Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Art of Class Blowing

Let's say you work for WalMart or McDonald's. Your boss discovers that you lied on your time sheet about the number of hours you've worked. Over the course of 2 or 3 years, about 10% of the time you SAID you were at work, you weren't. What do you think your boss will do?

The most obvious repercussion is that you will be shown the door, fired! The company may file suit against you to recover the fraudulant wages you received. Even if you somehow manage to keep your job, you can be assured that future paychecks will be docked a percentage until every last penny you bilked from the company has been repaid in full.

Yes, that's the way the world works IF you are a working stiff, but it's NOT the way the world works if you happen to be a powerful, politically-connected corporation. According to The New York Times, Halliburton is being paid it's entire [no bid] contract by the Army despite the fact that over 10% of the work supposedly performed is disputed!
The Army has decided to reimburse a Halliburton subsidiary for nearly all of its disputed costs on a $2.41 billion no-bid contract to deliver fuel and repair oil equipment in Iraq, even though the Pentagon's own auditors had identified more than $250 million in charges as potentially excessive or unjustified.

The Army said in response to questions on Friday that questionable business practices by the subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, had in some cases driven up the company's costs. But in the haste and peril of war, it had largely done as well as could be expected, the Army said, and aside from a few penalties, the government was compelled to reimburse the company for its costs...auditors began focusing on the fuel deliveries under the contract, finding that the fuel transportation costs that the company was charging the Army were in some cases nearly triple what others were charging to do the same job.
Not only are they being reimbursed the full contract, but you can bet that they will be awarded more such contracts in the future. If you worked at WalMart or McDonald's, do you think they would gladly hire you back after you had defrauded them of wages?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Is the Biblical God Possible?

At some point in almost each person's life in the western world, we ask ourselves: Is the Christian God possible? I think a lot of Christians skate over this question because the apparent contradictions should make even the most devout among us a tad bit queasy. How can the creator of everything be uniquely perfect when there is so much imperfection in the world? How can an entity that is the picture of absolute love allow so much hate and misery to abound?

While web surfing the other day, I came across an interesting site, Evil Bible. Its author goes to a great deal of trouble to debunk the Christian religion. While you may not agree with that site's general thesis or you may not agree with all the points raised, it does provide some excellent fodder for discussion.

In the section, "Why the Christian God is Impossible", there are two good points I offer for consideration:
Perfection Seeks Even More Perfection

What did God do during that eternity before he created everything? If God was all that existed back then, what disturbed the eternal equilibrium and compelled him to create? Was he bored? Was he lonely? God is supposed to be perfect. If something is perfect, it is complete--it needs nothing else. We humans engage in activities because we are pursuing that elusive perfection, because there is disequilibrium caused by a difference between what we are and what we want to be. If God is perfect, there can be no disequilibrium. There is nothing he needs, nothing he desires, and nothing he must or will do. A God who is perfect does nothing except exist. A perfect creator God is impossible.

The Omniscient is Surprised

A God who knows everything cannot have emotions. The Bible says that God experiences all of the emotions of humans, including anger, sadness, and happiness. We humans experience emotions as a result of new knowledge. A man who had formerly been ignorant of his wife's infidelity will experience the emotions of anger and sadness only after he has learned what had previously been hidden. In contrast, the omniscient God is ignorant of nothing. Nothing is hidden from him, nothing new may be revealed to him, so there is no gained knowledge to which he may emotively react.

We humans experience anger and frustration when something is wrong which we cannot fix. The perfect, omnipotent God, however, can fix anything. Humans experience longing for things we lack. The perfect God lacks nothing. An omniscient, omnipotent, and perfect God who experiences emotion is impossible.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

It's Not About the Money

How many times have we heard an athlete, who has just signed a huge new contract, say the following: "It's not about the money"? (We also hear celebrities and CEOs say the same kind of thing.) These people will tell you that the current position is the culmination of a "life long dream" and, heck, to get a chance to play for this team, they'd do it for free.

After waxing eloquently for minutes or hours, they go skipping gleefully all the way to the bank with $10, $20, $50 or $100 million or more filling their pockets.

Yeh right, it's not about THE MONEY.

Well, in looking at my life, I can honestly say, It's NOT about the money. I recently received my periodic social security statement. If I judged my life in terms of dollar signs, I should locate the nearest bridge and heave myself off of it.

Over the past 25 years, I've earned about $150,000. Mere pocket change by Bill Gates' standards.

I'm not looking for your pity. I've chosen this kind of lifestyle. For the past decade, I've worked for several progressive advocacy organizations and, what I haven't earned in money, I've earned in class consciousness. Before that, I worked in children's social services -- A needed occupation that doesn't make one monetarily rich.

To be certain, there are times I wish I made more money. I half-wish I could buy a new vehicle every few years or purchase a faster computer. But these are fleeting desires. I've made my bed and I'm happy to lie in it.

Money has a certain value, but it's not genuinely what makes the world go 'round OR brings happiness to anyone. In fact, money seems to bring more pressure to people's lives as they're always trying to make or get more. For many people, no matter how much monetary wealth they accumulate, it's never enough.

They long for some worth and security that they can never seem to find. They surround themselves with baubles and trinkets, yet their internal misery continues unabated.

I don't have these worries. Like Lao Tzu, I cherish the simple things and, by choosing to live a life of simplicity, my life is full. By having a little, I have a lot.

Really. It's NOT about the money.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Morality Against Itself

One of the chief aspects of Taoism that seems to defy the expectations of the typical Western mind is the lack of deference to a code of morality. Unlike the Judeo-Christian tradition, there are no commandments nor creeds nor dictums. There is no middleman (i.e., priest, minister, holy one) between Tao and the masses.

In fact, according to Taoist sages, morality is its own worst enemy. The very act of instructing people how to think and behave encourages them to act or behave in the opposite manner. Like a child testing parental boundaries, morality causes most people to see what they think they can get away with and still fall within the boundary.

More importantly, morality serves as an impetus to "do the right thing" out of self-interest rather than because it's the right thing to do. To illustrate this point, I'm going to use a tool popular with Raymond Smullyan, author of The Tao Is Silent. In often humurous ways, he likes to explain particular ideas via dialogue between two people with opposing viewpoints.

My imaginary conversation is between a Christian and a Taoist.
Taoist: By and large, Christians seem to want to do the right thing based solely on self-interest.

Christian: How on earth can you say that? We desire to do the right thing because its God's will.

Taoist: Let me see if I can get a handle on this. You believe that humanity is flawed and can only find redemption through the grace of God, right?

Christian: Yes. We are so flawed that none of us deserves God's mercy, but he gives it to us anyway, if we only believe in him.

Taoist: If faith is all that's needed, then why worry about doing good works? As long as you have faith, you're saved.

Christian: But good works show that your faith is genuine.

Taoist: Oh, I understand now. You're trying to prove your worthiness to God.

Christian: No! Didn't you hear what I said earler? None of us is worthy!

Taoist: If none of us is worthy and there's no way to prove our worthiness through good works, then why worry about doing the right thing?

Christian: Oh, you amaze me! People should do the right thing because, if we don't, we face an eternity of hell and damnation, estranged from our father.

Taoist: I get it now. You behave properly because you don't wish to displease God.

Christian: Precisely!

Taoist: In other words, you now admit that right behavior is out of self-interest?

Christian: I'm saying nothing of the sort!

Taoist: You just told me that displeasing God by not having faith in him and not performing good works to illustrate the genuiness of said faith is what motivates you to be a good person. In other words, you behave rightly to avoid a sanction or punishment. I'd call that self-interest.

Christian: Aaah! But there's more to it than that. A person has strong faith and right conduct to please God and to go to heaven to live forever with God.

Taoist: Oh, so you behave properly because you wish to please God?

Christian: Now you got it!

Taoist: Just as before, you must now agree with me that you behave rightly due solely to self-interest.

Christian: What? Aren't you listening?

Taoist: I certainly am listening. I'm beginning to wonder if you're listening to yourself. You're now saying that people should behave rightly because they will receive a reward of eternal life with God. Again, the motivation is self-interest.

Christian: No! No! No! It's because we want to do God's will!

Taoist: From what you've explained to me, people try to exhibit right behavior in order to prove themselves to God or to avoid punishment or to gain a reward. Under any and all of these circumstances, right behavior is motivated by a person's self-interest. In Christian thought, you can't escape it.
So, how does Taoist thought differ? Taoists believe that people will do the right thing simply because its the right thing to do. Because we do not believe in a personified God, right behavior isn't performed as a proof of worthiness. Because we do not believe in Hell, right behavior isn't performed to escape a punishment. Because we don't believe in heaven, right behavior isn't performed to gain a reward.

There is no need for morality. There are no oughts or shoulds. There is just Tao, the Way. And we try to walk its path.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Taboo on Violence

Ask the average person if we live in a world that celebrates violence and/or aggression and you'll most likely find the answer is yes. People will point to the excessive amount of gratuitous violence on TV, in movies and video games, and in the sporting world. Consequently, on a superficial level, it seems that the human species is naturally a violent one.

If you share this perspective, then it appears self-evident that the chief way to solve serious international conflicts is through a military strategy. If one or more nations can't convince another that a certain action or behavior is not in the world's best interest, then there's no other choice but war.

While I won't naively suggest that there isn't a lot of violence in our society, I think that far too many people over emphasize it's supposedly inherent nature. When a natural catastrophe strikes a particular region, MOST people rush to the area to provide aid and comfort, NOT to loot the area. When MOST people find themselves in conflict with another person, they try to work out their differences peacefully, instead of resulting to violence.

Our society is built upon the foundation of nonviolence. In sports, athletes are penalized for being overly aggressive or violent. Our penal system --whether one agrees with all of its many aspects or not -- is built upon the idea of punishing people for behaving or acting in a violent manner. Our system of laws and legislation is based on the idea that reasonable people can come to rational decisions about how we can all share in the public sphere of life.

It should follow then that we should and can use nonviolent means to solve international conflicts. One organization that has taken this ideal to heart is Nonviolent PeaceForce. Their mission is
to build a trained, international civilian nonviolent peace force. The Nonviolent Peaceforce will be sent to conflict areas to prevent death and destruction and protect human rights, thus creating the space for local groups to struggle nonviolently, enter into dialogue, and seek peaceful resolution.
It's an idea whose time has come!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Some Observations on Faith

Faith. It plays a crucial role in the life of every person. There are far too many variables for any one person to know or understand, so we must each have faith that laws, customs, mores and principles consistently will apply to the various situations in our lives. As has often been stated, each time we go out on the road in a vehicle, we need to have faith that other drivers will stay on their side of the road and will not run the next stoplight.

By definition, faith means to hold a "confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing" and to acknowledge that said beliefs "do not rest on logical proof or material evidence". In other words, faith is a belief in the validity of something without knowing for absolute certainty that this something is valid.

While faith is encompassed in all human interaction and institutions, it is most closely associated with religion. The followers of any given religious system have faith that their understanding of the world and beyond is THE correct understanding and, by virtue of this correct understanding, such followers will be in some way rewarded for holding to this faith.

By and large, the fundamentalists of any given religion -- those who cling to the old teachings and tend to not believe that changing circumstances necessitate changing time-honored doctrines -- place great emphasis on faith. In my estimation, however, the faith that they speak of is very shallow and one-dimensional.

For such fundamentalists, faith provides the key to salvation. They hold strongly to the belief that THEY will be pardoned for any earthly transgressions and will thus be welcomed into the halls of heaven or nirvana. They hold to a faith that the righteous will be rewarded when the end time comes by their deity or deities.

Yet, far too many of these very same people are the ones who most favor war, oppression, discrimination and hatred. It seems that their concept of faith only pertains to themselves, their family or group. In other words, their faith is exclusive, not inclusive.

They don't have faith in other people. They don't have faith in Mother Earth. They don't have faith in the collective consciousness. In actuality, they don't truly have a deep abiding faith in their own God because this entity created all of us and so all of us are part of that entity.

If you genuinely believe that humankind is created in the image of God, then how can you turn around and preach the destruction of some of those images? How can you show the steadfastness of your faith in the absoluteness of love by advocating for the misery and repression of some of God's children?

The simple answer is that you can't. To do so, contradicts the very faith you say you hold so dear.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Draped Flag

There was a time, not so long ago, when American life came to a near standstill during the Olympics (though more the Summer version than the Winter one). That doesn't happen anymore. You know things are faring poorly when millions more people watch American Idol than US hopes for gold, silver and bronze.

Consequently, a great deal of the American viewing public is unaware of a nasty tempest that is brewing toward the boiling point. While the issue itself is painted as a disagreement among two athletes, as with many things in today's world, race plays a huge part in it.

Over the past weekend, Shani Davis became the first African American athelete EVER to win a gold medal in an individual event at the Winter games by scoring the winning time in the 1,000 meter speedskating race. His erstwhile teammate Chad Hedrick wasn't in a congratulatory mood, however, because Davis had decided to skip an earlier team race in order to concentrate on his speciality.

Hedrick, who is white, has painted his complaint in red, white and blue. In Hedrick's estimation, Davis put himself before his country.

It sounds like a good argument, if it were true. The problem with Hedrick's characterization of Davis' selfishness is that Hedrick's own gripe is based on self-interest too. Before the Olympics began, Hedrick had marketed himself as America's next potential 5-medal winner. If he garned the 5 medals, he was certain to rake in millions of dollars in endorsement contracts.

In essence, Hedrick is far more upset with Davis because Davis' decision means that Hedrick can't live up to his own hype. That has nothing to do with mom, apple pie and the flag!

Many in the sports media, however, seem willing to overlook Hedrick's obvious conflict of [self-] interest. This brewing controversary has gained a lot of traction and Davis is bearing the brunt of a slew of ill feelings.

If you don't think race plays a big part in the controversy, imagine if the roles were reversed. Imagine that Shani Davis was a member of the relay team and Chad Hedrick decided not to participate in the team event to instead concentrate on his speciality.

If it was Davis who was now complaining, I can almost hear the general response. "That Davis is only thinking of himself. His only chance for a medal is in the relay. Chad Hedrick stands a far better chance of winning gold for the US if he skates solely in the 1,000 meter race."

I know that there are a lot of Americans who want to believe we live in a colorblind society, that each of us IS judged by personal merit alone. Examples such as the one above prove we have a long, long way to go to realize that kind of reality!

Hats off to Shani Davis!! We should all be proud of his hard-earned gold medal.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Engagement Across the Pond

It's common knowledge that far too many Americans don't understand what it's like to live in a world with occupying troops and threats of war on the horizon. What we know about every day life in Iraq, Iran and the Middle East comes from the self-censoring mainstream media. To say the least, much of the information shared with us is sketchy and skewed.

To combat this problem, I've been visiting blogs written by those who live these realities every day. It's an eye-opening experience and reminds me that people of differing cultures, religions and geographic locations hold much in common.

If you'd like to see the world through the eyes of the Arab and/or Muslim world, below I will list several blogs for your perusal. Read what they have to say and leave comments. Let's try to bridge the government-created chasm between people and countries, one blogger at a time.

Baghdad Dweller
The Black Iris of Jordan
Blogging the Middle East
Sabbah's Blog
Raising Yousuf
Healing Iraq
Iran's View from Outside

Abject Failure of Minute Proportions

How long is one second? Well, it takes about one second to say the words, "one second". One second is 1.66% of one minute and 0.00027% of one hour. If we carry out this formulation to an entire day, one second represents 0.00000115% of each 24-hour period.

There is hardly anything substantive a person can do in one second. It's just a miniscule blip on the radar of life.

Only in athletics -- particularly showcased in the Winter & Summer Olympics -- does one second seem to mean the difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. In fact, in the Olympics, one second ain't nuth'n! Careers are built or destroyed by tenths and hundredths of one second.

Last night I watched the 1000 meter speedskating finals as well as some downhill skiing, one of the slaloms. The commentators were explaining why certain competitors lost their respective races. They used slow-motion replays to show why this or that skier failed in their quest for a medal.

One of the American skiers finished in 7th or 8th place and the commentators were moaning about the skier's disappointing performance. The way they were talking you would think this fellow had finished several minutes behind the leaders.

When the final standings were flashed on the screen, the American lad had finished 0.74 seconds behind the top time! Less than one itsy bitsy second!!

All this proves to me is that some people place to much importance on numbers. A scintilla of a second shouldn't make or break a career or mean success or failure.

But that's just me.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The "Free Speech" Smokescreen

Many conservative apologists, particularly in the good ol' US of A, have defended the publication of the Islamic-bashing Danish cartoons on the hallowed ground of free speech. They've argued in favor of free expression and have suggested that to squelch such would lead down the road to tyranny and, who knows, maybe even communism. What a farce!

These are the very same people who defend Dubya for not releasing information about the NSA spying program. These are the very same people who support the concept of embedded reporting and the right of the military to dictate to the media what can and cannot be reported concerning our various military forays. These are the very same people who are working behind the scenes today to PRIVATIZE the internet so they can better control the flow of "free expression".

In other words, it's a false argument on their part. They don't care a lick about free expression. They only pull out the "free speech" card when it suits their nefarious purposes.

Friday, February 17, 2006

A Sharp Dose of a Nasty Reality

Here's a frightening account of what it's like living in a land of occupying troops, secret police forces, vigilantes and death squads. This story comes from Baghdad Burning and should remind us Americans that -- despite all the evils of the Bush administration -- we have it fairly easy.
I could feel my heart pounding in my ears and I got closer to the kerosene heater in an attempt to dispel the cold that seemed to have permanently taken over my fingers and toes. T. was trembling, wrapped in her blanket. I waved her over to the heater but she shook her head and answered, “I.... mmmm… n-n-not… c-c-cold…”

It came ten minutes later. A big clanging sound on the garden gate and voices yelling “Ifta7u [OPEN UP]”. I heard my uncle outside, calling out, “We’re opening the gate, we’re opening…” It was moments and they were inside the house. Suddenly, the house was filled with strange men, yelling out orders and stomping into rooms. It was chaotic. We could see flashing lights in the garden and lights coming from the hallways. I could hear Ammoo S. talking loudly outside, telling them his wife and the ‘children’ were the only ones in the house. What were they looking for? Was there something wrong? He asked.

Suddenly, two of them were in the living room. We were all sitting on the sofa, near my aunt. My cousin B. was by then awake, eyes wide with fear. They were holding large lights or ‘torches’ and one of them pointed a Klashnikov at us. “Is there anyone here but you and them?” One of them barked at my aunt. “No- it’s only us and my husband outside with you- you can check the house.” T.’s hands went up to block the glaring light of the torch and one of the men yelled at her to put her hands down, they fell limply in her lap. I squinted in the strong light and as my sight adjusted, I noticed they were wearing masks, only their eyes and mouths showing. I glanced at my cousins and noted that T. was barely breathing. J. was sitting perfectly still, eyes focused on nothing in particular, I vaguely noted that her sweater was on backwards.

One of them stood with the Klashnikov pointed at us, and the other one began opening cabinets and checking behind doors. We were silent. The only sounds came from my aunt, who was praying in a tremulous whisper and little B., who was sucking away at his thumb, eyes wide with fear. I could hear the rest of the troops walking around the house, opening closets, doors and cabinets.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Humanity's Inconsistent Nature

It amazes me how inconsistent we humans are. We argue vociferously for a stated point of view. If the names or particulars are altered ever so slightly, then we argue the exact opposite point of view. If someones dares to note our arguments are inconsistent, we fail to see it or staunchly argue that no inconsistency exists at all!

It doesn't matter which political, religious or philosophical perspective we hail from. We're all guilty of it!! I've watched many of my progressive brethren argue regarding the rights of free speech and assembly when some entity tries to deny us said rights. YET, many of these same people will argue against these same rights when applied to Neo-Nazis and other racist hate groups.

I've been involved with left wing political groups who decry the practice of gerrymandering congressional districts to skew the vote toward one of the two mainstream parties or the other. YET, I've watched in dismay as these same groups use sleight-of-hand tactics in the seating of delegates at our own political conventions in order to skew the vote one way or the other.

Over the past few weeks, we've witnessed two examples of the inconsistent nature of the human perspective. The first involves the Danish cartoons insulting the prophet of Islam and the second concerns the Cheney shooting.

While most people DO agree that the cartoons, in question, are divisive and insulting, many conservatives defend their publication under the guise of freedom of speech. YET, if an Arab- based publication featured a cartoon of Jesus masturbating or suggested Jesus was gay, these very same people would chuck the "free speech" argument out the nearest window and would assail said cartoons as a frontal attack on Christianity and all things Western.

Many bloggers and pundits who are strong supporters of the Bush administration are up in arms regarding the criticism by the media, "liberals" and many members of the public over the Cheney hunting accident.

I've read many an opinion that a) the accident was a private matter and it's really nobody's business but the principles involved and b) that Cheney had no responsibility for reporting the matter to the media.

YET, a majority of these very same people were part of the feeding frenzy regarding the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. In that particular case, they argued the exact opposite. They screamed that it was NOT a private affair and that the media and public had a right to know all the intimate details.

In the case of then-President Clinton, the affair involved two consenting adults. No one was injured nor required any medical attention. The incident[s] could best be described as a marital indescretion.

If a vice president shooting and injuring a friend is a private matter, then a president cheating on his wife is a private matter too. If some people feel that Cheney had no responsibility to inform the press of his misdeed, then they can't fault Clinton for not publicly admitting he cheated on his wife.

It's all about consistency.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cheney Shoots Himself in the Foot

Both the mainstream media and the blogosphere are alive with banter regarding Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of a friend this past weekend. Cheney defenders seek to trivialize the whole affair. Cheney detractors are launching missives from all directions.

Whatever your opinion on the situation, Dick Cheney and his staff have proven to be their own worst enemies. By not coming forward immediately with news of the situation, they have opened the Veep to a veil of suspicion. Matters are made worse by the very fact that much of what Mr. Cheney has done in the past few years has been shrouded in secrecy too.

Remove Cheney's name from the whole affair and there would still be an air of suspicion. Anytime someone is not forthcoming with the true facts of any given situation, the natural response is to wonder why someone is not being open about the matter. It immediately seems as if they're trying to hide something.

It's like the child that accidentally breaks mom's favorite vase. If the child immediately reports the incident to mom, there's usually less recrimination other than a stern lecture on being more careful next time. However, if nothing is said and mom later discovers the broken vase herself, then not only is the child in trouble for breaking the antique BUT also for not being straightforward about it.

And this is the same kind of situation Cheney finds himself in today. By not coming forward in a timely manner, he has opened himself up to all sorts of speculation. Was he drunk at the time which would make him criminally negligent? Were there other facts that caused the Veep to hold back on the truth for nearly 24 hours?

We'll probably never know. What we do know is that the whole situation was mostly likely a tragic accident and the media hailstorm Cheney and the nation is enduring is his own damn fault!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Spanning the Globe?

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I looked forward every 4 years to the Olympics. It provided viewers like yours truly with the opportunity to watch athletes from around the world as they competed for gold, silver and bronze medals in some sports I knew nothing about like curling or the pentathlon. It was a celebration of the world, the coming together of people from different lands and different perspectives.

In the old days, the Olympics were shown on ABC. As fellow sportscaster Curt Gowdy once said, "When you think of the Olympic Games on television, you think of Jim McKay." The broadcast every four years focused on the human interest stories of athletes from many countries and viewers could take as much pride in a African or European athletic victory as in a US or Canadian one.

My how times have changed!! Flip on the TV today and you would think that ONLY American athletes are competing in this year's Winter Olympics. While I'm not glued to the broadcast like many people, I have watched several events. In each one I've watched thus far, I've been able to learn about US athletes and watch their performances, but often have missed the medal preformances of any other athletes.

It's almost like "US skier Joe Blow finishes in 38th place and, oh by the way, 3 people with names we're not going to try to pronounce won the race or competition".

Look, I have no problem with any nation -- including the US -- promoting and showcasing their own athletes first. However, there is a huge difference between promoting your own and excluding the rest. This goes a long way toward explaining why I no longer watch the Olympics with the same amount of interest as before.

In fact, I'm almost to the point in which I refuse to watch the NBC broadcast. Almost every word spoken by the announcers is dripping with glitzy, self-righteous nationalism. It drives me right up the wall.

It's most fortunate that one of networks featured in my cable package is the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC). While the CBC features Canadian athletes front and center, unlike their US counterparts, they don't exclude the exploits of other athletes at the same time.

It harkens me back to the days of Jim McKay and the celebration of athletes from around the world coming together to compete in the realm of sports.

Time for My Annual February Rant

It’s that special time of year again. Each February scores of newspapers, magazines, television networks and big-name corporations revel for 28 days (29 days in leap years) in sharing with the rest of us the exploits and triumphs throughout history of people of color. Yes, the proverbial Black History Month.

I simply detest it!

Now my problem has nothing to do with the desire to trivialize the contributions made by blacks to American and world history. It also has nothing to do with the bigoted and asinine complaint of reverse discrimination – “Well, we don’t celebrate White History Month.”

No, my anger with Black History Month concerns the fact that we as a society still need to designate a particular time period to recognize the contributions of an important segment of our population. Just the act of reserving February to celebrate one particular ethnic group tells us that we have a long, long way to go before we realize the American ideal of the melting pot.

The goal of this annual designation trivializes the very thing it seeks to promote. By reserving one month – the shortest one at that – for the recounting of these important stories and events, it allows the vast majority not to have to think about blacks the other 11 months of the year.

It’s very similar to the way most people participate in our political process. For the majority of the year, most people don’t give a hoot about anything political. Accidentally say the word politics at a family gathering or around the office water cooler and most people will immediately change the subject or briskly move away from you.

This all changes come October. Now, all of a sudden, every single conversation is about all things political. People talk and talk and talk. Then they vote. As soon as their votes are cast, they don’t want to hear the word politics again.

Too many people follow this same formula for Black History Month. Before or after February, the accomplishments of blacks just aren’t important – Who cares? Accidentally mention race relations or something of that ilk and nobody wants to talk to you. However, during the wonderful days of February, far too many whites try to absolve their guilt, for the rest of the year, by engaging in a media and corporate orgy celebrating all things black.

The best way I know to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our black brothers and sisters is to acknowledge them 365 days per year. Further, such acts should not be viewed solely as black accomplishments but as human ones.

Every month is White History Month – It should be the same for Black History Month too!

Monday, February 13, 2006

My Hats Off to GreenInk!

Illegal immigration has been and will continue to be a hot topic in this country. Conservatives and liberals alike argue about numbers -- how many is too many -- and whether illegal immigrants benefit or detract from the American Dream. What has been missing from this debate is an honest discussion of genuine freedom, the freedom to move about unfettered.

Brad, over at GreenInk!, decided yesterday to take the bull by the horns and wrote one of the best essays I've read on the topic in a long time . I encourage all readers and passersby to go read it in its entirety, "Easy immigration reform — legalize it".
Morally, putting limits on immigration is wrong. Who gave anyone the right to say where someone else can and cannot live? What right do Americans, whose ancestors pillaged, plundered, murdered and stole their way across the continent, have to draw lines on the map and say, “this is ours, now go home”? What right does ANY government have to control people in this way?

When did America become a big country club, where we go out of our way to tell everyone how great we are and then tell them they can’t get in without a membership? Screw that. I say, if someone wants to come here, let them. Actually, “let” is the wrong word, because nobody has an inherent right to tell anyone else where they can go.
Well said, Brad!!!

Revisiting Was Jesus A Taoist?

I'm reprinting this entry from March 2005. I've discovered Disciple Dan's new website, The Path of Tao Jia. If you've ever wondered about Taoism or want to learn more, I HIGHLY recommend this site!! (Note: At the time this post was written, the link to the website worked. Alas, it no longer does. ~ Trey, January 2012)

In general, almost everything you will find on The Rambling Taoist is authored by yours truly. However, in this instance, I'm going to share a fine article from a now-defunct website, The Tao Temple. It is written by a fellow who goes by the moniker Disciple Dan. I think it's a great exposition!
Before beginning this article, let me say that I have been a follower of Jesus of Nazareth since I was thirteen years old. I was ordained as a minister in the Christian Religion in 1972, and have spent more than thirty years in service as a minister to that religion. I feel, therefore, that I have an established understanding of what Christianity teaches, and am able to speak candidly about that faith. Without the slightest hesitation, I can say that I love Jesus and deeply respect his teachings... but I am no longer a Christian.

The foundation question that must be asked before asking if Jesus was a Taoist, is to ask if Jesus was a "Christian." This question probably evokes laughter from some, and others would exclaim with contempt, "Of course he was! The Christian Religion is founded on Jesus and his teachings!" I beg to adamantly differ with you.

Christianity was not founded on Jesus nor his teachings. Jesus was a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth who never gave the slightest indication that he intended to leave the Jewish faith nor institute a new religion. On the contrary, Jesus followed the Jewish law and encouraged others to do so. He was circumcised on the eighth day and attended the Jewish feasts in Jerusalem. He would, in fact, die while attending a Passover Feast in Jerusalem. When he cleansed the lepers, he told them to go to the Temple and make the proper religious offering according to the Jewish law. Even when he was disgusted with the hypocrisy of the leaders of his religion, he told his followers to obey the Chief Priest because he "...sat in Moses seat."

The single motive of Jesus seems to have been the reform of his own faith. When approached by a non-Jewish woman in search of his favors, he told her that he had been sent to the "...lost sheep of Israel." The scriptures teach that it was his custom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath day... a habit that he maintained until his death.

Those people who followed him were also Jews. When he died he was removed from the cross early because the Jewish Sabbath was about to begin, a clear indication that his closest followers were still devout Jews. His followers buried him in a Jewish burial place according to Jewish customs. Later on, when the Apostles had a difference with Paul of Tarsus, it was over the matter of circumcision and the keeping of the Jewish law. Again, this is tacit proof that the Apostles were still very much orthodox Jews with no intention of leaving their religion.

If Jesus had intended to start a new religion, he would have certainly committed some of the things he intended to be taught or observed in his religion into written documents. No such documents exist. In fact, there is not the slightest reliable indication that Jesus ever wrote anything, even though we know that he could read and write, and was educated so well in the Jewish law that he was able to impress the scholars at Jerusalem with his brilliant scholarship when he was 12 years old.

There were a number of Jewish sects in the region where Jesus lived. A Jewish sect would be like a Christian denomination. There were the Pharisees, the Saducees, the Essenes, the Herodians, and a number more. It is obvious, I believe, that Jesus did intend to start a new sect, because he clearly appointed leaders in his group, but the thought of beginning a new religion separate from the Jewish faith was unthinkable to Jesus. If so, three questions need to be asked. First, If Jesus did not found Christianity, then who did? Second, Who originated the central beliefs of the Christian Church if Jesus did not? And third, what did Jesus intend to be taught in his new sect?

It is clear to any honest student of the Christian religion that Paul of Tarsus was the founder of Christianity. Therefore, it would behoove us to have a close look at this fellow Paul. He began his life as a rigid, devout Pharisee, probably the most conservative sect (denomination) within the Jewish religion. There is not the slightest indication from New Testament Scripture that Paul ever saw Jesus nor heard a single lesson Jesus ever taught. Paul had a "vision" on the road to Damascus. Even in the vision there is no indication that he actually saw Jesus, but he did see a "light." This vision, much like the vision of Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, was a major turning point in his life.

Paul did not seek out the Apostles of Jesus after this vision, as one would expect, so that he might be instructed in the fundamentals of this new Jewish sect. Instead he set off for the wilderness where he spent several years developing his very own, unique, never before heard or taught set of doctrines which became the foundation of a new religion which he personally forged from these novel ideas - many of which were 180 degrees out from the teachings of Jesus, whom he had never actually heard. He was never appointed an Apostle by the authorities in Jerusalem, and, in point of fact, boasted about this fact in the first chapter of Galatians. He claimed his appointment to be an Apostle was an act of God.

Based solely upon his personal reason and logic, this prolific writer and charismatic speaker redefined the sect that Jesus had founded. He now preached a radical new idea that righteousness was no longer a requirement for salvation. He said that righteousness was now a matter of correct "thinking" rather than correct "actions." It boiled down to what you "believed" rather than what you "did." This was, of course, the exact opposite message of Jesus who repeatedly admonished people to practical acts of compassion and righteousness, warning them that if their righteousness did not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, they would not "see" the Kingdom of Heaven.

Most significantly, Paul prescribed a new way to have your sins forgiven. He now preached that you must accept Jesus as being none other than "God" if you wanted your sins forgiven. He of course had not heard Jesus, nor those who had firsthand knowledge of him, when he made this pronouncement. Jesus had said that no one was good except the "Father" in Heaven, hardly something he would have said if he thought of himself as God. He had never claimed the attributes of God. He grew in "wisdom" just as other children did. He learned to walk, talk, run, and play just like all the other children in Nazareth. He had to be "potty trained" just like the other children, and his mother Mary wiped his nose and cleaned his behind. When hungry one day in Jerusalem, he hiked over to a fig tree to see if it had any figs on it. Had he been God, he would have known whether or not it had figs. When it didn't have figs, he lost his temper just like you and me.

Paul's new formula for the forgiveness of sins was totally at odds with Jesus' formula. Jesus had said that if you want your Father in heaven to forgive for you sins, you must simply forgive those who sin against you. When asked by a young lawyer what was necessary to obtain eternal life, Jesus had replied, "Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will have eternal life." This simple answer from the mouth of Jesus was drastically out of line with early Christianity's highly exclusive formula about accepting Jesus as "God," being baptized, being "confirmed," celebrating the Eucharist, etc. etc. etc. It is clearly obvious to any honest student of the New Testament that Jesus and what he taught do not resemble Christianity and what it teaches. Paul's religion, when devoid of illogical defense, boils down to a primitive religion with a deity demanding a literal "human sacrifice" for his appeasement. Paul would make Jesus be that sacrifice in his theology.

Questions one and two mentioned above can therefore be answered with one word, "Paul." Paul founded the Christian religion. Paul originated its creed. He began to preach that baptism should take the place of circumcision. This concept was foreign to the official group of Apostles in Jerusalem. The very fact that these Apostles were still obedient to the command of circumcision is once again proof that they were Jews with no intention of leaving the Jewish faith. They merely wanted to found a new "movement" or "sect" within the broader Jewish religion. To them, being a follower of their movement did not preclude you from participation in every Jewish rite, ritual, and feast. It would be like a Baptist man today who was also a member of the Lion's Club. One had very little to do with the other in their eyes. To them. Belonging to their sect would only make you a better Jew and member of the Synagogue.

Paul, however, had other ideas. He came to the first Church Council in Jerusalem and argued that Greeks and non-Jews should be included in the new sect. He further argued that these new members should not be circumcised or become Jews. The Apostles had no problem with their becoming members of the new sect as long as the outsiders became Jews. Paul, the eloquent speaker and brilliant debater won the day and a brand new religion, outside the Jewish faith, was born in Jerusalem on that fateful day. Because Paul was by far a more educated man than the fishermen and tradesmen who made up the Apostolic Brotherhood, and because Paul was brilliant in the arena of debate, and chiefly, because Paul was a prolific writer who wrote more books on the new Christian Religion than any other person, Paul's new religion spread like wildfire, while the narrow Jewish sect that had hoped to be a reform movement in Judaism withered down to nothing.

By 312 AD Paul's new religion had adherents throughout the kingdom, chiefly because of Paul and his companions untiring efforts at evangelizing and proselytizing from one end of the empire to the other. When Constantine made Paul's Christianity the State Religion in the Empire, the new faith quickly absorbed many of the pagan customs, rituals, feasts, and holidays of the various religions of the realm and swallowed up massive population groups. Deliverance from hell could now only come by complete obedience to the Bishops and Priests of the new Church, giving Constantine immense power over the populace. Many were forced to accept Paul's religion by threat of physical harm. It is a matter of record that the Christian Church killed more people during the first hundred years after becoming a legal religion of the realm, than had all its persecutors during the one hundred years prior to 312 AD.

The final question previously asked, might be a bit harder to answer. What did Jesus intend to teach in his new sect? Of course, there is the obvious answer: he intended to teach the simple message of the early gospels which taught a path to peace with God that included only two elements; loving God and loving one another. One thing can be determined with certainty: he did not intend to have a set of written beliefs - a creed, if you will. Had he intended this for his sect, it is obvious that he would have written it himself. No other possibility makes any kind of logical sense at all.

He was intelligent, schooled, and able to read and write. He opened the scrolls in the synagogue when it was his turn to teach and he read the Scriptures. He wanted no creed for his new sect because he wrote no creed for his new sect. He wrote nothing because nothing needed to be written. This idea of living by intuition and practical goodness without a set of written commands is Taoist to the core. Ancient Taoism had no creed and does not presume to tell a single individual how he/she must behave.

The rest of what Jesus intended must be inferred by the example of his living. He lived very simply. He told his followers to go about spreading their message taking no provisions for their journey. He said that while foxes had holes, he had no place to call home. He practiced simplicity to the very extreme. When he was hungry, he plucked corn in the fields to eat as he walked along the way, having brought nothing to eat for himself. This life of utter simplicity is a foundation teaching of Taoism. It is repeated over and over in Taoist thought... simplicity... simplicity... simplicity.

Jesus taught humility. He told his disciples that the least among them should be counted the greatest. He told them to lead by serving and not by demanding. It grieved him when they tried to maneuver themselves to positions of higher authority or esteem.

Little could he have possibly imagined that a religion would one day be established in his name whose leader would be called the "Supreme Pontiff" who would dwell in the largest, most posh palace in the entire world where people would vie for the opportunity to have audience with him and kiss his feet. Could he have dreamed of the vast treasures of wealth and art that would one day be hoarded in Vatican vaults under lock and key in his name while thousands of the people he loved so much went without the basic necessities of life? No, Jesus taught humility. Humility is a core foundation of Taoism. One of the three treasures of Taoism mentioned in the Tao Te Ching, is humility.

Jesus taught simple, even illogical, trust in the Father. He told people not to worry about what they would wear or what they would eat. He told them not to practice what they were going to say when questioned about their faith. He told them tomorrow has enough problems of its own, just live in the moment. Trust in the Tao - the loving "Spring" of all existence - is a foundation in Taoism. Living in the moment and flowing like water, allowing the circumstances of the day to dictate the acts of spontaneity that propel us forward, are pure Taoism.

Jesus taught that knowledge cultivated apart from intuitive reflection was of no value. He told his followers to consider the lilies of the field, and the carefree manner in which they addressed each day. Any yet they were arrayed in royal splendor. They didn't struggle to "be", they just were. He told them to consider the birds of the air and how they survived on intuition alone without forced intention. He even sat a small child before them, ignorant and unlearned, and told them that they must be as the child to "see the kingdom of heaven." He placed no value in the wisdom of the learned mind and repeatedly lifted up the ideal of teaching by example and common sense fueled by compassion. This truth that the things worth knowing are known intuitively in the depths of the human heart and cannot be learned nor taught is a foundation of Taoism.

Jesus practiced a "live and let live" kind of life. When those outside his religion approached him, there is not a single instance of his taking the typical Christian position of "You must be "saved" in the manner prescribed by my religion to enter Heaven." There are no instances of him telling anyone outside his own faith that they needed to adopt his faith. When a Pagan Roman Centurion approached him about healing his sick child, Jesus not only granted his request, but as he walked away he exclaimed, "I have not seen faith this great in all of Israel." Never is there the first indication of his proclaiming exclusivity in matters of spirituality to this man at a point in the grateful man's life when he would have definitely been willing to listen. Jesus knew that spiritual peace was not a matter of lining up brain cells to fire in the proper sequence to believe certain dogma, but rather, in a life of humble simplicity and service to others.

For the Taoist, spiritual peace is achieved by living a life of absolute child-like trust in the One beyond our ability to understand and comprehend; in a life of humility where good works are performed without the desire for recognition or ego-bulging praise; in a life of simplicity where "less is better"; in a life lived in spontaneity where we trust the Tao to provide and direct the course of the day's events; and finally in a life of compassion toward others, allowing them to progress spiritually in their own time and way. Does this path sound familiar?

For most of my life I have been a Taoist - but I did not know it. Perhaps that's the way it was for Jesus. I lived as a minister in the Christian Religion, daily forcing my mouth to say things that my heart did not truly believe. This horrible way of living brought me much misery and even a breakdown in my health. Finally, my Teachers from the Other Side brought me to the shores of this ancient Ocean of pristine Wisdom, thousands of years older than Christianity. I stood in humble awe. The crude, leaky vessel of my Christian faith was no longer needed or adequate. The time-worn ship of intuitive experience had brought me to the ever-waiting shores of enlightenment.

Was Jesus a Taoist? He was definitely not a Christian. He lived his life as a Jew but, like me, was in constant conflict with the faith of his youth. He was in so much conflict with his faith that its leaders finally killed him for his demands for reform.

Was Jesus a Taoist? He was more Taoist than he was Christian. He was more Taoist than he was Jewish. His message was clearly more Taoist than either of these religions.

Forty-one years after officially becoming a Christian, I made the conscious decision to make a sincere effort to imitate the life of Jesus of Nazareth. That is precisely why I could no longer be part of the Christian religion. Was Jesus a Taoist? All things considered, if we carefully consider the religion he practiced rather than professed, I believe he was.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Is God a Taoist?

MORTAL: And therefore, O God, I pray thee, if thou hast one ounce of mercy for this thy suffering creature, absolve me of having to have free will!

GOD: You reject the greatest gift I have given thee?

MORTAL: How can you call that which was forced on me a gift? I have free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not!

GOD: Why would you wish not to have free will?

MORTAL: Because free will means moral responsibility, and moral responsibility is more than I can bear!

GOD: Why do you find moral responsibility so unbearable?

MORTAL: Why? I honestly can't analyze why; all I know is that I do.

GOD: All right, in that case suppose I absolve you from all moral responsibility but leave you still with free will. Will this be satisfactory?

MORTAL (after a pause): No, I am afraid not.

GOD: Ah, just as I thought! So moral responsibility is not the only aspect of free will to which you object. What else about free will is bothering you?

MORTAL: With free will I am capable of sinning, and I don't want to sin!

GOD: If you don't want to sin, then why do you?

MORTAL: Good God! I don't know why I sin, I just do! Evil temptations come along, and try as I can, I cannot resist them.

GOD: If it is really true that you cannot resist them, then you are not sinning of your own free will and hence (at least according to me) not sinning at all.

MORTAL: No, no! I keep feeling that if only I tried harder I could avoid sinning. I understand that the will is infinite. If one wholeheartedly wills not to sin, then one won't.

GOD: Well now, you should know. Do you try as hard as you can to avoid sinning or don't you?

MORTAL: I honestly don't know! At the time, I feel I am trying as hard as I can, but in retrospect, I am worried that maybe I didn't!

GOD: So in other words, you don't really know whether or not you have been sinning. So the possibility is open that you haven't been sinning at all!

MORTAL: Of course this possibility is open, but maybe I have been sinning, and this thought is what so frightens me!

GOD: Why does the thought of your sinning frighten you?

MORTAL: I don't know why! For one thing, you do have a reputation for meting out rather gruesome punishments in the afterlife!

GOD: Oh, that's what's bothering you! Why didn't you say so in the first place instead of all this peripheral talk about free will and responsibility? Why didn't you simply request me not to punish you for any of your sins?

MORTAL: I think I am realistic enough to know that you would hardly grant such a request!

GOD: You don't say! You have a realistic knowledge of what requests I will grant, eh? Well, I'll tell you what I'm going to do! I will grant you a very, very special dispensation to sin as much as you like, and I give you my divine word of honor that I will never punish you for it in the least. Agreed?

MORTAL (in great terror): No, no, don't do that!

GOD: Why not? Don't you trust my divine word?

MORTAL: Of course I do! But don't you see, I don't want to sin! I have an utter abhorrence of sinning, quite apart from any punishments it may entail.

GOD: In that case, I'll go you one better. I'll remove your abhorrence of sinning. Here is a magic pill! Just swallow it, and you will lose all abhorrence of sinning. You will joyfully and merrily sin away, you will have no regrets, no abhorrence, and I still promise you will never be punished by me, or yourself, or by any source whatever. You will be blissful for all eternity. So here is the pill!

MORTAL: No, no!
This is from a chapter in the the book, The Tao is Silent by Raymond M. Smullyan. To read the rest of this interesting dialogue, go here. (It's quite long, but very entertaining AND thought provoking.)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Yes, My Dear, It's Global Warming

While many in the Bush Administration and the corporate halls of power continue to dispute the fact of global warming and its adverse effects on our planet, Mother Earth is showing definite signs that she grasps the reality of the situation. People all over the world are witnessing said effects this winter.

Over at The Anthropik Network, there's a great post that discusses current weather patterns and their connection to the warming of our orb.
It's been an unseasonably warm winter so far, including the warmest January on record. According to NOAA's report, this past month saw "an average temperature of 39.5 degrees F, which is 8.5 degrees F (4.7 degrees C) above the 1895-2005 mean of 31.0 degrees F." Nor is this merely a stateside phenomenon; the Aussies are reporting the same thing down under.

At the same time, Europeans are dying from the cold. The reasons for such enormous variability, from record highs to lethal cold, is not exactly mysterious--even a layman like myself was able to predict Europe's temperatures, back in September. Europe's lethal cold and last year's hurricanes are both part of the same phenomenon: the extinction of the Gulf Stream. Even that is a mere sideshow to the much bigger problem of global warming.

To review what I wrote last September:
Interested in knowing what was predicted last Fall. If so, use the link above to discover the answer.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Forest for the Tree$

Thanks to Howard over at Transcendental Floss, I learned that [p]Resident Bush is unveiling a plan today "to sell up to 200,000 acres of national forest land in "isolated parcels" ranging from a quarter of an acre to 200 acres, much of it in California."

As reported by Knight Ridder yesterday, the rationale for such sales "is part of a National Forest Service plan to raise $800 million over the next five years to pay for rural schools in 41 states, offsetting shrinking revenues from sale of timber from national forests."

For me, such a strategy is a representative example of capitalism's shortsightedness. While the plan may well provide a short-term economic benefit, it concurrently worsens the long-term benefit. If revenues are shrinking today with this land as part of the overall package, won't they shrink more with less land in the mix?

Of course, that's not the only problem with the proposal. If the Bush administration had not led us into this war in Iraq -- which is costing American taxpayers billions upon billions of dollars -- AND if Bush was not calling for increases in the defense budget, we'd have plenty of money to offset shrinking timber revenues without the need to sacrifice public land!

It's All Relative

When Rev. Joseph Lowery stepped to the lecturn at Coretta Scott King's funeral, he leveled a blast at the Bush Administration. He was very blunt in his point of view. Afterwards, many lauded him for his courage, while others assailed him for his crassness. Which point of view is correct?

Over in Europe, Muslims became incensed at some cartoons published in Danish publications that depicted the Islamic prophet in a less than positive light. Many people considered the cartoons to be disrespectful and vulgar, while others defended them as being part of free speech. Which point of view is correct?

My dear Watson, it's all relative!

If Lowery had spoken at a conservative's funeral and had used his speaking opportunity to laud the president, we'd be hearing the same howls coming from opposite directions. If an Arab newspaper had published cartoons depicting Jesus in a less than positive manner, there would be the same kind of furor, only that the critics and supporters would switch roles.

Truth and perception are relative.

How each of us looks at any given situation wholly is dependent on our religious, philosophical and political perspective. In term's of humanity, there is no such animal as absolute truth.

Everything is relative!

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The Empty Glass

It's interesting how some words become paired in common parlance. I've often run across various blogs in which the author will equate prayer with meditation. The author will be discussing the subject of religion and will write that a person might consider praying or meditating -- whichever is the reader's preference -- as if these two words share the same basic definition.

There's one key problem with linking these two words together: they are exact opposites. It would be like pairing drunkenness with sobriety or intelligence with stupidity.

When someone prays, they are engaging in a conversation with their deity. Often, a person is asking for general guidance or deliverance from a traumatic or frightening situation. Whether spoken out loud or within a person's mind, words are used to convey the message.

If the purpose of the prayer simply is to worship the deity, the person praying must be thinking and conceptualizing about the various beatitudes they wish to impart. In other words, to pray means to fill one's mind with a boatload of thoughts, wishes and salutations.

Meditation calls for the exact opposite. In order to meditate (or get in touch with Tao), a person must cast aside everything: language, desires, emotions, thoughts and mindful clutter. It is only when the mind has been emptied that meditation can begin.

This differentiation between prayer and meditation has at least one important impact on the results of the chosen method. Since prayer involves activating the mind to engage in the activity, whatever response one receives from prayer must necessarily be filtered through a person's emotions, desires and thoughts. It is this human clutter that makes me suspicious of any divine revelations.

How does one know that "God" has spoken? Even if we accept the notion that the Almighty has imparted some manner of knowledge, how does anyone know if the person receiving this bit of information is interpreting it correctly? The message must percolate through a person's desires -- whether conscious or subconscious -- and this, in and of itself, will undoubtedly alter what the person perceives.

Again, meditation does not encounter this dilemma. Since the person meditating has emptied themselves of desire and emotion as well as the fact that the message is not language-bound, there is nothing to intercept and alter the essence received. In fact, at the end of the meditation session, a person probably can't tell you what they have learned or discerned.

These two activities are altogether different and shouldn't be confused one for the other.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

In Defense of God (He Needs It)

I've stumbled upon another case of serendipity! Recently, I've been thinking a lot about the differences between substance/form and process as it relates to religion and philosophy. Religion seeks to delineate the former, while philosophy is far more concerned with the latter. For me, this goes a long way toward explaining why religions talk of God[s] and philosophies don't.

I'm not the only person thinking about such things. Over at A Musing Taoist, Qalmlea's most recent post discusses the same subject.
Asking me whether Tao exists is equally idiotic. How might I respond? Verbally, I would likely say "Mu." In person, I would probably pick up a glass and drop it on the floor. Or take a match and set a book on fire. Or wave a flag in the air. Or hit the questioner with a stick. If the questioner doesn’t understand, the question was doubly idiotic.
As I'm contemplating Qalmlea's words, I happen to begin reading a new book I recently purchased, The Tao is Silent by Raymond Smullyan. In chapter 3, Smullyan writes,
I might make a similar comment about the Taoists. Since the Taoists make no claim that the Tao exists, it saves them a world of trouble in trying to prove that the Tao exists. This is really Chinese common sense at its highest!

Just compare the sdituation with the history of Western religious thought! Good heavens, the amount of debates, battles, bloodshed and torture over the question of whether God does or does not exist!
You see, God is some sort of entity. It is an entity that people believe they can have an intimate relationship with. Such an entity necessarily has some kind of form, albeit a form we can't readily comprehend.

And this is the precise point where the problem arises. Substance and/or form is the kind of thing that causes people to demand proof of existence. Is it or is it not real?

And, of course, since God is not matter, the question cannot be sufficiently answered. There is no way a human can PROVE God exists. Any person can point to what they believe represent the manifestations of God, but that's not the same thing as proving He, in fact, is real.

As Taoism is a philosophy, not a religion, this kind of question never pops up. While religion is wholly concerned with defining an entity, Taoism is concerned with a process. And, as we all know, a process isn't a substance at all.

For example, a person can't hold photosynthesis in their hands. It is not form or substance. It's the description of a set of ordered circumstances that leads to the workings of green plants. Likewise, the Tao is not a substance, but the process of life. The only way a person could say that Tao doesn't exist is to say that nothing exists. And, as soon as someone came up with that formulation, it would be disproved by the very fact they had created the formulation, in the first place.

In essence, the reality or non-reality of God must be defended, while the reality of Tao (note: Tao itself is a made up word) cannot.

Tao just is.

As If Jesus Was There

I'm often amazed how supposed friends and comrades can treat each other so uncivilly. Visit almost any members-only bulletin board or email discussion list and you'll find the most vile and disparaging comments pointed at not shared adversaries but tried-and-true allies. It certainly doesn't speak well of homo sapiens as social beings!

It doesn't matter what the topic is or the reason the group came together. It also doesn't matter if the group shares a conservative or liberal or some other kind of agenda.

No, what seems to matter most is that we each feel we're dead on right and anyone who disagrees with us or sees things from a slightly different perspective is decidedly wrong. Not only is their idea or strategy wrong, but the very fact that they don't support our [correct] position means that they are attacking the very core of our being. Since they're obviously out to get us or make us look unreasonable to the other members of our group, we then feel justified in attacking not the substance of their proposed idea or strategy but their very existence as a fellow group member.

You know an email list has reached this point when various people try to prove they are more committed to the cause or issue than anyone else. This is where comments like "How can you call yourself an environmentalist or a Christian or a liberal or a conservative?" crop up. The dialogue soon grinds to a halt as various individuals attempt to trumpet their credentials to everyone else.

While this kind of scenario plays out all over the world on all sorts of lists every day, it really galls me that so-called progressive groups fall victim to these machinations over and over again. On the one hand, we share a common vision of a world where people are treated respectfully and with dignity, something definitely lacking in today's society. Yet, on the other hand, our own internal discussions can turn into some of the most vicious cat fights imaginable.

I have a solution for this problem. For just this moment, imagine that someone you revere is a member of one of the email lists you are currently subscribed to. This person could be Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Mohandas Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama or anyone else you look up to. Would you communicate the same way on these email lists if your chosen person was one of the members?

As an example, let's say Jesus is a member of your local peace and justice discussion group. You've just learned that a hate group plans a rally in your community. Via email, various members of your organization decide to discuss what counter measures, if any, your group should undertake.

As the discussion focuses on a variety of different strategies, some of the comments become a tad bit heated. Jesus sends out an email asking people to tone down the rhetoric and reminding members of the group that we should each treat others as we would want them to treat us. If you didn't necessarily appreciate Jesus' comment, would you then fire off an email telling him that he should get his head out of his ass?

If Jesus (or any other inspirational figure) is someone you intimately respected, I certainly would assume you would not dare write such a thing. So why is it you could write such a thing to anyone else? I'm sure Jesus would tell you that writing nasty things to anyone is the same as writing nasty things to him.

Think about this the next time you start to fire off a vicious retort.

Monday, February 6, 2006

Message in a Bottle

A short time before he was assassinated, Mohandas Gandhi was asked what his most key message was. His answer was short, to the point and oh so eloquent. His response? "My life is my message".

When we look back at the life Gandhi led, it's quite easy to understand his statement. In fact, examining the lives of all sorts of leaders, celebrities and spiritual figures will net the same kind of result. Yet, too often, each of us fails to recognize that EVERY life is a message too. It doesn't matter how seemingly important or unimportant a life is. It doesn't matter if you're rich and powerful or poor and impotent.

Our lives are OUR messages to the world.

It's not so much how we each comport ourselves in so-called defining moments. It's not how we each choose to react to glowing successes, dismal failures or unexplained tragedy. No, it's housed in the more mundane aspects of every day existence.

It's how we treat others when no one else is looking. It's how we relate to Mother Nature. It's how we think silently inside our heads before springing or not springing into action. It's who we are day in and day out.

What is your message to the world?

Communicating Profit

We knew it couldn't last forever. We knew the profit motive would catch up with technology. We knew the communications industry would develop a strategy to squeeze even more money from us. We knew they wanted to get us hooked, so most people would find it next to impossible to quit cold turkey.

The end of the free and accesible internet may be coming our way. So reports Jeffrey Chester at Alternet.
The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online.

Verizon, Comcast, Bell South and other communications giants are developing strategies that would track and store information on our every move in cyberspace in a vast data-collection and marketing system, the scope of which could rival the National Security Agency.

According to white papers now being circulated in the cable, telephone and telecommunications industries, those with the deepest pockets -- corporations, special-interest groups and major advertisers -- would get preferred treatment. Content from these providers would have first priority on our computer and television screens, while information seen as undesirable, such as peer-to-peer communications, could be relegated to a slow lane or simply shut out.
We should not allow OUR internet to become yet another profit-driven medium...without a fight.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Your Humble Servant

One virtue that almost every religion and philosophical belief system holds highly is humility. To be humble is to be ever cognizant of our own fallibility and consciously to eschew pride and vanity. The truly humble person recognizes the interconnections inherent in life and works to promote peace, health and shared community by lifting others up, instead of using others as stepping stones.

In humility, we find one of life's great paradoxes. Our world would be a much safer and friendlier place if our leaders were humble people, but the truly humble, by their very nature, don't seek to lead. So, into this void steps those who are vain, uncompromising and power hungry. While the humble person looks to be one among many, the conceited, status-seeking person craves to be first among all.

According to the Christian faith, Jesus is quoted as saying in the Book of Mark (10:43-44), "Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all."

Imagine if the leaders in the U.S., England, Israel and Iran took this message to heart. Would our world be beset by so much saber rattling?

In The Confucian Analects, it is written, "He who speaks without modesty will find it difficult to make his words good."

Imagine if political candidates took this message to heart and decided to campaign solely on substantive issues without resorting to mudslinging and hyperbole. Might more citizens become passionate about the political process?

According to Dhammapada 63 of Buddhism, "The fool who knows that he is a fool is for that very reason a wise man; the fool who thinks he is wise is called a fool indeed."

Imagine if more of our leaders were able to admit to mistakes and errors in judgment. Would this not encourage the general public to incorporate humility in our daily lives?

Samanasuttam 136 of the Jainian religion urges us to "subdue pride by modesty, overcome hypocrisy by simplicity, and dissolve greed by contentment."

Imagine if corporate leaders took these ideas to heart by treating their workers and customers as unique individuals, not merely as commodities to be manipulated. Would this not cause a revolution against poverty and environmental degradation?

In Hinduism, it is written in the Laws of Manu 2.162, "A brahmin should ever shrink from honor as from poison, and should always be desirous of disrespect as if of ambrosia."

Imagine if all of us took these words and the others presented to heart. Would not humility become the norm, not the exception?

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Leader Less

In his latest State of the Union message to the nation, George Bush laid out his definition of what leadership is all about: be bold, uncompromising, relentless, tough, and aggressive. These terms have been consistent throughout his tenure and, in many ways, are not that different from many of his predecessors.

Yet, while Mr. Bush insists that this definition of leadership will make the US and the world stronger and safer, the opposite seems to be true. Acts of terrorism are on the rise, not the decline. The cost of living for average citizens keeps increasing, while wages and benefits remain stagnant or decrease. The continued damage and dregadation of the planet shows no signs of slowing down.

Might there be a different sort of leadership that would lead this nation and world in a different direction? Can we imagine leaders who would work to minimize or end warfare, halt planetary destruction, and try to lift the fate of all boats at once?

The Taoist sage Lao Tzu offers a vastly different perspective on what it takes to be a great leader.
Verse 66
Why is the sea king of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them.
Therefore it is the king of a hundred streams.

If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.
If he would lead them, he must follow behind.
In this way when the sage rules, the people will not feel oppressed;
When he stands before them, they will not be harmed.
The whole world will support him and will not tire of him.

Because he does not compete,
He does not meet competition.
As with other aspects of Taoism, the US President could accomplish far more by doing far less.