A Re-framing of Faith

After my previous post about faith, which led to a fruitful discussion, I’ve been thinking more about the importance of faith to humans and how it might be framed in a more useful way.  A couple summers ago I presented a series of posts about 8 virtues or qualities that make a good human, and faith was the last one I discussed.  I think that if I were to do that series again today I might change the word faith to “prediction”.

In the discussion we had on my most recent post about faith, we talked about the difference between religious faith, and the sort of everyday way we might use the word faith.  One of the things that I talked about as a difference between how a scientist might use faith, and what a religious person might call faith are two different things.  The most important difference being that a scientist would be willing to change what he has faith in, based on evidence.  I have always argue that while faith is important we should be willing to change what we have faith as we learn.  The other thing that I argued was that faith is built on evidence and there is a very big difference in having faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, and faith that there is a supernatural divine being.  The difference there being the weight of evidence, and the quality of evidence used in building those two types of“faith”.

But I started to think about it at a deeper level and it seems to me that at the heart of faith is really something else when I started to ask, “Why do we have faith at all?”  Faith is a representation of our desire to predict an uncertain future.  When I had my son, I wrote a post called Love and the Future, about how when we love we start painting pictures of the future in our mind.  It happens in romantic relationships too.  According to a friend of mine who is a counselor, one of the hardest parts of counseling someone after a difficult breakup is for them to let go of those “future plans”.  I have also written a post before about “expectations”.  In the post, I talked about the benefits of expectations in that we rise to meet them.  By having a future goal in mind, we make better progress than none at all.  Of course, there are many who would say you shouldn’t have expectations, because they will only lead to disappointment, but I am not sure it’s possible to live a life without any expectations.  It’s natural that we’d have some, but I think that it’s true we might have limits into how many failed expectations we can shoulder.  Either way it seems to me that expectations are also a type of “faith”.  A desire to place some certainty in the future based on our desires and wants.  It is something we expect to come true, even if it doesn’t.

For the past few months I have been practicing mindfulness meditation, and it has been an enjoyable experience.  I’ve been using an app called Headspace.  It avoids a lot of the new age type stuff and really focuses on the philosophy of meditation and I highly recommend it to anybody who is interested in getting into it.  The goal is to be more focused on the present, to be mindful of what we are doing in the moment.  A thought struck me yesterday when I was practicing it, as that one of the things they tell you in the guided meditation is that you want to think about “what are your goals with the meditation” and after it’s over they suggest you think about what is going to the very next thing you do.  So even in something that is supposed to be about the present, we cannot help but look forward at least a little bit in our thinking.

I have come to the conclusion that it is natural in humans to be forward thinkers.  I have had the thought before that one of the things that makes humans more intelligent is our ability to project further into the future than other species.  Now one could argue that we are also still pretty awful at it, but the fact that we try is actually impressive.  We look for patterns in the universe and we try to project those patterns into the future so that we can be less uncertain and fearful about it.  While Farmer’s almanacs would like us to believe that squirrels can predict months in advance about the severity of the winter, it is clear in an evolutionary sense life on average are poor forward thinkers.  If they were good at it, I’m not sure extinctions would happen as often as they do.  For instance, an animal can only assume a winter will lie between certain climatic norms.  Some portion of the population will develop mutations better equipped for let’s say surviving a larger range of conditions, but when change becomes to extreme large proportions of a population if not all, cannot adapt and die out.  Humans are better at it, unfortunately we are also deeply conceited and that leads to problems.  So given this human propensity to want to predict, the best thing we can do is to build value systems that allow us to be successful more often.

When we say we have faith in our partner, our ourselves, we are making a statement that there is an expectation that based on existing evidence that we will continue to handle some future situation in the same way we have before.  Making a statement like, “I have faith I will do well on my exams”.  Presumably you have taken enough exams to presume a similar outcome.  More than that, to make sure it isn’t blind faith, you have examined the patterns to your success through various study methods, getting a certain amount sleep, etc to make sure your faith is not misplaced.  Your faith is a type of prediction.  A value system that aids in this faith is your ability to be introspective and also perhaps learn from others as to how they study and learn what are good and bad practices.

So where does religious faith fit into all of this?  Hopefully by now it is pretty clear, but let’s look a little closer.  I have read several atheist and agnostic scholars speak about religion as a type of model.  This is how religion has always made the most sense to me. What is the purpose of models?  In science models are things that model scientific processes that give us more predictive capabilities.  The better we understand a process, on average, the more predictive we will be.  This is why a scientist’s ‘faith’ might be quite different than a religious person’s faith because the success of a scientific theory is its predictive capability.  The poorer it is at prediction the less certain we are about our understanding.  In my field of meteorology one of the main reasons we try to model atmospheric processes is to become better at prediction.  It is helpful to be more aware of what weather and climatic patterns are coming in the future.

Religious faith, at its root, is a kind model.  One constructed a long time ago, built largely on false patternicity errors, but given how little we understood about the universe its weak predictive capabilities (in line with empirical evidence) is hardly surprising.  Nevertheless it is an attempt to know the future.  It’s full of prophet predictions, it speaks of what happens to you when you die, how the world will end, what consequences your actions might have.  People pray or plead for diving intervention for their future endeavors.  ‘Please get me this job, please make it rain so our crops come in, please don’t let my mother die of cancer.’  These are all  attempts to give us certainty in an ever changing universe in which are predictive capabilities, especially at an individual level, are extremely limited.  The statement “God has a plan for you” is a prime example of how religion has the course of your life worked out already.  There is no need to worry about it.  Just have faith.  People find it soothing to pray, people find it peaceful to know the purpose of the universe, to know what will happen to them when they die.  In fact, on the whole, religion gives far more certainty than science, which is why I expect it is much more popular.  Science rarely claims 100% predictive capability, but religion does, and to this end religion can be easily used to exploit people.  It is a panacea to all the uncertainty in the world.  Religion pushes people to have more and more faith in times of doubt and confusion.  What they are really saying is “Be more and more certain that (religious claim x) is the truth.”  And if you’re successful, not surprisingly, you feel better.  With mental effort we can convince ourselves to be more certain of things whose outcome is uncertain.  Human history is rife with such examples.  There is no doubt in my mind that we have better models for how humans can live their lives now.  Nevertheless, we have maintained these old models, trying to ignore the worst bits of them, and developed an entire field of apologetics whose main purpose is to try to convince people that these old models still not only have value, but that they are actually superior to other models out there.

Now just because prediction is something humans do, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a virtue.  I guess I see it as a raw instinct that needs to be tamed, which is how I have approached all beneficial human qualities.  I think it’s clear that while much happiness can be found in getting lost in the moment, we need some sort of value system that gives us a direction.  We might get there and find we have to go somewhere else, but it seems beneficial to always have some sort of idea of where we might go next.  In my life it seems that the people I have admired most are the ones who can take pleasure in the moment, but also keep their eyes ahead of them as well.  It’s dangerous to get lost in times that have not occurred, just as it is unhealthy to dwell in the past.   So if I were to choose this 8th value that makes a good human, perhaps the word “prediction” doesn’t quite do it justice, but until I come up with a better word it will have to do.  There is, however, no question in my mind that a defining quality for our species is our ability think about the future.   It encapsulates our dreams for a better future and if there is any escape from the fate of extinction that most life on this planet has faced, it will be through our ability to predict, if we can remember to be humble enough to remember we aren’t perfect.

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In the Beginning, Part IV

Woman approaches Adam with fruit in hand.  Adam is bent over next to a rock outcrop.

“Adam, I have returned.  I have something for you.”

“I have something for you too.  Check this out.  There is this creature that seems to have been preserved in this rock over here.  I don’t even know what it is.  I named every animal, and this wasn’t one of them.”

“Hmmm…that is weird.  But listen I have something more important.  Here let’s eat this fruit.”

“Oh okay.  I guess I am a bit hungry…er…wait.  Where did you get this fruit?”

Woman gives a little smirk, “Where do you think?  The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

“Oh no…no.  We can’t eat this.  Our Father, He had one rule.  That’s it.  Seems pretty clear cut and not a whole lot to ask.”

“Don’t worry Adam.  A talking snake explained it all to me.  We have to eat this fruit.”

“Wait…what!?  Talking snake?  Are there any of those hallucinogenic frogs I named hopping around?  How can there be a talking snake?”

“How can you make a person out of a rib?  Listen we wondered before why He would have put the tree here, and you said He probably knew we weren’t going to touch and so He didn’t think it was important where he put it.  Well what if He put it here, because He wanted us to eat it?”

“Well why would He want us to eat it, but tell us not to eat it?”

“You said you had a lot of questions.  So do I.  Curiosity.  We have loads of it.  These questions burn within us and we want to find the answers to those questions.  That’s how He made us.”

“That’s some pretty good reasoning.  But why can’t we just ask Him and He can explain it to us.”

“Weren’t you listening Adam about making children.  Children grow into adults.  At some point children have to leave the guidance of their parents and make decisions for themselves.  Every home feels like paradise when you’re a child, but this can’t be our home forever.  We have to grow up.”  Woman does her best God impression, “Symbolism!”

Adam’s eyes narrow and his expression hardens, “Alright, let’s do it.  By doing this together we’ll be husband and wife, right?!”

“Oh shut up, and eat the fruit!”

Adam takes a fruit from woman and they both take bites.  Chewing slowly and swallowing.

“Adam, do you feel anything?”

“No nothing.  What about you?”

“I don’t feel anything either.  I thought, for some reason, that I would suddenly understand everything so much better.”

“Yeah, me too.  This is kind of disappointing.”

“You don’t think he just put the tree there as a test to see if we would obey him, and that the tree had no special powers at all do you?”

“No.  That would be kind of cruel.  God wouldn’t do something like that.” The fossil Adam was holding slips out of his hand making a cracking noise as it hits the ground.

The winds begin to shift northerly and pick up speed.

“It’s getting a bit colder Adam.”

“Yeah, well I have noticed the daylight hours gradually getting shorter, so I expect weather patterns will start shift, but also you seem to be naked.”

“What!?  I’m naked?!  Clearly you’re the world’s first crack detective too.  No shit I’m naked.  So are you!”

“Ack…you’re right…I am naked too.  I guess I knew that…but I don’t think I want to be naked anymore.  It doesn’t feel right.  How do we get less naked?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe we should cover up our…um…naughty areas.  I don’t feel like we should just be exposing them for everyone to see.”

“Who’s everyone?  We are the only two people on this planet.”

“I don’t know, let’s just cover up.  I’m going to go find some big leaves.  Maybe from that fig tree over there.”

        Fig leaf only legal as clothing in 12 states.     Warning: Do not check wristwatch while     hiding your nakedness.

“Fig tree?  What’s a fig tree?”

“That tree over there.  You got the animals…I decided I’m naming the plants. Let’s go.”

Woman and Adam walk over to the fig tree to find some suitable leaves.

“Adam, I’m feeling a lot of shame right now…like I need a big leaf to cover my behind, and I feel upset that the leaf   has to be so big.”

“I feel shame too.  Like I need a big leaf to compensate for what seems to be a sub-par dangling appendage.”

“So thus far eating that fruit has only led to feelings of shame associated with a negative self-image.   I don’t know about you, but I’m also feeling regret.”

“Yeah me too.  Being an adult sucks.  I don’t even know who I want to impress.  My motivations are so unclear to me right now, I….wait…do you hear something?”

Woman and Adam stop what they are doing and they hear the sound of rustling leaves and the voice of God humming a merry tune.

Adam whispers, “He’s here!  How come he doesn’t know we already broke the rule?”

“I don’t know.  Inflated sense of self-confidence?”

“Let’s hide!”

“Hide?  What good is that going to do if He’s omniscient?  He’ll know where we are.”

“Just do it! Quick over here among those trees!”

God stops in His tracks and tilts his head listening.

“Adam.  Is that you?  Where are you Adam?”

Adam whispers to woman, “See, told you hiding was a good idea!”

Adam!  I have divine hearing.  I know you’re in the garden somewhere.”

Woman whispers to Adam, “He placed us in the garden, and He knows we’re in the garden somewhere?  I see where you got your detective skills from.”

“I think I should answer Him.  He’ll find us eventually.”

“Fine…but he should have found us immediately as an omniscient creator.”

Adam steps out from behind the trees.  “Oh hey, God. We’re over here.”

Aaah…Adam.  Woman.  How are things been going?  Getting along?  Make any babies yet? Um…wait…why are you holding fig leaves over your naughty areas?

“Well…er…we weren’t sure who it was in the garden and well we were naked and so we hid.  You know…I didn’t want anybody pointing and laughing at me.” Adam blushes.

“Wait!  Who told you, you were naked?  Those are precisely the lust-filled concepts I didn’t want floating around your heads!”  God’s eyes glance towards the Tree of Knowledge. “Have you been eating from the Tree of Knowledge?!  There are two less fruits there than there should be.  I am very good at counting.  The book I’m writing right now even has a chapter called Numbers.  Out with it children.  No lies!”

“Well Father, I was just taking a look, and well this snake came along and really explained it all quite clearly and you know, it just seemed to make sense.”

“Snake?!  I think I know the culprit.  Hold on.”  God vanishes in a puff of awesomeness and returns holding the snake with its stubby little legs waving in the air.

“Alright everyone.  It’s punishment time!”

Adam asks, “Why do You look so gleeful Father?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve never done it before.  New experiences are hard to come by.  Okay now….snake!  You have deceived my creation and for that I am removing your legs and forcing you to crawl on your belly!!”

      Picture of snake eating dust not available.

Snake begins to slither around rather impressively climbing up and down trees and curling around woman’s legs.

“I rather like this…”

“What!?

“I mean punish me no further!”

“Yes…well I curse you to eat dust!”

“Well that would actually make my work easier since dust is everywhere, but I still feel rather hungry for small rodents.”

“And you will now be enemies with mankind.  You will bite at their heel and they will stomp you on the ground!”

Snake slithers up woman and speaks in her ear, “Well we’ll just stay out of each other’s way then yeah?  Seems simple enough?”

Woman responds, “Sounds reasonable to me.”

“Quiet woman!”

“Excuse me.  Woman’s voice will not be silenced.”

“It will.  To punish you for what you’ve done, giving birth will now be of the greatest pain!  And pitocin will not be invented for many years to come!”

“What?!  You want me to populate the human species but are making giving birth the most painful experience in my life.  You’re a sadist you are.  Whatever happened to forgiveness?  Isn’t that a better way to treat your children?”

God thinks about it for a few seconds….”Nope.  Also, I’m not done.  I’m also turning the civilization into a patriarchy.  I wanted everything to be equal, but because of what you’ve done I am making women beholden to their men.”

“What?! Are you kidding me?”  Woman gives an exasperate look and turns red with anger. “Well considering you made me a nameless helper for Adam over there, it probably wasn’t going to get much better anyway.”

Adam woman turns and says with a comforting smile, “I promise to use my power over you responsibly.” Woman gives him a dirty look, killing the grin instantly.

“Adam!  Don’t think I am done! You also ate the fruit against my command.  I curse you to become a farmer.  You will till the earth and eat from it.  It will be hard work and much that grows will have thorns and thistle requiring you to wear thick clothing so that you get very hot and sweaty while you work.  Your diet will mostly be vegetarian in nature due to it providing the maximum amount of calories and nutrition per square foot, and you will eat until you die returning to the earth enriching it with organic material for new plants to grow and continuing a never ending cycle of death and life.”

“Actually that doesn’t sound too bad.  Makes you really appreciate each moment and strive for a better life while you have it.”

“Yeah Adam, I like this part.”

Adam turns to woman and smiles. “I shall name you Eve as you will be mother of all.  And though large amounts of toil and incest lie before us, we’re going to make it.”

“So finally I get a name.  Not bad actually.  But I reserve the right to come up with one of my own if I find something better!”

Adam capitulates, “Fair enough.”

“I just want you to know children that this hurt me more than it hurts you.  I really didn’t want to do all of that, but you forced me hand.”

“Stop victim blaming,” responds Eve, “well…what next?”

“I am sending you out from paradise and you will be cut off from the Tree of Life forever.  But before you do that I am going kill a few animals and make you some clothing.  It’s cold out there East of Eden and I don’t want you to get sick.  Besides people will start dropping like flies once you domesticate large mammals.”

Adam and Even watch incredulously as God slaughters a few animals and skins them. Using a little bit of omnipotence to speed the tanning process.”

There you go, and I put in an extra set so you have something to wear while washing the first set. Now here’s a pack of seeds to start off with as well.  They’re all labeled.  I put them in this little pouch I made from that dead deer over there.”

God snaps His fingers and they are magically transported next to a large river.  “Well good luck.  I’ll make a few appearances again just to make sure everybody is aware of my awesomeness.  Byeeee!”

“Well Eve, I guess we got some seeds to sow.”

“Yeah.”  Eve looks around.  “We’ll probably need something to dig with, let’s see if we can find some tools of some sort over by those trees.”

Adam starts to remove his clothing.  “Those weren’t the seeds I was talking about.”

In The Beginning, Part III

A very angry woman watches as God vanishes, and turns her attention to the only remaining person in the garden.

“Alright.  You look like you want to say something, but given the uniqueness of your existence I’d recommend against it.  Do you have something to say?”

Adam shakes his head.

“Good.  You’re off to a good start.  Alright first of all, where are we and who the hell are you?”

“Well this is the Garden of Eden.  It’s my…er our Father’s….paradise for us.  And I’m Adam.”

“First of all a father who just creates you to be somebody’s helper, and then spends the first 10 minutes of her life making her bits twinkle and showing somebody how to get up all in her business and squirt baby making fluids in her, has questionable parenting skills.  Secondly, why do you get a name, and I don’t.

“I’m not really sure.  I don’t get told a lot.  All I can tell you is, I’m a man, which I was told, means from the Earth since I’m made from dirt, and you are woman, meaning from man.”

“Wait, my designation means I am from man, but yet I am the one who will be giving birth to all sorts of future men?  That’s rich.  And what was all this when I arrived,” woman makes talking motions with bother her hands, “two boys talking it over and deciding what’s going to happen my body?  Talking it over as if I wasn’t even there?  Is this what I can expect in the future?”

“No no…of course not.  I am sure you’ll be part of the whole decision making process.  I mean we’re man and woman, we go together, none more important than the other.”

Woman’s expression softens momentarily.  “Wait a second, are you telling me I have to be your mate?  That we are going to be doing all that baby making He was talking about?  I don’t even know you.”

“Yeah, but somebody has got to make people. And look, look at this thing down here, it’s sticking straight out at you.  I think that’s how it works, it sort of points to who you are supposed to mate with.”

“Well don’t point it at me.  Given that it started pointing about 2 seconds after you saw me, I don’t think it bases any of its decisions by divining the inner working of my soul or through some appreciation of my intellect.”

“But I really feel like…you know…what he was talking about…insert slot A into tab B?  He said it would be a lot of fun.”  Adam moves in close for an embrace.

Pushing him away, “Ugh…stop it.  What are you doing?”

“I’m doing what feels natural in paradise!”

Woman smacks Adam on the side of the head “Well so am I.  As quaint as it is that our mutual Father wants us to get it on, as it stands, I wouldn’t mate with you if you were the last man on Earth.”

“But I’m the first man on Earth, and there isn’t anybody else around.”

Woman looks around exasperated, “I’ll admit my options or few.  But this child birth and raising stuff sounds like a fair amount of work.  I need to know whether we can work together as a team.  And that means talking to each other.  Getting to know each other, and really talking about whether a relationship between us has a future.”

Adam’s tool for baby making goes limp.  “Hmm…weird.”  Adam looks down. “I suddenly feel like I can talk about other things.  You know what? You’re right.  There is no rush.  It’s a beautiful day, a beautiful setting, and we have the Tree of Life nearby, we have forever, perhaps literally to make babies.”

“Tree of Life?  What are you talking about?”

“Oh…oh…yeah I guess I should tell you.  Well you know He hasn’t given me a lot of details on this Tree of Life.  He mentioned something about being the greatest creation and being forever in paradise, so I assume the tree has something to do with that.”

“Well having children for the rest of eternity doesn’t sound fun, but I imagine just walking around in a garden could get old as well.  Anything else?”

“Yeah.  Something important actually. That tree over there.  It’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  We are forbidden to eat from it.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.  Our Father created all of this.  He’s pretty powerful and knowledgeable, I figure it’s best to listen to Him.”

“Yet you had to spend the first few weeks of your life in what sounds like a taxonomical nightmare?”

“Well it was a learning experience.  I mean I imagine when you create a universe there is always some bookkeeping at the start.  Either way, He was pretty clear about not eating from that tree.”

“So you’re telling me that we are an omniscient and omnipotent being’s greatest creation, and he has placed us in paradise, but puts a tree full of rather delicious looking fruit in the middle of our paradise and we’re just expected to walk around it or something?  I mean why have the tree here if we’re not allowed to partake of it?”

“These are fair questions?  Well He’s omniscient so He knows we’re going to listen to Him, so He figured it doesn’t matter where He puts it.”

“Maybe, but it seems like poor planning overall.  I mean I have a pretty strong curiosity, don’t you?”

“Yeah.  I think I do too.  I’ll even admit that there were times when I was enjoying seeing all the different animals.  I really wanted to learn more about them, not just name them.  To be honest, I’ve got a million questions about everything.”

“Me too.  And I feel especially curious about things I’m told not to touch.”  Woman starts walking towards the tree and Adam grabs her by the shoulder.  She turns “Don’t touch me!  You need to learn about consent Adam.  Don’t be like Father.”

“Sorry…er…I was just trying to stop you from going to the tree.  I don’t want you to get in trouble.”

“Don’t worry, don’t worry.  I’ll be a good girl and I won’t eat from it, but we can go look at it right?”

“I guess.  I just…well…if we aren’t suppose to eat from it, I figure it’s best not to get close.”

“Stop being so fearful.  This is paradise.  Like you said, I am sure he knows everything will be fine or he wouldn’t have put it here.  I’ll go off by myself if you’re too frightened.”

Woman walks towards the tree, entranced by the ripe fruit dangling in the sunlight.  As she gets close she feels some apprehension creep into her.  Maybe Adam was right.  She sits down, and leans back against a smooth rock which in no way was created by millions of year of erosion, and stares at the tree.

     Photograph of snake with legs unavailable.

“It’s quite a sight, isn’t it?”

Woman looks around for a voice she’s never heard before.

“Over here.  I’m waving my tail.  Do you see it?”

Woman looks to her right and sees a black and green scaly animal on stump legs, plodding towards her, wagging its long pointed tail.

“I kind of got the impression that we were the only beings with consciousness in this garden.  Who or what are you?”

“Well, some might say I’m the anthropomorphized representation of evil, but since you don’t know what evil is yet, just call me what your boyfriend so brilliantly named me, snake.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.  And he didn’t say the animals can talk.”

Well, let’s be honest, he isn’t exactly the brains of the operation.  Although I must admit you and he, well that’s some fine handiwork by God.  We aren’t on the best of terms, but the Guy really knows how to fill His day.   But, to give Adam some credit, strictly speaking, animals don’t talk.  The one you’re talking with right now, however, does.  If you can believe you were made from a rib, my talking is small potatoes.  Let me get over there, we need to have some words.”

“You do move rather slowly…your legs are very short.”

“Yeah.  Well, in time, you’ll see God has a strange sense humor.  I came from the east. I ‘ve been walking here for a month pretty much non-stop.”

“What’s east?”

“Well, it’s pretty much just like here.  But it changes more.  Things live, things die, things fight to survive, but you keep busy.  Never a dull moment they say.  As to who they are, I can’t say, but for some reason I love clichés, idioms, metaphors.  Language is so colorful.”

“No I literally mean what is east?”

“Oh…well it’s the opposite of west.” The snake sidles up to her and rests on the grass near her and they look at the tree together. “Look at that tree?

“Yeah.  I just keep wondering why He would put it here.  And what can be so bad about eating the fruit.”

“Well this isn’t your average fruit.  It’s definitely special. As to why He put it here, I’ve been wondering the same thing myself.  But, I, for one, am glad He did.  You know why?”

Woman shakes her head slowly.

“Because this tree is everything.  I’ve been trying to figure out God since I was made.  Sometimes when he’s on a roll, creating, I truly think he figures a lot of stuff out without even realizing it.  The thing is, putting this tree here was the best idea ever and intentional.”

“But we are forbidden to eat it.  He told Adam.”

“Yep.  And you’re going to be punished too.  But here’s the thing: you are what you are.  He made you curious.  You want to know how things work.  There is no knowledge that you want to be barred from, so you are going to have a bite of the fruit from this tree, and so is Adam over there.  It’s inevitable.  Might as well get it over with and leave paradise behind.  All good things must come to an end.”

“But isn’t paradise a good thing?”

“You still don’t get it.  He doesn’t really want you to have paradise.  Otherwise he wouldn’t have made you curious and put the tree, he says he doesn’t want you to eat from, smack in the middle of paradise.  I mean who does that?  It’s like putting a cookie in front a child and saying ‘Don’t eat that!’  Sorry I forgot you don’t know how children behave yet, but you will.  Oh and you’ll like cookies too.”

“What will happen to us?”

“Not sure exactly.  You’ll probably be kicked out of paradise, but you’ll at least have the skills to try and build your own paradise.  One that you’ll actually have to strive for, and thus appreciate the effort it takes.  God, well He’s sort of the definition of privileged.  He never had to work for it.  You might think you’re better off that way, but believe me you’re not.  The only thing that matches God’s ability is His narcissism.  It’s not good to just have it all, with no idea how you obtained it.”

“That does kind of explains the lack of nurturing qualities in our Father.  But what about Adam?  Do you think he’ll eat it?  He seems pretty big on the whole obedience thing.”

“He’s just like you, don’t worry about it.  He would have eventually wandered over here himself.  Now go grab a couple of pieces fruit and have yourself a snack.  Destiny awaits you!  Ooh it appears I flair for the dramatic as well!  Alright, time to make the slow journey back to my home.  This design is ridiculous….”

The snake waddles away muttering under his breath at his poor constructed body.  Woman walks to the tree and grabs a couple of pieces of fruit.  “Hmmm…I thought they would feel magical, but seem kind of ordinary.  She shrugs her shoulders and walks back to Adam.

In the Beginning, Part II

Voice of God whispers in Adam’s ear.

“Wake up Adam, wake up.  God has a surprise for you!”

Adam groggy from the divine anesthetic, “What?  What’s going on?”

Well all those animals seemed to be rather interested in their own affairs, and quite frankly, with the exception of may be the…” consults stone tablets written by Adam…”the chimpanzee and the…er…dog,” God ponders for a moment wondering what God spelled backwards is,”really didn’t seem like a great helper worthy of the impeccable qualities imparted to you by your creator.” God gives an imaginary tip of the hat, “So here you are….yooooooouuuur helper!!!”  God had a little light shine down from above in a rather showmanshippy sort of way.

Adam is a bit stunned, and upon seeing the first naked person of the opposite sex, he learns a little bit about a previous dangly body part.  Fortunately, shame hasn’t entered into the picture.

“Name her Adam, name her as you did the animals!”

The newly created being seems to demonstrate a mixture of frustration, and fear.

“Um…okay…but er, can you tell me why my abdomen is hurting?”

“Oh that’s just a little leftover pain from the rib I took out of you.  Let me take care of that.”  God sends a warm glow of light towards Adam and after it passes into his abdomen, the pain is gone. “Do you like that effect? I’m working on how best to impress people with my awesome powers.”

“Yeah.  Impressive.  Listen before I name this helper over here.”  Points to helper, helper has an I’ll give you a piece of my mind look, “I’m a bit concerned that you’re taking body parts of mine to make new people.  Why didn’t you just create this person from the dirt like me?”

“Symbolism!”

“What?  What does that mean?!”

“I want you two to have a special connection.  A piece of you, to make her.”

“But why a rib?”

“Because you have lots!  Well 12 pairs.  It varies a bit.”

“But I think I’m having trouble breathing.  You might have nicked my diaphragm”

“Nope you’re fine.

“How many more people are you going to make like this? I assume all my parts aren’t expendable.”

“Nope this is the only one I’m making from a body part.  She’s special. I wanted her to share your genetic code.  Symbolism!!”

“Yes, well I still don’t quite get that.  So anyway, how are we going to make more people?”

“You are going to love it, and so is she!  You see that bit down there that stood at attention like a worshipper obeying his Lord God?  Well you are going to put that thing inside of her?”

God points to the nether regions of the newly created being and a little light begins to glow like a little star.  The new being looks a bit stunned and frightened.

“Is there some sort of hole there?  I don’t really see anything.”

“Of course there is…it’s um…well…don’t worry, when the time comes you’ll figure it out.  Insert tab A into slot B.  Pretty straightforward.”

“And that act just makes more people like us?  Do they pop out from behind bushes or something?”

“No no, it’s much more fascinating than that.  See you have this fluid inside of you and when you put your bit there, into her bit there,” more starlight twinkling on the requisite body parts, “it’s going to feel great.  Then you are going to reach this amazing moment, say my name a lot, and in the height of ecstasy expel this fluid into her.  There are these little swimming things in your fluid you see, and they are going swim and find this egg in her, fertilize it, and about 9 lunar months later, you are going to have this tiny baby pop out.”

Newly created being looks horrified.

“Does she also reach the height of ecstasy at the same time, because that would be pretty awesome?!”

“Um…well no.  I mean she could, but really she’s quite complicated, and you know as long as your…er…fluid gets in there.  You get to have a baby! Or well she does technically.”

And so what is this baby thing?”

“Well it’s like you, but at a very early stage of development, so it has to learn and grow up into you…or…er…her over there.”

“So does this baby talk or anything?”

“Not at first. It learns to talk!”  Good looks quite impressed with himself.

“Okay, but it’s able to like go around the garden and feed itself though right?”

“Well no.  It can’t really walk at first.  Or grasp anything.  Can’t really see more than 3 inches in front of its face, and it will take a good month or two before its eyes can follow objects around. Oh also it can’t chew, owing to not having any teeth. It will be quite a few years before it can really fend for itself reliably.”

“That’s horrible! Well what I’m supposed do with it?!  How do I feed it!?”

“Well see those two lumpy bits on her chest?” God makes her nipples begin to twinkle.

“Yeah I quite like those.” Adam gives the newly created being a toothy grin.

“Well when the baby is born, they produce milk and she just gets the baby to latch on to the nipples and, pardon the expression, those babies can suck like a demon.”

Both Adam and the newly created being look at the breasts with a completely disgusted look on their face.

“Oh stop it you two…it’s a beautiful experience, just you wait.”

“Alright, so what we can make a baby any time I put my thing into her?”

“Um…sure.  Don’t worry about the details yet.”

“And so this thing, it like grows in some sort of a pouch or something?”

“Yeah…I guess. Sort of.” God points to the abdomen of the newly created being and makes an nice red glowy area. “You see it’s going to grow right around here and her belly is going to get bigger and bigger.  Inside her is something called a womb, where the baby develops.”

“And so it grows until what? It just sort pops out of her?”

“Nope…it just sluices out her, easy-peasy.  In the same place where you put your thing in to make it.  That’s efficiency!”

“So 9 months of gestation and several years of basic doing every little thing for this thing is more efficient than just popping new people out of the dirt?”

“Adam! It’s a miracle!”, rebukes God.

“Sorry Father.  Okay, well…this all sounds like a lot of responsibility.  Maybe we should get to know each other a bit better first.”

“Alright, alright, well listen, you need to name her.”

“Hmmm…well she’s made from me, and I’m a man.  But she’s got a womb.  So wombman?  No, I don’t really like the phonetics there.  How about woman?”

God rolls his eyes, “That’s the type of naming creativity usually attributed to me.  Okay, well I guess let’s go with it.  But I still think you are missing out on the whole symbolism part here, but in any case, now that you have woman, you may leave your father and unite with her as one.  That’s what I was getting at here.  Wish you were a little brighter, but I guess subtlety is learned.”

“Okay, well this all great Father, but does she talk, she really hasn’t said anything thus far.”

“Well I created her to be a helper, I didn’t think she needed to talk.  She just needs to do what you tell her to.”

Woman looks back at God incredulous.

“Don’t get me wrong Father, I appreciate the thought, but you’ve given me the ability to choose, I think she should have it too.”

“Are you sure? Because you know life is pretty confusing as it is?”

“I’m sure Father, and give her a voice too.”

“Okay, but listen as soon as I give her free will and a voice, I’m going to hit the road.  I know anger. I’ve been in some pretty good rages myself, and she looks like she’s about to burst.  I prefer to think of this garden as a peaceful place, so I’m going to shape some glaciers or something.  I’ll check back with you later.”

God creates a little ball of light that travels quickly towards woman and as soon as it hits her it envelops her body.  Then with fire in her eyes she looks at Adam and then over to God and starts walking over to God.

“Explain the rules to her Adam.  Byeeeee!” and quickly vanishes.

Woman has arrived.

In the Beginning. Part I.

“So, um…Lord?  God?  Sounds a bit formal.  But I mean you created me from dust and all, so dad doesn’t sound great either.  Father…er…hey thanks for putting me in this garden.  It’s gorgeous I have to say.  I mean I don’t know much about…well anything yet, but I imagine it has everything a guy could need.”

“Yeah don’t worry about that Adam you’re set up pretty good here.  This is basically paradise.  I’ve put the Tree of Life here, you will literally never die here and you can just enjoy it forever.  Oh and I also put the…” God speaks really low in a mumble, “…ledge here as well…ood…evil” mumble mumble, “…perish..”, speaks really fast, “Don’t touch it.  Okay and moving on.”

“Lord. God.  I…er, didn’t catch what you just said there.  What else did you put here.  It sort of fell apart after you told me about the Tree of Life.”

“The Tree of Good and, er, Evil.” God looks sideways with feigned innocence.

“The what?  Good and Evil?”

“Yeah, bit of a nasty tree really.  I know seems a bit incongruous with the whole everlasting life and paradise vibe, but it sort of contains wisdom, knowledge, sort of gives you a lot of my ability to learn from your mistakes and improve and get smarter over time so you’ll become more and more like me.  Listen, I don’t recommend it.  You eat the fruit and you’ll die.  Really moving on.”

“But!”

In the commanding voice of God, “MOVING ON!

“Alright, alright.” Adam hangs his head down.

God shifts uncomfortably, “Sorry about that, but the truth is that we really have…or er…rather you have a lot of work to do.  Okay, confession time.  You know how I’m all-powerful and all-knowing yeah?  I mean I can literally make anything happen.  But, the thing is, I’m not exactly good at everything.  Does that make sense?”

“No, but I was literally just created, and I’m not allowed to eat from a certain tree.”

Alright, alright, point taken.  Well let’s say you know a lot of stuff, but even knowing all that stuff it can be hard to convince somebody of your point of view.  Oh or, let’s say I know everything there is to know about carpentry, you know like I read all about it in a book, you know…book smart, but in general I’m just not very good at it.  Can’t build a table to save my life.  Fortunately I can just think it into existence and it happens, thus I appear to be a master carpenter, but if I actually had to do the work, the results would be terrible.”

Adam with all the confidence of a young child who wants his father to think he is smart replies, “I think I understand, especially if I knew what carpentry was!  Or a book!”

Yeah, um…well one thing I’m very good at is creating.  I’ve created a lot of things on this planet, beasts of burden, all manner of wild animals, birds.  I’m pretty certain I made the insects too, it just doesn’t seem to have been overly intentional. Well anyway, here’s the thing Adam.  Your Lord and God, just isn’t very good at deciding what they should be called.  And if I’m completely honest, I kind of feel my time is better spent thinking about other things.  I mean my consciousness is pretty massive and can do a lot of important stuff.  Do you know what I’m getting at son?”

Adam smiles sweetly and shakes his head.

“Well Adam, you are going to have to name every living thing I created.”

Adam’s jaw drops. “Wait…Father.  This doesn’t make any sense.  You named me just fine!”

“Actually your name is just a bit of word play, it actually means ‘earth’ as I made you out of dirt.  You see? Not terribly inventive.”

“Wait my name means dirt!?”

“Well it also mean red-skin, for the color of your skin.  Words sort of have lots of meaning. Ambiguity is something you are going to LOVE!  Either way, you’ll admit that my names are far too logical and less than inspirational.  So anyway, here’s your etching tool,” God blinks his eyes in a fun and magical way, “and there is a pile of stone tablets to write on.  In case you want to make any notes.”

“Oh my, God, there are thousands of tablets there!”

“Yeah, well you know everything is provided for you.  And everybody needs a job. Purpose is important Adam.  I created this whole universe for you, so it seems only reasonable that you could do this for me.  Right?”  God grins unconvincingly.

“I don’t know anything about naming either!”

“Hey I’m not completely abandoning you, you don’t have to go and find all the creatures.  I’ll bring them before you.  Watch them behave a little bit and I have a feeling that your creativity will kick in and you’ll come up with a great name.  You’re my greatest creation after all.  I know you won’t let me down.  Consider yourself the first biologist!”

“Alright, enough with the pep talk Father. Let’s get to work.”

After several days…

“May fly, fruit fly, black fly, horse fly…”

“Why horse fly?”

“Don’t know, don’t care.  Tsetse fly, dragon fly…”

“What is a dragon?”

“No idea. Crane fly, sandfly, mosquito, midge”

Several more days…

“Oryx, lynx, ibex, fox, minx…”

“You seem to be using a lot of x’s there.”

“Yeah, I get on a streak, it flows.”

“But that doesn’t sound all too inspired.  I mean I could have done that.”

“The thought never occurred to me Father.  Pelican, Pigeon, Penguin, Puffin.”

Several more days…

“Weasel, beaver, otter…”

“Great pace Adam.  You’re knocking them down one every 10 seconds we’ve hit near 300,000 of these things, we should be done, in about a week or two.”

“Father, I’m running out of names.  I’m literally just trying to alternate vowel and consonant sounds to come up with names.  I just called something an el-eph-ant.  I’m lost at sea over here.”

A look of “Uh oh” washes over God’s face.

“What!?”

“Well as it turns out, I completely forgot about all the animals in the sea.  I’m think it might be a bit longer than week or two.”  God gives a sheepish grin, which he can now do since Adam already named one of the animals a sheep.

A couple of months go by (It is not clear that months had been defined for the lunar or solar calendar at this point, but one can be certain that for Adam it was a very, very, long 2 months).

“Well done Adam!”  God quickly reads through all the tablets and makes a mental note (God can do those sorts of things and remember it)

Adam asks in a beleaguered voice, “So what now father.  Do I get to wander the world and see these animals in their native habitats?”

“Er, no, you’ll be staying here. But you’ll get to hang out with the near 100 species that are in the garden!”

“One hundred?!  Well why did I bother naming all these animals I won’t even see?  I’m the only person around to even see ANY animal!”

“Calm down.  I’ve got great news for you, quite related to that point actually.  I’m going to make you a helper!”

“I just named like 8 million animals, and NOW you decide to bring me a helper!?”

The stress is getting to you son.  Probably should have let you have a day of rest.  I did give myself one after all.  I might be omnipotent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good nap.  Although I can assure you that creating the universe was much harder.  Anyway, yes in retrospect it would have been more useful to do this last task as a bigger team, but I assure you, you’ll forget all about that when you see her!”

“Her?”

“Quiet son, your Lord God is going to do a little surgery.”

God applies His divine anesthetic and Adam falls into a deep sleep.

The Ritualistic Human

Every morning I, or occasionally my wife, start off the day by making tea.  Specifically chai tea.  As an aside the word chai means “tea” in Hindi.  In my dad’s language of Punjabi it would be cha.  So in a way saying chai tea is like saying “tea tea” which makes no sense, but I am starting with the familiar, but I usually just say chai.  I am half Punjabi and should say “cha” but communicating my caffeinated beverage of choice gets more difficult if I am used to saying cha.

chaiSo first thing in the morning I wash the pot, if it is not washed already, and measure out the amount of tea I want to make.  Usually about 4 mug fulls of water.  I put the water on the stove and turn the burner on.  As the water heats up I add an equal number of heaping teaspoons of loose Yellow Label Lipton tea.  Then I take some green cardamom pods, whole cloves, fennel seeds, black pepper corns, and piece of cinnamon stick and put it all in a big stone mortar, and then take the heavy stone pestle and grind the spices and add it to the pot of water with tea in it.  Once the water boils for a few minutes I add the milk.  Whole milk, because chai without enough milk fat in it is wasted chai. 🙂  I add enough milk until the color looks right, and then I add a little bit of honey to sweeten it slightly.  After the tea comes to a boil, I turn the burner off and pour the tea through a sieve leaving the spices and loose tea behind.  Drinking that first sip of hot tea in the morning is a glorious feeling.  Not only does it wake me up, but the taste which mixes the slight bitterness of black tea, the rich silkiness of milk, a blend of distinct spices, and a hint of sweetness from the honey has a solidness, a wholeness to it that I can’t quite describe.  It feels like home to me as invokes many memories of growing up drinking tea with my family.  At that time in my life I usually didn’t have morning tea, but late afternoon tea with my parents when they come from work.  I introduced it to my wife when we met and she fell in love with it, and it is now as important to her as it is to me, and so it is now a shared pleasure.  And on mornings when I haven’t had a lot of sleep, I may find making the tea to be a bit of a chore but that first sip in the morning makes me feel like I have the strength to face the day.  The making and drinking of chai is a ritual for me.  I think my only one.  If I’m away from home I miss it and genuinely get excited for that first cup of chai when I get back.

We all have our rituals.  In many ways I feel like rituals are like beliefs, they are like habits, they are repeated actions and thus forge neural pathways in our brain which when activated release dopamine.  I think we need ritual in our lives to a certain extent.  A repeated activity that simply brings emotional comfort should never be seen as a bad thing.  Of course the way ritual can feel so solid and tangible can also be dangerous.  As I wrote out my ritual for making chai and how it makes me feel I think to myself how I could never be vegan.  But perhaps I should be vegan.  There are many positive scientific and ethical arguments for being vegan.  This clash is at the heart of how are beliefs or our rituals impact how we rationalize away good arguments in favor of those practices and beliefs we hold dear.

I think it’s also important to recognize that the tangible feelings those rituals give us are therefore an illusion.  I remember when I was about 16 a friend of my mother’s, who was Greek Orthodox and cut hair in her home was giving me a haircut and talking about an upcoming Easter celebration.  They were big meat eaters, especially lamb, but she announced to me that on Good Friday they don’t eat meat.  She said “I don’t know, but not eating meat, makes me feel closer to God.”  I found this to be such a strange statement, because I really felt like buddying up to God should really be more about helping people than whether or not you eat meat on Good Friday.  It struck me at that moment how ritual influences our emotional state.  And while I think we can afford some fantasy in our lives, when we get mired in ritual it is very much like an addiction. Ritual is like a drug for which we trade a certain euphoria we get by performing the ritual instead of actions that might be more productive to the lives of ourselves and others.  The oft used example is quite true, that going to church every Sunday does not make you a good Christian.  Many religious movements begin as an offshoot of other religions that seem to dogmatically get lost in ritual over more pragmatic practices that actually produce.  Sikhism is a good example of this.  This religion developed out of need to rise up from the oppression of the Mogul Empire in India at a time when the Hindus simply bore the oppression and turned to ritual and prayer for help instead of doing something themselves.  Of course as the religion aged it too has become more mired in ritual as well, even though it began as a rebellion against it.

ritual

To see how easy we can get caught up in ritual the following text appears below the picture above at the website for this image.  While I’d say that there is some hint that you should be doing good things in your life, I think words like these make it too easy for people to think they can bypass practical applications of a positive spirituality over performing rituals:

“A ritual is a formula which is meant to dovetail our consciousness to the supreme consciousness of God. The whole purpose of a spiritual ritual is transformation of the heart – from selfish passions to a spirit of selfless service to others, from arrogance to humility and from envy to having the power to appreciate others. If this transformation doesn’t take place in our heart, to create good character, personal integrity and ultimately love for God, then these rituals are all a waste of time.

The value of a ritual is to the extent we please God. Its not the ritual but the content of what our consciousness puts into that ritual. The real essence of all spiritual practices is to purify our heart and awaken the innate love of God. If our rituals are performed with that aim in mind, that ritual, like a vehicle, will help to transport our consciousness to the supreme destination. There is the analogy of a package. If you give a gift which has beautiful decorations outside but a horrible gift inside, the one who receives it will not be happy. The content of the package is all important. So our motivation for doing the ritual is all important, otherwise its just a ritual. So if we have the proper motivation to perform the ritual then it will have a tremendous substance. What is that substance? We access the empowerment and the mercy of the Lord. Thus by giving our heart to the Lord through that ritual, then that becomes the true content of the ritual.

In the beginning of our spiritual life we follow rituals for our purification. When there is proper philosophy and service behind it, it can awaken love of God. It is a way to express our intent to love God, to serve and please Him. So when we have the right enthusiasm and intent, then the ritual becomes something very deeply spiritual. If it is done under the proper guidance and with the right purpose, it purifies our heart and motivations and gradually real genuine spiritual experience awakens from within.” – Radhanath Swami

It seems that it is human nature to gravitate towards ritual.  They make us feel good.  They are comforting and safe.  But like all things moderation is important.  Introspection and reflection on these rituals is important.  And some rituals are wholly harmful in practice and simply are inexcusable to allow them to continue.  Maybe we simply need to make doing good in the world a ritual instead. 🙂

Feel free to share some of your rituals and how likely you are willing to give them up! 🙂

Imitation and Approval

When I was 12 years old I went to Bible Camp.  It was my first time going to camp, going away for a week without having any parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles.  Luckily my second cousin went so I would know someone and that was probably the only reason I wasn’t too scared to go.  I am not sure why my mom chose to send me to a bible camp, but as a Christian I am sure she hoped that I was receive some good education about religion, the bible, etc.  When I was there I was eager to impress the counselors and leaders.  They had a bible verse a day and a contest at the end to give a free camp hat to anyone who could memorize all the verses.  I was the only who could do it.  I used to have a good memory.  Maybe I still do, I just can’t remember.  At camp they also talked a lot about prayer and how praying could help you get the things you wanted in life, as long as you were good and you really believed.  For me the idea of prayer was exciting because I thought maybe it could work to stop my dad’s drinking.  So I opened my heart and let Jesus Christ in.  The counselors were so happy.  All of them congratulated me.  They were so kind and so pleased with my decision.  After camp was over, I was so excited I had made the decision because I knew it was going to make others in my life so happy.  My mother, my grandmother, aunts and uncles.  And on top of that I was told that if I was good and really believed that my prayers would be answered.  I had many tangible reasons to be very happy about it all.  It had very little to do with heaven or hell, or some events on alternate planes of existence, but the way it made others in my life happy, and the way it might help my dad to stop drinking was very exciting.  Of course none of my praying made any difference to my dad drinking and in the end the excitement of my decision to let Jesus into my heart faded and it became clear how the entire belief system had any relevance to life if one of the things they touted the most didn’t work.  I believed as much as a 12 year old could.  But the fact that prayer doesn’t work is not really the subject on my mind, but rather that as I reflect I see how much of a child I really was.  I completely didn’t understand the complexities of the religion or the Bible.  I was clearly caught up more in the joy that the adults in my life felt by my decision rather than really grasping the importance of what a religion means to someone’s life.

Dhyan_forkandknife

It takes very little time with an infant/toddler to see how much they want to imitate others.  And while I am sure there is an evolutionary aspect to this, because obviously if we have survived as long as we have, it makes sense to copy our parents, but what is also clear is our reaction to that imitation.  Because when he successfully uses a fork, or successfully gets up on a chair by himself, climbs the stairs etc, there is much applause.  There is much excitement and happiness.  All in the house are happy and pleased at this ability to accomplish these tasks that move them closer and closer to adulthood.  Every child can’t wait to do things older people can do. They can’t wait to grow up.  As children we are always looking for the approval of our adults.  We may rebel when we don’t get it, but initially, we want to be noticed by those we look up to.  As children we are somewhat helpless and getting adults to like you and notice you, is a way to make sure that they take care of you, teach you, spend time with you.  If you can impress an adult then this is a bonding experience.  Something we all seek.

dhyan_laptopFor all my dad’s faults he was fairly adamant about choosing a religion as being a choice to make as an adult.  That children didn’t have the capacity to understand the decision and thus did not want my mother to influence as children.  This was not something my mother or Mennonite grandmother could really help doing, but it was certainly tempered compared to many other children and I am quite thankful for my dad in that, because it’s clear to me that he was right.  Even at the age of 12 I could not understand a religious belief system.  From my mother I may not have adopted her belief system, but I learned about her charity, her kindness, her compassion, her perseverance, and the fact that she is someone who likes to ask questions and research the answers.  As I watch my child grow I can see that it’s less important what I believe, but rather how I act.  These are the things that will shape him.  Brainwashing him into a certain set of beliefs seems pointless over my actions being moral.  My child was born an atheist and if he decides that he wants to pursue a belief system as a guide to live his life then it will be his own choice, not because I’ve prescribed a doctrine for him to follow.

With the idea of God being “our Father”, I sometimes wonder if God isn’t the ultimate helicopter parent.  A way for people to still constantly seek approval from a parent-like figure.  It seems somewhat unnatural to me now to maintain such an attitude into adulthood.  As children it makes sense to have this attitude, but as adults we are supposed to no longer be seeking approval and be the role models for our young.  I guess as social animals it’s easy for such hierarchies to remain.  The only problem is, if there is no God then all we’re really doing is trying to make a non-existent entity happy and a lot of difficult to interpret texts written by men on what God actually wants to be made happy.  That seems like a wholly unhealthy way to live life.