Saturday, July 1, 2017


La Malagueña (The Woman from Malaga), Julio Romero de Torres, 1917

Jasmine like blossoming moonlight
has taken captive the blue dusk.
I am fourteen, fifteen, sixteen —
the radio sings Malagueña.

Years later at a wedding,
a middle-aged mariachio
sings Malagueña with such passion,
the guests fall silent as in a cathedral.

Few comprehend the lyrics,
but the meaning stays
in the arches of the vowels, held
so long they span constellations.

Maybe it never really ends —
life driven by desire
for a different life.
You never stop waiting,

never, a famous actress
said in her old age —
she who we thought possessed
all we ever wanted to have.

And those who come after us
will wait in the same twilight,
the boats rocking like cradles,
palms spreading their black fans.

The music cannot be undone:
it casts the human voice beyond
blue, into pure indigo —
not star jasmine, sparse petals,

but the full narcotic flower —
as the lights on the bay
sink shimmering shafts
into the ocean’s dark love.

~ Oriana

This poem was inspired by listening to a beautiful live rendition of “Malagueña” at a wedding. I happened to be familiar with the song since my early teens. The poem turned out to be another meditation on the yearning for the ideal.

There is no denying that we are wired to idealize whoever it is we happen to fall in love with. This, like the idealization the deities and the saints, has given rise to much art. Paradoxically, the loss of love has given rise to even more art. A happy marriage — and there are those, even if they are never ideal in every way and at all times — rarely seems to inspire the most sublime poetry. Typically it takes the longing for the impossible to breathe life into a lovely lyric.

A friend told me of a visit from a couple of performing artists she envied a lot. They appeared to be perfectly matched — both of them in the arts, enjoying about equal success, their marriage not  marred by competition. In addition, the couple had two attractive children.

At some point during the visit, the hostess happened to be alone with the woman visitor. She reports the woman said, wistfully, “Every time I open the door to a new room, I can’t help feeling that the perfect man just waits inside.” And this ended my friend’s envy of that seemingly perfect marriage.

It takes a lot of experience to overcome that constant waiting and readiness for a great love that’s just around the corner — in the next town, during the next trip, behind the next closed door — which, if it happens, often ends in a great disappointment. But that’s the way we are wired, both by biology (falling in love resembles being high on drugs, specifically uppers) and by culture, which glorifies falling in love rather than the work it takes to maintain a steady attachment. Such an attachment can be deeply satisfying, but it’s not euphoric. It has ups and downs, and every several years, it’s a different relationship — that’s just the nature  of things.


Johann Gottlieb Fichte, one of the founding figures of German idealism, said that “man is an arrow shot toward the ideal.” But is he? And exactly what ideal, and whose? As seen by the remnant Marxists, or by the leaders of ISIS? Is it ever anything but a variation on fascism — a super-state populated with supermen, a master race to which others bow? So what if Nietzsche meant someone more like Goethe, an artist and a scholar, not a brute warrior . . .  It seems that the greatest atrocities have been committed in the name of the most beautiful ideals. The longer I live, the more I want to encourage people to attend to the real, not the ideal.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

A very special friend, Mary McCarthy, has written a thought-provoking commentary on “Malagueña.” I post it here with her permission:

The Malaguena poem is very very beautiful, and touches on something I have often thought of, what I assumed was part of Romanticism, but is probably older and more deeply rooted, That is, the tendency, perhaps even the obsession, to live for some imagined, longed for perfect future—the perfect lover, the perfect self, living in a perfect world. It is a kind of sickness, that steals the present, sacrificing it to a dream of the future (here, or in a perfect state, perfect world, or in the afterlife.) I think of books like Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, where the perfect love, like that old idea of one being split in two, seeking it’s other half, like Kathy’s unfortunate declaration: “I am Heathcliff!” In the real world creates only misery in the lives of real people.

An example of my thinking on this—when I was 15 or 16 I read Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea, in which a young man conceives a passion for a woman he has never even spoke with, whose father is a shipowner, whose whole fortune was tied up in one ship that ran aground in dangerous seas on a particular wild and treacherous set of rocks. The ship owner declares any man who can salvage that ship and its cargo can have his daughter’s hand in marriage. So our young love-sick fellow goes out and spends endless days and weeks, all his physical and mental energies, and manages to rescue the ship and bring it in. This is a long long tortuous process, and Hugo drags us through it, step by step. So he goes to collect his prize, his bride, and her father is more than willing to bestow her –but our young man overhears his ideal beloved mourning with her actual beloved, because they will be separated and she will be married to our hero. Too NOBLE for this world, he manages to effect the lovers marriage and escape, subsuming his own hopes and desires. After he sees them off in their honeymoon voyage, he goes and sits on a rock and watches the ship departing, and lets the tide rise over him, and drowns. Reading this in my teens, I cried for hours. Thought it was incredibly sad, tragic, true, true love. Reading the book again in my 50’s I found the whole thing idiotic. Delusional, silly, a waste of human life and potential, the idea of this kind of “ideal” love, “only one true love” etc. ludicrous and dangerous. Felt no sympathy for that noble suicide at all. I think I.m more of the “love the one you’re with” school.

But it’s not only about love. We seem to constantly project and yearn toward some ideal future we hope to find or attain, somewhere, somehow. I think that steals us from the joy in the present, the full experience of life as it is—exquisite, interesting, wondrous, inexhaustible. I always thought it was some lack in myself, no ambitions, no dreams of longing, no projection of myself into some imagined future, better, life. I didn’t Plan  for anything, really, just enjoyed, lived, or suffered, in the place where I was. Never, for instance, had “Career Plans or Goals’” either in academia or in my practice as a nurse. Maybe I didn’t get anywhere, but I wasn’t trying to. And I wouldn’t undo any of it, even the worst parts.

The painting is also very haunting. The woman so sad and troubled, the man so malevolent, with those long fingers, and in the background, something bad happening for sure. Even the colors are moody, oppressive—not only sad, but filled with threat.


Thank you for the fascinating comments — including the summary of that spectacularly ridiculous novel by Hugo (and here we thought that Les Miserables had some insufferable sentimentality). And thanks for the observation that the famous quotation from Withering Heights — Kathy’s “I am Heathcliff!” — is unfortunate. It’s the deeply mistaken perception of great similarity that’s not uncommon in the first months of romantic infatuation, but can also be the lifelong delusion of a parent who keeps insisting that the child “takes after me.”

(It’s also sexist in that it’s unimaginable that Heathcliff would say, “I am Katherine!” That would diminish him as a man. It was fine for a woman to project her ideal self on a man, but it didn’t go the other way. In spite of the expression “my better half” as a synonym for a wife, it’s hard to imagine a man who would consciously and explicitly project his ideal self on a woman, an inferior being.)

To return to Mary’s comments, I agree that we seem to constantly yearn for some ideal future — that’s the main theme of my Malagueña poem: “life driven by desire / for a different life.” I know I used to live for the future, even though my plans were hardly specific — oh, I’d win an important poetry manuscript contest, which would lead to a good teaching job and to giving readings and lectures and workshops. And of course I’d continue to write poems all my life, always growing better and better. The demands of my career would never interfere with the time and that special mental space it took for inspiration — and I would have a devoted audience that only grew and grew.

Need I say that the audience would be international? I blush to admit that it was very easy to imagine my poems being translated into several languages . . .

And since I was a rather late bloomer, I can’t even blame it all on the foolishness of youth . . .  Also, I’ve already had the experience of coming to America and how it all turned out completely different than expected — but I failed to generalize from that gigantic life lesson.

Human, all too human. Yet we also typically become happier the older we grow, the farther away we get from youth. To a lively mind, reality has the advantage of being more interesting than anything we can imagine. (And, oddly enough, my blog does have an international audience.)

Just as we have a dream of a perfect alternate life and a perfect alternate partner, so we keep dreaming of a “better place” (barring an immortality here on earth). As if the ocean weren’t beautiful enough for us, and instead of enjoying it now, we kept imagining a more beautiful ocean . . . But let’s stop for a moment to consider what immortality might look like — its side effects, so to speak.

~ With infinite life comes an infinite list of relatives. Grandparents never die, nor do great-grandparents, great-aunts . . . and so on, back through the generations, all alive and offering advice. Sons never escape the shadows of their fathers. Nor do daughters of their mothers. No one ever comes into his own . . . Such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free. ~ Alan Lightman, “Einstein’s Dreams”

Einstein lecturing in Vienna, 1921


I don’t think anyone truly pauses to think what it would be like to live forever side by side with one’s ancestors. Let’s consider just the grandparents — presumably in young, perfect bodies, not the “sweet little old lady” or shrunken old man as we remember them, but strangers from another era, that of their youth, with whom we’d probably have nothing in common. Mentality, like fashion, changes with surprising speed, and ideas that are progressive in one century seem like backward prejudice in the next.

To my own surprise, I find myself nodding in agreement to this stanza of Swinburne’s Garden of Proserpine:

We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.


Ingmar Bergman shooting The Seventh Seal

And in terms of working to improve this world, the delusion of heaven may have been as harmful to humanity as that of hell. Worse yet, recently we got to experience how hope for paradise can drive unstable, unhappy individuals to acts of homicidal martyrdom.

~ “Although it may, dispiritingly, seem otherwise, the supply of homicidal madmen intent on entering heaven by means of taking the lives of as many people as possible is not inexhaustible and will start ebbing once the forces of civilization manage eventually to drive an iron stake through the dark heart of that rancid madness.” ~ M. Iossel

Titian: Assumption of the Virgin, 1518. Mary — in the body, since the ancient Hebrews didn't believe in disembodied souls — is being carried to god the father on a cloud. I esp like the little angels who seem to be pushing the cloud upward.


I was suddenly struck by that phrase: the Age of Ignorance. It was also the Age of Dictatorship, of absolute rulers (emperors, kings, warlords — hence it was relatively easy to think that the universe, too, has a ruler) — but now it seems to me that ignorance was primary and more important.

We simply can't get into the pre-scientific mentality of the people who created the major religions (be it not in the form in which those are now practiced). Their world was populated by supernatural beings, chiefly demons. Disease was thought to be caused by demons. Earthquakes, floods, and other “acts of god” were seen as punishment. “Sacred Scriptures” were written by men who had no idea where the sun went for the night. Not that we can blame them for not knowing that the sun didn’t “go” anywhere — rather, the earth rotates.

No, we cannot blame our ancestors for having been profoundly ignorant. They were slowly making all sorts of discoveries, making inventions that would eventually reduce ignorance (e.g. the printing press). The problem is that the various ancient texts arising the archaic mentality are still with us, still being taken literally by some — and the results can be lethal. Now, in the twenty-first century, when we are beginning to talk of self-driving cars and other wonders. 9/11 really opened our eyes: it was the revenge of the Age of Ignorance.


~ “Among the most pro-social things we do for ingroup members is readily forgive them for transgressions. When a Them does something wrong, it reflects essentialism — that’s the way They are, always have been, always will be. When an Us is in the wrong, however, the pull is toward situational interpretations — we’re not usually like that, and here’s the extenuating circumstance to explain why he did this. Situational explanations for misdeeds are the reason why defense lawyers want jurors who will view the defendant as an Us.” ~

Have you wondered why, in the eyes of his fans, Trump can do no wrong, or why Evangelical ministers are so readily forgiven for outrageous sex scandals — even if those include the use of male prostitutes, child rape, or drugs? Members of their congregations simply blame Satan (who supposedly targets ministers in preference to average sinners), and continue to adore their seriously misbehaving pastor, no matter how appalling his sins. Sapolsky provides a simple answer that does ring true: the minister is one of US! He’s not a liberal or a socialist — then he’d be rotten in his essence, with no saving features. Much to the surprise of outsiders, the minister will not be judged and condemned; he will be seen in terms of situational ethics, i.e. that was a temporary straying due to Satan’s machinations.

But liberals, of course, are evil in their essence, since they are THEM, not US.

the laughing bumblebee orchid, ophrys bombylifora


~ “You say, if you have an asshole parent, that as an adult you shouldn’t worry so much about forgiving them if you were traumatized by your childhood. Could you explain the thinking behind that?

Michael: If you find that your parent is one of those people who is really just a jerk, it's sort of like forgiving a cockroach for being a cockroach, or a snake for being a snake. Forgiveness tends to assume that people had a choice and made a bad choice. Whereas, what I think you run into more often is somebody who didn't really have a choice, they're just bad.

The one you want to forgive is God, for having to live in a world where jerks have as many kids as anyone else. It’s less personal. I think in some ways it frees you up more to realize that [your parent] did what they did because they’re built that way.” ~


~ “Always be this; never be that. Always be honest; never be dishonest. Always be receptive; never be unreceptive. Always be giving; never be ungiving. The list goes on.

These one-attitude-fits-all-situations rules are easy to remember and fun to preach but impossible to follow. No one follows them.

Instead, we all try to figure out the contexts in which it’s better to be honest vs. dishonest, receptive vs. unreceptive giving and ungiving, etc. That's what we really do and that's what we really should do, though with greater awareness and more honest admission that that’s what we’re all really doing.

We don't become hypocrites by sometimes being dishonest, unreceptive or ungiving, but because we pretend that one never should be, as though it’s possible to live by these impossible moral principles instead of struggling with moral dilemmas, deciding which situations call for which actions.

We become jerks or pushovers because we oversimplify morality. We become jerks because we can defend our every action with some variation on the absolutes. Never lie but always be diplomatic. The jerk says, “When I don’t tell you the truth, I’m being diplomatic. When you don’t tell me the truth you’re a liar.”

Our fake absolute moral principles stunt our moral growth. Because we’ve decided we should always do this and never do that, we fail to get around to wondering about when to do this and when to do that.” ~


We should question the “always” and “never.” My mother often said, “Never give up” — and yet there are situations where it’s best to cut your losses.

Let me quote Jeremy Sherman’s wisdom again:

“The real moral questions are where to care and not care, what to tolerate and not tolerate, what to love and not love, what to be open and closed to, what to attend to and what to ignore.”

There is simply no substitute for a more complex moral code where we don’t go by dogma, but rather consider the what is involved in a particular situation. There is no substitute for thinking and empathizing. This is not the same as relativism gone wild: I can’t imagine a realistic situation where child rape would be justified, or any other extreme evil.


~ “The poll by the Levada Center asked a representative sample of 1,600 Russians to name the “top 10 most outstanding people of all time and all nations.” It also compiled a list of all 20 names that received more than 6 per cent of the vote.

Without prompting, 38 per cent named Stalin, followed by Putin at 34 per cent, in a tie with Alexander Pushkin, the renowned 19th-century poet often referred to as “the Shakespeare of Russia.”

(Lenin was named as #4, and Peter the Great placed fifth.)

Putin’s 34 per cent is his highest ranking on this list since he came to power 17 years ago. Stalin has actually slipped a few notches: He polled 42 per cent in 2012, the first time he topped the survey of the world’s most influential people, which has been conducted by Levada and its predecessors since 1989.

Stalin in Russia is increasingly portrayed not as the murderous architect of the Gulag, forced collectivization, mass starvation and political purges that claimed millions of his citizens’ lives, but as the steely architect of the Soviet victory in World War II—called the Great Patriotic War here.

Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director for Human Rights Watch, told The Washington Post recently that “Russia never had a proper de-Stalinization and there is little awareness” of Stalin’s crimes in Russia today.” ~


I thought The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn had a big impact, but I guess it didn't. Putin's propaganda machine and nationalism keep winning.

Another surprise is the number of conservative Americans who have been voicing admiration for Putin. But then it’s been observed that between one-fifth and a quarter of the American population are always ready to vote for a dictator — they adore a “strong man.”


~ “David Harvey unravels the contradictions at the heart of capitalism: its drive, for example, to accumulate capital beyond the means of investing it, it's imperative to use the cheapest methods of production that leads to consumers with no means of consumption, and its compulsion to exploit nature to the point of extinction. These are the tensions which underpin the persistence of mass unemployment, the downward spirals of Europe and Japan, and the unstable lurches forward of China and India.Not that the contradictions of capital are all bad: they can lead to the innovations that make capitalism resilient and, it seems, permanent.” ~ from the Google review of David Harvey’s Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism.


I'm sure that capitalism will continue to morph and evolve. Will its present form ever end? I have no idea, nor does anyone else, I suspect. Some point to the environmental crisis; others track the increasing lack of jobs to go around. The only thing we can claim with certainty is complexity and unpredictability (e.g. in mid-twentieth century we thought that the twenty-first century would be about space exploration, not the rise of Islam and religious wars).

But I think that Nick Hanauer, a Seattle-based entrepreneur and a member of the Top One Percent, makes a lot of sense:

~ “The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent.

But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression—so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks—that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too. It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll most certainly get even richer.

The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts.

What a great idea. My suggestion to you is: Let’s do it all over again. We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too.

. . . We rich people have been falsely persuaded by our schooling and the affirmation of society, and have convinced ourselves, that we are the main job creators. It’s simply not true. There can never be enough super-rich Americans to power a great economy. I earn about 1,000 times the median American annually, but I don’t buy thousands of times more stuff. My family purchased three cars over the past few years, not 3,000.

 So forget all that rhetoric about how America is great because of people like you and me and Steve Jobs. You know the truth even if you won’t admit it: If any of us had been born in Somalia or the Congo, all we’d be is some guy standing barefoot next to a dirt road selling fruit. It’s not that Somalia and Congo don’t have good entrepreneurs. It’s just that the best ones are selling their wares off crates by the side of the road because that’s all their customers can afford.

So why not talk about a different kind of New Deal for the American people, one that could appeal to the right as well as left—to libertarians as well as liberals? First, I’d ask my Republican friends to get real about reducing the size of government. Yes, yes and yes, you guys are all correct: The federal government is too big in some ways. But no way can you cut government substantially, not the way things are now. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush each had eight years to do it, and they failed miserably.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress can’t shrink government with wishful thinking. The only way to slash government for real is to go back to basic economic principles: You have to reduce the demand for government. If people are getting $15 an hour or more, they don’t need food stamps. They don’t need rent assistance. They don’t need you and me to pay for their medical care. If the consumer middle class is back, buying and shopping, then it stands to reason you won’t need as large a welfare state. And at the same time, revenues from payroll and sales taxes would rise, reducing the deficit.

 One thing we can agree on—I’m sure of this—is that the change isn’t going to start in Washington. Thinking is stale, arguments even more so. On both sides.

But the way I see it, that’s all right. Most major social movements have seen their earliest victories at the state and municipal levels. The fight over the eight-hour workday, which ended in Washington, D.C., in 1938, began in places like Illinois and Massachusetts in the late 1800s. The movement for social security began in California in the 1930s.

Dear 1%ers, many of our fellow citizens are starting to believe that capitalism itself is the problem. I disagree, and I’m sure you do too. Capitalism, when well managed, is the greatest social technology ever invented to create prosperity in human societies. But capitalism left unchecked tends toward concentration and collapse. It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term. The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter. That is why investments in the middle class work. And tax breaks for rich people like us don’t. Balancing the power of workers and billionaires by raising the minimum wage isn’t bad for capitalism. It’s an indispensable tool smart capitalists use to make capitalism stable and sustainable. And no one has a bigger stake in that than zillionaires like us.

The oldest and most important conflict in human societies is the battle over the concentration of wealth and power. The folks like us at the top have always told those at the bottom that our respective positions are righteous and good for all. Historically, we called that divine right. Today we have trickle-down economics.

My family, the Hanauers, started in Germany selling feathers and pillows. They got chased out of Germany by Hitler and ended up in Seattle owning another pillow company. Three generations later, I benefited from that. Then I got as lucky as a person could possibly get in the Internet age by having a buddy in Seattle named Bezos. I look at the average Joe on the street, and I say, “There but for the grace of Jeff go I.” Even the best of us, in the worst of circumstances, are barefoot, standing by a dirt road, selling fruit. We should never forget that, or forget that the United States of America and its middle class made us, rather than the other way around.” ~


~ “At age 16, Nawaz was transformed from a disaffected British teenager to an Islamist recruiter when he joined the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Nawaz continued his college studies and spent a year abroad in Egypt, where he continued his recruiting. As a result, he was imprisoned for four years, starting in 2002.

It was while in prison, surrounded by several prominent jihadist leaders, that Nawaz realized he wanted to take a different path. He was reading George Orwell's Animal Farm and came to a new understanding of "what happens when somebody tries to create a utopia.”

"I began to join the dots and think, 'My God, if these guys that I'm here with ever came to power, they would be the Islamist equivalent of Animal Farm," Nawaz says.

He says he began to see that it's “impossible to create a utopia.”

“I'm living up close and seeing [the radicals'] everyday habits and lifestyle, I thought, 'My god, I wouldn't trust these guys in power,' because when I called it, back then, and said, 'If this caliphate, this theocratic caliphate, was ever established, it would be a nightmare on earth,’”  Nawaz says.

A year after his release, at the age of 24, Nawaz left the Islamist group and its ideology. He later co-founded the think tank Quilliam, which is dedicated to countering extremist beliefs.

"Now, when we see what the Islamic State is doing in the name of this theocratic caliphate, I believe I have been vindicated that these guys, any of them, if they ever got to power, they would be committing mass atrocities," Nawaz says.” ~



Nawaz discusses sexual repression and how he was lucky to be able to get married at a young age. He points out that unresolved sexual tension can lead to ugly pathologies.

He also states that Islamism as a movement is relatively recent. It’s basically fascism, with the ideal of a super-state and super-people.

How to counter it? The democratic, anti-theocratic movement within Islam must present a strong counter-narrative. Nawaz points out that the young don’t join Stalinist-style communist groups because that narrative has been discredited and is not attractive anymore.

“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.” ~ Garry Kasparov


“reverse rainbow” aka circumzenithal arc — note that the red is on the outside
When the modern scholar cites from a classic text, the quotation seems to burn a hole in his own drab page. ~ George Steiner, The Death of Tragedy (note that the title is a play on Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy)


Though Anne Carson is brilliant in her Glass essay, whenever she quotes Emily Bronte, Emily's words seem to burn an ecstatic hole in the text. Is it that Bronte has verbal music, and/or transcendent content? At the same time, a steady exposure to Bronte seems to take away the magic. It’s the contrast with the modern, quotidian trot that makes Carson appear prosy and elevates Bronte to sheer poetry. 

Horses, the Chauvet Cave



~ “For the first three centuries of Christian history, Harvey Cox argues, the early church was not concerned about creed, doctrine, belief, or hierarchy. Theological ideas about the nature of God were not as important as following the teachings of Jesus.


In the fourth century, Constantine asserted control over the Christian church and insisted that everyone in the empire subscribe to a common creed. As a result, until well into the twentieth century, the church focused on correct belief, on doctrine and orthodoxy. For centuries, Westerners assumed that belief — accepting traditional Christian doctrine — was essential to faith.


Since the mid-twentieth century, more and more Christians have been ignoring dogma and creed and turning toward a more spiritual Christianity — while finding commonalities with other wisdom traditions.

Faith and belief are two different things, Cox argues. Beliefs are opinions, while faith — fidelity — is a way of life, a placing of one’s confidence and trust in Spirit.


The idea of a fixed creed to which a true Christian must subscribe dates back, not to the life of Jesus, but to the fourth century, when the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and took control of the church. Constantine saw marvelous possibilities in the popular new religion that was spreading like wildfire across his empire.

But beliefs about the nature of Jesus Christ were diverse and often contradictory in that early church. A common religion with a common creed, Constantine reasoned, would help him to unify — and control — the many and varied peoples of the Roman Empire.

With that in mind, he insisted that church leaders come together and settle on a single set of beliefs. The bishops complied and created the Nicene Creed. And in the centuries that followed — right up into the twentieth century — Christians were taught that, to be a true Christian, one had to believe. So powerful was the Christian belief in belief, that in some eras, heresy — incorrect belief — could get you burned at the stake." ~


This reminds me of Alan Watts and his interesting assertion that faith is the opposite of belief. Belief is about defending presuppositions and wishful thinking; faith is about trust in the unknown and being willing to go wherever your sense of the truth may take you.

But before we move forward into a less dogma-stuck era, more Christians would need to recognize that the Christian idea of salvation and damnation is anti-human and shockingly cruel. “Substitutional punishment” (a more sanitized phrase than “bloody ransom” or “being rinsed in the blood of the Lamb”) simply won’t do; it preserves the vengeful, punitive god who must have blood before he’s willing to forgive (forgive what? the Original Sin? or one person’s lifetime of sins, never mind the good things that person has also performed?)

“Without blood there is no forgiveness” — how crazily archaic is that?

And “Spirit” with a capital S still smacks of the supernatural, of an entity capable of violating the laws of nature. For me, atheism works best; it has strengthened my values (e.g. kindness and tenderness) and my love of life precisely by stripping away the supernatural. As for “spirit,” poetry, nature, music, meaningful work, and beauty in all forms are enough for me whether or not they are labeled “spirit.” I see no need for this label, but some do, and that's fine in a transitional period. “Spirit” could be that “god as an emergent phenomenon” that Nancy Ellen Abrams has posited.


Persons with schizophrenia have a greatly diminished life span. In general, people with this disorder die more than 25 years earlier than the general population. In other words, these individuals can only expect to live about 70% of the normal life span. Why do they die early?

In a paper recently published in JAMA Psychiatry, Mark Olfson and colleagues set out to answer this question. They examined reasons for premature mortality in a group of over 1 million people with schizophrenia covered by Medicaid, the largest insurance provider for persons suffering from schizophrenia in the U.S. They identified causes of death for over 65,500 of the 74,000 people who died during the study period and found that individuals with schizophrenia had an increased rate of death across all ages and all demographic groups when compared to the general population.

What were the causes of death in these individuals? Olfson and colleagues found that both natural causes and unnatural causes of death were increased by over three-fold. The most common causes of death were cardiovascular disease, cancer (particularly lung cancer), diabetes, influenza, accidental deaths, and suicides. The large majority of deaths (almost 55,750) resulted from natural causes. However, the rates of death from suicide and accidents were also substantially elevated.

Smoking is a significant risk factor for a number of diseases on this list. It has been known for a long time that a large majority of persons with schizophrenia smoke. In fact, the rate of smoking for individuals with schizophrenia is more than twice the rate observed in individuals without schizophrenia. Many are also very heavy smokers. This increased rate of smoking accounts for some of the increased death rate, but not all of it.

~ “Nicotine may improve eye tracking abnormalities, mostly by altering activity in the hippocampus and brain areas involved in eye movement. Nicotine also has been reported to improve the brain’s ability to filter sounds and to respond and adapt to strong sensory inputs.

Cognitive ability in people with schizophrenia may get a boost from nicotine as well, including temporary enhancements in learning, memory, processing speed, and attention. Several studies have examined spatial working memory—the ability to hold information in the brain and recall it when prompted. Spatial working memory is involved in planning, judgment, and attention—tasks that people with schizophrenia find difficult. Schizophrenia patients who smoked or who received nasal spray nicotine temporarily enhanced their spatial working memory, and those who quit had further impairments.” ~

ending on beauty:

All passes and all remains,
and is ours to pass by,
to pass by making roads,
roads over the sea.

~ Antonio Machado, Border of a Dream: Selected Poems, translated by Willis Barnstone

the Pacific Ocean close to home: Imperial Beach, California

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am
    impressed! Extremely useful info specially the last part :)
    I care for such info much. I was looking for this certain information for
    a very long time. Thank you and good luck.