Post; the latest.


The Cascade Ranges (sometimes referred to as Eastern and Western, and sometimes as Old and New) have thousands of rock formations that consist of magma which hardened underground and was exposed when the surrounding rock eroded away. Like nearly all of them, Symbol Rock (pictured) sits quietly to itself, for that which would be the centerpiece of a park in most places is commonplace in Oregon. Indeed, Symbol Rock and dozens—if not scores—of similar formations can be found within fifty miles of here, although few people know of them because few people venture into the wilderness.

As was true elsewhere in America, most of Oregon’s indigenous peoples died of European diseases without having ever seen a European, the diseases being introduced by a relatively few pre-settlement explorers, traders, and missionaries. This makes it impossible to know what the original Americans thought of most intrusions, but they generally regarded impressive natural features as possessing healing powers, and they created anthropomorphic myths to explain the origins of such features. I believe that natural features (along with art, music, friendship, literature, placeboes, and various other things) can indeed heal people, but I have no thought that tales of warring spirits or trickster coyotes are relevant to explaining their existence. For this, we must turn to science.

Many western Oregonians would disagree because the region is attractive to those who take a mystical view. Many of them view both science and mythology as nothing more than culturally-based interpretations of nature, with science being inferior to mythology in that its mechanistic outlook, its human centeredness, and its faith in reason and evidence, deny the possibility of a spirit realm and therefore of ordained purpose. My animus toward such people comes from the fact that they take obvious advantage of the fruits of the science that they profess to hate while the fruits of the spirituality that they profess to love remain anything but obvious. Indeed, I think their claim to heightened respect, insight, sensitivity, compassion, and morality, are simply the products of their narcissistic imaginations. Our one area of agreement is that we both view the dominant forms of Western religion as wicked and depraved.

At the one end, in our Western world, there lie the beliefs and practices of those whom I have referred to, people who embrace such titles as pagan, spiritual, and mystical; at the other are those like myself who uphold reason and evidence as humanity’s only shot at objective truth; and between the two, the dominant forms of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity; authoritarian religions all that proclaim the earth accursed and treat it accordingly even as they pursue worldly wealth and power. As much as they hate one another, pagan/spiritual/mystical people and mainstream religious people are alike in that they share a contempt for reason and evidence, at least in regard to such things as they themselves believe in the absence of reason or evidence. Truly, once rationality is declared a hindrance to the discovery of “higher truth,” people are free to believe whatever they please without the least embarrassment.

Yet, in the case of the mainstream religions, if two people worship different Gods of love—each of whom demands that he (they are invariably male, you know) alone be worshipped—how are they to resolve their differences in the absence of reason and evidence? They cannot. They can but agree to disagree or, as usually happens when one or both sides thinks it can win, resort to intimidation and violence.

“A religion, even if it calls itself a religion of love, must be hard and unloving to those who do not belong to it.” –Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1921

If Freud was right—and I think he was—there can be no peace among religions; there can only be lulls in the fighting, and never any love. 

22 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

And another scary post. I would like to argue with you - but cannot. Sigh.

Snowbrush said...

"And another scary post."

Ah, but aren't those basalt columns beautiful! I don't know all the ways that geologists discovered that such things form below ground, but one way is that basalt doesn't form columns at the surface; it flows into either ropey formations (pahoehoe) or jagged formations (a a). At least, they're the only two I see around here. Sometimes I think that if I were to do life over that I might become a botanist or a geologist, not because I have any aptitude in either direction, but because I so love plants and rocks. When I feel complete, it is usually when I am among them. Having enjoyed the proximity of wilderness (not just woods but wilderness) for so long now, I don't know how I could do without it.

Elephant's Child said...

True - they are beautiful, and the 'bones' of a landscape fascinate me. As does the growth upon them.

Stephen Hayes said...

A very sad commentary, and one I cannot disagree with.

lotta joy said...

I love to look at rocks, rock walls, the stria between them,representing hundreds of thousand years - and wonder how anyone can say the earth was created in 6 days. The proof is written in stone. And it is good.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Very true...

The photo is amazing!

" Having enjoyed the proximity of wilderness (not just woods but wilderness) for so long now, I don't know how I could do without it."

I was saying the same to one of my hiking buddies just the other day. I feel so blessed to live where I do and to be able to let my dog roam!

Chartreuse said...

If your blog had a 'Like' button, I would have pressed it!

Strayer said...

The mystics too are religious although they claim to disdain religion. All religions and even mystic connections types seem egotistical to me. Have these people seen how vast our one universe is, what can be seen of it at least, at night? And we are important? Somehow we count? I don't think so.

Snowbrush said...

Hi, Stephen.

"I love to look at rocks, rock walls, the stria between them,representing hundreds of thousand years."

Rock ages vary a lot in Oregon, with some being less than a thousand years old and others a hundred million (the oldest rocks on earth are around 4.2-billion). The ones where I live run around 40-million, which isn't old as rocks go, but in human terms would represent 400,000 people living to be 100, back to back.

"The photo is amazing!"

Thanks. It's a hard rock to find a good angle to photograph since every place to stand is down low looking up a surface that goes off every which way.

"If your blog had a 'Like' button, I would have pressed it!"

I appreciate that. I always worry that I will offend people when I write about religion--and I know I do--and it means a lot to me when I touch a chord with those who think as I do.

"The mystics too are religious although they claim to disdain religion."

People who say they're spiritual rather than religious point to the oppression carried out by organized religion, and they also object to its authoritarianism and dogma. I share their complaints, and will readily admit that they don't represent anything like so grave a threat, but they're still faith-based and therefore still immune to reason and evidence, at least in one area of their lives and in the values and practices that flow from it.

ellen abbott said...

Here's the thing about rationality and science. It changes. How many times has science told us something is so only to tell us 10 years later that it wasn't that so but now is this so only to redefine it again in another 10 years And what seems an irrational act to some, seems totally rational to others. It's all in our perception. Rational thought depends on history and culture and experience. I'm one of those 'spiritual' folk. I don't claim to be able to define the underlying unifying force, the source of all we see and inhabit but my experiences, the experiential evidence of others, the explorations into the 'unknown' is enough for me. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you are wrong. Just because we cannot see or measure something does not mean it does not exist. We look at a butterfly wing and see that it is a thin smooth translucent material but if you look at it through an electron microscope you will see that is is so much more. Butterfly wings are made up of tiny scales. Using only your perception, you would claim that that butterfly wings do not have scales and you would feel smug about your rational claim because you could not see them or measure them until the instrument was developed that would enable you to see beyond your own senses.

I do believe that religion is one of the worst things to happen to humans, religion being the codified approach to the unseen with all its rules and regulations and rituals and intrinsic hate of all that is different and disagrees and is used to justify the eventual aggression. I do not believe that humans have any sort of special place in the universe. We are only one tiny minute part of the whole, no more important than the gnat or mosquito or microbe.

Science has 'proven' many things we could not see or taste or feel or hear or smell. We thought they didn't exist before that 'proof'. There are things about this universe that we will never be able to see or measure because we simply do not have the physical organs with which to perceive them even with all the fantastic tools we are able to create. That does not mean that they do not exist. We have other ways to sense things though beyond the the five physical senses which you will not accept because you are bound by the five thinking that if if cant be experienced by those five then there is nothing to experience.

I'm not trying to convince you of any belief, of my beliefs in what the underlying connection is but I am trying to point out to you that your faith in science and rationality is just as flawed as other people's faith in their particular god

Charles Gramlich said...

homo sapiens religious is not a pretty sight, but of course, nor are any other of us homo sapiens it seems.

Snowbrush said...

"How many times has science told us something is so only to tell us 10 years later that it wasn't that so but now is this so only to redefine it again in another 10 years"

"Immutable truth" comes from religion rather than science, the question being can religion justify its claim to such truth.

"what seems an irrational act to some, seems totally rational to others. It's all in our perception."

Everything we know or think we know comes to us through our perception, but this doesn't suggest that everyone's perception is equally valid, which you seem to be implying, although I very much doubt that you meant to. For example, while it seems reasonable to some to claim that the literal body and blood of Christ is present in the elements of the mass, it is up to such people to provide valid reasons for their claim if they want them to be accepted by others. An apt phrase that comes to mind is "the marketplace of ideas," by which is meant something along the lines of a rationally-based consensus.

"Rational thought depends on history and culture and experience."

Unfortunately, yes, and it is a major obstacle in that it limits the scope and impartiality of our inquiry.

"Just because we cannot see or measure something does not mean it does not exist."

Not yet, anyway. Who knows what the future holds or where the limits to our intelligence and data gathering capability lie.

"There are things about this universe that we will never be able to see or measure because we simply do not have the physical organs with which to perceive them even with all the fantastic tools we are able to create. That does not mean that they do not exist."

But neither does it suggest that they do. For instance, I find it easy to imagine that space aliens exist, but in the absence of evidence, it would premature to affirm as much. You might say that I'm an agnostic on that score, but when it comes to an all-powerful and all-benevolent supernatural deity, such claims contain an internal contradiction, and hence I'm a nonbeliever rather than a fence-sitter. Maybe I can better make myself understood by saying that I'm not equally open to all claims about all things because I don't see any reason to be so even if such a thing were possible. In our search for truth, we must employ a filtering system of sorts that enables us to consider some things true, other things probably true, other things possibly true, and so on down the line.

Snowbrush said...



"We have other ways to sense things though beyond the the five physical senses which you will not accept because you are bound by the five thinking that if if cant be experienced by those five then there is nothing to experience."

I am not as you're portraying me, but as I just wrote, it is one thing to admit that all manner of things are possible, but quite another to affirm their existence. Surely, radio waves would have seemed a fantasy however many years ago, making it impossible for a prudent person to have affirmed their existence even had he or she found them conceivable. As for what you're referring to exactly, I have no idea, but I'll take ESP as an example of something that many spiritual people believe in. I too would like to believe in ESP, but where is the proof? Will I not admit that ESP might be possible? I can but say that I see no reason to think it's possible, yet if you have evidence to suggest that it is, I'm willing to consider your evidence. What more could you ask?

"I am trying to point out to you that your faith in science and rationality is just as flawed as other people's faith in their particular god."

You seem to be saying that one path to knowledge is as good as another--them all being equally flawed--yet in taking what you call a "spiritual" path, you appear to indicate that you consider that way more likely to be valid than some other way. I don't believe that anyone is truly a thoroughgoing nihilist or a complete skeptic because no one lives as a thoroughgoing nihilist or a complete skeptic. To give an easy example, if you're trying to cross a busy street, you act as if certain things are true. You do not take the position that one person's view of the existence of matter is as good as another, and therefore what looks like a speeding truck might not be a speeding truck at all. Likewise, if you're sick, I would suspect that you go to a medical doctor rather than a Christian Science practitioner, but why? If putting one's confidence "in science and rationality is just as flawed as other people's faith in their particular god," then what possible criteria could you use to justify your decision?

All Consuming said...

"Ah, but aren't those basalt columns beautiful!" - They really are, as you know I love geology, rocks and minerals of all kinds, I find it fascinating to hold in my hand something so old it's almost impossible to imagine it in relation to your own life. Mind spinning stuff. Have a look at some photographs of 'The Giant's Causeway' in Ireland online, your wonderful photograph reminded me of it. I haven't been there, but I shall go one day, to marvel.

rhymeswithplague said...

I enjoyed your post today, Snow, although I did feel you wanted me to slink away with my tail between my legs, thoroughly defeated. I would like to report that I did not.

I also enjoyed ellen abbott's comments and your subsequent addressing of her points. I don't know why I'm so jovial and expansive today, maybe it's just that God's in His heaven; all's right with the world (so to speak).

But most of all I enjoyed learning a brand new word. I already knew "aa" (ah-ah) from crossword puzzles but I had never before heard of "pahoehoe" (puh-hoh-ee-hoh-ee). One is rough and one is smooth. Imagine that. And both words are Hawaiian, or as I like to think of them, indigenous people who didn't disappear.

Vagabonde said...

An intelligent article – I liked it. I agree with you – religion has created much pain and it will continue to do so.

Snowbrush said...

"I find it fascinating to hold in my hand something so old it's almost impossible to imagine it in relation to your own life."

Especially given that rocks never look old. People look like hell when they're old, so why not rocks? Where's the fairness in that?

"Have a look at some photographs of 'The Giant's Causeway' in Ireland online."

I know of it, its fame having reached even to America. When I was a boy, I had a rock collection, among which was a bought card with little pieces of various rocks glued to it. One of those rocks was basalt, and being that it was the only piece of lava I had ever seen (where I grew up, the rocks, with few exceptions, were either river gravel or petrified wood), I assumed that lava was rare, so imagine my surprise when, decades later, I learned that it's the most common rock in the earth's crust. It's not the one we see the most (that would be shale, a sedimentary rock), but the one that underlies most of the world's oceans.

"Snow, although I did feel you wanted me to slink away with my tail between my legs, thoroughly defeated."

I had no such thought.

"I already knew "aa" (ah-ah) from crossword puzzles but I had never before heard of "pahoehoe" (puh-hoh-ee-hoh-ee)."

Oh, yes, aa is one word. Thanks for reminding me. As for pahoehoe, I haven't heard many people say it, but I think the few who did left out the two double ees. But were any of them geologists? I don't remember, but it does make me wonder if there's a difference between the original pronunciation and the geological pronunciation. For the most part, I am more interested in sedimentary rocks than in igneous rocks because sedimentary rocks are far more likely to contain evidence of past lives and were formed in a way that appeals to me more. However, igneous rocks tend to be prettier, and they also constitute nearly all of the rocks that are in Oregon. The sedimentary ones are mostly found in the Coast Range (of which I'm on the eastern edge) because it resulted from a collision between the ocean floor and the continent and is therefore a jumble of different kinds of rocks. I can find fossils just by digging in my backyard. They are all aquatic, but I know a place not five miles from here where the fossils are of a terrestrial origin. That's how close I am to what to the edge of what was once an inland sea.

"An intelligent article – I liked it. I agree with you"

Oh, thanks, Vabagbonde. I do so like to be agreed with and hear that I'm intelligent.

possum said...

First, let me say I love the rocks. Here where I live on VA's Eastern Shore, there are NO rocks save those folks like me bring back with them from elsewhere. It took getting used to - no rocks, no hills...
As for religion: “A religion, even if it calls itself a religion of love, must be hard and unloving to those who do not belong to it.” –Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1921
I think this is why I tend to call myself as having Buddhist tendencies... Buddhism is a philosophy tho' there are those who call it a religion. As the Dalai Lama says, "Kindness is my religion." Buddhism, as I have been taught it, emphasizes "Do no harm" and practice unconditional love, compassion, and teaches the elimination of ego (as much as possible.)
I have never understood how a religion that says Love Thy Neighbor and Do Unto Others can then be part of praying to that same God for victory as we go into battle killing strangers who are probably just defending their homes from us.
Or how a "loving" god can take credit - or blame- for wiping out thousands to millions of people, sending a flood to kill all but a handful because folks ticked him off? Personally I prefer Velikovsky's version of things.
An awesome post, Snow... as usual.

Snowbrush said...

"Buddhism is a philosophy tho' there are those who call it a religion."

I'm confused on this point because whereas I've heard that some Buddhists are atheists, I also know that a belief in karma, rebirth, prayer, and so on are common among Buddhists, and this suggests an acceptance of the authority of holy books and teachers, things that are alien to philosophy. Could you enlighten me?

Linda said...

I don't think I have ever disagreed with one word you have published. If I had had my way and followed my heart, I would have been a geologist. However, allergies would have made me useless.

For whoever mentioned praying to kill our enemies, read Mark Twain's War Prayer.

Linda said...

Using the same standards for beauty of rocks as we do for the beauty of humans, rocks actually look better. Young rocks have "flaws." Old rocks are made smooth by their age and experience.

Snowbrush said...

Oops, I'm going to erase and redo that last comment because I immediately realized that I got one word wrong--I wrote disagreement but meant to write agreement.

"I don't think I have ever disagreed with one word you have published."

Yet, you're from Alabama. Being from Mississippi myself, I don't anticipate agreement from the Deep South because I so rarely got any when I lived there (and in view of the region's ever growing attempt to meld religion and government). On the other hand, nowhere are atheists more outspoken than where they're the most hated, and I'm happy to note that Alabama has a visible atheist presence. Still, being openly atheistic in the Deep South must be a bit like shooting cows on the streets of Delhi. I don't mean to say that the Willamette Valley is an atheist paradise either, yet in this metro area of 350,000, there are two atheist groups that I know of, and I make no effort to stay abreast of such things. Even here, religion is a major aspect of life, but unlike in most of the country, the face of religion isn't so dominated by conservative Christians, there also being a Buddhist and Wiccan presence along with various other groups. I so often wonder how people manage to keep their faith going because I certainly couldn't, yet my lifelong interest in religion led me to learn more about it than most people who are religious. I think that those who remain religious/spiritual would hold, if pressed, that faith is something that is given by God for us to know without regard for the evidence, but this ignores the contradictory diversity of religious content and the horrible destructiveness of religion, factors which cause me to view such arguments as a hedge against having to think and, god forbid, therefore having to question the underpinnings of one's own religion. As some atheists are fond of saying to believers, "You and I are both atheistic in regard to most gods; I'm just atheistic in regard to one more god than you are."

"Old rocks are made smooth by their age and experience."

In Alabama, I would assume that nearly all of the rocks are sedimentary, probably never did have sharp edges, and are to some degree soluble in ground water. Here, most of the rocks are igneous, don't dissolve in ground water, and are so hard that they can remain boot-ripping sharp for thousands of years after being exposed (the first buses to run between Bend and Eugene wore out a set of tires every week). I guess the point is that age doesn't mellow everyone equally.