Belief Is the Least Part of Faith

By T. M. LUHRMANN, New York Times, May 29, 2013

Some Sundays ago, I was part of a sermon in my university’s church. It was the kind of ecumenical church in which I’d grown up. The minister and I sat on the proscenium above the congregation and below the stained-glass windows, and spoke about the ways that evangelical Christians understood God — a subject on which I had written a book. Afterward, there was a lunch open to the community. The questions people asked as we ate our avocado-and-cheese sandwiches circled around the puzzle of belief. Why do people believe in God? What is our evidence that there is an invisible agent who has a real impact on our lives? How can those people be so confident?

These are the questions that university-educated liberals ask about faith. They are deep questions. But they are also abstract and intellectual. They are philosophical questions. In an evangelical church, the questions would probably have circled around how to feel God’s love and how to be more aware of God’s presence. Those are fundamentally practical questions.

You could imagine that if you were going to spend an hour or two each week fretting over one or the other, you might opt for the practical. This choice is more real for many evangelicals than most secular liberals imagine. Not all members of deeply theologically conservative churches — churches that seem to have such clear-cut rules about how people should behave and what they should believe — have made up their minds about whether God exists or how God exists. In a charismatic evangelical church I studied, people often made comments that suggested they had complicated ideas about God’s realness. One devout woman said in a prayer group one evening: “I don’t believe it, but I’m sticking to it. That’s my definition of faith.”

It was a flippant, off-the-cuff remark, but also a modern-day version of Pascal’s wager: in the face of her uncertainty about God’s existence, she decided that she was better off behaving as if God were real. She chose to foreground the practical issue of how to experience the world as if she was loved by a loving God and to put to one side her intellectual puzzling over whether and in what way the invisible agent was really there.

The role of belief in religion is greatly overstated, as anthropologists have long known. In 1912, Émile Durkheim, one of the founders of modern social science, argued that religion arose as a way for social groups to experience themselves as groups. He thought that when people experienced themselves in social groups they felt bigger than themselves, better, more alive — and that they identified that aliveness as something supernatural. Religious ideas arose to make sense of this experience of being part of something greater. Durkheim thought that belief was more like a flag than a philosophical position: You don’t go to church because you believe in God; rather, you believe in God because you go to church.

In fact, you can argue that religious belief as we now conceptualize it is an entirely modern phenomenon. As the comparative religion scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith pointed out, when the King James Bible was printed in 1611, “to believe” meant something like “to hold dear.” Smith, who died in 2000, once wrote: “The affirmation ‘I believe in God’ used to mean: ‘Given the reality of God as a fact of the universe, I hereby pledge to Him my heart and soul. I committedly opt to live in loyalty to Him. I offer my life to be judged by Him, trusting His mercy.’ Today the statement may be taken by some as meaning: ‘Given the uncertainty as to whether there be a God or not, as a fact of modern life, I announce that my opinion is yes.’ ”

To be clear, I am not arguing that belief is not important to Christians. It is obviously important. But secular Americans often think that the most important thing to understand about religion is why people believe in God, because we think that belief precedes action and explains choice. That’s part of our folk model of the mind: that belief comes first.

And that was not really what I saw after my years spending time in evangelical churches. I saw that people went to church to experience joy and to learn how to have more of it. These days I find that it is more helpful to think about faith as the questions people choose to focus on, rather than the propositions observers think they must hold.

If you can sidestep the problem of belief — and the related politics, which can be so distracting — it is easier to see that the evangelical view of the world is full of joy. God is good. The world is good. Things will be good, even if they don’t seem good now. That’s what draws people to church. It is understandably hard for secular observers to sidestep the problem of belief. But it is worth appreciating that in belief is the reach for joy, and the reason many people go to church in the first place.

T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford and the author of “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God,” is a guest columnist.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/opinion/luhrmann-belief-is-the-least-part-of-faith.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130530

Get Apocalyptic – The Case for the New Radical

YES! Magazine / By Robert Jensen, Alternet.org, May 28, 2013  |

Excerpt

Feeling anxious about life in a broken-down society on a stressed-out planet? That’s hardly surprising: Life as we know it is almost over. While the dominant culture encourages dysfunctional denial—pop a pill, go shopping, find your bliss—there’s a more sensible approach: Accept the anxiety, embrace the deeper anguish—and then get apocalyptic.

We are staring down multiple cascading ecological crises, struggling with political and economic institutions that are unable even to acknowledge, let alone cope with, the threats to the human family and the larger living worldA deep grief over what we are losing—and have already lost, perhaps never to be recovered—is appropriate. Instead of repressing these emotions we can confront them, not as isolated individuals but collectively, not only for our own mental health but to increase the effectiveness of our organizing for the social justice and ecological sustainability still within our grasp. Once we’ve sorted through those reactions, we can get apocalyptic and get down to our real work…The task for those with critical sensibilities is not just to resist oppressive social norms and illegitimate authority, but to speak a simple truth that almost no one wants to acknowledge: The high-energy/high-technology life of affluent societies is a dead end… to get apocalyptic means seeing clearly and recommitting to core values…we must affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability…If all this seems like more than one can bear, it’s because it is. We are facing new, more expansive challenges. Never in human history have potential catastrophes been so global; never have social and ecological crises of this scale threatened at the same time; never have we had so much information about the threats we must come to terms with…Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities—those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult—not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous…To adopt an apocalyptic worldview is not to abandon hope but to affirm lifeBy avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe, we undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin

Full text

Feeling anxious about life in a broken-down society on a stressed-out planet? That’s hardly surprising: Life as we know it is almost over. While the dominant culture encourages dysfunctional denial—pop a pill, go shopping, find your bliss—there’s a more sensible approach: Accept the anxiety, embrace the deeper anguish—and then get apocalyptic.

We are staring down multiple cascading ecological crises, struggling with political and economic institutions that are unable even to acknowledge, let alone cope with, the threats to the human family and the larger living world. We are intensifying an assault on the ecosystems in which we live, undermining the ability of that living world to sustain a large-scale human presence into the future. When all the world darkens, looking on the bright side is not a virtue but a sign of irrationality.

In these circumstances, anxiety is rational and anguish is healthy, signs not of weakness but of courage. A deep grief over what we are losing—and have already lost, perhaps never to be recovered—is appropriate. Instead of repressing these emotions we can confront them, not as isolated individuals but collectively, not only for our own mental health but to increase the effectiveness of our organizing for the social justice and ecological sustainability still within our grasp. Once we’ve sorted through those reactions, we can get apocalyptic and get down to our real work.

Perhaps that sounds odd, since we are routinely advised to overcome our fears and not give in to despair. Endorsing apocalypticism seems even stranger, given associations with “end-timer” religious reactionaries and “doomer” secular survivalists. People with critical sensibilities, those concerned about justice and sustainability, think of ourselves as realistic and less likely to fall for either theological or science-fiction fantasies.

Many associate “apocalypse” with the rapture-ranting that grows out of some interpretations of the Christian Book of Revelation (aka, the Apocalypse of John), but it’s helpful to remember that the word’s original meaning is not “end of the world.” “Revelation” from Latin and “apocalypse” from Greek both mean a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden, a coming to clarity. Speaking apocalyptically, in this sense, can deepen our understanding of the crises and help us see through the many illusions that powerful people and institutions create.

But there is an ending we have to confront. Once we’ve honestly faced the crises, then we can deal with what is ending—not all the world, but the systems that currently structure our lives. Life as we know it is, indeed, coming to an end.

Let’s start with the illusions: Some stories we have told ourselves—claims by white people, men, or U.S. citizens that domination is natural and appropriate—are relatively easy to debunk (though many cling to them). Other delusional assertions—such as the claim that capitalism is compatible with basic moral principles, meaningful democracy, and ecological sustainability—require more effort to take apart (perhaps because there seems to be no alternative).

But toughest to dislodge may be the central illusion of the industrial world’s extractive economy: that we can maintain indefinitely a large-scale human presence on the earth at something like current First-World levels of consumption. The task for those with critical sensibilities is not just to resist oppressive social norms and illegitimate authority, but to speak a simple truth that almost no one wants to acknowledge: The high-energy/high-technology life of affluent societies is a dead end. We can’t predict with precision how resource competition and ecological degradation will play out in the coming decades, but it is ecocidal to treat the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump.

We cannot know for sure what time the party will end, but the party’s over.

Does that seem histrionic? Excessively alarmist? Look at any crucial measure of the health of the ecosphere in which we live—groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of “dead zones” in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species, and reduction of biodiversity—and ask a simple question: Where are we heading?

Remember also that we live in an oil-based world that is rapidly depleting the cheap and easily accessible oil, which means we face a major reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds daily life. Meanwhile, the desperation to avoid that reconfiguration has brought us to the era of “extreme energy,” using ever more dangerous and destructive technologies (hydrofracturing, deep-water drilling, mountaintop coal removal, tar sands extraction).

Oh, did I forget to mention the undeniable trajectory of global warming/climate change/climate disruption?

Scientists these days are talking about tipping points and planetary boundaries, about how human activity is pushing Earth beyond its limits. Recently 22 top scientists warned that humans likely are forcing a planetary-scale critical transition “with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience,” which means that “the biological resources we take for granted at present may be subject to rapid and unpredictable transformations within a few human generations.”

That conclusion is the product of science and common sense, not supernatural beliefs or conspiracy theories. The political/social implications are clear: There are no solutions to our problems if we insist on maintaining the high-energy/high-technology existence lived in much of the industrialized world (and desired by many currently excluded from it). Many tough-minded folk who are willing to challenge other oppressive systems hold on tightly to this lifestyle. The critic Fredric Jameson has written, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” but that’s only part of the problem—for some, it may be easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of air conditioning.

We do live in end-times, of a sort. Not the end of the world—the planet will carry on with or without us—but the end of the human systems that structure our politics, economics, and social life. “Apocalypse” need not involve heavenly rescue fantasies or tough-guy survival talk; to get apocalyptic means seeing clearly and recommitting to core values.

First, we must affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability, even though there is no guarantee we can change the disastrous course of contemporary society. We take on projects that we know may fail because it’s the right thing to do, and by doing so we create new possibilities for ourselves and the world. Just as we all know that someday we will die and yet still get out of bed every day, an honest account of planetary reality need not paralyze us.

Then let’s abandon worn-out clichés such as, “The American people will do the right thing if they know the truth,” or “Past social movements prove the impossible can happen.”

There is no evidence that awareness of injustice will automatically lead U.S. citizens, or anyone else, to correct it. When people believe injustice is necessary to maintain their material comfort, some accept those conditions without complaint.

Social movements around race, gender, and sexuality have been successful in changing oppressive laws and practices, and to a lesser degree in shifting deeply held beliefs. But the movements we most often celebrate, such as the post-World War II civil rights struggle, operated in a culture that assumed continuing economic expansion. We now live in a time of permanent contraction—there will be less, not more, of everything. Pressuring a dominant group to surrender some privileges when there is an expectation of endless bounty is a very different project than when there is intensified competition for resources. That doesn’t mean nothing can be done to advance justice and sustainability, only that we should not be glib about the inevitability of it.

Here’s another cliché to jettison: Necessity is the mother of invention. During the industrial era, humans exploiting new supplies of concentrated energy have generated unprecedented technological innovation in a brief time. But there is no guarantee that there are technological fixes to all our problems; we live in a system that has physical limits, and the evidence suggests we are close to those limits. Technological fundamentalism—the quasi-religious belief that the use of advanced technology is always appropriate, and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences can be remedied by more technology—is as empty a promise as other fundamentalisms.

If all this seems like more than one can bear, it’s because it is. We are facing new, more expansive challenges. Never in human history have potential catastrophes been so global; never have social and ecological crises of this scale threatened at the same time; never have we had so much information about the threats we must come to terms with.

It’s easy to cover up our inability to face this by projecting it onto others. When someone tells me “I agree with your assessment, but people can’t handle it,” I assume what that person really means is, “I can’t handle it.” But handling it is, in the end, the only sensible choice.

Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities—those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult—not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous.

Adopting this apocalyptic framework doesn’t mean separating from mainstream society or giving up ongoing projects that seek a more just world within existing systems. I am a professor at a university that does not share my values or analysis, yet I continue to teach. In my community, I am part of a group that helps people create worker-cooperatives that will operate within a capitalist system that I believe to be a dead end. I belong to a congregation that struggles to radicalize Christianity while remaining part of a cautious, often cowardly, denomination.

I am apocalyptic, but I’m not interested in empty rhetoric drawn from past revolutionary moments. Yes, we need a revolution—many revolutions—but a strategy is not yet clear. So, as we work patiently on reformist projects, we can continue to offer a radical analysis and experiment with new ways of working together. While engaged in education and community organizing with modest immediate goals, we can contribute to the strengthening of networks and institutions that can be the base for the more radical change we need. In these spaces today we can articulate, and live, the values of solidarity and equity that are always essential.

To adopt an apocalyptic worldview is not to abandon hope but to affirm life. As James Baldwin put it decades ago, we must remember “that life is the only touchstone and that life is dangerous, and that without the joyful acceptance of this danger, there can never be any safety for anyone, ever, anywhere.” By avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe, we undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability.

As Baldwin put it so poignantly in that same 1962 essay, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

It’s time to get apocalyptic, or get out of the way.

See more stories tagged with:

apocalypse [3],

radical [4],

crisis [5],

us [6],

alarm [7],

activism [8],

catastrophe [9]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/activism/get-apocalyptic-case-new-radical

Links:
[1] http://www.yesmagazine.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-jensen
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/apocalypse
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/radical
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/crisis
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/us-0
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/alarm
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/activism
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/catastrophe
[10] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

A ‘money bomb’ for 2016

By Matt Miller, Washington Post, May 2, 2013

Excerpt

…an idea so simple yet subversive that it offers a glorious ray of hope…Lawrence Lessig’s “money bomb.” It’s an ingenious plan to make the drive for small-dollar publicly funded elections a central issue in 2016. With a little luck, the Harvard law professor’s idea could help save the republic…our leaders are groveling half a day every day to just 150,000 out of the 311 million of us. Forget “the 1 percent.” This is the one-twentieth of 1 percent who can afford to give a couple of thousand dollars to campaigns… He’s working to launch “a super PAC to end all super PACs.” He wants 50 patriotic billionaires to pony up $20 million to $40 million dollars each…Toss in contributions from less well-heeled folks who believe in the cause. Presto: You have a $1 billion to $2 billion dollar war chest devoted to making grass-roots public funding of campaigns a viable path to office…If enough high-net-worth patriots from both parties see past the irony to its potential, Lessig’s money bomb might just be the beginning of a cure.

Full text

 

Just when you were fed up with our petty, craven politics and were ready to write off the next few years as a circus of filibusters, gridlock and investigations, comes an idea so simple yet subversive that it offers a glorious ray of hope.

Call it Lawrence Lessig’s “money bomb.” It’s an ingenious plan to make the drive for small-dollar publicly funded elections a central issue in 2016. With a little luck, the Harvard law professor’s idea could help save the republic.

Here’s why. Everyone knows the ubiquity of big money in politics undermines democracy. But the mechanics of the money chase now warps daily political life so thoroughly that it would seem funny if it weren’t so shocking.

New legislators are told by party leaders to spend no less than four hours a day “dialing for dollars” for reelection. That’s twice the time they’re expected to spend on committee work, floor votes or meeting with constituents. And it doesn’t count the fundraisers they attend in their “free time.”

“Members routinely duck out of the House office buildings, where they are prohibited by law from campaigning,” the Boston Globe recently reported, “and walk across the street to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee offices…. There, on the second floor, 30 to 40 legislators and their staffers squeeze into the ‘bullpen’ … a makeshift call center of about two dozen cubicles, each 2½ feet wide and equipped with two land lines.”

The two parties function “basically like telemarketing firms,” Tom Perriello, a Virginia Democrat who lost in 2010 after serving one term in the House, told the Globe. “’You go down on any given evening and you’ve got 30 members with headsets on dialing and dialing and dialing, trying to close the deal.’”

This is your democracy at work.

“I won’t dispute for one second the problems of a system that demands immense amount of fund-raisers by its legislators,” Rep. Jim Himes (D- Conn.) told the New York Times the other day. “It’s appalling, it’s disgusting, it’s wasteful and it opens the possibility of conflicts of interest and corruption.

“It’s unfortunately the world we live in,” he added.

Well! At least our leaders are ushering in American decline with eyes wide open. As Lessig pointed out in an interview, our leaders are groveling half a day every day to just 150,000 out of the 311 million of us. Forget “the 1 percent.” This is the one-twentieth of 1 percent who can afford to give a couple of thousand dollars to campaigns.

What does this brand of begging do to elected officials? How does it skew what gets on the agenda? What kind of person wants to do this kind of work? How many rhetorical questions are needed to convince you this situation is corrupt and insane?

Enter Lessig’s idea. He’s working to launch “a super PAC to end all super PACs.” He wants 50 patriotic billionaires to pony up $20 million to $40 million dollars each (provided their fellow tycoons do the same). Toss in contributions from less well-heeled folks who believe in the cause. Presto: You have a $1 billion to $2 billion dollar war chest devoted to making grass-roots public funding of campaigns a viable path to office.

The super PAC would champion a short slate of reforms centered around publicly supported small-dollar campaign funding. It would intervene in campaigns to help elect congressional candidates who sign on to this agenda and to defeat candidates who oppose it. Building on recent reforms in Connecticut and New York, the bedrock fix might involve a system of matching grants or tax credits or vouchers that enable average citizens (via public dollars) to be the main source of finance for competitive campaigns.

Politicos are helping Lessig develop a more precise, district-by-district estimate of how much money it would take to win a congressional majority pledged to these reforms, but his guesstimate feels like it is in the ballpark.

What we have here, of course, is a plot through which billionaires lead the charge to get money out of politics. “You have to embrace the irony,” Lessig told me.

I agree. If such folks are willing to invest big sums to reduce their own power, more power to them. Jonathan Soros piloted a miniature version of such a super PAC in the last election, and with just $2.4 million helped defeat seven of eight candidates targeted for caving to special interest cash. Lessig said that if this “money bomb” can be up and running even on a modest basis by 2014, it might put a scare into candidates and raise the odds that in 2016 they’ll commit to reform. (A new group, Fund for the Republic, is helping explore the idea).

When I worked in the Clinton White House, I heard Al Gore say something I’ve never forgotten. It was in an early meeting on health care reform in the Cabinet Room. Gore observed matter-of-factly that “we’ll never do health care reform right unless we do campaign finance reform first.” Twenty years later, his point still rings true for every major plank on the agenda for American renewal.

If enough high-net-worth patriots from both parties see past the irony to its potential, Lessig’s money bomb might just be the beginning of a cure.

Read more about this issue: The Post’s View: Hidden campaign cash Katrina vanden Heuvel: Reversing ‘Citizens United’ Bob Bauer and Trevor Potter: A new recipe for election reform Jennifer Rubin: McConnell vs. McCain on campaign finance reform Ron Wyden and Lisa Murkowski: Our states vouch for transparent campaign financing

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/matt-miller-a-money-bomb-for-2016/2013/05/29/c01d0e88-c85c-11e2-8da7-d274bc611a47_story_1.html

Why We Must Reject the Dogma of Religious Frauds and Find Our Own Truth

by Red Wheel/Weiser, Daniele Bolelli, Alternet.org,  May 16, 2013 

The following is an excerpt from Create Your Own Religion: A How-To Book Without Instructions [3].

The whole notion of creating one’s own religion goes against the claim made by many religions that they alone possess the Only Truth revealed to them by the deity of their choosing. In their eyes, religion is to be followed by human beings, but is never created by them. Countless people have been burned at the stake for simply urging others to challenge religious dogma and question beliefs. While this injunction is no longer followed literally, Jewish scriptures sanction the murder of anyone inviting us to change religious outlook. The Inquisition, which lasted over 600 years, fills the history of Christianity with plenty of mass killings of people whose only crime was holding unconventional opinions in matters of religion. Still today, in some Muslim countries, any Muslim who decides to abandon Islam faces the death penalty for apostasy.

Why such venom and brutality? Because many of those claiming to be speaking for God have little patience for people who want to figure out for themselves what life is about. What is so terrible about it? Because you should not search for what is wise and good. You should listen to what we tell you is wise and good.

In light of these attitudes, it should become clear why a call to “create your own religion” is by its very nature quite radical. But it doesn’t have to be that way. OK, since you are a most pleasant reader, I’ll share a secret with you. Lean toward me so that I may whisper it in your ear. . . . Everyone already creates their own reli­gion. Some people just don’t lie about it.

Did I say something offensive or shocking? It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. At the risk of raising the blood pressure of some modern wannabe inquisitors, let’s look at the ugly truth for what it is. Despite their professed devotion to a text or a teacher or a path, even members of established religions don’t observe literally the dictates of their religion of choice. Many believers claim to be strict followers of their traditions, and some actually believe they are. But the reality is that they all are engaged to some degree in a selective reading of their sacred texts, adopting what suits them and rejecting the rest. It’s a simple process, really. Pick up the sacred books of your religion, look for passages supporting your values, and adapt them a little to your liking. Then highlight their importance in the overall balance of the religion, and conveniently forget all those other unsavory passages that either downright contradict your values or support behaviors and attitudes that don’t fit with your inclinations. Rather than having the guts to admit what they are doing and openly defend their right to pick and choose the passages they want to live their lives by, most people prefer hiding under the fable that their particular take on religion is the only correct one. All other people who put the accent on different messages and values contained in the same scriptures, they claim, are heretics who are twisting the essence of the religion. If this strikes you as intellectually dishonest, it’s because it is.

Hey Bolelli, are you really accusing billions of orthodox believers worldwide of being consummate liars? Not necessarily. Some don’t lie consciously. They just happen to be masters at self-delusion, so skilled at lying to themselves that they can do it without ever becom­ing aware of it. Why would they do this? you may ask. Because it would be too scary to take responsibility for choosing which values, among so many, to live by. It’s much more reassuring to go on pre­tending that one’s values are the only true eternal ones that enjoy God’s stamp of approval.

Other believers, on the other hand, don’t lie at all—not even subconsciously. What shields them from facing the contradictions that exist in every religious tradition, including their own, is plain old ignorance. As is the case with many faithful followers, their actual knowledge just doesn’t match their religious passion. Great num­bers of Christians have never read the Bible cover to cover. Many Muslims only know the Koran through the passages their preach­ers decide to share with them. The same goes for the adherents of most religions. In the absence of direct knowledge, most people end up espousing some simplistic fairy tale version of what they believe their religion is about, never bothering to find out that reality is quite a bit more complicated. They are too lazy and unwilling to deal with complexity to want to dig a little deeper. It is easy to avoid facing contradictions if you don’t know about them. And the deal­ers of second-hand religious fairy tales are very careful to feed their audience only coherent, simple stories that will not require them to ask questions and think for themselves. Still mad about the day when they were told that there is no Santa, masses of people swallow up these stories and gladly ask for more.

Even if ignorance were not so widespread, things would not be much simpler. If you care to lean toward me again, I’ll share with you one more secret: most sacred books revered by various religions are filled with internal contradictions. Since the contradictory char­acter of most scriptures leads believers to pick and choose which passages to follow and which to ignore, it should come as no surprise that the very same sacred books have been used to support drastically opposite ideas. During the American Civil War, Abraham Lin­coln noted that, “Both [Southern and Northern soldiers] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other.”6 It was in this same time period, after all, that Christians used the Bible to argue for the abolition of slavery while just as many Christians found in the Bible the ideological ammuni­tion to support slavery as a divinely ordained institution.

Other time periods tell the same tale. Early Christians were as divided then as modern Christians are today. For example, Saint Paul advocated celibacy and held a very negative view of any type of physical pleasure, whereas second century CE Christian teacher Carpocrates stirred his followers toward juicy sexual orgies. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian and so were the members of the Ku Klux Klan. Protestants and Catholics have slaughtered each other for a couple of hundred years all in the name of Jesus. Even today, you can find Christians who are gay and Christians who consider homosexuality to be the most horrid of sins; Christian feminists and Christians who abhor feminism; anticapitalist Christians who view the accumulation of wealth as a sin, and Christians who believe wealth to be a sign of divine blessing; Christians who are very liberal, and Christians who are very conservative. Naturally, they all believe God supports their point of view.

This same story could be repeated about pretty much any other religion. Each denomination is usually firmly convinced that it is the only one that is faithful to the original message of its tradition and accuse all others of having strayed away. The simple fact that every religion always gives rise to multiple variations (Christianity, for ex­ample, has over 30,000 different denominations) is enough to tell us that Truth with a capital t is not exactly self-evident.

Trying to figure out who is right is a hopeless undertaking. We are too far removed from the origins of most religions to establish with any degree of certainty what the founders really meant. Most established religions, in fact, are based on shaky sources. Divine rev­elations seem to indulge in the very annoying habit of popping up in semiliterate corners of the world at a point in human history long before accurate, modern means of recording information were invented. What results, then, is an endless chain of revelations be­ing told and retold over decades until somebody finally writes them down. Clearly, this is a process that leaves much room for error.

Did you ever play the game “Telephone” as a kid? Yeah, the game in which you whisper something in someone’s ear who then whispers it in somebody else’s ear, and so on down the line until the last person says out loud what he heard and everyone laughs because it usually has nothing to do with the original message. Imagine do­ing this for a few decades with a few thousand individuals before writing the results down. Then, let a few more decades/centuries go by before a council of “authorities” gets to vote on which versions are accurate and which ones need to be destroyed. As weird as it may sound, this is exactly how the modern versions of most sacred texts were produced. No wonder these texts are littered with contra­dictions. And it is on the authority of these very dubious, very old documents that followers then fight among themselves regarding the essence of the original message.

Far from being an obstacle, this confusion is a gift that most members of organized religions actually cherish. The fact that their prophets are long dead and little information is known about them makes it easier for followers to project their own ideas, values, and expectations onto their favorite authority figure—something that many believe gives more legitimacy to an ideology. This allows peo­ple to create their own religion within a respected, established tradi­tion while keeping the appearance of following the “official” version.

In the midst of these endless arguments, the founders’ original intention is clouded beyond recognition. Organized religions end up killing the insights of the prophets/gods they supposedly revere. Like demented kids hugging a puppy too tight and crushing him to death out of “love,” followers destroy their founders’ teachings with blind devotion. The freshness, beauty, and vital energy of the original message dies a miserable death when the message is turned into dogma. And what followers are left to worship is the dried-up, mummified corpse of what was maybe once a wonderful idea.

What this book invites you to do is to take responsibility for your ideas and, without slavish devotion to dogma, create your own religion. Rather than groping the past to find justification for your values in centuries-old texts, and using revered corpses as a source of authority, it is time to grow the heart and guts to follow your own insights and defend them on their own worth. Don’t believe something because Buddha said it, or Jesus said it, or Muhammad said it. Don’t believe it because I say it. (OK, don’t listen to this last sentence. I just threw it in there to look democratic. Of course if I say it, you should blindly believe it.) Better yet, don’t believe any­thing at all that is not born out of your own experience. Belief is the habit of those too lazy or too scared to trust in themselves. Let’s try a more courageous path: find out for yourself. If we want to stop wiping each other out over religious dogma, this is the healthiest step we can take.

If rejecting dogma and nourishing the courage and creativity required to make our own choices is a good idea in all times and places, it is a talent that is becoming even more essential in today’s world. This, after all, is the age of globalization, choice, and syncre­tism. More people on earth have access to more information now than at any other point in human history. We know more about each other than ever before; ideas circle the globe at a speed our ancestors never even imagined. The most learned intellectual from just a couple of centuries ago had access to far less information than anyone alive today who happens to have Internet access. Being ex­posed to different stimuli and ideas coming to us from every corner of the world means we have more material to play with. It is only natural then that greater numbers of people are mixing the ingredi­ents, making new connections, and revolutionizing traditions.

This explosion in creativity can be seen everywhere. For exam­ple, just about any song born today comes from the union of musi­cal traditions that just a few decades ago had never been introduced to each other. “Fusion” seems to be the operative word at the root of everything, from the types of food we eat to the movies we watch—even the diverse ethnic makeup of many people alive here and now.

With every facet of human culture being touched by this rapid exchange of information, it only makes sense that religion would be affected as well. In the days before our globalized, interconnected world, people practiced whatever religion happened to be the domi­nant one in the country of their birth. Thankfully, the stupidity of the belief that by random luck one is born in the one true religious tradition, while the rest of the world needs to be shown the light, is beginning to become progressively more evident. In the face of increased knowledge and choices, traditional forms of authority are collapsing. Rigid identities—be they national, ideological, or reli­gious—are becoming more obsolete. Prepackaged answers satisfy fewer and fewer people. Solutions and ideas that appeal to a particu­lar place and time reveal themselves to be painfully narrow-minded in a global world. Many of the answers people still turn to were born in a world where one couldn’t see beyond the confines of one’s village—where what existed in the next valley was foreign, exciting, and mysterious. But this will no longer do. Nostalgically holding on to the past is not going to help us face a reality that’s changing at breakneck pace.

Damn, it’s an exciting time to be alive. We are just a few steps away from self-destruction, but we are also a few steps away from creating a better world that could exceed the imagination of the most optimistic prophets from our past. We are dancing on a tight­rope stretched on the abyss, the destiny of the world in our hands. The weapons we take into battle are heart, vision, and creativity. What we need are new solutions that reflect the greater degree of knowledge and the radically different experiences that characterize the modern world.

The availability of a much wider range of choices is transform­ing the face of religion today. Many individuals belonging to sev­eral mainstream religions have responded by dramatically reshaping some of their core beliefs. Increasing numbers of people are opening new paths outside of the confines of mainstream religions altogether. Most traditional religions, in fact, change only under duress; other­wise, they resist change and any challenge to their authority with tooth and nail.

The most conservative, fundamentalist branches see the global world as a threat. To them, more choices mean more opportunity to fall in error and stray from the One True Way. In their worldview, choice is the Devil’s tool to lead us away from the truth. Confronted with a world offering greater chances for choosing one’s own way, their answer is to dig deeper trenches and become even more radi­cally rigid. The more freedoms human history offers us, the more fundamentalists will fight them. Despite their mutual hatred for one another, Jerry Falwell and the Taliban are twins separated at birth—modernity makes both of them recoil in horror.

I see the global world as the greatest opportunity humanity has ever had. In my view, it is healthy for traditions to be challenged. If traditional values lose popularity, it’s either because they are poorly communicated or because they are not relevant anymore. No healthy solution was ever born from whining about the good old days. As Nietzsche puts it, “[The sage] does not acknowledge custom or tradi­tion, but only new questions from life and new answers.”7 While it is not necessarily true that newer is always better, it is certainly true that any theory, religion, or philosophy that was born in the midst of intellectual poverty can only be improved upon today. Whatever was good in it will endure, and whatever fails will do so because it belongs to a darker, more ignorant world.

What we will do here then is take aim at all the central questions debated by different religions in order to see what gifts of wisdom the past has to offer us, and how we can use that to come up with our own answers.

Copyright © 2013 by Daniele Bolelli. Reprinted with permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.

 

See more stories tagged with:

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organized religion [5],

extremists [6],

fundamentalists [7]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/books/why-we-must-reject-dogma-religious-frauds-and-find-our-own-truth

Links:
[1] http://www.redwheelweiser.com
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/daniele-bolelli
[3] http://www.redwheelweiser.com/detail.html?session=af74f8c9d6a35a56b18df19a3ed3edbb&id=9781938875021
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/religion-0
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/organized-religion
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/extremists
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/fundamentalists
[8] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Foreign Policy Mag’s ‘Top 100 Global Thinkers’: A Rogue’s Gallery of Imperialists, Billionaires and Cheerleaders of Capitalist Domination

Al Jazeera English [1] / By Belén Fernández [2]  December 30, 2012

A few years back, Foreign Policy magazine began [3] compiling annual lists of “The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers”. Aside from some worthy exceptions [4], the lists are populated by individuals whose dearth of intellectual qualifications [5] tends to render the whole business an exercise in oxymoron proliferation.

With this year’s survey of Global Thought [6], FP purports to “present… a unique portrait of 2012′s global marketplace of ideas and the thinkers who make them”.

Given the neoliberal presentation of the mission statement, it’s not surprising to find corporate apologists well-represented in the marketplace. Global Thinker no. 65, for example, is US economist Paul Romer, whose crusade to revive the practice of colonialism [7] in the world is creatively euphemised by FP into a “novel idea for persuading a developing country to sign away a parcel of land to be governed by a foreign power as a model for economic growth”.

Multibillionaire Bill Gates is meanwhile elevated to the rank [8] of “perennial FP Global Thinker for the enormous scale and ambition of his efforts to finance – and reimagine – global health and development”.

Some of these virtuous efforts were showcased in a 2007 Los Angeles Times report [9] revealing that “the Gates Foundation funded a polio vaccination clinic in Ebocha, Nigeria, in the shadow of a giant petroleum processing plant in which the Gates Foundation was invested” and which itself contributed in no small way to the deterioration of local health.

The brains of empire 

Of course, no inventory of Global Thought would be complete without a celebration of the cognitive processes underpinning US imperial predations. Among the 2012 honourees are President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Vice-President Dick Cheney [10] - the latter two icons dating from the administration of someone who has been excluded from the FPlist despite notable thoughts such as that Africa is a country [11].

To be sure, reports [12] that the Obama team has managed to conduct five times as many drone strikes in Pakistan as the preceding cowboy – a practice inevitably resulting inrampant civilian casualties [13] - are a sure sign of civilised progress and a conclusive rejection of George W Bush’s “smoke them out [14]” rhetoric. Obama, the “brainy 44th president”, is recognised for his “more restrained view of America’s role in the world” and for “curb[ing] his predecessor’s dangerous excesses”, thereby “conclusively put[ting] cowboy diplomacy out to pasture”.

In similar counter-intuitive fashion, Clinton is praised by FP, along with her husband, for her “vision” that the US can “promote democracy and development abroad without… needlessly antagonising other countries. It’s a different kind of American exceptionalism, based on more than just firepower”.

FP does not care to explain how Clinton’s campaign to validate [15] the 2009 coup d’état against the democratically-elected president of Honduras constitutes democracy promotion or an eschewal of needless antagonising of a country that has for the duration of its contemporary history been at the mercy of US corporate and military interests.

That the coup has ushered in an era of intensified murder and impunity raises additional questions about the merits of “American exceptionalism” [16].

According to FP, Clinton “has emerged as one of the Obama administration’s most forceful advocates for human rights and democracy” based on her preeminent role in “the push for the United States to intervene in Libya last year”.

This assessment overlooks the fact that even the New York Times - bastion of imperial apologetics [17] - has drawn attention to disconcerting accompaniments to firepower in Libya such as NATO’s refusal to acknowledge or investigate the substantial civilian casualties [18] that resulted from its own bombardments.

Condoleezza Rice is meanwhile hailed as an “optimist” with an “unwavering belief in American indispensability” in the world. This indispensability was previously asserted via such events as the 2006 Israeli destruction of Lebanon [19] and 1,200 persons (primarily civilians) therein, assisted by rush shipments [20] of US weapons to Israel and hailed by Rice as the “birth pangs of a new Middle East [21]“.

The presence in the annals of Global Thought of Iraq war profiteer Dick Cheney [22] - described by FP as Rice’s “dark-side-minded rival” who is to thank for “keeping the neocon flame alive” – is cast as a mere diplomatic reflection on the man’s influence: “Cheneyism is alive and well in today’s Republican Party”.

After decreeing that “If scaring us silly were a religion, Dick Cheney would be its high priest”, FP goes on to observe that the former VP “is still waging a campaign… to convince us that the dark side of terrorists and rogue states is out there and must be defended against at all costs”.

Israel’s global musings

Despite apparently mocking Cheneyesque propaganda concerning alleged “dark sides” and “rogue states”,FP devotes slot 13 [23] on its Global Thinkers list to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak “[f]or forcing the world to confront Iran’s nuclear programme” and for “[a]lmost single-handedly… wrench[ing] the world’s attention toward the apocalyptic potential of a nuclear Iran”.

That Netanyahu and Barak’s alleged feat is not as single-handed as FP implies is made quite clear in a recent essay for the Journal of Palestine Studies [24] by Edward S Herman [25], professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, and journalist David Peterson.

Entitled “The Iran ‘Threat’ In a Kafkaesque World”, the essay presents such findings as that, from July 2002 to June 2012, “the volume of media attention devoted to Iran’s nuclear program [in English-language wire services and newspapers]… was 88 times greater than that devoted exclusively to Israel’s (and 105 times greater in the New York Timesalone)”.

Never mind that the International Atomic Energy Agency has not, in the course of obsessive inspections, stumbled upon the Iranian “nuclear programme” that FP passes off as unquestionable reality.

As Herman and Peterson note, “[t]he last major US National Intelligence Assessment of Iran’s ‘Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities’ in November 2007 concluded with ‘high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme’” – something that cannot be said for the bellicose homeland of Global Thinkers no. 13 [26], a country that is nonetheless exempt from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as well as from weapons inspections.

That non-Iranian entities may enjoy a monopoly on “apocalyptic potential” is furthermore suggested by the authors’ contention that the hype over Iran “allows the United States to divert attention from the real threats that it poses itself, including its own contribution to the spread of nuclear weapons by its refusal to live up to its own disarmament obligations [as stipulated in Article VI of the NPT] and its acquiescence in the nuclear weapons programmes of Israel, India and Pakistan outside the NPT”.

As for FP’s assessment of Netanyahu and Barak’s global influence – “Pretty impressive for a country the size of New Jersey” – impressive is not the first word that ought to come to mind when faced with the possibility of regional destruction.

Perhaps in an effort to appear less blatantly warmongering, FP assigns slot 14 on the Global Thinkers list to another pair of Israelis: ex-Mossad director Meir Dagan and former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, for “mak[ing] a convincing, hard-nosed case that a strike [on Iran] would only make the Iranian threat greater”.

Lest we start feeling overly warm and fuzzy at the prospect of human co-existence in the Middle East, however, FPassures us that “[t]hese former soldiers are no peaceniks… Netanyahu once praised [27] Dagan by saying that he went to war not with a knife but with ‘a rocket-propelled grenade between his teeth’”.

According to FP, “[i]f the Israeli government doesn’t end up launching a war against Iran, it won’t be because of the persuasive abilities of US President Barack Obama or the political machinations of Israel’s opposition parties”. It presumably won’t be because of FP either.

See more stories tagged with:

Foreign Policy magazine [28],

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Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/foreign-policy-mags-top-100-global-thinkers-rogues-gallery-imperialists-billionaires-and

Links:
[1] http://english.aljazeera.net/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/belen-fernandez
[3] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/11/30/the_fp_top_100_global_thinkers
[4] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/09/2012928329663179.html
[5] http://www.versobooks.com/books/1024-the-imperial-messenger
[6] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/2012globalthinkers
[7] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/07/2012711121224166933.html
[8] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/11/26/the_fp_100_global_thinkers?page=0,4#thinker5
[9] http://www.latimes.com/news/la-na-gatesx07jan07,0,2533850.story
[10] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/11/26/the_fp_100_global_thinkers?page=0,30#thinker38
[11] http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=129596#.UNlfjo4l7ao
[12] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/map_of_the_week/2012/06/obama_drone_strikes_the_president_ordered_more_than_george_w_bush.html
[13] http://news.antiwar.com/2009/06/24/at-least-35-civilians-killed-in-us-drone-strike-on-funeral/
[14] http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/19/news/19iht-t4_30.html
[15] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10256459
[16] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/27/opinion/in-honduras-a-mess-helped-by-the-us.html
[17] http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/03/23/1079939624187.html
[18] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/18/world/africa/scores-of-unintended-casualties-in-nato-war-in-libya.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
[19] http://pulsemedia.org/2010/07/28/postwar-photographs-of-lebanon-by-amelia-opalinska-round-iii/
[20] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/22/world/middleeast/22military.html?pagewanted=print
[21] http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1219325,00.html
[22] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/blood-and-oil-how-the-west-will-profit-from-iraqs-most-precious-commodity-431119.html
[23] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/11/26/the_fp_100_global_thinkers?page=0,12#thinker13
[24] http://www.palestine-studies.org/journals.aspx?href=current&jid=1
[25] http://www.amazon.com/Edward-S.-Herman/e/B000APBH1G
[26] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-08-31/opinions/35492379_1_nuclear-weapons-avner-cohen-nuclear-program
[27] http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/09/03/120903fa_fact_remnick?currentPage=all
[28] http://www.alternet.org/tags/foreign-policy-magazine
[29] http://www.alternet.org/tags/empire
[30] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Bolivia’s Morales Calls for New Era of ‘Peace and Unity’ to Break Greed of Capitalism

Published on Friday, December 21, 2012 by Common Dreams

The ‘end of the world’ it is not, says president of Bolivia, but rather an opportunity to dispose of ‘capitalism’s greed’ and unite in happiness and unselfishness

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Bolivian President Evo Morales is marking today’s winter solstice and the much-discussed calendar date by celebrating a hopeful vision for a “new era of peace and love” in the world, one in which the spirit of community and respect for Mother Earth will win out over the greed induced by global capitalism.

In an open invitation to celebrate the day, Morales explained that “the Mayan calendar’s  21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time. It is the end of the Macha and the beginning of the Pacha, the end of selfishness and the beginning of brotherhood, it is the end of individualism and the beginning of collectivism.”

And continued, “The scientists know very well that this marks the end of an anthropocentric life and the beginning of a bio-centric life. It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth. It is the end of sadness and the beginning of happiness, it is the end of division and the beginning of unity, and this is a theme to be developed. That is why we invite all of you, those of you who bet on mankind, we invite those who want to share their experiences for the benefit of mankind.”

Morales, a champion of indigenous rights and himself a descendent of the Andean Aymara people, helped supplant the idea that the 2012 winter solstice marked the “end of times” or an “apocalypse” by clarifying that the lunar happening was simply an opportunity for spiritual renewal. Though auspicious for the Mayan people, most of the loud rhetoric clamoring about the “end of the world” is a Western invention, pushed by those who know little of the traditions or spirit of the indigenous people and their deeper history.

As The Guardian reports:

Morales will mark the day by boarding one of the largest reed ships built in modern times and join thousands of people for celebrations on the Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca.

“According to the Mayan calendar, the 21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time,” he told the UN in September. “It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth.”

The Bolivian government has hailed the solstice as the start of an age in which community and collectivity will prevail over capitalism and individuality. Those themes have long been present in Morales’s discourse, especially in the idea of vivir bien, or living well. He has stressed the importance of a harmonious balance between human life and the planet, though some people question its application in Bolivia, where the economy depends heavily on mining, oil and gas industries.

A fuller excerpt from Morales’ speech announcing the celebration for the solstice is provided by the Indian Country Media Network, in which he said:

“I wish to take this opportunity to announce an invitation to an international meeting on the 21 of December this year. A meeting closing the age of non-time and receiving the new age of balance and harmony for Mother Earth. It would take so long to tell you about the knowledge of our indigenous brothers in Mexico, in Guatemala, in Bolivia, in Ecuador, but basically we are issuing this invitation to hold a virtual debate, and also in person, on the following topics:

Number 1: Global crisis of capitalism

Number 2: Mold of civilization, world government, capitalism, socialism, community, culture of life

Number 3: Climate crisis, relationship of the human being with nature

Number 4: Common energy, energy of change

Number 5: Awareness of Mother Earth

Number 6: Recovery of ancestral uses and customs, natural cosmic calendar

Number 7: Living well as a solution to the global crisis, because we affirm once again that one can only live better by preserving natural resources. This is a profound debate that I would like to have with the world.

Number 8: Food sovereignty of course, security with food sovereignty

Number 9: Integration, brotherhood, community economy, complementarity, right to communication, community learning for life, the new holistic human, the end of patriarchy, awakening of self knowledge, and of course health which is so important.

“And I would like to say that according to the Mayan calendar the 21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time. It is the end of the Macha and the beginning of the Pacha, the end of selfishness and the beginning of brotherhood, it is the end of individualism and the beginning of collectivism – 21 of December this year. The scientists know very well that this marks the end of an anthropocentric life and the beginning of a bio-centric life. It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth. It is the end of sadness and the beginning of happiness, it is the end of division and the beginning of unity, and this is a theme to be developed. That is why we invite all of you, those of you who bet on mankind, we invite those who want to share their experiences for the benefit of mankind.”

And Shankar Chautari, also from The Guardian, reports back from a recent trip to the Mayan regions of Central and South America that there is little or no sense that the day marks the end of anything in a physical sense.

Throughout our trip, we encountered many ordinary Mayans from every walk of life to check out their reaction to the supposedly doomsday prediction. Most of the Mayans we spoke to were largely baffled by the question; others flatly denied that there was any reason that the world would come to an end. Told that a lot of conventional wisdom behind the doomsday scenario in the rest of the world supposedly derived from ancient Mayan texts, they politely replied that they were not aware of any such prediction or text.

In every place we visited, whether in a large city like Merida or a smaller town like Celestun or Uayamon, we found the local people going about their business in perfect calmness without any concern for any impending apocalypse.

Perhaps that was because no such apocalypse is foretold. David Stuart, a noted Mayan and Meso-American specialist at the University of Texas at Austin, observed in his book The Order Of Days: The Maya World and the Truth About 2012, that “no Maya text – ancient, colonial or modern – ever predicted the end of time or the end of the world.”

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/12/21

The Big Theories Underwriting Society Are Crashing All Around Us — Are You Ready for a New World?

 by Terrence McNally, AlterNet, January 27, 2010

Mini-excerpt

…Many of the ideas and institutions that define our culture are breaking down — and that’s a good thing…today’s crises are part of a natural process — clearing out what no longer serves us to make room for a new way of being…We can no longer afford to indulge outdated worldviews. In order to deal with the crises we now face, we’ve got to act on the new realities and understandings revealed by science…Rather than focusing on what’s coming apart, we want people to understand that this crisis makes it possible to move to a much higher level of evolution….Every cell counts. Every human counts.

Excerpt

Bruce Lipton: …I saw that genetically identical cells put into different environments have different fates…How an organism perceives the environment or, in the case of humans, what an organism believes about the environment, actually controls its genetics. If we change our perceptions or beliefs or attitudes about life, we actually change our genetic read-out dynamically. This revolution in science empowers you to recognize that your health is under your control…

Steve Bhaerman: … I’ve been exploring spiritual paths…and seeking ways of making our great ideas congruent with actual reality…about healing the body politic, applying a biological or medical metaphor to the wider world. …For the last few years Steve and I have been crafting an understanding that says we’re in a transition. Rather than focusing on what’s coming apart, we want people to understand that this crisis makes it possible to move to a much higher level of evolution….Every cell counts. Every human counts.

Full Text

Economic meltdown … environmental crises … seemingly endless warfare. The world is in critical condition. Bad news? Good news? Or both?

Many of the ideas and institutions that define our culture are breaking down — and that’s a good thing, say Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman. In their new book, Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There from Here, they write that today’s crises are part of a natural process — clearing out what no longer serves us to make room for a new way of being. Are they cockeyed optimists or do they see things others miss?

Reality is alive, dynamic and interconnected. Science has been saying so for nearly a century, and we experience it every time we walk on a beach or look into another’s eyes. Yet most of our cultural, societal, political and economic structures act as if it’s not so. We can no longer afford to indulge outdated worldviews. In order to deal with the crises we now face, we’ve got to act on the new realities and understandings revealed by science.

A cell biologist by training, Bruce Lipton taught at theUniversityofWisconsin’sSchoolofMedicine, performed pioneering studies at Stanford, and authored The Biology of Belief. Steve Bhaerman has been writing and performing “enlightening” comedy in the character of Swami Beyondananda for over 20 years. He is the author of several books.

Terrence McNally: Bruce, you first, a bit about your path to the work you do today?

Bruce Lipton: When I was very young I looked into a microscope for the first time and saw cells moving around. That vision ultimately led to my becoming a cellular biologist and teaching in medical schools. I was a pretty conventional biologist who thought of the body as a biochemical machine run by genes. I was teaching the genetic control of a molecular body to medical students, but at the same time I was doing research on muscular dystrophy and cloning stem cells starting about 1967.

My research proved so mind-boggling that it led to my leaving the university. I saw that genetically identical cells put into different environments have different fates. I’d start with genetically identical stem cells, change some of the constituents of their environment, and the stem cells would form muscle; change the environment a little bit differently and genetically identical cells would form bone; change it yet again, and another group of genetically identical cells would form fat cells.
I was teaching medical students that genes control life, yet my research said that the genes were actually controlled by the organism’s response to the environment.

That work ultimately led to The Biology of Belief, and presaged epi-genetics, one of today’s leading areas of research in biomedicine. Epi is a prefix that means above. Epidermis means the layer above the dermis. Epi-genetic control literally means “control above the genes.”

How an organism perceives the environment or, in the case of humans, what an organism believes about the environment, actually controls its genetics. If we change our perceptions or beliefs or attitudes about life, we actually change our genetic read-out dynamically. This revolution in science empowers you to recognize that your health is under your control.

TM: Now Steve, your path, which I assume may be even more circuitous than Bruce’s?

Steve Bhaerman: I was a very idealistic young teacher inWashington,DCteaching during the late ’60s-early ’70s. I found some really fabulous ideas about how things could be, but how to put those ideas into practice escaped most people. I remember meeting a world-famous expert on communal living, but nobody could stand to live with him. For the last 30 or 40 years I’ve been exploring spiritual paths, learning about myself, and seeking ways of making our great ideas congruent with actual reality.

I thought it would be interesting to write a book about healing the body politic, applying a biological or medical metaphor to the wider world. When I read The Biology of Belief and met Bruce, I realized that he was the guy I was meant to do this book with. In Spontaneous Evolution we hope to help people see that many of the beliefs we’ve been living by are now burned-out stars, yet we keep trying to navigate by them.

TM: Steve, you left out the fact that a big part of your path has been humor.

SB: For the last 20-something years I’ve been performing and writing as Swami Beyondananda, the cosmic comic. Humor is a great way to allow new ideas to infiltrate, and I’ve learned a lot cohabiting with the Swami. As soon as I put the turban on [with Indian accent], oh then we’ve got a whole different set of wisdom coming out.

TM: Bruce, how did you decide to take on this collaboration?

BL: I got so caught up with cellular biology and the biology of belief that I kept putting the biological understanding of civilization on the back burner — until Steve and I started talking.

Most people get caught up in, “Oh my God, crisis here, crisis there. What are we going to do? The sky is falling!” For the last few years Steve and I have been crafting an understanding that says we’re in a transition. Rather than focusing on what’s coming apart, we want people to understand that this crisis makes it possible to move to a much higher level of evolution.

TM: Let’s pull apart some of the threads that you deal with in the book. You say 1) there are three perennial questions that any belief system needs to address; and 2) that the answers to those questions have changed. What are those three questions?

SB: Why are we here? How did we get here? And now that we’re here, how do we make the best of the situation?

TM: And how have those changed?

SB: If you look at recorded history, we began with animism — simply “I am one with everything.” There wasn’t much of a distinction between the spiritual world and the material world, and indigenous people were able to navigate these two worlds fairly easily. Had we stayed at that point, we would be little more than human animals in a cosmic petting zoo. But we ventured out to explore.

We then began to see that there are many forces. We recognized the “me” and the “not me,” and we began to assign powers to various gods. So we had polytheism. Then came the monotheistic view that there is only one God and one power. The institutionalized version of monotheism through Christianity was very powerful throughout the middle ages.

TM: You single out the institutionalized version of Christianity, not Judaism or Islam?

SB: Christianity is most powerful in terms of its impact on Western society. Christianity’s worldview eventually gave birth to scientific materialism as a challenge to the institutionalized version of the infallible church.

The first little chip to fall: Copernicus recognizes that the earth actually revolves around the sun. It takes over 100 years for that belief to be integrated throughout even the thinking world.

As the church loses its infallibility, we see the rise of the current dominant paradigm: scientific materialism, the material world is what matters.Newton, Descartes and the rest say that the universe is a machine.

We are now at the threshold of a new understanding which we call holism, in which what we call “science” and what we call “spirit” are part of the same thing. Yet our institutions are still based on scientific materialism, on beliefs that have actually been disproved by science.

TM: You point out myth perceptions: unexamined pillars that support modern thought. In science, some of these have been proven wrong, but the public hasn’t been let in on that yet.

BL: When the general population accepts particular answers to perennial questions from some group or entity, they tend to turn to that same source for other truths about the world. When the Church was running the show, if you wanted to find out about health or what’s going on in the future, you turned to the priest or the Church for answers.

TM: Or prior to that, the medicine man.

BL: In animism.
When science took over, we started saying, “You want truth? You don’t go to the Church anymore. Now you go to the science people.” The flavor of the answers flavors culture and character. When the answers change, civilization changes.

In the current vision of scientific materialism, belief in matter is primary. The Newtonian belief that the universe is a physical machine takes our attention away from the invisible realm. We focus on material acquisition as a representation of how well we’re doing in our lives. We take the earth and the environment apart seeking more matter. The more matter you have, the more effective you are in this world. He who dies with the most toys wins.

Over 100 years ago, quantum physics said, “The invisible realm you ignore is actually the primary shaper of the physical realm.”

 

TM: I hear you expressing a kind of duality: “We were paying attention to matter, now we’ve got to pay attention to the invisible.” But holism doesn’t pay attention to one or the other, it realizes they are in fact the same.

BL: Exactly. That’s the conclusion we come to. If it sounded like we were emphasizing the spiritual over the material, it was only because that’s the piece that’s missing in today’s world: the piece that says “Wait there’s more to us than this physical plane.”

Look over history. The primary differences between civilizations is whether they emphasize the spiritual or the material. With animism, both were the same thing. We’re coming back to that. After taking civilization to the spiritual realm under the Church and then into the material realm under the sciences, science and spirituality are coming back to a midpoint, recognizing that they are both critical.

TM: What is the old belief and what is the new belief?

BL: The old belief: Genes predetermine our fate and control who we are. We didn’t select our genes and we can’t change them, so our lives are beyond our control. That kind of science says I’m a victim, so I need a rescuer. As victims, we turn over our healthcare to other people. But the new biology reveals that our thoughts and beliefs and how we interact with the environment control our genetics.

 

TM: Until fairly recently I thought that I was born with a blueprint that would play out for the rest of my life. I think that’s a common misconception. You’re saying that, though we’re born with a particular genetic structure, it’s not a blueprint or a done deal. Again, not a simple either/or.

BL: The scientific story we’ve been living says we have no power. But we say we are all active participants in the unfoldment of our own genetics, our own health, and the health of the world that we live in.

TM: You say that from a position of science, not from a position of belief. We’ve talked about two of the false beliefs: Newtonian physics, and the belief that genes control our lives. What are others?

BL: The premises of Darwinian evolution: that random mutations got life going and that life is based on a struggle for survival of the fittest. Those are beliefs that influence our culture well beyond the realm of science. As a consequence, we live in a world based on competition and struggle. But we have to ask: Is the world really that way or did our beliefs create that impression?

Now we learn that the entangled community called the biosphere is driven not by competition but by cooperation and community. This means our competing has been anti-evolutionary.

Humans evolved over a million years ago. What’s evolving now is not the individual human, but the living superorganism called humanity. We are all cells in the body of one living thing. So we need to come together and recognize our unity.

The cells making up humanity will keep killing each other — as in an autoimmune disease — until we realize that we’re all part of one organism and cooperation is key. The way we live in our world today mimics some of our biggest health issues: autoimmune diseases like arthritis, Alzheimer’s and cancer. The fundamental underlying issue in almost all illnesses today is stress. When stress hormones are released into your body, the same hormones that get you ready for fight and flight, also shut off the immune system.

TM: In the old days, fleeing or confronting a tiger, you didn’t need immunity or digestion or much intellectual capacity. You needed speed and force. And so the body turns off certain things and turns on others. In modern society, however, those stressors are often symbolic and constant. What about the notion of random evolution?

BL: “Why are we here?” If you start from random mutations, we’re just an accident, a genetic crap-shoot. That belief disconnects us from the biosphere and all the other organisms on the planet. But the fundamental nature of evolution is that every new organism emerges into the biosphere to bring greater harmony and balance to the environment.

 

TM: You’re saying evolution is not about individual organisms, it’s about larger and larger ecosystems.

BL: We started this whole cycle of civilizations with animism and we have to return to that kind of awareness. Belief systems that allow us to pollute will go away when we realize we’re part of an intricate and delicate network and web of life.

TM: You conclude that the crises and breakdowns we’re facing are in some ways a good thing that will allow the rise of new and better systems. That may not be such good news to a lot of people who are hurt in the process.
SB: Survival of the fittest is a dominator belief system. We must move to “thrival of the fittingest” where we disperse resources in such a way that everybody benefits and we build a common wealth.

When we allow every individual to thrive in a local garden, we allow them local energy, local autonomy, local sustainability. All of a sudden, every group makes a contribution, and we spend less time, energy, money and attention protecting ourselves from one another and fixing things that could have been prevented.

Underneath our skins we have a 50-trillion-cell, highly functional community with technology that far outstrips anything that we’ve invented with our human minds. When we’re healthy, this system is so impeccable and harmonious that within us we have full employment, universal health care, no cell left behind. The organs cooperate with one another so that the whole system can thrive. You never hear about the liver invading the pancreas demanding the islets of Langerhands. It just doesn’t happen.

We need to begin to imagine how to put these ideas into practice in our lives, our communities and our world. Awareness is the first step. Every phase of evolution involves expanding awareness and expanding connection.

TM: Are you saying that even evolution that appears to us to be simply physical, arises through awareness and connection?

SB: When single cell organisms “decided” they didn’t want to be single any more, they combined in community. And the process of combining as a community enhanced the awareness of each cell. Each now had access to the information that was being gathered and used by other cells. Then we had specialization of cells, and some cells would never see the light of day but would get signals about what was happening out in the world.

Each of us is a community of 50 trillion cells working in concert. At this stage in human evolution, we don’t need to grow another arm or a bigger brain. We need to grow greater awareness and connection in community.

What are the implications of that? How do we live our lives? How do we relate to other people? Politically we’ve been divided — as if the liver said, “I’m not talking to the heart, to hell with him!” Can we begin to recognize that every nationality, every cluster of human cells, is an organ in this one body of humanity?

What would it be like if our systems — the organization of money or health care or the law — actually worked in concert with one another rather than in competition? These are important questions to begin to ask as we take the first steps of new awareness, as we lift ourselves outside the matrix of invisible beliefs that we’ve mistaken for reality.

 

TM: What would a person want to know or learn or do to begin to participate in this spontaneous evolution?

BL: We have to start recognizing that our belief systems are controlled by our mind, and that most of our mind is not under our control. We have a conscious mind, the creative mind, home to our wishes and desires, and we have a subconscious mind, a habit mind with programs downloaded. We generally believe that we’re running our lives with our creative minds. A lot of people say, “We’re facing a crisis, let’s create answers and solutions.” But 95 percent of our life comes from the habit mind, programmed primarily by other people and our culture.

 

TM: So even with the best of intentions, we miss 95 percent of where the action is.

BL: Absolutely. That’s why we struggle so hard to get to where we want to go. We’re operating from invisible beliefs about how life works that were programmed into us before we were six.

In the first six years of your life, you see the stresses and struggles your parents go through, and that becomes a behavioral program in your subconscious mind. Then when you’re older, you say, “Let’s have a life that’s wonderful and joyous and happy.” But 95 percent of your life is coming from behaviors downloaded from your parents.

Until we become aware of these invisible programs that undermine us, we look like we’re victims to the world. If we want peace and love, harmony and health, and we don’t get it, we may conclude that the universe is against us. But from the perspective of the new biology, we undermine ourselves with the acquired beliefs of our culture. We have to rewrite those beliefs to re-empower ourselves.

TM: I knew we were facing lots of crises. Now I learn that 95 percent of what I do is out of my control. Where’s the good news?

BL: The good news is if we become aware of it, we can do something about it. Being forewarned is being forearmed.

TM: What can I do about the 95 percent that’s habitual?

SB: Once we recognize how much of our reality is programmed, we can begin to forgive ourselves and forgive others. We can begin to recognize that one thing we have in common is that we’re all programmed. That recognition is a first step outside the matrix of controlled beliefs.

I’ve been told that a person out there is my enemy. We’ve both been programmed, but with different programs, therefore we disagree. So the first step is to recognize that we are all programmed.

The reality we have in common is not in our heads, it’s in our hearts. Scientific studies have shown that we can walk into a room and begin to entrain with one another.

McNally: We begin to have similar heartbeats?

SB: Like a tuning fork, we begin to harmonize. When you create situations where people can communicate and listen in a respectful way, an interesting thing happens. We begin to focus on what we have in common as humanity. We begin thinking like a species instead of like individuals.

We’re in a similar situation to a caterpillar in the process of transforming into a butterfly. Most of the news is about the caterpillar that can’t be fixed. Our book is about the emergence of the butterfly. While still a caterpillar, the imaginal cells of a new butterfly begin to communicate with one another, allowing new structure to emerge as the caterpillar collapses.

We face a choice of focus. Do we focus on the Titanic sinking or the party boat doing fine?

 

TM: The premise of all of this is holism, yet out of habit we end up with dualism. I don’t accept that it’s a choice between this or that. I’m not going to be satisfied focusing on the party boat and ignoring the hunger and inequity around me.

SB:It will take a new structure for that hunger to be solved. We can’t solve it at the level that we’ve created the problem.

 

TM: So you’re not saying to focus on where the goodies are, you’re saying focus on the possibility of evolution and transformation.

SB:We’re not saying to ignore the problems in the world. We’re simply putting our attention on what we’re building instead.

BL: Today we write off whole populations because they don’t fit into our economic models. There’s hope in our future, because the breakdown is necessary to build a more sustainable foundation. Some people will have terrible problems and others will have great success, yet they’re both part of a community.

In your body, no particular cells go hungry. Every cell must be fed for the body to be in harmony. When we begin to treat all humans as cells in one body, and make sure that they all get the basics in life, we create the foundation on which to build an exciting future.

Every cell counts. Every human counts.

Interviewer Terrence McNally hosts Free Forum on KPFK 90.7FM,Los Angeles and WBAI99.5FM,New York (streaming at kpfk.org and wbai.org.). Visit terrencemcnally.net for podcasts of all interviews and more. He also advises non-profits and foundations on communications. Visit terrencemcnally.net for podcasts of all interviews and more.

© 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/145394/

 

Global Consciousness

Healing or Stealing Commencement Address by Paul Hawken to the Class of 2009, University of Portland, May 3, 2009
…you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating….what I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world…Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world…No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power….
At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it…
One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich…
We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable…Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past…

Bolivia’s Morales Calls for New Era of ‘Peace and Unity’ to Break Greed of Capitalism

Conscious evolution for thinking people by Andrew Cohen, EnlightenNext magazine  – Millions of people around the world find themselves searching for a more meaningful, relevant, and profound way to engage with life. Not only do they want to become more conscious as individuals, they want to personally participate in the creation of a better world….The fourteen-billion-year project that is our evolving universe has reached a critical juncture where it needs conscious, creative human beings to help build the next step, together.

“The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world — we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.” Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, Ph.D.

“We have an opening in this crisis for a deep transformation in American politics…But it requires people – this is the hard part – to get out of their sort of passive resignation…and engage among themselves in a much more serious role as citizens…to force the changing values of the system.” William Grieder being interviewed by Bill Moyers, July 24, 2008

The Big Theories Underwriting Society Are Crashing All Around Us — Are You Ready for a New World? by Terrence McNally, AlterNet, January 27, 2010…Many of the ideas and institutions that define our culture are breaking down — and that’s a good thing…today’s crises are part of a natural process — clearing out what no longer serves us to make room for a new way of being…We can no longer afford to indulge outdated worldviews. In order to deal with the crises we now face, we’ve got to act on the new realities and understandings revealed by science…Rather than focusing on what’s coming apart, we want people to understand that this crisis makes it possible to move to a much higher level of evolution….Every cell counts. Every human counts.

The Earth Is Full by Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, June 7, 2011
You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century…and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once?…we are currently growing at a rate that is using up the Earth’s resources far faster than they can be sustainably replenished, so we are eating into the future…

We May Be Witnessing the First Large Global Conflict Where People Are Aligned by Consciousness and Not Nation State or Religion By Naomi Wolf, Al Jazeera English, Posted on AlterNet.org, November 1, 2011
 …Suddenly, the United States looks like the rest of the furious, protesting, not-completely-free world. Indeed, most commentators have not fully grasped that a world war is occurring. But it is unlike any previous war in human history: for the first time, people around the world are not identifying and organising themselves along national or religious lines, but rather in terms of a global consciousness and demands for a peaceful life, a sustainable future, economic justice and basic democracy. Their enemy is a global “corporatocracy” that has purchased governments and legislatures, created its own armed enforcers, engaged in systemic economic fraud, and plundered treasuries and ecosystems…

How the Common Good Is Transforming Our World by Douglas LaBier, HuffingtonPost.com, October 17, 2010 
… a steadily growing consciousness and behavior that refocuses personal lives and public policies towards promoting the common good.
By the “common good” I’m referring to a broad evolution beyond values and actions that serve narrow self-interest, and towards those guided by inclusiveness — supporting well-being, economic success, security, human rights and stewardship of resources for the benefit of all, rather than just for some.
It’s like a stealth operation, because it hasn’t become highly visible yet. But polls, surveys and research data reveal several strands of change that are coalescing in this overall direction….It’s an awareness of interconnection of all lives on this planet, and a pull towards acting upon that reality in a range of ways. They include rethinking personal relationships, the responsibility of business to society, and the role of government in an interdependent world.

The Great Turning: The End of Empire and the Rise of Earth Community by David Korten, January 27, 2008 …finding a pathway to a viable human future. It is the Great Work of our time…Our environmental, social, and economic systems are collapsing around us….This is a defining moment for the human species. We have a brief window
of opportunity to navigate the passage from a self-destructive Era of Empire, characterized by 5,000 years of violent domination, to an Era of Earth Community characterized by peaceful partnership….This is arguably the most exciting time to be alive in the whole of the human experience. Creation is calling us to reinvent our cultures, our institutions and ourselves. It is in our hands. We have the power. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for.

A New Consciousness For a World In Crisis by by Jessica Roemischer, EnlightenNext magazine – Geopolitical activist Dr. Don Beck shines new light on our greatest global challenges …Dr. Don Beck…developed and championed Spiral Dynamics—arguably one of the most accurate models of cultural development…he tirelessly committed himself to helping catalyze the peaceful transition out of apartheid. Willing to risk his own safety to create open channels of communication across highly polarized racial divides… Beck’s ongoing conviction is that we must understand the fundamental and often widely differing ways in which both individual human beings and entire cultures think about things and prioritize their values. Only then can we address the root causes of social fragmentation and conflict and create a form of global governance that will guide the emergence of a new society in the twenty-first century.
…There are now six billion of us, and while we are more culturally fragmented than ever before, we are also more interconnected. Everything is both global and local—everywhere….our problems of existence have become more complex than the solutions we have available to deal with them.
While on the surface it often appears that conflicts are tribal or involve competing empires, or ideologies, or even national interests, the real issues are in the underlying worldviews—the deeper human dynamics that can dramatically differ from one culture to another. It is these underlying cultural dynamics that shape the actions and choices we make, that determine how we live our lives, how cultures subsequently form, and why they often collide.
…the two key words for my work, and for my new Center, are human and emergence. Because ultimately, what we’re trying to do is create better ways for six billion earthlings to survive. That is the ultimate bottom line—the health of the whole, based upon an understanding of human complexity and emergence…I realize this endeavor has a grand scope, but such is the nature of major paradigm shifts in our culture.

A New Axial Age – interview with Karen Armstrong, by Jessica Roemischer, What is Enlightenment? December 2005–February 2006 issue -Karen Armstrong on the History—and the Future—of God

…The period 800–200 BCE has been termed the Axial Age because it proved pivotal to humanity. Society had grown much more aggressive. Iron had been discovered, and this was the beginning of the Iron Age. Better weapons had been invented, and while those weapons look puny compared to what we’re dealing with now, it was still a shock.

The first Axial Age also occurred at a time when individualism was just beginning. As a result of urbanization and a new market economy, people were no longer living on lonely hilltops but in a thriving, aggressive, commercial economy. Power was shifting from king and priest, palace and temple to the marketplace. Inequality and exploitation became more apparent as the pace of change accelerated in the cities and people began to realize that their own behavior could affect the fate of future generations.
So the Axial Age marks the beginning of humanity as we now know it. During this period, men and women became conscious of their existence, their own nature, and their limitations in an unprecedented way….it is the time when all the great world religions came into being. And in every single case, the spiritualities that emerged during the Axial Age—Taoism and Confucianism in China, monotheism in Israel, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism in India, and Greek rationalism in Europe—began with a recoil from violence, with looking into the heart to find the sources of violence in the human psyche…Their experience of utter impotence in a cruel world impelled them to seek the highest goals and an absolute reality in the depths of their beings…That essential dynamic of compassion is summed up in the Golden Rule, which was first enunciated by Confucius around 500 BCE: “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.”…
Today we are amid a second Axial Age and are undergoing a period of transition similar to that of the first Axial Age. Its roots lie in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of the modern era, when the people of Western Europe began to evolve a different type of society. Since that time, Western civilization has transformed the world… All over the world, people are struggling with these new conditions and have been forced to reassess their religious traditions, which were designed for a very different type of society….they are attempting to build upon the insights of the past in a way that will take human beings forward into the new world they have created for themselves.
We have, from the very beginning of our existence as a species, created works of art and created religions to give us the sense that, against all the aggressive and spirited evidence to the contrary, life really does have some ultimate meaning, value, and sacredness…Religion is highly pragmatic, despite its other-worldliness. It should not only transform us, but it should also transform the world. Religion should make a difference. And as soon as it ceases to be effective, it will be changed. So we should be working now to make our religion and our faith effective in this lost, suffering, and terrifying world….
I think the sages and prophets of the first Axial Age knew very well about our destructive potentials…They had to look into their own hearts, discover what gave them pain, and then rigorously refrain from inflicting this suffering upon other people. In order to counter aggression, they taught their followers to cultivate the habit of sympathy for all living things…

Sartre says, “The imagination is the ability to see what is not present, what is hidden.” We must exercise this faculty fully, whereby we apprehend, in a new way, the inscrutable and ever-elusive divine.

The 21st Century: In God’s earthquake, Domination—or Community? by Rabbi Arthur Waskow,  … if we are to shape new forms of community, the medium and the message, the means and the ends, must be integrated…Can…new parallel paradigms, these movements for religious and spiritual renewal, share a purpose, a mission, a task beyond themselves? Are they simply a reaction to the world transformation, or are they prepared to enter the process of transformation as a proactive rather than only reactive community?  

A Matter of Life and Debt by Margaret Atwood, New York Times Op-Ed, October 22, 2008… we’re deluding ourselves if we assume that we can recover from the [economic] crisis of 2008 so quickly and easily…The wounds go deeper than that. To heal them, we must repair the broken moral balance that let this chaos loose… We are social creatures who must interact for mutual benefit, and — the negative version — who harbor grudges when we feel we’ve been treated unfairly… …Is there any bright side to this? Perhaps we’ll have some breathing room — a chance to re-evaluate our goals and to take stock of our relationship to the living planet from which we derive all our nourishment, and without which debt finally won’t matter. full text

Global economic crisis also values crisis – Davos poll – by Tom Henegan, Religion Editor, New Frontiers  |  Davos – PARIS, Reuters, January 27, 2010 - Two-thirds of people around the world think the global economic crisis is also a crisis of ethical values that calls for more honesty, transparency and respect for others, according to a World Economic Forum poll…