Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

I did not write this but the author gave me permission to share it. In a time of great challenges, Rabbi Shelton Donnell held a Seder via Zoom. Many of us are doing this but Rabbi Donnell’s post-seder thank you note was so touching and educational that I want to share it verbatim.

Next year in Jerusalem (or…. really… anyplace but Cyberspace).

Remember to love your relationships.

Chag Pesach Someach!



Dear Family and Friends,

Wendy and I want to thank you all for joining us for our Seder last night. To say the least, this was one of our more memorable Passover experiences. These have been very difficult times for all of us, all the more so because we are challenged to reevaluate so many things, activities, and services that we usually take for granted. This has also brought to the fore how important people and relationships are to us. Ironically, the social isolation that prevented us from holding our usual Seder, brought us “together” with many people with whom we rarely have contact. Granted, looking at your faces on a screen simply was not the same as having you in our dining room but, I must say, it made me feel connected to you as well as our tradition, and that was very meaningful for me.

This season marks more than our Passover Seder, tonight we begin the “Counting of the Omer,” the period of seven weeks between Passover (marking the Exodus from Egypt) and Shavu’ot when the Torah was revealed, transforming the ragtag refugees into a people, and a nation with a unique destiny that continues to evolve even today. When the Temples stood in Jerusalem, pilgrims brought the “Omer” — offerings of the first and best of their grain harvest. Centuries later, this joyous period took a dark and traumatic turn. Today, the period of Counting the Omer is observed by traditional Jews as a time for semi-mourning — pleasurable pursuits, new enterprises, and celebrations are suspended, following the customs of those who have lost a loved one. Why? The Babylonian Talmud tells us that during the Roman occupation of the Land of Israel, the conditions for Jews and Judaism were oppressive. Eventually, the Jews rebelled for a second time (the First Revolt from 66 to 70 C.E. saw the Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, one of the greatest existential traumas faced by our people). The Second Revolt, led by Bar Kochba, deepened the tragedy and resulted in the Diaspora of the Jewish people and the last gasp of the national aspirations of the Jewish people until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

During the period of the Hadrianic persecutions prior to Bar Kochba’s revolt, we are told that tragedy struck the students of the great Rabbi Akiva. Legend has it that 24,000 disciples died in a very short time. The rabbis of the Talmud attributed the deaths to a lack of mutual respect and concern by the disciples. Another explanation is that the students were brought down by a vicious plague. It is because of this incredibly sad memory that the period of the Counting of the Omer has transformed from a time of unbridled joy to semi-mourning and introspection.

Okay, so why do I bring this up? The story that I just related has a brighter side and a message that I think is very appropriate for us today. According to that same legend, a miracle happened on the thirty-third day of the Counting of the Omer — the plague stopped, and the devastation wrought upon the rabbis and their students ended, enabling them to renew and rebuild the rabbinic tradition that has come down to us today.

I find it interesting that predictions and projections about the trajectory of the coronavirus suggest that we may (please God) see a significant bending of the arc of contagion and death around the time of Lag B’Omer, the day on which we give thanks and celebrate the end of the plague that threatened Judaism itself. And more, the rabbis and their students appear to have learned a lesson about mutual respect and concern, so that they could actively make a positive difference in their situation and persevere against threats both physical and spiritual.

Our gathering last night for our Seder reminds me of the power of the human spirit and the importance of connecting through mutual respect and concern for each other. I believe that it was that faith in the human spirit that enabled our ancestors to survive that ancient plague and go on to thrive as a people, a nation and a faith. For me, that message is a beam of light in these dark times.

Wendy and I want to thank you again and pray that we all will remain safe, healthy, filled with hope and faith that we can do more than survive this modern plague, that we can use the lessons learned from it to make our family, our community, our nation and the world thrive. That, for me, would be a wonderful miracle.

With blessings for a happy and healthy Passover,


Over 300 people are now dead. Twenty-seven are children. Why?

A group of truly evil people seem to think that Sufism is heretical. This must be because a branch of a great religion that focuses on peace and joy is anathema to fundamentalist ideology. After all, when did you ever see a dervish with an assault rifle? A dervish with a suicide belt? A dervish with anything but ecstasy? Clearly, no matter how “Godly” these perverse fools think there precious brand of nutcase Islam is, joy isn’t part of their God’s plan.

I find this especially appalling because, in my personal theology, and my broader religious community, JOY is exactly the purpose of living! Any religion whose theology mandates the killing of another person is not a religion of MY God. Not only that, killing a Sufi of all things could not be anything but an act of evil.

Paramahansa Yogananda once said “If you only knew how much God loved you, you would die of joy“. OK… he wasn’t Jewish but there are a lot in our community for whom that must resonate. I know that Jesus would say the same and I’ll bet the Prophet Muhammad would too, if only the crazy people would stop murdering others and would LISTEN. In fact, I’d propose that every major religion would agree. I’d also propose that every major religion has some segment of believers who let dogma trump that message.

What we have seen this week is yet another senseless MURDER of 300 precious members of our species. That is yet another bastardization of irrational dogma in the name of religion. Worse, it even twists the word religion to make that just another cover for hate.

So, to you who would kill 300 praying Sufis, I want you to know that I hate you too. The difference between you and me is that I’d never kill you for that. You see, I recognize that even you are precious members of the human family. Even you have been given the blessing of life no matter how you distort the image of God within you. You are stupid but you are sentient; and killing sentient beings because they aren’t like you is never acceptable. Not even with evil people like you.

So, this Thanksgiving I am grateful for joy. I am grateful to live. I am grateful for the love and friendship I share. I am grateful that the violent fanatics are a tiny subset of Muslims. And… yes… in memory of those men, women, and children you brutally murdered…

I am grateful that there is a branch of Islam devoted to joy.

Ya know… It costs me about $9.00 a week just to get my New York Times on the weekend. Today, I could not even read past the front page. I’m saddened and utterly horrified by the actions taken by our government this week.

If you don’t understand why I find this so upsetting I beg you to look at the specific actions of the German government in 1933. For the first time in history I’m not scared for we Jews. I’m scared FOR people who my government wants me to be scared OF.

Islamic extremism is clearly the most horrific application of religious dogma since something like 1099. It should be feared and it must be stopped. But once you turn a billion people into “the bad guys”, you have tried to solve the problem in a way that contradicts everything I thought this country stood for. The guys who most promote American exceptionalism just removed the primary thing that makes America exceptional.

Build a wall. Lock the doors. Adopt 17th century failed isolationist economic policies. Promote hate. Bundle it up with propaganda about protecting the people. What do you have left of the “shining city on the hill”?



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!

This rather reminds me of the old days when the Taliban was destroying the priceless, irreplaceable artifacts of Buddhist culture. This time, for about the same reason, ISIS is hard at work destroying the precious history of Assyrian culture. Once again, religious extremism is working hard to destroy everything that doesn’t happen to be part of their particular ideology. Violent dogma at work. So…. let’s have a look:

Needless to say, you don’t go out and buy some new ancient Iraqi artifacts. So, like the Taliban before it, ISIS is killing not just humans but history.

What a pity.

Consider these questions:

  • Should the United States be a Christian Nation?
  • Should all Arab Americans have extra screening in US airports?
  • Should LGBT Americans be prohibited from marrying?
  • Should the top 100th of one percent of the wealthiest Americans be taxes at a much higher percentage that the general population?
  • Should pornographic websites be prohibited by law?

In the United States is is quite likely that a large part of the electorate would answer “yes” to one or more of these. As I see it, here is the problem:

  • Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Shinto, Self-Realizationists, New Age Spiritualists, Native American Spiritualists, Objectivists, Agnostics, and every other type of believer or non-believer is afforded equal rights in our nation.
  • Most Arab-Americans are great people who have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.
  • Lesbians and Gays are just as human and just as loving – often more so – as straight people and nearly all homophobia is founded on religion.
  • Pornography, whether or not we like it, is nothing more than a particular genre of entertainment.

In situations like this, where a minority must be afforded equality, a simple majority can destroy lives. That is why democracy can not work without checks and balances. Our polity was designed specifically to prohibit this “tyranny of the majority”. It is “liberty” NOT “democracy” upon which America is built. It is LIBERTY that permits EQUALITY to exist – NOT democracy.

Without liberty, we are no better than the nutcase African nations with their anti-Gay laws, the European nations with their state religions, the Muslim nations who stone their gay population to death and where a rape is the victims problem not the perpetrators. Some would like us to be like those nations: A Christian country with religion-driven “moral” codes and sealed borders. Not I.

I prefer living in a land distinguished by it acceptance of people regardless of race, creed, color, religion, or sexual orientation. I prefer liberty to democracy, I prefer universal dignity to dogma. For those reasons and more, when the religious right comes along to again shove its way into the 2016 presidential campaign, I will be there waiting; waiting to fight the onslaught of populist tyranny at every single turn.

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.

I am a strong advocate of “States Rights” and a limited federal government that operates according to enumerated constitutional rights. But there is one “States Rights” argument that I believe is being misused for the specific purpose of undermining the separation between church and state. I’d like to tell you why.

The ability for the states to make decisions appropriate to their populations, which may not be universally appropriate to the nation is a foundational concept. The vibrancy of America comes from our many levels of diversity. That diversity is expressed regionally, state-wise, and even locally. It is critical that the electorates at all of those levels have the ability to democratically construct the societies most appropriate to their demographics and cultural desires.

But democracy is dangerous. America is a republic not a democracy for a reason. Pure democracy puts all minorities at a disadvantage. The glory of America is exactly the fact that it oversees local democracy with a (limited) federal structure that insures the fundamental rights to property ownership, contracts and agreements, privacy, and other “nationwide” values are protected and enforced. Left on its own  local, state, and regional “democracy” would insure the loss of human and civil rights. Consider these examples:

1. If you ask the “majority” of Americans whether the US should be a “Christian nation”, MOST would likely say “yes”. This would build discrimination against, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Shinto, Native Americans,  Agnostics, “New Age” believers, Atheists, and many others right into the fabric of our society. American government is built to explicitly prohibit this.

2. If you ask the “majority” of Americans whether the US should be able to take private property, compensate the owner, and use that property for a “higher purpose” that benefits a local economy, they may well agree. That would build very dangerous problems into private property rights.

3. The “majority” of Americans believe that the wealthiest Americans should pay higher taxes because they can “afford” it. Do you know why? Because the majority of Americans are not it that category. Conversely, those with all the money wield enormous power that far offsets the “democracy” of the “little people”. We have to be able to balance democracy and corporate domination and that requires some amount of national oversight.

4. The antebellum south speaks for itself in demonstrating the disastrous consequences of indiscriminate democracy. Slave owners viewed slaves as “assets” and, where they were owned, they could VOTE to keep others captive. Only a national system of civil rights could finally overcome this.

This brings me to the reason that I believe “State’s Rights” is a fallacious political position with respect to California’s proposition 8.

In MOST states with fundamentalist Christian religious majorities, if you ask the “majority” of residents whether their state should allow “Gay Marriage”, they would answer “no”. This would build discrimination against the entire LGBT community right into the fabric of state laws and, as a whole, OUR society.  (This is NOT just a Christian issue; it would be equally true were their US states dominated by Orthodox Jews, conservative Muslims, or other “conservative” religions; only because those groups are minorities does it appear that this is a Christian problem; so, I’m not pointing at Christians, I am pointing and any dogmatic, closed-minded believer).The FEDERALISM that so many of those conservative states claim to so cherish is built to (again) explicitly prohibit this. In other words, where states have to ability to EXCLUDE citizens, the federal government is compelled to oversee the law in such a way as to disallow it. Therefore, the states CAN’T be allowed to VOTE on gay marriage. It is NOT a “states rights” issue. It is PURELY a “human rights” issue and that is not for the states to decide.

That takes care of California. But what about the bigger issue of DOMA?

The “defense of marriage act” (DOMA) is an even more straightforward issue. You can’t construct laws based on religious doctrine. That is why we try to hard to separate church and state. EVERY church – EVERY religious institution – MUST be free to practice their religions without interference from the government. So long as those institutions don’t do anything that is unconstitutional, they can do whatever they want. For better or worse, doing anything else is a very slippery slope. That’s why we are stuck with appalling groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, Neo-Nazi groups, and preachers who want to burn Korans. We can’t stop them from practicing their belief systems. We CANNOT force any religious group to accept gay marriage. But….

…We can also not enact laws whose ONLY foundation is in religious doctrine. There are NO other viable arguments that support DOMA. Therefore it MUST be overturned on constitutional grounds.

Today, as we Jews celebrate the first day of Passover, and we remember the blessings of freedom, I am reminded of the person who taught me to advocate for unequivocally equal human rights. I’m reminded of the Passover Seder I once spent with the Gottfried family. With that image in my mind, in memory of Emily Gottfried, I urge the US Supreme Court to overturn both DOMA and California Prop 8. Love is love and sometimes it seems so rare that we humans need to respect, cherish, and praise it wherever we see it.

Hag Pesach Someach.

By tradition a Jew begins every day with the two words “modeh ani“. Basically  this means “I acknowledge and thank God for giving me the gift of life once again today”. Fundamentally, the Jewish notion of gratitude; even in the midst of obstacles, problems, and difficulties; is intended to make life more bearable in the face of so much we don’t understand. Gratitude breeds optimism. Optimism (which I am well known to often lack myself – but not for lack of trying) makes life easier. The question is to whom we should be grateful and the most obvious answer may well be “God”. This would lead to the conclusion that, without God, there can be no gratitude. But wait

Does Judaism really teach that you can only be grateful to God? If we consider the possibility that everything is part of God, sure. But, that’s a recursive argument because if God is everything, then being grateful to God is just being grateful to everything. Where’s the incremental value to God in that proposition? So let’s set that argument aside and look at another Jewish idea. The great Mussar Rabbi, Eliyahu Lopian (1872 – 1970), is said to have once been chatting with a student after prayers. Simultaneously, he was folding his tallit. The tallit was one of those big Orthodox ones so R. Elyah had to set it on a table to fold it. After he had folded up his tallit. the Rabbi noticed that the table was dirty so he went out to get a towel to clean it off. The student noticed what Reb Elyah was doing and started to go get him the towel. Reb Elyah stopped him. “No! No! No! Wait, please!, he said, I must clean it myself. I must show my gratitude to the table for being here for me.” In other words, we can be grateful just because; we should show gratitude to everything from which we benefit. Not gratitude to God; just gratitude… period.

So what would happen if we just set God aside for a moment? Well, let’s see what some well known atheists have to say. First, I LOVE this quote from Richard Dawkins:

“After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked — as I am surprisingly often — why I bother to get up in the mornings.”

That is an interesting take on living, but only partially on gratitude. In a quote that I’m not as enamored with, but which makes my point, Dawkins speaks directly to the issue. He says this:

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die, because they are never going to be born. The number of people who could be here in my place outnumbers the sand grains of Sahara. If you think about all the different ways our genes could be permuted, you and I are quite grotesquely lucky to be here: the number of events that had to happen in order for you to exist, in order for me to exist. We are privileged to be alive and we should make the most of our time on this world.”

Essentially, Dawkins is saying that even in a Godless, atheistic, worldview there is room for gratitude. Why? Because in a universe of randomness there is much more of a chance that any one of us as an individual would never have existed at all. Why should we be grateful? Because we EXIST! And to whom? Well…. I don’t know…. maybe Brownian motion, maybe 1/f randomness, maybe white noise. But that random nothingness is not necessarily depressing or nihilistic  It can be wonderful… because out of random variation came ME! What kind of wonderful chance was there of THAT!

I’m not saying that I side with Dawkins. What I am saying is that you don’t need a Christ, or a Muhammad, or a Buddha, or a Shiva, or an Adonai, or any particular Godhead to feel grateful. Gratitude is a wonderful thing for everyone. Gratitude breeds optimism, which breeds happiness, no matter what religion you have or don’t have.

In my particular case, there are lots of things for which I’m thankful today. Number one is my unconditionally loving and supportive wife, Patt. This is a great example of how gratitude can come from any worldview. If I am with Patt because God brought us together, cool! I’m a happy guy. But… If it just happened by randomness, I’m cool with that too because, in that case, out of random variation came US! What kind of wonderful chance was there of THAT!

Another cause for gratitude this Thanksgiving is that I’ve been given the chance to go back to work for Grass Valley, a company I really love. God? Maybe. Seems like Brownian motion to me. But, I’ll chose to just think it was a perfect fit and those guys are lucky as hell to have me back 🙂 I could go on, and there are many more things I could think of from this past year. But since this is my year of reading Proust, and since those other things generally involve the people in my life, I’ll take a moment to share what Proust has to say about gratitude:

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” 

That is a beautiful way to express gratitude for friends. But, I’ll end with something I’ve said before because this is an àpropos way to close. Whether or not you believe in God, take to heart what one of my guru’s, Bob Nozick, has said – because this is a perfect expression of why one’s heart may feel gratitude, with or without a religious receiver. Take this into your heart and soul:

“It is a privilege to be part of the ongoing realm of existing things and processes… we identify with the totality and, in the calmness this brings, feel solidarity with all of our comrades in existing” — Robert Nozick (1989) 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rick Perry wants to be the President of the United States. There are folks who might think that’s a great thing but, I’m here to tell you today that he should be disqualified and should not even be able to be on the ballot.

The United States of America is NOT a Christian country. This country is a country of diversity and inclusiveness. WELL NOT TO MR. PERRY! He says this:  “As a nation we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.” Brother Perry, I’m sorry to tell you this but we have an establishment clause in our constitution. It says that the government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” You are free to exercise your right to talk to Jesus all you want but you can’t tell the rest of us that we should do it. That is strike one, my friend.

Now, some evangelical Christians will say that the founders of this country were Christians and established the country on Christian values. Aside from that simply being nonsense, in general, even the founders themselves deny it. For example, the great John Adams, among our country’s most active founders, himself stated: “It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.” He also began the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli with the words: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,...” Now, if Adams doesn’t speak for the founders then who does? Surely not Bachamnn and Perry, and Pawlenty, then their ilk. Indeed not. The founders themselves disagree with you Rick. That is strike number two.

Finally, here is what the good Mr. Perry said about how much he and his followers love our country: “Indeed the only thing you love more is the living Christ”. That is not the nice sentiment that it seems to be, my friends. Oh no. What I think that Mr. Perry just said is that  fundamentalist Christian doctrine supersedes American constitutional doctrine. That violates the establishment clause; but, more importantly it violates the foundational principle of our leadership: to swear to uphold the constitution of the United States of America. How can you swear to uphold a constitution whose doctrinal essence you directly state is subservient to the doctrine of your religion!  As far as I’m concerned that disqualifies Perry to even contend for the job of  the lead defender of the American Constitution. Not only is that strike three, my friend, but it would disqualify you even if there weren’t 2 other strikes ahead of it.

So, my response to Governor Perry is this: I think not. I think that you are dangerously close to placing Christianity above Americanism. My people have made it through life without “the living Christ” for thousands of years. The American people have made it through two centuries of defending the most profound constitution of government in the world with not only “the living Christ”, but also with Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Atheism, Agnosticism, Mormonism, Catholicism, and a hundred other -isms. “The living Christ” is your path and that is an awesome thing for you. But it does not qualify you to govern and, if you put it above all else, then it certainly does not qualify you to defend the American constitution.

So, in my humble opinion Rick Perry should simply be disqualified. QED