Thursday, January 29, 2015

A parable: The Good Palestinian

An American Jewish man who had immigrated to Israel from Brooklyn was going up to Jerusalem with his wife and small child, but HAMAS operatives rammed his Honda Civic killing his little girl. Then they shot him and his wife leaving them for dead.

31 Now by chance a Jewish orthodox man was going up that highway, but when he saw the stripped nude woman he passed by on the other side.

32 So likewise a Fatah Palestinian who when he saw the murder said, "All praise to Allah and to the martyrs who got justice against these Zionists!"

33 But then a Palestinian farmer, as he journeyed by foot, came upon the horrific killing scene. Even though last month Jewish settlers had hacked down 300 hundred of his family's olive trees and the Israeli army was planning to confiscate their farm which had been in his family for over a hundred years, even though suffering from those injustices, the Palestinian stopped and administered first aid when he realized the wife was still breathing. He took off his own clothes to cover her and covered up the dead father and the crushed infant.

Then he set the woman over his shoulders (he couldn't put her in his car or on his donkey because both had been destroyed by Jewish settlers from Brooklyn). He brought the Jewish woman to a Middle Eastern Motel 6 inn and took care of her, even though he got severe looks from Palestinians he passed. And one jihadist shouted, "Why are you helping that Zionist whore?"

35 And the next day the Palestinian farmer took out 800 Israeli shekels and gave them to the motel manager, saying, ‘Take care of her, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

36 Which of these many humans, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the family who fell among the terrorists?”

37 The modern Israeli said, “The one who showed her mercy.”

And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise to every Palestinian.”

Luke 10: 29-37

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Friday, January 23, 2015

Perception in Late Night Amidst the Glitter and Vacant, Away from All Hope

I work the graveyard shift in ‘67
Stock shelves of “Marlboro Country”
For California slickers, tubes of
Ultra Brite “sex appeal”
Brushed by grim oldsters,
And Olympia, “it’s the water”
For partying young adults;

Shallow worded images

I close the flashy cooler,
Pick up the empty card boxes,
Crumple and dump them in the trash bin;
Across the street a Texaco filling station
Slogans forth rusted, “Trust your car to the man
Who wears the star,” but its “vacant for lease” sign
Came from the only auto to ford

Shallow worded perception

I lean on a metal stool behind
The counter, no customers; it's past
The midnight hour; so I
Close my tired eyes,
Rub my warm forehead,
The feel of bone so arched like a vault,
My skull under skin
Almost Neanderthal,

Shallow image wordedness

And my sense of self in that inner cave
Of stored memories, procedures and ads;
What will be left in the finite end?

Suddenly like a lighted tidal wave
Overwhelming self and night,
Wide a w a r e n e s s
Oceans deep—

Infinite vivid reception—awash


In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

First published in Word Catalyst Magazine,
also in poetry collection, Psalms, Yawps, and Howls

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Negativity of Non-Theism

Here's why it is highly improbably I would ever become a non-theist, why it seems the term is a negation not worthy for anyone to identify with, even those who do sincerely think the universe is purposeless.

#1 What counts in life is to define oneself by clear positive statements, not primarily by negative assertions of what one is not. The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has a good example of this. In a lecture he explains why he doesn't call himself a non-theist:

“I don't play golf. Is there a word for non-golf players? Do non-golf players gather and strategize? Do non-skiers have a word and come together and talk about the fact that they don't ski. I don't--I can't do that. I can't gather around and talk about how much everybody in the room doesn't believe in God.” (

Such a good example of whimsical satire by Tyson! I used to play basketball every day, but eventually quit. Do I focus on the quitting, belong to;-)?

Seriously, while it is true, that there are life views and actions which are destructive that need to be opposed, we humans shouldn't define ourselves by our negatives—by not being or not doing.

Islam has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent people in recent years, but do I strongly categorize myself, define who I am by saying, “I’m a Non-Muslim?” No.

So even though much of religion, theism, is delusionary and destructive why emphasize to others the negative, your whole identity as “not theist”?


Stand, instead, for what you are, for what is true.

#2 Speaking of “what is true…”: Ethics, aesthetics and seeking the ultimate meaning and purpose of existence is vastly important to me. In contrast, in the last 150 years nearly all of the non-theists, instead, have emphasized there are no standard ethics or universal aesthetics or object truth outside of the necessity (or chance) of natural selection, which they state is "without purpose or meaning."

According to biologist Richard Dawkins, altruism is likely a “misfiring of evolution.” (

In contrast, I’m intellectually convinced that ethics are as objective and real as math. Let’s say the human species is wiped out by a huge catastrophe. Would mathematics cease to be real in the cosmos? Would the natural regularities of nature such as gravity cease? No.

If there was an alien species on some distant planet on the far side of the Milky Way who was also conscious and rational and purposeful like humans, that species would have the same ethical standards—commitment to equality, honesty, fidelity, courage, compassion, justice, mercy, etc. and would oppose intolerance, persecution, rape, rapine, slaughter, and cruelty.

At least I sure hope so.

#3 Not only does such a view negate all universal ethics and aesthetics, many non-theists are so demeaning of what the human species is about.

For instance, the non-theist Sam Harris says human beings are “puppets,” that even each person’s sense of “I” is an illusion. He and two other non-theists commentators claim it’s “tumors all the way down,” meaning every human being has no more choice than a criminal who murders because a tumor is pressing down on his brain. (The Very Bad Wizards Interview #1: Episode 59 Tumors All the Way Down,

Other non-theists have characterized the human species as "bags of chemicals," "meat puppets," etc. Then there's Francis Crick's infamous description of the human species:
[Science has shown you that] "'you,' your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. as Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased it: 'You're nothing but a pack of neurons.'" (

Caution! This is not a denial that Harris’ (or Dawkins' or Crick's) hypotheses could be correct. I’m only pointing out that unless overwhelming evidence is found that humans are “puppets,” that our sense of “I” is an illusion, and that ethics are only evolutionary adaptions of a purposeless regularity in nature, then I will continue to hold the human species as valuable and creative and purposeful.

#4 Generally, nontheists are too sure there is no ultimate meaning to existence, adamantly sure. For this reason, Albert Einstein said he wasn't a non-theist.
He wrote, “I’m not an atheist…there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatic, and it springs from the same source…They are creatures who can’t hear the music of the spheres.” (The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton University Press, 200, p. 214)

#5 Furthermore, so many public nontheists are strident “in your face,” “know-it-all” arrogant, dismissive of anyone who disagrees with them, even rude, vulgar, and intolerant. Sounds pretty much like what non-theists accuse theists of being doesn't it?
(CAUTION: There’s no reason non-theists couldn't be more open and attentive. In fact, some fine non-theists are measured and considerate.)

In contrast, our goal in life could instead be-- to be courteous, tentative, open, tolerant, attentive, a good listener, decent, etc.

To sum up:
Theism (from Greek “theos” god) is “…the existence of one God viewed as the creative source of the human race and the world who transcends yet is immanent in the world.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Non-theism (from Latin “non” not) means “not” or “no” god.

That means in order for me to become a non-theist, I would have to agree there are no objective values (beyond,transcendent of the human brain and natural selection), no true universal ethics, no objective aesthetics, no ultimately real meaning and purpose for the cosmos. There would be no objective basis for equality and human rights, because there is no “equality” in the nature. Because in non-theism, of course, “human rights” are only a social construct, or worse are only an illusion/delusion caused by the determinism of the cosmos.

Since I am convinced by reason, experience, and emotion down to my inner marrow that equality, fidelity, honesty, and compassion are objectively true, and that slaughter and rape and torture and dishonesty are truly and universally wrong and that they cause untold suffering and pain and death, it would take a herculean change of my whole worldview for me to embrace the outlook that so many non-theists hold overtly.


Good and evil aren't relative.

Honesty or compassion are as real as 2+2=4 or the Theory of Gravity.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Prayer Doesn't Change Things...

When I was growing up years ago, we constantly heard and trusted in the slogan, motto, faith statement, “Prayer Changes Things.” It was one of the central mantras of Christianity, repeatedly emphasized and practiced. Even when things didn't change, everyone was sermonized to pray harder, to wait patiently longer, and repeatedly promised that change would come eventually and dramatically.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.

“And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” James 5:13-18 ESV

But 60 years later, and nothing has changed. No answers have come. No miracles. Not once in 60 years of my limited life—and not once for many other Christians, (or Jews, Muslims, Baha'i, etc. for that matter). Disappointed, even devastated, Christians earnestly believing—yet never once did prayer ever change anything.

No miracles, no dramatic solutions, no answers to sincerely sought needs, desperate hurts, with death hungry at the door. Of course, there are plenty of Christian leaders who claim differently--they tout millions of miracles, healings, and supernatural answers--but when these assertions are researched and studied by Christian scholars these “claims” turn out to be placebos, false diagnoses,'urban legends,' lots of hearsay, and even fraud and deception.

But Christianity's answer to this is always, pray more. If your prayers weren't answered, it wasn't God’s timing or you prayed wrongly, or there was something else wrong with your prayers or with you. Yes, probably you...

Even though your central prayers were for others, often for people you hardly knew, so many in need, often at death's door.

It wasn't like you were praying to be rich or even for your own health.

But now fairly decisive scientific studies have been completed and the answer comes out the same—prayers didn't change anything. Prayer doesn't change things.

In fact, in one study (organized by a respectable Christian organization), those prayed for fared worse than those not prayed for at all.

How could this be?!

So where’s the beef (belief)?

Scientific Studies:
“Are there demonstrable effects of distant intercessory prayer? A meta-analytic review.
Masters KS1, Spielmans GI, Goodson JT.
Author information
The use of alternative treatments for illness is common in the United States. Practitioners of these interventions find them compatible with personal philosophies. Consequently, distant intercessory prayer (IP) for healing is one of the most commonly practiced alternative interventions and has recently become the topic of scientific scrutiny.
This study was designed to provide a current meta-analytic review of the effects of IP and to assess the impact of potential moderator variables.
A random effects model was adopted. Outcomes across dependent measures within each study were pooled to arrive at one omnibus effect size. These were combined to generate the overall effect size. A test of homogeneity and examination of several potential moderator variables was conducted.
Fourteen studies were included in the meta-analysis yielding an overall effect size of g = .100 that did not differ from zero. When one controversial study was removed, the effect size reduced to g = .012. No moderator variables significantly influenced results.
There is no scientifically discernible effect for IP as assessed in controlled studies. Given that the IP literature lacks a theoretical or theological base and has failed to produce significant findings in controlled trials, we recommend that further resources not be allocated to this line of research.”
Annals of Behavioral Medicine August 2006
Largest Study of Third-Party Prayer Suggests Such Prayer
Not Effective In Reducing Complications Following Heart Surgery

“STEP investigators enrolled 1,802 bypass surgery patients from six hospitals and
randomly assigned each to one of three groups: 604 patients received intercessory prayer after being informed they may or may not receive prayers (Group 1); 597 patients did not receive prayer after being informed they may or may not receive prayer (Group 2); and 601 patients received intercessory prayer after being informed they would receive it
(Group 3).
Caregivers and independent auditors comparing case reports to medical records were unaware of the patients’ assignments throughout the study. The study enlisted members of three Christian groups, two Catholic and one Protestant, to provide prayer throughout the multi-year study. The researchers approached other denominations, but none were able to make the time commitments that the study required.

Some patients were told they may or may not receive intercessory prayer:
complications occurred in 52 percent of those who received prayer (Group 1) versus
51 percent of those who did not receive prayer (Group 2). Complications occurred in
59 percent of patients who were told they would receive prayer (Group 3) versus
52 percent, who also received prayer, but were uncertain of receiving it (Group 1).
Major complications and thirty-day mortality were similar across the three groups.”

What can we conclude from this shocker, from all the heart-ached traumas over a life time of devout prayers for others not answered?

After the disillusionment settles, one thought does come to mind:

Maybe prayer doesn't change things, but prayer does change people who can change things ( a new motto I heard some time back but haven’t been able to locate its source or authorship).

I can vouch for such a different angle on prayer. And there are verified cases taking place in current events and in history. But that is for next post…

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox