Monday, November 17, 2008


"It is easier to perceive error than to find truth, for the former lies on the surface and is easily seen, while the latter lies in the depth, where few are willing to search for it."
-Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived, and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic."
-John F. Kennedy

"Science has promised us truth. It has never promised us either peace or happiness."
-Gustave Le Bon


(-Star Trek Original Series, season three episode title)

Today’s discussion is based on a simple question: What is Truth itself?

You have thirty seconds. No pressure.

Well, it certainly sounded simple, didn’t it?

This is indeed a complex issue, and so I hope you’ll forgive me if I ramble a bit. I will strive to not be too “disconnectedy.”

They say (whoever “they” are) that one man’s truth is another man’s folly. This seems to have a grain of “truth” in it, to me. The idea being that the Truth is a subjective thing. Or at least it is so in effect.

(Tangential conundrum, also derived from an old Star Trek episode: “This statement is absolutely true: everything I say is a lie…”)

(Don’t fry your brain over it)

At its most basic level, in the make-believe world of black-and-white, the truth is one of two choices, the other being falsity. Right and Wrong. Simple. Unfortunately the real world that we all live in is far from black-and-white.

In the world of mathematics, one plus one is always two. This then can be said to be a mathematical “truth.” However it is only so easily defined as such because mathematics is a “closed system” in that it is a ‘world’ that is in its entirety rigidly defined and explained by logical rules and axioms. It is implicit that the truths of mathematics are all within the contexts of mathematics. One cannot for instance, quantify love.

The real world is more complex by far than the mathematical one. One has to take the human variable into account along with a myriad of other factors. In many (if not most) situations, there is no black and white, there are only shades of gray to choose from.

How to choose? Therein seems to lie the difficulty.

The Truth can be defined as such only within the contexts of the question or statement involved. For instance, if I were to ask “Is your name John?” the context of the question is easily understood, as is the only true answer. Your name is either John, or it isn’t. If your name is not John, then it is not true that your name is John. And you can easily tell that your name is not John if it isn’t John. You would be in an excellent position to know what your own name is. In fact, you are the definitive authority on your own name. So if I were instead to make the statement, “Your name is definitely John” and your name is in reality Fred, then you can know that my statement is untrue. (But if you have amnesia...)

However if I were to state (for instance) that “I am certain that there is a God, and that He is Jesus Christ,” the definition of ‘Truth’ becomes more problematic.

If I am certain that it is true, then I can hardly be said to be lying as I maintain it to be true. But if it were to happen not to be true, then I am unknowingly telling, or at least repeating, a lie. And let’s face it; there either is or isn’t a God, and if there is one, then it either is or isn’t the Christian God. We may not be in a position to know yet, but these are the choices on the table, and all of them can’t be true. The possibility exists that there is no God whatsoever, and thus that all religions are wrong. If I cannot acknowledge this, then I cannot acknowledge reality itself.

If I try to investigate this question of God’s existence and even His divine identity using logic and science, agnosticism is the only rational result. Even complete atheism is assuming too much. There is just no way to tell, so there is just no way to tell, period. Anything more is, alas, wishful thinking. All indications may point to ‘no God or Gods,’ but in the end, there’s no real way to tell. So to claim such knowledge one way or the other is to be rather silly.

However the only real way to investigate the truth or falsity of anything, including the deity, is still by the application of logic and reason, and of course their avatar on earth, science. If these things fail, substituting faith is never a viable option. It may be an attractive option, but never a viable one.

The man of faith claims that he knows that his God is “true,” because of that very faith. In essence this is saying “I know it, because I know it.” This may sound fine to another believer, but to the unbiased it’s a complete absurdity.

One cannot claim the strength of one’s belief or faith as proof of that very belief or faith. This is a completely circular argument. It is less than senseless. It is ridiculous. If one believes something to be true, it’s still only a belief, and will not approach the strength of a truth until it is subjected to rigorous testing, and by that I mean logical testing and not religious. The believer certainly cannot point to scriptures as proof of their belief either, for the same reason. Scripture is a statement of faith, is designed to strengthen faith, and as such is hardly unbiased. The Bible is no more an unbiased view of Christianity than the Koran is of Islam. All religious texts are biased toward the religion that they represent, for what should be obvious reasons.

And I need unbiased, yes I do.

John Keats said in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn” that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” And yet, the truth is often ugly, or so it seems. And the beautiful is often a lie. The Easter Bunny is “beautiful” in that it brings eggs to little children and has a cute nose. Alas, it’s a lie. Bot flies are the Truth, and they lay eggs in little children's noses. Not much beauty there.

Perhaps the Truth is in reality always beautiful, but is perceived as ugliness by those of us that are incapable of understanding it. (Some can see beauty in even bot flies…) Or perhaps it is simply that while all Beauty may be Truth, the set of all Truth additionally includes much that is not Beauty. Maybe old Keats was saying that we should just ignore the ugly truths and concentrate on the beautiful ones in order to be happy. Perhaps even that we should concentrate on some beautiful “truths,” in spite of the fact that they may only be true in our minds.

Unfortunately if this is so, I’m one of those annoying people that can’t ever be happy with a pretty lie when I just know that the ugly truth is out there somewhere.

I think that in many real-life situations there is no precise formula to apply so as to always arrive at the absolute truth. To my mind it is usually a process of considering all possible options, of thinking laterally as much as you can, and choosing the best, “most true” option.

When confronted with a deep question with no clear resolution, to me finding the “truth” is and must be finding the best available option that works optimally in the given context, in our consensual reality. Note that I say “our” reality, meaning the reality agreed upon by the maximum number of unbiased observers. Note that I say “unbiased” meaning not followers of any particular belief system, as this would skew results.

(To those that would say that logic, reason, and science are also a belief system, my reply is “Yes, they’re the only one that gets real-world results, which is why I chose them over yours in the first place.”)

Getting back to religion as an example, if I were to choose a particular faith instead of my agnosticism and claim it to be true to the world and to myself, then I would be invalidating all the other many faiths by my choice of that one. I’d be saying that not only is my God true, but that all the other Gods are false. Yet, I can find no justification for doing this that doesn’t also work in the opposite direction, if I for example happened to be a believer in one of the other faiths instead of the one that I chose. This therefore to me seems a very bigoted and inherently flawed method of finding the truth. It seems mere wishful thinking, when you really look at it. The simpler and I think more “true” choice for someone like me in this situation is by default to reject all religions as highly unlikely, since there is not one that stands out as any “truer” than any other one, and to look back to consensual reality again for my answers. After all, none of the world’s religions are “necessarily” true, and indeed none of them have any real-world evidence of being true, except to someone that is already a believer in one of them and is therefore willing to accept the word of other heavily-biased believers or the evidence of their own biased feelings as their “proof” in lieu of actual verifiable evidence.

So what is Truth? To me the Truth is a word whose meaning is particular to the situation and context, because it is an indicator of the “least false option of all available options” and not some metaphysical absolute. Telling the truth as you know it may still not be telling the Truth. There is more responsibility to it than that. One must educate one’s self adequately in the given contextual paradigm in order to select the truest option, and if you haven’t done that, ignorance is no excuse. And one must doubt in all things, especially in one’s self, for the truth to eventually be revealed to you.

You have to learn to see the truth before you can tell it.

And to some people, that’s the hardest thing in the world.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Well, let’s look at the headlines. Lots of funny stuff happening.

An eight-year-old boy recently killed his father and another man that rented a room at their house with a .22 caliber weapon. Execution style.

More fun than Halo, I bet.

The boy was previously brought by his father to visit his priest, to try to get the boy to not fear guns. Because it’s important to have your eight-year-old armed to the teeth. God says so.

I think it worked. He definitely lost his fear of guns altogether.

Praise Jesus and pass the ammo.

No doubt there’s more to the story. I’d be surprised if there was no abuse. And since he killed not only his dad but the other man as well, I’d be surprised if they weren’t both abusing the boy.

(Especially in a Christian home)

God goes so well with guns, for some reason. Like peas and carrots. And so well with child abuse too. Religious authoritarians love nothing more than having a helpless child that they can utterly control in every way.

Or wouldn't it be ironic if, instead of the abuse scenario, it was as simple as the father teaching the son to hate homosexuals, and then the son accidentally seeing his dad and this other man locked in a gay embrace?


Oh, and on Election Day, the day that blacks finally achieved so very much after so very long, some of these very same blacks helped to institute a ban on Gay Marriage in California. Many of the blacks voted both for Obama and the ban. In fact, if so many new black voters hadn’t come out for Obama, it’s likely the measure wouldn’t have passed at all.

It’s like, we’re free, finally! Praise the Lord! At long last we can enjoy oppressing another minority!

Reminds me of the stories of when the Romans finally stopped feeding Christians to the lions and they immediately went into the stands to watch other people getting fed to the lions.

The only reason that so many blacks would vote against gay marriage, is of course due to the fact that the majority of them are Christians. And God says it's icky.

It’s so blessed and holy to get involved in your neighbor’s personal life like that. It’s what Jesus would have done. If he were a complete asshole that was nothing like how he was portrayed to be, that is.

Well, at least it’s nice to see that the white Christians and the black Christians can now both enjoy having a particular irrational hatred in common like that. Now they can bond over it, and the healing can begin.


And let’s see. Any more religious hate out there? Oh sure, there’s the black church in Springfield Massachussets, burned to the ground minutes after Obama won on Election Day. Arson.

How much you wanna bet that it was burnt down by a member (or members) of a white church? Just sayin…


You know, when I see horrific news stories involving hatred or abuse along with incredible stupidity, I always look for the religious angle. And all too often I find it.

I wonder why that is...

Oh yeah! I keep forgetting that religion, in its extreme forms, is a psychosis. This is not an exaggeration for effect. It’s literally true.

A psychosis is when you are no longer in touch with reality.

A better definition of fundamentalist Christianity (or fundamentalist Islam, for that matter) is hard to find.

Too many Christians live in a reality where gays are evil, Liberals are socialists, hate America and love abortions, smart people are not worth listening to, and God is all we need. Specifically their version of God, of course.

This reality in no way corresponds to actual reality, but this in no way distresses the believers. They’ve decided to believe it, so it becomes a minor technicality that it isn’t really so. They wish it so, they have decided that it is so, and so it is. No amount of logical discourse can change their minds, since their minds are not based in logical discourse. So with eyes turned toward heaven, they stumble through life feeling better about themselves with every stranger they oppress.

All religions, especially the more authoritarian ones, when extended to their extremes, become cults.

If you think about it, anything that offers rewards in the afterlife in trade for obedience in this one just naturally lends itself to evil ends.

The real nature of Pascal’s Wager is a con, not a bet.

I always wonder how a believer can see the evil that another believer is capable of, and just dismiss it as utterly unrelated to them. They should be able to see that that other believer that did the evil both believed in God and believed that he himself was sane. All insane people believe that they’re sane. All psychotics believe that they’re not psychotics. One would think that, due to observing this, they’d want to check and see if they’re really sane themselves once in a while.

Nope. No need to. After all, they have faith.

Why is it that the only two men that I’ve known in my life that I also know to have committed child abuse, were both practicing Christians? Did they not glean anything from their faith that might have stopped them? Sadly no, and it is my opinion that they instead gleaned something from their faith that enabled them. One of them is to my knowledge still offering up communion to seniors at the local nursing home. I rank him as one of the most evil people that I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting, but his faith is unshakeable. So is his faith in himself, by the way. He’s fine with himself. A very proud man. One of the biggest assholes walking the planet, but he’s cool with it. That’s faith.

No really. That IS faith. That’s what faith can do to a person. Faith is only good and positive when it’s faith in something good and positive. The down side to that is, if you happen to have faith in something bad and negative, you’ll never know, since its faith.

Faith means you won’t ever question it. Or yourself. Ever again.

Oh well, I didn’t really want to rant against the Christians again. I hope that I’ve made it abundantly clear in the past that it’s only the fundamentalist and evangelical types that these occassional rants of mine really aply to anyhow. Christians that actually try to act in a “Christ-like” manner are not part of the problem. They are, in fact, part of the solution. Those that understand that loving thy neighbor doesn’t mean that you get to pick your neighbor, and that the path of Jesus is a difficult one precisely because it demands that you give up your egotism and learn to focus on loving others instead.

If only the other kind didn’t keep making the news. It gives the whole religion a bad name.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Empathy and Intellect

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.”
-Kahlil Gibran

“When a good man is hurt all who would be called good must suffer with him.”

“The most valuable things in life are not measured in monetary terms. The really important things are not houses and lands, stocks and bonds, automobiles and real state, but friendships, trust, confidence, empathy, mercy, love and faith.”
-Bertrand Russell

“If you cannot feel the pain of a stranger, it cannot be said that you truly love anyone but yourself.”
-St. Brian the Godless

Empathy and Intellect

I doubt that anybody can deny that many of the worst people in our history were intelligent. Hitler may have been stark raving mad, but his intellect was not in question. In fact, in order to be truly evil on a global scale, it may even be said that one must be very intelligent indeed, for evil on such a large scale requires careful planning.

When I was a child I revered intellect like most Christians revere Jesus. I thought it automatic evidence of goodness, indeed as inherently good in and of itself. I was sadly mistaken, as I learned later on in life. Many of the smartest people around are the worst examples of humanity out there. They dedicate their intellects to the pursuit of their selfish and egotistical ends rather than to accomplishing good in the world. To me this seemed a conundrum when I first encountered it. Why, when you have intellect, would you ever devote it to selfish ends? To me, it seemed illogical.

I didn’t realize at the time that there are two components to the balanced person, two factors which must be in an equilibrium of sorts within the personality in order for the person to truly be a good and decent human being while retaining effectiveness in the world.

Empathy and Intellect.

The ancient Chinese depicted this by the familiar but not well understood Yin-Yang symbol of blended opposites, and even ancient Jews had the concept of Chochma and Binah, kabalistic symbols of the eternal balance between male and female, or positive and negative. The balance between the emotional mind versus the rational mind. Intuition and empathy versus intellect and logic. Lateral thinking versus linear thinking. And even Liberal versus Conservative. Two poles or extremes, either of which by itself inadequate and harmful, but when balanced properly, the optimal most effective path in the world, both spiritually and materially.

We seem to have a good idea what knowledge and intellect is, and what an intelligent person is, but not so many of us understand empathy in equally clear terms. Very few of us give it the importance that it deserves in our minds, for it is the very seat of all human goodness. Without empathy, intellect automatically turns to evil ends, for without empathy logical reasons can be found to justify most any selfish action, even very heinous ones. Without empathy, there is no guilt. And without empathy, there can be no love.

What is empathy?

If a person sees a child suffering, they tend to feel compassion for it. This is a rather basic example of empathy, and most of us do possess it at this level. If a person sees another person carrying a heavy load, they might be inclined to help them with it. This is also a simplistic example of empathy at its most basic level. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that.

Now it may be said that to be Pro-Life is a form of empathy, since you’re hopefully empathizing with the unborn life. But when you talk to some of the people that declare themselves Pro-Life, they often reveal that they are only so due to ideological reasons, and not due to actual real empathy on their parts, since they feel nothing for the poor and starving already-born children in our society, falling through the cracks, receiving inadequate medical care and education, often turning to a life of crime and drugs, and dying violently at a young age. These same “Pro-Life” people are also often Pro-War, which is actually anti-empathy, the very opposite of it. And the Pro-Life movement is noticeably unconcerned with the health of the mother, and her choices in her life, and she’s a person too. So they feel selective empathy, if any at all. Perhaps they do feel something for the “babies’” lives that are lost, but let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to feel empathy for an imaginary helpless baby than it is for an autonomous adult, albeit no more important in the scheme of things. They care about the unborn babies, but once they’re born they tend to forget all about them. This is not empathy at all. It’s self-serving at best. It isn’t based in love of others, but in love of self. And of course, also based in love of their particular religious dogma, which is basically the same thing.

Real empathy is elusive. It’s not something easily defined. I think it is perhaps easier to get a handle on if you simply think of it as love. Not romantic love and not love of family or a pet, but simply love for all others, based in the idea of universal brotherhood. Love for others based on nothing more than the knowledge that the other person is a person too, just another version of ourselves, trying their best to make their way in the world like we are, and as such deserving of our love, as we are of theirs. And it’s a type of love that allows us to feel their pain and to celebrate their happiness, as if they were a member of our family. In its ideal form, this type of love can and should extend not only to all other people, but to all other life.

To truly love thy neighbor must mean to learn to see life through their eyes, to learn to use your imagination to picture how they see life, in order to relate to them. In order to accomplish this it is necessary to temporarily give up your own presuppositions and prejudices and to instead imagine having those (if any) of the other person. You must imagine being them, literally, in order to truly empathize with them, in order to love them. It’s an acquired skill.

The ancient Jews used to say to be careful how you treat a stranger, because the stranger may be an angel in disguise. This begins to get at the idea of empathy. If we treated everyone as if they were an angel sent here to test our love for others, we would at least develop the behavior patterns that lead to real empathy.

Now what if you happen to be a fundamentalist Christian and are confronted with an atheist? You are commanded to love them, but how can you love an atheist? After all, they’re against everything that you’ve been taught is good and pure.

Well, the interesting thing is, real love, real empathy, transcends Christian dogma. It has to. All Christians have been commanded by Christ Himself to love their neighbors, to thus love all others, and here such a command is in apparent conflict with the rest of their faith. However it is a direct, specific command from Jesus Christ, so it must be of some great importance, and as such must take precedence over the rest of the Christian dogma when such conflicts arise. So the Christian cannot condemn the atheist nor attempt to convert him or her to their faith, in spite of how much they may wish to. This would not be love. This would not be empathy. This would be selfishness and egotism, since it is incredibly egotistical to think that you are fit to judge others. Jesus specifically warned against this, lest we forget. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Empathy is an aspect of the emotional or intuitive mind. This is in opposition to the rational, logical mind. Balance between the two is the key to personal growth. When you learn to see things as others see them, you eventually learn to see how they see you. And once you can see how others see you, and learn to average out the impressions that others seem to have of you, you then possess one of the most important keys to your own personality that you can ever have: An unbiased view of yourself. Once you have that and internalize it, you naturally start to change into being more of the person that you want to be, instead of merely being what you started out as. You start to evolve.

Empathy in a world leader is of paramount importance, and yet is one of the rarer qualities exemplified in such leaders. Too much intellect without enough empathy to balance it makes the tyrant; the opposite makes the ineffectual dupe. There must be balance.

You see, the problem is that empathy isn’t the most attractive trait in a candidate. In our society it’s usually confused with wimpiness, and nobody wants a wimpy leader. This is because of the fact that empathy in its most extreme form, unchecked by intellect, is indeed wimpiness, just as intellect in its most extreme form, unchecked by empathy, is utter tyranny. The voters aren’t perceptive enough to realize that a certain amount of empathy is absolutely crucial in order to insure that the leader’s intellect isn’t easily turned to selfish ends, and thus they throw out the baby with the bathwater. They see black and vote white, never thinking that the optimal choice is a balance of the two.

Too often we humans, when confronted by a choice, see something that we don’t like in one option and reflexively choose the other without sufficient reflection on all factors involved. We get into a lot of trouble that way.

On the surface McCain looks pretty good. War hero, experienced, a “maverick…”
On the surface Obama seems a bit wimpy by comparison. But as you delve beneath the surface it is clear that the more balanced individual by far is Obama. To McCain, everything is a war, everything is a fight. It’s all he knows. Such a personality cannot empathize with anybody but a soldier perhaps. They certainly cannot learn to feel the pain of the middle class, and the poor. And thus, they will never do anything to alleviate their suffering. Obama has sufficient empathy to balance his stellar intellect, and that’s a lot of empathy. He’s non-confrontational, but can confront when he needs to, and very effectively. He’s not a Jimmy Carter, who was after all a brilliant man, but lacked enough rational side to balance his emotional side. Obama has the right mix. McCain is a study in one-sidedness. He’s incredibly imbalanced, with no discernable empathy whatsoever. He even looks stiff when he hugs his wife. And his temper is legendary. McCain is self-focused. Obama is other-focused. McCain went to war in Vietnam, and when he got back he went into the senate, parlaying his POW experience into enough pity to get him elected. Obama had the world at his feet when he graduated Harvard Law, and chose public service at the community level instead of self-aggrandizement. He chose a noble profession, and excelled at it. His whole campaign is other-focused. That’s why his appeal is so incredibly broad.

We face a choice this Tuesday. Let’s hope that we have the sense as a country to finally choose a person with some balance, rather than reflexively choosing an imbalanced one-sided man with the potential to harm this country at so many levels, just because we think our president should act like John Wayne rather than John Kennedy.