Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The Thinking Post. (There is some progression of thought in these blogs and to get the flow of the progression, it is best to start reading at the other end with Blog 1).
I can think of no lasting harmful or negative consequences for a planet without belief in divine revelation. There may be some temporary confusion and loss of a sense of direction for some members of the planet’s belief systems. In the aftermath of Copernicus’ insight that our planet was not the center of the universe, humans across the planet had to make significant adjustments to their worldviews, and those adjustments took time. Significant adjustments will be needed with the understanding that no holy books contain divine revelation, and these adjustments will also take time. But any short-term negative results are far outweighed by the long-term beneficial and positive consequences for the human family on a planet with religious traditions that forego all claims of divine revelation.
By far the greatest positive consequence is the freeing of human minds across the planet to explore relationships with the deity and understanding of the divine based on evidence-based knowledge as in all branches of human understanding. In the last few centuries, using evidence-based knowledge and the gathering of observed data subject to accepted principles of reasoning, we have seen advances in understanding in all fields of human endeavor – in technology, medicine, anthropology, geography, physics, economics and all branches of space/earth/life/sciences leading to growth in standards of living and wealth, which have transformed the lives of most people on our planet. We await similar growth and advances in our understanding of the divine.
The second greatest positive consequence is the de-legitimization of the source of inspiration for religious extremism and fanaticism. Growth in the understanding that the Creator has not communicated to humans through holy books will gradually over time diminish and hopefully eradicate all forms of religious fanaticism and extremist actions such as terrorism, persecution, and ostracism of non-believers. Absent divine revelation, religious zealots will not be able to claim that they are doing the deity’s will. They will not be able to hold up a holy book–God or Allah’s word–as the source of their religious zealotry and justification for aggression, crusades, denial of human rights, discriminations, female gender inequities, and condemnations of and holy wars against non-believers. And preachers will no longer be able to turn to a page in a holy book and proclaim fire and damnation to all who will not heed the proclaimed word, striking fear and trembling in listening hearts, especially in the hearts of impressionable children.
In foregoing all claims of divine revelation, religions would engender respect and the elimination of much of the negative criticism from non-believers, who would now see in adherents of religion a genuine quest for greater understanding of the divine based on the same methods of inquiry as in other branches of knowledge.
Another significant consequence is that absent divine revelation all religions are on the same level playing field, all striving to understand the divine. In such an environment, gradually all religions will be motivated to stop their tribal babble of who has the truth and who is going to heaven and to hell for that only foments intolerance, hatred, and division, and sets one group against another, and come together and join hands, minds, hearts, and resources in a common effort to:
· Learn from each other and build upon one another’s insights so as to promote a deeper understanding of the divine
· Proclaim that all the Creator’s children of all faiths and of no faith are brothers and sisters of a common Creator, traveling together through space and time on a shared spaceship with a common destiny
· Work relentlessly to reduce conflict and tension among religions and among the left and right elements within religions
· Lead humans across the planet in working together to eliminate prejudice, poverty, disease, and war
· Lead all humans in working to achieve an improved quality of life for all on our beloved planet.
Hopefully, we would see leaders of religion call for a World Religion Summit to declare:
· That on planet earth there are no chosen people, not Jews, not Muslims, not Christians, not Buddhists, not Hindus, not Mormons, not Sikhs, not Deists, not anybody, and that all are equally the Creator’s children.
· That religions must stop all dogmatic pronouncements that serve only to inhibit further inquiry and understanding.
· That religions must stop their imperialistic and divisive evangelizing and proselytizing programs across the planet and turn their energies to improving the quality of life for all inhabitants of the planet with no religious strings attached.
· That religions must not identify themselves with particular political or economic systems, but must transcend such systems, consider themselves as champions of the study of the divine, and have an unwavering commitment to advocating and promoting the spiritual and physical well-being of the entire human family.
What a breath of fresh air that would be, releasing untold spiritual and intellectual energy and innovation across all religions! Humankind would be eternally grateful. My dream is seeing religions on the planet as they can be-sources of unity rather than separation within the human family.
Consequences for me Personally. For me and no doubt for many others, it is not easy to come to terms with a world without divine revelation. The worldview spawned by the Qur’an has shaped the understanding of billions. The worldview spawned by the Bible has also shaped the understanding of billions more. The Bible has shaped my understanding spiritually, intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally for over 50 years, and to come to understand that the Bible is not the deity’s word means for me adopting a radically different worldview and a different relationship with the Creator. It requires of me a conversion and a recovery from long-term addiction to indoctrination. It requires of me a new faith in the Creator and a new resolve to grow in understanding of the Creator and of the Creator’s plan through the study of creation. Creation gives me a clear and direct understanding of the Creator. The holy books give me an understanding of the Creator that is for the most part tribal and comes to me reflecting the limited human thinking and cultures of a given time and place.
Without divine revelation I have the freedom to let my imagination soar in my attempt to understand the spiritual and the divine, for my thinking is no longer boxed in by a static belief system fostered by a closed system of divine teaching. I do not have to tie myself up in mental knots explaining how the Creator could utter or be associated with some of the inconsistencies and wildly unreasonable stories contained in the holy books. I no longer have to continually walk back and adjust my religious beliefs and understanding in response to discoveries by science.
There are additional consequences. With the absence of divine revelation, I understand that leaders or pastors/rabbis/imams/ vicars/bishops of all religions have no more authority than their church/temple/mosque communities bestow upon them as in any human organization. I understand that religions, as in all areas of science, can no longer claim to possess the ideal of completely correct and unchanging knowledge or truth.
Truth is not a goal of science, and it asks how can knowledge that is completely correct, which is what we mean when we say that it is true, keep changing all the time? In fact, it was only by giving up the certainty of truth and adopting questioning and inquiry as its approach to discovery that science became such a wonderful source of understanding and knowledge. Religion can experience a similar renaissance.
I have come to understand that science sees the concept of truth as very elusive (many would say unattainable) and is much happier with the concept of understanding, which changes with each new discovery and better ways of observing and measuring things. I now see that every scientific understanding is open to repeated assessment, questioning, and revision. Science constantly revises our ways of thinking about our planet and its place in the universe.
As for the future, I know that many facts and principles that I now accept will be replaced by ones that are superior, not just a little better understanding, but whole new ways of looking at things. What I now understand about the natural world will someday be completely revised with the advent of new discoveries, improved analytical tools, and more refined measurements. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the worlds of medicine and astronomy. Science is constantly in a discovery mode and never makes its answers final. I think that religious belief systems would do well to emulate science and have its beliefs open to repeated assessment, questioning, and revision. If my understanding of creation is constantly changing and growing, how much more so should my understanding of the Creator be likewise constantly changing and growing?
Belief systems have been and are often defended by political authorities not for their truths but for their usefulness as a governing and controlling system. We are very familiar with the politician who uses religion to push her/his agenda. In the case of Christianity, in its period of greatest influence, reason was enchained in a prison, and it took centuries for Christians to scale the prison walls. Christians stopped burning people at the stake for their beliefs, but Christians continue to condemn people to hell for their beliefs and actions and to torment them psychologically. Christians have still many other walls to scale. The Muslim belief system has yet to experience a reformation, any scaling of the walls. But some Muslims are currently speaking out for reform.
Summary. The belief or understanding of billions that the deity has given a message or messages to humans using holy books as a medium to communicate is a problem that adversely impacts every human and almost every human endeavor on the planet. This belief adversely impacts the human quest for peace, for tolerance and acceptance of other worldviews, for advances in education, medicine, and science, and for advancement in the efforts to eliminate poverty, hunger, and disease. Divine revelation is a global scale problem that needs to be addressed head on.
That said, the holy books of all religions have for me real value, not as the word of the divine, but as written repositories of human thinking on the divine, and consequently, the holy books should be wonderful sources of spiritual insights and understanding.
But I must be realistic. Just as the perception that our planet was flat or that it was the center of our universe took centuries to fade away, so the perception that the deity has handed us “revealed truths” that cannot be questioned may also take centuries to fade away. Meanwhile, what is needed on this over-heated religious planet is the realistic view to take hold that all religions are journeys of discovery in search of greater insights and understanding.
A Prediction that Flows from the Above Reflections on Divine Revelation. Future generations on earth may well regard Christian and Muslim worldviews and the worldviews of all existing religions on our planet (unless they change radically) in much the same way that we currently regard the worldview of the ancient Greeks. We usually refer to the worldview of the ancient Greeks as Greek mythology, which is that body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of their world, and the origins and significance of their cult and ritual practices. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. mythologies are those bodies of myths and legends belonging to Christians, Muslims, and all other religions concerning their gods and heroes (saints), the nature of their worlds, and the origins and significance of their cults and ritual practices.
Inputs, expansions, adjustments, counterpoints, rebuttals, etc. to the above are very welcome.
Monday, November 22, 2010
The Thinking Post. In the interests of promoting greater tolerance and respect for diversity of religious traditions among all members of the human family, it is worthwhile to permit the natural light of human reason to focus on the concept of divine revelation.
My dictionary defines divine revelation as the communication of knowledge to humans by a divine or supernatural agency. I am more familiar with divine revelation as envisioned in the Bible and the Qur’an, and much less familiar with spiritual enlightenment as envisioned by religions originating in India, China, Japan, and Southeast Asia such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto, etc. Whatever the medium, revelation or enlightenment, my focus is on the basic concept of the divine intervening in human history to communicate messages on how humans should conduct their lives. What is presented below is my personal understanding, which is open to growth and change in response to new insights and discoveries.
In recent years, I have learned at my place of work that, to evaluate any situation objectively, it is very helpful to project oneself outside the situation, or outside the environment that the situation is in. Hence, to evaluate issues with planet-wide implications such as divine revelation, it is best to project myself outside the planet and try to see things through the eyes of an astronaut from space, or through the eyes of the Creator. That is what I have attempted to do here in taking a critical look at divine revelation from the outside. It is an attempt to see divine revelation in the context of the large picture of human history and human understanding.
The claim that the knowledge or teachings contained in holy books are of divine authorship has been over the centuries a source of inspiration in service of the human family’s many needs. Unfortunately, the same claim has also been the root cause of religious intolerance, extremism, and fanaticism. And this extremism and fanaticism down through history has inflicted all kinds of abominations on the human family including crusades against other belief systems, burnings at the stake, stoning to death, deep-seated prejudices against some of the Creator’s children, mutilations, book burnings, wars, suicide bombings, discriminations, denials of basic human rights, human torture, enslavement of millions, mass murders, etc., etc. That is the large picture. Divine revelation supports a worldview that inspires many to lives of great service while at the same time empowers others to become "soldiers of the deity” with a mission to convert, abuse, or eliminate all who do not share their belief system. I see evidence of this latter mindset even today among some Christians and Muslims.
We also must remember what was said in the last blog that the concept of the deity imparting messages to humans by means of written and/or spoken words either directly or through messengers is relatively new in recorded history-all happening within the past 5,000 years. That is the large picture.
I outline below my problems with the basic concept of the deity intervening in human history to impart knowledge.
Problem #1. In trying to understand divine revelation, I asked myself why was there no divine revelation in the first few million years of human existence? Were early humans not worth enlightening with divine messages? Or were they too underdeveloped and not ready to receive such messages? Or, in the parlance of some belief systems, did they not have souls to be saved? Why was the Prehistoric Thinker, depicted above, deprived of divine revelation? I now know that our ancestors, prior to 5,000 years ago, were certainly intelligent human beings. And it does not make sense to me that an all knowing and all loving deity, so concerned about redeeming mankind sent Jesus just recently (2,000 years ago) to redeem humans from their evil ways, or, if you wish, sent Mohammad even more recently (1400 years ago) to enlighten humans about the divine plan of salvation. Yet, that same concerned deity allowed humankind to flounder around in unredeemed and unenlightened darkness for millions of years. That to me is the preposterous assumption that Christians and Muslims make when they claim that the Bible or the Qur’an contain exclusively the deity’s revealed truth!
Problem #2. In thinking about divine revelation, I have equally big concerns internal to the divine revelations themselves as contained in religion holy books. All holy books claim to offer to humans a divinely inspired roadmap for living on our planet. However, some statements in the holy books are open to multiple interpretations and have been construed by many over their 5,000-year history not only as the foundation of particular belief systems, but as justifying all kinds of horrible acts against members of the human family. I conclude that an all-knowing deity could not have been so careless or be so lacking in foresight as to permit statements in holy books to be open to interpretations that justify such terrible deeds enumerated above. Even you or I, as lowly but responsible human mortals, would do everything in our power to correct any such statements so as to eliminate any and all such interpretations. The deity has taken no such action. The statements open to multiple interpretations still stand as the word of the deity.
Problem #3. I know from history that multiple interpretations of the holy books have spawned multiple religions and branches of religions, each with its own belief system. Even within the mainstream religions there are multiple sects with their own distinct set of beliefs, their own distinct understandings of the divine. The Roman Catholic belief system that I was born into and grew up with is but one of thousands of Christian belief systems that are quite different from each other. That is the large picture! Even if I accept the premise that the deity revealed certain truths, the truths evidently have become fragmented and distorted in human hands, leaving many others and me in a quandary as to what to believe. The cacophony of the multitude of conflicting religious beliefs underscores for me the improbability of divine revelation.
Problem #4. With the advent of the holy books, and so many claiming to have the truth, I think it is logical to conclude that either only one-belief system or set of holy books has divine revelation or no belief system has it. If only one belief system has the whole truth revealed by the Creator, then, to my thinking mind, that belief system should stand out above all the others like a shining light on a hill as the only one possessing the divine revelation. But after multiple claims of divine revelations over the past 5,000 years, no single belief system so stands out.
Problem #5. This problem is about the timing and duration of divine revelation. It is not helpful to say that God’s revelation started with Genesis some 2,500 years ago and stopped with the Book of Revelations some two thousand years ago as Christians claim, or that Allah’s revelation stopped with the Qur’an some fourteen hundred years ago as Muslims claim. That is to say that God/Allah not only started very late in the day communicating with humans (over several million years too late) but stopped communicating with humans in one belief system 2000 years ago and in another belief system 1400 years ago. So all that I and other humans can do in matters of religion is rehash old news and old insights over and over!
For nearly 2000 years the dominant western understanding of the divine has been stuck in place with no major advancement or development. And since the western understanding of the human has been for the most part inseparable from the western understanding of the divine, the dominant western understanding of the human has also been stuck in place for two millennia. The same can be said of the Muslim belief system, as its understanding of the divine and of the human has been stuck in place for the past 1400 years with no major advancement in understanding.
Imagine where we would be in matters of scientific understanding, if we dogmatically stated that we reached the pinnacle of scientific understanding back in the second century with the thinking of the Greek mathematician, geographer and astronomer, Claudius Ptolemy (83-161 CE) or with the geocentric solar and lunar theories of the 14th century Arab Muslim astronomer, mathematician and engineer, Ibn ash-Shatir (1304-1375 CE), with no further growth possible in scientific knowledge! That would be to permanently condemn our scientific thinking to a twilight zone.
But that is precisely what Christians and Muslims have done. By dogmatically declaring that revelation ceased at a certain point in time, they declared the Creator impotent to communicate any new religious truth to humans, who are then limited until the end of time to rehashing old truths, deprived of the capacity for change. By excluding originality and freedom of thought in their belief systems, religions have erected a major roadblock to advances in knowledge and understanding of the divine and of the human, and logically down the years have also fought tooth and nail acceptance of advances in our scientific understanding.
[Some belief systems profess that divine revelation is ongoing and evolving. The Unitarian Universalists believe that there is spiritual value to be found in the scriptures of all religions: in the Bible, the Qur’an, the Upanishads, the Buddhist sutras, etc., and in the words and actions of all spiritual men and women, past and present. The Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church) claims to receive continuing divine revelation primarily through key church officials: the Living Prophet/President, two male counselors to the President, and the 12 male present day replacements of the 12 Apostles, called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.]
Problem 6. As I see it, to accept the deity of revelation, any revelation, is to accept in some respects a small tribal deity; a deity that has a “chosen people” and plays favoritism; a deity depicted as an all powerful, just, and a loving father; a deity depicted as cruel and vengeful; a deity that condemns erring humans to the worst kind of torture imaginable not for a hundred, a million, or even a billion or a trillion years but for eternity, which makes the deity into a monster torturer; a deity that micromanages human activities and is concerned with each human peccadillo; a deity that reaches down now and then to cure an individual of some illness or infirmity (a miracle), but takes a hands off approach to the big problems of natural calamities such as earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis, and major disasters brought about by humans such as wars, famines, genocides, and mass murder and torture.
That is the deity of revelation, a loving father that micro manages human lives on one side, and on the other side a capricious, impulsive monster and torturer that is all-controlling and all-powerful but missing when catastrophe strikes, that is omnipresent yet very aloof and above the fray when most needed.
Problems 1-6 Lead Me to One Conclusion. With the above problems it seems to me that accepting divine revelation, any divine revelation, as the word of the deity, flies in the face of common sense, at least my understanding of common sense! And anyway, why would an all powerful deity intervene in human history (only in recent times) with revelations that have been largely failures, for the vast majority of people do not believe in any single belief system or revelation. Divine revelation has been such an utter failure that I cannot attribute it to an all-knowing, all-just, all-loving, and all-powerful deity. My logical mind cannot lay such incompetence at the feet of the divine.
There Has to Be Another Explanation! The evidence forces me to conclude that the only rational way to look at the multiplicity of competing divine messages or revelations, which can be interpreted by extremists and others to suit their particular agendas, is to regard all the divine messages and revelations as merely human attempts to understand the divine, and therefore have all the limitations and proneness to error shared by all human writings be they secular or religious in nature.
The most reasonable answer to the question – did divine revelation actually happen? – is best presented by what I said in the previous blog, that as in all matters pertaining to life on the planet, it would seem that the deity has left it up to humans to figure things out for themselves. In the pursuit of knowledge in medicine, astronomy and space, physics, biology, chemistry, geology, etc., the deity has left it up to humans to study, explore, discover, and grow in the understanding of their planet and the universe. Why not also in the area of religion?
It is long past time for a discussion of divine revelation to go public for so much is at stake. Let the conversation begin.
The next blog will look at the consequences for a planet without belief in divine revelation.
Comments, expansions, adjustments, counterpoints, rebuttals, etc. to the above are very welcome.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Blog 4. The Large Picture of Religion – One Person’s Pathway to Acceptance of Religious Diversity not as an Aberration but as a Product of Diverse Cultures and Freedom of Thought
|The Thinker, Auguste Rodin, 1902|
When I look at our planet’s religious landscape through the eyes of someone from another planet, or through the eyes of the Creator, I see a patchwork of multiple belief systems with Christian belief systems having 2 billion+ adherents largely concentrated in Europe, the Americas, Russia, and Australia; Muslim belief systems having 1 billion+ adherents largely concentrated in the Middle East, North Africa, and Indonesia/Malaysia; Buddhism/Taoism with 1 billion+ adherents largely concentrated in China, Japan, Mongolia, and Burma/Thailand/Laos/Cambodia /Vietnam; Hindu belief systems with approximately 1 billion adherents largely concentrated in India; and other belief systems scattered here and there across the planet. I once thought that such a patchwork picture must be very disconcerting to the Creator, seeing intelligent creatures, whom he/she/it created (we need a special personal pronoun for the Creator), agreeing on little more than that the Creator exists and some (an estimated 2.5 % of the planet’s 6.8 billion population) not even believing in that.
Another aspect of the religious landscape is the bewildering variety of religious belief systems. There are 50,000+ different religious belief systems on planet earth today. There are 34,000+ different Christian belief systems, over 60 different Muslim belief systems, multiple Jewish belief systems, and multiple Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Chinese Folk, etc. belief systems with each belief borrowing from and overlapping with every other belief.
That is the large picture. And I have come to accept that that is the way it should be, and that our planet is blessed by the diversity and multiplicity of its religious traditions, all contributing to an ever expanding understanding of the divine.
Religious belief fundamentally resides in people, and very often boils down to being an individual matter. I have a belief system and I suspect it differs from yours and from the belief system of most other human inhabitants of our planet. My grandmother, in her 34-acre farm on a hillside in Ireland’s heartland, believed in Jesus and in the Little People with what seemed to me equal fervor. And she saw no contradiction in these beliefs. To her, the other world of the Little People as well as heaven and hell were all part of the way things were. She never felt the need to contemplate or question her faith. To her, being Roman Catholic mingled with remnants of Druidism was as natural as breathing, and I suspect that is the way with most individual beliefs. Just as I cannot bring myself to condemn my grandmother for her beliefs, I cannot condemn anyone for sincerely held beliefs.
My belief system, presented below, has evolved into something quite different from my grandmother’s. I spent two years studying philosophy and four years studying theology at All Hallows College, Dublin, Ireland, a live-in institution run by the Vincentians, a religious order founded in 1625 by St.Vincent de Paul, a French priest. His mission was to preach the Christian gospel to the poor and to reform the clergy. I was a good unquestioning student, absorbing the worldview of the Roman Catholic Church, as was expected of me. Subsequent to my ordination in 1957, I served as an assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception parish, City of Sacramento; at St. Isadore’s parish, City of Yuba City; at Holy Rosary parish, City of Woodland; and as Assistant Chaplain, Newman Center, University of California, Davis in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, California.
But towards the end of my 15 years as a priest, the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the worldview they encompassed started to unravel. I can trace the roots of the unraveling to the Second Vatican Council, convened by Pope John XXIII in October, 1962, with the principal objective, as John XXIII said then, to open the windows of the church to let in some fresh air and start a dialogue with the contemporary world. Like many in the church–lay people, nuns, and clergy–I welcomed the opening of windows and embraced the fresh air. The theological, ecumenical, scriptural, and liturgical discussions that the Council engendered caused many, including myself, to commence a re-examination of church practices and later a questioning and a re-evaluation of church teachings. In my own case, there was a very gradual, almost imperceptible evolution away from a dogmatic belief system, to openness to and acceptance of ideas in conflict with church teachings and practices.
I gradually came to question the church’s teaching on birth control, on divorce and remarriage, on original sin, on hell and eternal damnation, on denying the priesthood to women, on the celibacy of the church’s clergy, etc. On this last topic, I wrote an essay tracing the history of the development of celibacy from a recommendation to a widespread practice, to its enactment as a church law in 1139 by the Second Lateran Council, which is often cited as having for the first time introduced a general law of celibacy, requiring ordination only of unmarried men. The piece entitled, “Should the Council Look at Celibacy”, was published on June 9th, 1965 in the National Catholic Reporter, a weekly publication read by many Catholics throughout the U.S. The article, under the penname, “Sacerdos Occidentalis” (western priest), started a national discussion on celibacy in the Catholic priesthood that lasted for almost a year. Another incident stands out in my recollection of those years. During my assignment at Holy Rosary parish in Woodland, I incurred the wrath of the farming community for supporting a strike in Delano, California, to get union recognition for grape pickers (see: Clergy: The Grapes of Wrath, Time Article, Dec. 10, 1965). I was getting a reputation as a rebel. I resigned from the priesthood in 1972 and the evolution in my beliefs has continued in fits and starts down to the present.
The Basis of My Current Religious Understanding. Humans have been on planet earth for at least a few million years and I logically conclude that religion in some form has been part and parcel of the human experience from the beginning as humans sought to understand where they came from and the meaning and purpose of their lives. I see the many different religions and belief systems growing out of and being a direct reflection of the geographic, cultural, political, and linguistic diversity of the planet. It seems to me that culture, geography, inheritance, language, politics, and tradition are all contributing factors to why certain religious belief systems developed and took hold in certain parts of the planet and not in others and why religions splintered into multiple belief systems.
Why are there 34,000 different Christian belief systems as against only 60 different Muslim belief systems? The almost incomprehensible proliferation of Christian belief systems happened after the Reformation in the 16th century, when many Christians were released from authoritarian interpretations of the Christian Bible, and were free to interpret God’s word as their conscience dictated. Whereas, the Muslim faith has experienced no reformation and a corresponding splintering of that belief system has not taken place. Hence, it would seem that the proliferation of belief systems is the natural outcome of the absence of authoritarian dogmatism and the presence of an environment that encourages freedom of thought and expression.
Another factor contributing to the fragmentation of belief systems is the conjecture of sociologists that 150-200 is the outer limit of the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. So where individual freedom is a core value and there are no laws or norms enforced to maintain group cohesion, people tend to form splinter groups. A solution to this natural tendency within mega churches is the breakup of the large worshipping community into small cohesive interest and service groups.
The central question is: are all the different religions and belief systems of divine origin or merely of human origin? I have come to understand that they are merely of human origin for I cannot attribute the multiplicity of beliefs to direct intervention of the divine. And I ask myself, why would the deity be directly involved in disseminating ideas and concepts that confuse and divide the human family? Just as with science and all areas involving understanding of our planet and the universe, the deity, it seems to me, has left it to humans to figure things out for themselves. And if the Creator gets to express emotions, there must be emotional satisfaction in seeing scientists solve bit by bit some of the mysteries of creation, and seeing religious leaders lead people into deeper understanding and deeper relationships with the author of that creation.
In my large picture of religion, I see all religions as legitimate traditions or worldviews searching for truth and an understanding of the divine, not necessarily as possessing them, but striving to build upon human insights down the ages. I see religions as journeys of exploration - searches for understanding in the spiritual realm just as science is a search for understanding in the physical realm.
My large picture understanding sees religions as having a major positive role in the development and betterment of civilized society; in building communities of caring, giving, and sharing people; in breaking down barriers between peoples; in fostering altruism among adherents and sharing of the planet’s resources; in controlling human greed and hostility; in promoting human equality and eliminating prejudices; in caring for the poor, the aged, the sick, the outcast, and the forgotten; in teaching stewardship of the planet; and in fostering a deeper understanding of the divine and a deep sense that all humans of all belief systems and of no belief are children of the Creator and have a right to a quality life on the planet.
Religion, the attempt of humans to relate to the divine, is as old as humans themselves. But history tells me that divine revelation, the concept of the deity reaching down to enlighten humans, has been a recent phenomenon. The Holy Books or scriptures of the various religions are recent entries on the stage of human history-all within the past 5,000 years. That is part of the large picture. As stated above, I have no problem with the concept of religion, and I see religion as making very positive contributions to human society, human communities, and individual humans. But I have many problems, which will be discussed in the next blog, with the concept of divine revelation, i.e. the claim that what is written in Holy Books such as the Bible and the Qur’an is the unalterable word of the deity.
Inputs, expansions, adjustments, counterpoints, rebuttals, etc. to the above are very welcome.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
The Thinking Post. I was born in Ireland in 1933, grew up in its heartland, at age 24 came to the US, became a US citizen in 1962, and lived and worked in Sacramento/Yuba City/Woodland/Davis/Monterey/ Pasadena-California, Cuernavaca-Mexico, Hong Kong-China, Macao-China, London-England, Lisbon-Portugal, Houston-Texas, Chicago-Illinois, Eufaula-Alabama, Orlando/Jupiter-Florida, Washington DC, Albuquerque/Santa Fe-New Mexico, Hopkinsville-Kentucky, and Philadelphia-Pennsylvania.
Where is my true home? In my senior years I have come to realize that fundamentally I am a creature of our planet. That is the home that I share very intimately with billions of other living creatures–humans, animals, fish, insects, microorganisms, and plants. I am what you might call above all else a planetician, that is, a person who sees himself as belonging to planet earth as a whole over and above any particular part of the planet, and belonging to the human family as a whole over and above one particular group of people. Of course belonging to the planet and to the human family does not negate belonging to and having special ties with a particular part of the planet, such as a country, or with a particular group of people, such as Americans or an extended family group. It is a matter of a hierarchy of belonging, but more on that below.
Growth in Understanding Who I Am. Yes, I am Irish. Yes, I am an American citizen. But more basically, I am a citizen of planet earth. I spend my days and nights traveling with billions of other creatures through space and around the sun on a spaceship that is pulsating with life and energy. I share the same fresh air, the same water, the same rich soils, the same star-filled skies, the same source of heat, in all – the same traveling spaceship with my fellow travelers. Even in my advanced years, I need to grow into the full realization what that means, its advantages and its responsibilities.
Growing up I had a sense of responsibility to my family, a vague sense of responsibility to the country of my birth and later to my adopted country, but little or no sense at all of responsibility to the planet. A sense of responsibility to the planet only came with the understanding and awareness of shared traveling on our planet spaceship, and hence shared responsibility for shared traveling conditions. Growth in understanding this shared responsibility means a change in attitudes to the planet and a determination to cherish and protect the planet and not violate or harm her in any manner by polluting its water, air, or soil, or making the planet in any way less livable for its many creatures. Damage or violence to the planet’s interconnected systems of land, air, and water anywhere negatively impacts all systems and all life as we are seeing in the growth of carbon dioxide emissions and the effects on climate change and global warming.
If the Creator made planet earth as part of the creation of the cosmos, the least that is expected of me as an intelligent creature of the planet is to cherish and nourish the planet and protect it from pollution and forces that would be destructive of or in any way diminish its inhabitants’ life support systems and quality of life. That is the best way for me to honor the Creator of the planet, not participation in the erection of grandiose pyramids, temples, cathedrals, and mosques, which would seem to be a primitive tribal response to the divine and a misplacement of human energy and resources. Historically, it would seem that humans, myself included, were motivated to support the building of great structures and perform ritual acts of obeisance in honor of rulers, emperors, tribal chiefs, gods, etc. more out of fear of retribution than of admiration. The Aztecs sacrificed humans daily atop their pyramids out of fear that their sun god, Huitzilopochtli, would not rise in the morning. In my more lucid moments, I know that the Creator has no need of imposing structures and elaborate ceremonial performances, yet others and I persist in the footsteps of our ancestors, fearing divine retribution of some kind. Maybe we should consider honoring the Creator weekly or at least monthly by establishing a planet holy day, a Creator’s day when all humans do something to nourish the planet and improve the planet’s quality of life. I think the Creator would be very pleased with such an observance and it could be very educational. Imagine 6+ billion humans doing something positive weekly or monthly to improve the quality of life on the planet! Surely the vast majority of humans would respond positively to such an invitation.
A Recurring Question. In these twilight years, as I approach the end of my allotted span of life on earth, I have been bothered by a nagging question. What have I done to contribute to the betterment of life on our planet? What has been my contribution over the past 77+ years? What has been my footprint? I scratch my head and wonder am I a failure as an intelligent creature of planet earth? The best that I can say is that an objective evaluation would in all likelihood conclude that I have not been a major negative influence, but neither have I been much of a positive influence. I might as well not have lived as far as the planet is concerned.
In my local sphere of influence, my immediate family, my immediate community, my place of work, I have been on balance a small positive influence. My wife and I, following the environmental maxim coined by Rene Jules Dubos, a French-American microbiologist, “think globally, but act locally”, have planted shrubs and trees in our garden and have not used pesticides of any kind. But outside of these local areas, my influence quickly drops to zero. Maybe I was never meant to be anything but a local small bit player in a small corner of the planet. I rush to remind myself that any positive contribution, no matter how small to any corner of the plant, is a very good thing. To aspire to accomplish anything over and above that maybe sheer conceit.
But maybe, just maybe, I am meant to contribute something beyond the local, beyond country, to the planet, to the spaceship we are traveling in. Like what? A contribution to a greener planet! A contribution to the quality of life on our spaceship! An eye pleasing painting! A formula for reconciling political and religious conflicts! An uplifting piece of music! A best selling novel! A scientific discovery! An insight into the nature of the divine! A trip of exploration to the moon or beyond! A foolproof formula for losing weight! A trip of exploration to the depths of the oceans! A program to reduce crime! A breakthrough in medicine that alleviates the suffering of many! An innovation that improves living conditions on the planet! An idea that brings about positive change in how we think about the planet and ourselves!
Now, that last one is something I could tinker with in the short time I have left. I do not have the skills or the stomach to accomplish any of the others. But thinking is something I can attempt. My 77-year old brain is still capable of a few thoughts now and then. And I am not as wedded to traditional ideas of politics and religion as in the past. And I am not as reluctant to accept new ideas that challenge long-held worldviews once the evidence is strong if not compelling in their favor.
Ideas that Change Understanding. An idea outside the mainstream is going to take a leap beyond my normal way of thinking, a leap outside my culture, outside the political, social, and religious systems of thought and practice that I grew up with. In the last few years, I already have made a small leap in thinking of myself as first and foremost as a creature of the planet. But even if I succeed in making other small leaps in my own mind, will the leaps benefit anybody? Even if they don’t, that should not stop a little thinking. Thinking outside one’s political, social, and religious systems are seldom well received by others. In fact, it is often received with hostility and ostracism. I know that long held ideas and convictions persist even when the evidence is stacked against them. Try to convince some even with overwhelming evidence, logic, and common sense, and they remain unconvinced still.
And anyway, in my old age, what do I have to lose in taking a leap outside the parameters that I grew up in? A small voice warns me-perhaps a lot! Despite the warning, I press on. People my age usually have the time to do some serious thinking, and too few of us put that thinking time to productive use. We usually associate serious thinking with think tanks and much younger people. But why not have some think tanks populated with or at least sprinkled with retired people? Creative thinking need not be limited by age. We need to tap into the creative ability of seasoned minds as well as younger minds and give the owners of these seasoned minds-old farts like myself-a place of dignity and importance in our world. Retirement from my life’s work should not mean retirement from contributing to the wellbeing of my community, the betterment of society, or improving the quality of life on our planet. In America, ex-presidents are expected to contribute to society and to continue their leadership role in one way or another. Why not a similar expectation from all retired people?
In browsing the Internet recently, I came across The Elders. As their website states, The Elders “are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering, and promote the shared interests of humanity”. Every community should have a group of elders who come together to offer their collective experience, wisdom, and creative thinking in service of their communities across the planet. When I retire, that is something I would like to be a part of.
A Leap Up to the Large Picture. So here goes my small leap outside my comfort zone. Two ideas have been rattling around in my brain for some time and they flow from seeing myself as a citizen of the planet. These two ideas take a fresh look at political belief systems and religious belief systems. And both ideas concern themselves with what I call the large picture. Most of us are born into, grow up, work, play, and die having small pictures of ourselves, small pictures of the world we live in, and small pictures of our understanding of life and the universe around us. Many of us live or have lived in a restricted environment of our own making with very limited horizons and restricted parameters within which we are constrained or restrict ourselves to think and live.
When I look at our planet through the eyes of an astronaut from space or through the eyes of the Creator, I do not see any borders or boundaries. I see one large mobile home shared by all the planet’s living creatures. The birds best exemplify this shared life as they move and fly across the planet at will. Unfortunately, I, in consort with my fellow humans, have set up or have acquiesced in borders and boundaries that have served to divide people and set group against group. The systems we used to establish these borders and divisions have been and continue to be for the most part politics and religion. Like many animals on the planet, we humans are very territorial, which means that we stake out a claim to a particular space or habitat on the planet. I have done so and perhaps you have done so too.
Part of expanding my picture of our planet will be changing my understanding of politics and religion and working to place both politics and religion in a more planet-friendly and human family-friendly perspective. The challenge is to develop a perspective big enough to transcend multiple political and religious preferences and differences. This entails debunking long-held and deeply rooted myths and allegiances to what may be for some unquestionable political systems and belief systems. This may take some beyond their comfort zone, and be unsettling. But all stretching of our horizons, all changes to accepted parameters are unsettling to some degree.
The Large Political Picture. The big picture of understanding who I am politically invites me to see myself not only as a member of my extended family with family responsibilities, but also as a member of the larger human family with human family responsibilities. The large picture invites me to see myself not only a member of my town/city/county/parish/state with community and state responsibilities, and a citizen of my country with citizen responsibilities, but also as a creature of planet earth with planet earth responsibilities. I must be concerned not only with the quality of life in my neighborhood, and in my state and nation, and with the pollution of air, soil, aquifers, lakes, and rivers on the local, state and national levels, but I must also be concerned with the quality of life on the planet, with climate change, global warming, global pollution, sustainability, and globalization. I must not only be interested in the politics of my county, city, state, and nation, and who represents me at these levels, but I must also be interested in the politics of the United Nations, the European Union, and nations like Rwanda, Uganda, the Sudan, China, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, and who represents my interests with these entities.
I must not only read my local newspaper and USA Today, watch my local TV station news, and read/contribute to blogs on the Internet, but I must also read online the Economist, The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and watch World News on the Internet, and write letters to editors/websites to make my concerns known. I must not only contribute to my church, to the Salvation Army bucket outside my grocery store, and to local and national charities to help make a difference especially to disaster relief such as the victims of 9/11, the hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Haiti, but I must also contribute to international charities-Relief International, Doctors without Borders, International Red Cross, etc., to help make a difference especially to the victims of disasters such as the earthquakes in Haiti, China, and Pakistan, the floods in Pakistan and China, and the Indonesian tsunami.
The Large Picture enables me to see no conflict with having allegiances to family, community, state, nation, and planet, all at the same time. The large picture enables me to see no inherent conflict between county/parish, state, national, and world governments. They are all parts of one hierarchical system of governance. Sure there will be tensions between the various governing levels, but nothing that rational people cannot work out. There is no inherent conflict in being an active member in the various parts of the planet and the planet as a whole. In fact, being active in a part of the planet, by its very nature affects the entire planet in some way or another. To think otherwise is like saying what I do to part of an apple by taking a bite out of it does not affect the whole apple. Almost everything I do at any level, affects the whole planet whether I am aware of it or not. Unfortunately, most of us are not aware how our daily activities affect the planet.
The Large Picture gives me to understand that politics is not only people coming together to get things done at the local, state, and national levels, but it is also interaction between nations at the united Nations, the European Union, and group-on-group interactions among cultures, civilizations, and religions. The large picture compels me not only to be concerned with the politics of my country and my country’s relationships with other nations, but also to be concerned with the politics of the planet and the politics of my country as part of the planet. The large picture compels me to view the planet as our spaceship and to be concerned with the operation of the spaceship and with the operation of specific parts of the spaceship to the extent that they affect the quality of life on the spaceship as a whole. I feel I must be concerned with genocide in Rwanda and pollution in China as well as carbon monoxide emissions in the United States for these human activities directly affect the quality of life on the entire planet. The large picture compels me to see that it is critical to have unified command and control of our spaceship if we are to achieve peace and quality of life on our voyage through space and time.
The Large Picture enables me to see that not all politics is local but that politics is also global, and in our increasingly interdependent world, what happens at one level or in one corner of the planet impacts all levels and all corners of the planet. We possess fairly good mechanisms to provide input to and control politics at the local, state, and national levels, though these mechanisms vary greatly in effectiveness across the planet. We possess immature and underdeveloped mechanisms to provide input to and control politics on the world stage.
I ask myself: why, after approximately 5,000 years of historically documented development, is our planet in this year of CE 2010 divided politically into 195+ separate nation states, lacking consensus over basic issues, pursuing diametrically opposed goals to the point of violent conflict and war, and with no viable movement toward common governance?
Since what one sovereign nation state decides to do or not do directly impacts the entire planet and the quality of life of all the inhabitants of other nation states, the sooner all parties come together and act jointly for the common good of all, the better for the quality of life on the planet. This is particularly true with respect to the acquisition of armaments-particularly weapons of mass destruction, issues of war and peace, environmental degradation and issues such as pollution of soil, water, and air, uncontrolled urbanization, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, drilling for oil in our oceans, climate change, and elimination of poverty, hunger, and disease. We all would regard it as insane to send a spacecraft on a mission to Mars or even to the space station with 195 independent commanders on board, each with separate agendas. Yet, that is precisely what we are doing with the spaceship Earth.
The Large Picture opens my eyes to the need to become involved in working towards unified world governance. I do not sense any urgency among leaders of the nation states to work towards a system of common governance so as to present a united front in addressing Earth’s major problems. Attempts have been made in recent history following World War I (The League of Nations) and World War II (The United Nations) to unite the Earth community to unified action, but these efforts have fallen much short of their goals.
There is currently no political party in the nation-states or members of a political party that currently advocate a unified world government. There are no planeticians in positions of political power or even running for political office at this time. The very concept of planetician may be foreign to most of Earth’s inhabitants. It may take a major threat from outside Earth such as an invasion from another planet or immanent collision with a large asteroid to arouse the community of 195+ nations to unified action. Since I see neither of these events on the horizon, I urge citizens of earth to take steps immediately to elect professed and committed planeticians to represent them in political institutions and governments and to undertake active campaigns to educate fellow inhabitants of Earth to become involved in working towards unified world governance.
The need is urgent, for the complex 100 million year-old ecosystems, which support all life on Planet Earth including human life, are under tremendous pressure, and the measures to protect them from extinction are not in place. Do nothing and catastrophe will happen. Maintaining the status quo of warring nation states is not an option. The large picture propels me beyond the tribe and the nation state to the planet as requiring the highest allegiance, not the only allegiance, but the highest, as the whole planet requires a higher allegiance than any particular part of the planet. Just as common sense requires me to have a higher allegiance to my entire home and its inhabitants than to any one particular segment of it or any one particular inhabitant.
What impact would this growth in understanding, this leap to the large picture have on human society, if widely accepted? This understanding should help me realize that I should have a greater allegiance to planet earth above allegiance to my country. As I have already stated, having greater allegiance to the larger entity does not deny allegiance to the lesser entity, for the lesser is contained in the larger. At this moment in history, for most people their highest allegiance is to their country and for some it is still to their tribe with little or no thought of the planet. That is like having a commitment to the safety and wellbeing of one room in my house, with little or no concern for the other rooms and their inhabitants.
If widely accepted, growth in allegiance to the planet will contribute to the gradual phasing out of the once all powerful nation state; to growth in the transnational circulation of ideas, technology, values, culture, fostered by the Internet and the Worldwide Web; to growth in tolerance and acceptance of diversity; to lessening of tensions and threats of war between states; and to growth in freedom, global commerce, and global governance.
"An invasion of armies can be resisted; an invasion of ideas cannot be resisted" -Victor Hugo.
(The next blog will discuss the large picture of religion.)
Inputs, expansions, adjustments, counterpoints, rebuttals, etc. to the above are very welcome.
Inputs, expansions, adjustments, counterpoints, rebuttals, etc. to the above are very welcome.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Senegal Hand-Carved Thinker. (Contours Look Female)
The Thinking Post. If a contributor does not wish to put her or his name to comments or to an article for whatever reason, please use the name of Zy Uzip as an alternative. If you use Zy Uzip as your nom de plume, allow me to introduce you to your literary double.
Zy Uzip’s Background in Her Own Words. My name is Zy Uzip-that is the closest I can get phonetically in the English language to my given name. I am a reporter from a planet in a neighboring star system. That makes me an alien on planet Earth, known as Planet-Uzat1479 back home. I am in disguise as a human female in her late fifties for my stay on Earth. That way my presence and conduct, while somewhat eccentric, may be less noticeable and less threatening in a male dominated planet. I have observed that there are some eccentric middle-aged women on the planet. So I fit in. My assignment is to report back to my planet on the goings-on on sister planet Earth. I plan to make reports regularly, until I am recalled, or given another assignment.
I have been here on planet Earth for the past three years quietly observing, listening, and when possible interviewing the Earth’s political, religious, and cultural leaders, as well as browsing Google and the Internet. I have learned much from political and religious speeches and discourses, continuous newscasts, talk shows, cultural events, scientific symposiums, discussions at the United Nations, sermons in churches, mosques, and synagogues, and lifestyle observations. I have studied Earthling’s medical practices, college campuses, educational systems, belief systems, value systems, art, and creativity.
I have visited many of what Earth people designate as “trouble spots”- Iraq, Darfur, Pakistan, the West Bank, Afghanistan, Chechnya (I tried but did not succeed in visiting North Korea because the current ruler has decreed that his nation is closed to the rest of the people on the planet), and some of the planet’s “bright spots”-Northern Ireland, South Africa, (East) Germany, China, the Baltic states.
I have studied planet Earth’s history (at least hitting the high points) and have attempted to get my arms around such things as tribalism, early civilizations, discoveries, slavery, colonization, wars, reformation, enlightenment, and freedom movements, including the current struggle for freedom in Iran. I have also studied franchise movements, civil rights movements, exploration of outer space, and movements to abolish nuclear weapons, illiteracy, hunger, and disease from the planet.
I feel that being from another planet gives me a measure of objectivity in my reporting and the experience above gives me what The Thinking Post likes to call a large picture perspective. I am sharing these reports with the people of planet Earth by placing the reports on The Thinking Post. I do this for two reasons. Firstly, to get feedback on my reports and hopefully restore balance where my reports stray from objectivity. After all, I am an alien with limited understanding of my report topics. Secondly, to invite my Earth readers to put themselves in my shoes, project themselves outside their planet, outside their normal patterns of thinking, and view their planet as it were from the outside, and see what they come up with. That briefly is my bag – a large picture perspective from the outside.
Torture on Planet Earth: a Zy Uzip Report
Though recently in hot debate across planet Earth, torture is not new to the planet. It is seemingly as old as the planet’s recorded human history. But recent accusations that the United States, the planet’s most powerful nation state, has indulged in torture, has raised the topic to the forefront of planet-wide dialog.
Within five months of leaving office, former United States President George Walter Bush and former Vice President Dick Chaney admitted publicly that they approved of water-boarding (regarded by most people as torture), this despite the fact that the United States is a signee of the United Nations Convention prohibiting torture. President Bush defended his decision to permit the use of torture on terror suspects in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 coordinated suicide terrorist attacks by saying: “I vowed to take whatever steps were necessary to protect you”. The attacks killed 2,974 people, including 19 hijackers of the commercial passenger jet airlines used to fly into and reduce to rubble the Twin Towers (110 stories each) of the World Trade Center in New York City. These devastating attacks shocked people across the planet and triggered two wars on the planet, still ongoing.
Definition of Torture. Before we go any further, allow me to define what I am writing to you about. What is torture?
I give you an authoritative definition as found in Article 1 of the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture ( the United Nations is an organization of 192 independent states on Earth formed in 1945 to promote peace and security on the planet):
“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions”.
I present this definition in the interest of clarity, because the boundaries between torture and, what some consider, legitimate interrogation techniques, have not been universally accepted on planet earth. This is particularly true with regard to psychological torture. Among some Earthlings, such techniques remain controversial.
Torture in the Earth’s Recorded History. Torture has seemingly been part of the human story on the planet from the beginning of recorded time. Torture has been used by governments and their surrogates including the military, the police, the “secret police”, and correctional institutions as a means of effecting political control, intimidation, extracting information, obtaining the names of accomplices in crime, re-educating people, instilling fear and achieving obedience from populations. In addition to state-sponsored torture, groups and individuals have inflicted torture on others for similar reasons or merely for personal, sadistic gratification.
Almost all human cultures on the planet and their ruling bodies practiced torture. In the Americas, torture and human sacrifice were part of religious rituals of the ancient Mayan, Aztec, and Incan societies. The judges of ancient Babylon decreed punishments that included cutting off feet, lips and noses, and gouging out eyes. The Assyrian King, Ashurbanipal, who reigned from 668 to 627 BCE (formerly BC), cut open the bellies of his opponents as if they were young rams. The Romans, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians used torture routinely in interrogations and as part of their systems of justice. For centuries, a slave’s testimony was admissible in a court of law only if extracted by torture, on the assumption that slaves could not be trusted to reveal the truth voluntarily. The Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar, boasted that he tortured and killed 1,192,000 of his enemies during his 10-year reign. The Roman Emperor Caligula had noblemen who fell out of favor sawed in half.
In the Medieval Inquisition, which began in 1252 CE (formerly AD) and ended in 1816 CE, torture was sanctioned by the Catholic Church (a leading religion on the planet) and by kings, queens, princes and their governments. Many of the most brutal tortures were inflicted upon devout heretics by even more “devout” priests and friars. Countless women were accused of being witches and were tortured and burned to death. In Colonial America, women were sentenced to the stocks (an instrument of punishment consisting of a wooden framework with holes for securing the ankles and the wrists, used to expose an offender to public derision). Wooden clips were placed on their tongues for the crime of talking too much. I am glad that I came to Earth later in its cultural development, otherwise my disguise as a woman might not have been the best of ideas.
In more recent times, Adolf Hitler established concentration camps throughout Germany and subject countries in the 1930s and 1940s. These camps included whipping posts, torture rooms, and gas chambers, mass graves, and ovens to burn the remains of victims. Throughout the 20th century, Communist countries established labor camps where political dissidents were subjected to forced labor, deprivations, torture, and death. During World War II, in Germany and Japan, medical torture was practiced by medical doctors to assess what victims could endure and to determine the best torture methods to extract information. Joseph Mengele and Shiro Ishii were two of the more infamous practitioners of medical torture. Torture methods used to interrogate enemies of the state in the Soviet Union included the drug, Aminazin, a drug that causes its victim to grow intensely hyperactive and uncontrollably restless.
At the risk of turning your stomachs, I have picked what I consider the six most cruel and abhorrent methods of torture inflicted upon humans by other humans on the planet. They are all revoltingly horrible, but number six is by light years the worst.
1). Slow slicing of the human body with an extremely sharp knife, beginning with ears, nose, tongue, fingers, toes, belly, thighs, buttocks, shoulders, etc. –the entire process of up to 3,600 cuts lasted several days. This torture was used In China from about 900 CE to its abolition in 1905 CE.
2). Impalement, whereby a person is pierced with a long stake going through the rectum up through the mouth and then planted upright in the ground. This was practiced in Asia and Europe throughout the Middle Ages, from 500 CE to 1600 CE, an entire millennium.
3). The breaking wheel, used in France and Germany in the Middle Ages, whereby a person was placed on a cartwheel with limbs stretched out along the spokes, and with the wheel slowly revolving the victims bones were broken with an iron hammer, and the victim was left on the wheel for days until shock and dehydration caused death. This torture was abolished in 1827 CE.
4). The bamboo treatment, whereby a person was stripped naked and suspended between two trees, back to the ground, with growing bamboo chutes that were sharpened placed at the person’s back. Bamboo chutes grow up to five feet in one day, forcing their way up and through the human body. Chinese warlords felt for centuries that this was their best method of extracting information.
5). Slowly peeling the skin of a person’s body from head to foot, then smearing the peeled body with a substance to attract rodents to feast on the person’s flesh.
This is very grisly stuff.
I cannot but conclude that torture is deeply embedded in the planet’s human culture. To underscore this fact, I put the question to myself: What do the most popular guides to human behavior on the planet, the Judeo-Christian Bible and the Muslim Qur’an, have to say about torture?
A lot. Earthlings can go to their favorite research engine on the Internet and type in “Torture in the Bible” and “Torture in the Qur’an” to see what is presented.
From my reading of the passages in the Bible and the Qur’an that deal with the concept of torture, both the Bible and the Qur’an in many instances prescribe, promote, and condone torture. Judeo, Christian, and Islamic apologists try to explain away such passages, but they fail to confront the clear meaning of the passages head-on. I forward these downloads with my report, so you be the judge.
Both the Bible and the Qur’an have a lot to say about the horrendous and most unique form of human torture – the burning in hell fire for all eternity. This torture is presented by both holy books as the will of God and the will of Allah, and this mother of all tortures is not addressed by the apologists at all. This leads to the most horrendous torture of all:
6). The worst torture. I have identified burning in hell fire for all eternity as the sixth and by far the worst form of torture known to earthlings.
How Widespread is Torture Across the Planet and which Earthlings are the Worst Tortures? Modern sensibilities on the planet have been shaped by profound rejection of the worst forms of torture outlined above and by the crimes against humanity committed by Germany, Italy, and Japan in the Second World War from 1939 to 1945 and by Communist countries during the last century.
Even so, despite near universal condemnation of the practice as repugnant, abhorrent, and immoral, and the existence of treaty provisions that forbid torture, many states and individuals still engage in it. According to some estimates, over half of the nation states on the planet (97 nation states) currently practice some form of torture. These states either practice torture in silence (official denial), in semi-silence (known but not discussed or spoken about openly), or openly acknowledged to instill fear and obedience. In researching this topic, I came across an article in the New Scientist, a prestigious British magazine that concluded that the systematic torture of individuals for political reasons is a growing technology that incorporates the latest advances in physics, electronics, biochemistry, behavioral psychology, and pharmacology; and that the governments of some nations hire specifically trained scientists to set up and manage torture programs.
Earthlings’ rationale for employing torture is tenuous, at best. Some modern writers on the planet such as Alan M. Dershowitz, Mirko Bagaric, and others argue that following the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks on prominent United States landmarks, terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should be permitted to use some degree of torture to elicit information that saves innocent lives. To support their thinking that torture can be warranted in extreme emergencies, they present the ticking bomb scenario. This scenario asks what to do with a captured terrorist who has placed a nuclear bomb in a populated area. If the terrorist is subjected to torture, he could explain where the bomb is and how to defuse it. Hence, they argue that, in this circumstance, torture, the lesser of two evils, is justified.
Others argue that there is simply no scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of torture. They point out that torture victims usually tell their torturers what they want to hear, and are happy to implicate innocent people to bring an end to their agony. Hence, torture is likely to elicit unreliable information.
Napoleon Bonaparte, a French Emperor, stated in 1798: “The barbarous custom of having men beaten, who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile."
Major General Geoffrey D. Miller, an American commander in charge of detentions and interrogations in Iraq, pointed out that after coercive practices were banned, interrogations saw an increase of 50% higher value intelligence. Despite many claims by government officials and others, nobody has presented a single documented example of lives saved as a result of torture.
Torture is an exercise of enormous power over others, and power is deeply seductive to many people on Earth. That is why, as the history of torture on the planet has shown, there is an inherent, institutional receptivity on the part of military, police, and correctional institutions on Earth to the use of torture. This permits the culture of torture to grow and become accepted in times of crisis, revolution, war, and threats of terrorism. To legalize torture in such extreme situations is akin to legalizing and institutionalizing slavery in similar circumstances. That, torture prohibitionists point out, is totally inconsistent with liberal democracy on the planet. Despite near universal condemnation in recent years on the planet, torture remains a contentious issue for ethics, philosophy, law, and governance.
Torture has been endemic on planet Earth from the advent of humans up to the present. It is seemingly part of the human condition, a serious flaw in the human psyche. It is like a disease that keeps re-occurring and popping up unexpectedly across the planet. I have concluded that torture, like many human traits, illnesses and diseases, might be traced to specific human genes. Around 23,000 genes are found in human deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms (and some viruses) on Earth. Earthlings compare their DNA to a set of blueprints or a recipe, and it is what makes humans what they are.
Out of curiosity, I have asked people to identify whom they consider to be the worst torturer in the their history or in their literature. Most identified more recent torturers: Adolph Hitler, dictator of the European State of Germany, whose surrogates tortured and gassed 6 million Jews and others in the 1930s and 1940s; Joseph Stalin, Russian revolutionary and ruler of the Soviet Union and head of the Communist Party from 1929 to 1953. Stalin was one of the bloodiest despots in the planet’s modern history. His rule was a "holocaust by terror" that victimized the population of Russia for twenty-five years, causing the death of an estimated 20+ million of his own people; Marquis DeSade, French aristocrat who lived from 1740 to 1814 and whose writings gave rise to the term sadism (enjoyment of cruelty) in the English langauge; Idi Amin, brutal ruler of the African State of Uganda in the 1970s, whose eight-year reign of terror encompassed torture and killing of an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 Ugandans. He was known to randomly kidnap young women and girls for sexual indulgence; and Mao Zedong, ruler of China from 1949 to 1976, who forced millions of Chinese to live in rural communes and work in agriculture, launched an economic program known as the “Great Leap Forward” that led to the death of an estimated 20 million Chinese, jailed and murdered political rivals, established himself as a cult figure with statutes of himself in most public places, and occupied the neighboring country of Tibet, brutally crushing all opposition.
Who Stands out as The Worst Torturers? No Earthling I spoke to identified who I consider to be the worst torturers. To my mind, the title of worst torturer goes to twocharacters in the planet’s literature. They tie for this dubious distinction. All other torturers pale in contrast. These characters in human literature are the God of Jews and Christians and the Allah of Muslims.
These two characters, according to the Bible and the Qur’an, created a state or place of everlasting torment and condemn creatures of their own creation to eternal torment. This is far out crazy stuff even for a planet with a history of wild and crazy torturers. Some Earthlings attempt to explain to me that evil people bring the horrible torture of the burning of hell fire for eternity on themselves. But no matter what evil some humans on the planet earth commit, the torture of hell fire for eternity is inflicted upon them by God and Allah, and by nobody else. Nobody else to my knowledge has that kind of power.
It is God and Allah, whom many Earthlings revere as the epitome of virtue and goodness, who devised the torture chamber of hell, cast the victims into the eternal fire, and hold them there in torment forever. God and Allah, traditionally acknowledged as the paragons of virtue, are the torturers. No humans are capable of inflicting such punishment. All torture by humans mercifully ends after a relatively short period of time, either by cessation of the torture or by death. But the torture of hell, unmercifully, never ends.
Such torture boggles my mind. I like to think that this is merely literature, fictional literature. Only the human imagination could think of such torture and try to pass it off as real. I like to think that this is Earthlings fashioning their Gods in their own image, which, if true, underscores what I said above, that torture is a serious flaw in the human psyche. And millions, even billions, of people on Earth accept the unending torture of hell fire without question. That sends ripples of repulsion to the core of my alien mind, and draws up serious questions about the level of civilization that people on Earth have attained.
By believing in the existence of the torture chamber of hell, Christians, Jews, and Muslims and all others sharing that belief, support, accept, or acquiesce in the righteousness of torture in certain circumstances. That is a major problem for the United Nations and groups such as the World Organization Against Torture, and Amnesty International, attempting to banish torture on the planet.
As an outsider, I do not presume to tell Jews, Christians, and Muslims what to believe in, but a belief system with a torturer-in-chief as its God or Allah needs some adjustment, to say the least.
Inputs, expansions, adjustments, counterpoints, rebuttals, etc. to the above are very welcome.