Category Archives: Religion

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Yuval Harari, the author of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, spoke to The Atlantic about humans and what makes them tick.

“[White Americans without a college degree] are a declining class within a declining power. The U.S. is losing power compared to the rest of the world, and within the U.S., the Trump voters are losing their status. Even though they are experiencing better conditions, the narrative self which is dominant in most people tells a story of decline, which says that the future will be worse than the present. And most people’s happiness depends on their expectations, not their conditions.” (emphasis mine)

With the rise of automation follows the predictable rise of a leisure society, with more free time for non work activities.

“Philosophy, once an archaic system, becomes central once we take care of widespread death and misery.”

But, a lack of striving for survival can quickly tip over into dystopian uses for technology that replace thinking; Harari cites theoretical algorithms that tell us what to eat and who to marry.

“The very idea of an individual that exists, which has been so precious to us, is in danger.”

I refute the idea that the true self is so fragile.  Therefore, Harari’s claim that religion (which gives the true self purpose) is not supported by reality fails to understand that the point of relational spirituality is faith whose evidence exists outside the physical realm.

The technology services we create can only do as much for us as we agree to.  In other words, the only humans who stand to lose their humanity must do so voluntarily–and thus are unworthy of the title of human anyway.  One could argue this happens now when people let addictions squander true free will.

I do not share the author’s dim view of the human spirit.  Man exists to search for God, and faith precedes the fulfillment of miracles and guidance–not the other way around. Technology only exacerbates and accelerates any (mis)placements of seeking–be it for video games, sex, food, or drugs.  The only pursuit that cannot be automated is the only safe one–God himself.

Your Robot’s Religion

Artificial intelligence (AI) is developing so rapidly that some believe it will soon be beyond human management.  What if they then become moral beings?  Specifically, is Christ’s redemption–or any other major world religion’s creed–relevant to AI beings?

Pope Francis seemed to welcome alternative humans to the Catholic faith in 2014, when he gave the example of Baptizing extraterrestrial life.

The steep slope of technology means that the question of what it means to be human has perhaps never been more pressing.  There is not a debate about whether test tube babies have souls, even though they are made by humans. But do clones?

Humanity aside, are intelligence and self-awareness enough to qualify something for having an inner life?

If AI has free will, then it can theoretically choose to “sin,” or wrong others, regardless of its programming (like the fictional HAL 9000), especially if we have AI programming other AI.

MC thinks that while all forms of intelligence should be welcomed to worship, only traditional humans are granted certain privileges, such as an afterlife.  This is because of what Christianity calls Original Sin: humans can and will sin without intending to. Part of being human is being incapable of living without flaws, which requires one to choose God for redemption.  Robots that do not make accidents are exempt from this need. So, while AI may surpass us in worldly pursuits of excellence, precision, speed, and reasoning, the human advantage of a flawed soul remains unthreatened.

Milgram Experiments Proving Timeless

Anyone who has studied psychology is very likely familiar with the work of Dr. Stanley Milgram at Yale University during the 1960s.  Students were assigned to be teachers to a learner in a different room.  The “teacher” read words for the learner to repeat as part of a memory exercise, but the teacher could administer an electric shock to the learner for a mistake.

At a supervisor’s urging, many teachers (65%) increased the voltage to dangerous levels, despite the learner’s apparent screams and unconsciousness.  Only some teachers protested and stopped the experiment early.  It was not until after the fact that the teachers were told that the learner was acting and not actually being shocked.

The experiment has been replicated in similar forms ever since, but the conclusion holds up: under pressure or under an authority’s instruction, many otherwise normal people are capable of harm and evil to fellow human beings.  To put in the context of the 21st century: Nazi soldiers were us in a perfect storm of situation.

So how does this apply to our daily lives?

Saying or thinking, “I would never say/do (whatever someone perceived to be inferior is doing) is not a guarantee that you would not–especially in similar circumstances.  And regardless of circumstance, assuming someone thinks as you, values what you value, and would do what you would do is one of the prime sources of human misery.

Also, just because some one appears to be heartless or devoid of feeling, does not mean it is not in there.  If anything, the lack of demonstrable proof indicates it is deeper and more embedded, with no outlet yet.

Many world religions and Western democratic governments uphold the equality all humans–that no one individual can be better than any other.  Operationally, this rarely holds in defined areas and is only true on a macro, infinite, and academic plane: in work, someone must be perceived and designated as better for a job than other candidates, we pull out friends and spouses from the general population based on their narrow fit to our arbitrary specifications, we get to choose which businesses to patronize and goods to buy and cities to live in based on their relative adherence to our unique preferences.

Reconciling the fact that we are all equal, and that a number of us are capable of horrific things, and therefore we are all capable of horrific (or great) things, is a mystery still lacking a satisfying conclusion.  Neither religion nor psychology has yet been able to shut down the debate.  If we accept the premise that all men are created equal, then we must accept that we are all a couple turns away from being torturers.  Filling in the line in between those dots is still work ahead for most of us.

 

How Mosques Can–And Do–Prevent Terrorism

The NY Post recently reminded folks of the ways mosques promote positive social behaviors–just like most other religious institutions.

Specifically, Muslims who claim to regularly attend services are more embedded in their civic communities, vote more, are more patriotic, more integrated with American society, and less violent or otherwise antisocial.

Theologically, the messages presented are more normative than those gotten through the internet.  In other words, proper religious education prevents religious extremism.

Lightning

A poem by Lady in Red from her writer’s worskshop

Lightning burns up close, kills, maims, and dazzles from far away–like truth.

White light of lightning is all colors at once; only a prism can break into it pieces of color. The prism breaks truth into pieces palatable and digestible. The prism of truth is time.

We must learn truth in successive pieces to prevent shock to the system, to prevent sudden death.

If we had all truth, would we die? Can the human mind and heart know of all pain and joy without bursting?

No.

This is why life is a moment stretching decades–for truth to wend its way through our digestive tract. The poison pill in slow powder form.  This death is not obliteration–it is the opposite–the consumption of humanity or of human experience–allowed to one person.  If we are selfish by nature, then this is the ultimate and most noble gluttony.

LightningBoltonblack5188

Seasons of Life

So we are all supposed to “live in the moment” to be happy.  If you are a shark like me, this is a struggle.  Most of our strength comes from our mind, which when left to roam free will rush to either analyze the past for insight, or predict the future in preparation of it.  However, if not controlled, this mental wondering becomes maladaptive and distracts us from the present–aka the most important moment at any given time.

It is hard to move off the mind-roaming treadmill and into, “Okay Lady, think only of NOW…okay, NOW…back to NOW!”

So if the discipline of moment-by-moment awareness feels unnatural, allow me to suggest a great way to get there: with progressive baby steps.

Start by going with the seasons of life, both literal (winter, spring, summer, fall) and figurative (grief, celebration, calm, struggle).  Embrace whatever is going on in your life and lean into it, rather than fight it.   Live “it” to the hilt, in all its terrible glory.

When stuck, aesthetics can help you work from the outside in–clothing, home decor, food, weekend activities that match the season.  Go with the season enough and next you are aware of the room, of the conversation–see what I did there?  You are practically living in the moment!  Accepting the inevitable and natural turns on the wheel of fortune is freeing.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” -Henry David Thoreau

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, KJV)

The Liberalization of Young Muslims

A recent AP article pointed out the feeling amongst several young Muslim Americans that their faith is more about cultural identity than rules for living.

Homosexuality, interfaith marriage, female religious leadership, and socializing in neutral, nonreligious spaces are trends started by  a non-conservative portion of the 40% of US Muslims that are American-born.

Anecdotal evidence suggests this progressive shift parallels broader religious trends amongst millenials of all religions.  Are these shifts good?  What do they mean long term?