What is an authentic World Politics?

 

World Flag

In truth, there is no division between spirituality and politics that can be found in The Way Things Are. If you believe, as I do, that there is only one True Self and that every unique individual is a completely whole and infinitely valuable Unique Self which is one and the same as that Ultimate Identity, then how can there be a separation?

In an Integral view of ethics, care and justice evolve in ever expanding reach from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric to kosmocentric levels. Ultimately, there is a sense of self-identification with responsibility and empathy for all sentient beings in all times and places. Thus, politics — which I define broadly as the expansion of our circle of concern to ever wider levels of embrace — is deeply wedded to our sense of self and our understanding of the nature of reality.

Spirituality and politics are distinct aspects of our human existence, but not separate ways of being. In other words, every spiritual act is also a political act, and every political act is also spiritual. But if spirituality is related as Paul Tillich formulated to our “ultimate concern,” then politics relates to concerns that individuals share with other individuals in their community.

There are family and tribal/organizational politics, there are national and international politics. And as plans in recent decades for human colonization of other worlds has demonstrated, there is even a politics of the relationship between the inhabitants of Earth and everything extraterrestrial. Politics is inescapable, no matter how apolitical one’s views.

If you scan articles written about politics by members of the World Spirituality, Integral Spirituality, or Evolutionary Spirituality communities, you may come away with the impression that most people are progressive. After all, among those in the U.S. you will frequently hear praise of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Barack Obama — all Democrats. You will hear support for remedying income inequality, addressing climate change, and legalizing same-sex marriage.

But read more closely and you will find a more complex picture.

Continue reading “What is an authentic World Politics?” »

Why The Avengers convinces that Thor is a (mythic) god

Thor-Avengers

Whatever your taste in movies, it’s hard to deny that Hollywood does a brilliant job of selling comic books to the world, illuminated with dazzling computer-powered, imagination-dazzling on-screen effects. Many adults find these action packed movies to be a guilty pleasure, and we ponder whether they have a redeeming educational or morally transcendent worth beyond a day’s entertainment. Given their prominence and durability, let’s hope that they do.

The first thing I want to say about The Avengers, Josh Whedon’s latest superhero summer blockbuster, is that it at times provoked in me surprising delight. The interactions among Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, the Black Widow and Hawkeye were intriguing in unexpected ways. These superheroes each inhabited their own excellence, their own uniqueness, with superb effortlessness … and they frequentlly argued, fought, and learned how to get along.

Superheroes, like all heroes of myth, wear their interior self on their external nature. The spirit of their uniqueness is writ large, thanks to the power of myth. Hulk’s raw, primal, Kali-like power of creative destruction; Thor’s instinctual, impulse-driven, noble brand of heroism; Captain America’s truth-oriented, duty-driven, God-loving brave soldier warrior; Iron Man’s postmodern, quip-slinging, irony-noticing, eco-technologist playboy billionaire, for starters. And all of them coordinated by the mastermind strategist of Nick Fury, the man with the power to deliver Manhattan from a nuclear blast while operating behind a veil of mystery.

The symbols embodied by the heroes fall all along the spectrum of human developmental capacities from pre-modern magical to mythic to rational to integral as spelled out in the Integral Framework, though there’s room for debating precisely how the symbols align. Personally I didn’t find myself identifying strongly with any of the characters, so much as with the feeling of the cosmic drama itself, I think, but I most admired the cunning and chutzpah of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. If there is Integral Consciousness on display among these characters, it couldn’t be better embodied than by Fury.

But that doesn’t stand in the way of my gushing over Chris Hemsworth’s hyper-masculine performance as Thor, god of Thunder. I find Whedon’s portrayal of the macho macho god as a being of almost child-like innocence to be an endearing expression of the ego-less, enlightened nature of the authentic power of the Unique Self. If Thor passes muster as divine, it is only because we believe that is is truly being himself — that he simply cannot be any other way — that he is not holding anything back, and that he wields power not for its own sake but only for an ideal greater than himself: the protection of the Earth and realms beyond.

Where Americans import conservatives from overseas

Gay Methodist

By Joe Perez

In certain places in America, conservatives are so scarce they’ve begun to import them from abroad. Specifically, in Tampa, Florida, where 1,000 delegates gathered for the United Methodist Church’s General Conference. While liberal American Methodists pleaded for tolerance for gay people, conservatives from overseas compared homosexuality to bestiality.

A report on Huffington Post:

Gay rights advocates in the UMC viewed the compromise proposals as the best chance to advance their cause at this year’s General Conference, which convenes every four years. On Friday, delegates are expected to debate the church’s bans on noncelibate gay clergy and same-sex marriage.

With nearly 8 million members in the U.S., the UMC remains the country’s largest mainline Protestant denomination. But United Methodism is shrinking in the U.S. and growing in Africa and Asia, shifting the balance of power to overseas conservatives. Nearly 40 percent of the delegates gathered in Tampa live outside the U.S.

Thursday’s debate put the denomination’s wide diversity on display — as gays and lesbians pleaded for recognition of their “sacred worth” and an African delegate, speaking through an interpreter, compared homosexuality to bestiality.

The conservatives won the day, proclaiming publicly that “homosexual acts” are “incompatible with Christian teaching” in the largest mainstream Protestant denomination in the U.S.A. Of course, it’s their right to run their church as they see fit and nobody is forcing anybody to be part who doesn’t find a welcoming home there. And of course, many of us would much prefer that if the conservatives can’t at least be willing to agree to disagree, then they would stay quiet.

But then again, we aren’t really the folks the Methodist leaders are speaking to. They say they are speaking to the world, but they are really addressing only those willing to listen, mainly their flocks which are increasingly hailing from the developing world and less so North America and Europe. Thus, the fate of gays and lesbians in the “first world” is tied to the fate of gays and lesbians everywhere. There is no progress on the LGBT dignity front in America if the LGBT folks in places like Bangladesh and Uganda and Argentina are left out.

Thus, religion is providing a uniting thread linking the fate of persecuted minorities everywhere. Today there are Methodists in every country, or almost every country, where there are Christians. And where people share a common religion, if their religion leaves them out, they will share a common persecution. Fear will rule over love when love grows too weak.

Our fates are linked because in the final analysis We are Them and They are Us: there is only one True Self, and it expresses itself (sometimes in beautiful or expaseratingly crazy ways) through homophiles and heterophiles, heterosexuals and homosexuals, and in all the ways that Love does its thing, same-to-same or same-to-other or what have you.

And our fates are linked because we cannot know Love unless we also stand in the unknowable, the Fear which does its own thing, other-fear or same-fear, homophobia or heterophobia. As each of us heals our homophobia, one by one, Spirit releases a bit more Fear and evolves a little closer to an even more radical expression of Love.

Ultimately gays will find liberation only in the most difficult, blessedly difficult, of paths: by linking gay/human rights to the quest for recognition of their “sacred worth” in every religion in every land. Until then, we can expect conservative religionists to gain clout not only abroad where they are more abundant, but also in the U.S., where their leadership is imported by groups like the United Methodists with deep international linkages.

Religions which intertwine internationally link people deeply and profoundly towards a common goal on the human adventure. The news about the United Methodists may suggest that this is a bad thing, that somehow foreigners have a veto over the collective consciousness of American Christians.

But the reality is more complex. The internationalization of spirituality is a good thing when it lifts the boats of people in distress, requiring religious adherents in privileged countries to work on behalf of international development, forcing those invested in the gay rights struggle in one country to seek universal human rights worldwide.

World Spirituality participates in such global linkages, helping to build the bonds which one day can be tunnels for human liberation to emerge out of fear. An Integral approach to gay rights requires a global view, invested as it is in expanding the degree to which we are all more deeply accepting of our humanity and sexuality.

Photo Credit: Religion News Service


Joe Perez is an author who has published books on Gay and Bi Men’s Spirituality.

Joe Perez and Stuart Davis in Dialogue, Part 1: The Future of Art and Integral

Stuart DavisOriginally posted on Spirit’s Next Move.

Last month, I engaged in dialogue with Stuart Davis, a contemporary American musician, actor, and stand-up comic. With over 10 full-length music albums to his credit, including the brand new Music for Mortals, Davis has bravely brought depth and spirituality into popular culture — including the topics of God, sex and death — crafting them into lyrical and memorable pop songs.

This is the first of a three-part series of posts. In this section of the interview, I speak with Stuart about the topics of the future of Integral, spirituality, celebrities and popular culture.

Part 1: The Future of Art and Integral

(or: What if Kim Kardashian Endorsed World Spirituality Tomorrow?)

Joe Perez: As an introduction to this interview, let me say that I did a board retreat for the Center for World Spirituality last month [February] and met a couple of dozen of people contributing to World Spirituality in different fields working in this area that nobody even knows about. The more I am exposed to that, I think, there really seems to be something bubbling up in the world right now. And then there is the article by Terri [Patten] and Marco [Morelli], “Occupy  Integral!” that people are talking about… Did you read that?

Stuart Davis: I think I did read that, a couple weeks ago.

Joe: Their basic idea being that there is something about Integral that hasn’t completely entered the cultural consciousness yet, and so there’s a discussion around what needs to happen, where are we at, what is this moment, and how can we best rise to the potential of the moment. What’s your take on all that, Stuart?

Stuart: I couldn’t agree more for starters. To go back to the initial, for me when this first started, the passion about integral entering the public consciousness at large, however you want to frame that, let’s say crossing over the threshold into something that’s bigger than our own private club, whatever that means in different domains. When I first encountered Integral, I encountered something that many people probably do, and I didn’t realize what it was. But when you get that initial hit of Integral and you begin to crackle alive in that regard, you have this sense, almost tactile, not just an idea or a promise, but you can feel it in your gut. And that promise is Integral taking its place and inhabiting its portion of the body of humanity, growing, being a truly emergent, novel dimension coming to life. And we all sense that.

SESAnd what I think has been interesting to navigate and process is that when I first felt that, I felt it was just a few years away. I felt it was just a few years away. It was 1998. When I first read Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality and first met Ken [Wilber]. I just had this certitude that it was pregnant, that we were giving birth, and it felt to me that the baby was crowning. Right, so I began, much in the fashion that people who think the apocalypse is coming, and that’s been going on for centuries, I began to prepare and anticipate and behave and conduct myself as though that promise was emergent and it wouldn’t be long, it would be just a few years, that you could turn on the NBC, or feel it coming from the White House, that it was going to enter into every domain.

I was really intoxicated for many years, and I was really wrong about a lot of timelines. I’ve felt the same certitude that I felt back then. It’s either inevitable because we’re talking about human development here. Either this is coming down the pipeline… or there won’t be humans around. Because we’ve never seen humans not develop. But on the other hand I will fully admit that I was really wrong about the timeline, what it was going to take, and specifically in the realm I can speak most precisely from, which is entertainment, because where I work is movies and film, television and books. I felt an immediacy that has turned out to be much more difficult. This inevitable process occurring I way underestimated in the people that I work with. I would say the way that I feel about it is that: Yes, I read that article and I have felt ever since day one that it’s occurring and I would qualify it by saying I’ve also been wrong about the timeline and how hard it would be. “Hard” in quotes. It’s a beautiful difficulty. It’s tough.

Joe: I was reading an article recently about youth today – specifically 18-to-19-year-olds. They’re less political, less concerned about the environment, and they’re turned off by organized religion, thinking it’s become very judgmental. But what’s most interesting in what I noticed is in what they ARE engaged with. If young people are to be recruited into politics, they said, it will be from selective use of entertainment media, celebrities, Facebook, Twitter and mobile technologies with forms of participation limited in their duration, sophistication, and intensity. You’re closer to this than I am. Do you think entertainment, celebrities, and social media can help to reengage youth into a developmental path?

TrendingStuart: What a great question. That brings to mind the pop song. That has been my experience with the pop song since day one. The greatest triggers and invitations I have experienced have come through these brief, concise, but potent pop song type piece of pop art. Some of them literally pop songs.  I have had moments of mystical insights that were unrivaled, more effective than anything I learned in church … Does that mean that pop songs are more effective, or is it just my typology, or something about how I’m put together? I do think that there is in a deeper place, my conviction is that art existed before organized and conventional religion, and it will exist after.

Continue reading “Joe Perez and Stuart Davis in Dialogue, Part 1: The Future of Art and Integral” »

Researchers probe relationship between analytical thinking and religiosity

 

thinker

According to a story in The Raw Story, a group of Canadian psychologists has concluded that directing test subjects to think “analytically” lowers their level of religious belief. Their research was published in this week’s issue of Science. A look at the study’s methodology, however, reveals misguided assumptions.

Test subjects were given a problem-solving test, shown a picture of Rodin’s famous sculpture “The Thinker,” and given a questionnaire asking participants how much they agreed with statements such as “I believe in God.” When these subjects were compared to control subjects not given problem-solving tasks, and presumably not shown a picture of “The Thinker,” the group subjected to the problem-solving tests were less likely to admit to having religious beliefs.

The Raw Story says:

Psychologists have long believed that humans rely on two different cognitive systems, one “intuitive” and the other “analytical,” and previous research has pointed to a link between intuitive thinking and religious belief.

“Our findings suggest that activating the ‘analytic’ cognitive system in the brain can undermine the ‘intuitive’ support for religious belief, at least temporarily,” study co-author Ara Norenzayan explained.

Philip Ball, Ph.D., a freelance science writer, responds in Nature, noting that the study uses an inadequate definition of religion. Ball:

The authors state that they “focused primarily on belief in and commitment to religiously endorsed supernatural agents” — they examined beliefs in God, the devil and angels. That, of course, already assumes a Judaeo-Christian context, but there are plenty of devout believers who have no need of angels or the devil, and some who perhaps have no need of a belief in God in a traditional or Christian sense (Max Planck was one such example).

This hints at the key problem, which is (or ought to be) as much a quandary for religion itself as for scientific studies of it. Almost all of the questions in Gervais and Norenzayan’s study related to religion as a literalist folk tradition — an aspect of lifestyle. This is how it manifests in most cultures, but that barely touches on religion as articulated by its leading intellectuals: for Christianity, say, philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, David Hume, Immanuel Kant and George Berkeley. The idea that the beliefs of those individuals would have vanished had they been more analytical is, if nothing else, amusing. Gervais and Norenzayan’s findings should help to combat religion as an indolent obstacle to better explanations of the natural world. But it can’t really engage with the rich tradition of religious thought.

Ball’s point is a good one, though from a wider perspective even his objections don’t fully identify the limitations of the study. For starters, there is not only the problem that belief in God is a “Judeo-Christian” belief as opposed to, say, Buddhists; there is the issue that there are many different levels of belief in God, or many different stations of life in which belief in God expresses itself. There are child-like forms of religious belief, mature and immature adult forms. Ball notes that religion is filled with intellectuals with highly refined analytical skills (he doesn’t take this a step further to note that there are different structure-stages of religious expression that ought to be considered separately).

Another issue with the study is that while the authors may only publish narrow findings about the difference between analytical and intuitive psychological types, their study is likely to be interpreted narrowly as a test of whether religious people are stupider than non-religious people, and to reinforce the idea that spirituality is dumb. I’m not quite sure why this study is considered non-offensive when a study examining whether people of different races or socio-economic statuses are more analytical or intuitive.

Spirituality expresses itself in a myriad of ways, and an Integral perspective includes both intuitive and analytical types, and has room for believers with a philosophical or non-philosophical bent. Tests seemingly designed to show that spiritual people are dumb are insulting.

On the status of women in Pakistan

Pakistani Women

A few cosmetic changes tonight: I’ve updated the name for this column to The Nightly View and removed numbers from this and The Daily Wisdom columns.

Thorny questions about reincarnation

The worst thing to be reincarnated into is an animal, because you can’t learn, says a past-life specialist who ponders questions such as the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. Andrea Chalupa interviews Dr. DeBell, a specialist in past-life regression therapy, on the Big Think blog:

Since death isn’t the final liberator, according to Dr. DeBell, the ticket out is living life unflinchingly by the Golden Rule—treat everyone else as you would want to be treated. Working out your “golden rule” muscle makes it stronger over time.

“I am not surprised,” he says, “that given the complexity of trust or humility or applying the golden rule and the amount of progress I see myself and others making in one lifetime, that it takes many lifetimes to master them.”

One of his most useful regressions, he says, was finding himself a cave man suddenly killed by an animal attack, and was surprised that he was still alive. “I experienced,” he says, “that early phase of my soul’s development in a way that helped me come to terms with the very slow pace of development.”

After growing up in a religious Protestant household, he stopped believing in God at the age of 21. Two decades later, after spending most of his career as a psychiatrist in community clinics in New York City’s poorest neighborhoods, he met a spirit guide while practicing self-hypnosis. His exploration in soul self-knowledge reminded him of a feeling he had when he was around eight-years-old, and reading an article in National Geographic about reincarnation. Back then, “Something inside of me reverberated, and I knew it to be the truth.”

This level of self-searching, DeBell says, took him “a couple of years to learn, because I’m scientifically oriented.”

Fifteen years later, he would return to that childhood conviction by founding his own private practice, with his wife, Susan DeBell, where they walk patients through the lessons they’re still working out over lives. For anyone interested in past-life regression therapy, DeBell advises to focus on questions that feel important and have a curiosity about yourself. An open mind is necessary to silence the mental chatter. For those eager to graduate, DeBell recommends, “focus on the process instead of the goal. Any goal can limit us.”

So what happens to the Hitlers, Stalins, al-Assads, Jong-ils, Cheneys?

“God didn’t create Hitler,” says DeBell, “but he certainly created the situation for a Hitler. That is what free will is about.” As for the world’s “bad guys,” they are souls who simply flunked. “It’s like somebody who is put back a grade,” he says. “You find yourself as the big kid in kindergarten. That’s rather humiliating.”

In regards to, say, former Vice President Dick Cheney, America’s very own Mr. Potter of It’s a Wonderful Life, who drove us into war in Iraq and Afghanistan and profited from it, DeBell’s answer, “Dick Cheney could be a very young soul. His soul was dropped into power, and couldn’t handle it.” He added, “It’s not up to us to judge.”

What’s the ultimate punishment? “Coming back as animals is a punishment,” he says, surprisingly, “because you can’t learn. Being unable to learn is the ultimate punishment. It’s like being frozen, you’re trapped. Hitler could have been a lab rat thousands of times.”

As much as my own experience lends support to the belief in reincarnation, I can’t speak to any particular knowledge of the nature of reincarnation as an animal. I find it curious that DeBell doesn’t think animals can learn. The more we learn about animal communication and knowledge, the more it seems we are surprised to find them more human-like than we previously imagined.

The status of women in Pakistan (and beyond)

Mona Eltahawy, the New York-based award-winning columnist and an international public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues, and Zara Jamal, a Canadian writer, received notice today on the Genealogy of Religion blog by Cris. The most vehement and strongly worded statement comes from Eltahy, who is quoted as saying:

Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.”

What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Chris also looks to Pakistan, where Zara Jamal reports things aren’t any better. In [Zara Jamal's] To Be a Woman in Pakistan: Six Stories of Abuse, Shame, and Survival, we glimpse a small world of suffering. Jamal prefaces the six stories with this odd observation:

Westerners usually associate the plight of Pakistani women with religious oppression, but the reality is far more complicated. A certain mentality is deeply ingrained in strictly patriarchal societies like Pakistan. Poor and uneducated women must struggle daily for basic rights, recognition, and respect. They must live in a culture that defines them by the male figures in their lives, even though these women are often the breadwinners for their families.

Chris writes:

Is Jamal suggesting that the abuse of these women is a byproduct of free-floating or traditional patriarchy? If so, my questions to her would be how did this patriarchy develop and how is it maintained? It surely isn’t by vague obeisance to tradition or patriarchy. The “mentality” and “culture” that Jamal mentions are anchored in and justified by a particular reading of Islam, even if she wants to minimize or not.

The challenge for World Spirituality to help to bring smart, rich spiritual perspectives into the trenches of the oppression of women in many parts of the world. I think the beginning of such a response must not happen merely in blogs such as this one, but by the people closest to the scene. What of the women and men who are co-creating complex lives in the midst of oppressive traditional patriarchal structures? What wisdom do they have about how to find additional measures of security, freedom, love, and joy? Let’s hear straight from them.

Surely we know that an ideology which simply tells us that a class of persons such as Middle East women are dupes of oppression is overly simple and disempowering of them. The question, “Why do they hate us so much?” which Mona Eltahawy voices, is but a moment of anger in a more complex discourse which includes moments of love and forgiveness and wisdom. We must listen to all their voices, and the voices of the men in their lives, and hear ways in which new openings are emerging for liberative changes. The call of evolution, the power of God in history, is none other than the force of liberation, and our answer of that call is the nature of justice.

Photo Credit: Photosenses

Robert McNamara: More integrated muscle building gets better results

Robert McNaughton

Robert McNamara’s approach to resistance training, as described in his book Strength to Awaken, is grounded on integral principles… and he views muscle building as a spiritual discipline. On his Embodied. Evolution. blog, the author explains why people over the age of 22 to 24 need to build muscle:

Muscle strength cannot be reduced to a “macho” thing that you may or may not not be attracted to. The larger truth relevant for everyone is this: You need muscle strength, this is a pragmatic fact. If you don’t believe me go volunteer at a nursing home for a week. It will dramatically change your perception of strength and what happens to your quality of life when you can’t move around freely. Muscle strength determines freedom of movement perhaps more than any other single factor and science tells us that strength is positively correlated with quality of life. When you lose strength you also lose quality of your life. It’s that simple.

One of the questions everyone must address is this: Does your day to day lifestyle increase your capacity to move about freely with greater ease and more flexibility? If you can not say yes to this, consider breaking out of your conditioned lifestyle that presently holds you. If you are not moving towards becoming more, then you’re slowly, or perhaps not so slowly, eroding the quality of your life.

Strength and metabolism do not have to decline with age. In fact, it appears that these decline more in concert with lifestyle than with your chronological age. Strength training is a massively (perhaps the most) powerful way to reverse both of these measures as you grow older.

Strength To Awaken is the most integrated approach to strength training you will find on the planet. Greater integration means greater results. Train smart, learn to engage whole-heartedly into the discipline of strength training as this book does and you will enjoy multifaceted adaptations that will likely serve every facet of your life.

Read the whole thing.

Photo Credit: ccdoh1

Quote of the Day: Joe Perez

Lesbian Wedding

“Given enough time, modernity is enough to show traditional churches that homosexuality is not an illness or disorder, and ought to be tolerated. Given enough time, postmodernism is enough to show modernist churches that they need to accept gays, lesbians, and other sexual and gender minorities for the diversity they bring. Given enough time, an integral wave of consciousness — a World Spirituality — will be enough to show traditional churches that they have held an honorable role by keeping the flame burning which knows the inner divinity of gays and lesbians; it will be enough to show modernist churches and secular organizations the ways in which gay/straight differences in perspective offer many fruitful new avenues for investigation of  the interior life of all sentient beings; it will be enough to show postmodern churches, spirituality-based, and mission-driven organizations the best ways to bring homophiles and heterophiles and all people within whom gender/sexual/energetic polarities exist into a constructive theology of interrelationship, marriage, and social ethics. All this is within our reach in the stratums of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern life-worlds in which we dwell, but it most definitely requires a World Spirituality.” — Joe Perez

Recently on Sprit’s Next Move: Towards a World Spirituality theology of gay marriage


Joe Perez is an author who has published books on Gay and Bi Men’s Spirituality.

The price of limerence

Men at Lunch
Hoot! The Price of Limerence

Let’s leave aside for a moment all the mushy poetic and theological language about love. Let’s put on Ebeneezer Scrooge’s worldview and simply ask: how much money is love worth?

Well here’s a short YouTube video that explores that very question. Among the interesting findings: Hearing that someone loves you for the first time is worth the equivalent happiness of $267,000. Being married is the equivalent of receiving an extra $100,000 per year. Committed long-term love live on average 15% longer, so finding a relationship that lasts per life is the equivalent of making another $23,000 to $30,000 extra per year.

The speaker says, “Love is democratic. No matter who you are or how much money you have, people all over the world are feeling it.” Amen.

(Hat tip: The Daily Dish.)

Hoot! Working at your desk sucks. Americans should take lunches like the French do.

Orion Jones writes on Big Think:

By deciding to take a midday break, and taste the food you are going to eat anyway, you will refresh your mind and have the opportunity to mingle with co-workers. You may even get some sunshine. “By taking those few moments to breathe,” said Levy, “you come out feeling refreshed and invigorated. At work, time spent chatting with colleagues can lead to great ideas and cross-pollination between departments. And if you’ve broken bread with colleagues at lunch, it’s going to be easier to approach them in the professional sphere.” Giving yourself a half-hour lunch will increase your productivity, not decrease it.

Paying attention to our daily routine, making it more harmonious with our True Self — or at least make our ego a bit happier and more well-adjusted — is one of the surest routes to finding divinity in the ordinary.

Hoot! Want to know what Barack Obama really thinks about religion?

Religion writer Jeffrey Weiss has followed Barack Obama’s statements on religion from the beginning, and he says there’s no better statement of what he really believes than this:

On the one hand, among the oldest and most complete texts are Obama’s two memoirs. Dreams From My Father has a long account of his journey of faith — from the child and grandchild of people who were indifferent or hostile to organized religion to crying in the pew of a Chicago church. The Audacity of Hope has an entire chapter titled, simply “Faith.”

But for me, the uber-source is a remarkable interview Obama gave in 2004, when he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate and long before he was even whispered about as presidential timber.

He sat down with Cathleen Falsani, then a religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. She did a news story off the interview at the time. Later, when Obama became a bit more important than a mere senate candidate, Falsani posted the entire transcript of the interview on her own website. You can read it here.

Here’s how Obama explained his approach to his faith back then:

“I am a Christian. So, I have a deep faith. So I draw from the Christian faith. On the other hand, I was born in Hawaii where obviously there are a lot of Eastern influences. I lived in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, between the ages of six and 10. My father was from Kenya, and although he was probably most accurately labeled an agnostic, his father was Muslim. And I’d say, probably, intellectually I’ve drawn as much from Judaism as any other faith.”

And here is how he explains his attitude toward specific doctrines:

“I’m a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at it’s best comes with a big dose of doubt. I’m suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding.”

And here is where he starts to explain how his understanding of his faith helps inform his ideas about governance:

“I think it’s perfectly consistent to say that I want my government to be operating for all faiths and all peoples, including atheists and agnostics, while also insisting that there are values that inform my politics that are appropriate to talk about… I can give religious expression to that. I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, we are all children of God. Or I can express it in secular terms. But the basic premise remains the same.”

For the next eight years, he’s come back to the same basic themes: That he’s motivated by his understanding of the Christian social gospel as an inspiration for his personal service and as a guide for the kinds of policies that he pursues. But he rejects narrow and sure interpretations of religion. And he’s careful to say that government policy must not be narrowly tailored for any faith or none.

But what nobody seems to have done (yet) is to ask Obama about his own spiritual experiences, prayer life, and any mystical intuitions. Has he had any experiences of divinity or enlightenment, and what conclusions has he drawn about that?

Or, if no journalist wants to go on the record asking about that, why not simply ask him: What does “spirituality” mean to you?

Photo Credit: MR MARK BEK

Why people dwell on tragedy

Titanic

By Joe Perez

Ruth Franklin, a senior editor at The New Republic, tries to explain why people seek for meaning in tragedies. The victims of tragedies, Franklin says, remind us that they were once like us, but now emptied of significance on account of their tragic end:

To look at the video of Anne Frank, or a slideshow of the Titanic’s ephemera—an alligator handbag, a water-crumpled top hat and dress shoes—is to know for certain that the girl leaning off the balcony, or the people to whom these objects belonged, were once like us. In their deaths they became myth, but in life they were unexceptional: The video shows Anne Frank, as one of my Twitter correspondents put it, “before she was Anne Frank.” We know that Anne Frank was real; we don’t need a video for that. But we long for artifacts because they seem to offer a route to authenticity, a direct access to the moment of disaster that we obsessively replay. As such, they become repositories of meaning—empty of their own significance, but imbued with it by virtue of their context. And for historical catastrophes such as the Titanic or the Holocaust, the desire for an object to convey meaning is particularly acute, since otherwise the event feels morally empty, and thus dangerous…

I think it’s really hard to make generalizations so baldly as Franklin does. People make meaning of Anne Frank or Titanic relics for a wide array of reasons, pre-modern magical thinking or myth making, modern rationalism, and post-modern existentialism, for example. Franklin’s effort to claim that tragedy victims become placeholders emptied of their own significance, a “route to authenticity,” is a narrowly postmodern concern (I believe), projected onto every possible onlooker.

Thus, I can’t really agree with Ruth’s conclusion, that contemplation of tragedy allows us to “relive” them so as to keep death abay:

An extreme catastrophe affords us a kind of luxury: a comfortable perch from which to reflect upon our own mortality. We don’t know what will finally happen to us, but whatever it is, it won’t be that. We will not go down with the Titanic; we will not be murdered by the Nazis. We speak of the contemplation of these stories—as historical events or as something close to myth—as “reliving” them. But in fact it is death to which they bring us safely closer.

Which is a perfectly fine way to look at tragedy if you are Ruth Franklin. But a more integral perspective must not impose any one rubric for interpreting tragedy for all people — especially if it means elevating postmodern interpretation to the pinnacle of human wisdom. But World Spirituality is not without its own rich perspective on tragedy.

World Spirituality acknowledges a deep brokenness at the heart of Reality — samsara, the Cross of Christ, Original Sin, chaos and incompleteness, what have you — and insists that authenticity to our True Self is to affirm such brokenness by living into it and through it with courage and love … not to deny the brokenness in favor of fake grace or spiritual bypassing. To reflect on an icon of such brokenness — a picture of Anne Frank or the purse of a Titanic victim — is to encounter suffering that is not separate from our own (or to resist the suffering, falling away from True Self, in an inauthentic pose).

I would not say, as Franklin does, that we “relive” tragedies vicariously in order to be brought closer to death, but in a safe way. Perhaps that is so for some selves. But I would say that our Unique Self encounters in a relic of the Titanic or a Holocaust survivor its own likeness in partiality and wholeness, and — unless its feeling is set aside in favor of the False Self — finds freedom from death with each effortless, instantly arising act of continued contemplation.