Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Filming the Fringe

Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Alexandra’s documentary film, Friends of God, is airing all this month on HBO. The documentary highlights fringe elements of Evangelical Christianity, taking us into the world of Christian Wrestling, and showing a Christian miniature golf course where golfers putt through the empty tomb of Jesus. Needless to day, many Evangelicals are embarrassed and upset.

Coming as it does on the heals of Jesus Camp, Rachel Grady’s documentary on a Taliban-esque Pentecostal summer camp for 7-to-12 year olds in North Dakota, Evangelical Christians fear that viewers will see them as crazy people. The truth is they don’t need documentary filmmakers for that— there are enough weird televangelists to make many thinking people scratch their heads and ask, What Would Jesus Watch?

Evangelical Christians number between 50 and 80 million, and most of these people are normal, average Americans. But average is boring. The weird is what is worth studying.

If Pelosi and Grady claim that their films are normative, they are misleading their viewers and should be held accountable, but I didn’t get that sense at all. They are looking for the fringe elements of American Christianity, and they find it in abundance.

I sympathize with Evangelicals who cringe over these films. I feel the same when I see so-called kabbalists peddling bottled water guaranteed to bring immortality. But crazy Jews are out there, and they are far more interesting than the average Yid on the street.

The truth is I love religious nuts. They make religion interesting. I don’t care about the dozens of homophobic pastors, rabbis, priests, and imams who are straight. I want to know about the dozens of homophobic pastors, rabbis, priests, and imams who are gay. I don’t care about the decent, loving, and compassionate clergy. I want to know about the charismatic crazies who take the premises of their faith to the extreme.

I understand why people don’t like these kinds of movies, no one wants to look foolish in front of nonbelievers, but I think it is important that we see how insane religion can get. We need to be shocked by the power and madness of the fringes of faith.

Religion is not nice. It is not safe. It is not vanilla. Religion is raw, dangerous, and spicy as, well, spicy as hell. That’s why it has the capacity to transform people. If it turns them into saints, we applaud. If it turns them into apocalyptic madmen hoping to bring about the end of the world, we gasp in horror. And this is the way it should be. Religion is serious business, and needs to be scrutinized as carefully as any program that can lead to mass destruction whether it comes from a nuclear bomb or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

So watch these films and others like them. And watch those that depict religion in a positive light as well. Get to know both sides of religion. It may keep us humble. And that may be the true key to global salvation.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Here Come De Jesus

Jesus is back. He is a Florida preacher from Puerto Rico named Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda. Called De Jesus by his followers, he travels with three bodyguards. (Want to crucify Me again, you bastards? Bring it on!) De Jesus’ symbol is not the cross (Hey, why be reminded of the bad old days?) but a copy of the Presidential Seal of the United States that reads “Government of God on Earth.” In Spanish. Which really ticks me off.

I'm happy that Jesus has returned. I'm proud that He chose to do so in the United States. I have no problem with him being Hispanic as long as He is here legally. (Can you build a border fence between earth and heaven?) Even his message is fine with me: Christ merged with De Jesus in ’73, sin and Satan are no more, and everyone is predestined for heaven. But to make Jesus Spanish speaking is cruel to all of us who don’t speak Spanish. Especially me. I have trouble understanding Ricky on I Love Lucy reruns. There has to be a better way.

God starts out speaking Hebrew, not exactly the most wide spread language of its day. He thought to correct matters the next time around and opted for Aramaic. That was so dumb even His disciples switched to Greek as soon as they could. Admittedly choosing Spanish this time is smarter, but if You are going to come back as an American, God, why not do so as an English speaking American? After all everyone knows that the Bible wasn’t really HOLY until King James typed up a copy in his own English.

Something has to be done, and I am asking all English speaking people of faith to pray with me now, “Dear Father, Thou knowest it is in our hearts to love Thee, but Thou must makest English Thy Holy tongue lest we not understandeth Thee and stray from Thy ways. O Lord sendeth unto us speedily and verily in our day an English speaking Jesus that we may knowest that Thou art God who speaketh English above and English below. For Thine is the lingua and the franca. Amen.”

If we pray this daily and spread the word among our friends, coworkers, and nonSpanish speaking neighbors, we may at last get the Jesus we deserve so that the Horsemen of the Apocalypse not wreck havoc upon us crying, “Lucy, you have some splainin’ to do!”

Friday, February 23, 2007

Tough Questions

I am no expert on world affairs, but there are things that I read that just raise questions I cannot answer. I though I would share some of these with you here.

1. Why is it better that Americans die in Iraq than in the United States? Bush/Cheney says this all the time. Given that more Americans have died in Iraq than in the tragedy of 9/11, why is Iraq better?

2. Does the fact that we have not seen another 9/11-type disaster prove that Bush/Cheney’s policies are effective? How do we explain the lack of a 9/11 prior to Bush being elected? This sounds like selling whistles to keep wild elephants out of Salt Lake City. The fact that there are no elephants roaming the streets of Salt Lake City proves the effectiveness of the whistles. Does one thing have anything to do with the other?

3. Is it possible for Bush to lose the Iraq war? The British are withdrawing 1500 soldiers from Iraq, and Bush says this shows what we can do when areas of the country are pacified and turned over to the Iraqi forces. If the pullout of British troops results in chaos, however, the Bush administration will argue that this shows why we can’t withdraw from Iraq. He can’t lose.

4. Does anyone pay attention to what Iraqis say? Ahmed Abdullah, a 29 year-old Sunni casts doubt on the claim of a Sunni Iraqi women who says she was raped by two Shiite men, “I don’t believe that Iraqis will rape a woman. We don’t have such a culture. We might kill, behead or do torture, but rape—I don’t think so.” Well, that puts my mind to rest. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice American lives to save a culture that rapes. Beheading and torture, well, that’s much more American. At least if you watch “24.”

5. Are American soldiers really our “best and brightest?’ When I see how the government is continually lowering its recruiting standards to meet its goals, I wonder if many of our best and brightest actually avoid military service. I am not saying military folk are less bright, I am just asking if this phrase is anything more than silly rhetoric?

6. Is an all-volunteer military a good idea? If we had a draft and everyone had an equal chance of going to Iraq, I wonder if we would have ever gone to war in the first place. With an all-volunteer force we can abuse our soldiers and hide behind the phrase, “They knew what they were signing up for.” Bring back the draft. This would have the added benefit of easing our Mexican immigration problem as well. First, Mexicans could do the jobs that most Americans really don’t want to do—like fight in Iraq. Second illegal immigrants can replace illegal American emigrants who will slip into Canada to avoid the draft.

7. Would you have stayed on plane for 10 hours so Jet Blue avoid canceling your flight? I always try to sit in the exit row. I suspect I would have opened the emergency hatch and slid down the escape chute. I doubt I would have been alone.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Last week in my God of Science/Science of God class we were exploring the neurological nature of belief. At one point the young woman leading the discussion asked us, “What is the one belief that you find the most difficult to give up?”

Before I go one, answer that for yourself: What is the one belief that you find the most difficult to give up?

As we went around the classroom answering her question most of us offered beliefs associated with faith: the belief in the Trinity, the belief that God is love, the belief that God loves me.

Dig deeper, I kept urging them, dig deeper. Then it was my turn. The answer had come to me as soon as the question was asked. The one belief that I find most difficult to abandon is the belief that I exist.

Like Descartes, I can doubt everything but the fact that it is I who doubts.

Intellectually I do in fact doubt the existence of an independent thinker. Intellectually I suspect that the “I” I think I am is an illusion, the by-product of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations generated by the firing of millions of neurons in “my” head. I am, quite literally, an after-thought.

I accept this self-as-after-thought as being an accurate description of reality, and yet I cannot surrender the feeling of “I” that the brain generates. After all, who would do the surrendering? And yet there are moments when “I” am surrendered; when grace overwhelms me and “I” am no more. These are moments of exquisite silence; the silence hinted at in 1 Kings 19:12 (Still Small Voice). “I” do not conjure these moments; there is no way for me to do so. They are a gift from God who is my true self. Yet I can prepare myself to receive the gift.

Even in class, as the answer to the question arises within me I sense an I behind the “I”, a field of awareness that is pure subject. As soon as I become aware of it, it vanishes, of course, as I have made an object of it and thereby hidden myself in the illusion of self. My practice, then, is to trace the “I” to its source, to see it arising, and to know that my true self is that source from which the “I” arises. This is what Ramana Maharshi calls self-inquiry. Of course this glimpse of God is lost as soon as it appears, for the “I” that sees it is not the I that is It. But something lingers of the true I even as I take refuge in the illusory one.

The Hasidic sage Reb Nachman of Bratslav calls this “rishimu,” the fragrance of scented oil that lingers long after the oil itself is gone. The fragrance of God permeates everything, hinting at a Presence even when It cannot be found. For now I am content to breathe deeply of the fragrance and let the smell remind me of the One I am.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Yiddishe Secret

If you watch Oprah you know about The Secret, the notion that like attracts like and thinking makes it so. If you’ve been reading this blog you know that The Secret is both scientifically false (the Law of Attraction states that opposites attract, not likes), and morally repulsive, blaming the victim of evil for the existence of evil.

Having demolished the false secret let me reveal to you the true secret. I learned the real secret from my bubbe, my father’s mother. Bubbe came to America from Russia. She epitomized the Old World Jew. While deeply versed in Jewish ritual and holy days, and running a strictly kosher household and life, the entirety of her theology could be reduced to a single concept: Ayin haRah, the Evil Eye.

Without knowing anything about science, my bubbe lived by the scientific Law of Attraction. She knew that opposites attract; and while she was disinclined to speak harshly of anyone, she was even more wary of speaking well of someone for fear of attracting The Evil Eye.

According to the Law of Attraction as understood from the perspective of Ayin haRah, if someone says, “Oh what a beautiful baby!” the baby will come down with the pox. If someone says, “Mazal tov on your new job!” you will be laid off in a matter of weeks. If someone says, “You sing like a dove!” you will get cancer of the larynx. Good attracts evil. It is a law of nature.

Warding off the Evil Eye is a full time and somewhat messy job. Battling the Evil Eye requires spitting; not a huge glob of mucus, mind you, but three staccato flicks of your tongue between your lips to make an audible sound similar to a wet snowball striking a brick wall. The spitting is preceded by a defensive spell, “K’Ayin haRah” in Hebrew or “K’nehorah!” in the Yiddish preferred by my bubbe. Both phrases mean “Against the Evil Eye.” Say this, spit three times, and the Eye is warded off— for a while. But stay on guard, for the Law of Attraction is eternal, and every positive thought, word, or deed can bring on the Evil Eye yet again.

Warding off the Evil Eye works. Here are two of many testimonials I have heard:

Moshe Gross was an executive with a California dotcom. At an important strategy meeting he sought to defend a particularly good idea by casting a K’nehorah and spitting three times. This being California rather than Chelm, Moshe was given a generous severance package and fired. Three weeks latter the company collapsed and people lost everything.

Malkah Frankl was a shoe-in for winning the Queen Esther Beauty Pageant at her day school, when, just to make sure, her mother spit three times and accidentally blinded the judge who went on to choose some other girl. Malkah went home crying, but her classmates stayed for the party, ate spinach contaminated with e coli, and fell deathly ill.

Think what you like about the Yiddishe Secret, but have a good day. K’nehorah! Feh, feh, feh!

Think Peace

I may be obsessing over The Secret, and if you cannot abide yet another blog on this topic please skip this entry, but as the Iraq War enters its fifth year, as over sixty human beings were murdered in Baghdad car bombings this morning, as President Bush promotes his “First We Take Baghdad, Then We Take Teheran” strategy, I cannot help but wonder why Rhonda Byrne and The Secret’s millions of followers don’t think us into peace.

I don’t mean to be facetious. Yes, I disagree with The Secret’s premise that whatever comes into our lives does so because we attract it with out thoughts, but, I could be wrong. The Secret could be true, and if it is and we don’t use it for peace but only to feed our desire for personal perfection, what does that say about us? So, just for a moment, let’s imagine that The Secret is true, that we can think our way to peace?

Imagine millions of Oprah viewers who saw her two segments on The Secret plus millions more who have purchased the book and DVD, deciding to Think Peace. Imagine millions of The Secret fans converging on Washington and London to Think Peace. Imagine millions more flying to Kabul and Teheran to do the same. This would be world changing!

I’m serious. I may have missed it, but I don’t recall peace and an end to the Iraq War ever coming up in either Oprah segment. And in the chapter in the book entitled The Secret to the World, Iraq is never mentioned, and peace is almost a footnote.

Part of this may be that to mention such things would be to put energy into the negative and thus make matters worse. I understand that and why The Secret suggests we focus on peace rather than the negative energy-attracting notion of anti-war. But all I found in the book was Rhonda’s admission that she doesn’t watch television or read newspapers because she doesn’t want to think about (and hence add to) the injustice, violence, and evil in the world. But by avoiding the real evil in the world, she is doing us all a terrible disservice. There must be a way to acknowledge war even as we think peace. If we do not admit to evil, how can we stop it? After all we are willing to admit to personal poverty, illness, and relationship problems as a first step to thinking these around, why not war? Why not evil?

The Secret is a worldwide phenomenon, and The Secret team of motivational speakers has a tremendous opportunity to transform the world not simply by selling books and DVDs, but by organizing global Think Peace initiatives.

I know I called The Secret new age boomer narcissism. I know I said it was all about feeding greed and avoiding guilt. Prove me wrong. This isn’t a challenge, but a heartfelt plea. What could be a better use of The Secret than this?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

You Are, Therefore I Am

I was reading the Bible the other day, and noticed something I had not noticed before: until the birth of Eve, Adam is mute. God creates Adam, gives him mastery over almost all of nature, puts him in a Garden where all his needs are taken care of, and gives him the sole commandment not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and through it all Adam says not a word. Then God puts him to sleep and extracts Eve from his side and—voila!—the man speaks. He looks at Eve and says, “Now this is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh…” (Genesis 2:23).

Adam’s first words are neither to God nor to Eve but to himself. His speech is self-reflexive, the emergence of the other, Eve, gives rise to self-awareness and speech.

Why? Because self and other go together like front and back. The creation of Eve is the creation of Adam. Adam was unaware of himself before Eve. Self and Other arise together, and together they create speech.

Of course Eve remains silent. It is not until she meets the serpent that she begins to speak. Is the serpent is her other? No. The serpent speaks to Eve first. She is his other, just as she was Adam’s other. Her speech is in response to the serpent, and a bit latter in response to God who wants to know why she ate from the Tree. Eve doesn’t initiate self-reflexive speech until she births Cain (Genesis 4:1). She sees what has come forth from her and this other creates her sense of self. She is for the first time a fully realized “I.”

What does this mean? The Torah can never be reduced to one meaning, but it may suggest that the self is a by-product of the creative act. It is not the self that creates another, but the act of creating another that creates the self.

I experience this all the time. When I am in a creative mode I cannot say “I” am creating something, rather something is being created and “I” enter into the picture only to evaluate what was created. In fact, if “I” appear on the scene too early, the creative act ceases and whatever was in the process of emerging is gone. This is why I find the creative process essentially spiritual.

Is this what the Genesis author intended us to see in her story of Adam, Eve, and Cain? I can’t say for sure, but it is certainly there to find. Which is what makes the Bible worth reading in the first place.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Do Ya Wanna Know The Secret?

This is my second blog entry on “The Secret,” Rhonda Byrne’s dangerous piece of New Age boomer madness. I am posting it in answer to those who emailed me asking if “The Secret” says what I say it says. To answer that question I have quoted liberally from the book (I have not seen the DVD) and added my comments to the quotes. Unfortunately blogger.com does not allow italics, so the quotations are a bit hard to distinguish from the commentary. Just keep in mind everything after a page number is me.
Everything that is coming into your life you are attracting into your life…Whatever is going on in your mind you are attracting to you. (p.4) If you are the victim of abuse, disease, or injustice it is your fault for thinking thoughts that create abuse, disease, and injustice. There is no need to change the world, just change your thoughts about it.
You are the most powerful magnet in the Universe! (p.7) This notion that you are a magnet is the central metaphor of The Secret. Obviously they mean this metaphorically; otherwise you would be covered in iron filings. Coupled with the idea that you are a magnet is the notion that “like attracts like.” Unfortunately for The Secret this is not true; opposites attract: positively charged magnets attract negatively charged objects, negatively charged magnets attract positively charged objects. This is just the opposite of what The Secret claims is the secret.
Since you attract to you what you think about most, it is easy to see what your dominant
thoughts have been on every subject of your life, because that is what you have experienced. (p.9) In other words, if there is evil in your life it is your fault for putting it there. Tell that to the Jews in Nazi Germany, or Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, or the people being murdered in Darfur.
The law of attraction is a law of nature. (p.13) No it isn’t. The Law of Attraction is a law of motivational speakers.
Quantum physicists tell us that the entire Universe emerged from thought! (p. 15) No it doesn’t. Physics, quantum or otherwise, does not know from what the universe emerged. But if The Secret is right, then you and I are only thoughts in someone else’s mind, and therefore have no control over anything at all.
You can begin to consciously choose your thoughts, and you can change your life. (p19) While it is true you can change your life (do things differently) it is not true that you can consciously choose your thoughts. In order to choose my thoughts there must already be thoughts from among which to choose. If these thoughts are already there, I didn’t think them, yet The Secret’s Law of Attaction is already in play and my choosing among them is too little too late.
Meditation quiets the mind, helps you control your thoughts. (p. 23) No it doesn’t. Meditation allows you to witness your thoughts without getting caught up in them. Good thought, bad thoughts—just thoughts. Meditation isn’t about choosing to think good thoughts; it is about living without getting trapped in thoughts at all.
“I am the master of my thoughts.” (p. 23) Try this experiment. For the next ten seconds do not think of a naked skier speeding down the slopes of Aspen. You can’t help yourself. You are not the master of your thoughts. The thoughts you notice are already thought, so how can you be their master?
This is your life, and it’s been waiting for you to discover it! (p.41) Wait a minute. First we are told that we are to create our life now we are told we are to discover it. Creation and discovery are mutually exclusive. If my life is to be discovered then it is already created and my thoughts have nothing to do with it. The secret to The Secret may be to say outrageous things in sentences ending with exclamation points and hope no one pays much attention to what is being said.
Nothing can come into your experience unless you summon it through persistent thoughts. (p. 43) You were raped? Your fault. You were abused as a child? Your fault. You are the victim of racism, sexism, or other injustice? It is your fault. Don’t put an end to evil and injustice, simply stop attracting these into your life.
The first step is to ask. Make a command to the Universe. Let the Universe know what you want. The Universe responds to your thoughts. (p. 47) Do you have any idea how huge the Universe is? Do you have any idea how infinitesimal your brain waves are in comparison? The Universe is not your cosmic concierge.
Now that you know you can have, be, or do anything, and there are no limits, what do you want? (p. 47) I can imagine few things more frightening that a world were everyone gets everything they want. Endless desire as Ecclesiastes, Buddha, and Jesus teach us is the root of all suffering.
Ask once, believe you have received, and all you have to do it receive is feel good. (p. 53) The assumption is that you can control your feelings, but you can’t. You don’t even know what you are feeling until you are feeling it. The Secret is about feeling good, but the truth is that you are made to feel a much fuller and richer palate of emotions. There is nothing wrong with feeling sadness, guilt, remorse, or anything else. Don’t control your feelings; just don’t let your feelings control your behavior.
Time is an illusion. Einstein told us that. (p. 62) No he didn’t. Einstein said time is relative to the speed of light, not that time is an illusion.
What quantum physicists and Einstein tell us is that everything is happening simultaneously… If everything is happening at the one time, then the parallel version of you with what you want already exists. (p.62) First of all Einstein didn’t say this, and if The Secret is going to rely on Parallel Universe theory they are in trouble. Parallel Universe Theory says that all possibilities must exist, each in its own universe. If this is true then there is a “you” that has everything you desire, but that “you” isn’t you and you can never be that “you” because that would destroy the very fabric of reality on which the Parallel Universe Theory rests.
It is impossible to bring more into your life if you are feeling ungrateful about what you have. (p. 77) While I am a firm believer in gratitude, it just isn’t true that lack of gratitude blocks you from getting more. First of all, behavior is what matters and not feelings and gratitude is a feeling. Second, there are plenty of wealthy people who lack all gratitude and their money still grows. It’s called compound interest.
Think about the inventors and their inventions… They only way anything has ever been invented or created is because one person saw a picture in his mind. He saw it clearly, and by holding that picture of the end result in his mind, all the forces of the universe brought his invention into the world, through him. (p. 82) This is patently (pun intended) untrue. Inventors work by trial and error. Failure and persistence in the face of failure is a key to creativity not its nemesis.
The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts. (p. 98) Wow, talking about ending welfare as we know it. This is blaming the victim at its socio-economic worst, and leads to a world of selfishness that would make even Ayn Rand turn over in her grave.
I never opened my bills until I had got myself into the feeling that they were checks. If I opened my bills before convincing myself they were checks, my stomach would churn when I opened them. (p. 105). Does this really work? You know they are bills (otherwise you wouldn’t have to pretend they are checks), so you lie to yourself before you open them. OK, but what do you when you do open them? Do you try to cash them? Can you think the bank into giving you cash for bills? Or do you still have to pay them? Since you think they are checks rather than bills, however, you won’t pay them, and the bank will repo your car and foreclose on your house. Who’s happy now?
…Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus were not only prosperity teachers, but also millionaires themselves, with more affluent lifestyles than many present-day millionaires could conceive of. (p.109) Dangling participles aside, this is just bizarre. Jesus said it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven. (Matthew 19:24) He tells the wealthy Pharisee to give all he has to the poor. (Mark 10:21) And he tells the apostles to travel and teach without a staff, bread, or money (Mark 6:8). I think it clear here what The Secret really worships.
You can think your way to the perfect state of health, the perfect body, the perfect weight, and eternal youth. You can bring it into being, through your consistent thinking of perfection. (p. 131) Illness, anorexia, obesity, even aging is your fault. Genes don’t matter. Don’t waste money on health insurance, and don’t bother fixing the nation’s healthcare system— just think healthy thoughts.
You cannot “catch” anything unless you think you can, and thinking you can is inviting it to you with your thought. (p. 132) Aids? Your fault. Cancer? Your fault. I wonder if any of the The Secret folks get ill or immunized their children or grandchildren?
When I discovered The Secret I made a decision that I would not watch the news or read newspapers anymore, because it did not make me feel good. (p. 145) Rather than feel pain and sorrow over the injustice and suffering in the world, rather than take action to stop the madness that your government may be engaged in, rather than take any responsibility for being a global citizen and working toward global justice and peace, The Secret tells us to take refuge in ignorance. This is unconscionable.
Nothing is limited—not resources or anything else. It is only limited in the human mind. (p. 149) This kind of thinking leads to environmental exploitation and degradation all in the name of greed. The only thing that is unlimited is the amount of injustice The Secret is willing to sanction.
I never studied science or physics at school, and yet when I read complex books on quantum physics I understood them perfectly because I wanted to understand them. (p. 156) For The Secret even education is a waste of time. I wonder if, on the off chance that one of The Secret people needs a doctor, or a mechanic, or financial advisor if they go to one who just read about on her own or if they seek out someone who is well schooled in their field?
The Secret makes a mockery of social justice, environmental sanity, education, health care, ethics, and civil rights. It celebrates greed and a level of narcissism that verges on sociopathology. The Secret should be exposed for what it is, motivational snake oil, and used as a platform for discussing how best to live in the real world guided by the universal challenge of all great religions to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Real Secret

I watched Oprah’s “The Secret” yesterday and was outraged by what I heard. The all-star panel that Oprah assembled to promote The Secret comprised wealthy motivational speakers and authors, the secular equivalent of tent meeting evangelical preachers. I was all the more troubled because I am a fan of one panel member, Rev. Michael Beckwith, and suspect that if he had been on by himself we would have had a very different show.

A book/DVD phenomenon from Australia, the secret The Secret reveals is the Law of Attraction: the life you live is the result of the thoughts you think and feelings you feel. I find this so disturbing I hardly know where to begin. So here are just four quick thoughts. I may write a more detailed review of this book but for now this will have to do.

1. The Secret says, “All forms of matter and energy are attracted to that which is of a like vibration.” To test this out, I took a rock, broke it in half and waited for the two halves to move toward one another. I’m still waiting.

2. The Secret says, “You are a living magnet.” What? Magnets do not attract likes; magnets attract opposites!

3. The Secret says your thoughts and feelings determine your reality, and that you should choose which thoughts and feelings to focus on. The problem is that by the time you have thoughts and feelings among which to choose you have already thought and felt the negatives you don’t want to chose and have thus fallen victim to the Law of Attraction. You can’t win!

4. The idea that you create your own reality, denies everything we know about genetics, ignores things like racism, sexism, social, political, and economic injustice, and blames the victim for all the horrors one endures. If you didn’t think “rape” you wouldn’t have attracted a rapist.

The Secret is simply Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking repackaged for New Age seekers. Sure it helps to be positive, but it helps more to do positive. Actions influence feelings and thoughts and are by and large under your control. To use the mind to fix the mind is to simply make you crazier.

Your behavior, far more than your thoughts and feelings, determine much but not all of your reality. If you are depressed and try to think or feel your way of out it, you will only get more depressed. Instead, do something constructive (see “Constructive Living” by David Reynolds and checkout the ToDo Institute on line). Doing good will often make us feel good. But if we wait to feel good before doing good will do very little good.

Here is the real secret: a sucker is born every minute and The Secret is going to milk them dry.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

No "I" In Team

There is was again, that ubiquitous cliché “There’s no ‘I’ in team” coughed up by some sports hero to downplay the fact that he carried his team to victory in the Super Bowl. I understand the need for this kind of talk, but let’s face: it there are two I’s in humility.

So I decided to spend a few minutes looking for other “No I” wisdom. If any of these catch on please give me credit, after all there is an “I” in credit.

There is no “I” in sex, which is why masturbation is evil, which, by the way, has an “I.”
There is no “I” in fuck, but there is a “U” which may mean something.
There is no “I” in mortgage or rent, so why should I have to pay these?
There is no “I” in goodness, but there is an “I” in sin.
There is no “I” in looser, so be sure to blame someone else for your screw ups.
There is no “I” in company, which is why the individual worker usually gets screwed.
There is no “I” in human, which means being one is no guarantee of being an individual.
There is no “I” in man or woman, but there is an “I” in insect. Go figure.
There is no “I” in me, which is what the Buddha taught 2500 years ago.
There is no “I” in Buddha because there is no “I” in me.
There is no “I” in Jesus, but there are three in Christianity. Must be the Trinity.
There is no “I” in Torah, Koran, or Gospel so don’t try to read these books by yourself.
There is no “I” in terror, but there is one in terrorist.
There is no “I” in holy, but there are two each in religious and spiritual.
There is no “I” in death so no need to worry about after-life or reincarnation.
There is no “I” in church, synagogue, or mosque, but check out priest, rabbi, and imam.
There is no “I” in joy, but there is one in pain.
There is no “I” in reason, but there are two in insanity.
There is no “I” in God, but there is one in Rami.

If you want to make bumper stickers out of any of these, please be my guest. Or if you come up with some of your own post them on the Blogspot version of ToTo.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Straight Shot to Straighthood

Hallelujah! After three weeks of intensive therapy and a few months of prayer, Ted Haggard, the homophobic homosexual preacher, is now, in his own words, “completely heterosexual.” Based on my own sources what the Rev. Haggard actually said was “I am completely straight, totally not gay, absolutely heterosexual, beyond a shadow of a doubt playing for the right team, I mean if I lived in Sodom I would have given the angels to the mob and saved Lot’s daughters for myself. I am not gay!”

Good for him. I knew homosexuality was a matter of choice no different that being Democratic or Republican (except that your father determines your politics while an overbearing mother makes you gay). And if you get caught being a total hypocrite by damning gays and lesbians while secretly playing for their team, you can hide out for a few months in the Betty Page Clinic for the Straight and Narrow(minded) and then declare yourself a changed man.

What kills me isn’t that Ted fled to rehab—every rich schmuck in this country outed as a racist, xenophobe, homophobe, or anti-Semite runs to rehab if they can afford it—no, what kills me is that Rev. Haggard’s tens of thousands of followers will swallow (no pun intended) his changed man routine hook, line, and sinker.

I can imagine them on CNN, their faces puffy with thanksgiving, their eyes moist and glued heavenward, invoking the idea that God is love and love is nothing if not forgiving unless you happen to be of the wrong religion in which case God’s love is right up there with Hitler’s Final Solution. But this is bull. The reason they will accept Ted’s conversion from gay to straight in three months flat is that they cannot stomach the idea that God could make homosexuals in the first place.

Other TV preachers have had sexual scandals with prostitutes, but with female prostitutes. This is natural: men—God fearing, red-blooded, all-American men (like Jimmy Carter) lust after women. But homosexuality is something else. No straight guy is sexually attracted to men. Of course if we are honest, or Freudian, we must admit that most men are not as heterosexual as Ted would like us to believe he now is, but by and large straight guys don’t call male prostitutes for massages and meth.

So, if Ted is going to sin, and all of us sin, why sin that way? If homosexuality is a choice and no heterosexual man is inclined to make that choice, then, given that Ted did make that choice, we can only assume that he is not heterosexual, that he was born gay. That is the way God made him. Otherwise he would have had called a female prostitute.

So Rev. Ted can say whatever he has to to get his life and career back together. His wife can say whatever she has to to save face and stand by her man. But, please, let the rest of us not be fooled. Ted is gay and God made him that way. My only problem is that we can’t love him the way he is. Will somebody please send him a lifetime membership to GLAAD? And a carton of Snickers.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Stop Snicker(s)ing or Don’t Get MADD get GLAAD

While I am pleased that GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) got those terrible Snickers ads off the air and Internet, I am more than a bit distressed by the whole affair.

I didn’t watch the Super Bowl last Sunday because I don’t like to watch giant hulking sweating grunting men pile on top of one another in some obscene parody of Lynndie England's patriotic photos at Abu Ghraib. But it seems that the good people of GLAAD do watch and did us all a favor by attacking these ads.

If you didn’t see it on TV (or the different versions of it) on the Internet, the ad features two giant hulking sweating grunting men working on a truck. One whips out his Snickers and starts to suck it into his mouth hands-free. His coworker, obviously driven by a deep-seated hunger for a chocolate, caramel and peanut phallus-shaped concoction began sucking in the other end.

Just like the clearly heterosexual dogs sucking a single strand of spaghetti in the Disney classic Lady and the Tramp, our two giant hulking sweating grunting men end up kissing. Disgusted by their sudden moment of intimacy and clearly doubting whether real men suck Snickers, they leap apart and seek to prove their hetero-hood by ripping out their chest hair or, in the versions on the Internet, beating themselves with wrenches and truck hoods like Click and Clack if the Tappit Brothers were Opus Dei or Shi’ite flagellants.

Now you may not be bothered by two giant hulking sweating grunting men sucking on a single Snickers bar but GLAAD people are and they got the candy company to cancel the ad. Good for them. I personally love Snickers but I have to admit I will never ever be able to eat one again with engaging in of some homoerotic fantasy, something that usually only happens when I eat Three Musketeers bars.

I’m serious— these ads have ruined Snickers bars for me. In fact now I’m skittish about eating any candy bar whose shape reminds me either of spaghetti (and hence bestiality) or a penis.

To check out my new phobia I went to a series of grocery and drug stores to buy one or another chocolate bar in the hitherto mentioned shapes. Just walking down the isle made be queasy. I started to swagger and talk like John Wayne just to make sure no one thought I was gay or GLAAD or even happy to be there.

Yet I love chocolate. At first I thought I could take refuge in M&Ms but that “melts in your mouth and not in your hand” slogan is now taboo. What to do? With a little careful searching I found Godiva Chocolate, and there is nothing that says heterosexual more than eating Godiva. Unless you are a lesbian. Damn!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mea Culpa

My last blog (I’m Sorry, So Sorry) contained an error I feel compelled to correct. While I was right to absolve my people from the murder of Jesus Christ, I was incorrect to absolve myself. As it turns out, I did kill Jesus Christ.

It’s true. I did it in a past life. Usually I don’t believe in reincarnation, seeing it as another of the ego’s endless attempts to avoid its own dissolution into the greater unity of God, but I now see that my theology may be just my attempt to avoid facing my own guilt over the murder of God. You see I once again telepathically contacted with Iraqi astrologer Ali al-Bakri (see Must Seer TV) on the issue of who killed Jesus and this is what he told me:

I was a Jew in first-century Jerusalem. I hated Jesus because his mother told him he was God while my mother told me I was God. Since we Jews have only one God, I knew Jesus for lying. At the time Jesus showed up I was working on a marketing plan to promote myself as God. My mistake was announcing my divinity through John the Proctologist rather than John the Baptist. I thought I’d reach more people at the mall than the Jordan. Who knew?

So Jesus had a head start, but I followed him around and tried to attract the Jews away from him. I showed up at the wedding feast in Cana with a gift of the finest wine, but Jesus’ mother met me at the door, took the wine, stuck a gift card from Jesus on it, and made sure he got the credit. Then I tried feeding people with loaves and fishes, but he sent out for baskets of food and I only paid for a Happy Meal (I kept the Tickle Me Herod doll that came with it, though my mother gave it away at the Massada Army charity drive). We both showed up at the stoning of the adulterous woman. Jesus wrote something on the ground and said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I wrote on the ground too, “Fine Throwing Stones, Two for A Shekel.” Jesus had his Last Supper while I tried a Going Out of Business Sale. Nothing worked, and he was very convincing with all his healings.

Then Jesus got arrested and turned over to Pilate (the Roman Procurator not the guy who invented the exercise system). Well, I didn’t want to win this way so I got a bunch of Jews to go with me to Pilate and demand Jesus’ release. When Pilate asks me “Whom do you want?” (Romans are nothing if not grammatically correct. I think it’s because they had to learn Latin as kids.) I sarcastically answer, “Who you got?” He says, “Barabbas.” I sarcastically say “Right, we want Barabbas” and he gives me Barabbas. Romans have no feel for sarcasm.

Now I really felt bad, so I go to talk to Jesus while he’s hanging on the cross. I want to apologize for not rescuing him, and maybe get an endorsement. By the time I get there the guards think he’s dead. To be sure the Centurion in charge starts to poke him with his spear. Still trying to get close to Jesus I jostle the Centurion and accidentally push the spear into Jesus’ side. That did it. Dead for sure. I killed him.

That’s how it happened, and I feel really bad about it. So I apologize for the killing of Christ. It was my fault and mine alone. So please, people, leave the Jews alone.

So Sorry

The good people of Virginia voted last Wednesday to apologize for slavery. The Virginia House Rules Committee unanimously passed a measure expressing “profound regret” for the state’s slave trade and other injustices against African Americans and Native Americans. I think that is great. No, honestly, I do. Notwithstanding the fact that it is cheaper to apologize than it is to pay back wages for hundreds of years of slave labor, and that it is easier to apologize than it is to actually end racism, I was still touched by the gesture. In fact I was so moved that I wrote to the Egyptian President asking that he consider passing a measure apologizing to the Jews for centuries of Egyptian slavery. Here is part of the letter I received in return:

“While your suggestion is an intriguing one, I feel such a letter to your people would only be possible after the Jews first issued an apology to the Egyptian people for working with Pharaoh to strip the Egyptian peasants of their land and livelihood perhaps even forcing them leave their land and migrate to the cities as slaves in the time of your ancestor Joseph (Please see your Bible, Genesis 47:13-21).”

I wrote a similar letter to the King of Saudi Arabia asking that he issue an apology to the Jews for the Muslim role in fostering anti-Semitism, and received this in response:

“In the Name of Allah the All Merciful, your idea is ridiculous. But if such an apology were to come it would only be given after your people apologize to my people for your mother Sarah’s brutal treatment of our mother Hagar and her son Ishmael, peace be upon them. It was her inhumanity that started the feud between our peoples. She is your mother. Do something.”

As these letters are coming in, I learn that not everyone in Virginia is happy with the apology that was issued there. Virginia Delegate Frank Hargrove Sr., who, I was shocked to learn, is a white Republican, opposed the measure saying that blacks “should get over” slavery. He followed that up with (and I kid you not), “Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?”

Whoa! We did work with Pharaoh to destroy the Egyptian people, and we did send Hagar and Ishmael out to die in the desert, so on behalf of my people: I am sorry. Sorry, ashamed, embarrassed, and outraged at my ancestors and at my contemporaries who read these things year in and year out without being sorry, ashamed, embarrassed or outraged themselves. But the no more killed Jesus than the planes killed the Beast. It was the Romans in the first case and beauty in the second.

Yes there were Jews, especially the ruling class bought and paid for by the Romans who collaborated in his arrest, and were not sad to see him go (though very unhappy when he came back three days later), but neither they nor we killed him. Even pre-rehab Mel Gibson admitted that. So get it through you thick, white, Republican head Delegate Hargrove: chances are better that your ancestors killed Christ than mine.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Must Seer TV

Iraq has a new hit television show called Your Fortune. Hosted by two astrologers, Hadeel al-Bayati, who looks suspiciously like Monica Lewinsky, and her male counterpart Ali al-Bakri, the show fields calls and emails from all over Iraq.

I tried emailing the show myself, but I didn’t hear back. I am, however, being spammed by some group selling penis enhancing drugs for would-be martyrs: “If you don’t want them the remain virgins, you need Miracle-Gro.”

Since the hosts of Your Fortune are psyches I decided to contact them the old fashioned way—through telepathy. This proved to be very effective.

Rami: Thanks for taking my ethereal-net call, Ali.

Ali: No problem. What is on your mind which I say only to be polite since I already know what is on your mind being a psychic and no, Hadeel is not here.

Rami: Oh. Well. Listen, I have a question. Our president…

Ali: George W. Bush.

Rami: Wow, you are good. Anyway, our president thinks we need 21,500 more troops in Iraq. General Casey who is up for Army Chief of Staff says we need far fewer than this. Who is right, and how many do we need?

Ali: Yes, yes, let me see what the stars say. Actually your General Casey is right and you need fewer troops.

Rami: Really! How many fewer?

Ali: 21,499 fewer.

Rami: What? We only need one additional soldier in Iraq? Who?

Ali: Superman. He is really Clark Kent, but don’t tell anyone. It is a secret known only to Ma and Pa Kent and perhaps the Bat-Man.

Rami: You do know that Superman is a fictional character.

Ali: Yes, of course, but President George has been using fiction to run this war all along, so there is no problem. But Iran may be smuggling Kryptonite into Baghdad, so you should take out Teheran on the way over. Or, to be safe, may be to send entire Justice League of Great Satan, oh, sorry, of America, would be better. Wonder Woman would have to wear burka, however. Anyway, I must run. Just a warning: I could be wrong about the troops. Ever since Pluto was eliminated as planet everything having to do with Iraq and America is up Uranus. Good-bye.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Nothing to Fear but Fearful Lights Themselves

Boston shut down in fear last Wednesday (January 31) because a couple of guys hired by Cartoon Network put up blinking cartoon characters to hype a cartoon called Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

This is the second time in recent months that a cartoon has caused mass hysteria, the first being the cartoons of Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) published in Denmark. Now, I thought then that the reaction of Muslims to the cartoons was, shall we say, insane, but the response to this totally innocuous blinking light thing was absolutely mad.

The government has gotten us so jumpy with its Orange Alerts and Terror Toothpaste Rulings and Let’s Get Naked In Public X-Ray machines that we are ready to believe that Captain Crunch and General Mills are preparing a coup against the government. (Speaking of the new X-Ray machines, have you stood in an airport security lately? Unless you live in LA, Miami, or Bermuda, you don’t want to see your fellow travelers naked on the x-ray scanner. We are a nation of obese transfat fried coach potatoes who can barely fit in the narrow seats on the plane. I don’t want to see most people clothed, let alone naked. And that goes for me as well.)

So these guys put up the blinking lights in the shape of some 1970’s looking cheesey (hmmm cheeeesy…) video arcade game character and people jump out of their skin. The cops are called, the National Guard is turned out, the Minute Men grab their muskets, tea is tossed into Boston Harbor, witches are burned in Salem, and the great great great great grandson Paul Revere rides his Harley through the countryside crying, “The Blinkies are coming the Blinkies are Coming!”

The new Governor of Massachusetts, Deval(ution) Patrick calls it a “hoax.” Assuming Deval knows what a hoax is, this is not a hoax. This is a marketing campaign. A hoax is Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds. No, even that wasn’t a hoax. That was a radio show that proved in the 1930’s what the blinking lights prove in the 2000’s— Americas are scared shitless! A hoax is getting people to think that anyone you see during the first eight weeks of American Idol has a chance to become America’s idol.

What caused all this madness? Four calls to Boston PD around 1 p.m. citing USBCCs (unidentified stationary blinking cartoon characters) around the city. Of course the police should check things out. But was it really necessary to call in Homeland Security? And just when they were about to stop twelve billion Mexicans from illegally crossing into America to take jobs that Americans no long want to do (like putting up unidentified stationary blinking cartoon characters in American cities)?

We are a nation afraid of its own shadow. This is very dangerous. Things will only get worse, and we will use our fear to justify all kinds of evil. It is one thing to waste tens of thousands of dollars in the war against blinking cartoon lights, but this is only the beginning. Soon we will start rounding up, oh let’s say, Muslims just to be safe. I know you say it can’t happen here, but, yes, Mrs. Yamagoto, it can. I saw it on 24.

A Maccaca Moment or Biden His Time

Senator Joe Biden, would be Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 2008, gave even Paula Zahn a start when he said that Barack Obama, would be Democratic nominee for Messiah, was the first clean African American to run for the Presidency. Now, to be fair (if not balanced) Joe meant BO was “fresh,” “new,” or “forward thinking,” all good words when it comes to marketing a presidential hopeful. And maybe that is what he meant. I cannot judge whether or not this was Biden’s Maccaca Moment, the racially ugly Freudian Slip that sank whatshisname in the West Virginia Senate race. I can’t judge because I myself am racially colorblind.

I mean it. I never take race or color into account. I am so color blind that while I am certain I have friends who are African American, Chinese American, Japanese American, Latin American, Illegal American, and what-have-you they all look perfectly white Anglo-Saxon to me. You know, normal Americans.

Yes, there was a time when I noticed that some people were black. Virginia coal miners speaking to the cameras after a mine disaster, for example. But I knew that these people were really just like me. And I did have an African America friend with whom I worked at a bank in Boston, but I never looked at his skin color. Or rather I only looked at the color of his skin on the palms of his hands which was basically the same as mine.

So when Kramer goes mad with the N-word, I don’t get it. The fact that they hated his comedy routine had nothing to do with their race. Maybe he just sucked. Which brings me to homophobia. I am as homo-blind as I am colorblind. Not only do I not care which Slot B one inserts Tab A into, I don’t care if those with Slots have no truck with Tabs at all. In fact I think we should get over all this male-female nonsense and just talk about Tabs and Slots. And yes, Tabs are from Mars and Slots are from Venus, but you have to talk to L. Ron Hubbard to find out just why that is.

Anyway, back to clueless Joe and clean BO. I think Barack is clean in every meaning of the word. He looks well washed; he isn’t carrying a gun or wearing a wire; he is young and fresh; and he may be free from political baggage despite the fact that Hillary’s storm troopers have put out the word that Barack HUSSEIN Obama went to a Muslim madrassa as a young boy. What’s his name, again? Barack O-bomb-ah?

Politics is an ugly business, and the only winners are those who don’t mind playing in the muck. If BO is clean now, he won’t be by the time we get to vote for president in November of 2008. Which brings me to my suggestion for the 08 race.

Rather than move the primaries to late 07 and early 08, a tactic that only puts more power into the hands of the politic hacks of the two dominant parties, let’s hold the election before the primaries. That way we can vote for candidates before they devolve into pit bulls. And then I can vote for BO, whom I am told is black, before he becomes unclean.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Circles of Love

This morning in my God of Science/Science of God class at Middle Tennessee State University we explored anthropologist Barbara King’s new book Evolving God. The gist of our conversation centered on Dr. King’s notion that humans evolve toward greater and greater levels of belongingness at some point needing to belong to supernatural communities of gods, spirits, and God. Whether or not such realms exist is not Dr. King’s concern. Religion, she says, is a natural expression of the human need to belong.

King also introduced us to Karen Armstrong’s fabulous phrase “ethical alchemy.” For Armstrong religion at its best is the alchemical transformation of the human from concern solely with self to concern for others to concern for all others, human and otherwise.

When I read Armstrong in the context of King, I found that blending belongingness and ethical alchemy provides us with a scientific means for defining religion and measuring the spiritual maturity of any given religion.

Religion is the practice of cultivating compassion for more and more inclusive levels of being in order to facilitate more and more inclusive levels of belonging.

Belonging alone is not enough. One can be predisposed to belong and find your need to belong met by becoming a Nazi and hanging out with fellow Nazis. Compassion alone is not enough: Hitler loved his Eva and, so I am told, his dog. If however we take King’s evolutionary approach and assume that belonging to more inclusive communities is more evolved than belonging to less inclusive communities, and link that with Armstrong’s ethical alchemy of compassion we can say that the hallmark of a healthy and evolved religion is its capacity to nurture belonging to and feelings of compassion for greater and greater circles of reality: matter, life, mind, soul, and spirit (to borrow from Ken Wilbur’s Great Nest of Being).

This of course has nothing to do with creeds, sacred texts, rituals, symbols, holy days, and the like. These are also part of religion, and we can look at them through the lens of ethical alchemy, asking, To what extent does this book or ritual broaden one’s circle of love? The answer to this question is measurable and hence scientific, and can be used to rank religions and religious practices on an objective scale from less to more loving.

Needless to say I am walking on thin ice here. Yet the purpose of our class is to take a hard look at where science and spirituality can talk to one another to each other’s mutual benefit. Today I think we did just that.

PS: The God of Science and the Science of God class is part of the Mobius Center for Science and Spirituality, a joint project of MTSU and my One River Foundation. We will post this class on line over the summer. A second video-based project called “10 Questions” will explore students’ thoughts on religion and spirituality. This too will be available on the Internet. I want to thank all of you who have donated to Mobius and invite others interested in science and spirituality to help us as well. Email me if you want to learn how you can help.