Teachability & Superstition

Probably not blogging journaling much for a while. Big writing assignment ahead. Will still be reading my favorite bloggers here and there. Mortimer Adler gets the last word on microclesia.com – for a while. On “teachability” Teachability is often confused with subservience. A person is wrongly thought to be teachable if he is passive and pliable. On the contrary, teachability is an extremely active virtue. No one is really teachable who does not freely exercise his power of independent judgment. She can be trained, perhaps, but not taught. The most teachable reader is, therefore, the most critical. He is the reader who finally responds to a book by the greatest effort to make up his own mind on the matters the author has discussed. Religious community often defines its success on conformity. Sacred texts sometimes echo this ideal to be of “one accord.” But for any community to be of “one mind” (one healthy mind) it’s essential that each individual fully engages the mind they were given ” continually wresting with paradox, forming better questions, and dreaming bigger dreams. Creative, independent thinkers assure that community bonds remain healthy and strong. Adler, who embraced Christian faith later in life, further echoes my own perceptions on religion and superstition. The prevalence and predominance of science in our culture has cured a great many of the superstitious beliefs that constituted their false religiosity. The increase of secularism and irreligion in our society does not reflect a decrease in the number of persons who are truly religious, but a decrease in the number of those who are falsely religious; that is, merely superstitious. There is no question but that science is the cure for superstition, and, if given half the chance with education, it will reduce the amount that exists. The truths of religion must [ultimately] be compatible with the truths of science and the truths of philosophy. As scientific knowledge advances, and as philosophical analysis improves, religion is progressively purified of the superstitions that accidentally attach themselves to it as parasites. That being so, it is easier in fact to be more truly religious today than ever before, precisely because of the advances that have been made in science and philosophy. That is to say, it is easier for those who will make the effort to think clearly in and about religion, not for those whose addiction to religion is nothing more than a slavish adherence to inherited superstition. Throughout the whole of the past, only a small number of men were ever truly religious. The vast majority who gave their epochs and their societies the appearance of being religious were primarily and essentially superstitious. — Mortimer  

Cultural Creatives

Toronto-based management guru Richard Florida (along with Ray, et al) has identified a Creative Class which he believes is the driving force behind most social change. In a variation on the 80-20 Rule, he argues that about 1/3 of the population drives most knowledge-based developments. He further proposes that about 1 in 3 of these creatives (roughly 10 % of any population) are the “core innovators.” Florida has his detractors, and his theory may have its weaknesses, but one thing remains true: certain types of people are more inclined to be change agents, while others are happier living within the status-quo. Call them what you will, cultural creatives are the catalyst behind most scientific and philosophical change that has occurred throughout history. But not all communities encourage the creative. Consider China’s Cultural Revolution. Artists, free-thinkers, dangerous academics ‘core creatives’ were sent off to labor camps where they could be ‘reprogrammed’ to think and act within the boundaries of acceptable political orthodoxy. Religion is another example. Let’s call it the “clergy class” the roughly 1 in 100 within religious communities who act as paid professionals. The 1% clergy class effectively sets agenda and defines the boundaries of its community. I would suggest that our inherited 1% religious models routinely suppress their 10% core creatives. My impression is that the 10%-core learns to adjust (survive?) within religious structures by not venturing too far beyond well-defined ecclesial parameters. Those who have risked beyond the boundaries frequently become casualties of the system marginalized by religious tradition. It’s also my impression that, when viewed from the pages of history, the role of religious out-grouping almost always appears somewhere on a scale between ridiculous and barbaric (think inquisitions, stake burnings, etc.). The emergence of virtual community, the virtual ecclesia, will radically change global religion in part because creatives-of-faith now have direct access to community formation. In virtuality, the 10% creative core no longer needs permission from 1% structural gatekeepers. In virtuality, ideas live and die not by their ability to further institutional mandates, but by their inherent value to the greater community. The old guards at religion’s gate are being rendered irrelevant. No longer must core creatives repress or dilute their unique gifts among spiritual community. And no longer can religious institution marginalize the creative. A virtual free-market of ideas assures that deep, generative change is underway. Tomorrow’s generations will usher in these changes organically, not as protest, but as an outgrowth of their virtually-connected lives and communities — a natural progression which reflects a spirituality of radical inclusion rather than religious out-grouping.  

Facebook Hunter-Gatherers

Br. Paulus Terwitte, Franciscan monk and Gestalt therapist takes the stage at TED UK today (at first glance at the picture, I thought it was Steve Jobs). He reminds us that virtual technologies can never replace F2F human engagement, and that Facebook is a form of primitive hunter-gatherer behavior. In some respects, I think he’s spot on. As always, it depends on our intentionality in virtual engagement. I have a great number of thoughts, both inspired and critical, of Br Teriwtte’s TED Talk summary. But I’m out the door today to produce an orchestral recording for NPR in the Napa Valley.  So.. another time. Looking forward to viewing Br. Terwitte’s TEDTalk when it is released on video, and kudos to Chris and Bruno for inviting the meditative theologian to the TED stage. From the TED blog: …………………. Brother Paulus Terwitte takes the stage and immediately confronts the two questions he says everyone always asks. The first is, “Are you a real monk?” When he asked that, his usual reply is “Are you real?” The second is: “What do you do?” His answer to that one is, “Nothing.” He says that he does nothing because he wants to find the answer to the most important question in life, one that you can read on the first page of the Bible. We still don’t know what this question is, so he tells us that there’s a little machine used all over the world to remind us of this question — it’s the cell phone that everybody calls to say “Where are you?” And that was what God asked, “Adam, where are you?” Brother Terwitte asks, “Where are you with your thoughts and your feelings? Are you at home or all over the world?” He says that he was talking to someone the other day, when their phone rang, and the person took his mobile and walked away. It happens all the time, he notes. The phone rings, in the middle of dinner, in the middle of sharing ideas and people go away like the President is calling. Brother Terwitte says he eventually left the area after five minutes of waiting on this person, thinking he must not be so important. He says that he spends three hours of an organized, scheduled doing nothing every day at his monastery. He explains that they want to find the inner voice of their being, and that every man wants to find the inner sense of things. We all want to get the whole world in our hands, he says, and you have to decide how you (read  

The Epoch of Human Isolation

Eye-opening reality check today on the power of global-virtual community and its ability to obsolete dominant paradigms. One of the featured musical artists at TED UK this week is Imogen Heap. From Thomas Dolby’s blog, The second morning featured a great performance by Imogen Heap. She’s performed at TED before, but that was 4 years ago with Frou Frou and her former partner Guy Sigsworth before she was doing all the technology herself. In the interim she’s become a phenomenon of the Internet music era. She’s never cracked the Billboard charts, or been on the cover of Rolling Stone; yet she’s spent over 18 months at #1 in the iTunes electronica downloads, and she has over 3/4 million followers on Twitter. When she wants to do a public appearance she just calls for a flash mob, and an hour later there’s a line around the block. When I consider global spirituality, this is the kind of community I envision – connected not by institutional channels, but via the art itself, via shared dreams and the organic intentionality of hearts in rhythm. Virtuality transforms command-and-control structures (whether Billboard Charts or hierarchical religious models) into flattened, distributed communites – like Imogen’s self-organizing fan base. This profound generational shift in our understanding of gathering (religious, artistic, etc.) will very likely propel a new era of spirituality defined by shared servant leadership, all gifts in common (crowd-sourced vs. CEO-pastor-expert-focused), and a more intimate / fluid understanding of Spirit exemplified by the liquid nature of virtuality “never static, always becoming.” The epoch of human isolation is coming to a close. A collective reality is unfolding, not enforced by clerical mandate or papal decree, but as a rich expression of the Spirit unencumbered by material centralization or institutional  

The End of the Sermon

Antoine at MMM asks, “How Do Faith-Based Organizations Respond to Increasingly Mobile-Connected Members and Communities?” His question echoes a central dynamic shaping not just religion, but all social organization going forward. How do faith-based organizations respond to virtuality? The hardest part may be convincing the community that there’s a good reason to sit and stare at a stage, listening to a religious lecture. The virtually-connected faithful now have on-line access to the finest religious teachers imaginable, accessible at their convenience, 7 x 24 x 365. Of what value is physically proximate information (e.g., stage-centric priests and pastors) when the average adherent can now access the best sermons and cross-referenced commentary on-line? Finding better information elsewhere, the virtually-connected community will restructure their physical gatherings to really connect and be present with each other like they do on-line all week long. When this happens, pastors can step off the stage and interact with people. Gifted teachers can teach in smaller groups where true interactivity can take place. Intimate, organic F2F gathering becomes the central focus, not a mid-week breakout session. Why would anyone spend time sitting passively (“alone together”) in an audience to hear a comparatively mediocre religious talk when far better material is available on-line? We all have something to contribute. We are not consumers, we are participants. A virtuality-connected community (which is everyone in my son’s generation) will increasingly mimic their on-line engagement in F2F gatherings. I believe this signals the end of the monologue church era. “Church” is redefined, in part, from a place of one-way information transfer to a distributed, interactive gathering which fosters authentic collaboration in many ways mirroring the multi-way virtual experience. Is it the end of the religious sermon? Likely not. And certainly there is a place for the stage. But generational changes in social networking assure that a profound shift is underway. And this gives me great hope for a virtual reformation in the way we live and connect as a glocal community. ADDED: thanks to Scot McKnight for reprinting this  

Be Not Conformed

Czech president Vaclav Havel and other dissidents began to ask, ‘How can we live the truth in a culture based on a fundamental lie, especially since the lie is in our heads? How can we begin to live into the truth? We desire so much more than just things. We want something to hope in, a reason to believe.So in his country as in other iron-curtain countries, people began to set up what he called ‘parallel cultures.’ They had underground study groups. They studied Plato. They had drama. They had music groups. They wrote novels and poetry, and published them underground.It was not a counterculture because, he said, it was impossible for us to live totally outside the system. You cannot live outside a culture. But you can create within it zones and spaces, where you can become who you really are. It is in such places that one can speak the truth, where one can gather with others who share that truth. This went on for years, not without difficulties, but for years. Over time, the truth became stronger and stronger, and at a certain point people began to walk in the streets and to say to the system, ‘We don’t believe you anymore.’ And the system fell. It fell, not because of the power of Western nuclear equipment, but because the people said within the system, ‘We don’t believe you anymore.’ It was a vision that had been nourished within those parallel cultures. – Mary Jo Leddy, excerpts from essay in Confident Witness–Changing  

How About a Hug?

The New York Times reports today on an increase in hugging among teens. The article’s author, Sarah Kershaw, says this: Some parents find it paradoxical that a generation so steeped in hands-off virtual communication would be so eager to hug. Fascinating. This observation speaks to something I’ve recognized among my son’s peer group, as well as adult friends involved in on-line community formation. Virtual tools are keeping us more connected, not less. Our face-to-face community is enhanced by staying in virtual contact when we’re not physically together. The synergy of combined F2F and virtual community is proving to be far more generative than one without the other. The question is not “should I use social technology.” The question is “how do I integrate technology in a healthy, balanced manner that positively augments personal and communal experience.” A seamless social interplay of virtuality and physicality has become second nature to our kids – the digital natives. Why not  

The Limitations of Nature

What follows is my response to a friend – sparked by the premise of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. Classical economic theory is failing us. Granted, when taken as a percentage, more people have access to adequate nutrition, clean water, and shelter than 50 years ago. But in absolute terms, the number of hungry people has been steadily increasing with the population boom. Freidman-based economics is not organic – it misses the holism of life in favor of a myopic assumption that pure markets are the best regulator of culture. This places core power into the hands of corporatists, whose legal mandate is to maximize wealth at the expense of all other social metrics. It’s imbalanced, but greed is a powerful force – Friedman and his ideological predecessors legitimized it. Social studies show that people don’t really need much to be happy. What we need as a world people is access to healthy food, clean water, basic hygiene, and protection from the elements. As it is, a large percentage of the world does not have access to these basic needs. Any social system that doesn’t provide for universal basics is a failure…. which brings up the conversation on universal health care. The problem with UHC is one of scale. Health is now equated with a massively expensive Friedman-based economic system. For a price, we can do any known medical procedure. But is that wise? i think we need to re-define basic health care in light of this. That said, you can’t artificially prevent the creative spirit. This was Mao’s #1 mistake – trying to force culture into artificial common denominators. People need psychic freedom to flourish, to reflect their creativities and celebrate their differences and diversities, and those with the most to contribute should be rewarded in a free-market manner. It’s not like Friedman needs to be abandoned – just balanced with real-world empathy and compassions. Corporations can NOT run the show any longer, nor can centralized politics. I think we’re entering into an era of global participation where new social paradigms can flourish. But old systems die hard and those with power don’t let go without struggle. Maybe Klein’s thesis is better called “the denial doctrine,” for no matter how clear and concise her (and others’) warnings, the vast majority of civil culture will continue to ignore the obvious and be satisfied with apathy and trend. I’m a student of religion and it’s where I see these social dynamics at work clearly. There are natural groupings of social trends, and virtually -all- of them follow the bell curve. We’re living in the most complex, fastest changing, new paradigm creating, mass-dangerous time in history. And no matter what politics or economic theory we propose, energy (as commodity) will continue to pull the strings behind the curtain, for it is the foundation of all contemporary economic and political theory, and has been since world populations sextupled entirely from access to an “unlimited” new source of cheap energy. The choice is no longer between free-market capitalism and centralized socialism. Most of us agree that “government ownership of the means to production” is dead (except maybe in Cuba and N. Korea). The tension is now to find an economic system which is sustainable within a finite system. Thirty years ago, University of Maryland professor Herman Daly proposed an economic model called “Steady State Economics” – the Peer To Peer Foundation calls SSE “a P2P-informed approach in which non-human life, future generations, and ‘nature’ are taken as partners, from which no more can be taken, than its ability to regenerate itself.” This is where we need to be focused – a free-market system sensitive to the limitations of nature, where profit is encouraged yet balanced with all stakeholders, not just shareholders. An analogy might be drawn here to spiritual community. Institutional religious power-centers are starting to be replaced by P2P, participatory communities. It’s a small movement now, but as new generations embrace virtual connectivity, ecclesia will be thoroughly reconstructed via direct relationships, while religions of layered mediation will fade into  

Laptop Orchestra

Last year, one of our interns was accepted into the CCRMA masters program at Stanford — the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. This weekend I received an e-mail from him pointing me to videos of a new CCRMA project called the Stanford Laptop Orchestra. “SLORK” is a large-scale, computer-mediated ensemble that explores cutting-edge technology in combination with conventional musical contexts – while radically transforming both. Founded in 2008 by director Ge Wang and students, faculty, and staff at CCRMA, the ensemble requires more than 20 laptops, human performers, controllers, and custom multi-channel speaker arrays (all designed and built by CCRMA grad students) to provide each computer meta-instrument with its own identity and presence. From the SLORK website: The orchestra fuses a powerful sea of sound with the immediacy of human music-making, capturing the irreplaceable energy of a live ensemble performance as well as its sonic intimacy and grandeur. At the same time, it leverages the computer’s precision, possibilities for new sounds, and potential for fantastical automation to provide a boundary-less sonic canvas on which to experiment with, create, and perform music. Offstage, the ensemble serves as a one-of-a-kind learning environment that explores music, computer science, composition, and live performance in a naturally interdisciplinary way. SLOrk uses the ChucK programming language as its primary software platform for sound synthesis/analysis, instrument design, performance, and education. This intern came to my attention at an Audio Engineering Society conference some time ago. I was one of three judges in the “Student Design Competition” (one of the other judges was the late Bob Moog, largely credited as the father of commercial music synthesizers.) His student project was a MIDI controlled car using electronic bagpipes as the controller. The SLORK project gives us a glimpse into the direction of music, and future community dynamics in general. Sound, composition, ensemble, orchestration – virtual collaboration changes everything. Just as the modern orchestra is largely a product of the last 500 years (renaissance, reformation, industrial age), I think future music will be defined by the emergence of real-time global collaboration and virtual modeling. Spiritual community, I believe, will be impacted  

Playing on the Seashore

A few days ago, I blogged a demographic survey of TED Conference attendees. There’s a buffet of 65 categories — you’re given a choice of 10. Very few selected any kind of religious affiliation (e.g., Christian 1.6%, Jewish 1.9%, Buddhist 1.6%, etc.). You’ll need to create a TED account to access profiles. You can create your own TED profile here. While few conclusions can be drawn from this, it brings up some interesting questions. We know that over 80% of the world’s adult population considers themselves religious or spiritual in some manner. This percentage holds true for the U.S.A., as well, with roughly 76% calling themselves Christian and another 10 million or so divided between Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, spiritual-but-not-religious, etc.. TED’s presenters tend to exhibit a high concentration of academic rigor. Bill Gates once commented, “I wasn’t prepared for this conference to be so profound. The combined IQ of the attendees is incredible”. Based on the TED demographic data, one might be tempted to conclude that increasing academic focus correlates with decreasing interest in religion or spirituality. A while back, I looked into the correlation of academics on spiritual orientation. I was surprised to find a number of studies available, the most rigorous of which is UCLA’s Spirituality and the Professorate: A National Study of Faculty Beliefs, Attitudes, and Behaviors. The UCLA study surveyed over 40,000 faculty members at 421 colleges and universities, seeking to characterize the role of religion and spirituality in their personal lives. The results? Commensurate with world and national averages, 81% of professors considered themselves a “spiritual person” and 70% describe themselves as “religious.” The 40,000+ academics were then asked if their spiritual life has a place in the academy. A significant percentage said yes, though weighting varied by discipline with roughly 50% of hard scientists and 60% in humanities answering in the affirmative. In another study, 2,000 medical doctors were surveyed about their spiritual life. Nearly 80% of MD’s were found to maintain an active spirituality and 90% said they attend religious services at least occasionally. In yet another recent study, professors at elite doctoral-granting schools were seen to be more skeptical of spirituality than professors at other schools. But even among the most elite academies, over 60% affirmed a personal faith or active spirituality (belief in God, a higher power, etc..). The Ecklund Study released May 2010, claims that “the ‘insurmountable hostility’ between science and religion is a caricature, a thought-cliche, perhaps useful as a satire on group-think, but hardly representative of reality.” While a person gifted with greater reasoning capacity may exhibit finer nuance in their understanding of spirituality, a growing body of recent studies show that elevated intellect and advanced academic training has little influence on a persons religious/spiritual inclinations. Spiritual belief and practice, as abstraction, remains generally constant throughout the intellectual spectrum. (As an aside, the Harvard study also noted that an overwhelming majority [95%] of university faculty did not consider Intelligent Design a serious alternative to Darwinian evolution. Despite a small vocal group of ID proponents, most today acknowledge the profound evidence (genomics, etc.) to support some manner of evolution. I personally see great beauty, design, and a kind of “natural intelligence” in biological evolution. Our universe remains no less a mystery and miracle in its ability to evolve. A far more interesting conversation is focusing on the origin of life itself — the seemingly spontaneous appearance of RNA and proteins roughly three billion years ago. A significant community of evolutionary scientists remains unmoved by the hypothesis of spontaneous appearance [via lightning, etc] of RNA.) One paper noted that in surveys of leading academies (such as the National Academy of Science) there is a significant decrease in public acknowledgment of spiritual or religious association. As the Harvard and UCLA studies infer, such data is likely biased by peer pressures of the academy and other elite in-groupings. I’ll call it the TED Effect. Clearly, many top academics are taking a “don’t ask, don’t tell” position for fear of career reprisal. Recent books from authors such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have led many to conclude that virtually all scientists are anti-spiritual, yet major academic surveys show just the opposite to be true:  a prominent majority of academics embrace some manner of spirituality. Physicist, astronomer, and atheist Marcelo Gleiser (Dartmouth) weighed in recently on the war between science and religion. He warns fellow scientists that they are becoming “as radical as the religious extremists, as inflexible and intolerant as the movements we seek to exterminate by our oh-so-crystal-clear-and-irresistibly-compelling rationalizations”. Gleiser admits that science cannot offer humanly essential qualities such as hope, peace, charity, and compassion. He concludes, “It is futile and naive to simply dismiss the need people have for spirituality — either science will teach us humility and respect for life or we will exterminate this most precious cosmic jewel. I am optimistic that scientists will teach people these lessons, instead of simply trying to rob them of their faith and offering nothing in return.” This blog exists, in part, because of my desire to see greater consilience between science/technology and spirituality. Numerous science / spirit resources can be found in the sidebar. I’ll conclude this long post with an excerpt from quantum physicist Freeman Dyson’s 2002 NYT book review. I share many of Dyson’s wonderful thoughts on the interplay of spirit and science and I encourage you to read the entire review. I am myself a Christian, a member of a community that preserves an ancient heritage of great literature and great music, provides help and counsel to young and old when they are in trouble, educates children in moral responsibility, and worships God in its own fashion. But I find Polkinghorne’s theology altogether too narrow for my taste. I have no use for a theology that claims to know the answers to deep questions but bases its arguments on the beliefs of a single tribe. I am a practicing Christian but not a believing Christian. To me, to worship God means to recognize that mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that altogether surpasses our comprehension. When I listen to Polkinghorne describing the afterlife, I think of God answering Job out of the whirlwind, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?… Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding…. Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? Or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?” God’s answer to Job is all the theology I need. As a scientist, I live in a universe of overwhelming size and mystery. The mysteries of life and language, good and evil, chance and necessity, and of our own existence as conscious beings in an impersonal cosmos are even greater than the mysteries of physics and astronomy. Behind the mysteries that we can name, there are deeper mysteries that we have not even begun to explore. Little has changed since Newton said this: I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. The potentialities of life and intelligence in the universe go far beyond anything that we have imagined. Religion and science should both begin by recognizing the vastness of the ocean of truth and the pettiness of our search for smoother pebbles. Or, as the Sufi poet Rumi would remind us, “Sell your cleverness and buy