Oct 032013
 

Blasphemy Incorporated

All opinions expressed herein by the author are offered without undue depths of rancor, malice, irony, or satire; only reasonably-balanced depths are intended. I name names and offer opinions but, any errors of fact are unintentional and sincerely regretted.

Rubber Ducky Jesus Nativity

Today, I received several items in the mail, including a magazine subscription offer and a specialty mail order catalog. Both traded on themes of religion — especially Christianity. You have to believe that neither company felt any need of remorse for their marketing choices. At first I was tempted to simply discard the pieces as simple junk mail. However, considered together, they gave me cause to think about the nature of commercialism, American values, and blasphemy.

The first item was an advertisement for “sinful savings” on subscriptions to Free Inquiry magazine (oriented toward the scientific examination of religion). I have a reputation for thinking (and writing) about such controversial subjects and wasn’t surprised to be targeted by their mailing list. The envelop featured red blood splatters and the message, “Blasphemous! Look inside at your own eternal peril.” They enclosed a “Special Introductory Offer – For Blasphemers Only.” Also, “Your salvation isn’t guaranteed… but your satisfaction with Free Inquiry is!” Their come-on letter starts, “Dear Intelligent Reader, You and I are under attack by religious fanatics who want to control what we read, how we think, and what our kids are taught in school. That’s why they use words like blasphemous, godless, and sacrilegious when bright, free-thinking people ask questions that challenge their superstitious beliefs. These are words meant to inspire fear and intimidate the weak-minded into submission.”

All of this seems like outright inflammatory sensationalism used for commercial advantage. These words, in this context, are also meant to shock, inspire fear, attract gratuitous attention, and sell magazines. I actually admire the effective use of language to motivate appropriately. I admire the insights of Frank Luntz, a Republican Party Strategist and wordsmith, in how to use words and re-frame arguments to push people’s emotional buttons. I just don’t buy his double-think inventions and arguments. And, I just won’t buy what might actually be an interesting magazine when it is promoted in this way.

However, the magazine advertisement also enclosed a note from Richard Dawkins (a renowned evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist) saying, ”If there were a God, I’m convinced He would want you to read Free Inquiry,” adding, “He would be committed to the application of reason and encourage scientific discovery and the cultivation of moral excellence. He would want us to be more concerned about living a valuable life than enforcing arbitrary rules to avoid a vindictive punishment in an afterlife.”

Richard Dawkins also pushes some emotional buttons: reason, discovery, moral excellence, valuable life, and vindictive punishment. But, did you notice how positive, reserved, and respectful he was in framing his note? “God” and “He” are appropriately capitalized as honored divinities. Dawkins appeals to cultivating moral excellence and living a valuable life. You got a problem with that? I don’t. You got a problem with exposing religious hypocrites and moral corruption? Jesus didn’t. Still, I don’t think Jesus would have subscribed to Free Inquiry. I imagine that He might have given permission to be quoted, but not felt motivated by their advertising.

My wife, Dianna, is a retired elementary school teacher and still receives catalogs from the “Oriental Trading Company.” This issue featured “fun and faith” items with the exhortation, “share the spirit.” It contained a mix of holiday spirit and (evidently by allusion), Holy Spirit” trinkets, gifts, activity packs, as well as carnival and fund-raising prizes. They obviously expected to sell profitably to those wanting to promote and commemorate religious holidays and classically-fundamentalist Christian themes. I’m sure that if they anticipated that any of their items would be easily considered blasphemous, they would not advertise, stock, and sell so many.

First, let me point out that I am a self-acknowledged cranky old curmudgeon and some of you will think that I’m being overly-critical. And, any issue, taken by itself, may be easily-excused. But, the catalog collection, taken together, represents a popular disregard of appropriateness and dignity among self-professed spiritual and faithful people.

The catalog cover features three young children, singing hymns in “angel costumes,” complete with cheap white polyester gowns, battery-operated candles, and white “feather and marabou wings.” It is not entirely clear if real African Marabou Storks are “harvested” to produce these authentic-looking wings. That would be a whole other animal conservation ethics issue. Also, I want to suggest that it would be a mistake to dress your little cherubs in polyester and then substitute authentic candles, flickering with actual fire.

The vendor evidently also dyes marabou wings red to produce similar “Cupid wings.” The ad reads: “Put on these feather and marabou wings and find true love as a matchmaking Cupid or use them for an angel costume on Halloween!” We have discovered an unholy amalgam of child-angels in heaven, Cupid, the Roman god of erotic love, and the likely improvisation of a sexy fetish costume. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone but me. And, I’m not too fond of Halloween as a festival-for-the-dead with little beggars dressed as angels, devils, zombies, pirates, and hookers.

Speaking of little angels, my wife’s older brother died in tonsil surgery when he was seven. Her mother’s pastor explained that God called her boy to be a little angel in heaven and that a bouquet also needs buds to be pretty and complete. Her mother evidently believed this literally and repeated it often in defense of the comfort that she claimed it brought her. Nonetheless, she never escaped the obvious trauma and bitter desolation of her loss. She became an alcoholic and chain smoker and died prematurely of lung cancer. Don’t try to tell me that God harvests little angels from our families.

And, when did “Christ our Savior” start getting mixed up with a jolly old elf sliding down chimneys, evergreen trees, snow men, and other such nonsense? You can buy color-your-own Christmas nativity stockings; gingerbread, rubber ducky, and gnome nativity sets; nativity bingo and playing cards; “Happy Birthday Jesus” balloons, party hats, beach balls, kaleidoscopes, slide puzzles, novelty assortments and ornaments; “Jingle for Jesus” bell bracelets; nativity crosses (just a slight anachronism); plus “Jesus Loves You” and “Caleb the Camel” Christmas tree ornaments.

There is more. You can buy golden crown and “Jesus is My Rock” stress squeeze toys; “King of King” tattoos (hardly in the spirit of Leviticus 19:28 or Deuteronomy 14:1), favor boxes and treat bags; “Joy to the World” paddle balls; “Joyful in Jesus” candy canes, Bible verse fortune cookies, and “Testamints(tm)” breath-freshening candy; “Share His Light and Love” and “Jesus Loves You Snow Much” snowmen; “Jesus Lights the Way” flashing bouncy balls, “Bible Bucks” play money, and “Pick Jesus” guitar picks; as well as rainbow faith bears, “Our Wise Lord” owls, “Jesus is Deer to Me” reindeer and “Wild About Jesus” safari animals.

You will definitely want to proudly display your own Celtic Cross Bible cover (incorporating a pagan solar nimbus). What can I say? It appears that non-believers do not have the corner on impiety. A mix of ignorance, indifference, conceptual hybridization, and crass commercial blasphemy are popular (and big business) among religious “fun”damentalists these days.

All the time, I run across people who want to tell me that they know what the truth is — that they are in charge of explaining what (their version of) God wants everyone to believe and do. I can spot them right away; I used to be that kind of faith-and-fellowship true-believer. Now, I can’t imagine what makes them better than any other tribe of mere mortals with similar convictions. I am appalled, not persuaded, by the arrogance, presumption, and hypocrisy of their blasphemy.

Sep 232013
 

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Read or download this essay as a PDF file at:https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4eNv8KtePyKX0N1cTNqMTY1N2c/edit?usp=sharing

Confucius, Emerson, and Ginsberg

The classic tenants of Confucianism and Taoism take disparate, but not mutually-exclusive, views of existence. While only Confucians would seek to give advice for improving society, elements of both views are important to a balanced and healthful existence within a society.

Confucianism is all about improving society. Individuals are expected to yield to established laws and the greater good of the community. The fundamental concept for maintaining society is the competence and fairness of public servants, which earns respectful honor and loyalty (for others, family, ancestors, public servants, and tradition). Law and tradition are looked to for guidance. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophyexplains:

Confucius’ social philosophy largely revolves around the concept of ren, “compassion” or “loving others.” Cultivating or practicing such concern for others involved deprecating oneself. … Learning self-restraint involves studying and mastering li, the ritual forms and rules of propriety through which one expresses respect for superiors and enacts his role in society in such a way that he himself is worthy of respect and admiration. A concern for propriety should inform everything that one says and does (Stanford).

Taoism is all about withdrawing from society. Individuals are expected to yield to the law of nature and the harmonious dynamics of the universe. Rather than seeking to improve society, Taoists focus on individual balance and a harmonious relationship with “the way of Heaven.” An immediate sense of rightness is looked to for guidance.

Taoism rejects “established” knowledge and wisdom as obstacles in the path of Tao. An enlightened mind effortlessly reflects universal principles, not rejecting the actual world so much as it’s society and societal conventions. A Taoists’ inner world must be purged of scripted external sensation and interpretation. In Section 47 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu explains:

Without going out of your door,
You can know the way of the world.
Without peeping through your window,
You can see the Way of Heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.
Thus, the Sage knows without traveling,
Sees without looking,
And achieves without Ado (Tzu 97).

I feel that both Confucianism and Taoism contribute important ideas for the personal choices and the accommodations that are needed to live within a community. Personal compromises are needed to exist without undue conflict with others.

As per the Confucianists, meaning can come from seeking the greater good and embracing orderliness. However, personal liberties are also needed to allow creative expression and developmental growth. As per the Taoists, meaning can also come from creating (or following) a personal path and embracing chance and change.

A fundamental structure underlying our lives is a continuous cycle of being and becoming. One may take the yearly seasons as an example. In the fall, there is a time that peaks at harvest, with processes of gathering in, sorting, organizing, consolidation, and withdrawing. In the winter, there is a time that peaks at storage, with processes of being and resting. In the spring, there is a time of germination, with processes of sowing, cultivating, nurturing, and growth. In the summer, there is a time of change, with processes of chaotic growth, reproduction, and metamorphosis.

It seems like Confucianists are more oriented toward sustaining a stable “winter” perspective while Taoists are more oriented toward flowing with the chaos of a “summer” perspective. Neither or these perspectives can be inherently better as they co-exist in the same system of being and becoming.

American culture already embraces a wide range of competing cultural ideals including those found in Confucianism and Taoism. In fact, the two major political parties in the United States have paradoxical cross-polarizations along philosophical lines.

Republicans are considered conservatives, holding to family values and traditions, yet they are fiercely defensive of their liberty to make personal choices, sometimes to the neglect of the welfare of others. On the other hand, Democrats are considered liberals, holding to values like diversity and adapting to the changing situation, yet are open to giving up personal choice for the benefit of the community.

John Locke and Thomas Jefferson insisted that we have the right to keep and defend individual property, but within the context of compliance to group consensus. Like Confucius, they felt that those in authority served at the will of the people and would decline and be replaced if they failed in their responsibilities.

Americans are also known for their fierce individualism. Like Ralph Waldo Emmerson and Allen Ginsberg, we tend to define our valued and privileged way of life by individual freedom to follow one’s own path.

The adoption and adaptation of our complex mix of philosophical roots encourages both sustainable stability and creative progress in our selves and in our society.

Works Cited

Tzu, Lao. Tao Teh Ching, Translated by John C. H. Wu. Shambhala, Boston & London, 1989
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Confucius. Sept. 5, 2006, July 10, 2009
Sep 232013
 

 From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

Find out more, including where to buy books and ebooks

Read or download this essay as a PDF file at:https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4eNv8KtePyKZkxRVW9jSWpsZVk/edit?usp=sharing

Japan, America, and sacred nationalism

The Japanese islands have remained relatively isolated throughout their history. This has allowed for the development and concentration of distinctive religious and cultural characteristics. Although Japan has experienced Eastern influences (mostly Chinese and Buddhism), and Western influences (especially Anglo/American and Christian), these have seemed to only flavor, not disrupt, the Nipponese sense of identity. This bears a strong resemblance to contemporary American right-wing conservatism.

From the most ancient times, Japan, and its Shinto practices have been organized around community-clans and their respective clan gods. Even when communities gradually expanded, community worship continued to revolve around local guardian gods and the ancestors of extended families. Broader political power was rooted in the relationships of confederations of clans. This religio-cultural structure made it unlikely that religions of foreign origin could have much impact and still remain intact. This system retained a stable core of abiding traditions, supplemented by a somewhat more adaptive layer of minor local traditions.

As an example, Buddhism, when promoted by certain nobles, was assimilated in Japan by considering local practices as manifestations, rather than contradictions. It helps that Buddhism does not insist on a strict distinction between secular matters and that which is sacred. Seeking purity was already esteemed as a matter for all members of Japanese society. Extending that search for purity, by renouncing the world and taking up monastic service, was no great leap. Accepting the Buddha Nature in all things is parallel to accepting the spirit essence in all things. Buddhism advocates that one abandon grasping for self-interest as Shintoism promotes community welfare over selfish pursuits.

In Japan, community purity and religious control was part and parcel of political authority. The Shoguns, for instance, never hesitated to challenge religious influences that threatened their power. Each ruling clan elevated their own gods and divinized their own ancestors, producing “sacred kings.”

Eventually, Japanese society was able to more-completely organize itself into a coherent nation with supreme religious and secular authority vested in the Emperor. When war with China was initiated in the Emperor’s name, it became a sacred national war and reflected Japan’s over-riding pride in their national superiority and identity. All aspects of life became part of a holy war. At the end of World War II, American strategists seriously considered that every citizen would take up arms if the mainland of Japan was invaded.

Although the current Japanese culture retains a strong sense of honor and responsibility to community, the shock of Japan’s ultimate defeat in World War II devastated their sense of sacred nationalism. Japan is now often considered to be even more secular that the West. Japan has been rapidly industrialized and urbanized. Social mobility and personal isolation is endemic. The Japanese psyche has rocked from one pole to the other.

Presently, parts of American culture are in a state of radical transition as right-wing religious conservatives struggle for ever-greater governmental control. We are, on the one hand, “One nation under God,” and, on the other, a melting pot of diverse immigrants. This makes generalizations difficult and open to contradiction. Nonetheless, George Bush was able to start and sustain foreign conflicts in the name of “protecting our [capitalistic and mostly-Christian] way of life.” This could hint at an American parallel to the military adventurism that sprang from Japanese homogeny.

Conservative elements of the Republican Party seem distressed that they are losing their grip on a vision of Christian religion as intrinsic to what they see as American national identity and culture.

On the other hand, American liberalism seems to be persistently emerging into a proud model of diversity and tolerance. Old majorities are finding themselves not only endangered, but irrelevant. John F. Kennedy broke the Protestant barrier; George Bush appointed women and Hispanics. Now, the leadership of Barack Obama seems to be outdistancing conventional wisdom so fast that traditionalists can neither keep him in sight nor rein him in.

Isolated cultures, such as those of ancient and feudal Japan, are capable of sustaining religions and religion-infused cultures and identities. In Japan, the popular ethic of myopic superiority (including devotion to the traditions of kami, ancestors and Emperor) erupted and suffered mortal disruption following World War II.

Our world still finds remnants of rabid religious and ideological nationalism. Stalin, Mao, the Khmer Rouge, Pakistan, North Korea, and conservative American evangelicals are a few remaining flashpoints of isolationist nationalism. The balance of the world is growing toward proliferation of international relationships, dependencies, and cooperations. Radical identities including race, language, religion, cuisine, and nationality are being subsumed by multinational businesses, non-governmental organizations, and international treaties. Our distinctive cultures are dissipating. Even deep in the Appalachian mountains, I only have to drive a few miles to find several restaurants serving fresh Japanese sushi.

Sep 232013
 

Eastern influences on contemporary Western culture and spirituality

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

Find out more, including where to buy books and ebooks

Read or download this essay as a PDF file at:https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4eNv8KtePyKY0djTlVOMDJQR1E/edit?usp=sharing

Many people in Western cultures have become aware of, and adopted elements of, traditional Eastern religions to a variety of degrees. Although usually ignorant of, or rejecting the full scope of the associated original foundational historical practice and philosophy, they are creating a new flavor of Western spirituality and a related social consciousness.

Both Eastern practitioners and Western philosophers have helped raise our general consciousness of Eastern spiritual traditions over the last century. Some of the more prominent are briefly described in the following:

William James, a leading psychologist and philosopher published The Varieties of Religious Experience in 1902. This helped introduce Eastern religious thought to the West.

Aldous Huxley’s 1945 The Perennial Philosophy identifies a recurring insight of divine reality that is common to most primitive peoples and all higher religions. This insight is related to “thou art that,” the Atman, the Brahman, and “the Absolute Principle.”

Huston Smith wrote The Religions of Man (revised as The World’s Religions), which is still a popular treatise on comparative religion. Smith has been intimately involved with Eastern religions and produced award-winning films and several public television series on the subject.

Alan Watts, a British philosopher, did research on comparative religion. He wrote many books and articles including The Way of Zen. Along with his long-running weekly broadcast in the San Francisco area, copies of his lectures were widely distributed and introduced many people to Eastern philosophy.

Shunryu Suzuki [Roshi] came to manage a temple in San Francisco in 1959, where Zen was already a leading-edge interest. Suzuki was astonished by the watered-down Buddhism practiced by Americanized Japanese immigrants. He began teaching classes on Buddhism to Westerners. His books such as Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind became popular.

[Thich] Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, “has played an important role in the transmission of an Asian spiritual tradition to the modern, largely secular West” (TIMEasia). A BBC report described Nhat Hahn as “… a world renowned Zen master, writer, poet, scholar, and peacemaker. With the exception of the Dalai Lama, he is today’s best known Buddhist teacher. He is the author of more than one hundred books including bestsellers Peace Is Every Step and The Miracle of Mindfulness, … ” (BBC)

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, has lived in exile since 1959. The plight of Tibetan Buddhists under Chinese government, and the Dalai Lama’s unshakable peaceableness, have galvanized world attention to his person and his teachings. He has traveled widely, written extensively, taught, and participated in efforts to cultivate world peace.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, escaped Tibet in 1959. In 1967, after further education at Oxford, he established his first meditation center. After a disabling automobile accident, he became a lay teacher. He traveled almost constantly throughout North America and wrote prolifically during the 1970s. Attracting considerable attention, he established three additional meditation centers and Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. He also developed “Shambhala Training” to introduce meditation in secular terms. His work resulted in the establishment of meditation and art centers in over 100 cities throughout the world (Shambhala).

Popular cultural leaders have also been instrumental in introducing Westerners to Eastern thought.  The Beatles, after meeting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, studied Transcendental Meditation in India. The songs they created there in 1968 are considered by some to be their most creative work. The Beatles certainly influenced many of their fans to explore Eastern thought. Oprah Winfrey introduced a number of Buddhist teachers, including Pema Chödrön and Sharon Salzberg, to the American public (Oprah, 2008).

Eastern themes and situations have been eagerly accepted in our entertainment media. Examples range from Kung Fu Panda and Mulan to “Wire Fu” action adventures to Amy Tan’s stories of growing up Chinese. We loved to see Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet, yearned for Shangri-La in Lost Horizon, wanted to walk to the sea with Gandhi, and wondered if “the Force” in Star Wars was anything like what a Japanese Samurai or Hindu Fakir does. Could we ever figure out how to do that ourselves? I have a deal with my youngest son that the first one to levitate has to buy supper.

Many popular books have addressed (or borrowed) Eastern spiritual themes. Robert M. Pirsig’s 1974 book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was a popular, if idiosyncratic, introduction to Eastern philosophy for a displaced generation. It is now considered a classic. Many authors, riding the wave of interest in Eastern philosophy, produced books with titles including: Zen and the Art of Writing (Ray Bradbury, 1994),Zen in the Art of Archery (Eugen Herrigel and Daisetz T. Suzuki, 1999), Zen and the Art of Making a Living (Laurence G. Boldt, 1999), Zen and the Art of Poker (Larry Phillips, 1999), The Tao of Pooh (Benjamin Hoff, 1982), The Tao of Physics (Fritjof Capra, 2000), The Tao of Sobriety (David Gregson, 2002), The Tao of Network Security Monitoring (Richard Bejtlich, 2004), and even The Tao of Warren Buffet (Mary Buffett and David Clark, 2006).

The teachings and life of Jesus Christ have been compared, and correlated, to Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist scripture in books such as: Jesus and Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings(Martin Aronson ed., 2002), Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, Marcus Borg, ed., 2004), Christ the Eternal Tao, 4th edition (Hieromonk Damascene, 2004), The Yoga of Jesus: Understanding the Hidden Teachings of the Gospels (Paramahansa Yogananda, 2007), Jesus, Krishna, Buddha and Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings (Richard Hooper, 2007). Many people are open to the theory that Jesus was exposed to Eastern influences during the “quiet period” in the gospels before presenting himself to John the Baptist at the beginning of his explosive ministry.

The West has gradually opened up to a variety of translocated Eastern concepts and practices. For one, karma has become a household word in the West. It is generally associated with the ideas that “what goes around comes around” or “you reap what you sow.” Thus, its application is, typically, more secular and leaves behind any concept of karma associated with past lives or reincarnation.

Westerners have begun exploring Eastern systems of medicine including Ayurvedic Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Practitioners generally receive a strong grounding in the underlying concepts. Medical doctors occasionally add techniques such as acupuncture to their practice. Meaningful accreditation is available to schools that teach most Eastern systems of medicine.

Patients, however, are often simply open to, or desperate for, a more-effective therapy than they may currently be receiving, without having any substantial appreciation for the concepts driving their diagnosis or treatment.

Deepak Chopra has become very influential while promoting his mission of “bridging the technological miracles of the West with the wisdom of the East” (Chopra). He began his career as a Western-trained endocrinologist but he felt moved to expand his practice to include Ayurvedic therapies and mind-body counseling at his own clinic. He has written prolifically, and lectured and consulted widely, teaching about balance in both health and spiritual matters.

Acupuncture is a technique of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that inserts and manipulates very fine needles along meridians of Chi (vital energy) to regulate its flow and distribution. Acupuncture, with other techniques of oriental medicine, are now taught in about fifty schools in the United States. Most specialize in oriental medicine except for three that prepare Naturopathic Doctors for general practice.

Related practices that profess to affect Chi in the body include acupressure, foot reflexology, Chi gong, and Tai Chi exercises. Chiropractors often include attention to Chi flow in their patient care. Chi concepts are widely accepted in the American public. After I had an emotional breakdown in a class this spring, a counselor in Student Support Services advised me on how to activate a series of acupressure points.

Many youngsters are introduced to Chi and other elements of oriental culture as part of martial arts training. Popular Asian martial arts, including Karate, Aikido, and Judo, spring from religious traditions. But, these are often studied in the United States for exercise, development of coordination, self-defense, competition, and combat — largely without deep philosophical training.

Similarly, precisely-prescribed and highly-differentiated forms of meditation were formerly part of the different mystical traditions of each Eastern religion, and even different branches of the same religion. In America, meditation is becoming popular but is poorly or indifferently differentiated. It is usually undertaken for pragmatic purposes like relaxation, stress relief, improved concentration, or as a homogenized element of new-age spirituality. Progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and autogenic training may be considered Western adaptations of Eastern meditation.

Chinese herbal medicine has been introduced in accredited TCM schools and as full courses for Naturopathic Doctors. Units of elective classes in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are offered for conventional doctors, and in private herbal schools such as Michael and Lesley Tierra’s East West School of Planetary Medicine.

More-limited aspects of Chinese herbal medicine may be borrowed in “bite-size” pieces. As an example, Nature’s Sunshine Products, Inc. released a set of ten Chinese herbal formulas—two for each of the five elements in TCM. For instance, AL-C (Xuan Fei – Metal Reducing) was for lung stress such as Allergies while LH-C (Fu Lei – Metal Supporting) was for “Lung Health” issues such as chronic respiratory weakness. While these formulations gave token reference to the five elements, and used Chinese names and herbs, most herbalists applied them using Western sensibilities. A third-party reference work explained:

[These] Chinese herb combinations are based on the five element model and the principles of harmony and balance, Yin and Yang. The element model states that an individual’s constitution is typed – wood, water, metal, earth or fire – according to the five basic elements found in nature. Each has weaknesses and strengths, which must be kept in balance in order to maintain good health (Satterlee 2000).

Meditative states can be monitored or even facilitated with assistive technology. Products such as Proteus®, Holosync®, and Hemi-sync®, use audio tones to stimulate brainwaves at desired frequencies. For instance, simultaneous tones at 440 and 452 cps produce a difference beat at 12 cps that is within the normal range for brain waves; the brain will tend to synchronize with it. Goggles with simultaneously flashing lights may also be supplied to enhance the effect. The intended result is to produce enhanced alertness, relaxation, sleep, or meditation associated with the selected stimulation. One user commented that:

“Hemi-sync sounds facilitate the synchronization of the cerebral hemispheres. They contain frequencies corresponding to different states of consciousness. (This is the electronic era’s version of the shaman’s drum, the mantra, the singing of psalms, the Gregorian and Sufi chant.)” (Ferrari 78)

It may be tempting to characterize the changes occurring in Western spirituality as a “cafeteria culture” or the indiscriminate co-mingling of spiritual traditions. In fact, history shows that cultures typically undergo cross-pollination when they interact with others. As an example, the culture and modes of worship in India often include contributions from Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist traditions. Similarly, the culture and modes of worship in China often include contributions from Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist traditions.

This is not to everyone’s liking. Just as the denominations of Protestant Christendom sometimes branch into bitterly antagonistic groups, Eastern lineages may see themselves as distinct and exclusive. The Tibetan lama, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche protests:

Vajrayana [Buddhism] is very different from the New Age approach. The difference is that the Vajrayana teachings are controlled by the lineage. I know we don’t like the word control, but the Vajrayana teachings are actually held by the authority of the lineage. …When we have this pure lineage, this genuine lineage, there is no space for our egocentric interpretation of dharma. We cannot interpret dharma like the New Age gurus. We cannot invent a new lineage because a lineage must be received. It must be received by transmission. It is not something we can just create here. That would beNew Age, probably from California (Ponlop).

American philosophy and culture is borrowing from more than only Eastern thought. Some of us have learned to cherish the words of the Muslim poet Rumi or have friends that like to discuss the mysteries of the Jewish Kabala. Our Christian Men’s groups rediscover their masculinity in group shamanic drumming. We hang Native American dream catchers from our mirrors and study rune lore. Some like Wiccan spells, Druid runes, fairies, and dragons in their fantasy fiction and adventure games. We listen to Celtic music and adore the African spiritual influences in our “uniquely American” jazz and gospel.

As with all newly-discovered ideas and practices, leading-edge thinkers explore and analyze them. Academics tear them to shreds and feed them to their students. Early-adopters begin to incorporate them into underground or alternate lifestyles. Perhaps, we experience the real thing as we interact with our expatriate neighbors and their communities. Initial curiosities become common knowledge; the exceptional becomes mundane; and the forbidden becomes tolerated. Eventually, the most useful or meaningful elements of formerly-distinctive ways become so intermingled that only the very thoughtful care about the past origins of what is now very commonplace.

Our modern world, with its increasing speed, range, and capacity for information transfer and social networking, makes it actually difficult to avoid being exposed to other religions and philosophies. America perceives itself as a nation of immigrants; prejudice is actively suppressed and diversity is promoted as a virtue. Americans like to think of themselves as independent and pragmatic thinkers; if something works, use it.

At the same time, we are becoming disenchanted with personal isolation from family and community, with over-active and over-stimulated lives that seem to lack meaning. The values of Eastern thought often seem to offer more-satisfying and more-meaningful life options. It should not be surprising that useful elements of Eastern society are snatched-up and integrated into our evolving societies.

Theodore Ludwig put it this way: “It is not that Chinese people are missionaries to other peoples of the world. Rather, many people throughout the world are discovering a vision of life and a practice of harmony that fascinate and compel them…”

References Cited

BBC. Religion & Ethics – Buddhism – Thich Nhat Hanh, 4/4/2006,

Chopra, Depak. About Us < http://www.chopra.com/aboutdeepak> July 7, 2009
Ferrari, Guido. A Journalist’s encounters with the Akashic experience. Quoted in The Akashic Experience: Science and the Cosmic Memory Field. Ervin Laszlo, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 2009
Oprah, O, The Oprah Magazine, Oprah Talks to Pema Chödrön, 2008 July 7, 2009
Ponlop Rinpoche, Dzogchen Quoted in Policy for the West. Khandro Net, July 10, 2009
Satterlee, David. HerbalDave’s Notebook: Exploring Natural Health. CD-ROM. Health Education Library Publications. League City, Texas. 2000
Shambhala. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. 2007 July 7, 2009
TIMEasia, 60 Years of Asian Heroes – Thich Nhat Hanh. 2006. http://www.time.com/time/asia/2006/heroes/in_hanh.html July 7, 2009
Sep 202013
 

Setting limits

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

Read or download this essay as a PDF file at:https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4eNv8KtePyKeExGUS1vT0E1cDg/edit?usp=sharing

Does Setting limits cause #isolation, loss of #intimacy, and even #alienation of #love?

Setting limits

Women often feel at a disadvantage in relationships with men. Social pressures, openly or unrecognized, can give men a dominant role. How is a woman to feel self-respect, personal worth, independence, initiative, control, and security? The common answer, these days, is to “set limits.”
Setting defensive limits makes intuitive sense. “That which cannot touch you cannot harm you.” But, at what cost in isolation, loss of intimacy, and even alienation of love? In fact, the issue of boundaries and limits can affect the character of any relationship, not just those between men and women.

Kinds of Limits

Parents and teachers are urged to set firm, appropriate limits for young children as part of youths’ guided moral development. The goal is for children to experience rich, genuine emotional lives while still conforming to “acceptable ethics” of justice and care in their relationships with others.
Initially, the idea of setting interpersonal limits was promoted as an act of enlightened consciousness; essentially a form of thinking: “sticks and stones … names can’t hurt me.” In this sense, setting limits defines ones internal perceptions of self. That is, thinking: “If other’s judgments of me are invalid, I do not have to embrace them.” This is a healthy state of mind that reflects appropriate emotional well-being and self-esteem. Such internal limits allow potentially-damaging emotional threats to simply drop away before wounding the ego.
Inevitably, however, the phrase “setting limits” creates images of walls, fences, and “lines in the sand.” This sense of the phrase is a last resort of desperation and confrontation. It defines external requirements on the behavior of others. This is saying: “Don’t tread on me; don’t even look at me funny.” Arising from an already-wounded state of mind that reflects acute and immediate fear, this form of external limits create boundaries that alienate us from each other.

Kinds of Relationships

If you have a real enemy, whom you want to keep away, by all means build a strong wall to force limits on their behavior. This will clearly define your firm and determined intent to maintain a relationship of distrust, fear, misunderstanding, or prejudice.
However, you may meet a person whom you want to know, love, and cherish. By all means, spend time with them, care about their welfare, encourage them to express themselves, listen with heartfelt interest, and respond in kindness even when they may need correction.
Mates open themselves even more intimately to each other; lowering their defenses, and becoming increasingly vulnerable. In consideration of the other’s tender openness, good friends or mates will voluntarily refrain from pointed emotional aggression. And, both will extend the “benefit of the doubt” when responding to the actions, words, and motives of the other.

Making the Choice

How will you relate to the world in general and to others as individuals? Adversarial-divisive relationships compete, insist on rights, demand justice, and are often driven by suspicion and fear. They cause us to withdraw into a defensive crouch, determined to define, conserve and defend our personal boundaries — pushing others away or striking out if we feel sufficiently threatened.
Supporting-nurturing relationships cooperate and draw people together. Based on empathy and mutual regard, these relationships spring from a heart filled with compassion, care and love. We stand with open arms, ready to share, invest in the future, and create a richer life for everyone involved.
Jun 042013
 

In this highly-rated series of audio clips, Ken Wilber offers his own thoughts about futurism and future studies, the fabled “integral tipping point”, and how we need to really come together as a community in order to begin paving the way to a better and more integral tomorrow.

  • Part 1 – Integrating the Future (mp3) 14:52
    With all the emphasis we see in spiritual communities about the importance of being in the NOW, it can be easy to forget how important it is to keep a careful eye on the future. After all, aren’t our thoughts about the future just another way to distract ourselves from connecting to our “true self” in this present moment? Here’s what Ken has to say:“The way you approach the present isn’t just determined by the way you approach the past, but by the way you approach the future. The richer conception of the future you have, the richer your life in the present becomes.”Ken sorts out the various schools of futurism, what each has to offer from an integral view, and how it’s just as important for us to integrate the future in our awareness as it is to integrate the past and present.
  • Part 2 – The State of the “We” (mp3) 9:20Ken Wilber offers his own view of the “we space” shared by the integral community, which he sees as being more fragmented than it needs to be. Healing this fragmentation is one of our most important goals, or else we risk diminishing our potential impact upon a world that’s increasingly in need of integral perspectives, insights, and solutions.
  • Part 3 – Are We Approaching a Cultural Tipping Point? (mp3) 14:53
    If the Integral worldview is now emerging as a new stage of human consciousness and culture, are we at some point going to see an integral cultural rennaissance such as we did in the late Sixties? If so, how do we get there?Ken Wilber offers his own thoughts, pointing out what is truly amazing about the rapid emergence of the Integral worldview, and why it’s so hard to predict when it will reach the fabled tipping point of 10% of the population.

Selected from http://integrallife.com/ken-wilber-dialogues/integrating-future 

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Aug 052012
 

My personal experience is that masculinity and femininity complement each other very nicely. I become exceptionally moody and morose without the company of women. In a mixed gathering, I prefer to be in the kitchen, behaving myself like a mouse in the corner, than with the men watching sports in the family room. And, I know that I really like being married and having a feminine woman as my best friend.

Further, while lurking near widows and divorced women, I have heard them confess that they “simply like having a man around.” It sounded as if, like me, the simple presence of someone of the other gender satisfied a palpably felt deficit.

The feminist Gloria Steinem famously asserted that, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” OMG! Didn’t Dr. Seuss put a fish riding a bicycle in his “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish?” What a rascal he was! I’ve gotta look for that.

 

The way some men treat the women in their lives, one could believe that the women would truly be better off without them. In any event, there is often clearly room left for improvement in many relationships. My wife, Dianna, liked the sentiment of the poster, below, and brought it to my attention.

The text reads: “We need to teach our DAUGHTERS the difference between a man who FLATTERS her and a man who COMPLIMENTS her. a man who SPENDS MONEY on her and a man who INVESTS in her. A man who views her as PROPERTY and a man who views her PROPERLY. a man who LUSTS after her and a man who LOVES her. A man who believes HE is GOD’s GIFT to women and a man who remembers a WOMAN was GOD’s GIFT to MAN and then teach OUR SONS to be that kind of man.”

Let me add the observation that the sentiment still tilts toward a sexist, patriarchal view of gender relations. I think that women are capable of being even more self-sufficient emotionally and physically. While I deeply treasure the satisfying bonds between men and women, I am sympathetic toward those with a radically-independent spirit.

Photo

In fact, the entire range of “conservative” thought tilts toward a sexist, patriarchal view of gender relations. Another way of saying this is George Lakoff’s observation that conservatives tend to have a “strong father” view of how families and governments should be run. Conservatives tend to look for, follow, and be loyal to their chosen authorities. It is very clear that “He’s the boss” or that the man of the house or the conservatively-elected president is “the decider.” On the other hand, the “liberal” tilt endorses a nurturing father, rather than a strict authoritarian.

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Jul 112012
 

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt recently published research that has been taken to indicate that conservatives hold six key values while liberals hold only three. Naturally, some commentators have had a great time with this one. Haidt followed this up with a new book: “The Righteous Mind.”

This was all based on the results of a “Moral Foundations questionnaire” completed by 2,212 participants. In the end, both liberals and conservatives are seen to relate positively to the concepts of Fairness, Liberty and Caring for the weak.

This is all good and commendable, as far as it goes. However, I made a point of finding and viewing all of the Republican primary debates and heard something else. I was left with serious doubts about the consequences of many proposed policies… and the callous audience reactions to them. The virtues of Fairness and Caring for the weak seemed to be missing in action. Individual Liberties received a lot of emphasis but issues of civil Liberties were neglected. The overall take-away seemed to be: “If the weak can’t take care of themselves then that’s their own misfortune.”

In Haidt’s research, conservatives related positively to three additional values more than liberals did: Sanctity, Loyalty, and Respect for authority. However, nobody seemed to notice that all three relate to those things needed to bind tribes, religions, and authoritarian governments together in the face of a common enemy.

Liberals have characteristically moved beyond “because tradition or our leader says so” as guidance for thought. Liberals want to be personally convinced, rather than bow to superior force or status. Although this independent streak can make them awkward and unruly members of a team or bureaucracy, it makes them ideally suited for participatory Democracy.

It need not be a bad thing to leave some values and virtues behind. For instance, you just don’t hear anybody recommending “fealty” anymore. Fealty is the submission that a member of a lower social class owes to his master or king. Vows of chastity, obedience, poverty and silence are not so popular anymore either. Neither is the penance of self-flagellation or the piety of sacrificing children by fire.

If you have been following my earlier discussion of developmental stages, you can see why most liberals are able to look at these “missing” values and say, “been there, done that, moved on, but still have friends that…”

Finally, others, such as Integral Theorist Jeff Salzman, have pointed out that Haidt’s research simply omitted some values that are part of the “language of liberalism” that many conservatives have yet to fully embrace. These three additional values are Empathy, Pluralism, and Social Justice.

My point is this: Please think critically the next time someone tells you that another group doesn’t have values just because their values are not exactly the same as his.

© 2012, David Satterlee

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Jul 112012
 

Last week, I discussed the research of James W. Fowler, a Methodist minister, into the developmental stages of faith. Dr. Fowler built his ideas on the pattern of Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. This is also worth considering.

Dr. Kohlberg found that moral development was revealed by one’s attitudes toward justice and how one reasoned on, and resolved, moral dilemmas. Related research identified justice as a masculine orientation and added caring as the corresponding feminine. At each stage of development, our moral behavior becomes more responsible, nuanced, and predictable.

Young children (and some poorly-developed adults) judge the morality of an action by its immediate consequences. Snatching a cookie or running a stop sign are just fine so long as you are not caught and punished. The focus is on personal benefit without considering ethical standards. Obedience can only be enforced with the threat of punishment.

The next stage is able to consider the needs of others, but only to the point of  deciding how to get what one wants. This is the “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” attitude of moral relativity.

Adolescents usually begin to judge the morality of a situation according to the expectations of authorities within their culture. They are willing to comply obediently because they are convinced that “it is the right thing.” This rigid morality typically views things very strictly in terms of “black and white.” A “good boy” or “good girl” conforms to accepted social roles. Morality is usually judged by intent and how an action affects relationships.

Some people understand that social order requires voluntary compliance to the standards of their community. They accept that laws must be obeyed and personal sacrifices made because it is their duty. They will stop at all stop signs simply because it is the right thing to do and because it sets a good example for others.

As it becomes obvious that different cultures hold different expectations, laws become regarded as adjustable social contracts within each community. The most important consideration becomes an understanding of “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” The operation of an effective Democracy requires this understanding and acceptance of compromise as inevitable for the common good.

Eventually, moral reasoning stops being derived from others; it depends on an individual appreciation for ethical abstractions and universal principles. This is not the same as moral relativity. Each person becomes responsible for deciding that he or she cannot march neighbors into gas chambers, no matter what. If a law is unjust, there is an obligation to disobey it. There are fewer arguments about rights, but more empathetic consideration of what is right. This stage is still considered rare.

© 2012, David Satterlee

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Jul 112012
 

It should not be surprising, in our scientific, technological world, that faith has been subjected to empirical studies and analysis. Hold onto your hat: it turns out that both people and communities of faith develop through a predictable series of stages… or find a comfortable level and stay there.

James W. Fowler, a minister in the United Methodist Church, wrote “Stages of Faith” in 1981 while a professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University. Additional research has followed. Here is a summary of the results.

Preschool children often confuse fantasy and reality. Their mix of ideas are picked-up, but not fully-developed, from those around them. They may believe in God and the Tooth Fairy, but already know that the guy at the mall is not really Santa.

School-age children begin to use logic and take things very literally. They may strongly and stubbornly hold onto ideas that come from trusted authorities. Their parents may still be insisting on the details of Santa’s visit to every home on Christmas eve.

Teenagers become aware of multiple, conflicting belief systems, but often associate strongly with a single institution and its doctrine. These staunch believers tend to “double-down” against any challenge to the anchors of their faith. They are easily persuaded that exposure to other ideas is dangerous so that they are determined to remain isolated within their community of support.

In young adulthood, with continued exposure to other peoples and their beliefs, some begin a period of critical re-examination of the elements of their faith. They may become disillusioned with their former community and move forward to independently search for a new foundation. Paradoxically, this progressive movement is often criticized as “backsliding.” Many men, especially, become “spiritual but not religious” and stop worshiping in a church.

In mid-life, it sometimes occurs to people that much about life is conflicting, unknown, or even unknowable. Neither faith nor logic fully satisfy. Much has to be taken, at any given time, as a paradox or mystery. Sacred stories and symbols may be a comfort, but not a foundation. Their spirituality may merge with their intent to “live a good life.”

A few older folks reach a point where they feel that life and gratitude, day by day, is sufficient blessing. There is no need to agonize over doubts, carry guilt from past mistakes, or dread what may happen in the next year, or the next moment. These folks may open themselves, within their remaining capacities, to take full satisfaction in the love of, and service to, others. These people may still embrace the formal worship of a specific divinity, but their capacity to love is no longer dependent on any given doctrine.

No developmental stage that serves the needs of the individual and their community is necessarily bad. Still, increasing tolerance always accompanies increasing spiritual development.

© 2012, David Satterlee

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May 312012
 

Most of us have heard the phrase “sustainable development” and perhaps a little about United Nations and other initiatives related to sustainable development such as Agenda 21 and the Earth Charter.  Some of our communities are exploring these principals in the hopes of heading off, or at least moderating, future catastrophes.

The concept of organized sustainable development is described by critics as a massive international conspiracy to deprive you of individual and commercial rights. Yep, that’s pretty much how it is. This threat is so outrageous that I thought I would take this opportunity to speak out [with tongue firmly in cheek] in defense of UN-organized and UN-sustainable development.

[Our] people are guaranteed freedom and liberty.  These should not be trampled on, limited, or regulated regardless of consequences to others. We should be allowed to do whatever we want.

All natural resources are given by God to man to own, subdue, and have dominion over (Genesis 1:28).  Further man was given the physical and mental powers to accomplish this. This same scripture instructed him to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth – with no mention of limits.

Automobiles, the open road, and cheap gasoline are as quintessentially American as baseball and apple pie. A gas guzzling vehicle is not only larger and safer for its occupants but a public symbol of status and achievement. Free public roads are the right of every citizen. We should all have unlimited choice to live, work, play, shop, commute, and just drive around at will.

Trees are for lumber; just ask the long-missing inhabitants of Easter Island. They left behind mysterious rock statues, but no growing wood. Trees are also for burning; and when trees become scarce, one can always make more children to go out and forage for sticks.

Insecticides and pesticides are good for crops and lawns – to say nothing of bees, frogs, birds, fish, and shallow wells. But, who needs all that buzzing and chirping anyway? And do we really need water? I never drink water anyway ‘cause there’s plenty of beer.

We have lots of coal and it’s cheap, so we should be allowed to use as much of it as we want to generate as much electricity as we want. Never mind acid rain, millions of children with respiratory problems, or atmospheric heat retention from rising carbon dioxide levels.

Besides, I’m okay now and I don’t give a rip about my grandchildren or anybody else either. Speaking of which, I also don’t care about neutering pets, soil erosion, toxic waste, or even famine. Other people have those problems, not me… so far.

©2012, David Satterlee

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May 232012
 

John Dean referenced Bob Altemeyer’s work extensively in his 2006 book, “Conservatives without Conscience.”

In case you wanted to dig deeper, your link is http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

Altemeyer explains: “This book is about what’s happened to the American government lately. It’s about the disastrous decisions that government has made. It’s about the corruption that rotted the Congress. It’s about how traditional conservatism has nearly been destroyed by authoritarianism. It’s about how the “Religious Right” teamed up with amoral authoritarian leaders to push its un-democratic agenda onto the country. It’s about the United States standing at the crossroads as the next federal election approaches.”

“The feedback I’ve gotten from those who have read The Authoritarians enables me to give you the major reason why you might want to do so too.   “It ties things together for me,” people have said, “You can see how so many things all fit together.” “It explains the things about conservatives that didn’t make any sense to me,” others have commented. And the one that always brings a smile to my face, “Now at last I understand my brother-in-law” (or grandmother, uncle, woman in my car pool, Congressman, etc.)”

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