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Monday, March 31, 2008

Today's amusements

Radio Lab did an episode about the famous Orson Wells 1938 radio play "War of The Worlds". They ask if the hysteria it created could happen again in today's world. The answer is yes! They sight an incident in 1949 and another one in 1968. Then they explore why these broadcasts were so convincing and talked to the creator of the The Blair Witch Project. Near the end of the program they say something that I thought was very profound. They said, because people "want to believe".

Then I came across this news story: Pedophile claims he was molested by Bigfoot (and again here).
(March 27) - A 57-year-old man will serve 20 years in prison for molestation charges after pleading guilty in a Virginia court for his attempts to solicit 13-year-old boys over the Internet.

But Gene R. Morrill is making molestation charges of his own. He reportedly is telling an investigator that he had been sexually assaulted by the legendary Bigfoot creature in New Hampshire.
It seems that people's "wanting to believe" is a powerful force, regardless of the true facts, and has profound implications in more ways than one.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Who is my audience?

I didn't think I would be bothered to learn that no one is reading my Blog, well almost no one, after all I really don't have a good reason for blogging and I've been blogging mostly for myself. Never the less, I was a little disappointed to learn the number of page views on my Blog in the past month can be counted on one hand.

I need to be realistic. After all my Blog is a "personal Blog", I haven't defined any theme or objectives for blogging, I haven't identified an audience, I don't blog on a regular basis, and I only started blogging in December. Since I didn't set out to garner an audience I shouldn't be disappointed to learn that I don't have one!

I spent a little time this week making some minor cosmetic improvements on the Blog. I revised my profile description, made the icons all the same size, added a small margin on the right, adjusted the size of the sidebar, and added an RSS feed icon.

I defined a general theme for my blogging when I revised my profile description. The central theme of my blogging will be my personal journey towards maturity and civility, and my developing humanistic beliefs and values. A lot of topics can fit under that theme including science, reason, rational thought, being human, and self-improvement. Of course there can be the occasional short off-topic post too. I do need to be careful that my blogging doesn't become self-centered.

I did some searching around for some tips on how to be a better blogger. I found some good ones at http://www.problogger.net. Some of the tips that caught my attention include:
  • Post often but not too often. Post at least once a week on a regular schedule. Post more often if possible but not more than once a day.
  • Make posts scannable. People don't read web pages and blogs the same way they read books and magazines; they scan web pages for key points.
  • Write shorter posts. This has more to do with time and attention span in our modern tech centric age. Daily posts should be short but a weekly post can be longer.
  • Write quality posts.
  • Write one or more “pillar” articles. A pillar article has long term appeal, isn't news or time dependent and offers real value and insight.
But, who is my audience? Anyone who likes to read "personal Blogs" and anyone who has an interest in self-discovery, self-improvement, maturity, and humanistic values, but mostly myself.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Liberty and Justice for All

Unitarian churches differ from other churches in that they do not require nor expect their members to ascribe to any specific religious belief or creed. Many Unitarians are Christians but many others are not. Unitarians are encouraged to seek truth and meaning wherever it may be found.

Saturday I attended a class being offered at the Unitarian church I am associated with. The class is titled "Faith and American Politics: Liberty and Justice for All". It is designed to help participants explore and define their beliefs and values for themselves and gain an understanding of how religious beliefs and political beliefs interact.

During the first class we watched a video of the late Dr. M. Scott Peck talking about peoples desire for change and how the original concept for the class came about. We also watched a video about Americas founding fathers and how they were not of one mind about religion or the role of government. There were also several small groups classroom exercises.

The class includes homework. We've been assigned to read The Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, The U.S. Constitution (at least Articles I - VII), and take three anonymous on-line quizzes - The World's Smallest Political Quiz, The Political Compass, and The Political Typology.

I took the quizzes but I didn't think they are very scientific. I thought they were some what biased and contained a lot emotionally charged language. It seemed like the quizzes were designed to steer the subject to select responses that result in being diagnosed as a Libertarian. Perhaps I'm just offended by being labeled a Libertarian. I've never trusted Libertarians. But, maybe Libertarians are misunderstood the same way Unitarians, Humanists and Atheists are misunderstood. I didn't know I was a Unitarian until I met a Unitarian. Maybe I am a Libertarian but just don't know that I am!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

I have lots of dissonance

I have wanted to write something for my Blog for the past couple of weeks but have been at a loss for a good topic to write about. While I have resorted to the standard "What I had for lunch" postings a few times in the past, I would like my posts to have more substance than that. By a stroke of good fortune and plane dumb luck (M. Scott Peck would have called it "serendipity") I found something to Blog about today!



I wrote the paragraph above two weeks ago, then I stopped. While waiting for the next topical sentence to come to me, I began to realize that I was experiencing some dissonance about my subject. I have lots of dissonance. I want to be gentle and patient with others but I want, what I want, when I want it. I want to be fair and objective and consider all sides of a proposition but I deplore intellectual dishonesty. I want to have empathy and compassion for others but I loath fundamentalists and other religious fanatics. I want to be a Unitarian but I am not religious.

I went to dinner with several friends last night. One of the topics we discussed was a film about the Federal income tax, the IRS and tax protesters that was aired on one of the local PBS stations last week. One friend thought the film presented a good case for the income tax not having a solid foundation in law and was unconstitutional. Another friend at the table said the film was biased and did not present the facts correctly; he then proceeded to present some facts that the film had omitted. The first friend replied that he didn't think a PBS station would air such a dubious film. I chimed in and said "Well, they aired 'Bowling for Columbine' last year."

My reference to 'Bowling for Columbine' was a rather feeble attempt to express my opinion that civility, intellectual honesty and truth get thrown out the window when any position is argued from the extreme ends of the conservative liberal spectrum - be it political or religious. Taking up a position at the far right or the far left omits all of the points in between. Life isn't just black and white - it is also all of the different shades of gray and all of the colors of the rainbow. I thought both the film about the Federal income tax and 'Bowling for Columbine' were biased and presented extreme points of view. Another problem arises when positions are argued from the extreme ends of the spectrum. The dialog, such as it is, tends to become more fervent and shrill. If you have ever had the misfortune of being party to a shouting match then you know, once an argument has reached such a level, that both parties have stopped listing to each other.

I have observed an ever increasing fervor and accompanying rhetoric from both political and religious extremists. I was 13 years old when I became an atheist. I personally find most religious practices offensive. When I read Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion", while I agreed with everything he said, I felt a sense of uneasiness when I was finished. I have heard that Dr. Dawkins is actually a gentile and compassionate man but that didn't come through in his book. I found myself thinking "Wow Richard, you know you attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar." Apparently I wasn't alone; others are starting to talk about the vociferous outliers and the excluded middle.

Last week my most favorite podcast, "Point Of Inquiry", had Dr. Matthew C Nisbet on as their guest. He discussed the phenomena I described above and uses the standard bell curve to illustrate how the extremists (progressive and conservative, religious and secular) lie at the outer edges of the curve while the majority lie in the center of the standard curve. It's the extremists who are at war and making all the noise. Not only do they not hear one other, they also drown out the majority view and the voices of reason. Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D, is a professor in the School of Communication at American University where his research focuses on the intersections between science, media, and politics. He Blogs about his research and these phenomena on his "Framing Science" Blog.

I found more lights of reason this week when I leafed through this months issue of "The Humanist" magazine. I came across an article titled "Living Humanism: Compassion, Empathy, and Being a Humanist" by Armineh Noravian (March/April 2008, pp. 33 & 35.) Armineh is someone who actually knows what it is to be a humanist and who truly understands what compassion and empathy are. In that same issue is an article titled "Reconsidering the Religious Right: Schaeffer and the New Wave of Theocratic Apostates" by Rob Boston (pp. 31-32.) The article describes how a few of Americas most extreme religious fanatics have become disillusioned with the current evangelical movement and have begun to temper some of their rhetoric. While I am heartened by this shift, I remain somewhat skeptical about it.

I have lots of dissonance. I want to be a person of reason who is also loving and compassionate but sometimes I wish we had a national "punch a fundamentalist in the nose day." Apparently I'm not alone. It appears that I and many others, who lie closer to the center of the bell curve, are being pulled back and forth by the extremists on the left and right of the curve. Fortunately, there are people who actually live their humanity and are able to give voice to a more civil and rational perspective where truth can be found.