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...
A Cure for Collective Insanity?
America's Secular Revival
The following was written by Tana Ganeva and is cross-posted from Salon AlterNet, here. For a deeper and broader look at this subject, see Davidson Loher's, "Evidence: The Decline of Christianity in America," James Haught's, "America's Religious Decline and Secular Boom," and the late Michael Spencer's "The Coming Evangelical Collapse".
America's Secular Revival
by Tana Ganeva
Five signs that, despite the GOP's efforts, religion's impact on U.S. politics will soon decline
In between bragging about the number of people they’ve killed and vilifying gay soldiers, the GOP presidential candidates have spent the primaries demonstrating how little they respect the separation of church and state. Michele Bachmann seems to think God is personally invested in her political career. Both she and Rick Perry have ties to Christian Dominionism, a theocratic philosophy that publicly calls for Christian takeover of America’s political and civil institutions. (Even Ron Paul, glorified by civil libertarians for his only two good policy stances — opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and drug prohibition — sputtered about churches when asked during a debate where he’d send a gravely ill man without health insurance.)
GOP pandering to the religious right is just one of those facts of American public life, like climate change denial and creationism in schools, that leave secular Americans lamenting the decline of the country, and of reason and logic. Organized religion’s grasp on the politics and culture of much of Europe has been waning for decades — why can’t we do that here?
But there are signs that American attitudes are changing in ways that may tame religion’s power over political life in the future.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, tells AlterNet that she thinks what happened in Europe is (slowly) happening here. While questioning religion remains controversial — Gaylor says the group’s work on church and state issues often elicits hate mail strongly suggesting they move to, you know, Europe — atheism, skepticism and agnosticism are becoming more widely accepted.
“The statistics show there are more of us … If you’re in a room of people you can count on more to agree with non-belief or to be accepting of non-belief,” says Gaylor.
Here are five trends that give hope one day religion will reside in the realm of personal choice and private worship, far away from politics — something like what the Founders intended hundreds of years ago.
1. American religious belief is becoming more fractured
The intrusion of religion into places where it doesn’t belong, like government or public education, naturally requires high levels of organization and control — it’s not something that just happens. So it’s a good sign that even many Americans who maintain a personal religious faith are distancing themselves from heierarchical, top-down religion. Polls have repeatedly shown that even among the devout, emphatic proclamations of faith do not translate into actual churchgoing. In fact, church attendance rates hovered at around 40 percent until pollsters realized there’s a major gap between what Americans tell them about their religious habits and their actual religious habits. Tom Flynn summarizes the over-inflation of U.S. churchgoing and offers more accurate stats:
Americans may believe in a god who sees everything, but they lie about how often they go to church. Since 1939, the Gallup organization has reported that 40 percent of adults attend church weekly. (The most recent figure is 42%.) Gallup’s figure has long attracted skepticism. Were it true, some 73 million people would throng the nation’s houses of worship each week. Even the conservative Washington Times found that “hard to imagine.” New research suggests that there may be only half to two-thirds that many people in the pews.
Americans are also actively shaping their religious beliefs to fit their own values. Profiled in USA Today, religion statistics expert George Barna shares recent findings that show religion is becoming increasingly personal. Believers might drift from faith to faith until they find one that works for them, or cobble together a belief system drawn from many religious traditions. The U.S. is becoming a place of “310 million people with 310 million religions,” Barna is quoted as saying.
2. Non-belief — and acceptance of non-belief — on the rise
Last month was the first time atheists were knocked from the top of America’s most hated list, an honor that now belongs to the Tea Party. While this development may have more to do with the fact that the mainstream media’s love affair with the Tea Party is not shared by most Americans, it also dovetails with increased visibility and acceptance of atheism.
Gaylor tells AlterNet that the FFRF’s membership has never been bigger, and her observation conforms to larger trends. In a 2008 study by Connecticut’s Trinity college, 15 percent of Americans polled as “nones,” a group composed of vehement atheists, agnostics or people without religious affiliation. In 1990s, only 8.1 percent of the U.S. population could be categorized in this way, according to the report.
In an interview on NPR, Blair Scott, founder of the North Alabama Free Thought Association, says he’s noticed people are becoming more and more open-minded about non-belief: “I mean, I’ve been the victim of discrimination and harassment. They are very real, and they are legitimate concerns that people have. But what we’ve seen recently is an increase in the general public’s, maybe not acceptance, but more curiosity of what atheism is and is not.”
Scott also points out that the controversial writing of the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins regularly makes it onto the New York Times bestseller list, which in turn helps popularize atheist arguments and philosophies, even in unexpected places:
I mean, I expect an atheist group in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, etc. But where we’re seeing them pop up is little places like Jackson, Mississippi; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Tallahassee, Florida, you know, so these little bitty mid-size and small towns, and that’s an incredible phenomenon because what that means is that these people are finally willing to say, okay, I live in a small town or a midsize city, but you know what, I know there’s others out there like me.
3. Growing numbers of young people who do not identify as religious
America is still a shockingly religious country by Western standards. But a more nuanced breakdown of religious belief tells a different story. Statistically the most devout demographics are middle-aged and older, while young Americans are increasingly likely to shun religious identification, according to professors Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, writing in the L.A. Times:
As recently as 1990, all but 7 percent of Americans claimed a religious affiliation, a figure that had held constant for decades. Today, 17 percent of Americans say they have no religion, and these new “nones” are very heavily concentrated among Americans who have come of age since 1990. Between 25 percent and 30 percent of twentysomethings today say they have no religious affiliation — roughly four times higher than in any previous generation.
The writers point to a surprising culprit: the powerful religious right movement whose tight grip on American political life has steered the country in an aggressively right-wing direction for decades:
Throughout the 1990s and into the new century, the increasingly prominent association between religion and conservative politics provoked a backlash among moderates and progressives, many of whom had previously considered themselves religious. The fraction of Americans who agreed “strongly” that religious leaders should not try to influence government decisions nearly doubled from 22 percent in 1991 to 38 percent in 2008, and the fraction who insisted that religious leaders should not try to influence how people vote rose to 45 percent from 30%.
This backlash was especially forceful among youth coming of age in the 1990s and just forming their views about religion. Some of that generation, to be sure, held deeply conservative moral and political views, and they felt very comfortable in the ranks of increasingly conservative churchgoers. But a majority of the Millennial generation was liberal on most social issues, and above all, on homosexuality. The fraction of twentysomethings who said that homosexual relations were “always” or “almost always” wrong plummeted from about 75 percent in 1990 to about 40 percent in 2008. (Ironically, in polling, Millennials are actually more uneasy about abortion than their parents.)
4. Hate group that exploited religion to bash gays hemorrhaging funds
As Americans increasingly reject the politics of hate, the right-wing groups that thrive on it are facing tough times.
While many practicing Christians live their faith without trying to impose their values on others, the aggressive Christian extremism of organizations like Focus on the Family has always been charged by the demonization of people who are not like them.
Unfortunately for FOTF, many Americans just don’t hate gay people enough to keep them afloat. In 2008, FOTF had to cut its staff by 18 percent. Last week, FOTF had to do another round of cuts, again citing a drop in donations (though it claims the lower funding is a result of tough economic times). On the issue of gay rights, Focus on the Family CEO Jim Daly said:
“We’re losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage,” Daly said in the interview. “I don’t know if that’s going to change with a little more age—demographers would say probably not. We’ve probably lost that.”
It’s important to note that the religious right is still exceptionally powerful, as evidenced by the prominent role right-wing Christianity still plays in American politics. It is a powerful movement with lots of followers, smart P.R. and tons of organizational muscle. But as Sarah Seltzer pointed out, “The Christian right is far from dead, but it’s good to see one of its biggest wedge issues losing its power to wedge.”
5. Getting married by friends
On a lighter note, it looks like increasing numbers of Americans are looking to jettison religion out of their marriages as well. The Washington Post reported last week that more Americans are choosing wedding ceremonies without the trappings of religion, including the clergy. Reporter Michele Boorstein finds a crew of college friends who officiate at each other’s weddings:
Their decision to forgo the more traditional route is a slightly extreme example of a once-quirky trend that is becoming more mainstream. A study last year by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com showed that 31 percent of their users who married in 2010 used a family member or friend as the officiant, up from 29 percent in 2009, the first year of the survey.
Boorstein points out this trend is likely the result of young people’s drift away from traditional expressions of religious faith.
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.
Larry the Lounge Lizard
Isn't it neat to know that we all have lizards and furry li'l mammals living in our heads, running our lives?
Ok, maybe not exactly, but as we learn more and more about evolutionary brain science and evolutionary psychology, as well as gain more evidence about our amazing ability to rationalize and self-deceive, the analogy becomes less fantasy and more spot-on than we might imagine.
A person might be inclined to be a bit worried at the thought of scaly lizards and furry creatures running amuck, inside our brains. However, to me, this news is far from disconcerting. In fact, this knowledge gives me compassion to lighten up on myself and others when our "inner animal" or "shadow" nature, or "darkside" flares up, and wisdom about how to live my life in spite of being a human being with mismatched instincts in a world of supernormal stimuli.)
I invite you (yes YOU reading this post) to think about those times when you have felt deep shame and condemnation for certain aspects of yourself and others. You know the feeling, deep inside, that despises the part of you that you keep hidden from others? Those lustful feelings that you "shouldn't" be feeling, those food cravings that you just can't control? What if all those urges were actually perfect? Not as some "airy-fairy" new-age proclamation that "you're perfect just the way you are," but as an actual fact that modern science has uncovered?
What if this "dark" part of yourself that lusts and hungers out of control is actually perfectly adapted to serve an evolutionary role? What if that very instinct is the very reason you even exist? After all, if your ancient ancestors didn't have those very same instincts, they wouldn't have been motivated to seek as much food as they could in preparation for the famine, or go chase after the pretty cavewoman (well..."pretty" might be stretching it for a cavewoman :-). My friends, it's time to turn and give a big ol' hug to our "shadows!"
To me, that is what an evolutionary perspective provides: the ability to compassionately look at yourself and others, "flaws" and all, and KNOW that you are perfect...that is, perfectly adapted for the environment your brain evolved in, I should say.
To me, this knowledge has been personally and relationally transformative. I can now plainly see, often in the moment, the lizard, mammal, and monkey that are pulling on the levers and dials of my thoughts and actions, while my higher brain (neocortex) rationalizes every move and pretends IT is running the show!
Also, knowing that these instincts (for safety, sustenance, and sex) have refined and ingrained themselves for MILLIONS OF YEARS, I see what I am up against. The words "precautionary measures" start to seem like a really good idea...
After all, do I really think that if I try to fight against these urges, or condemn them, that they will be any less potent? Do I really think I don't have to put in place any structures to override these primitive urges (using accountability, social support, etc), that this lizard / monkey / animal won't get its way sometimes (or most of the time in all likelihood?)
Did I mention the CRAFTED OVER MILLIONS OF YEARS thing?
In terms of the oldest part of our brain (the reptilian brain)... When I think that, in effect, there is a little lizard (I call him Larry) inside the deepest part of my brain, who desires to eat sugary, fatty, salty food and wants to mate with every attractive female that he sees, it suddenly becomes dramatically easier to be one step ahead of him, while smiling at his wily ways.
When a beautiful babe walks by, Larry chimes in, "Hey, look at her! Maybe she'll look back at you, which could lead to some innocent flirting, which could lead to... (you know where Larry is going with this one. :-)
Equipped with this knowledge about "Larry" and what he wants, compared to what I am actually committed to, instead of indulging his every whim I can now chuckle, make a joke about Larry's primal urges (often with my girlfriend, which is SUCH a gift to both have this knowledge), and move on with my day.
Also, regarding Larry's penchant for sugary, salty, and fatty foods, this knowledge allows me to put in place the support that will have me making wise nutrition and exercise choices (accountability around sticking with an exercise program, stocking my house only with 90% healthy options, so that Larry isn't tempted, etc).
I know that millions of years of evolution backing these urges for sugar, salt, and fat is nothing to trifle with!
To me, this understanding is vital for having exactly the kind of life I want and relationships that truly work. I now see plainly what inner forces are in me, what they are likely to pull me towards, and what I need to do or put in place to make wise, healthy, integrous choices.
P.S. I want to give a shout-out to my homey, "Larry the Lounge Lizard." You got me a long way ol' boy! But you can relax for now. I promise there will be food and fornicating in your future!
P.P.S. For more information about Larry and the other animals inside your brain, check out all the amazing resources on this page!
The above was written by Shane Dowd. (It's his very first blog post.) Click on Shane's name on this page for more background on him (and to see his gorgeous girlfriend).
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]
Plume paperback with new preface!
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What follows is the new preface...
As we recently observed the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of his landmark book, On the Origin of Species, evolution has become firmly established as the central organizing principle of the biological sciences. Natural explanations for the growth of complexity through time ground all the other sciences, as well, from cosmology and chemistry to neuroscience and psychology. That everything within this universe has emerged through natural processes operating over vast spans of time is now well beyond dispute among scientists and the educated public. Yet even today, families and public school systems remain divided and the evolutionary worldview is still shunned by millions, perhaps billions, of religious believers around the world. Why?
One reason is surely that big changes in thought and perspective take time to be assimilated. A deeper reason is that humans do not live by truth alone. We require the sustenance of meaning—of beauty, goodness, relationship, and purpose. We require comfort in times of sorrow and suffering. We also require perspectives that encourage us to cooperate in ever-wider circles in order to solve ever-larger problems—problems that today encircle the globe.
So long as the scientific worldview is presented in ways that ignore these basic human values—values that religions excel in providing—there is little hope that the devoutly religious will appreciate science for anything more than its technological fruits. The good news is that the coming decades will see each of our religious, ethnic, and cultural stories embraced within a larger sacred context. The scientific history of cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity is our shared sacred story—our common creation myth. It is an epic tale that reaches back billions of years and crowns each and every one of us as heir to a magnificent and proud lineage. This Great Story is open to improvement, as the revelations of science yield new insights, offer new ways of seeing, and alert us to misperceptions. It is open to change, too, whenever more helpful and inspiring interpretations of the facts become available. All this is possible, moreover, without scientists needing to fear that religious interpretations will skew or shade the truth. Nor must religious peoples join the ranks of atheists.
In public lectures that distill the contents of this book, time and again I have seen faces light up when I explain the distinction between private revelation and public revelation and when I advocate the importance of both day language and night language. Both pairs help us value the contributions of objective science without dismissing the subjective realms—artistic, emotive, and spiritual—that served our ancestors for thousands of years and still vitally serve us today. During seven years of itinerant evolutionary evangelism, I have watched young and old alike delight in the astonishing fact that we are made of stardust—that the calcium in our bones, the iron in our blood, and other atoms of our bodies were forged inside ancestor stars that lived and died before our Sun was born. I have seen, too, this naturalized and cosmic understanding of death comfort those whose grief would not otherwise be consoled.
Scaling down to the inner realm, I have witnessed tearful testimonials from those freed from years of guilt, shame, or resentment after learning our brain’s creation story—that is, how the brain, with its embedded instincts, reflects an evolutionary trajectory from reptilian ancestors to early mammals, primates, and hominids. Others are grateful for the practical tools for improving lives and relationships that an evolutionary understanding of human nature affords. Still others have found that the supernatural claims that linger in the creeds and liturgies need not drive them from cherished traditions of their faith.
Sanity, health, and joy each emerge and are sustained only in right relationship with reality. Thank God for Evolution is thus a call to integrity, to wholeness, to sustainability—individually and collectively. In the year since its publication, events have validated and expanded the understanding of deep integrity outlined herein. From sex scandals in politics to crimes of greed on Wall Street, the underbelly of modernity and postmodernity is now vividly apparent. Thanks to discoveries in evolutionary psychology and evolutionary brain science, however, we can begin to improve institutions so that vital social structures can thrive despite human foibles. Equally, we can look to a future in which religious worldviews are free of the fundamentalism that fuels extremism.
How was the world made? Why do earthquakes, tornados, and other bad things happen? Why must we die? And why do different peoples answer these questions in different ways? The big questions that children have always asked and will continue to ask cannot be answered by the powers of human perception alone. Ancient cultures gave so-called supernatural answers to these questions, but those answers were not truly supernatural—they were prenatural. Prior to advances in technology and scientific ways of testing truth claims, factual answers were simply unavailable. It was not just difficult to understand infection before microscopes brought bacteria into focus; it was impossible. Without an evolutionary worldview, it is similarly impossible to understand ourselves, our world, and what is required for humanity to survive. For religious leaders today to rely on prenatural answers puts them at odds not only with science but with one another—dangerously so. Their resistance, however, does make sense. Until scientific discoveries are fleshed into the life-giving forms of beauty and goodness (as well as truth and utility), scriptural literalism will command power and influence.
A meaningful view of evolution is good news for individuals and families, and also for communities, nations, and our world.
It is good news at these larger levels because a sacred, deep-time understanding of history and our evolutionary heritage is the very foundation needed for facing global challenges of our own making. It will encourage us to act, moreover, with compassion and inspired dedication. I offer this book and its stories of awakening toward this noble and necessary end.
» Hear Michael Dowd read the new preface to the paperback here.
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Stuart Davis talks with Michael Dowd on Integral Life
Michael Dowd, celebrated author of the book Thank God for Evolution, talks with Stuart Davis about his own journey from religious fundamentalism to evolutionary spirituality, the contours of his evolutionary approach, his relationship with his wife and teaching partner Connie, his response to the New Atheist movement, and his hopes about the future of evolution on this planet. He and Stuart also discuss the secret to Michael's conciliatory approach to teaching, which has enabled him to speak amicably with both religious fundamentalists and scientific materialists alike, while helping to build conceptual and relational bridges to cross the gap between science and spirituality.
"I certainly think that the new atheists are providing a tremendous service at one level. They are critiquing and attacking mythic, other-worldly, supernatural religion. And I think that is one thing that needs to be done in the world at this time. It's certainly not the only thing, and I'm glad they're doing what they're doing and I'm playing a different role in the Body of Life. I'm glad that the creationists are playing their role in the Body of Life! It's certainly not a role I want to be playing—but you know, I wouldn't want my anal sphincter cells and my heart cells to be doing the same thing! I found that the Integral model helped me to formulate a way of holding the whole, a way of holding diversity that allows me to say 'yes' to the role that other people are playing in the Body of Life, but also differentiating passionately...."
I am a Christian naturalist, not a supernaturalist. I do not deny the possibility of what some may call 'supernatural', but my focus and locus of inspiration is found in this cosmos and in this life. My understanding of the divine and experience of the gospel relate to this very real Universe, not merely to a mythic unnatural realm. I do not value what is unnatural over what is natural. Indeed, the core concepts of my faith tradition—sin, salvation, the kingdom of God, heaven and hell, Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life—are real for me in a this-world, undeniable way (and in a way that non-Christians and the non-religous can appreciate too), as I discuss in several chapters in my book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World.
The idea of an eternal life-after-death without pain or struggle, yet with awareness of the everlasting torment of others (those who did not believe as I did), I consider hell, not heaven.
I no longer merely believe in God. Thanks to the worldwide self-correcting scientific enterprise, I now know that facts are God's native tongue. Evidence reveals God's nature, God's ways, and God's guidance far more accurately than could have possibly been revealed to the biblical writers. This is in no way a dissing of scripture. It is, however, honoring God as a truly divine communicator and lifting up scientific discoveries as revelatory. Few things are more unflattering than imagining that God spoke more clearly to goat herders and fisherman in the distant past, through dreams and intuitions, than God does today through cumulative evidence discerned by the global community of scientists.
In an evolutionary context, theism is trivialized if it is thought to be solely, or even primarily, about otherworldly matters and unnatural entities.
Christian naturalism is an evo-theistic, or creatheistic, perspective that transcends and includes traditional notions of God that made sense when people assumed the earth was flat and the universe revolved around us. Like Evolutionary Christianity, it doesn't reject the possibility of a supernatural realm. But it does focus on, and primarily value, what is natural and unquestionably real. And the fact that such a science-based way of reframing and celebrating the core insights of religion has been endorsed by 5 Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, as well as by religious leaders across the spectrum, suggests to me that Christian Naturalism has a glorious future.
The Unnaturalist Fallacy
Imaginary gods vs. Reality/God: Part 1 and Part 2
God is NOT a Supernatural Terrorist
How and Why I'm a Pentecostal Evangelical
Traditional Religion's God Problem
Evolution as Meaningful, Inspiring Fact
The Great Blasphemy?
The Gospel of Big Integrity
The gospel according to science—the saving good news from an evolutionary perspective—is this:
A deep-time worldview makes coming into integrity, or "getting right with God", individually and collectively, a no-brainer.
This is really good news because integrity is everything; it's the only thing that truly matters. At this time in history, focusing on anything other than right relationship at and with all nested levels, from the personal to the planetary, is a distraction.
Religion has always recognized the centrality of integrity. In the language of my own tradition, what is 'conversion' other than coming home to Integrity? What is 'abiding in Christ' other than living in Integrity? What is 'the fruit of the Spirit' other than evidence of Integrity?
The two types of religious leaders that Jesus was most critical of were the Sadducees and the Pharisees—those who thought being right with God meant being in the right tradition, having the right beliefs, or performing the right rituals. To both of these kinds of believers Jesus emphatically said, "No, that's not it! Follow me. Walk the path I'm walking. Abide in integrity. It's by your fruit that you'll be known." When we forget this, we betray God (and belittle the gospel).
While we naturally feel whether we are in or out of integrity with respect to our values and our closest circles of relationship, without an evolutionary worldview we can't know whether we are in integrity at larger scales. And without a deep-time view of grace and creative emergence, we certainly cannot see our way forward.
Here's an initial sketch of what I suggest integrity looks like at multiple levels:
EDUCATION that includes how each subject fits within the big picture has integrity.
EDUCATION that ignores the larger ecological and cosmological context lacks integrity.
RELIGION that celebrates the divine at all scales of reality has integrity.
RELIGION that values the unnatural over the natural lacks integrity.
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION that helps children interpret science in inspiring, faith-enhancing ways has integrity.
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION that fails to help children interpret science in sacred, meaningful ways lacks integrity.
SPIRITUALITY that helps each of us work through resentments, secrets, and unfinished business has integrity.
SPIRITUALITY that fails to transform peoples lives and relationships lacks integrity.
GOVERNANCE concerned with aligning individual and group self-interest with planetary self-interest has integrity.
GOVERNANCE that fails to reflect back to the parts their impact on the whole lacks integrity.
DEMOCRACIES that effectively harness collective intelligence have integrity.
DEMOCRACIES controlled by moneyed interests lack integrity.
ECONOMICS with accountability and an understanding of our evolved instincts has integrity.
ECONOMICS that fails to take into account a scientific view of human nature lacks integrity.
HUMANITY committed to a thriving future for the entire body of life has integrity.
HUMANITY unaware or dismissive of our impact on other species and the planet lacks integrity.
From Edward E. Morler's The Leadership Integrity Challenge
“Integrity is spontaneous responsibility. It is doing the right thing even when no one is looking. Without integrity our self-image and self-esteem become dependent on what other people think. Every time we compromise our integrity we sacrifice a bit of ourselves—we shave off a piece of the wholeness of who we are.
“People with integrity have positive control over their lives and over the events in their lives. They have a clarity and certainty about what they want and will allow. They do not see life as happening to them, but rather they make life happen. Without the cement of integrity, we are left distracted, unclear about what to do, ineffective in action, and weighed down by negativity.
“Integrity is the bedrock and the cement of our purpose, principles, and character. It is the foundation that provides the willingness, ability, poise, presence, and certainty to deal with the entirety of what is. Out of that develops our sense of purpose and vision of what can be. In living our values and moving toward this ideal vision, we become more of who we truly are.”
The Debate Over God's Existence
Few things are more antiquated than the debate over the existence of God. Prior to an evolutionary worldview, such debates made sense. In an evolutionary context, however—in light of what Ursula Goodenough and Terry Deacon call "The Sacred Emergence of Nature"—such arguments are outdated at best. (I discuss this at length in chapters 4-7 of my book, Thank God for Evolution, the section titled "Reality is Speaking".) Here's how I begin Chapter 7, titled "What Do We Mean by the Word 'God'"?
Do you believe in life? What an absurd question! It doesn’t matter whether we “believe in” life. Life is all around us, and in us. We’re part of it. Life is, period. What anyone says about life, however, is another story, and may invite belief or disbelief. If I say, “Life is wonderful,” or “Life is brutal,” or “Life is unimportant—it’s what happens after death that really matters,” you may or may not believe me, depending on your own experience and worldview. What we say about life—its nature, its purpose, its meaning—along with the metaphors we choose to describe it—is wide open for discussion and debate. But the reality of life is indisputable. This is exactly the way that God is understood by many who hold the perspective of the Great Story—that is, when human, Earth, and cosmic history are woven into a holy narrative. Our common creation story offers a refreshingly intimate, scientifically compelling, and theologically inspiring vision of God that can provide common ground for both skeptics and religious believers. For peoples alive today, any understanding of “God” that does not at least mean “Ultimate Reality” or “the Wholeness of Reality” (measurable and nonmeasurable) is, I suggest, a trivialized, inadequate notion of the divine.
The crux of the problem, as I see it, is the failure of millions of people, religious and non-religious alike, to distinguish meaningful metaphor from measurable reality. God as a subjectively meaningful interpretation simply cannot be argued against. God is always a legitimate interpretation. But God is NOT (and never has been) an actual, physical Being, as science and common sense define reality. (Those who would attempt to argue that God is a REAL Father or King, but just in an unnatural, otherworldly sense are left in the bizarre position of claiming that God, the Creator of the Universe, is less real than the Universe, as I discuss here.)
HERE IS A WAY OUT OF THIS IMPASSE: Whenever you hear the word ‘God', think ‘Reality'. "I have faith in God" can be translated "I trust Reality". "God is Lord" means "Reality rules". Throughout the world, God has never been less than a mythic personification of Reality as a Whole, Ultimate Reality, or what today some call "the Universe". If we fail to recognize this, we miss everything. ALL images and characterizations of God are meaningful interpretations of Reality As It Really Is. When we forget this, we will inevitably trivialize God, belittle science, and desecrate nature. As renowned systems thinker Gregory Bateson has said,
If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation, and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races, and the brutes and vegetables. If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or simply of overpopulation and overgrazing.
God does not have multiple personality disorder, as a literal reading of the world's scriptures might imply. Cultures that tell stories of God as Mother have known reality as mother-like. Those who speak of God as Father, or as a steadfast rock, have known reality as father-like and as solid and unchanging as a boulder. And as we all know, reality at times can be like a trickster—a fox, or coyote—as some indigenous stories remind us.
There are an infinite number of metaphorical images and instructive (or misleading) interpretations of reality, but there is only one Reality, a Uni-verse. Religions are all about meaningful interpretations. Science is all about trying to understand the nature of measurable reality. The two really can work together, but only if we distinguish what in my book, Thank God for Evolution, I call, descriptive "day language" and interpretive "night language".
This is not theological rocket science. Theists are right when they insist that God is real and faith (trust) is transformative. Atheists are right when they insist God is imaginary and supernatural claims are fiction. If we do not understand how both of these can be true, we don't understand the evolved nature of the human brain and the metaphorical nature of human language. Arguing whether it was God or evolution that created everything is like debating whether it was Gaia or plate tectonics that created Mount Everest. Such silly and largely unnecessary confusion will remain the norm until we distinguish and value both metaphorical and descriptive language. In the meantime, I'm grateful to Richard Dawkins and the other "new atheists" for bringing this debate front and center. Perhaps in the coming decades we can finally move beyond the mistaken notion that science gives us a meaningless universe and religion is primarily concerned with unnatural (supernatural) entities.
- Christian Naturalism
- Imaginary gods vs. Reality/God: Part 1 and Part 2
- God is NOT a Supernatural Terrorist
- Creatheism: Evolutionary Emergence Ends the Theism-Atheism Debate
- Pentecostal Evangelical Naturalism?
- Traditional Religion's God Problem
- Evolution as Meaningful, Inspiring Fact
- The Unnaturalist Fallacy
- The Great Blasphemy?
- Endorsement from Nobel Laureates
- Science Leaders Praise TGFE
- Responses from Religious Leaders
- Best Evolution Resources
- Free PDF Download of the first 50 pages of TGFE (Table of Contents, Promises, Prologue, Intro, Chapter 1)
God Is Not a Supernatural Terrorist
(The following is cross-posted on Rev. Matt Tittle's Houston Chronicle "Keep the Faith" blog, where it has generated a lively discussion.)
Tragically and unnecessarily, millions are turning their backs on organized religion altogether because of what I call 'the supernatural terrorist fallacy'—the idea that God is an actual, unnatural Supreme Being with a vengeful human-like personality, and that the Bible accurately reflects God's thoughts, words, and deeds. Ironically, such a literal reading of sacred scripture may be the single greatest factor fueling the epidemic of atheism sweeping America today.
The supernatural terrorist fallacy is the false belief that writings thousands of years old reveal God's unchanging character. As the new atheists are all too happy to point out, if this is true then God must be considered the ultimate terrorist. As Michael Earl painfully details in his "Bible Stories Your Parents Never Taught You" and "The Ultimate Terrorist" audio programs, in passage after passage in the Hebrew scriptures, in the early Christian scriptures, and in the Qur'an, God is said to employ “the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear, intended to coerce or intimate...”, which is how the U.S. Department of Defense defines terrorism. We all know this is not true, of course. God is NOT a supernatural terrorist. But because many passages in scripture clearly portray God in just such an unflattering light, I predict that the rising tide of atheism will continue unabated so long as we religious folk trivialize God by interpreting our religious texts literally.
When we read about "supernatural" utterances or acts in the Bible, we should always remember to apply the evening news test.
THE EVENING NEWS TEST
Whenever any story, any culture, or any scriptural passage claims "God said this" or "God did that," what follows is necessarily what some person or group of people felt or thought or wished or wanted God to say or do, often as justification after the fact. These subjectively meaningful claims are never objective, measurable reality. In other words, had CNN or ABC News been there to record the moment of revelation, there would have been nothing out of the ordinary (nothing miraculous) to show on the evening news—nothing other than what was coming out of someone's mouth, or pen, or whatever folks wrote with back then. If we fail to understand this, we belittle God and will surely miss what God is revealing and doing today. And we mock God if we argue that He communicated more clearly to goat hearders and fisherman in the distant past, through dreams and intuitions, than He does today through measurable, cumulative evidence.
IS THIS REALLY THE GOSPEL—GOD'S 'GREAT NEWS' FOR ALL OF HUMANITY?
What underlies the supernatural terrorist fallacy is the failure to recognize that the so-called supernatural language in scripture is actually pre-natural (before we could have possibly had a natural, factual understanding) and unnatural (in the same way that what we do in our dreams, if interpreted literally, would be unnatural).
Think about it . . . An unnatural father who occasionally engages in unnatural acts (supernatural interventions) sent his unnatural son to the world in an unnatural way, offering an unnatural salvation from an unnatural curse brought about by an unnatural snake. Those who believe in all this unnatural activity get to enjoy an unnatural heaven and everyone else will suffer an unnatural hell, forever.
Is it any wonder that young people are leaving religion by the millions, if this is the "good news" they are offered? Is it any wonder that the new atheists continue to ride bestseller lists if religion is equated with such "supernaturalism"?
As religious people the world over know in their hearts, God is infinitely more REAL than the above absurd characterization. But without a sacred deep time worldview we'll lack the eyes to see and ears to hear how glorious the good news actually is—that is, in a this-world realistic way. And. of course, we'll continue to be publicly (and rightfully!) mocked by the new atheists.
NOTE: Chapters 5-7 in my book, Thank God for Evolution outline an way of thinking about the divine that is undeniably real. In Chapter 18 (the last chapter) I quote several new atheists at length who show the limitations of traditional ways of viewing scripture. I also show how God's word, God's will, and God's guidance are REALized by a meaningful evolutionary worldview.
The Unnaturalist Fallacy
Imaginary gods vs. Reality/God: Part 1 and Part 2
How and Why I'm a Pentecostal Evangelical
Traditional Religion's God Problem
Evolution as Meaningful, Inspiring Fact
The Great Blasphemy?
Best 2007-2008 Blog Posts and Interviews
Are God and Satan Real?
Devil vs Jesus by ~ongchewpeng on deviantART
by Michael Dowd
ABC Nightline recently staged two debates. In one, participants argued over the question "Does God Exist?" The other, debated the question "Does Satan Exist?" Rarely have a witnessed a more brilliant display of unnecessary silliness for want of an evolutionary worldview. (I'm referring to ABC News, not the participants. Deepak Chopra mentioned evolution a couple of times and Bishop Carlton Pearson was a beautiful model of generosity of spirit.) Without a deep-time understanding of our brains and the nature of human language, such questions are regarded not only as legitimate, but important. From a meaningful evolutionary perspective, however, questions such as "Does God Exist?" or "Does Satan Exist?" are revealed to be misleading at best, and demonically distracting at worst.
Do dreams exist? Are they real? Subjectively, of course they are! But are they real objectively? Well, it depends on what you mean by "real". Certainly dreams are natural and experiential—and are subjectively realistic. And dreams are, of course, correlated with very real brain activity as well as chemical, hormonal, and other physiological changes. But fortunately for me, when I dream about Angelina Jolie I don't need to worry about Achilles (aka, Brad Pitt) stalking me down in a jealous rage—or my wife divorcing me.
I expect to write more on this subject in the not-too-distant future. Until then, I invite interested readers to see the following previous posts of mine and a few passages from my book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World.
The Silly Debate Over God's Existence
Metaphorical gods vs. Reality/God: Part 1
Metaphorical gods vs. Reality/God: Part 2
God is NOT a Supernatural Terrorist
There is indeed a force devoted to enticing us into various pleasures that are (or once were) in our genetic interests but do not bring long-term happiness to us and may bring great suffering to others. . . . If it will help to actually use the word evil, there's no reason not to. —ROBERT WRIGHT, author of The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are—the New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
TGFE: PAGES 160-161
Gordon MacDonald, a fellow evangelical leader who also experienced a fall when a sexual impropriety became public, wrote this commentary for Christianity Today a few days into the Ted Haggard saga:
I am no stranger to failure and public humiliation. From those terrible moments of twenty years ago in my own life I have come to believe that there is a deeper person in many of us who is not unlike an assassin. This deeper person (like a contentious board member) can be the source of attitudes and behaviors we normally stand against in our conscious being. But it seeks to destroy us and masses energies that—unrestrained—tempt us to do the very things we "believe against." If you have been burned as deeply as I (and my loved ones) have, you never live a day without remembering that there is something within that, left unguarded, will go on the rampage.
Tellingly, MacDonald speaks of a "deeper person" within each of us, a kind of "assassin" that "left unguarded will go on a rampage." Evolutionary brain science confirms how right he is! Any of us whose lives have been damaged by slipping in our commitments and thus following our deep impulses knows what Gordon MacDonald is talking about. Evolutionary brain science helps us comprehend why: the deepest and most difficult to control urges are those whose territory resides within the fortress of our ancient reptilian brain. When those drives take over, "we" are no longer in control. Something else is. And it can feel like an assassin; it is destroying our lives against our will. This sense that something not-us nevertheless tempts and even controls us can be seen throughout history, though it is given different names. It has been called Satan or the Devil. Freud called it the Id (German: "It").
TGFE: PAGE 162
Understanding the unwanted drives within us as having served our ancestors for millions of years is far more empowering than imagining that we are the way we are because of inner demons, or because the world's first woman and man ate a forbidden apple a few thousand years ago. The path to freedom lies in appreciating one's instincts, while taking steps to channel these powerful energies in ways that will serve our higher purpose. Even so, "demonic possession" is a traditional night language way of speaking about someone who is compelled to act in harmful ways. "Demonic temptation," in this sense, is anything that would have us disregard the well-being of the larger holons of which we are part (our families, communities, world), or the smaller holons for which we are responsible (our bodies, minds, principles). It is my hope that-however evolutionary theologies manifest in the future-there will be room for traditional language (demonic possession), scientific language (reptilian brain), and metaphorical night language born in our own time (Lizard Legacy).
TGFE: PAGES 169-171
From a science-based, evolutionary perspective, there is no place for belief in a literal Satan—an otherworldly being with demonic intent—just as we no longer find helpful the notion that God is an unnatural entity divorced from, less than, and residing somewhere outside the Universe. Nevertheless, personalizing or relationalizing the forces of evil—especially those within us—can be helpful, whether or not we choose to use the words Satan or the Devil.
When I need to muster extra resolve against my inherited proclivities, especially regarding the lure to lie for the sake of status, sexual attraction, or the temptation to indulge in feel-good substances, it occasionally helps for me to see those tendencies as something other-as not me. That sense of otherness makes it easier for me to "witness" my unchosen nature—my instincts—and thereby gain the calm objectivity that distance affords, rather than being ruled impulsively by it. These inherited proclivities are not me, and yet they are within me. I shall never be entirely free of them.
"I Don't Know That Guy!"
Folksinger Greg Brown wrote a song titled "I Don't Know That Guy." It is a funny and poignant reminder of how challenging our Lizard Legacy can be. Here are the first two verses:
Me, I'm happy-go-lucky-
always ready to grin.
I ain't afraid of loving you-
ain't fascinated with sin.
So who's this fellow in my shoes-
making you cry?
I don't know that guy.
Who took my suitcase?
Who stole my guitar?
And where's my sense of humor?
What am I doin' in this bar?
This man who's been drinking,
and giving you the eye-
I don't know that guy.
Evangelical opinion leader Gordon MacDonald, as already mentioned, referred to these tendencies as a kind of assassin within. In saying that we feel "tempted by Satan," we mean exactly that. For many Christians today, the words "tempted by Satan" may still be helpful in dealing with the most troubling aspects of our unchosen nature. For me, "Satan" is still a useful term, but with this proviso:
From the standpoint of evolutionary faith, "Satan" points to nothing that can be believed or disbelieved. Rather, "Satan" as the great Tempter is something that every human experiences by virtue of having an evolved brain. Why? Because the human brain was not designed by an all-knowing, otherworldly engineer God. It was evolved by the living immanent, omnipresent God, and the world of today is a far cry from the world of our prehuman ancestors. For me to publicly use the word "Satan," however, would shut down the listening of those toward the liberal pole of Christianity—not to mention anyone outside the Christian or Islamic perspective. But what if we begin talking about our "reptilian brain" or, better yet, "Lizard Legacy"? What a lighthearted, playful way to get real about the most serious challenges that we, as individuals, face in right living; that is, abiding in integrity!
TGFE: PAGE 174
'Satan' can, indeed, bring temptation by way of our Lizard Legacy. Nevertheless, our brainstem and cerebellum are vital for life. Without our Lizard Legacy, we would starve and leave no off spring. Without our Lizard Legacy, every stumble would result in an injurious or fatal fall, and we would not have learned to walk in the first place. Without our Lizard Legacy, we would have to remember to breathe. Finally, there would have been no physical impetus for our Furry Li'l Mammal (our paleomammalian brain) to have evolved the bliss of romance. Yes, there is Original Blessing, in abundance. But, oh, the challenges!
TGFE: PAGE 182
'Satan' can and does use the most seductive of disguises-from sex, friendship, and righteousness, to power, profi t, and patriotism—in order to tempt us away from concern for the common good. Most dangerously, Satan can kidnap our Higher Porpoise (our prefrontal cortex), as when a zealously religious young man straps on a chestful of explosives and boards a bus, or when leaders of a nation-state react to a terrorist act at a scale that escalates the problem, all the while fanning the fears and invoking the patriotic assent of its citizens. Where is salvation to be found under these circumstances?
My experience of Evolutionary Christianity suggests that as our understanding of the Wholeness of Reality (God) expands and evolves, so too, naturally and inevitably, will our understanding of the meaning and signifi cance of salvation. From a holy evolutionary perspective, salvation is not something that can be believed in or not believed in. It simply is. What we call "salvation," like "sin," is an undeniable part of the human experience.
To know the joy of reconciling when I've been estranged; to experience the relief of confession when I've been burdened by guilt; to taste the freedom of forgiveness when I've been enslaved by my resentments; to feel passion and energy when I've been forlorn; to once again see clearly when I have been self deceived; to find comfort when I've been grieving; to dance again when I've been paralyzed by fear; to sing when I've been short on hope; to let go when I have been attached; to embrace truth when I've been in denial; to find guidance when I've been floundering—each of these is a precious face of salvation. No matter what our respective beliefs, we all have experienced salvation in these and other ways.
Endorsements from Nobel Laureates
Praise from Science Luminaries
Response from Religious Leaders (Across the Spectrum)
Best Evolution Resources
This being the Year of Evolution (Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th of his On the Origin of Species), nonfiction readers have a wealth of new and classic books to choose from on the man and his message. And one of them is by my husband, Michael Dowd. Michael’s Thank God for Evolution (reissued in softcover by Plume in April 2009) was one of five books reviewed under the title “Darwin Roundup” in the 8 February 2009 issue of The Los Angeles Times (see link below).
The review actually begins with Michael’s book and then quickly moves on. The biographical underpinnings of the author and his itinerant ministry seems to have struck the reviewer as an opportunity to hook the reader with humor. M. G. Lord writes, “Today the couple has no permanent residence. Dowd thumps Origin of Species as ardently as the Bible. His movement's logo is a Christian fish smooching a Darwin amphibian (which, if you can bear its cuteness, can be purchased on a baseball cap at ThankGodForEvolution.com).
Among the four other books reviewed in the same article, the one that receives the most accolades is, Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution, by well-respected Darwin scholars Adrian Desmond and James Moore. This book is poised to roundly defeat (at least in intellectual circles) a long-standing contention that establishment of evolution as fact and natural selection as the processs underlying it promotes rascism and other antagonisms between human groups. To the contrary! Indeed, I recall how taken I was more than two decades ago when I read Voyage of the Beagle and there encountered Darwin’s strong words against racism, slavery, and the brutal treatment of domestic animals — all of which he encountered in his explorations of South America.
Those of us within the sciences know, of course, that the measure of the man (or woman) who originates or supports a scientific theory should have no effect on how the scientific community as a whole judges the merits and usefulness of the theory. Nonetheless, because all battles against the evolutionary worldview now unfold entirely outside of science, Darwin’s Sacred Cause should make it decidedly old-fashioned to continue to blame Charles Darwin and his scientific success for cruel philosophies and practices advocated by political and intellectual leaders whose influence was on the wane before I was even born.
For Michael and me, ever on the road, audiobooks are increasingly the way we keep up on the sciences and cultural ideas that interest us. Thus far we have listened to three fine books of or by Darwin: The Reluctant Mr. Darwin (by David Quammen), Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography (by Janet Browne), and Darwin’s own The Voyage of the Beagle. Michael and I equally enjoyed the two new biographies — and we highly recommend both, especially to readers whose tastes incline toward biography and away from science. Though I listened twice to Darwin’s autobiographical sketch of his 5-year voyage, I did it on my own time, as Michael did not have the patience to persevere through long descriptive passages.
But the book that had us “wowing” to one another, and sometimes weeping with joy and pride that our species has been able to discover so much about the past from hidden and scattered evidence — evidence that requires quests that span multiple generations — is Sean B. Carroll’s latest book, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species. A developmental and evolutionary biologist, Sean B. Carroll, in my view, has become the Stephen Jay Gould of this generation in his ability to write science books that scientists and nonscientists both commend.
I liked it so much that I posted my first online review at Audible.com, which I have linked below. But first, the Publishers Weekly review will give you a sense of its contents:
“In this thoroughly enjoyable book, Carroll (Endless Forms Most Beautiful), a molecular biologist at the University of Wisconsin, provides vignettes of some of the fascinating people who have made the most significant discoveries in evolutionary biology. He starts with some of the experiences and insights of great explorers like Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates, then turns his attention to paleontologists who searched for the fossil evidence to support the new theory of evolution. Among them are Eugène Dubois's discovery of Java Man; Charles Walcott's discovery of the Burgess Shale and the evidence it provided for the Cambrian explosion; and Neil Shubin's recent discovery in arctic Canada of Tiktaalik, the intermediary between water- and land-dwelling vertebrates. Carroll closes with studies of human evolution, from Louis and Mary Leakey to the advances of Linus Pauling and Allan Wilson, which indicated that Neanderthals were cousins of Homo sapiens rather than direct ancestors. While there's little that's new here, Carroll does weave an arresting tapestry of evolutionary advancement.”
For those who want to stock up on the evidential basis for evolution in order to ward off denunciations by doubtful friends and relatives, the two best books of 2009 will likely be, Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne and The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins. I have just begun to read the former. Dawkins’ book is scheduled for release in September 2009. Because his 2004 science book, Ancestor’s Tale, has been so useful in my work (it is the basis for an interactive children’s curriculum that I wrote, “The River of Life”), I expect Dawkins’ book to be eloquent, accessible, brilliant — and utterly convincing.
» Connie’s review of REMARKABLE CREATURES on Audible.com
» Connie’s children’s curriculum, “RIVER OF LIFE”
» Book Review in Los Angeles Times, “DARWIN ROUND-UP”
Evo Evangelists Barnstorm Texas
Texas is always a big presence in the ongoing challenges to the teaching of evolutionary science in public schools. Not surprisingly, then, television news stations, radio talk show hosts, and newspaper editors in Texas found our evolutionary evangelism worthy of coverage.
Michael Dowd and I were in Texas for most of the month of February, traveling from Houston to San Antonio to Austin and Waco, delivering Sunday morning sermons, illustrated slide talks, and children’s programs in 18 events hosted by a dozen churches and one yoga center. For example, on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin (February 12), Michael delivered an evening talk provocatively titled, “Thank God for Evolution.” Sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Huntsville, the program attracted 105 area residents to the venue location: Sam Houston Memorial Museum (pictured above).
The reception was overwhelmingly supportive. Media reports, including VIDEO of an ABC News interview broadcast nationally, can be accessed at the “Texas Photo-Essay” link below.
A highlight for me of our time in Texas was the “Forum” discussion preceding Sunday service at Thoreau Unitarian Universalist Congregation, southwest of Houston. Because I was also scheduled to do a guest sermon there that morning (titled, “Evolution Now”), and because I had a cold, I was fearful that my voice would give out. So, I decided to center discussion not on my words but around an evolutionary parable I had written several years earlier and had posted on TheGreatStory.org website (see link below). The parable I chose was a 4-part dramatic script titled, “Startull: The Story of an Average Yellow Star.” Although it is suitable for young children, because of the science and the values expressed (especially a celebratory understanding of the death of elders) this particular parable is ideal for adults and youth. Volunteers energetically recited and acted out their scripts. A good time was had by all, and the subsequent discussion was heartful as well as intellectual.
Other highlights for me in Texas were the two religious education classes I guest-taught at Bay Area Unitarian Church in Houston near the end of February. While Michael was presenting the sermon at both morning services, I was in with the kids: first with 1st through 3rd graders; next with the teens. For the younger kids, I presented the first 40 minutes of my highly interactive “River of Life” program (linked below) — with lots of illustrations, guessing games, and song. It is a walk back through time, through our own ancestors and the special ancestors (which Richard Dawkins calls “concestors”) that we share with other “streams” of life. Kids universally love it!
For the teens, I always choose to offer “Your Brain’s Creation Story” (linked below) — which speaks to the challenges that youth especially feel in initiating and maintaining romantic relationships and in saying “no” to influences and substances that can do them harm. A week later, I had more time to walk through these ideas with 30 teens at the First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City. As always, at the end of the program I offered free buttons and sticky labels with the brain chart emblem on them. The teens are always eager to take them — as an understanding of our evolved brain is intriguingly useful for just about everyone, and salvific for some.
We happened to be in central Oklahoma when Richard Dawkins gave a talk (to more than 3,000 students and visitors) at Oklahoma University. It was an amazing event. As Michael wrote in his blog,
“Connie and I made the long drive not just to hear Richard speak but to witness a rather unique phenomenon: a scientist/atheist whose presence on a college campus in the reddest of red states had a "rock star" feel to it—and had prompted a state legislator to introduce a resolution "expressing disapproval of the actions of the University of Oklahoma to indoctrinate students in the theory of evolution; opposing the invitation to Richard Dawkins to speak on campus."
» Michael’s blog, “RICHARD DAWKINS: Rock Star in Oklahoma”
» Connie’s PHOTO-ESSAY of the TEXAS events
» EVOLUTIONARY PARABLES
» “RIVER OF LIFE” children’s program
» “YOUR BRAIN’S CREATION STORY” teen program
Connie’s “Evolution Now” sermon:
"God" as a Personification of Undeniable Reality
Birth, life, death, the cycles and rhythms of Nature, the elemental forces of the Universe—these are undeniably real. Like it or not, we humans have always been in an inescapable relationship with a Reality that we could neither fully predict nor control. And given the nature of our brains, there's one thing that people in every culture and throughout history have instinctually done: we've used metaphors and analogies to understand and relate to that which is unavoidably, undeniably real and/or mysterious. We can't not do this. Consciously or unconsciously, we will always interpret via metaphors.
ALL images and concepts of God are more or less meaningful interpretations and personifications of Undeniable Reality, or Unavoidable Mystery. And it didn't take a genius to figure out that if you trust, or have faith, in what is ultimately inescapable, your life works better than if you judge or resist what is Real. This is not theological rocket science.
Whenever any story, any culture, or any scriptural passage claims "God said this..." or "God did that...," what follows is necessarily a meaningful interpretation of some individual or group's inner or outer experience; it is never a measurable fact. In other words, had CNN or ABC News been there to record the moment of divine revelation, there would have been nothing out of the ordinary (nothing miraculous) to report on the evening news—nothing other than what was coming out of someone's mouth, or pen, or whatever folks wrote with back then. If we fail to understand this, we belittle God and will surely miss what Reality is revealing today. And we mock God if we imagine that a truly divine communicator would have spoken to humanity as a whole more clearly through goat herders and fisherman in the distant past, via their dreams and intuitions, than through cumulative evidence discovered by the global community of scientists alive today. After all, if the worldwide, self-correcting scientific endeavor is anything, it is the pursuit of collective intelligence and a cultural system designed to hold people accountable for their factual statements—their truth claims.
As I discuss at length in Part II of TGFE ("Reality is Speaking"), facts are God's native tongue. In the same way that Reality is always speaking to us individually through our feelings, circumstances, and relationships (i.e., through our experience), empirical evidence is how Reality (God) speaks to us collectively. Few things are more important, it seems to me, than appreciating this and acting on it at all levels of society, the sooner the better.
Fortunately, this perspective seems to be resonating with lots of heavyweight science and religion leaders:
Endorsements from Nobel Prize-winning scientists
Praise from other Science Luminaries
Response from Religious Leaders Across the Spectrum (by Affiliation)
Are God and Satan Real?
The Silly Debate Over God's Existence
Evolution as Meaningful, Inspiring Fact
7 Deadly Sins of Old-Time Religion
"A mistake about Creation will necessarily result in a mistake about God." —Saint Thomas Aquinas
One of the most important truths revealed in recent centuries is this: everything—the entire Universe—is in an ongoing process of deep-time transformation. Galaxies and star systems evolve. Planets evolve. Life evolves. Human cultures evolve. Individuals and groups of all sizes evolve. And our personal and collective thinking about life's big questions (including our concepts/stories of Ultimacy, God, or Undeniable Reality) evolve, too. Reflecting on this is, I suspect, what led Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to write:
"Is evolution a theory, a system, or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, and all systems must bow and satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow."
Over the next few weeks, I will elaborate on The 7 Deadly Sins of Old-Time Religion, taking them one at a time. I will show that there are 7 profoundly negative consequences of religious resistance to a measurable understanding of reality, and deep-time view of grace. Specifically, I will reveal how, from a religious naturalism point of view, a pre-evolutionary worldview frozen within scriptural literalism necessarily...
1. Trivializes God, guidance, and good news;
2. Balkanizes religion and bastardizes science;
3. Desacralizes nature;
4. Blasphemes death;
5. Fails our children in three tragic, unnecessary ways;
6. Denies individuals and families access to the most important saving wisdom for overcoming personal and relational challenges; and
7. Blinds us from seeing the true nature of the current global integrity crisis.
Everything must evolve in order to remain viable. Three billion years ago, life (bacteria and archaea) thrived in a context of 2% oxygen. Today, anything less than 15% oxygen would wipe out all mammals. In an ever-emerging, ever-developing Cosmos, conditions that were once healthy and lifegiving can later become dangerous or even deadly—which is, of course, why life must be so adaptive.
Traditional religions will either evolve like everything else or, paradoxically, they will destroy nearly everything they stand for, or perhaps just go extinct. I'm betting my life that they will evolve, and will become more lifegiving then ever—not just for their own members but for the entire Earth community. This is, indeed, why I wrote Thank God for Evolution, and why Connie and I have been living on the road for 7 years, sharing a sacred, meaningful view of cosmic, Earth, life, and human history with religious and secular audiences across America.
The boldest creedal assertions are in the future, not the past. I foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when churches and other religious organizations preach and teach the science-based epic of evolution as our common creation story, and when this story is seen as foundational for moral instruction and teaching values to the next generations. Widespread awareness of The 7 Deadly Sins of Old-Time Religion will, I pray, significantly further this process.
The next time you’re passing by your local newsstand, make sure and pick up a copy of the March 2009 issue of Discover magazine that asks the question, “Are we still evolving?” and refers to the role of America’s Evolutionary Evangelist, Michael Dowd.
“Harnessed to a supernatural dimension, the belief in evolution could itself evolve into a kind of religion. Witness the case of one Michael Dowd, an itinerant minister who calls himself an “evolutionary evangelist” and preaches the “holy trajectory” of evolution. “I thank God for the entire 14-billion-year epic of cosmic, biological, and human emergence,” he notes on his Web site. “Ironically, evolution gives us a more intimate and personal relationship with God because God is no longer far off, unnatural, and impotent. And it gives us a way of thinking about religion that helps us understand how and why religions are different, and how we can cooperate together. Both of these are, to my mind, really Good News.”
In imbuing science with a sense of personal meaning, Dowd resembles Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit priest and paleontologist who envisioned humankind and the universe evolving in the direction of a divine, infinitely complex consciousness he called the Omega Point. But the two remain an extremely rare breed: devout believers in science whose teleological claims flout the rigors of scientific verification. Unlike Dowd and Teilhard de Chardin, Wilson espouses a strictly secular enthusiasm. However much they may disagree about the ends, though, these very different Darwinian thinkers agree on the means.
“Organisms evolve, and at the end of the day, we are organisms,” Wilson says. “You just can’t deny that.”
Read the full article on DiscoverMagazine.com...
Above the Clouds
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked after my “astronaut” talks is some version of the following, “How was your view of God and religion changed by your flight?” My boring response is that my reaction was basically neutral. I returned with pretty much the same views, beliefs, and hang-ups as I had at launch. My particular hang-up was a continuing and profound disconnect between, on the one hand, what I’d been taught about God at home, in church, and at Bible school and, on the other, my convictions about values like fairness, justice, and love — as well as my life-long learning and experience in the scientific way of thinking.
Looking at Planet Earth and out into the Universe from space is truly an awesome experience. It is fantastic to be there as a knowledgeable observer, to appreciate the origin of this world and its place in the universe. Looking down on the clouds at night, lightning storms provide a never-to-be-forgotten show while in the day the storm clouds trace the great weather systems that make life as we live it possible. As a child I was led to believe that Heaven was somewhere, somehow up there above the clouds. The actual above-the-clouds experience is a whole lot better than myths of harps and streets of gold!
It is neat to understand that the same laws of nature that keep the moon in orbit about the earth and the earth about the sun are maintaining our space shuttle in its orbit of the earth. Thanks to our remarkable brains and a gradual intensification of learning, humankind has breathtaking knowledge of how things fit together, understandings unavailable to our richest and smartest forebears. The scientific method and the technology that it has engendered provide new, testable, and verifiable answers to questions of, for example, evolution and cosmology — questions of profound interest and importance, which in our ancestors’ day were strictly the province of priests and shamans.
I’m grateful that, thanks to Thank GOD for EVOLUTION and the concept that God is the universe, I am at last able to reconcile in a sensible way my life experience with God as expressed in the “night language” of friends and loved ones of many faiths around the world. It is really a wonderful thing to be able to use the word “God” without an internal grimace. If you, also, experience a disconnect between your spiritual life and your experiential life, I encourage you to try thinking about God and the universe in this positive and helpful way.
Traditional Religion's God Problem
A holy view of evolution solves traditional religion's God problem.
What is 'traditional religion's God problem'? Simply this: If taken together and interpreted literally, the world's religious scriptures portray God in ways that we all know in our hearts cannot possibly be true. For example, all of us (even atheists!) know that God cannot possibly be schizophrenic, nor a tribal-cosmic terrorist. Yet that is precisely the view that the world's sacred texts collectively offer. That's traditional religion's God problem.
Please know that I am not exaggerating or overstating the case, and I'm certainly not dissing religion! It is an easily verifiable fact that if you look at the world's religious literature as a whole, God supposedly says and does lots of contradictory, mutually exclusive things. Some traditions say "God is like this, He said this, and He did that." Others say, "NO, God is like this, He (or She) said this, and did that." If all these tales are true, God is either schizophrenic or suffers from multiple personality disorder. Saying "our stories are true and all others are myth" doesn't make the problem go away for humanity as a whole. And it gets worse before it gets better...
If you’ve heard about Thank GOD for EVOLUTION, but haven’t gotten a copy yet, we would like to invite you to download a free chapter and see what the buzz is about.
Thank GOD for EVOLUTION brings together believers and non-believers on both sides of the generations-old debate by showing how evolution is not meaningless blind chance; rather, it is the sacred story that embraces and includes all religions. As a Christian minister, Dowd addresses the concerns that many Christians have about evolution and offers insights that ring true to people of any spiritual tradition, or none at all.
For Dowd, “studying evolution is like following cosmic breadcrumbs home.” Drawing on the full range of cosmological, geological, biological, and human-related sciences, Thank GOD for EVOLUTION presents the history of the universe as an epic drama in which the generations alive today have a crucial role to play. It offers a shift in public perception on a scale not experienced since the Copernican Revolution or the Protestant and Catholic Reformations. By acknowledging the global, collaborative scientific endeavor as public revelation, we can newly appreciate the timeless insights within the private revelations of the world’s enduring religious traditions.
Moreover, Dowd shows how the discoveries of science—notably, evolutionary brain science and evolutionary psychology—offer astonishing gifts for understanding and overcoming the challenges in our personal lives and relationships. This, he declares is “the gospel according to evolution.”
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!
How and Why I'm a Pentecostal Evangelical
Journalists and newscasters sometimes describe me as an 'evangelical minister' or ‘Pentecostal preacher', even though I speak far more often in moderate and liberal churches (and in secular settings) than I do in evangelical and Pentecostal venues. Not surprisingly, both religious liberals and conservatives genuinely ask, "In what sense do you consider yourself a Pentecostal evangelical?"
For thirty years I've proudly called myself a Pentecostal, though my political and theological views are by no means right-wing, and for the past two decades I've tended to say "evolutionary Pentecostal", for clarification. My experience in Pentecostal and evangelical contexts has been positive—indeed, salvific—and continues to nourish my life and work. I was raised Roman Catholic but struggled with sex, drug, and alcohol-related issues in my teens, during the mid 1970s. Soon after my 20th birthday, I had a born again experience and went on to graduate from an Assemblies of God college and a Baptist seminary. I pastored three churches in the 1980s and 90s and have been an itinerant evolutionary evangelist for the past seven years. Speaking in tongues (see below for my naturalized interpretation) has been a vital part of my spiritual practice for decades.
The primary reason I unabashedly call myself an evolutionary Pentecostal, however, is this: The core tenets of the evangelical-Pentecostal tradition accurately reflect the nature of the Universe and the human condition so long as they are REALized—that is, made real. And, yes, as I shall explain below, it is easy for an evolutionary evangelical to translate our basic statements of faith in natural, science-based (demythologized), and profoundly life-giving ways . . .
1. The faithfulness of God and the authority of God's word
2. The necessity of Christ and the centrality of the cross
3. The need for conversion
4. The call to live the gospel in word and deed
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.
Introducing The EVOLUTIONARY TIMES
We are Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow, full-time itinerant evolutionary evangelists. Since April 2002 we have traveled North America non-stop, sharing in religiously inspiring ways the 14 billion year history of the Universe given by mainstream science. Some of you know us from one of our presentations or workshops. Others we’ve met thanks to my new book Thank GOD for EVOLUTION. To All, it's been an honor and a privilege to meet and become part of so many of your lives over the past six and a half years on the road.
This publication will now be our main means of communicating with the millions in the middle who, like us, find inspiration, comfort, and encouragement in our common creation myth—The Great Story of cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity told in meaningful and empowering ways. Here you will find key links to informative blog posts, news coverage, our itinerary, mention of what’s new on our websites, and suggestions for how you can join us and play an important part in furthering this movement.
OUR TWO-FOLD VISION: (1) By 2050, we see the majority of religious and non-religious people worldwide joyfully embracing an evolutionary, ecological worldview. (2) We also imagine, by mid-century, that humanity, in symbiotic partnership with our technologies and social structures, will have largely transitioned to a mutually enhancing relationship with the larger body of life of which we are part.
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.
Teach Both Sides of What Controversy?
Michael Zimmerman of the Clergy Letter Project alerted me yesterday to a newspaper article discussing John McCain's VP pick, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s, stance on the evolution/creation issue. The piece is from the Anchorage Daily News and ran during the last gubernatorial race.
I have previously written blog posts on the subject of intelligent design (ID) and young-earth creationism (YEC). The reason that well over 95% of the scientists of the world reject these approaches is because neither has offered a viable scientific theory to replace the evolutionary one. "Teach both sides of the controversy" is a rallying cry often heard in ID circles. But among scientists. there simply is no controversy. And this is a demonstrable fact (carefully look at and read the image above left. T-shirts with other humorous images on the subject of "Teach the Controversy" can be found HERE).
The following is excerpted from Chapter 4 of Thank GOD for EVOLUTION...