Monday, December 30, 2013

Premonitions Of Baseball Great Roberto Clemente's New Year's Eve Plane Crash

January 1, 1973, was a memorable New Year's Day for me.
My mother had been in the bed sick for several days. Christmas break from school was almost but not quite over for me and I had spent that New Year's Day curled up at the foot of Mom's bed comforting her. Thinking back some four decades now I can still recall the evening newspaper being delivered and me lying there and unfolding it to find the shocking headline among the front page's stories: "Baseball's Clemente Dies In Plane Crash." 
Well now, here was a baseball (my favorite sport at the time) superstar I had watched many times in televised baseball games and had collected his bubble gum cards over the years, someone I genuinely admired, and he had suddenly died in a plane crash while on a humanitarian effort to carry much needed supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.  
I was genuinely happy to have my mom's company at that moment. And a familiar and much discussed family saying (one of my dad's favorites, as I recall), "life is uncertain but death is sure," was considered anew.
A month after I read of Clemente's death, another story appeared, written by AP correspondent Will Grimsley, that detailed the premonitions the baseball great's family had experienced. Roberto Jr., who was seven years old at the time of his father's death, is quoted as saying to his maternal grandfather, with whom he was spending the evening, "Grandpa, Daddy is leaving for Nicaragua, but he is not coming back."
In a New York Times story many years later Clemente Jr., on his childhood experience:
"I can still remember just feeling that something wasn't right,'' he said. ''I told my mother, 'Don't let Daddy go. That plane's going to crash.' She yelled at me. I ran outside. He came out and said, 'I'll come back soon and we'll play catch. I told him, 'You're not coming back.' ''
But that is not all. Grimsley also reports that the father of Roberto Clemente had a premonition as well in the form of a dream:
"I had this terrible dream," the father said, "I saw the plane crash, and Roberto go down with it."  
What I came to learn only later was that Clemente himself seemed to have had a premonition that he would die young.
In the authoritative The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia, authored by David Finoli and Bill Ranier, the plane crash is discussed in some detail on page 588. There we learn that a Pirate's teammate, Jose Pagan, was concerned about Clemente's well being and attempted to warn him about the plane's safety. The authors write:
Roberto responded by telling his teammate that he believed in the people who were preparing the DC-7 and if it were time for him to die making the trip, then he would die. Clemente had many premonitions in his life about an early death and was convinced he would never make it to middle age.
The authors then continue with the effort of another Clemente teammate, catcher Manny Sanguillen, to avoid the disaster. Sanguillen had originally planned to go with Clemente on the plane trip but backed out amid concerns about the plane being unsafe:
He tried to get to the airport in time to warn Clemente and try to convince him not to go, but he had car problems and was unable to make it in time.   
We are told that for days after the crash Sanguillen dove repeatedly into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean searching for his friend. Clemente's body was never recovered.

Again we are left to ponder "what if?" Clemente seems to have had a fatalistic streak in his psyche. Moreover, being the caring and giving individual he was, it is certain that even absent said fatalistic streak he would not have backed out of his mission. He died trying to aid suffering people.

(Photo credit:

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Change In Outlook

Since youth the world has struck me as an odd yet wonderful place. Being raised as I was in a very religious environment it was only natural that I viewed life through the prism of my religious belief system. The problem there was that when I got older and lost my religious faith I had no way to make sense of everything. I moved away from the spiritual way of thinking and moved to the material.
The interest I have shown lately in premonitions, prophetic dreams, and other forms of the manifestation of what has been called a "sixth sense" (I suppose that phrase isn't as popular now as it once was) or deep intuition made sense enough when I was knee-deep in the framework of my Christian worldview, but not so much when I moved on to a freethinking and scientific materialist one.
Perhaps most striking to me was the fact that the Cosmos seems to be designed, or at least it makes a certain sense. Again, easy enough when I thought that back of it was the Christian God, harder to think about without some idea of a creative intelligence.
So when I became a freethinker I was forced by the adoption of the materialist science outlook to dismiss the uncanniness of life as an amazing chain of coincidences and nothing more. As for the organization of the universe, literally Cosmos or harmonistic system, ah, that too had to be dismissed as an astoundingly fortunate coincidence. 
I held that stance with increasing uneasiness the more I thought back over my life, the more I listened to the experiences of others, and almost just as moving, as I started documenting the experiences that others had. I came around to suspecting that the skeptic's "magic thinking" meme was more a belittling pejorative than a serious charge.
After all, it finally occurred to me that if "magical thinking" or a more metaphysical and less materialistic worldview is so widespread and has been widespread (almost universal at one time in human evolution), perhaps it is just as natural as breathing. I'm not arguing that this is a proof of the truthfulness of "magical thinking," but that at the least it is natural - say, something "hardwired" into the human mind, as has been suggested.
In fact, it seems to take a great deal of effort to deprogram one's self from the "magical" outlook.
Now it seems that a small minority, an intelligentsia as it were, has made so-called magical thinking a symbol of credulity and simple-mindedness. I would instead call "magical thinking" a sense of wonderment and mystery, an admission that our knowledge, the greatest knowledge of the greatest human minds, is at best limited in scope by the very nature of the case.  
Perhaps, I've allowed myself to conclude, the basic concept of "magical thinking" is not against what modern science tells us about the Universe. Perhaps in time some of today's "woo woo" will become the knowledge of the future. History seems to give ample reason for that suspicion.
I can only imagine how incredible to ancient minds the idea of space travel would have been. Human flight used to be solely the domain of myth. Even as late as a few hundred years ago it was deemed a scientific impossibility. Yet today humans routinely travel around the globe at astounding speeds, and of course space travel is common. These represent achievements not only of human skill and technical savvy but human imagination as well.  

The myths of yesteryear from which the great religious traditions of the world sprang have much to tell us about the human psyche. Which brings me around to the concept of mind. I've come to embrace a suspicion that mind is all there is and that animal minds are just small manifestations of the overmind, the great Logos of the Cosmos. I've come to accept that we interact with the Cosmos and that not only do we speak to and engage it, but that it also speaks to us and engages us. (Personally, I don't think that is "woo," but protoscience awaiting further development.) Myths, then, are true in the sense that they are expressions of how we connect to the cosmos and how it connects with us. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

"I Get Impressions From The Universe At Large"

I recently did a post about scientist and inventor George Washington Carver, whose story impressed me so much in my youth. Well, really Carver still impresses me. Carver expressed a sense of intuition that came to him through the avenue of the divine as expressed through nature.
Also in my youth I became familiar with another inventor scientist, Thomas Alva Edison. His name was familiar to me from youth because by great-grandparents on my mother's side of the family hailed from Michigan and my great-grandfather actually knew Edison. I never knew my great-grandparents, for they died before I was born, however my mom was very proud of the family connection to Edison and related it often. My great-grandfather actually visited Edison in his laboratory.
Thomas Edison was widely sought out for his views about almost everything. He seemed to have strong opinions of most things. He also expressed a view of intuition similar to Carver's:
I have never created anything, I get impressions from the Universe at large and work them out, but I am only a plate on a record or a receiving apparatus -- what you will. Thoughts are really impressions that we get from outside.  
Now that doesn't seem odd considering his overall outlook as expressed in the following quote:
I believe in the existence of a Supreme Intelligence pervading the Universe.
Edison was not a believer in the popular notions of God and religion. He was good friends with the Great Agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll, whom he admired greatly. But he did hold, as the ancient Stoics tended to, that back of existence there is a mind or Logos. Evidently he felt, as do many intuitive scientists, that the reason the universe is understandable is because it is meant to be understood.
That is my view, too. For many of us that is enough.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Strange Truth

It was the incomparable wit and writer Mark Twain who said: "Truth is stranger than fiction...." What doesn't usually get included in that quote is the rest of his thought: "... but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."

I once had a close friend who was (except in his rare weaker moments) a strong atheist and scientific materialist.  We spent many happy hours together drinking intoxicating beverages and debating the question, "What is truth."

Once I made an offhand comment - and it was offhand and not at all meant to be taken in a strict sense - that "anything's possible." Who of us hasn't said that or at least have heard someone say it? My friend almost became unhinged and started explaining to me why "no, not anything is possible," coming at me from a Einstenian deterministic philosophical position.

I had to have a chuckle and poke a little fun at him for his almost religious zeal in defending what he considered to be orthodox truth. I didn't know then and don't know now exactly what is and isn't possible in this grand universe of ours, But coming as I did from a religious background that thought the (Protestant) Bible was literally God's Word and absolute truth, I couldn't help but recognize the similarity in people's devotion to various perceived orthodoxies.

After my friend exited my life and we lost touch, I admit that I did slowly and gradually over the years allow myself to become locked into a skeptical worldview that put me at odds with what the majority of my fellow humans take for granted - that is, that there is, for lack of a better way of putting it, a mystical, almost magical element to life. That isn't to say that now my open-mindedness has no limit. No, I'm just becoming more aware of how some people have allowed themselves to take the miracle of life for granted. I will say this: Now I'm less inclined to talk about Truth than I am truths. I'm less willing to debate and more willing to listen and exchange ideas.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"I'm Not Going To Wake Up"

Little 13-year-old Jahi McMath needed a tonsillectomy to correct an obstruction in her breathing which was causing sleep apnea. Although that is a routine surgery complications can and occasionally do develop. They did in McMath's surgery. In fact, she went through the surgery okay but developed bleeding afterwards while in recovery and then later went into cardiac arrest. As a result she is now brain dead. The family has so far left her on life support. The sad story can be read by clicking this link.
My heart goes out to the family and friends of that sweet little girl.
Jahi's uncle explained to CNN:
"The worst thing about all of this is that Jahi told my sister, 'I don't want to get this surgery, something bad is going to happen. I'm not going to wake up,' "

A child's not unreasonable fear and anxiety over a major life event or a premonition? I now have quite a collection of these types of stories (not all involving inklings of impending death). It is very hard for me dismiss this type of thing lightly now.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Those Amazing Ancients!

I'm a big fan of the show Ancient Aliens. It's fun. Now, not for a minute do I buy into the speculations of their so-called "ancient alien theorists." But I do enjoy the journey back to the age of myth. And I especially enjoy looking at the amazing feats of the ancients as displayed in the ruins of ancient civilizations.
For a long time I've entertained the idea that those folks living way back in the olden days were way more sophisticated than most folks give them credit for having been. Do you think that most people are aware that the earliest flushing toilets may date back some 4,000 years to ancient Crete? How about a battery that may date back two thousand or more years? There is still debate about when and how the pyramids in Egypt were built, but no one denies they represent an amazing feat of construction. (And it isn't odd that pyramids appear not just in Egypt but also in various places around the world, even the Americas?)  
Then this morning as I was scanning the news I found a BBC story that suggests the discovery of an ancient metacarpal bone allegedly
...provides evidence for the evolution of the modern human hand more than 600,000 years earlier than previously documented and probably in the times of the genus Homo erectussensu lato.
Interesting. And also suggestive that no matter how much we think we know about ancient history (or anything, really), there is so much we don't know.
Placing the origin of hand dexterity further back in history means humans had more time to develop the skills that left us so many amazing artifacts.

Sometimes I think we modern humans ought to get over ourselves!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Live. And Let Live.

How easy it is to become so excited about one's personal beliefs and tastes that we come close to imposing them on others. Another all-too-common human frailty is becoming so totally convinced that our views are not only correct but are also very nearly indispensable for enjoying the good life (sometime and for some folks both here and in a putative hereafter).
Live, I say, and try to do it to the best of our ability; drink deeply from the vast river of life, savoring every sweet mouthful. But don't forget to allow others to drink freely from its fathomless streams in however manner best suits them. The river is deep and there is plenty of water to taste.
I dribble on and on here at my blog about the various aspects of life that interest me. I have no theory or set of theories as to what the truth is, and to be honest, I'm fairly convinced no one else or no single school of thought has a final theory-of-everything. I only have ways of looking at things that my sampling of life has suggested to me.
So let us live. And let us allow everyone else the same privilege.
I'm probably coming around again to a view that I held early on in life (in a very different manner than I did then because I was only sipping from one well that supplied by the river of life). Then later, for a couple of decades there, I was in danger, I believe, of detaching myself from the river's depths.
Of course, I'm aware others might think folks like myself are deluded about how deep those waters are; or perhaps they just feel that we know the surface of the river so well that it is same down below no matter how deeply it flows. Perhaps they are correct. Perhaps they are not. I can only experience life for myself and draw my own conclusions. And sometimes even those closest to me don't understand.  
There is however a quote from the recently deceased writer Colin Wilson that speaks to me in a special way:
“Religion, mysticism and magic all spring from the same basic ‘feeling’ about the universe: a sudden feeling of meaning, which human beings sometimes ‘pick up’ accidentally, as your radio might pick up some unknown station. Poets feel that we are cut off from meaning by a thick, lead wall, and that sometimes for no reason we can understand the wall seems to vanish and we are suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of the infinite interestingness of things.”
Just saying....


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Unlimited Broadcasting Stations

Since I was a youth I was inspired by the story of genius scientist and inventor George Washington Carver. He accomplished so much in his botanical studies, aided humanity so much through his efforts, although he sadly seems to be largely forgotten these days. And especially interesting to me was his method:
No books ever go into my laboratory. The thing that I am to do and the way of doing it come to me. The method is revealed at the moment I am inspired to create something new.
Carver expounded on that thought in one of his personal letters:
I love to think of nature as having unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every day, every hour and every moment of our lives, if we will only tune in and remain so.
That type of talk will get people to thinking you're odd. It did for Carver. Still, I can't help thinking there is a sense in which nature can communicate with us, if we allow for that to happen. Minds stay cramped and crowded by so many of life's minutiae, distractions being almost constant during our waking ours. Who takes time to be alone with nature anymore? But when we do, what insight we can glean! Does nature have, as Carver put it, "unlimited broadcasting stations"? Perhaps so. I believe it does.
Carver explained further:
More and more as we come closer and closer in touch with nature and its teachings are we able to see the Divine and are therefore fitted to interpret correctly the various languages spoken by all forms of nature about us.
Of course those who believe the Cosmos is just a gigantic accident will not and cannot be impressed with this line of thinking. I may be wrong of course, but life seems to me miraculous. I feel a part of something really special and endeavor to live every day of my life accordingly.  


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Abraham Lincoln's Premonitory Dream

Lincoln is my all-time favorite president. If you are a fan of Lincoln's you are probably well aware of the dream he had shortly before his assassination. Probably most are so familiar with this interesting tidbit of Lincoln trivia it doesn't bear repeating in detail here. I will just say that shortly before he was killed President Lincoln dreamed he was asleep and heard wailing and weeping of sorrow coming from downstairs in the White House. In his dream he got out of bed went looking for the source of the distress. From room to room he wandered but saw no one, although he still heard the crying. Finally he reached the East Room, where he found a corpse in funeral vestments lying upon a black catafalque. The corpse was being guarded by soldiers among the crowd of grievers. Mr. Lincoln asked one of the soldiers. "Who is dead in the White House?" The now familiar answer came: "The president; he was killed by an assassin." At that moment in the dream there came a loud outburst of grief that woke the slumbering president.
Now I had read about this many times. In fact, I have seen the dream reenacted in documentaries and movies about Lincoln. I always thought it would have been prudent had the president taken heed of that dream; that he should have increased his guards; that he should have lain low for a while. We can only imagine what a second Lincoln term would have been like.
What I found out only recently is that apparently Lincoln came to dismiss that dream as a possible premonition, although he was at first quite troubled and depressed by it. Close personal friend and sometimes bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon wrote a book of his memories of Lincoln (Recollections Of Lincoln), from which I take the following:
Once the President alluded to this terrible dream with some show of playful humor. "Hill," said he, "your apprehension of harm to me from some hidden enemy is downright foolishness. For a long time you have been trying to keep somebody—the Lord knows who—from killing me. Don't you see how it will turn out? In this dream it was not me, but some other fellow, that was killed. It seems that this ghostly assassin tried his hand on someone else. And this reminds me of an old farmer in Illinois whose family were made sick by eating greens. Some poisonous herb had got into the mess, and members of the family were in danger of dying. There was a half-witted boy in the family called Jake; and always afterward when they had greens the old man would say, 'Now, afore we risk these greens, let's try 'em on Jake. If he stands 'em, we're all right.' Just so with me. As long as this imaginary assassin continues to exercise himself on others I can stand it." He then became serious and said: "Well, let it go. I think the Lord in His own good time and way will work this out all right. God knows what is best."
From what I understand about Lincoln, he was a bit of a fatalist. He doesn't appear to have been the type of man who would have rearranged his life around a dream that might have been a premonition.

I have to say that I have listened to my dreams in the past, and feel ever stronger the need to do so now. I don't know exactly why I've gotten back in touch with my dreaming mind. I was away for a long time - or rather, I should say, I was dismissive. But I think I was doing myself a bit of a disservice. My instincts have always been good. The only real regrets I have had in life center on times when I went against my gut instincts.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


From an old newspaper (well over a hundred years old) came this little illustration of what a skeptic is:

"I don't believe in anything I can't see," said the young man who aims to be considered a skeptic.
The middle aged man with overalls on looked at him pensively for a moment and then inquired:
"Young feller, did you ever ketch hold of a 'lectric wire?" - Washington Star.
A number of years ago I had almost that same conversation with young man on my job. I asked if he had ever had the displeasure of smelling a foul flatus.
Now the truth is, I like good old-fashioned skepticism. I think of myself as skeptical. But I like to be an open-minded skeptic, always willing to expand my understanding of things if more information comes to light.
Contrary to the young men I mentioned above, skepticism in not to be equated with simple closed-mindedness. The annals of history are large with masters of knowledge who were proved wrong in their dogmatic understanding of the nature of things. (The Experts Speak, by Christopher Cerf & Victor Navasky, in one collection of these examples, and is highly recommended by me.)

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Friend's Disturbing Dream

My best friend called me dark and early Sunday morning to tell me of a troubling dream she had just experienced. She always enjoys listening to my many dreams and the way I try to work through their meanings. One of the odd things about my lady friend is that she tells me she rarely dreams (more likely, of course, is that she usually doesn't remember her dreams when she awakes). But this one was vivid. So upsetting was it that she called me right away to tell me about it.
Her dream took place in the home she used to have across the street from me. She hasn't lived there in a couple of years now. Her youngest son (who is in his early twenties) was being abducted by a group of about ten ruffians. She called her oldest son to come help. And she thought she needed to get a gun for protection. She thought that in her dream, I mean.
I lay no claim to being a gifted dream analyst or anything, but I do know this lady quite well and have had many intimate conversations with her concerning her personal life and family. I know her son has been waging a constant battle with substance abuse. I know he is losing that battle. I know it is tearing my friend apart, that she feels helpless and at times even hopeless.  
It seems to me the abduction of her son is a fitting symbol of the way she feels her son has been taken from her by the drugs. As in her dream, she feels overwhelmed and unable to fairly battle the problem.
She woke up with her dream unresolved, with her son still in trouble. The gun she wished she owned was probably a symbol of the "magic bullet" she has been searching for that would return her son to her. Sad. 

How many lives I have witnessed being destroyed by substance addiction - as if life itself doesn't present us with more than a share of challenges, dangers, and potential disasters. Watching it from up close is the most agonizing thing of all.  I fear, with my friend, that disaster is just ahead for this young man.  

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dreams Of Three

All my life (at least up until now) I have heard an old bit of folk wisdom or superstition that if you dream the same dream three times, that dream will come true. Sometimes it is suggested the dream must recur on successive nights, but the former is the more popular theory, at least as I've heard of it.
I'm a big dreamer and have always felt that dreams have meaning. At least I can attest that mine do. The only thing that prevents me from keeping a dream journal beside my bed is that, light sleeper that I am, if I were to try to record my dreams before returning to my slumbers, why, I would never return to my slumbers. But many of dreams remain with me after I have awakened for the day. Many have stayed with me for years.  
I have had premonitory dreams. Much valuable self insight has been gleaned from my dreams when the filter is off and my whole mind gets involved in my thought process rather than just my conscious mind. Because that filter is off during my sleep, my dreams have also given me valuable insights about people I know and who are a part of my life. I've written songs in my dreams. And of course I've had more than my share of Freudian "wish fulfillment" in my dreams.
Recently I have twice dreamed of a fire in my home. Well, not really a fire, but rather smoke that indicated to me that there was a fire or about to be a fire. Actual flames were never seen in my dreams, only copious amounts of smoke.
The first of these dreams occurred several weeks ago when I dreamed my clock radio began smoking. Now that clock radio has been malfunctioning for a while. The radio occasionally comes on without warning and there is no way to turn the radio off. The control is no longer fail-safe. The clock radio has great sentimental value to me, having been a gift from my high school sweetheart ex-wife, and is over thirty years old. Many have been the nights my sleep was interrupted by the radio suddenly coming on during the night. Often when I am home it comes on suddenly and usually plays a song that has personal meaning for me. That wasn't so bad, but the night interruptions were getting old quick.
I had been thinking of throwing the radio away but found I just couldn't bear to part with. It was as I was debating tossing it that my first dream occurred. I was in my bed sleeping and - in my dream, mind you - turned over to check the digital time read out (something I often do during the night) and noticed smoke arising from it. The dream seemed so real that it woke me and then it took me a couple of minutes before I could convince myself it was a dream. 
Well, finally I just thought to turn the tuner to a "dead spot" were no radio station was located and that has solved my problem.
Then came my second smoke dream. It happened just the other night when I dreamed the indoor portion of my heating and air-conditioning unit began smoking during the night. Again the dream was so realistic it disturbed me greatly.
That dream probably isn't mysterious as twice this past week I had to call a repairman to replace a faulty thermostat which was making for a cold house. The first replacement went bad after two days and had to be replaced. Perhaps faulty machines just have a way of going up in smoke in my dreams.
Those aren't exactly the same dream but rather the same kind of dream. So now I await a third smoke-filled dream to see what, if anything, happens. You see, I've always had this fear rattling around in the back of my mind - not a great one, but certainly a persistent one - of my home catching fire while I am asleep. That almost happened once when I was a teenager and an ironing board that had been propped up along a wall somehow managed to fall onto a floor furnace. My mother woke up in the night because she smelled smoke (we didn't have smoke detectors in my childhood home}. Strangely there were no flames involved in this incident either, only smoke. I was asleep on the couch and was awakened by the noise my mom made dragging the smoldering ironing board off the furnace.
Well, I'm not superstitious, but I am profoundly curious.
Just for fun I'm attaching a story about dreams of three taken from the April 30, 1855, edition of the New York Times:
Fatal Accident at West Avon - Prophetic Dreams
On Tuesday, the 24th inst., as Orson Woodford, of West Avon, was sawing wood with a horse-power saw, the saw caught in a crooked stick and was torn with the shaft from its fastenings. It came in contact with Mr. W.'s right arm, which was torn nearly off at the elbow. He survived the injury but twelve hours. Mr. W. leaves a wife and two children.

A singular circumstance connected with this sad occurrence is mentioned by a correspondent, who sends us the above statement. Mr. Woodford dreamed; for three successive nights, of being hurt with that saw; and on the morning of his death he remarked to his wife, on arising, "I had that same ugly dream last night."

Thursday, November 28, 2013


In my many years of being around Christians (not to mention having been reared as a Christian) I have heard my share of "miraculous" stories of answered prayer. In fact, I have a few of those to tell myself.
As one might imagine, these tales can tend to be confirmatory of the truth of one's religious belief system. A "Look, it worked for me" type of thing. Not a hard thing to imagine.
As I became older and more questioning about religious faith in general I happened to notice that people of other religious traditions had their share of stories of astounding answers to prayers.
So much for the confirmation of truth (at least of a single truth).
Unless, of course, there might be some underlying principle at work that encompasses all the thousands of flavors of spiritual outlooks, some mystical cosmic principle that is applicable to these many different outlooks.  
Some folks have no patience for that type of thing. I understand.
But just for fun, humor me. Pretend there is some principle that works in a spiritual dimension beyond the mere ordinary and which is described by our best efforts only in a metaphorical way. 
The older I get the more convinced I become that religious language has to be metaphorical. Different cultures have different metaphors, sometimes totally unique ways of viewing things. The rejection of this idea leads us to the confusing, contradictory, and sometimes downright unreasonable world of anthropomorphic religious thinking.  
Perhaps that principle, while divisive when understood with a stone literalness, can be uniting when understood and expressed metaphorically. Perhaps not, you might say. But think of how much religions and different forms of spirituality have in common as opposed to their differences.
Perhaps you're thinking: "You're grasping Doug, trying to hold on to childish wishes long after you should have outgrown the need of such."
But it seems that most people don't outgrow this need. Some of those who claim they have will still in their more candid moments admit it would be comforting if they could still believe.
Perhaps the spiritual picture would be better painted with loose form and broad strokes. (Yes, I am aware of how many perhapses there are in this post.)
Those of us who follow a metaphorical spirituality don't fly planes into buildings or blow ourselves up, destroying precious human life, in order to make our point. We don't engage in crusades or inquisitions. We don't build walls and burn down bridges. We seek reconciliation with our fellow travelers, those who have been led astray by misguided efforts to express the ineffable.
But I started out talking about prayer. If I could riff a little from an old Disney song, a prayer is a wish that the heart makes (A Dream Is A Wish That The Heart Makes, from Cinderella), I would say that true prayer is the human heart's desire to be fully engaged with the Cosmos and one's fellow travelers therein.
Perhaps (there it is yet again!) hoping and wishing are the major activities that mark us as a higher animal life form. And we are the only truly religious animal.

I'm still seeking confirmation of my quaint little notions. No hurry; I don't plan on going anywhere any time soon.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Death Of A Psychic

Because I have posted so many times about psychics and seers, I feel I should mention the passing of one of the best known of these folks, Sylvia Browne. She died last week at the age of 77. That's interesting because she had predicted she would die at 88. Of course many of those who wrote of her death played on the "she didn't see it coming" theme. Fair enough, it seems. According to her website, which I checked when I learned of her death, she was booking reservations for an upcoming March cruise with her fans. Obviously she wasn't planning on dying any time soon, but, as she said about other of her misforecasts, for example, telling the distraught mother of Amanda Berry that her daughter was dead (when we now know she wasn't) "only God is right all the time."
It is hard for me to understand how she was able to amass such a following, especially in view of her constant miscues. She managed to get herself banned from the Coast To Coast AM radio program - something that would seem hard to do in view of the many bizarre subjects they discuss. (She had predicted on air that some trapped miners in the Sago Mine would be found alive and rescued. They were not (except for a lone survivor), and that was discovered, again, while they were on air.)
She was friend of Montel Williams and a frequent guest on his talk show. Her sheer audacity bluffed many, I suppose. A friend of mine, quite gullible but extremely sweet, made the comment to me as we were discussing the psychic's latest appearance there, "she must really have a gift from God." I told her that I didn't think so. And I don't.
She wrote a host of books as a supposed authority on spirituality and such, many touted as bestsellers, with interesting titles such as.Contacting Your Spirit Guide, Life on the Other Side: A Psychic's Guide to the Afterlife, All Pets Go To Heaven: The Spiritual Live of the Animals We Love, Past Lives of the Rich and Famous, Phenomenon: Everything You Need To Know About The Paranormal, Sylvia Browne's Book of Angels, to name just a handful.   
Is there any reason to think her ideas presented in those books are any more accurate than her predictions? I think not. Truly it can be said that if there is anything at all on the "other side," Ms. Browne is in a much better position now to know than she was when she penned her many books.
My opinion is that Browne was just an audacious fraud who preyed on the vulnerable and gullible. I can't find myself charitable enough to cut her slack as being a sincere but deluded believer. She knew her track record. She knew she wasn't able to predict the future. Yet she raked in tons of money giving private readings to folks who should have known better.

It isn't that I take pleasure in her death. At the same time I can't feel sorrow that her activities as a "psychic" have now ended.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Kennedy-Lincoln Connection

Chains of more-than-coincidence occur so often in my life that, if I am
forbidden to call them supernatural hauntings, let me call them a habit. Not
that I like the word 'supernatural'; I find these happenings natural enough,
though superlatively unscientific. - Robert Graves
Tomorrow marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Roughly one hundred years previous to that another beloved US president was removed from this earth by an assassin's bullet. Followers of the strange and uncanny have long noted the many coincidences that link these two presidents, the first lists appearing shortly after Kennedy's death.
As a student of Synchronicity myself I am more than fascinated by the seeming connection between Kennedy and Lincoln, although I have no theories as to why the similarities exist.
Both President Lincoln and President Kennedy were removed from their office by an assassin's bullet.
Both were shot on Friday.
Both were shot in the back of the head.
Both were shot in the back of the head while seated beside their wives.
President Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater, Kennedy in a Ford automobile.
Both were succeeded by their Vice President Johnson (Andrew Johnson for Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson for Kennedy).
Besides bearing the same surname and, I think, more than a passing resemblance in appearance (note especially their noses), Lyndon Johnson was born one hundred years after Andrew Johnson (1908 versus 1808). They both are also thought of as somewhat crude characters. 

The assassins of both Lincoln and Kennedy were killed before they were brought to trial.
President Kennedy's secretary was named Lincoln (Evelyn Lincoln).
The widowed Mrs. Kennedy modeled her slain husbands funeral on that of Abraham Lincoln.
I've often wondered but have yet found the time to investigate what influence President Lincoln's legacy might have had on President Kennedy. Maybe someday I will get around to looking in to this.
Now there are many more similarities than I have listed above. Some lists are quite extensive, containing both the most trivial of details and sometimes even wrong information. But the above is enough to get one to thinking.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

When "Prayers" Are Answered

My life has been quite complicated lately, necessitating some time away from my blog. I've missed blogging and interacting with my cyber friends, but sometimes life takes some twists and turns.
I've just had another one of those uncanny thing happen to me. Back in my Christian days I would have called it an answer to my prayers. Maybe I still think of it that way in a sense. I've rethought the whole prayer matter and can't take seriously the idea of attempting to cajole the Almighty into acting in a certain way. Yet I find some meaning in prayer as an expression of the deepest longings of the heart. (My ideas about the Almighty have undergone an even more radical reappraisal in recent years and are not at all orthodox or even ordinary.)
For the second time in this year my life has been touched by a surprising good fortune that I have longed for but had little reason to think would actually come about. As I've looked back over the years of my life I recall lots of little ways that things have seemingly "fallen into place." Some weren't little ways, but were rather stunning. Most people I've talked with have experienced the same thing. 
No wonder so many of us think of higher powers, guiding forces, Karma, destiny, fate, or any number of ways to make sense of it all. And for those who don't believe in nuthin' there is always that old standby, coincidence. But sometimes it seems the "mere" coincidences can pile up in such a way as to make it a less than fully satisfying solution. Or maybe not. As I observed before, worldviews can be extremely personal. 
Life fascinates me. My own and the lives of others. It seems that with a little digging anyone's life can be found full of little (and big!) synchronicities (or "mere" coincidences) that not only add flavor but a real sense of wonder.
If my life ended today it still would have been a life that seemed meaningful, perhaps even guided. I have always sensed a WAY that, when deviated from, always complicated things for me. I've interpreted that WAY variously down through the years, and of course at first within the culture I was reared in (but the inquiring mind always looks ever further). Becoming rich or famous were never priorities of mine. I always wanted just to find my niche, and then be the best Doug I could be.

I have yet one more unfulfilled wish that I would like to see come to pass. It's very personal and I won't mention it just now. If that comes about my life will have come full circle and I will finally be at peace (at least as much at peace as one can be in this tumultuous world of ours). And deep down I feel that "prayer" will be answered one day. That feeling is so intense I'm tempted to say I know it will come to pass in due time. In the meantime I wait and anxiously long for the desire of my heart. It remains to be seen how the order I seek will arise from the present disorder of life. My former religion had a phrase I always found interesting: "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Seer Of Millerville, Alabama

Seers and soothsayers of various sorts have always fascinated me. I won't say they impress me, because usually they don't. Here in the southern United States we have always had our share of these types. Quite often they are religious in the traditional sense and see no conflict whatsoever between their "gift" and the Christian religion.
In the middle portion of the state of Alabama there is a small hole-in-the wall place known as Millerville. That tiny community was home to Amanda Vanzandt “Rena” Teel (1894-1964), or "the seer of Millerville," as she has come to be known. 
Legend has it that she was born with a a caul covering her face - a sure sign of possession of the gift of psychic insight. Of course it is often hard to pry truth from legend with these folk. Old timers have stories to tell - no doubt often much embellished - and so these stories often remain alive for many years.
Rena Teel, a Baptist, was known for her ability to find lost objects. She allegedly would read coffee grounds. But she supposedly had psychic insight that allegedly went back to her childhood.
However that may be, perhaps her most famous case was in assisting to find a lost child, two-year-old Ricky Tankersley after wondering off into the woods with his pa's hunting dogs one cold February morning in 1949.
According to newspaper reports contemporary with that event Ricky's father, L.C. Tankersley credited Mrs. Teel with helping him find his son. He went to her hoping she could assist him. She told him where to go to find his son. He went there without finding young Ricky, so he returned to the seer. She told Mr. Tankersley he "hadn't gone far enough." Upon returning to the targeted location he heard the dogs barking. They were protecting young Ricky and had slept on top of him to keep him warm - which probably saved his life.
Well, anyway, that's the way Mr. Tankersley told it.
When Rena Teel died she was buried in Clay County Alabama's Big Springs Baptist Church Cemetery. Gone, but far from forgotten by folks who remember her and have stories of how she touched their lives.
Now I just mentioned one story of the many that make up The Legend of Rena Teel. Click that link for a rather lengthy account of some of her other exploits from someone who did have some first hand knowledge of the seer of Millerville.  
Like the author of the article I linked above, I wonder how to account for things such as these. I grew up around this sort of thing. I was raised in a Pentecostal church, where "the gift of prophecy" was supposedly in practice. I have witnessed some rather uncanny predictions come true, including some by my parents. In fact, I have had my own share of premonitions and insights.  

I'm not a dogmatic type of person. I think that isn't a very sensible thing to be. There is so much to learn, to ponder, to experience. And time is so limited!

Monday, November 4, 2013

World Alive!

(Photo Credit:

I have always suspected that animals know more than they are able to tell us. That they have something like a sixth sense that allows them to stay attuned to nature. For example, my little cat - the only one I have left now - Blackie, is very good at keeping time. He is almost always on the deck awaiting my arrival home from work, and usually he is there when I get up in the morning. (Well, Sunday he was a bit off - but we did move the time back!)
This morning I read this interesting little story that was picked up by the Associated Press writer Doug Esser. It seems a pod of orcas (estimated at nearly three dozen) "escorted" a boatload of artifacts belonging to the Suquamish tribe to the new Suquamish museum in Seattle, which city is named for the famous Chief Sealth.
Leonard Forsman, Squamish Tribal Chairman. suggested:
We believe they were welcoming the artifacts home as they made their way back from Seattle, back to the reservation....We believe the orcas took a little break from their fishing to swim by the ferry, to basically put a blessing on what we were on that day. They are fishermen like we are.
Orca Network at Freeland's Howard Garrett found the orca's behavior suggestive:
I can't rule out somehow they could pick up on the mental energy that there is something special there. Or it could be a coincidence.
No, surely not; not "mental energy." Surely there must be a more natural explanation. But what is nature? When I contemplate the Cosmos and how majestic it is, a "mental energy" that permeates the whole is to my mind the best explanation.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reclaiming Halloween

Well, the above is a picture of my crew at work and me. A great crew it is - one of the best it has been my pleasure to lead. We accomplish much as a team and accomplish it with panache. We had fun today on our job in celebration of Halloween. Left to right there are Devin, Josh, Kathy, the old "Ref" yours truly, Lori, Kristi, and Brandon. Some of the other workers kidded me that, with my team, I should wear that outfit everyday!
I go to bed very early because I arise so early, so it will be impossible for to partake of more Halloween festivities. Maybe next year when it falls on Friday again I can take in a party of go trick-or-treating.
Did I ever tell you that I was twelve years old before I went trick or treating for the first time? Among members of the Church of God that thing was generally frowned upon (at least back when I was a child; I really can't say how they view the matter now).
My parents weren't so nutty, religiously speaking, that they thought it was such a big deal. But when you are members of a certain community, you tend to follow along and not make waves. Yes, we believed in a literal devil and had an interesting demonology as part of our overall theology. But we were separated from "the world" and just didn't partake of such "questionable" amusements, especially if they had bad connotations. (Although all of my family loved horror movies from way back.)
However, after my parents split up and the church excommunicated them because of it, things were different. My mom bought costumes for me and my little brother for the first time and we were allowed to go out trick-or-treating with our friends.
I was a skeleton that first time. Scary! And back then we always waited until dark before we went out. Those were simpler times, and safer, too, overall, I believe. We stayed in our own neighborhood and knew most of the folks we visited. 
But when I think back, we were allowed to watch all the Halloween specials on television. And when our school put on Halloween plays or had Halloween-themed activities, my parents had no objection whatsoever to our participating. I even recall Mom always making sure she had candy on hand for the neighborhood kids - which I was allowed to pass out even when I didn't "officially" participate. 

Now that I'm older I enjoy the folklore and pagan history of the holiday. Paganism has a certain earthy appeal to me. Just wait until next year!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Is It Just Me?

Senator Ted Cruz has been all over the news in recent weeks. That's him on the left. On the right is the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy. Right from the start when I saw Cruz on television I was reminded of McCarthy - visually, I mean.  
I'm not going to get all political here. I'm fairly disgusted with the matter, and the recent government shutdown debacle only underscored all the repulsiveness I feel. So I'm not really making a political statement. Not really. Then again, deeper down maybe I do see more than visual resemblance.

I'm getting perhaps a bit less ideological the older I get. But I still have a great distaste for self-serving grandstanding, especially among public servants.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kissing The Devil's Butt

The news is so often so depressing I have to ignore it. Then there are those times when something I read or hear just cracks me up. I'm certain the story I'm about to write about was far from funny at the time for those poor folks involved - but this is goofy. Perhaps the offender was on drugs or alcohol or maybe he is mentally ill.
At any rate, a deluded soul was in a convenience store in nearby Dalton, Georgia arguing about the merits of the Christian religion when he accused one of the patrons of loving Satan and kissing the devil's butt. Deluded Soul (hereafter referred to as DS) was yelling and carrying on. Another patron suggested DS wasn't acting very Christianly, whereupon he turned his rage upon that patron and even spat on a child. DS then witnessed to the child about Christianity. And then as if to emphasize it all, DS dropped his pants and walked bare-bottomed out into the parking lot.
Now DS was on a roll ranting not only about devil worshippers but also homosexuals, illegal immigrants, and "Tennessee trash" (as a certain class of persons). He was eventually apprehended by police at a Walmart.
You can read the entire article about this man's escapades by clicking this link. There is even a color picture of the smiling man's mugshot. Among the charges DS faces are two counts of battery and two counts of disorderly conduct.
Well, as I suggested, maybe this guy is mentally ill. If so this is sad and I hope he gets the help he needs. On the other hand, I suspect he was either drunk or on drugs. In which case I think he needs to get real and start walking the walk instead of just talking the talk. You would be surprised - or then again, maybe you wouldn't - how many drunks and drug addicts I know who, condemned by their own conscience, get into a frenzy and rail on and on about the very things they find themselves mired in.   
Being a former Christian myself, I know a little about how all that is supposed to work. And this isn't it! In fact, I'm not interested in hearing about anyone's religion that doesn't make one a better person, especially in regard to how one treats his/her fellow humans.

In my humble opinion, being a jerk is metaphorically kissing the devil's butt and loving Satan. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Another Local Flap With The Freedom From Religious Foundation

Most emphatically I am not a Theocrat. I believe in a practical separation of church and state. But I'm also something of an accomodationist when it comes to religion - just as so many of our nation's founders were and its 44 presidents have been.
The atheist movement has become more and more vocal in recent decades - which I think is fine, by the way - and have brought attention to several church/state issues that needed to be addressed. Mandatory prayer in public, taxpayer funded schools, is a good example. However, it seems to me that sometimes these folks get a little nit-picky.
Here is a story near my home that is developing:
Our local media has given much coverage recently to a local pastor who was invited to speak at a 9/11 memorial service that was being held at a local high school. Check out one example of the coverage here.
Someone complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and within weeks foundation attorney Andrew Seidel became involved:
Essentially preaching a sermon to the children you know he quoted Luke 13:4 and the power of prayer, Jesus's response to 9/11, there's not much grey area here there's clearly a religious message and it's at a school sponsored event, therefore unconstitutional.
Church sponsored, but not mandatory as part of the curriculum, by the way.
As for whether or not this was a sermon (or merely a sarcastic characterization) I really can't say. Another report (see here) informs us that Pastor Alan Stewart mentioned "one bible verse and the word "God" six times" according to a transcript. I haven't access to that transcript and wasn't there so I really can't say a lot.
The Bible verse, quoting Jesus, was evidently Luke 13:4:
Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
That seems to me to be more of a philosophical than a purely religious text; but, to quote Attorney Seidel again, "Pastors only speak about religious issues for the most part" - which seems to make about as much sense as saying that attorneys only speak about legal issues for the most part.
What troubles me about these oft-repeated brouhahas is this: if teachers and students can't so much as mention God or religious concepts in the course of the education process, what makes it appropriate for our nation's legislatures and presidents to do this?
Okay, all this is boggy ground. And in response to this latest flap the school system has begun a retraining effort to hopefully avoid needless conflicts in the future. The FFF seems satisfied with that response. So now everybody is happy - except those who feel their right to free speech is being compromised.

I have e-mailed Pastor Stewart in an effort to get a transcript of what he actually said. I'll revisit this again if I am able to get that.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Happy With Religion

At selected locations in the US the Living Without Religion Organization has put up billboards with the following message:
If people follow the link on the billboard they will be taken to a simple statement of Secular Humanism. I'm not sure anyone - believer or unbeliever - could doubt that millions do live without belief in God or religion. 
On the other hand, it could truly be said that millions more than that live happily with religion. I'm quite sure the majority of believers would suggest one might be happier with religion - but that is a matter of opinion.
In looking over the statement in defense of Secular Humanism - most of which as an agnostic believer I embrace - there are a few of their points that stuck out to me.
There was this:
We see each other through humanist eyes—as fellow human beings—as cousins—equal in dignity and deserving of compassion and respect.    
I agree wholeheartedly with that. However, I'm not sure why that should be taken as more than an ipse dixit statement. I see no slam-dunk reason to regard all humans as "equal in dignity" apart from belief in a Creator who made humans either in His image or perhaps as the highest expression of his work. For example, skeptic James Randi's recent comments concerning so-called Social Darwinism
But in general, I think that Darwinism, survival of the fittest, should be allowed to act itself out. As long as it doesn’t interfere with me and other sensible, rational people who could be affected by it. Innocent people, in other words.
may be offensive to the sentiments of most of us, but is it illogical?
Then there is the following point at the aforementioned link:
We accept that our lives will end, but we find hope and take great joy in knowing that life keeps going.
Again I find no fault with that sentiment. But again I wonder why that follows, why it would be a general rule that anyone should take "great joy" in the mere fact that life goes on. Wouldn't it be just as logical that, if our lives are limited to this sphere of existence, one should attempt to grab all the pleasure this life has to offer, up to and including what Rand called "the virtue of selfishness"?
As regards the matter of survival of death, I am again agnostic (but hopeful!). But I find the concept makes some sense within a framework of belief in God. Perhaps the way our second president, John Adams, put it in a letter to fellow former president Thomas Jefferson:
If there was nothing beyond mortal life, you might be ashamed of your Maker, and compare him to a little Girl amusing herself, her Brothers and Sisters by blowing Bubbles in Soap Sudds.
Therefore, I could not personally rise to the level of the Secular Humanist, who according to their statement of outlook says:
We do not fear the unknown but rather take courage from the wondrous discoveries that have already been made.
Like most of us I do have a bit of fear of the unknown. That isn't an unnatural thing, and I wonder how many Humanists proudly say that but still secretly harbor their apprehensiveness.
For me a simple belief in a Cosmic Mind brings me hope and thus more happiness than mere nonbelief could. I think that is true of the millions more who are happy because of their belief.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

"In My World Nobody Gets Hurt"

I met her back in my college days. We became friends. Good friends. After a while we became a little more. She was part of my life for the better part of eight years, often living with me. She had very serious mental issues which stemmed from childhood sexual abuse administered by her "Christian" father. He was also sexually and mentally abusing his other two daughters and infant son.
Just as my faith was on the wane because I was slowly working my way through the more troubling aspects of belief in the Bible, this woman stepped into my life and introduced me to the world of childhood sexual abuse. Her stories, which she told me as catharsis, presented me with a real perspective of the problem of evil.
She had been raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, the same as I. Her grandmother, with whom she had a less than untroubled relationship - became the primary custodial caregiver for my friend after her parents divorced when she came out about the abuse. She and her siblings had been removed from their home for a time and placed in a children's home. Her father was prosecuted but not found guilty. He left town for a while. The mother forever blamed my friend for "seducing" her husband and destroying her marriage. She also had troubled relations with her siblings, for she had endured the brunt of the abuse; her baby brother, fortunately, was so young he had no recollections of abuse.
After all this my friend was of course bitter. She was questioning why God never answered her childhood prayers. Yet she was still a religious seeker. I went to church with her many times, even in my faithless state. I tried to be supportive. She wanted answers and I couldn't help wondering about that myself. In that same troubled mind of hers were both faith and fury. She questioned hard her grandmother about whether her repeated rapes and humiliations at her father's hand were part of "God's plan," which her grandmother constantly referenced. "No," her grandmother replied, "but I see God's hand in it." The old "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger" thing, I suppose. Obviously I was not the one to help her find her way back to faith. I had lost my way also, and my friend's story only strengthened my conviction about leaving my childhood faith.
She showed me her childhood Bible. In the pages at the back were several inscriptions her father made when he visited his children in the home. It made me sick. His religious drivel mixed in with alleged concern for his family nauseated me. In one he had actually written that my friend should pray for God to restore their family. Unreal! What kind of sicko was this guy, I wondered. (Later I found out he was a petty criminal and drug abuser as well as a pedophile.) And up until the time he was exposed, he was also a regular churchgoer with his family.
I stood by my friend through years of counseling, institutionalization, drug therapies and even two suicide attempts. In the last of those I had to actually break into the house she was renting in order to get to her. She had left a suicide message on my answering machine which I got when I got off work.
Along the way I discovered she had a love for doll houses and miniature furnishings. I indulged her by purchasing one for her and helping her construct it. I helped as she carpeted it and bought and constructed furniture for it. She spent hours "playing" with her doll house, which really seemed to be therapeutic for her. She constantly rearranged the furniture, bought new furniture, remodeled, recarpeted, repainted her doll house repeatedly. It all hit home for me one night as she was working on her doll house and she suddenly looked up at me and said: "In my world nobody gets hurt." She was trying to build a model of something that was missing in her life. 
I wish I could say this story has a happy ending, but it really doesn't. Sensing that I needed to get away from this horrible situation, I began to ease myself out of her picture. Abusers tend to become abusers and she was mentally abusive. Very much so. That was bad. But I also began to feel I was becoming affected myself as I stood by her through the long years of attempted mental rehabilitation. After eight years she was no closer to healing than she had been when I met her. Worse, she had become addicted to drugs - both to the prescriptions that were part of her treatment, but also street drugs which her "friends" plied her with. We drifted apart and at last I could breathe again.
I unexpectedly heard from her a couple of years backs after more than a decade and a half of non-contact. She looked me up in the phone book and called because part of a twelve step program she was going through was to reach out to people she had hurt and ask for forgiveness. No problem there. I understood that the person I had known was a troubled, sick soul. We talked several times and she even asked about coming to visit me (she had moved back to her home state of Alabama).  I declined the invitation. She was still on drugs (at least of the mind-numbing, speech slurring variety of prescriptions), still unable to hold down a job, still involved in bad relationships - but, she told me, she had worked out her spiritual problems and had been accepted into a group which practiced Native American spirituality. Oh, and she still loved doll houses and reminisced about the one we had built together.
Her attempts to find her inner "lost child" have not been successful that I can tell. The world she tried so hard to create, where "nobody gets hurt," never materialized and, as I sadly found out, anyone who gets too close her does get hurt. Her grandmother is now dead, her mother is still distant (but perhaps not quite as distant) her siblings are still somewhat condescending towards her. Her psychosis is still a constant problem, but at least she has apparently gained some understanding of her condition. But I have healed from my painful experiences with her and find no desire to go back.
What lingers with me to this day is the way I will never be able to reconcile the God of the Bible with the real world of superfluous evil. One really has to hide his head in order to accept that - at least that is the way it seems to me. A God who would "plan" something along the lines of what my friend went through is not a God I could worship. Any religion that teaches that such evil is necessary for the greater good is also a religion I have no interest in.
However, what I do find very much worthwhile is the effort to build a world where nobody gets hurt. For me that is the ultimate goal of spirituality.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Crucible Of Doubt

I can't recall how old I was when I first encountered the powerful novel The Brother Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, with its probing analysis of the problem of evil. The problem of evil has always been of great interest for me. If there is anything that makes belief in God difficult, it is the effort to reconcile the enormous amount of evil, seemingly pointless at times, with a creation by God. I don't know where the problem is more impressively laid out in all its perplexing ugliness than in Dostoevsky's novel. Yet Dostoevsky was a believer in God:
It is not like a child that I believe in Christ and confess Him," he said. "My hosanna has come forth through the crucible of doubt.
No spiritual thinker, no theologian, no philosopher of religion worth her salt can ignore the problem of evil in the Cosmos. Still, despite the difficulty, belief thrives. As much as evil tests my own ability to believe, I cannot shake the feeling that universe is not an accident. I find myself compelled to believe in the Logos, or Divine Mind behind the cosmos. And it has taken me a long time to arrive there. I would add that I rest there uncomfortably mainly because of the enormous amount of suffering in the world. In other words, I stop short of shouting hosannas*, even though my faith has been refined in the crucible of doubt.
I hate pat answers. I hate glib answers that gloss over deeper difficulties. For what my opinion may be worth to others, I don't think there is a fully satisfying answer to the problem of evil. At least I will say I have never found one that satisfied me fully, even though I have searched high and low. That is why, perhaps, so many refer to it as a mystery.
It's not as if I haven't considered the alternative: suffering exists because there is no God or Divine Mind, no meaning, no purpose. I respect those who feel compelled to believe that. But for me it leaves the mystery of existence. If love, beauty, and good did not exist in such abundance, perhaps I could rest there instead. Alas, I'm no better able to grasp meaninglessness than I am nothingness. 
My faith is in all senses a humble one. Further, it is not an untroubled one.

* Neither am I confessing faith in Christ

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Secular Version Of The Golden Rule

My favorite infidel has always been - hands down! - the great orator Robert G. Ingersoll. When I got old enough to lift the ban that had always been on me as a child against reading infidel literature, the first of those kinds of books I read were Paine's The Age of Reason and The Lectures of Robert Ingersoll. Both of these books had a great impact on my thinking and still do to this day.
But always, I found, the words of Ingersoll stirred my heart. He was a critic of revealed religion, to be sure. Yet his speeches and writings also contain such a lofty humanism that, for me, a study of them is something of a spiritual experience.  
I have always been a big believer in following the Golden Rule of treating people the same way I would like to be treated. Robert Ingersoll appealed to that ethic when he said:
Give to every human being every right that you claim for yourself.
Now that about covers everything, in my opinion. You demand the freedom to think and act according to your own best judgment and conscience. Extend that same right to your fellow sojourners.

And if that were consistently done, the world would be a much nicer placer. Yet we talk and talk and talk while all the inhumanity continues. Such is our sad world.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Father Abraham

Since my youth I have been fascinated with the men who held the office of President of the United States, especially those of the long past. I love history and I love attempting to place these men into the context of their times even as I wonder how they might fare leading this country during modern times.
Abraham Lincoln established himself as my personal favorite president. His wisdom, character, soundness of judgment and courage always inspired me. I have a good selection of programs and movies about him in my DVD collection and always find myself profoundly moved when watching them.
Lincoln, whose opinions on religion is controversial at best, seemed, at least according to his own words, to have been something of a fatalist. While the case has been convincingly (in my opinion at least) made that in his younger days he was a critic of organized religion in the vein of Thomas Pain, his faith commitment in his later years as president cannot be dismissed without making the man out to have been a total hypocrite. Something I would have real trouble believing.
His fatalism (arguably influenced by his early exposure to Calvinistic Baptists) somehow allowed him to view the Civil War as possibly part of the divine scheme of things, but he was determined to lead the United States to a conclusion of it and a reconciliation of the warring factions:
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."   (Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.) 
For many of us who are not fans of the most recent President Bush and his invasion of Iraq under the claim of divine direction, who object to politicians and world leaders who use religion this way as a pretext for warring, it might prove comforting to remember how Abraham Lincoln led during the great distress of overseeing the country through it's terrible Civil War.
From painter Francis Bicknell Carpenter's book, published in 1866, we have preserved the following example:
No nobler reply ever fell from the lips of ruler, than that uttered by President Lincoln in response to the clergyman who ventured to say, in his presence, that he hoped " the Lord was on our side."
"I am not at all concerned about that," replied Mr. Lincoln, "for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that this nation should be on the Lord's side."
As for that terrible institution that was back of it all, the evil of human slavery, Lincoln appealed to the Golden Rule in stating his opposition: In May 1864, Lincoln replied to a letter from a Baptist delegation with the following:
When, a year or two ago, those professedly holy men of the South, met in the semblance of prayer and devotion, and, in the name of Him who said ``As ye would all men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them'' appealed to the christian world to aid them in doing to a whole race of men, as they would have no man do unto themselves, to my thinking, they condemned and insulted God and His church, far more than did Satan when he tempted the Saviour with the Kingdoms of the earth.
One thing I am well aware of is that Lincoln was a master politician. Peppering his writings and speeches with biblical references, the best known religious text of the American people, was undeniably a great method of stirring the emotions of the people. Still, back of it all, I detect a simple faith in the man that emphasized the best aspect of religion: the right should be the basis of the conduct of our lives regarding our fellow humans.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Religion As Child Abuse

Religion is poison; protect children. (1930s era Soviet Russia anti-religion poster.)

Something I'm hearing quite frequently now from atheists is that parents who teach religion to their children are guilty of child abuse. I think the first time I heard it was from Richard Dawkins, and being the influential spokesperson for atheism that he is, what he says often gets much repeated.
My religious upbringing was in a very distinct form of Christian fundamentalism, part of the Pentecostal holiness movement. I think back now on my childhood and weigh whether I think my childhood was one of mental abuse. Certainly my religious upbringing has left an impression on me that continues to this day. But poverty left far more scars than religious indoctrination. My parents were wonderful, loving parents. Not perfect, to be sure, but very caring and concerned that their children grew to be responsible adults.  
Perhaps one of the biggest religious impacts was the holidays. Some parents think teaching belief in Santa Claus is good for a child. My parents always taught us that Santa was a fun myth and that mommies and daddies are really Santa for children. To have done otherwise, they thought, would have been lying. I'm not sure I lost anything of value by this theory. I loved Christmas as child. (Come to think of it, I still do!)
Halloween was another holiday my parents frowned upon. It was too pagan, too satanic in their opinion. But once my parents divorced (when I was 11) and were kicked out of our church, this restriction was lifted. I went trick-or-treating for the first time when I was 12. It was fun, mainly because of the candy and fellowship with my friends. We did other things to compensate for trick-or-treating when we were in church, so again I'm not sure this was a wholly negative thing. I grew up in the psychedelic 60s and not the least concern of my parents was that our treats might be laced with drugs. Perhaps that fear was a bigger concern than the pagan aspects of Halloween. Certainly I recall Mom talking about that fear more than Satan.
When I came into puberty of course it was implied that sexual self-pleasure was against God's plan and was wrong. We were never taught that it would lead to blindness, hairy palms, or insanity, but yes, we were taught that God created sex essentially for two reasons: procreation and pleasure between married couples. But I confess that I took the risk of displeasing God on a regular basis - and I'm certain most youths who were taught as my brothers and I were did the same.
Then there is Hell. Yes, I heard about Hell growing. I remember having at least one nightmare about going there. I mostly heard about it at church during revivals. My parents didn't harp on it. Not only that, they also taught us that it isn't wise to assume this or that person is going to Hell or, once dead, that they did go. We were taught that no one can know what might take place between a person and God before death, so how could we possible know about their final destination? As for people who interpreted religious faith differently than we did, Mom had a saying: "They are walking in all the light they see." I suppose that is somewhat condescending, but certainly much above arrogant judging. 
But beyond all that, even had my parents been atheists and hadn't raised us to believe in Hell, I don't see how we would have escaped the subject. Lots of people believe in Hell or post mortem punishment. There is a deep seated human desire to see bad punished and good rewarded. It is fairly said to be a part of our culture, implicit in many stories, movies, even our cartoons. I remember watching Satan's Waitin', in which Sylvester the cat used up all his nine lives chasing Tweety and wound up there.
So all in all I don't think my parents abused my brothers and me by raising us as Christians. I think religion as child abuse is a rhetorical device, and a rather poor one in my opinion. My faith had a more positive than negative impact on us overall, I believe.
There is one more thought I have about the matter. Once I got old enough to think for myself, I did begin to have questions about the more negative elements of my faith. Once I started investigating the matter for myself, I naturally began to modify some of the things I had been taught. I found there were lots of different ways to look at things. My upbringing was a template of sorts, not a carved-in-stone way of life. It is the responsibility of all of us to become our own person.
Now in no way am I being unsympathetic to those who have been deeply scarred by their religious experiences. I'm merely telling my story and giving my personal impressions. I think the proper kind of religious faith (or spirituality) can be a blessing. I'm also very much aware that the wrong kind can be a curse. But I also hold a philosophy that we should always try to rise above the negative circumstances in our lives.