The New Year: A Sociological Perspective and Personal Thoughts

In a few days, all over the world, people will be celebrating the start of the new year. In this post, I will be sharing thoughts for the new year. I will explain rituals from a sociological perspective, apply the insights to New Year’s celebrations, and show how it applies to us, both personally and socially, while addressing religion and power structures in that application.

I will start by saying that, technically, January 1 is just another day, and labeling it as the start of the year is arbitrary. (In fact, other calendars have their New Years on different days: the Jewish New Year [Rosh Hashanah] is in the early fall, the lunar  Year in East Asian calendars is on the second new moon after the winter solstice, the Iranian, Kurdish, Zoroastrian, and Baha’i New Year occurs on the vernal equinox, and the Muslim New Year goes back through all the seasons*.) However, the tendency to designate such dates fulfills sociological functions.

Originally, the calendar helped farmers to know when to plant their crops. Nowadays, it allows us to determine our ages, make appointments, and remember important events. This brings us to another function: to set aside dates for specific purposes, popularly called “holidays”. In sociology, a school of thought called “symbolic interactionism” focuses on symbols and rituals, and how people in a society or social group interact to give meaning to said symbols and rituals. In our discussion, holidays are an example of dates assigned meaning. There is another school of thought called structural functionalism, which discusses how different parts of society work together to contribute to the functioning of the society and meeting the needs of the society’s members. Holidays function to encourage solidarity, reinforce social values, allow an outlet for various sentiments, and remember historical events important for the identity of the social group.

These holidays are some of the few remaining rituals in the modern world. The importance of rituals is discussed by The School of Life in their video “HISTORY OF IDEAS — Ritual”. At the 8:21-8:45 mark, the speaker says, “Even in the hands of religions rituals have been guardians of important states of mind that would otherwise be crushed or neglected. A book of poetry is in the end a hushed object in a noisy world, whereas a ritual protects emotions to which we are sincerely inclined but without a degree of fabrication and structure we might be too distracted and undisciplined to take time for.” Around the 12:20 mark, the speaker observes that what we once did in ritual we now do privately, but that our gestures are more vulnerable to half-heartedness and forgetfulness, and suggests that rituals remain useful in our journey to be sane and kind.

So, what does this mean for New Year’s Day? Well, internationally, January 1 has been designated the start of a new year, and this is tied to a desire to start over, to change course, an idea that religion appeals to as well. One expression of this is making resolutions. Through these, we express a desire to do things differently, to change course. This desire is best expressed in the Ecuadorian tradition of Año Viejo (lierally, “old year”), the custom on New Year’s Eve of burning effigies made of old clothes and newspaper that symbolize the anger, regrets, failures, sins, disappointments, mistakes, etc., of the past year and allow for the hope and resolutions of the coming one. This symbolizes most dramatically the general desire to leave behind the old pain and to look forward with hope and start anew.

This is expressed in a number of religions; in this post, I will discuss it from Jewish and Christian perspectives. (My apologies to readers who practice other religions; I am not knowledgeable enough. Please feel free to leave a comment below to add your thoughts.) Years back I listened to a Jewish podcast called Spiritual Truths in an Outrageous World, hosted by David Sacks. In one episode (I can’t remember which one), Sacks told the story of an encounter between a Jew and a Christian on an airplane, and the subject turned to Gen. 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. The Jew explained that the Hebrew is better translated as “With a beginning…”, meaning you can always have a new beginning. (Years later, this conversation and idea saved the Christian from suicide.)

Christianity mentions that a Christian becomes “a new creature in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17), and that the old man is dead, and we are new in Christ (Col. 3). On the one hand, there is the notion of having died to the elemental spirits of the world (Col. 2:20), but on the other, to “put to death” that which belongs to the old nature (Col. 3:5). These are linked in 2 Pet. 1:5 to add “excellence” (that is, character development) to our “faith”.

Now, I realize that I likely have readers who aren’t Christian. I think these passages in general discuss the idea of looking forward, of being a better human being, and that is what I want to convey. This is an expression of general human sentiments, and expressed in resolutions.

Now, to the social aspects, and the dark side of New Year’s Day. A major reason January 1 is the international New Year is due to the dominance of European and European-descended societies since 1492. This legacy includes vices such as imperialism and colonialism, which has resulted in a majority of core nations’ being Western and to such societies being advantaged over others (though there is change with the rise of Asian nations). While many of us in the West would like to go forward and forget this, we must reckon with this. We may want to deal with history as a multihyphenated line “where the past ended at some definite point and the present started from scratch, and there is nothing but rupture in between” (Şafak, p. 165). A perhaps more accurate view of history would be that of a cycle with “the past incarnated in the present and [where] the present birthed the future” (ibid). In these quotes, Şafak was comparing Turkish and Armenian views respectively in reference to the Armenian Genocide. 

However, this is applicable to Western society; one example of this applicability is in American race relations. Many white Americans have a multihyphenated line view of history, in which one line ended in 1865 with the abolition of slavery and another in the 1960’s with the abolition of segregation, and even the assumption that racism is dead in USA. With this mindset, many whites think that black people need to just get over slavery, as it ended 150 years ago.

However, a cycle view is more common among African-Americans. From their viewpoint, though slavery was abolished in 1865, the effects continue to this day, and black people continue to face disadvantages in society. In short, we are haunted by the ghost of slavery. The challege issued is what future are we going to birth, and to fight for a future of greater equality for everyone.

This concept is reflected in the Bible, when it records the praise of the living creatures, “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God, the All-Powerful, Who was and who is, and who is still to come” (Rev. 4:8). I heard from a rabbi (I don’t remember which one) that God’s Holiest Name (that Jews don’t even pronounce) is a combination of the past, present, and future tenses of the Hebrew word for the verb “to be”. This shows, he explained, God’s involvement in our past, present, and future. This reflects how history affects us, and the need for awareness of how our present actions affect the future.

This all also applies to our personal lives. While we often want to forget our pasts, what we have been through affects our present lives. Sometimes we have trauma from our pasts. This helps us to be aware of where we are now, and help us to make decisions that will birth a good future. So, as we go into the next year, to go forward in hope, we may have to confront our past, not only the previous year but sometimes things from years back. (That may mean therapy or counseling.) In my case, I wonder how my experiences can be used to help others (which is one reason I started this blog), and ask about my hopes and wishes, and how I can benefit others. Where am i going?

That is the question for us all? Where are we going this year? What kind of life do we want? What can we do? I think the best thing is to take it one day at a time, as Jesus prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Mt. 6:11, KJV). Each day take little steps, as little things add up. 

To sum up, rituals are started as people ascribe meaning to symbols and objects through their interactions with each other. These symbols, such as dates, serve to communicate values, remember significant events, attend to important states of mind, and allow for expressions of emotions. In particular, New Year’s Day serves to provide a chance for people to pause, take stock of their lives,  think of where they are going, and start anew, which is an idea expressed in religion as well. However, in our desire to leave the old behind and to start anew, we need to remember that the past continues to have an impact today, and the present influences the future.

Towards the end of the movie Rudolf’s Shiny New Year, as Father Time puts a crown on the head of the baby New Year, he proclaims the year 19-Wonderful. So, my wish is that for you, dear readers, the next year may be the year 20-Wonderful! May you all have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Happy New year, everyone! 

*Note: all seasons refer to the seasons on the Northern hemisphere.

Sources:

All scripture quotatiins, unless otherwise noted are from the New English Translation  (NET).

Scriptures marked KJV are from the King James Version. 

Şafak, Elif. 2007. The Bastard of Istanbul. Penguin Books.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Power of Mindful Learning, by Dr. Ellen J. Langer, Chapter 2

Finally, I am getting around to the next post in my series! You can read the Introduction and Chapter 1 as well. Now, onto the post!

In the introduction to the book, Dr. Langer references seven myths that “undermine true learning…stifle our creativity, silence our questions, and diminish our self-esteem” (p. 2). In this post, I am going over chapter 2, which addresses myth #2, “Paying attention means focusing on one thing at a time.” In this post, I will summarize Dr. Langer’s case, discuss a couple of her studies, give applications concerning religion and language learning, describe my own experience, and evaluate Langer’s argument.

Langer contends that, instead of focusing on one thing at a time, “the most effective way to pay attention is to look for the novelty within the stimulus situation” (p. 43). She starts by exploring the conventional meaning of “distraction” (wandering focus, p. 35) and suggesting an alternative definition of “otherwise attracted” (p. 36). She observes that there are many situations in which we have no problems paying attention (such as computer games, p. 37) and asks about times in which we have difficulty, “What is so attractive about the alternative stimulus? What can we learn from that attraction? Can we add the attractive elements to the stimulus to which we want to attend?” (p. 36). She uses studies in perception and the experiences of meditators to show the near impossibility of “holding an image still” (which is  general meaning of “paying attention”, pp. 37-39). She concludes, “People naturally seek novelty in play  have no difficulty paying attention in those situations” (p. 39) and “The idea that to pay attention means to act like a motionless camera is so ingrained in us that when we do pay attention successfully we are usually unintentionally changing the context or finding novel features in the subject” (p. 40). She backs this up with two studies (discussed below) that show the influence of mindfulness in paying attention (pp. 40-42).

Langer concludes by applying these principles to ADHD. She starts by describing ADHD’s symptoms,  effects, theories of the cause, and the usual methods of treatment. She then turns to mindful approaches and describes situations in which increased attention was observed: the absence of toys, the presence of game format, listening to rock music, and color stimuli (pp. 45-46). She tells of an experiment she participated in involving a poster with fourteen landmarks, and the task was to remember where the landmarks were. There were three groups: a sit-still group, a feet-shuffle group, and a move-around group. The move-around group performed best, and the sit-still group worst (pp. 47-48). However, when the study was repeated in a Montessori school (where movement is expected), the findings were reversed (p. 48). Langer concludes, “The studies suggest that mindfully varying perspective helps us to pay attention” (p. 48) and ends by summarizing the chapter’s findings (p. 49).

Now, to discuss the two studies on novelty I previously referenced: one study involved a computer task and the other short stories. In the computer study, an image appeared on the computer screen and participants were supposed to click a button when it disappeared (the reaction time was measured). They were divided into three groups: one group was to “just pay attention” and hit the button, another was to “outline the target”, and a third was to think of the shapes in different ways and to notice differemt things about each one” (pp. 40-41). The mindful group outperformed the other two groups and found the task easier. There was no observable difference bewteen the outline group and the pay attention group (p. 41).

In the short story study, adults on a train were asked to read short stories and divided into three categories of groups. In one category, participants were told to vary 3-6 aspects of each story, read it from different perspectives, change the endings, etc.; in another category, participants were told to focus on three or six  aspects of the stories; lastly, one category was told to just read the stories. They were all told they would be questioned afterwards (pp. 41-42). The result was that the mindful groups remembered more of the stories. Langer comcludes, “Varying the target of our attention, whether a visual object or an idea, apparently improves our memory of it” (p. 42).

Now, onto the applications in religion and language learning. First of all, religion. Langer herself references the difficulty of focusing in meditation (p. 39), and I personally know the difficulty of focusing in prayer, as do many others. I will offer suggestions based on Langer’s findings. First of all, for the liturgically-minded, I suggest reflection on the meanings of the prescribed prayers, and to view them from different perspectives. There is talk that the lectionary tells the story of God’s narrative of redemption and His work in redemption. I would suggest looking into how the liturgy reflects that narrative, how that works in the world and your personal life. Ask,”What is my role in God’s story?” I would also urge reflection the scriptures used in the lectionary. My advice is similar for those who don’t use liturgy (as I was raised). In this case, prayers are more spontaneous. I would suggest reflecting on the Names of God, as they reveal His character, and how they apply in your life and the world. I  would also suggest looking at scripture in a different way,  reflecting on differing perspectives, and using that in prayers. I would urge everyone (whether or not they use liturgy) to look at the world and reflect on how God may be working in it. In addition, I also recommend, since prayer is talking to God, to make prayers out of your wandering thoughts. (Since I am a Christian, I wrote this from a Christian perspective. I know a little about Judaism and have read that there is a narrative of God’s working in the world and our partnering with him there as well. I guess the applicability is there as well. For other religions, I am not knowledgeable enough to comment. However, I hope that all the Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., who may be  this will find transferable aspects to make it applicable. For those in Eastern religions, does any of this apply to meditation?)

Now, to discuss language learning. First of all, I will discuss how varying the image helps with vocabulary. One way (for those more advanced) is to think of various sentences in which new words can be used, or googling them to see images of what they represent or memes involving them. An easier method is tying the foreign word to a word in one’s native language. For example, consider север (syevir), the Russian word for “north”, which resembles the word “severe”. We could say that it is severely cold in the North Pole. As for grammar, when it comes to learning a new point of grammar, think of various ways new things can now be expressed. Describe personally relevant things that require that grammar. 

I personally love this chapter, since I have, since childhood, often been told, sometimes angrily, to focus and/or to pay attention. (I was even, on occasion, spanked for unfocusedness, such as when my mind wandered while I spoke in tongues.) At the time, all I had was what Langer describes as “holding the image still” (p. 38). One comment of Langer’s I particularly like is as follows: “Since we are so successful most of the day at paying attention, perhaps we should look for the situations in which we find it difficult, rather than blame the problem on a lack of character or a mental deficient” (p. 37). This sticks out to me because it shows practically that there is a “how” to paying attention, that there is a better way. The prospect of passing on the message to others who have beat themselves up over an inability to pay attention sp that they, too, can find a better way makes it my pleasure to review this chapter.

Now, to evaluate Langer’s claims. I find, based on her research and experiences, as well as my own experiences, her claims to be valid amd helpful. I appreciate her out of the box perspective. However, Langer acknowledges that more research is needed (p. 49). Nevertheless, I think that what she says will help us all.

In conclusion, Langer claims to pay attention, we should “vary the image” instead of “holding the picture still”, and supports that with her research and experience. Her studies show that a mindful approach is more effective in maintaining attention, and this has application for subjects such as religion and language learning. In addition, my own experience supports her claims, which I find overall to be valid. I hppe that readers will find these ideas as helpful as I have found them.

Book Review: “The Power of Mindful Learning”, by Dr. Ellen J. Langer, chapter 1

After a year after writing the introduction to this book, I am ready to proceed (especially after having just taken English 101 and 102). So, here it is:

“Whether it is learning to play baseball, drive, or teach, the advice is the same: practice the basics until they become second nature. I think this is the wrong way to start” (Langer, p. 10).

This is the thesis of this chapter. Langer then cites examples that question the effectiveness of the basics, even questioning the very concept of the basics. She acknowledges why teachers teach the basics, but suggests mindful learning based on awareness of context and appreciation of uncertainty as better teaching methods. She cites two examples to contrast mindless and mindful approaches to learning. She then cites personal examples and research to support her claim that mindful approaches are better. After mentioning the role gender plays, she introduces the concept  “sideways learning” in contrast to both top-down (lecture) and bottom-up (experimenting) approaches to learning (pp. 22-23). She describes sidewaya learning as “learning a subject or skill with an openness to novelty and actively noticing differences, contexts, and perspectives” (p. 23). She uses piano playing as an illustration of the concept, mentions an experiment showing how a text can teach mindfully, and concludes with a hypothetical example of performimg CPR (involving the differences between infants, 50 lb children, and adults) to illustrate the importance of mindful techniques. She concludes the chapter with the question, “Which way would you want to learn the [CPR] lesson? How should we teach it?” (p. 31). 

I am not going to go over the content in detail (even summarizing it will make this post very long), so I am going to address a few concepts, and discuss their application. I will discuss obedience to authority, the value of doubt, sideways learning, and how they relate to feminism, religion, and language learning. 

When Langer questions the existence of the concept of the basics, writing, “Perhaps one could say that for everyone there are certain basics, but there is no such thing as the basics” (p. 15, emphasis Langer’s). Langer suggests that it may appear easier to teach one set of basics because “the teacher needs to know less, a single routine little room for disagreement and hence may foster obedience to authority” (p. 15).  In my Fundamentalist upbringing, obedience to authority was highly valued, and rebellion was viewed heinously, being seen as witchcraft (based on 1 Sam. 15:23). In my view, obedience to authority is a questionable value: after all, obedient participants in the Milgram experiments were willing to apply an electric shock at a dangerously high voltage level when told to do so. In addition, obedience to authority may make it easier for abusers to get access to victims, and to gaslight, shame, silence, and control them. Also, it may make it harder for people to speak out against said abuse. Furthermore, Nazi war criminals defended themselves with, “I was just following orders”, a defense rejected by the courts. To expand on that, social progress has often come about through disobedience to authority, and we are the beneficiaries of that today.

Now, to the value of doubt and sideways learning. Concerning the former, Langer writes, “The rationale for this change in approaches [to mindful learning] is based on the belief that experts at anything become expert in part by varying those same basics. The rest of us, taught not to question, take them for granted…. The key to this new way of teaching is based on an appreciation of both the conditional, or context-dependent, nature of the world and the value of uncertainty. Teaching skills and facts in a conditional way sets the stage for doubt and an awareness of how different situations may call for subtle differences in what we bring to them” (pp. 15-16). I gave the definition of sideways learning above. The bottom line is to think in different ways and to say, “There’s a box? What box?” Langer mentions experiments involving a pilot study (pp. 18-19), a game called smack-it ball (similar to squasj but with a small racket that fits like a baseball mit is worn on both hands, p. 21), and a piano study (pp. 26-27). In each study, the group given mindful instructions to vary their technique, use previously learned material and/or experiences, and to think in creative ways outperformed the control group, enjoyed the activity more, and had a better grasp on the material.

The smack-it ball experiment was done to study gender differences. Langer writes, “In general, young girls are taught to be ‘good little girls’ which translates into ‘do what you’re told’. To be a ‘real boy’, on the other hand, implicitly means to be independent of authority and ‘don’t listen to all you are told’…. Our hypothesis was that motivation to be a good girl would lead to taking in information in a mindless way. Similarly, being a bit rebellious was expected to result in conditional or mindful learning” (p. 21). They told some players, “One way to hold the ball is…”, and other players, “This is how you hold the ball.” After practice, the researchers replaced the ball with a heavier one that required different body movements. The boys performed the same regardless of instructions or the ball. The girls who received instructions in an absolute way performed worse with the heavier ball, but those who had received conditional instructions performed as well as the boys regardless of the ball used (p. 22). Langer also suggests that is why girls have a harder time in math in high school. They excel in grade school, but the do-as-you’re-told doesn’t help at higher math levels, since numbers need to be seen in new ways. 

I was skeptical of the claim that boys are urged to be rebellious, as that’s not my experience, but that is another topic. Anyway, this betrays an aspect of sexism and one more reason why we still need feminism. Being a guy, I will not harp on this (I would rather hand the mic to women), but I will say the following: guys, we need to stand up for women’s right to dissent and to speak up, and not call her names. We need to consider her viewpoints and examine her conclusions and their implications. Also, we need to train people of all gender identities to question dogma, to look at alternate ways of doing things, and to consider multiple perspectives. 

Now, to talk about religion: first, in Fundamentalism, obedience to authority is highly valued, and rebellion is seen as witchcraft (based on 1 Sam. 15:23). For me, that meant that rebellion was punishable by a whipping (not with the hand), threats of hellfire and brimstone, and allusions to Korah (Num. 16). People at church thought that if you didn’t choose one of the options those in authority presented, you were in rebellion. 

However, I do think religion should be approached with a sideways learning approach. (Since I am a Christian, I am telling this from a Christian perspective, and am open to perspectives from other religions.) Evangelicals tend to see themselves as following the Bible, but often approach the Bible mindlessly. I discovered this when I read texts from outside my sect (JW literature, Jewish writings, Catholic materials, etc.) and saw Bible passages presented in ways that I had never seen before, and never would have seen otherwise. This shows that there are multiple perspectives to the Bible. A midrash says that there are seventy facets to the Torah. So, when reading the Bible, we should read it from multiple perspectives and consider out of the box interpretations. We should also consider critiques from critics of the Bible, in order to enhance our understanding. I think that a mindful approach will make religion more just. 

Now, for foreign languages. Learning a language involves vocabulary and grammar. I think it is an idea to learn words related to topics of interest,, and to learn grammar so that these topics can be discussed with someone in the language. Vocabulary related to topics that one is not interested in will also have to be learned. A mindful approach may be to learn the vocabulary to express how one is not interested in this topic. Thus, learners should vary the material that they are learning. 

To conclude, Langer shows the insufficiency of the “learn the basics” approach and introduces us to sideways learning. I showed how these are relevant to feminism, religion, and language learning.

No, LGBT Rights Is Not The Sin of Sodom!

“If God doesn’t judge America, He’ll owe Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.”

This is a popular saying among Fundamentalists, used to attack acceptance of homosexuality and LGBT rights. But, even coming from a traditional view and more literal reading of Scripture, this view does not hold up, and I will show you why.

The view that Sodom was destroyed for homosexuality is derived from Gen. 19:4-5, “Bedore they could lie down to sleep, all the men — both young and old, from every part of the city of Sodom — surrounded the house. They shouted to Lot,’Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!'”

Well, there is a difference between modern same sex couples and the men of Sodom: in the case of the former, there is consent. The fact that the Sodomites tried to rush the door when Lot refused them and the angels blinded them shows the Sodomites didn’t care whether or not the angels wanted to have sex. Thus, this was an attempted gang rape. Rape is not actually about sex, but about dominance. In fact, most cases of same sex sexual assault are committed by heterosexuals. In fact, some convicts claim to be gay, because they more fear rape from straight inmates than gay ones. I guess you can say Sodom had a rape culture.

Also, Sodom had other vices: first of all, xenophobia. When Lot tried to talk the Sodomites out of gang raping the angels, they replied, “This man came to live here as a foreigner, and now he dares to judge us!”(Gen. 19:9). Ezekiel lists other vices: “See here — this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease; but they did not help the poor and the needy. They were haughty and practiced abominable deeds before Me. Therefore when I saw it I removed them.”(Ez. 16:49-50). This passage doesn’t even mention homosexuality(something even conservative scholars and preachers bring up every so often). 

Also, the king of Sodom brought Abraham to see Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High. In the New Testament Melchizedek is seen as a type of Christ. This shows the king of Sodom as a religious type. In other parts of the Bible, God insists justice as necessary to piety (Is. 1:10-18, 58, Amos 5:18-24, Mt. 23, Jam. 1:27), which the Sodomites lacked. 

Basically, Sodom’s sin was both individual and group narcissism. They refused to help the less fortunate (according to rabbinic writings, they punished anyone who gave food to a stranger). They were xenophobic, as indicated by their reaction to Lot and their attempt to gang rape the angels. (The rabbis say their streets were paved with gold and that they flooded the approach to their city to restrict immigration.)

All this convinces me that we are not a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah due to recognition of same-sex marriage and trans-inclusive bathrooms. Even if you think homosexuality is always sinful and that it’s wrong to act like the opposite gender, even a literalistic interpretation of the Bible does not support the God-discriminated-against-Sodom line, at least in reference to QUILTBAG people. 

However, based on what I shared, I cannot say we are NOT a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. Today USA is one of the most religious countries in the world. Well, arrogance is prevalent, with Evangelicals particularly having a reputation for arrogance. Xenophobia is prevalent in segments of the American population, with certain theologies in Fundamentalism actually baptizing it. There have been cases of sex abuse cover-ups, and, according to many feminists, a rape culture exists in much of American society and includes Fundamentalism. Stats say Americans overall are generous, and Christians have done a lot. But, are we actually helping the poor or are we doing  things that look like help but actually harm? Are we caring for the least of these?
However, regardless, the desire for judgment is misplaced. When informed of Sodom’s destruction Abraham interceded, asking God to spare the city, going down from fifty to ten righteous people(Gen. 18:22-33). There is a debate over whether Abraham should have kept going, or whether less than ten was a threshhold indicating the city was corrupt to the core. But what I see is that we should pray for our nations, and we should pursue justice ourselves, thus inspiring others to follow in our footsteps promote a just society. In the New Testament Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God is here, but that we should pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as in heaven”. 

Appeal to Love in a World of Hate

This post is inspired by a post on the blog Love, Joy, Feminism. I wrote this post to urge my readers, in the midst of a world turned inward and towards hate, to be a purple thread on a white cloth. As MLK said in his sermon “Love Your Enemies”, ” Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiples hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending Spiral of destruction.”(The Strength to Love, p. 47)

We see this played out these days: in the African-Americans killed by the police; in the cops killed by a sniper; in the violence of ISIS; in the anti-Muslim rhetoric of demagogues feeding a fear and hatred of the Other; in the spike in xenophobic attacks in the wake of Brexit. Though it seems these are on the rise, these really are ancient vices we have been succumbing to for centuries, possibly even in us thanks to evolution.

However, even if this is natural, that does NOT make it right, and wrong it is! Our species has the potential to transcend our animalistic nature, a feature existing in many world religions. I heard talk in Judaism mentioning rising above our lower nature.(A friend of mine heard Rabbi Lapin identify this lower nature with Baal.) In Christianity this animalistic, primal nature is called “the flesh” or “the sinful nature”. (A discussion on the differing views on this is for another post.)  Among the works of the flesh listed by St. Paul in Gal. 5:19-21 are hatred, strife, rivalries, divisions, and factions; this means that all this tribalism and hatred is not in line with the Kingdom of God, for St. Paul continues, ” those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom. “(Gal. 5:21). Paul continues with the fruit of the Spirit: ” But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”(Gal. 5:22-23). Elsewhere it is written, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him.'(1 Jn. 3:15) and ” If a man says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for He who doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”(1 Jn. 4:20). This love is to extend beyond whichever groups with which we identify. Way back in Genesis it is written that humanity is made in the image of God(Gen. 1:26, 5:1, 9:6), and after we are told to Love our neighbor as ourselves, we are told to love the stranger as ourselves (Lev. 19:34). When Jesus is asked “Who is my neighbor?”, He tells the story of a Samaritan helping a Jewish man, teaching that neighborly concern is to be universal(Luke 10:25-38).

In Buddhism hatred is seen as one of the three poisons(roots of evil), the other two being lust(that is, greed, passion, desire) and ignorance/delusion. These three are considered responsible for all suffering (a major theme in Buddhism), are seen as being part of maya(illusion), and are what keeps us in samsara(the cycle of rebirth). On the contrary, compassion is one of the most important virtues in Buddhism. In Buddhism compassion is the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering. There is another virtue, loving-kindness, which is the wish for all beings to be happy, in which one values all their joys and pains as one’s own. In the Mahayana branch of Buddhism there is the bodhisattva ideal: to reach enlightenment but to remain in the cycle of rebirth out of compassion for all beings, that they may be enlightened as well.

In 2006 there was a terrorist attack on the island of Bali in Indonesia. In response, the rock band Dewa 19 wrote the song Laskar Cinta(Warriors of Love) . An English version can be found here.

The songs alludes to Surah 49:13 in the Quran: “O mankind! Truly We made you from a male to a female into nations and tribes that you may know each other.” DNA tests prove that every human being alive today shares a common ancestor. As I mentioned in my post “Ethnocentrism in Evangelicalism” when I referenced the Tower of Babel, God allowed different nations, languages, and cultures to develop so that there would be multiple perspectives, like different facets of a diamond. I will add here that this saves us from our blind spots. Here is a great quote: “He doesn’t know England who has only England known.” Personally this ayah(verse) from the Quran is one of this Christian’s favorite quotes from any religious text. It teaches that learning about other cultures is a moral thing to do; that were are all equal; that we can learn how each other, rather than war against each other. And that is beautiful!

I will conclude with the refrain from the song Laskar Cinta:
Warriors of love
Spread the seeds of love throughout the earth
Go and destroy the virus of hatred
That makes people’s hearts sick and depraved
By corrupting their souls.
Warriors of love
Teach the mystical science of love
For only Love is the eternal truth
And the shining path for all God’s children.

As the Ahmadi Muslims say, “Love for all; hate for none.”

Thoughts on Doubt

Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God Himself. -Madeline L’Engle, quoted in The Case for Faith(p. 223) by Lee Strobel.
As I mentioned before I was raised and homeschooled in an insular Evangelical/Fundamentalist environment.(For more see here ). It is this type of environment that has cheesy lines such as, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” However in my case I’ve had doubts basically since I was 18(which was 2003). Over time, however, it was in my doubts that I had a deep spirituality. It was the Strobel book I quoted that first showed me that there’s a place for doubt. Chapter 12 of The Purpose-Driven Life built on this, as it talks about the need to be honest with God and points out the honesty of biblical characters with God.

Now to dig into this. I have come to view the line, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” as contrary to Scripture. When God told Abraham of Sodom’s destruction, Abraham talked with God until He agreed to spare the city for ten righteous people. Moses, when informed of Israel’s destruction, didn’t just accept it — he talked God out of it! The Psalms are full of the prayers of people expressing their doubts, anger, frustrations, and other emotions to the Lord. David summed it up as, “I believe, therefore I said, ‘I am utterly ruined’ “; that is, because of my faith, I expressed my true emotions. Job expressed his true feelings throughout the book of Job, whereas his friends offered pious clichés. At the end of it, God said to one of the friends, ” I am incensed at you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about Me as did My servant Job”(Job 42:7b, New JPS translation). From this we learn that God wants us to be honest with Him; He’s saying He’s OK with our anger, doubts, questions, fears, etc.

Like Jacob(Gen. 32:22-32), it’s OK to wrestle with God and say, “I will not let you go until You bless me” (Gen. 32:26, New JPS translation). This wrestling with God is what made Jacob into Israel.(In the Bible a name is tied to who you are and all you stand for.) In the New Testament it is written, “Test everything, hold onto the good”(1 Thess. 5:21, NRSV). Romans 12:2 mentions ” discerning” the will of God, which refers to proving it through repeated testing. Romans 12:1 mentions our “reasonable”, ” logical”, or “spiritual” service/worship(depending on the translation). I take this to mean that thinking and questioning can, too, be Acts of worship.

So when doubt strikes, we should give thanks to the Lord, for He knows all things and we don’t. Nevertheless, we seek it out, seekers find — a promise existing in some form in the Bible, the Quran, and the Book of Mormon. We should tell God exactly how we feel, return to the things that draw us to faith, and just admire them and the Lord Who is behind them. Also seek to understand the Bible from different theological perspectives; seek out new ideas. In Acts 17:11 the Bereans were praised for searching the Scriptures to see whether or not what Paul was saying is true.

I think doubt helps keep faith relevant, in that it forces people to face the questions those outside the bubble face. This, I believe, promotes empathy, particularly if the people involved are open-minded. Through doubt, if we are humble, we are reminded that God is bigger than our dogmas, our churches, our cultures, our nations, our races, or any other tribal identification you can come up with. By walking through the valley of doubt we learn which of our values are worth defending, why these values are important, thus teaching us integrity and giving us meaning. Doubt can be God’s way of expanding ourselves and showing us our possibilities. As Romain Rolland said, “Skepticism, ridding the faith of yesterday, prepares the way for the faith of tomorrow.” For millenia people have questioned popular dogmas(including religious ones); today we enjoy the benefits of their actions, for they were the history makers.

Where I Come From: My Religious Journey, Part 3

For part 1, see https://seekeroftruthweb.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/where-i-come-from-my-religious-journey-part-1/
And part 2: https://seekeroftruthweb.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/where-i-come-from-my-religious-journey-part-2/
I mentioned at the end of my last post of a storm coming. Well it arrived when my friends and I got recruited to work for a guy at church at a very low pay rate. We were told it’s God’s Will(TM) for us to accept this job. As for me, I was told it’s the Kingdom of God[TM] and because it’s a kingdom I don’t get to choose. I was also told that if I didn’t accept this job my marriage and ministry would be postponed, with a “Thus saith the Lord.” The boss yelled at us, preached at us. I won’t get into the details. At the same time a book circulated in which the author claimed God paralyzed him due to his mouthing off to an authority figure who was being a jerk. The message I got was we had to just take all we were going through lying down, or God would be ticked at us. I didn’t want to talk to my friends, due to fear that it would be Korah(Num. 16, he got swallowed by the earth for rebelling against Moses). For the first time in nearly four years I began to question God’s existence. I began to see the god presented to me as a jerk, paralyzing people for petty things that aren’t even wrong while allowing child molesters and genocidaires to prey on children for years; and torturing you for all eternity in a place that makes Auschwitz seem like an amusement park after you die. I got to the point I was thinking I’d rather be an atheist than believe in the god being presented to me and I didn’t care if whose feelings were hurt(as changing religious views is a human right! This still gives me a bad taste for political correctness, but that’s another post.)
In addition the church started turning insular, especially after Obama’s election. We were shown a number of videos on the Illuminati, and how they’re trying to destroy the economy, destroy America, destroy [Real True] Christianity [TM], and all this is leading to the Great Deception[TM], the Great Apostasy[TM], and the Antichrist. There was one on how the interfaith movement is just an attempt by the Illuminati to destroy Christianity, that [Real True] Christians [TM] are singled out for attack, and set up a one-world religion. This caused cognitive dissonance, as I’m not an Illuminist and I support interfaith dialogue. People support interfaith due to the fact that fanatics who believe their way is the only way kill in the name of God those who disagree with them. As it was referred to as “The Left-Wing Shadow Government” I thought it just a way to demonize those who disagree with us; that this is just an “us vs them” mentality. I also saw a bit of xenophobia in this, in that just being interested in other countries would label you an Illuminist. All these things I saw are things I really don’t like! I even asked the leadership for permission to go abroad; but was told, “Not yet; not until you get in the Glory.” This became very frustrating.
I feared that I’d be told, “The Lord says that Sister So-and-so is your wife” but I wouldn’t like Sister So-and-so, and thus be forced to marry her. I really didn’t (and still don’t) want to marry anyone I grew up with, as I knew I’d have to Drink the Kool-Aid and probably give up my dream of living abroad (as some people said they don’t want their son-in-law to take their daughter away from the man of God). Later I grew fearful that I’d never marry(as I mentioned in another post, we had purity culture and dating was verboten. Parental approval was strongly pushed, and my mom didn’t think I was mature enough.) Thus I thought marriage was effectively banned. We were also told that we should be willing to never marry if God says so. Concerning going abroad people asked me what if God said to remain in this bubble the rest of my life. People got offended when I said I’d still go abroad (something that’s a human right — one reason I support the right to offend; but that’s another post). I was frustrated over being stuck in a job making hardly anything, unable to go anywhere, having no prospects for marriage, all because leaders said it’s God’s Will (TM). This definitely helped contribute to my religious crisis, as it seemed God just made arbitrary rules that were impossible to follow and was going to torture us for not keeping them, but Jesus convinced Him into beating Him instead.
However there were a few things I did to move forward. Since we traveled a half hour to an hour to reach the job, I listened to language learning podcasts in the meantime. (However I couldn’t stick to one language.) I also bought books on subjects of interest from Barnes and Noble.
Well, I’m going to end this post here. I apologize this is such a downer, and I promise the next post will have more positive content!(Seriously, this period was one of my roughest.)