December 23, 2019

The Mother of the Modern Cathedrals.

Here's the original bridge connecting colosseums and cathedrals.

Who's to say the experience was so different for the individuals and the crowds?

November 30, 2015

The Evolutionary Tree of Religion

Simon E Davies
Evidently there's something universal and very human about believing in something larger than oneself.

November 20, 2015

True. True. Truth.

Stay open until you have the whole story.

On complex issues, stay open.

February 7, 2015

Here are the Cathedrals.

A local temple in South Africa.
In a recent journal entry I asked the question, more or less rhetorically, about the artistic--specifically architectural--contributions of atheists through the ages.

I had in mind some way of pointing out that religions of the world have left behind what we now consider world treasures, from Stonehenge to the temples of Cambodia to the cathedrals of western Europe. Yet there are no such monuments, no is such cultural legacy, created in honor of atheism.

Continuing to ponder that idea, in creating a recent posting about today's non-theistic religions I realized that in fact we do have cathedrals, temples, monuments created in their honor.

We call them stadiums.

The comparison is not as far-fetched as might initially seem. Requiring vast sums that are paid by the masses, venues for periodic worship services, the focus of community identity and loyalty, these massive structures bear uncanny resemblance to more formally recognized religious edifices. Take a look, for instance, at this baseball stadium in Korea.
Natural light.

Compare it to the widely known Crystal Cathedral, built in the 1950s in Garden Grove, California, and featured in weekly televised worship services for decades.
Heavenly Light.

Once the thought came to me, I began looking at sports arenas in a different light. Here's Wembley Stadium, in England, home court to fans of one team of the most popular communal event on the planet, soccer.
Note the open dome, allowing contact with the Cosmos.

In Dallas, Texas, the Cowboys host their congregants in a structure that calls to mind the speculation that worshipers are actually communing on a inter-planetary level.
Close encounters.

Many of the non-theistic temples feature spectacular domes. Here's Kiev, Russia.
A mosque for soccer fans.

The design of many of today's stadiums emphasize the central place of worship in the life of the community. Here's the Longgang Stadium, in the People's Republic of China.
Evoking another level of existence, even before entering.

In common with all houses of worship, stadiums support, encourage, even command the entrants to put all earthly concerns aside while they are participating in communal activities. Who can doubt there are non-ordinary levels of consciousness within their hallowed walls?

February 6, 2015

Non-religious Religions.

The third-largest city in the state, on Game Day.
The ideas are very much in the news these days, drawing my already-alerted attention, so I'll stay with the topic. It's at the margins of my focus in this journal, but absolutely falls on the inside edge.

Rivalries between religions have been legendary, perhaps the mother of them all in western civilizations being the Protestant Reformation. In our times we see the emergence of a higher-order rivalry, between atheism and theism, the rivalry taking on such intensity I think of it more as anti-theism than a-theism.

In the context of the conversation it's useful to offer the observation that reference to religion is not limited to consideration of Theism. Consider these:


These are the four proposed by Stephen Mattson, writing in God's Politics, a blog on the Sojourner's website.

Each of these command sizable, some might say massive, followings. The most obvious is sports.
The stadiums are their churches, the crowds their parishioners, the coaches their preachers, the athletes their Saints, the opposition their Sinners, and the referees their Satan. They dress according to custom, follow strict doctrines, attend weekly scheduled events and gatherings, and are unified through a shared belief in their savior — the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, the Boston Celtics, Real Madrid, or any other sports entity that they piously follow.
Moving to Nebraska, home of Big Red, was my first exposure to Sport as God. Or more specifically in this instance, Football as God.

Statewide hypnosis on game day, with all services shut down, every television and every radio, public and private, broadcasting play-by-play to a silent, captivated population. Pity the traveler who asks a question at the gas station, wants service at the pharmacy, is in a hurry at the fast-food joint.

To the newcomer to the state it was a wonder to behold. An Outsider to this faith and a busy life to live, I never fell under its spell. I'm sure this was one of the important reasons I never bonded with the community--statewide as it was.

Amongst the masses who follow sports, how many consider themselves atheists? How many then deride someone who is so stupid as to believe in a God of some sort?

Belief systems are belief systems. Only the focus varies.
Search crazy sports fan, then take your choice of images.

February 4, 2015

Making it to the New York Times.

With the growing public debate springing from the rise of militant atheism, the conversation has turned at least momentarily to some thoughtful consideration of the role that religion in peoples' lives.

I've referred previously to how difficult it is to fashion a coherent set of principles to live by, done one person at a time, and the value of relying on group intelligence in doing so. In a word, re-inventing the wheel is hard work, much of which is done by trial-and-error, which almost by definition means getting burned before we learn.

Now we find the conversation coming from David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, an august publication if ever there was one.

Brooks suggests that if non-religious people want to be taken seriously, they will need to move beyond spelling out the limits of religious belief, into the realm of positive actions on behalf of their own lifestyle. It's one thing to espouse freedom from the constraints of organized thinking, to champion individual choice. It's quite another to admit the challenges a person faces if this is a priority.

Consider the tasks a person would have to perform, he says, to live secularism well:
•Secular individuals have to build their own moral philosophies. Religious people inherit creeds that have evolved over centuries. Autonomous secular people are called upon to settle on their own individual sacred convictions.

•Secular individuals have to build their own communities. Religions come equipped with covenantal rituals that bind people together, sacred practices that are beyond individual choice. Secular people have to choose their own communities and come up with their own practices to make them meaningful.

•Secular individuals have to build their own Sabbaths. Religious people are commanded to drop worldly concerns. Secular people have to create their own set times for when to pull back and reflect on spiritual matters.

•Secular people have to fashion their own moral motivation. It’s not enough to want to be a decent person. You have to be powerfully motivated to behave well. Religious people are motivated by their love for God and their fervent desire to please Him. Secularists have to come up with their own powerful drive that will compel sacrifice and service.
A common thread here is the vastness of such challenges. Undertaken individually, one person at a time, it's clear that is simply isn't going to happen. How many people actually have the time, the energy, the sheer capacity to even think about these things? Much less to sustain the efforts over an entire lifetime?
As I've written,
Building and maintaining a Belief System is a complex and energy-intensive proposition. It's one of the crucial elements of being human that is best done as a group. But group problem solving takes time as well.
Living secularism well, is the question. Well by whose definition? Perhaps those who aggressively deride the religiously oriented life have a totally different set of expectations for themselves.

That is, after all, the purpose of asserting one's individual right to believe as one wishes.

December 28, 2014

Where are the Cathedrals?

23-year-old photographer Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji shares his images of mosques.
There's a growing movement of what are being called militant atheists, people whose primary method for establishing the credibility of their belief systems amounts to bashing others with more traditional religious beliefs. "Rational," they call themselves.

I often wonder: where are the temples,the cathedrals, the mosques the atheists have built through the ages of humankind? What cultural legacy has been produced in their names?

December 1, 2014

One Approach to Managing Beliefs.

 “The mission of Avatar® in the world is to catalyze the integration of belief systems. When we perceive that the only difference between us is our beliefs and that beliefs can be created or discreated with ease, the right and wrong game will wind down, a co-create game will unfold, and world peace will ensue.
–Harry Palmer

The Avatar Course, created by Harry Palmer, thus focuses in its descriptive materials on the importance of stepping back from one's belief systems, monitoring, consciously choosing them based on life goals. On first blush, to a scholar interested in the role of belief systems in an unfolding life this is a concept worthy of further investigation.

Aiming the materials at "world peace" hints at other levels beyond personal belief systems, and a quick web search reveals information about Avatar as a large-group awareness training--LGAT--suggesting caution in looking too deeply into it as a source of credible thoughts on human development and behavior. I've been around long enough to have experienced and observed these trainings and well know their methodologies and underlying philosophies.

As it turns out--bless the miracles of connected communication--Harry Palmer and the Avatar Course are also worthy of a Wikipedia page, where the history of the organization is linked directly and unquestionably to the world of Scientology. Aside from its controversial standing in contemporary culture, most people would agree that the Church of Scientology, as it has identified itself, is clearly an organization devoted to beliefs and practices.

We wind up here bumping head-on into a quandary I find myself pondering fairly often: what does one do with beliefs about Belief Systems, without being blinded by those beliefs?

It's a personal issue for me as I explore ideas in this journal.

And there is more--or less--to Mr Palmer than he presents in his Avatar Course materials.

Of course, the only way to learn about the materials in the Avatar Course is to take the course. While there are published materials about the course, those materials are explicit in their requirement of confidentiality for what the course actually contains:
There are a number of simple reasons why parts of the Avatar materials are kept confidential, but the most important reason requires some explanation.
Avatar is much more than a philosophy, as any student who has experienced its transmission from a licensed Master will quickly tell you. There are word-lessons, and there are world-lessons. A word-lesson is someone’s attempt to convey his experience to another via spoken or written symbols.
A world-lesson is something that a person lives through. It’s something he actually confronts and copes with in life, and from the world-lesson he emerges changed...more experienced...bigger! A word-lesson very rarely produces such a result.
A world-lesson is a unique personal experience; it does not require translation into symbols or sounds to be understood. It is involvement in, and observation, of events as they occur.
Avatar is both a word-lesson and a world-lesson. It is a word-lesson only for the purpose of introducing students to their own personal world-lessons. The word-lessons that Avatar conveys are insignificant compared to the world-lessons it opens to students.
The Avatar Course requires a well-trained and disciplined Avatar Master to ensure that the Avatar techniques make it off the page and into life. Avatar becomes valuable when it is conveyed as a world-lesson on how to assimilate world-lessons.
By keeping the Avatar materials confidential and permitting their teaching only by those trained to transmit them properly, each person receives his or her own unique world-lesson from the Avatar experience.
And of course the only way to experience these world-lessons is in an LGAT. For fees that are intentionally, purposely, set at a high level.

While I find it somehow strangely reassuring to know others are looking at beliefs about Belief Systems, I'll pass on further explorations of this particular avenue

October 11, 2014

Scripture and belief.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding among these critics of religion in that they believe, first and foremost, that people get their values, their morals from their scripture, when in reality the exact opposite is true. You bring your morals and your values to the scriptures; you don’t extract them from them. You learn that on day one of the study of religion — day one, that’s the first thing that you learn!

August 25, 2014

Managing Insecurity and Violence.

A useful discussion of the social function of religion, in the context of making sense of the rapidly changing contemporary culture.
Insofar as human societies have been able to limit the social consequences of fear and insecurity, they have done so largely through the universal cultural phenomenon of religion. Whatever else it is and does, religion disciplines individuals and groups though the power of moral conscience, teaches hope and patience, and, perhaps above all, restrains individual behavior through collective sanction. Whenever fear and uncertainty reach levels that threaten to dissolve the cultural glue holding societies together, religion forms a shield for collective sanity. In other words, it usefully raises the threshold of social disintegration.

The writing is dense and slow, requiring concentration and translation. But it's worth pondering.