Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Part 2: Living the Questions: Meta-Stories about Reality

Living the questions, without definitive answers--somewhat lost, unlike most humans who seem so sure they know what it's all about.

I’m lost...not lost in the sense of the religious pietistic term, not un-rescued in the moral sense...not blind to ethical and transcendent truths...not existentially estranged in the sense of not having hope in the future, not lost when it comes to moral realism.

No, I’m not lost in those common meanings—nor am I caught in destructive habits or delusions or nontheistic confusions.
Though I often find I don't live as good as I know I ought to do,
I do seek to do what is right. And I do often experience the Light,
have a sense of the Good, the True, and the Just.

In all of those, I am found.

No, how I am lost is
that I no longer have a vivid meta-story to identify with, a cosmic narrative.
I no longer have a sense why natural evils occur, such as Covid-19, cancer, etc.

About 10-15 years ago, I finally lost all hope in the Christian meta-story.
It turned out to be even at its best, an illusion. So I lost the philosophical
and theological understandings of my Christian worldview that I had thought
was a fairly stable foundation, despite my questions.

But the Christian meta-story turned out to be only many mirages, swirling sand that blew into a shifting Sahara of fading dunes. Besides, there were so many contradictory versions of what other humans claimed Christianity was!

Heck, most Christians claimed that Christians such as myself, who was one for 55 years, actually never were real Christians.

Furthermore, even all of those years as a Christian I never believed in their Creeds or their horrific concept of God.

But, finally, I realized, deeply, that I was trying to live a “true Scotsman” version of Christianity, one completely contrary to what most Christians claim. I realized down to the marrow of my bones that not even the Anabaptist/Quaker version of the Good News can be true.

I’m lost in that sense--from an intellectual standpoint. When in reflection, I step outside of my own personal commitment and try to see Life impartially and accurately, I have to admit that I don’t know the ultimate nature of Reality.

Unlike all of those who support various contrary versions of Christianity, those who claim they know that the meaning of existence is Islam, and those who claim to know that there is no god, etc., I am uncertain; indeed, never was “certain,” but now am very aware how little I know.

This is not the first time, I suddenly woke up lost--doubting my thinking and my perceiving, not knowing as much as I thought I knew when I was young.

Not long ago, about 10 years ago, I was sharing my spiritual struggles, a crisis I was in,
and one of my family joked “Oh Dan’s whole life has been one long spiritual crisis.”

And, in a sense, I suppose that is true as far as it goes:
from my earliest remembrances, I have—more than many—been the living human primate of “questions” far more than “answers.”

in process

Friday, May 15, 2020

"All things sick...evil great and small...foul": Covid-19 Virus and God

Jeremiah 14:11--16 "The YHWH said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people.
Though they fast, I will not hear their cry,
and though they offer burnt offering
and grain offering, I will not accept them.
But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.”

Many, many verses from the Christian Old Testament deeply stress and trouble humans. In the numerous readings through the entire of Bible, studying its various books in depth, listening to many sermons, and reading plenty of scholarly books, the great evil of such passages grows like a cancer within our moral selves.

Where in these vindictive, slaughtering, hate-filled parts of the Bible--that claim all natural evil and human evil are brought into being by God--is there the God of infinite love of the Good News, the God who never gives up on any human, the God who is the Good, the True, the Just, the Loving?

Then besides this textural hell, more and more Christian leaders--millions of them--emphasize these passages as central to Christinaity! They base their views in part by the study and promotion of Romans 9, the chapter which claims that God hates some humans, predestined billions of us to destruction and hell.

One famous Christian leader claims that God makes some humans "toilets" "spittoons."
Most state that all humans are "worthless," and "in essence, evil."
And so on...

Romans 9:
"11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay..."

Then there is the whole Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin.

Covid-19, the Black Plague, the Spanish flu, the Indian Ocean tsunami that slaughtered about 170,000, etc. all occurred because Adam and Eve disobeyed God. And God had foreordained their disobedience and punishment and that it would be inherited by all of the billions of infants conceived and born after them, over many thousands of years.

Even many Orthodox Jewish think that G-d created evil!
They quote Isaiah 45:7 "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the YHWH do all these things."

And it gets worse....

Now many current Christian leaders are applying these doctrinal beliefs to the current pandemic, that Covid-19 has been sent by God to punish America, the world.

According to the latest poll, 2/3rds of religious people (American Christians, Jews, and Muslims) think God sent Covid-19 as a message to all humans. So even though hundreds of thousands of innocent people are suffering and dying, this pandemic is God's way of warning us.
--the poll is from the University of Chicago and NORC Center for Public Affairs, May 2020


Here's a parody/satire of Christian beliefS.
from Monty Python Contractual Obligations Album:

All things dull and ugly
All creatures short and squat
All things rude and nasty
The lord god made the lot

Each little snake that poisons
Each little wasp that stings
He made their brutish venom,
He made their horrid wings

All things sick and cancerous
All evil great and small
All things foul and dangerous
The lord god made them all
"Black Death, a mid-fourteenth century plague, killed 30 to 50 per cent of the European population in just five years. The pandemic was caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria with millions dying from the disease in two major outbreaks. This image is of a plague pit in Marseille, France"

Each nasty little hornet
Each beastly little squid
Who made the spiky urchin
Who made the shocks... he did

All things scabbed and ulcerous
All pox both great and small
Putrid, foul and gangrenous
The lord god made them all

--Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: John Du Prez / Eric Idle / Trad
All Things Dull and Ugly lyrics
© Python Monty Pictures Ltd.,
Emi Virgin Songs Inc

So in Summation what are the “Books” of Nature and the “Books” Library of the Bible Teaching Us Humans?

#1 At one extreme are the Augustinian-creedal Christians, Orthodox Muslims and Orthodox Jews most of whom claim that both sets of books accurately describe the will of the nature of Ultimate Reality—that God causes whatever happens to humans.

Their views is already briefly described in the first part of this reflection.


If it happens in nature or human history, then it is “God’s will.”

So, it is God’s will that Covid-19 happen.


To give God “glory,” “good pleasure,” to punish humans for failing to worship God.

#2 At the other extreme are the Naturalists, Materialists, and Atheists most of whom claim that there is no ultimate reality—that “God” or the “gods” are delusions of the human brain.

They state that there really is no good or bad, but only subjective morality, mere preferences, and that our preferences aren't really ours. We have them because it was determined by nature, the Laws of Physics, etc.

All of what appears to be horrific disasters, diseases, plagues, etc. including somewhat minor ones as Covid-19 aren’t even really "bad."

That judgment is only our subjective preference because we humans have a survival instinct instilled into us by natural selection. Besides, it was determined that that would happen because there is no free will and no moral responsibility.

"Free will" and "moral responsibility," according these thinkers, are delusions of the human brain that were determined to occur for who knows why. We humans don't choose our views or our actions.
We are "puppets" of nature.

Of course, why this happens, they state is for no reason.

So take your pick--God determined Covid-19 or the Laws of Nature/Big Bang determined it would happen.



*The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1562)

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Review of Once Upon a Country, a Palestinian Autobiography by Sari Nusseibeh

Once Upon a Country by Sari Nusseibeh

Powerful autobiography and political history from one family’s perspective of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict of the 20th Century!
It restores my hope in Palestinians and makes me realize that the real problem in the Middle East (an elsewhere as well) isn’t any certain group of people, nor even any particular religion, but rather extremism, blind faith, and the dark side of human nature.

The central answer to intolerance is educated reason and the rejection of religious and political ideology!

I seem to have far more in common with this Palestinian, Sari Nusseibeh, than my own relatives for instance, more agreement with him than probably with anyone here on the Central Coast of California, where most people are fanatically supportive of the present administration of the U.S. and the Israeli government, and for various forms of creedal Christianity!

What Once Upon a Country also does is—despite Sari’s evident practical agnosticism and nominal faith—is restore confidence that we as humans can find hope and change despite the almost insurmountable problems and catastrophes of human history.

Sari communicates his life story and rational hopefulness and how he stood for nonviolence and reconciliation in the midst of intense hatred and violence, some even coming toward him and his family.

The book, too, again makes one cognizant of how much human destiny is affected by background, that while we do have some free creative choice (are morally responsible), some of us are better able to choose than others--
how upper class individuals who are bright and secularly educated, can have tremendous impact on their nations and the world, unlike average people who are more likely to be blinded by popular media and religious and political propaganda.

Part of the reason that Sari can be so rational and tolerant is that he comes from brilliant tolerant parents who sent him to England to be educated, where he earned his B.A. Then he earned his PhD in literature and philosophy in the United States at Harvard.

Such a background, while not guaranteeing moderation, hope, and nonviolence, certainly makes such moral qualities more possible than if he had grown up poverty-stricken in an intolerant family in Gaza with only a rudimentary education and filled with intolerant religious doctrines.

The extreme historical irony of reading this book is that Sari has been waging his nonviolent campaign for years yet the news never mentions it, but only the Palestinian extremists with bombs and Israeli settlers taking Palestinian land.

What if the international and U.S. news instead focused on Sari and other Palestinians’ peaceful protests and their efforts at education (such as Mars Elias Schools and Ramallah Friends School)?

This book has reignited my tremendous concern for Israel-Palestine. Thanks Sari!

In the Light of tolerance, education, and creativity,

Dan Wilcox

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Human Species: "All you are is a bag of particles..." Claims Atheist and Physicist Brian Greene

“All you are is a bag of particles acting out the laws of physics. That to me is pretty clear.”
Brian Greene

Like some other famous atheists, Greene in his new book, Until the End of Time, claims that humans don’t have “free will” because that ability would violate the laws of physics. Furthermore, there is no meaning to the cosmos.

Those aren't scientific statements but extreme philosophical claims. There are other astrophysicists who strongly disagree such as South African physicist and anti-Apartheid leader George Ellis.

IF we accept Greene's denial of free will, then think of the nature of the claim.
So when President Trump demeans, belittles, and name-calls other Americans, it’s not him bullying them, it’s the “laws of physics” doing that to other “bags.”

What’s also odd is that after making such extremely negative statements against human worth, against morality, against human creativity, etc. in the first half of Until, Greene appears to contradict himself later in his chapters on literature and other fields of study. In those, he writes of human creativity, marveling at what humans have achieved and the wonder of life.


IF all humans are only “a bag of particles acting out the law of physics” and determinism rules all, then like Sam Harris as claims human primates are only “biochemical puppets.”

Individual humans have achieved nothing but what cosmic strings yanked them into! So, the Germans didn’t choose to murder 10 million humans in concentration camps. They were forced by the laws of nature to do that.

Islamic State leaders didn’t choose to behead innocent civilians in the Middle East. That must happen because it was determined by the Big Bang.

According to these naysayers, the cosmos or evolution or nature or the Big Bang have lockstepped all of us humans to do whatever us “bags” do in this tragic life, this absurd existence.

Well, at least Greene didn’t compare us to “bacterium” or “scum” like two other famous scientists.


It is true as Greene says that at the quantum level, a human is in popular lingo, “moving particles.”
But that ISN'T all what he/she is.

In physics, this mug of coffee and the individual holding it are only particles, and at a higher level only a mixture of various chemicals.

BUT at a conscious rational level, it is a teacher, a morally responsible human getting ready to teach over one hundred teens during a creative but exhausting day at a high school in Santa Maria, California.

In the Light of what is True, Good, and Just,

Dan Wilcox

Friday, May 1, 2020

Friendly Poets' Short Poems of Wonder

Keswick Meeting room | British Quaker Meeting Houses/flickr CC

The spirit connects
Even when two are apart.
They ride the same wave.

--by Peter Rabenold

Read more by Peter Rabenold at

Midst thorns the cactus
Splurges its gorgeous blossoms
And allays our fears.

--by Peter Rabenold

first freeze--
a leaf on a film of ice
trickling water

by LA Quaker

To see more by LA Quaker go to

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Part 2: "Great Books" Reflective Questions on "The pennycandystore beyond the El"

Reflective "Great Books" Questions

The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
fell in love
with unreality

1. Since candy store is 2 words in dictionaries, why are the 3 words pennycandystore run together as the starting line in this poem?

2. Why is the elevated train called the “El” instead of the El Train or even the Elevated Train?

3. Why does the poem emphasize that the pennycandystore is “beyond” the El?

4. Why is the place a "pennycandystore" where the speaker “first fell in love”?
Who is the speaker of the poem?

5. Why does he fall in love with “unreality”?

Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved along
the licorice sticks
and tootsie rolls
and Oh Boy Gum

6. Why is the pennycandystore in “semi-gloom” rather than brightly lighted?

7. Why are “jellybeans’ mentioned first and why do they “glow”?

8. Why do the poem’s events take place on a “september afternoon”?

9. Why is there a “cat upon the counter” moving “along” the candy rows?

10. Why does the narrator speak of “licorice sticks,” “tootsie rolls” and gum?

11. Why is the gum singled out to be “Oh Boy Gum”?

12. Is there any significance in the details that “Oh Boy Gum”
advertisements in the 1920’s had this unusual image of an elf whispering in the boy's ear?

Why does the ad state that "It's pure"?

Another key point to ruminate on is that the poem in its original poetry book form is a concrete one where the lines are staggered so that the poem looks like its lines are falling leaves!

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

13. At this point, why does the narrator switch focus to outside of the pennycandystore, saying that the "leaves were falling as they died"?
Remember, Ferlinghetti has already said that it is "september."

A wind had blown away the sun

15. And then the next line speaks in extreme hyperbole and fantasy--that "a wind had blown away the sun"?

A girl ran in

16. Suddenly, after "a wind..." why does the focus shifts from objects back to a person, as it did in the 1st line, saying the speaker "fell in love with unreality"?

Her hair was rainy

17. Is this vivid metaphor describing the girl's hair literal or figurative-thematic OR both?

18. Before this, the speaker hadn't mentioned any rain or stormy weather, so why does he do so now?

Her breasts were breathless in the little room

19. This sexual image is shocking and unexpected! Before this sensuous image, one might expect that the girl is in elementary school since the boy is.
Why does this well-developed adolescent girl from outside enter now?

20. Why are her "breasts...breathless?
Of course on the plot level of the poem, it's because she was out of breath from running to get out of the bad storm and rain.
What emphatic meanings are in these 3 short lines?

21. Notice all of the near rhymes, alliteration, assonance, and other word play.
Here's an amazing graphic showing the sound structure of the poem from upinvermont

Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! Too soon!

22. Why are the "leaves...falling" "Outside" brought forth again?

23. Then another shocker--the narrator appears to use personification..."leaves were falling and they cried..." (like the rain?)

24. However, when one close-reads, the realization comes that the "they" aren't the "leaves" but the adolescent boy and girl!
Why are the leaves and the boy and girl associated with each other?

24. Of course, next is why do they cry, not only in the sense of weeping, but also as in shouting?

25. What is "too soon"?


Please add other possible questions, comments, or reflections in the response box below.

In the Light,

Dan Wilcox

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Review: Best and Worst of Ferlinghetti

Memory sometimes brings back wondrous experiences. This morning, I took a brief break from showing our 3-year-old grandson pictures of dinosaurs in my evolutionary biology textbook by Stephen Jay Gould (our gk is wild for dinosaurs like so many kids, including me 67 years ago:-).

As I glanced over some of our home library shelves, an early 60's book of poetry jumped into my mental lap. Wow, Ferlinghetti! However, it's one of his books I don't remember: Starting from San Francisco .

My memory flashed back to my university days in the late 1960's,
the best and worst of times--back when I hung out with Beats,
hippies (heck, I became a hippie, lived in Haight-Ashbury-SF
until my draft notice came:-), and other wild ones--many of us
radical activists, reading Aldous Huxley, Herman Hesse, and Jack Kerouac,
hitching and backpacking and protesting and attending love-be-in's,
going to poetry readings and rock clubs.

In my vivid poetic reminiscence is this poem:

The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
fell in love
with unreality

Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved along
the licorice sticks
and tootsie rolls
and Oh Boy Gum

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

A wind had blown away the sun

A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room

Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon!
too soon!

--by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
from A Coney Island of the Mind
New Directions Paperback
purchased at City Lights Book Store, February 1967

At this point, I planned to speak of the poetic power and deep meanings of this amazing poem by Ferlinghetti, but now have instead decided to let the poem speak its wonder.

To quote Billy Collins, Poet Laureate of the U.S.,
"I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means."

--Billy Collins

What about the worst of Ferlinghetti? Turns out that the book I didn't remember, Starting from San Francisco, ought to have stayed abandoned/dumped on a shelf in our garage. Ferlinghetti, therein, has written so much drivel--vapid pages of dead prose, long lists of words that look like they were impulsive mouthings minus all that is poetic.

Later I will return and continue:-)

In the Light,

Dan Wilcox