Thinking

I get great pleasure out of thinking. Concentrating on the meaning of life is as satisfying to me as, I presume, it is for a golfer to concentrate on an important putt. I don’t place any greater or lesser importance on my pleasure than on the golfer’s pleasure. I write these thoughts largely for myself though it is quite possible that if I were the only person in the world, I would not bother.
Would I still think if I were alone? One of the things I have found when I am alone is that I frequently think in the past tense. “As I walked up the road toward Mt. Vesuvius from where the bus had dropped me …” I was 27 when I was having that thought in those words while climbing Mt. Vesuvius. I wrote them down in my diary along with the thought “If there was only one person left on earth, and he was I; He would die. Why?”
Why? Because the thought in my head seemed to indicate that I was not climbing through a flowering orchard on a spring day with the cone of Vesuvius ahead of me for my current pleasure but rather for an experience that I could relate to others. Otherwise, why were not my thoughts in the present tense?
Deep breath. “Ahhh. The air is so sweet. God! I love this.” I breathe the air again. I look toward a sound and see a bird. As I emerge from the orchard and start up the cone I can feel my body carrying me upward smoothly. I pause and turn to look out over the bay of Naples. No words in my head about what I am doing. I’m just doing it. No recording necessary.
Would my mind be blank, blank of worded thoughts that is? I shouldn’t think so. The bird might call to mind something I know of birds that could be added to. The fragrance of the air might recall a spring day somewhere in my past. The pull of gravity on my body might bring thoughts of pride at my fitness or a resolve to become more fit. But I’m glad my thoughts weren’t in the present tense. Realizing that brought the philosophical thought, that I was not doing this for myself alone. It is those somehow larger thoughts that I enjoy most, larger and ever so debatable.
There are many things I would not do were there not other people to tell but that is a different thing from thinking. If all other people on the planet suddenly disappeared, would I stop thinking? First I would probably think that was strange. Then I might think it a bit frightening. My life would clearly be different with no one to talk to. I would have to sort out my needs and figure out how to meet them. There would be no one to generate electricity or make matches. How would I cook food? Where would I find food? There would be a lot to think about, at least at first.
At age 27 I thought that I would die if I were the last person on earth. Now, I’m not so sure. Of course I would die eventually but I’m not sure that I would just curl up and die because the only reason for living was to communicate with others. I think I would want to solve the important questions like food and shelter and then I think I would be able to amuse myself with thoughts about the meaning of it all. What was going on? What was I supposed to be doing? The thoughts might not be global or cosmic so much as “What is over the horizon?” “Am I truly alone in the world or are there people that I can find somewhere?” “How did this happen?” Ah, the thoughts seem to progress toward the more philosophical fairly soon.
It is difficult to try to understand thinking before there was language. One model would be animals, I suppose. What does the woodchuck think when it’s nose touches my electric fence for the first time? How do animals learn to be fearful of predators? Are they fearful or merely cautious? What did the early hominid think before language? Can there be thoughts before language?
If I try to think without using words, I think I can have thoughts. Are they thoughts or emotions? Certainly they would be extremely limited absent thoughts from others through written and spoken words. Hunger, shelter, sex are processed through the brain. Those are the “thoughts” I can imagine without words as I sit here half a million or so years later. It was clearly thoughts that brought about the development of tools. It has only been within the past 3,000 years that we have been thinking philosophically. Most of our thought up until then, I suspect, was focused on survival and on improving the quality of life.
What is my dog thinking when she huddles close to me during a thunder storm? What is she thinking when, alone in the house during a thunder storm, she gets into the bathtub? If dogs could communicate about things like thunder, would they exchange ideas on how to cope, try out each others ideas, and come to a general agreement on which strategy worked best?
Before language did hominids wonder what thunder was all about? Did they try to figure out a reason behind it? Once they developed language how did they come to the conclusion that thunder was caused by a god driving his chariot across the sky? As I try to think myself into the skin of people living under those conditions it seems a pretty logical explanation for something that was inexplicable at that time.

Satan’s influence – a dialogue

Bible Believer: If Satan wrote the Bible, why is there so much good in it?

Thomas: Is Satan stupid?

BB: No! He is very smart. That is how he is able to lure us to do things we shouldn’t.

Thomas: What is his mission?

BB: To get us to do bad things.

Thomas: Like destroying God’s creation?

BB: Yes.

Thomas: Are we part of God’s creation?

BB: Yes.

Thomas: Do you believe God gave you your body with senses of smell, sight, touch, hearing, the pleasure of sex?

BB: Yeah, I guess.

Thomas: You guess?

BB: Well, I’m not sure about sex. That might be Satan.

Thomas: Is sex something other than a wonderful combination of the senses, might I say climax?

BB: Yeah, but Satan can get in our mind and make us do things we shouldn’t.

Thomas: Sex is something we shouldn’t do?

BB: Right, unless it is between a man and a woman and only because they are married and want to have children.

Thomas: You are married. Have you had sex with your wife other than to have children?

BB: Yes, but that is because Satan makes me do it.

Thomas: Do you masturbate?

BB: No. Why are you raising your eyebrows; don’t you believe me?

Thomas: You are unique. Anyway, your sexual urges come from Satan? How does Satan do that? I understand that he is smart but he did not create your body, the body that has the sexual urges.

BB: He gets in my mind.

Thomas: Your God-given mind?

BB: Well, yeah, but I’m weak.

Thomas: God gave you a weak mind?

BB: Yeah, no! It’s not God’s fault I’m weak.

Thomas: Your God-given weak mind gives in to the pleasures of your God-given body? How does it make you feel when you “are weak?”

BB: I feel bad because I’m not doing what God wants me to do.

Thomas: How do you know what God wants you to do?

BB: It’s in the Bible.

Thomas: If it weren’t for the Bible, you would enjoy sex without feeling bad? Have I got that right? If God had written a manual for life saying “I have given you a body with senses that can bring you great pleasure and joy; I have given you a mind that will help you enjoy your life; I have given you plants and animals, mountains and oceans if you take care of them they will feed your body and soul all the days of your life; if that were God’s word, would you feel bad when you used your body?

BB: I guess not but that’s not what he said.

Thomas: So, Satan can influence people; could he influence what people write or say?

BB: He’s sure influencing what you are writing. Yes.

Thomas: Is my writing influencing you?

BB: Hell no!

Thomas: Do you think Satan could work through religions to get people to go astray?

BB: Just look at history. He does some of his best work that way.

Thomas: Through other religions, not yours?

BB: Right, there are lots of religions out there that have lost their way.

Thomas: What is your religion?

BB: Lutheran.

Thomas: So Catholics have lost their way?

BB: Absolutely! Martin Luther established that.

Thomas: And Jews have lost their way?

BB: They killed Christ didn’t they?

Thomas: And Mormons?

BB: I don’t really know much about them but unless they believe the only way to heaven is through Christ, why, yeah, they are on the wrong track.

Thomas: Muslims?

BB: Isn’t that obvious?

Thomas: So, Satan is winning? All those millions of people who aren’t Lutherans have been won over by Satan even though all of those people believe in the Bible, the same Bible you believe in. They follow, or at least try to follow, the Ten Commandments, just as you do. All but the Jews believe Jesus was holy.

BB: Not Muslims.

Thomas: Actually, they do but they have a more recent prophet who created another holy book, the Koran. Mormons have the most recent prophet to whom the Book of Mormon came directly from God much as the Ten Commandments came to Moses. The Jews have the oldest word from God and the Mormons have the most recent. What makes the Lutherans special?

BB: I just know they are. It is my faith.

Thomas: I respect your faith as long as it makes you happy. However, if it makes you unhappy, I suggest you question it. You believe Satan is smart and that he can work through religions. Perhaps you should use your mind to make sure you are not following Satan, to make sure Satan is not taking away anything God gave you. I’ll get back to your original question in my next post.

God Given Mind

Those who believe in a god believe God gave them a mind which is why, in debates with those who label themselves Christian, I frequently follow their “it’s just a leap of faith” with “Use your God-given mind.”
Galileo, on trial for heresy because he was supporting Copernicus’ findings 100 years earlier that the earth was not the center of the universe, said “…I neither intend nor pretend to gain from it (his book on the universe) any fruit that is not pious and Catholic.” He added, however, “I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

I love Galileo!

Do fundamentalists understand parables

I wonder if fundamentalists understand parables. My own experiences lead me to believe they don’t. For example, I have had fundamentalists tell me that the reason no one stoned the adulteress when Jesus said “let he who is without sin throw the first stone” was because all of those men had committed adultery. If there had been just one who had not, he would have thrown the first stone and the woman would have been stoned to death.
“So,” I asked, “this story doesn’t pertain to you at all?” “Right,” he answered. I’ve never committed adultery so if I had been there, I could have stoned her.” It seems to me that is a story about judging others as in “judge not lest yea be judged.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan does not translate into “love thy enemies.” Enjoy this quote from a Christian site on the parables: “Like his aphorisms, Jesus’ parables were often surprising and paradoxical. The parable of the good Samaritan, for example, turned expectations on their head with the despised Samaritan proving to be the wounded man’s neighbor.”

Follows is a dialogue in which I tried to make a point using allegory:
Me: You believe life is a gift?
CF (Christian Fundamentalist): Yes.
Me: A gift from God?
CF: Yes.
Me: God the Father?
CF: Yes.
Me: Do you think life is a wonderful gift?
CF: Obviously.
Me: You are a father. Have you given your children gifts?
CF: Of course.
Me: Imagine giving your son a wonderful gift, the best gift you could imagine and he said “Thank you Dad. What else did you get me?” How would that make you feel?
CF: What’s your point?
Me: God gave you a wonderful gift, you say, but you turn around and ask for another life, a heaven that you know nothing about other than you are sure it is better than this life, this gift. How do you think that would make God feel?
CF: I’m not God.
Me: You believe you were created in God’s image. God shows lots of feelings and emotions that you can identify with including rage. You call him your Father in Heaven. If I gave my son a beautiful bicycle that he wanted and he said, “Thanks Dad. What else did you get me? I’d be pissed.
CF: I’m sure you are a good father.

Using allegory when having a discussion of religion with fundamentalist Christians may not help advance your point.

Truth

Ah, the truth. The truth for you may be different than the truth for me. I think it is something each of us must find for ourselves. It is a pity that many people are taught at an early age that their religion is the only true religion and that they should not question it. If you are not questioning, you are not learning.

The truth regarding the contradictions in the Bible is that it was written by many men based on stories that were passed down orally through many generations with corrections, embellishments, errors and, I suspect, some intentional fraud. We should keep in mind that these men thought the world was the center of the universe and that the earth was flat. They should be admired for the philosophical/psychological truths they discovered but thinking should not stop.

Consider how much more we know today than was known 2,000 years ago about every field of thought—astronomy, geography, biology, chemistry, botany, psychology, psychiatry, etc.—while religious philosophy for Jews, Christians and Muslims has stood still.

If you have debated with someone who takes the Bible literally, you have probably reached a point in the debate where your opponent says, “It is a leap of faith.” That is where a debate between rational or logical thought and religious belief has reached an impasse. That is where I say, “Leave your leap of faith behind and use your God-give mind.” By the way, when I say that, I am not stating my own belief on the existence or not of a Supreme Being but rather using language that should resonate with the person I’m debating.