Category Archives: Spirituality

Je suis Charlie? I’m glad someone, not everyone, is.

“Je suis Charlie.” Your expression of solidarity reaffirms that we, the enemies of extreme intolerance, are everywhere. But, if you really were like Charlie Hebdo, then you would look for sacred targets – Muslim, Christian, Jewish, secular, left, right – to skewer in a highly public and provocative fashion. And you would do so in the face of actual death threats.

Are you still Charlie? Will you start being more like Charlie now, knowing that you could be gunned down? That you might lose friends and alienate family members? Continue reading

The instant I saw a godless world

The way I remember the moment, it must have been within a year of 1971, making me 7-9 years old. My family was riding along the freeway across Knoxville, Tennessee, where we lived. My brother and I were in the backseat, and my parents were up front. My brother was two years older and thus hardwired into the very center of grooviness, or so it seemed to me. My parents, at best, were dongles hanging from hippiedom.

Those were the days of the generation gap, which meant that it was our duty as cadres of the ongoing youth revolution to question everything openly. Continue reading

When Muslims destroy the Quran

I would oppose the hate-mongering destruction of the Quran (or Koran) by Terry Jones even if it didn’t provoke some Muslims to violence and many others to outrage and resentment. But some groups of Muslims have intentionally destroyed mosques and thus Qurans, apparently without receiving such near-universal condemnation.

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Imagining mortality

Scientific American has recently published a provocative article explaining humans’ seemingly universal inability to imagine a lack of consciousness and, thus, an end to consciousness at death. In short, the conscious imagination never experiences non-consciousness. When we’re not conscious, we’re not aware and thus can’t remember what it was like. At most, we can remember regaining consciousness. This inherent quality may be a key part of the explanation for the widespread belief in some sort of afterlife.

But the article does not address at least one important dimension of this issue: imagining that other beings – human or otherwise – have the same kind of consciousness. It is a categorical leap to apply insights about one’s own experience to that of others. Continue reading

Gods’ pets?

While mucking around with my cats’ lives and seeing that they faintly comprehend that I enact my will on their universe, I often imagine that they see me as like unto a god. Will I feed them, let them out on the balcony, abandon them for several days … ? They undoubtedly notice that I exist in their world but that I also frequent a separate realm beyond theirs; I call it “outside” and “work.” To them, I must be awesome.

Here, then, is my hypothesis: Perhaps the roots of some religious beliefs lie in early believers’ imagination of how putatively less-conscious beings around them – such as domesticated animals – saw their relationship to humans. These incipient theologians might have taken inferences such as mine regarding my cats’ beliefs as analogous to humans’ relationship to other forces. In GRE fashion: ‘(semi-)domesticated entity is to human as human is to other entity.’

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