Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Potential Impact of Drugs on Evolution Theory and Creativity

An ape is using a bone as a weapon
2001: A Space Odyssey
One of the questions that I find most fascinating with evolutionary theory is the following assumption: At some point, there must have been a significant break or invention that influenced not only the following generation but rather all of humanity. For example, tools began to be used as weapons, a point that is visually best exemplified and underscored by the opening sequence of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Moreover, other tools were later used for farming on the fields and for painting illustrations on cave walls. Finally, what is considered the milestone of inventions must have been the realization that round wheels were best suited as means of transportation.

In most, if not all of the cases, there must have been the realization first, a flash of insight or inspiration, which may have come from a person or a group of individuals. Of course, the often tried and tested trial-and-error method produced a line of inventions more often erring on the error side until one “hit the spot” and became the most useful tool or prototype of its kind. For instance, they may have tried squared and rectangle wheels until they came up with their most practical round-shaped form.

This inspiration, this significant moment of consciousness (and even of history) might have been sheer luck, the fortuitous but necessary outcome of probability, or perhaps due not to luck at all, but through the use of mind-altering drugs.

There are other potential alternatives, such as a visit from another planet or time dimension, the appearance of a god-sent angel or spiritual entity, or the divine manifestation of a bodiless voice. These options seem rather far-fetched compared to the simple answer that it may have been an expansion of consciousness through mind-expanding substances.

I can easily imagine the hunter-gathering tribes stumbling upon a strange or rather magical type of mushroom. Since food for survival must have followed the trial-and-error system described above, it is quite likely that someone somewhere must have ingested and digested this naturally occurring psychedelic drug.

And suddenly, we have this simple and brute individual not much different from the rest in any discerning way and who comes into contact with a new kind of reality that opens his or her doors of perception, so to speak. Hence, the creative urge and need to paint some of these experiences on the cave walls, for instance.

The relationship between drugs and art or music is nothing new to us. It was in the 19th century that the Impressionists experimented with visual stimuli most likely due to the hallucinatory effects of absinthe. Consider also the intimate link between music and drugs, of how marijuana and LSD changed the face of music, particularly in the 60s. 

Without the introduction of marijuana, the Beatles would have been nothing but an early version or precursor of the “boy band” phenomenon, such as the Liverpool Backstreet Boys. The question might arise whether drugs (opium and marijuana perhaps as LSD had not existed at the time) may have also had an impact on the great classical composer as well, such as Mozart and Beethoven, but that is possible fodder for another discussion or post perhaps.

My question is this: Why could natural mind-altering drugs not have played a role in evolution theory? It may have been that it was not merely survival of the strongest but of those that were able to utilize their creative potential. Back to our opening scene of 2001, it was not the physically strongest ape that won the battle, but the most inventive one that used the bone as a bone-crushing (pun intended) weapon.

This idea may not be as outlandish as it seems at first sight. It may explain the riddle of why one of our ancestors suddenly stood up and started walking on their two feet, a single step for an ape, a leap for mankind.

What prompted these ancestors to change their regular habits, to use unprecedented methods to achieve far better outcomes and results? The mind, according to some evolutionary scientists is like a Swiss Army knife where, given a certain situation, we may use a certain kind of tool, but I believe that to be able to use the best option available we might have had a little - but rather significant - help from our psychedelic friends.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Racism, Sexism and Homosexuality: Human Rights in the United States One Step at a Time

Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street holding hands with a marriage contract

Imagine the following scenario: a gay black woman runs for office and actually wins the presidential elections in the United States. At the current state of affairs, this is pure fantasy, but the general feeling is that we are, slowly but steadily, inching towards equal rights and liberty and justice for all. In the past, and to an extent even today, these are merely nice words that have not always been supported or backed-up by facts or deeds, underscoring the wide gap between theory and practice, wishful thinking and reality.

In fact, the issue of human rights has been a veritable struggle: It seems that throughout American history, equality has gained legal and social recognition and acceptance only one issue at a time. Let us look back at the founding years. In that time, slavery was seen as a common practice, at least until the Civil War broke out. That it took a war and internal bloodshed and strife to set the foothold on the path of equality for members of the African race is indeed a black spot in American history.

To be considered equal in the eyes of the many, African Americans had to struggle through various years and decades of civil conflicts, which reached its climax in the 60s; that it took another 50 years for an African American to become a president of the nation shows that the fight against bigotry and racism still contains many hurdles. There is, however, a positive upward trend and continuous hope since Obama managed to get re-elected despite fierce and passionate opposition, by, if the sources are to be trusted, mainly white rural Americans.

As I am considering that equal rights are fought over strongly and bitterly and that it is mainly achieved one step at a time, I want to emphasize two points. One, that any fight for human rights is filled with both perils and rewards, and two, that once granted we need to ensure that it is never taken away again.

We want to move forward not retrace our steps, so we do not go back to the period of ignorance. Nothing is for free nor given out freely; it took wars and bloodshed, pain and suffering to get there. Yet evidently we still need to make much more headway for true equality among the races and ethnic minorities to occur in everyday life.

In fact, I want to give the “benefit of the doubt” to some but not all white Americans. I do not think that it is necessarily fair to point fingers and lay blame on people's attitudes in the past.

Particularly, if you were living in the Pre-Civil War years and believed that slavery was acceptable because you in your ignorance and lack of scientific knowledge were under the mistaken assumption that black people were inferior, I may in my most forgiving and benevolent mood give you not the finger but the benefit of the doubt.

I am mentioning this for two reasons. One because we may stumble upon people and writers and thinkers who were considered enlightened and good at heart but who were trapped and wrapped up in the bigotry of their times and society.

To blame that great philosophers of those times were racist and sexist is an anachronistic way of looking at culture. By the standards of the times, they would have fallen into norms of that culture and society, their epoch or zeitgeist, and it would be not entirely fair to blame them for that. To illustrate this point, we may look at Thomas Jefferson, who may have ensured and documented freedoms and liberties by declaring “all men to be born free” (which was by some interpreted as only referring to “freemen” automatically excluding slaves), but who himself owned slaves. Although Jefferson opposed the practice of slavery, he also generally objected to masters freeing their slaves.

This rather stands in some contrast to other American presidents like Washington, Adams or Lincoln who clearly and unequivocally condemned the practice of slavery both in theory and in deed (although even that claim may be debatable). But again, we may forgive Jefferson's lack of clarity or clear perspective on the issue since his idea of equality among people was revolutionary in itself and since he was caught up in the economic fabric of the slave trade, a common practice of his times.

Two, any "benefit of the doubt" that I grant people in the past I revoke (with a vengeance) from current times. In fact, I double the blame. We cannot plead ignorance in modern times. Progress in science and rational thought have presented us with factual proof that racism is not only immoral but downright harmful and wrong. Experiences of the past including Nazi ideology and the persecution of the Jews or the atrocities under the Apartheid in South Africa clearly show us that there is nor should be any kind of tolerance or leeway for racial discrimination.

If writers and thinkers have racist beliefs in modern times, they belong into the same category of ignorance and stupidity that characterizes people who claim that the Earth is flat and the center of the world or that our planet is merely 6000 years old.

Out of the civil rights gains, another group, also heavily discriminated against, managed to effect a change in our consciousness and society: women. The feminist movement ensured that women be treated with the respect they deserve and that gender equality become steps closer than ever before.

Again, we are surely not fully there, as long as certain people believe that women can be condensed and enslaved in a “binder,” but only on the day when not just pay but also social status and respect be equally spread out among both genders will true equality become a flat fact.

This fight is definitely not over yet, and we must be careful of gender stereotypes as portrayed in media, culture and our surroundings and openly object to and denounce those practices. Both men and women need to do their part to ensure gender equality in our every day lives and for the future of our children.

Finally, last but not least, we need to look at gay rights. Again, there is significant progress made on the issue, one of them being the acceptance of gay marriage in certain parts of the nation. Although many are still opposed to this idea, state authorities need to ensure that gays receive equal stature and protection under the law.

This is our most recent struggle for freedom and equality. It is an essential step and the fight of our generation to make sure that people are not discriminated against based on sexual orientation.

Once gay people are fully integrated into every aspect and fabric of society, on Wall, Main and Sesame Street, in the military and in political office, then we can feel coming closer to true equality for all.

And by ensuring that, we can continue to move forward giving more rights and protection to our minorities and accepting that regardless of race, sexual orientation or religion, we are all the same. Once these ideas are not only protected and enshrined but built and lived upon, the opening scenario of a triply discriminated person – black, female, and gay – may not be just a figment of our imagination but may become a real possibility one of these days.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Three Unusual Solutions to the Problem of Evil

Church window illuminates the aisle

The Problem of Evil is one of the most pointed attacks on theistic religions period. It is based on logic and reasoning where the traditional Christian God with all his assumed qualities and characteristics becomes a matter of doubt. How can such a God be omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnibenevolent (all-good) and still allow suffering to exist in the world?

This is a seriously troubling issue and the traditional answer of free will does not cut it because it is just not satisfactory enough. At best, we may accept suffering when it comes to adults and their history of making wrong and harmful decisions, but what about children? Why are there children suffering the horrendous and heart-breaking consequences of war, starvation and pain, all of which are brought upon them by abusive and ignorant parents, societies and governments? Why are some children born with mental and physical deficiencies, being marked for a life of suffering?

I have personally struggled with this question because there seems to be no justification for this. There must be something wrong with our conception of God then. His non-existence would be the simplest explanation, but I doubt that too because, believe it or not, there is a lot of good around the world. I think that a godless world combined with the many dark characteristics attributed to humans would have been a much more evil place to live in.

In fact, we would not be existing right now and had probably destroyed ourselves ten times over. Yes, we have had world wars and other types of devastation, but somehow there is something commendable and yes, god-like, about the human spirit that I find it hard to cross God completely off our list.

That being said, there have to be some adjustments made to our concept and understanding of God. The easiest answer would be obviously that the Lord works in mysterious ways and that we just do not understand how God operates.

This is, however, both a sloppy and lazy answer because it evades the question. It may be close to the truth, but because of its self-defeating purpose, I will ignore that answer here and will offer three - as mentioned in the title - unusual or unorthodox answers to the problem of evil. I must disclaim that I do not in fact agree with any of these ideas personally, but that I am simply throwing them into the mix for the sake of argument and debate and perhaps something good may come out of it after all.

The Gnostic Answer

There is the idea that what we may conceive and refer to as our God is but a demiurge, an impostor, a weak-willed, albeit relatively powerful minor deity. It is akin to the son rebelling against his parents; thus he would be influencing control over his creation the same way a teenager may take out his frustrations on his pet.

If that is the case, then a lot of the answers will suddenly make sense. There is evil and suffering in the world because our God is not perfect himself. To accept a God limited in powers may make us shift our focus.

But it is also a serious reconsideration of his characteristics. He will not live up to the extremely high standards we have set up for him, namely that he represents the highest good, power and knowledge.

Such a God lacks perfection, and we will be forced to ask ourselves why should we pray to such a minor deity. Yet it would be also a kind of awakening namely that we have been deluding ourselves with the belief that our God is an amalgamation of superheroes with superpowers; he simply is not all the members of the Avengers team combined into one, but rather a (slightly?) flawed being after all. The question would remain though, if he is not the ultimate power and driving force, who is and where are God's superiors?

Equal Balance of Good and Evil

On the other hand, it may just be that his fallen angel is not as inferior as we tend to or are made to believe and that he actually poses a serious threat and is a dangerous rival to the Almighty's plans. It seems a bit paradoxical to claim that one should be aware of the powers and temptations of the Evil One and still assert that God is much more powerful and ultimately running the show.

Why then does God not simply stamp and erase the devil out of the equation? With a swoop God would stop the fallen angel's evil emanations, his nefarious influence and foothold on the world.

That he doesn't may either mean that he doesn't want to or - and this is our assumption here - that he is not fully able to. It might be that they are close in their range of powers (like the brothers Thor and Loki) or that they are not as independent and powerful as they may seem to us; rather it may all depend on people's (free) will that decides who will gain the upper hand down here with little or no interference from above.

Yet for our present purposes, we can see them struggle in rather equal strength, day versus night, good versus evil, and it may be this kind of tension that creates the schizophrenic and fluctuating nature of our own existence. We are capable of magnificent feats and inventions and at the same time are at each other's throats killing each other and our very own living environment to boot.

In other words, the problem of evil exists simply because there is discord upstairs where the two strong forces quarrel with each other, while we are but pawns in this “game.”

God is Just Way too Busy Running a Multiverse

Imagine running a company with more than 7 billion people employed. Not only that but you have to watch them 24 hours non-stop and answer their calls and act upon their wishes around the clock.

At the same time, you need to ensure that they do not take foolish actions (which is their tendency) and you need to create a damage control contingency plan for the environment and for the maintenance and necessary balance of the ecosystem.

Let alone having to deal with all the unseen presences, from souls in the afterlife to all the angels and demons that surround and often challenge him on a daily basis. At the same time, he would have to deal with his often rebellious son who may, more often than not, criticize his own father.

And now let us expand it a little more and look at the whole universe, which is perhaps only a fraction of a wider and maybe even endless multiverse that, like a mirror-to-mirror reflection, may be containing other multiverses ad infinitum.

How is all that feasible and manageable, even for God Almighty himself? I believe that the demands and responsibilities on God are too high even if he has infinite powers and patience. So even God must employ others to deal with “pettier” issues, his own staff of angels. And since they are not as perfect as he is, there will be a mix-up or two along the way and God would have to rectify the whole thing because ultimately, he is the one responsible as the Commander-in-Chief of Heaven and Earth.

Finally, it is also possible that the problem of evil may be due to a combination of all three factors. Our expectations of God may end up ultimately so high and demanding that not even God can satisfy them. And hence, evil will exist, but we can only hope and do our utmost best to ensure that good will prevail overall.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Crimes of Passion: Revenge as Retributive Justice in Kill Bill

Kill Bill Movie poster with Uma Thurman and her drawn sword
To Aaron Barlow whose book on Tarantino inspired (the better parts of) this post

Revenge tastes sweet. And it is best served cold. This is the type of revenge in its purest and most crystalline form. It is also, perhaps paradoxically, the most exciting kind of revenge as it combines a lingering sense of anger and betrayal with the time and patience necessary to return the “favor.” Think of it as an amplified grudge underscored by malicious will directed towards the source who did us wrong.

It is the law of karma but a karma that lies within our own grasp and control; we take it upon ourselves, hence we take the law into our own hands so we can decide the specific time, amount and dose of our planned action. It is as premeditated as it goes, a calculation of hitting where it hurts most, often emulating the pain and suffering on an even higher scale, sometimes even tenfold, with the stakes raised significantly.

There are also other types of revenge, namely those that happen in the heat of the moment. This “hot-blooded” revenge is often referred to as a crime of passion. The element of justice makes its deliberate and intentional violence strangely enough a morally acceptable deed since it is a returned “favour” underscoring the laws of cause and effect of "what goes up must come down.” In a crime of passion, we may forgive the culprit because he might have caught his cheating partner in flagranti and in media res of the sexual act.

So in a temporary lapse of reason, he shoots them both. I am using the male pronoun because it is quite often combined with a supposedly male sense, and some may call it “duty,” of honor to punish both the wife and the intrusive lover for their wicked ways. Keep in mind that sexual infidelity is an evolutionary charged nightmare, especially for the male species.

This situation is generally associated with shame, dignity and wounded pride not only towards the person but also one's family, anyone who carries one's name. This is upheld by the belief that such a normally morally reprehensible action, the intentional killing of living beings may in this case right the wrongs and the line between victim and culprit may become distinctively blurred.

In a twisted way, we may sympathize with our victim here and give him a carte blanche believing that justice is served, though upon closer inspection a death sentence for sexual infidelity seems rather harsh. (Oddly enough, I would not feel much pity or remorse for a rapist getting shot by his victim.)

The claimant in our imagined crime of passion will say he lost his head; especially as a male, again evolutionary speaking, how could he possibly keep his cool under the circumstances, catching his wife red-handed and -faced screwing another man behind his back. So we forgive him and wish him better luck next time around when it comes to women and personal relationships.

But isn't the aforementioned calculated form of revenge, the dish served cold, not equal to premeditated murder in comparison? Of course, the avenger has been wronged previously, and we judge the act of vengeance in proportion to the previous harm done, yet the time it takes to carry out the act of vengeance and then to do so in a cold-blooded and conscious manner makes this type of crime less pardonable in my eyes.

Do we all subscribe to the maxim of “tooth for a tooth” and “eye for an eye”? If all society lived that way, imagine all the cases of dental work and reconstructive surgery. As Gandhi once said, an eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind. So how come we turn a blind eye to revenge and even root for the avenger?

And then there was the Bride Beatrix Kiddo, a determined and highly skilled woman who is on the demonic prowl for revenge to eventually kill Bill, her source of once and continuous suffering. She has made her own personal hit list that builds up towards the head of the gang while leaving, of course, the most important and most guilty person for last on this bloody trail of hers: Bill, the man who pulled the trigger on her.

Our sympathy lies with the Bride because cruel Bill had sent his Viper Squad to slaughter this pregnant (!) woman on her wedding rehearsal day! Eventually, he shoots this defenseless and bloody body in front of him after she confesses that she is pregnant with his child!

Yet she awakes from her coma childless (at that time neither she nor we know that the baby is alive and in the care of psychopathic Bill). Yet it enrages us because Bill acted as a coward sending his most astute killing machines to attack a pregnant woman: On the scale of one to ten, this gets a full and rousing ten!

No wonder she made a hit list to get even (and she threw in perverse and odious Buck for good measure) and with each killing she gets closer to the ultimate show-down, Bill himself. As we are following this angry woman, we are given some back story, predominantly in the second volume, and suddenly we see that the whole issue was not as simple or black and white as it seemed at first.

Despite ourselves, we tend to “like” Bill because of his charisma and charm, and we understand how she could have fallen for him. We also, in a rather twisted sort of way, understand why he wanted to kill her; she had left him and preferred to start a new life without him and with someone else (remember the previous scenario of the hurt and vengeful hot-blooded macho).

When Bill caught wind of her whereabouts and her sudden intention of getting married to this ordinary Joe, in his view a nobody and an commonplace fool, Bill sees red and commits this brutal crime of passion. He insists on the fact that it is not a sadistic, but rather a masochistic act as he is supposedly hurting himself in the whole process.

In fact, Bill has been more than a lover, he has also been a father figure to her. He has taught her how to fight; Pygmalion-like, he has shaped her into the skilled and tough killer that she is. When she discovers that she is pregnant with his child, she decides to quit the killing business and to leave him, the biological father of her child. Thus, in an act of revenge, the roles are later reversed and suddenly the victim, our beloved Bride becomes the avenger. And, in fact, she also turns the tables on him and kills him, hence not only doing as he does but actually becoming (like) him.

Since we sympathize with the victim, we tend to overlook the fact that the victim not only commits cruelties like her opponent, but indeed surpasses him. On a symbolic and Freudian level, the act of killing her personal trainer / lover / father figure / father of her child, she (re-)incorporates all those facets within herself, the same way warriors of the past would eat the bleeding heart of their enemies to gain and transfer their previous strength.

However, the act of revenge turns into a difficult moral choice in the skilled hands of a director like Quentin Tarantino. The final killing comes not easy and Tarantino gives Bill an honorable and dignified exit with a death that is unusually anti-climactic considering the slow and steady build-up of the story.

But there was also part of me that again was taken in by Bill and as a viewer I wished they could simply get along, call it quits, kiss, hug and forgive each other by letting bygones be bygones. That a psychopath like Bill could possibly be a good and caring father is shown not only through the fact that he had managed to take good care of his daughter over the years, but through the simple yet tender action of gently cutting off the crust of his young daughter's sandwich. Such minor seeming details show us how much he is capable of caring for his daughter on his “off-days,” when he is not involved in the killing business.

Notwithstanding, since this is a tale of vengeance, he has to die; there is no way around it. His death and her subsequent freedom seal the deal. Revenge has been taken at last and all again is good and well with the world.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Miracle of Life: How Existence is Connected and Interdependent

A bright sun is sinking behind the backdrop of mountain and water

Our existence is a miracle. Although this word has strong religious connotations, I am using it here also in an atheistic and scientific manner. Miracle may also be called chance in this case, but the odds of it occurring are so slight and minimal that one has no other choice but to simply call it a miracle or a highly singular event. Imagine winning the lottery not once but a million times over. Then look at yourself in the mirror; these are the odds or the miracle of your existence.

The ideas I am going to present here are meant as encouragement for all of our species to cherish and celebrate life. This is regardless of social status, intelligence, success, or whether you personally think you are a failure or waste of space, nor does it matter whether you think you are useful to society or not.

It is, in fact, the ultimate kind of consolation, and I do not have to grab into the religious bag of tricks to convince. This is about our mere existence in the world, that incredible combination of events that led to the happy coincidence of me writing this post and you reading it.

In order to show how miraculous both our existences are, I would like to start from the present moment and move back in time. I will call this the time spectrum in which we will be moving forward into the future and backward into the past. Along the way, we shall go very far back to the very beginning of our existence, no not Genesis, but the Big Bang.

As to my own existence, it can be traced back to the moment of my birth. Especially after the birth of my own son, I hold the greatest appreciation and esteem for all the gynecologists out there since they are the important, sometimes even essential stepping stones to life in this world.

But my existence can be traced further back to my budding existence within the womb. I am not intending to get into the divisive pro-life versus pro-choice argument here and am not claiming that life happens at any precise moment. I am merely retracing the many steps of my current existence without any moral comment, intention or implication at this point.

So my existence has shrunk to its most minimal pea-sized point. In fact, and now I am feeling extremely uncomfortable, my very existence can be traced back to a precise and fateful night (or day for that matter) of my parents engaging in ... ahem ... a sexual act. I prefer not to imagine its details, and I am looking only at the cold hard facts.

Had they had sex at any other point, my existence would not have turned out the way it did, and I would have not been me but my own brother. Similarly, had another sperm won the rat race inside the womb, I would have been, at least slightly but still significantly different from who I am now.

Somehow two people, my parents in this case, met each other and decided to have a child (at least so I am told) and suddenly I appear on the stage of existence. What, who and where was I before my birth, my coming to this world? My four-year-old son has already stunned me with this question: Where was I before my birth? Not an answer we can google and no expert to give us a definite answer to this mother of Zen koans.

This line of generations will hopefully continue and expand evermore into the future. But it has its definite and firmly set and established roots in the past. My parents themselves were brought into the world by their parents who had met each other previously and their parents, my great-grandparents had come into existence via their own parents and so on.

The amazing feature of this tracing back is the fact that had one chain been even slightly different, should one person or even seemingly trivial or insignificant detail be changed, the whole set of future lives would collapse. This is what Michael J. Fox's character learns in Back to the Future where through sheer coincidence his parents failed to meet, and it completely changed his whole life story.

As if the whole apparently causal chain of existence were not enough, we eventually arrive at the moment of creation of the universe, the Big Bang. Whether it is a singular event or two dense entities or multidimensional strings bouncing into each other still does not diminish the fact that it is an amazing feat; whether it is a supernatural force or God or a host of coincidences does not take away from its awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping truth.

All of this is, however, only half of the story, its vertical part of interdependence across time and generations. But we are also horizontally interdependent and our existence is tied to and sometimes literally depends upon the relationships we have with others. Effectively no one is an island to themselves since it is not only the vertical relationship of the time spectrum ranging from the past to the present that has brought me into existence, but there is also the horizontal relationship between me and the universe around me.

Put differently, I could not have existed and cannot exist without being sustained by others. In my infant and childhood days (even adolescence to an extent) I was dependent mainly on parents for food, shelter and sustenance. Afterwards, it becomes the physical surrounding that takes on this position and fulfills a variety of these needs.

For instance, I work to earn money (a universally agreed upon and recognized symbol and unity) in what we call a society, which can be expanded to become a nation, a continent, the Earth, and yes, the universe again. In order to survive and to continue my existence in this world, I need to use this money to buy food for myself - and my dependents if applicable - and need to pay rent for shelter etc. All this is part of my subsistence. (Of course, I could imagine an alternatively different maybe hermetic lifestyle of hunting and gathering devoid of money and society.)

Thus, my own existence is indeed connected to others living with me in the current plane of existence. They range from family to friends to colleagues to acquaintances, and yes even government employees and tax revenue agents. All of these people constitute society in which I am embedded as one of its many unique members.

In fact, we are all interconnected; it is both on the deepest and on the most basic level. Go back enough into the past and we are all condensed and packed energy in the moment right before the Big Bang. In fact, it was tighter than any can of sardines you could possibly imagine.

This is our miracle of life. Imagine how many billions of coincidences had to occur for you and this moment to take place. Whatever is bothering you, relationship or economic problems, put them all on hold and into perspective and look at the big picture: It is simply a miracle beyond words that we exist.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Does God have a Sense of Humor?

Simpsons Cartoon Image of Jesus with a halo and sandals dancing
Dancing Jesus Website from The Simpsons

Usually when we think of God an image of a stern, bearded old man constantly bitter about His flawed and never-learning creation comes to mind. We think in Old Testament terms where He does not think twice about nearly destroying all of humanity. We think of a school teacher or principal giving us the classroom rules of what we should and should not do. With the exception of the rare and admittedly rather humorless “prank” played on poor old Abraham and desolate Job, there seems to be very little indication of a sense of humor on God's side.

I have previously looked at religion and laughter and how Jesus, His son (out of wedlock!) is quite a fun-loving guy. His life obviously ended in pain and unbearable suffering, but he did seem to have a sense of humor, roaming the country and engaging and confusing people with mysterious parables, asking prostitutes and lepers to join his troupe and yes, even turning water into wine for the merry benefits of a wedding.

I can see Jesus laugh with a full heart; I can see him tell jokes among the Apostles; I can see his sense of satisfaction as he is watching the faces of the crowd when fish suddenly multiply or a “dead” man walks out of his cave. And after his own death, Jesus is said to appear in order to appease the heartache of his disciples and to remind them that he will be among people whenever food, wine and merriment are partaken, all of which provide physical and sensual pleasures.

On the other hand, his father and many of his equally stern followers need to cheer up a little. Religion is taken way too seriously today, while blasphemy is on the tip of many a devout person's tongue. It seems that most people are still holding onto the iron fist of the Old Testament God that makes demands, accuses each one of us to be a sinner at heart or to have a sinful nature and asks us to make amends and to repent by doing a number of impossible things, such as sexual abstinence.

Now where is the fun in religion? Of course, the more serious-minded church officials insist that life is meant to be suffering, that suffering is actually good and brings us closer to God. But if given a choice, a life of suffering is not something I specifically look forward to.

And why does it even have to be this way? Why give us a body and then curse it and call it a prison? Why should suffering be the norm and the given pathway to God? Why can it not be drugs and dancing? Or is it all simply a joke? Is this a case of dramatic irony? Are we all “punk'd” by the Almighty?

Or else, in a less blasphemous manner, is God misrepresented here? Is the joke ultimately on us with God laughing at how we are chasing our own tails down here? Or is He simply angry that He is being misunderstood and misquoted by those who claim to know Him?

I think one of the reasons why many people turn their backs on religion is its lack of fun. Going to church is seen as weekly duty, one imposed upon the good and (self?) righteous citizens of this world. But the moment laughter is introduced, when a sense of joy and merriment appear on the church floor, religion can revive and vibrate souls everywhere, while God can smile down on His flawed but still adorable creatures.