Sunday, November 27, 2016

Of Right and Wrong

Oh, Abraham! Confounder of children.

I sat in the car after Mass while my dad went into the store to get a Sunday paper and a box of doughnuts. This was usually my favorite part of Sunday; the Sunday funnies, the doughnuts, hanging out with my dad. I would emerge into the sunlight from the dark, fragrant cathedral with the weight of sitting still for two whole hours lifted from my body.

But this Sunday, the weight lingered...

So... Abraham was going to kill Isaac?

Yes, but God didn't let him.

But he was going to?

Yes.

And that was the right thing to do?

Yes, but God was never going to let him actually kill Isaac. It was just a test.

To see if he would?

Yes.

And it was right that he would?

Yes, because nothing is more important than God. If God tells you to do something, you do it!

Even if God tells you to kill your son?

Yes, but God wouldn't tell you to do something bad. He never actually told Abraham to kill Isaac.

But it was a test to see if he would?

Yes.

And he passed the test?

Yes.

Because he would kill his son?

Yes, but that's not the point. God was never going to let him kill Isaac.

But that very much was the point for me.

Looking at the story now, as an atheist, I can pick it apart in all kinds of ways. If God is all-knowing, why would he need to test Abraham to begin with?

But as an eight-year-old child who firmly believed that there was a God and a Heaven and a Hell, this story was life-altering.

I knew that killing Isaac was wrong. That being willing to kill Isaac was wrong. And sitting in that car alone, I saw hell-fire and burning and the wrath of Almighty God, but I resolved that I would never be willing to kill Isaac, no matter what. That was when I first began to consciously part ways with God.

This really gets to core of how individuals differentiate right from wrong, regardless of religion or culture or time period.

Most people will do what they're told.

Some people will not follow an order they know is wrong, no matter who gives it.

Most people need to know that someone is in charge in order for the universe to make sense to them. They need authority, they need order, they need rules. That authority can be God, a monarch, Science, Capitalism, Pope Francis, Charles Manson; so long as there is a system in place and someone is in charge, they can sleep at night knowing that there is order in the world.

And then there are the people whose moral code transcends any authority. These people are in the minority.

Chaos doesn't phase me. I don't need order.

Maybe we are energy beings, more than the sum of our parts, maybe our time in this physical existence is part of a grander scheme that we cannot even fathom.

Or maybe we are an accidental coagulation of polymer chains languishing on a meaningless piece of rock hurling through a vast vacuum of space for no reason at all.

Either way, I will still never be willing to kill Isaac.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Truth. Justice. Knowledge.

As we came into the primaries for this election season, I was dusting off the old blog, ready to have lots of online debates with strangers. I eagerly laid out my core beliefs ahead of time as a starting point.

But then, for the first time in my life, the whole political circus just drained me. I honestly couldn't find an intelligent word to write about what our political system has become.

The result of that nightmare of an election season, that Donald Trump is president, left me speechless.

Breathless.

But I pulled myself together and resolved to fight.

To be clear, I am not here to debate whether or not the Trump administration is poised to become a fascist regime or whether our political and economic system has already been primed for just such a power grab.

I am no longer operating under the assumption that the system can be repaired.

My focus is on survival.

Not my personal survival, but the survival of truth, justice, and knowledge, which are the first casualties in a fascist or authoritarian government.

There will always be upheavals in human civilization. There will always be periods of growth and periods of destruction brought on by a confluence of internal factors (politics, economics, war) and external factors (environmental disasters, disease epidemics). When we find ourselves in a period of destruction, those of us with the foresight to recognize when the point of no return has been reached, need to start planning for a different kind of future.

How do we preserve our most sacred ideals in the hope that when the dust settles and we again enter a period of growth, we can start from the highest possible point of truth, justice and knowledge?

Most importantly, we need to recognize that the struggle will be fought on a daily basis in a hundred seemingly inconsequential ways, and we need to understand that giving up any ground at this point will result in monumental losses.

Every attempt to mainstream and normalize the Trump administration must be resisted, even after they have fully transitioned into power and resisting becomes dangerous. Refuse to accept racism, sexism, corporatism, and xenophobia. Refuse to accept the suppression of intellectuals, free speech, human rights and the media. Refuse to accept the increasing militarization of the police. Refuse to accept that might makes right.

Understand that the apologists who want to "wait and see" will be fully indoctrinated, so start distancing yourself from them immediately. These are the people who will quietly look the other way as atrocities happen; they are already normalizing and accepting the unacceptable, and they will continue to do so. Do not believe that when things get bad enough, they will suddenly wake up to the reality of the situation. They are not waiting to choose a path; they have already chosen.

Start identifying people and organizations who already understand what is happening and are ready to mount a resistance.

Know your principles and do not compromise on them.

Be vocal about your principles as an example to others; keep that light alive no matter how dark it gets.

Keeping the light of truth alive is more important than my comfort.

Keeping the light of justice alive is more important than my security.

Keeping the light of knowledge alive is more important than my life.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The tipping point has already been reached.

As much as I have tried to express that the dire situation our country is currently in did not happen as the result of one election, that this was decades in the making and is currently a worldwide trend toward dangerous far right ideologies; I also need to stress that fascist totalitarianism is something that, once the scales are tipped ever so slightly in its favor, sets off a cascade systemic changes at breakneck speed.

One of the fundamental errors that people commonly make when believing that something like the Holocaust could never happen here, that Americans would never allow something like that happen here, is the notion that there was something fundamentally different about the German people; some inherent personality flaw that we Americans do not possess. That idea was proven wrong with the Milgram experiments.

But the other mistake is that we would have time to stop such a cascade of events once set in motion.

I'll stay on the Hitler example because most Americans are familiar enough with that bit of very recent history.

In 1934, Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany by President Hindenburg. The decades leading up to that moment were rife with political and economic strife, and the people of Germany were impoverished and angry. And not just Germans; this was a global trend. Sounding familiar so far?

Within months of Hitler grasping that thread of power, the Dachau concentration camp is opened for political prisoners. Before the end of the following year, Hitler will name himself Fuhrer.

Game over.

So for all of my liberal and middle-of-the-road friends who want to wait and see what happens; you need to wake up to the reality of what has already happened.

For everyone who wants to call their Senator, or boycott something, or pray for the electoral college to save us: you need to stop wasting your energy.

The tipping point has tipped, and it's all downhill from here.

Start organizing accordingly.

Lying in wait...

Way back in the year 2007, I was sounding the alarm about the unfathomable breach of Constitutional civil liberties enacted by the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act.

Quick update:

2009
The Military Commissions Act was revised by a Democratic Congress to remove the statute that denied detainees the right of habeus corpus; meaning that detainees must have the right to challenge their detention in a federal court.

While that fixed one major criticism of the law, the Military Commissions Act can still be used to classify a US citizen as an "enemy combatant" and thus be subject to a secret military tribunal rather than a public trial.

2013
Due to the whistle blowing intelligence leaks of Edward Snowden, government officials were forced to address the scope and breadth of NSA surveillance tactics used against every US citizen, surveillance which had previously been justified by the Bush Administration using the The Patriot Act. The drafting of the USA Freedom Act begins.

2015
On June 1st, most of the provisions of the Patriot Act expired.

On June 2nd, the USA Freedom Act was passed. Originally intended to replace the Patriot Act with safeguards to protect the civil liberties of US citizens from government overreach, the watered down version that was able to pass Congress offers very little to reassure anyone concerned about freedom in the USA.

For instance, the USA Freedom Act has a lot of provisions for "oversight." That sounds great, but who is actually in charge of overseeing these issues of surveillance and the secretive FISA court and who can and cannot be designated an "enemy combatant?" All that oversight, it turns out, falls on the shoulders of the Attorney General, who is a political appointee of the President.

2016
President Trump taps Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and Mike Pompeo for CIA director.

But don't trouble yourself worrying about all this now. These are freedoms you lost almost a decade ago.

All that potential dictatorial power, lying in wait for a potential dictator...

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hold on to your light. It's about to get dark.

One thing I try to steer clear of on this politics and religion blog is fear mongering. My goal is to encourage people to think, and I don't believe that people are very good at thinking when they are afraid. With that in mind, I would like to expand on my last post, The end of the world as we know it.

The end of the world is never really the end. At least, it hasn't been so far. As Robert Wright points out in his brilliant work, Nonzero; if you take a step back and look at history as a plot diagram, the overarching plot is a straight line onward and upward. The rise and falls of civilizations are more like peaks and valleys in the overall march of human progress. I elaborated on this point a bit more in, "Fear not, citizens! The Barbarians are at the gate."

Admittedly, my initial reaction to the unfathomable reality of a Trump presidency was less than constructive. I considered all the political activity I've been involved in over the years, and the time I've spent writing this blog as a massive exercise in futility. What's the point? I am but a whisper in the noise, and of the people who do hear me, how many listen?

But then I remembered that giving up is the only way to really fail. Allowing the powerful to take everything away from us without a fight is to actively assist them as they destroy everything I value and everyone I care about. The world as we know it is coming to end. This is not the result of a single election, but the culmination of the way human beings have always operated. The question now is who and what will rise from the ashes?

How can we ensure that on the darkest of days there will still be a flicker of light in the distance?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I am going to dedicate my efforts to finding those answers and passing them on to whomever will listen, even when it seems like no one is listening at all. I have to believe that the sun will rise again, no matter how long the night may be.

The best immediate advice I could find right now is this article by Sarah Kendzior called "We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump."
"Write your biography, write down your memories. Because if you do not do it now, you may forget.


Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them.


Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them."
As I was thinking about my goals with this post and with this blog, I was frustrated that we seem trapped on this merry-go-round of making the same mistakes over and over. We have all this recorded history with the blueprint of our demise written out very clearly; why do we still fail to see the signs until it is too late? But then I thought about how we are always able to climb out of the rubble and rebuild, and each time around we recover more quickly. Maybe that is because we do learn from our past.

So, as we hope for the best over the coming years, let us prepare fervently for the worst.

I welcome all comments, even those of disagreement. If any of you have articles you want to share, please send them to me. I also welcome guest posts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The end of the world as we know it.

In the context of my last post, The Death of the Alpha Male,  I feel like we were in the process of one giant leap for mankind and slipped on a banana peel.

Literally.

We elected a giant orange ape for president.

But taking a step back and looking at everything I have written on this blog in the almost decade I've been writing it; I'm not surprised at all.

I've already talked about the state of our economy and what needed to happen to fix it (and didn't).

I've talked about the tangible danger of hate speech and how it thrives on the internet.

I've talked about the transient nature of civilization and the fact that when we inevitability drop the baton someone else will pick it up and run with it.

So, here we are. I've said my piece. I've been right about all the things I didn't want to be right about.

What happens now?

Will this be a small step backward from which civilization will quickly rally, or will man-made ecological disasters bring us closer to an extinction level event?

A couple days ago my son was telling me about all the exciting advancements to come in computer technology and virtual reality, while the future I envisioned was more like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Here's hoping that he's right and I'm wrong.

I really, really want be wrong this time.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Death of the Alpha Male


I was reading a Washington Post article today in which two body language experts weighed in on the candidates' performances in the second presidential debate yesterday.

What interested me was the fact that they called Trump's pacing, scowling, and snorting "aggressive" and "alpha male behavior," while they deemed Hillary's sitting when Trump spoke as "weak" and her plastic smile as he lobbed accusations and threats at her as "inappropriate."

As any woman knows, you're not likely to win a battle of the alpha males when you don't have a penis, so don't try. Non-alpha males also learn not to try to fight fire with fire when it comes physical aggression and the threat of physical aggression. Of course, passive aggression and tricksterism are learned skills which is why the bullies and jocks fare better in high school than in most other aspects of life... except for politics.

What's funny is that while I have been trying to organize my thoughts on this post today, the idea that keeps weaving it's way in and out of the various points I'm trying to connect into one coherent thought is actually a phrase from the Bible, where Jesus proclaimed that the meek shall inherit the earth.

When I was a child, I understood the meek inheriting the world as something that could only happen with divine intervention; maybe the second coming, or some kind of outside action, like the troop of baboons whose alpha males died from eating tainted meat (since the alpha males take all the meat for themselves).

The story of the "Garbage Dump Baboon Troop" is a fascinating one. The baboons were being studied in Kenya since 1978 by biologists Robert Sapolsky and Lisa Share to learn about the kind of self-induced stress modern humans are under because baboons, like us, are at the top of the food chain and much of their stress is social, not survival. (They also have the same stress induced illnesses like hypertension and heart disease.) So the alpha males in this particular troop died off and the social stresses on the remaining troop members decreased dramatically as everyone settled into a life of grooming and comradery. What's more, when new males wandered into the troop and tried to bully their way to the top, they were quickly taught that such behavior would not be tolerated, and they were forced to assimilate to this novel, peaceful culture (in baboon terms). Not surprisingly, these peaceful baboons saw a dramatic drop in their stress levels and a marked decrease in stress related diseases.

It’s difficult to find much hope in this story because it took an outside force to do away with the assholes and allow the meek baboons to inherit an asshole free world. The problem with humans and baboons is that we're all bullied into believing we are safer and happier with the biggest bullies at the top, lest our troop fall prey to a troop with an even bigger asshole at it’s helm.

But right now the human race is at a pivotal point in its history.

Massive cultural shifts like LGBT rights are sweeping the Western world while women in other cultures are winning basic human rights and the lowest social castes are demanding that their children have access to education. The lines between countries, socioeconomic classes and religions are starting to blur as we continually move toward the understanding that we are all more alike than we are different, and we can all prosper more by working together.

These fundamental shifts are threatening to the few at the top who benefit the most from the status quo, and they have been busy sounding the alarm that human existence is a zero-sum game and if those people over there are gaining, then our good people here are losing. From ISIS to Brexit to Duterte, the alpha males are blustering and bombing their message that the only safe place to be is under the guard of the biggest, baddest baboon on the block.

And so the rise of Trump which was comical at first has become quite worrying in the context of the razor thin margins around the world in which the votes have landed ever so slightly on the side of authoritarianism and demagoguery. It’s too late to muster the courage to elect a modern day FDR like Bernie Sanders. That ship has sailed. I can’t say that I have been an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary, in economic terms she represents the status quo. I have simply been anti-Trump.

That changed with last night’s debate.

I saw in Hillary every time I’ve had to soothe an alpha male’s wounded pride to mitigate the damage he’ll inflict to defend his ego; I saw every time I’ve had to smile and demure and slowly back away from an alpha male while fighting the urge the run, every time I’ve had to brush off or ignore implied threats, phrase my ideas in a way that they’ll be listened to by the alpha male in charge: don’t speak too intelligently... don’t agree too readily… offer a solution in a way that he’ll think it was his idea... and of course, learn to watch your back without looking like you’re watching your back.

I saw in Hillary a woman who has managed to execute the intricate dance of rising to the top of an alpha male’s world and still has to smile placidly as one last threatened, angry baboon lobs his feces at her face.

But there was immeasurable power in that fake, plastic smile.

Go ahead, little man, throw your poop. Show everyone how lost and powerless you are in this burgeoning world where you are already extinct.

Good riddance.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Peace

is a rock.

Dry. Motionless. Desiring nothing.

Life is chaos. 

Struggling against itself. Always reaching, striving, wanting more. More.

More.

Life and death, creation and destruction, the eternal dance. Two sides of the same coin. One and the same.

Peace

is a projectile

and when the dust settles...

Perhaps there will be more of the only thing that makes life worth living:


Love

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

That one looks like a horse!

This is usually my favorite season.

Presidential election time!

All the politics and religion my little heart desires, and people are paying more attention than usual.

But my frustration level this time around has just sucked the joy out of the whole process of political commentary.

Sure, I'd love to add to my long list of 'not only did I tell you so, but I can prove that I told you so long before it was cool to say so's.

But is anyone any more likely to listen this time around?

Is it ever going to be anything other than the bullies vs. the nerds, over and over and over?

Are we ever going to get off this merry-go-round of history repeating itself and actually move forward?

Probably.

But I'm tired and dizzy.

I'm going to go lay I the grass and stare at clouds for a while.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Secular Messiah

While the religions of the world squabble over the finer points of gods, morality, and the meaning of life (and by "squabble" I mean "blow each other up"), secularism has continued its slow methodical march from the codes and whispers of antiquity to being the foundation for many governments today. Secularism, though not immune human evils, has been responsible for the advancement of science and technology, and a more globally-conscious and tolerant modern society. But the struggle is just beginning; even in these enlightened times humanity continues to suffer at the hands of religious extremism.

The question I wish to explore in this post is: how do we, in the absence of faith, encourage those around us to value the positive aspects of secular beliefs?

I realize that any secular thinker is looking at the title of this post and declaring it a non-poetic oxymoron, but think of this more as a thought exercise than a call for a savior that will lead the religious sheep to the promised land of science and technology. The fact is that, although we win occasional converts to the side of reason, these always seem to be the people that were already thirsting for rational thought. The religious thinkers far outnumber the secular minded in every society, and we must make some attempt to understand and communicate with the vast majority of people if we are ever to reap the fruits of our own scientific inquiry and innovations. I firmly believe that everyone has the capacity for rational thought, but the religious willfully (though maybe not knowingly) suppress their rational minds. The purpose of exploring the concept of a "secular messiah" is not to await some prophet of reason, but that every secular-minded person learn the tools that will enable them to become a Prometheus for those around them; sharing the light of knowledge and having it gratefully received rather than feared and shunned.

I was listening to an interview on NPR with Martin Palmer, an Anglican lay preacher who founded the interfaith organization, Alliance of Religions and Conservation, with the intent to educate religious leaders, who can then educate the general public about the issue of man-made global warming. His basic premise seemed true enough: that religious leaders are able to reach and motivate the masses in ways that scientists cannot. The logic behind his premise, however, troubled me deeply.

Palmer feels that pastors and rabbis and imams are able to explain complex concepts to people in a way that makes sense, while scientists talk over every one's head so that no one without a higher education bothers to listen. The thing that troubled me about what Palmer was saying was that during my own desperate attempts to make sense of my religious teachings, I never once had a priest satisfy my need to truly understand the complex ideas he was teaching. I never remember a priest explaining something in a way that made it clearer than it was before. As a matter of fact, my persistent questions were quite often met with offense and hostility, though at the time I had no intention nor desire to offend God or the priests, whom I honestly believed understood some magical mystery that I was failing to grasp. I indeed felt like they were talking over my head, but my desire to understand my theology was consistently thwarted by the need for me to simply have faith. The explanations I sought were never forthcoming.

The idea that religious leaders are better able to explain complex issues to simple people is surely false, but the fact that priests reach and motivate the public in a way that scientists do not cannot be denied. So if it's not a priest's gift for clarifying and simplifying complex issues, then what exactly does a priest do that gets through to people? How does a priest earn such trust and inspire such motivation to action?

I believe that the power of religion over people is not illogical, but beyond logic. In his book, “The Sacred and the Profane,” Mircea Eliade maintains that the supernatural world evolved in the human mind as a reference point in a chaotic universe, not because it made sense of the incomprehensible, but because it gave the incomprehensible less power over people's lives. There was a time when we were truly not capable of understanding why lightning struck our village and set our hut on fire and we felt powerless against such forces of nature. It was empowering to believe that there was a being in charge of the lightning who might be persuaded to spare our hut if we made the right offerings and said the right prayers. That power, however, comes with a terrible price; trying to understand forces like lightning in a scientific sense, once such understanding is possible, directly threatens the supernatural power people believe they have.

This need to believe in our ability to have supernatural control over the natural world must not be trivialized. Think about how difficult it was for early man to carry on with his daily life and plan for tomorrow knowing that death could come at any time from any direction (other animals are at least ignorant of their own mortality). As if planning for your own family wouldn't be difficult enough, how do you come together with others to work as a group, which often involves sacrificing your own and your family's immediate self-interests? You have to believe in some kind of long-term order in the world, even though your actual experience may be to the contrary. You have to have faith that the time and energy you invest in group efforts will pay off in the long run. In the absence of any observable evidence that the world around you is structured and predictable, who better to convince people to pool their resources and work together for a greater good than a priest, who has mastered the mystifying complexities of communicating with the supernatural world?
    
The supernatural world is our trump card over the natural world and this is where the priest gets his power. Who in your tribe could possibly be more important than the person who can talk to the earth, the spirits, the gods, and the ancestors? Who is more fit to control new technologies like fire and writing? Everyone knows that your spear, no matter how expertly crafted, has little chance of hitting its target without the special blessing that can only be performed by the priest.

We must look into the mind of a person trying to survive in a world where chaotic forces beyond their control dictate their very survival; they are looking beyond this world into a plane of order and justice through which human beings can have some sway on this plane of existance. If we look at the world through the eyes of people who existed before science it's easier to see how religion was probably necessary for their survival and their willingness to risk their survival for the sake of their community. Religion gives believers the keys to unlock a magical world that makes sense when the real world doesn't.

The supernatural world is ordered and eternal, so it's not difficult to understand why the supernatural world is believed to be the "real" world and that we are but temporal shadows passing through this physical plane. And because the supernatural world can be swayed to favor humanity while the earthly realm continues to seem indifferent to our existence, it's also easy to understand why more recent Western theologies have come to view the supernatural world as "good" and the natural world as "evil".

People who choose to recognize only the physical world, only what they can see and touch and measure, are choosing to be set adrift in chaos with no life-line, no reference point to the world beyond. And it seems that no matter how much we understand, no matter how much our technology improves lives in ways that ceremonies and offerings never could, it is still almost impossible to get otherwise intelligent people to let go of the fantasy world of religion to join our efforts to improve and prolong our lives here on earth (why hold on to this existence if the next one is better?).

The problem is that people who live their lives grounded in the supernatural world make up the vast majority of the population. It's simply not possible to move society forward without mobilizing a significant number of these people to passionately and wholeheartedly embrace science.
        
The scientific ideals that need to be embraced by the majority include relentless inquiry into the nature and inner workings of life and the universe, a willingness to expect and endure change and uncertainty, and an acceptance that humanity itself is responsible for its own survival and prosperity.

If we are going to persuade the religious to embrace scientific thinking, we are going to have to find a mode of communicating with them besides logic. I fully understand the gravity of what I am saying, but I truly believe that there is just no other way.

We must understand that for the religious mind, the supernatural world is the "real" world, and the connections they make with the "real" world through prayer and rituals are the reference points with which they navigate through this frightening and chaotic existence. Whether we are exiled in this realm for our transgressions or this existence is some kind of crucible to decide who is fit to exist on the next plane; the fact remains that the "real" world is the only one that truly matters, and I can't think of a single religious organization that believes the road to the world beyond is paved with logic. You simply cannot reason with a religious mind and we must stop trying (of course, we can win the occasional convert).

A secular messiah would be a true savior of mankind. A person who could appeal to the religious on their level. A person who could package the hopes and promises of science and technology in a way that would make them irresistible to the religious people of the world. It seems to me, however, that if we are ever going to inspire the religious-minded with secular ideologies, we must understand how religious leaders inspire fellowship and apply some of their basic principles to secularism.

Contrary to the position of Palmer, that religious leaders have some inherent capacity to inspire and motivate people, I believe that the key to their motivational abilities lies in the people being motivated, not in the leaders themselves. It is the parishioner's willingness and desire to believe in the priest, and her unwillingness to question the priest, that gives a religious leader his power of persuasion.

So if the key to this motivational phenomenon lies in the listener and not the messenger, how can this knowledge be applied to one who preaches the promise of science and secular ideas, particularly because it would involve some sort of faith on the part of the listener.

We must appeal to the faith of the religious mind rather than its logic. If I may revisit my lightning analogy; how can a leader persuade the religious to freely and willingly embrace the terrifying possibility that there is no higher being that can control this force of nature? How can a leader convince people to pursue experimentation and understanding in order to gain some measure of control over such a powerful phenomenon? Is it not a leap of faith that the leader would be proposing; that everyone should leave off praying and trust that with science we will eventually discover the lightning rod?
    
A secular messiah would be a person who could show the religious how science can deliver on the hope that religion can only promise. Perhaps not a supreme being who is directly concerned with our welfare, but certainly that there is order and predictability in the world, as well as a way for human beings to have some real control over the natural forces that can so profoundly impact our survival. Our desire to view ourselves as special in the universe and ordained to rule over and care for our planet is not at all undermined by science. After all, the mere consideration of the true improbability and brevity of our existence can strike as much awe in the human heart as the creation of a supernatural creator. The challenge for a secular messiah would be to inspire the religious mind with the actual beauty and profoundness of science and to persuade them to release their more familiar and comforting ideas about God and religion.