1) Look out the window and examine the world in which you live. Go for a walk in the green park or nearby forest. Find a dark field away from the city lights and look at the star-filled, night sky. Close your eyes and listen to your breath and feel your heart beat. If not all -- then at least one of these activities can cause wonder even in the most intelligent mind. It’s even more wondrous when you consider that what you see out your window is more of Earth, proportionately, than what we see of Universe, even with the aid of powerful telescopes.
The world we encounter is often mysterious, but for most people religions provide enough answers to satisfy curiosity or at least these help some people celebrate the mysteries. When this is not the case, or when people leave their birth religion, the surrounding world can seem more than mysterious; it can be down-right daunting. It is not so easy for a curious teenager with little experience of the world, let alone an inquiring adult, to make sense of life and society without a well educated frame of reference. Those who were taught from youth to be Atheists may have learned to lead their lives along some humanist lines, but somewhere there has to be training to help independent people make good, ethical decisions. For many that training can begin here.
2) There is a satisfying life available without religion, a meaningful life, an exciting, challenging life. Frame of Reference intends to show people how to find that excitement without depending on any dogmatic belief. In my years of reading and studying, I have not found a single book that presents an approach to life that is objective, combining the best art and teachings of religion with a reasonable scientific attitude. Therefore I have put together the most profound and often poetic insights relating to the all-too-complex lives we face as Homo sapiens and as participants in families and societies with many often obscure, scientific facts and theories.
There is no overt intention here to convince anyone to leave their religion. The primary task is to equip people to make decisions for themselves. If this book is indeed missing from the library shelves, its development is long overdue. Nevertheless, in collecting this material I have benefited, as I hope the reader will. I have gained a more thorough understanding of nature, reviewed poetry long overlooked (written a few new poems) and stretched my mind in a disciplined way, step by step, Stele by Stele.
3) One of the most useful elements of Frame of Reference is the discussion of some fallacies of logic in a context where these are easy to see and understand. I have quoted, summarized, paraphrased and compiled from many experts. Where the information is technical and a direct quote I make a bibliographical reference. Most of the information is in the public domain and readily accessible in encyclopedias and text books and no references are required.
The verses in each Stele are numbered for easy reference and often arranged to contrast similar topics from different sources. In other cases they are arranged more or less chronologically but not necessarily telling a coherent story from one verse to the next. In some cases a verse is meant to be one example of many possible choices, and in every case these verses are intended to stimulate thought about the subject rather than tell the whole story. It is hoped that each reader will look for and find more and better examples and quotes to illustrate each point that might be made.
4) For those who are searching the world for `Truth,’ and there are many, Frame of Reference offers affirmative teaching in place of rhetorical blasphemy, it offers rational explanation to replace embittered apostasy and it describes life in artistic terms that match the loftiest hymn. Further, it offers the language of fellowship to those who have forsaken (or vice versa) their native religions for whatever reason. Often people are cast adrift from religion simply over personality disputes, petty power struggles, the inferred insult that may or may not have been deliberate, relocations, homosexuality, periods of indifference, drug abuse and good, honest disagreements of perspective. In the most extreme and traumatic cases people leaving their religions are angry, excommunicated or shunned by their families. Frame of Reference should be read by all of these people.
Not everyone who finds themselves without religion, or at one time in their life wanders from one belief to another, is capable of finding their own way or being a Freethinker alone. It isn’t so easy to be calm and patient in the face of emotional and intellectual uncertainty. (People kill themselves for less, 'god forbid.') It requires no more than an average intelligence but an above average objectivity, to make this sensitive, scientific approach useful. Part of the idea is to convert instincts and feelings into a stable, secure, independent life concept. It requires a willingness to ask questions, challenge the answers, study new topics--all the time expanding one’s frame of reference (hence the title).
5) The most poignant aspects of science and Universe are often explained best in the most delicate poetry. Samples of this artistry are presented here to show how fulfillment of life arises by combining rational thought with 'irrational,' emotional experience. (My poems are identified by "IJ.") Even when we know the explanation for some physical phenomenon, there is still reason to wonder for the majesty, beauty and complexity of these details. Thus our appreciation for the unknown increases the more we learn. The 'wow' is still there and always will be no matter how much we know. The sensitive, clever poem can affect its reader like:
Caress the soft beauty of the rose petal,Our most advanced cultures are complex and there is excitement in learning the different ways Mankind has organized society, how different religions have evolved and how Man has created other unique, artistic expressions. Man’s struggle to dominate his fellow Man, his environment and survive has generated rich permutations of social orders. Many of these intellectual triumphs -- Man using his genius to combine fact with fantasy -- are still useful today if only as object lessons. These civilizations can be brutal and chauvinistic as well as sensitive and sublime.
Touch the mystery of life. (IJ, November 2000)
6) It is always easier to be objective with the distance of history to separate us from the egos involved, but how do we moderate our own ego to defend ourselves from irrational decisions today? How do we gain the confidence to defend our reasoning and say resolutely: "I have thought it through and made a thorough study and this is what I have decided!" and feel comfortable? Frame of Reference helps the student of life become a self-guided individual, and if along the way one gains an appreciation for poetry, that would be a plus.
n7) One curious phenomenon that occurs among some Freethinkers: once they have overcome the mental cramps, biases or sympathies that held them in a religious frame of mind, they trivialize this process of learning. We should not minimize this challenge or fail to give credit and attribution to those who went ahead. The enlightenment we inherit comes from the historical documents we have mastered. This failure to empathize with each new group of searching high school graduates, as it were, and the failure to help people in transition is neither flattering nor honorable; it is an endemic weakness of our society.
(e. e. cummings)
There isn’t an organization outside academia that is in tune with the need to nurture new generations. The best advice of the seasoned Atheist is too often 'read books,' the moral equivalent of "let them eat cake," sending intellectually curious, morally hungry people to the library with no guidance. The food for thought is too often indigestible. Young people leaving religion and searching are as likely to be attracted to another superstition, a new age cult for example, rather than to any thriving, Freethinking ethic. It is incumbent on everyone, therefore, who has arrived at a sense of confidence about their mental processes, to share this enlightenment in a non-dogmatic way, objectively with their friends and compassionately with willing members of their families.
8) So, even though Frame of Reference may be used as part of the training needed to help people be independent of religions, it is also intended to put religious belief into perspective and show how it can be important and meaningful. Belief in a religion is a rational choice that can help people make ethical decisions and live good and productive lives. It may seem curious that an Atheist could write about, much less care about, sacred writings. To propose that the simple facts of nature and life are equivalent to holy scripture, however, makes more sense than suggesting that the history of the ancient Jews and Palestinians (The Old Testament) has any moral authority over Man in the 21st century. The Stele are numbered in Latin using 'ordinal' numbers rather than 'cardinal' numbers--just another way to show that what is said is not sectarian nor dogmatic but secular and long lasting and just for fun.
9) This is not a philosophy book, although I would not deny trying to do some philosophy here and there. Furthermore, I have quoted many philosophers, used their writings to gain important and essential perspectives and on occasion advised the reader to do more of the same. I say this more as a form of apology than pride, in case I have not understood properly what the individual was getting at. One always runs the risk of revealing more of what one does not know than what one knows. I acknowledge this risk and accept it. I have tried to use examples and quotes forthrightly and frequently to make my points rather than arguments. To the extent this is consistent with some philosophers, so much the better. There is no Stele entitled philosophy, because it seems one goal of philosophy has been to explain the condition of Man (spawning new sciences along the way) and put itself out of business. I have tried to oblige.
This book will make a traveler of thee,In many verses the moral to the story is highlighted in italics to help the casual reader obtain the main points rather more quickly. One could peruse this book reading the italicized comments and find it a useful journey. That, however, would not educate or expand one’s frame of reference as desired. The intention is to draw the interest of the reader into a more detailed investigation of quoted sources and other authorities, and make a frame for the information, an intellectual scaffolding as it were, surrounding what are arguably the most important concepts in the history of Man. Much more could be added in each Stele, but all explanations must come to some end.
If by its counsels thou wilt ruled be:
It will direct thee to the Holy Land,
If thou wilt its directions understand:
Yea, it will make the slothful active be;
The blind also delightful things to see.
(John Bunyan’s, The Pilgrims Progress, 1678)
11) The space following [this was originally written for a paper based book--feel free to start a paper or electronic journal instead] is intentionally left blank so the reader can make a note of their attitude, belief (non-belief) about religion, god or the meaning of life. Then in a month or so, after digesting some of the material in Frame of Reference, review the comments and update these. Do this again in a year, or whenever the impulse arises, taking care to date the entries. After many years it will be interesting to note the growth and see changes.