May 1, 2016
by Les Lane
0 comments

KARMA

A previous blog (August 2015) postulated that there are two bedrock principles, first premises if you will, that separate contemporary liberals from conservatives and everything else in both camps is built upon these. They were first, a conviction that the world is either a.) more dangerous than interesting or b.) more interesting than dangerous, and second, a conviction that humans are either a.) naturally bad or b.) naturally good (by the time they are born).

Contemporary conservatives believe that, since the world is primarily dangerous and humans are essentially bad, authoritarian control (by males because that’s the natural law), through government and/or organized religion, is necessary to protect law-abiding citizens and the innocent from the evil without and the evil within. The Enemy is everywhere and he works in mysterious ways. Women who tempt you and then want to abort for the sake of convenience, gays, transsexuals, and other perverted weirdos who want to change you into something unnatural, flowers-and-sunshine optimists unaware of all the bad guys with guns who can only be stopped by good guys with guns, Muslims, Atheists and other Christian haters – essentially any people with ideas or ways of doing things that are unfamiliar – are tools of the Devil. Survival depends upon developing and adhering to top-down mandated systems, based on tradition, that don’t change with the winds of fashion and any suggestion that one or more of these systems no longer works is anathema. This goes double for the tried and true systems that God Himself put into place, such as man/woman love and the climate. The reason is that, if tried and true systems can fail, then chaos is inevitable because people will naturally make wrong choices on their own.

All of this has devolved into a rejection of reality on the part of conservatives and a slow death spiral of that half of America into smaller and darker social contexts that has negatively impacted every American. Quality of life has declined as a result of the ruthless campaign by evangelicals, nationalists, and their ilk to erode old civil liberties and deny new ones, and for a while it looked as though America might be doomed. It looked like the values that both Jesus and the Constitution really embody would be lost in a quicksand of self-serving doubletalk, transparently inane to well-educated egalitarians, but mother’s milk to panicking devotees of white male privilege who see their artificial social/economic props inexorably decaying. Now however, because the world is not overwhelmingly evil (although there is plenty of evil in it) and people are not naturally bad (although they all possess the potential and many have followed that path), the madness is eating itself.

Unfortunately it probably won’t disappear without a very messy fight. Last month’s blog suggested that Trump had finally begun a long fiery descent into irrelevance. That claim was based on a feeling…that the media and the populace had finally taken the true measure of the man. He is no longer a novelty. He has repeated certain lines of thought and behaviors enough times that what he is and what he stands for have become clear. He has exposed his weaknesses, but alas, they are weaknesses he shares, and even celebrates, with millions of American voters, so the crazy, after-thought, anti-Trump coalition might not be able to prevent him from becoming the Republican nominee. This would mean seven more months of gorge raising wall-to-wall media coverage of the man’s every eyeblink and nose blow. However…if we really believe that people are more good than bad, than we almost have to believe that Trump will go down in flames in November and, more importantly, he will take much of the Republican party, with its elitist, self-serving, tyrannical schemes down with him. Additionally there is reason to hope that, in doing so, he will catalyze intense self-examination on the part of both conservatives and the media, who, driven by their fear of change, and their mindless pursuit of drama respectively, have aided and abetted the near immolation of our national values. In retrospect last month’s assignation of eventual irrelevance to Trumpism was too flippant. Trumpism should never become irrelevant. Hopefully it will be studied in American History and Government classes for decades to come as an example of what not to believe.

Cruz won’t win either. He’s slimy and self-absorbed and nobody likes him. If Trump ceases to be a threat, the light of national scrutiny will catch Cruz in it like a startled deer. All of his inherent nastiness will ooze out and befoul everything and everyone it touches, and even our sad fourth estate won’t overlook it.

So Liberals and Progressives were right all along. And it feels sooo good. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings, but the time of our exile appears to be coming to a close. The wheels of Karma grind slowly, but grind they do. The crazy people who have been running the show are slated by fate to become a disenfranchised minority unless they take the time and trouble to join reality-in-progress. We will likely be able to breathe a sigh of relief soon, but we should also be cognizant of the damage we ourselves may have sustained in this long, dirty struggle. Some of us, for example, have slipped into perpetual Trump-like snarkiness. So much of what passes for news and commentary on Huffington Post, Politico, Slate, Salon, Daily Beast and other liberal media outlets nowadays is regurgitated drivel unworthy of the time and effort of otherwise capable authors or the serious consideration of thinking human beings. Who cares that Cruz bought 100 cans of soup shortly after getting married? Neither he nor his bride could cook and the man likes soup! It is almost certain that he would be a horrific choice for president but not because he likes soup. Who cares what he smelled like in college? How many young men are as yet unaware of the power of their scent glands? He may be Lucifer incarnated, as former Speaker of the House John Boehner claimed, but not because he stunk in college. A little bit of shallow sarcasm is fun (see last month’s blog). Too much of it is decay. But more about this later.

Our time is coming. Are we ready?

April 6, 2016
by Les Lane
Comments Off on THE TIME HAS COME

THE TIME HAS COME

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

The time has come… to talk about the elephant in the room of possible Progressive topics – the Trump/Cruz Primary. Trump is finally beginning a long, fiery descent into irrelevance (it will be Cruz’s turn next) but the damage those two have done to the American spirit should be recognized here while it is still fresh. The following is such a recognition. Note: This blog contains gratuitous sarcasm because the Trump/Cruz Primary simply screams for it. And besides…other bloggers started it. Also, the terms “conservative” and “Republican” are avoided if at all possible out of respect for what they used to mean. What has happened in this election cycle really requires new labels.

Curiously, Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, from chapter four of Through the Looking Glass, is a fairly good metaphor for the brouhaha. (Annotations are added just in case.) In the poem, a walrus (Trump) and a carpenter (Cruz) are walking along the beach bemoaning the presence of so much sand and discussing a possible way to clear it (wasting time on a contrived “disaster”). They come upon a bed of oysters (ignorant, naïve minions) and invite the group to walk and talk with them (the morally blind leading the willfully blind). An old, wise oyster declines (a relic from saner days), but many of the young and foolish flock to the adventure. After briefly bloviating (spewing political BS), the two con artists, interested only in their personal agenda, eat every one (consume their hearts and souls threatening the survival of the entire group). If you look at the original illustrations by John Tenniel, the Walrus and the Carpenter even resemble Trump and Cruz and there is no mistaking the oysters for anything but entities with a herd mentality who have enthusiastically embraced an empty, cynical sales pitch and (metaphorically) self-immolated. Voila! The Trump/Cruz Primary.

Reams and reams and reams of analysis and opinion have been devoted to the mess, most of it regurgitating the obvious, but there are a couple of observations, one original and one plucked from the pile, that are worth mentioning in an okay-there-is-an-elephant-in-this-room piece such as this one.

First, The Great Orange One keeps shoving the phrase “Make America Great Again” down everyone’s throat. The slogan is predicated on the image of a golden age of American world influence, but when this golden age actually happened, or even if it actually happened, has apparently not been important enough for the I-Am-Angry-Therefore-I-Exist crowd to address (or perhaps the liberal media conspired to quash the careful historical analysis presented by the Science-Denying-Intelligentsia). One might assume they mean the Reagan years, but the History-Reformulation-Shock-Troops have so cheapened that time with self-serving, contradictory interpretation and revision that it can no longer stand the strain. We must search further back – to the administration of a real conservative Republican, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The horrific aggression of Hitler and his accomplices during World War II forced everyone in America – male/female, young/old, rich/poor – to band together and work as a team in order to survive. Individualism was set aside, social, political and religious attitudes and expectations were clarified, gender roles were firmly assigned, ambiguity was expelled, and a new social system took shape. By the time it was all over, everyone knew what he or she was supposed to be and do, how to interpret the past, and what to expect in the future, and confidence in the stability of this new system became critical to recovery and recuperation.

This was Eisenhower’s time. The Axis powers had almost conquered the world, and General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, was one of the identifiable heroes who had stopped them. A favorite of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt, he was courted twice as a presidential candidate after the war by the Democratic party but accepted the Republican nomination instead, served as president for two terms from 1953 to 1961, and is widely regarded as one of the best. America enjoyed indisputable peace, prosperity, and prestige as the leader of the Free World during the Eisenhower years, so this is likely the mythological golden age so many of the Fear-Of-Change-For-Breakfast group yearn for. The irony is that Eisenhower was nothing like the Trump/Cruz Death-Eaters who represent his party now. He was a gentleman.

Of course a huge book could be written detailing what was wrong with this golden age also, and subsequent generations are still trying to dismantle some of the “Establishment” zeitgeist, such as the unapologetic discrimination against, and segregation of blacks, women, LGBT, immigrants, etc. We cannot logically, after 70 years, sit in absolute judgement of the people who created a system that saved the world, but we can, and should, continue to judge what to keep and what to discard in our own time.

There’s the rub, and the second observation. The world is now, essentially, one – even though we don’t realize it yet – and many mid-20th century assumptions and conditions have become downright dangerous. We are all so intertwined and so well-armed we have to accept each other as equals and work together or die. In such a situation age, wisdom, and experience count at least as much as youth, enthusiasm and power. America is 240 years old with a 229 year old constitution. To exist as an intact country, with the same constitution, for over two centuries is pretty impressive, but San Marino is seven times as old as we are (1,715 years), and has a 416 year old constitution. Austria has survived as an intact nation for 1040 years (four times as long as America) and France for 1,173 years (almost five times as long). Let’s not even think about Japan or China. The list goes on and on. In other words, America is the (300 pound) middle schooler of the world and to continue to assume that we always know best, while typical middle school behavior, is…let’s see, what’s the word…stupid. If humankind survives, the U.S. is likely to mature into just another country, co-equal with the other adult nations of the world, and the spectre of this “demotion” is driving the Trump/Cruz-Lemmings over the edge.

That’s why the next few years are going to be difficult and possibly dangerous. But change is inevitable. We all need to accept it and work within it if we are to maintain the values we claim to hold so dear. Frankly speaking America needs to become more Progressive –more intelligent, more introspective, more inclusive and less hierarchical. And Progressives have to help it do so. That means we have to understand exactly what we are for and what we are against and, at the same time, welcome anyone, liberal, conservative or Cruz/Trump “Other”, who is willing to meet us halfway. We have a lot of answers but we don’t have all of them. To think that we did would be…what’s the word…stupid.

March 13, 2016
by Les Lane
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BANG! BANG!…Oops.

First of all, an apology for the delay in getting this blog published. There were serious hard drive problems that took a while to solve. All is well now.

It seems appropriate in the month of windy bluster to talk about gun nuts. Not sportsmen, who pursue greater focus, concentration and accuracy, and not collectors, who value guns as interesting, beautifully intricate pieces of fine machinery with strong historical relevance, but gun nuts – people who lobby against any kind of common sense gun laws, and offer moronically ignorant solutions for the resulting death and destruction. Here’s the thing: gun nuttery is clueless, adolescent, and clay-brained, driven not by a manly defiance of tyranny, but by infantile panic at the prospect of change. It’s time someone with more than an informal knowledge of guns – someone who, say, had a dad who was a gunsmith and marksman (this dad could quick-draw and shoot the head off of a water moccasin at 20 feet, or hit a washing machine with a Colt .45 – a heavy, slow bullet – at 350 yards), someone who could, as an adolescent, disassemble and reassemble a handgun, someone who grew up with guns hanging on the walls and standing in corners – to speak up and expose gun nuttery for what it is: the blather of temporarily insane, soldier wanna-be crybabies (not to put too fine a point on it). Caveat: this is not to say that when gun nuts aren’t in thrall to their insanity, they aren’t nice people. They likely are. No one can be defined by one issue.

The following true story about a family deer hunt in the mountains of Idaho, as told by one of the participants, is instructive:

We were on Bancroft Mountain, early in the morning-maybe 7am. There were ten or eleven of us, all within a ragged 30 foot circle, all carrying rifles. It was Dad and me and a bunch of in-laws and friends. The group was planning on splitting up at some nearby preordained point ahead, but we hadn’t yet gotten there yet.

Physically we were walking along the left side of a steep valley. Immediately to our right, and I do mean immediately, so maybe 10 feet away, the mountain dropped off sharply. Almost no trees grew either where we were or on the steeply angled downhill slope, but perhaps 200 feet down, along the bottom of the valley, there was a thick grove of Aspens. The mountain on the other side of the valley duplicated our side, with a steep, treeless, uphill climb.

We heard shots to our right. We knew there were hunters down there in the valley, so the shots got our attention quick. Most of us stopped to listen. As we were stopped, a small doe literally jumped up from over the edge of the cliff, perhaps within 10 feet of the nearest of the group, immediately to our right.

I remember hearing numerous clicks and cocks, as almost everyone loaded a round or took off the safety-I didn’t do either. The deer wove around, moving very fast and zigzagging among us, passing immediately in front of me, within a foot or two, close enough to touch. I could see the intense fear in its eyes. And just like that, it was gone, leaping over the edge to our right again and running hard downhill.

We were all just silent for a few seconds, and then everyone started to talk at once! No one shot. Amazing.

As the story goes, no one even lifted their gun. The incident has lived on as an amusing anecdote instead of a life-altering tragedy. Now take the idiots (bless their hearts) who want to make campuses “safer” by arming every frat boy and coed in sight, and put them into that circle. What do you suppose would have been the outcome?

Anyone who believes that 20 or 100 or 200 guns in the hands of inexperienced users is safer than the remote possibility of one in the hands of a potential perp is either inexperienced himself or living in La-La Land. Skill manipulating video game pixels as an avatar possessing the power of routine resurrection does not correlate to skill handling real contraptions that spit out red-hot projectiles at 390 to 3,900 feet per second (267 mph to 2,667 mph). It used to be that most people who owned guns understood and respected this, largely because, more often than not, they used guns in real life – to hunt the panther that ate a favorite pet, to provide a sense of security in an isolated farmhouse, or to scare off invading bears (shooting at the bears was illegal and just ticked them off anyway). Those gun owners would have laughed out loud at someone who insisted they needed an assault rifle for “self-defense.” Self-defense against what or whom? The operator’s lack of skill and embarrassingly poor marksmanship? Godzilla? Bad guys with assault rifles? Why would any civilian with half a brain end up in a situation facing bad guys with assault rifles? And how exactly do “good guy” assault rifle carriers imagine that encounter going down anyway? A blistering, blazing free-for-all during which the baddies drop like ten pins and the heroes remain miraculously unhurt, like on TV. Please! Anybody who believes that scenario is just plain dangerous. The only reason a civilian nowadays would need an assault rifle, excepting a small handful of very serious collectors, would be to kill a lot of people in a crowded venue, such as a theater or school, in a short amount of time.

People who actually grew up with guns back in the day would have been the first ones to insist that gun laws reflect the ever-present potential for danger, and would have ridiculed whoever disagreed. They would have lobbied for limiting gun ownership to those who first, passed a comprehensive background check and second, demonstrated correct loading, carrying, firing and cleaning protocol, and for denying that privilege to the yahoos in ten gallon hats, ostrich skin boots and belt buckles bigger than dinner plates (today these yahoos wear camouflage) who purchased guns to feel manly. Gun ownership never did equal manliness. All it takes to fire a gun is a small movement of one finger. That’s what makes them so dangerous. A toddler can fire a gun, and many, tragically, have. Guns are like poisonous snakes, beautiful and interesting to some, but always – always – potentially deadly. They are not toys. They are not props in a personal fantasy.

So what happened? Did all of the real gun experts die off? Are they being ignored and ostracized by the waa-waas (bless their hearts) who apparently run the show now? Or did they succumb to the cancerous, self-destructive fear of change that underpins present day conservatism? If they really love their guns, they need to re-establish communication with their brains and speak up, because the writing is on the wall. Gun nuttery is doomed. Fewer and fewer people are interested in packing. Fewer and fewer people are interested in being accidentally shot by someone who’s packing. The moral giants who manufacture guns are now marketing to kids, offering smaller sizes and pretty colors, but a continuing decline in gun ownership is inevitable. Contrived “self-defense” arguments notwithstanding, guns are now optional, like bows and arrows, ’57 Chevys and vinyl records. Like bows and arrows, ’57 Chevys and vinyl records they are still legitimately interesting and potentially useful, but if the “they can have my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers” crowd allow many more innocents to be sacrificed to their self-righteous lunacy, the eventual backlash will make it extremely difficult for anyone anywhere to own a gun.

It’s time for everyone to get real about this.

February 1, 2016
by Les Lane
Comments Off on Love?? Help Me Out Here.

Love?? Help Me Out Here.

In 1893 Milton Bradley published a book by American education reformer Emilie Poulsson entitled In The Child’s World: Morning Talks And Stories For Kindergartens, Primary Schools And Homes, and it is a window into another world. In fact, some of the stories are hard for a reader with modern sensibilities to stomach (future pun intended). In one a pigeon is upset because she does not feel useful:

It seems to me I am not good for anything at all. The hens lay eggs for our mistress’s breakfast; the cow gives milk to drink and to be made into butter and cheese; the turkeycock will be fatted for Christmas, he says, and will be served on a big dish with a string of sausages all round him; that will be grand!…But I am good for nothing.

On the other hand, much of the material is remarkably charming, and can be appreciated as commentary on modern culture if nothing else. One example, especially relevant this month, is the long poem that comprises most of chapter 21, “St. Valentine’s Day.” Here’s part of the first stanza (read “unfortunate” with a long “a”):

“In the month of January, in the year of eighty-eight,
Little Master Philip Urbis had been so unfortunate
As to have the mumps and measles both, besides the whooping cough,
So away to get the country air his mother packed him off.”

Now, Philip loves St. Valentine’s Day, and looks forward eagerly to giving and receiving valentines “With their wonders of lace paper and their pictures gilt and gay,” but a heavy snowstorm makes it impossible for Philip and his aunt to get to “Danvers Center” to get them.

“So it seemed that snowy morning as if not a ray of joy
Could be coaxed to shine upon the disappointed little boy.
But his Auntie put her wits to work to somehow celebrate
On this fourteenth day of February, eighteen eighty-eight.”

She composes eight valentine poems on scraps of paper and puts them where Philip will find them throughout the day – pinned to his sheet, folded in his napkin, etc.:

“When Philip does his breakfast eat,
Of baked potato and minced meat,
Oh! may his heart to me incline,
For I’m his loving valentine.”

In the afternoon the butcher, making his rounds (yes, the butcher), happens by in his sled with a load of official valentines sent to Philip by friends, but by this time, as you have already guessed, Philip prefers the home-made ones!

What is really striking about this St. Valentine’s Day story is that the intimate poems featured are from an aunt. Think about it. Nowadays, if some adult aunt sent her young nephew eight poems like this one: “Porridge hot, Porridge cold, My love for you, Cannot be told,” someone somewhere would be tempted to call Child Services…after they looked up the word “porridge.” Nowadays Valentine’s Day is pretty much exclusively for lovers, not relatives. Why is that? True, the association of romantic love and Valentine’s Day goes way back, but so what? The question remains. Why don’t we have a holiday that celebrates an aunt’s deep love for her nephew? Is an aunt’s love categorically different from romantic love? What about our love for a neighbor, a teacher, a cousin, or certain music, food, colors, activities, etc.? Are those loves similar to the feeling we celebrate on this fourteenth day of February, two-thousand sixteen? WHAT IS LOVE ANYWAY?

What is Love? This is a mystery that has driven everyone with a pulse absolutely crazy at some time or other and in this month of love-focus some of us are surely tangled up in it again. America, let us no longer resign ourselves to frustration, confusion and ignorance. Let us beard the lion in his den! Let us try to define Love. That’s what Progressives do after all: search for truth fearlessly! (Besides “Love” appears to be a kissing cousin [so to speak] of one of our Progressive values, but more about that later.)

As you probably know, the ancient Greeks had four words for love. Or was it thirty? According to Greek scholars, it depends on the context. We have all heard about the three most likely to appear in a sermon or speech this month, “Agape,” “Philia,” and “Eros,” but these terms are pretty slippery in actual usage. In a nod to the narrative that Ancient Greece was the golden age of logic and reason – and because we need these concepts in order to write this blog – let’s just agree on the following: “Agape” means unconditional love (eventually for everything and everyone), “Philia” means both love among family members and love among comrades and friends, and “Eros” means romantic/sexual love. Two other loves not mentioned as often but just as important are Pragma – the love between long-term couples, and Philautia – love for oneself. Unfortunately, while this categorization is both poetic and illuminating, it doesn’t answer our question. Are these five things essentially the same thing or essentially different things? Intuition, and millennia of linguistic application, suggest the former, so we must ask: “What is the common denominator?”

Recent exploration has yielded what may be a revelation. English novelist Iris Murdoch is cited by another author as suggesting that

Love is the very difficult understanding that something other than yourself is real.

This… is heavy dude. Last month we talked about boxes we inhabit at different times for different purposes, but we all exist in another box that is not so porous – that of our physical and mental perceptions and activity. First, consider that we all live literally and unavoidably in the past, since it takes time for physical perceptions to travel to the brain, be interpreted and then reported to the consciousness. Everything we “see” and “hear” actually happened a split-second ago, and we don’t catch up so we never actually touch objective reality. Second, we all perceive different “realities” because we are all of us confined to discrete bodies and brains. A person who is 5′ 9,” for example, will sense a different world than someone who is 5′ 10. Given these conditions (and others not covered here), would it be impossible that we subconsciously doubt the objective reality of anything other than ourselves (it’s called solipsism)…and that, furthermore, we are aware, at some level, of that doubt? Well…how does it feel to subconsciously entertain the notion that nothing else in the universe exists? Too weird and lonely for words? It certainly isn’t something most of us would wish for consciously. Under these circumstances, the assurance, however fleeting, that we are not absolutely alone, that there is a larger objective reality we can be a part of, would be precious indeed.

Think of the first time you heard a musical piece you “loved.” Would it be accurate to say it “transported” you? The first time you saw the “love” of your life (if you have found such a creature) – did you logically note the occasion from the confines of your discrete mind-space, or find yourself, suddenly and gloriously, outside of yourself in a world without limits? When you eat one of the foods you “love” or read an unexpectedly sublime literary passage, do you not break temporarily into another realm? This is probably what Murdoch is referring to, and it appears to be a common denominator of Agape, Philia, Eros, and Pragma at least. (Philautia would take more time than we have here to unravel.) So “Love” could very well be the appreciation of whatever causes us to transcend ourselves. And, since we don’t consciously control the cause of our transcendence, Love is blind. It comes unexpectedly. We “fall” in love. Somehow the person or thing hits the right buttons and whoosh! we are outside of ourselves and part of something larger.

And here is where our inquiry curls back into Progressive values. Inclusion, the acceptance of people unlike us, also has its roots in first, a conviction that there is an outside objective reality and second, a willingness to share that reality. Is it possible for consistent, sincere inclusion to lead to Love? Well…think Mother Theresa.

Tis yet another reason, among so many, to be a Progressive. Have a wonderful St. Valentine’s Day!

January 3, 2016
by Les Lane
Comments Off on REJOICE LUCKY PERSON!

REJOICE LUCKY PERSON!

December’s blog took a lighthearted look at our sometimes frenetic pursuit of the Christmas Spirit. It was lighthearted but it was also meant to be respectful, because it explored something very real and powerful – transcendence – a state of being above or beyond normal consciousness. (The Christmas Spirit is an experience of transcendence.) As wonderful as transcendence is however, it also happens to be one of the disconnects that lies at the heart of the perceived incompatibility of religiosity and secularism. Religious Christians hold up “drug-free” transcendence as support for their worldview and believe a supernatural soul is involved. Atheists think it’s a crock, or believe that only a natural brain is involved. We humans claim to have the ability to co-exist with complete strangers, secular and religious (irregardless of their views on transcendence) in a respectful, reciprocal, and mutually beneficial manner, but it’s easy to lose hope that this will ever come to pass if one does not see it manifested from time to time. So the question here is, where does one go to find peace on earth, good will towards others in a world divided?

Many who were raised Christian might point to the peace and good will they may have experienced within organized religion and individual church congregations. Indeed, people who attend the same church are often very supportive of one another, and this benevolence is sustained by transcendent experiences shared after concentrated study of ancient literature, participation in upbeat music, and prayer. But nothing in this world is free and there is a price one must pay to belong to such a group. Participants have to confine themselves to the religious/philosophical/cultural box inhabited by the congregation. Head to toe tattoos, and prurient couture, for example, would likely disqualify a person (at least unofficially) from real acceptance in a “God-fearing” Christian community. Prudish attire would be necessary just to block the chill rolling off everyone’s shoulders. A belief that the Bible is not the inspired (or literal) word of God because God does not exist would be a complete deal-breaker. Is this quid pro quo arrangement hypocritical? Is the peace and good will acquired at such a price the real thing?

It may seem obvious to some that conditional peace and good will (fully available only to those within the box) is hypocritical, since Jesus himself publicly flouted such distinctions, but keep in mind that boxes in general are the rule in life rather than the exception. If you are in a committed relationship, for example, and expect to stay there, you necessarily confine yourself to a box. At work, at the mall, at the theater, on the road, everywhere you go, every time you go, you confine yourself to boxes – shared beliefs and limits – and expect others to do the same. And why not? The world is a wild and crazy place, and slippery slopes surround us. The mind/emotion symbioses each of us embodies is arguably the most powerful force we will ever encounter. Controlled it can bring harsh reality to heel, uncontrolled it can destroy us, and anyone who has worked at a psychiatric hospital will tell you that nobody is immune from that potential destruction. Is it surprising that people feel the need for boxes?

The problem is not boxes. The problem is a desperate fear, conscious or unconscious, of everybody on the outside that compels zealots to first, drag into their box as many unwilling strangers as they can, and second, incapacitate those they cannot capture in order to neutralize the threat of that which they do not understand. This is where certain “religious” groups in America and elsewhere – not larger religious traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc., but sub-sets of these – have been very bad boys and girls. And their bullying has catalyzed a response some are calling “the new Atheism.”

The term refers to the fact that former live-and-let-live Atheists are on the offensive for the first time in recent history. They are calling religiosity out. And who can blame them? The American Religious Right and the radical Muslims so much in our faces lately are mirror-image poster children for violently imposed cultural and religious standards and practices. But while this cage fight between secularism and religiosity represented by the new Atheism movement has produced a cornucopia of fascinating and important philosophical discussion on the Web, it has also added to the strident cacophony of divisive rancor so prevalent in today’s cultural interface. Peace and good will seem further away than ever. Unless…Is it possible religion really is the problem? Is religion an obstacle to peace and good will that will eventually be sloughed off like an old skin? This is unlikely for a lot of reasons (read some of the debate on the internet), and, as it turns out, secularism is no more reliably virtuous than organized religion. Secularists can be as mean and reactionary as anyone else. Again, the problem is not necessarily the box one chooses to inhabit, but the fear of a world outside of one’s box that cannot be understood or controlled.

So, if universal peace and good will – peace and good will that can exist outside of quid pro quo boxes – can’t be found in either religion or secularism, where on earth should we look for it? Try looking for it among Progressives. No kidding. If you are a Progressive, you already know this. If you aren’t, understand that Progressives live in a box too, but it is big enough to include everybody, both religious and secular. Our limits are the universe and humankind (the jury is still out on space aliens). But if you’re going to party with Progressives, leave small mindedness and prejudice at the door. We are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Omnists, Atheists, Agnostics,and other viewpoints too numerous to list here and we come in all shades (there is no such thing as race) and all sexual orientations and identifications. If you can step up your curiosity and acceptance a notch, then a roomful of Progressives is where you can find real peace and good will. Now the only problem is finding a roomful of Progressives……

Rejoice lucky person!! WHYR is hosting its next bi-monthly Progressive Social January 28th from 6 pm to 8 pm at the station (1623 Main Street) and we want you to come. Show up, eat, drink, have fun. Ask questions and tell us about yourself. Speaking of transcendence (cause we were), a roomful of Progressives is where you could find out that secular Atheists have transcendent experiences also (as do Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Omnists, Agnostics, and other viewpoints too numerous to list here) because nobody will be offended if you ask. Look – everything in this universe is interconnected in a matrix of influence. Deep cosmic mystery and food-and-beverage-assisted chillaxation are no exception. If you are a Progressive, come meet your brothers and sisters. If you aren’t, come get your mind blown and your heart opened. Hope to see you there!