A Stream in the Desert:

"May Adonai bless you and protect you! May Adonai deal kindly and graciously with you! May Adonai lift up his countenance upon you and grant you peace!" (Torah, Numbers 6:24-26) And Jesus said, "Allow the little children to come unto me. Forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God. Truly, I say unto you, unless you receive the Kingdom of God as a little child does, you shall not enter therein." (New Testament, Mark 10:14-16)

Sojourning at an Oasis Paradise

My purpose for living this life, and for writing this blog, is to understand the faith that links us to God. I wish to explore and discuss the reality at the heart of all of the world's religions. This is an immense task, but I know that God also has faith in us, trusting that we do desire the truth, as well as freedom, love and wisdom. Thus, as always, He meets us halfway. Even as God has given us individual souls, so we must each of us trace out an individual pathway to God. Whether we reside in the cities of orthodox religion, or wend our solitary ways through the barren wastelands, God watches over us and offers us guidance and sustenance for the journey.

Most of what you will see here is the result of extensive personal study, combined with some careful speculation. Occasionally, I may simply offer some Scripture or an inspirational text. I am a wide reader, and the connection of some topics and ideas to matters of faith and religion may not seem immediately obvious, but perhaps I may spell it out in the end... or maybe, you will decide that it was just a tangent. Anyway, I hope that you will find my meanderings to be spiritually enlightening, intellectually stimulating, or at least somewhat entertaining.

In the coming weeks and months, I intend to transcribe a series of essays that I wrote about 20 years ago in the hope that I might get them published. They represent the nucleus of my spiritual life and the focal point around which my wanderings revolve like an electron in an atom. I hope that they might eventually serve as a springboard for discussions about the common spiritual heritage of humanity. May we come together and embrace each other in peace.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Humanity's Natural Morality

The ideals of Love, Truth, Freedom and Wisdom are actually inborn to human minds. We do not have the articulated principles, which must be taught by culture, but the inclinations and tendencies exist from the time of our infancy. It is the task of parents, teachers, preachers and writers to help us grow into their full potential. And their success enhances our own maturity and that of our civilization as a whole.

Love
• Care vs Harm (helpless)
   - nurture, guide & support
• Compassion vs Cruelty (broken)
   - rescue, heal & release
• Gratitude vs Contempt (friend)
   - reciprocate, help & propagate
* Welcome vs Hostility (stranger)
   - respect, share & invite

Truth
• Trust vs Deception (knowledge)
   - honest, useful & unbiased
• Loyalty vs Betrayal (perspective)
   - tribalism, teamwork & aims
• Authority vs Anarchy (utopia)
   - teachers, traditions & ideals
* Investigation vs Mythos (nature)
   - observation, factual & testable

Freedom
• Fairness vs Cheating (family)
   - sharing, deserving & need
• Equality vs Privilege (society)
   - rights, opportunity & merit
• Liberty vs Oppression (government)
   - reactance, unity & resistance
* Thought vs Indoctrination (mind)
   - reason, understanding & ideas

Wisdom
• Holiness vs Defilement (personal)
   - cleanliness, diet & speech
• Prudence vs Disregard (destiny)
   - consider, prepare & navigate
* Moderation vs Perturbment (culture)
   - forethought, reason & harmony
• Sacredness vs Destruction (respect)
   - protect, restore & preserve

1). All of our morality is based on these basic principles, even our religions. But even so, morality evolves and improves. It doesn't go backwards. The development of society from its primal roots to towns, then states, and eventually to civilised empires necessitated the growth of moral attitudes, as it became more inclusive. Our responsibilities grow ever wider as we encounter people from around the world, and must treat them as we wish to be treated.

The world cannot support hostile prejudices or ideologies bent on conquest. Rather, we must have tolerance and cooperation if we are going to face the challenges before us, and survive to achieve our dreams. Good moral standards guide our responses toward the acceptance of our neighbors as friends, and eventually extended family. We then understand that friction is inevitable but does not need to lead to conflict, and that will allow us to seek reconciliation.

2). Nowhere is there any moral authority for violence, although it is allowed in defense of one's self or of those who are unable to make defense. However, there is support for nonviolence and noncooperative interference with the status quo, gradually increasing the pressure to recognize and solve the problems that are causing the discontent.

Civil disobedience is not a crime. It is a patriotic act in defense of the state, reasserting the morality and well-being which it is supposed to protect. If the state has enacted laws contrary to righteousness, it is the responsibility of its citizens to speak up and seek redress, and to change the law. Being jailed for civil disobedience is an opportunity for discussion about the future of civil society, particularly any effective improvements as may be agreed upon, so as to avoid oppression and further discord.

3). Governments must also learn to behave in a moral fashion. They are not above the law. Even if they are the source of legislation, that is only culture, not divinity. As always, the "golden rule" applies. Individual states must treat each other as neighbors, since we all live on a single small planet. Nations do not exist as islands, but as members of a global society.

We do not have the right to impose our own culture or laws on other nations, any more than we have the right to invade their territory. But neither do we have any obligation to allow others to impose their ways upon us. Until such time as the world has a lasting peace, we shall all have to remember how to "walk softly, and carry a big stick." But at the same time "speak clearly, and don't swing the stick." No one can be expected to "turn the other cheek." That is for saints, not for politics.

4). Punishment for crimes should be compassionately measured out through education, psychological treatment and reorientation (that is "non-violent respectful coercion"). And yet, true justice is not only about prevention and punishment. It must include healing, reparations and restoration of community.

Paying a fine to the government is not justice; it does nothing to rehabilitate the offender's moral character, nor does it help to compensate the victim. It is nothing but a tax imposed to pay for the police to reestablish order and control.

Equally, the imprisonment of " bad" criminals only emphasizes the rupture of community. It fails to try to repair and strengthen the offender's moral character. To corral prisoners together only causes a net experience of evil, compounding inappropriate response patterns. If the only way to repair a broken morality is via "brainwashing" and therapeutic intervention, then such actions would be justified, with the long-term expectation of eventual reintegration into productive civil society. The aim is penitence and reform, not disposal.

Prisons are only a temporary expedient, a brief holding pattern awaiting adequate treatment, and should not be harsh in either circumstances or interactions. Criminals are there to be "helped" to  regain their moral humanity, and eventually their civil rights, and these changes in expectations should work toward an amelioration of antagonisms throughout the justice system.

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I would like to reference an important book which put me on the track to develop these ideas more fully:

The Righteous Mind
- Why good people are divided by politics and religion
by Jonathan Haidt
Vintage Books, New York, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-45577-2

This book can fill out ideas I have skimmed over lightly, and point in the direction I have gone further.

Thanks, Jonathan.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Meaning of Human Existence


The Meaning of Human Existence:

There are many kinds of meaning that we can
 know in our lives. To be human is to seek to
overcome futility and rise above the ordinary
daily round of maintenance and reproduction
 of culture and children. We want to know that
there was a reason for our own life as an
individual, that we are part of a greater plan.
Although this may not be obvious for each of
us, it may be enough to consider that we can
contribute through strength of numbers,
supporting the things we believe in. And then
we can keep our eyes open for any opportun-
ities to make our mark as an individual. These
are a few of the ways to be ourselves in this world.
The experience of being a singular point of human
consciousness, seeking to live our lives to the
fullest, doing and being, going to and seeing new
places, caring and sharing, learning all we can of
the universe - these are all important because they
are our connection to God and the universe as it
becomes aware of itself.

1. Exploration - to satisfy our curiosity by going
places and doing things that expand our horizons
and future possibilities.

2. Intelligence - by careful scientific investigation
to discover how things work, or how people can
devise ways to accomplish our dreams and hopes.

3. Knowledge - the more we learn and understand
about our world and combine our theories, then
the better we can know the greater cosmos and
our place in it.

4. Communication - to publish or teach what we
have learned, or that we feel is important to
inform others, so that their lives may be improved
or yield more satisfaction.

5. Cooperation - working together with others as
a team to accomplish tasks that are too large for
one person, hopefully to enhance our collective
experience.

6. Excellence - to learn and continually practice a
skill so that we may become not merely proficient,
but expert, or even master its intricate details, so
that our work may be desirable as well as highly
functional.

7. Creativity - to be able to bring new designs or
ideas, or innovative combinations, with new kinds
of applications, or to promote novel perspectives -
perhaps to encourage new appreciation of older but
still valuable artifacts, methods or ideas.

8. Purpose - to pursue and learn and work to develop
an idea or project which we hope may enhance our
lives, or offer aid or restoration to some who struggle
to survive, and thereby enhance our understanding
of what it means to be human.

Then there is a gray area between doing some-
thing meaningful and doing something important,
and for most of us the latter may be enough to
allow for happiness. The trouble with being
 human is that we don't want to think of our
lives as being pointless or trivial. We need to
devote ourselves to something larger, to try in
some way, however small, to promote the devel-
opment of the world toward a future we can
believe in. We want something grand to direct
our aim, so that if we fail we can still say it was
worth the effort, and success may bring
satisfaction.


What is important in life?

1) to create real value, for improving someone's
 life or reaching toward a goal.

2) to do something extraordinary, or to perform
with excellence.

3) to discover a better idea, or to develop new
thoughts and knowledge.

4) to reveal, encourage and train another's
potential.


As you can see, the possibilities are endless,
challenging us to strive, and to develop our
best skills and virtues. We need to be proud
of ourselves, and to believe that whatever
"Higher Power" may exist, It too may approve.