The Pact

We had an unspoken pact –
trusting each other.
I’ll never share what I saw
when she was at her most
vulnerable, scared.

Another pact –
as my partner and I
work and play through the highs
and lows of our life together –
there are some things we’ll
never share with the rest
of the world. We are not
a reality show.

All of humanity shares a pact.
We trust each other to do the right
thing, to treat each other fairly,
and with tenderness and consideration.
When we venture onto highways,
by-ways, and freeways, we trust
those around us to be competent,
intelligent, and thoughtful drivers.
When we enter stores, malls,
and concert halls we expect those
around us to share our values
of kindness, courtesy, and honesty.
When we send our children
off to school we trust that the rest
of humanity will protect them
as we would protect their children.

If we didn’t trust each other
we wouldn’t be able to do what we need
to do, be where we need to be,
survive. Thank you for honoring
our pact.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

“Brood o’er us with Thy sheltering wing,
’Neath which our spirits blend
Like brother birds, that soar and sing,
And on the same branch bend.
The arrow that doth wound the dove
Darts not from those who watch and love.”
– Mary Baker Eddy

Snow Geese in Skagit County

Snow geese in Skagit County, WA. Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell

“Thou to whose power our hope we give,
Free us from human strife.
Fed by Thy love divine we live,
For Love alone is life;
And life most sweet, as heart to heart
Speaks kindly when we meet and part.”
– Mary Baker Eddy

 

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Perception and “The Dress”

So this picture of a dress has been going around – you may have seen it – and apparently 74% of people see white and gold. I see blue and black. I’ve tried really hard to see white and gold, but it ain’t happening.

Go here to see the dress: https://www.yahoo.com/health/is-this-dress-blue-and-black-or-white-and-gold-112194158507.html

And here’s an explanation for why people are seeing different things: http://www.wired.com/2015/02/science-one-agrees-color-dress/

This incident with The Dress – and the way people can see the same thing so differently and are so sure they’re right about the way they see it – reminded me of some conversations I’ve had with others about God and Nogod. Many of those dialogues have been frustrating for everyone involved. But there was a dialogue I had on this blog a year ago with Andrey Pavlov, a young medical doctor and atheist, that was one of the most enjoyable conversations I believe I have ever had with another human being regarding “God.” I had met Andrey on the sciencebasedmedicine.org website, and he had kindly joined me on my blog so we could carry on our conversation.

I’d tried to describe to Andrey what “God” is to me. I’d written: And perhaps “God” IS nothing more than my own consciousness of good, really – but I feel this Good as a presence in my life. It’s as real to me as the air I breath. It speaks to me – not in a man-voice – but… it speaks to me as Truth. As Love. In times when I’m scared, I feel this presence of Love and comfort around me – and, again, maybe that’s nothing more than my own thoughts – but whatever it is – whether it’s just my own consciousness – something inside me – or whether it’s something I am inside of – this power I call God has been with me when I’ve been sick, and when I’ve been scared, and when I’ve had to make important decisions in my life – and this presence has helped me.

And Andrey responded with this –

“This is interesting to me. I believe you, I really do. I absolutely believe that you have these experiences and feel the things you do as you say them. And I do not think these are evidence of any sort of psychiatric illness, cognitive dysfunction, or anything someone may call ‘abnormal.’ I don’t really know (nobody does) but there is plenty of evidence to lead us to think that this is simply one of the many fluid ways in which an individual processes the universe around them.

“It is, IMO, important to realize that everything a person sees, feels,experiences in any way is highly processed by the software and hardware of our brains. We (mostly) all agree that an object which reflects electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of 650nM looks ‘red.’ But how do I know that what you actually experience as ‘red’ is actually what I experience as ‘red’? I can’t know and you can’t know. That is what philosophers refer to as the ‘qualia’ of life – that purely internal subjective processing and experience of life and the universe through the consciousness we have. It raises this interesting idea of ‘p-zombies.’ Dan Dennett has written a fair bit on them and it stems in part from the concept of a Turing test.

“So when you say that you ‘feel’ the presence of Love, Goodness, etc. I believe you. I can’t possibly imagine what that means in the same way I can’t imagine what it means when a synesthetic says that someone’s name is “lime green” in color. But to that synesthetic, it is a consistent, meaningful, and very real experience.”

I really appreciated the way Andrey listened – heard me – and made an effort to understand my perspective and translate it into something he could relate to in some way.

And wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if we all could do that for each other?

“We must think critically…”

“We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out on the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat… Be intellectually rigorous.Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.” – Tim Minchin

I really like the quote above. But – and I suppose this will show my own biases – it strikes me as a really masculine way of looking at self-reflection – so aggressive – so over-the-top – like we’re marching off into a major war or something, with swords drawn and bludgeons and bats at the ready.

My approach to the art of critical thinking is a little different, I guess. Sometimes I’m a gardener – pulling up the weeds, planting the cheery sunflowers, nurturing and watering the good, plucking out the stuff that’s not so good. And sometimes I approach it as a housekeeper might – adding a little vinegar to the water, and wiping the film and build-up of nonsense off the window panes so I can see clearly again, and so the light can come into my home.

We don’t need to beat the crap out of ourselves – and certainly not out of others – to make progress in our lives. We don’t need to break the windows – we just need to clean them, you know?

So how do we know when we need to spruce up our beliefs? Well, for me it starts with looking at where my beliefs are taking me. If they’re leading me towards hate, fear, anger, bigotry, bullying, greed, and selfishness, then those beliefs have got to go. But if my beliefs are leading me towards love – guiding me to a place of courage and compassion, generosity and hope, joy and kindness and forgiveness and integrity – then those are the beliefs I’m going to nurture.

Are we clearing the gardens of thought by uprooting the noxious weeds of passion, malice, envy, and strife? – Mary Baker Eddy

The way to extract error from mortal mind is to pour in truth through flood-tides of Love. – Mary Baker Eddy

sunflower and bee

photo of sunflower and bee by Karen Molenaar Terrell

Suggestions for talking with…

We should remember that the world is wide; that there are a thousand million different human wills, opinions, ambitions, tastes, and loves; that each person has a different history, constitution, culture, character, from all the rest; that human life is the work, the play, the ceaseless action and reaction upon each other of these different atoms. Then, we should go forth into life with the smallest expectations, but with the largest patience; with a keen relish for and appreciation of everything beautiful, great, and good, but with a temper so genial that the friction of the world shall not wear upon our sensibilities…
– Mary Baker Eddy (Miscellaneous Writings)

I wonder if I might make a few suggestions for conversing with others about religion on a discussion board?   I have had some experience with this, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve observed and learned.

The most important thing to know, I think, is that if you ever encounter me on a discussion forum I am always, always right. And if you disagree with me about this you are wrong.

Once we have established that basic and most fundamental of all facts, we can move on to other stuff:

  • Might I suggest that we never, ever, ever presume to know what other people think, feel, and believe just because they identify themselves as atheist, theist, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, pagan, Christian Scientist, or as a member of any other ideology.
  • Generalizations, stereotypes, and lumping whole groups of people together as one “type” are not helpful when trying to understand someone else’s perspective.
  • Don’t tell other people what they think. Let them tell you.
  • Although pomposity cracks me up, not everyone shares the same reaction as me to puffed-up know-it-allness. Humility is a beautiful thing. Let’s be willing to laugh at our own nonsense before we laugh at someone else’s.
  • Remember that we’re all human – we all have our own flaws and foibles – none of us is perfect here. Might I suggest that we correct our own flaws before we start trying to correct someone else’s?
  • Give each other grace.
  • Listen.

More specifically:

When Christians are talking with atheists –

  • Do not assume all atheists think, feel, and believe exactly alike – the only thing, really, that all atheists have in common is the conviction that there is no god.
  • Do not assume atheists are unfamiliar with religious texts. Some of them are very familiar with religious texts, and, in fact, that is the reason some of them want nothing to do with religion.
  • Think about using quotes from the Bible sparingly. Remember that not everyone believes the Bible in the same way that you do, and quoting from it to prove that you’re right probably isn’t going to have the effect you’re looking for.
  • Do not assume that atheists have no sense of ethics, no humanity, or no “moral code” simply because they do not believe in a god.  Belief in a god is not necessary to know right from wrong, or to be a kind and compassionate person.
  • Do not end disagreements with atheists by condescendingly telling them that you will “pray” for them.

When atheists are talking to theists –

  • Do not assume that all theists think, believe, and feel exactly the same about everything.
  • Do not assume all theists have the same definition for “God”.
  • Do not assume every theist is a Christian. There are, among others, theists who are Muslim, Jewish, pagan, and non-religious. (Contrariwise, not every religious person is theistic – some religions, such as Buddhism and Universalist-Unitarianism, do not include a belief in a god.)
  • Do not assume all theists are superstitious scaredy cats, hoping to God there is an after-life. For some theists a belief in God follows a logical thought process, and doesn’t necessarily lead to belief in an after-life.

When atheists are talking to Christians –

  • Do not assume all Christians think, feel, and believe exactly the same – the only thing, really, that all Christians have in common is the belief that Jesus was the Christ.
  • Do not assume all Christians have the same definition for “God”.
  • Do not assume all Christians interpret the Scriptures literally.
  • Do not assume all Christians belong to the same political party and hold the same political ideology.
  • Don’t assume that when you’re talking with a Christian, you’re talking to someone lacking in logic, intelligence, or education. This kind of prejudice tends to lead to a really speedy end of civil discourse.
  •  Try to quote only sparingly from The God Delusion and God is Not Great, and avoid the over-use of Latin and terms like “strawman” and “Nirvana fallacy”. (Writing over-much in Latin and over-using or mis-using terms like “strawman” does not so much make you look intelligent as kind of silly.) Just as some Christians are sometimes prone to over-quote from the Bible, some atheists are sometimes prone to over-quote Hitchens and Dawkins. I think we all value a nicely–stated original thought much more than a canned response, don’t you?

When non-Humoristians are talking to Humoristians –

  • Don’t assume all Humoristians think, feel, and believe exactly the same about everything. Pretty much the only thing Humoristians have in common is the ability to laugh at themselves and the absurdity of life.
  • The only effect pomposity, stodginess, self-righteous indignation, and sermonizing are going to have on a Humoristian is to get her laughing so hard she’ll have tears pouring down her face. Unless that is the effect you’re going for, don’t waste your time with it.

When non-Unitarian-Universalists are talking to Unitarian-Universalists –

  • Don’t assume all Unitarian-Universalists think, feel, and believe exactly the same about everything… because… I mean… these are Unitarian-Universalists, for crying out loud! Trying to herd U-U members into one ideology would be like trying to herd cats.
  • Don’t waste your time trying to get U-U folks to get defensive about their religious beliefs. It ain’t going to happen. Although you might see the U-U coming to the defense of social justice and freedom, you are not going to see them getting defensive about their religious beliefs because they don’t have any to defend, really. So you can give THAT whole plot up right now.

When non-Christian Scientists are talking to Christian Scientists –

  • Don’t assume all Christian Scientists think, feel, and believe exactly the same about everything.
  • Don’t assume that because you were raised in another Christian denomination you are an expert on Christian Science. There is a vast difference between fundamentalist Christianity, for instance, and Christian Science – as many fundamentalist Christians would be the first to point out.
  • Do not assume that because you are the child of Christian Scientists you are an expert on Christian Science. (I am the daughter of a geologist, but I would not consider myself an expert on geology.)
  • Don’t assume because you read a Wikipedia article on Christian Science, or because someone once told you that they’d heard from someone else something about Christian Science, you are an expert on Christian Science. (I have actually been told by non-Christian Scientists to refer to Wikipedia to better find out what I believe as a Christian Scientist. I have spent more than 50 years practicing this way of life, have led the services at my church, and written books about my experience with Christian Science. Do not tell me to go to Wikipedia to find out more about what I believe. Sheesh.)
  • The “Christian Scientists are neither Christian, nor scientists” thing has gotten pretty old and is neither original nor helpful in maintaining thoughtful discourse. Let it go.
  • Do not assume all Christian Scientists hold the same political or social beliefs. Christian Scientists are a pretty diverse group of people – there are Christian Scientists who are Democrats, Christian Scientists who are Republicans, Christian Scientists who are liberal-progressives and Christian Scientists who are conservatives. Unlike some other religious institutions there is nobody in the Christian Science church who tells Christian Scientists how to vote. That is left up to individual conscience.
  • Along the same lines, recognize that private Christian Science schools and institutions – and the people who are part of them – are not necessarily representative of the views and experience of every individual who is practicing Christian Science.
  • Do not assume that because you know one Christian Scientist you know them all.
  • Do not assume that Christian Scientists who go to doctors are not “real” Christian Scientists. For some Christian Scientists, Christian Science is neither a religion nor an alternative health care system, it is a way of life – a way of looking at the world that has brought them healing and a lot of good.

When Christian Scientists are talking to non-Christian Scientists

  • Avoid, if you can, using phrases like “working on a problem” or “the belief of” – most people are not going to understand what the heck you are talking about.
  • Avoid, if you can, using absolutes. None of us have ascended, yet. Christian Scientists are still dealing with the same challenges as every other human being. Recognizing the common human experience we share with the rest of mankind is not a bad thing.
  • It’s alright to show natural human feeling – to cry, laugh, grieve. These are the feelings that connect us to the rest of humankind. Embrace them. Don’t be afraid to bring human emotion into your conversations with others. Christian Scientists are not automatons.
  • Do not talk down to others. Being a Christian Scientist doesn’t make you any better, wiser, or more spiritually-minded than anyone else.
  • Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself now and then, and don’t be afraid to let others laugh at you, too. Recognize that to people unfamiliar with Christian Science some of the teachings found in Christian Science might seem completely ludicrous. And that’s okay.

I guess that’s pretty much all I have to say about that.

(excerpt from The Madcap Christian Scientist: All Things New)