Friday, December 31, 2010

Mentors, Protégés, & Printers


”The success of the reformers was due in large part to the invention of the printing press, which not only helped to propagate the new ideas but also changed people's relationship to the text”.“The Case for God”, Karen Armstrong, pg. 171

”Printing helped to secularize the relationship of the reader to the truth that he was trying to acquire. In the past, the Church had – to an extent – been able to supervise the flow of ideas and information, but the proliferation of books and pamphlets after the middle of the sixteenth century made this censorship far more difficult. As the printed book began to replace oral methods of communication, the information it provided was depersonalized and, perhaps, became more fixed and less flexible than in the old days, when truth had developed in dynamic relation between master and pupil”. “The Case for God”, Karen Armstrong, pg. 172

Outside of the lack of control (which in and of itself isn't necessarily bad) it dehumanized the process; the human relationship of mentor-protégé was removed.


And as the technology advanced, the printed page itself became an icon of precision and exactitude, even shaping a certain mental outlook. A precursor to science. This cold Knowledge was more of a definite call sign of Modernity itself.

Macleans Magazine had listed the top 10 inventions of all time a few years back. The printing press made the list (as I believe it should). The Internet also made this list. Not everyone agreed however. The dissenters had claimed that the Internet didn't actually do anything new; it only did the same things but faster.

I think, at least certain aspects of the Internet did to the Postmodern day what the printing press did for the Reformation's Modernity.

Even less control, Anyone and everyone has their soapbox to preach from (and this most definitely includes this blog! Have you ever asked yourself what qualifications I do or do not have?)

The concept of Library and (real) Research has been near obliterated. The personal relationship of the Mentor and Protégé has been completely removed.
...maybe not removed; replaced possibly. With the advent of the printing press and the depersonalized exchange of information (data?) and zeal for Knowledge of Modernity, I believe what was lost via the removed of the human mentor-protégé relationship was Wisdom. And Wisdom cannot be learn from a book.

I very much like how The Tao of Pooh (Benjamin Hoff) makes the distinction between knowledge and wisdom.
”'From caring comes courage'. We might add that from it also comes wisdom. It's rather significant, we think, that those who have no compassion have no wisdom. Knowledge, yes; cleverness, maybe; wisdom, no. A clever mind is not a heart. Knowledge doesn't really care. Wisdom does.

Now this is something the Internet, blog sites like this one and others, discussion forums and the like differ from. Although nothing is immune to the depersonalization of Knowledge over Wisdom, these environments are relational and interactive.

The nature of our Knowledge has taken a step back towards Wisdom.
Where the printing press may have done away with the Mentor-Protégé system of learning, the Internet has – at least potentially – replaced it with a different system. Discussion, debate, argument even. The all powerful authority of the institution has been all but removed. Although there are challenges and pitfall present, if nothing else we have at least moved towards a people-focused paradigm again; we have re-embraced Relationship, even if it is in a imaginary cyberspace sort of way. (And please remember, Imagination and Make-believe are not the same things).


Monday, December 27, 2010

The “M” in Morality.

My dictionary defines the word “Morality” as follows:
The degree of conformity of an idea, practice, etc., to moral principles. Right moral conduct.
I realize one of the most obvious questions that should strike us is the question of whose ideas or whose moral principles?

But that isn't the point that stays with me.
The point that jumps off the page to me is the simple fact that this whole confusing issues of morality and ethics is simply a byproduct of humanity being gregarious. We are an extremely social animal. In fact, I might even debate whether we could live (I deliberately chose the word live and not survive) in total and prolonged isolation. My point being, from a certain point of view, we are not really individuals.

Ethics, Morality, right and wrong; these things are of absolutely no value to a creature who does not depend on anything other than itself. Unfortunately for the human race, this does not apply.

So, morality is what? Is it the glue that binds us into this necessary social conglomerate? Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it is the conglomerate itself? Either way, it provides the necessities of life.

Now, and only now, do we come to that first thought to be most obvious question; Whose ideas and whose moral principles?

~


I prefer not to use the term “religion” for the simple reason that it can – to some people's definitions – be misleading. I would rather use the term “Belief-System”. For many “religion” is strictly reserved for the traditional organized religions of the world; many of which would include a belief in a supernatural deity or deities.

A “Belief-System” is a bit more broader. It would include Agnosticism and Atheism, to name a few. A Belief-System does not necessitate moral belief in deity, but yet an adherent to a given Belief-System is still vulnerable to the disease of religiosity; and that is the defining difference (or possibly similarity) between the two. Religions would fall under the umbrella of Belief-Systems.
When the question is asked, ”Whose ideas and whose moral principles?” the answer is a Belief-System's

~

The Belief-System that is the “M” in morality, that governs society's morality itself, ultimately controls the very nature of that society's life. No, I don't mean the society's way of life. I mean life itself. The ability to live. (And again, I deliberately chose the word live and not survive).

Every religion, every Belief-System that I can think of has taken it upon themselves that this – that becoming the “M” in morality – is their very purpose, their goal. Whether it is in reaction to another's religion or belief-system or morality or through a direct statement of belief.

But at the end of the day, regardless of what we are told, Religions and Belief-Systems are not about morality, are they?… it is a subtle and elusive battle for supremacy, isn't it? It is about control. Whether we like it or not it is about control. The real issue becomes if control is a deliberate focus or simply a byproduct of morality. Whether said given Belief-System is about governance or engineering; are they focused on meeting the needs of their population or shaping the needs of their population?

... Let's not get side tracked here. Although it may sound like I am speaking of government, I am not. (Although a government could fall under the umbrella term of a "Belief-System").


We all adhere and follow some sort of Belief-System. Some of us can name and clearly identify it. Others may not so easily do so. Some of us may claim to be one thing but in truth be another. Some ruling Belief-Systems do not belong in the realm of the more common and traditional ones. Some may not even as of yet have a title. Some (as I suspect, many) are a sort of hybrid synthesis. Some are within contantly growing and evolving systems. Some are trapped within prison-systems incapable of growth. None of us are outside of a Belief-System. We'd no longer be alive if we were. (And there are poor souls who exist in this state also).

I think a few important questions we need to ask ourselves is whether we can clearly identify what and which Belief-System we belong to. Another is to question our Belief-System itself. Is it focused on being our society's, our culture's, our sub-culture's engineer? ...or the more humbling roll of its maintainer?


Is everything it sees in dichotic terms? Is everything either with it or against it? How does it view different or other perspectives and opinions? Does it demonize disagreeing or dissenting views as Evil? I should rather think this would be a warning sign.

Does it allow one's spiritual growth to exceed itself? (And I do believe Atheists have a spiritual aspect, btw). Or does it cripple one's ability to grow, maintaining its subjects as prisoners?

More importantly, can it be questioned?

Where do you belong?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tattoo: Solace In Pain

I have been questioned by some as to why I wear tattoos.

All of my tattoos have deeply personal and spiritual significance. Each has a story to tell.

Our greatest moments of growth are often during our most painful experiences. The only difference between myself and the "un-inked" is that I wear my scars on my sleeve; literally on my skin.

But this tattoo is a summation of my 'journey' and not such a simple story to explain.



"The highest form of goodness is like water.
Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them; nourishing life effortlessly.
It stays in places loathed by all men. Flowing without prejudice
to the lowliest places. Therefore, it comes near the Tao"
.

Excerpt from Tao Te Ching, verse 8, by Lao Tzu



Although both goodness and badness coexist, it is goodness that flows effortlessly like water, because it is goodness that is more at the core of nature.
I see this 'action' of goodness as the Taoist sees Wu Wei.
 
Wu Wei literally means 'without action', but often meaning 'action without action', or 'effortlessly doing'. As planets revolve around the sun, they "do" this revolving, but without "doing" it; or as trees grow, they "do", but without "doing".

Goodness, like water, is similar to a valley. All surrounding water naturally flows towards this depression, eventually forming a reservoir; rivers running and flowing into a pond, lake, sea, or ocean, and it is the ocean that is by far and away one of the most powerful forces I have personally ever experienced – whether placid and at rest, or during violent storms.




This passiveness strikes me as more of the Yin; the feminine, inaction so to speak. Nature - as Man - is innately good. Not Fallen, not corrupt, not depraved.



There is no need for me to abandon my cultural references to the bible and/or the book of Genesis either. Outside of the option of allowing for a metaphor rather than a literal historical story, there are other interpretations with this same source material (the book of Genesis) that do not necessitate Original Sin, the Fall of Man, or Total (or even partial) Depravity. For further reading see Gnostique: Genesis Reinterpreted.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can never know which is ultimately true. Innately good, or depraved. I prefer to believe Man is innately good, not 'fallen' and necessarily corrupt. The problem with choosing to believe in these Christian doctrines (the doctrine of Original Sin, or Total Depravity, or TULIP) is that, in day to day life and activities, we really shouldn't trust anybody. They're all corrupt and out to screw me. Now that is a way of life and not a very good one.

I choose to live my life trusting people know right from wrong, and in the most part, attempting to do good. Whether it's correct or incorrect I think choosing to see people as innately good is a better and more respectful way of living life. And if nothing else, at least I stand a chance of being a good example. (Jungshin Sooyang). Ultimately with goals of making a better world.

...thus the water in the tattoo.
 
~~
 
The fifth oath in Taekwon-do is “I shall build a more peaceful world”.

Easier said than done. The question is, how do I even attempt to accomplish this?



"Tao gave birth to One,
One gave birth to Two,
Two gave birth to Three,
Three gave birth to all the myriads things of the universe".
Excerpt from Tao Te Ching, verse 42, by Lao Tzu



This basically says that Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis. But this in itself is somewhat useless. I like calling this the Purple Plasticine Problem.
 In the Purple Plasticine Problem, I have a piece of red plasticine in one hand and a piece of blue plasticine in the other. I mix them and work them into each other. In the end, I end up with a large piece of purple plasticine. Few would argue this point. However, it means little by itself. ( Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis).
  So, let's look at it from another perspective:
I believe the sky is blue. So, I go around 'preaching' to everyone and anyone who'll listen why and how the sky is blue. (I can prove it too!) On my proselytizing journeys I stumble across another who's 'preaching' to anyone and everyone how they believe the sky is paisley.
The two of us sit down and have a nice long discussion and come to the agreed conclusion that the sky is really paisley-blue (or maybe sometimes bluish-paisley). Then, the two of us part ways spreading the word of the newly discovered Bluish-paisley sky!
The problem is, it's simply not true.
 
Okay. Let's start again.

I believe the sky is blue. So, I go around 'preaching' to everyone and anyone who'll listen why and how the sky is blue. (I can prove it too!) On my proselytizing journeys I stumble across another who's 'preaching' to anyone and everyone how they believe the sky is black (And this time they can prove it too!!)

The two of us sit down and have a long discussion and discover a previously unknown truth! Night and Day. It isn't so much that we were both right (or both wrong) but that there was a larger truth we've both missed. Then, the two of us part ways spreading the word of the newly discovered Night-and-Day!

To fundamentalists, the first example (The Paisley-blue Sky Doctrine) is why we cannot enter discussions because, ultimately, the truth - their truth – can only ever suffer being watered-down. Thesis + Antitheses = Synthesis is always a derogatory thing and a movement away from the truth. Ultimately, they are not looking for the truth, but are looking to defend the truth as they know it. This only works assuming that their position is completely and absolutely valid and true.

On the other side of the coin. The Night-and-Day Doctrine people, do not believe they know or hold the entire truth, and are searching for it, rather than defending what little they know.

I belong to the latter, my “religion” best being described as a Non-institutional Syncretist... and Syncretism is akin to wringing the truth out of 10,000 lies.

~ ~


The Dragon is Yang - action, the masculine – to the water's Yin. A good friend of my wife's is from Taipei, Taiwan, and she tells me that, in her culture, the dragon (especially as a tattoo) represents a sort of protection from harm and fear (but only on a man, because the dragon is a masculine power of Yang). However, it isn't that the dragon is tattooed on one's body that gives it its 'power' but that it exists within one's heart.

The Asian Dragon represents many things.

The dragon often symbolizes power, strength, courage, and also Indomitable spirit ("Baekjul Bulgul", in Taekwon-do):
To strive to have indomitable spirit means to have the courage to stand up for what you believe in, no matter what odds you are up against and always give 100% effort in whatever you do.
It symbolizes a protector of hidden treasures (see the above mentioned Gnostique: Genesis Reinterpreted.)

It represents a sort of freedom. ("A piece of Burlap. Strong and tightly bound, yet unbound in my liberty").
 
~ ~

Worry, anxiety; Fear of what might yet be. Fear kills the Future; murder's its potential; Slays the perpetual Now, for it is in the Now that Fear's price is paid...

Fear, my greatest enemy.
It is a battle I've fought my entire life and one I continue to wage war with.

I have battled and struggled with worry, anxiety, and Fear for far too long. One of the driving reasons why I choose to study the martial art of Taekwon-do under one of the world's Masters (Master Florin Fratean) was to at least attempt to combat this internal Fear. Through Taekwon-do I can see this desire and growth with the meanings of its belt colours:
  • White is innocence
  • Yellow is the fertile earth from which a plant sprouts and takes root.
  • Green signifies the plant's growth.
  • Blue signifies the heavens or sky towards which the plant matures into a towering tree.
  • Red is the colour of the plant's first fruits. Red indicates danger. The student has sufficient skill to inflict injury to an opponent so must exercise caution and control (Guk Gi). The red also acts as a warning to opponents.
  • The Black belt is the exact opposite of white. The black colour represents the student's ability to overcome Fear and triumph over Darkness.
The dragon represents this fearlessness; the confrontation and triumph over Darkness. This Darkness is not only the absence of Light, but includes triumph over ignorance. Some traditions believe that to journey past a dragon is to answer its riddles. But some things cannot be known, therefore defeating this Darkness - overcoming this ignorance - sometimes means actually embracing its unknowability. What might prove to be the most divisive issue on this planet is the question of God. A Question of Theism. I have embraced this divisive issue and have found a peace with the non-answer to this question: The Zen of Contemplating God.

~ ~
 And finally there is an important symbolism of the symbol. The imagery and symbolism of the dragon is most definitely a non-Western one. It is a step outside of what we are and what we know. It is the willingness to embrace a different mind-set; a willingness to challenge and question ourselves before anyone and anything else.
I have sat for 25 hours for this piece, with the artistic talent and company of the tattooist and artist, Milena Fusco. (And if it wasn't for her pleasant company and conversation, it would have been a brutal 25 hours). In my personal, private, and spiritual battle with darkness and Fear I have found Solace in Pain. This tattoo carries Martial Arts, Taoist, Hegelian (or is it Kantian?), and even Gnostic influences. It is not a simple thing to explain. It is a summation of sorts.



(For more see Personal Mara)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Walking Dead

I thoroughly enjoy watching and attempting to see the shadows and echoes of our society's, our culture's concerns, fears, and beliefs in our fictions – because they are truth.

And I think this is also true with the new AMC series The Walking Dead.
If we look at the small band of survivors as the whole of society or civilization we can see two conflicting leaders.

Shane (the cop's partner), whose underlying agenda seems to be survival (not living), and potentially and more accurately, self-survival, embodying little more than an animalistic nature.
But it is within the leadership of Rick Grimes (main character) that we see the dichotomy set up.

A willingness (nay, a need) to help a potentially threatening and dangerous stranger (Merle Dixon). He is told by numerous people that Merle doesn't deserve it, to which he answers, it isn't for Merle, it's for me.

He doesn't necessarily embody the survival of the group, but survival of the very sense of morality itself. He juxtaposes to Shane's animalistic nature.

What I find so interesting about The Walking Dead is that it really is not a story about zombies, or survival or post-apocalypse world. Neither is it a reflection or commentary of consumerism like the entire George Romero's zombie-genre has been.

This story could be told as a Western with cowboys as the main characters; the zombies being replaced by the obstacles and threat of Indians and wild animals.

Ironically, The Walking Dead, really isn't about zombies at all. (And on a side note, I don't believe the title is referring to the zombies, but rather to the survivors).

It poses the question of the moral state of our society. It questions the moral fiber of our society. Are we innately altruistic and good? Or are we nothing more than savage animals in need of being kept in check?
...or maybe it's making the statement that there needs to be some sort of balance betwixt the two...

Christianity has attempted repeatedly, in times past and present, to question the moral fiber of our society and has most often times failed – or at worst been ignored. (Often taking a finger-pointing and accusational tone).

I think that may very well be the defining difference between Spiritual Growth and Religious Growth.
When we question the moral fiber of our society we are really inviting spiritual growth. However, I don't believe this is what Christianity has attempted. Religious growth questions the world around us and is an attempt to change that world into what we are. Spiritual growth questions ourselves.

...and if we are only interested in Religious growth (proselytizing) and not at all with spiritual growth, we become dead on the inside. How funny – how ironic – that the lifeless and walking dead – zombies – have succeeded where God's chosen people have failed...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Love and Control, and the God of Eden

It was decades ago when I drew this picture. Pedro is a Mexican marionette, or string puppet, and like myself, Pedro saw an inherent problem with the imagery of God. It would be much later when I realized that what I struggled with really wasn't so much God, but the Abrahamic/Monotheistic image of God.

Pedro is a marionette, a string puppet. But everything and anything Pedro did was completely and absolutely according to the will of God.

On the issues of sticks and carrots - Pedro thought - I am being rewarded or punished according to actions I am not completely in control of or even guilty of. How can this be a loving God?

Pedro realized – that from a certain point of view – he was enslaved to this deity, regardless of whether he chose to “surrender” to this God or not. What attached him to God; the strings that controlled and manipulated him, put bleeding wounds that could never heal. Pedro's ambitions were to somehow regain control – to take possession of the puppeteer's central rod & control bar; to be in control of himself, and potentially from that position, choose to follow or not follow this deity; to legitimately make the choice to 'surrender' or not.


The story ends sadly for poor Pedro. For once he does finally gain possession of his central rod & control bar, he discovers that he completely and totally looses control. He can never find himself in a position to legitimately make that choice to follow this deity or not. That he was never anything more than a slave.


...poor Pedro.


~


Now I realize this is only one of many potential perspectives. I also realize that this would upon initial glance appear near atheistic in nature. But this is an issue of the tension between Love and Control. And I for one do not believe these two things are compatible.


A great example of this is the story (graphic novel and movie) of Coraline. It is The Other Mother, (or the Beldam) and her alternative and near identical 'Other World'. On initial look everything is better. Everything is catered to Coraline because the Other Mother loves her.


But as the story unfolds we discover that that nagging uneasiness we've felt from the very get go may very well have been justified. The Other Mother is the true power and force behind this entire other world. God-like in her power with a tiny exception; she cannot create, but only copy, twist, and manipulate.


But why? She just wants someone to love. There's a price for her love and adornment. The sacrifice of one's freedom. You must stay in her fabricated world forever. In essence, becoming her slave. (And as the story advances, we discover that it becomes worse than this for this fake God – this Demiurge – becomes easily bored of her newly acquired objects of love and affection, only to discard and abandon them, essentially, to death). (On a side note, it is also interesting that another name for the Gnostic's Demurge is Ialdabaoth, or Yaldabaoth, an imperfect god, a blind god even. What's further interesting is that Coraline's Other Mother has artificial eyes - buttons! - sewn on, for without them she is blind).


~


Coraline reminds me so much of a certain point of view of Gnosticism that I am somewhat surprised nobody has made the comparison before.


If we reread Genesis, but from a certain Gnostic perspective, we can clearly see this exact same pattern. The source material (the book of Genesis) itself is not altered, but its interpretation is. In this perspective it is the symbols and imagery that are switched. (If interested, you can read a more detailed analysis of this at Gnosticism, Valentinus Style).


The Garden of Eden is only a deceptive paradise created by 'The Lord God' for reasons little more than a cage, in which Adam & Eve are (unknowingly) imprisoned. Objects of this deity's love and affection (and a source of worship) but only under certain conditions. But mankind is not content and somehow innately knows it; is missing something and reaching for it. ”The Lord God” (desperately) attempts to fulfill this longing and repeatedly fails.


Enters the subtle, crafty, and shrewd serpent. (And you'll note that none of this descriptive words mean evil). In this particular interpretation the symbol and imagery of the serpent is more akin to (possibly) the Holy Spirit, giving directions to their escape from this delusional cage of Paradise. The serpent is acting of behalf of something or someone external to this Garden of Eden. Something or someone above and beyond ”The Lord God” of the Garden of Eden.


The 'secret' to exit this existence of enslavement and servitude is to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. (For which the God of Eden is concerned with, but even more concerned with, what if Adam & Eve were to eat of the Tree of Life?!


The potential, while still maintaining this alternative symbolism and imagery, is that the Son of God – not the God of Eden, but an external and alien God – a 'true' God – Yeshua is the Fruit of the Tree of Life (and must be consumed...) not so much for Salvation, but for enlightenment. Not so much the roll of Redeemer but as Revealer.


Now I am fully aware that the Conservative Christian will bolt with fear of heresy and damnation, making accusations of following Satan (or at least being duped by him). Let's add that this interpretation (either interpretation) are not literal history. I don't believe either historically happened. They are myths (and myths are not lies or fiction), but myths with meanings. The truth is not in the fact of whether these events really happened or not. I think many people fail miserably to see and recognize within this Gnostic interpretation as well as within their own bible, that it doesn't have to be literal or historic to be true.

~


Love and Control.

I think this may very well be the defining difference between being Religious and being Spiritual.
The stories of Pedro, and of Coraline's Other Mother, and the Great Escape from the Prison of Eden, are all lessons from parting ways with organized and institutionalized religion. These are slave masters.


The Mexican marionette Pedro made a simple mistake. What he thought was God was really little more than his religiosity.


Coraline (interestingly, with the help of a Black Cat who was not subjective to the Other Mother's powers...?) saw through the Beldam's deception and lies.


And Adam & Eve (mankind) became enlightened by the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, gaining the potential of Tree of Life.


~


In conclusion, I believe to the Spiritual, God loves us, while to the Religious, God controls us.
I don't believe you can have it both ways.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Terminator: Time-lines

(For fans and buffs of the Terminator movies)

The Terminator story is only temporally linear from the first to the second films. These two are critical to the story/time-lines. However, both time paradoxes (predestination paradoxes) are finalized.

All following movies/books/stories/series are “splinters” or branches in probabilities (not considering the various video games). What becomes obvious is that in the vast majority of probabilities Judgment Day cannot be stopped, only delayed or advanced. (Judgment Day being the precursor to to a future war between man and machine, the probabilities following John Connor's various attempts to advert or avoid this future war).

However, what becomes extremely interesting to me is that in The Sarah Connor Chronicles this “future war” is actually being fought today, in the here and now! Skynet and John Connor having sent their soldiers and agents back in time to do battle – essentially starting a time-war rather than a war at a future historic date.

The only aspect of these time-lines that do not change are the first movie ("Terminator”), the second movie (”T2: Judgment Day”), and the never-seen final conflict between John Connor and Skynet (in 2029) in which all the various agents, soldiers, and Terminators are sent back.

If we were to map out these time-lines it might look like this:

The only real story left to be told is that of the final confrontation between John Connor and Skynet in 2029.

The real question – due to the various and numerous (potentially countless) time-lines becomes, must this future John Connor and Skynet send back agents for all probabilities?

This future John Connor and this future Skynet become more akin to some sort of mystical entities rather than individuals. It becomes a story that may very well be impossible to tell. Both these future figures become unknown (possibly even unknowable), mutable, non-fixed, and definitely historically non-static.

We know that this future John Connor is aware of the predestination paradox and deliberately sends Kyle Reese back in time to secure not only his birth, but his very existence.

Skynet does the exact same thing – securing its own genesis and existence. The only difference with Skynet is a question of awareness and intent. However, this becomes an insignificant question when we look at another. Must both the future John Connor and Skynet have taken action in regards to “failed” probabilities? Must these two Unknowable Future Entities have even been aware of the grandfather paradoxes?

What I mean by this is, in 2029 does Skynet send back a T-101 to 1984, a T-1000 to 1994, and a T-X (“Terminatrix”) to 2004, while – to combat these potential time “ripples” - John Connor sends back Kyle Reese to 1984, a reprogrammed T-101 to 1994, and Kathrine Brewster (John's wife) sends back another reprogrammed T-101 to 2004?

Ironically, the success of these “missions” or “operatives” would obliterate their future necessities... a grandfather paradox.

It is not my intention to point out a flaw in the storyline (even though I don't believe this is a flaw) but to attempt to draw some truth out of it.

In this analogy the Future John Connor and Skynet (both seemingly near omniscient) represent God and Satan; Good and Evil, engaged in a final war yet to come – The End Times. Certain quite literal interpretations of the book of Revelation, Final Judgment and Salvation and Damnation.

But what if, like The Sarah Connor Chronicles, this battle is not one off in the future – at the End Times – but right now, everyday, in the here and now?

Skynet is much more than a super-smart computer. It is much more than the leading-edge of AI technology. It is much more than the first self-aware AI. It is even much more than the first machine endowed with Free Will. Skynet is excising a sense of morality.

In order to exercise judgment against mankind, this action also necessitates awareness, intent, motive, and some sort of moral sense (granted a poor one – at least for us).

Skynet faced the temptation of the Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil and Fell.

Similar to what Rob Bell suggests in Velvet Elvis in regards to Adam and Eve and the Fall. Namely, that there were not a historic or literal Adam or Eve and the story of the Fall is true only in metaphor; that this story, this temptation and struggle and Fall is an extremely personal one – one we each as free willed individuals faces daily.

Again, I am revisiting the abandonment of literal holy script interpretation.

Can we take the whole Terminator storyline as an analogy (regardless of its creator's intentions), as a sort of reflection of our collective cultural, or possibly artistic interpretation, views, thoughts, and fears of our times?

I've written an article some time back titled Cultural Mythology about this apparently inherent fear present in our culture. We see it repeatedly in movies and TV like Terminator, Star Trek's The Borg, and The Matrix. Could these monsters represent a manifestation of our collective unconscious fear of Modernism?

Could they be the zenith of Modernism?

But there is another less dark way of looking at this: In the original Star Trek series Dr. Spock represents the Modern Man – believing all can be controlled, understood, and dissected by logic, science, and reason.

While in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data represents the Postmodern Man – having achieved the pinnacle of scientific and technologic advancement yet longing not only to be human but to understand being human – realizing the limits and limitation of logic, reason, and science.

I have found much of the Modern Church and many Christians (most notably Evangelicals and Fundamentalists) function on this Spock-level.

We see this same Now-Future dichotomy in Islam. In the Golden Age of Islam, before the “Gates of Ijtihad” (Islam's third 'source' or root) were “shut”, the focus was to attempt to encourage and be receptive to new ideas – to live in harmony with other faiths and peoples. Although it wasn't perfect, the intention was there. Blind Faith was frowned upon and resolving an issue using analogical reasoning, thought, and dialog was promoted. The focus was on the Living Now and, to a certain degree, benefiting society.

Since the “closure” of this 'third root', many aspects and factions of Islam now reward and promote Blind Faith, a tribal and imperialistic idea of Islam. Would-be martyrs are promised 72 virgins in the afterlife. (Although certain scholars argue that the correct translation might not be “virgins” but “white dates”, a very valuable commodity in the 7th century desert. And it is unlikely the 72 white dates would be for the martyr but his surviving family).

This kind of mentality and these beliefs are the Skynet and Terminators of our time. They, ultimately, bring nothing less than destruction.

They become guilty of the same thing Skynet is guilty of; The belief that the end justifies the means. Its lack of understanding of the nature of truth; seeing the only valid and valuable truth as being only the literal, historic, factual, and ultimately, empirical.

Can there be truth in fiction?

This “battle”, this personal struggle is not one yet to come, like a war we are to prep and prepare ourselves for (similar to what St. Paul seems to advocate in his writings, saying that we are to race towards some goal, a future reward)...

...but rather, a perpetual internal struggle (with external manifestations), similar to the advise Yeshua gives when he says to “be on guard”, to live your life right here, right now! - like the End Times are already upon us; don't wait! Do it right here and now!

Maybe the truth of the matter isn't that Yeshua didn't know when this time would come (”Only the Father knows...”) but that he knew there really wasn't a time beyond the present, the perpetual Now; there was not End Times.

When we combine this with Yeshua's confusing description of The Kingdom of God – that it is not here or there, but it is here, right now, within you and within me...
... I've never believed Yeshua's Kingdom of God was synonymous with the Heaven of the Afterlife, the byproduct of Salvation, judgment and the End Times...
... in fact, I'm not convinced Yeshua ever promoted or taught of the Heaven of the Afterlife.

~

I'll attempt to bring this post to some sort of conclusion:
So, which do you engage in?

Collecting some sort of Divine Brownie Points for a judgment yet to come by a hidden Supernatural God ?

Or attempting to live Yeshua's Way right now – today - for a truly ever present God?

Which ”time-line” do you follow?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Question of Theism

Theism (of any sort) ultimately is a statement of belief, in which the burden of proof or definition is upon the Theist.
Atheism is also a statement of belief and the onus of proof or definition lies upon the Atheist.

From a certain perspective both of these positions’ commonality are that they’re “systems of belief” (not facts) and they both have an obligation of proof, or to define themselves (ie There is a God. There is not a God).

This is a dichotomous scale with Theism and Atheism being either polar end, and the central “gray area” being degrees of Agnosticism.

I’m wondering if some who claim to be agnostic do so only because there would appear to be no other options available within this paradigm; feeling somewhat lost. To claim to be agnostic is near synonymous with being a sort of seeker, yet I know many who have ‘found’ their position after years of ‘seeking’ and have no other position to refer to themselves but Agnosticism.

Agnosticism is either a position of indecision, or one of having given up or having decided the answer is unknowable. They are still posing the very same question: Does God exist? These positions are fundamentally based upon proof, or lack thereof. All these positions presume the goal (intentional or not) to be proof or definition.

The “Black” polar position of Atheism, the “White” polar position of Theism, the “Gray” positions of Agnosticism (in all its forms) all fall into a particular and singular world view. A Paradigm of Proof.

To the Theist, to the Atheist, and to the Agnostic, it is all a question of theism. Does God exist?
They all share the same question; they just differ as to what the correct answer is.
I’m not suggesting yet another method of discovering the correct answer (if one even exists), but to cease asking the question altogether; to change the question itself.
A completely different perspective would be to move beyond aTheistic one. There is no “statement of belief”. There is also no focus on nor onus of proof or definition. No belief has been stated therefore no proof need be forwarded. This particular ‘position’ isn’t one of proof. The focus is elsewhere.

So what good does thinking about God’s theistic and atheistic nature have? To simply abandon this line of questioning and wondering returns us to a position to this selfsame Paradigm of Proof. It returns us to Agnosticism. (Don’t know. Can’t know. Don’t care).
 
It isn’t that we need to choose or find the correct answer, but rather, we need to find the correct question. I think the problem we’re facing here is that we’re asking the wrong questions and allowing the wrong questions to be asked. We're missing (or chosen to simply not see) the blantantly most obvious fact.
The question of God cannot be answered.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tul-Wisdom (Patterned Wisdom)

I worry about the future. This has always been a problem I've struggled and battled with. I worry about my financial stability (or instability), about my family's health, my kids' schooling, my wife's business, my job, my friends, my relationships, my well-being. And when I allow that rogue beast, Worry, to roam free, it does nothing but further feed and breed Fear.

Too often I fall into the trap of living in the Past. Analyzing whether this or that choice or decision could have changed where I find myself today. When I open the memories and doorways to the past I run the risk of flooding myself with regret for what might-have-been. (Those saddest words of tongue or pen...)

When I spend my energy worrying about Tomorrow and regretful for Yesterday, I do nothing but destroy my Today.
Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is. The future
has not yet come. Looking deeply at life
as it is in the very here and now,
the practitioner dwells in
stability and freedom.

Bhaddekaratta Sutta
The illusion is that our Today – our Now – is a tiny hairline separating Yesterday from Tomorrow. The truth of the matter is that there is no future and there is no past but only an eternally endless Now.


“Alan Watts likened the practice of living from our center to marital arts, where we are encouraged to “stay always in the center position, and stay always here”. He says, “If you expect something to come in a certain way, you position yourself to get ready for it. If it comes another way, by the time you reposition your energy, it is too late. So stay in the center, and you will be ready to move in any direction.” When living from your center, in the now, he adds, “you stand a much better chance of being able to deal with the unforeseen than if you keep worrying about it” Candance B. Pert, The Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine (New York: Touchstone, 1997), 27

I have found practicing the Tuls (patterns) in Taekwon-do extremely “centering” and nearly a form of Meditation. The concentration and focus clears the mind, forcing one to 'forget' everything but the Now, returning the balance.

I do not miss the point of every pattern (at least to my limited knowledge) begins in one position and returns to this same position. A centering. A balance point. A Zen of Now.

I can't help but wonder if General Choi (the founder of ITF) deliberately encouraged this “symbolism” of centering; reining in our runaway imaginations – not dwelling on the past and not worrying about the future, but always returning to this state of centeredness.

I believe the trick is to borrow this learned wisdom as we practice it in our patterns and apply it to our lives on a daily, on an hourly level. It can only make us better and stronger.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Zen of Contemplating God

I've been told that most Buddhists have happily and willingly moved away from Theistic religion. I've also been told that Buddhists do not contemplate what cannot be known – and God cannot be known.
I can't help but wonder this on a few levels. Firstly, I need to ask what does 'moving away from Theistic religion' really mean? I had always believed there are not only two positions. It doesn't have to be a question of either Theism or Atheism. I believe there is also Non-Theism.


Mu.
I've also read that students of Zen concentrate for years on koans as a method attaining enlightenment. I wonder if Buddhists spend time focusing on koans too?

If so, I've come to wonder whether contemplating God could in itself act as a koan?

Personally, attempting to 'find' God, attempting to define God is a practice that has no solution. Attempting to understand the incomprehensible would seem to be a fruitless endeavor, but only if we are searching for a definitive answer. If we practice to understand the incomprehensible as a journey, it can become a koan of sorts.

Admittedly, I've never really looked at it from this point of view, but I think I've practiced it for years. A summation of my experiences could be to say witnessing the repeated death and rebirth of “God” - continually. Repeatedly shattering my images and concepts of God.

To-understand-the-incomprehensible is my koan.

The Zen of Contemplating God.

Interesting thoughts...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Harmonious-Dichotomies

We modern day Westerners tend to see everything through some kind of dichotomy. You're either this or you're that; you're either guilty or you're innocent; you're either in or you're out; it's either black or it's white.

Many of us - as we get older - become more mature and attain enough wisdom to come to understand that there exists many shades of gray, eventually realizing the possibility that either extreme is more of a hypothetical and that the world might very well be all various shades of gray. However, this is still functioning within the Western-paradigm of Dichotomies.

I believe there exists Harmonious-Dichotomies; polar opposites that not only co-exist, but co-exist in harmony with one another interdependent one another.

The Japanese have a concept called Mu.
Mu; unask the question. It isn't that we need to choose or find the correct answer, but rather, we need to find the correct question. I think the problem we're facing here is that we're asking the wrong questions (or allowing the wrong questions to be asked).
.
I am beginning to see this Harmonious-dichotomy more and more often.
With an extremely simple example, I first saw it manifested concretely in Taekwon-do.
Either you are striking (let's say punching) or you are blocking.
Either you are striking or defending, right?


The correct way to throw a punch (either technically or practically, as in sparring) involves both.
(Let's say I'm throwing a left jab punch). My left fist rotates, reaches, and strikes forward. However, my right fist moves up and beside my head, creating a block, protecting my head/face.


The Western-dichotic-paradigm might say you cannot be offensive and defensive. You must be either one or the other. The truth of the matter is it is only functional (it is only true) when both are in harmony.



Another perspective is either you are a 'victim' (let's say you are starving) or you are a 'rescuer' (the one who donates the life saving food to the starving victim). Either you are the 'victim' or you are the 'rescuer'.


Really, these two polarities have everything to do with either "service to self" (I am the victim) or "service to others" (I am the rescuer). This fundamental division makes assumptions (deliberate or not).


If you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day.
This is the victim-rescuer paradigm.


If you teach him how to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime.
You have broken the victim-rescuer paradigm. You have not 'saved' him from starvation, but allowed him to rescue himself from starvation. Ultimately, promoted him to your (erroneous) position of 'rescuer'. He is also no longer the victim.
This becomes a Harmonious-dichotomy.

Service to others should be a voluntary gifting rather than a compulsion driven by the belief that one must serve others to be a 'good person'.


We are often taught that in order to be a 'good person' we must be generous and charitable. Therefore, ultimately, we must have the resources to be charitable; we must sit in a position of power. We must be – in one form or another – wealthy.


That forces the need to begin in a position of power and/or authority; we need to fulfill the role of 'rescuer' in the rescuer-victim paradigm, which necessitates superiority in one way or another.


… so what happens if you're not wealthy, or in a position of power, or don't have the necessary resources? I'll tell you what happens. You struggle with your conscious and guilt (potentially becoming a slave to your religion or you 'morality', making you anything but free). Because, from this Western-Charity point of view, you're not really a good person. (How interesting is it that from this particular point of view we must be wealth to be a "good person"?)


We're not to serve others so that we're a 'good person'. We're to serve others for no other reason than simply voluntary gifting. Anything else is self-serving. Call it spiritual hedonism.


I believe this is breaking of this rescuer-victim relationship and I think empowers us to cease being victims, to cease our longing for and searching for a divine rescue (or rescuer) to break the addiction and bonds of religiosity.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cultural-Mythologies

"Insular Christianity has a very serious and crippling disability with modern cultural mythology.“


It is kind of strange and a little bit sad how this piece came to be. I had seen the preview of the new and upcome Christmas release of Aliens vs. Predators: Requiem movie. I had sent out an email to an all men small group that I belong to, basically saying "check out this preview, wow I can't wait to see it!" I added at the end (very much tongue in cheek) that I thought we should collectively watch this movie and discuss, as a topic, it's Christian and/or biblical message. (And for clarity's sake, if you've missed it, the final sentence was a joke).

Knowing the guys, I really didn't expect any replies as excited as I felt we should all actually be. (And again, if you haven't picked up on this yet, I'm a big Aliens fan). Some people simply aren't into it, and that's fine.

However, one responded (privately and not through a “reply all” return) that he didn't feed it was a good idea and didn't see any edification value to it....

...[insert crickets chirping here]...

“Ahhh...You're joking... right?” I said "It wasn't intended to have edification value but simply some fun."

Nope. Dead serious.
And it was this comment that got me thinking – and not because I had some ulterior agenda to defend the Aliens-franchise that I am such a big fan of, but in defense of our collective cultural mythologies.

Most people tend to think that mythologies only exist in the past, from distant ancient - and usually extinct - civilizations. Mythologies exist in every culture. They are how a society communicates. Literature, movies, music, nearly all forms or art & entertainment reflect the current culture's – society's – understandings, philosophy, loves, concerns, and fears.

To embrace the insular, or isolationism, is to disconnect from these numerous and various richnesses of art & entertainment; it is to disconnect with society.

There are elements of profound truths in fictitious television programing like Star Trek: The Next Generation's the Borg and big screen movies like Terminator, Terminator 2, Terminator 3, and the Matrix movies. Even in Sci-fi literature like Fred Saberhagen's Berserkers we see incredibly deep-rooted fears and concerns about our rampant technological race and our blatant dependency on it manifest themselves in their forms of mythology. The Borg and Terminator are the realization of this technological dependency brought to life in detailed nightmarish quality. Not to mention as a side note our fear of some sort of apocalyptic end of the world.

We see this brutally and disturbingly presented in H.R. Giger's artwork – even as offensive as it can sometimes be. We see the blending of organic creature with machine and we see his art come to life in the Alien-mythology.



Vampires in literature came to the front primarily during the Victorian era. The concern, fear, and realization was twofold with the vampire-mythology. One was the nightmare cognation that we – as human beings – are feeding on one another. The upper elite class surviving and stifling and killing the lower peasant class. The other nightmare realization was that (as an upper class elite) we are nothing more than a monster in a dressed-up disguise of a human being.

Brian Lumley's Necroscope-series (13 volumes) and the whole Wamphyri-mythology poses the haunting question of how far we can sink into depravity before any hope of salvation is lost.



My favourite author, H.P. Lovecraft, writes of forgotten eon-old Elder Gods in blasphemous worship and the insanity of the Spaces where aliens reside. Lovecraft's Cthulhu-mythos voiced the apprehensions and fears in the '20's and '30's of foreign immigration. Although manifested in the fear of discovering their inbred alien heritage, it had the potential of setting the stage for a paranoia run amok to what would become the Nazi's belief in the Aryan purity of the One Human Species, and the genocide of all other subhumans. Thank God it failed.

Even Pornography holds cultural truths. (And if porn itself was a cultural mythology, I would suggest we watch them too.) On a side note, I believe the majority of Christians subscribe to the philosophy of the hedonistic porn addiction. See the article, XXX: Porn for the Soul.

To choose to be blind to these fears and concerns or to entertain them as only intellectual fancies is to arrogantly ignore the plights that surround us.




Movies likes Blade Runner, characters like Data from Star Trek:TNG and the cloned Ellen Ripley in Alien Resurrection all scream the question of what does it mean to be human? What does it truly mean to possess a soul? And more importantly (and disturbingly), maybe some of us don't have one.



Is our society voicing a concern or fear with it's cultural mythology of the Aliens-franchise? I think it is, and strongly.



With all 7 movies, all 10 books (that I read, there are more), and numerous graphic novels, there is a common enemy within each and every one of them. The Wyland-Yutani Corporation. Not the Aliens. Not the Predators. A corporation.


It's okay, alright, acceptable and has edificational value to watch the documentary series The Corporation, in which the central theme is the documentary is an attempt to assess the "personality" of the corporate "person" by using DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders) to label the Corporation as a psychopath. However, when this truth and concern is played out in science-fiction or horror genre, like Aliens, it becomes unacceptable, without edificational value, and "unnecessary and mindless gratuitous violence" (I've been told by another).

Strange. It's acceptable to label a Corporation as a psychopath, but when we play it out to it's logical conclusions, it becomes unacceptable. However, when a Christian friend of mine felt compelled to read a fire-and-brimstone preacher's sermon describing in minute, shocking, and disturbing detail, the very nature of the brutal tortures of hell, it was justified, apparently, out of a "necessary" to better motivate us to evangelize.

Am I the only one seeing the hypocrisy here?

When we look at this tiny slice of our society's cultural mythology that I provided as an example, we see that our non-religious - our secular society is painfully aware of our collectively fallen, or "condemned" state. It is manifested in our art & entertainment. We are aware of it, concerned about it, worried about it, and even frightened of it.

We do not need Christians preaching the heresy of Bad-News-First-Evangelism (as the French philosopher Jacques Ellul puts it). We do not need to be convinced or convicted of our sins or condemnation. The Spirit of God moves and lives within the secular world; they just don't see it and too often Christians just won't recognize, acknowledge, or allow it. The invisible Spirit of God has already convinced them of their "condemnation" through their cultural mythology. God is at work.


Evangelical Christians who subscribe to the One-Two-Punch method of evangelizing (first the Bad News and only then the Good News) really have an agenda all their own. It isn't good enough that society acknowledges it's own "condemnation" through it's own cultural mythology. No sir! It must recognize it's fallen state through the Christian Subculture's Mythology. Christianity is not reaching out to people in a context they can understand or relate to. Christianity has stopped speaking the language of the people. Call it the new-Latin if you please.

So I ask you, are watching these movies, viewing these artworks, listening to this music, reading these books have an edification factor? I don't know. In a postmodern world, I think understanding it's numerous cultural mythologies is quite valuable.

Is it really any wonder why church attendance and membership is dropping? Is it really surprising to find the Institutional Church slowly dying? Is it really shocking to discover that the Christian Subculture is so rejected and viewed with such contempt and disgust?

Our society is simply ripe for the 'Good News'. The problem is the subculture of Christianity is too blind and self-obsessed to deliver it.

The proof is in the pudding. The Religion of Christianity has failed. I find its obsessive desire of becoming insular very sad.

But maybe I'm wrong. I've been told this whole "rant", this entire "diatribe" has been for no other use or purpose than to fulfill my love of a movie. I guess I'm the hedonist.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review of Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos

From a work of pure fiction, this book is great!
Entertaining and comical with a healthy splash of seriousness and even tears at times!

It was a lighthearted and pleasant read.

...however, I can't help but wonder to what degree of seriousness is truly intended.
I think, quite a bit. (Spoiler alert) As much fun as it to laugh at the numerous imaginary Jesus' in mockery of various forms of ridiculous Christian beliefs there are out there, we inevitably come across our imaginary Jesus and our brand of belief... and somehow it just isn't quite so funny.

I can't help but wonder if this piece of fiction is meant to be something a lot more serious than it would appear on the surface. I wonder what deeper theological thoughts swim just beneath the calm and comical surface.

It made me ask a question; Exactly how do we know – or know of – Jesus?
After a bit of thought, I've come to believe there are only 4 ways to 'know Jesus'. (And I am not speaking of the Born-Again-Evangelical kind of knowing-Jesus).

1) There is the Jesus we know through historical texts (which is precious little).
2) There is the Jesus we read of in the gospel accounts, each flavoured to a certain degree by its author. (which – interestingly - leaves the 'real Jesus' veiled or hidden 'beneath' or 'between' the gospel accounts. Inaccessible; having become isolated and hidden between the pages of history and gospel).
3) There's the Jesus that we meet through good Christians – truly embodying the Body of Christ concept,
4) and finally, there is the Jesus of our imaginations. (And it really should be noted that something that is make-believe and something that is imaginary are not necessarily synonymous).

Ultimately how we 'know' Jesus is shaped to some degree by all four 'ways'. I cannot help but believe it is our imaginary Jesus that plays the largest and strongest part.

After all, I doubt many professing Christians really want to 'meet' and 'know' the real Jesus.

I like when Matt Mikalatos' protagonist (...or is it really himself?...) voices a concern about the real Jesus:
”...he can do whatever he pleases. Who knows what he might ask of me? I can't control him. I can't box him in with my own beliefs and philosophies...”
If we're honest enough with ourselves, we would have to admit that the Jesus we want will – at least to some degree – bow to our beliefs, and bend towards our philosophies. I honestly believe it is impossible to do anything else.
It is when we use and abuse our imaginary Jesus – bending it to our agendas – that the real crime and harm occurs. That is where the danger lies.

~

I'd love to do Matt Mikalatos' Imaginary Jesus in a group study. I'd love to see if and how biblical literalists struggle with the truths that are present within a piece of pure fiction.