The Art of Enticement

The lightning-rods salesman, dressed in storm-colored clothes jangling and clanking with his peculiar bag of rods approached the two young boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, laying on the front lawn:

“Halloway. Nightshade. No money, you say?”

The man, grieved by his own conscientiousness, rummaged in his leather bag and seized forth an iron contraption.

“Take this, free! Why? One of those houses will be struck by lightning! Without this rod, bang! Fire and ash, roast pork and cinders! Grab!”

The salesman released the rod. Jim did not move. But Will caught the iron and gasped.

“Boy, it’s heavy! And funny-looking. Never seen a lightning-rod like this. Look, Jim!”

And Jim, at last, stretched like a cat, and turned his head. His green eyes got big and then very narrow. But Will was staring beyond the man now.

“Which,” he said. “Which house will it strike?”

“Which? Hold on. Wait.” The salesman searched deep in their faces. Some folks draw lightning, suck it like cats suck babies’ breath. Some folks’ polarities are negative, some positive. Some glow in the dark. Some snuff out. You now, the two… I–“

“What makes you so sure lightning will strike anywhere around here?” said Jim suddenly, his eyes bright.

Fury-Halloway-Nightshade

The salesman almost flinched. “Why, I got a nose, an eye, an ear. Both those houses, their timbers! Listen!”

They listened. Maybe their houses leaned under the cool afternoon wind. Maybe not.

“Lightning needs channels, like rivers, to run in. One of those attics is a dry river bottom, itching to let lightning pour through! Tonight!”

“Tonight?” Jim sat up happily.

“No ordinary storm!” said the salesman. Tom Fury tells you. Fury, ain’t that a fine name for one who sells lightning-rods? Did I take the name? No! Did the name fire me to my occupations? Yes! Grown up, I saw cloudy fires jumping the world, making men hop and hide. Thought: I’ll chart hurricanes, map storms, then run ahead shaking my iron cudgels, my miraculous defenders, in my fists! I’ve shielded and made snug-safe one hundred thousand, count ’em, God-fearing homes. So when I tell you, boys, you’re in dire need, listen! Climb that roof, nail this rod high, ground it in the good earth before nightfall!”
Ray Bradbury from his novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

There are a few different motifs and themes in this classic Bradbury novel, but the one I want to touch on here is belief, the psychological power and influence of what a group’s ideology can accomplish, for better or worse, when the right components are all in play.

The characters in Something Wicked This Way Comes are amazed and puzzled by “Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show,” a strange carnival that has unexpectedly arrived in their small town. Word soon spreads that because it caters to people’s deepest desires and fears, it is viewed by the town as evil. Yet, Mr. Dark claims they did not arrive unannounced, or unwelcomed. Indeed, the people of the town invited them, ah, wanted them:

Mr. Dark:  “Your torments call us like dogs in the night. And we do feed, and feed well. To stuff ourselves on other people’s torments. And butter our plain bread with delicious pain … Funerals, marriages, lost loves, lonely beds that is our diet. We suck that misery and find it sweet. We can smell the young ulcerating to be men a thousand miles off. And hear a middle-aged fool like yourself groaning with midnight despairs from halfway round the world.”

The good people of Green Town handed over the power and will for Mr. Dark’s visit. Whether taught, or inherited, or both, they had long believed their lives were incomplete, intolerable, in the balance, and in grave danger. It wasn’t until Will Halloway’s father, Charles Halloway, embraced his age, occupation as a janitor, the paradox of life and death, and his gifted humanity that any “power” the Pandemonium Shadow Show could have wielded was gone, like a mist in the wind.

david-green-hobby-lobby

NeoConservative & owner Steve Green

When a story is told well, as was Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, mountains can be moved and lives changed forever. Whether that canard is true or not often makes little difference. And when a captivating story is well performed, immersing its audience with spectacular effects, marketing tools, and endless millions of dollars, the spellbinding dopamine avalanche is near impossible to stop. Or can it?

With all the same dramatic components and controversy in play with the creation, development, and intent, the recent opening of the Museum of the Bible is no different.

“At the center of this [drama] is the word “non-sectarian,” which the Museum of the Bible uses often in its messaging. The term has a long history in the evangelist community dating back to the early 19th century. As Steven K. Green (no relation), the director of the Center for Religion, Law & Democracy at Willamette University College, explains, for the faith tradition, the concept is rooted in the belief that there are fundamentals of the Bible that are non-disputable and non-debatable. “It’s hard for you to realize it is representing a particular perspective,” says Green of the often well-meaning evangelical Protestants who clashed with Catholics firm in their own religious tradition in the 1800s.”

Museum-of-the-Bible

The museum opened its doors to the public today. Here is one article from Smithsonian.com magazine which elaborates on the museum’s promises, its biased funding, and the far-reaching controversy over its artifacts and narrative-slant all wrapped in an enticing Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.

I’m very curious to read what all of you have to say about “The Greatest Show Ever Told” and whether museum visitors are well-versed, or should be, in the much broader less known (untold?) stories, artifacts, and narratives of the Bible. What are your thoughts?

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Mind and Matter

this-is-fortyEveryone can relate to the changes our bodies traverse one decade to the next. Changes? Perhaps the better word is brawls. At thirty-nine my physician informed me in no uncertain terms what I had medically to expect and monitor by regular checkups and tests for a white male in his forties in “good health.” These tests and checkups would vary and change into my fifties in order to search for common and uncommon anomalies before they became unmanageable.

Honestly, I wondered then the benefits of telling a patient, a person, in a number of different contexts what possible ailments await them in the looming? exciting future of preventative/reactionary medicine and treatments. How much should we know? How much CAN we know? Is it possible to know too much? Is it detrimental to know too little? More importantly, what are the effects on the mind and body of “too much” or “too little“?

This past August I was forced heavily persuaded to register for a Life-Line Screening October 7th. I conceded because there was no denying my last FULL physical exam was done over 17-years ago. As a few of my blog-posts attest — e.g. Snip-Snip and Done! — I become a messy blob of shivering jello around needles, syringes and all things designed to stick in, open up, modify, simplify, or rectumfy rectify the human body. Just the name of this screening (Life-Line? Are you freakin’ serious?) frightened the SHIT out of me! I obsessed, “If they perform this god damn screening at a funeral home or next door to or near a funeral home, I was prepared to do an immediate 180° turn and sacrifice my $350 to the god and altar of Fuck That.

When my name was called by the nurse (named Temple; I kid you not) to start matters upon me, I immediately asked “When would be a good time to tell someone about my history of feinting since a boy?” With a warm grin she replied, “Oh? Now.” She was not only extremely attractive, near my own age, and chatting with a sweet sense of humor, everything seemed a silly figment of my hyper-nervous imagination with her by my side! As she took my measurements, including around my lower waist, my pulse and blood-pressure rose. Indeed, in a most natural way of course. Then she moved me to a station and chair where there was a large open-container of needles and collection tubes. Everything, inside and out of me changed. And as if that sight was not enough, she wants to take my blood-pressure before sticking me for vials of blood.

needlesI feel my palms getting clammy as she wraps the velcro-band around my bicep. Pump, pump, then the hissing… “Hmm,” she says with slight bewilderment, “that’s not so good. Is it all these needles and vials?” I inhale deeply, “They don’t help.” Temple begins giving me relaxation instructions, how to breath and to go to my “happy-place.” Umm, that would be out the nearest door… with you, I think to myself. “Okay.” I take several long deep breaths. She takes my blood-pressure a second time, then has to record it. She tells me with minor certainty “It’s a little better than before.” But waiting to be lead to the next station, she announces my name (to everyone in the church conference room) “We need to take your blood-pressure again. It’s too close to ‘Critical’.” What is going on? I think I feel better because the “needles” I perceived there were only the microneedle finger prick cases. I made it through that station with shaky flying colors!

Despite my lifelong embarrassing history of feinting around such objects in such places, there is a profound silver-lining to this post. Mind over matter, or what I’ve changed to Mind and Matter. Specifically the placebo effect on the human body and brain.

The Theater of Performance and Belief

For several thousands of years we have all engaged in a performance of relief to make us feel better. On the flip-side, we have all participated at various points in our life things we do not feel pleasurable about, but as necessary or unavoidable like I did for the Life Line Screening after 17-years. Others do it for some “expected” result. In some cases, and I’d say in most cases, we find ways to get addicted to relief… or a feeling of relief through belief of betterment even though it may never come to fruition in real life or this pre-mortem life.

Ted Kaptchuk of the Harvard Medical School says based on his decades of research that knowingly participating in a performance, which has no guaranteed desired results, activates regions of the brain to manage undesirable or pain symptoms.

“This new research demonstrates that the placebo effect is not necessarily elicited by patients’ conscious expectation that they are getting an active medicine, as long thought. Taking a pill in the context of a patient-clinician relationship — even if you know it’s a placebo — is a ritual that changes symptoms and probably activates regions of the brain that modulate symptoms.”
Dr. Ted Kaptchuk, ScienceDaily.com, Oct. 2016

placebo-effectHowever, he and many medical researchers observing the placebo effect state the performance of expectation is a key component to improved symptoms or “healing” in test studies. The experiments have shown over and over that with a supportive patient-practitioner relationship, along with all the props and costumes of a medical-theatrical stage, improved or successful outcomes were induced from self-relieving, self-healing brain processes, not placebos or necessarily pharmaceuticals.

“The [theater of performance and belief, i.e. placebo] results were not surprising: the patients who experienced the greatest relief were those who received the most care. But in an age of rushed doctor’s visits and packed waiting rooms, it was the first study to show a “dose-dependent response” for a placebo: the more care people got—even if it was fake—the better they tended to fare.”
Harvard Magazine, The Placebo Phenomenon, Jan-Feb 2013

But there’s more. A related study conducted by Karin Jensen of the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden has found it didn’t matter if the test participants experienced clearly visible or non-recognizable stimuli. According to further studies, they indicate that mechanisms responsible for placebo and nocebo effects can operate without conscious awareness of the triggering cues, i.e. theater. In other words, it is not what a person thinks will happen, it is what the non-conscious mind anticipates, despite any conscious thoughts. Dr. Jensen goes on to say…

“Such a mechanism would generally be expected to be more automatic and fundamental to our behavior compared to deliberate judgments and expectations”, says Karin Jensen. “These findings can help us explain how exposure to typical clinical environments and routines can activate powerful health improvements, even when treatments are known to be ineffective.”
Dr. Karin Jensen, Placebos Can Be Activated Unconsciously, Karolinska Institute, June 2015

Hospitals, clinics, apothecaries, even fitness gyms are common venues for the Theater of Belief. There are hundreds if not thousands of groups and locations to harness the power of expectations, all with varying levels of observable efficacy. Tanya Luhrmann of Stanford University carries this phenomenon a step further. She includes sanctuaries and congregations of “divine” worshipping…

Luhrmann suggests that “belief is natural. It comes partly from the way our minds are hardwired.” She has spent most of her professional career deconstructing people’s interaction with a divine being. Her findings say that belief-based relief/healing requires not only a good theater, a wrenching story, but also the earnestness of an active listener — someone with the desire to make what is being performed and imagined FEEL real. She goes on to emphasize that “humans have the capacity to change their experience.” It is why authors of popular fiction become best-sellers literally overnight — their readers engross themselves in the story, in the theatrical performance.

Personally, I see no reason at all to exclude religious fervor for the divine, or for sacred scriptures, or for objects or miracles to be any different from the Theater of Belief at hospitals, clinics, apothecaries, fitness gyms, and yes… at churches, synagogues, or mosques.

Throw in Peer Assimilation and…
lakewood_church_interior

Lakewood Ranch Church, Branson, MO

The power of group-belief and the theater of performance, whether based in fact, placebos, or verifiable data, can be easily demonstrated by religious pilgrimages. Every year some 5-million pilgrims make the journey to Lourdes, France for the seasonal Our Lady of Lourdes’ Healings. The Black Madonna pilgrimages all over the world are another example which attracts millions of believers every year. The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia by over 2-million Muslims is one of “the five pillars of Islam.” Then the largest pilgrimage of all religions, the Maha Kumbh Mela to Allahabad, India occurs every 12-years and draws approximately 120-million Hindus. Pilgrims essentially attest to the same purpose or expectation, and ‘all are here for personal reasons, but all are here for each other as much as themselves.’ The more they feel they belong to a popular trend, the more they are convinced it comes from divine sources. If this doesn’t perhaps offer one definition of strength in numbers, then what does?

It seems that not only are you what you eat, or do, or consciously think, you can also be what you believe or expect, whether it is based on anything verifiable or not, especially if thousands or millions think and perform alike and with you, or you with them, then that performance and expectation makes it feel real for that individual! What an amazing revelation, borrowing the popular term. These neurological psychological studies can help explain why I have an aversion (to say the least) to all things designed to stick in, open up, modify, simplify, or rectum rectify the human body. But on a bigger scale these neurological psychological studies (placebos) can also explain a long long history of humanity’s most brilliant and blind, most virtuous and vile of human acts. Agreed? Disagree? Let me know below with your comments.

For further details and studies go to My Library page:  Bibliography – Mind and Matter

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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The “Holy” Rivers

VaranasigangaThe Ganges River (or Ganga) in India has been the longest holiest river in any religion.  Hinduism spans almost three millennia in the history of humanity and it is the longest surviving religion on the planet with more than 950 million followers.  The Ganges River bears huge religious significance to the Hindu religion.  The Goddess Ganga originates from the Gangotri glacier in the Hindu Himalayan mountains 13,451 feet above sea level and flows an incredible 1,569 miles to the Bay of Bengal.  For 420 million people the river sustains life in the form of food, water, bathing, and agricultural irrigation.  As a river the Ganges contributes to more than 25% of India’s total water resources.  It is the ONLY River in the world with such a massive impact and significance on so many lives.

The religious significance of the Ganges River to her people/followers cannot be overstated.  Subhamoy Das from India writes from Ganga: Goddess of the Holy River:

“Hindus believe that rituals performed by the river Ganga multiply in their blessedness.  The water of Ganges, called ‘Gangajal’ (Ganga = Ganges; jal = water), is held so sacred that holding this water in hand no Hindu dares to lie or be deceitful.  The ‘Puranas’ or ancient Hindu scriptures say that the sight, the name, and the touch of Ganga cleanses one of all sins and taking a dip in the holy Ganga bestows heavenly blessings.  The ‘Narada Purana,’ prophesied pilgrimages in the present Kali Yuga to the Ganges will be of utmost importance.”

But the river is even more than just blessings and cleansings.  Being on the banks of the Ganges has spiritual significance too:

“The land over which Ganga flows is regarded as hallowed ground. It is believed that those who die around this river reach the heavenly abode with all their sins washed away.  The cremation of a dead body at the banks of Ganga or even casting the ashes of the deceased in its water is thought auspicious and leads to the salvation of the departed.  The famous Ganga Ghats of Varanasi and Hardwar are known for being the holiest funeral detestation of the Hindus.”

Today’s River Ganges

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Over at least the last four centuries the Holy River has become the most polluted river in the world.  The very children, who suckle from her spiritual nipples, turn around and contaminate the very milk from which they suck oblivious to how tainted their holy water has become from the headwater of the Himalayas to the poisonous outfall into the Bay of Bengal.

Five major facts from a native Indian about the Holy Ganges River:

The religious, social, economic, and ecological impact of the Ganges River is so significant that should nothing be done to resolve its crisis, the devastation would reach most of the developed world on several major levels.  Whether the river can be considered as holy and pure is an entirely different debate.  Environmentally the river has become a major crisis.  But the point of this post is not to address the obvious pollution of the river — the Indian people and their government must act — instead, the Ganges River will be my metaphor.

Before you read further, take a minute to ask and try to answer this question:  What has been the cause of the great river’s condition?  How many causes can you list?

* * * * * * * * * *

Like the Holy Ganges River – the Neolithic epigraphs (c. 9,800 BCE), shrines and figurines, then the practices, shrines, figurines, and epigraphs of the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt (3,300 – 1,300 BCE), the earliest compositions of the Brahmanas (Hinduism) around 800 BCE, the recordings of Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism between 551 – 300 BCE, the Hebrew/Judaic (150 BCE) and Roman/Christian fragmented scriptures, or bible passages (c. 300 CE), and finally the Arabian/Muslim Quran (c. 640 CE) – have all traveled through time, collected various modifiers, additives, or contaminates, all resulting in significant derivatives from the original purest water.  Click here for a more extensive timeline.

One would think that a youthful candidate-believer might think twice before drinking the, let’s say, multifarious water, right?

Wrong.

Studies done from 2007 through 2011 in 40 countries around the world, including the United States show that the rational choice to adhere to a religion is heavily self-centered, not theological, not necessarily empirical, or not even miraculous, but instead based on the question, what will the decision cost me?

One could then argue that the decision to adhere to a religion or religious lifestyle does involve adequate cognitive skills of survival servitude to peace and passivity, a noble cause; however, it lacks in higher rational thought and objective empirical simulation to achieve truth – that is cumulative truth for greater good as well as for a greater number.

dirty-water-glassJust because everyone seems to have a pet rock or smoke cigarettes doesn’t mean it is best for 7.46 billion plus humans.  It is probably the result of clever glamorous sales and marketing, or because the ramifications of swallowing the hook, line, and sinker river water have yet to play out.

But the tragedy irony of it all is that the holy river and the tributaries that feed her have been around for thousands of years collecting billions of ingredients.  Worse yet, millions of consumers of the holy water have known of its additives, modifiers, and contaminants for well over two centuries and still choose to bathe in it, drink from it, and distribute it.  Let’s take a brief look at the various faith-stages downstream and their purity.  However, for the sake of time, space, and effort I will not delve into the more peaceful tolerant religions (e.g. Buddhism) and their holy texts, but instead concentrate on the three major Abrahamic religions historically rout with violence and intolerance.

I have purposely put the following three Abrahamic religions in chronological order, top to bottom, oldest to newest because they all originate from ancient oral Judaism and earlier Neolithic practices.  And like the Varanasi portion of the Ganges River, which originates from the Kanpur region, which originates before it in the Nepal Himalayas, so too Christianity, and more so Islam, are distant derivatives of oral Judaism.

Judaism – The Hebrew Scriptures
1st Temple of Solomon

1st Temple of Solomon

The earliest written stories or narrations of the oral traditions of the Jewish people span about 13 centuries.  Today’s Hebrew bible probably reached its current form in the 2nd century CE.  What is less well-known today is that in ancient Palestine, or the “Promised Land” to the Jews by the Hebrew God, writing was restricted to the rich nobility, governors, and high priests.  It was also much too expensive for the illiterate masses which saw writing as magical and a gift from the gods; a long-held social tradition of governing.  Manuscripts were the guarded knowledge of political and religious elites who were believed by the less educated commoners to be divine.  William Schniedewind, the Kershaw Chair of Ancient Eastern Mediterranean Studies and Professor of Biblical Studies and Northwest Semitic Languages at UCLA, speaks about the formation of the early Hebrew Scriptures this way:

“Most biblical literature was written long before [586 – 539 BCE, the Babylonian exile]However, the priests who took over the leadership of the Jewish community during this period preserved and edited biblical literature.  Biblical literature became a tool that legitimated and furthered the priests’ political and religious authority.”

Notice he states “…preserved and edited” the manuscripts.  Whether for political, economic, or religious status, oral stories put into biblical literature was contaminated edited by human priests-kings and their scribes.  Therefore, it should be asked are the following passages from the Hebrew Bible a reflection of God, or a reflection of human writers/editors and their perceptions of their life and their world?

“Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them.” (Num. 25:16-17)

“Go back and forth killing your brother and friend and neighbor” (Exod. 32:27)

“Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children” (Ezek. 9:6)

“I will wipe humankind…from the face of the Earth.” (Gen. 6:7)

“Kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man” (Num. 31:17)

“Put to death men and women, children and infants” (1 Sam. 15:2-3)

And these six passages are just a small sampling of the Hebrew God portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures.  There are many more.  One could compare this God to Satan or Hitler rather than a Father-figure with eternal love.  But if the Jewish God is based on sacred ancient traditions and scriptures, and these passages were purposely kept and passed-on by the educated religious élite over 13 centuries as “sacred”, then can this trait of the Hebrew God ever be overlooked?  It begs the question, is it any wonder why Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and Iraq have been at war, or at least political enemies, for 2,000 years?  They follow a violent, jealous, dividing, warring God!  Why?

Under this light, my metaphor – the holy Ganges River – has its early tributaries contaminated and we are not even past the first third of the river-timeline.

Christianity – The Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Apocalypse

Even though the Christian New Testament is the contaminated offspring of the above Hebrew Scriptures, traditions, monotheism, and laws, their decrees of adherence cannot be misunderstood.  For instance:

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”” (John 14:6)

Tomb of the Garden, Jerusalem

Tomb of the Garden, Jerusalem

In case there might be the slightest doubt of the implications of this verse (one of several), according to the early Judaic-Christian élite gospel writers, who many followers today believe are the inspired direct (God-breathed) words of the one and only almighty God, anyone other than a publicly proclaimed, spirit-filled Christian, has no entitlement, no ear to or heart from the one and only God in Heaven.  In other words, this Christian God embitters and ignores everyone on Earth who isn’t “Christian.”  Where does this theology originate I wonder?

Because the Christian-faith is downstream of Hebrew theology and Scripture over several centuries and cultural influences, here are a few problematic scriptural tenets:

Who, if any, have ever seen God?
“No one has seen God at any time…” (John 1:18)

“But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Exodus 24:11)

“So Jacob called the place Peniel:  “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”” (Gen. 32:30)

Does this God love or hate sinners?
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

“For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with You.  The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity.” (Psalm 5:4-5)

How does one acquire eternal salvation?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

“And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace…” (Rom. 11:6)

“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24)

Is a sinful creature created by a sinful Creator?
“(for you shall worship no other God, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God),” (Exo. 34:14)

“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies,” (Gal. 5:19-20)

If it isn’t apparent that the Christian New Testament has far too many baffling ancient oral and written tenets passed down to it from several writers from several centuries, then click here for a more complete (1,588 to be exact) list of contradictions.

It should come as no surprise that the Christian gospels, acts, and epistles – the Varanasi portion of the holy Ganges River if you will – cannot possibly be the pure perfect water of life and salvation as the original Neolithic, Indus, Mesopotamian, or Egyptian headwaters.  Or is “purest water” even possible?  Those four earliest civilizations didn’t have alphabets!  Communication was done by voice, song, body/hand motions, and epigraphs; a much more emotional form of communication primarily for governing, protection, and survival.

Islam – The Quran and Hadith
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

I go on record admitting that as a Westerner, born in the United States and having traveled to most of the world EXCEPT Asia and those portions of northern and eastern Africa that are Muslim, I have a very limited understanding and knowledge of primary Islam.  Therefore, it is quite difficult to get a concise consensual explanation of Islam from various sources in the West.  Yet, this quandary falls in line with the point of this post:  with so vast and so old a plethora of tributaries feeding the Ganges River, and Islam being at or near the river’s outfall of Abrahamic religions and tenets, it should not be surprising.  Islam too is not a monolithic religion and no one Muslim behaves as another.  Yes, the river has become quite convoluted now.

Nevertheless, I want to be as fair and objective as possible.  And who better to explain Islam than thousands of Muslims in a Gallup International poll inside 35 predominantly Muslim countries, and released by Unity Productions Foundation:

Another popular explanation of primary Islam is the plaque or card-flyer composed by Enver Musad in 1995 called The Truth About Islam.  You may find it here.  Unfortunately, like all the major world religions, not every Muslim adheres to one summary or interpretations of the Quran…again, supporting this post.

For the sake of time, space, and effort I will again condense the stigmas of Islam down to my three major issues:

#1 – Islam’s earliest traditions and tenets come from contaminated problematic roots, as I’ve already explained.

#2 – The status and role of women (Sharia) in many Muslim countries.
It was only as recent as May 2005 (effective in 2007) that Kuwait allowed their women the right to vote and contest elections; and Kuwait is considered one of the more Westernized Islāmic nations.  Most Muslim nations still do not give women political or social equality; a practice which has apparently continued since about 640 CE after the Quran was written.  Why has it taken Muslim men some 1,400 years to interpret the Quran and resolve this?  Then again, it has taken the Christian world almost as long to rectify it as well.  Ah, the woes of an entirely contaminated holy river.

Corporal punishment of “rebellious” women has been a widely accepted practice based upon chapter 4, verse 34 of the Quran for centuries.  However, only over the last several decades has it come under intense scrutiny.  A simple Googling of the verse (e.g. WikiIslam’s translation) demonstrates the confusion among Muslim scholars.  Whether it is now changing or not doesn’t compare to the 1,400 years of cultural Sharia, i.e. the upstream waters.

#3 – How same-sex equality is viewed by Islam and the Quran.
The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) list countries that enforce corporal punishment or imprisonment upon same-sex relationships and activities; the majority are Muslim countries.

As I’ve inferred in a couple of my posts and directly challenged scientifically the errancy of anti-same-sex, pro inequality groups and laws in my post Sexual & Gender Ambiguity: My Once Gross Ignorance, I take serious issue with any group or nation that allows the violation of personal civil-rights to choose their sexual activity or partner regardless of gender.  There simply isn’t the scientific facts to support such bigotry, hate, or even passive intolerance.  Typically, the language of fervent religiosity, whether Jew, Christian, or Muslim, is evidently “above” mundane mortal science; as if Scripture and theology are impregnable and infallible.  Science is sub-standard and unable to emit truths about this life, this planet, and its brilliant inhabitants.

At least the holy Scriptures of the three major Abrahamic religions all agree on the dubious “abomination.”  Specifically in the Quran, Sura 4:20-21, 7:80-84, 11:78-81, 26:162-168, 27:55-57, and 29:28-31 all generally infer separation from God and society.  The Muslim Hadith (sayings attributed to Muhammad but not broadly endorsed as authentic by all Muslim scholars) is more pronounced on its abomination and punishment according to Sharia.  At the very least, Islamic culture and society is intolerant of same-sex behaviors and relationships.  This position is entirely because it is the offspring of Christianity and Judaism, the upstream.  These three issues are just a sampling of other problematic edicts I find with Islam and monotheistic faiths.

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You might be asking why any of this is relevant.  It is relevant because most of the domestic and world political and social problems, including atrocities, are caused by ignorance ill-founded prejudices, elitism, segregation, and egocentric trans-generational teaching of those three ill-conceptions.  Religious elitism, often discreetly projected behind political or military agendas, has fueled most of humanity’s darkest most horrid events and eras.

Assuming the a priori condition of a God, one God does indeed exist, an additional question that bears equal importance is this:  If you proclaim intimate knowledge of and experience with a one and only God in Heaven, then specifically how has this knowledge and experience come to you?

To my knowledge there are only two methods of revelation and experience from an unseen spirit-God(1) miraculous or paranormal experience(s), or (2) through their faith’s biblical scriptures and other followers.  Based on these two methods, it begs the following question:  Which is most reliable and most believable?

In my personal experience, when followers/believers are questioned about their biblical foundations of faith, they eventually – sometimes quickly or slowly based upon their apologetic savvy – resort to the “miraculous or paranormal” experience, which is not only harder to acutely examine by an unaffiliated outsider, but just as difficult for the believer/follower to explain!  Why is this?  It is exhausting because the vast majority of miraculous/paranormal experiences are extremely unique to that one person’s life, personality, and immediate environs, and in almost all cases those experiences are different from other followers/believers.

This does not mean those experiences are untrue or any less valuable to the world and life of others – especially if they turn the person into a more loving giving human being for a greater number of people – and this is fine. It becomes highly individualized, which should be an attached liability clause upon its veracity. Hence, it should be kept strictly an individual “faith.” But pushing (forcing?) it beyond that does make it impossible to standardize, prove, or unite “one true religious faith” – the one lie belief that has bred immeasurable death and suffering throughout all of mankind’s history!  The thousands upon thousands of various sects and denominations of the world’s faiths bear witness that there is not and never has been one true faith.

With regard to a scriptural foundation, I have adequately shown the futility in portraying a unanimous, in-perfect-harmony life with all other “identical believers”.  I have also written two historically-centered posts (view the History category for those posts, especially Constantine: Christianity’s True Catalyst/Christ, The Suffering Messiah That Wasn’t Jesus, and Correcting the Gospels of Jesus) illuminating the less-known cultural and political factors influencing early Christianity during and after the sacking of Jerusalem in 69-70 CE by the Roman legions and Empire.

All world religions have their time-specific, contributing cultural, political, and economic influences upon their infancy and roots.  Interestingly, they often have less to do with miraculous, 1-in-a-million “divine events” or teachings, and more to do with mere survival or progressive status.  Think about that.

This returns us to my metaphor…

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  He could not have been more accurate, both in the literal sense of a river and in the story of man and man’s perception of the world told through his many varied religious faiths and just as many deconstructions and reconstructions of spiritual truth.  Like a river, the religious water has never been the same, never as “pure” as the headwater.  There are as many contaminants as there are purifiers and certainly no river is better or untouched than another.

Besides, water is only one small eco-system in an infinite table of macro-systems in an even larger more infinite cosmos of systems.  As I continue to traverse this Ganges River, I repeatedly ask why the big puppet shows about a mythical deity no one group of puppeteers can define with harmony or consensus.   Though Heraclitus taught his principle over 2,500 years ago, it rings truer today among naïve, unexamined fundamental religiosity.

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Addendum — After chatting with a blog-friend about this post, I realized the importance, no the paramount risk, we as Americans, as well as the human race, will one day face if we (Americans particularly) do NOT throw out our imperialistic, colonialist mentality (revolutionary heritage?) regarding foreign policy and perceptions.  As the excellent video Inside Islam reports, as true as our domestic problems will become EVERYONE’S problems nationally, it is just as true globally with all races, all religions, all nationalities — because due to our insatiable imposing colonial-imperial self-interested heritage, ala the 1948 creation of Israel in Palestine as one example, we must NOW deal with the fires, the monsters America helped create around the world…not treating “them” Arab foreigners as ourselves or without full respect, without the highest tolerance and dignity offered.

On that note, and as I hoped I have conveyed, our personal, national, or “religious” differences are a result of our own pollution, contamination, and apathy, ignorance, violence… whether passive or direct.  Let’s disarm ourselves by simply starting ‘at the Himalayas’.  Or better yet, start with the Universe/Multiverse and cosmos, the onset, the dawn, the time and space before time and space, which much later feeds the Himalayas, which feeds the “Ganges”.

“Hello.  I am a human-being from planet Earth.  How can we collaborate and serve each other?”

Peace for you and all.

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Live Laugh Love

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