Religion Courses at Harvard

Harvard and Religious Courses

 A couple of weeks ago Newsweek magazine had an article about Harvard University and Religious courses.  It seems that there are certain professors who believe that for a person to be “well-educated”, they should understand how religions play such an important role in much of many societies.  However there are others who feel that religion should not be taught on the same level as science and other courses of higher learning.  Here is a link to the article:  Harvard 

I found it interesting that they didn’t discuss the approach that seemed to be the most logical to me:  teach it like they used to teach Greek and Roman mythology when people studied to receive “The Classical Education”.  It used to be that education included the Classics of Latin as a language, and Greek and Roman Mythology.  This provided a basis for studying the Classic Literature.  One cannot understand (to say nothing about appreciate) John Milton’s Paradise Lost without a good grounding in “the Classics”.  So why not present today’s religions in a secular university like Harvard, the same way that Edith Hamilton presented the Greek and Roman myths? 

I had a friend recently tell me that he was showing the movie Elmer Gantry to a group of Japanese young women engaged in an immersion program.  He stopped the film and asked if they understood what was going on in the movie and they confessed they did not.  He then found out that they did not understand the concepts of heaven and hell nor of a preacher.  When he asked them what religion they were, they didn’t know how to answer him.  Finally one student said she guessed she was Buddhist.  The teacher realized then that these students should be taught religion if they are going to understand what goes on in our society.

The various religions are better understood as stories rather than conflicting facts and we can (and should) understand not only Christianity but also other religions that are a major part of other societies. 

(My mission in life is to learn/teach critical analysis, empathy, ethics/justice, and conflict management.)

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Anti “Preservation of Species” Argument

http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2010/02/22/what_darwin_got_wrong_jerry_fodor/index.html?source=newsletter

What Darwin Got Wrong:  Taking Down the Father of Evolution

I feel vindicated.  For several years, I have been warning my friends and neighbors of Evolutionary Fundamentalism.  I’m defining Evolutionary Fundamentalism as a simplistic argument to explain things in an evolutionary manner that is based on someone’s teachings from a long time ago rather than based on scientific observations – but presenting it as scientifically true.  And here I will admit that I’m not sure how much of Evolutionary Fundamentalism is the product of Darwin, or how much is the product of his disciples.  Like the fundamentalism of Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, and now even Hindu, much of the problem is the result of the disciples more than the originator of a belief.

Specifically, the Evolutionary Fundamentalism I have been warning people about is the singular explanation for all traits found in all species:  “preservation of the species”.  Whenever anyone would ask “why do giraffes have long necks?” or “Why do we have oppositional thumbs?” or why to any trait of any species, the answer comes back as “to promote the preservation of the species.”  I have always found this argument to be unscientific for a variety of reasons, but because I am not a scientist, I felt I was never effective in my warning.  I remember cringing as I read “The Naked Ape” by Desmond Morris realizing that he was passing off stories as science in explaining why and how humans lost their body hair during the evolutionary process. 

Now, two scientists have come out with a book which vindicates my feelings.  Salon.com had a book review on “What Darwin Got Wrong:  Taking down the father of evolution” by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini – both atheist scientists.  They show that there can be some traits that are not carried just for the sake of preserving the species.  There can be other reasons and we need to make these determinations based on scientific observations rather than on a simplex statement made by a mortal a long time ago.  Just as “shit happens”, so too can some things happen just randomly apart from a unifying explanation. 

I have used the question of the giraffe’s neck myself and asked why other co-existing species didn’t develop the same long neck, or perhaps necks of different lengths up to the length of a giraffe?  These authors also use the giraffe as an example and state that “A creature that has a long neck may have that neck because a different trait was selected, and the long neck came along with it.”  Since we do not have observations, we are resorting to the intuitive mind which uses the language of story and metaphor to reveal truths – of which there may be several (including some which are opposite to others).  So while there may be a truth in the story, it should not be presented as scientific fact or scientifically true.  Science and logic are the languages of the rational mind to determine what is true or not true (one or the other, binary, either/or) and that leads to knowledge. 

Just as it is wrong for fundamentalist religionists to take the stories of the bible and present them as “true” rather than possessing truths (like the stories of the Grecian gods), it is also wrong to take some of the “why” and “how” of our observations of naturalism and insist that they are science when they are story.  Science is great at defining “what”, but not “why” or “how”. 

This article is quoted as saying, “Why are certain traits there?  Why do people have hair on their head?  Why do both eyes have the same color?  Why does dark hair go with dark eyes?  You can make up a story that explains why it was good to have those properties in the original environment of selection.  Do we have any reason to think that story is true?  No.” 

We need to make sure that when we are saying something is scientific, that it is observable, repeatable, capable of being negated, and the other aspects that make up science.  Otherwise we need to admit that it is story and not fall into the trap of other fundamentalists and presenting story as fact.  Otherwise we are guilty of the sin of fundamentalism. 

(My mission in life is to learn/teach critical analysis, empathy, ethics/justice, and conflict management.)

Gay Marriage

Date:  2/18/2004

 To:  Letter to the Editors (Boston Globe)

 Re:  Gay Marriage

 A critical analysis of the gay marriage issues shows that many people are missing the boat.  To look at an issue using critical analysis means that you ask the right questions, you come to grips with the right definitions, you identify the assumptions and see that the logic is correct and is not flawed so that other people can and will accept it.

 The main issue of gay marriage is one of spousal rights.  It is not an issue of children, it is not an issue of historic or cultural custom, and it is not an issue of being a threat to family or church.  We need to examine what is the definition of a spouse? And what rights does society currently grant a spouse? 

 Currently we grant spouses special rights such as inheritance, hospital visitation, tax breaks, social security benefits, joint property ownership, etc.  The gay community is calling for equal rights for their spouses.  Instead of comparing this to the black civil rights movement, it is more accurate to compare it to times when there were fights for spouses to own property and to inherit property.  These rights not only provided them individual rights but also special rights because of the responsibilities they incurred by becoming married and also because of the obligations that society imposes on a spouse. 

 I have heard no one against gay marriages say that a gay person should not be given special rights like hospital visitation.  So the issue comes down not to the granting of rights as much as a definition of a spouse.  What defines a spouse?  Since the rights which are granted a spouse are granted by the government (society), other institutions’ definitions should not be an issue.  The Catholic Church currently does not recognize a divorce which is sanctioned by society, so it does not have to recognize a marriage which is sanctioned by society.  It can continue to define holy marriage with its own definition as it does now.  The rights enumerated above are not predicated on the presence of children, so that should not be the issue. 

 We should ask ourselves questions such as why society grants rights to spouses first, and then see if those reasons apply to marriages of same sex people in the same way or differently than heterosexual marriages.  Then maybe we can have some constructive discussions and dialogs that are rational rather than based on emotions.  Then maybe we can see this process of dealing with a complex issue as a community building experience rather than a divisive issue.

(My mission in life is to learn/teach critical analysis, empathy, ethics/justice, conflict management.)

Humanist and Prayer

Date:  4/13/09

 To:

 Re:  To Say a Prayer

 The other day you told me that your cancer might be coming back, and that you had some tests done.  You mentioned that you were very fearful of the results you were to receive at the end of this week.  You said that you knew that I didn’t believe in god, but would I please pray for you.  (I am a Humanist and as such I believe I have the ability and the responsibility to develop all that it means to be human both in myself and in others – without the need for a belief in the supernatural.) 

 As you may or may not know, I am very much into storytelling as I am a member of two storytelling networks.  But, as opposed to most of the members, I am not into storytelling by standing up and telling stories to groups of children and/or adults.  These are Platform or Performance storytellers.  Rather, I am into storysharing where I will sit down one-on-one with someone and will try to draw out of them their own personal stories. 

 It is a similar thing with prayer.  Instead of praying for you by myself in a room at my house, I would rather sit down with you and draw out of you the prayers that you have inside yourself.  These would be both the prayers of your own felt needs and perhaps also your subconscious prayers.  I feel that this would be more therapeutic and more helpful than my isolated prayers would be.

 (My mission in life is to learn/teach critical analysis, empathy, ethics/justice, and conflict management.)

Change in Iran

Date:  6/22/09

To:

Re:  The Power of Nonviolence and Iran’s Demonstrations

I wish I could be more optimistic on the positive effects of nonviolence.  But I lost my positive attitude back in the Bush administration.  We witnessed the largest demonstration ever assembled (five million people here in the US and another 3 million outside the US) and the only response we got was the President’s social finger.  The powers that be have realized that the best way to counter these demonstrations is to do nothing and to ignore them.  If they fight the demonstrators, they lose ground.  But if they ignore the demonstrators, nothing changes. 

 Just because there are large demonstrations, does not mean that there will be any changes in the actions of the administration.  The US proved that with Bush. 

 At first, the change-agents in Iran were looking for change within the current Iranian system.  Then, as the administration beat back the demonstrators, the demonstrators realized that they needed to require a change OF the system, not just IN the system.  They are not prepared to implement a change OF the system right now as a change at this level is recent and has not had a chance to gel.  I don’t expect to see any change IN the system or OF the system as a result of all of this.

 The United States is a leader in many things – including setting a bad example of Democracy.  And I’m sure that Iran will prove to be an apt student of the Bush tactics.

(My mission in life is to learn/teach critical analysis, empathy, ethics/justice, conflict management.)

Working for Defense Company

Date:  6/23/09

 To:

 Re:  Question of where I work that would include such a GLBTA project: (Part B)

 Since you asked where I work, I’ll answer.  I often don’t present that at first until someone has a chance to know me better -especially those involved in the Peace and Justice Movement.  I work for a Defense company. 

 Although you haven’t indicated a curiosity of how a person involved in Peace and Justice can work for a company like a Defense company, I would like to give my reasons up front. 

 First, to say that everyone in an organization like a Defense company is the “enemy” is like hearing Bush say that everyone in North Korea or Iraq is an enemy and deserves to be bombed.  There can be and there are good people even in such an organization.

 Also, if I thought it would make a difference to a Defense company if I left, I would leave immediately.  But it would make no difference.  Also, I am not working in anything that deals with bombs or missiles.  I work in Finance and computer applications doing financial analysis.  Also, there are many areas of a Defense company that do not deal with bombs or missiles – such as the radar systems for commercial airports, and even night vision windshields for automobiles. 

 Also, it becomes a slippery slope to say one should not work for such a company.  Does that mean that one should not work for a computer company like Hewlett Packard because computers are used for warfare?  It would also go that no one should work for the government since they are the ultimate ones responsible for the senseless wars.  But I wouldn’t want to go to where no one in government was anti-war.

 And lastly, I have been able to be a force for good because of my position within a Defense company.  When we invaded Iraq with our “shock and awe” bombs, although I didn’t stand on a soap box, people knew where I stood.  I was able to have people come up to me and say that they were glad that there was someone else that felt as they did about the invasion.  Also, I was in a position to counter lunch-table conversations where the arguments for comparing Saddaam to Hitler could be countered rather than left unquestioned.  And also through a Defense company, I have had many opportunities to do community work such as being a math mentor to junior high kids, doing volunteer work at homeless shelters, etc. 

 All Defense companies, and everyone in a Defense company should not be considered the “enemy”.

 My Defense company has a great GLBTA group that they support.  This is a network of GLBT’s and the A stands for Allies – of which I’m one.  They have won all kinds of awards for their GLBT support of their workers (such as having separate recruiting tables at job fairs targeting GLBTs to let them know that they would be comfortable in that environment, and also for their support of local GLBT events.)  As an ally, I felt that this would be an opportunity to not only support the GLBT community, but also to promote my anti-violence values.  My anti-war stance is only a subset of my values of anti-violence.  Or perhaps I should say that anti-violence, to me, is a meta-level above anti-war. 

 This is, I think, a great way that an individual can do something proactively to affect their first degree of separation contacts rather than just railing against those who are six degrees separated.  I would rather do something locally than just talk globally. 

 I hope you agree.

(My mission in life is to learn/teach critical analysis, empathy, ethics/justice, and conflict management.)

Alternatives to Anti-War Rhetoric

Date:  6/22/09

 To:

 Re:  Announcement of National Assembly for Anti-War Groups

 Personally, I would like to see a paradigm shift of the anti-war movement.  Although I am strongly anti-war, I feel that the best approach is not to attack war, but rather to deal with the meta-level above war.  War is an approach that is used for conflict management.  I feel that it would be beneficial to deal with the whole issue of Conflict Management and coming to grips with better ways, more humane ways, and more effective ways of Conflict Management rather than resorting to war.  I believe that we should have dialogues discussing alternatives to war (alternative means of conflict management) rather than using Lady Bird’s simplistic approach to drugs:  “Just say NO”.  We need to let people know that war is only and always one option of many.  And this option should not be the first option, as was the case with Bush, but should only be a last option after other options have been tried.  I believe that to be effective, we need to realize that these situations are complex and require complex approaches that are more than just saying “No”.  (I should add that not only are the situations complex, but so are the reasons why so many people just accept the default option of war rather than considering other options – these reasons are complex.)

 Just as for years, although I have been in favor of stopping the violence and war in Iraq, I have felt that the solution wasn’t to just bring the troops home.  I have felt that the troops might be better utilized in re-building the infrastructure of Iraq since we were the ones responsible for breaking it down.  I believe that the response to the Israeli/Palestinian situation isn’t in just saying “No”.  It should be in insisting on positive actions by both sides rather than confrontational actions by both sides and definitely not by the action of increased violence of one side. 

 As long as the anti-war movement is content to “Just say ‘No’ to war”, I’m afraid it will continue to only preach to the choir and will not be as effective as it should be or as it needs to be. 

 I would like to see this National Assembly in Pittsburgh deal with the Meta-Level of Conflict Management rather than exclusively deal with anti-war actions and collaboration with only other anti-war groups.  One of the chief tools of Conflict Management is Dialogue.  (Which is different than the Presentations or Spins or Debates which we see every Sunday morning on the “news” programs on TV.)  What kinds of Dialogue could this National Assembly hold?  Imagine a Conflict Management Dialogue on Respect.  Respect for the Palestinians – what does that mean?  Respect for the Israelis – what does that mean?  Respect for the sovereignty of Pakistan and/or Afghanistan – what does that mean?  Respect for other cultures and/or other religions – what does that mean?  To have a meaningful Dialogue just on that one principle of Respect would do wonders as far as presenting options to violence and presenting it to the non-choir. 

 I would love to see this National Assembly hold such a Dialogue on the principle of Respect as well as other principles of Conflict Management.

 Thanks for listening.

(My mission in life is to learn/teach critiacl analysis, empathy, ethics/justice, conflict management.)