Why Trump Haters are for the birds

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Cedar Waxwing. Photo by Christopher Cudworth

Recently a long-ago classmate from high school showed up on Facebook. He Friended me and began complimenting bird photos that I posted to my wall. The connection for the first few weeks seemed genuine. He’d never been a nature guy to my knowledge but had lived next to a forest preserve back in the day. Perhaps his upbringing near the wilds had emerged as a deeper interest in his retirement.

He posted photos of his own, images of birds and such around his property. Then one day a cryptic post appeared on his wall. It was rife with jingoistic and politically flirtatious language that was all too familiar to me.

 

Bald Eagle Flight

Bald Eagle. Photograph by Christopher Cudworth.

He claimed at the moment to have a neutral stance on the state of the nation these days. Perhaps he was an Independent of sorts? Even a Libertarian? Over the years plenty of that cropped up in social media too.  And then there are the supposedly objective among us, who view all politics and government as the scourge of life. “They’re all crooks,” goes the line.

Meanwhile, the comments kept coming about nature and birds and such. He knew that I was a birder way back in middle school and high school, earning the not-so-complimentary sobriquet “Birdman” from friends who found the hobby ridiculous. So I continued our friendly repartee and helped him identify some species that showed up at his feeder from photos that he’d posted.

Trump shrug

Then came the Purple Post. My new-old-friend had decided to “lift the veil” on his political affiliations and made a statement to that effect with a closing statement: Vote Trump 2020.

I wasn’t shocked. But I was disturbed. My concerns were specific and real. If he claimed to love wildlife and the environment so much, how could he possibly support what Donald Trump has been doing to our country’s laws and regulations that protect clean air and water, conserve both common and endangered species, and honor key acts governing even archeological and paleontological resources?

The list of attacks on these protections is long. I call them the Trump Killers, because he’s presided over legal and political attempts to kill every one of these laws. Here are the major policies that Trump and the Republicans have set out to kill, or have killed already.

Trump KIllers

The point in posting this list is to help people connect the dots between the wildlife my supposed Facebook Friend loves to enjoy and the laws that provide protection and habitat for these living things to survive. That’s a simple enough concept, right?

Yet in Trumpian fashion, his love for Trump is so ardent yet so shallow that he likely has no idea that any of these actions are being taken. He lives near one of the few habitats where Kirtland’s warblers breed in Michigan. Birders have worked to help protect that and many other species. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act alone is designed to protect hundreds of species that travel to our country during spring and fall. Does he even know why such laws are important? Doubtful.

Too many Trump supporters appear to come from a background where science is considered a worthless opinion. Some of that stems from religious prejudice wrought from an evangelical mindset based on biblical literalism and its intellectually retarded offspring, creationism. Some 35% of Americans tend to abide in that worldview, and the consequence is that men like Trump and his greedy Republican allies grant carte balance to industrial polluters and environmental abusers because, it is claimed, the human race has dominion over the earth.

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Eastern Bluebird. Photograph by Christopher Cudworth.

That is the absolute brand of cognitive dissonance at work in Trumpism. It aggressively fails to recognize the connection between these environmental and resource acts and our nation’s contribution to their survival. In other words, Trump supporters completely refuse to connect the dots between the things that actually make America great and the things Donald Trump does to destroy them. And if you question their passive-aggressive practice of posting provocative Pro-Trump memes and then whining when you challenge them, the first instinct is to gaslight all those with the gall to present evidence of the President’s own lies and contradictions of his own statements. They want to make you feel like it all never happened. “You must be crazy,” is the implication.

And sure enough, when I commented on my friend’s Purple Post, he immediately made a baiting statement that he “knew I’d be first to comment.” In other words, he was taunting me and others. Just as predictably, his Trump-loving friends chimed in with memes supporting Trump and ridiculing those who don’t “get it.”

And finally, one of those Trump Lovers branded me a Trump Hater.

Trump Maga Hat

That’s the “go-to” dismissal for all Trump supporters. It implies an irrational hatred for the President. It directly aligns with the so-called Trump Derangement Syndrome that Trump supporters use to paint those who oppose them as radical leftists who oppose true American virtues. But it’s interesting how many terms it actually takes to insult those who oppose Trump.

The hypocrisy in all this is quite evident. If a Trump supporter loves birds and wildlife but does not understand that the President is doing everything he can to gut laws protecting those resources, that’s plain stupid and irresponsible. And if a Trump supporter claims to value civil rights yet wants to deny those rights to gay people or people of color, that’s an insult to the entire notion of what civil rights mean. And if Trump supporters claim to love life yet refuse to limit access to weapons capable of slaughtering dozens of innocent people in minutes, then they are lying to us all.

That is the dynamic that exists across the entire spectrum of  Trump policies. Claims to virtue counteracted by repression of those whom the Trump world hates. And Trump himself is the most consistent lawbreaker. From breaching emolument laws on conflicts of interest to pressing foreign countries to interfere in our nation’s elections, Trump has flaunted our Constitution and its foundational premises. He refuses to respect the rule of law and at the same time uses it to punish those causes he considers his enemies. He is the most hateful acting of all Presidents, fueled especially by hatred for Barack Obama, whose legacy he has steadfastly and vengefully tried to erase.

bobolink

Bobolink. Photo by Christopher Cudworth

But it’s the birds that illustrate this whole hatred thing the best. Many of those laws listed above were actually implemented with collaborative approval by Republican Presidents and members of Congress and the Senate. But Trump hates them all. The real Trump Hater, in an active sense, is Trump himself.

So I’ll not abide the insults and the targeted claims that I’m somehow “deranged” for opposing the nasty things this President is imposing on our country. They are hateful in every respect, a testimony to the selfish and shallow fraud of a human being whose grasp of even the most simple concepts is at best questionable. Yet he calls himself a genius and brags about his intellect, all while gutting the purposes of our public education system, our civil rights and our heritage as a haven for the desperate and the poor. Donald Trump is the most hateful man on earth right now, and his supporters love him for it. Yet they call us Trump Haters.

Orange Donald

LAS VEGAS, NV – APRIL 28: Chairman and President of the Trump Organization Donald Trump yells ‘you’re fired’ after speaking to several GOP women’s groups at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino April 28, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Trump has been testing the waters with stops across the nation in recent weeks and has created media waves by questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

That’s a sickness of mind and an ugly testament to the twisted mentality required to vote and approve the actions of a President who is a bully, a despot, and a fascist in every aspect of his demeanor and conduct. In other words, he is a man genuinely worth of hate, but his supporters instead grant him a brand of worshipful love that resembles a cult.

Cardinal and Evil

So we supposed Trump Haters are for the birds, and many other good things in this world, including civil rights for all, a fair and equitable economy that does something other than shovel money to the wealthy, a foreign policy that respects rather than manipulates and brutalizes our allies, a nation free from religious oppression as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and a country where guns are not the final word on respect for law.

But those who love Trump apparently hate all these things, and hate the world as well, because they’re willingly glad to destroy it in order to keep their man in power.

Even Trump can’t bend the laws of nature to his will

Cicada killer

As a child deeply interested in nature, I studied butterflies and learned dozens of species, taking up birding thanks to the gift of a Peterson Field Guide from a knowing aunt, and spent all the time I could outdoors where the world seemed to offer limitless opportunity to find something new every day.

Yet one warm afternoon I got a bit more nature than I expected. While popping tar bubbles and collecting “Fool’s Gold” bits of pyrite from the gravel on a neighborhood street, I heard a loud buzzing noise over my shoulder and turned to find the biggest wasp I had ever seen descending over my head. It was a cicada killer carrying prey back to its underground nest.

At first, horrified by the size, then fascinated by this massive insect, I watched it land and drag a cicada carcass into a hole in the Pennsylvania clay.

Although I well knew that aspects of nature could be vicious––our own feral cat had proved that to me by dispatching birds and chipmunks multiple times––that encounter with the cicada killer shattered my expectations of how forceful our world could be.

Force of nature

But it didn’t end there. Later in life, I learned that certain kinds of wasps will lay eggs in the bodies of larger caterpillars, whose innards become food for the young of the wasp once they emerge. Parasitoid wasps actually prey on all sorts of other living creatures, with some focusing on aphids, which is why some gardeners welcome the sneaky beasts into their world.

The world is full of predator-prey relationships, many with brutal consequences. Nature usually finds a balance if evolution is left to work its magic. But the human race is known to mess up this equilibrium by introducing entirely new or “invasive” species into an ecosystem. Without any natural predators or systems to keep them in check, these species can run amok, overtaking the natural environment with often devastating force.

We see invasive plant species such as garlic mustard covering woodland floors, shutting out light vital to native wildflowers. Out in the marshes, it is purple loosestrife that propagates like mad. There are also bird species such as European starlings and House sparrows that upon release into North America flourished and flooded the countryside with their aggressive ways.

Murder hornets

The latest predatory and somewhat parasitic species to invade the United States is a species of wasp called the Japanese Murder hornet. Specimens of this robust and vicious wasp have been found in the Pacific Northwest, leading some to worry that they might expand across the country and decimate honeybee populations. That problem would only worsen the challenges faced by beekeepers during a period when massive hive die-offs are common, and whose cause is not entirely known.

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Whether Murder hornets will make way across the fifty states remains to be seen. One expert quoted in a Business Insider article played down the threat: “It’s not an existential threat to mankind or to the US or to our honeybee industry to have,” Doug Yanega told Business Insider. “Even if they do get established and build a foothold here, the scale of the threat is greatly overblown.”

Another entomologist quoted in the Post-Crescent, a Wisconsin newspaper, noted: “This whole ‘murder hornet’ thing is annoying to entomologists, I think,” Draney said. “It just freaks people out and sort of unnecessarily makes people nervous.”

Coronavirus

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People are nervous about quite a few threats these days. The invasion of the Coronavirus in America has shut down the economy and cost 30 million people their jobs. The virus is an evolutionary wonder of its own, a “novel” bug that has no predecessor among human beings. That makes it more dangerous to contain because there are no antidotes or antibodies developed to combat the tiny beast. Thus it presents an existential threat to millions of people around the world.

Here in the United States, response to the Coronavirus bug was slow and ponderous. That’s because the main person in charge of pondering the issue is himself a bit of an apex predator and by some reckonings, a parasite of the first and final order.

Orange Donald too

A real (estate) parasite

Back in the days when Trump was making his way in the New York Real Estate market, he refined his predatory tactics through manipulation of rent controls and valuations, playing up the worth of his properties when it suited his ego and playing them down when it benefited his tax needs.

But his parasitic instincts flared into action when the Real Estate market crash threatened the nation in 2007. As NBC News reported, “Donald Trump counseled Trump University students to take advantage of the housing bubble as an investment opportunity and said, just a year before it burst, that he was “excited” for it to end because of the money he’d make.

“People have been talking about the end of the cycle for 12 years, and I’m excited if it is,’ he told the Globe and Mail in March of 2007. “I’ve always made more money in bad markets than in good markets.”

At that time, the housing market was already beginning to decline, and just over a year later the subprime mortgage crisis hit, part of a chain reaction of events that led to the stock market crash of 2008 and cemented the Great Recession.”

Predator and parasite combined

Orange Donald

That is Trump the predator and parasite coming together in one devilish creature. The NBC News story originally published in 2016 is all the more revealing now that Trump University was punished for defrauding the students it claimed to educate. Not only was Trump eager to parasitize the economy on which his supposed wealth depends, but he was also sucking money out of people for fake wisdom.

But we’ve long known that Trump knows how to leverage his vicious nature better than most. His television show The Apprentice celebrated his love of dispatching those he considered inferior with the famous phrase, “You’re fired!”

There’s an interesting parallel between the behavior of Donald Trump and the Murder Hornets whose habits include honeybee hive genocide and then carting off the carcasses of its victims to feed to its children. He claims to love chaos and seems happiest when tearing his victims apart. Perhaps the sociopathy of nature really does trickle up the food chain to gain expression in the human race. Supposedly our species is capable of transcending survival of the fittest and its “red in tooth and claw” dynamics. Yet the wars and political battles common to our kind do not suggest we’re all that better than the creatures over whom we claim dominion. That is why so many sociopaths seem to succeed. They appeal to a certain base instinct to dispatch the opposition at any cost. Trump is their Murder Hornet King, the face of domination and revenge.

Murder Hornet Trump

Political murder hornet

After years of eviscerating victims on The Apprentice, Trump was elected President of the United States and kept playing the same role, only this time the reality show was not semi-scripted. It was live and in-person. So whether the contestant was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who branded Trump a “moron,” or former FBI director James Comey, who did Trump a symbiotic electoral favor by glorifying the trumped-up case against Hillary Clinton and her dreaded emails, Trump went at his mission indiscriminately. Any buzz of disloyalty was sufficient to make Trump go full-on murder hornet. 

And when anyone threatens to hold him accountable for his lack of accountability or Tweets designed to sting his perceived opponents to death, Trump claims that it is his natural right to do such things, and nothing anyone says or does can stop him.

The taste of prey

Even after the Mueller team uncovered Russian interference in the 2016 election and turned in multiple indictments people in the President’s close circle,  Trump claimed innocence and embarked on a new and horrifically bald-faced attempt to bring foreign influence to bear on American elections. He targeted Joe Biden by coercing the President of Ukraine to conduct an investigation into Hunter Biden. That political murder plot exposed by a whistleblower. There are always guardian bees or ants in nature that are willing to sacrifice themselves to defend the colony.

But Trump loves invasive species, you see. He embraced Wikileaks because it helped him break down the value of laws in the United States, freeing him to flaunt our Constitution and the natural limits of the Executive Office itself.

The invasive coronavirus

Trump shrug

This brings us to Trump’s non-response to the invasion of the Coronavirus in America. At some level, Trump likely admired the cunning tactics of the Chinese government that kept the virus secret until it knew what it wanted to do about it. Who knew that a virus living in bats could make the leap over to human beings? Actually, people like Dr. Anthony Fauci and the entire Pandemic Response Team that was told by Trump “You’re fired!” knew quite a bit about the potential problems caused by viruses of that type. Researchers had spent years studying Coronaviruses of many types. Predictions were made that it wasn’t a matter of “if” such a virus would threaten the human population, but “when.”

The fact of the matter is that Trump refused to believe yet desperately feared that his perfect economy could be affected by news of a potential pandemic. The fat caterpillar on which his eyes were trained was getting re-elected in November of 2020. Trump’s goal is to lay his eggs in the American government to the benefit of his progeny; Ivanka, Jared, the Trump boys, and ultimately his nearly invisible son Barron.

Parasite in Chief

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Trump is indeed the Parasite In Chief, a predator so cunning and absorbed in his mission that he failed to see that a much smaller parasite was coming up from behind. It laid its eggs as he sat dormant in his brooding complex surrounded by the buzzing sycophants who guard the dark lair from journalists and other such pests. If Trump had his way, he’d fly out and bite off the heads of every reporter he could find.

His popularity with his base is built on such instincts. They view Washington as a brood of termites gnawing away at the foundations of the American household. Trump was elected to be their can of Raid. The more poison he spewed, the more favor he won among those who favor a scorched earth result. Those instincts were verified when Trump claimed at a campaign rally that he could shoot someone and he would still be on top. “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump said.

That’s a murder hornet philosophy if there ever was one. Trump is indeed a unique and invasive species in American politics. His symbiotic relationship with Russia includes the parasitic ploy of trusting Russian social media trolls to inject seeds of discontent among the aphids he calls his base. Meanwhile, Trump occupies himself by buzzing around with other murder hornets such as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and Turkish kingpin Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose political career Trump would dearly love to emulate. As described on Wikipedia: “As a long-standing proponent of changing Turkey’s parliamentary system of government into an executive presidency, Erdoğan formed an alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to establish an executive presidency in 2017, where the changes were accepted in a constitutional referendum.”

King of the Hoppers

That’s the type of power and authority Donald Trump truly craves. Yet his predatory brand of narcissism caused him to focus on his own ego during the one moment when that brand of authority could truly have been his to wield. Trump preeningly tried to brush away the threat of a pandemic, insisting it would disappear “like magic” simply because he willed it to be so.

“It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.

His power was so great, he repeatedly Tweeted, that nothing bad could happen to the economy.

The Grand Parasite

Trump-golf-seated

On that topic, Trump is also a grand parasite. He did nothing to build to the economy that he inherited from eight years of hard work by President Obama, whose leadership helped the country recover from the Bush-led Great Recession.

Even in the midst of that effort, Obama got blowback from his political opponents when he had the nerve to inform business interests that the government was critical in providing the infrastructure needed for their success.

He stated, “You did not build that” in talking about the nation’s investment in that infrastructure. But conservatives took that to literally mean they had not built their businesses. That’s how selfish people can be when they don’t want to owe anything to anyone.

And that’s the reason Trump got elected. The selfish horde of Americans whose spit and prejudicial spit rained down upon Obama could not stand the idea that a Democrat had saved their asses.

Wasting away

Now Trump has quickly squandered everything that Obama did create. The tariffs imposed by Trump gutted agricultural markets. The tax cuts he favored sent the national deficit soaring. Now his feckless and lazy response to the pandemic has cost millions of American jobs and the nation is headed toward yet another Republican-led recession.

It should be noted that every Republican President from Eisenhower to Trump has trashed the economy enough to cause a recession. That’s the real pandemic in America:  Republican economic policy. It sickens the nation every time by infecting the country with the attitude that it is the job of United States citizens to feed and support the rich so that jobs and money can trickle down to the everyday worker.

Hopper king ants

In that respect, we should consider the plot of the movie A Bug’s Life, in which a nasty King Hopper brings his horde to bear on the ant colony. Their goal is to mercilessly clean out the stores of the ants for their own purposes. Yet the ant colony musters enough courage to resist King Hopper thanks to an oddly liberal batch of circus performers whose act serves as both a distraction and an act of resistance. Their colorful display distracts the grasshopper mob long enough for a band of ants to fly a fake bird down from a tree to scare the daylights out of King Hopper and his deplorable clan.

Thumper

Yet that’s not the end of the story. When King Hopper sees through the ruse and labels it Fake News, he goes off in mad pursuit to kill the Whistleblower ant that led the charge in standing up to the bullying ways of Hopper and his base. But the ant flees until it arrives at the lair of a hungry bird, who grabs Hopper in its bill and feeds the hapless insect to its beckoning young. What a fitting end that would be for the likes of Donald Trump, the President determined to terrorize a nation into doing his bidding.

There’s a moral to every tale in nature. No one is immune to the forces of natural justice in this universe. Not even those who try so desperately to break its laws and bend the truth to serve selfish objectives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lesson about dithering squirrels

squirrel-deadOn the way home from the art studio this Sunday morning, I slowed the car to allow a squirrel in the street to make a decision about which way to go. You know the story. The squirrel turned one way, then the other. Suddenly it scampered to the curve.

But you can’t always see the results of those frantic decisions until you’re another forty feet down the street. We all tend to glance back hoping the squirrel did not get crushed under a car tire. That’s when guilt grips us if we have a conscience. A life wasted, it seems, by random activities in the universe.

Except random activities are the rule of the day. They happen every second for all of eternity. As far as your mind can travel, there are squirrels of one kind or another making choices all the way from the subatomic level up the expanding travels of a galaxy through time itself.

That is evolution in progress. Squirrels are either getting run over or living to face yet another day. The squirrels left dead on the street often get run over again and again. Their bodies are either eaten by scavengers, consumed by worms and bacteria or simply crushed into the asphalt as a grease spot that no one notices.

Predestination

Now there used to be a theory or two in theology that said God controlled every one of these activities. Everything in the universe was made to order. God worked like a fast order chef or a control freak head waiter at a busy restaurant. That was predestination.

squirrel-on-the-roadBut that makes God out to be a pretty bad character, the dispenser of evil as well as goodness. Which makes for thorny questions when it comes to the personal fate of members of the human race, who are so preoccupied with their own destinies they can hardly comprehend their real place in the universe.

That’s also what makes it so difficult for some people to imagine that the human race emerged from the same soup as the rest of life on earth. Never mind that the soup runs through our veins is blood that mimics ocean water in its salinity, or that we share 3/4 of our genetic makeup with just about every other living thing on earth.

Never mind. That’s too much alignment for squirrels that prefer to dither over less relevant facts. Like whether Mary was a Virgin, or that John the Baptist was lefthanded. And so on.

Dither yonder

When it comes to certain types of decision-making, human beings are as dumb as squirrels and make just as many bad choices. Hundreds of thousands of people die each day due to the simple arithmetic involved in bad decisions at the wrong time. Add in the selective pressures of war and famine and natural disasters, all of which are largely avoidable with a little cooperation, and human beings don’t look so smart even in the context of predestination.

But when you look through all this dithering through the cool eye of evolution, it’s all entirely predictable. 99% of all living things that have ever existed in the earth’s history are now extinct. The age of dinosaurs lasted millions of years but ultimately most of them died off through unforgiving circumstances. God didn’t stop that from happening. Not at all. The birds that evolved from dinosaurs or actually are dinosaurs made out okay. But many of them are at risk these days as well, sucked into the Black Hole of the Anthropogenic Age where the gravity of human activity sucks things into non-existence never to be seen or heard again.

Endangered species 

These days, hundreds of species of animals, plants, insects and other life forms are threatened by a new wave of extinctions. This is indeed the Anthropogenic age, when extinctions and climate change and other earthly devastations once-credited to God are now exacted with the same casual precision as a squirrel burying a nut in the wasted Garden of Eden.

Just in the last 100 years, species of birds such as the Passenger Pigeon that once numbered in the billions have been erased from history. Extinct. No more exist. All dead. Nuts buried by squirrels too busy market hunting to care about the eventual outcome. No one stopped to tell them they were nut for shooting so many birds.

The same thing almost happened to the American bison, which now exists mostly in carefully tended herds that number a fraction of populations that once roamed the Great Plains. Just as painful are the losses of flora and fauna we can’t see.

The once great tallgrass prairie is reduced to 1/10th of one percent of its former range.

These were all actions caused by human beings. Thus they represent an engagement in the process of evolution. People who deny this fact typically rely on their own Origin of Species based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. The only explanation they can offer about the extinction of species is a reputed Great Flood that covered the entire earth. Ostensibly the fellow named Noah gathered enough living and breeding sets of life forms on the Ark to repopulation the entire world.

tx-blind-salamander-picture-1To accomplish this feat would have required, of course, a blind salamander from the caves of Texas to crawl across the entire western European continent, swim thousands of miles across a saltwater ocean, climb onto the dry land of the Eastern Seaboard and swim all the way to what is now the State of Texas, crawl across hundreds of miles of parched landscape to where a small population of said blind salamanders still lives and breeds to this day.

The absurdity is not assuaged by the claim that “all things are possible with God.” The examples of impossible migrations are so vast and so daunting that the tale of Noah’s Ark quickly falls into the category of metaphor.

The part of the story that does apply is that human beings do apparently bear some responsibility for the welfare and stewardship of animals, plants and other species on this earth. The entire earth is an ark, if you will. And human beings are doing a really crappy job of playing Noah, wiping out hundreds of species of life forms every year.

The Flood story strongly suggests that God is not afraid of extinction. That fact is borne out by what we know about patterns of extinction through the sciences of paleontology, biology and the theory of evolution.

To explain God’s relationship to these harsh events, one merely has to acknowledge the presence of free will in the universe. The squirrel on the road makes a choice when a car approaches. It runs back and forth and either gets nailed by a tire or escapes. There is nothing sentimental about this process. It is free will at work.

IMG_0492Human beings thus are subject to choices made by free will as well. These choices fuel or place in the process of evolution. We make good choices, we live. When we make bad choices, sometimes we die. This is true on both an individual and collective basis. Evolution takes place largely in incremental fashion, but it can also roll out in wholesale destruction if human beings fearfully agree to respond to life’s circumstances like a herd of squirrels.

We don’t see squirrel migrations every day, but it happens now and then when population or environmental pressures drive squirrels to migratory madness. Let us consider a documented tale from the early 19th century: “Here is how, In 1811, Charles Joseph Labrobe wrote in The Rambler in North America of a vast squirrel migration that autumn in Ohio: “A countless multitude of squirrels, obeying some great and universal impulse, which none can know but the Spirit that gave them being, left their reckless and gambolling life, and their ancient places of retreat in the north, and were seen pressing forward by tens of thousands in a deep and sober phalanx to the South …”

At times human beings are subject to the same sort of social madness. Then the human race behaves like a huge pack of squirrels or lemmings rushing off a cliff. Normally, squirrels in their home environment are typically cautious and predictable. They use the same paths to get from tree to tree.

But when forced out in the open, or faced with confusing situations such as an oncoming car, squirrels equivocate, turning back and forth in desperate reaction to a world outside their evolutionary understanding.

When faced with the unknown, human beings act no differently than squirrels on a high way. This is true among individuals and group populations. Human culture is squirrelly, and fear can turn otherwise rational people into fearful sheep.

And while squirrels are supposedly a much lower species than apes, there are people who consider the idea that human beings descended from earlier forms of primates a real insult. But when it comes to the sometimes squirrelly thinking and behavior of entire nations, to be considered on par with an ape would be a good thing.

squirrel-on-road.jpgThe human race is experiencing a “squirrel on the highway” moment when it comes to dealing with climate change. The back and forth between those who accept the evidence and those who deny its verity is causing the human race to dither and change direction on the subject. Meanwhile, the Big Wheels are Turning and heading our way. If the human race does not figure out how to slow down the rate of climate change, we really will get run over. Coastlines will flood. Hurricanes will increase their destruction. The human race will be forced to evolve in a hurry to deal with climactic extremes that will produce highly unpredictable weather.

Some people consider that bunk. They cover their heads with their squirrel tales or insist that the Great Squirrel in the Sky is the only Keeper of Climate Change. But that only amounts to ignoring the roar of the engine around the curve and the threat of the fat tires about to crush the collectives spines of a million squirrels dithering back and forth on the highway.

And some squirrels don’t even care. Safely ensconced in their Wealthy Squirrel Hideaways with plenty of nuts to gnaw, they could not give a rat’s ass if a few millions other squirrels get turned into Global Road Kill. It’s none of their concern. There are the I’ve Got Mine Squirrels that actually take pride in the act of driving the trucks that run over other squirrels. And for some, that is considered a great sport.

But it’s true. When global warming kicks in an temperatures rise across great expanses of continents such as Africa and South America and North America, mass migrations of people will take place in regions where intense heat and desertification takes over.

And still there will be dithering by the rich and powerful, and fearful meandering by those trapped in the horrific cycle of heat and drought and flooding. The Bible fails

Even The Holy Bible fails misterably in providing hope or solutions to this apparent dilemma of a worldwide threat to human existence. After all, God ostensibly enabled the Great Flood that called Noah into action. If we can believe the text, then it was true that all the people of the earth, other than a select few, were wiped out.

God also brought Hail and Brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah in rash treatment for the excesses of those cities and their inhospitality to strangers, especially angels.

angelsAnd let us not forget that God even allowed the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. That scattered his ostensibly Chosen People like a band of squirrels, out into an inhospitable world where they got run over and enslaved in many cases. But a few eventually banded together and returned to their home turf, where they reside to this day in a form a bit evolved from the original. Because that’s how evolution works, you see.

The entire process of survival is always a bit squirrelly for all involved. Squirrels able to anticipate and adjust their behavior while crossing the Road of Existence most often survive. But among human beings, there is also a moral responsibility to share those instincts for survival, and even hold paws with those more likely to dither or get crushed. That’s the role of government and of scripture, to enact the decisive course of humanity.

Because whether you view it through the eyes of scripture or the cold lens of an evolutionary viewpoint, it never pays to be a dithering squirrel.

 

 

Is God or Satan the real control freak?

IMG_6707During a New Year’s Day party, while talking with a young man and his father, conversation somehow turned to nature and conservation. We were standing by a large bonfire in freezing temperatures. Smoke puffed and billowed from the fire as the father, obviously excited to share his worldview with me, began to explain the difference between “predestination” and “preordination.”

“It’s not just semantics,” he claimed. “Predestination is very different from preordination.”

He went on. “All the world and history are preordained,” he explained. “God has mapped out everything in the past, the present and future. There isn’t a tree that falls in the woods that can change the course of history.”

Now, I will admit I typically ask for these types of conversations. Ever curious about the beliefs of others, and concerned for the manner in which faith is so casually used to justify all sorts of abuses in this world, I took the bait.

“What about free will?” I asked him.

Just then someone interrupted the conversation. That agitated him, because he’d just delved into his principal point, and he wanted to drive it home like a stake through my theological heart.

God is a control freak. That was his point.

What really matters?

My mind rushed through the implications of preordination. If all is preordained, then nothing we do as human beings can ever matter. “Science is wonderful,” he admitted. But it’s apparently useless. Still, he was proud of the fact that his son had been courted by schools for biomedical engineering. The kid walked away from scholarship offers. He’s working as a manager of an eldercare facility. “I like older people,” he smiled. “And I want to go into physical therapy to help them.”

The father was not finished with his soliloquy. “Evolution tries to explain things,” he observed. “But for what purpose? God already knows all that.”

I challenged him on that point, pointing out that Jesus seemed to have no problem incorporating nature into his parables as tools of exploration and instruction for his ministry. His highly symbolic parables based on nature’s wonders were a key tool to help people understand the nature of creation, which is reflective of God’s nature.

“Jesus would have had no problem with the theory of evolution,” I maintained. “He wanted everyone to learn from nature. And when his disciples didn’t get that, he call them as “dull” or “stupid.”

That seemed to catch him off-guard for a minute. But he quickly got back on his preordination horse and kept riding.

So I interjected again. “There are bookends to preordination and predestination that essentially defy the teachings of Christ,” I instructed. “The literal interpretation of Genesis and the reverse literalism of Revelation are literary tools for people to control the narrative of the Bible. Those are not the methods of God or Christ. In fact, Jesus chastised the religious leaders of his day for being so legalistic about faith and turning it into law for their own control and benefit,” I counseled. “There is far more truth to be discovered and known through metaphorical means. That’s where God resides, and how Jesus taught. He should be an example for us all. The Word and the world are living things. It’s up to us how we engage with God and creation. What really matters is the choices we make. That’s a more responsible way to act and it respects the gift of grace.”

At that moment, the flames seemed to rise a bit in the reflections of his eyes. He was burning to prove himself right. Just then someone threw another log on the fire. A stream of sparks shot up in the air. I took a sip of my beer and walked away from the heat of the flames.

The world is a pretty cool place if you let it be. The alternative is a bit like hell, because it turns out that it’s not God who is the control freak. It’s the character we know as Satan. He never wants to let you think for yourself.

 

 

The miracle of convergent evolution and faith

convergence4There’s an interesting thing that happens in evolution called “convergence.” That is, through selective forces such as habitat or climate or competitive adaptation, different kinds of animals and plants can appear to look alike. One of the most familiar examples is the convergent evolution of functional wings in birds, bats and insects.

Playful evolution

It’s an interesting fact that evolution sometimes also works in “reverse” when it comes to evolved physical characteristics such as wings. That’s why we find flightless species of penguins and cormorants. These birds no longer needed to fly to survive and their wings have evolved to be used for different purposes, or practically no purpose at all.

Flightless cormorants are birds whose wings have "devolved" through lack of need to fly.

Flightless cormorants are birds whose wings have “devolved” through lack of need to fly.

Why would any bird cease to fly? There seems to be so much value in the ability to fly away from potential predators or to fly in pursuit of potential prey. The answer (in part) is that when you live in an environment where swimming for prey and escape is the more efficient manner of existence, then flying becomes an unnecessary use of energy.

By contrast, penguins use their wings to propel through water in pursuit of fish while flightless cormorants simply rely on their back feet to propel them through the water in pursuit of the fish they eat. And it works. So are penguins going “backwards” in terms of evolution? Not really. They’ve simply evolved in a different direction from other forms of flying or flightless birds.

Dumb choices? 

Penguins sometimes use their bellies to slide across the ice.

Penguins sometimes use their bellies to slide across the ice.

If you choose to think in anthropomorphic terms (projecting human characteristics on animals) you could criticize penguins for making poor evolutionary choices.“Look at you stupid penguins! Now you’re not like the rest of the birds! You made a dumb choice. Now you can no longer fly!”

There’s a problem with that line of thinking. The many species of penguins on this earth did not “choose” to become flightless. They became flightless in practical response to the environments where they live. Flying to capture food or escape predators was no longer useful.

Evolution at work

txblindsalamandersm807cu

A Texas blind salamander

There is no end to the odd number of ways evolution** works on living creatures. We also have blind salamanders that live in caves. They no longer need their eyesight to find food in an environment where there is no light. We also have mammals known as bats that have poor eyesight, yet navigate through the night sky using echolocation to avoid trees and zero in on flying insect prey.

Nature is thus a highly creative source of evolutionary invention. This includes convergence, where different types of animals or plants evolve the same characteristics such as limbs or wings or eyes. There is also divergence, where through genetic variation or interbreeding changes in physical structure become part of the selective forces at work in the survival of a species.

About sex

Of course evolution also works with physical and behavioral characteristics in seemingly confusing ways. In the animal and plant world it is quite common for all sorts of living species to have both male and female sexual characteristics. In such cases we use the general scientific term of  hermaphrodite to describe these multisexual life forms.

In nature hermaphroditic animals and plants are known to assume both sexual roles in the mating process. Some types of living things begin as a male and change into a female. Others work female into male within a single lifespan depending on their lifecycle. Still others are bidirectional in nature, switching sexual roles from one gender to another and back again.

There’s a difference, but it’s natural and normal

Among human beings the term used to describe people with both sexual identities or physical characteristics is intersex or transgender to describe people with both male and female body parts. 

Again, these are not people who have chosen to be both male and female, nor are they. Yet transgender people are often forced by culture and society to make choices people should never have to make. Society seems to demand that they choose one sex or the other or be forced to live in a dichotomous world where they are not accepted by either sex.

The same holds true for homosexual people as well. While the sexual characteristics of a homosexual person are not necessarily demonstrated in a physical sense, the sexual orientation of a homosexual person who is sexually attracted to those of the same sex is just as biologically expressive as being transgender.

Fears and actions

Of course these differences in human sexual characteristics and orientation have long been ostracized by societies that fear differences of any sort. In fact many societies fear even the common sexual expressions in women and men. Basic functions such as menstruation were once considered “unclean” by ancient cultures. This prejudice and fear against menstruating women was codified in the Bible with calls to isolate women from society for a period of days until they were judged to be “clean” again. The same rules applied for men who ejected semen onto their clothes.

Even in today’s society, sexual repression and control over a women’s body is carried out in ancient tribal traditions that mutilate the clitoris of young women to deny them sexual pleasure in intercourse. This brand of controlling behavior is the sign of a culture that has not evolved in its comprehension and understanding of individual equality and gender roles in society.

Canonized fears

Even supposedly advanced cultures embrace ancient taboos because they mask a brand of machismo based on ignorance and fear about the female gender. These male fears are canonized in the Genesis creation story where Eve tricks Adam into trying fruit from the “tree of knowledge.” Notice the interesting theme at work in that creation tradition? Right away it is knowledge that is the enemy. Remain ignorant and you’ll be safe from all temptation, says Genesis.

Samson and Delilah

Samson and Delilah

It carries through many other biblical stories as well. When Delilah secretly cuts the hair of Samson he loses his legendary strength. The power of such stories holds true to this day, as evidenced by this question and answer posted on Yahoo! Answers.

Q: Do you lose strength when you cut your hair?

A: Wow, are we bored today? No, you cannot lose your strength if/when you cut your hair. Samson was a biblical fable used to demonstrate that when you forget your faith, and rely on the wrong thing, you can and will lose everything you have. (Not that I’m really Christian or anything, just completing the train of thought, *grin*)

Of course the real meaning of the story focused on being dedicated to God in faith. Yet how interesting it is that this notion persists that a man could lose strength by having his hair cut.

There are many such perceptions that masculine traits are evidence of strength and personal valor. When people don’t follow these “norms” they immediately come into question by society. These prejudices against men who act feminine or engage other men in a homosexual relationship are also canonized in the Bible.

It is interesting to note that while the Bible calls homosexuality a sin in some cases, it is just as often used as a warning of symbol for fears about falling into other types of sins. Here is one such example:

Romans 1:26-32, “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”

wipe_out_homophobia_by_wipeout_homophobia-d4835i7This passage foremost condemns anything other than the “natural use of a woman,” which is rather a patriarchal manner in which to view women as a rule. And the fact of “men with men working that which is unseemly” actually reveals the entire lack of knowledge that in most of nature, such clear lines of demarcation and behavior do not always exist. Absent the knowledge of modern science, the Bible falls into a definition of “normalcy” that depends far too much on fear and not enough on understanding.

And for homosexuality to stand at the start of it all seems like a certain condemnation. But the real message of this passage is a condemnation of people acting out of control. That’s the real message of the Sodom and Gomorrah story in the Bible as well. When strangers wander into town, they take refuge with Lot. The townspeople call them out because town tradition states that strangers found after dark are fair sport for all sorts of abuse. God is disgusted not just with this tradition, but all sorts of abusive behavior in these towns. He blots them out for their transgressions, but homosexuality was not the sole cause for that wrath. Yet that story has been used to condemn homosexuals for “sodomy” based on a fear of sexual practices that do not supposedly fit the “normal” behavior of human beings.

Thought control

It’s all about thought control, plain and simple.

In 2015 this practice of imposing thought control based on ancient and ignorant prejudices is being called into question by none other than Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church. He takes ancient bad habits to task by calling people to remember that Jesus himself came to turn the law over on its head. The Catholic News Service reports:

Jesus did “strange things,” like “walk with sinners, eat with tax collectors” — things the scholars of the law “did not like; doctrine was in danger, that doctrine of the law” that they and the “theologians had created over the centuries,” he said, according to Vatican Radio.

The scholars were safeguarding the law “out of love, to be faithful to God,” the pope said, but “they were closed up right there,” and forgot all the ways God has acted in history.

“They forgot that God is the God of the law, but is also the God of surprises,” he said.

“God is always new; he never denies himself, he never says that what he had said is wrong, but he always surprises us,” the pope said.

20130911cnsbr1564-1024x730But the Pope doesn’t stop there. He dispenses with ancient prejudices by taking his line of thought to conclusion in this way, as the CNS reports:

The scholars of the law also forgot that the people of God are a people on a journey, “and when you journey, you always find new things, things you never knew before,” he said. But the journey, like the law, is not an end in itself; they are a path, “a pedagogy,” toward “the ultimate manifestation of the Lord. Life is a journey toward the fullness of Jesus Christ, when he will come again.”

The law teaches the way to Christ, and “if the law does not lead to Jesus Christ,” he said, “and if it doesn’t get us closer to Jesus Christ, it is dead.”

Pope Francis is forced by tradition to make these statements as part of a transitional focus on change. The church cannot just flip its doctrine lest it come off as too flip for its position as an authority on faith. Yet the message is clear: We must dispense with ancient prejudices or find ourselves set apart from God and Christ.

And this is the convergent evolution between the church and the life of Christ. It has taken 2015 years for the church to come around to this understanding. In between there have been persecutions of millions of people based on ancient prejudices against Jews and Muslims despite Christ’s call to love our supposed enemies. There has been canonized and politicized prejudice exercised against homosexuals, lesbians and transgender people despite the fact that all these characteristics and orientations are manifested wholly in God’s own creations. It continues to this day. 

thYet perhaps we are finally evolving as a faith. The church can only find use of its true wings if it is allowed to embrace all the many forms of human beings. That is, we are homo sapiens.

The word “homo” means man. The word sapiens is based on the root Latin word “sapere” that means wise. Perhaps now the scientific term describing human beings––home sapiens––is at last converging on something approaching the truth. Sometimes it takes a long time for evolution to work in this world. 

* unprincipled (often used as a humorous or affectionate reproach)

**For a long time questions by those who doubt the theory of evolution focused on the idea there were no transitional forms in the fossil record to demonstrate links between ancient dinosaurs and modern creatures.

In the world of birds we have long had the skeletal imprint of the archaeopteryx, an apparently transitional form of dinosaur with feathers. Thanks to recent fossil discoveries from China we how have dozens more examples of feathered dinosaurs. These extinct life forms demonstrate structural progressions from feathered dinosaurs to modern birds. Some of these fossils exhibit such clear detail that scientists are even able to discern and analyze structures such as cones in the retinas that tell us these creatures could perceive color. These similarities demonstrate clear structural and functional relationships and serve as clear evidence of evolution at work throughout history. .

How a hummingbird explains creation

Anna's Hummingbird.

Anna’s Hummingbird file photo.

On a Facebook site called Hummingbirds Anonymous a member recently posted a striking photo of an adult Anna’s Hummingbird. The photo captures the iridescent facial feathers and the cascade of the gorget, the bib of brightly colored feathers right below the beak.

Inspired by the photo, the person who posted it made the comment “All Things Bright and Beautiful! The Lord God Made Them All.”

What a setup.

Backwards and forwards

What so many people fail to appreciate is that hummingbirds are part of a continuum of bird species in this world. They have morphological relationships to other birds. That is, they share vital characteristics with other species. Pick up any bird identification guide and you’ll see that hummingbirds are placed between swifts and kingfishers, both of which are enormously capable fliers in their own way.

ChimneySwiftMichaelVeltriSwifts look much like hummingbirds. They are a lot less colorful. Some look like cigars with wings. Those wings bear much the same shape as hummingbirds, only swifts can’t fly backwards. They do fly forwards at immense speeds. Swifts are also known to fly all day long plucking insect food from the air. At night many of them converge over a cave or a chimney in swirling clouds, then swoop down to perch for the night with their tiny feet clutching the surface on which they sleep.

DSC_5945-1On the other bird bookend are kingfishers, which like hummingbirds can fly in one place by hovering. This ability lets them hang over the water while fishing. They often fly to a position over the water, hover for a few seconds eyeing their prey and plunge into the water.

Living large as tiny birds

Between these two kinds of birds lie the many species of colorful hummingbirds. In America these range in size from the diminutively proportioned Lucifer Hummingbird (3.5”) all the way up to the Magnificent Hummingbird (5”). There are nearly 20 species of hummingbirds found in the United States alone. Many more types and their close relatives live in the tropics.

If we ask some simple questions as to why there aren’t even more hummingbirds in the United States we find the answer is simple. Hummingbirds depend on a certain sort of environment to survive. This is a life and death proposition. Almost every winter here in Illinois we find a variety of hummingbird visiting our region from the southwest. A bird will get attached to a hummingbird feeder and never leave when the weather gets cold. They can survive fairly well because they go into a state of torpidity overnight when the temperature drops.

Sooner or later these wayward hummingbirds are either forced to leave or die somewhere in the cold. That’s because they are not naturally adapted to surviving in such cold conditions. Many species of hummingbirds prefer the desert where it’s hot all day and cool at night. That lets them feed aggressively and then sleep it off when it cools down overnight.

Defined existence

If there weren’t such needs hummingbirds could exist anywhere their whims might take then. And that’s how nature works. Sometimes birds and other creatures launch off from their ideal environments for new environs. If enough of them go together and they manage to breed, a new population might form and their range expands.

But that’s the exception rather than the rule. It’s hard enough sometimes for hummingbirds to even accomplish what they need to survive. Many species launch off in flight from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and travel several hundred miles to Texas across the Gulf of Mexico. If the winds stay favorable they make it. If they don’t an entire flock can grow exhausted and perish in the water.

Tiny losses add up to big effects

One might be tempted to ask a classically moral question about such an event. How could God allow such beautiful, tiny creatures to die in such an ignominious, useless way?

IMG_0130Well, we’ve seen that hummingbirds have special adaptations that allow them to survive. We’ve seen that they fill a continuum in the types of birds we find in the world. We understand that hummingbirds also depend on certain environmental conditions to survive. They need the right food, and frequently. All these factors determine how and where hummingbirds are able to live. They also determine whether they live to breed again, or die as a species.

Millions of types of living things have come and gone on the planet earth. 99% of all living things that ever existed on planet earth are now extinct. They died off. God mourned none of them apparently.

Learning from mistakes

But we’ve studied those creatures and learned a few things about why animals do and don’t survive. We’ve also found extremely compelling evidence that the creatures that came before us and disappeared from the earth were connected both morphologically IMG_0169and genetically to the living things we find around us today. Like hummingbirds, all living things are part of a continuum. We can only see a slice of that continuum in the present, yet even that slice is massively vast and diverse. We also now know that many of the creatures we call dinosaurs bore feathers like modern day birds. We can see the patterns and shapes of those feathers in fossils. In fact birds may be nothing more than dinosaurs still alive in the present.

Missing links

Painting by Christopher Cudworth of Chicago skyline with peregrine falcon.

Painting by Christopher Cudworth of Chicago skyline with peregrine falcon.

So the reason God allows beautiful things like hummingbirds to die in the ocean in the process of creation is that they represent the ultimately missing links in the common purpose of the Creator. That is, to continue the creative process against all other forces, God allows living things to come and go. Even our notions of “good” and “evil” fall well within this continuum. We impose these values on the processes of nature to help us understand them, but those values do not by nature define the acts and results of natural causes. They merely reflect them and our judgment of them. 

As human beings we find ourselves immersed in this continuum. Even the Bible recognizes this fact, branding human beings as little more than “leaves of grass.” We are dust to dust. Part of a continuum. 

Message of hope

Yet the message of hope in the Bible is that we can find meaning in life by identifying with the purpose of the creator. Our contributions to human society and this world help define what we call the Kingdom of God. Amongst humans––and as defined by the emotional states of hate and love we conceive as sentient creatures––there is a moral code. 

That’s what God expects us to understand. A hummingbird is an expression of the creative force running through all things. Whatever we must do, and however we can conceive its complexity and seemingly miraculous features is our duty to understand its the best way we can. That is part of our best hope. 

Grace appreciated

In fact we may not fully appreciate the creative power of God if we do not also recognize the science that so clearly outlines an apparently chaotic universe governed by physical laws. In that model we can better comprehend the free will and grace of existence that comes with it. We are related to these living things all around us in creative and moral foundation. The methods by which these living things come to exist are wondrous. Science reveals these miracles in manifold ways.

Those who blame science for undermining God fail to grasp an important point. Through evidence in all of scripture, God seems to care far less about how we got where we are in life than what we do with this life we’ve been given. We might start by showing a little more respect for creation, lest it show that much respect toward us. Because that’s how it all works.

Coming to grips with life in the aggregate

By Christopher Cudworth

A closeup of an aggregate substance.

A closeup of an aggregate substance.

People of faith are accustomed to thinking of their God as their Rock, the solid foundation of their being. 

However so much of the world exists in aggregate that to appreciate its complexity requires a bit more thought to appreciate. 

Bending down to examine some concrete or asphalt along a public street, one finds our highways are not in fact solid in construction. Millions upon millions of smaller rocks are fused together to form the path on which we trod, ride, run or drive. We mash these pieces together to create a greater whole. Then we use oil and other binding material in hopes that our roads will last a long while. 

But of course they deteriorate eventually. Come apart. Get potholes. Everything made by the human race seems destined to such a fate.

Yet so, it turns out, is everything made by God. The earth and all of the universe is in a constant change of decomposition, change and reformation. Even the mighty mountains and largest rocks in the world eventually turn into sand. 

Some people believe that is the only direction in which change can move, toward destruction. Their worldview sees a perfect beginning and from there, the inevitable charge toward the end of all things and all time. They cannot imagine and choose not to believe that life could have come forward out of chaos. They demand the inference of a creator, a designer, a being that produced all beings. 

There is no lack of evidence. That could be true. But there is no proof. So we must explain it some other way, in practical terms, so that we can be good stewards of all that we survey here on earth. And that is where an appreciation for the aggregate must enter the picture. 

Our role in the aggregate

As one of the so-called higher life forms on earth, human beings play an important role in interpreting the past and determining the future of the planet.

At the most foundational level in terms of human behavior, people of faith consider our souls to be an intact part of their being. Yet it is quite hard to argue that our bodies, the temple for the spirit, are and were not assembled through an aggregation of cellular activity. We depend on DNA and an incredibly fine-tuned yet chaotic universe to contribute the materials from which we are made. It all gets organized through chemical reactions and what we call fertile conditions for life. We evolved from those conditions. They do not randomly happen to support our needs. 

We could not have evolved without oxygen. Life developed in concert with that element and all of life depends on it, with bold exception. Plants reverse the process, taking in carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen vital for all life other life forms. It was a small aggregate that began it all, yet it was an aggregation all the same. One still fills the need of another. 

Dependencies

All aggregations are symbiotic. That is, they depend on each other for survival. The stones that form the foundation for the cement do not hold together without some substrate, Portland cement for example, to bind them together. So it is with all forms of life and all things on earth. The aggregate is the true foundation of all things, which depend on relationships however dead or alive, for survival. 

Even the Bible, the Word of God, is more powerful and strong as an aggregate work of literature than it would be if all its books and words were forced to stand on their own. One cannot comprehend the meaning of Jesus Christ without the aggregate history and acts of his prophetic predecessors. The fact that Christ arrived to bring a new law is only comprehensible if you know the original laws he deigned to improve upon. His arrival was the aggregate of all the prophets and leaders who came before, from Adam and Eve to Abraham to David. All of history is an aggregation of events. We can yank out its parts but to properly understand them we must put them back in place to see how they fit, and where. 

The mark of man is sometimes used to dictate what we should believe about the aggregate.

The mark of man is sometimes used to dictate what we should believe about the aggregate.

The meaning of aggregation

What does it all mean, this aggregation? It means that forcing our imprint upon the cement can only fix a moment in time. It does not define the cement down the street, or anywhere around the world. It can help us understand the influence of man upon a moment, but it does not deliver any ultimatums. Even the 10 Commandments for all their reach and grasp in human values are not absolute. We still need to consider their meaning, measure their purpose and implement them in our lives. 

We know the difference between Thou Shalt Not Kill yet when wars come around, we find justice in the killing. 

We struggle knowing that the bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil, yet when used for charity or grace, money can be the greatest expression of love that there is. 

And when we hear people say that the world was created in seven days, it is tempting to think that those seven days were similar to the length of the days we now know. Yet the bible also uses the terms “day” and “ages” to loosely describe the aggregate sense that a day as we conceive it can also be an expression of awareness, not just a literal 24. When we describe ourselves as having embarked on a “new day” we certainly do not hope for a mere 24 hours of revelation or enlightenment. We hope our new day lasts forever. And ever. And ever. 

All of time and being and evolution are an aggregate expression of all that went before. And all that will be. What pain the Lord himself must feel when we do not attempt to understand these things as the whole of creation and limit ourselves to a surface take on what lies before us. 

Even the scales that form the pattern on a butterflies wings function as an aggregate, evolved through time to deliver a broad range of benefits from camouflage to sexual expression to protection from the elements. An aggregate creature.

Even the scales that form the pattern on a butterflies wings function as an aggregate, evolved through time to deliver a broad range of benefits from camouflage to sexual expression to protection from the elements. An aggregate creature.

The aggregate shared

We have evolved as individuals, yet composed of many aggregate organs and body parts whose development was forged in earlier iterations, our ancestors. We share our DNA with all living things on earth. Some more than others, but that is to be expected. They are simply different aggregates, evolved to perform different functions in the great aggregation that is nature. Many have also been lost to time. 99% of all forms of living things that once existed are now extinct. We still see that happening today. We see evidence of the past in the aggregate fossils found on the surface and deep within the layers of the earth. Sedimentary rock forms so much of the earth’s crust, formed by ancient seas and the massive depositions of life that turned into little more than mere patterns in the rock. But what a story they tell. 

To put a fine and human line on all this aggregation, and its role for people of faith, there is even a direct relationship between the words aggregation and congregation. The body of Christ, as expressed through the church, is most certainly an aggregate. We are all fused together as part of that body. It holds together so long as the cement of our being, that is love, is kept intact. 

Minus that binding element, the aggregate dissolves. Fraught by infighting, jealousy and fractional power-mongering, even the aggregate body of Christ will dissolve in time. 

Whether you are on the side of the aggregate or trying to force some wedge into the body of Christ with literal force and fearful desires for wealth or power is something everyone has to determine for themselves. The evidence of these divides is all around us. Whose side are you on, upholding the aggregate or splitting the perceived rock of your salvation for your own benefit? 

The Genesis Fix.

The Genesis Fix. A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age. 

Ken Ham the Creationist versus Bill Nye the Science Guy proved a lot about how wrong Ken Ham has the Bible

By Christopher Cudworth

Bill Nye listens carefully as Ken Ham makes the claim that the Bible is a better source of fact than material science

Bill Nye listens carefully as Ken Ham makes the claim that the Bible is a better source of fact than material science

It appeared from watching the “debate” between creationist Ken Ham and scientist Bill Nye that Ham wanted desperately to prove science wrong about everything.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the conclusion of the so-called debate. Ham never mustered the ability to answer simple questions that would have proved creationism has any sort of relationship with science. His entire contention rested on the contention that the Bible must be understood “naturally” in order to understand the world. That is, the parts in the Bible Ken Ham judges to be crucial to a literal interpretation of scripture must be abided to the letter. The other parts, such as the “poetry” of Psalms, according to Ham, actually have no real bearing on the role of the Bible as science. Wow. That’s a whopper.

Yet that is the biblical foundation of Ken Ham’s creationist worldview. It begins with a denial of a significant portion of the Bible’s verity. Creationism literally starts with the assertion that not all the Bible can be trusted as fact.

And that’s just the starting point of a confused, frustrating and inaccurate worldview. Ken Ham seems to misunderstand and completely disregard the nature of what Christians call the New Testament. In fact he makes very few references to Jesus in any of his assertions about creation.

He certainly never mentions the methods by which Jesus himself taught by using organic metaphors. In simpler terms, Jesus used symbols from nature to illustrate spiritual principles. That way everyday people could comprehend what he was trying to teach about the nature of God.

But Ken Ham can’t seem to grasp or embrace that style of teaching, about nature, or about science. He prefers instead the literal view of scripture. His motive appears to be focused on leaving no room for interpretation. He is a zealot about that.

Of course that is the very same legalistic approach used by the Pharisees, leaders of the faith in Jesus’ day. He branded them a “brood of vipers” in clear reference to the Genesis depiction of Satan as a serpent.

You don’t have to take that reference literally to get the message. Jesus would not have liked Ken Ham. Jesus would have knocked the Creation Museum to the ground because it is a crass attempt to control the faith and belief of people through legalistic force and deception.

So the truth speaks for itself. Ken Ham is at odds with Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. Ken Ham considers Jesus’ method of teaching with metaphors inferior to his own brand of truth based on narrow interpretations of a book written 2000 years ago, conveyed originally as oral tradition and translated multiple times.

The simpler, more clear understanding that Jesus gave to all those who would listen is not good enough for Ken Ham. Jesus would gladly have accepted the findings of science.

Jesus said God is nature, and nature is God. All things worthy of consideration can be discerned through that simple statement. Anything else is fiction, or worse, a lie about the Word of God. And God is never happy about that.

On why we should all read about faith and what it means to the world

Lutheran School of Theology Chicago

Lutheran School of Theology Chicago

By Christopher Cudworth

Sitting in the admissions office of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago felt right.

A little more than two years ago a young man that had served as our church Youth Pastor had invited me to visit the school. “I think you’d like it,” he told me.

Our conversations as he prepared to leave his position at the church and begin studies to become a Lutheran pastor had centered on ministry to high school students, yet over coffee one morning the topics widened. I explained the process of writing my book, “The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age,” and how it changed the way I viewed writing about, and reading about, faith in the world.

The experience of trying to get an agent for the book had taught me a few things. The theme was the same with every contact. “You’re not a minister. You’re not a college professor. What credibility do you have to write such a book?”

Credibility is important. It gives people a foundation upon which to trust what you write. The process of earning credibility can also challenge the manner in which you arrive at your conclusions.

Regarding Masters

The message stuck with me. Despite the fact that I had spent 7 years researching and refining the book, it was true. I was not technically qualified to write it. Not in the eyes of those who make such decisions anyway.

It’s not enough that your friends call you “courageous” for taking on biblical literalism as a worldview. You must vet your viewpoints in the theological world before tearing away the dogmatic garments of the modern day Pharisees who stand in opposition to so much practical truth.

Simple truths and basic contradictions

Yet it’s a simple fact really. Biblical literalists stand in opposition to the teaching methods of Jesus Christ, who consistently used organic metaphors to convey spiritual truths through parables designed to bring the common mind to faith in God. Ignoring that principle is basically a slap in the face to Jesus. It’s like telling him, “You don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t you know that God’s Word must be taking literally or it has no meaning at all?”

While classic, the old ways of thinking may not be sufficient for a new world. Nor have they ever been.

While classic, the old ways of thinking may not be sufficient for a new world. Nor have they ever been.

Actually the community of believers who take the Bible literally never actually get close to discussing the teaching methods of Jesus. They’re stuck way back in Genesis and a literal 7 days, an Adam and Eve that were transmogrified from the dust of the Earth and a Serpent or Snake who tricks Eve and then Adam into disobeying God’s warning not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Of course we all know the story. Adam and Eve fall for the Serpent’s logic, thereby causing the Fall of Man.

Bad Beginnings? 

Original Sin is the pet concept that emerges from that creation story. But that quick-take worldview ignores a key aspect of the tale. What we miss by taking the story literally is the Serpent’s methodology in tricking Adam and Eve. In a crafty use of the first brand of scripture known to Man, the Serpent engages Eve in legalistic use of God’s own words to undermine her trust in God. Here is how the ploy works:

Christianity is not entirely clear on what the "serpent" really is, or looks like. So how can we take such a creation story literally?

Christianity is not entirely clear on what the “serpent” really is, or looks like. So how can we take such a creation story literally?

The Serpent’s Deception
3but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” 4The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”…

How very similar is this exchange to the passage in Matthew 15 in which Jesus engages the Pharisees over the issue of turning the Word of God into a legalistic trap:

1Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” 3Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?

The comparison between literalism and legalism is given a direct connection to the Serpent in the Book of Genesis in Matthew 23:33, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

It is a sad fact that today’s adherents to biblical literalism are playing the same game that Pharisees played with Jesus so long ago. Yet the pain and misdirection caused by today’s brand of scriptural literalism is just as potent as that depicted in Genesis with deception by the serpent, and just as power-mongering as the Pharisees of the New Testament.

And that is the point from my motivation to attend a school of theology emanates. I believe the most important thing in the world right now is to counter biblical literalism and all its awful consequences. Literal interpretation of the Bible is being used to persecute gays, to resist legitimate science, to argue against the theory of evolution and to undermine political and ethical justice on a broad spectrum of issues.

Reason and Reasons
It’s not about a mid-career change for me, or anything prosaic as that. It’s about finding ways to make the world a better place. Martin Luther changed the world by pointing out the very simple fact that we are saved first and foremost by grace. The new reformation should finish the job of removing all barriers from our acceptance of grace.

Yet we also need to define what it means to exist within and attend to the Kingdom of God. How we understand the nature of that “kingdom” is crucial to our stewardship of creation. The dangerously ironic consequence of a worldview founded on biblical literalism is the attitude that nature and all of creation is essentially a disposable tool of God, one that has no purpose other than our own somewhat greedy sustenance and no other significance than as a temporal stage between Creation and Armageddon.

Challenges

We can do better than old ships and sails of theology. And we should.

We can do better than old ships and sails of theology. And we should.

We need to challenge this fatalistic worldview at its very roots. That begins with the misinterpretation of Genesis as a literal document. Yet it also extends to our regard of scripture as a wholly inerrant document. It simply isn’t, that way. Any faith dependent on that premise is brittle, frail and sad, thus requiring a defensive posture to sustain.

The book of Romans 1:20 contains a telling point of scripture, one that reveals the idea of organic fundamentalism, the key understanding that nature itself, and our metaphorical understanding of it, holds keys to our comprehension of God and all that we read in scripture:

Romans20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,  so that people are without excuse.

Nowhere in this passage, or any other in the Bible for that matter, does it say that we must take a literal approach to conceptions of God. In fact as demonstrated by Jesus himself, we are to do the opposite.

Recall that literalism and legalism produced the approach that one could earn the way into heaven through God works doled out by the church and vetted by leaders who earned earthly power through the system set up by the brand of Pharisees leading the Catholic church at the time.

Then along came Martin Luther, who saw through the giant ruse of literalism and legalism, and who launched a Reformation that transformed the faith, made it new again. We can view this passage in a fresh light in contradiction to the brand of literalism now vexing the world.

Nature and eternity are foundations of the Bible

There is more to the theological landscape than meets the eye. Creativity, not just creation, is part of scripture. Click for larger view.

Ephesians 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works,  so that no one can boast.

For there are many who “boast” that their literalistic view of the bible constitutes the “works” of real Christianity. Yet we also know that God’s invisible qualities are visible in Nature, and through the Word, and that there is no excuse for ignoring these greater, most important facets of faith realized.

And that is why the pursuit of truth is so important to me, and why sitting in the office of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago felt so very good, and so very real. Because each Reformation has to start somewhere. We all play a part in the heart of faith.

If Bill Nye the Science Guy debates Ken Ham over evolution and Genesis, things could get sticky as a spider web

By Christopher Cudworth

argiope6252a“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to shew when you are there.”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
-can ne’er come down again.”

It’s a classic tale of deceit for advantage.  The spider uses an inviting scenario to invite the fly to the table, when in fact the intent is to make the fly a meal.

So goes the proposed debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the leader of a group that calls itself “Answers In Genesis.”

We must start with the name of the organization to see how confusing this debate will likely be, or could become.

No Scientific Answers in Genesis

Evolution explains the structure and function of all living things. Genesis does not. It only deals with purpose.

Evolution explains the structure and function of all living things. Genesis does not. It only deals with purpose.

See, when it comes to science, there are no answers in the book of Genesis. None. The only references to the character and structure of living things are made in broad generalities, that various “kinds” of creatures walk, crawl and swim on the earth. It does not categorize them or describe them beyond a preschool level of understanding nature and all its workings.

So the supposition that Genesis somehow holds all the answers to the manner in which the world works and all its complexity is a bold farce.

People Walking With Dinosaurs

How bold? The Creation Museum that has been generated from the teachings of Answers in Genesis insists that people walked the earth at the same time as long-extinct forms of dinosaurs. Achingly sad attempts have been made to prove this fact, including the contention that fossilized dinosaur prints in a bed of Texas rock were actually made by humans. The explanation for the supposedly human footprints alongside the dinosaur tracks is found in the mere fact that mud collapses on its edges in many conditions. But the fantasy and appeal of humans and dinosaurs walking together was so strong that folks like the Answers In Genesis people tried to make a big deal out of it.

That is because there is a major clique of people who cannot see the world through anything other than an anachronistic lens in which the Bible is to be taken literally. This cabal is so desperate to find evidence to support their backwards-thinking theories of creationism and intelligent design, the merest conundrum of science sends them scurrying to catalog the fact that “science is wrong.”

The beauty of science is that makes right from many wrongs

Science is always wrong. That’s the beauty of it. Science is cannibalistic in its willingness to disprove theories and replace them with better ones. But that’s what makes science work in the world. If it cannot be repeatedly demonstrated through experimentation, or documented to be verifiable through supporting evidence, it does not stand up as science.

That’s a harsh reality. Science deals in harsh realities. It makes right from many wrongs, whereas religion takes the attitude that three wrongs can never make a right.

Different priorities

The harsh reality that Answers in Genesis emphasizes (and considers paramount and superior to the priorities of science) is the harsh reality of divine salvation.

Ken Ham may care deeply about your soul, and he may indeed worry that anything that appears to contradict the Word of God may prevent you from making that vital connection with God. But Ken Ham makes the rude assumption that only a literal take on the Bible has verity.

The priorities of Jesus

Jesus revealed spiritual truths by using organic symbols from nature as metaphors.

Jesus revealed spiritual truths by using organic symbols from nature as metaphors.

In fact in reading the Bible we find that Jesus himself taught by using metaphorical symbols from nature to convey spiritual principles that his audience might otherwise fail to grasp if they were not presented in a form that allowed them to conceive and visualize the truth he sought them to grasp. In my book The Genesis Fix, I call this method of teaching “organic fundamentalism,” and its practice is found not only in the parables of Jesus, but throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Here’s how it works:

True simplicity of faith comes in having the liberty and latitude to discover what scripture means to say rather than accepting a merely literal interpretation of a religious text. We might call this metaphorical tangibility; that is, approaching life and wisdom with an eye toward its unifying symbolism. This is the common denominator in biblical knowledge. Organic fundamentalism isn’t just a “here or there” phenomenon in the bible based on texts selected to make a case in favor of naturalism as a foundation for truth. Scriptural knowledge is consistently (even persistently) delivered to us through use of metonymy from nature to describe the abiding principles of God. Organic fundamentalism founded on observational naturalism is plainly the root source of biblical knowledge and the primary tool for understanding concepts of God. 

At odds with Christ

Ken Ham can't see the trees for the forest.

Ken Ham can’t see the trees for the forest.

So this raises the question of whether Ken Ham’s worldview has any verity at all if in fact his seemingly simple explanations of nature are in fact not in accordance with the teaching methods of Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus would have labeled Ken Ham another brand of Pharisee, someone so caught up in legalism and the hunger for power over the Word that he has lost sight of the forest for the trees. He is, in other words, a modern day zealot in search of a position in this life, not the Holy Man he claims to be.

A nasty web of religious words

When Billy Nye debates Ken Ham he will first have to sort through the many webs and fabrications of “fact” that Answers In Genesis has woven to ensnare scientists in a religious, not a scientific debate. The complicating factor is that when the version of religion is even wrong, you are in a very sticky situation. Bill Nye may well find himself having to correct Ken Ham on his religious facts in order to debate his ostensibly scientific contentions that creationism is real and true.

It isn’t, of course, and Jesus never would have demanded that it be so. Most certainly he would have appreciated the spider and the fly allegory in the poem that starts out this essay. Jesus often found himself in situations where supposedly scholarly religious leaders tried to entrap him with their words. Jesus usually deferred them by answering back with questions that were equally unanswerable and that illustrated the falsity of the original question.

This column of limestone in an Iowa forest perfectly illustrates the enormous timeline it took for oceans to lay down layers of silt that turned into stone, and the many years of hydrology and erosion it took to become a column before us.

This column of limestone in an Iowa forest perfectly illustrates the enormous timeline it took for oceans to lay down layers of silt that turned into stone, and the many years of hydrology and erosion it took to become a column before us.

Bill Nye the Science Guy could learn a few things from Jesus before he debates Ken Ham the Creation Guy. As he argues in favor of evolutionary theory, and how evolution explains the world, he may find himself mostly tugging away at the sticky questions Ken Ham throws at him about how science is frequently wrong. That would be missing the point entirely, because the point of this argument is that science actually works in a practical sense. It is the foundation of medicine and a thousand other practical applications without which the world could not operate.

So here’s the irony: Bill Nye would be wise to learn from Jesus about how to argue with a religious zealot if he doesn’t want to get stuck in a web of wordy deceit.

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