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As I’ve researched the many roads humanity has taken trying to find the truth, one of the most attractive has always been Buddhism. Its balanced approach has a lot going for it. I agree with its premise that reality is an illusion. But after that, we diverge on most critical issues. (I’m aware that there are many types of Buddhism, and most of my study has been in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, but I believe most of this will apply to most schools, and generally to Hinduism as well.)

Buddhism says that reality is an illusion. No debates there. But what should we do about that fact? The Buddhist answer in large is that reality is something to rise above and escape. The material world is flawed and is necessarily suffering. It is Life’s goal to stop the cycle.

A agree reality is an illusion, just as art is an illusion, literature, games, and every other creation of the mind are illusions. When I sit with my family and play Monopoly, I do not demonstrate enlightenment by declaring it “illusion” and walking away. I do not need to be “freed” of the game’s constant cycle around the board. Of course it’s an illusion; that’s the point. That’s what makes it so enjoyable, even when I’m losing. I agree with the Buddhist that failure to see the game for what it is leads to suffering. But we disagree on whether one should stop playing.
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John Podhoretz’s review of Avatar in the Weekly Standard is an interesting starting point for some thoughts on American religion. While Podhoretz and I are certainly from different camps, there’s very little in his article I’d disagree with (except his vague suggestion that the film encourages support for Iraqi insurgents, which I think goes too far and so does he).

I’m not a big Avatar fan. It’s fun enough, but I think it stretches “suspension of disbelief” to the breaking point. Look, you want a mineral and you don’t care one whit about the indigenous and hostile life? Sigourney said it best herself: “Take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” For a 3D movie, the characters, plot and premise are completely 2D.
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I sat around yesterday with a coworker/friend of mine on the phone whining a bit about workloads and schedules and unreasonable expectations and poor management and all the things that work-a-days have whined about since somebody first suckered other people into calling him boss. We’d gotten on a bit of roll when I had to stop. Now everything we’d said was true, and there are a lot of things that are pretty broken. But I asked, ok, so what other team would you rather be working for? What other company? What other career? Here we are, work on cutting-edge stuff in a field we love. We get pressure to work more after working nights and weekends, and we get fussed at for this and that, but it’s all just “fussing.” There’s no real danger of losing our jobs. We get a team full of really exciting people to work with. We get to work out of our homes if we want. What exactly would “good” look like if not this?

And then I figured out some of it. It’s the fear of losing it. The fear of our team being broken up and forced to work on stupid things. It’s the fear that they’re going to make us come into the office. it’s the fear that “senior management” may not look on us with favor in the future. It’s not that it’s happened; it’s the fear that it might. I think this is why some rich people can be pretty miserable. You’ve got everything you want, but now you’re afraid you won’t be allowed to keep it. You’re afraid that others don’t think you deserve it enough and that they’ll take it away. My whole life has been like this. I live in a city I love. But it’s growing very rapidly, and my wife and I know that we won’t be able to stay here for long. Maybe only another 15 years or so before it’s just too crowded, but it’s fun while it lasts.

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It’s been a little while since I’ve had time to write. Other concerns have demanded some attention, and between traveling and working all hours, the universe has reminded me again to slow down. Which is to say I have a cold. And when I have a cold, I generally go to bed for a couple of days, read and otherwise catch up on this and that.

I was several chapters into What’s So Great about Christianity, a book which I recommend others read but which I often wish to throw at a wall, when I began to hear those quiet little questions I only hear when I stop the incessant chatter. Why are you reading this? Are you really learning or just fencing? D’Souza makes some interesting points, but his often reverse causalities are unlikely to sway my thinking very far. When he descended to the defending Anselm’s Ontological argument, I knew there was little left here to be mined.

We have such a little time, and we given one great gift in the universe: our choice of how to use that time. With the thousand thousand limitations we put on ourselves, we still have so many choices we can make. And so I decided to step back and look again at those things that build, and for a time let go of fighting those things that destroy. We must defend the castle walls, but what is the point if we never sing?

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It is right to give thanks and blessing when we eat. Food is so important, and so much goes into providing it, that mealtimes are an important time to stop for a moment and give thanks. It is also the easiest of rituals to introduce into our lives, and the importance of ritual is something we’ve lost track of in the modern, Western world. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been quiet here for a couple of weeks, but mostly because I’ve been spending my blogging energy chatting elsewhere. For those interested in following along on some of the discussions, or curious about what blogs I find interesting, here are some of the more interesting ones:

Upcoming here: Review of The Black Hole War, a book I didn’t plan to review here but has some interesting religious implications; review of The Art of Reading Scripture; a bit longer discussion of The God Delusion; and some early thoughts on my current reading: What’s So Great about Christianity, one of the better Christian Apoligetics I’ve read (outside his poorly researched critiques of evolution). I’m only a quarter of the way through. I still want to throw it at a wall sometimes, and I think he misinterprets a lot of history, but he brings actual facts to the discussion (which is very unusual) and makes several arguments that are worthy of actual debate. He’s even changed my thinking on some aspects of Christianity’s historic influence on Western society (I think his argument makes a better case that Western society has had a great influence on Protestantism, but I’ll go into that deeper later). If you want a very interesting and comprehensive discussion of this book, see Ken Ponder’s review on Amazon.

And I want to finally get back to some discussions about pantheism itself. I’ve been so distracted with so many interesting books.

I’ve spent a few posts talking about Christianity, and it’s somewhat brought me off topic for this blog. My goal isn’t to create negative thoughts about what not to believe in or what not to do. My goal is to talk a bit about positive things and paint some pictures that might be helpful to someone out there.

I was out camping this weekend with family and friends. There must have been a dozen boys with us and we were doing all the usual camping things, swimming in the lake, hiking, and s’mores. Of course, s’mores. And where’s there’s s’mores, there’s fire, right?

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I do seem to be escalating faster and faster into the posts that I always knew I would write, but always meant to put off to some later time. But I’ve been reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and he spent a lot of time discussing abortion in ways that I find discontinuous with the rest of the morality he discusses. Frankly, I think he starts with his final position and works backwards to rationalize it with assertions that I don’t think he would apply to any other situation. That led me to posting on his forums, where there is a 25+ page thread on the topic. Read the rest of this entry »

I always knew I would write this here, but I thought it would be much later. A dear friend said something, though, and I felt I should say something in response.

I can offer reason and hope, but I cannot take away fear. And in love, I cannot ask others to ignore it. Fear is very real, and the most powerful defense human ideas have evolved to protect themselves. Do not listen to that. Do not question that. Do not think that. Or. Else.

I cannot promise that Hell is not real. I cannot promise that you will not some day stand before Allah or Jehovah or Osiris. That you will not suffer Ammit or Tartarus or Niflhel. A hundred gods stand before us and say, Worship me or I will torture you. Follow me or I will abandon you. Only me or I will cast you out.

Forever. Let us be clear what is on the line if we’re wrong. Perhaps we will be lucky and we will only be reborn a toad. But perhaps we will eat from Zaqqum for all eternity, burning our guts like molten brass. I am quite certain more people today believe I will spend eternity in Jahannam than in Hell. On which square do I place Pascal’s Wager? Read the rest of this entry »