Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

I’ve said this before, but I’m ready to repeat myself because I just think it is a really effective idea.

Indiana’s new “Religious Freedom” law actually allows private businesses to post signs saying that they will discriminate in their service on the basis of sexual orientation.  It is being widely criticized as a blatantly bigoted law, which of course it is.  This article in The Atlantic does a good job of pointing out exactly how bad this law is.  Much to the chagrin of many people with religious beliefs, it is fueled and rationalized by right wing Christian extremist views and beliefs.  So, how should someone who doesn’t fit into that category, whether religious or not, respond?

One way is to launch a campaign of signs in businesses that say something to the effect of “ALL ARE WELCOME TO DO BUSINESS HERE, REGARDLESS OF RACE, COLOR, RELIGION OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION!” Make some kind of a catchy symbol to go with it.  Make them available to stores who abide by that policy, and then put forward an awareness campaign encouraging like minded people to only shop in stores displaying and living up to that sign.  Those willing to support the campaign have a chance to show their love of freedom and human dignity.  It could be civil rights organizations, large businesses and, yes, even some churches.

Even in the most redneck parts of the U.S., there are large proportions of rational people, often approaching or surpassing 50%.  It is often a vocal minority that pushes this kind of ignorance, -or at least one can hope it is.  Regardless, those who do not post the sign, or who post a contrary sign, would be making their beliefs clear and the discriminating public would be free to exercise their right of choice and withhold their business.

These signs would not be meant for those being discriminated against, although it would have an added benefit of showing them not only in which stores they are welcome, but also how many stores would actually support them.  They are, moreover, meant for the rest of the public, many of which would actually prefer not to financially support a store that so strongly differs from their own ethical views.  I know that I would avoid a store that had a policy that I found repulsive.

I’ve said before that this seems to be a very positive way of solving the problem in a manner that supports tolerance rather than condemning bigotry, -not that that doesn’t have its place as well.  In time, singled out by omission, the stores who chose to retain their redneck ways would more than likely suffer financially, that being one basic way to force them to recognize that it may not be to their benefit to try to shove their outdated religious beliefs down the throats of others.

Just want to put in here that I was equally disappointed in CNN’s Special Report on Atheism.  I found it unfocused and very shallow in it’s view.  I wonder if it was meant as an obligatory “equal time” response to the “Finding Jesus” travesty.  It didn’t really bring out many of the important points that should have been covered, such as establishing “Humanism” as a viable moral philosophy.  Most of it was about how several atheists from religious families were shunned by those families.  Sad stories, but still not really the stuff from which meaningful documentaries are made.

As an Integralist, I like to think that I have a skeptical but open mind when it comes to religion. While allocating much of religion to the realm of superstition, I feel that there are real spiritual values to be found (sometimes deeply buried by dogma) in religions, and I truly appreciate how religion can be important to the lives of many people who are operating with a certain world view, however much I may disagree with them.

So I was very interested in the new CNN series “Finding Jesus”. The advertizing sound bites put forth ideas like “He didn’t disappear without a trace,” and other things that kind of begged the question of scientific or historic evidence. It had the potential of being in interesting treatment of the subject.

I have to admit that I wasn’t very surprised to find out that it is nothing of the sort. After watching two episodes (-and I confess to fast forwarding though the second to try to find more serious parts-) I basically found this series to be rather graphic portrayals of Bible stories with a very slight injection of scientific speculation.

The Bible stories are all presented the way you’d expect to hear them at Sunday school, though perhaps more bloody and violently depicted in order to enthral (or perhaps outrage) the viewers. They are presented from the point of view of being factual, with frequent commentaries from known Christian pundits and clergy, never questioned or corroborated in any way. They’re argument for the existence of Jesus (-which is what the series purports to be about-) is from the assumption that the Bible stories are factual and then trying to support them with cherry picked “facts”. It is the same way that Creationists make their arguments. Start with the assumption that the Bible is true, because anything else is unthinkable, and then proceed from there.

The science being presented is baffling. In the first program there was an examination of the Shroud of Turin with the scientific conclusions being inconclusive. Afterwards several commentators appeared on screen to say that even if it is not scientifically proven, it is important to include the idea of Faith and a need to have something to believe in. The second episode examined a bone artifact that was believed to be from St. John the Baptist, and out rightly proved that it could not have been authentic because it was only about 1000 years old according to carbon dating. Again, commentators stated that it is important to have such artifacts in order to have Faith, totally ignoring that it was just proven on screen that their artifact was a fraud. This is truly baffling. There was some mention of the fact that there were many other alleged artifacts that had not been tested, as if that is supposed to be a consolation. It isn’t.

So we have a series that tells Bible stories from the perspective of them being true and then peppers the hour with scientific examinations that are, at best inconclusive and in some cases completely disprove authenticity. I’m not sure what they are trying to do. To the believer, I guess they can point to the scientific component and say, “See, we are trying to be rational and scientific about this,” totally losing sight of the fact that the science they’re talking about refuts their arguments. I honestly don’t understand the motive behind this, especially on a channel like CNN. It seems more like something that FOX would run.  I will not be watching any more episodes.  As I said, I am a little bit disappointed but not at all surprised.

There is a big question in the media currently about how it is possible that young people (and older ones as well) can be radicalized in the western world. How is it that middle class teens or twenty-somethings view Internet sites and then are recruited by ISIS or other radical organizations? Why are the conversion/recruitments more successful with ISIS than with Al-Qaida? Some are Arab Muslims, some are recent converts. Some come from disadvantaged backgrounds, some do not. The question is similar to but not identical to the question of why a middle class student might walk into a school and shoot other students.

In my opinion, one way to better understand what is happening here is to use a cognitive model I first encountered in a book titled Virus Of The Mind, by Richard Brodie (1996). Actually, the book itself was less than spectacular. I found it difficult to read and rather blurry in both its concepts and its writing style. However, the central idea was a very interesting one. One of the problems with the book and with many other renditions of memetic viruses is that they take to literally the foundation established by Richard Dawkins in his original article, “Viruses of the mind”. Because of Dawkins’ strong ties to biological evolution, he applied the same ideas to the evolution of memes. Because of the highly rationalistic world view of many evolution supporters, the ideas ended up being translated to memes quite literally. The other thing that Dawkins seems determined to do in his original article is to relate the whole thing to religion and the transmission of religious ideas (to which he has a rather knee-jerk antipathy), which ends up hobbling the idea al little.

While I believe that there might be some transfer, I think that it is very dangerous to be too literal in applying biological concepts to mental ones. It seems to be too rigid an application of materialism. The model, however, can adopt parts of the biological model. The important thing is the degree to which the model fits, works and predicts. “The map is not the landscape” clearly warns about taking any model or analogy too literally. In fact the analogy of a computer virus may be more appropriate than a biological one.

Keeping that in mind, “meme as virus” is a useful map in order to try to understand the current situation with regards to radical extremism. Let me clarify the way in which I am using certain terms in order to provide perspective.

A meme is a unit of meaning usually summed up in a catch-phrase like “the end justifies the means” or “things go better with Coke”. It is the cultural equivalent of what in science is often called a Holon, which is important because Holons can evolve dialectically and so can memes.

Several memes can combine to create a larger meme, called a super meme, which is far more powerful because it relies on several mutually supportive memes for its inner validation, producing a sense of intrinsic consistency and rationalization.

A meme virus is a meme that is either deliberately crafted or the product of a selective evolution of ideas, and which strongly self replicates, especially in a particular medium of mind, like a seed engineered to thrive in particular kind of soils and environmental conditions. This may be a deliberate configuration of the meme, a product of a selective evolution of a meme (explained below), or a combination of both through the opportunistic utilization of an emergent meme.

In essence, all memes are viruses, defined by their ability to engage and be absorbed by the mind, however some act in a more virus like, efficient manner, defying normal safeguards against them. Take for example a religious meme vs “things go better with Coke”. While the ad meme is weaker and more likely to be mediated by intelligent thinking, the religious meme is far more powerful and can take on more virus like qualities.

The meme in the case of “radical violent extremism”, which for the sake of simplicity we will henceforth refer to as “Jihad”, is in fact a super meme which can be reduced to its supportive sub memes. However, the idea of “radical violent extremism” is not restricted to Muslim extremism or even religious extremism. For example, there are forms of environmental extremism which have exactly the same meme foundation. Comparing religious and environmental extremism yields some interesting insights into the nature of this virus, which I will examine at a later point.

The sub memes which constitute Jihad can be reduced to the following:

  1. The end justifies the means.
    2. Some ends are valued to justify any cost, including martyrdom. They are ends that demand justice. They are ends that have moral or ethical priority over all else. That end can be easily rationalized or may not even require evidence at all.
    3. Using extreme means to fight for these ends is noble and self righteous.
    4. People who don’t agree with the value of this end are working against it and therefore against the ultimate good that is associated with it. If they’re not with you, they’re against you. Their well being or even their lives are therefore a lesser priority.

We can see many of these operate individually with only slight or moderate consequences. When you put them all together, you end up with a radical mind set.

In the case of religious extremism, the morals and dogmas associated with the religion are the end. In Muslim extremism, for example, the values of the religion are so sacred that to defy them is considered a blasphemy. The “end”, whether it be moral righteousness or the promise of an afterlife in paradise, can take on a fanatical and extremist nature. In the case of environmental extremism, the survival of the environment at all costs is the end along with a condemnation of those that defile it. (I’m not equating these on an ethical level, just on a structural one.)

The soil in which this particular super meme of Jihad is likely to take hold most effectively has a relation to the nature of the sub memes. These sub memes have a foundation based on injustice and sense of purpose. Those people who are particularly vulnerable in those areas will be the ones most susceptible to a meme virus directed at conversion and recruitment to such a cause. This may include:

  1. People who have been the victims of injustice and prejudice in their own lives, or who identify and empathise with the injustice done to others.
    2. People who do not have a sense of purpose and feel that there is a void of meaning in their lives.
    3. People who have a fundamentalist conceptual mind set, seeing the world in terms of black and white or good and bad.
    4. People who have not developed a strong or consistent sense of empathy.
    5. People who have other forms of mental illness or personality disorders that lead to hardship in their interpersonal relationships and which encourage them to see the world in extreme terms.
    6. People who have little to lose, which is both the result of and a reinforcer for all of the above.

Combine the above memes with the above mental states in various combinations and permutations, and you have the perfect catalytic situation for the development of the Jihadist super meme. Expose kind of person described above to a Muslim extremist narrative of violence, and that virus will take hold and self replicate. Expose them to a different one, say a political or environmental ideology, and they will be susceptible to that as well. Put it in a racial equality context, especially one in which violence enters the meme through the actions of the “oppressors” and the meme will thrive in the form of violent demonstrations and organizations. One difference is that politics and environmentalism are more difficult to fully comprehend, and so intelligence plays a part as well. Religious ideologies are tailored to not require intelligence. This is not meant to be an insult to religion. They are meant to be highly accessible by nature.

Right now, one of the strongest extremist super memes in the world is Jihadist Muslim extremism. Its strength comes from several sources. There is a legitimate sense of injustice against Muslim people and the Arab world. Even highly rational and politically sceptical people will admit to a certain moral ambiguity in the way that the West has treated the Arabs of the Middle East. We’ve seen it in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or in the way Iraq was invaded under the pretense of Weapons Of Mass Destruction. It’s a complex issue, but nobody can deny that it is a huge compost pile for feelings of injustice. Combined with that is the feeling in the western countries post 9-11 which engender a sense of persecution or suspicion of Muslim people. As I said, these are all highly complex issues, the justification for each side being debatable, but the sense of injustice is easily understood and easily made a factor that can influence and promote the meme.

Also as a religion with a strong fundamentalist side to it, Islam can easily be reduced by an evolving meme into extremist views. While the vast majority of Muslims would never resort to extremist violence to express their outrage, most would agree that the depiction or insult of their prophet is a blasphemy and is highly offensive to their religion. That’s not that different from fundamentalist Christians who would be outraged if someone posted a video of a person blowing their nose with pages from the New Testament or perhaps peeing on it. There would be outrage, especially from the fundamentalist corners of the religion who tend to take things more literally. There might even be a violent reaction, although that would be far less likely that it would be in the Muslim case. Why? For two reasons. First, Christian Jihad isn’t a prominent meme. If it were being reported every day that Christians were rising up in protest and violently reacting to certain things, that meme would quickly grow. Second, among fundamentalist Christians, the soil in which such a meme could develop is less likely to exist. Principally, they would have too much to lose. The person susceptible to Islamic Jihad characteristically has little to lose (and often much to gain, at least in their own minds).

ISIS, in particular, has figured out that it strengthens their meme to depict themselves as a source of brotherhood and adventure. To the bored young person who feels alienated from their social environment, or who feels rudderless, this becomes extremely enticing, the way that joining the Army is often depicted as adventurous to young recruits. (In fact, American military recruiters tend to use exactly the same meme and tactics, just replacing religious fervour with patriotic fervour.)

All this may be further complicated by personal issues that involve unresolved issues and Shadows, especially those that might result in a violent temperament. In fact, when the meme lands in the soil of the prospective mind, its very nature will dredge up Shadows, sometimes the worst and most unstable parts of ourselves, and celebrate them. That is part of the virus, to zero in on mental weaknesses and exploit them.

From an Integral point of view, those people who are at a Red/Amber (Pre-Rational / Pre-Modern) state of personal evolution are more susceptible to this process. Mediation by more reasonable forces is less present and the mind is already operating in a more fundamentalist, black & white mode. Feeling empathy for a victimized people and then joining a movement to kill or injure innocents and to make everybody think the same way, is not really empathy at all. It is, I think, related to the pre-trans fallacy that Ken Wilber talks about, where Pre-Modern values are confused with Post-Modern ones. Empathy becomes confused with a kind of murky, dark relativism. The person thinks they are being empathic and working for a higher morality, but really it is all rooted in Red egocentrism and groupcentrism.

By framing the idea of radical Muslim extremism in the model of a meme virus, I hope to illuminate several things. First, it is not the Muslim religion that is at fault here, but the way that it is being crafted to better suit a Jihadi meme. Similarly, the mal-contents that find it attractive are responding to a set of mental pre-conditions that would have likely responded to some other form of violent meme. Perhaps they would have become gang members or criminals. The central cause is the merging of a crafted, violent meme with a fertile mind, -and right now the prevalent violent meme is Muslim radicalism.

Secondly, I hope that this sheds some light on how to spot and avoid this from happening. The media needs to reframe the meme. How to do that would take another long entry to explain. Also, the personal issues that make an individual fertile ground can be addressed. In communities where Arab Muslims feel alienated and where they don’t feel that they have anything to give up or lose, you’re much more likely to find a fertile field for the meme to pursue conversion and recruitment. People in general who feel an absence of purpose or who have been bullied and feel victimized will clearly be more susceptible.

As a model this perspective is far from perfect or absolute. However I feel that it does illuminate and even answer some of the questions which are being asked about the current situation concerning domestic terrorism.

Let’s start with some facts. Something which some news media outlets don’t consider important.

  1. There is very little specific information about the content of the new curriculum available to the general public. That is not surprising as it has been made clear that it is still in the formative stage, with parent input still being sought and utilized. With such a politically and socially charged topic, parading it too early in the media would only lead to a circus which would hinder any kind of intelligent discussion. It eventually must be presented to a wider audience, before implementation and as a final formative stage, but at this point in time it would be counterproductive. Take the Sun Media pouncing on the “Anal 101” graphic behind one of the posters, with absolutely no context or explanation involved. Sex education is an easy target for sensationalism. Case in point, the Charles McVety attacks back in 2010, supported and advanced by the Ontario PC part, subsequently condemned by the Canadian Boadcasting Standards Council as shamelessly bigoted. Currently we see the same kind of shamelessness. It is interesting that a thorough Google shows that only SUN News and the various blogs that have simply cut and pasted their article, have any mention of the “Anal 101” issue. I find this unusual in that SUN is not the only conservative media outlet in Ontario, …just, I guess, the only tawdry one.
    The fact seems to be that parents are still being invited to provide feedback and input regarding this curriculum. If there are suspicions that this might not be a fair vetting, then address that and ask for a better representation of parents in that process. One parent from each school seems to be a good deal, although I can see how some religious groups might fear being left out of the process. There is a Catholic School system in Ontario, though, so they should easily be able to manage adequate representation. The truth of the matter is, though, that many of these religious groups would not be satisfied with anything less than abstinence based education and little more. Their cries of “secrecy” at this stage are not valid, and weren’t with the 2010 document where, clearly, enough was revealed about it to result in protests leading to its cancellation.
    However, I admit that after proper vetting, the provincial government does have a responsibility to release the final document to the public for more general scrutiny. There’s no scenario where that will go well. We live in a social structure with too many divergent values and world views. However, if the majority agrees (-not a majority of parents, but a majority of our society-) then moving ahead with it is the nature of social progress.
  2. This is an old story. As part of Wynne’s campaign when becoming leader of the provincial Liberal Party, she made it clear that she’d supported the scrapped 2010 curriculum document and that it was her intention to reintroduce it in some form. There are news articles to that effect prior to the last provincial election, and yet the Liberals won a majority. There are no transparency issues here. One can’t help but wonder to what degree Wynne’s own sexual orientation may be playing a role in the views of some more conservative critics.
  3. Most educators agree that the 15 year old Sex Ed. curriculum is woefully outdated for the changes that have taken place in that time. A little statistical research (not to mention anecdotal) shows how much of a shift there has been in the level of access to sexual material as a result of social media. Sexting and cameras on everything from home computers to laptops to tablets to phones are a game changer. Attitudes towards sexual engagement have changed and become more open, with the very definition of sexual activity having changed with terms like “wheeling” and “friends with benefits” becoming common place for lunch room banter. Access to pornography has become progressively easier and more commonly sought out than ever before, with most parents powerless to block it short of simply denying kids access to any form of technology. (And then they still have to contend with access that friends may have, -or as I’ve often hear, kids finding it on their parents computers, not realizing that kids are more tech savvy and better able to investigate search histories and hidden files than are the parent.) Having been a teacher (now retired) and a leader of several youth groups, I can say with a degree of authority that I’ve noticed a dramatic and significant shift in this whole area specifically over the past ten years.
  4. When creating and vetting a curriculum guideline, while parents certainly have the right to provide input, so should education experts and teachers. The indication is that most education experts feel that the new curriculum is largely a good thing. Now, I can hear the protest out there, the old adage of “What do experts know, anyway.” Well, I’m sorry but I’m reluctant to bow to the right wing, anti-intellectual movement that seems to be so prevalent in the U.S., and give experts the respect that they are due. It is too easy to disagree by simply dismissing the words of those who have made it their life’s work to study and understand education. What do you replace it with; folk lore and religious dogma?? I can assure you that while such people might be busy asserting such “values”, it will make no difference to the sexual activities of their children. The states in the U.S. with the most dogmatic and repressive attitudes towards sexuality and sex education are also those with the highest incidence of teen/unwanted pregnancy. In Canada it’s Quebec, which, coincidentally, has a largely Catholic school system.
    It is a sad fact that many parents, and especially the parents of kids that are in the highest risk category for early sexual activity, pregnancy and STDs, do not adequately exercise their responsibility of providing information and guidance in sexual matters. At the same time, they are often, though not always, the same people who object to sex education in schools. In many cases this is because they feel that exposing children to information about sex will encourage them to become more promiscuous. As stated above, the statistics are clear the ignorance about sex is directly related to unwanted pregnancy and STDs. By contrast to more conservative areas in the United States and Canada, in The Netherlands, where attitudes about teen sexuality are very open and liberal, teens are 15% more likely to use protection when having sex and the teen pregnancy rate is one sixth what it is in the States. There is one third the STD rate and The Netherlands has less than 1% the incidence of Gonorrhea. Ignorance does nobody any good.

I some ways it can be said that the need for the schools and the sex curriculum to step in is necessary for the very reason that many parents are ill equipped or often unwilling to do it themselves. If they were, the school curriculum would be less essential in properly equipping students to cope with the social media world. It needs to be done tactfully and with a measure of consensus and sensitivity, but it needs to be done.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding Hobby Lobby and employer’s rights to decline funding contraception as part of a health care package on religious grounds, is a multi-faceted issue in which the apparent right wing leaning is not entirely without merit. I’m actually amazed that I’m saying that, but in reading the article there are two important facts that are usually not reported until well down the column, each of which have an important bearing on the justification of this ruling.

The first is that is that the coverage which led to objection was for “morning after” pills, which would cause abortion according to the pro-life, Christian perspective. It was not primarily for things like condoms and birth control pills, although I’m unable to find any mention of whether these too are covered in the ruling. While I disagree with them, I have no trouble understanding and sympathizing with a Christian business owner being asked to pay into a health plan which covers a pill that causes abortions. To not understand that fact is to be a little insensitive.

The second fact is that a similar situation came up regarding not-for-profit religious organizations resulting in a work-around application to the insurance companies which would allow such coverage without it having to go through the employer. Any employee whose coverage has been compromised by the new ruling is still able to make that same application and receive coverage. So, in effect, there need be no withholding of coverage at all.

The real tragedy within this ruling is that it opens the door for other companies to protest having to cover any insurance issue with which they might have an issue. What about blood transfusions or vaccinations? What about stem cell or gene therapy? While it is true that the ruling was very specific, and clearly stated that it did not guarantee that other businesses or other issues would receive the same ruling, it still is a huge mess and kettle of fish. Other issues will most assuredly arise. Other religions will come forward and demand exemptions for legal responsibilities, claiming that to award such things to only Christians is grossly unfair, which it is.

From an Integral perspective, I feel that the mistake was made including such a controversial product for insurance coverage in the first place. It should have been amply clear that, with the current moral climate being what it is in some pockets of the United States, covering a medication which can very easily (and rightly) have the connotation of “abortion” attached to it, was just an insensitive and foolish mistake. The conflict could have been pre-empted. Without that particular medication on the list, I don’t think that the ruling would have gone as it did, and the Hobby Lobby may not even have pushed it this far. It may sound a little callous, but if all other forms of conventional birth control are covered, in a case where a woman requires a “morning after” pill, she or her partner could probably cough up the cash to acquire it. Now, conservative employers have been given the means to withhold much more than that one contraceptive option. (…I think. I’m not finding that particular information anywhere, so it is possible that I am wrong and it is buried in the spin and rhetoric that is also trying to bury the facts I’m illuminating above.)

Finally, let me say that Hobby Lobby may have bitten off more than it can chew. With their company in the media spotlight, there are a lot of customers that are going to show displeasure with their pocket books. Even in conservative areas of the country, the political demographics are still pretty split. The heart of their business locations, even if they are in areas with a majority of conservatives, are likely to see a major drop in business. Even if it is 25%, that’s a hefty bite out of your profit margin. Given that they conduct a fair chunk of their business with on-line orders, I guarantee that the bottom line is likely to get a good solid kick. There may be a rally of support from their like minded customers at the beginning, but eventually, I feel, this company is doomed. Maybe God can save them …

Recently Justin Trudeau made the bold statement that future nominees and new members of federal Liberal Party needed to have “pro-choice” values or at least understand an obligation to vote that way.

My first reaction was that this is JT once again creating a confrontation that is unnecessary. I’m sure that the same thing could have been accomplished either by a quiet policy statement within his caucus, or by phrasing it in a way that sounded less like an ultimatum. But it’s a minor point, and just seems to be part of his management style, somewhat reminiscent of his father’s approach. But what’s done is done and that is not actually the main point that I want to address here.

Shortly after JT’s announcement, however, there was a statement from Cardinal Thomas Collins, asking Trudeau to respect the right of his party members to have the choice of voting according to their religious morality and conscience.

Now, I am very willing to concede that the question of abortion is a complex one, worthy of debate. I personally have a stand of “pro-choice within reason”. In spite of that, Collins’ rebuke of Trudeau was awkward and more than a little hypocritical.

It is important to note that the opposition to the pro-life movement is not pro-abortion (or pro-death, as some would want to say), but is PRO-CHOICE. A pro-choice stand allows Catholics and non-Catholics to live their lives the way they want to. It even allows pro-life supporters to continue to advocate for their moral stand and try to convince others to agree. On the stage of public opinion, the two stands have equal rights, and that is the way it should be.

What Trudeau is recognizing (and what Collins is embarrassingly forgetting) is that by not voting “pro-choice”, you are denying to the women (and potentially their spouses/partners) the very right of choice that the Cardinal seems so worried about. Pro-life is not pro-choice. It blatantly wants to impose its own values on those that do not agree with them. Pro-life IS anti-choice.

As I said, a theological, moral or even ethical debate on the question of abortion is totally justified. But not a political one. For a pro-life, political stand it would be necessary to accept the fact that a religious moral doctrine has the right to dictate law to people that do not believe in it, and we’ve seen exactly how far that can go down in the traditional Bible Belt regions of the U.S. We have no trouble at all separating political from religious debate when looking at something like stoning a rape victim to death in Sharia Law, for example.  We, as a society, have decided that murder is illegal, not because it is in the 10 Commandments, but rather because of secular agreement.

Regardless of one’s stand on the question of abortion, Cardinal Collins’ reprimand of Trudeau’s statement was hypocritical. Choice in one situation must mean choice in all (reasonable situations). To do otherwise is to claim that one religious view or group is an exception to the rules of the Charter of Rights.

I’m currently reading Michael Dowd’s Thank God For Evolution. As I’ve stated before, Dowd is trying to build a bridge between the traditional religious ideas of pre-rational, mythic beliefs (Red and Amber in Integral Theory) and a rational theism (applicable to those at the Orange level). I’m about one third of the way through the book and I’ve noticed a pattern. I would say that I have no problem connecting with about 80% of the book. I am very satisfied with the central thrust of the book, which is that evolution, the wonders of modern science, and the understanding of brain research are the modern ways in which “God” is expressing itself. Down says that his concept of a divine figure is the universe and doesn’t stand outside of it. There is a Taoist or Deist (or Zen) interpretation of that which I can appreciate.

But every once in a while he throws in a paragraph that undoubtedly comes from his old evangelical preaching days, talking about “being blessed” or “living in God’s light”. He introduces the Epilogue with “I didn’t write this book. God did.” As someone who is coming at the book from a more atheistic or agnostic perspective (Orange or Green), I often cringe when I get to those parts. I understand what he’s getting at and can even stretch myself to understand how someone else would experience it that way, but it is very clear that Down is building his bridge from the traditional, pre-rational theist to what he hopes will be the modernist or even post-modern, rational theist. It is a bridge worth building. Ken Wilber has stated that if non-theist rationalists completely deny and ridicule any form of rational theism, it is effectively cutting off the possibility of personal evolution for many people. Including these rather traditionally religious expressions in his book may be designed to ease the transition and frame some of the “new” concepts in “old” speak. This is not hypocritical. New levels of development subsume the earlier ones, retaining many of the old concepts in a transcended form. I would not want to begrudge religious people that bridge.

As I said, I’ve only read the first third. At least to this point Dowd has not attempted to build a bridge from the rational non-theist to the rational theist. Many rationalists (Orange) who are also Atheists have placed science and scientific method on an alter of their own. Empiricism and materialism trump any sort of theism, and if it cannot be proven empirically or scientifically then they regard it as unnecessary and untrue. When you look at Atheist forums on the Internet or on Facebook, you often find passionate attacks against traditional religious beliefs. Some contain so much venom that it is clear they are driven by shadow issues. Rationality is attained, and for some the attainment came at a cost of rejecting their pre-rational values. Disowned beliefs still gnaw at some of them, creating Shadows and the need to lash out at the thing that they, themselves, have transcended. Dawkins often falls into this corner.

Even for those with no or few Shadow issues of this sort, there still tends to be a defensive stance against subjective metaphysics rather than the objective materialism that they trust. They would tend to look at many of Dowd’s preacher statements and say, “Well that sounds very nice, but why do I need God in the first place?” And that is the precise argument that has to be made if you are going to build that particular bridge.

Dowd wants us to see a version of God in scientific wonder. As we unravel the universe, he claims that this is God revealing itself. Again the question, “So what?” Well, as Einstein said, “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.”

Science tells us that we are a perhaps solitary speck of life in a mechanistic universe. Understanding that, we can become Nihilists and despair, or we can appreciate the wonder and possibly unique (at least rare) status that we enjoy. In the latter, we recognise the preciousness of our planet, and it translates in to reverence, respect and caring about the environment.

Building the bridge that connects the intricacies of objective science to a sense of wonder and reverence is desperately needed. Religions carry much baggage with them, but there are several things that they do well.

They provide a context for meaning, leading to a sense of purpose rather than a sense of despair.

They provide passion and impetus to turn beliefs into action and routine.

They provide symbolic and ceremonial subtexts which are capable of transcending purely logical thought and gives access to deeper and profound parts of our mind.

They (at their best) ground us in a common goal with other people.

Secular Humanism tries hard to accomplish these things, but has mixed and inconsistent results. I believe this is because it lacks these things that something akin to a religious or spiritual belief brings to human nature. Environmentalism will never be a successful social movement until it takes on the power of a religious-like force. Wonder, love and reverence are not logical. Dowd’s book hints at the kind of bridge that could be built from rational secularism to rational theism; from the Objective to the Subjective, without losing the integrity of science and reason. Within the things that science is disclosing about itself, we should be able to find the context, the passion and the common goal. The symbols and ceremonial subtexts need a little work. But as each level of conceptual development transcends the last, retaining and amalgamating with it those things that can still add value at the new level. The spirit of creativity, scientifically iterated in evolution, can be one of those transcending concepts. The sanctity of life, also connected to evolution, can be another. This requires a little thought on our part. It is easy to point to fundamentalist religions, whether Christian or Muslim, and see the flaws. It is harder to allow them to evolve into something more positive. There needs to be a space created for that evolution.

AFTERTHOUGHT:  After posting this I see that it appears right above my post about the novel, Dune.  I found this interesting because the Bene Gesserit “religion” or order depicted in the book is very much the kind of secular theism that I’m talking about here.  It has all the benefits of a “religion”, and yet never mentions God. 

Does proving the existence of God make any real difference to us?  Is it of any consequence?  Are we just ants infesting a Zoo, thinking that it was built by a benevolent super being for our benefit?

When Atheists or scientifically minded people scoff at religion they are typically attacking certain supernatural or superstitious aspects of it.  Most often these days it is the Young Earth Creationist under attack , who chooses to deny a mountain of scientific evidence, claiming that the world was created 8 000 years ago by God, and denying both Geology and Evolution.  But it also would include the acceptance of an historically unsubstantiated, often translated and randomly edited book (The Bible) as a fundamental truth, the idea of an afterlife that is only accessible by those who defer to a set of arbitrary rules pronounced by a patriarchal institution, the idea that prayer will result in God’s intervention (which has some indirect merit, as I’ll discuss later), and that there is a divine being who demands our worship to be in His good graces.

I recently viewed a video on YouTube called The Signs of God’s Existence, which is supposedly an intellectual and scientific examination of astronomical, physical, biological and mathematical theories, proving that the universe had to come about by Intelligent Design.  The arguments presented are far more intellectual and refined than the ones usually presented but I could easily spend pages rebutting this travesty of a documentary.  But that is not my goal here.  Suffice it to say that the so called evidence presented in this video is deeply flawed and very misleading.

However, let’s assume for the moment that this documentary is accurate and that things like the finely tuned constant values in forces holding the substance of the world together, and the Fibonacci pattern arising regularly in nature (to take two examples) is not explainable by science, but is proof of divine creation.  Such a proof of the existence of God still does not confirm in any way the beliefs of the Earth’s various religions.  It does not automatically follow that we are special in any way, that God wishes to be worshipped, or that Heaven is waiting for us.  It could be an impersonal God which has no desire to intervene or even have any interest in human, earthly affairs.  In fact, it is far more likely that the motives and designs of a divine and omnipotent being would be unfathomable to us.

Einstein clearly believed in a mysterious, spiritual force.  He was what would loosely be called a “Modern Deist”, although there are a multitude of meanings for that term.  From the World Union of Deists:

“Deism is the recognition of a universal creative force greater than that demonstrated by mankind, supported by personal observation of laws and designs in nature and the universe, perpetuated and validated by the innate ability of human reason coupled with the rejection of claims made by individuals and organized religions of having received special divine revelation.”

I’m not sure to what extent Einstein would have formally believed this, but in many interview with him he stated that there was an elegance to the structure of the universe that was not entirely scientific.  He was attracted to Spinoza’s impersonal God rather than the personal one of traditional religions.  Similarly, the Eastern system of Taoism believes that there is a positive force flowing through the universe (kind of like The Force in Star Wars, which was actually based on Taoism).  While this “force” is not in any extraordinary way concerned with us, it is still possible to live in or out of harmony with it.  It is still possible to recognize the pattern of its worldly effects on reality.

This is an impersonal God.  It can be seen as an evolutionary force, as a spiritual presence or as a mathematical theory related to Chaos Theory.  Perhaps one day we will be able understand it better or maybe even quantify it.  It does not require worship, it does not see us as exceptional and it does not speak to us of an afterlife.

However, as I said, it is possible to live in or out of harmony with this force.  When the subject of “prayer” comes up, there is the fact that if you envision something you wish to come to pass, this reinforcing act of volition will make it more possible, empowering your Will and aligning your Sub-Conscious.  This is the way in which prayer and mindfulness (or meditation) might be similar, -the enabling and empowering of certain thoughts to help propel them into reality by strengthening volition.  Also the act of mindfulness or contemplation strengthens the mind, helps produce harmony and enables a more deliberate and rewarding life.  In this very indirect way, prayer and God may be a real force in our lives, in an impersonal way.

My personal feeling is that it is a huge leap from a universe full of only hydrogen and helium to the existence of a William Shakespeare or a Robert Frost.  If Quantum Physics has to postulate a theory of multiple universes in order to adequately explain the finely tuned constants of forces, then perhaps there is another force helping to nudge things along in the background.  Not a patriarchal, bearded, sentient (at least in the way that we understand it), personal God, but perhaps an impersonal, “spiritual” force moving us towards increased organization rather than just entropy.  It would not be ridiculous to think that there may be an evolutionary force functioning in the universe as a counter to entropy.  Such an impersonal God, if that is even a wise label, doesn’t impact or interfere in my life, still allows me to create and evolve my own morals, and ultimately affirms science.  It also provides a little order and meaning to the universe.

My last post had a paragraph in it where I suggested that, in the event that the Arizona “Freedom of Religion Act” actually became law,  businesses in Arizona that supported the denial of service to some people only be protected by the proposed law (recently vetoed, thankfully) if they posted a sign in their windows informing people that they wished to “discriminate”.

After thinking about that, I see it as a very flawed suggestion.  I have a better idea that replaces the negative with the positive.  Regardless of whether the law is in effect or not, there should be a campaign to have businesses post a sign or sticker on their doors stating that they support equal rights and service for everyone.  It could take several forms, religious and non-religious.  Businesses that wish to assert their acceptance of equal rights (and thereby stick it to the supporters of the discriminatory law) could do so in a very politically correct and affirmative way.  The end result would be the same, giving patrons a chance to make a decision before they gave a business their money.  I’m sure that many customers would prefer to shop in places that assert their belief in freedom for all.


I was going to say “Arizona” stays in the 21st Century, but seeing as its legislators and a sizable portion of its population approved the Bill in the first place, the decision by the Arizona Governor to not sign the discriminatory denial of service law is more a reflection of her sense and sanity than it is that of the state.  Good for her.  I’m sure that there are many people in Arizona, maybe even a majority, who don’t support this law, but it still managed to get a passed.  Maybe the sane people need to get a little more involved in democracy.

What likely tipped the governor’s decision?  One would like to think it was her good sense, but more likely it was the Republican Party as a whole pointing to the black eye that it would take for this, plus the dangers of damage to the Arizona economy.  It’s even possible that football played a role, with the Superbowl already having been yanked from Arizona on one previous occasion.  Her announcement clearly stated that she was not signing the Bill because she thought that it would “create more problems than it solved”, which strongly implies that she has some regrets in having to kill the Bill.  It’s a real bitch when common sense and decency force you to shelve your bigotry.

While I am completely and totally opposed to this Bill, and I am glad that it was killed, had it been passed I would have liked to see it enacted with one condition.  Any place of business that wanted to deny service, for whatever reason, would have to display a sign or sticker on the door of their establishment proclaiming that.  Otherwise they would not be protected by the law.  Like the days of racial discrimination.  That, at least, would enable customers to make a decision.  If the proprietor is permitted to deny service, then it is only right that the customer be fully informed not only so that those who are not welcome know it, but more importantly so that other customers can choose to boycott the establishment.  I wouldn’t want to give my money to a business that so completely is at odds with my personal values.  It would be interesting to see whether these discriminating businesses would agree to that or whether they would cry “foul”.  Knowing the mind set, I’d bet on the latter.

This series of events spotlights the current dysfunction of the Right in the United States.  As is commonly pointed out in Integral Politics, it clearly shows the split in the Republican party, between Red/Amber and Orange.  The Red/Amber social conservatives, most obviously represented by the Tea Party, are a very distinct group from the more Orange fiscal conservatives.  More and more, in the past few years, and especially since the fiasco of selecting a Republican presidential candidate, these two factions are trying to distance themselves from one another.  This situation in Arizona is a clear example of that.  The more extreme social conservatives, of which there are many in the U.S., are becoming an embarrassment to the Right, threatening to split the party.  Of course, that won’t happen because it would likely spell the end of the Right (at least as we know it) from winning power.

It is the same situation that we have here in Canada where the Left is split between the Liberals, the NDP and various left splinter parties like The Green Party.  The factions of the Right, which used to be the Progressive Conservatives, The Reform Party and right wing splinter parties made the practical decision to unite a little over a decade ago, to avoid the very problem that the U.S. is facing now.  What little tensions there are between the Right Wing factions of the Conservative Party are squashed by a very firm and inflexible leadership.  People often comment on Stephen Harper’s very firm style of leadership, and this is one of the reasons that it is necessary.  The split of the Left would be a far more serious problem for Canadian Politics if it were not for our unique situation with the PQ.  If the Liberals, the NDP and the Greens chose to amalgamate, even with some partial bleeding of some centralist Liberals into the Conservatives, the Left would probably still have a consistent majority within Canadian society.  This is shown consistently in the popular vote.  That’s why the Conservatives are always so indignant when there is talk of Left Wing coalitions.

In a recent post I speculated on the future of U.S. (and to a lesser degree Canadian, as we always seem to be in the wake of the giant) cultural development.  I said that it was unlikely that American cultural development would go back to the pre-rational, socially conservative values that are currently echoing, sometimes prominently, in certain corners of the U.S.  It was unlikely, I said, that society would go back 60 or 100 years to more intolerance or to more theocratical rigidity.  It was more likely to remain on its current trajectory towards more tolerance, liberalism and egalitarianism.  In Integral terms, it was more likely to progress from Orange to Green than it was to fall back into Amber or Red, even though it is those Amber and Red forces that you find in the Tea Party and in Social Conservatism.

However, this is not a sure thing.  There are strong historical cases of cultures backsliding and they seem to have some common characteristics.

When a society takes a step to elevate its developmental stage, in cases where the existing stage is not solidly consolidated in a healthy way, or if there is not yet a large enough critical mass in order to enact the shift, there is a clear danger that the result may be a devolution to a lower stage rather than an evolution to a higher one.

For example, if an Amber culture, based on traditional values and organized around smaller groups such as communities, religions or tribes, is pushed into an Orange stage before it is ready to do so, it may very well end up in Red.  A defensive posture in order to defend threatened values may result in backpeddling to a very ego-centric stance.  Also, the desire to become more rational or modern may easily become confused with individuality and supremacy of the ego.  We see this in the supposedly Orange philosophy of Ayn Rand.  One of her books was titled The Virtue of Selfishness.  That is a fairly clear indictment, supported by the contents of her novels which celebrated individualism and routinely condemned altruism in all forms.  What was seemingly a rush towards Orange rationalism and a more nation-centric world view became weighted down and confused with more ego-centric values.

It is also seen in the Russian Revolution and even in the French Revolution.  In the Russian Revolution, Marxism, whether you accept it as a viable political/economic system or not, was an attempt to bring Russia into a more modern, Orange (and perhaps even a Green) stage, from a very dysfunctional Amber, traditional stage.  The result was a brief step forward, followed by ten steps back.  The country was far from ready for a sudden upward transition, and so their revolution devolved into Stalinist Russia, a very Red (ironically) society based on individual power and force.  The French Revolution required several false starts, thwarted first by internal political intrigue and then by the rise of Napoleon.  Had France not been so close to other European countries, their fate may easily have been the same as the much more isolated Russia.  As it was, there were other political power situations which allowed France to recuperate from its false starts and eventually get to where it was trying to go.  This is a lesson in Integral politics which we would do well to remember in light of present day revolutions.

We see the same thing in the revolutions, rebellions and civil wars that are currently in the news.  Libya, Egypt, Syria, Ukraine.  We see each of these countries trying to rise themselves up to a higher developmental altitude, usually from Amber to Orange, but the process seems to falter, with false starts, setbacks and lots of mistakes.  This is all normal, even when the process isn’t hindered by a faulty base stage.  But especially if the traditional Amber values are not healthy, as is the case in Syria, the transition is going to be messy.  There is a real threat that Red factions, purporting to represent traditional Amber values, will supplant the efforts towards progress.  This is because the Amber, traditional, tribal mentality has not been sufficiently accommodated in the “new order”.

The United States is an example of where the same transition was reasonably smooth (although one can’t really say the same for their current transition from Orange to Green).  The reason that the American Revolution was as smooth as it seems to have been can probably be attributed to the fact that it had a huge frontier.  Those people who wanted to remain at a Red or low Amber stage just moved west.  This is a luxury that more developed countries don’t have.  Even here, though, if you look beyond the patriotic gloss of their history, you can see that the American Revolution was far from a painless transition and occurred with much discussion and in several waves.

What we’re seeing now in the U.S. political and cultural scene is American Orange transcending to Green, but in danger of falling back to Amber.  Orange is the most common level in the U.S., or at least among those with some political or economic power.  It is the stage of rationalism, capitalism and nationalism.  Green is the more liberal, pluralistic element emerging in American society, which began decades ago with equal racial and gender rights, which now is pushing the rights regarding sexual orientation, which has fuelled the emergence of ObamaCare, and which is seen in the emerging concerns over income inequality.  These are all Green values.  At the same time there are rumblings from the Red/Amber level, seen in the policies and beliefs of the Tea Party and many vocal social conservatives.  It is such a reactionary recoil that it has produced the kind of undemocratic legislation as we’re seeing in Arizona right now.  It is the politics of desperation.

Transitions need time to evolve properly.  Sometimes, a lot of time.  We shouldn’t expect Egypt, for example, to transform into a fully modern state over night.  And Libya even less so.  Like France, it may take several waves of rebellion before they get it right.

In the U.S., it may be that Green reforms are progressing too quickly for the Red elements in the culture.  That’s not to say that I oppose reform, but perhaps the fears of the more traditional element need some consideration.  We have to remember that the best transitions occur when former values find at least a partial home within the new values, and when there is a functional bridge connecting the old and new levels.  There are many traditional values worth retaining, and which should, perhaps, get more attention.  Rubbing Red/Amber noses in Green egalitarianism just doesn’t work.    If it’s not done right there is the real possibility of backlash and the social conservatives getting stronger rather than weaker.  There’s lots of examples in history to support that possibility.

Of all of the values that are cherished by Red/Amber, the one that plays best into Orange and even Green is the value of individual hard work.  A frequent devolution of Amber into Red in the name of Orange is criticism of welfare and assistance to the poor.  Red feels slighted by the person who receives assistance while doing nothing to better them self or contribute to society.  Orange sees the benefits of assisting in lifting people out of poverty and Green wants to end suffering.  How do all of those differing values become reconciled?  Orange needs to take hold of the situation and apply responsible reason to it.  Red needs to be reassured that the assistance given to such individuals is done in a way that help them escape their plight and become contributing members of society.  (Of course there will always be people whose challenges or disabilities will prevent that from happening, but these are the exceptions.)  Assistance should be tied to retraining or to some kind of token work that the disadvantaged individual can perform.  All of this should happen, not only to appease the Red critics, but also to help people in ways that are in line with Orange and Green values.  A person who contributes and betters themself is going to have more self esteem and is much more likely to lift themself out of the disadvantaged situation.  I’m not saying that people receiving “entitlements” are going to get lazy.  I’m saying that when aid is provided in a calculated way, the journey to better oneself is far easier.  By valuing individual hard work and carrying it over in the transition from Amber to Orange to Green, a proven positive characteristic is retained, the higher stages are better for it, and the Red/Amber stages are less likely to feel unvalued and disenfranchised.

A calculated application of values across the stages becomes a bridge that will help in a smoother transcendence.