Sunday, March 30, 2008

The 4 Horsemen

"On the 30th of September 2007, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour discussion." I have included both hours of the discussion below and there are many interesting topics that they cover. The one topic that was of particular interest to me was a part of the discussion that Sam Harris brought up when he talked about the types of experiences, that any of us can have, that have typically only been discussed within the realm of religion. The transcendental experiences of dreams, feelings of connectedness, feelings of awe and wonder, and other possibly life changing encounters with the great mystery of being.

Often these are brought out by certain theologians as "proof" of a god, particularly the Christian god. And since this is often the case the experiences themselves tend to be minimized or explained away by rationalists as some type of illusion, brain malfunction, wishful thinking, or simply not substantial enough to be included in a reasonable conversation.

Now if we don't include these experiences as proof of any particular god or assign any specific conclusion about said god, or enforce and claim that only one experience is valid, maybe there is a context in which we can explore the spiritual side of the human being that could be seen as valuable.

In my experience with religion it was often the arts which connected me the most deeply to a sense of something greater than myself. For some this might seem the most unlikely place, but in my study of science, particularly human anatomy and astronomy, I have felt a deep awe of having the gift of being present to witness such beauty. And in other contexts the love of a community brought me a greater sense of well being. And in the most personal the love of a woman and more specifically the love of my wife has brought to me experiences that defy description.

And then there are the times of awakening that a person can feel as they learn to hear and see beyond what is simply a rational motivation, but a deeply felt motivation to create, love, serve others, and find clarity for their lives. These have traditionally only been domains of religious teachers.

While I deeply respect and support what these men are bringing to the table, I am concerned that when religions begin to collapse under their own exaggerated claims, what structures and teaching will we have to serve as guides for the best of what humanity manifests in its own ability to love, create, and care, that is understandable by even the most simple minded? Because these tools don't seem to exist within a scientific model. And when we do describe them in scientific terms they seem to become something much smaller.

And so I leave you with questions and something to watch and listen to.

Here is the first hour of the discussion...

And here is the second hour...

Friday, March 7, 2008

Wars & Rumors of Wars

My son has been creating flash based video games and has discovered a new way to create and share this creativity. One of his games is called Galactic Dodge Ball and involves moving the Earth out of the way of incoming asteroids. If you move the earth too quickly you see people falling off the planet. If you move correctly you not only can dodge the asteroids, but you can capture them in the Earth's gravity and a laser beam shoots out from the Earth's surface and destroys the asteroid. If the Earth gets hit three times it breaks into pieces and is destroyed. One gets to view the end of the world. In the game the difficulty gradually increases so that the destruction of world is inevitable. Some seem to think this is true of this world as well.

One of the classical signs of the end of the world has been the increase of violence. Today we hear reported many horrible incidents of violence including wars, domestic violence, crime related, and violence from mental/emotional problems. There are also claims that violence in the entertainment we engage in, including video games, movies, books, and television, increases violence. All these "signs" have been pointed out in various degrees as evidence that we are getting more evil and the world is less safe.

In the following video Steven Pinker shares with us how violence has changed through out various periods of time...

In the documentary Bowling for Columbine Michael Moore postulates that one reason violence is greater in the US than Canada is that through our reporting we are increasing the amount of fear within society. It is the fear of violence that contributes to the increase in violence.

There has been a very popular book and movie series called Left Behind by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. These books have fictionalized a battle between good and evil that will eventually lead to the destruction of the earth by fire. The implication is that evil has been steadily increasing on the planet to the point where God has to come down and destroy everything so that things can start over. One assumption in this story is that these events are inevitable and that there is nothing that can be done other than to make sure you are on the right side of the conflict. The cost of not being on the right side is being sent to an eternal hell.

One of the trends that I like to see is the trend toward seeking out and implementing solutions. This provides, at least for me, a sense of vibrant purpose and hope. I find this a much better place to be than fearfully waiting for the end of the world, resigning myself to an eventual decline into absolute evil.