impulsive person to misinterpret the allowance of one form of nudity for the allowance of other forms and unwittingly get themselves in trouble. And aren’t the buttocks just extensions of the thighs anyways? That’s where the legs start.
Can women go bottomless? Unlike a penis, a vagina is not a part of the body, but rather the lack of a part – a hole – literally nothing. Why cover literally nothing? They are far less conspicuous than either belly buttons or nipples. They can’t be seen from the side. They can be covered by subtly crossing the legs or vanish inside a patch of pubic hair – no cloth needed. Why cover that which is naturally hidden? Since visible breast cleavage and butt cleavage are tolerated (not to mention the cleavage from love handles and double chins), why cover what from the front appears to be nothing more than just another fold in the skin where the legs come together? Women have nothing down there to hide. If men can go topless, why can’t women go bottomless? What is the difference? I’m not the first person to make this point. I remember reading of a judge who ruled that women are incapable of indecent exposure (as defined by the law in that state) because their genitalia are internal and naturally out-of-sight. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which state this was.
Note: Over the years, two women have told me they would be more comfortable going bottomless than topless. Zero have told me they would be more comfortable going topless than bottomless. I don’t understand the hierarchy in either case.
If men can go topless, can women go topless? If men can go topless, can women go bottomless? If women can go either topless or bottomless, can they go both topless and bottomless at the same time? If women can go fully nude, can men go fully nude? When one exception is made, it unravels everything. It is only a matter of time before somebody other than me connects the dots and full nudity for everyone is fully legalized everywhere.
Fetishists And Fetishes: In recent years I have even learned of the existence of fetishes. Apparently, some guys are very attracted to feet, but women don’t cover their feet on the beach. Other guys very much like breasts, and women do cover those. Why the difference? Also, why not cover faces? Aren’t faces attractive too? Some women like bearded men. Others don’t. Some people prefer thin partners, others prefer those who remind them of squishy teddy bears. If we can’t even agree on which parts are most attractive, what justifies the law choosing sides and enforcing the will of one faction on everybody else?
The Conformity Trap: Toddlers often find nudity preferable to clothing and have to be scolded into covering up. Then they grow into adults that scold their own children. What changes? Maybe not as much as it appears on the surface. Maybe they just want to make sure the rules are known, even if they don’t agree with them. I know I’m not the only one who thinks of these issues. Many offhand comments from children, teenagers, and young adults over the years prove otherwise, even if none of these people would dare call themselves nudists. Two different guys told me that they slept naked. One girl told me that she wished she didn’t have to wear a swimsuit. Another girl told me that if she ever started her own country, that nudity for both sexes would be mandatory. One guy in the neighborhood mooned me, proving he wasn’t shy about being seen. When I was older, a woman told me that when she was in high school, she had gone nighttime skinny dipping with friends on several occasions. I suspect that many others are the same but are too afraid of what people will think. The thing is, many of those people we are so worried about probably think like us and are worried about what we will think. We cover up for them and they cover up for us, but none of us actually care!
Is Nudity Sexual? Sex is a private activity between two people not to be shared with the entire community. This is the argument against polygamy, promiscuity, and prostitution. To that extent I think I agree, but the same argument is used to argue against visibility of the human body even when not sexually active. Is nudity sexual? Yes and no; it’s complicated.
Growing up, I never used to think of nudity as sexual. I didn’t even know anything about sex yet. Nudity was the logical default. It wasn’t the opposite of clothing, it was simply the lack of it. Unlike clothing, nudity needs no explanation or justification. It just is. Newborns are born nude and no one suggests that the baby is being sexual. When one is caught engaging in sexual behavior, one can stop behaving, but one cannot simply stop being nude. We can’t just take our bodies off to reveal the clothes underneath. When one’s clothes are stolen by others, the victim isn’t being sexual. Since we all are naked under our clothes everywhere we go, bringing our bodies with us at all times, are we always sexual? What difference does the presence of cloth make? Besides, if it was really only about sex, why cover the breasts? Breasts aren’t sex organs.
It was only when I turned twenty-seven and discovered nude art (quite by accident) that I learned a few things: Women are inherently artistic. They are true art. This is exactly what I like about them. That women can use nudity to express both confidence and vulnerability in ways not directly sexual only makes them even more interesting, and interesting women who have entire lives and personalities not built solely around sex are exactly the type of women I like to pursue.
Since humans are sexual beings, we all have a mental program running in the background evaluating potential mates. Every situation (while clothed or otherwise) is somewhat sexual so long as we are a part of it. This includes situations in which we or others are naked, but clothing somewhat disrupts this natural process by getting in the way. This means nudity is sexual after all, but in a healthy way as God ordained it, and when we cover up we artificially lower the sexuality level (but still not to zero). So even admitting nudity is slightly sexual in this way still doesn’t justify making people cover up.
Men are supposed to be attracted to women. God designed them this way. The less clothing there is, the more woman visible, and therefore the more there is to be attracted to. Erections of the viewer do not mean that the pictures viewed are pornography or even that those viewing them are making them into pornography in their minds. Men are supposed to get erections around beautiful women, even more so around unclad women. It’s the first step towards propagating the species. Anyone who is intolerant of erections is intolerant of men. This is sexism at its worst.
So, is nudity sexual? No, but we are – and this is actually a good thing.
Conclusion: Clearly there is no common agreement that nudity is inherently bad. Instead, people struggle to uphold inconsistent standards that they don’t really believe in. We are all nudists; we just don’t all realize it yet. Who will be the first to step out and change things?
Sin, Sex, And The Human Body
The Conformity Trap
“I and the father are one.” – John 10:30
There are religions that stress the importance of striving to do great things for God, trying to earn his favor and following the rules in order not to anger him. It puts all the credit (or blame) on the individual. This worldview leads to despair when we cannot measure up and haughty pride when we do.
Then there are religions that stress the importance of “letting go and letting God” take care of things, remaining humble, and continually trusting the almighty to protect and provide. This worldview leads to laziness and ignoring the call to do good deeds, to take risks to be part of God’s work, and to bear spiritual fruit in order to display God’s glory. It allows God to perform showy miracles, but prevents him from showing the most important (and in some ways the most spectacular) miracle of changing the human heart.
What both of these worldviews have in common is the assumption that God and the believer are distinct individuals. When you understand what it means for God to live through us and in us, you understand that we will never be forsaken, but that results still require action.
Points to ponder:
“I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” – Galatians 2:20
“…I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” – Matthew 25:40
It is a noble thing to want to do good and avoid evil. It is a noble thing to want to stop sinning. The problem is that most of us build up our fear of being bad (or fear of the consequences) or our pride of being good to motivate us. The problem is that pride and fear are also sins. Fear means we don’t trust God to protect us and pride means we don’t trust that God is the source of all good in us. Building up these sins can only lead to more sin (and its outward manifestations) in the long run.
God is greater even than your drive to sin. Every sin you commit he allowed you to commit. He will take care of it if you let him – and if you sin by not letting him work, he allowed you to commit that sin as well. It is hard to wait for measurable results, but sometimes the only way to stop sinning is to feel the resulting pain first. I know this from direct experience. Believe me, God is going as fast as he can and working harder than you ever could or would. Just be patient and have hope – and if you cannot be patient any longer and have run out of hope, this too God is working to fix.
There is nothing wrong with listening to a theology lecture, but one of the things that annoys me most about church is how hard it is to connect with others and listen how God has moved in their lives. I once went to a church wherein each member was able to bring a story, a verse, or a song that meant something to them. I think there is a need for that sort of thing, yet I’ve never found anything like it since. Instead, one guy stands up front and tediously drones on about something I already know. If examples of God’s activities are ever given at all, they are from thousands of years ago. What is God doing today?
Many churches have programs to feed or clothe the homeless, but do nothing to serve the lonely or the discouraged. Don’t people want to encourage each other, celebrate good news together, and mourn bad news together? Isn’t that what church is really supposed to be?
Handshakes: At many of the churches I visit, the service is stopped partway through and the congregants encouraged to shake hands. I don’t understand the point. It’s certainly not to socialize. The music plays too loud for us to hear each other, the event is over too quickly, and before I can even exchange names with anyone they are either moving on to the next person or else the next person has interrupted us first. Do they have to make quota? There is no meaningful social interaction whatsoever. It’s just an awkward way to spread germs. There is a lot of forced, false intimacy in churches in general. In some places, they hold hands during prayer and the pastors have gigantic, creepy smiles all the time. Why not be genuine?
Close Your Eyes: At many of the churches I visit, during the closing prayer the pastor tells us to close our eyes. This is of course the last thing I want to do when being told to do it – especially when surrounded by strange people. I don’t consider it any of his business what I do with my own body. Then he invites those who have made a commitment to Jesus to raise their hands, reminding them that no one is going to see them. If the point of closing eyes is not to put anyone on the spot, why make them raise their hands at all? If the point of raising hands is to take a public stand, don’t they want to be seen?
Loud Music: At many churches the music is far too loud to be healthy. The bass vibrates my insides and makes me feel sick. It reflects off the walls in cacophony and makes me feel trapped. It’s very uncomfortable. I don’t even like any of the music they play anyways. I am told that singing along expresses gratitude to God, but how can that be? You can’t tell me that over a hundred people just happened to start singing the same song at the same time out of genuine gratitude by chance! Clearly it has more to do with conformity. I’ve always thought of such things as a little creepy.
Stand Up: I can hike all day, but standing in one place is extremely uncomfortable and tiring. We are expected to stand during scripture recitation and during the music portion – sometimes for fifteen minutes or longer. What is the purpose of standing?
Bad Hours: What sane person wants to be out of bed Sunday morning? This doesn’t work for a lot of people. Some churches also have services Saturday or Sunday night, but why not on weekday afternoons? There are a lot of people that work late Saturday night and sleep in Sunday morning. When can they go? Why don’t churches hold services on different days from each other so people can visit multiple churches and make friends in all of them?
Simple Sermons: Sermons are almost always very simple. The same basic point is dragged out and repeated in different ways, but the larger context is left out, its importance is never explained, evidence is never given, and the exceptions go unmentioned. What is taught is very basic and I’m sure is old news for most of the people in the room. I have always been incredibly bored.
Sin Management: Rather than focus on the greatness of God and his current activities, churches seem to be focused on what I and my father call sin management. They give advice on how we can trick our darker selves to avoid sinning and build up our self-control. They constantly lecture on the dangers of sin and how to tell right from wrong. Knowing that I am dead to the law and that there is no good thing in me, I let God take care of my sin problem and instead focus on the good news. This is hard to do when I am continually reminded of the bad.
What I Love About Church: Some churches have coffee, donuts, and little libraries – and some have quite interesting architecture. They usually have ministries to join, if they fit you. Sometimes I can also find people to talk about God-stuff with, so church isn’t all bad. I’m just not sure that donuts are a good enough reason to get out of bed.
What do you love/hate about church?
In addition to fiction and non-fiction books featuring the natural world, Hal Borland once wrote columns for newspapers and magazines. Then in 1967, he compiled many of his old columns into a book, Hill Country Harvest. In it are 136 anecdotes about life on his small farm. He covers science, childhood memories, holiday traditions, etymology, farming, weather, differences in cultural attitudes of the city and the country, and most of all his encounters with the plants and animals of north-western Connecticut. He observes the interactions of birds and squirrels at his feeder, the behavior of swallows nesting in his garage, and the trends in plant life from year to year. His stories remind me of those found in Country Magazine.
I can’t quite pin down why I like the book. Hal is not particularly eloquent. His descriptions are not especially vivid, nor do they capture a slice of life that inspires my nostalgia. He has no detectible sense of humor. His anecdotes are not particularly insightful, unusual, or exciting. They are so simple as to be almost boring, but something keeps them just above that line.
I think what caught my imagination was the idea that if he can be successful with such a venture, so can I. Hal reminds me a lot of myself. He has taken a relatively normal life and picked out the best parts, ordering them like a sequence of adventures. Thinking about my time in Rhode Island so far, I realize I definitely have enough material to start a similar book. I am going to start keeping a journal. I might have a relatively normal life, but it is real, and nothing about me can ever be boring. I’m my own favorite subject.
There’s a lot that happens to me that doesn’t quite rise to the level of what I normally put on the blog, such as the time I saw the rabbits in the yard, the rainbow at sunset, the hummingbird, the deer, the woodchuck, the Baltimore oriole in the lilac tree, or my take on all the local coffee shops around here. These will go in a book.
There is an idea out there that the morality of an action is based less on the action’s results than it is on the motives of the actor. We do not blame people for accidents. In Christian circles, it is often said that sin isn’t what you’ve done; it’s the state of your heart. It is also said that God wants a “cheerful giver” and we should not donate or tithe out of guilt or to try to earn God’s favor. When we pray, we are told that praying with the wrong motives will leave our prayers unanswered.
The problem with this thinking is that it opens us up to accusation from others and ourselves. No matter how noble one’s cause, if they become aware of any potential benefit to themselves whatsoever, that benefit immediately becomes one of their motives. It is impossible for it to be otherwise. Then that little nagging voice inside says, “You know the real reason you did that good deed; you aren’t selfless at all.”
Since there is virtually always a way for an action to benefit us in some small way (even if for no other reason than to make us feel good about ourselves), we will always beat ourselves up and live in guilt. I don’t think this is what God wants.
Just because you may do the right things for the wrong reasons, it is no reason to stop doing the right things. It isn’t just about us. Just because you may pray for something with the wrong motives, it is no reason to stop praying. Just do it.
Is it wrong to punish those truly guilty just because we might be doing it in revenge? Is it wrong to enjoy art and support the artists just because it has elements in it we find erotic? Is it wrong to give to the poor just because we make a show out of it to glorify ourselves?
There is no way to control our motives anyways; only God can change the heart. Trust him to take care of it. In the meantime, never tire of doing right. God can use even our impure motives to accomplish his will.
I was recently asked “when” I became a Christian and if I had a specific date my new life began. I did not and neither do many people, yet there are those that seem to doubt whether one is a true Christian if they cannot point to a conversion moment in their lives. The way I see it, there are a series of stages of ongoing growth that people enter. At every point, one might assume they are finished, but there always seems to be more to learn.
Stage One: In elementary school I was an atheist. My Sunday School teachers were nice people, but terribly uneducated in science. Over the years in spite of them, I learned enough science to gradually accept that miracles were possible and that the existence of God was probable. My change of mind was gradual and I wavered back and forth for a while, so I have no specific date to point to when I converted. Finally, by junior high school I came to think of myself as “saved” because I believed God existed. I had no idea there was anything more to Christianity than that. This was the first stage.
Stage Two: For a long time, religion remained purely an academic exercise. I didn’t see how it related to my everyday life. It was only after I graduated high school that I became interested in actively seeking out God’s will. I believed I finally understood what God wants from us. This was the second stage.
Stage Three: Even then, I was seeking out God’s will as a means to an end. I was using him as a tool to get my needs met. I assumed that was all he wanted from me. Only in my late twenties did I form the attachment such that I knew I could never be satisfied without him. This was the third stage.
Stage Four: Even then, I still believed that there were other things I could never be satisfied without in addition to God – certain unfulfilled dreams and unmet needs I had. Over the next two years, I let go of these things and discovered that God alone is sufficient. I even let go of my personality. This was the fourth stage.
I’m still learning just how to apply my knowledge in novel circumstances, but I haven’t reached a fifth stage yet, assuming one even exists. In looking back over my growth, I can see now that there has always been a guiding drive present that I have come to associate with the idea of God living inside me. This force existed in me even when I was an atheist, pushing me to learn more truth. There is no specific event in which God came to live in me after I had chosen him. He was already there. Because of this, I have trouble separating people into “believers” and “unbelievers.” We are all partial believers at different stages along our common walk. Having so recently been at lower stages myself, I understand that those still at these lower stages are unaware that there is more to learn. I want to guide them, not judge them.
Faith: Since having faith is central to every religion, having a proper understanding of the definition of faith should also be important to define “when” one joins a new religion. When I first accepted Jesus, I still thought of faith as nothing more than a belief driven by the evidence and easily lost by new evidence or clever arguments. Was I not yet a Christian? Others accepted me as such.
Later, I understood faith to be a choice to trust and not falter in belief every time some new challenge arose, but to stay the course unless it became clear I had been wrong. Was I a Christian then?
Even then, I still tried to measure my faith to ensure it was growing. Now I understand that faith grows on its own anyway and cannot be hurried. Since tiny amounts of faith will eventually grow into mountains worth, all levels of faith are equal in their final outcomes. Measuring faith is counter-productive.
Sin: Sin, too, has stages of knowledge. The Jews believed that one had to keep the Mosaic Law to keep on God’s good side. As 21st century gentiles, we know this isn’t true, but many of us still try to follow the dictates of our respective denominations. Even those that understand it isn’t the role of our clergy to make rules for us still try to live up to the standards of our culture and feel bad when we fail. In my case, I rejected being ruled by anyone but myself – but I failed even at following my own rules! Even when “by faith alone” is the only standard, we all fall short of perfection even in faith! It was only recently that I understood what Jesus meant when he said he came to fulfill the law.
Don’t worry about messing up; you (or God) can always fix things later! I wonder just how much God plans ahead and how much he makes it up as he goes. Of course, this is assuming linear time; there might not be a difference in reality. If it is true that God makes a lot up as he goes, it is misguided to try to seek out God’s will for our lives. We’ll find out soon enough. All we need to know is that he loves us and is working to make things better. If there is no plan, it cannot be a sin to violate the plan!
Religion: Even the way I eliminated other religions was gradual, and in a sense I never fully eliminated all of them. My belief is based more on my personal experience and reason rather than ancient text I can never be absolutely sure the source of. Christianity is mostly just the “language” I use to explain my spiritual state to others, since it is the religion I am most familiar with. I have every reason to think that God can reach anybody through whatever belief system they happen to have, and when this happens their beliefs change. None of us know everything, and all the major world religions have some wisdom in them. I’m not saying all religions are true – quite the opposite. I’m saying all religions (including Christianity) are incomplete without a connection to God, but we all have this connection already – and God is working in everyone to strengthen this connection without myself even having to do anything to convert all these people!
In conclusion, I suppose maybe I was “saved” when I was conceived (sometime in 1981). When did you become a Christian?
One thing I have observed in life is that Christians are very quick to alienate those they claim to want to reach over subtle, arcane points of theology instead of trying to find common ground. This needs to stop.
I grew up going to church every Sunday. I prayed every night. I read the Bible. I believed for most of my life that God created the universe, that Jesus died for my sins, and that the Holy Spirit lived in me and guided my actions. I believed that Jesus was himself God. I even believed in some of the more controversial parts of the bible such as a literal seven-day creation week and the virgin birth. Imagine my shock when in my thirties I woke up one morning to read online that I had been living a lie all those years; I had never been a Christian because I didn’t believe in the trinity!
I was always aware that God’s tripartite nature was a common belief, but not that the debate had been settled, and certainly not that it was important. When I was young I always had the sense that it was something debated by theology nerds but incomprehensible to normal people. I was never sure whether I believed it myself because I did not know what it was. How could I know whether I believed in the trinity when I didn’t even know what “trinity” meant? Over the years I have heard no fewer than twelve different explanations of the nature of the trinity, all of them incompatible with each other, and by far the most common explanation I hear is: “Well, no one understands the trinity, but we know it’s true because the Bible tells us.”
Really? Actually the word “trinity” is nowhere in the Bible and the only hint we have of its existence (that I am aware of) is that the early Christians were told to go out and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is very flimsy circumstantial evidence to say the least. Just because three of God’s manifestations are listed does not mean those are the only three he has. I can think of seven just off the top of my head: in the beginning speaking the world into existence, in the pillar of smoke that let the Israelites through the desert during the day, in the pillar of fire that led the Israelites around the desert at night, in the Ark of the Covenant, in Elijah’s still small voice, in Jesus, and in the bright light on the road to Damascus. That’s seven forms. Why is he not a septnity? What do those seven lampstands in Revelations really represent?
It all seems so silly. God has not only been referred to as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but also as the way, the truth, the life, the word, the prince of peace, the son of man, the son of God, the lamb, the lion, the alpha, the omega, the I Am, Yahweh, Elohim, Jehovah, Jesus, Yeshuah, and even the “unknown God” (Acts 17:23). God has not only taken the role of heavenly father, but is also referred to in the Bible as the bridegroom of Israel and the head of the church body. He is even called a vine while we are the branches! Why do we only consider three manifestations? Doesn’t it make more sense to say there is only one God who takes on as many roles as he wishes?
Isn’t it overreach to declare others not to be true Christians just because they might be wrong about one or more points of theology? Don’t we still worship the same God? The same might be said about Jews or Muslims. They claim to worship the God of Abraham. They might call him by a different name and have some ideas about him that I don’t agree with, but how can I know for sure it isn’t the same God? Only God knows the heart.
This is how this debate started. To show love and solidarity with Muslims as they are abused both by the extremists within their own religion and those in the west who cannot tell a good Muslim from a bad Muslim, a professor at a Christian college a few years ago opined that we all worshipped the same God – not an uncommon opinion. Not only did the college fire her, but they went on to say that Muslims certainly do not worship the same God because they don’t believe in the trinity and anybody who doesn’t believe in the trinity doesn’t worship the same God either. I was quite surprised.
Whatever the theological truth might be, this rhetoric is dangerous for two reasons: It alienates the Muslims that we should be trying to reach and it alienates other Christians who could help us reach them. In any case, I know Jesus personally and I know he accepts me, so I don’t care what others say. I still can’t believe somebody got fired over this.
Question: When did belief in the trinity become so important?
I recently read The Lost City Of The Monkey God by Douglas Preston, the account of his 2015 visit to the newly discovered (2012) ruins in the mountains of Honduras. Very little is known of the city at this time except that it is not Mayan and was probably abandoned shortly after the Spanish landed. It is believed that not one human had been there in five hundred years.
It had long been rumored that structures existed in the area, remains of a city abandoned when the people lost favor with the gods. The place was believed cursed, and that anyone who set foot there would either be bitten by a snake or contract some horrible disease. Over the years, a small number of people would claim to have seen white stone structures filled with statues of monkeys. The lost city was either called “the white city” or “the city of the monkey god.” In reality, there were likely many real cities being conflated with each other and exaggerated into legend. There were even some tales later shown to be hoaxes.
The dense vegetation, rough mountain terrain, jaguars, and most of all the numerous venomous snakes prevented many expeditions from confirming these stories. Government permitting processes, drug traffickers, and hurricanes stopped others. Finally, in 2012 a LIDAR-equipped airplane was flown over the area. Enough lasers penetrated the gaps between the leaves in order to form a topographic map showing unnatural shapes. This is how they discovered not one, but two cities. The 2015 visit confirmed the LIDAR readings. There were stone structures, including much use of quartz (making it a “white city”), although most of it seemed to be earthen mounds and terraces now so overgrown with vegetation that they could be easily missed for what they are.
Almost nothing else is known. The book dives into a little bit of speculation at the end about religious practices and the connections between various people groups in the area, but it is very speculative. More study is needed.
The Sea Of Glory by Nathaniel Philbrick is the true story of incompetence, jealousy, ego, needless conflict, revenge, and abuse of power for personal gain. Either the leader of the six-ship American expedition Ex Ex in 1838 Charles Wilkes was the worst manager in history or his officers were the most petty and intractable members of the navy ever – or maybe it was both. In spite of Wilke’s often misguided orders and abrasive personality, the crew miraculously escaped death several times, succeeded in charting the Fiji Islands, the coast of the Oregon Territory, and confirmed the continental size of land south of sixty degrees latitude, naming it Antarctica. Wilkes and four of his officers returned home to courts martials. All were found guilty of some charges and acquitted of others. All held grudges against each other the rest of their lives. It was very nearly forgotten what they had accomplished together.
The Sea Of Glory is a microcosm of human society. We have poisoned our seas, fought wars of global scale, exterminated entire races, protected slavery, twisted justice, outlawed speaking the truth, and cheated each other our dues at every socioeconomic stratum. I’ve worked with terrible managers who couldn’t give good instructions and terrible employees who couldn’t follow good instructions. It is truly a wonder we haven’t gone extinct a dozen times over, let alone that anything gets accomplished. Yet in the past few thousand years, we have eradicated polio, created the internet, and put a man on the moon.
What have you accomplished?
So many people seem to assume that something labeled “natural” must always be better than something artificial, especially when it comes to food and medicine. However, we should know that this is not always true. Floods, lightning, blizzards, rattlesnakes, and smallpox are all natural. Boats, lightning rods, combustion-heated homes, antivenin, and vaccines are not – or are they? What does it even mean to be natural?
Natural is a very relative term. Left to their own devices, dirt, air, and water just make mud. It takes the intervention of living cells to build ferns, trees, spiders, and sparrows out of them. Yet, life is considered no more artificial than non-living matter. Honey is considered natural, but nectar doesn’t turn into honey on its own. Bees collect it in their stomachs, spit it up, evaporate the water, and store it in wax cells. Humans come along later and remove the wax. Honey doesn’t naturally come in squeezable bottles! Is anything in the process to make honey really any less of an artificial process than the way that humans use corn to make high-fructose corn syrup?
Tools are generally considered artificial, but isn’t it natural for humans to make and use tools? All people groups use some tools and would not likely survive long without them. Some animals even use tools. Orangutans use twigs to pick seeds out of pods and dolphins use sponges to protect their beaks when sifting through sand.
Homes are generally considered artificial, but isn’t it natural to build shelter? Animals build burrows, nests, or hives of wax or paper. Humans use wood, metal, and drywall. What’s the difference?
Is agriculture natural? Left to themselves, edible plants do not grow all together in one accessible place, but as with tool-making and home-making, humans naturally use their ingenuity to harness nature to make their lives easier. The same could be said about breeding strains of plants or animals to have desirable traits. There is nothing unnatural about pollination or mating; humans just tilt the scales of these natural processes to benefit themselves.
The same could be said about genetically-modified organisms. There is nothing unnatural about DNA expression – DNA is a naturally-occurring compound – humans just select for the genes they want. Creating pest-resistant crops through genetic manipulation is just using nature to fight nature.
Even when humans create brand-new compounds that have never before existed, all they are doing is rearranging the elements nature has provided them into new configurations. According to mainstream thinking, there was a time billions of years ago that free oxygen was new on Earth; it was a waste product of photosynthesis toxic to most life at the time.
Even when humans do create brand-new elements (like plutonium), all they are doing is moving pre-existing protons and neutrons around. If one day humans create new forms of matter, such as gluon balls or strange matter, all they will be doing is reconfiguring the pre-existing quantum fields that underlie all of reality. Natural is relative.
Is death natural? Everything dies, but generally not without a fight. It is only natural to avoid natural death. Neither humans nor reindeer willingly surrender to the wolves – even though predation is one of the most natural things there is. Humans will go to especially extreme lengths to avoid death, including feeding tubes, artificial hearts, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, radiation, and lots of surgery – but are any of these procedures unnatural? Isn’t it only natural to want to escape death by making an artificial heart out of natural substances by artificial means? Can it be natural to be unnatural? What does “natural” even mean in this context?
Is homosexuality natural? One could certainly make a legitimate case that it is an artificial perversion of natural reproductive behavior, but one could also make the case that it is a natural strategy to curb overpopulation occasionally practiced across the animal kingdom. Can it be natural to be unnatural? One could also make the case that homosexuality is a disorder like Alzheimer’s, and no one ever suggests that Alzheimer’s is unnatural.
Is abortion natural? One could certainly make a legitimate case that it is an artificial perversion of natural reproductive behavior, but one could also make the case that it is a natural strategy to curb overpopulation. Tasmanian devil mothers have been known to eat their excess children and some sharks eat their siblings while still in the womb. Can it be natural to be unnatural?
Is warfare natural? One could certainly make a legitimate case that it goes against the natural drive to cooperate with members of the same species in order to better compete with rival species, but one could also argue that it is only natural to want to defend one’s kin. Chimpanzees fight all the time. Ants are among the most brutal to their own kind. Can it be natural to be unnatural?
People generally understand that words such as tall, fast, hot, and important refer to relative values. What is rarer are those who understand that words such as authority, miraculous, and natural are. They think someone is either in charge or not. They think an event is either a miracle or not. They think something is either natural or not.
Natural is a very relative term.
It is a sad thing when an entire species goes extinct. I love life. I love observing all the myriad ways that organisms adapt to their ecological niches – all the variety of form and function. I like to think of things growing and competing and even evolving. In every battle, some win and some lose, but to think that one type might never be seen again is horrible. All potential for the future and the unbroken chain to the past is then gone.
It is hard to get worked up over the death of one creature. To protect the gazelle is to starve the cheetah and to protect the pig is to rob me of my culinary artistic expression in making BLTs – but for all pigs or all gazelles to die would be a terrible thing.
Humans are different. One squished ant is just protein, but to lose just one human is to lose an entire race. Each of us is unique – with unique dreams, creativity, talents, struggles, triumphs, and failures. Each of us contains the seeds of whole worlds within us worth millions of species. Murder is genocide.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.