Low Empathy: the root of all evil

LOW EMPATHY

I am obsessed with the conviction that our human race is devolving because we are losing our capacity for empathy. And I am not alone in believing that is the root of all of the evil in this world.

On the other hand, there is increasing research that is proving how other mammalian species are actually evolving in their capacity to feel and demonstrate empathy. All you have to do is do an online search for “animal empathy,” and you can spend the rest of the day being amazed and gratified at the increasingly widespread “humane” behaviors of our non-human brothers and sisters. (Do an online search for any of the areas of human violence in the world today – shootings, rapes, war zones…. — and you will spend the rest of the day, perhaps, starting to believe as I do.)

The tendency for humans seems to be violent. An online search for “human violence” will provide support for that assertion.

But it’s really more complicated – and overwhelming – than most folks are willing to admit.

Individual research projects are showing that there are complex connections among the healthy functioning of the brain’s “empathy spot,” the levels of the aggression hormone testosterone, the harmful psychological (and, perhaps neural) effects of violent sports/games/language, and this crisis of morality that is plaguing our species.

After spending the past few days searching online for perspectives on this issue, the best piece I have been able to find (although there are others) is “Why a Lack of Empathy is the Root of All Evil,” by psychologist Simon Baron Cohen, who offers this general definition:

Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.

And so we have rampant misogyny, bigotry, border disputes, extreme nationalism, racism,war, violence of all kinds.

What is fascinating to me is that the home of “empathy” seems to be in the brain itself. Scientific research has identified an area of the brain associated with empathy – the anterior insular cortex.

In other words, patients with anterior insular lesions had a hard time evaluating the emotional state of people in pain and feeling empathy for them, compared to the controls and the patients with anterior cingulate cortex lesions,” said the researchers.

This area of the brain that has been proven to be affected by a variety of variables, including testosterone levels and exposure to violent media.

One of Baron-Cohen’s longitudinal studies – which began 10 years ago – found that the more testosterone a foetus generates in the womb, the less empathy the child will have post- natally. In other words, there is a negative correlation between testosterone and empathy. It would appear the sex hormone is somehow involved in shaping the “empathy circuits” of the developing brain.
Given that testosterone is found in higher quantities in men than women, it may come as no surprise that men score lower on empathy than women. So there is a clear hormonal link to empathy. Another biological factor is genetics. Recent research by Baron-Cohen and colleagues found four genes associated with empathy – one sex steroid gene, one gene related to social-emotional behaviour and two associated with neural growth.

Contrary to what gamer developers would like us to believe, ongoing research is tending to prove that areas of the brain associated with empathy are being affected by constant exposure to violent video and other games.

New preliminary findings suggest that brain activation is altered in normal youths with significant past violent media exposure while viewing violent video games.

The reasons for our devolution are obviously complicated and involve some combination of nature and nurture and the opposite of nurture. As a culture and society, we seem to be intent on denying how we actually are encouraging a diminishment of empathy in favor of greed, selfish amorality, and vested interests — whether they be political, religious, economic, or national.

Of course, it’s easier to deny – from climate change to chemical food contamination, to promoting and glorifying violence – than it is to tackle the daunting job of trying to undo what we have done. But if we don’t, we will be a dead species before long. We will destroy ourselves from the simple lack of empathy.

I am hoping that some less corporate-manipulated and more holistic researchers will be able to bring together all of the factors that are pushing our species over the precipice of widespread violence and come up with a convincing argument for the necessity to put the brakes on across the board. Coming up with a plan after that is maybe more than government is capable of now. But if we don’t….

Having been a fan of speculative fiction my whole life and witnessing the manifestations of many of those “fictional” speculations, I don’t hold much hope.

outing the skeletons in our closet

I posted this eight and a half years ago. As conversations rage these days about the role of women, about rape, and about what still seems to be the perceived powerlessness of too many young women, we need to rattle the buried bones of our history as warrior women.

(The television program to which I refer is one of those that was too good not to be cancelled.)

They found her buried in the Steppes of Russia, a tall woman, leg bones bowed, probably from spending a lot a time on a horse. She was buried with her earrings and other gold adornments. And a mass of arrowheads. A Warrior Princess who lived 2500 years ago.

They had found other skeletons too, in other places. Tall women, with bowed legs, some positioned in the historically ancient pose of the warrior — one leg bent at the knee. Buried with arrowheads and swords. The DNA from one of these skeletons has been found in a young teenager currently living in a nomadic tribe in Mongolia.

The most famous Amazon warrior Penthesilia, Herodotus wrote, died at the hands of the greatest warrior of Greece, Achilles. Many think that the Amazons were a myth, but evidence is showing that such women probably did exist in various parts of Europe and Asia.

Archeologists are finding that there were others of these strong warrior women who, for generations, taught themselves and their daughters to hold their own in a world controlled by male aggression.

These women were as ruthless as the multitudes of men they fought and killed or enslaved.

There is something empowering to know that we can be as ruthless as the most ruthless men. There is something even more empowering to believe that we have the moral courage to choose not to.

I watch the new television series Commander-in-Chief and am reminded that there are many ways to be a strong leader — some more ruthless than others.

Bush is a failure as a leader. (Type in “failure” in a Google search and then click on “I’m Feeling Lucky.” Heh.)

A woman wouldn’t necessarily be a better leader. After all, there was the woman who is now Skeleton 227.

But there have to be individuals who could lead this nation with true commitment to all of its people, to the spirit of its Constitution, and to its responsibility to demonstrate how to make decisions based on ethics as well as necessity. I hope they’re watching Commander-in-Chief for some tips

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this old Pole soul

Like every human on this planet, my heritage traces back to the heart of Africa, from where the original homo sapiens emerged around 100,000 years ago.

Somewhere around 40,000 years ago, their descendants descended on what eventually would be the nation we now know as Poland. Since the time of these early forbears, the land that was considered “Poland” shrank and expanded depending on the whims of glaciers and governments. Pretty much land-locked except for its limited access to the Baltic Sea, Polish land has been traipsed over, lived on, and fought over by tribes and nations from the Turks to the Celts. The 19th and 20th centuries, alone, saw Poland’s boundaries recede and expand drastically as various histories and wars played themselves out.

While I know that America has claim to the title of “melting pot,” pre-historic Poland has to come close because of the hundreds of different peoples who settled there at one time or another, coming upon its central location accidentally or on purpose. So, even though I can trace my bloodline back through several generations of “pure” Poles, the truth is that I have in me genetic traces of countless races, leading back to that elusive “Mitochondrial Eve.”

Why I’m thinking about all of this is that I’m taking a class in Polish language and culture to help me remember how to converse in Polish. I have no immediate reason for doing that, except that it’s free at the Senior Center, and relearning the language is helping me to exercise my brain.

I have never been very good at just sitting in a class and listening. I like to participate. So, I offered to do a session next week on the traditions still alive in Polish culture today that have their roots in that land’s pre-history. (Of course, that means “pagan,” but I didn’t use that word in my offer to do the session. All of the other students seem to be Catholic, and I didn’t want to use language that would turn them off.)

For anyone who is interested, there are a very few websites that deal with Polish/Slavic pre-history. This is the best of them.

More than a dozen years ago, I stumbled upon a wonderful site explaining the pagan origins of various Polish folk customs and chronicling the Polish pagan pantheon and magical symbols. I printed out all 80-something pages of information from that now-defunct website, and I am so glad I did because I would have to track down a ton of books to compile it myself at this point. I’m thinking that I probably saved it on my old computer but somehow lost track of that document.

Growing up Polish in America (as did the other students in my class), what I was told about Polish history made it seem as though it all started with the the conversion of Poland to Christianity back somewhere around 990 A.D.

However,

In the course of the Christianisation of Europe in the Early Middle Ages, the Christian churches adopted many elements of national cult and folk religion, resulting in national churches like Latin, Germanic, Russian, Armenian, Greek and so on. Some Pagan ceremonies became modern holidays as pagans joined the early church.

It just goes to show you — children are told the history that their “responsible adults” want them to believe. But there’s always more. Always more.

Do zobaczienia.

proselytizing by any other name is still…

There are some things I will never understand, and one of them is why it seems so impossible for people to have strong convictions/beliefs without proselytizing.

Religious fundamentalists of all ilks are the big offenders, but I’m seeing more and atheists who are becoming similarly inclined. And it seems to me that there is a big difference between making one’s case/having an intelligent debate and trying to convert someone from her or his way of thinking to yours.

In truth, I’m a big fan of Pharyngula’s PZ Myers and Skepchick’s Rebecca Watson — both hard-nose atheists whose function in this larger world group of thinkers seems to be to press the offensive line of rationality against all who are against them. They are both incredibly brilliant, and, in that brilliance, incredibly arrogant. But, hey, they are so good at what they do that I enjoy the ride they take me on. (Watson’s clips on youtube are in-your-face riveting.) And they are not wrong in their analyses. But neither does that mean that they are all right.

Let’s face it. There will never be global agreement on why we are here and how we got here. Sometimes scientific evidence and religious beliefs might overlap. But usually their perceptions of reality are just too different.

I read somewhere recently something that explained that science is a way of knowing, and knowledge evolves as evidence is uncovered; religion is a way of believing, and faith/belief does not evolve.

There are many individuals who somehow can blend the two in a way that brings them both comfort and enlightenment. Deepak Chopra, one of them, recently wrote the following in his piece in the Huffington Post:

We often hear that humankind is on the verge of a major change in our perception of reality, a paradigm shift as it is called. But there’s no necessity for the new paradigm to break into laboratories and smash all the test tubes.

The brightest prospect is for an expanded science, one that takes consciousness into account. This is actually unfolding all around us. Even 10 years ago, a scientist who took consciousness seriously risked career suicide. He was likely to be rebuked with a common Physics slogan, “Shut up and calculate.” In other words, stop this foolish speculation and go back to what we trust — mathematics. But there is no getting around the bald fact that every human experience occurs in consciousness, including mathematics. If there is a reality beyond our awareness, by definition we will never know it. One branch of science after another, starting with the quantum revolution in physics a century ago, has been faced with mysteries that force it to consider consciousness. How does the brain produce thought? Why do genes respond when we interact or have experiences? Is biology a quantum phenomenon? Happily, there are now sizable conferences on these once unthinkable topics.

To be honest, I find the rantings of atheists more exciting and challenging then the writings of paradigm-shift philosophers. But that’s just me.

Like Walt Whitman, I’m just one big contradiction.

Because, in truth, I don’t get why we all can’t say “this is where I’m coming from, but/and, hey, whatever works for you is fine.” Of course, that all has to be in the context of some overarching values, such as “first, do no harm,” and “treat others the way that you want to be treated,” and “hey, you never know but you have to keep looking.”

I just don’t get what’s so hard about that.

Of course, proselytizing is what sells books, makes money, strokes egos, and earns notoriety. And there are lots of people who get off on that. And everyone needs to earn a living.

Finally, maybe it’s just that I’m getting old and am tired of the debate, and feel that, if you lead a life that is responsible to others and to the planet, what difference does it make what you “believe” on a religious or unreligious level.

And so, when I read something like the following, written by (much maligned scientist) Bruce Lipton in the Huffington Post I an inclined to hope his is right:

Humans evolved as the most powerful force in supporting Nature’s vitality. However, we have misused that power and are now paying the price for our destructive behavior.

The crises we face present us with the greatest opportunity in human history-conscious evolution. Through consciousness, our minds have the power to change our planet and ourselves. It is time we heed the wisdom of the ancient indigenous people and channel our consciousness and spirit to tend the Garden and not destroy it.

The story of human life on Earth is yet to be determined. Our evolution depends on whether we are willing to make changes in our individual and collective beliefs and behaviors, and whether we are able to make these changes in time. The good news is that biology and evolution are on our side. Evolution — like heaven — is not a destination, but a practice.

But I’m still a fan of PZ Meyers and Rebecca Watson, because while people like Lipton and Chopra are pulling at one end of the envelope, those other two and pushing at the other.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then I contradict myself.
I am large, I contain multitudes.

Walt Whitman

this strange world

Each week, Harper’s offers its “Weekly Review—a digital newsletter that distills the world media’s discharge into three simple paragraphs.”

Here are some discharges (some amusing, some downright scary) from this week’s Harper’s Weekly Review. The links will take you to the original stories.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi denied accusations that he paid a teenage runaway for sex, explaining that he gave $65,000 to a bellydancer who goes by the name of Ruby the Heartbreaker to help her escape a life of prostitution by launching a beauty parlor, and that he thought she was Hosni Mubarak’s granddaughter. link

Donald Trump, who is giving “serious, serious thought” to running for president in 2012, outlined his Libya policy: “Either I’d go in and take the oil,“ he said, ”or I don’t go in at all.” link

Previously unseen emails revealed that BP tried to control independent research into the consequences of the Gulf oil spill. link

Hydraulic fracturing companies, an investigation revealed, injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells in at least 13 states between 2005 and 2009, as well as salt, instant coffee, and walnut hulls, to stimulate the release of natural gas from underground reserves. link

Bolivia prepared to pass the Law of Mother Earth, which will grant nature rights equal to those of humans, although it is not yet clear how the legislation will be implemented. link

Scientists identified the part of the brain integral to embarrassment by asking subjects to listen to their own karaoke renditions of the Temptations’ 1964 hit “My Girl” played back without the musical accompaniment. link

A retired greengrocer from Southampton, England, spent 400 hours knitting a three-tier wedding cake to celebrate the upcoming marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. “It’s not based on a pattern,” said 74-year-old Sheila Carter. “I just made it up. link

While I have to admit that, being an fanatical knitter, I was intrigued by the story of the knitted wedding cake. But only for a moment.

What really caught my attention was the Wired story about Bolivia.

Bolivia is one of South America’s poorest countries and is seeing its rural communities suffer with failing crops due to climatic events such as floods and droughts. Temperatures are set to rise by up to four degrees celsius over the next 100 years, while most of its glaciers are likely to melt within 20 years.

The Bolivian government — under president Evo Morales — will establish a ministry of mother earth and commit to give communities the authority to monitor and control the industries and businesses that are polluting the environment.

I hope the media keeps track of this story to see if what Morales proposes can work, given corporate greed, even in Bolivia.

What to tell your kid about dying
when you don’t believe in heaven.

Your eight-year old can’t go to sleep because he’s crying so hard. He’s crying so hard because, he says, he doesn’t want to ever die and he doesn’t want anyone he knows to ever die because he doesn’t want to be alone.

You don’t really believe in “God,” and don’t believe in heaven. You’re not religious, and the Golden Rule is about the closest you come to embracing any doctrine, although you try to pass along a moral and ethical code that you hope he understands and continues to live by.

But what about “after?” What about after this life? What do you tell your eight-year old that will calm his fears without outright lying?

What you do is write a book that explains who and what we are in a way that will address his fears yet still be in the realm of what might actually and scientifically happen. ( After all, Carl Sagan thought so.)

And you call this book Spark.

Go over online and read through Spark — and see if it’s the answer you’re looking for.

My Blue America
Our Secular America (part 2)

[This piece is even more appropriate now than it was six years ago, when I originally posted it after the fiasco that was the election of George W. Bush. The archives link has been truncated for some reason, but I had a text version. And so I am re-posting, as a small lesson in history for those who don’t know. You can read Part 1 here.]

I am so sorry you feel this way. If you actually had a clue as to what made this nation great, you would quit trying to suck the life out of it. America was founded on great conservative christian values (the Ten Commandments). You are free in this country to think and for the most part do what ever you want. But you do not have the right to hijack this country with your socialist values that undermine our national identity and security. We will continue to fight you and the terrorist with every fiber in our bodies. Because it is you who invited the terrorist into our country to kill our family members.

The quote above is a comment left on my blogpost of 04/11/04 by someone calling him/herself “Righteous.”

Well, I say that those who don’t know our country’s history are bound to keep screwing it up.

Perhaps “Righteous” is referring to those “Christians” who fled from Europe to seek religious freedom, freedom from religious persecution.

Oddly enough,

Although they were victims of religious persecution in Europe, Puritans supported the Old World theory that sanctioned it, the need for uniformity of religion in the state. Once in control in New England, they sought to break “the very neck of Schism and vile opinions.” The “business” of the first settlers, a Puritan minister recalled in 1681, “was not Toleration, but [they] were professed enemies of it.” Puritans expelled dissenters from their colonies, a fate that in 1636 befell Roger Williams and in 1638 Anne Hutchinson, America’s first major female religious leader. Those who defied the Puritans by persistently returning to their jurisdictions risked capital punishment, a penalty imposed on four Quakers between 1659 and 1661.

In other words, those righteous Christian Puritans became just the kind of persecutors from whom they were running away. And we all know what they did to those poor old women they decided were witches, right? But that’s another long and horrible story that needs truth telling about.

And let’s not forget all those Native Americans that were displaced and persecuted and executed by all of those righteous Christian members of our military. (The United States Army Seventh Cavalry used gattling guns to slaughter 300 helpless Lakota children, men and women.)

I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream. And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth, — you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead. — Black Elk. Oglala Holy Man on the aftermath of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota December, 1890

Oh, well, maybe my commenter was referring to our Founding Fathers — you know, the ones who were smart enough to use the structure of the Iroquois Confederacy to inform the creation of our Constitutional form of government:

On June 11, 1776 while the question of independence was being debated, the visiting Iroquois chiefs were formally invited into the meeting hall of the Continental Congress. There a speech was delivered, in which they were addressed as “Brothers” and told of the delegates’ wish that the “friendship” between them would “continue as long as the sun shall shine” and the “waters run.” The speech also expressed the hope that the new Americans and the Iroquois act “as one people, and have but one heart.” After this speech, an Onondaga chief requested permission to give Hancock an Indian name. The Congress graciously consented, and so the president was renamed “Karanduawn, or the Great Tree.”

With the Iroquois chiefs inside the halls of Congress on the eve of American Independence, the impact of Iroquois ideas on the founders is unmistakable. History is indebted to Charles Thomson, an adopted Delaware, whose knowledge of and respect for American Indians is reflected in the attention that he gave to this ceremony in the records of the Continental Congress.

Now, speaking of those founding fathers:

The Framers derived an independent government out of Enlightenment thinking against the grievances caused by Great Britain. Our Founders paid little heed to political beliefs about Christianity. The 1st Amendment stands as the bulkhead against an establishment of religion and at the same time insures the free expression of any belief. The Treaty of Tripoli, an instrument of the Constitution, clearly stated our non-Christian foundation. We inherited common law from Great Britain which derived from pre-Christian Saxons rather than from Biblical scripture.

[snip]

Although, indeed, many of America’s colonial statesmen practiced Christianity, our most influential Founding Fathers broke away from traditional religious thinking. The ideas of the Great Enlightenment that began in Europe had begun to sever the chains of monarchical theocracy. These heretical European ideas spread throughout early America. Instead of relying on faith, people began to use reason and science as their guide. The humanistic philosophical writers of the Enlightenment, such as Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire, had greatly influenced our Founding Fathers and Isaac Newton’s mechanical and mathematical foundations served as a grounding post for their scientific reasoning.

A few Christian fundamentalists attempt to convince us to return to the Christianity of early America, yet according to the historian, Robert T. Handy,”No more than 10 percent– probably less– of Americans in 1800 were members of congregations.”

The Founding Fathers, also, rarely practiced Christian orthodoxy. Although they supported the free exercise of any religion, they understood the dangers of imposing religion. Most of them believed in deism and attended Freemasonry lodges. According to John J. Robinson, “Freemasonry had been a powerful force for religious freedom.” Freemasons took seriously the principle that men should worship according to their own conscience….

The Constitution reflects our founders views of a secular government, protecting the freedom of any belief or unbelief. The historian, Robert Middlekauff, observed, “the idea that the Constitution expressed a moral view seems absurd. There were no genuine evangelicals in the Convention, and there were no heated declarations of Christian piety.”

How about we let those Founding Fathers of ours speak for themselves about how they feel regarding mixing religion and government:

JOHN ADAMS:
I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved–the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! …in a letter to Thomas Jefferson.

But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed. …in a letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816, 2000 Years of Disbelief, John A. Haught

The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole carloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
Lighthouses are more helpful than churches. ….Poor Richard, 1758

The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason . ….Poor Richard, 1758

When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one. …. 2000 Years of Disbelief, by James A. Haught

Religion I found to be without any tendency to inspire, promote, or confirm morality, serves principally to divide us and make us unfriendly to one another.

THOMAS JEFFERSON
Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are serviley crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God, because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blind faith. …to the Danbury Baptist Association on Jan. 1, 1802;

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and State. ….The Writing of Thoma Jefferson Memorial Edition, edited by Lipscomb and Bergh, 1903-04, 16:281

…the legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. ….Notes on Virginia, Jefferson the President: First Term 1801-1805, Dumas Malon, Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1970, p. 191

…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise..affect their civil capacities. ….”Statute for Religious Freedom”, 1779, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Julron P. Boyd, 1950, 2:546

I could go on and on. But I’m not about to try to teach historical facts to those Righteous people who obviously never got educated beyond what they’ve been told is in the Bible.

No, Righteous, it’s neither me nor my ilk who make other peoples look at this country with hatred and resentment. It’s neither me nor my Blue Brothers and Sisters who treat other cultures, lifestyles, and personal beliefs with such disrespect, misunderstanding, and righteousness that the seeds of potential terrorism are ungraciously fertilized.

My Blue America doesn’t require that everyone believe that the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament are the rule of law of the land. My Blue America requires that every citizen abide by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. In addition to that responsibility, they have the right to embrace the Old Testament and its Ten Commandments, and/or the New Testament teachings of Jesus, or the teachings of Upanishads or the Koran, or the Tao te Ching.

My Blue America does not pretend to be perfect. It does not insist on being Christian.

As the PBS series The Meaning of America explained:

Beyond the symbolism of flag-waving and patriotic cliches lies the heart of American Democracy: our system of personal rights and human dignity. Conceived in rebellion against the absolute right of monarchs, the American revolution asserted that the people are sovereign, that they must be free to speak, to choose their leaders, to pray — or not to pray — as they wish. Messy,highly imperfect and in need of constant maintenance, it is a system that confers on us the priceless gift of human freedom.

Amen, amen, I say to that.

Addenda:
— as one might expect, the email address left by the cowardly Righteous was bogus.
–Much of my original interest in the the legacies left to this country by the Six Nations was stirred up while I worked in the New York State Museum, where the histories of the Hau de no sau nee are preserved and revered. It was there I learned about the status and influence that women, especially older women, held in those Native American communities. Among all of the important democratic legacies of the Six Nations that our American system has discarded is the fundamental role of the Clan Mother, the Crone. Dr. Friedberg explores those legacies in her “Death of Democracy” article (no longer online).
— However, these other pieces by her are available:
http://www.opednews.com/friedberg_111504_media_whitewash.htm
http://www.opednews.com/friedberg_111104_america.htm
— You also might also take a look at a piece written by The One True b!X shortly after the election of George W. Bush, which was the inspiration for my Radical Rosie image/post.
— other relevant posts by b!X (who is becoming an expert on the separation of church and state) can be found among the other pieces here.

Killing the Buddha at Christmas

I am watching the evolution of the third generation of our family’s non-believers. He’s 7 years old now, asking questions like “if everyone has a mother, than shouldn’t the first mother have had a mother.” And so he learns about evolution.

He doesn’t ask about god or the first Christmas. He knows the stories. The various creation stories. The various winter celebration stories. He knows that different people believe different things when it comes to all things “god.”

He’s never been to an actual church service, although he might when my 94 year old Catholic mother finally passes away. He understands death as the final human event, and he participated in our ritual when we sent his grandfather’s ashes into the sea. He understands the power of ritual, apart from its religious associations.

What causes him to wonder, to experience awe, are the questions of science. What makes him feel secure are the roots of family. What sparks his creativity is the vitality of this planet’s various mythologies.

I brought up two compassionate, ethical, moral children (now adults) without a belief in in god. If they feel the awesomeness of the divine around them, it is through the natural world and their connection to it. And through their example and teaching, my grandson is sensing that divine as well.

Some people find comfort in faith. That’s OK. It’s just not us.

But we do find comfort in some cultural traditions. Christmas, for example.

It’s Christmas Eve.

For dinner tonight, we will have beet barszcz and three different kinds of pierogi. My daughter has kept part of the family’s Polish food tradition.

We will open family presents tonight in front of the lit Christmas tree, and Santa will come when we are all asleep and fill our stockings. For us it’s a cultural thing, not a religious. After all, stories of virgin births are a part of almost every cultural mythology.

We will set a place for the absent member of our family, way out in Portland, Oregon, who, we hope, will enjoy the box of gifts we sent out to him.

On Christmas Day, we will go to my son-in-law’s family to continue the feast.

Christmas, Xmas, Yule, Saturnalia, Solstice. We celebrate our family and hope for a future in which we all will thrive.

Merry Christmas.