Monday, February 11, 2013

Credo Part III: How then shall we be religious?

Even a nerd like me needs more than abstract intellectual speculation in my religion.  I need an image of the Divine to evoke awe and wonder and also to give me a way to connect with the Ultimate.  Rabbi Arthur Waskow suggests Ruach, the Breath of the Universe as such an image: “What we breathe is what the trees breathe out, what trees breathe in is what we breathe out. Thinking of G-d as the Breath of Life is a profound metaphor and theology of G-d, as the Breath of Life, in and out breath, that which unites all life, that which is beyond us and within us. Words are physical breathing shaped by intellectual consciousness into emotional communication.  So when we pray or share words of compassion we breathe ourselves into the Breath of Life.”  
According to Seligman, we can partake in the process toward God. We can increase knowledge as a teacher, increase power as an engineer, increase goodness as a social worker.   We can breathe with the Breath of the Universe that is moving toward the Omega Point of all win-win.
I’ve now unraveled the answer to the questions of salvation: Whose are we?  To whom do we belong?  To whom are we accountable?  What keeps us going when life throws us a curve?  What larger Something are we part of?
As a contented nerd, I answer:  I am part of the Universe evolving toward the Omega Point of more knowledge, more complexity, more win-win systems.  I’ve helped push this evolution in my life.  I’ve contributed to knowledge by working as a laboratory  research assistant, to empathy by publishing a memoir about becoming gay, and toward less violence by clicker training dogs. I celebrate this belonging with my breath that I join with the Breath of the Universe.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Credo Part II: Win-win gets us to the Omega point

Last year I discovered a book that articulated and extended much of what I had been pondering about increasing complexity and win-win in human affairs.  The Better Angels of Our Nature; Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker was worth spending $24 for a hardback copy.  Moreover, for a nerd like me, figuring out the mathematical, statistical, and philosophical patterns in the book was as much fun as figuring out the patterns in a sudoku puzzle.  Pinker establishes, unequivocally in my mind, that all kinds of violence have been decreasing over the ten thousand years of human history.  
At the beginning of our history ten thousand years ago, we all lived as hunter gatherers.  According to Matt Ridley [blog 1-28-13 Mind and Matter WSJ] almost one-third of people in such societies die in raids and fights, a higher proportion than the people in worst hit areas during World War II.
Fast forward seven thousand years to the Near East world of three thousand years ago.   The society that produced such wisdom as “Love justice and do mercy”  was rife with slayings, smitings, and stonings.  The Bible tells us so.
By the turn of the 20th century, slavery and cruel and unusual punishments had been outlawed in the civilized world, but there was still a lot of violence in everyday life toward those who didn’t really matter: racial minorities, homosexuals, women, children, and animals.
When I was a young adult in the 1960s, spanking children, jerk and pull dog training, and gay bashing were still part of everyday life.    Fifty years later, time outs, clicker training, and marriage equality have replaced these hoary customs.

When people challenge my contention that there is less violence in the modern world, I tell them to imagine themselves in front of our local courthouse.  What will they not see?  Lots of things:  a stake to burn witches, a pillory, a stocks, a gallows, a slave market, a debtor’s prison in the basement.  What they might see: same sex or mixed race couples strolling arm and arm without fear of being attacked.
Pinker sees the process of declining violence as a consequence of more and more win-win systems. Win-win is a non-supernatural process that can be analyzed using game theory, although for me it evokes awe and wonder.  Although he identifies as a Jewish atheist, Pinker says his views are compatible with a theology that makes God inherent in the nature of the universe. Maybe that’s what God is – where win-win wins.  Win-win wins gets us to the Omega point.