Palin on the Political Prowl

July 3, 2009

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is walking away from her job and into what will likely be the Mother of All Presidential races in 2012.

The New York Times reports:

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska announced Thursday that she would step down by the end of the month and not seek a second term as governor, allowing her to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

“We know we can effect positive change outside of government,” she said in making the announcement.

Palin hinted earlier she may seek a U.S. Senate seat.

In case you forgot, Palin accepted the blessing of Pastor Thomas Muthee, who asked Jesus to fund her political campaigns, and protect her from witchcraft. And she went along with up. Let’s bring up that classic video.

And let’s not forget her answers to Katie Couric in a Sept. 2008 interview:

COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our– our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They’re in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia–

COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We– we do– it’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where– where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is– from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to– to our state.

About her taste in periodicals:

COURIC: And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this — to stay informed and to understand the world?PALIN: I’ve read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media —

COURIC: But what ones specifically? I’m curious.

PALIN: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.

COURIC: Can you name any of them?

PALIN: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news.Alaska isn’t a foreign country, where, it’s kind of suggested and it seems like, ‘Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C. may be thinking and doing when you live up there in Alaska?’ Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.

Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation wrote in 2008:

Pentecostals are “gifted” people. Besides speaking in tongues, they also practice other “gifts of the spirit” (charismata) described in the New Testament, such as “interpretation” of tongues, prophecy, faith healing (”The prayer of faith will save the sick,” James 5:15), miracle working, and discernment of “evil spirits.” I saw some “casting out of spirits” (exorcisms) in that church. The Assemblies of God practice a direct worship, often with tears and raised hands, in intimate “spiritual” (emotional) connection with the creator of the universe. They are in love with Jesus and think he has a special love for them.

Most pentecostals are fundamentalists, believing that the bible is perfect and true, the only source of truth. I did not know a single Assembly of God believer who was not a young-earth creationist who believes dinosaurs roamed this planet a few thousand years ago. They believe in the non-metaphorical existence of demons and Satan (who, according to the book of Revelation, is a seven-headed dragon) who are roaming the earth luring vulnerable souls into evil. They believe in a historical talking snake and donkey, and in the existence of witches, wizards, and evil creatures that can infect not only an unlucky individual but an entire geographical region, which must be purged by prayer.

… They believe in an approaching Armageddon, a fiery end to the world, which they will escape in the Rapture. And that is what makes them so dangerous. They don’t really care about this world. They don’t want peace on earth — they want the violent biblical prophecies to be fulfilled so that they can get to heaven and be rewarded with eternal life. They want to say, “We told you so!” One of the pastors at Sarah Palin’s church announces that “the storm clouds are gathering.” Another of her Assembly of God pastors reports that “Sarah is a great woman. A religious woman.”

When Sarah Palin told her Assembly of God church earlier this year that the war in Iraq is “a task from God,” she was not speaking allegorically. As a pentecostal fundamentalist, she has to believe, as I used to preach, that we are indeed living in the end times. This is no harmless delusion. In America there is “no religious test,” and anyone can run for high office, as an individual, but that doesn’t mean we must not fear religious zealots exercising control. Although the First Amendment guarantees private citizens the “freedom of assembly,” the establishment clause requires that the government should be free from the Assembly of God.

Hat tip to Hemant Mehta

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In Polling We Don’t Trust: Follow the Money

July 3, 2009

Charles_Darwin_seatedThe Freakonomics blog at The New York Times, in it’s continuing quest to point out problems with misusing statistics and polls, wrote yesterday:

According to a Zogby poll taken this year, Darwin’s 200th anniversary, Americans favor intelligent design over Darwinian theory. According to the poll, 33 percent of respondents said they agreed with Darwinism, but 52 percent agreed that “the development of life was guided by intelligent design.

A slam dunk for the ID crowd? Not necessarily. Read on.

The poll was commissioned by The Discovery Institute, which advocates intelligent design. This is the kind of thing that gives Gary Langer fits.

That’s the kind of thing that should give all of us fits. Langer, by the way, believes bad poll modeling is often a culprit in inaccurate polling rather than the perceived truthfulness of the respondents. He writes in a 2007 blog:

But why admit that you built a bad model, asked the wrong question, asked it badly, forgot the follow-up, or just can’t figure it out, when, heck, you can just blame the respondent instead

Even if the Zobgy poll was slanted due to improper questioning or other shenanigans, it may not that be far from reality. The freethinking and scientific community must do a better job in educating the public on the reality of evolution and the inconsistency of intelligent design. Ideas?


Quote of the Night

July 3, 2009

scan0061As midnight passes, as the wine glass is slowly emptied, as the cat snores on the sofa’s spine, the quote of night is inspired by tonight’s Zen-heavy themes. Here’s 1960s Asian philosophy maven Alan Watts on Zen:

“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”


The Wheels on the Karma Go Round and Round

July 3, 2009

Although I don’t see the need for the ancient rituals, robes and other traditions, I have found the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun to offer a more secularized version of Zen (or Chan) Buddhist practice that really provides me with real-world, practical insights.

One of the order’s best online articles is an essay about the Buddhist/Hindu concept of reincarnation or rebirth. The concept seems to take on a mostly supernatural flavor in most Buddhist and Hindu traditions but I found myself agreeing with the more practical explanation offered by ZBOHY teacher Chaun Zhi Shakya.

He writes:

[I]n Zen, questions about reincarnation just don’t arise… we have no use for a system that teaches us that we will be reborn as another creature. That system won’t help us attain our freedom now. Zen encourages us to awaken to ourselves through our own efforts, to understand our true nature as human beings, and to live our lives in that nature.

While many Zen Buddhists will likely say “that’s not the Zen I learned,” I find his explanation compelling and that’s one reason why I consider Zen an effective practice to help me bring about happiness in my life and the lives of others. It’s not a magic formula but the techniques seem to help me better understand the true nature of reality — to the limited degree my “meat computer” can comprehend such a concept.



A Step in the Right Direction

July 3, 2009

I usually find Tibetan Buddhism to be filled with mystic woo-woo (like the idea of directed reincarnation — i.e. some kid ends up being proclaimed a new lama)

However, it’s encouraging to read reports like this one in the New York Times about a college physics class for Tibetan Buddhist monks.

And while I’m not sure he practices what he’s preaching, the Dalai Lama said, of the program:

Yet the Tibetan spiritual leader views science and Buddhism as complementary “investigative approaches with the same greater goal, of seeking the truth,” he wrote in “The Universe in a Single Atom,” his book on “how science and spirituality can serve our world.” He stresses that science is especially important for monastics who study the nature of the mind and the relationship between mind and brain.

While it’s encouraging to see a major world religious leader promote a scientific worldview, I can’t help but wonder how he can scientifically explain his belief that the soul or energy of a previous lama inhabited him as an infant. How does one test such a thing?  However, I agree the study of meditations potential benefits to  brain functions is a valuable mixture of science and Buddhism.


Another reason to move to North Carolina…

July 2, 2009

OK, so maybe we in North Carolina have our own problems — textile industry meltdown, political corruption and an unavoidable obsession with college basketball. But, in my meaner (but lighthearted) moments, I can always reflect on a stressful day with the mantra “At least I don’t live in South Carolina.” OK, I’m only half kidding (I truly don’t like the climate in S.C. but other than that don’t hold much against the Palmetto State). But a blogger at Rant and Reason did a great job of beating up his or her home state so I wouldn’t have to lift a cyber-finger. Among the blogger’s complaints:

  • Once again, my state is in the national spot light because of our governor’s Argentinian escapade. Sanford, in all his hypocrisy, has added yet another stain on the edifice of our already tainted reputation as a state. It makes me wonder just how much worse it could possibly get for South Carolina when a supposed family man with “good Christian values,” a powerful spot as chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, and a shot at the 2012 Republican nomination can stoop so low.
  • Only in South Carolina can a state legislative body unanimously pass a measure creating a state-sponsored “I Believe” license plate with a superimposed cross on it to the exclusion of other options and faiths
  • In the movie Borat, featuring Sacha Baron Cohen, the racist and misogynistic students in the RV came straight from a frat house at the University of South Carolina (the school I currently attend).

Take heart, my neighbor to the south, you still have Stephen Colbert, a funny collegiate mascot name (Gamecocks) and Charleston (I won’t mention Hootie and the Blowfish but they did record a few songs I liked — there, I said it and I’m not taking it back).


The Human Brain: A Fertile Place for Prayer?

July 2, 2009

Writing in a Scottish humanist magazine, blogger Friendly Humanist recounts an experience with Mormon missionaries seeking to convert him. FH gave them a fair hearing and even allowed them to conduct an “experiment they asked us to try after our first meeting.”

They asked us to pray.

I found myself facing a dilemma. On the one hand, praying feels like a betrayal of my values as a humanist. How could I sincerely ask for an answer from a god whose existence I believe to be improbable, undiscoverable, and irrelevant to living a good life? On the other hand, free thinking is at the heart of humanism. Prayer is an experience I had never tried before

FH tried the prayer. It’s a common Mormon tactic to ask people to pray until they feel the “stirrings of the Holy Spirit” or “God’s Voice” which is supposed to affirm whatever the missionary has explained about their faith (in short, Mormonism is divinely inspired by a known charlatan who “saw” ancient writings on a golden plate hidden in his hat).

FH recounts: “Nothing that could be interpreted as a message from a god – not even a little thrill of what-if. Later, I related this experience to the Mormons. They were undeterred. They encouraged me to keep trying: “God is not always heard the first time.”

As they are trained to do, the missionaries kept pushing, unperturbed:

[O]ne of the Mormons promised, “If you keep trying, eventually you will get an answer.”

FH countered with this:

Well, I have tried the experiment. I have set aside my reservations and sought the truth, true to my humanist values. And I have an answer. There probably is no personal god.

The reason the Mormons use this technique (pray until you feel something) is based on the idea (and my brain science is a little fuzzy here but I think I have the general idea) that the human brain will fill in the blanks if given an “assignment” absent any other stimulus (like “Brain, locate the voice of God”).

We have evolved as creatures who use our intricate brains to fill in any gaps in our understanding almost automatically. When we were hunter-gatherers and competing with other predators, it was to our advantage that our minds looked for patterns in the wilderness and could quickly interpret a blurry image as a possible killer and experiences often confirmed these patterns. It’s no surprised that, if we asked to not think of the pink elephant or asked to look for a divine presence, our pattern-seeking apparatus immediately goes into hunt-and-seek mode — elephants appear unbidden and divine flashes spark across our synapses.

Someone who is not as philosophically aware as the Friendly Humanist is bound to eventually feel a presence of hear a voice given all the positive reinforcements by the missionaries. From a technical standpoint, the Mormons have developed a pretty smooth tactic.

The reason the Mormons use this technique is based on the idea (and my brain science is a little fuzzy here but I think I have the general idea) that the human brain will fill in the blanks if given an “assignment” absent any other stimulus (like “Brain, locate the voice of God”).

We have evolved as creatures who use our intricate brains to fill in any gaps in our understanding almost automatically. Traditional Easter philosophers have called this the “monkey mind” functioning of the brain.

I found it fascinating that Friendly Humanist used an almost Zen technique during his prayer experiment —not actively seeking, just keeping his rational mind and his monkey mind still.

I sat in a comfortable posture in a quiet room, closed my eyes, and asked aloud, “God, do you exist?” I quieted my thoughts to make room for even the softest suggestion from an external deity.

Although I’m not a skilled meditator, I have found that, when I take time to keep my mind still, I’m much less tempted to behave in an irrational manner. For those who pray without some skepticism, it seems as if they already, Fox-Mulder-like, want to believe.
Someone who is not as philosophically aware as Friendly Humanist is bound to eventually feel a presence or hear a voice given all the positive reinforcement offered by the missionaries. From a technical standpoint, the Mormons have developed a pretty smooth tactic.

For a copy of a Mormon missionary handout revealed by an ex-Mormon, click here.

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