Category Archives: Transcendence

Abandoning Mars for Venus and Beyond

astro3001_468x272I was born into a world in the 1950s where gender was a key component of who you were, and was to a large degree your destiny, even growing up in a perhaps more egalitarian and humanistic progressive university town community. Two clear discoveries in this area came out of my youth and young adult life, that have had a profound impact on the person I am evolving into.

The first was that gender was not a significant part of the nature of the individual human soul, just the “sexual plumbing” of the mammalian body our soul inhabits, despite our culture being built in every way around the supposed profound difference between men and women. A culture that seems obsessed with and even fetishizes whether your physical body has a penis, or breasts, vagina and uterus instead; and what that means to who you are and how you should be in the world.

The second was given that profound cultural divide between the genders, I became uncomfortable with the “men are from Mars” cultural expectations of my gender, and as a result increasingly uncomfortable in circles of men. Instead, I have gravitated to the world of women, and their insurgency to leverage the positive relational aspects of “women are from Venus”, while challenging its cultural limitations.

What follows is my best attempt at a narrative of my journey, from childhood to young adulthood, trying to navigate the minefield of gender expectations and find a safe and supportive place for myself in the world.

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Is the World Ready for a God-Embracing Atheist?

Many ReligionsThey teach you that when in a job interview if asked whether you have a particular skill or experience and you must honestly say no, it is best to say “no but…” followed by sharing some other skill or experience you do or have had that is arguably comparable or at least applicable.  For example, “No, I don’t have experience as a manager, but I do have a great deal of experience chairing committees in my congregation and leading volunteers.”

I think that rule of thumb is applicable for any advocacy, even beyond advocating for one’s own employment.  So when asked, “Do you believe in God?”, nowadays I am inclined to say “No, but…I appreciate the idea that there is a deeper level of connection between all of us and have my own metaphor for that connection.”

If the person asking believed in God they might not buy my answer.  There take may be that either you believe there is a deity or you don’t (or maybe you’re not sure). Isn’t this an unbridgeable chasm between the worldviews of the atheist and the “believer” (theist)? How can there be any common ground here?

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Constantine’s Sword: It’s the Patriarchy Stupid!

I recently finished reading the book Constantine’s Sword – The Church and the Jews, laying out the historical account of Christian antisemitism and how that seeded a ground of separation and hate that made the Holocaust possible, if not inevitable. The author, James Carroll, is a liberal Catholic theologian who feels that his Church has to fully acknowledge its culpability and atone for its sins for the institution to continue as a vibrant faith community into the 21st century. With a good narrative style that weaves together the key events in history along with his own life’s story visiting the sites of much of that history, Carroll makes a compelling case for his religion to transform itself, simply stated, from an authoritarian to a more egalitarian institution. Some scholarly critics ding his book for relying on mostly secondary sources, sources that perhaps spin the history which Carroll then spins ever further, but his interpretation of that history certainly feeds in with my own.

His book nicely ties in with my own study of history and human civilization’s gradual transition from hierarchies of control (empires, slavery, monarchies, feudalism, etc) toward circles of equals (republics, democracy, universal human rights, etc). But in particular, it reinforces my contention, laid out in a previous piece, that religious belief and practice is not the source of hatred, violence and war, but religion as an institution has been hijacked by an older more sinister dogma of patriarchy, that torques it into an instrument of domination and control, leading to that hatred, violence and war.

I am neither Jew nor Christian, nor believer in any deity. But as a student of history and the continuing story of human development, one cannot fully understand that history and that story without factoring in spiritual beliefs and practices, and the institutionalized religions that grow out of them. And particularly for those of us who champion the cause of progressivism, democracy, pluralism and the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, I think it is critical to realize what we are really fighting against. Not people’s attempts to find a deeper spiritual meaning in their lives through religious practice, but instead an ancient paternalistic order, perpetuated through the millennia, that promotes a world view of fear, scarcity and “us and them” thinking that invariably leads to hate, violence and coercive control.

Please note, that like the author Carroll, it is not my goal to dis the Catholic Church or its hierarchy as some sort of conspiracy theory bogeyman for all the ills of society, though I’m concerned some may take my piece that way. But the authority wielded by a Church hierarchy as witnessed and documented by Carroll that has maintained itself consistently over 1500 years is a notable instance of a “successful” patriarchal institution that continues to perpetuate itself from generation to generation. There are many other ways that the patriarchal “who’s your daddy?” world view propagates itself, but this perhaps is an instance that is most straightforward and easily recognized.

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Schooled to Accept Economic Inequality

Up front I would like to say that I usually don’t write pieces like this, pieces that are perhaps overly simplistic and provocative and lacking a more balanced and nuanced view of things. But in the best spirit of provocation to encourage the dialog… here goes!

I keep seeing statistics and voices calling out that the economic disparities between rich and poor in this country continue to widen. It makes me wonder… in a democratic society where (at least politically) “majority rules”, how come the most wealthy among us, “the one percenters” as they have recently been coined, seem to continue to call the shots on a government financial policy? Why doesn’t at least a majority of the “ninety-nine percenters” come to an agreement and vote for a more equitable path forward?

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Moving from Hierarchy to a Circle of Equals

When people ask me, “What do you do?” or “What kind of work do you do?”, they generally are asking me what kind of job I do to make a living. And particularly because I am a white male person of some economic and educational privilege (with a head full of gray hair), they often presume that that job is a fairly high-powered one, and a major part of how I define myself. My job is fairly high-powered, I am a “business process consultant” for Kaiser Permanente, specifically the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, which is a not for profit health insurance company. But nowadays, that is not how I answer the question of what I do or even what my “work” is.

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Still Committed to Us and No Them

With the remembrances today of the events of 9/11 a decade ago, I want to call out something that I think is an important part of the continued processing of that event and the path forward from it into a new century of human development. In my previous piece, “Moving Beyond Us and Them to Only Us”, I wrote about what I see as the key transition we humans are going through…

That transition is what I often describe as from “patriarchy to partnership”, or alternatively from “hierarchy to a circle of equals”. If those terms don’t resonate with much meaning for you, maybe our human societal evolution could be described at its most basic as moving from “us and them” thinking towards thinking instead that there is no “them” and there is only “us”.

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The Internet and My Tale of Two Crises

The Internet is our most dynamic new societal institution, developing quickly over the past 25 years from “Web 1.0” (providing static web pages with existing content) to “Web 2.0” (providing interactive environments for building connections between people, facilitating other societal institutions, and the “marketplace of ideas”). I think this is a good example, a good metaphor, for the direction we are moving (and should continue to move) in our entire society and its institutions, from top-down dissemination and control, to a more egalitarian exchange between a circle of equals.

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Mud Wrestling with Marshall McLuhan

Well… mud wrestling in a sort of metaphorical way. My latest attempt to embrace and wrestle to the ground his at times elliptical ideas, with the title of this piece my homage to an outside-the-box thinker and crafter of provocative aphorisms like “the medium is the message”, its corollary, “the medium is the massage”, and the “Global Village”.

Though I only came close to meeting him once, I learned about McLuhan’s ideas through a dear family friend and one-time McLuhan collaborator, Mary Jane Shoultz, who I willingly let regale me with the synthesis of their radical thinking during my teen years in the 1970s. Mary Jane meshed McLuhan’s ideas on how we are profoundly impacted by our communication technology with her own radical feminist thought to come up with such provocative concepts as “spliteracy” and “patriarchal pimperialism”. She was my favorite “Feminist Aunt”, and beyond my own mom (Jane Roberts) probably had more influence on my own developing world view than anyone else in my youth.

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Saint Gotthard Tunnel

Nearly two months into my European odyssey in 1973, on a train from northern Italy to Switzerland, a weary traveler and somewhat of a lost soul, I entered what I recall as the Saint Gotthard Tunnel, under the Alps, and emerged into a completely transformed world and a new chapter in my existential journey with fresh insight into the human condition. (Note that I may have actually gone through a different tunnel of comparable length, as noted by someone who read this piece with a good knowledge of Western European railway geography, though at the time that was my recollection.) Continue reading →

Diners, Drive-Ins, Dives and Dancing

Food-chugging show host Guy Fieri
I can think of no greater exemplar of our American fetish with a steady diet of rich juicy food full of fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol (that contribute to our national pastime of accumulating “life style” diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity) than the enthusiastic red-faced Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”. He criss-crosses the country and its local low-brow eateries masticating his way through super-sized Philly cheese steaks, bratwursts and macaroni and cheeses presumably ignoring the cholesterol numbers in his blood tests (if he even dares have those tests) and always looking overheated and about to burst. Continue reading →