I was staring out of my window, watching snow flurries and thinking about the essence of being. Philosophies and religions have long grappled with trying to understand and explain the human spirit, the soul, throughout time. I have a distinct and solid understanding, and thought of a useful metaphor for it as I watched the flurries descend.
Definitions of “the soul” generally include total individuality and immaterial nature. It is that which makes each of us unique, it manifests as long as we live, growing and changing within us, and then instantly vanishes from view as we die.
In most religions, the question then is asked, “Where does it go?”
Consider the snowflake. It begins as a small cluster of water molecules up in a cloud at the boundary of vapor and mist. As it hovers in the wind currents, it grows and evolves. The species (chemical formula) determines the basic nature, a flat hexagon. So why is every one different? Because they grow in subtly different mixes of molecules and temperatures. Each becomes an individual. When they grow heavy enough to drop below the cloud line, they are born as falling snowflakes.
But they have not finished growing. They continue to sublime and to collect molecules. As with any system, they increase in complexity and purity as they encounter random or systematic changes in environment. Sometimes they merge, often they fracture.
Finally they reach the ground. Some settle into clusters, becoming packed into a solid layer, and even all the way to ice. Others hit something warm and melt. In either case, what has become of the individual essence? It’s parts get recycled into other forms, compacted or melted, evaporated or metabolized. Eventually, all of the above. But the unique form is gone. Where did the unique shape of this snowflake go?
When we die, our spirit, soul, self is gone. It can remain in the memory of others, carried forward by our neighbors or impressions made on the environment. Like a melted snowflake.
In what way is the end of snowflake self any different than the end of a human self? Granted, humans are able to ask this question. And human life is naturally rated more highly by humans than the unique individuality of other creatures and things.
But besides that?
According to this article at the Smithsonian, America is not quite the bastion of religious freedom that it is so often portrayed to be, and it never was.
America can still be, as Madison perceived the nation in 1785, “an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion.” But recognizing that deep religious discord has been part of America’s social DNA is a healthy and necessary step. When we acknowledge that dark past, perhaps the nation will return to that “promised…lustre” of which Madison so grandiloquently wrote.
I often think of the big power of little moments; they can switch you to a new and dramatically different track in life, even though it doesn’t seem like a big deal at the time. In this way, life is chaotic:
Small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general. This happens even though these systems are deterministic.
Another way of looking at this phenomenon is to think in terms of path dependence. Early-developed choices, habits and tastes can have huge long-term ramifications, and the person making many of the most important decisions that determined what kind of person you grew up to be was a younger version of you. Even the five-year old version of you had your life in his or her hands. If you like how your life has turned out, thank that 7-year old (and that two-year old) who had your life in his or her hands once upon a time. The 7-year old who raised me found many abstract ideas interesting, and put me on that track.
I’ve often expressed the view that if Jesus came to modern day American, his message would be so incredibly inconvenient that the conservative right would promptly call for his death. This video (which I first caught at Daily Dish) develops that same idea. The video takes the form of a political attack ad on Jesus:
Kevin Roose decided that he would transfer over to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University from Brown University, and to write about his experience. His book is called The Unlikely Disciple. Here’s an enlightening interview with The Friendly Atheist, and don’t miss the introductory video by Bill Maher.
Two days ago I traveled to Mount Vernon, Illinois to argue a case before the 5th District Illinois Court of Appeals. I’ve argued cases there before, and it’s always seemed like a special place to argue a case.
Why? Because the main courtroom has been around for quite awhile. Long enough that Abraham Lincoln argued a case there. Therefore, when I’m arguing a case in that courtroom, I’m standing where Abraham Lincoln once stood to argue his case.
It’s an ineffable feeling. Perhaps it’s akin to the feeling that I’m in a sacred place. And yes, skeptics have sacred places.
The Salvation Army does an immense amount of good for poor folks and others needing help. For this I applaud them. Members espouse beliefs in the Old and New Testaments, in three persons in one God, and in atonement thanks to Jesus Christ. The Salvation Army is ostensibly militant; it sees itself as a fighting army. For instance:
Corps community centers are the focus of the spiritual work and are organized in a military manner, using military terms throughout. The corps building is sometimes known as the “citadel.” The pastor serves as an “officer.” Members are “soldiers.” This sphere of activity is known as the “field.” Instead of joining The Salvation Army, members are “enrolled” after signing the “Articles of War.” When officers and soldiers die, they are “Promoted to Glory.”
On the other hand, I had never before examined the beliefs of those who belong to the Salvation Army. You can review an official list here.
As you can see, item number 5 indicates the following:
We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocence, but by their disobedience, they lost their purity and happiness, and that in consequence of their fall, all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.
[Emphasis added]. The logical conclusion is that since all men are totally depraved, the friendly man ringing the bell to gather money for needy folks, is “totally depraved.” What happens to people who are not “righteous”? That’s covered in item 11:
We believe in the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, in the general judgment at the end of the world, in the eternal happiness of the righteous, and in the endless punishment of the wicked.
Endless? That’s harsh! What else does the Salvation Army believe. Here is a sampling:
We are . . . active in supporting legislation likely to reduce the consumption of alcohol.
All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, and to decent working conditions. All people, to the extent they are able, have a corresponding duty to work, a responsibility to provide for the needs of their families, and an obligation to contribute to the broader society.
We believe gambling is wrong, regardless of any perceived benefit of entertainment, charity, or personal gain, even when its destructive influences may not be seen on an individual basis.
Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life.
Whenever I consider the magnificent structures of cells, I wonder “How could this possibly be?” There is no answer forthcoming, despite the incredible insight offered by scientists. What is, simply is, and I don’t have a reasonable answer for how such exquisite complexity can arise from a cosmic explosion and a showering of stardust. I […]
As I’ve indicated in my previous posts, I am a practicing Roman Catholic who lives in St. Louis, Missouri. Therefore, the topic I’m addressing today is one that I find especially distressing.
An extremely conservative element in the Catholic Church seeks to re-affirm values and traditions not wholly consistent with Church doctrine and traditions. These Catholic “neo-cons” are revisionist and likely to adopt other tactics which served Karl Rove and his ilk well at forming governing majorities for the GOP. These Catholic neo-cons are trying to subvert Vatican II and also pander to the rich conservative supporters which have made up for the fall-off in the numbers of contributors to the various yearly Catholic Appeals.
The Catholic neo-cons don’t care about facts; they just spout platitudes and rely upon deliberate lies or appeals to false authority to have their way. The recent elevation of Archbishop Dolan of New York to preside over the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) instead of Archbishop Chaput, OFM. Cap. of Denver is a sign of the ascendancy of the neo-cons. So too is the recent elevation of former Archbishop of St. Louis Raymond Burke to cardinal and to head of the Vatican Courts.
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