Archive for the ‘Science and Religion’ Category

By the time that we American Jews begin our commemoration of the Shoah, the first round of the 2017 French Presidential election will be over.

That is significant.

At the very moment that we are praying that the horror of the Holocaust will never again befall our people, the moment when we hear from the few remaining survivors of the Nazi death camps, it’s likely that Marine Le Pen – the daughter of an avowed anti-Semite who is the farthest of the French far right – will receive sufficient public support to make it to the final round.

The French racist hyper-Nationalism which puts Ms. Le Pen into this position is not unique.

As we pray that such a horror will never befall our people again, many of us pray that such atrocities will never befall ANYONE again. But, as we do so, our American President is hell bent on beginning to build a wall on our southern border before he reaches his 100th day in office. Our American President sends congratulatory messages to dictators who’s people stupidly grant their leader additional powers. Our American President was elected on the specific promise to turn away refugees just like our country disgracefully did to European refugees who’s return trip sent them right into the National Socialist gas chambers.

But it does not end with Le Pen and Trump.

Throughout Europe there is a rising tide of Antisemitism. Around the world, Antisemitism is weakly disguised as anti-Zionism. America is immersed in Islamophobia. Radical Islam perpetuates the myth that even Muslims have insurmountable divisions that can only be solved through mass murder. The UK would rather leave the European Union than to embrace diversity. And an insane child is leading North Korea toward World War III.

In other words, every year I quote Robert Nozick and every year I come closer to believing his statement that the Holocaust may have demonstrated that our species is indeed unworthy of survival. I can’t bring myself to embrace that, though, and here’s why:

I believe that humans are no more than the latest round of primates. I believe that we are not really all that special. But, I also believe that we have been given, by God or by chance (who knows?), the unique capacity to reason and, as far as we know, a uniquely sophisticated linguistic ability. Together this is a powerful toolkit. With it, we have the ability to change our destiny.

We can use those tools to accelerate our demise as Kim Jong Un is want to do. But we could also delay it by thousands of generations, perhaps even permanently change its course. But to do the latter takes the courage to fight the forces of hatred, misogyny, xenophobia, and fear-mongering through which everything “other” becomes a tool for evil dictatorial “leaders” to take control of our societies. To turn toward good we need only use our reason and our communicative capacity to help enough others to realize that we can, indeed we must, turn away from evil.

And so, as we approach Yom haShoah 2017, my hope is that all of my coreligionists will use our commemoration of the past to rededicate ourselves to the realization that the past can and will repeat itself if we are not each individually a force for change.

Today I have every reason to be thankful for a wide array of wonderful doctors, technologies, friends, and, of course the blessing of being married to Patt Bilow.

If you are one of the regular readers of my blog then you know that I am among the least intellectually consistent people you will find. Although I don’t take the Bible literally, I am very active in my synagogue. Although I tend to be skeptical about most things spiritual, I spent many years as a disciple of Paramshansa Yogananda and the Self Realization Fellowship. Although I am really bad at it, I tend to be as much of a rationalist as my love for Judaism, my love of Kriya Yoga, and my love of all of the amazingly wonderful religious friends that I have in my life allows.

The whole point of writing this blog is that I do struggle with my rationalism in relationship to my interest in, and openness to accepting, other people’s viewpoints. This blog is all about my struggle and my skepticism. It’s intended to allow me to share my wavering thinking with all of you, in the hope that if even one of my posts helps someone else I will have done a good thing. So, once again, as I struggle with rationalism and religiosity, I wanted to talk about Thanksgiving and the ability to build a life of gratitude whether or not one is religious.

This year, I want to do this by sharing my personal set of gratitudes.

One of the most interesting things I’m grateful for is that someone invented a medical technology called MRI. What kind of guy would even think about hitting a human body with a magnetic pulse to get all your atoms to line up and then to image that body by measuring how long it takes them to go back to the way they were! The guy must be a genius. What completely blew me away though was to realize that the genius who invented this technique has almost diametrically opposite beliefs to mine.

You have seen me write here, several times before, that I typically don’t care much for beliefs in creationism or those who deny evolution. What blew me away was to find that Dr. Raymond Damadian the “father of MRI” converted to Born Again Christianity with Billy Graham in the 1950s. Now, if you think I have conflicting thoughts and feelings and views, this guy makes mine look like nothing.

I really don’t understand how a guy with this level of brilliance could be an advocate for creationism; even having written about it in his book. That said, he is clearly a genius, has done more for the medical profession than almost anyone, and has now done more for me than most other people in the world have done for me because, only through his invention, were they able to find my tumor.

One would expect that I would be a fan of a guy who started his college career as a violinist at Juilliard and ended it as one of the most important inventors of a medical device ever. But you certainly wouldn’t expect me to be that much of a fan of a creationist. So the first thing that I want to say is that I am thankful for this guy, and the second thing I have to say is that my respect for him shows once again that I should not make value judgments about a person because of their religious beliefs. I am thankful that I’ve had another opportunity to come to realize this. Dr. Damadian has given me two new things for my collection of gratitude.

  • One, I am grateful for MRI.
  • Two, I am grateful for yet another lesson in religious tolerance.

I’m also indebted to the guys who invented Stereotactic Radiosurgery. Swedish neurosurgeon Lars Leksell first described it in a seminal paper in 1951. His work led to the Gamma Knife. But Dr. Barcia-Salorio in Madrid is the first guy to use something similar to what I just had done. He used a fixed cobalt device rotating around the patient’s head, not for tumors but for blood system malformations. Then Osvaldo Betti in Buenos Aires developed a machine, where you sit in a rotating chair and a linear accelerator (linac) moves in non-coplanar coronal arcs around the isocenter, which is the math wiz way of saying “the thingy ya wanna hit“. I layed on a flat bed which I think came from Federico Colombo in Vincenza who described a multiple non-coplanar arc concept that moved the linac around a couch in 1984. So, gratitude comes again. This time for:

  • Three, I’m grateful for the noble, honorable, ethical, life-affirming uses of radiation that stand in opposition to all the negative results of nuclear science.

But these folks are all people of the past. The present is full of blessings as well. My Neurosurgeon Dr. Burchiel, my Radiation Oncologist Dr. Kubicky, and their entire staffs are medical blessings of the present. The dosimitrist and medical physicist are mathematical blessings of the present. Even my overly expensive American medical insurance system is a blessing in its own way. These are gratitudes 4, 5, and 6

  • Four: I’m grateful that I live in a city where I can drive for 20 minutes to OHSU, a world-class teaching hospital with great doctors and a budget that allows them to own world-class instruments.
  • Five: I’m grateful that mathematics, medical science, and physics have merged in ways that can save, rather than destroy, lives.
  • Six: I’m grateful that I get to work for a company that gives me acceptable medical coverage, despite the costs.

But, clearly, the present has many more blessings than the doctors and scientists. More important than anything else is the people who I call friends and colleagues who have been so supportive:

  • Seven: I’m grateful for the myriad friends of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon, Unitarian Universalist,  and other traditions, who offered their prayers for me.
  • Eight: I’m grateful for my Objectivist, athiest, and other non-religious friends who offered such encouragement over the past few months.
  • Nine: I’m grateful to live in a community, here in Portland, that offers me the extraordinary friendships of people like Traci, Cindy and Tom, LeeAnn, Jon and Mair, Julie, Ann and Robin, Peter and Yukiko, Michele and David, Mike, and many, many more.
  • Ten: I’m grateful for WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter which have given me connections to my family, friends, and colleagues near and far; and which have allowed me to reconnect with my past in a profound way.
  • Eleven: I’m grateful for my own psychological makeup which gave me a sense of humor, the strength to be powerfully brave in the face of fear, the willingness to work through my feelings publicly, the ability to remain lighthearted amidst darkness, and the ability to turn everything into humor.
  • Twelve: More than anything, I’m grateful to have Patt Bilow by my side, no matter what.

These twelve gratitudes certainly have a spiritual component. Arguably, they may have a religious one. But, I think it’s fair to say that it is not necessary to have a specific view of God in order to maintain these 12 senses of gratitude. Certainly it does not require one to be Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, or atheist, or anything else. It doesn’t require one to meditate. It doesn’t require one to pray. It doesn’t require one to forsake anything. It doesn’t require one to embrace anything. At least, in all of those cases, it doesn’t require any particular religion or belief system.

All it really requires is to look around, to seek blessings in everything around you, to embrace yourself for who you are, to refuse to give into negativity  (which I am too oft prone to do), and to appreciate your life for what it is, what you can accomplish, and who is surrounding you to support you along the journey.

So this Thanksgiving I want to once again remind us that it is not necessary to have a specific Godhead in order to feel thanks. If you are religious, that is great.  But please don’t think that your religion, or any religion, or any individual believe system is the only path to grace. You don’t need anything supernatural or mystical to feel a sense of gratefulness and thanksgiving, you need only look around and appreciate.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I would speak out against any law that allowed someone to refuse service to a woman because their religious belief is that women should stay at home.

I would speak out against any law that allowed someone to refuse service to a black person because their religion taught white supremacy.

I would speak out against any law that allowed someone to refuse service to a Jew because their religion taught that we killed Christ.

I would speak out against any law that allowed someone to refuse service to an atheist because their religion taught the were not “saved”.

Today I speak out against the proposed Indiana law that would allow someone to refuse service to a gay couple on the malicious, homophobic, bigoted premise of “religious freedom”.

How dare you twist the glory of the United States Constitution to meet your bigoted, fundamentalist, misrepresentation of both scripture and original intent. You throw both the holy Bible and the great American testament to human equality onto the bonfire of hatred and we should, none of us, tolerate your wickedness. Long ago our ancestors sacrificed humanity to the notion of compromise  with the blatantly evil “Three-fifths rule”. It took forever to rid our nation of that heresy. There must never again be a 3/5 rule, a 1/5 rule, a 1/10000 rule in American jurisprudence. There must be NO MORE COMPROMISE. Religion, above all else must never stand in the way of love, acceptance, and diversity.

There must only be mutual respect!

Fundamentalist Baptist preacher-man turned sadly humorous presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says that the Obama administration is “stomping all over Christians”. Specifically he this to the American Family Association:

“This administration, they will bend over backwards to do everything possible to accommodate Muslims, but they don’t mind stomping all over Christians, and they do it regularly. This is just the most astonishing reversal of true American tradition that I’ve ever seen.”

Of course this is just silliness. But the guy is considering another run for Commander-in-Chief. So, it’s worth considering where he gets his inspiration.

You may recall that Mr. Huckabee is a huge fan of the supremely rational (not) late Jerry Falwell. So, let’s see what Falwell has to say about religion, government, and equal rights. After 9/11, he has this to say:

“Throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. The pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’ “

It seems to me that one of Mr. Huckabee’s greatest mentors just “stomped on” every single person in the entire country who does not agree with Fundamentalist Christianity.

But, of course, those were the words of Falwell, not Huckabee. Mike would, perhaps, not go quite that far. But how about this:

“If we’re determined to change the definition of marriage to accommodate how people feel and what they wish to do because of their mutual consent, then we should immediately release those incarcerated for practicing polygamy or bigamy. And, frankly, let’s make all consensual adult behaviors legal, whether prostitution, assisted suicide, or even drinking 16 ounce sodas in New York City.”

in equating the love of 2 human beings to “assisted suicide”, the ol’ Huckster has made a pretty damn good “stomp” on a hell of a lot of people, both gay and straight.

In that context, how dare Mr. Huckabee speak about stomping on anyone.

Our best response: Let’s go stomp on any possibility that Huckabee or any other anti-rational, closed-minded,, dogmatic, religionists, ever gets a realistic shot at the White House.

A man like this would, like Rick Santorum and others in the “everyone who doesn’t agree with me will burn in hell” camp, take his very best shot at destroying the American values of liberty, democracy, separation of church and state, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom or religion, and respect for diversity.

Let’s not let that happen!

Hey, it’s time again for the “Value Voters” summit. It’s the time, in Washington DC, where politicians quote Corinthians, and Libertarians show pictures of fetuses. It’s the time when the fundamentalists among us stand up for the right to be closed-minded and to make it clear that Christian values are the ONLY values.

In this close minded land of isolation we Jews, our Muslim friends, our Buddhist friends, our Hindu friends, and, God forbid, our Atheist and agnostic friends are insulted, degraded, and generally treated like crap. Oh, and by the way, let’s not forget about how much we hate the LGBT community.

Welcome value voters!

I have to tell you, candidly, that I hold some relatively conservative opinions. But, I also have to say that, when it comes to conservatism, It is mostly about economics where I sit on that side of the line. I, personally, have never seen a great society founded on socialist principles. While there are some really terrible capitalists around, I have to say that a capitalist society is the type of society in which I choose to live. I am not as hard line as most of my Libertarian friends. I think that government, and even government regulation, have a place in our society. But, to me, that is not what the value voters summit is about.

The reason that I could never be a Republican is because of your social views. This is where I adamantly side with my Libertarian friends. Using government to force people to live according to fundamentalist Christian values is exactly the opposite of that upon which my country was founded.

You folks have every right to be fundamentalist Christians. I respect that. I even admire you for your dedication to your beliefs. But, I have a value system that is formed on Jewish ethics which has at least as much validity in its foundation in biblical history as yours.

One major difference between me and you fundamentalist Christians is that I am not caught up in dogma. Furthermore, I use my study of the Bible as but one of many data points in my construction of my own value system and ethics. Along with that I consider reason and rationality to be a tremendous virtue.

I also try to live my life on the premise of liberty. You stay out of my bedroom and I will happily stay out of yours. You leave my gay and lesbian friends alone to enjoy their love and I will happily leave your straight friends the same way. In fact, I will happily leave MY straight friends the same way as well. You try not to make value judgments about my atheist friends and I will try my best not to make value judgments about your Baptist ones. And, for what it’s worth, I admit this is difficult for me.

You see, I disagree with your religious and your political views but I would die defending your right to hold them. On the other hand, not only would you not die in defense of my right to hold my views, but a few of you would shoot an abortion doctor, let Latin American children die in the desert, defend someone who shoots a black teenager just for being black, choose non-interventionism over human rights, prohibit a loving the lesbian couple from having the same relationship that you could have with your partner, and will gather for the express purpose of the degrading everyone who does not believe what you believe.

Welcome Value Voters!

Now, I want to be perfectly clear. You all have every right to have a Value Voters summit. What you do not have is the right to do is to contend that everyone who has values which differ from your own is VALUELESS.

That is what bothers me about you calling this event a Value Voters summit. I disagree with you on many, many things. Simply by naming your event as you do, you are making the direct statement that people like me not only disagree with your values but have no values. I take issue with that. In fact, I would say that my values are equally valid as yours. I admit that I have quite a bit of difficulty accepting you, but at least I will try. Conversely, you will never accept my belief system as being valid. That, my friends, is why I called you closed-minded.

Now here’s an especially funny one…

Many of you consider yourselves to be in the intellectual line of Ayn Rand. Have you ever actually read Ayn Rand? Have you ever heard her speak? Have you ever gone to YouTube and listened to her interviews? She is the intellectual opposite of you. I have to admit, she is equally dogmatic. But Ms. Rand would have absolutely nothing to do with any of your religiosity; in fact, when she was alive, she often very vocally spoke out against religion: your religion, my religion, any religion; because religion is not rational. So, for God’s sake (sic), don’t think that Ayn Rand would support The Tea Party, or any of your “value voters” agenda. You think she’s one of your role models, yet the word that she would use to describe you, and me, and every other person who participates in any religious practice, is “EVIL”. So, please don’t pretend that your belief system is even consistent, let alone accepting of anyone besides yourselves.

If you are thinking about telling me that I am no better than you, then I will not even dispute that. But, I do have to say that this blog is specifically about my contradictions and my struggle with them. So, at least, instead of having a political summit with everyone with whom I agree, I am trying to deal openly, and publicly, with my own intellectual struggles. In my humble opinion, this to be a better use of my time.

My bottom line is this: enjoy your summit but please don’t think that your values are the only values that can be held as the foundation of an ethical, vital life. My value system diverges from yours but it is a solid foundation for a life. Ms. Rand’s value system is diametrically (except when it comes to the sign of the dollar) opposed to yours: yet it too can be the foundation of a valid, vibrant, and highly fulfilling life. So, meet, speak, and speechify to your heart’s content. But, if you think that fundamentalist Christian values are the only valid values, then I, Jews around the world, atheists, and every religionist who is not Christian will be there to fight the battle for our own liberty, our own right to believe what we believe, our own sexual ethics, and our own paths to a world of love, benevolence, and respect for all human souls.

Recently I’ve been reading a book called “Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus” by Professor Suzannah Heschel, the daughter of the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, of blessed memory. The book is about Geiger’s intellectual quest to bring proper understanding of ancient Jewish texts to the study of the historical Jesus.

Geiger’s work is particularly important in light of the very biased and blatantly antisemitic Christian scholarship that was going on in the 19th century. Therein, Jews were always depicted in a negative light, as is often done, thanks to PAUL, Not Jesus, in the New Testament. Geiger’s work proposed that, contrary to what is shown in the Gospels, Jesus was the product of the Pharisees traditions of religious innovation. To Geiger, Jesus was, not only NOT at odds with the Pharisees, he was, himself, a member of that very tradition. 19th-century New Testament historiography was fundamentally based on the work of the people who had no knowledge, or very limited correct knowledge, of the Talmud or the real teachings and writings of either the Pharisees or the Sadducees.

Many Christian scholars hated Geiger’s work. In fact, some of the most important Jewish scholars of that time also were at odds with Geiger. Personally I like Geiger’s work and it has forced an interesting thought to pop into my head.

In my tradition we have a book which we commonly refer to either as the Hebrew Bible or the Tanakh. Typically, that book is also referred to by Christians as the Old Testament. I have come to believe that, while the words on the page may be the same words, the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament are not the same book.

It has occurred to me that the Bible is more like a temporal hologram than it is like a fixed narrative. Looking at it from one direction it seems to be the mythological narrative of my Jewish people. But, looked at from another angle it is an entirely different book. To me, the Hebrew Bible is a closed ended narrative. To my Christian friends it is simply an anticipatory narrative trying prophesying that which is explained in the New Testament.

I happen to enjoy studying the Bible with a combination of people from different religious traditions. But I have come to realize that my Christian friends perspective on the words, and the interpretation thereof, is so vastly divergent from our Jewish reading of the text that we really are not even studying the same book.

This can explain why Jewish and Christian political views are often so vastly different. It also explains why evangelical Christianity is so often explicitly against everything that I and my tradition hold to be dear and sacred.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. But it does mean that neither of our religious traditions should try to understand the other from within its own context, Rather, we should try to understand each other’s tradition from the context in which the OTHER resides. In other words, Christians must learn to respect Jews, and Jews must learn to respect Christians, knowing that they do not really have the same book as a foundation. Indeed, we have the same words. But looking at the book from the standpoint of a hologram, where the same object can look completely different from different angles, we have to realize that we really don’t have a common book. We have a common history, and we have common foundations. But intellectually we don’t really have a common Bible.

Here is my opinion on how we should approach this issue.

Every once in a while, Christians should walk around to the other side of the Bible and try to view it from our angle. We then, should walk to their side of the Bible and see what the book looks like from that side of the hologram. Most importantly we need to remember that, although the words on the page are the same, our interpretations are so vastly different that we shouldn’t be trying to fit each other into the mold of our religion.

The words might be the same, the stories might be the same, but the fact is that our foundational narrative is not the same. As long as we continue to pretend that it is, neither of our religions will properly value the other; neither will give the other the level of respect we each deserve.

So, my recommendation is that we view the Hebrew Bible as a hologram; as you move from one side to the other the image completely changes. Let’s just respect that.

In responding to Pope Francis’ statement with respect to homosexuality, Oklahoma House District 91 candidate for state representative Scott Esk has made one of the most vile assertions possible. Mr Esk quoted the Hebrew Bible as condoning the stoning to death of homosexuals. When asked to clarify his position he stated:

“I think we would be totally in the right to do it… That goes against some parts of libertarianism, I realize, and I’m largely libertarian, but ignoring as a nation things that are worthy of death is very remiss.” “If men wink at such perversions, God may have no choice than to judge such nations with calamities.”

This is a very direct statement and we should acknowledge Mr. Esk for being honest about his position – all be that position inhumane, despicable, and morally reprehensible. He was honest and, because of that, it’s crystal clear that he should not get a single vote, should not be representing anything within the United Stated government, and should surely not EVER use the word “libertarian” in speaking about himself.

To be clear: The 1978 Libertarian Party platform clearly states the libertarian position on governmental sex discrimination: “No individual rights should be denied or abridged by the laws of the United States or any state or locality on account of sex, race, color, creed, age, national origin, or sexual preference.”

If one can’t discriminate due to sexual preference then how the hell could one possibly murder someone for it!!! This may be some horrible fringe view from the bowels of the Tea Party. But is certainly is not only against “some parts of Libertarianism” but it forsakes the very foundation of Libertarianism by removing it’s cornerstone of INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY.

How dare this man call himself “largely Libertarian” when he takes the most vile, liberty-averse, position that any sentient being could possibly take! Being willing to kill people for behaviors that have no effect on you cancels out every other Libertarian value. Saying that we would “be totally in the right” to stone gays is not only an abhorrent interpretation of the Hebrew bible but it is as evil as you can be. To a Libertarian, there are NO acts between consenting adults that constitute “things that are worthy of death“.

Mr. Esk: In the US constitution LIFE comes even before liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You should be deeply ashamed for holding such a mind-numblingly intolerant view, especially while having the balls to call yourself “pro-life”. This is 2014 not 4000 BCE and if you are pro-death when it comes to people who happen to differ in sexual preference from yourself then you are surely not pro-life. You are simply a bible thumping fringe hypocrite who has no place in American government.

If you know anyone in Oklahoma House District 91, I strongly urge you to encourage them to avoid Scott Esk. He does not represent American, he does not represent the fine tradition of Libertarian discourse, he should NOT represent Oklahoma.