The Vatican says it’s OK to believe in aliens.
But not gay aliens, presumably. ;)
Notre Dame may have Touchdown Jesus on its side, but USC has the Dalai Lama!
But wait: does that mean we’re tarred via guilt-by-association with President Bush? D’oh!
Usually I try to ignore Ann Coulter, but I can’t ignore this:
… Apparently we Jews need to be "perfected," and America would be better if we were all Christians. (My favorite quote: "And Falwell himself said that." Like Jerry Falwell is deserving of the moniker "Falwell himself").
Of course, Hitler also saw that Jews needed to be perfected too, but his version of perfection was forced-labor camps and gigantic ovens.
Are you a Tibetan lama? Want to re-incarnate? Better make sure you have all your permits in order!
In a move to tighten its grip on Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, the Chinese government is attempting to crack down on allowing the traditional searches for reincarnated lamas within Tibet, at least without an official OK from Beijing. This move seems to be specifically aimed at the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in India since the Chinese occupied Tibet nearly half a century ago. The Dalai Lama has stated that, should he die while the Chinese still occupy his country, he will be reincarnated outside of Tibet, setting up a possible schism between the Lama in exile and a Chinese-approved Lama from within the country.
As long as I’m posting old Makem and Clancy clips… here’s a funny one from the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem about the whole Catholic-Protestant conflict. The joke the precedes that the song (told by the late great Tommy Makem, in fine form as usual) might be the best part, but the song (The Old Orange Flute) is pretty funny too.
Well, now we have Mircea v. God. Heh.
In 1992, Pat Buchanan famously declared, in prime-time at the Republican National Convention, that “there is religious war going on in this country.” Buchanan’s firebrand speech so alienated moderate voters that it severely hurt George H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign. Not coincidentally, it was the last true moment of unscripted drama in the history of American national political conventions (well, unless you count the f***ing balloons failing to fall at the 2004 DNC). Ever since Buchanan’s speech, every damn thing has been so thoroughly vetted and scripted, conventions have becoming mind-numbingly dull.
But I’m going off on a tangent now. My point is this: Pat Buchanan was right. Or rather, he was ahead of his time. I’m telling you, there is a religious war going on in this country, and it’s time to make peace. This post is my humble attempt to propose a cease-fire in this escalating conflict.
I speak, of course, of the Ichthys War.
Anyone who pays attention to the back bumpers of the cars in front of them knows exactly what I’m talking about (though some may know the conflict by its alternative name: the War of the Jesus Fish). The conflict has been raging for years now, and it’s beginning to spiral out of control.
It all started with Christian drivers putting small metal ornamental representations of the Ichthys, a symbol of Jesus, on their car bumpers. That seemed innocent and inoffensive enough, kind of like Notre Dame fans putting the “ND” monogramn (or Leprechaun) on their cars… though in some cases, ND fans show more religiosity than those in the Ichthys crowd… but I digress.
But then, for some unknown reason (possibly related to a cloud of smug), certain drivers who believe in evolution felt the need to co-opt the Ichthys for their own purposes. These
godless atheistic hedonists Darwinists rebutted the Ichthys — or “Jesus fish,” as they call it — with the Darwin fish:
It didn’t end there, of course. Next came a rebuttal to the rebuttal, showing a “TRUTH” fish eating the “DARWIN” fish. (I have yet to see a “BEAUTY” fish eating the “TRUTH” fish, though I think that would be fitting.) Or sometimes, it’s an Ichthys with “JESUS” inside (which, um, seems a bit redundant) eating the “DARWIN” fish. Other times, it’s just a regular old Ichthys doing the eating. Regardless, Darwin gets eaten, and those damn hippies are shown what’s what. Ornamentally speaking.
All of which is rather goofy and ridiculous and annoying in its own right. But recently, the whole thing has gotten totally out of hand. In the last month, I’ve seen…
• An Ichthys with the letters “IXOYE” inside, which is a mistranslation of the Greek “ÃŽâ„¢ÃŽÂ§ÃŽËœÃŽÂ¥ÃŽÂ£.”
• A “Darwin fish” with dog-like ears, and instead of “DARWIN” inside, it says “DOGWIN.”
• An Ichthys with the word “BUDDHA” inside.
Anyway, I’ve decided it’s high time someone tried to bring an end to this ridiculous conflict. So I hereby beseech all parties to listen to reason. Darwinists, the Ichthys is about Jesus; it has nothing to do with the Book of Genesis, so it has no relevance to the evolution-creation debate. Find your own damn symbol. Christians, the original Ichthys was fine, but putting “JESUS” (or a Greek mistranslation) inside it just makes you look silly, and having the Ichthys eat “DARWIN” is the car-ornament equivalent of “feeding the trolls.” It just encourages them!
As for everyone else… Buddhists (and members of other religions), again, get your own damn symbol! The Ichthys has nothing to do with Buddha. Put a little fat man on your bumpers or something, but leave the fish out of it, okay? And… uh… Dogwin? WTF??
Seriously. You all need to just stop.
Dunno why that amused me so much, but it did…
Norm Geras: “The freedom to criticize religion is not only a fundamental right; for those of us who are unbelievers it is also a kind of duty, since one must do one’s part in opposing belief not supported by evidence or reason or, as it appears to us in this case, anything compelling at all. But that is something different from treating religion as uniformly productive of harm or as having a monopoly on unreason and fanaticism, and from treating its adherents as worthy of contempt. To do this is ignorance and folly.” (Hat tip: Sully.)
According to the article in The Irish Independent, Tony has been a closeted (not to say, Cloistered :) follower of the Faith for a long time, but feared to make it Official whilst still PM because of potential constitutional difficulties:
Tony Blair is “certain” to become a Roman Catholic shortly after he steps down from office next week, friends of the British PM have said. They believe it will happen “sooner rather than later”.
Mr Blair is likely to discuss his conversion with Pope Benedict XVI, with whom he will hold talks in Rome tomorrow after attending his last summit of European Union leaders in Brussels.
…There have been persistent rumours that the Prime Minister would convert to Catholicism but Downing Street has always insisted that he remains a member of the Church of England.
Now friends say Mr Blair will formalise his already close affiliation to the Catholic Church. They say his “spiritual guide” in making the decision has been his wife, Cherie. They have brought up their four children as Catholics.
…It is believed that Mr Blair decided to remain an Anglican while he was Prime Minister because of the possible legal and political difficulties of converting while in office.
Although Britain has never had a Catholic prime minister, the church has said there would be no constitutional bar to Mr Blair joining while he was still in office. But some lawyers believe the 1829 Emancipation Act, which granted civil rights to Roman Catholics, may still prevent a Catholic from becoming Prime Minister. It says that no Catholic adviser to the monarch can hold civil or military office.
…As Prime Minister Mr Blair has been cautious about his religious beliefs. As Alastair Campbell, his former director of communications, once famously said: “We don’t do God.”
PS: In other news of British spiritual practices :), the Ministry of Justice has created its own home team of morris dancers ~
A team of morris dancing civil servants from the new Ministry of Justice have been given permission to call themselves the Lord Chancellor’s Folk.
The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, gave the go-ahead after considering a two page report prepared by an official in his private office.
…In the two page submission, leaked to The Times newspaper, a member of Lord Falconer’s private office briefs him on the history of morris dancing.
The document says the newly-formed Ministry of Justice group dance in the Cotswolds’ Tradition and in the Barmpton Style, which involves the “use of handkerchiefs and sticks”.
…It adds: “Morris dancing is currently one of the Icons of England on the Department of Culture, Media and Sport site, alongside a cup of tea, a stiff upper lip and a bowler hat.”
….a Ministry of Justice spokesman denied time had been wasted on the issue and said staff members were entitled to a hobby.
[Spot on. / ~ the civilservantpensioner guestclogger :]
…The Ministry of Justice has recently been under fire after Lord Falconer announcing 25,000 prisoners could be released early on licence to ease prison overcrowding in England and Wales.
More than half of all
Republicans Americans self identify that they are, indeed, dumb as dirt.
An interesting rebuttal to Christopher Hitchens… by his brother, Peter Hitchens. The topic is atheism vs. religion, and I’m not endorsing everything Peter says (though I do tend to agree that Christopher’s atheism is so fervently believed as to be a form of “faith” itself), I just think it’s interesting food for thought, and figured it might trigger a fun debate here.
At LAX yesterday, I picked up several magazines, as I am wont to do when I have a long flight (or train ride, or bus ride) ahead of me. Among my purchases was the June issue of Discover, which featured a variety of articles revolving around the broad theme of “invisible” pheneomena here on Earth: life at the bottom of the oceans, tiny particles in the air, the electromagnetic spectrum, and so forth. The articles were all fascinating, but possibly the most compelling was Jane Bosveld’s “Soul Search: Can science ever decipher the secrets of the human soul?” The article isn’t available on Discover’s website, but somebody posted it here. It’s well worth reading in its entirety (and it’s not that long), but here’s an excerpt:
At the University of Virginia Health SystemÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Division of Perceptual Studies, or DOPS, scientists are studying an array of anomalous phenomena, including near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, and memories of past lives. Bruce Greyson, a psychiatrist at UVHS and director of DOPS, is a pioneer in the study of near-death experiences. First described in ancient times, near-death experiences, or NDEs, happen when patients are critical or when their hearts have briefly stopped. Typically, they describe seeing visions of a bright light and feeling themselves carried down a tunnel toward it. Along the way deceased relatives or spiritual figures may appear offering comfort. It is by almost all reports a transformative experience.
Greyson, a soft-spoken man who has studied NDEs for 30 years, explains that although he does not necessarily believe in the existence of the soul, that possibility inspires his curiosity. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I believe that our current understanding of humans is woefully inadequate,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think the spiritual traditions that we have are good starting points for researchers to look at what might be going on. I accept them as starting points for developing hypotheses that we can test, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not happy with the answers we have now, either from science or from religion.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Greyson reports that 10 percent of the people who go into cardiac arrest have an NDE and report knowing details of activities that occurred while they were unconscious. Frequently, individuals tell of watching from above the operating table as doctors and nurses work on their bodies. From a scientific standpoint, the most significant aspect of many NDEs is that the individualÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s brain should not have been functioning at the time of the event. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have a lot of well-documented cases where we have EEG and other evidence that the brain is not functioning, and yet people will say, Ã¢â‚¬ËœI was thinking clearer than I ever have before,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬Â Greyson says.
Dutch cardiologist and near-death researcher Pim van Lommel notes that, at the moment of an NDE, Ã¢â‚¬Å“these people are not only conscious, their consciousness is even more expansive than ever. They can think extremely clearly, have memories going back to their earliest childhood, and experience an intense connection with everything and everyone around them. And yet their brain shows no activity at all.Ã¢â‚¬Â
If consciousness is the product of brain activity, near-death experiences should not happen. At the very least, the contrary evidence suggests that the standard understanding of consciousness is incomplete. Peter Fenwick, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London, wrote in a paper, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The brain-identity theory says that consciousness ends with brain death. But if it can be shown that people can acquire information when they are unconscious and out of their body, it would be indisputable evidence that consciousness is separate from the brain.Ã¢â‚¬Â
I’ve never thought about near-death experiences in this light before, but I find Fenwick’s logic pretty much unassailable. Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems to me that there are but two possible conclusions here: either NDEs are a mass delusion, or they are proof of the existence of the soul (or “consciousness separate from the brain,” which sounds to me like a soul by any other name). Given the huge number of people who have reported having NDEs, I find the first explanation relatively implausible, and thus lean toward the second.
If consciousness is (or can be) separate from brain activity, any explanation of its precise nature is necessarily speculative. But I found the following bit of quantum-physics mumbo jumbo (from the same article) utterly fascinating, even though I can’t pretend I entirely understand it:
Perhaps the most surprising scientific evidence for the soul comes from quantum mechanics - specifically, from investigations of the subatomic phenomena that produce consciousness. Stuart Hameroff, an anesthesiologist who has spent many years studying brain functions, has collaborated with renowned Oxford University polymath Roger Penrose on a model that explains consciousness as the result of quantum processes occurring in tiny structures called microtubules in brain cells. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think consciousness under normal circumstances occurs at the level of space-time geometry in the brain, in the microtubules,Ã¢â‚¬Â Hameroff says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But the fluctuations extend down to the Planck scale [far smaller than an atom] because the microtubules are driven bioenergetically to be in a coherent state. When the blood supply and the oxygen stops, things go bad and the coherence stops, but quantum information at the Plank scale isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t lost. It may dissipate into the universe but remain somehow entangled in some kind of functional unit, maybe indefinitely. If the patient is revived, the information gets picked back up again.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Although Hameroff does not talk overtly about the soul, he invokes a similar idea - consciousness that exists separate from the body. The Planck scale is the unimaginably small distance at which current theories of gravity and quantum physics break down. Events at the Planck scale, according to some theorists, may fundamentally establish the nature of reality. For Hameroff and Penrose, the idea goes even further, into the mystery of consciousness itself. …
[This theory] raises the question: Where did the Planck-scale processes that cause it come from? PenroseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s answer: They came from the Big Bang. In this view, consciousness - all consciousness - was created at the same moment when the universe was created. If the soul exists, it, too, might be anchored to our moment of cosmic origin. This is what Italian astrophysicist Paola Zizzi terms the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Big Wow,Ã¢â‚¬Â shorthand for her description of the connection between Ã¢â‚¬Å“the very early quantum computing universe and our mind.Ã¢â‚¬Â
PenroseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ideas hint at a physical mechanism for consciousness that persists after death. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If a patient isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t revived,Ã¢â‚¬Â Hameroff says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“it enters the universe at large, and maybe it gets picked back up again by someone someday, who knows?Ã¢â‚¬Â
The notion of consciousness, a.k.a. the soul, as a Planck-scale structure, a creature of the ultra-small world that supposedly underlies and determines the very structure of the universe, raises all sorts of compelling questions and issues. What would it mean for reincarnation and the afterlife? What would it tell us about the beginning and end of life? The distinction between human and animal life? Life on other planets? Do all intelligent beings in the universe draw from the same pool of available souls? These and a hundred other questions leap quickly to mind. But things get even more interesting when the notion of Planck-souls is combined with the conception of Planck-time (or lack thereof) discussed in a separate article from the same Discover issue, Tim Folger’s “In No Time: Searching For the Essence of Time Leads to a Confounding Question: Does It Even Exist?” I can’t find that article anywhere on the Internet, but here’s the money quote:
There is a temporal realm called the Planck scale, where even attosceonds [100 quintillionths of a second] drag by like eons. It marks the edge of known physics, a region where distances and intervals are so short that the very concepts of time and space start to break down. Planck time - the smallest unit of time that has any physical meaning - is 10-43 second, less than a trillionth of a trillionth of an attosecond. Beyond that? Tempus incognito. At least for now.
Efforts to understand time below the Planck scale have led to an exceedingly strange juncture in physics. The problem, in brief, is that time may not exist at the most fundamental level of physical reality. If so, then what is time? …
[Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France, says,] “The question is, Is time a fundamental property of reality or just the macroscoping appearance of things? I would say it’s only a macroscopic effect. It’s something that emerges only for big things.”
By “big things,” Rovelli means anything that exists much above the mysterious Planck scale. As of now there is no physical theory that completely describes what the universe is like below the Planck scale. … [T]he thing we experience as time might emerge from a more fundamental, timeless reality. As Rovelli describes it, “Time may be an approximate concept that emerges at large scales - a bit like the concept of ’surface of the water,’ which makes sense macroscopically but which loses a precise sense at the level of the atoms.”
Again, very interesting (if impenetrably complex) in its own right. But now, think back to the first article. If time doesn’t exist at the Planck scale, and if our souls are creatures of the Planck scale, then wouldn’t that make our souls… eternal? Wouldn’t that mean, in essence, that to describe the nature of reality at the Planck scale might be to describe… Heaven?
I emphasize again that I really don’t understand this stuff, except at a very basic, quantum-physics-for-dummies level. And now I’m venturing into theology-for-dummies, which I know even less about. But still, from the perspective of an interested if ignorant layperson, I find this notion of “Planck-Heaven,” if you will, more and more appealing the more I think about it. The biggest reason I’m enamored is simply this: as I understand it, physicists believe that structures existing at Planck scales cannot be observed — not just because of technological limits, but for fundamental theoretical reasons relating to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and, uh, other suchlike scientific gobbledygook. :) Therefore, if we postulate that the spiritual realm and the Planck realm are one and the same, we can put the spiritual realm into some sort of physical-world context without presuming to “know the mind of God,” in Stephen Hawking’s infamous words.
Of course, just because it’s appealing, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. But theoretical physicists love “elegant” solutions, and frankly, I think this is a pretty elegant idea. It could even lead to a sort of Grand Unification Theory of Theology. Monotheism versus polytheism, anthropomorphic gods versus nature-worship, reincarnation versus a discrete afterlife: these things all seem utterly irreconcilable. But are they really? If our souls, and whatever higher power(s) oversee(s) them, are some kind of Planck-scale structures floating around the universe — in a sort of timeless, eternal cosmic soup that is fundamentally beyond our ability to observe, comprehend or describe — then it would make perfect sense that a wide variety of faith traditions could emerge from that incomprehensible reality, each of them describing a different aspect or interpretation of the reality.
I’ve often puzzled over how to reconcile the vast array of religious beliefs and spiritual experiences that countless people, in countless faith traditions, have had throughout human history. One answer (again) is simply mass delusion, but another, I think better, answer is that different people and cultures are simply describing different aspects of the same thing. Wouldn’t it be awesome if that “thing” is the very same thing that theoretical physicists are also desperately trying to describe? If science and religion are actually two sides of the same coin? And if ultimately, neither is capable of finding the answers they both seek, because those answers are fundamentally beyond the horizon of ascertainable knowledge?
Needless to say, I have no idea whether any of this is correct. But I think it’s high time somebody founded the Church of Planck. :)
UPDATE: Welcome, InstaPundit readers! That’s two consecutive Instalanched posts — that’s gotta be a first since at least Katrina, maybe ever.
Last night saw the season — and maybe series — finale of Jericho, the CBS drama about how the residents of a small town in Kansas cope with a nuclear attack that has wiped out most of America’s major cities, as well as all communications, essentially throwing the country into a sort of weird Dark Ages limbo period. Despite earlier rumors that the network will renew Jericho for a second season, there remains grave concern that it might be cancelled, with the Associated Press calling it a “long shot to be back next season.” A final decision will reportedly be announced next Wednesday.
Anyway, the finale was frustrating for a couple of reasons. Spoilers after the jump.