Spirituality and “Inner” Life

By Vinod Wadhawan

I have come across many scientists who say: “I do not subscribe to any religion, but I am a spiritual person.” What exactly is spirituality? Here are a couple of definitions:

The term “spirituality” lacks a definitive definition, although social scientists have defined spirituality as the search for “the sacred,” where “the sacred” is broadly defined as that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration. The use of the term “spirituality” has changed throughout the ages. In modern times, spirituality is often separated from Abrahamic religions, and connotes a blend of humanistic psychology with mystical and esoteric traditions and eastern religions aimed at personal well-being and personal development. The notion of “spiritual experience” plays an important role in modern spirituality, but has a relatively recent origin. (Wikipedia)

Photo: Alice Popkorn / Flickr.com

Photo: Alice Popkorn / Flickr.com

Spirituality means something different to everyone. For some, it’s about participating in organized religion: going to church, synagogue, a mosque, etc. For others, it’s more personal: Some people get in touch with their spiritual side through private prayer, yoga, meditation, quiet reflection, or even long walks. Research shows that even skeptics can’t stifle the sense that there is something greater than the concrete world we see. As the brain processes sensory experiences, we naturally look for patterns, and then seek out meaning in those patterns. And the phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance” shows that once we believe in something, we will try to explain away anything that conflicts with it. Humans can’t help but ask big questions  –  the instinct seems wired in our minds.
(Psychology Today)

Shorn of the superfluous and logically untenable God concept (or the “some higher power” concept), spirituality is mainly about the so-perceived “enhancement” of the so-called “inner life”. Each person has his inner life, pertaining to what his mind perceives, or imagines, or aspires for, but so what? I think it is no different from idle reverie. My inner life is different from yours, and all that really matters is the “outer-life” expression or manifestation of the inner life, and this outer-life manifestation is a natural phenomenon like any other, amenable to scrutiny by science.

Our brain is a physical organ, subject to the laws of physics. And our mind is what our brain does. I subscribe to the view that there is nothing wrong or unscientific about any efforts to make one’s thinking more productive and innovative and original by meditation etc.; and there is nothing mystical about that. It is perfectly fine for a person to do meditation if that helps him achieve better mental health, and greater intuitive capabilities or originality.

Photo: Federico Coppola / Flickr.com

Photo: Federico Coppola / Flickr.com

One of the most innovative minds I know of is Ray Kurzweil (2012). Here is what he does for getting new, problem-solving ideas: “Relaxing professional taboos turns out to be useful for creative problem solving. I use a mental technique each night in which I think about a particular problem before I go to sleep. This triggers sequences of thoughts that will continue into my dreams. Once I am dreaming, I can think  –  dream  –  about solutions to the problem without the burden of the professional restraints I carry during the day. I can then access these dream thoughts in the morning while in an in-between state of dreaming and being awake, sometimes referred to as ‘lucid dreaming'”. Fine. And very impressive.

The mind-body relationship is a subject of great importance. There are so many unexplored examples of what the mind can make the body do or endure. Scientific researchers should be duly skeptical on one hand, and open-minded on the other, when it comes to accepting or rejecting outlandish-looking claims. Reproducible verification has to be the final arbiter, always.

Posted in The Science-Minded Citizen | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The 9 Commandments

10 CommandmentsSay it’s an extremely hot day, and you’re out in the sun and get a vision. Metaphorically, of course. You ponder what might be on the tablets you’d bring down from a mountain to share with the world, your own version of the ten commandments. Because, obviously, only about four of the so-called Biblical commandments have any value whatsoever in a rational world.

So make up your own, without overthinking. Any number will do—we needn’t continue using the ancient religious magic numbers 3, 7, and 10 (but 9 = 3 x 3, and was thus held by some to be magical too).

Here are my personal “9 SUGGESTIONS”:

1. Don’t kill any viable beings (unless a very wise committee—way more medically trained than a jury of your peers—agrees that the person is in irremediable pain, and he or she is ready to be done with life).

2. Don’t steal. Unless they stole it from someone else, and then get the law involved. Or work to change the laws if they favor stealing in any form.

3. Don’t mess around with someone else’s mate while your own prior commitments are still in effect.

4. Always be nurturing to young children and treat them the way you wish you’d been treated when young.

5. Act as though you’re part of a society and community, because you are. No one is entirely independent so we all have to chip in to ensure than no one lacks the basics, including a chance at a healthy future when you’re no longer around.

6. Live lightly. Making and getting rid of our excess stuff clogs up the world in so many ways, it’s kind of obscene to waste that many resources on ephemeral junk. Even if you earned the wherewithal fair and square.

7. Live as though there’s no tomorrow, meaning that there’s no heaven or hell beyond this life, so appreciate every possible moment.

8. Be kind, even though there’s no such thing as karma. True niceness requires no direct payback, but it feels good to give it and also to receive it.

9. Be honest. Don’t lie to yourself either, which can mean admitting to yourself that you’re making a bad choice.

Those are my suggestions/commandments. They won’t create a utopia, but they won’t hurt either. What are yours?

Copyright (c) 2014 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

Posted in A Rational Woman | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

What’s a Flower For?

flowersNot very long ago, when I went to our local post office to buy a couple of rolls of stamps, I noticed a display of flower stamps. Putting my mouth close to the inch-thick partition, I asked the postal clerk, “Do you have those? My husband loves flowers.”

Reaching for the little booklets of stamps imprinted colorfully with lilies, zinnias, gladioli, marigolds, and roses, the clerk told me that every man who’d come in to buy stamps had wanted some of those too.

“But they always say, ‘They’re for my girlfriend,’ ‘They’re for my sister,’ or ‘They’re for my mother.’  I can’t understand why not a single man will admit he likes flowers.”

I thought about that. In my family, my husband is the garden-lover. When we first married, he turned our front yard from a weed-infested eyesore into a fairyland of miniature roses, border iris, and flowering ground cover, invitingly divided by a curvy brick walkway. He always grabs my arm so I’ll slow down and appreciate the flowers instead of rushing past them on my way to the car.

Some time later, we were watching a documentary when I discovered why I rush past the garden.   The program was about two men whose accidental brain damage had caused them not to recognize familiar things, including their own images in the mirror. One of the men spoke of how, after his accident, he could no longer appreciate the spring—he could see the flowers clearly enough, since the perceiving part of his brain was fine. But apparently there was a break between that part of the brain and the limbic part, the part that controls emotions.

“I can’t feel the beauty anymore,” he explained.

I paused the program and turned to my husband. “That explains it!” I told him. “You know how you’re always trying to get me to marvel and gasp over every flower we pass? And I always say, ‘Yes, they’re beautiful, but let’s go now?’ Now I understand: I’m simply limbic-ly impaired.”

He was happy enough to concur with my insight, but a moment later I  realized I wasn’t the only supposedly flawed person in the family. In fact, my younger son, when he was about 10, asked us, “What’s a flower for?” and we were momentarily without a response. Do you talk about biodiversity and birds and bees and evolution? Or would a reply that focused on beauty make much sense to him? (He became an engineer and, years later, his garden is almost exclusively vegetables and fruit trees. Though the other day he did tell me he was considering planting a second bougainvillea because the first is so stunningly beautiful to look at.)

And while I’m just not moved by flora, many situations do pique my emotions. For instance, when I read that a drunk driver has wiped out a family, or that a robber has taken the money a mother was going to use to buy flowers for the nurses who treated her terminally ill child, I feel plenty of negative emotion. And I’m very moved by babies and tiny children. Their vulnerability and trustingness sets off a shower of sparks in my limbic system.

My mate doesn’t get emotionally aroused by either adult imbecility or infant vulnerability. He is a caring person who shares my overall values, yet he doesn’t feel my urge to at least say, “Isn’t that the most infuriating thing you’ve ever heard?!”

“Well,” I said to the postal clerk that day as I reached for the flower stamps, “these are for my husband.” He gazed at me for a moment through the clear wall separating us, then crinkled his mouth into a grin.

“Oh, sure,” he said, winking. “Have a nice day!”

Copyright (c) 2014 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

Posted in A Rational Woman | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Only a Theory?

By Laurie Hatton (in collaboration with her local Brights Community Cluster)

Sherlock Holmes commonly stated to Watson, “I have a theory.” The word “theory” means that something is a guess or speculative idea. Right?  Well, yes it can. However, when a scientist uses the term theory, he or she means something totally different.  A scientific theory is an idea that has a lot of evidence to back it up – no guessing involved.

NACA Physicist Studying Alpha Rays

Photo: NASA

Scientists start with a hypothesis – an educated guess based on observation.  A hypothesis can be either supported or refuted through testing or observation. Key hypotheses are tested over and over by independent researchers.

When people say, “I have a theory about that,” what they often mean is that they have a hypothesis.

A scientific theory is much more than a hypothesis.  It is a hypothesis that has been tested and shown to be true beyond any reasonable doubt.  Either that or it is an all-encompassing explanation of a set of well supported hypotheses.  Scientific theories can be shown to be false. But, by the time an idea has made it to “theory,” the evidence is so strong that this almost never happens.  Scientists may argue about the details of the supporting evidence, but rarely about the theory itself.

People used to believe that the sun, moon and stars revolved around the Earth. Evidence now shows that the Earth is a tiny speck orbiting a relatively average sized star, hurtling along on the inside edge of one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. These are theories.  They are supported by rigorously tested hypotheses.  In this day and age, people don’t seem to have a problem believing Earth’s puny position in the universe.

Up until very recently, most people believed that the continents had always been where they are now. It was generally considered “just a coincidence” that they looked as though they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. It was suggested in the late 1500s that they might have once been joined, and since the 1960s, most people understand that the continents were once one, and have split and moved apart or crashed into each other over billions of years, and are in fact still moving. There is strong evidence for the theory of plate tectonics.

Evolution by natural selection is a theory.  It is supported by many lines of evidence. This evidence includes the obvious fossil record, but also genetics, comparative anatomy, and the geographic distribution of species, among many other things. Prior to Darwin’s On The Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, some scientists suspected that evolution had happened.  However, they could not explain how it happened.  Darwin gave us a clear overarching explanation.

Next time you hear someone use the word theory, play Sherlock Holmes; do they really mean hypothesis?

I recently saw a bumper sticker that read, “Evolution is only a theory.  Just like..um..gravity.”  Oh, wait.  It’s on the back of my car.

Posted in The Science-Minded Citizen | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

6 Silly Things You Shouldn’t Do

silly emuEven the most psychologically and philosophically aware among us make mistakes. As a Bright, I believe that most of us aim to behave rationally most of the time. So how come we sometimes act in mindless ways that aren’t in our best interests?

Here are some ideas for bringing daily actions more in line with a belief in rationality:


1. Get addicted to your media. Top of the list for me personally, as I’ve just bought my first Smartphone. I love it and its capabilities. I even got my first spam message this morning (ugh). And while it’s tempting to shop for more free apps, text my kids just for the fun of it, and learn how to take good photos, these activities are not my first priority. Allow me to remind myself here, and perhaps some of you also, that there’s a time and a place for everything. Sure, those little pings (or whatever tones you’ve chosen so carefully) are intermittently reinforcing. Just like checking your email constantly on your computer (guilty!). Still, using our media mindfully makes the most sense.

2. Make rituals into work.  Rituals, both the tried-and-true (or untrue) and the ones we make up for ourselves and our families, come in several varieties. Some add nothing to our lives, and some are  possibly worth the effort. Creative people of all kinds develop rituals around their work (sportspeople, too, and many others). All fine. But when it comes to rituals like cooking more than you have time for around the end-of-year holidays, we ought to rethink what we’re doing. I recall a long-ago comment of my father’s, that all this ritual stuff is for children. Funny, my ex-husband said something similar about birthday parties. No need to be a wet blanket, but don’t try too hard to be politically incorrect (making a big deal out of winter solstice, simply replacing all the time-consuming rituals you used to perform with another set).

3. Try to change all your no-longer-wanted habits at once. Self-control is a limited resource. When you struggle to resist a second helping of popcorn in the evening, after a long day of using your self-control on other matters, you’re more likely to fail. Learn to manage your self-regulatory capacity in order to achieve your goals, which sometimes means making environmental changes (don’t keep stuff around that you don’t want to be tempted by, power down all your media at a certain point of the evening, etc.). Hoard your self-control for when you really need it.

4. Finish reading every book you begin. Actually, that’s a really mindless habit. According to Kim Stafford, author of The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft (University of Georgia Press), “Now I can hardly read a book to the end. If the book bores me, I put it down in a hurry, and turn my gaze, if I can, to a tree, or a distant bird, and my mind to thoughts of my own. If the book inspires me, often I am stricken with a feeling of mortality by its truth, and ask myself, ‘If I have time to read this, shouldn’t I be writing? Life’s not that long.’” Don’t read less, necessarily, but choose mindfully, and quit when you feel like it.

5. Don’t assume good-will. In fact, do assume good-will on the part of everyone with whom you share a close relationship. That doesn’t necessarily mean the guy who sold you your cell-phone plan, or anyone whose goal is to make a profit from your gullibility and loyalty. But your family and your good friends? You will rarely go wrong by assuming they mean well, no matter how their words may come out wrong (to your ears).

6. Don’t be grateful for our amazing lives. In fact, gratitude is very much called for, considering all the really grotesque problems most of us, most of the time, don’t have, especially if you’re a so-called First Worlder with indoor plumbing and more or less dependable electric power and access to more or less modern health care. Certainly, highly developed civilizations could be so much more efficient, so much more fair, so much less irritating. I’m just grateful that I wasn’t born in earlier times.

Got any candidates for things we do mindlessly that we should re-think? Please share.

Copyright (2014) by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

Posted in A Rational Woman | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment


Tiffany Education

The Chittenden Memorial Window at Yale University

By Fran Evanisko
(in collaboration with his local Brights Community Cluster)

To my dad, the old days were either better or worse than the present, depending on the point he was trying to make.  If he wanted me to appreciate all of the good things I had, he would emphasize how bad things were during the depression.  If he wanted me to feel bad about the degradation of values, he would reflect on the community he shared with his neighbors at the homestead.  He would reminisce on how he and his friends would swim and fish in the now polluted river.  The lesson is that most anything may be either true or false, if the meaning or relevance of words can be changed to suit our purposes.

For instance, there is some debate as to whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. I guess if you are looking for tax-exempt status for Buddhist activities on religious grounds, you would argue that it is a religion. On the other hand if you wanted to distance your Buddhist worldview from the fundamental western religions view, you might argue that it is a philosophy.

There has long been a debate over the relationship between science and religion. Is religion a science, or is science a religion?  Arguments are made for both views.  Both science and religion seek to explain the world using evidence and reason, and both, at times, require leaps of faith.  But, the way evidence and reason are used in religion and science is very different, and so is the meaning of “belief”.

We use “belief” in many ways:  to express a desire (I believe I’ll have another piece of cake.); to express and expectation (I believe it’s going to rain); to express a value (I believe in the sanctity of marriage, or I believe in equal rights for all); to express an intention (I believe I’ll take the day off).  These are rather casual ways we use the word belief.

More relevant to what I am talking about here are statements like:  I believe the earth is round, or I believe the earth orbits the sun.  These express the acceptance of some claim as true.  I accept it to be true that the earth orbits the sun.

Pythagoras and Aristotle

Aristotle (far left) and Pythagoras (far right) depicted in Raphael’s “The School of Athens”

An important distinction between religion and science regarding belief is that religion emphasizes what is believed, while science focuses on why things are believed.  Sometimes two individuals may agree on what they believe, but one can hold the belief religiously and the other scientifically.  The Greek philosopher Pythagoras held that the earth was round.  Later on, so did Aristotle.  However, Pythagoras’ belief was religiously held, based not on observed evidence, but based on his religious doctrine regarding the harmony of the universe.  Aristotle’s belief in a round earth was based on several observations, including the recognition that the shadow of the earth on the moon during a lunar eclipse is always round.  He also recognized that different stars are visible in the north than in the south.  This is inconsistent with a flat earth.  Pythagoras’ believed in a round earth religiously, Aristotle’s belief was a scientific hypothesis grounded in observable facts.

Other times, two people can hold divergent beliefs, but they both may be scientific in nature.  In Ptolemy’s view that the sun and the other planets orbit the earth and Copernicus’ held that the planets, including the earth orbit the sun.  Both are scientific theories, since they are grounded in careful celestial observations, and both can predict the positions of the celestial bodies.  Ptolemy’s model is more complicated requiring the assumption that the planets at times circled back on themselves as they orbited the earth.  Copernicus’s model is simpler.  The debate between these two views continued into the middle ages.  When, finally, Galileo turned his telescope toward Jupiter and Saturn, and saw that both of these planets had moons orbiting them, this laid a serious blow to the idea that everything in the heavens orbited the earth.  Both the earth centered and the sun centered views of our planetary system are scientific theories, but eventually the weight of evidence led to the acceptance of the Copernican theory by reasoned people.

There is a difference between how disagreements about beliefs are resolved within religion, and how disagreements are resolved within science.  Often disagreements about religious beliefs result in expulsions, sectarian splits, or even violence. The Inquisition forced Galileo to recant under the threat of excommunication.

Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition, by Cristiano Banti (1857)

Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition, by Cristiano Banti (1857)

There are also emotional and contentious disagreements within the scientific community that lead to factions, however, quite often disputes are resolved rather quickly.  A recent example is the theory of plate tectonics which relates the movement of continental plates over the surface of the earth.  The hypothesis was proposed in 1912 and was roundly ridiculed by almost all geologists.  As late as the 1950s, the idea was not widely accepted as true.  However, the discovery of mid-ocean ridges in the 1950s provided convincing evidence of sea floor spreading, leading to general acceptance of the theory within ten years.  This conversion resulted from compelling evidence, without resorting to coercion or threats of expulsion or violence.

Our beliefs direct our actions, and the more confident we are in our beliefs, the more comfortable we are in our actions.  Doubt, on the other hand, inhibits our actions and causes anxiety.  Our effort to fix belief is driven more by a desire to overcome the anxiety caused by doubt than it is to find truth.  Often, when people reach the state of being confident in their belief, they suspend the search for truth; they take a more defensive stand toward their belief.  Efforts to fix belief are either grounded in emotional appeals to tradition, authority, and social or familial pressure, or to more objective intellectual appeals to evidence.  Emotional appeals can be very effective and require less energy and effort, and in the end may be more compelling than a more objective intellectual approach.

At the personal level, the truth of what we believe is not particularly relevant.  As long as we are by ourselves, or in community with only those who share all of our beliefs we can be comfortable about our actions, and force anyone who may lose faith out of the community.  It is in our associations with others, who don’t share our beliefs, that we need concern ourselves with the notion of truth, if we hope to come to common understanding.  In a more integrated world, where we cannot and may not wish to avoid involvement with people holding diverse beliefs, we need to strive for common understanding, peaceably.  More objective, evidence-based means of fixing belief are more conducive to this end than are emotionally based appeals.

Several years ago, while driving, I happened on to a radio show where the host was interviewing a young boy, who sounded to be about 10 years old.  The boy complained that his teacher was teaching him things he didn’t believe.  I accept that it is a parent’s prerogative to instill any belief system they choose in their children; still, I think this child’s situation is unfortunate.   So, what should parents teach children?    I taught mine that there is nothing in the world you have to believe, and that anyone who tries to frighten you into believing something  has nothing of value to offer.

Posted in The Science-Minded Citizen | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

3 New Books Brights Might Like

bright girl readingI’ve made a point lately of seeking out signs of religious belief or its lack in the main characters of books I read. More and more I’m noticing signs of characters (and one would think their authors) coming out on the Bright side. At least in the sort of literary novels (and memoirs of literary novelists) I tend to favor.

While I certainly don’t read only books by freethinkers, I do raise a polite cheer for writers who are both imaginative and rational.

Here, then, are three examples of fine books that work their storytelling magic without resorting to actual magic:

1. Coincidence by J.W. Ironmonger

Author J.W. Ironmonger, born and raised in East Africa, lives in England. This novel is a fresh take on the issue of chance versus fate.

Here’s the first note I took:

‘I don’t believe any more.’

‘You don’t believe in the work of the mission?’

Luke looked miserable. ‘I don’t believe in God.’

For a third time the African exploded into a great gale of laughter. He pounded his big hand like a paddle on Luke’s back. ‘My friend, my friend, my friend,’ he said in between snorts of hilarity, ‘nobody believes in God any more.’

And then here’s an exchange that takes place 20 years later:

‘Why did you change the place from a mission to a rescue centre?’

‘It seemed like an important thing to do,’ Luke says. He leans back in the chair. ‘Some of the kids coming down from Sudan were Muslims. Some had no religion. It occurred to me one day that we were part of the problem. We were making this into a religious conflict simply by helping to sustain the ridiculous social convention that every child is born with a set of beliefs and that every child has to stay loyal to those beliefs until the day they die. All the missions in Africa – they all share part of the blame.’

‘And was it . . . a religious conflict?’ Thomas asks.

‘In part. One man with a set of mumbo-­jumbo beliefs decided that God had spoken to him, so anyone who disagreed could be shot, or have bits of their body hacked off.’

I enjoyed Coincidence so much that I also read Ironmonger’s previous novel, a much odder book, The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder. About a man who shuts himself away for three decades and attempts to record every one of his memories, it’s wonderfully quirky and original.

2. Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart has written three critically acclaimed (and really funny and engaging) novels: Absurdistan, Super Sad True Love Story, and The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. Little Failure is his sweetly revealing memoir. Here is an example of his forthright and vulnerable writing:

I used to be more forthcoming with my father, and, consequently, I used to hate him. Now I know just how much pain I can inflict, and do inflict, with each book I publish that does not extol the State of Israel, with each National Public Radio pronouncement that does not bind me in covenant with his famous God.

My mother, her ambition stifled, channeled away by history and language, has given birth to my own. The only difference is: I have no God, no family myth, to cling to, no mythmaking abilities beyond the lies I tell on the page.

3. You Disappear by Christian Jungersen

Christian Jungersen, a Danish award-winning and bestselling male novelist, writes here from the first person female point of view. The book tackles, with flair, a variety of issues related to free will. Jungersen challenges readers to determine how much change a person must undergo before his spouse notices that he isn’t “himself.” Indeed, how sick do you have to be to be excused from a crime when your orbitofrontal region has been compromised? Do sudden large, but positive, changes in a personality also signal biological brain defects?

Here is the humanistic excerpt I noted:

“Because there exists another form of happiness—when the level of activity in your left frontal lobe exceeds that in your right. This form of happiness doesn’t run dry. On the contrary, you can train it so that it keeps increasing your entire life.”

“So how exactly do you obtain this form of happiness?”

“You get it by doing good deeds, meditating regularly, and dedicating your life to something meaningful. These are all things that neuroscientists have measured and verified.”

“So you meditate and you’re happy.”

“That’s what I do. And I help Ian, and I help my kids. And yes, I’m happy. That’s what’s so brilliant about atheism, I think: it points the way to a worldview that’s infinitely richer and more beautiful than what you’ll find in any religious book. And it points out the most ethical approach to boot.”

Copyright (2014) by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

Posted in A Rational Woman | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Will Solve the Middle East Crisis

medieval warriorIn a recent op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, Daniel Sokatch and David N. Myers wrote

Israel has been beset by a pair of controversies relating to its Arab minority: first, the proposal over whether to resettle Bedouin Arabs against their will in state-sponsored towns, and second, the renewed call by Israel’s foreign minister to “transfer” Arab residents of northern Israel to a new state of Palestine should one be established.

I have no intention of discussing all the rights and wrongs (far too many of the latter) on all sides of the Israeli/Palestinian debate. Though I did get a degree in Middle Eastern Studies a long time ago, I wouldn’t claim to have special insight into that part of the world. But I’ve been there, I know a few people there, and it’s in the news constantly, so I can’t help but think about it a lot.

As the American daughter of an American Jewish mother who can readily trace my roots to the shtetls of Eastern Europe, from which my Orthodox Jewish grandparents emigrated early in the 20th century or I might not ever have been born, I am entitled to Israeli citizenship. This always-open offer is not made to Palestinians who’d like to come back to their homes, nor to non-Jewish refugees from any state, in any condition of need.

All Jews in the world are eligible, under Israel’s 1950 Law of Return, to be fast-tracked to Israeli citizenship. . . .  Palestinian Arabs and Druze born in Israel are citizens by birth. But residents of East Jerusalem, . . . are not. They are conditional residents.

Thus, here is my solution to one part of the complex Middle East imbroglio:  I hereby offer my potential Israeli citizenship to someone who needs it a lot more than I do.

I’m very happy to have been born in the United States, which is not a theocracy. I believe that those who would take away this too-rare freedom will not prevail, including those right-wing Christians who don’t comprehend the genius with which this nation was founded. (I’m sorry the land was taken by force from the natives who lived here first. I don’t know how to apologize for that wrong except to help ensure we’ve seen the last of such imperialist bullying.)

Israel was set up to fulfill an old Zionist dream, among other reasons. It’s maintained in part by those who continue to take orders from an ancient and imaginary deity. I’m not going to engage in debating the viability or righteousness of a land where Holocaust survivors went, when other viable options didn’t appear to exist. Plenty of blame over that may be apportioned to a number of nations.

The very idea that I, or my children, or their children, would be accepted as citizens in another nation because our ancestors believed in a Jewish god, or followed the traditional rituals regardless of what they believed, strikes me as lunacy. I thereby give up my unearned right to take the place of a needier non-Jewish refugee, whether Arab or African or any other ethnicity, nationality, or race.

As Sokatch and Myers wrote in their op-ed

Rights of residence and freedom in personal status issues should be the same for all citizens, whether they are Jewish according to religious law, Jewish only by citizenship or non-Jewish.

Let the conversation begin.

Perhaps a means test? As space allows, allow to apply for citizenship those with the greatest need, as well as those who have demonstrated the most compassion and cooperativeness with others. But who their ancestors deemed worthy of worship? In the long term, that’s a counter-productive—and downright silly—notion.

[NOTE: As always, the opinions expressed here are my own and are not necessarily representative of Brights in general.]

Copyright (c) 2014 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

Posted in A Rational Woman | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Those Famous 5 Stages of Grief: Hogwash?

griefLoss —if we’ve been paying attention and are older than 12—is a recurrent theme in all our lives. You don’t have to identify as a Bright to have dealt with grief or to realize you will face grieving someday.

I’d often read about the so-called five stages of grief, first espoused by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross more than 40 years ago. But when I recently read a little deeper, I found that the psychology of loss and grieving may have been shortchanged by the way this single theory gained such widespread  popular media acceptance.

In a nutshell, Kubler-Ross and her proponents posited that every person grieving a serious loss goes through the following five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.

What I’d particularly wondered about was whether we modern humans, in fact we Brights, could grieve in our own idiosyncratic ways, without necessarily needing professional help and without being concerned that we were doing something wrong.

The Truth about Grief: The Myth of its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss, by Ruth Davis Konigsberg, tackles heavy-duty misconceptions in an encouraging way. It’s a science-based yet sensitive and thought-provoking look at how society constructs attitudes about loss, and how such attitudes may not be the most helpful for everyone.

Konigsberg explains that not everyone heals from horrific loss the same way, that most people recover with or without counseling about equally well, and that it’s possible for some to accept their losses and move on in only half a year. Not that everyone can or will, but it’s good to know that you needn’t necessarily suffer both wrenching loss and many years of unremitting misery when someone you love dies.


  • Talking about your loss isn’t always necessary or best for healing.
  • So-called “complicated grief” that goes on for years isn’t very common.
  • Resilience in the face of very disruptive events is common and doesn’t mean there is a lack of feelings or that anything pathological is going on.

Konigsberg also explores the way grief professionals make money from the commercialization of grief. Many of them turn to this field after experiencing a major loss of their own, but, she writes, “Using personal experience or anecdote instead of research to guide treatment has been a big problem with applied thanatology all along.”

Perhaps the best counselor (whether friend or professional) for a Bright would be someone with a similar life view, that is, one who won’t try to comfort you with the false hope that you’ll meet your lost loved one in another life.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

Posted in A Rational Woman | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Who Needs Friends?

women friendsWhen I recently interviewed Mary Trunk regarding her delightful film about women who are both mothers and artists, I began thinking about the role of female friends in women’s lives. Especially in my own life.

Here’s a piece of that longer interview with Mary Trunk:

Q: Mary, I was almost envious (okay, I was envious) of the close lifelong friendship between two of the women in your film, Caren and Kristina. I’ve never had anything like that (not counting my husband). And yet, even though they were so much a part of one another’s lives, it seems that during the trials of early motherhood, even they felt they couldn’t completely “get” one another anymore. . . . Is this, then, a demonstration of the essential loneliness most of us experience?

Here is Mary Trunk’s response:

It seems to me that friendships between women (and maybe men as well) can be disrupted so much when one or the other marries and then has kids. Heck, remember when your best girlfriend got a boyfriend in high school? You never saw her after that. I think in Caren and Kristina’s case they found it so difficult because they were so in sync about everything. They still live only a few blocks from each other. Being pregnant together and planning to have home births put them on a road of expectation that is bound to fail.

And in their case it didn’t fail completely. Who they are as parents is very different than either of them expected. The family unit also becomes top priority, and friendships can’t help but be put on the back burner. Add in the intensity and high energy of babies, toddlers and children, and you can’t help but feel estranged from your friends. When a friend chooses a partner and has children we see a side of them that we may have overlooked or that may not have been as visible.

Kristina said that she couldn’t think when she was around her children but she was more than willing to take a break from them when she needed it. Caren couldn’t leave Olive at all for the first few years of her life. When Kristina needed escape, Caren wasn’t able or willing to go there with her. And when Caren wanted to bitch about being a mother or anything else, Kristina didn’t want to hear it. At least not while she had two little kids around. All of that is to say that they are not alone.

I too have had issues with friendships. Being friends with people who have no children also has its challenges. So yes, there is this loneliness we just have to get used to. It does get better as the children grow. What is wonderful about the women I filmed is that they have such an amazing and trusting foundation in their friendship that they were able to ride through this and believe that they could. I think it taught them both that their friendship is strong and they can get through these bumpy and lonely roads. And that is something to envy, for sure.

Only a handful of the females with whom I’ve ever been good friends are still in my life, and I wouldn’t claim those relationships are as deeply intimate as I would like. I never see myself reflected in all those heartwarming novels that center on a group of close women friends over time. And I know it’s my own fault.

I remember a distinct thought I had when I was a very young teen: I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to hide my real self in order to have more friends. Unfortunately, I now realize, my real self was kind of snotty. My peers believed I thought I was superior to them. Mostly I was shy and really didn’t know how to “play well with others.” But, indeed, I had also learned from my father a habit of being critical of others (as well as of myself).

I tend to think, even today as I write this, that I’m only being realistic and rational in my evaluations. Yet I have also learned that friendships don’t need, nor can they bear, too much realism.

Your thoughts?

Copyright (c) 2013 by Susan K. Perry, author of the novel Kylie’s Heel

Posted in A Rational Woman | Tagged , , | 1 Comment