Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mind makes matter?

Ever since I returned to religion after trying out atheism, I have been working at reconciling the two. Both atheism and religion ask the big questions of life but they arrive at opposing answers to the questions: Where do we and all the stuff we see come from? Where does thinking come from?

Atheists who are also scientific materialists say our brains create our thoughts. After mulling this over for years, I take the opposite view—I think, therefore my brain forms the way it does. My thoughts form my brain. Scientific experiments bear this out.

And I feel, therefore my surroundings seem as they seem. They suit my feelings and attitudes.Our language reflects this truth. We speak of sunny or cloudy days and dispositions. The metaphor shows the connection between outer and inner. The late Wayne Dyer expanded on this truth:
Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world. 
As I understand scientific materialism, it denies the existence of any inner reality. It does not deny that we have thoughts, which are non-physical, but explains them as products of our brains or physical stuff. They believe outer reality creates inner reality. I invite my atheist friends to let me know if I misrepresent their position. And let me know how you disagree with the following, as I expect you will.

My feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes make up my consciousness or mind. It creates my life. I’ll say it another way: consciousness creates reality. This is the revolutionary idea I now accept and use in my daily life. I wrote about it HERE where you can see the materialist or physicalist position plus readers debating it and mine.  

When in conversations I bring up my belief in the power of our thoughts, it is surprisingly not dismissed as flaky. Many people accept it or at least don’t scoff at it. If it is true, if we have the power to mold reality with our thoughts, we collectively could heal the ills in our world.

In 1988 Willis Harman wrote a book that made a huge impression on me at the time and has stayed with me since. Cleaning out old files, I found an article I’d clipped about him giving a talk at Carleton College for a symposium on integrating human sciences. Harman was president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which focuses on reconciling objective knowledge, the kind studied by natural sciences, with subjective knowledge or inner wisdom and understanding.

The article mentions his book, Global Mind Change: The Promise of the Last Years of the Twentieth Century. Happily I found the book on my shelf with a bookmark on the page that resolved the question for me.
Harman lists 3 metaphysical perspectives:
M-1 Materialistic Monism
(Matter giving rise to mind)
M-2 Dualism
            (Matter plus mind)
M-3 Transcendental Monism
            (Mind giving rise to matter)
He said we are shifting from M-1 to M-3 in a global mind change. I see evidence of the shift every day—in myself as well as in events and beliefs expressed in the media. The implications are tremendous. 
Harman warns,
that our world is not sustainable using our present systems. . . . [fundamental changes] can come through vast numbers of people changing their minds. By deliberately changing their belief systems people can change the world.
Whether or not the change is deliberate, it is happening.
While editorials were howling for decisive engagement in the Syrian crisis, the Obama administration refused to send American troops into the war against ISIS and against Assad because Americans are averse to sending more troops into Mideast battles. Public opinion was shaping policy. Thoughts, attitudes, feelings, etc. were creating reality. We’ll have to see how the deepening crisis changes public opinion and how the administration responds.

The same process drives the policy of governments dealing with refugees flooding Europe. Angela Merkel could be very generous because Germans were still making up for Nazi atrocities, but as their compassion wears thin because of economic hardship, Merkel’s popularity suffers. Policy follows public perception. Consciousness changes outer reality, changing the global mind.

I hope more Americans press for greater American involvement in aiding refugees. But for that to happen, enough of us would have to press our government to change our policy. If we accept that our minds give rise to physical realities, we can help to reform the collective consciousness and thus bring about a reformed world.

I believe with Harman that we can collectively produce sustainable systems for our planet by deliberately reforming our consciousness. 

Hours after posting this, I read an excellent opinion piece by Pia Lopez in the St. Cloud Times, "U.S. Must Take in More Syrian Refugees." She gives figures that should make us ashamed. These are the numbers of refugees taken in by the countries listed:
U.S.               2,000
Jordan        619,000
Turkey       2 million
Lebanon     1.2 million
These are tiny countries compared with ours.  Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar says we should take in 65,000. Let's support her.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Divorce, says Jesus, . . .

In the gospel reading last Sunday, Mark 10: 2-16, Jesus says about marriage, “Let no one separate what God has joined.” I got divorced shortly before I entered the School of Theology. The reading reminded me of my experiences there.

At the SOT I studied scripture under Fr. Ivan Havener, perhaps the most helpful course I had there. Ivan was fully aware that the official Church often teaches nonsense. One day in class he referred disparagingly to bishops in denial of facts.

Ivan’s analysis of Jesus' sayings put into stark relief the distinction between the man Jesus and the myth of Christ. His book, Q: The Sayings of Jesus, informed my God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. Scripture scholars use a panoply of tools to distinguish authentic sayings of Jesus from inauthentic sayings, those put into his mouth by gospel writers but not said by the man himself. Inauthentic sayings formed after Jesus’ death as a natural process of myth-making ensued, something like the process that created the myth of JFK, but of infinitely greater depth and consequence.

I decided that my final paper for Ivan’s class would be on divorce. Researching Jesus’ authentic sayings, I would show that Jesus did not really condemn divorce; I would show that Church law conflicts with the man Jesus’ statements. But after researching the subject, I had to concede that the historical Jesus must have condemned divorce because it is multiply-attested—in Matthew (5:32 and 19:9), Mark (10:11-12), Luke (16:18), and First Corinthians (7:10-11). It is highly unlikely that all accounts of Jesus speaking out against divorce got it wrong. I was wrong in my expectation.

However, from information supplied by scripture scholars I figured out that the reason for his attitude was divorce practice in his society. Only men could initiate divorce—women were their property—and men could divorce for the flimsiest reasons such as burning food. Divorced women must have lived in exceedingly grim circumstances. I concluded, therefore, that Jesus of Nazareth opposed divorce out of compassion for women. Pope Francis’ embrace of divorced people is right in line with Jesus’ attitude.

While I was studying at the SOT, Ivan died, stunning us all. No one on the faculty was more respected, not even Godfrey Diekmann, one of the periti or experts at Vatican II. I had planned on taking another course from Ivan but was glad of one thing. We grad students had to demonstrate understanding of a language other than English. I had used a German source in my paper for Ivan and fortunately got a signed statement before he died, declaring that I fulfilled the language requirement.

After graduating from the School of Theology I got the paper published in Daughters of Sarah, a Christian feminist magazine.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

E.O. Wilson and Ants

Few subjects rivet and rile me as much as the intersection of science and religion. I devoted a good portion of last year’s blogposts to scientific materialism, which you can read by finding the topic in my Index (right) and clicking on posts. They contain scientific arguments against it.
Two recent programs, one on public radio, the other on public TV, captured me recently.

Krista Tippett, host of NPR’s ON BEING interviewed two Vatican astronomers, Father George Coyne and Brother Guy Consolmagno. Coyne said,
My understanding of the universe does not need God.
His point was that we should not drag in God to explain science we don’t understand—God as a god of explanation, a god of the gaps.
If we're religious believers we're constantly tempted to do that. And every time we do it, we're diminishing God and we're diminishing science.
Consolmagno agreed but deplored the tendency to feel that science will answer all questions—conversely a science of the gaps.

Coyne and Consolmagno address the claim that science is open to having every idea disproved and religion is not. They discuss human freedom, dark matter, and quantum mechanics with its finding of indeterminism or the uncertainty principle. In God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky I discuss this principle to help me understand Jesus’ miracles and those of other wonder workers.
At this site you can listen to their conversation or read the transcript.

The PBS documentary E.O.Wilson—Of Ants and Men just aired Wednesday on TPT. E.O. Wilson's 27 books effected revolutionary changes in the fields of entomology, biology, ecology, and studies of human nature. His thought has been so influential that we ordinary people changed our thinking without our being aware of it. We are much more likely to see similarities between our behavior and that of animals than when I was growing up.

Wilson traces a fascinating correspondence between ants and humans. Ants dominate over their environment as do humans, and our social organization resembles theirs, although our increased domains of intelligence give us the ability to achieve global domination. He shows "the payoffs of sustained cooperation" in ants and humans, calling it "Eusociality."

Our sociality expresses as tribalism—the tendency to join groups, to form teams, to prefer ours in rivalry to theirs. Tribalism induces us to compete with nature, destroying what we depend on for survival, states Wilson. So our "hypersocial" spirit is both blessing and curse.

I used to view sports mania with disdain and was a little shocked to see Wilson enjoying fans at an Alabama football game. Exemplifying tribalism, fans surrender their dignity during games, treat the players "like gladiators," and generally look silly as they cheer. It's not my cup of tea but Wilson's more-than-tolerant attitude will make me less judgmental.
Of religion, Wilson said it is the highest expression of tribalism as it seeks connection with a greater whole. It lifts us out of self into service of a greater whole and cause.

Wilson's theory of sociality ignited a dispute with Richard Dawkins, who wrote The Selfish Gene. Not selfishness, but cooperation, generosity, kindness, and altruism are included in Wilson's idea of tribalism. Oversimplifying, we can say that Wilson's opinion supports Christian sensibility and Dawkins offends it.

E.O. Wilson—Of Ants and Men will air again this coming Sunday, October 4 at 8:00 on Channel 17. It will entertain you whether or not you share my interest in science with spiritual implications. A related program on restoration of Gorongosa Park in Mozambique airs Tuesday at 7:00 on Channel 2.