Saturday, May 12, 2018


Great White Egrets

We stood on the cliffs. 
She was eighty then.
The spray leapt,
a shimmering prayer.

The ocean was showing off
its best blue. She turned to me
in triumph. Azure, she said
like a child at the beginning

of language. Azure,
she repeated like a scientist,
having classified the precise
degree of this infinity.

from the sea, she handed it to me,
that marine mother hue,
the blue syllable of love —

The miracle mothers perform,

giving us the world
and the word. And the flaming
wheel passes on.

~ Oriana


I love the poem you opened with this week. Mother gives us life, and more, the words to name it— I think my mother gave me my love of beauty, whether in the natural world or in art, and she introduced me to the world of books and book lovers, to music, dance, theater — all with only the resources available for free, or at minimal cost. Oh, such riches!!!

~  “Friedrich Nietzsche was all too attuned to the invisible chains that connect mother and child, ties that bind but also sometimes strangle. “I don’t like my mother,” he writes at age thirty-eight to a friend. In truth, at this point, Franziska Nietzsche probably didn’t particularly like her son either. In his youth, he had been known as the “little pastor”—the consummate good boy—but he had grown increasingly difficult as he passed through early adulthood, gave up theology, and turned to philology and philosophy.

Franziska’s exasperation grew in turn: she had raised an independent, thinking young man who exercised his independence in all sorts of self-destructive ways. To her horror, he became a notorious critic of religion and befriended the young and brilliant Russian psychoanalyst Lou Andreas-Salomé. Salomé wanted to live in a writer’s commune with Nietzsche and their mutual friend Paul Rée. The mere suggestion—bordering on illegality—was an existential affront to a pious mother.

Nietzsche may not have liked Franziska, but he certainly loved her. Probably too much. Nietzsche’s father died when he was four, and his young mother never remarried. Instead, she devoted herself to God and her son. Of course, this led Nietzsche into a childhood defined by blind devotion and codependence. He tried desperately to live up to his mother’s expectations and tried to compensate for the father—her husband—who had disappeared, but ultimately, his attempts ran aground. He was unable to satisfy her but also unable to form lasting relationships with women who he hoped would take her place.

When Nietzsche writes about motherhood, he invariably describes his own childhood. In his usual approach of philosophizing with a hammer, making little attempt to cover up the clearly autobiographical reflections, Nietzsche proposes that one’s view of women is largely determined by one’s relationship to one’s mother: “Everyone carries within himself an image of womanliness derived from his mother: it is this that determines whether, on the whole, he will revere women, or despise them, or remain generally indifferent to them.”

He is especially critical of women who spoil and smother their children, thereby sentencing them to virtual bondage in a golden cradle. “The free spirit,” he writes, “will always breathe a sigh of relief when he has finally decided to shake off the maternal care and protection administered by the women around him”—primarily because “the milk offered him by the maternal disposition of the women around him can so easily turn to bile.”

A mother’s love, Nietzsche suggests, is similar to an artist’s love for her creations. While that love can be infused with care and kindness, it’s all too often mixed with possessiveness. A parent treats her children as property to be molded into her likeness under the guise of raising them. Nietzsche sees this as a type of egoism, a manifestation of a mother’s will to power running latently through her love.  

“Usually a mother loves herself in her son more than she loves the son himself,” Nietzsche writes. In his view, women take on the role of mother as an occupation to be mastered, and a perfect child is proof positive that the goal has been achieved. The childless Nietzsche is often painfully astute in critiquing the parenting of others.

Are mothers more susceptible than fathers when it comes to projecting their own dreams onto their offspring? Probably not. But from the first whiff of morning sickness to the foreign occupation that she endures for nine months, to the excruciating exeunt at the end of the third trimester, to the breastfeeding that typically keeps her housebound, to the ongoing expectations of domesticity that still govern our culture — a mother’s life is defined by a profound sacrifice that fathers are not expected to face. Her children represent both stifled possibilities (her own) and, as they grow older, the opportunities that she might have once hoped to enjoy.

Society continues to be underwritten by that moral imperative that parents are to protect and educate their children. What is often overlooked, however, is the way that this imperative inevitably conflicts with the fact that children must eventually come to care for themselves. As Nietzsche came to realize in his thirties, a mother’s desire to protect her children is often to a child’s detriment because it mitigates the risk entailed in genuine growth. Nietzsche writes that the free spirit doesn’t want to be served, and “without realizing it, women behave as one would do who removed the stones from the path of a wandering mineralogist so that his foot should not strike against them—whereas he has gone forth so that his foot shall strike against them.” In this case, a mother’s best intentions grated on her sensitive son.

Of course, there is a more charitable way to read Franziska Nietzsche’s devotion to her philosopher son, which persisted through his famous descent into madness. This alternative interpretation, described by Frédéric Gros, is likely equally true: Franziska saved her son from the asylum and “took him in, at Naumburg. She cared for him until her own death with love, patience and devotion. She washed and tidied him, took him for walks, watched over him day and night. For seven years.” She continued to remove metaphorical stones from her son’s path until her own death, just three years before his. We agree with Gros that this almost undying devotion, selfless and effacing, was an act of love. But Nietzsche seems to have loathed and resented the assistance he so desperately required. His relationship with his mother remained, as it does for so many, one of love and hate.” ~

Mary Cassatt: Woman with a Sleeping Baby, 1910

Anne Lamott concurs:

~ “We talk about “loving one’s child” as if a child were a mystical unicorn. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly feel that if you have not had and raised a child, your capacity for love is somehow diminished. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly believe that non-parents cannot possibly know what it is to love unconditionally, to be selfless, to put yourself at risk for the gravest loss. But in my experience, it’s parents who are prone to exhibit terrible self-satisfaction and selfishness, who can raise children as adjuncts, like rooms added on in a remodel. Their children’s value and achievements in the world are reflected glory, necessary for these parents’ self-esteem, and sometimes, for the family’s survival. This is how children’s souls are destroyed.” ~

(Lamott goes on to point out that mothers too need mothering.)

 Picasso: Mother and Child


And let’s not forget that it goes both ways: a child may both love and hate a parent, but the parent’s (and especially mother’s) love for the child can also be ambivalent. The son tends to be the mother’s projection of her ideal self. Freud explicitly stated that the greatest love in the world is that of a mother for her favorite son. How did he know? He himself was his mother’s favorite son, and described it as a “lifelong feeling of triumph.” The favorite son is adored, even worshiped — while the least-liked daughter in not infrequently a shadow projection, to be blamed and shamed and scapegoated.

Regardless, the very sacrifices that motherhood demands can breed deep resentment, especially if a woman has no help, feels overwhelmed and mourns a life that the child “stole” from her. Generally biology (aka “Mother Nature”) kicks in and the bonding is automatic, but I’ll never forget Adrienne Rich’s description of how now and then she felt acceptance and blissful fulfillment, but extreme resentment was always around the corner.

** “Erica’s despair has nothing to do with lack of motherly love. She loved Maja fiercely and sincerely. At the same time she felt as if she'd been invaded by an alien parasite that sucked all joy out of her and forced her into a shadow existence that had nothing in common with the life she'd lived before.” ~ Camilla Läckberg **

But just because it’s love-hate (on the part of both mothers and children) doesn’t mean that it’s something we can dispense with. Maternal rejection is not something an infant can survive unless a mother substitute quickly steps in. And even subtler forms of rejection — say, the non-stop criticism that so many daughters report as the soundtrack of their childhood — can have lifelong consequences. Nor does it necessarily end in childhood — the mother’s verbal harassment of the daughter can continue for decades.

And even the favorite son occasionally suspects that his mother loves the family dog more. And this, in a way, may be true: the dog loves her back unconditionally. It’s not an ambivalent relationship. 

Motherhood as both an “avalanche of joy” and a “crushing disappointment”? As the greatest self-sacrifice and the ultimate in narcissism? “It’s marriage, it’s not romance,” one mother told me long ago. It explained everything to me. 

“That which is your greatest joy will also be your greatest sorrow” ~ Khalil Gibran. That also explained a lot to me — about life, not just motherhood.

So, we live with paradoxes and contradictions. What else is new?

Still, just because it has finally become OK to speak out about abusive mothers, and admit that even a good-enough mother love is filled with ambivalence, we must not forget the love part. The survival of humanity still depends on it. 

Picasso: Soup, 1902


“Woman was God's second mistake.” ~ Nietzsche

Vermeer: Woman with a string of pearls. 1664

CAN LIFE WITHOUT PAID WORK BE MEANINGFUL? (Orthodox Jews and perpetual students show the way)

~ “One particularly interesting section of Israeli society provides a unique laboratory for how to live a contented life in a post-work world. In Israel, a significant percentage of ultra-orthodox Jewish men never work. They spend their entire lives studying holy scriptures and performing religious rituals. They and their families don’t starve to death partly because the wives often work, and partly because the government provides them with generous subsidies. Though they usually live in poverty, government support means that they never lack for the basic necessities of life.

That’s universal basic income in action. Though they are poor and never work, in survey after survey these ultra-orthodox Jewish men report higher levels of life-satisfaction than any other section of Israeli society. In global surveys of life satisfaction, Israel is almost always at the very top, thanks in part to the contribution of these unemployed deep players.

You don’t need to go all the way to Israel to see the world of post-work. If you have at home a teenage son who likes computer games, you can conduct your own experiment. Provide him with a minimum subsidy of Coke and pizza, and then remove all demands for work and all parental supervision. The likely outcome is that he will remain in his room for days, glued to the screen. He won’t do any homework or housework, will skip school, skip meals and even skip showers and sleep. Yet he is unlikely to suffer from boredom or a sense of purposelessness. At least not in the short term.

Hence virtual realities are likely to be key to providing meaning to the useless class of the post-work world. Maybe these virtual realities will be generated inside computers. Maybe they will be generated outside computers, in the shape of new religions and ideologies. Maybe it will be a combination of the two. The possibilities are endless, and nobody knows for sure what kind of deep plays will engage us in 2050.

In any case, the end of [paid] work will not necessarily mean the end of meaning, because meaning is generated by imagining rather than by working. Work is essential for meaning only according to some ideologies and lifestyles. Eighteenth-century English country squires, present-day ultra-orthodox Jews, and children in all cultures and eras have found a lot of interest and meaning in life even without working. People in 2050 will probably be able to play deeper games and to construct more complex virtual worlds than in any previous time in history.

But what about truth? What about reality? Do we really want to live in a world in which billions of people are immersed in fantasies, pursuing make-believe goals and obeying imaginary laws? Well, like it or not, that’s the world we have been living in for thousands of years already.” ~ Yuval Noah Harari


During the Industrial Revolution, 10-to-16-hour days were normal. Ford was the first company to experiment with an eight-hour day — and found its workers were more productive not only per hour, but overall. Within two years, their profit margins doubled.

If eight-hour days are better than 10-hour ones, could even shorter working hours be even better? Perhaps. For people over 40, research found that a 25-hour work week may be optimal for cognition, while when Sweden recently experimented with six-hour work days, it found that employees had better health and productivity.

In order to do more, it seems, we may have to become comfortable with doing less.” ~

John G:

I live in a post work world. I retired partially from teaching in 2005. I gave up part time teaching (1 course a semester) in 2015. What do I do with my time? I've written 3 books of poems and 3 novels. I'm also traveling. Iceland, Russia, Rome, and on and on. I wish I could have stopped working when I was 20.


Writers simply keep on writing, though they may change genres. I’ve never met a creative person who “retired.” Performance artists such as singers and ballet dancers have a more difficult time — but usually even they shift to teaching, or take up volunteer work.

Creative people would do fine on basic income: artists and craftspeople, for instance. Creative work expands to take up all the “free” (hah-hah) time you have. Organic farming is also labor intensive. Parenthood, teaching, gardening, cleaning up the environment . . . A lot of people would manage to find meaningful work for themselves, and they’d be a lot happier than toiling at jobs they dislike.

“Perpetual students” are now an object of mockery, but in a post-work world I bet they’d get more respect than perpetual video-game players. And look at people who post a lot on social media and write long book reviews for Amazon — sometimes they are quite intelligent and have interesting things to say.

A bigger problem is that many people have a great need to feel useful to others. But that too is a solvable problem, I think. There'd be less loneliness and frustration if people were free to do what they love doing.

I also imagine plenty of small groups sprouting up to serve as families — substituting for the kind of socializing that for some is the best part of office work. People with similar interests getting together — this is not new and certainly not revolutionary. There’d simply be more of it going on.

I’ve had a few jobs I don’t regret having had — I learned a lot from them. But some jobs were awful, and I would have been ahead not having to do them, and having that time for creative work instead — or for traveling and exploring, having more relationships — just living.


A special issue here is that “a woman’s work is never done.” Women have always done massive amounts of work without financial compensation. Calling them “home-makers” rather than housewives and paying lip service to the sacrifices of motherhood is just sugar-coating. How do women endure this? One answer may be that they find their activities meaningful. Wives and mothers (and grandmothers too) know they are useful; they are needed. As men become more involved in child care, they will discover the same phenomenon: changing diapers is not fun, but it does have a meaning.


The most wonderful answer I ever heard to the question about future occupation was from one of my younger brothers. He was quite young, and asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said "An Elephant." My father mocked him for this, saw it as sign of something out of whack. I have always thought it a brilliant ambition, and very hopeful.


Another wonderful answer I heard was: "I want to be retired like my grandfather." The kid was totally in earnest. And looking at the jobs most grown-ups have, I think this too has much to be said for (especially in the era of automation).

It’s a truism that some men love retirement while others hate it. Those who love it have a million things to do, and sometimes express puzzlement as to how they ever found the time to hold a job,  since the are always so busy.


“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.” ~ George Orwell, 1984



~ “The church would experience less sickness, injury, and accidental death than the rest of the world.

Jesus clearly promised that if you pray for the sick, they will be healed. The apostle James (who we are told was his brother) claimed the same thing, and the New Testament is full of examples of the disciples successfully praying for people to be healed.

More than that, Jesus went on to expand the effectiveness of prayer to a much broader range of possibilities when he said that any time two of his disciples agreed on something it would be done by the Father in heaven. That’s a really bold claim. I’m guessing the reason he didn’t make the number higher than two was that he knew if he shot for more, there would just be an argument and another church split.

Rarely concerning himself with caveats, Jesus audaciously promised:

    Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father…You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

There should be at least a statistically significant difference between the fortunes of Christians and non-Christians, but there isn’t.

In fact, one of the largest and most carefully controlled studies of the effects of intercessory prayer was done by the Templeton Foundation, which was created by a wealthy Presbyterian looking to demonstrate the contact points between faith and the empirical sciences. The study found that those who were prayed for actually encountered more complications than the ones who were not. To my knowledge, no other study has been able to find statistically significant evidence to the contrary. The lived experience of all who are honest with themselves will only corroborate this finding.

The church wouldn’t keep splintering into hundreds or possibly even thousands of rivaling groups.

There are at least two reasons we should think this. First, Jesus himself gambled his own validity on the church’s ability to remain unified, which was a colossal mistake. He actually said—out loud—that the unity of the church would be the way the world would know that the claims he made about himself were true. Yikes. That was a very, very bad move.

But even if he hadn’t have made that connection explicit, it would still stand to reason that you should expect more agreement among a crowd of people claiming that God speaks to them, or that he spoke to them at one particular time in the past. Unless God is a very poor communicator, it shouldn’t matter how bad people are at accurately perceiving his thoughts and feelings. There should be more agreement on what he wants.

So the rest of us should be forgiven for not being impressed. And given that Jesus staked his credibility on this very thing, it seems to me that we should also be excused for not accepting the message his “followers” so passionately want us to believe.

When what you’re perceiving is real, you don’t wind up with this many wildly conflicting opinions about what you’re seeing and hearing. And that goes double for a subject around which we are expected to build our entire life and community.

There should be a notable difference in character among people who believe they have the Holy Spirit, and they should care about the same things he cared about.

But there’s not a great deal of evidence for either. And I’m not trying to argue that I am better than they are; on the contrary I can tell you that generally speaking they’re in the same boat as I am. But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. If Christianity were true, the indwelling Holy Spirit would yield in Christians a noticeably better crop of behavioral “fruit,” and yet I honestly cannot say that such is the case.

Among those fruit, we are told, are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness … but how do we judge what those should look like in action? I could take each of those terms and unpack them to show that there is little discernible difference between the traits of Christians and those of the rest of the world, but I’d rather streamline this discussion by simply asking what key trait mattered most to Jesus? That should be fair game, right?

What did Jesus care about most, and is it the same thing that Christians seem to care about most? That should tell us whether or not the same spirit that animated this man animates the people who represent him to the world today.

I’ve read through the gospels more times than I can count and it seems to me that he cared least about adhering to the purity codes of the surrounding religious establishment. In fact, at times he was downright ostentatious about contradicting their obsession with purity, breaking their rules on purpose just to make a point:

    “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”

Jesus was far more at home with prostitutes than he was with religious leaders. Why? Because evidently in his mind, sexual deviance wasn’t actually the most dangerous vice a person could have. That dishonor belonged to self-righteousness and sanctimoniousness, two traits I would argue fit Christian culture in my country better than almost any I can name.

Christians in my country are downright obsessed with sex — with controlling who does it and with whom, and when, and how they do it. No personal detail seems off limits for this preoccupation of theirs, and virtually every censorious rule they champion somehow traces back to the regulation of this one activity, including their highly restrictive language codes.

Lightning, Istanbul. The Faith Mosque in the background.

One would think that being indwelled by the Spirit of Jesus would make people more like him, and yet the church’s value system seems to have inverted what mattered most to Jesus. That is relevant information for the question I’m exploring today.

To put it bluntly, **
if Jesus were truly raised from the dead and living inside of people today, it would make a more noticeable difference. They would care about the same things he cared about, worrying more about how you treat the less fortunate than about what you do with your genitalia.**

Christians would be better at discerning what is true from what is not.

On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus promised his disciples:

    “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth…”

As it turns out, the church is quite easily led into trusting faulty ideas as well as people who should not be trusted at all. I could go off again on how the largest and most powerful group of Christians in America (evangelical Protestants, especially white ones) voted into power the most corrupt and dishonest presidential administration in national history, or how support for Donald Trump has only escalated following the revelation of numerous personal scandals and legally contradictory statements. But it goes so much deeper than that. It’s a problem much older than him.

But it’s not just about politics. The church in America also keeps getting it wrong on matters of science as well. Despite the fact that 98% of scientists agree that humans evolved from other species over time, a majority of evangelical Christians reject that view in favor of a direct divine creation of separate species. And it is white evangelicals who most vehemently deny (three quarters of them) the climate change that threatens to disrupt our ecosystem in ways that are irreversible.

Granted, an argument could be made that the whole of the Christian faith shouldn’t be judged by looking at one subset of the faith, even if that subset does represent the largest and most influential religious group in the country. Everything’s not about white evangelicals, right? Sure, I’ll give you that. But shouldn’t the “Spirit of Truth” impact these people as well? Shouldn’t the “Spirit of Truth” have made it clear centuries ago that popes aren’t perfect, or that violently invading Muslim territories to regain control for the Church was cruel and immoral?

This isn’t just a white evangelical problem — resistance to social and scientific progress was a key feature of the Catholic church for most of its history. Ever heard of the Dark Ages of Europe? Were they receptive to new knowledge when Galileo tried to show them what he discovered?

I guess what I’m saying is that no portion of the Church has ever been above the social and economic motives that govern the behavior of the rest of us, making them no different at all. They’re just people, like the rest of us, and there’s nothing inside of them that sets them apart as specially marked for the validation of their faith over everyone else’s. And if the Christian faith were true, that would not be the case.

The Bible makes it sound as if inexplicable miracles should be happening all over the place (and I don’t mean at the hands of doctors practicing medicine, which is a human discipline), but for some reason every story you hear today involves something that you missed because you weren’t there at the time. And if you get the nerve to ask why someone can’t show you one of these miracles for you to see for yourself, you’ll likely be shamed for asking for it.

That says an awful lot, doesn’t it? It would be one thing if they just shrugged and said, “Oh, well. I guess you missed it. Maybe you’ll see the next one.” But they’ve been taught to guilt anyone who asks for evidence, which signals an insecurity that speaks volumes. When you know what you’re saying is true, you don’t have to impugn the character of anyone who wants you to demonstrate how you know it. That looks super sketchy.

Honestly, the whole field of Christian apologetics shouldn’t even exist. If the Christian faith were true, it wouldn’t need defending with a Bayesian statistical analysis for the probability of the resurrection. If the claims of the Bible were true, the resurrected Jesus would be so alive and present in the world today that no one would need to resort to such elaborate efforts to convince us they’re legit. The evidence for them would be everywhere.

So you won’t likely catch me diving into endless debates with theists over topics like foundationalism versus coherentism or constructivism, nor will I get sucked into arguing about the reliability of ancient historiography. I’ll leave that to people far more enamored with philosophy than I am. But I still say that if the claims of this faith were true, we wouldn’t really be having these discussions at all. The fact that defenders of the Christian faith spend the amount of time that they do obsessing over these things may be the most damning detail of all.” ~

“Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom, but it was the Church that arrived.” ~ French theologian Alfred Loisy, 1902. He got excommunicated for this and other insights.


So true. Ah, those failed prophecies! The Second Coming was supposed to be imminent, with some not even “tasting death” before being raptured. And the prayer for unity failed within a short time as Paul fell out with Peter and other members of the Jerusalem faction who thought that to follow Jesus you should convert to Judaism first and be circumcised and keep kosher. Paul came up with a “circumcision of the heart.”

I could go on, but Neil Carter does it better — and this is one of his most compelling posts.



Since we have moved here, to this very Southern state, I have noticed some peculiarities. There are many churches, from actual buildings to storefronts in strip malls, and signs painted on houses, or even smaller structures, and probably just as many gun shops, pawn shops, bail bondsman offices, thrift stores, stripper bars and “adult entertainment” purveyors. One of the first questions asked upon meeting someone new is “Do you go to church?” followed by a fervent statement of their own faith and dedication. If Christianity were true, I cant help but think we wouldn’t need all those gun shops and bail bondsmen, people wouldn’t need to pawn so much or shop in second hand stores, and the audience for porn would not be as large, or larger, than the church congregations.

The attitudes of these “church people” are self righteous and lacking in most of the virtues Jesus espoused —mercy, charity, kindness, humility, forgiveness — and poverty. Jesus did not admire material wealth, and warned against it — blessed are the poor, and the rich man won’t find it easy to get through heaven’s gate. As noted, the Christian Evangelical, of Fundamentalist, member of the largest religious group in the US today, stands politically on the far Right, sees wealth as a mark of god’s favor and poverty as his judgement on the undeserving sinner. If the gap between the rich and the poor is growing exponentially, that is part of god’s design.

These “Christians” are also the most stubborn rejecters of science, particularly of evolution and climate change. Evolutionary science negates the biblical narrative of creation, unseats god the creator, and diminishes humanity’s role as master of all created things. Evolution makes god unnecessary and humanity incidental, it is as revolutionary and disturbing to these folks, even now, as the Copernican universe was to their ancestors. Climate change and the necessity to ameliorate its progress and effects, puts the blame for dangerous and destructive change on human shoulders, and correcting it will stand in the way of putting profit ahead of all other concerns. Even with all the damning evidence out in the open — pipeline ruptures and oil spills are inevitable, fracking causes pollution of air and water, and triggers earthquakes, the arctic ice has disappeared to the point the whole area is pretty much navigable — they are not ready to stop piping oil, fracking for natural gas, or claiming drilling rights for rich deposits in the newly open areas of the arctic.

I want to remain hopeful about humanity’s ability to learn and to change, to find new solutions, and to move toward a better and more humane society — one of freedom, justice and opportunity for all, and yet the direction we will take is yet hard to determine — it has yet to be struggled for and won, by us and future generations. And I hope we get that chance.


Yes, that post by Neil Carter on the obvious non-truth of Christianity probably eclipses everything else in this blog. What an excellent point-by-point summary it is. There are articles on, say, the ineffectiveness of prayer or the incompatibility of Christianity and wealth, but this article gathers so many excellent points into one coherent essay. It may well be Carter’s best essay yet.

We do indeed live in strange times — the fundamentalists have so completely reversed Christian teachings that they might be said to worship Mammon (the Prosperity Gospel). The mega-pastors  could pass for the PR men for the Anti-Christ, if we retain this concept. Like so many other things that we are witnessing now, this is almost surreal — and also disturbing.

Even given the mythological nature of Christianity, it used to be possible to point to the moral teachings — e.g. kindness toward the poor and the stranger, compassion rather than revenge — and say the ideas are good, never mind the walking on the water or changing water into wine as the supposed proof of anything. Let’s bypass the supernatural nonsense but keep the the ethics. And the more liberal churches have increasingly done precisely this. Rather than carry on about eternal damnation for those who have “wrong beliefs” — say they happened to be born in Pakistan so naturally we wouldn’t expect them to be Presbyterians — the liberal ministers are likely to encourage the congregation to contribute to the food bank and volunteer for various humanitarian causes that aim for the good of the many, not the few.

Unfortunately we know that the liberal congregations are losing members while conservative Catholicism (there used to be a Catholic Left — I think it’s extinct) and the Fundamentalist churches are holding out much better. But holding out doesn’t mean gaining new members. Meanwhile people with no religious affiliation have become more and more numerous, especially among the young. Also, church membership can be inflated — thus, anyone baptized as a Catholic continues to be counted as a Catholic, even though more than 80% of young Catholics leave the church by age 23. What hope I have for the demise of the pernicious right-wing anti-Christian “Christianity” is based on this trend

Grifo di Tancredi: Saint Peter, c. 1310. To me, this is the most likable St Peter, as far as the various paintings of him go (and without those huge clunky keys). But I wonder if perhaps I'm biased, because he somewhat reminds me of someone I like.

During the nine months I lived in Milwaukee, I could never bring myself to say “See you later alligator,” nor, if addressed that way, reply, “In a while, crocodile.” I found it confusing that adults would talk this way. Regardless, I simply never did say those words, even though I secretly love rhyme . . . 

Another confession . . .

One book I came to detest almost from the start was Little Women. Beth was especially insufferable, but I didn’t care for “feisty
Jo either. So boring, to be constantly saintly or constantly feisty. I couldn’t identify with or sympathize with any of the sisters. I don’t know how I managed to finish the novel, but I did — and then hated the ending so much it make want to throw up.

I think I was simply past the age when this kind of book could appeal to me. So much depends on the stage of life and on other books one has already read. In my case, that included Crime and Punishment. 



Men in particular think that they have achieved something if they can make a woman mad, particularly if she is calm and intellectual. Often, they use the attempt to make you mad as a way of flirting, no doubt thinking that unlocking the pent-up emotions of such a woman is a sexual victory. ~ Martha Nussbaum


At first this reminded me of a certain man, long ago. He kept sexually harassing me, and when he did it for the last time and I turned away in vehement disgust, I still glimpsed a smile of sexual triumph on his arrogant face.

But as I read this quotation now, I see it in more general terms. It’s not necessarily (though more often) men, and it’s not always about a sexual victory — just a personal victory, a victory for the verbal aggressor’s ego. I made him/her so angry — what a charge some people get out of this! What strange joy! So what if he/she now hates you, even for a brief while — at least the aggressor has asserted his or her power. 

crocodile farm in Thailand

YOUR BELIEFS CAN FOOL YOUR STOMACH — at least in terms of ghrelin production — THIS IS AMAZING!!

~ "Ghrelin is an appetite-inducing hormone secreted by certain type of cells in the lining of the stomach. If this study proves valid, the belief that you are consuming a high-calorie food versus a low-calorie food can have a strong impact on ghrelin production.

“Crum created a huge batch of French vanilla milkshake, then divided it into two batches that were labeled in two very different ways.

Half the stuff was put into bottles labeled as a low-calorie drink called Sensishake — advertised as having zero percent fat, zero added sugar and only 140 calories.

The other half was put into bottles that were labeled as containing an incredibly rich treat called Indulgence. According to the label, Indulgence had all kinds of things that wouldn't benefit your upper thighs — including enough sugar and fat to account for 620 calories. In truth, the shakes had 300 calories each.

Both before and after the people in the study drank their shakes, nurses measured their levels of a hormone called GHRELIN.

Ghrelin is a hormone secreted in the gut. People in the medical profession call it the hunger hormone. When ghrelin levels in the stomach rise, that signals the brain that it's time to seek out food.

"It also slows metabolism," Crum says, "just in case you might not find that food."

But after your ghrelin rises, and you have a big meal (say a cheeseburger and a side of fries), then your ghrelin levels drop. That signals the mind, Crum says, that "you've had enough here, and I'm going to start revving up the metabolism so we can burn the calories we've just ingested.”

On the other hand, if you only have a small salad, your ghrelin levels don't drop that much, and metabolism doesn't get triggered in the same way.

For a long time scientists thought ghrelin levels fluctuated in response to nutrients that the ghrelin met in the stomach. So put in a big meal, ghrelin responds one way; put in a small snack and it responds another way.

But that's not what Crum found.

If you believed you were drinking the indulgent shake, she says, your body responded as if you had consumed much more.

"The ghrelin levels dropped about three times more when people were consuming the indulgent shake (or thought they were consuming the indulgent shake)," she says, compared to the people who drank the sensible shake (or thought that's what they were drinking).

"Our beliefs matter in virtually every domain, in everything we do," Crum says. "How much is a mystery, but I don't think we've given enough credit to the role of our beliefs in determining our physiology, our reality. We have this very simple metabolic science: calories in, calories out."

People don't want to think that our beliefs have influence, too, she says. "But they do!” ~


Ghrelin is the "hunger hormone" produced by the stomach when it's empty. Remove a portion of the stomach (as is done during the gastric bypass surgery — stomach volume is reduced by more than 90%), and ghrelin production can drop so much the patient never experiences hunger.

ending on beauty:

Perhaps the death mother like the birth mother
does not desert us but comes to tend
and produce us, to make room for us
and bear us tenderly, considerately,
through the gates, to see us through,
to ease our pains, quell our cries,
to hover over and nestle us, to deliver
us into the greatest, most enduring
peace, all the way past the bother of
beyond the finework of frailty,
the mishmash house of the coming & going,
creation's fringes,
the eddies and curlicues

~ A.R. Ammons, An Improvisation For Angular Momentum

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