The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #38: “Taking Stock”

Every now and then, it’s essential to stop what you’re doing and take stock of where you are.  That’s what Randy and Alan are doing today.  Taking stock.  In theory, this is a self critique of the thirty-seven previous podcasts.  It’s also a conversation about relationship — this one but, really, about all relationships.  About how they evolve for better or worse.  

Taking stock is also good therapy — so long as the stock-taking is honest.  As Randy and Alan discussed way back in Podcast #19 (“Confessions About Confession”), there’s something essential and good in coming clean about your dirty work.  The question we asked in that episode was who are we confessing to?  What authority does a corrupt institutional church really have io hear anyone else’s sins?  

Over the course of thirty-seven podcasts so far, Randy and Alan have asked a lot of questions.  They’ve gotten more than a little pissed off at each other, too.   When you discuss things that are important to you, that comes with the territory.  The trick to having a successful relationship isn’t how you handle easy times — hopefully, everyone can at least do that!  The truth about any relationship reveals itself most clearly in the hardest of hard times.  How you step back from an argument tells as much as why you got into the argument to begin with.

What have we learned from each other?  What has surprised us?  Where do we go from here?

That’s really the crux of any conversation — its place as part of a larger conversation. Start a conversation — or continue one — and you’re starting (or continuing) a relationship.

Or, if you’d prefer to watch…

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 38: “Taking Stock”

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #37: “A Very Human Story”

Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl except, it turns out, girl was never actually a girl and boy was never actually a boy. That’s a modern re-telling of a classic story.  One of the things, as far as we can tell, that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to tell and be an audience to stories told by other humans.  Heck, we even make up stories about other animals having stories.  It’s “human” to see human history as “a story”.  

We can’t say for sure whether or not other animals tell each other stories, but, without a way to write things down, whatever stories a particular animal tells (if they can tell stories) are either ancient and have been passed down orally for thousands of years from animal mom to animal baby or they’re all being improv-ed on the spot by every new generation of mother to her babies.  That would be impressive either way.

If only animals could tell us…

Picture the roadway from the first human to us.  How would we describe that journey?  Has our story been a happy one?  Would we even be the story’s heroes?  If we went looking for our story on Netflix, would we find it in the action movies, the comedies, the dramas?  The tragedies (alas, there is no “tragedy” section at Netflix.  Or maybe in the documentary section — among the murder & mayhem titles.  

More to the point? How bingeworthy would our story be?

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 37: “A Very Human Story”

Or, if you’d prefer to watch…

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 37: “A Very Human Story”

NOTES & SOURCES

RANDY’S NOTES

Beginning

Human consciousness starts the story. There are a lot of unanswered questions, not just questions about human consciousness, but questions which that consciousness brings about. Questions like: Who are we? How did we get here? What is the point of life? Where did evil come from? How do we move forward? What happens to us after we die?

We naturally look beyond ourselves to answer these questions. After all, we don’t have the answers, that is why we are looking for them. So, we need to look to the distant past and to something that came before human beings.

This is where the most ancient human stories come in. They provide answers to these questions which reflect their culture, their experiences and their understanding of the world.

We tend to look at those stories about human life as primitive, outmoded, and even outrageous. But our stories have more in common with them than we would like to admit. We can see this quickly in a few ways:

  • We all share these same questions at one time or another in our life, even if they are unsurfaced and unexamined. 
  • We have answers of our own shaped, like theirs, by the assumptions of our culture, experience, and understanding of the world.
  • We can certainly expect future generations to look with similar judgment upon our stories from their perspective. In other words, we have a number of assumptions which they will disagree with.

These points only increase my interest in ancient stories that are still being used by large numbers of people in our post-modern and post-pandemic world. (And, little surprise, the Bible plays a large role in my understanding of the human story…and again, not surprisingly, I read the Bible story as a more reasonable story than Alan does.)

The Threat

The threat is human self-destruction. Life is tragic. And humans play an active role in this self-destruction. Why is this? We seem to have an assumption that if we get the right education, the right government and the right civic mindedness we could turn all of this around. But I see the problem as deeper than this. 

I love the way the Bible describes this in Genesis 1-11. The world is created and it is good in its entirety. But then humans, though warned not to, eat the fruit of  “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (not unlike our idea of human consciousness) and things begin to unravel from there.    

The Struggle

To find a way to avert this self-destruction and instead create the world we desire.  Our culture seems to see it as a human struggle. That it is the people who want to avert this vs. the people who do not want to avert this (because of ignorance or selfishness or malice) and our future depends upon the first group getting the power and the control over the second group.

The Biblical view, in my opinion, is much more human, hopeful and elegant. God offers Abram promise in Genesis 12. If he will leave his life and seek a different life, God will protect him, give him a legacy and bless the entire world.  The rest of the Old Testament is the story of that promise overcoming issue after issue after issue to continue toward fulfillment. The New Testament is about the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus as it moves out from Jerusalem throughout the world.

This theme, this story, continues into our day.  

The Present

The West is running on old ideas. At the same time, our innovation, our adaptability and the improvement in our way of life has increased dramatically.  Our stories need to be updated and adapted for our emerging rhythm of life. 

The best way forward is to engage the Bible and culture in a fresh way to develop new ways of being that can encourage and support the continued improvement of our lives, communities and our world.  

The Future

All human “translations” like this are provisional. Not only will our world and life continue to develop and change, thus limiting the effectiveness of our translations, but this life we live now will radically change.

The New Testament proclaims a new way of life that breaks through into human history through the resurrection of Jesus. The world has forever changed. But it is not complete. Life is still tragic. We are still in the struggle. But there will be a time, in the future, when life will no longer be tragic. But, interestingly, this shift will occur, not through human ingenuity, but as a gift of God. 

This understanding of the future should empower us to live courageously in this tragic world according to a time when life will no longer be tragic.

ALAN’S NOTES

Being a storyteller by nature, I take a storyteller’s approach.  It all begins with characters.  Whose story am I telling and why am I telling it?

If I have to cast human beings as the lead in this story, how shall I cast them in my mind?  I see us very much the way historian Yval Harari sees us: as very clever creatures who might be too clever for our own good and yet, not clever enough by half.  We’re mad geniuses who will be outdone by our own hubris.  

For millions of years, proto-humans thrived as hunter-gatherers.  That’s not a small detail by which to measure our success as a species.  Longevity in an environment frankly hostile to life is quite an accomplishment — and the universe we live in is hostile to life.  

Which is not to say Life doesn’t thrive in it.  Yet here we are.  

I think of the apes at the start of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”.  Kubrick suggests that something about the black monolith changes the apes.  It imbues them with something they didn’t have before encountering the monolith.  

HInts of the Tree Of Knowledge.  

Or — suggestions of a doorway that opens onto the Tower of Babel?

At various points in our long evolution, we pivoted from having been one thing for a long, long time to suddenly having the potential to be something else entirely.  Just like that.  The instant the first human grasped how to control fire — how to start it him or herself — they triggered a full blown character evolution.  Cooked protein versus raw protein.  

These are the moments that, I think, guide human history — that guide our story.  They’re basic discoveries that either improve our chances of survival or ratchet up our capacity to problem solve larger and more abstract problems.  

Ah, but as one later human would put it, “There’s the rub!”  More complex problems beget more complex solutions.  

Humans are a lot like Doctor Frankenstein.  He’s just trying to beat death — same as Jesus.  That shot of lightning through the bolts on his neck was the Frankenstein Monster’s version of being born again.  For him, kind of literally.

The monster — like our ideas and our impact on the planet and each other — immediately takes on a life of its own.  Too bad for us that the law of unintended consequences is a stone cold bitch.  

The Faitheism Project Podcast Episode 36: “What Has Life (With A Capital “L”) Taught Me?”

There’s an old joke: “How do you make God laugh?  Tell him your plans.”  Whether you believe in an actual deity or not, we all understand that something in the Universe seems to draw a bead on us the moment we aspire to accomplish anything – even if it’s to just make it through the next hour.  That wariness about our own expectations versus stone cold reality – odds are we acquired that as the takeaway from another Life Experience.  As Mel Brooks put it in the title song to his movie “The Twelve Chairs”, “Hope For The Best, Expect The Worst”.

One person’s bruised ego is another person’s Life Lesson Learned.  How we deal with Life’s vicissitudes dictates everything.  Anyone (in theory) can handle being happy.  How we deal with everything south of “Happy” – that’s today’s question.  Why exclude anything being happy teaches us?  Because being happy teaches us nothing – except that, given the choice, we’d all prefer to be happy.  Some of us over-parent because we fear what might  happen should our children bump into failure.  We think they should exist in a perpetual state of happiness.  That’s how children of privilege are created.

It’s just a stone cold fact (learned the hard way) – failure is Life’s best teacher.  Hell – Failure runs the whole “Education Department” inside our heads.  We’re all more likely to remember the bruises Life left behind rather than that one time it kinda patted us on the back.  Not that we’re here today to talk about failure; we’re here to talk about what failure TAUGHT us.  What did we do when “God”, chuckling fiendishly, our plans in his head, turned everything upside down just so he could watch what happened to us next?

Did we zig when Life zigged?  Or did we zag – and then have to figure things out on the fly?  

Did we learn what we were supposed to when we were supposed to?  That’s not a given either.  

So many Life Lessons to choose between and only one podcast to talk about them… 

The Faitheism Project Podcast Episode 36: “What Has Life (With A Capital “L”) Taught Me?”

Or, if you’ prefer to watch —

RANDY’S NOTES

Life is complicated; not least because we are only one small part of all that is going on around us. This is a really important lesson I wish everyone could share with me because in times like ours, where all of the sand at our feet is shifting and changing, we grab on to simple solutions to try to keep ourselves from falling. Simple answers are almost never solid solutions. They won’t get us where we want to go. So, here is a story that is multi-layered.  Each of those layers shows the complexity of the issues we are dealing with in our country today.

I have mentioned the book, “The City of Joy” before. It was because of this book, which focused on people struggling under extreme poverty in India, that I decided I would get as close as I could to the poorest people that I could. As a result, I jumped at the chance to live and work with people on the Island of Amapala, also known as La Isla del Tigre. Seems simple enough. But the complexity of the situation only grew during our time there; issues of religion, of nationalism, or war, of environment and of wealth and poverty were knotted together in life on this island, a life that I was diving into because I had read “The City of Joy”. 

For three months my roommate and I worked as a “last ditch effort” of a church to establish a strong community of congregations on the Island. They had invested a lot in a promising leader on the Island, helped him get the training to establish a viable church. They even helped him start a fishing business so that he could sustainably pastor that poor congregation. But the leaders ran off with a choir member and took the business with him. We were a late chapter in a relationship that had already been frustrating for all involved.

Religious issues were not disconnected from nationalism.  Most of the people I worked with were refugees from El Salvador. The island was claimed by both El Salvador and Honduras but Honduras had the upper hand at this point. The El Salvadoran people in the congregations we worked with El Salvadorian.  They had no real legal status and lived day to day.   

Nationalism overlapped with issues of politics and power. They were refugees from an El Salvadoran civil war that had lasted more than a decade.  The military junta-led government with support from the US, was fighting a brutal war against the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front. The Island of Amapala had a dormant volcano at the center. The top of that volcano was the site of a US military listening post, not for El Salvador, but to listen into Nicaragua who was, at the time, run by another leftist group, the Sandanistas. And these local and global issues had direct impact on the relationships I was trying to develop. I once walked into the thatched hut of a family and their young children, as soon as they saw me, ran away crying and in real fear. The parents looked a bit sheepish as they explained to me that they told their children if they were naught the “gringos” would come and get them. 

These issues and the poverty of the people we were working with, had a significant impact on the environment. The island was incredibly hot as most of the trees on the island had been cut down by people who needed energy for cooking. Though poor they had a high carbon footprint as burning wood emits more carbon dioxide than oil and much more than natural gas. The animal life was also endangered. It was painful to watch people from the village dig up the eggs that a sea turtle had spent all night laying before the turtle made it back to the ocean. They could make what was a significant amount of money by selling the eggs in town.

I remember seeing a bunch of speed boats arrive one morning on Playa Negra, a nice beach where we lived on the island. Families jumped out of the boat wearing speedos, bikinis and with picnic baskets filled with food. As I watched, part of me wanted to join this scene that looked so much like my life at home. By the end of the day I was ashamed of myself. The boaters had gone but left all sorts of trash on the beach which the villagers dug through to see what they could use. 

I never got as close to the experience of the poor as I had wanted. One last experience while in Honduras explains why. One day on Amapala I could not find my passport. I was quite anxious not having any documentation. So, I quickly packed up, walked to the port city, took a dug out to the mainland, grabbed a bus to the main road and then took another bus to the main city of Tegucigalpa. All without papers. I went to the US embassy and walked right past all of the Hondurans who were in line hoping for a visa. They escorted me into a private office where I met with an embassy official, told them of my lost passport, and together we filled out the paperwork to get a new one. I left with a temporary document and returned to the island. I had, by nature of my citizenship, a power that none of the refugees I worked with on the Island had. 

All of this has taught me that our opinions, whatever they are, are too simplistic. The problem itself is part of a wider web of issues which is not easily understood at its roots. The solution, likewise, cannot be simple or reductionistic. Simplistic solutions to simplistic problems hurt more people than they help. Change, if it is going to do the greatest good, must be organic, step by step and consistent over a long period of time. There is no “quick fix” to the issues we are dealing with.  

ALAN’S NOTES

I think I can break Life’s lessons down into five Big Ones:

  1. CREATIVE COLLABORATION IS A WONDERFUL THING

Working with people is way, WAY more fun than working against them.  The trick however to working with people is to learn how to do it while getting the very best out of them — while they get the very best out of you.

Everything I know about collaboration, I learned at the feet of my old boss Bob Zemeckis…

  1. SUCCESS TEACHES YOU NOTHING; FAILURE, ON THE OTHER HAND…

Success — especially early success — does more harm than good.  At least it did to me.  Success convinces you your shit doesn’t stink.  That’s not true.  You got lucky and succeeded at something.  That’s good.  But your shit still pongs.  The only difference is, now, you don’t know it.

Failure teaches everything worth knowing — provided you’re willing to learn from it.

  1. THE MORE PERSPECTIVE YOU CAN GET, THE BETTER

Life is a mosaic.  We have to be wary of forgetting that fact because we’re so wrapped up in one tile.

  1. CONSCIOUSNESS MIGHT JUST TRANSCEND EVERYTHING

This is the thing I’m now learning — and learning more about every single day.  

  1. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING OF ALL, NO MATTER WHAT, IS LOVE

The Faitheism Project Podcast Episode 35: “The Zen Of Agnosticism”

From a religious point of view, agnostics are no better than atheists.  From an atheist’s point of view, agnostics are wishy-washy.  Both of them have it all wrong about agnostics and agnosticism.  If one stops to think about it — which we’re about to — it turns out agnostics are the most honest thinkers among us.  They’ll politely smile while the religious try to indoctrinate them and while their atheist friends try to “undoctrinate” them, knowing the whole time that THEY KNOW what their religious and irreligious friends don’t know: that, on the subject of the divine, none of them can, in fact, “know” anything, PERIOD.  Agnostics are the ultimate “receipt collectors”.  They’re the ones keeping the rest of us honest.

In this podcast, Alan and Randy welcome guest DAVE WERTLEB.  A microbiology teacher at a community college near San Diego for 34 years (he also chaired the college’s biology department for 25 of those years), Dave labels himself an “agnostic Jew”.   Today, he’s a member of a Reform Jewish congregation in San Diego.  As Alan has pointed out, neither agnosticism nor atheism are incompatible with being Jewish.  Alan’s atheism, he’s said, was nurtured by his religious education — for real.  But, what if Alan (contrary to what he thinks) was never, in fact, an atheist but, has always been an agnostic in atheist’s clothing?  

But, just as an atheist can’t claim to know the unknowable, neither, really, can a theist like Randy.  

The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher PROTAGORAS was the first person to “spell out” the idea that “Man is the measure of all things” — that everything (EVERYTHING) we know is entirely (ENTIRELY) subjective — including divine inspiration and received knowledge.  The faithful may have received knowledge in hand but they cannot prove in any way where it came from.  Pointing at the sky doesn’t prove anything.  Receipts, on the other hand… Faith, after all, is always a matter of “faith”.

So — today’s podcast is an interview with an honest person — where matters of spirituality are concerned.  Who knows where this could lead?

The Faitheism Project Podcast Episode 35: “The Zen Of Agnosticism”

Of, if you prefer to watch —

RANDY’S NOTES

Here’s a short bio of today’s guest, Dave Wertlieb —

Short bio for Dave Wertlieb

I received a Ph.D. in microbiology, but decided to opt out of a research-oriented position at the university level. Instead, I had a wonderful 34-year career teaching at a community college in the San Diego area. I taught microbiology to nursing and respiratory therapy students, as well as evolution and genetics in a general education course. I was Chair of the Biology Dept at that college for 25 years.

I label myself an agnostic Jew, who came to understand my Judaism after I became a parent. I am currently a member of a Reform Judaism congregation in San Diego; also, as a show of support, I am a member of an independent Reform congregation in Burbank, where my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson are members.

ALAN’S NOTES

In the back of my mind, agnostics are always the ones shaking their heads and shrugging at me and my atheistic certainty.  My certainty about uncertainty, that is.  That’s the funny irony: atheists are certain about uncertainty while agnostics are uncertain about uncertainty.  Theists need to know.  That’s why they’re theists.  They find uncertainty intolerable.  

Agnostics themselves can be a little “agnostic” about agnosticism.  There are, more or less, three kinds of agnosticism:

PERMANENT AGNOSTICS would tell you “I can’t know whether a deity or deities exist or don’t exist and neither can you.”

TEMPORAL AGNOSTICS would say “I don’t know if a deity or deities exist but that’s only right now; if there’s evidence in the future, I’ll reconsider.”

APATHETIC AGNOSTICS would look at you like you’re nuts for asking the question.  They’d groan, “I don’t know if there’s a deity or deities and I don’t care!”  But, they’d also groan, even if a deity did exist, he, she or it couldn’t care less about us.  

Plato — who we consider a great thinker — considered Protagorus a great thinker.  His idea of “individual reality” (subjective reality) was considered radical at the time in Ancient Greece — but not unacceptable.  The idea had been around long before, in India.  The word “agnostic” means “unknowable”; interestingly, it aligns with the sanskrit word (this is from Wikipedia) “Ajñasi which translates literally to “not knowable”, and relates to the ancient Indian philosophical school of Ajñana, which proposes that it is impossible to obtain knowledge of metaphysical nature or ascertain the truth value of philosophical propositions; and even if knowledge was possible, it is useless and disadvantageous for final salvation.) 

This school of Hindu thought traces its roots back thousands of years.  What can we really know? — that question has haunted us forever.

In “Agnosticism: A Symposium, The Agnostic Annual” (written in 1884), biologist and anthropologist Thomas Henry Huxley (known as “Darwin’s Bulldog”) wrote:  

“Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe. Consequently, agnosticism puts aside not only the greater part of popular theology, but also the greater part of anti-theology. On the whole, the “bosh” of heterodoxy is more offensive to me than that of orthodoxy, because heterodoxy professes to be guided by reason and science, and orthodoxy does not.”

I’ll let that be the “last word” on it.

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 34: “Quantum Leaps & Leaps Of Faith”

Back before Charles Darwin’s Theory Of Evolution put the institutional church on the permanent defensive, theology was considered the Queen of Sciences. Back then, mathematics was good for counting things. That was about it. It took a while for humans to realize they could use numbers as tools to solve complex mysteries about how the universe worked. Math, we realized, is a language that uses numbers and their values to describe things in place of words. But, math, it turned out, could do even more than that. With a firm grasp of math, one could approach the most essential questions facing us — why are we here? Is there a god? What is this all leading to? — not just hypothetically but with an eye to answering them.

Science — following the scientific method of thinking — produced mostly great results for humans. It’s produced some horrible things too. but that’s for another podcast. Albert Einstein used math to express the ideas in his head about how the universe really works — how we got here. He wasn’t the first guy to imagine the Big Bang, but his Theory of Relativity rasped how the Big Bang fit right in with the totality of the universe it created. Well, almost…

As we know — the closer we go back in time to the instant of the Big Bang, the more the rules the rest of the cosmos fall apart and break down. As the larger structures in the cosmos revert to their smaller versions, they stop behaving by any recognizable rules. In fact, completely unthinkable things can and do happen. Something can pop into being literally from nothing — and then vanish again. Things can be and not be at the same instant.

There’s something kind of “spiritual” about such a concept, no? Being and non-being at the very same instant — seems like a great party trick if one could get good at it. In the meantime, let’s sprinkle a little quantum mechanics atop our discussion and see what leaps to mind…

The Faitheism Project Podcast Episode 34: “Quantum Leaps & Leaps Of Faith”

Or, if you’d prefer to watch…

RANDY’S NOTES

Books:Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction John Polkinghorne Oxford Press 2002Reality and the Physicist: Knowledge, Duration and the Quantum World Bernard D’Espagnat Cambridge Press 1990
Notes:Introduction:N. Bohr: The world is not only stranger than we thought, it is stranger than we could think. “Now we see through a glass darkly…” I Corinthians 13:12a KJV
Physical processes in Quantum Theory are radically different than what every day experience would lead us to expect. The fact that entities can function as both waves and particles has brought us back, in a time when we thought we were close to a total understanding reality, to a world full of surprises. It showed us that “…our powers of rational prevision are pretty myopic.” (p. 87 Polkinghorne) Quantum Theory encourages us to keep our conception of what is reasonable fluid.

  1. Quantum Theory is just one example of a fundamental philosophical debate between realists and positivists.
    1. It made positivism a problem.
      1. Before Quantum theory positivism was a strong philosophical approach in which the whole of being was reduced to phenomena and phenomena to action. Every rationally justifiable assertion can be scientifically verified or is capable of logical or mathematical proof. Metaphysics and Theism were thus rejected. Instead, anything beyond science could be described as a linguistic reality but nothing more.
      2. For many positivists, the task of science was complete when an harmonious and accurate account of measured behavior was achieved. Ontological questions were an irrelevant luxury and best discarded. But since science is not telling us what the world is actually like, it seems much less worth the time, talent and treasure we have put into it.
    2. Realists believe that science is about discovering what the world is really like. Though the task is never complete, a tightening grasp of actual reality is the goal. This reasserts the importance of science. It supports the experience of many scientists that they are discovering what actually exists.
    3. “Scientific materialism,” put together the world of the positivist and the world of the realist in a way which saw consciousness as observable and subject to the scientific method. It held that physical reality is all that exists; as matter, motion and force. That is the whole of reality.
      1. It this narrow world is all there is, human development is narrowed as well leaving a “propaganda of frenzy, a propaganda of violence, a propaganda of Manichaeism” that is, stirring up people to violence through access to special knowledge, moves us forward. Marches, action beyond the law, assertion of power, erasure of enemies. This has taken form in multiple ways including fascism, Naziism, which transcend left and right.
    4. But Quantum Theory shows that the positivist world and the totality of experience are not one and the same thing. It rejects both positivism and scientific materialism.
  2. The Strange world of Quantum Theory
    1. Used to be able to say: if 2 phenomena are linked by a causal relation, then the cause is the one antecedent to the other. That was before quantum theory. Now the cause is the phenomenon directly dependent upon us (the observer). p. 215 D’Espagnat.
    2. There is an ontological difference between independent reality and the totality of experience. Life is not about independent reality but about the totality of experience.
    3. Our perceptual and intellectual faculties in large part measure phenomenon in the body of the real. (p. 215 D’Espagnat)
    4. But reality lies behind the things. p. 217 D’Espagnat
    5. Scientists see Quantum reality as real, through objectivity, but because of its intelligibility. It give us a clue to reality. (Which is in line with the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas)
    6. We have to change our key question from “Is it reasonable?” to “What makes you think this might be the case?”
    7. Even logic has to be modified in the quantum world.
    8. There is no universal epistemology: a single sovereign way to gain all knowledge.
    9. Instead, according to Heisenbergian uncertainty: how we know an entity must conform to the nature of that entity and the nature of the entity is know through what we know about it.
    10. What can be said depends critically upon what interpretation of the measurement process is chosen. This assigns a unique role to the observor.
  3. Think of phenomena as a live concert and the totality of experience as a CD of the live concert. The two certainly relate to each other but they are not the same thing. If an alien visited our planet and found a CD it is unclear that they would see the connection between the CD and the live concert. The fact that the two are not the same thing opens up all sorts of things beyond positivism.
    1. Reality exists but we cannot, in all probability, gain a complete knowledge of it. (Contra the scientific dogma that the real is totally intelligible (p. 204 D’Espagnat)
    2. Something lies beyond the totality of experience. It isn’t just empty.
    3. It opens the scientific mind to other conceptions that better reconcile human beings with themselves than positivism or scientific materialism.
  4. Assertions about reality post-Quantum discoveries
    1. “While independent reality refuses to tell us what it is – or what it is like – it at least condescends to let us know, to some extent, what it is not.” p. 208 D’Espagnat
      1. It doesn’t conform to schemes of mechanics
      2. It doesn’t conform to schemes of atomic materialism.
      3. It doesn’t conform to objectivist realism.
      4. We cannot hope to construct a scientifically exact model with concepts borrowed from mathematics. (p. 208 D’Espagnat)
    2. Reality is best described as “veiled”.
    3. There is an intrinsic non-locality in the quantum world. The general environment exercises an effect on quantum entities.
    4. Reality itself is prior to space-time. Irreversible time rules pertain to empirical reality. It is facts registered by a cool eye. But fundamental time of the veiled reality is not temporal in the narrow sense, not a mere ordering of phenomena but has to do with both humanity and being – it is some kind of bridge between them which we can only glimpse.
    5. The idea of art is reborn in seed of idea that independent reality is neither totally inaccessible nor totally reducible to trivial notions. p. 216 (D’Espagnat)
    6. A bit of metaphysics, rational activity not subject to demonstrative certitude, is not incoherent.
      1. It’s validity is judged by:
        1. Scope: It makes the widest possible range of phenomena intelligible.
        2. Economy: the more concise and parsimonious the strategy, the more attractive.
        3. Elegance; a lack of undue contrivances (which requires long apprenticeship to learn how to do this)
    7. Final cause becomes a possibility once again.
      1. We can return to idea of God as love acts in the manner of a final cause. (God as highest end of man and one day we will attain unity with him for all eternity) Preceded idea of God as creator or watchmaker which only developed after Galileo’s mechanistic view of reality made the idea paradoxical. p. 270 D’Espagnat

ALAN’S NOTES

Books:

Let’s start with two by the terrific English religion writer KAREN ARMSTRONG. Her books “A History Of God: The 4000-Year Quest Of Judaism, Christianity & Islam” and “The Great Transformation: The Beginnings Of Our Religious Traditions” take deep dives into monotheism’s roots. Both are excellent.

For general background: Simon Sing’s “Big Bang: The Origin Of The Universe” and Bill Bryson’s indispensable “A Short History Of Nearly Everything” cram a lot of great knowledge into equally great writing. Pure pleasure.

Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens” contextualizes human thought like few other works have.

Finally, I can’t recommend Jim Holt’s fabulous “Why Does The World Exist?” highly enough. He deftly leaps from science to theology as he attempts to answer that very tricky question.

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #33: “Meet Jim”

The point of the exercise here at the Faitheism Project is to start conversations that, hopefully, go on and on.  The objective is never to “win” anything, rather it’s to gain something: understanding of what makes each other tick.  We don’t have to agree with each other to have relationships — or even be friends.  Having respect means understanding why someone differs with you and why that difference demands your respect.  If only everyone on social media felt more like that and less like they not only had to win every argument but grind the loser into dust.  

Alan has been on Twitter in various guises for about six years; for about a year, he tweeted as “The Faitheism Project” while building up its brand (a work very much still in its early days).  About six months ago, Alan began a back-and-forth conversation with another member of the Twitterverse, a writer and journalist named Jim “Maverick” McWilliams.  That’s the strange thing about Twitter; it can be a flaming trainwreck of human over-reaction.  As with all social media, people can be venal and cruel — especially if they hide behind an icon or other presence.  But, Twitter also encourages informal interaction between people.  

On paper, Alan and Randy shouldn’t have much to talk about.  The same goes for Alan and Jim.  Jim and Randy?  They’re both Christians — it should go without saying.  That Alan and Jim can sustain a conversation and a relationship on top of it — that’s a head scratcher.  Well, it is until you sit down and listen to Jim and Alan talk shop.  Throw Randy into the mix and this should be chaos — Jim’s a Seventh Day Adventist while Randy’s a Presbyterian.  And yet…

Getting to know each other better is the quickest way to overcome whatever sets us apart.  For one thing, we keep bumping into the myriad ways we’re alike and share common purpose.  That said though, you still have to bring your A Game to the party.

Let’s get this conversation going!

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 33: “Meet Jim”

Or, if you’d prefer to watch…

Notes & Sources

Please check out Jim’s book — The Girl With The Bloody Dreadlocks at Amazon!

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=girl+with+the+bloody+dreadlocks&ref=nb_sb_noss

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 32: “Being & Nothingness & Walter”

Beyond Here There Be Dragons!

Can science and religion play nicely together? Can science and religion co-habitate peacefully inside one human head? Sounds like an interesting scientific experiment. Good thing we have a test subject handy. Our mission here at the Faitheism Project is to ask one simple question: what is YOUR spiritual journey? In today’s podcast, author, engineer and pastor Walter Alan Ray talks to us about his spiritual journey from agnosticism to faith.

How do we know what we know? How do we describe what we know so others can know it too?

Faith accepts divine revelation to inform believers how the world works. Science demands data to explain it. But, even science will allow that past a certain point, it can’t explain. On old maps, they used to write — where the map (and the cartographer’s knowledge) ended — “Beyond here, there be dragons!” Science has a name for that dragon: “We don’t know yet”. The Abrahamic religions call it “God’s Unknowableness”. Math, really, is an international language that we use to describe the physical world.

Ancient hunter-gatherer cultures had little use for math. They could literally see everything important to them in the world. The invention of cities probably sped up the need to invent a way to describe “numbers of scale”. Feeding five people is simple. Feeding a hundred and five isn’t. That takes a little calculation — better invent it so you can do it. But, even using symbols to represent numbers — as the Romans did — can have limitations. Ever try doing multiplication with Roman numerals? Good thing Arab thinkers invented what became our numbering system so we could do simple “basic math” things like follow a recipe or do a household budget. And, it’s a good thing too that Isaac Newton — realizing the limitations of basic math — invented Calculus so we could figure out how our solar system and the whole universe works.

Or — seen another way — was math “always there”? Did God “reveal” calculus to Newton just as he had revealed “lesser math” to us lesser humans before? Before this gets too complicated (bloody math!), let’s turn to Walter to help us slay this dragon!

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 32: “Being & Nothingness & Walter”

Or – if you’d prefer to watch…

NOTES AND SOURCES

To purchase Walter’s book — “Is God Unnessary?” follow the link!

https://www.amazon.com/God-Unnecessary-Stephen-Hawking-According-ebook/dp/B0792X4W55

Noah And His “Kangaroo Problem”

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According to a Gallup poll from July 2019, 40% of Americans STILL believe in creationism. A lot of “those people” are the same troglodytes standing between America and its continuing as a democratic republic. A person who genuinely believes in the Genesis creation myth — who genuinely believes that a sky deity created a “Garden of Eden” for the benefit of two human creatures, Adam and Eve, only to have Eve ruin it all by eating a piece of fruit she wasn’t supposed to — is likely to believe literally anything. Clearly, they have no capacity to judge reality. They probably worry that Voldemort is lying in wait for them, too. But then, the Harry Potter stories have as much in common with reality as anything in the Bible does.

Water must have scared the guys who wrote the Bible more than any other natural force. Never mind “dust to dust” or “ashes to ashes”. The guys whose work product evolved into what we now call “Genesis”, imagined a proto-world, pre-creation, as being entirely liquid: “…darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters”. Then, later on, when God gets good and pissed off at his favoritest creation, he uses water to wipe everyone (and everything) except Noah and his clan from the planet’s “face”. Water brought forth life; it could also bring forth death. Ironically, the book’s author(s) may have gotten it right. Life As We Know It on earth probably did begin in the water. But, there were things about the water they didn’t know as they sat down to write: where it “ended”, for instance. Columbus headed east at the behest of Spain in search of where the water “ended”. Columbus hoped to prove that the water ended in India — because the earth is round and eventually all that water had to lead back to a place they KNEW existed — albeit far away.

Now, here’s the thing: the authors of Genesis knew that India existed. Their tribe had trade with Persia and India (they were part of Persian’s “Royal Road” which operated roughly between 500 and 330 BCE) . They might have been aware that China existed (remnants of Chinese silk dating from 1070 BCE have been found in Egypt). They definitely knew that Africa existed. These three continental land masses are call connected, ya see. One could walk from present day Beijing to present day Paris and then to present day Cape Town, South Africa. One could NOT walk however to Chicago. Or to the Sydney Opera House. One could not walk to present day Brazil or take in the Andes.

More recent thinking puts the writing of Genesis (including its version of a flood story) at about the time of the Babylonian exile — around 600 BC. By comparison, the scribes who created the Sumerian flood story in the Gilgamesh Epic began their work around 2100 BC. This text was likely familiar to Genesis’s authors. What was entirely UNfamiliar to them was, say a kangaroo or a koala — animals that existed only on the continent of Australia. If you had shown a picture of a kangaroo to the guys who wrote Genesis, they would have not known what to make of it. It didn’t look like any animal they’d ever seen before. And, when they sat down to write their flood story, when they imagined their character Noah leading two of all the world’s animals into the boat he’d built, two of the animals Noah absolutely did not picture (because the guy writing him couldn’t to begin with) were kangaroos.

For the very same reason, Jesus could not possibly have gone to North America because no one he knew had the least idea such a thing even existed. More to the point, the Apostle Paul did not know North America existed while he was creating almost the entire Jesus mythology. Paul invented Christianity, not Jesus. Jesus had the same knowledge of Christianity (zero) that Paul had of North America. Look, creative people can and do make up some remarkable crap. That goes for people on a spiritual journey too. Goes for them especially.

There’s nothing wrong with the Noah story. It’s charming in its way. There is EVERYTHING wrong with thinking the Noah story is in any way true. It’s a story FFS!. What about fish? What about dolphins? What about creatures that aren’t necessarily animals — like algae. What about viruses and bacteria? It’s genuinely horrifying to know that there are people walking around the planet today who honestly think this could have actually happened..

It’s goofy to think that Jesus actually showed up one day here in North America. When the basis for your belief system is over-loaded with sweet stories you think are true, that’s not a reflection on the stories, that’s all on you. People who insist that their angry, neurotic god Yahweh created everything end up with a throttled, limited view of the world.

But then, look at Yahweh — he’s a being powerful enough to create everything. Yet he obsesses endlessly on humans and all their shortcoming. If humans suck as creatures, that isn’t on them, it’s on Yahweh, their creator. And Yahweh, don’t forget, got completely outflanked in his own creation (Eden) by both a talking snake and the woman he crafted from Adam’s rib. Yahweh, really, can’t do anything right.

Maybe Noah’s problem isn’t so much that he couldn’t imagine a kangaroo as that Yahweh probably couldn’t.

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 31: “Welcome To Our (Post-Pandemic) ‘Brave New World’!”

Anniversaries are a good time to take stock.  It’s now been a year since the WHO declared that we were officially in a “world-wide pandemic”.  We all have snapshots in our heads — images of long lines outside grocery stores and empty shelves inside — that we never imagined possible.  Not here in America.  Good, bad or indifferent, the past 365 days have been like no other any of us have ever experienced.  They’ve tested us in ways we never thought we’d be tested — as individuals, as a country, as a culture.  

The past year has changed us, too, whether we like it or not.  President Biden just signed a Covid-19 Relief bill (approved by over 70% of Americans) that won’t just put needed cash into 85% of Americans’ pockets, but will, in fact, structurally change parts of America’s social safety net.  Right out the gate, by paying parents a kind of “Social Security For Kids”, the bill will reduce the child poverty rate by 30%.  

That’s a good thing, right?

What do we imagine this slightly different version of America — of the world — will be like?  What hardships might that cause and to whom?  What benefits might be derived — and by whom?  One person’s lockdown has been another person’s fortune.  Aside from getting some semblance of normal back, is there anything good we can take with us from our Pandemic Year into the future? 

Yeah, we’re stepping into a Brave New World, all right — let’s talk about it!

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 31: “Brave New World”

Or, if you prefer to watch..

RANDY’S NOTES

Key Question: How do we best help one another in this brave new world?

How are you taking advantage of this “in-between” time? The world is slowly opening up.  It is on the horizon. We can feel it. So what will you do between now and then to prepare? Let me make a suggestion.

Wait.

Not a passive kind of waiting,  just hanging out to pass the time, but an active waiting. A waiting which is ready to let go of the past. A waiting that is intentionally preparing for whatever weather this new world brings.

Wait by getting three things straight in your mind:

1-What habits in your life withstood the challenge of the pandemic?

2-What new habits did you build during the past year that you want to take with you into the future?

3-What habits did you let go of in the pandemic that you want to leave behind for good?

Take time now, before the world opens up again, to get ready. The world needs people who are ready to make good happen.

For the sake of our lives, our relationships, our community…and our world; wait.

ALAN’S NOTES

I’ll toot my own horn here if just for a second.  Not much tooting, actually — it wasn’t rocket science to predict how the pandemic — the shut-down in particular — would ultimately change America.  We paid a heavy price for having a health INSURANCE system vs a health CARE system.  They’re not the same thing.  When anyone walks in the door of our “health system” (such as it is), our first question isn’t “How can we fix you”, it’s “How’re you gonna pay for this?”  You cannot have profit incentive inside a health CARE system.  Those are mutually exclusive propositions.  Companies have a fiduciary obligation to choose profits over patients.  

Pandemics begin with one person infecting one other person — and then we’re off to the viral races.  If the cost of basic health care precludes anyone not getting health care?  We are guaranteeing ourselves that we’ll live forever in a constant state of viral flux, only ever a step ahead of the pathogens if we’re lucky.  

By the time it’s done with us, Covid-19 will have made socialized medicine a fact of life in America.  Same goes for UBI.  

When cash flowing the economy from the bottom up (versus hoping something might “trickle down) produces an economy that roars back to life, Americans will begin to understand how UBI (Universal Basic Income) works and how it can work for America.  If, two years from now, we make the child tax credits permanent (and good luck to the Republicans — many of whom approve of the credits even though they voted against the bill — taking THAT away from people), we will be well on the way to eliminating childhood poverty in America completely.  

Life has bombed us with lemons recently.  Let’s use them to make lemonade.  Better still — let’s make lemon daiquiris.  And lemon cake.  Let’s make a whole house of lemons.  What positives can we make from a year of mostly negatives?  

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 30: “Does Your Dogma Bite?”

Bread and butter.  Oil and vinegar.  Religion and dogma.  Got the one, the other just seems to go right along with it.  Bread is improved by butter, oil is given life by vinegar, but religion is given what-exactly by religion?  Rules, for one thing.  Why do religions need rules to begin with and is it the rules that make religion dogmatic?  For that matter, what do we even mean by “dogma” and “dogmatic”?  

The literal definition of dogma is “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true”.  Per the Online Etymology Dictionary,  dogma derives from the Greek dogma (genitive dogmatos) “opinion, tenet,” literally “that which one thinks is true,” from dokein “to seem good, think” (from PIE root *dek- “to take, accept”).

That which one thinks is true.  Let’s start there.  But, let’s also ask WHY one thinks it’s true.  What is it based on?

Religion is naturally dogmatic.  But, then, so are politics.  Any set of rules laid down by any authority (that the authority says no one can question) is dogma on the hoof (or paws).  The only question — does that authoritarian have any followers?  An authoritarian of one — steeped in his own dogma — is a person deeply in need of therapy.  

Is dogma necessarily a bad thing?  Can dogma deliver happiness?  Is that a bad thing?  And, while we’re at it, is spirituality — free from religion — also free from dogma?  

Hard to say whether this dogma bites or not.  How about we start off by throwing it a bone… 

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 30: “Does Your Dogma Bite?”

Or, if you prefer to watch…

RANDY’S NOTES

Religion: academic definition

 a. Belief in or acknowledgement of some superhuman power or powers (esp. a god or gods) which is typically manifested in obedience, reverence, and worship; such a belief as part of a system defining a code of living, esp. as a means of achieving spiritual or material improvement. (Oxford Dictionary)

Religion:  for an increasing number of people it is a bad thing.

This negative meaning has been around for a while: Soren Kierkegaard

For Kierkegaard, the established Lutheran church in 19th century Denmark had become a kind of certification program for bourgeois respectability. You dutifully showed up for Sunday services to see and be seen, and thereby confirmed that you and your co-worshippers were saved by faith alone, and that you were all a solid member of Christendom. Thus you could proceed, during the week, to do all the self-interested, secular bourgeois things that the bourgeois automatically do so well.

There is, for Kierkegaard, something pathetically self-satisfied and self-congratulatory about such a stance. The point of Christian discipleship for Kierkegaard is that a Christian is something you need to perpetually become, rather than something you just are given your baptism and regular attendance at Sunday services.

https://lnelson10051954.medium.com/dietrich-bonhoeffer-discipleship-without-religion-2e5080fdc432

While in prison under the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man—not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.”

Thus in Barth’s masterwork Church Dogmatics “religion,” as an ineluctably human enterprise, was not automatically a “good thing.” In fact it is idolatry: the attempt to elevate human theologies and practices to the level that can only be occupied by God, and revealed in the unique revelation that is Jesus Christ. Barth, like Kierkegaard and Bonhoeffer (and Ian Anderson!) was keenly aware of the tendencies of institutional religion to fall into a kind of spiritual torpor that feeds moral complacency and political conformity. It was this sort of unthinking acceptance of the status quo that allowed German Christians to identify Church and Reich, and to conflate the Führerprinzip with the Gospel. Barth, like Kierkegaard or Bonhoeffer, did not disparage institutionalized practices of preaching and worship, but only their decay into mere displays, empty self-righteous gestures of presumed sanctity. Beware of mere “religion.”

Dogma

a belief or set of beliefs held by a group or organization, that others are expected to accept without argument

political/religious/party dogma

Oxford Dictionary

Church Dogmatics (German: Kirchliche Dogmatik) is the four-volume theological summa and magnum opus of Swiss Protestant theologian Karl Barth, and was published in twelve part-volumes (spanning thirteen books) from 1932 to 1967. 

Considered one of the most important theological works of the 20th century

Negative definition: If you’re dogmatic, you’re 100% sure of your system despite evidence to the contrary. Dogmatic can also mean close-minded.

Spirituality

The quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. Oxford Dictionary

How to be “scientific” and not dogmatic: Karl Popper was a philosopher of science, who also made contributions in epistemology, philosophy of mind and social and political philosophy. He argued that scientific theories are distinguished from non-scientific theories and pseudo-science by being falsifiable claims about the world.

All scientific theories fit within a wider theoretical framework that is itself subjective. (Thomas Kuhn who introduced the idea of the paradigm shift). 

Andrew Walls:  “Politics is the art of the possible; translation is the art of the impossible.  Exact transmission of meaning from one linguistic medium to another is continually hampered not only by structural and cultural difference; the words of the receptor language are pre-loaded, the old cargo drags the new into areas uncharted in the source language.  In the end the translator has simply to do his best and take risks in a high-risk business.”  p. 26  “The Missionary Movement in Christian History.”

Translation is the means by which religion, dogmatics and spirituality stay humble and vital. Recognizing that our translation of the gospel is one of many, with strengths and weaknesses, keeps our dogma from biting.

ALAN’S NOTES

“Who sez?” is the extreme shorthand for what any atheist is asking.  If there’s a “who” anywhere in the answer to that question?  Hello, dogma!  Deities and dogma go hand-in-hand.  

Deities demand rituals.  I’d like to know why?  Isn’t it enough just being a deity?  You have to be “worshipped” too — but not just in any old way — a “special” way.  Here — here’s the step-by-step of how ya do it.

Spirituality is a question.  Dogma is an answer.  Not THE answer, AN answer.  If some spirituality can be dogma free then spirituality itself is dogma free.  Everyone’s on their own spiritual journey.  That’s the extent of the dogma where spirituality is concerned.  If a particular traveler likes to sprinkle dogma on their spirituality, that’s their prerogative.

Me?  I’m skeptical.  I’m not good with “matters of faith” since I always ask that question “who sez?”  Most atheists won’t say “absolutely, there is no ‘God’,” because they can’t honestly claim to know it.  Hey — show me demonstrable, repeatable, undeniable proof that a deity of ANY KIND exists and I’ll lay down my atheism happily.  Shall I hold my breath?  

As religion is, really, just a way of thinking, other ways of thinking can also be dogmatic — because they involve particular rituals or a specific, prescribed process loaded with symbols.  Epicureanism, stoicism and Pyrrhonism were all “schools of thought”.  Being schools with prescribed ways of doing things, they were automatically dogmatic ways of thinking.

Those schools all pre-dated “the scientific method” however.  That way of thinking was a veritable game changer.  

Let’s ask: is the scientific method “dogmatic”?  I’d say, by its very  nature, no.  In fact, it’s the opposite of dogmatic because it welcomes challenge.  In fact, it demands it.  The scientific method of thinking rests on a foundation of questioning everything.  Back it up or it’s bullshit.  

The key demand of anything dogmatic is “you buy this, no questions asked”.  If you’re asking questions, the dogma isn’t biting.

Definition of dogma (from Merriam-Websters) —

1a: something held as an established opinion

especially : a definite authoritative tenet

b: a code of such tenets

pedagogical dogma

c: a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds

2: a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church

Let’s stick a big ol’ pin in the “put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds”…

In politics, of course, dogma rules — but, like everything else, some people are just plain better at being dogmatic because they have more “practice”.  People who enter the political realm already steeped in religious dogma will naturally align with political dogma because that relationship between “the rules” and them personally makes sense.  Atheists, by their nature, aren’t in to “rules” that aren’t backed up by logic.  “Who sez” is part of the logic.  

That said, most atheists that I know of base their “who sez” on the fact that human beings are social creatures.  Being social creatures, we understand how to succeed in our social groups.  We don’t want to be cut off; we want the group’s approval.  That’s why “Do unto others” is genius.  Do that simple thing & you’re golden (like a rule!)  If “doing unto others” is dogmatic — I don’t think it is — then consider me “Mr. Dogma”.