Morality Doesn’t Come from Religion

I get so frustrated when people imply that those without a religion-centered life are therefore devoid of a moral compass. Stuff and nonsense. I’m not a Christian, and my upbringing wasn’t particularly religious. Yet I believe in the golden rule. I think it’s wrong to kill and steal and lie and behave violently. I’m a law-abiding person, and do my best to do no harm.

Studies have shown (and this article in Scientific American describes) that even babies have compassion, empathy, and the beginnings of a sense of what’s fair. These things are within them long before any religious instruction is instilled. There’s even evidence that empathy has a genetic component.

Another article, in Psychology Today, posits the theory that we have a rigid moral code because that signals to the world that we are trustworthy. Trustworthiness, in kind, gets others to cooperate with us. Cooperation is how we’re able to survive. So those with a moral code are more likely to survive and pass on their genes than those who do not. That makes perfect sense to me.

What does not make sense to me is the belief that if I don’t hold your exact spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof for that matter), there’s something wrong or evil about me. The sense of right and wrong is a universal trait. And yes, there are people out there who are horrible and selfish and commit atrocities. It’s been my experience that some of these claim to be religious and others do not.

Horrible things have happened in the name of religion. Horrible things have also happened simply because that person was fundamentally a douchebag. It is what it is.

Golden-Rule-1

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The Whistleblower

People seem shocked that the Republicans are calling for the exposure of whistleblower that started the current impeachment investigation. I’m not. People hate those who blow the whistle on their team. I know this because I’ve blown a whistle or two in my lifetime. It never went well for me.

The idea that this whistleblower is some sort of a rat, or a troublemaker, or a liar, is outrageous. I think this person is a hero. Anyone who sees something that’s morally, ethically or legally suspect, and speaks up about it despite all possible repercussions, is admirable. It takes courage.

And make no mistake, this person is not dictating what happens with the information he or she put forward. That person simply identified a situation that seemed wrong, brought it to the proper authorities, and those authorities are now in charge of investigating those allegations. It’s that simple.

That the Republicans are trying to imply that keeping this person’s identity a secret is some nefarious conspiracy by the Democrats is absurd. It’s. The. LAW. And for good reason. If you start exposing whistleblowers, then no one will have the courage to speak up when they see things that they feel are wrong.

And, lest we forget, just about every allegation that the whistleblower has made has been corroborated by other witnesses. So what’s the point in exposing the whistleblower?

I’ll tell you the point. The Republicans are anxious to have a scapegoat to deflect attention from the questionable behavior of Trump. They can’t afford to have us look at Trump too closely at the moment. We might notice that the emperor has no clothes.

whistleblower

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We Have Always Had Needs

Recently, I stumbled across an article entitled “12th-Century Poem About A Virgin Arguing With Her Vulva Uncovered in Austrian Monastery”. I ask you, how could one not be intrigued? I had to read more.

It seems that this is the oldest known copy of this satire, but it is not the only one that has been found. In it, a woman is debating with her vulva about what attracts men more, it, or the woman’s general physical appearance. (I don’t think that question has been answered definitively, even all these centuries later.)

What fascinates me most about this poem is that there was obviously a frank discussion about sexuality even back in the 12th Century. We seem to hold two contradicting notions in our head: Ancient peoples were devoid of morals and self-control, whereas we are more sophisticated (read: prudish) now. But at the same time, we look back at past history, at least in the European, Christian sense, and tend to believe that humans have become more open, less conservative, over time. Clearly neither theory tells the whole story.

I also remember reading an article (which I can no longer find) about a wooden dildo that was found hidden up inside a fireplace niche in Colonial Williamsburg. Well, the “hidden” aspect of it implies there was a source of shame there, but its existence confirms that people have always had needs, and were willing to get creative to fulfill them.

If you look at art through the centuries, you’ll see that there has always been a fascination with genitalia. Most historians nervously attribute these things to fertility, the need to procreate, and take the sexuality out of it.

Hmph.

According to this article, sex toys have been found that date back 28,000 years. So who’s to say that fertility statues weren’t also used for pleasure and visual titillation? I mean, come on. Most of us appreciate a little stimulation now and again. Do we really think pornography originated in the 1900’s? Do we think the more artistic depictions of all things taboo began with Georgia O’Keefe?

We also seem to want to quash the fact that once upon a time, women were considered powerful by more than just those of us who are woke. (Women can create men inside their own bodies. The reverse cannot ever be claimed. That’s magical.)

This article discusses a variety of artistic depictions of female genitalia, including sculptures of the sacred yoni in Hindu art, Venus figurines that are at least 35,000 years old, and Sheela-na-gig carvings of women with exaggerated vulvas that are found throughout Europe.

Further, Baubo figurines were popular in ancient Greece. They were often depicted as a naked headless body with a female face emerging from the torso, and a vulva on the chin. Hmmm.

In the Palauan archipelago, one could often find Dilukai, or carvings of women with their legs splayed open, above the doors of the houses of the chiefs. These were said to be sacred carvings to ward off evil, and symbolize fertility and spiritual rebirth. But missionaries tried to claim they were there to shame immoral women. (I suspect that what went on in the chief’s house had little to do with lessons in morality.)

It is even said that the Vesica Piscis, an almond-shaped symbol that appears all over the place throughout history, including in the ancient Christian fish symbol, is actually a depiction of the female vaginal source of creation.

Personally, I see no reason to cast shame upon those who believe in the sacred female, nor should we feel shame about the body parts that have allowed all of us to walk upon this earth, nor in the urges that have caused us to make use of said body parts. More power to us all.

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A 12th-century Sheela Na Gig on a Church in Kilpeck, Herefordshire, England

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Money Trumps Morals

It sounds like the beginning of a really bad joke. “Jamal Khashoggi walks into the Saudi Arabian Consulate…” But the punch line isn’t very funny. He never walks out again.

The Saudis tried to claim that he did leave, but there is no evidence of this happening on any of the cameras in the area. And Khashoggi’s fiancé was waiting outside for him. It’s not like he’d wander off and leave her. Not willingly. I mean, come on.

Khashoggi entered the consulate in Istanbul simply to get the proper paperwork to marry his Turkish bride to be. But he had also been in self-imposed exile in America, because he was a reporter that had been critical of the Saudi government. He had been working for the Washington Post.

Apparently that same day he went to the consulate, 15 Saudi operatives flew into town and wound up there. Their cohort included one autopsy expert, who was, according to NPR, complete with (shudder) a bone saw. Then these 15 men flew away again, with several new suitcases in tow. Khashoggi has not been seen or heard from since. I hope that in this case one plus one doesn’t equal two, but I have my suspicions.

In light of all this, Trump says we’ll be looking into it, but that he thinks stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia is a bad idea, because it would hurt a lot of American jobs. Maybe we can do some other type of sanctions. We’ll see. But not arms.

What does it take, exactly, for morals to trump money? I mean, it was Saudi citizens who where the main players in 9/11, and yet they remained our allies. Now they can play a very sketchy role in the disappearance of a reporter who currently works for an American newspaper, but hey, let’s not stop selling them arms. Oh, no. We can’t do that. Perhaps a slap on the wrist is what’s needed.

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi

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That’s Acting

I am always shocked when I remember that Charlton Heston, the star of two of the most liberal movies ever made, the original Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green, went on to become the poster child for what I believe to be the most conservative, warped and corrupt organization in America: The National Rifle Association. I mean, how do you promote one belief system and yet espouse another? I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Bill Cosby also springs to mind. On screen he was the quintessential family man. That was his brand. But in reality he was a sexual predator. The moral tension between what you do and who you are in these situations must be exhausting, unless you’re a psychopath.

But actors aren’t the only ones who act. Diplomats definitely have to do it, as do politicians, if they hope for any type of occupational success. Lawyers, too, along with every director of a human resource department on the face of the earth.

How do you people sleep at night? I would be up at all hours, trying to reconcile the dichotomy of my life. I can’t even stand it when someone within my orbit behaves like that. I can’t abide fake people. I think they’re evil.

Unfortunately, we need diplomats and politicians and lawyers and personnel directors. I suppose I should be happy that there are people out there who are willing to act. I would hate to take on those dirty jobs myself.

So, if you are devoid of integrity, never fear. There’s a place in this crazy world for you, too.

Charleton Heston

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The Stink Eye

In order to get to my designated parking space here at work on the drawbridge, I have to drive along the bike lane for the whole length of the movable span. Most people are used to this, or don’t care. But every once in a while someone gives me a dirty look. And in Seattle, dirty looks seem to come with disapproving head shakes.

Do they apologize when they finally realize I’m parking? No. Never. That would be tantamount to admitting that they behaved as pompous know-it-alls when in fact they know nothing about the situation. We can’t have that, now, can we?

Come to think of it, glares, as a general rule, are pretty arrogant. They mean, “I think I have the right to sit in judgment.” They mean, “I think I make the rules.” Or worse, “I am the social norms police.”

And giving someone the stink eye rarely achieves your goal. It just makes people think, “A$$hole. Who do you think you are?” And then they continue doing whatever it was they were doing. So, congratulations for setting off a negative energy domino effect. Do you feel better now?

It must be awfully stressful to believe that you have to be society’s moral enforcer. Me, I have a hard enough time keeping myself in line. The last thing I need is to have to control total strangers, too.

Here’s an idea: Mind your own business. I don’t care who you are. The stink eye is never a good look.

Stink Eye

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Transformations

I have always been fascinated by transformations. The shedding of skin. Caterpillars to butterflies. Pollywogs to bullfrogs. Puppies and kittens to dogs and cats. Aging and maturing and the passage of time in all its many forms.

There is something beautiful about becoming who you were always meant to be. For some reason, in humans this often comes with criticism and judgment and moral outrage. How dare you turn out in a way I didn’t expect? How dare you stake your claim on gender A when I want you to be gender B? Why can’t you be like your older brother/sister/celebrity of the week? You should have been a doctor, not a dancer. You’ll snap out of it. You’ll change your mind. Get a haircut, hippie.

It’s all such a monumental waste of time when you think about it. Healthy human beings tend to know, deep down, who they are, and like butterflies, they expend a great deal of effort to struggle out of their cocoons. You can’t fight city hall, so to speak. If you wrap a cocoon in duct tape, it won’t keep that creature a caterpillar. It will kill it.

Yes, you can learn. Yes, you can and probably should be morally influenced. No matter who you are or who you become, learning respect is important. Sharing and generosity and compassion and common decency are paramount. These are the qualities that allow you to successfully share this planet with others.

But who you are at the very core is something only you can know. Your path to your becoming can’t be dictated by others. It’s up to you. And it’s the most important job you will ever have.

Be the best you that you can be. If you do that, everything else will fall into place. Namaste.

Transforming

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“It’s How I Was Raised.”

I was remembering a conversation I once had with a coworker when I worked for the Florida Department of Transportation. We were doing highway inspections out in the middle of nowhere. I mean, there was nothing or no one around for miles except fields of potatoes, and for some reason he chose that moment to say something really racist.

I had to call bullsh**, as I am wont to do in these situations. I don’t know why I bother. It never ends well. But I can’t just sit back and let ignorance like that pass.

“Dude, I can’t believe you just said that. I can’t believe you believe it, let alone say it out loud.”

“I can’t help it. It’s how I was raised. I was taught—”

“Excuse me? You’re a freakin’ ADULT!!!  You don’t have to march in lock step with your parents. You’re not a potato. You don’t have to stay where you’re planted.  You’re not a stupid man. You get to decide what your morals and values are. I’d find it refreshing if you took ownership of your hate, and stopped blaming your parents for it. It would be even more refreshing if you got a clue.”

It was a long, quiet ride back to the office. Did it do any good? Probably not. But some things just have to be said.

potato field

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Inherited Wealth

Recently, on my online newsfeed, I saw an article that asked the readers if it is ethical to pass your wealth on to your children. I confess, I didn’t read it. Why would I? It’s not a problem that I’ll ever have. My parents didn’t have much money to pass on to me, and I don’t have any children. Problem solved.

But I did think about the issue from a philosophical standpoint during my next long commute. Naturally, Donald Trump sprang to mind. I’m convinced that the only reason he has money today is because daddy gave him obscene amounts of money to begin with. Donald Trump is barely literate and has no people skills whatsoever, and how many times has he declared bankruptcy? There’s no way he’d have been a self-made millionaire. The world would be a much safer and healthier place if his father hadn’t given him that leg up.

But on the other hand, it’s the average parent’s instinct to try to make his or her children’s lives better than the preceding generation’s. Who are we to deny them that? It’s their wealth. (Well… it is and it isn’t. I’ll save that particular rant for another day.) They can do with it whatever they choose.

Having said that, though, I feel the need to point out that with wealth comes power. If you’re giving your child power that that child hasn’t earned, then you bear a responsibility to make sure your kid is worthy of that power. (Trump’s father never did that, and now we are all paying the price. Lucky us.)

It’s every parent’s duty to instill a strong moral compass in children. They need to grasp laws and ethics and morals. They should understand the need for, and frequently practice, philanthropy. They must possess a certain level of compassion and kindness. Above all, they should have respect for others. With such an unequal balance of power being presented to them on a silver platter, they must be taught to avoid the impulse to grab things (or people) that don’t belong to them.

If little rich kids don’t have these qualities (and unfortunately many do not), then giving them an enormous nest egg on which to lounge is a disservice to the human race. Sheltering them from the real world, and coddling them from life, only produces cruel, dangerous, psychopathic individuals. The last thing these warped individuals need is for you to throw power, in the form of big sweaty wads of cash, into the mix. It creates a toxic stew.

inherited

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Contaminated Connections

I remember sitting on my couch with an old friend in Florida. We were having a pleasant chat, just as we had done dozens of times before. Then he looked out the screen door toward the park across the street and said something disgusting and hateful and racist about the guys who were playing basketball therein. I refuse to taint my blog by repeating it.

I could tell he meant what he said to the very marrow of his bones, and I was horrified. In that instant, reality shifted for me. I had never heard this man talk like that before. It wasn’t part of my truth about him. And yet, I could tell that in that instant his mask had fallen away, and I was seeing the real ugliness inside him.

And the weird thing was, he knew I’d seen it. As I sat there with my jaw hanging open, he got up, walked out of my house, and I never saw or heard from him again. I was relieved.

Normally, if I think someone is acting out of character, I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I try to get at the root of the aberrant behavior. I try to explain why I am feeling the way I feel about it. I try to salvage the relationship. But some things are just a bit too revealing about a person’s basic values. Some things cannot be undone.

It’s not as if we were expressing opposing views about Brussels sprouts. This was major. Some things you can’t simply agree to disagree about. Not if you value your own integrity.

It’s hard to maintain a friendship with someone when you lose respect for that person. It alters the context of every interaction you’ve ever had or ever will have. The foundation crumbles, and the whole structure collapses like a house of cards.

I had a similar reaction when a female coworker, upon discovering that an 11 year old girl had been sexually abused, said, “Well, she must have wanted it.”

After my head exploded, we did our best to avoid each other from then on. There’s no recovering from that. It just says too much about the person that you are, deep, deep down, where it matters most. It says too much about the way you view the world and the people in it.

It’s sad to lose a friend. But it’s heartbreaking to discover that the friend you thought you had never really existed in the first place. Fortunately, these situations are rare. I’m glad to say that I haven’t had an experience like this in years. Maybe I’m becoming a better judge of character with time. But unfortunately, to have a healthy home, sometimes you have to take out the garbage.

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