Messianic Rabbi Greg Herschberg’s highly acclaimed 2017 book A Life for God: A Rabbi’s Analysis of Life, the Cross, and Eternity is free right now on Amazon Kindle. No sign-ups or anything. (If you do not have Kindle you can download it for free at https://www.amazon.com/Amazon-Digital-Services-LLC-Download/dp/B00UB76290)
Unholy Hype: Many churches & religious organizations are following the playbook of Madison Avenue & Dr. Goebbels
SOME QUESTIONS FOR YOU:
►Which dominates your life: Competition or sharing & harmonization?
►Is what you’ve been doing with your life consistent with your core nature, or not? That is, are you faithful to your true or authentic self or not?
►Do you tend to think your own thoughts or those of Madison Avenue, Wall Street, etc.?
►Are you nurturing what is genuine & true in life or something else entirely?
►Which is better: To be whole or something else?
►Do you resist learning what closed doors have to teach you?
►Have you consciously embraced your limitations?
►Are the “ought’s” & “should have’s” that bedevil you reflect who you really are?
►Do you run from failure and “experiments gone bad” or learn the lessons they offer and revise your life course accordingly?
►Have the roles you play in life, its pleasures, indulgences, escapes, or obligations, or something else eclipsed or undermined the “you beneath & within”?
►Do the conflicts and paradoxes in your life demand resolution, or embrace & integration into all that you are?
►Is your trip through the valley preparing you to fulfill your unique purpose in life?
This Broadway hit gets a solid film treatment by director Norman Jewison, but that can’t make up for the weaknesses of the script (which were as true onstage as they are here). Jane Fonda plays a chain-smoking shrink sent to a convent to do a psychological evaluation of a novice (Meg Tilly) who gave birth to a baby and then killed it in her little room. Was it a virgin birth? A miracle? And what of the bloody stigmata that seem to spontaneously appear on her hands? Fonda also finds herself clashing with the Mother Superior (Anne Bancroft) over the line between faith and science. But writer John Pielmeier can’t flesh this out beyond an idea; in the end, the solution is a disappointingly earthbound one that even the strong acting in this film can’t elevate.
OK, so the film isn’t flawless and has garnered more than its fair share of “1 or 2 thumbs down”. With this said, I like this flick. Why so? In-a-word it lays in the fact Agnes the novice nun somehow manages to interact with the world thorough a lens of innocence. That is, the unjaded aspects of her being for the most part dominate her day-to-day existence and how she perceives life and those around her.
Hollywood nonsense, you say? I might have agreed with you if this were early 1999. But not afterwards. What changed for me? I spent more than four years in Japan living and teaching classes of Japanese young people from pre-school through doctoral level plus many corporate classes filled with adult working professionals. What I discovered was that virtually all the young folks were, well, in some ways “Agnes of God” like. Mind you, I was aware that there were exceptions and many expats I shared sake and chat with were quick to point out their bad experiences with pretty jaded Japanese characters. But on-the-whole even they agreed most Japanese people they had encountered while teaching and in society at-large exhibited less of the cynicism and sheer nastiness that appeared commonplace back in the US and the West in general (Some of these expats came from the UK, New Zealand and Australia).
My then girlfriend and later (2001) wife thought I was seeing her people through rose colored glasses. This changed once we moved from Japan to southern California in early 2003. Having left being the corporate world in Japan (18 years work for a major multinational corporation in Tokyo), she pursued her long held dream of becoming a marriage and family therapist. This journey took her through the MS in Counseling program at Cal State Fullerton (she graduated with honors) and internships at a number of places including the Salvation Army residential program in Anaheim. While doing an internship at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, she happened to counsel a number of Japanese students who had come to the US in order to obtain specific educational credentials in an English language environment. What she discovered — and made a point of mentioning to me — is that her Japanese charges were very “unjaded” compared to the American students she counseled. Maybe my glasses were not so rose-colored after all.
At the very least, there seems to be at least a modicum of real world evidence that my original observation was spot on: The Japanese were and are on-a-whole less jaded (“more innocent”) than Americans.
Were Americans less jaded in the past? It seemed that way to me when I was a youngster. TV and movies in the late 1950s into the 1960s tended to reflect a certain un-worldliness (Less cynical, less nasty). This began to go out the window with the advance of the sexual revolution, Vietnam and all that entailed, and the general rejection of authority and conventional ways among many young folks of that era (including moi).
Can we ever recapture what we lost short of embarking on a 2nd childhood (individually and collectively)? Is the genie out of the bottle for good? Is there any way to truly be “as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves” (Rabbi Yehoshua’s admonition). Good questions, I think. We American Indians (Choctaws) have a saying that goes like this: “The dog you feed the most becomes biggest”. By this token if we as Americans feed ourselves on jaded & cynical things such as pornography, greed, pride, and other vices then the dogs that will steer our sled (lives) will be these vices. On the other hand, if we feed virtues and starve vices, well, we just might find ourselves less jaded and “wicked”. And while we may not become a nation of “Agnes of God” characters or even Japanese-like, we could inch a little closer to it.
Dr. Anthony G. Payne
Copyright 2013 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.
If you belong to a faith tradition or religious perspective that views the fusion of sperm and egg as marking the advent of a human life, you are probably very unlikely to modify your stance. As one who grew up in the Bible belt among Protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals (upwards of 90% of my family), I know where you are coming from. There is black & white, with grey being a species of unacceptable compromise that is akin to bedding down with evil incarnate.
If you happen to belong to the “B & W’ contingent, perhaps you buttress your antiabortion convictions like many aspects of your most cherished religious beliefs with borrowings from the world of science and medicine, however tenuous some of these may be. As you may know or at least have heard, many religious beliefs are not testable and thus lie outside the purview of science. For example, the religious concept that every human has a soul or spirit imputed by the Almighty at conception or thereafter is not something that can be tested and verified or refuted using the tools of science. There is no laboratory assay that will disclose or measure something that is held to have no material substance as we know it and which is not physically manifest in cells or tissues or such.
For believers who hold that ensoulment (i.e., spirit is imputed) occurs at conception, and (who) refuse to consider even slightly modifying this perspective in light of contrary biblical reasoning, there exists an impasse that cannot be readily breeched (If at all). When enough people embrace such a spin on what constitutes viable human life, their collective influence on the direction state and even federal legislation takes is felt (Some would argue disproportionately so). Of course, the courts have weighed in to keep even majority sentiment from what they conclude impinges on or overrides the Constitutional rights of the minority.
Many scientists regard the convictions of those who hold that viable human life begins at conception or during the very early stages of development as both presumptuous and naive. Many religionists and theologians agree. Among those who happen to hold fast to a belief that a fertilized egg is entitled to full status as a viable human, the use of blastocytes or very early stage embryos constitutes a species of murder. Some even go so far as to decry those who take exception to their faith-based beliefs as being immoral or amoral.
Does the truth lie somewhere between the strictly secular and the sacred? Most of us probably harbor a feeling that somewhere in all this – lurking in the facts of biology and the world of polemics and logic, ethics and religion – there is an answer that will win the day. If this is the case, it is quite obviously going to take time for such a truth to fully emerge.
Many have asked me, “What is your spin on what constitutes viable human life?” Being as I have a foot in both worlds – which is to say religious belief and science – it seems logical to suppose that I would be able to offer up a “faith and science-friendly” opinion as to when viable human life begins. Well, yes, I do have something to offer up for consideration though the only thing I can be 100% certain of is that my opinion will be contested by people on both sides of the “great divide”. With this in mind, here is my spin – informed by biology, of course.
The heart begins beating at three weeks of gestation and the first neural reflex is manifest at eight weeks (and consists of hand withdrawal in response to stimulation of the fetal lip region). During weeks 9-13 the first brain waves appear and are discernible using special medical instrumentation.
Given that death is defined (in part) as a cessation of both heart and brain wave activity, one could argue conversely that to be alive in any meaningful sense beyond mere biological existence (A petri dish bearing a cell culture has biological existence, after all) begins when both heart and brain are operational – week 9 onwards.
Interestingly, in my own faith tradition which is informed by lines of moral & ethical reasoning in Rabbinic Judaism, the fetus generally becomes a viable human life after day 40 of gestation. In the ancient Jewish context, the fetus is deemed to be little more than water until “quickening” occurs, about 40 days after insemination. “What Do Orthodox Jews Think About Abortion and Why? By Judith Shulevitz – Orthodox Jews on Abortion. If we take week 9 as our bench mark — the heart and brain being recognizably functional – then the fetus would be deemed viable from about day 63 onward.
Applying this definition of when human life becomes viable, it follows that embryos from conception to week 9 or so are “pre-viable” or “proto-viable.”
Now is this to say that embryos prior to week 9 are “fair game”? Say, that we can create embryos strictly for the purposes of harvesting their tissue and/or stem cells for medical research or other applications? These embryos aren’t viable, so why not? Well this brings us full circle to religious and ethical concerns. Rather than belabor that in this op-ed piece, I would direct readers to an excellent treatment of this subject in this posted article: Jewish Virtual Library – Abortion
OK, so we don’t create embryos to harvest, how about using intentionally aborted fetuses as a source of tissues or embryonic stem cells for research or medical application? As one fellow actually said to me, “Hey, Doc, they are going to die anyway, so why not get some good out of them for sick and ailing people”. To my mind, this comes uncomfortably close to the arguments advanced by physicians and scientists who performed hideous experiments on human subjects in Nazi concentration camps. This very line of reasoning was, in fact, used as a defense by some of the physicians being tried for war crimes in the 1946 “Doctor’s Trail” in Germany). Granted, there is a world of difference between elective abortion and the intentional dispatch of life at the hands of doctors (such as the late Nazi “Angel of Death” Dr. Josef Mengele and his ilk) who abandoned universally acknowledged medical ethics in the service of the state. But even so, harvesting aborted fetuses from any source does strike many folks in America as constituting a form of callous utilitarianism that can’t help but bring to mind some of the most egregious polities and activities in the Nazi bio-state – or perhaps the fear that our country is headed in the direction of making prophecy of the classic sci-fi film “Soylent Green” – or both. And even if the intentional abortion of a fetus before week 9 were universally embraced as morally and ethically acceptable – in no way offensive to humankind or the Almighty – there remains something hauntingly “predatory” about utilizing material from intentionally terminated “pre-viable” human material.
All things considered, it seems unlikely that access to abortion will prove a genie that can be returned to the proverbial bottle (This side of the US becoming an authoritarian or police state run by pro-life factions at all levels, that is – something the majority of Americans would vehemently oppose). And while restrictions on the direction embryonic stem cell research and use takes will likely continue to be a legislative and ethical tug-of-war between various factions, a return to an outright ban on government provided/sanctioned embryonic stem cell lines seems unlikely. This leaves what is being played out now at the political level: That is, the fact many state legislatures such as my own native state of Texas in 2013 are leaning towards placing considerable restrictions on access to abortion services. This gambit may succeed especially in states dominated by a traditionally conservative majority although I predict any such this legislation will be eventually overturned by the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional.
Perhaps my life-at-9-weeks-on criteria should be thrown into the abortion access deliberations mix. Let’s revisit it:
Given that death is defined (in part) as a cessation of both heart and brain wave activity, one could argue conversely that to be alive in any meaningful sense beyond mere biological existence (A petri dish bearing a cell culture has biological existence, after all) begins when both heart and brain are operational – week 9 onwards
Of course, I am not actually advocating that my definition (above) be transformed into new legislation or such that is imposed on all women across the land. But for women who come out of conservative faith traditions what I have laid out might help them in deciding at what point-in-time during a fetuses’ development abortion constitutes an ethical or moral misstep. For those who find my approach reasonable, use of a “morning after” pill constitutions no sin nor does an abortion prior to week ten (10) post-conception.
In the final analysis, the whole matter comes down to personal choice informed by the unique constellation of social and life factors & players that characterize each woman’s life.
© 2013 by Dr. Anthony Payne. All rights reserved.
“Today, concern about man’s alienation is expressed by many: by theologians and philosophers who warn that advanced in scientific knowledge do not enable us to penetrate the mystery of Being, and do not often widen the gulf between the knower and the reality he tries to understand…” CLICK TO READ MORE
The foundation of holism or holistic medicine rests on a triumvirate — body, mind and spirit. Actually, as the mind is an expression of the various regions of the brain — a species of the physical — we are really dealing with body/brain and spirit. The former, of course, has been probed and explored using the tools of medicine and science. No one questions their reality. Spirit, on the other hand, by most definitions is non-material, and thus lies beyond the purview of science; that is, one cannot demonstrate spirit using a gas chromatograph, scanning electron microscope, or any other tool in the armamentarium of science.
But what of the effects of spirit? If it exists, should we not be able to detect its effects on the physical realm? This is a question which now occupies many philosophers, some scientists and physicians, and many laypeople.
One very often cited manifestation of spirit lies in the realm of answered prayer. Numerous studies have been carried out in which patients with a given affliction were divided into two groups: One received prayer (experimental group) and the other (control group) didn’t. The prayers were offered off-site and no one involved in the study knew who was being prayed for and who wasn’t (double-blind).
The bottom line of many of these studies is that prayer appears to have made a significant difference in the relief or cure of the malady or affliction in the experimental group, while those in the control group had no appreciable change in their condition. The rigor of these studies has been found wanting by countless impartial investigators. That is, flaws in study design, methodology and/or execution have basically invalidated the findings of these clinical trials.
What of the healings connected with religious shrines, such as Lourdes? There have been approximately 69 healings connected with Lourdes which have met the Catholic church’s criteria for a bona fide miracle — 69 out of the hundreds of thousands of petitions for healing. This is not statistically significant. In short, the numbers do not support the notion that the rate of recovery/healing at Lourdes is greater than would be expected to occur as a result of normal processes. (One can expect a certain percentage of even incurable illnesses to suddenly and inexplicably go into remission. These recoveries happen to non-believer and believer alike — and hence appear contingent on natural and not supernatural mechanisms.)
I know what many of you are thinking — “Leave it to a skeptical, non-believing blankety-blank science guy to trash our sacred beliefs.” If you are nodding your head in agreement — you are dead wrong. First of all, I am a believer. I also believe that God hears and answers prayer — and even heals people. Well, wait a minute, isn’t this contradictory or hypocritical, given what I wrote above? No, indeed, for I do not allege that my beliefs are based on hard science nor the manifestations of spirit, or God so physically evident as to permit measurement or quantification. In fact, those who believe that spirit, God, or any aspect of the supernatural can be demonstrated in a controlled study or lab experiment invite upon themselves the unenviable task of proving their claims. (It is always incumbent on those who propose the existence of something which can be physically detected and, thus measured, to do just that.) And I, for one, do not believe that they will ever garner any substantive proof. Why?
Consider this: In virtually every religious tradition God requires that humankind both apprehend His existence and relate to him via faith — a conviction based not on the physical and demonstrable, but on sheer belief. If God were to reveal Himself in the lab or clinical trial setting — say, by answering the prayers for healing in an experimental group at rates which exceed chance — the need for faith would be dispensed with. We could base our confidence, our belief in the spiritual and a First Cause (God) on the hard data provided by the study in question.
This, of course, would make God the author of a serious contradiction and would obligate most major religions to toss out many of their principle doctrines concerning the nature of the deity, the need for faith as a requisite for apprehending the divine, et cetera. It would also raise serious questions as to the reliability of revealed truths about God (oral and written traditions).
Since I do not believe God would ask one thing (faith) and then reveal Himself in a concrete, scientifically demonstrable fashion, I am not surprised or dismayed that laboratory experiments and clinical trials do not turn upon any credible data which stands up to scrutiny. I also realize, however, that there are some who believe that faith isn’t the only requisite to apprehending God or the supernatural and will continue to carry out studies aimed at catching a glimpse of the divine in action.
In my opinion they are wasting both time and money, but should they one day prove to be right — if they do incontrovertibly demonstrate the efficacy of prayerful supplication (to God) in healing a given malady — skeptic and believer alike will be making some rather profound changes to their distinct perspectives. This isn’t beyond the pale of possibility. I think, however, that such definitive proof will in some ways weigh more heavily on the religionist then the agnostic or skeptic.
While the debate rages and the studies plod along, what role then should the spiritual play in healing/medicine? I think most physicians — even diehard atheists — at the very least accommodate a narrow species of “spirituality,” in the sense of encouraging hope and making use of patient expectation to afford relief, if not cure.
In holistic medicine, on the other hand, the spiritual element more often takes on a different character and importance. The holistic medical community plays host to wide range of spiritual beliefs, including American Indian, New Age, Buddhist, Christian. As long as this spirituality is not called “scientific” or “hard science-based,” or makes claims which can be tested using the tools and methods of science, its place in the patient care repertoire of holistic health care practitioners remains a matter of personal prerogative. And doesn’t faith and personal prerogative lie at the core of human spirituality?
In the final analysis, I think we will find that the substantiation of faith begins and ends on one’s knees — and in one’s heart — and not in the laboratory.
Copyright 2011 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.
From my “Rocking the Boat” Blog site http://rockingtheboat.weebly.com/
Apparently we Americas spend a great deal of time thinking about and change our religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. One telltale example: Many theists are embracing deism. Here is what Wikipedia had to say about this:“The 2001American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) survey, which involved 50,000 participants, reported that the number of participants in the survey identifying themselves as deists grew at the rate of 717% between 1990 and 2001. If this were generalized to the US population as a whole, it would make deism the fastest-growing religious classification in the US for that period, with the reported total of 49,000 self-identified adherents representing about 0.02% of the US population at the time.”Along the same line, during a “For Good Reason” podcast on “The Search for Quantum Consciousness,” physicist Victor Stenger touched on a Baylor University survey that revealed that 40% of people who identify themselves as Christians basically do not believe in a God who plays an active role in the universe (13m:47s into the podcast). Dr. Stenger makes the point that these folks sound like deists.The rise of deism and the Christian identification with it in principle if not in name, tells me a lot of believing folks have taken the time to ruminate on whether or not there is sufficiently compelling evidence to believe God is actively playing a role in their lives – like answering prayers, performing miracles and such. 4 of 10 Christians in the Baylor survey appear to have concluded that God is on holiday. This is one way to for religionists to reconcile what goes on in the world and is attested to by scientific findings with one’s particular brand of faith (Of course, one can jettison faith altogether, which is what Dr. Stenger has done and advocates in his books “God: The Failed Hypothesis” and “Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness”.)
Now, while believers may be increasingly leaning toward a deist stance on God, it is unlikely the great majority will decide the Almighty simply doesn’t exist and never did. Of course, what believers have to be careful of is making claims concerning God’s actions or motives that can be tested using the tools of science or refuted using demonstrable or deducible facts informed by logic. For instance, religionists who insist there was a worldwide flood that a man named Noah and his clan rode out in an ark run into monumental problems such as a lack of evidence for a global deluge in the geologic record, not to mention the fact the energy released by what is described in scriptures would have resulted in oceans so hot as to constitute a de facto lobster pot in which everything living including those in the ark would have boiled to death, et cetera (There is, however evidence of a local flood in Mesopotamia about the time the incidents described in Genesis were supposed to have occurred.) And if an evangelist declares a dying cancer patient healed, this is testable insofar as doctors can put the healing to the test using modern day scanners (One doctor who did track down 23 people who were declared healed of terminal diseases during services conducted in 1967 by evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman found no evidence to support this.)
Putting aside biblical and extrabiblical claims of the miraculous – which can be examined and either confirmed or found wanting — there is a host of very dark chapters in history such as the reign of Hitlerism-Nazism in Germany (1933-1945) and its “wicked fruit” (especially the Holocaust) that have profound implications for God’s role in human affairs, suggesting to many believers that either God is or was on holiday or just isn’t around at all. As a boy I mulled this over and came to the tentative conclusion that God was not necessarily absent from human affairs, but had simply assumed a more subtle role in lock-step with our ever increasing ability to run our own show. Of course, as our control over nature and each other increased and our tools and weapons became more sophisticated and powerful – the greater our potential became for doing both great good or great evil. The choice ultimately rests with us, of course, though we are told (in the Tanakh, Christian New Testament and Qur’an) that humankind will not be allowed to fully extinguish its own flame.
To my delight my boyhood spin on theodicy was independently arrived at by many others, including scholar David Birnbaum who fleshed it out (1989) on a scholarly level in a delightfully insightful book titled “God and Evil: A Unified Theodicy/Theology/Philosophy”
Obviously matters of faith lacking testable claims – amounting to convictions and beliefs in the absence of evidence — cannot genuinely be settled either decisively or conclusively. Often, one man’s truth is another one’s heresy. And treatises on theodicy like the one I came up with as a boy could as easily be accommodated by some forms of deism as it could conventional or orthodox religions.
Even belief in God amounts to a commitment in the absence of evidence. Atheists and agnostics can and have trumped Judeo-Christian apologetics using a body of powerful evidence and logic. I would urge my fellow religionists to face up to this and consider embracing polymath Martin Gardner’s fideist spin on God (which could also be applied to many aspects of faith including certain dogmas, doctrines and such.) This is ably captured in a comment made by famed illusionist and champion of skeptical thinking, James Randi, on Gardner’s passing at age ninety-five (95):
“……Yes, Martin was a fideist, and he defended that belief in his usual calm, direct fashion. When I questioned him on the subject he told me that he had no really good evidence to support his belief, but that it simply made him feel better to adopt it. He said that I — and other curmudgeons — had far better evidence for our convictions, but that he just felt more secure in his acceptance. He admitted — easily — that he could not convincingly argue his case… That was Martin, and I love him for being Martin…..”
I am not here to dictate what people believe or not. I’m here to rock boats that could use some rocking. Religion is one of these. But rocking this boat doesn’t mean telling folks what to believe or how to express their faith. Rather, I relish sharing ideas, information and lines of thought that at least some believers might find useful in terms of helping better reconcile their convictions and beliefs with what science and history has revealed about our origins and nature. And this, my friend, brings me to the purpose of this particular blog entry: Namely, to pass along something which I believe will serve this purpose for at least a few believers reading this thought stream —
Happy belated “Religious Liberty Day”! Keep rocking boats that need rocking! I sure will.
Dr. Anthony G. Payne