Who Is It Still OK to Hate?
As news of the legal decision came out, she was reminded that atheists/non-believers are still one of the most discriminated-against groups in America: local Christians flooded the facebook and twitter accounts of this 16 year old girl with threats of rape, torture and murder. (See: “Religious Banner Opponent Jessica Ahlquist Stands Tall Despite Threats”)
In a similar vein, across the pond in Great Britain, 17 year old Rhys Morgan posted a relatively benign image of Jesus and Mohammad to support freedom of speech. The response was immediate and similar, with threats of violence from both Christians and Muslims. Unlike Jessica Ahlquist, this time the religious bullies won, with Rhys removing the image after his school threatened Rhys with expulsion.
People today fall on that spectrum too, but overall, the trend toward wider circles of care has been inexorable. (Just compare today with 1950, or 1900, or 1095, or earlier.) It is our great privilege to be participants in this form of social and moral progress – to be able to contribute to this growing love by remembering that all people are brothers and sisters, and acting accordingly.
How Doctors Die: An ICU Nurse Responds
“How Doctors Die — It’s Not Like the Rest of Us, But It Should Be"
Tremendously moved, I decided to do my part in spreading this sobering news and vital perspective. One of those who received my email was a young nurse, newly certified for working in the Intensive Care Unit. Below is her response (slightly modified for confidentiality).
Her story brought me to tears of joy and gratitude when I first read it. May there be ever more nurses with the training, the courage, and above all the heart exemplified by this unheralded young hero.
Response by a young “Intensive Care Unit (ICU)” nurse:
Thank you so much for this timely article. Only two months ago I participated in an "End of Life and Palliative Care in the ICU" class, where I was genuinely moved/tormented by the suffering my fellow nurses and I are surrounded with in the ICU.
A peaceful, gentle death is so valuable — and so rare.
I recently cared for a young adult cancer patient at the end of her life. She came to the ICU after having a bone marrow transplant to deal with the "pre-leukemia" she had developed, owing to an aggressive chemo regimen initiated several years earlier for her breast cancer.
By now, her whole body had deteriorated to such an extent that she required a mask that forced air into her lungs in order to oxygenate. She spent two weeks in our hospital’s ICU, with her lungs progressively worsening.
All the nurses knew she was not going to leave our unit. But her oncologist kept telling her to “fight it out!”
Finally, and this was on my shift, with her parents at her side, “Gloria” (the name I'll use) finally said that she just wanted the pain to go away.
Suddenly, everything changed.
I had just brought into her room her evening meds — literally thousands of dollars worth of antibiotics and anti-rejection medications. None of it mattered anymore.
I took down all the unnecessary tubing, started a morphine drip and administered Glycopyrrolate (which dries secretions and softens the "death rattle").
This felt massive to me. I remember this mix of emotions: sadness, relief, and an overwhelming sense that I was a part of something huge. I still cannot wrap my head around it.
I was able to help transition one profoundly suffering human being from a regimen of “Come on! Power through! Endure, endure, endure!” to, “It’s okay, Gloria. You fought so, so hard. Now close your eyes, let your pain fade, and rest.”
It was beautiful.
Gloria died the following day — not on my shift, but I felt so happy that I had been able to share the transition with her and her parents.
To think of everything we had put this woman through in hopes of an inaccessible cure is just ... sickening.
Medicine has gotten to the point where we've gone as far and as invasive as we can go. I wish people — both we professionals and the public at large — would begin to prioritize a dignified death above all.
Family members need to know that there is far more beauty in spending quality time (rather than simply a quantity of time in the hospital) with their unalterably disabled and ultimately incurable loved ones.
Sadly, when family members must make medical decisions, too often those decisions are influenced by a subconscious need to palliate our own emotional suffering. As well, an irrational fear that we will otherwise be guilty (or at least will feel guilty) spurs good people to say “yes” to absolutely every intervention that forestalls death.
Though I wish everyone could die at home surrounded by love and comfort, I know it is the nature of those battling cancer to often push themselves far past their ability to survive the journey home.
It is my duty to honor this incredible fight and allow them to pass peacefully, without pain — and to let them know that accepting death is the greatest victory.
~ by an ICU nurse, posted by...
Evolutionary Parenting: An Introduction - Jon Host
One of the most important parts of an evolutionary worldview is a commitment to future generations. Why? Because an evolutionary worldview includes the realization that we are all a part of the grand saga of life, the Great Story of the Universe, the diary of that irrepressible pulse of life, surging in us all.
This realization shows us the immensity of the story behind us, and therefore, the immensity of the story ahead of us. But what will that story be? We see from the past that it could contain a lot of horror, and a lot of good, and everything in between. To know that our great grandchildren (or those of our relatives) for seven generations and more will live in the world we give them makes this much more than idle speculation, transforming it into a drive to give back to the Universe and to life itself by doing what we can to help.
For those of us who are parents, this means working to raise our children as well as possible, giving them the tools that will help the future of all, and doing so with joy. Our children are humans, and understanding the needs of (and threats to) human children requires an understanding of the evolutionary history that made them. This is why Evolutionary Parenting includes both the connection to our evolutionary past, as well as the sense of purpose supplied by our awareness of future generations.
Talking about all those evolutionary needs and threats would take many books, so for this blog post, I’ll start with one small part of a family culture, and that is our human need for a meaningful, trusted story of how we got here. For dozens of millennia, humans in cultures around the globe grew with stories of how we got here that gave their lives meaning, richness and a sense of roots, so it’s no surprise that we humans have evolved to need such stories when we are children. To fulfill this need, a story must be meaningful – in that we must attach meaning to it, and not see it as irrelevant or “just dry facts”. It must also be believable – in that it needs to be supported by the facts as well as we know them. In other words, it has to be real. If the story fails either of these requirements, then children (and adults) cannot get all of the benefits we need from it as humans.
We are living in a time when nearly all of us are denying our children (and ourselves!) this basic human requirement. Scientific discoveries have demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the old creation myths, like the Native American story of Nanabozho or the Genesis story, aren’t literally true (they might still be meaningful, but are no longer believable), while the story that is believable, the evidence-based Universe Story, is rarely taught in a meaningful, inspiring way. Only a story that is both meaningful AND believable can fulfill this basic human need.
Others are recognizing this cultural loss as well. As Nancy Ellen Abrams states:
Without a meaningful, believable story that explains the world we actually live in, people have no idea how to think about the big picture. And without a big picture, we are very small people.
And over a half century ago, Maria Montessori told us that:
…by offering the child the story of the universe, we give him something a thousand times more infinite and mysterious to reconstruct with his imagination, a drama no fable can reveal."
I’ve lost count of the times when, in teaching creation myths to children, they seem uncaring, especially after asking, repeatedly “but is that what really happened?”. They are already too smart to care much for stories that are known to be false. Yet, it still took me a while to realize how much children want the honest truth. Seeing myself and other adults take a long time enthusiastically embrace the Universe Story drives home the fact that we have learned our culture all too well. This is why it takes time and commitment to raise our children with the meaningful and believable history that they desperately need. Even after only a few years of doing so, I’ve already started to see the wonder and joy in my children at having a meaningful and believable origin story – a coherent, empowering cosmology.
We can give them the meaningful and believable story that they need. To do so, we only need to realize how deeply meaningful and enriching the factual Story of the Universe, as discovered by science, truly is. We only need to allow its meaning to shine through – and a moment’s reflection shows how wonderful it really is. That wonder and joy of finally reconnecting to the Universe, the same feeling our Ancestors for millennia felt, is within our grasp again. It changed my life, and others as well. Some of our stories can be read here.
Luckily, none of us have to reinvent the wheel and try to do this from scratch. There are resources available online here. For most of us, we’ll be learning at the same time, with the whole family traveling much of the path together. I hope to discuss some of the ways we’ve found to work well in our family in future blog posts.
Evolutionary Parenting, today, is uncommon at best. But I suspect that in the future it will be as commonplace as teaching children to read and write. From seeing its effect on my life and the lives of others, I think it is just as important as even those basic skills, especially for living in the chaotic world our children will face.
~ Jon Cleland Host
Terence McKenna Denounces Relativism and New Age Woo
A Cure for Collective Insanity?
Dawning realizations re Occupy Wall Street
The following is cross-posted from my main blog site, here. (See comments posted there too.)
It is slowly dawning on me that I've seen events very similar to Occupy Wall Street.
The first time was on the Great Peace March in 1986 which started out from Los Angeles as a hierarchical mega-PR event with 1200 people and tons of equipment. It suddenly and traumatically went bankrupt in the Mojave Desert two weeks later. 800 marchers went home. 400 marchers didn't. It took them (us) two weeks sitting around an BMX track in Barstow to reorganize with no formal leaders (but tons of ambient leadership) and little support (but tons of vulnerability that soon attracted grassroots support). As we re-started our 3000-mile trek with 400 people, it turned into a 9 month miracle of self-organization (I mean, where DO you put 400 people each night 15 or so miles further down the road?!!), out of which came my first experiences of and ideas about collective intelligence, which led to my life work today. The lives of hundreds of other people were transformed by that March, whose emergent troubadours sang "echoes of our care will last forever..". The folks at Occupy Wall Street are doing a similar experiment in passion-driven self-organization.
The other comparable events I've seen were run by Open Space and World Cafe - especially Open Space. Remember?: The two legs of Open Space are "passion" and "responsibility", which combine into that remarkable guidance formulated by Peggy Holman as "Take responsibility for what you love as an act of service." Are we seeing that in Occupy Wall Street, or what?! Then there's "It starts whenever it starts." "Whoever comes is the right people." "Whatever happens is the only thing that could have" and "When it is over, its over." In Open Space there are two exploratory plenary sharings each day. For most of the day, though, there's no preordained agenda - only people gathering in groups to do what they want to do together. Or being "butterflies" (going off on their own, often stumbling into random conversations) or "bumble-bees" (going from group to group, cross pollinating). No one is "in charge".
The whole thing holds together because those who are present share a passion. In Occupy Wall Street, the shared passion is a desire to reclaim human life and community from "Wall Street" - the greed-based, hierarchical corporate-financial system that has colonized and degraded our minds, lives, politics, economics, world, and future. That passion has a thousand manifestations, which are the polyphonous "issues" that swarm around Liberty Square like bees in a meadow.
So I realized: OF COURSE Occupy Wall Street doesn't have "demands." Demonstrations and protests have demands. But although O.W.S. LOOKS like a protest and a demonstration (and occasionally turns into one), it is actually something more, something else: It is a passionate community of inquiry acting itself out as an archetypal improvisational street theater performance embodying, in one hand, people's longings for the world as it could be and, in the other, their intense frustrations with the world as it is. These longings and frustrations reside in the whole society, not just in the occupiers.
The occupiers are behaving and reaching out in ways that release and activate those suppressed transformational energies all over the country and world. (Arny and Amy Mindell call such archetypal energies "timespirits" after "Zeitgeist", the spirit of the times.) To think of Occupation Wall Street as primarily a demonstration or protest misses the profound novelty and power of what they are doing. All of us - they and we - are figuring out what it is they are doing as they do it. They are kinda building the road as they travel.
That the whole thing wasn't consciously built according to any plan - that it EMERGED - is both its power and its limitation. We would do well to think about how to combine such powerful spontaneity with transformational processes (like Open Space and World Cafe) that use self-organization to help spread evocative energy from a dynamic center like Occupy Wall Street out into the society, transmuting that society's latent frustrations and longings into a force that can shift the energy of the whole System towards Life. I sense a new form of activism, of citizenship, of aliveness being born here. Each of us gets to ask what role we want to play in that flowing, creative Mystery. And the roles we inevitably play inevitably become part of the inevitable river as the ice inevitably melts...
A few recent insightful articles about Occupy Wall Street...
• On the eve of my trip to Occupy Boston
• #OccupyWallStreet is a Church of Dissent, Not a Protest
• Andrew Ross Sorkin's assignment editor
• What the Environmental Movement Can Learn From the Wall Street Zombies
The Evidential Reformation: Humanity Comes of Age
“We will never achieve a just and sustainably lifegiving future on the resources of the existing religious traditions, and we can’t get there without them.” ~ Thomas Berry
The 21st century will be seen historically as humanity’s rite of passage. We’re growing up as a species, going through the very same process we’ve all gone through as we mature. As children we’re guided by beliefs and we think the world was made for us. As adults, we’re guided by knowledge and we live our lives (at least in part) as a contribution to others and the world. Indeed, for healthy adults, self-giving is actually one of life’s greatest satisfactions. As well, most of us needed no special training or incentives to begin questioning the beliefs we were spoon-fed as children – just the usual dose of hormones and peer focus that signals adolescence.
These two transformations, from beliefs to knowledge and from self-focus to contribution, are precisely what we’re now collectively experiencing. I call this species-wide rite of passage the “Evidential Reformation,” and I believe it is destined to transform not only the science-and-religion debate and how religious traditions relate to one another, but, even more importantly, how humans relate to the larger body of life of which we are part and upon which we depend.
Big history, also known as the epic of evolution, is our common creation narrative. It is the first origin story in the history of humanity that is globally produced, derived entirely from evidence, and will soon be taught to high school students around the world (see here, here, and the YouTube clip at the end of this post).
In our “childhood” as a species – as tribes, then villages, then chiefdoms and kingdoms, then city-states and early nations – our main source of guidance came from religious beliefs. Shared allegiance to a particular religion that bridged even ethnic and linguistic differences was a crucial factor in the rise of civilizations across the globe. Consider: our instinctual heritage as social mammals will suffice for fostering cooperation at the scale of a clan. (Biologists call these instinctive forms of cooperation kin selection and reciprocal altruism.) Mutually advantageous trade then facilitated greater circles of cooperation. But for 10,000 or more human beings to be induced to cooperate: for that, you need religion – a singular, shared, unquestioned religion, and probably one that doles out harsh consequences (including ostracism) for apostates.
A multitude of religions arose independently of course, because in any bioregion where fierce competition for territory or resources arose, there would have been a survival advantage to groups that could forge cross-clan alliances for mutual defense. As well, there are two functional issues that all cultures need to address: what’s real and what’s important. (In a six-minute YouTube video based on his book, Religion Is Not About God, philosopher of religion Loyal Rue refers to these two functions as “how things are” and “which things matter.”) These two functional issues will be answered differently based upon where and when you live and upon the happenstance of interpretive imagination of one’s ancestors. Each “wisdom tradition” thus reflects regional collective intelligence encoded mythically. That is, the regional collective intelligence is encoded in pre-scientific language that reflects a people’s daytime and nighttime experience. (See here for a discussion of “Day and Night Language,” which was a central concept in my book, Thank God for Evolution.)
In our “adolescence” as a species (which was a threshold crossed as the modern era swept the globe), we began to question the beliefs, interpretations, and meanings we had inherited. The birth of this new form of collective intelligence, global collective intelligence, occurred when access to powerful new technologies (beginning with the telescope) ramped up our ability to discern how things are. We then faced the frightening truth that ancient understandings were not, in fact, the best maps of what is real. This challenging process is still facing much of the world, as traditional religious beliefs are increasingly found to be obsolete and simply no longer credible when interpreted literally.
Some individuals thrilled to the prospect of participating in this threshold event: of valuing measurable observation, rationality, and collectively encouraged skepticism and testing as the preferred means for discerning what’s real and what’s important. In the 19th century these “natural philosophers” became known as “scientists.”
The two institutions responsible for ensuring that the self-interest of individuals and groups are aligned – namely, governance and religion – were impacted differently by the rise of modern science. Democratic forms of governance were the first to embrace evidence as authoritative. Religions are only now beginning to catch up and to not only experience the terror but also taste the thrill of what the Evidential Reformation offers.
Like any rite of passage, once one voluntarily steps through the threshold there is no integrous and healthy way of going back. So of course there are shrill voices of protest and deep institutional inertia.
But ultimately, this shift will happen. One by one, segment by segment, the great religions of the world will pass through the threshold – else they will wither and the new generations will leave them entirely behind.
What the Evidential Reformation offers for religion is centrally this: Science reveals “God’s word” for humanity today – that is, what’s real and what’s important, or how things are and which things matter – far more accurately than the Bible or Qur’an could ever hope to. And Moses, Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and the Prophet Mohammad would surely be among the first to applaud this trend were they alive today.
Yet, until faith leaders become a whole lot bolder in proclaiming to their flocks the goodness and necessity of this shift, religious people will remain blind and deaf to what God (Reality personified) is revealing today through scientific, historic, and cross-cultural evidence. And that means that God/Reality will continue using the New Atheists to mock unchanging religious beliefs and those who espouse such beliefs.
The main hindrance to religious people wholeheartedly embracing evidence as divine communication – divine guidance (i.e., how Reality reveals itself) – has been what I have long been characterizing as idolatry of the written word (also here). Idolatry of the written word occurred anywhere in the world where ancient oral stories (which surely evolved for millennia as conditions and needs changed) became frozen into unchanging scripture – scripture that was then deemed as the foundational (even the sole) locus for discerning priorities, values, right thinking, and right behavior.
This shift from oral storytelling to unchanging scripture as the way wisdom, morality, and a sense of the sacred (supreme value) is generationally passed forward set the stage (albeit centuries later) for a profound and now exponentially expanding mismatch. This mismatch is between globally shared and empirically tested updates of (once-again) evolving wisdom versus what religious people still preference as “God’s Word”.
Idolatry of the written word has thus led to what could be considered “demonic beliefs.” I do not hesitate to use such harsh language because any and all beliefs that cause good people to do bad things and to vote in evil ways (ways that are shortsighted, self-centered, and harmful to future generations) are demonic. And who among us does not see where such beliefs have led to a kind of collective insanity? The only cure, as far as I can tell, is for religious leaders to accept – indeed, to celebrate – that scientific, historic, and cross-cultural evidence are the actual venues through which Reality/God is speaking and guiding humanity today. Fortunately, this shift is happening rapidly…and seems likely to be fleshed out in just another generation or two.
I do not decry or disvalue this aspect of religious history. Indeed, I accept that idolatry of the written word could not have been avoided. Without the shift to literacy, humanity would never have been able to access the fruits of modernity: the rule of law, exponentially growing knowledge, cumulative technological and medical advances, and a widening sense of one’s “in-group” and compassionate treatment thereof.
Nonetheless, the negative social consequences of this form of idolatry have been quite severe – and threaten to become even more terrifying and destructive as deadly weapons come in ever smaller packages. It is thus time to prophetically speak out against continued favoring of ancient scriptural ‘authority’ over our best collective understandings of facts and values today. Said another way, the Church, currently shipwrecked (also here) on the immovable rock of “biblical authority”, can still be saved, but only by embracing “the authority of evidence”. Reality would have it no other way.
One of the most significant and hopeful insights to emerge from the early days of the Evidential Reformation is a re-envisioning of what “self-interest” really is. Self-interest actually exists at all biological and cultural levels – not just at the obvious, individual level. Indeed, the key to ever-increasing social complexity in the human realm over the past 10,000 years has been the aligning of self-interest at multiple levels. It could even be argued that nothing is more important for ensuring a just and thriving future than aligning the natural self-interest of individuals, corporations, and nation-states with the wellbeing of the body of life as a whole. The outcome of this shift would be to make competition co-operative, self-interest nontoxic, and society wise.
One could thus conclude that humanity’s “Great Work” in the 21st century is to co-create global and bioregional governance such that individuals and groups that benefit the common good benefit themselves, while individuals and groups that disregard or harm the common good are taxed, penalized, or face moral strictures.
By organizing and managing ourselves so that the impact of parts on the whole, for good or ill, are reflected back to the parts, we shall create a system through which individuals, corporations, and nations are incentivized to do what is just and ecological – while simultaneously being incentivized to not do what is unjust or un-ecological. This aligning of self-interest at multiple scales would ensure that what is perceived as the cheaper, easier, more convenient thing to do is also the right thing to do, rather than the harmful thing, as it is now. This re-incentivizing of societal goods and services to comport with human nature (as it really is, not as we wish it would be) would also help all elements of society to access and make decisions based on humanity’s collective intelligence (also here and here).
The promise of the Evidential Reformation, as I see it, is this: As the world’s great religious traditions come to honor and celebrate evidence as divine guidance, and big history as our common creation story, they will begin to wield their moral authority in ways that assist, rather than resist, the passage of our species out of the desert of destructive and unsustainable adolescence and into the promised land of contributing and fulfilled maturity.
Thank God for the New Atheists
I've been thinking, writing, and speaking quite a bit lately about my gratitude for the New Atheists. I see them as playing an indispensible role in helping the religions of the world evolve so that each can bless humanity and the larger body of life, now and into the future. Prophets historically were those who issued a word of warning to their people: "Come into right relationship with Reality—or perish!" Right relationship with reality today requires our species to grow from belief-based to evidence-based guidance and inspiration.
To be clear, I thank God for the New Atheists not because I want everyone to be like them or think like them (though I do wish everyone would value evidence like they do), nor because I consider them perfect vessels of divine wisdom. Rather, I'm grateful to them because of how they are helping religious people (like me!) get real about God, guidance, and good news, and also because of how they are prodding religion and humanity to mature in two absolutely essential ways. (For those interested, I discuss these two ways briefly on this 3 minute YouTube clip, and more thoroughly in this 20 minute sermon.)
Re how I see the New Atheists playing a vital role in the evolution of religion, the resources I particularly recommend are the following text of my sermon on the subject, two online audio recordings (which bookend my nine month cancer saga), and a video of my sermon delivered on August 1, 2010 in Oklahoma City:
SERMON TEXT: Thank God for the New Atheists! (I deliver my sermons extemporaneously, so this is a template, not a word-for-word transcript. I suggest reading this sermon first, before expriencing any of the other resources that follow.) HERE is an edited version of this same sermon, published in the February 2011 issue of Skeptic magazine. And HERE is an even shorter version, published in the December 2010 issue of Australasian Science magazine.
PODCAST: "The New Atheists As God's Prophets" [September 6, 2009] - 25 minute podcast that I recorded just two hours after I learned that I had an especially aggressive form of cancer. I asked myself, 'If I have only one message left to deliver to the world, what would it be?' The answer that came: "Show people how the New Atheists are God's prophets."
SERMON AUDIO: "The New Atheists As God's Prophets?!" [June 6, 2010] - 20 minute recording of a sermon I delivered at People's Church in Ludington, Michigan, just days before learning that my cancer was in remission (after 6 rounds of R-CHOP chemotherapy last fall and having my spleen with large tumor attached surgically removed in February).
SERMON VIDEO: The New Atheists Are God's Prophets: [delivered 8-1-10 at Mayflower UCC in Okhlahoma City, OK]
For those wishing to explore this subject beyond the aforementioned resources:
Three of My Best Sermons [descriptions and audio links to my May 30, June 6, and June 13 sermons]
Evolutionize Your Life: Heaven Is Coming Home to Reality [June 13, 2010]
December 2010 issue Australasian Science Magazine: Thank God for the New Atheists
Idolatry of the Written Word [April 26, 2010]
God Is a Divine Personification, Not a Person [May 28, 2010]
Idolatry of the Written Word [April 24, 2010]
Atheists Promote Bible Reading?! [January 27, 2010]
The Salvation of Religion: From Beliefs to Knowledge [January 28, 2010]
Thank God for Death: Could Anything Be More Sacred, More Necessary, More Real?
I want address the question of death because most people, religious and non-religious folk alike, are clueless regarding what has revealed about death in the past few hundred years, through science. And this ignorance has resulted in untold suffering — for families and for society as a whole, as well as for individuals.
I am regularly asked (more often since I was diagnosed with lymphoma), "Do you believe in an afterlife? What do you think happens to us when we die?" My typical response is to make one or more of the following points...
1. As I discuss in "The Gifts of Death" section of Chapter 5 of my book Thank God for Evolution, it is vitally important when thinking about death in the abstract, when contemplating the inevitability of our own demise, or when grieving the loss of a loved one, to have an accurate understanding of the positive role of death in the Universe. Widespread ignorance of the scientifically indisputable fact that death is natural and generative at all levels of reality, coupled with our culture's failure to interpret the science in ways that will help us to actually feel that death is no less sacred than life, result in not only distorted but outright disabling views. This does not, of course, take away the anguish and grief of death. Such intense feelings are normal and healthy. They should be honored and allowed time to dissipate naturally—which can often take a year or longer. But what this perspective does do is that it provides a reality-based container for death. We no longer need to think that death is a cosmic mistake or that humans are responsible for the existence of death in the universe.
(Here you can sample testimonials from our travels that demonstrate the emotional gifts of a science-based perspective, meaningfully interpreted. It's also important to remember that Moses, Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and Muhammad could not possibly have known what we know about death. This evidence-based understanding couldn't have been revealed in a way that we could have received it prior to telescopes, microscopes, and computers.)
2. Looking at reality through evolutionary, "deep-time eyes", my sense of "self" does not stop with my skin. Earth is my larger Self. The Universe is my even larger Self: my Great Self. So, yes, "I" (in this expanded sense) will continue to exist even after "I" (this particular body-mind) comes to a natural end. There is deep comfort in knowing that my larger Self will live on. More, I am powerfully motivated to be in action today precisely because I do not ignore or deny the inevitability of death. My small self has but a brief window of opportunity to delight in, and contribute to, the ongoing evolution of the body of life. Truly, this is it; now or never. I am immensely grateful for both the comfort and the compulsion born of this sacred evolutionary perspective.
3. From an evidential standpoint it seems clear that we go go to the same place we came from before we were conceived—the same "place" that trillions of other animals and plants have gone throughout Earth's history when they died. Some speak about it as "coming from God and returning to God". Others talk about it as "coming from mystery and returning to mystery". Still others as "coming from nothing and returning to nothing". All these I sense as legitimate and emotionally satisfying ways of thinking and talking about what happens at death. And as I sometimes humorously respond, when asked about the afterlife, "If where I go isn't the same place that all other plants, animals, and species throughout Earth's history have gone, I'm gonna be pissed!" :-)
4. A universal experience whether or not we can admit it, death is the sole companion to life. From the moment we take our first breath, the inevitable result is death. Thus, any so-called "faith" which doesn't include trusting that whatever happens on the other side of death is just fine is, in my view, really no faith at all. Fear of a terrifying, hellish after-death scenario, OR attachment to a blissful, heavenly after-death scenario are just that: fear or attachment; not faith, not trust. As legendary Griefwalker and "Angel of Death" Stephen Jenkinson puts it: "Not success. Not growth. Not happiness. The cradle of your love of life ... is death." (I highly recommend purchasing the DVD "Griefwalker". Once you watch it you'll probably just keep loaning it out.)
5. The idea of being "rewarded" (condemned?!) with experiencing even one year (much less millions or billions of years) of after-death existence free of struggle, challenge, or difficulty, would occur to me as hell, not heaven, were I to think of (or worse yet, witness from on high) the divinely decreed eternal torment and everlasting torture of others who had in some way missed the mark. Adding to the repugnance would be an after-death future in which those relegated to never-ending suffering included not only perpetrators of outright evil but also those condemned for nothing more than holding wrong beliefs—that is, beliefs different from mine.
6. Here is the way I discuss the subject of "the afterlife/what happens when we die" on pages 116-117 of my book, Thank God for Evolution:
My formal training for becoming a United Church of Christ minister culminated in an ordination paper that I wrote and then presented to a gathering of ministers and lay leaders. Titled “A Great Story Perspective on the UCC Statement of Faith” (available at TheGreatStory.org), my talk stimulated a host of comments and queries. A widely respected minister posed a question I shall never forget. “Michael,” he began, “I’m impressed with your presentation and with the evolutionary theology that you’ve shared with us. However, there’s a little boy who lives in me, and that little boy wants to know: Where is Emory?”
Emory Wallace, a well-known and beloved retired minister, had for nearly three years guided me through my ministerial training. He died suddenly, at the age of 85, just a few weeks before my ordination hearing.
“Where is Emory?” My mind went blank. I knew I needed to say something—after all, this was my ordination hearing—so I just opened my mouth and started speaking, trusting the Spirit to give me the words. My response went something like this:
Where is Emory? In order to answer that question I have to use both day language—the language of rational, everyday discourse—and night language—the language of dreams, myth, and poetry. Both languages are vital and necessary, just as both waking and dreaming states of consciousness are vital and necessary. Like all mammals, if we are deprived of a chance to dream, we die. Sleep is not enough; we must be permitted to dream.
We, of course, know that day experience and night experience are different. For example, if you were to ask me what I did for lunch today, and I told you that I turned myself into a crow and flew over to the neighborhood farm and goofed around with the cows for a little bit, then I flew to Dairy Queen and ordered a milkshake—and if I told you all that with a straight face—you might counsel me to visit a psychiatrist. However, if you had asked me to share a recent dream and I told the same story, you might be curious as to the meaning of that dream—but you wouldn’t think me delusional.
So in order to respond to your question, “Where is Emory?” I have to answer in two ways. First, in the day language of common discourse, I will say, Emory’s physical body is being consumed by bacteria. Eventually, only his skeleton and teeth will remain. His genes, contributions, and memory will live on through his family and through the countless people that he touched in person and through his writings—and that includes all of us.
But, you see, if I stop there—if that’s all I say—then I’ve told only half the story. In order to address the nonmaterial, meaningful dimensions of reality I must continue and say something like: “Emory is at the right hand of God the Father, worshipping and giving glory with all the saints.” Or I could say, “Emory is being held and nurtured by God the Mother.” Or I could use a Tibetan symbol system and say, “Emory has entered the bardo realm.” Any or all of these would also be truthful—true within the accepted logic and understanding of mythic night language.
My response was well received in that meeting of nineteen years ago, and it has shaped my theology ever since. Recently, I blended the core of that distinction into my Great Story talks and workshops. I am sure that my understanding of day and night language—language of reason and language of reverence—will continue to evolve and thus inform my preaching, my teaching, and my personal relationship God, the fullness of Reality.
ALSO SEE: Duane Elgin: "Can Death Become Your Ally?"
[Posted August 12, 2011]
Guidelines for Making Wiser Decisions on Public Issues
If the ideas intrigue you, you can find a longer version with more detailed guidelines and references here. I wrote the abstract below to make it easier for you to see the whole pattern at once. I hope you find both versions interesting and useful.
As a civilization we have tremendous collective power, but we don't always use it wisely. We can make good decisions, but we face messy, entangled, rapidly growing problems with complex, debatable causes. Efforts to solve one problem often generate new ones. We need more than problem-solving smarts here. We need wisdom.
A good definition for wisdom here is
the capacity to take into account
what needs to be taken into account
to produce long term, inclusive benefits.
To the extent we fail to take something important into account, it will come back to haunt us. But often we only realize we overlooked something long after our decision has been implemented. Certain practices - because they lead us to include more of what's important - can help us meet this challenge. Here are eight complementary ways to do this. The more of them we do, and the better we do them, the wiser our collective decisions will be.
1. Creatively engage diverse perspectives and intelligences. High quality conversations among diverse people with full-spectrum knowledge, using their full human capacities - including reason, intuition, and aesthetic sensibilities - can generate wisdom.
2. Consult global wisdom traditions and broadly shared ethics. Ethical principles common to most major religions and philosophies provide time-tested wisdom, augmented by what we have learned more recently through global science and global dialogue.
3. Seek guidance from natural patterns. Wisdom is embedded in nature, in organisms, in natural forms and processes, and in evolution, providing a vast reservoir of insight and know-how tapped not only by scientists and engineers but by tribal and agricultural cultures.
4. Apply systems thinking. Wisdom comes from understanding underlying causes and taking into account how things are interrelated, how wholes and parts influence each other through power relations, resonance, feedback dynamics, flows, motivating purposes, and life-shaping narratives, habits and structures.
5. Think about the Big Picture and the Long Term. Wisdom grows as we step out of limiting perspectives to understand (and creatively use!) histories and energies from the past, current contexts and trends, future ramifications and needs, larger and smaller scales, and other mind-expanding perspectives.
6. Seek agreements that are truly inclusive. The more people contribute to, engage with, and believe in an agreement, the more likely it will wisely address what needs to be addressed and be well implemented.
7. Release the potential of hidden assets and positive possibilities. It is wise to notice and creatively engage existing energies and resources and to tap the power of people's aspirations which often show up at the rough edges, on the margins of our thinking, our group, our society.
8. Encourage healthy self-organization and learning. Any situation or system has problem-solving and self-organizing capacities which can be released and supported with well-designed forms of invitation, participation, and collaboration - powerful questions, crowd-sourcing activities, incentives, democracy, conversation, games...
9. Co-create accessible, relevant, accurate, full-spectrum knowledge. Fundamental to every one of these principles is the ability of decision-makers to know what's important.
Society's capacity to make wise decisions will be enhanced to the extent these wisdom-generating practices are supported and institutionalized AND to the extent the systemic obstacles to them are removed or bypassed.
"A Dying Breath on a Bloody Battlefield": A Civil War Ancestor Meditation
Hundreds dead on July 21st, with hundreds of thousands to follow. That day, just recently past, was the 150th anniversary of the first major battle of the War Between the States (or the American Civil War). Being a Northerner, somehow I missed the emphasis on the enormity of this conflict when growing up, and so I was shocked to learn that well over a half million brave men died in that war. No other war, (not even World War II at 400,000 American casualties, and certainly not Vietnam with less than 60,000) comes close.
Some of us have a personal connection to those soldiers by knowing of an Ancestor who fought in the American Civil War, perhaps great-great-great-grandpa Jim. Reflecting on that person can change the American Civil War from a note in a history book into a stunning chapter in the family history that got you here today – a part of who you are. That person lived a very hard life, without which you wouldn’t exist. Imagine if you were someone with such an Ancestor, and didn’t know it – that you lived day to day ignoring that brave part of yourself. Don’t you want to know if you are descended from a Civil War soldier?
But without finding a Civil War soldier in our family tree, it’s pretty unlikely you are the great-great-great-grandchild of Johnny Reb or Billy Yank, right? Can we make a reasonable estimate of the odds?
Let’s try. First, consider how many Civil War era Ancestors you have. You’ve got two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc. Let’s put approximate dates on those (or use your actual, correct dates if you have them). That gives two parents - born around 1950, and using 25 years for a generation, we end up with 32 Ancestors born ~1850, and 64 born ~ 1825. Also, remember that in a group that large, you’ll have plenty of cases where both father and son fall into the eligible age (18 to 45 years old), and plenty of cases where a boy at 16 lied about his age so as to fight. So for most of us, you have between ~40 and ~80 Ancestors who were between the ages of 18 and 45 in the year 1860, giving 20 to 40 male Ancestors – potential Civil War soldiers. I’ll call them Male Civil War Ancestors, or MCWAs.
But were any of them soldiers? How can we estimate that? Luckily, we have data!
Of men aged 20-40 in 1860, around 50% in the Union and an unbelievable 80+% in the Confederacy1 went off to fight. Some basic probability calculations2 using these data show that if you are a Caucasian3 person without nearly all of your family having immigrated4 here since 1865, it ispractically certain2 that you are descended from one or likely more, Civil War veterans. This is true for both people with purely Yankee ancestry, and even more certain for those with some Ancestors from the Confederate States.
As the math gave this answer and reality sunk in, I was amazed. For nearly all of us, we are the children of many Billy Yanks, many Johnny Rebs! Then, I thought of what it was like for our Ancestors to live in the American Civil War, whether slave or free. Hold that in your mind for a moment. Try running a google image search on, say, “civil war battle”, or if you’re brave, “civil war POW”. Plus, the soldiers (about 20% of who died) of course weren’t the only ones who suffered. For most of us, our great-great-great grandma Mary had to be told as a young child that daddy would never come home, or as a lovestruck 22 year old, that her beloved new husband George was gone forever, and that she’d have to raise baby Anne (you great-great-great-great grandma) alone. Yet they grew up, swallowed their pain, and raised your great-great-grandparents. Within a couple generations, that pain was forgotten. Those and many other powerful stories are as real as our lives today, even though the details have been lost in the mists of time. You exist today because, through love and struggle, they survived, and in most cases, gave their kids the best life they could.
We too easily forget that we stand on a mountain of love and struggle from thousands of loving Ancestors, who often gave their whole lives of hardship just to make it by. Because we don’t know the details, we forget that those lives existed. For me, an awareness of those lives fills me with gratitude every day for all I am and all I have. It lifts me up when faced with hardship, reminding me that I come from a long line of success stories, filled with noble Ancestors who faced down hardships at least as severe as whatever I’m facing today in this recession, who persevered again and again. As the Civil War plays out in 150thAnniversaries over the next four years, each one will be a new reminder to me of the struggles of some of my Ancestors. Along with thoughts of my trillions of other Ancestors, these will continue to be a source of strength and gratitude. Will you remember them on July 21st? Bull Run - July 21, Wilson Creek - August 10, Fort Donelson - February 16 the next year, Shiloh - April 6, 2nd Bull Run – August 29, Antietam – September 17th…… and more…
~ Jon Cleland Host
1. To estimate the likelihood of a MCWA actually being a soldier, simply divide the size of the Union and Confederate armies (~ 2 and 1 million respectively) by the number of males ages 18 – 45. Estimates of the number of males ages 18 – 45 in 1861 are around 3.8 million for the Union (3.5 million white + 3 million African American), for about 2/3.8 or a ~50% Union enlistment rate, and around 1 million males ages 18 – 45 in 1861 for the Confederacy, giving a Confederate enlistment rate conservatively well over 80%. -Data from: U.S. Civil War: 150th Anniversary Reference Guide, compiled by Bill Lucey, using ``The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac: 1861-1865’’ By E. B. Long (Doubleday & Company Inc., 1971); ``Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War’’ (Harper & Row, Publishers); ``Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era’’ By James McPherson., http://www.billlucey.com/2011/01/us-civil-war-150th-anniversary-reference-guide.html, Accessed 2011.06.28
2. Let’s use those data to estimate the probability that you have Ancestors who fought in the U. S. Civil War. Did your Ancestors live in the Union states in 1861? Since 50% of soldier age males from the Union fought, that means that for each of your Yankee MCWAs, there is only a 50% chance that he wasn’t a soldier. The odds that NONE of all of your Yankee MCWAs fought in the Civil War is therefore simply 0.5 raised to the power of the number of your MCWAs. Now, look at how fast that drops to near zero: 0.5^6 = 0.016, so even if, due to immigration or such3, you estimate that you have only 6 MCWAs, you still have a 98.4% chance (that’s [1-0.016] X 100%) of being descended from one or more Civil War veterans. With 17 or more MCWAs, as nearly all of us have, your odds, even using only Yankee MCWAs, of being descended from one or more Civil War veterans are 99.999+%.
Are any of your ancestral families from the South? In the South, slavery allowed more households to survive with the white men leaving to fight, so over 80% of soldier-aged white men fought1. Using the same math as above, the numbers are truly astounding – with just 2 Rebel MCWAs, you have more than a 96% chance (or [1-0.2^2] X 100), and with just 8 Rebel MCWAs (most Southerners have many more than that), you get a 99.9997% chance of being descended from one or more Civil War veterans.
2. “But hold on!” you say – “I’ve got some recent immigrants in my family tree! Don’t we have to remove them from the MCWA calculation?” Yep. Do so. Let’s say that someone as recent as your great-grandmother came over from Estonia in 1920. Your great-grandmother is 1/8th of your lineage at her generation, so that removes 1/8 of your 40 to 80 Civil War era Ancestors, leaving ~17 to 35 MCWAs. You can do the same for any part of your family tree made of post-1865 immigrants. More importantly, the lives of those immigrants were hardly walks in the park. They had the courage to leave the only home they knew, to get on that boat, and face an uncertain future as a mistrusted minority in America. Why would they do that? A potato famine? War? Starvation? Ethnic “cleansing”? Some of my Ancestors too are more recent immigrants, and their success in that brave move also fills me with appreciation and fits the last paragraph of the blog post above.
3. What about African Americans? In the North in 1860, free African Americans composed a full 10% of the population, and rushed to join the fight at rates similar to Caucasians, so if you are African American with at least some Northern heritage, the Yankee odds above apply equally to you. However, the Confederacy was deathly opposed to allowing slaves to fight, and never did (though out of desperation it was considered in 1865). So if all of your ancestry is from purely Southern U. S. African Americans, then you likely don’t have any Civil War veteran Ancestors. Nevertheless, being that people move and intermarry, it will not be long before nearly everyone in the United States has Civil War veteran ancestors, including African-Americans living in the South. More importantly, the life of a slave was often a harder life than even that of a soldier, so the main point of this blog post, as described in the last paragraph, is even more powerful for descendants of Civil War slaves than for Civil War veterans.
From Mystery to Wonder: Science vs. God of the Gaps
"Science cannot explain the origin of life," a man told me as I managed the book table at my husband's evening program recently. The man had been explaining how he had come to accept evolution while maintaining his belief in God. Then a younger man entered the conversation, warning, "But science may one day crack that mystery, too." I concurred, "A God of the Gaps is a dangerous approach for resolving science and faith."
Michael's program that evening (23 March 2009) was his newest illustrated talk, "Evolution and the Global Integrity Crisis", which he also will also be presenting at the United Nations. We were at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church near Philadelphia. The event drew an audience from the surrounding Philadelphia community. It was co-sponsored by the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia, Metanexus Institute, Narbarth Havurah, Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, St. Luke United Methodist Church, and The Earth Center of the Delaware Watershed.
In order to make time for the global integrity theme in his new program, Michael had dropped some of the theology that he ordinarily presents (and that entails a large chunk of his book, Thank God for Evolution). Specifically, he had excised the arguments leading up to a bold assertion: "An understanding of God that does not at least include the entire creative process of the Universe is, given our modern understandings, a trivial notion of God." Alas, absent this perspective, moderate Christians will have little option but to continue taking refuge in today's version of "God of the Gaps" theology—that is, Intelligent Design.
Just how secure is the mystery of life's origin?
Is this argument in favor of a designer God well fortified from possible intrusions by explanatory science? That is, how great are the gaps in scientific understanding of (a) the formation of complex organic molecules on or within the early Earth, and (b) natural and unguided processes for linking up such molecules into precursors of living systems?
A stunning gain in understanding the formation of complex organic molecules was reported in December 2008 - and not just in the science media: Nature Geoscience. USA Today also printed an article titled "Life from Asteroid Collisions?". A team of Japanese scientists performed experiments that simulated (in miniature) the chemical conditions of Earth's early atmosphere and ocean during the time of the late "Heavy Bombardment" of asteroids in Earth's pre-life history. The heat and shock of such impacts would have destroyed any complex organic molecules in the vicinity of the impact, but the subsequent fallout of materials raining down through the atmosphere over a vast area would have generated far more complex molecules in the process—molecules that would persist in the chemical conditions of Earth's early ocean.
In 1997, as a freelance science writer, I was privileged to help a brilliant scientist write his final book. The education I gained in his presence opened my eyes to the prospects of an eventual solution to the mysteries of life's origins. The scientist was Thomas Gold (1920-2004), and the book is titled, The Deep Hot Biosphere. Back in 1992 Gold had published a scientific paper by this same title (now available online here), and it had entranced me from the outset. The origins of life ideas he presents in his final book include a speculation that he made in one of the interviews I taped of him, but which he hadn't yet published. Knowing that this book would be the only place that particular idea would appear, I made sure to work it in. The gist is this: So long as scientists go about their work as "surface chauvinists"—that is, assuming that the best conditions for life to originate would be at or near Earth's surface, they will fail to experimentally test chemical interactions under conditions of exceedingly high pressures. Gold hypothesized that catalytic organic molecules (organo-metallics) may actually originate easily and in abundance by natural processes operating at depth within Earth's upper mantle.
Time will tell. Meanwhile, may secularists and religionists alike find awe and a sense of the sacred in not just the unknown mysteries of the universe, but the known wonders—the workings of which simply could not have been perceived, much less understood, in the time of the biblical writers. Thank God for evolution—and thank God for the scientific endeavor that consistently works toward filling mysterious gaps with known wonders!
United Nations Values Caucus welcomes Michael Dowd
In the Spring of 2009, I had the honor and delight of presenting my program, Evolution and the Global Integrity Crisis, at the United Nations, in New York City. The event, sponsored by The Values Caucus at the United Nations, was attended by 40 people representing a wide diversity of religious, political, and philosophical worldviews. (See event flier and photo essay.) My program was very well received and afterwards several members of the Values Caucus began talking about the possibility of inviting me back to speak to a much larger audience at the United Nations. Naturally, I told them that I would be thrilled to do so. Here is what I offered:
PROGRAM DESCRIPTION: From crumbling economies to collapsing ecosystems, humanity is experiencing an unprecedented global integrity crisis. In a richly illustrated presentation, Michael Dowd proposes that the lack of an evolutionary worldview made the current crisis inevitable and that a deep-time view of human nature, values, and social systems provides a clear and inspiring way forward.
A few days after the event, Anne Creter, one of the organizers, sent me this touching note:
Dear Michael: On behalf of the Values Caucus at the United Nations, please accept our heartfelt appreciation for sharing your brilliant, rousing, thought-provoking and awe-inspiring April 2 presentation on “Evolution and the Global Integrity Crisis” with us. We were honored to be the first to introduce you at the UN, a place which needs to (and hopefully will) hear much more of your message. You really captivated us with your masterful insight and articulation of the complexities of the universe that puts it all in such a hopeful, uplifting perspective in these troubled times. We received an overabundance of praise of you and your material. Thank you and Connie for all the effort you put into making this such a grand UN event.
Sign Up. Speak Out.
Public awareness about evolutionary spirituality is growing, and people everywhere are engaging in a new conversation about Creation. Rev. Dowd is regularly invited to speak to media across America and around the world about why he thanks God for evolution, and why he and Connie have committed their lives to teaching and preaching the ‘Gospel of Evolution.’
We would like to invite you to join the conversation and become one our movement’s media evolutionaries. Most major media outlets offer online opportunities to discuss personal views about the news. Reports regarding evolution are real conversation starters in many communities across the country, especially when they include the unorthodox perspective of an ordained, former fundamentalist who now evangelizes evolution as theology—and not just theory.
Here’s the opportunity.
Sign up as a media evolutionary, and help give voice to the millions in the middle who embrace both science and spirituality. We’ll email you whenever we find online opportunities for you to join—or even start—conversations in response to reports about Michael, his ministry, and our evolutionary movement. We won’t write anything additional for you to read. We’ll just send direct links to news response blogs where you can contribute as inspired.
Communication is key if we want to build lasting bridges between embattled fundamentalists on both sides of the debate over Darwin vs. Design. It’s been an either/or dialogue for decades, and now it’s time to hear from more both/and voices. According to annual polls, there are millions of us who see no conflict between faith and facts, religion and reason. Let’s speak up and share how seeing the world through evolutionary eyes has deepened our faith and renewed our religious experience.
Without an evolutionary understanding of who we are, where we came from, and where are going, we are doomed to remain divided and destined to fail as species. The gospel—or good news—of evolution is that the choice to evolve is now ours. We are no longer victims of a meaningless, mechanistic Universe or an angry, judgmental God. By living in evolutionary integrity, we are joining hands with the Universal forces that forged us from a barren, rock into life as we know it. Now, that’s good news to share!
Thanks for considering our invitation. We hope you’ll join the conversation!
Responses to TGFE from Religious Leaders
A meta-religious movement is underway...
Religious luminaries from across the spectrum have resounding praised the evolutionary theology presented in Thank GOD for EVOLUTION. We’ve heard from Roman Catholics, Protestants, Quakers, Evangelicals, Unitarian Universalists, New Thought Leaders, Jews, Budhhists, Religious Naturalists, and more.
Responses to Our Public Presentations
Since the beginning of our full-time itinerant evo-evangelistic work, in early 2002, Connie and I have addressed more than a thousand religious and non-religious audiences across North America. We are both humbled and thrilled at how the Evolution Theology (Evo-Theo) message we have been called to communicate resonates with the vast majority of those to whom we've presented, from Catholics and Quakers, to Baptists and Buddhists, to UUs and gurus. We are also grateful for the generous, enthusiastic comments of Nobel laureates and other science and religion luminaries who read Thank God for Evolution (TGFE) and offered their feedback and endorsements. I wrote about responses from science leaders a few weeks ago and about responses from religous leaders yesterday. What follows is a sampling of responses to our sermons, seminars, and other public presentations, from teachers in various secular and religious contexts, as well as from religious leaders and congregants across the theological spectrum, grouped by religous orientation.
Science Leaders Praise TGFE
Given that my book, Thank GOD for EVOLUTION, emerged out of six years of Connie and I teaching and preaching Evolution Theology in hundreds of diverse religous settings across North America, I was quite sure that it would be celebrated by all but the most conservative of religous folk. But what has truly amazed me is the way TGFE has been embraced by leaders in the scientific community—including scientists and academics who would hardly consider themselves religious in any traditional sense.