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Shards of Reason May 12, 2009

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Emotion vs Reason….

Maybe even as Jean Paul Sarte’s character in “Nausea” sat in a bar listening to each note of his favorite song flicker into existence and then die almost in the same instance it was born. 

Or is it more like Emenim rapping on stage, trying to seize the moment, freeze it and own it, squeeze it and hold it.

I think of the proletariat chanting “Workers of the Word – Unite”, as that spectre continued to haunt Europe, but back before the spit and bloodshed, when equality was a dream only the most audacious dared to have.

And then there were the beatniks- those holy bhikhus – crazy zen poets – those angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.

Because you see all of time is a wave of emotion rushing past the generations of crying mamas and stern papas tucking their innocent children in at night. Huddled in the warm corners of homes dotted all throughout this giant lonely world.

And shards of reason – or maybe just pop culture flood my mind like the crowds at a Phish concert.

So you ask me, what wins emotion or reason? 

And I think of those quiet times, those sad somber lonely times spent is solitude and tears, and like God breathes life into Adam, I breathe life into the dusty pages of dead Dada poets. And I drink from the spirit of their lives, and my sadness becomes a holy sadness connecting me with the spirits of jolly old men living in caves laughing as their bodies grew old and their minds grew dull and then finally they vanished into that great Sunyata- the smiling Buddha in the sky.

Isn’t the spirit of anything just the spirit of Dada?

So emotions wins every time, and afterall isn’t reason just another smirking face of emotion?


Interconnectedness May 8, 2009

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Scientists and other academic types often wonder why so many people won’t just give up God already. Any rational human being with even the slightest ability for critical thinking that has been exposed to even the tiniest amount of information about the natural world should just connect the dots already. We are the product of millions of years of evolution – no God needed. 

Well I don’t think that it really is that much of a mystery why people don’t leave the church pews in droves. It isn’t an issue that can be won by a rational argument – religion is too deeply integrated into the human consciousness to let it go after a quick read of the “God Delusion.”

People want to be part of something larger than themselves, something that will outlast them when they die – a purpose and reason for their existence. Ernest Becker describes this basic human need in his book, “Denial of Death”, he calls it “cosmic significance”. Many people find this need fulfilled in religion, but others find it elsewhere. The activist finds it in the cause that they fight for, the soldier finds it in their undying patriotism, even the die hard sports fan can find it in the allegiance to their team.

I think that if you analyze your life honestly and carefully, you’ll find a belief system there that endows your life with meaning.

This is why when the outspoken scientist tells people that they should just grow up already and mature past God, he becomes hated for it. He isn’t just asking people to give up their irrational thoughts, he is asking them to give up the whole system that gives value and meaning to their lives.  This same scientist doesn’t even recognize the slight hypocrisy in his request, because his life already has meaning. The scholar is immortalized by his writings and his contributions to the advancement of human knowledge, he doesn’t need a church to worship in because he has his universities instead. Even the student that maybe doens’t carry the same prestige still has his love for learning and finds pleasure and wonder and meaning in his academic field.

But what about the farmer, the policeman, the baker, the accountant, the great majority of people that have lived their lives with the idea of the Divine being the God of the Bible. See when you ask them to give up God, you are not just asking them to forsake irrationality, but you are asking them to give up their whole system of cosmic significance.

Imagine from the creationist’s perspective how terribly cruel the idea of a lifeless indifferent universe is – to think that we evolved just to become smart enough to realize how small and inconsequential our lives are – this must be a very terrifying idea.

So when we become champions of reason, we not only have to sell rationality and critical thinking to the masses, but we also need to provide a new sense of wonder. A new sense of cosmic significance.

Maybe one of the ideas that can fill this void is the idea of inerconnectedness. We are all in this life together. We each affect eachother’s lives in deep meaningful ways. Everything about us is tied to the vastness all around us, from the food we eat, to the books we read, to the friends we have, and the television shows we watch. All of it dancing together in a complex web of interconnectedness. 

This idea is expressed in John Donne famous meditation:

All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Or from one of my favorite Buddhist poems “Call me by my true names” by Thich Nhat Hanh:

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.