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Ira Glass on Christianity and Religion

Ira Glass Ira Glass is an American television and radio personality who was the admired host of a radio program called This American Life.

Glass has stated on This American Life that he is a committed atheist. “It’s not like I don’t feel like I’m a Jew. I feel like I don’t have a choice about being a Jew. Your cultural heritage isn’t like a suitcase you can lose at the airport. I have no choice about it. It is who I am. I can’t choose that. It’s a fact of me … But even when I was 14 or 15, it didn’t make that much sense to me that there was this Big Daddy who created the world and would act so crazy in the Old Testament. That we made up these stories to make ourselves feel good and explain the world seems like a much more reasonable explanation. I’ve tried to believe in God, but I simply don’t.”

Atheism notwithstanding, “some years I have a nostalgic feeling to go into a shul and I’ll go in for a High Holiday service,” discloses Glass, who has fond memories of his childhood rabbi’s beguiling discourses. “Rabbi Seymour Esrog was really funny, a great storyteller. He was so good that even the kids would stay and watch him. He’d tell a funny anecdote, something really moving, and go for a big finish. That’s what the show is,” he competes, recognizing the rabbi’s effect.

In this interview with religious anthropologist Jim Henderson, Glass says he thinks Christians get a genuinely bad rap in the media. The NPR star said the way Christians are often represented in pop-culture is totally different from the way the Christians he knows personally actually are in real life. “The Christians in my life were all incredibly wonderful and thoughtful and had very ambiguous, complicated feelings in their beliefs. And seemed to be totally generous-hearted, and totally open to a lot of different kinds of people in their lives.”

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God Sent Down to His Children with Loveliness

Religion is a Lovely Bridge Between Childhood and Old Age

Religion is a Lovely Bridge “O to keep the loveliness of a child that fades with the years!” Have you ever been moved by that reflection? I was, on looking at the picture of my daughter when she was two years old. She is now fourteen, and graceful and pretty for her age. However, there is a special softness and charm, which only a young infant possesses. In addition, this special charm vanishes as the child grows older.

The loveliness of a tender child is part of its armor of life. It was put there by the Almighty to compensate the father and mother for the arduous care, which the child requires during those early years. A parent would otherwise be less willing to put up with that tedious round of wakeful nights, of struggling to feed and keep clean and sustain in health this totally helpless creature, The Lord made that infant so lovely, with a skin so soft to the touch, with a smile so captivating, that the parents are enchanted, and the labor of caring for that infant is rendered so sweet.

Large-hearted joy is the mental ability to feel happiness for the good circumstances and happiness of others. That infant must grow up, however, and eventually attain independence. He will have to learn to stand on his own feet. The little boy must finally become a man, leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife so that they become one flesh. The transition sets in early. That loveliness, that special endearing charm begins to fade, so that the grief of separation may be more bearable to the parents.

The boy and the girl will then need other charms—charms to attract a mate with a new kind of love. The Lord provides those charms too in due measure and in due time.

There are instances where parents or children act contrary to the Lord’s intentions. Mothers and fathers too, because their own lives are deficient in other fulfillments will occasionally seek to hold their children and refuse to let them go. They will want to keep the grown son or daughter for himself or herself, impeding their emergence into the world of adult existence. Moreover, there are instances of grown sons and daughters remaining so attached to their parents that they are incapable of the new adjustments for which the time has come.

These are instances of infantilism, of immaturity, of failure to grow up. True growth must be emotional as well as physical.

The Lord has made everything good in its time. That which in its time is good, becomes a tragic absurdity when its time is past.

Let us enjoy the loveliness of a child and when that special childhood loveliness begins to fade, let us not grieve, for our child is then moving to a new career, wonderful in its own way—maturity.

Childhood is Scarcely More Lovely Than Cheerful

Childhood is Scarcely More Lovely Than Cheerful Galilee had no sooner found out these properties in the pendulum, then he turned them to the vantage of philosophy; by those he measured, with some exactitude, his astronomical observations, and the delight thus resulting from their use, in some measure, recompensed the infliction of investigating their properties. While he assures the world of the above fact, he defies the whole world to confute the truth of it. They give a particular strength and fortitude to the mind in the practice of virtuousness; and they promote a cheerful assent in this supremely wise and righteous administration, whatever trials and excruciation may arise. French philosopher Michel de Montaigne wrote in The Complete Essays of Montaigne,

A sage is not afraid of lack of knowledge: he is not afraid of hesitations, or hard work, but he is afraid of only one thing—to pretend to know the things which he does not know.

You should study more to understand that you know little.

This is the case over the whole East. Yet some other study further complicates the issue by proposing three separate dog pedigree. Tragedy aided their crusade. Let me tell you, there was no line out the door to manage him. The monograph constitutes a much complete statement of subsist knowledge of the cerebellum and its functions. All language is based on arbitrary agreements as to the significance of signaling—spoken, written, or made. Megalomania can strike anywhere; I conjecture is the point. We all know it, if we know much of anything.

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The Divine Source of All Life

The Divine Source of All Life

Everything is Ordained by God’s Providence

The Divine Source of All Life The water that runs through the faucet does not originate in it. The faucet is only the last link in a channel through which it flows into my home. My life is like that too.

I conceive thoughts. I am inspired by visions. I commit my energies to tasks of one kind or another. However, none of these originates in me. There is a spring out of which wells forth in unending abundance the physical and spiritual power that motivates the universe. We do not initiate the will, the purpose, the direction of the underlying scheme of life on earth, but we are its instruments, who are given some opportunity to cooperate with the world’s purpose, and to implement it. My muscle and my brain are the final links in a channel that draws its precious elements from the divine source of all life.

The literal test of friendly relationship is: Can you literally do nothing with the other person? Can you relish together those moments of life that are absolutely simple? They are the moment’s people looks back on at the end of life and number as their most sanctified experiences.

Shall the faucet complain that it can contain only a tiny quantity of water? Shall I complain that only a tiny portion of life’s assets resides in me? The abundance does not have to be in the faucet, nor does it have to be in me. There is an unending fountain from which more will flow, and it will reach me when I am ready for it.

And this was known to the ancients, for lactations assures us, that a globe filled with water, would arouse a fire even in the thick of winter, which he thought still the more surprising.

God’s Providence Moves to Achieve the Designs it Has for Man

Our reliance upon providence As long as we are caught up in incessantly looking for certainty and happiness, rather than honoring the taste and smell and quality of exactly what is happening, as long as we are always running away from uncomfortableness, we are going to be caught in a wheel of unhappiness and disappointment, and we will feel weaker and weaker.

These concerns were found upon institutionally held spiritual convictions. It is no surprise, then, as the great masters have pointed out, that to uphold mindfulness for as long as it takes to drink a cup of tea accumulates more merit than years of practicing generousness, discipline, and austerity. The most valuable things in life are not measured in pecuniary terms. The genuinely important things are not houses and lands, stocks and bonds, automobiles and real estate, but friendships, trust, confidence, empathy, mercy, love and faith. Discussing the stoics, the Swiss-born British author and philosopher Alain de Botton once wrote,

“Stoicism” was a philosophy that flourished for some 400 years in Ancient Greece and Rome, gaining widespread support among all classes of society. It had one overwhelming and highly practical ambition: to teach people how to be calm and brave in the face of overwhelming anxiety and pain.

We still honour this school whenever we call someone “stoic” or plain “philosophical” when fate turns against them: when they lose their keys, are humiliated at work, rejected in love or disgraced in society. Of all philosophies, Stoicism remains perhaps the most immediately relevant and useful for our uncertain and panicky times.

Many hundreds of philosophers practiced Stoicism but two figures stand out as our best guides to it: the Roman politician, writer and tutor to Nero, Seneca [4–65 CE]; and the kind and magnanimous Roman Emperor (who philosophised in his spare time while fighting the Germanic hordes on the edges of the Empire), Marcus Aurelius [121–180 CE]. Their works remain highly readable and deeply consoling, ideal for sleepless nights, those breeding grounds for runaway terrors and paranoia.

The same holds true in the unnatural classes; the greater the reason, the more unmanageable it is to discover the lie. Out of these two tendencies flow good and evil, which thus reside, in variable measure, to be sure, in every individual as part of his indigenous equipment for life? Hot air is reckoned exceedingly prejudicial to health. We can domesticate the energy of mindfulness while we walk, while we respire, while we work, while we wash the dishes or wash our clothes. In addition, you have to interpret the history to really understand the ethnic implication. For this reason, comedy is not easily transferred from one age or country to another. They came to a street without corner and turned right. Many, like the mine countermeasures undertaking, still had a long way to gothic was high-tech stuff that required lots of research and development.

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The Idea of Religious Tolerance is to Allow Religious Freedom

Sir Godfrey Kneller's portrait of John Locke, 1697.

No one should be denied equal rights on account of their religion. In A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), John Locke wrote, “No man can be a Christian … without that faith which works … by love.”

The idea of religious tolerance is to allow religious freedom—in civil terms, to leave the adherents of a particular religion unmolested in private and in public. In a political sense, it means granting equal rights to individuals regardless of their religious beliefs.

Jn 1689, English philosopher and physician John Locke (1632-1704) advocated religious tolerance in his Epistola de Tolerantia (A Letter Concerning Toleration). He wrote the letter, addressed to an anonymous “Honoured Sir,” while in exile in Holland, which was a secular state that permitted religious differences. The recipient of Locke’s letter was his friend, the Dutch theologian Philipp van Limborch (1633-1712), who published it.

The objective of a modern Catholic community is the setting for John Locke’s political philosophy, and what was both a liberal and Protestant reaction to the political beliefs of the Restoration era. Having since 1666 been a disciple of the Parliamentary Whig leader Lord Ashley, later Earl of Shaftesbury, Locke was the scholarly bete noir of the Restoration Stuarts.

At that time, there were fears that Roman Catholicism might take over England. Locke was involved in helping draft the English Bill of Rights of 1689, but it did not go as far as he wanted regarding religious tolerance. The same year, Parliament passed the Toleration Act, which granted freedom of worship to Nonconformists, such as Baptists and Congregationalists, but not to Catholics and Unitarians. Locke suggested that religious tolerance might resolve the problems experienced by both government and religious leaders, and that there should be a separation between church and state.

John Locke held a studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1652, but was evicted from Christ Church on Charles II’s unambiguous orders in 1684. He was previously in banishment in the Low Countries at that point, and did not set foot in England during James’ sovereignty, which began the next year. Locke convoyed the Princess Mary on her return to England, after her husband William, Prince of Orange, acquired the success of the Revolution there in 1689.

Locke’s letter caused a controversy among members of the Anglican High Church. Clergyman and writer Thomas Long thought that the letter was part of a Jesuit plot aimed at enabling the Catholic Church to achieve dominance by causing chaos. There followed a protracted published correspondence between Locke and clergyman and academic Jonas Proast (c.1640-1710), who asserted that the state had the right to use force to make dissenters reflect on the merits of Anglicanism. Locke’s ideas came to form the basis of modern views on the toleration of religious differences.

The important works that define John Locke’s philosophy were written while he was in exile: the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the Two Treatises of Civil Government and the First Letter Concerning Toleration. None were printed until after the Revolution. As one, they collect Locke’s enduring trepidations: the nature of knowledge; entitlement to property; the legitimacy of government and its use of force; revolution; the nature of religious belief; liberty of opinion. With the benefit of hindsight, these works have also been taken as scholarly justifications for the Revolution and its jurisdictive settlement. That connection should not be overstated. For example, the English Toleration Act was in many respects a reward to Protestant nonconformists for the support they gave to the Revolution, and the honorable restraint they had shown when refusing to take advantage of James’ extra-Parliamentary declarations of indulgence.

  • John Locke’s Jurisdictional Argument: “Force, you allow, is improper to convert men to any religion. Toleration is but the removing that force.”
  • John Locke’s Anticompulsion Argument: “Whatever profession we make, to whatever outward worship we conform, if we are not fully satisfied in our own mind that the one is true, and the other well-pleasing to God, such profession and such practice, far from being any furtherance, are indeed great obstacles to our salvation.”
  • John Locke’s Limits to Toleration—Real and Imagined: “The Magistrate ought not to forbid the preaching or professing of any speculative opinions in any church, because they have no manner of relation to the civil rights of the subjects. If a Roman Catholick believe that to be really the body of Christ, which another man calls bread, he does no injury thereby to his neighbour.”
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Meditation: Controlling one’s own mind to realize a new mode of consciousness

A carving of the Buddha sitting in meditation pose

The practice of meditation encompasses a range of techniques that can be used by individuals to cause their mind to experience a different level of consciousness. Meditation can be focused on many different goals, including self-regulation, religious experience, building internal energy sources, and relaxation. Typically, meditation is a practice that involves training the mind to engage in a particular habit of reflections. In some traditions, meditation involves attempting to separate the mind from the other experiences of the body, whereas others emphasize a physical element of meditation by encouraging repetitive action or vocalizations. The great Hindu spiritual teacher Swami Sivananda once said, “Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness.”

Many religious traditions developed practices that were intended to move the individual beyond the experience of the immediate self, and all of these can be considered forms of meditation. The earliest recommendations for the use of meditation can be found in the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, produced in India between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE, and in ancient Buddhist texts, which promote meditation as essential for a path to enlightenment. In Tibetan Buddhism, meditation is both a path toward inner reflection to know oneself better and a path ultimately to move beyond the limits of the self.

In several traditions, meditation is intended to have a calming effect on the mind, which is why the term is often used nowadays to refer to a range of quiet relaxation techniques that do not necessarily have religious meaning. Even in the modern world, the idea of meditation usually means more than just relaxation, however. Communication with a reality that goes beyond the typically limited experience of consciousness requires that consciousness be transformed in some way. Thus, most religions include a form of prayer that can be considered a kind of meditation.

'Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism' by Chogyam Trungpa (ISBN 1570629579) Over 40 years ago, in his seminal book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, the Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche talked about how we misuse meditation as a defense against what we do not want to feel.

Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the teachings of spirituality for its own benefit. . . . We go through the motions, make the appropriate gestures, but we really do not want to sacrifice any part of our way of life. We become skillful actors, and while playing deaf and dumb to the real meaning of the teachings, we find some comfort in pretending to follow the path.

This variety of meditation is in many respects quite different from what is conservatively understood as “meditation” in our contemporary culture. Meditation buttonholed as a somatic habit consists of two aspects. The first involves paying attention to our body, transporting our conscious intention and focus to and into our physical form. Devoutness is an opening of your heart to the promises you seek—the promises of peace, freedom, or awakening.

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Thomas Huxley and Darwinism

Thomas Huxley and Darwinism

Thomas Huxley led a movement in support of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

In the 1860s, naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-82) was busy developing his theory of evolution and searching out corroborative evidence for it. He had better things to do than

  1. defend his ideas from his opponents, and
  2. it was not his concern to pull his ideas together to form an overarching super-theory.

Both tasks were undertaken by English biologist Thomas Huxley (1825-95), who dubbed himself “Darwin’s bulldog” for his advocacy of Darwin’s ideas. Indeed, in the lectures he gave in London in the 1860s, Huxley may well have extended the scope of Darwin’s ideas further than the biologist himself intended. In Huxley’s hands, Darwin’s work became a movement with a life of its own: Darwinism.

Thomas Huxley wrote in a 1859 letter to Charles Darwin, “As for your doctrines, I am prepared to go to the Stake if requisite …”

Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley The Darwinist view that the theory of evolution had destroyed the idea of a divine creator encouraged the public perception that agnosticism, and later atheism, was the logical conclusion to be drawn from Darwin’s work. Darwin himself had delayed publication of On the Origin of Species (1859) in fear of such controversy, and the dispute over the theory of evolution’s implications became more entrenched and bitter as a result of Huxley’s championing of Darwin’s work. Atheist scientists, such as the British biologist Richard Dawkins (b. 1941), have become well known in recent years for their intolerance of religion of all kinds, and their firm view that Darwinist ideas have made religious belief untenable. However, by no means all scientists agree. In the face of this debate, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences recommended in 1981 that religion and science should not be presented in the same context, to avoid misunderstanding.

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The Chicken and Egg Conundrum

The Chicken and Egg Conundrum

The age-old puzzle that if chickens come from eggs and vice versa, how do you establish which of the two existed first?

When a hen lays a fertilized egg, that hen will keep the egg warm until it hatches a chick. That chick will then grow up to become a hen and lay other eggs, repeating the process as part of an ongoing cycle. But when did this process start? What was first: the chicken or the egg? This infamous question identifies a problem of causality, a paradox in which both chicken and egg cannot exist without the other, yet there must have been a moment when one of them came first.

What existed at the beginning? How did objects, the world, animals, and humans come to be? These are the basic questions that lie at the heart of the chicken and egg conundrum. When the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) asked the question, he believed that both must have always been in existence. Over the centuries the question remained a challenge to philosophers, though it became less important after English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–82) introduced the theory of evolution by natural selection and explained the development of any organism as a process of slow progress over time.

In 2010, British researchers released the results of a study that, they claimed, conclusively proved that the chicken came first. While the solution was not universally accepted, and others claim that the egg existed prior to the chicken, the question’s importance is not solely one of biological history. The chicken and the egg conundrum prompts us to consider beginning, and how they relate to our experiences. Some theologians have answered the question by saying that the creation of the universe necessarily means that the chicken came first. Other traditions hold that time does not have a clear beginning and end, and the idea of what came first is nonsensical because all things have existed for eternity.

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Zoroastrianism and Cosmic Dualism

The remains of a Zoroastrian Fire Temple in Yazd, Iran. Fire is held sacred in Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism is an ancient Persian religion teaching cosmic dualism.

It is not known precisely when the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism first came into existence, although scholars generally agree that it first appeared in the late Bronze Age (1500-800 BCE) as a development of Persian polytheism. The sacredness of the bull, for example, entered into Zoroastrianism (and Hinduism also), as did the strong insistence on ritual purification and the holiness of fire (for this reason Zoroastrians never burn their dead, but rather dispose of corpses by “exposing” them to the birds). The dominant religion of Persia until the rise of Islam, Zoroastrianism is now largely confined to the Parsi community of Bombay. Its scriptures are known as the Avesta.

The ancient Persians and Zoroastrians alike also revered asha (in Hinduism rta), a term that is best understood as truth or universal law, especially moral law. Asha was itself upheld by three ahuras, or “good deities”: Varuna, Mithra, and, the most supreme of all, Mazda, the lord of wisdom.

Claiming to be a true prophet of Mazda, Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra, whose time of life is disputed, taught a form of cosmic dualism, namely, that there are two supreme, morally opposed gods—Ahura Mazda (good) and Angra Mainyu (bad). Zoroaster believed that Ahura Mazda and his ahuras were waging a great war against Angra Mainyu and his devas (evil deities), and that humankind, caught in the middle of this war, should choose to ally himself with Ahura Mazda, not only because Mazda is good but also because Mazda will be ultimately victorious.

Zoroastrianism’s influence lies firstly in itself, which is to say that it is one of the oldest living religions. Beyond this, Zoroastrianism gave Islam its format of five prayers a day, Tibetan Buddhism its practice of corpse exposure, Mahayana Buddhism its world savior concept (Saoshyant, or Maitreya), and Gnosticism and Manichaeism their belief that the world was made by an evil spirit. Zoroastrianism’s apparent influence on Jewish and Christian eschatology, however, has proved difficult to substantiate.

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Atheism

Atheism is the belief that no God, gods, divine beings, or supernatural phenomena exist.

Atheism can be described as a range of ideas about the non-existence of the divine, deities, or gods. In one sense, atheists are those who do not believe that any gods or divine beings exist, or are those who hold no belief in the supernatural. Atheists may also believe that there are no gods, as opposed to holding no beliefs about such existence.

No single originator is credited with having first identified the notion of atheism. However, the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, produced in India between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE, make the first known references to the rejection of an idea of gods. In the Western world, the ancient Greek poet and philosopher Diagoras of Melos (fl. fifth century BCE) was widely recognized as being the first outspoken atheist, a belief that resulted in him having to flee Athens. The term “atheist” was also broadly applied to early Christians who did not believe in the pagan pantheon of the Roman Empire. However, widespread and public assertions that there were no gods did not become commonplace until after the French Revolution (1787-99).

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Is a man merely a mistake of God’s? Or is God merely a mistake of man?” Today, atheism is common in many nations, though rates of non-belief are often difficult to determine precisely.

The idea of gods, the divine, or supernatural agents is often closely related to very basic, driving questions. Who created the universe? How did we come to be here7 For the atheist, the answer does not rely upon a supernatural or divine basis. Atheism, though not a uniform set of beliefs or body of doctrine, allows for the possibility that there is no divine, godly answer to our questions.

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Francis Bacon’s Philosophy of Naturalism

The great English philosopher Francis Bacon introduced the belief that the universe’s workings may be understood by studying natural causes.

Francis Bacon Naturalism is the belief that we can acquire knowledge of how the world works by studying natural phenomena, not supernatural causes. Everything in the universe, from the existence of life to the motions of the planets and interactions between objects, is said to be governed and ruled by natural laws that humanity can investigate and understand. Naturalism is a belief that only natural phenomena exist, both in existence and in how knowledge is obtained.

In Novum Organum Scientiarum (1620,) Francis Bacon wrote:

The subtlety of nature is greater many times over than the subtlety of the senses and understanding; so that all those specious meditations, speculations, and glosses in which men indulge are quite from the purpose, only there is no one by to observe it.

Questions about how the universe came to be, and why events happen as they do, are likely as old as humanity itself. Thinkers such as Thales of Miletus proposed naturalistic solutions to such fundamental questions as early as the sixth century BCE. During the Renaissance (c. 1450-1600), naturalistic explanations became more prominent.

In 1620, English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) published Novum Organum Scientiarum (New Instrument of Science), in which he proposed a method of learning called inductive reasoning, where conclusions are drawn from observed data, instead of implied from presumed principles. Inductive reasoning, and the investigative method on which it is based, became essential to scientific inquiry.

The natural world is, for the most part, one that is knowable, measurable, quantifiable, and predictable. Naturalism presumes that the world as we see it is what it is. In contrast, belief in supernatural phenomena stands in the way of understanding the world; humanity cannot exert control over supernatural phenomena or influence them, and, even worse, it can provide no explanation or reason for their actions.

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