states of consciousness, Joseph Campbell, and more

12/18/00 - 7/01 Messages

The most recent messages can be found here.

received 11/21/00 (but lost in the shuffle until July of 2001)
I just wanted to write and let you know what a lifesaver your site has been to me for the past few years. I was raised in the Mormon religion through most of my childhood and adolescence, and while I really wanted to believe, I never could do it 100%, which I knew meant that I was a bad Mormon. I questioned too much stuff. My parents, before they divorced and my dad remarried a Mormon woman, were very supportive of my interest in science, history and reading, and bought me a set of children's encyclopedias which I read obsessively and some higher level reading textbooks. None of what I was taught about the world, about creation or anything, in Sunday School matched up with anything I had read. One teacher said that the dinosaurs were actually fossils from other worlds that were
used to create this world - say what? Even at twelve, I knew that was completely screwy. But I tried not to question because that was what the Prophet had counseled, and yadda yadda yadda. I didn't make that connection until I started reading dystopic novels, like 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale, and learned that those who normally have something to hide will preach that open-mindedness is a sin.

I remember one time, when I was fifteen, I got in quite a bit of trouble for asking my Sunday School teacher why everyone denigrates David Koresh, but worships Jesus Christ, who was really no different (messages notwithstanding) from Mr. Koresh. I took it one step further and drew the parallels between David Koresh and Joseph Smith. The other students were positively indignant. Arguments for creationism and against evolution made no sense to me because it contradicted every single thing I had ever learned about life on this planet. When I learned about the levels of heaven, I felt mildly comforted, because I thought I was going straight to hell and now was probably only condemned to the Terrestrial level. I didn't even want to go to the Celestial Kingdom anyway, and told my teachers so - why would I want to work hard to be righteous and deny myself so much so that I could go to heaven, and not even be a God, but rather be one of the God's many child-bearing wives? Even when I was young, this sounded completely screwy and undesirable, more like an eternal Hell than a great reward for obedience. I can see how a man would wholeheartedly embrace this - it sounds pretty freakin' good - but it always confused me as to how a woman could really look forward to the afterlife if all she was going to be was a baby machine and nothing else.

I'm sure that, had I been born in the religion as opposed to converted at eight, I wouldn't have questioned so much. I would have bought into the doctrine that what the General Authorities says is the gospel as I know it, I would have been able to ignore the obvious inconsistencies in doctrine, and I would probably be bloody miserable but in some major denial. As it was, I tried desperately to reconcile all of the flaws I heard in my mind so that I didn't have to throw out all of the things I liked about the church, like Young Women's, camp, the snugness of the community, the fellowship. I think I managed to do a good job of pushing down my doubts and ignoring them, even to the point where I was waiting for a missionary to return so we could marry. But I was lucky enough to have parents who initially encouraged me to be all I could be and to never let anyone stand in my way, and I'm glad those little seeds of curiosity were never squelched.

One thing I've noticed is that a lot of people had bad experiences with members that caused their disillusionment. Perhaps it is because I was a child (still am, in many ways) and I never had to deal with them in the capacity of adults. It was known that I was an ambitious little bugger, with dreams of Columbia Law School or NYU Film School, and I am eternally grateful that none of my leaders sought to squish my dreams. In fact, they were so supportive of my dreams that I couldn't understand why they even taught us in Young Women's that the woman's place was in the home. It seemed like the leaders had made an exception for me, like they could tell that domesticity would not keep me content. I'm glad I got out before I encountered any resistance to my ambition. I look at my older sister, who is 23, married, mother of one with more on the way, and I see how resigned she is to her life (at 23!), and it's depressing, because I don't think she made a real conscious choice to do what she did. She married her husband because it was the right time, not because she felt some deep connection with him.

When I did eventually leave, right after I started college, it was the most exciting and scary thing ever. My family essentially ostracized me. My dad accused me of trying to make him miserable (which was the ironies of all ironies, considering that only three weeks earlier he had made the decision to be baptized, after taking the missionary lessons for nearly eight years and never being able to believe any of it). My stepmother was convinced that I had made a huge mistake and that I was going to ruin my life. I, on the other hand, felt free as a bird who had been caged for several years - tentative, scared to take the first steps, but then rushing to see the rest of the world. I dove into philosophy and politics and gender studies and learned a lot and learned how to really think and how to keep my mind free from the constraints that had been placed on it. Now, four years later, I am in the process of studying the sciences, and you know what? The feelings I get from finally understanding a new theory, or when I think about the size and the interconnectedness of the universe, makes me feel more euphoric than I ever felt from prayer or scripture study. My heart feels the largest when I think about the origins of the atoms in my body, or when I imagine painting the stars. I don't know if I believe in a higher power, but there is no other time that I feel closer to a higher power than when I am contemplating the world around me. Truth is my new religion, after living a life that was sustained on a diet of lies and secrets, and I feel mentally and spiritually stronger and more sated than I had in fourteen years of praying to a silent God and reading false scripture.

That brings me to something else that has bothered me for the past few years. I'm 21 years old with no college degree. How do people who are more educated than I am, more intelligent than I am, older than I am, and more worldly than I am continue to believe what they have been taught, without so much as questioning their beliefs? How do grown men and women ignore the logistical flaws that plagued me as a little kid? Why are people so afraid to have their beliefs revealed as wrong? Why are people so willing to accept pretty mirages instead of learning to love and accept the truth? Surely the human mind is not so mired in a need for comfort and stability that it would cause people to accept and believe tenets without even questioning the logic behind them? Are people that afraid of their own mortality? Are they that afraid of being wrong? Maybe there are no questions for my answers. However, an inkling of an idea might make me more capable of interacting normally with my Mormon friends and family, because right now, I can't help but look at them and think how foolish they are. I don't want to think that, but knowing what I know about the Mormon church and knowing what I know now about the doctrine...well, it seems very obvious to me and it frustrates me that I cannot seem to express what I know to them without being dismissed as "bitter", "lost", or "confused". Dad even said that he thinks I've gotten caught up with some "bad ideas" - as if an idea or a thought could ever be a bad thing. I'm starting to feel this way about anyone who expresses an idea that they have not fully explored themselves. I don't know. I know that it is scary when everything you believe to be true falls apart, but to me, it is scarier to believe in lies than it is to not believe in anything and to trust myself. I don't see fear as a good enough reason to delude yourself.

Your site is wonderful. The resources I found through your site were amazing. I'm now in the process of working my way through your reading list - "The Selfish Gene" is next on my list. The articles on your site are amazing - I read a critique of "Atlas Shrugged" which detailed exactly what made me queasy about Objectivism (so much of it appealed to me, but I had a very hard time wrapping my mind around the idea of moral absolutes in all things - and Ayn Rand, as a person, appalled me). Please keep up the great work you are doing. I know that it has affected my life deeply, and I'm sure that many other can say the same. Maybe someday I can have the courage to make my protest known to the point where I will be excommunicated (I want them to kick me out - I don't want to leave voluntarily), but right now, I don't think I can do it quite yet.

As to why people who are educated remain religious in an orthodox or fundamental sense... I believe the answers are many and fairly complex. But basically (and only in some cases I imagine), it is difficult for leopards to change their spots. Some adults accept some things as adults because they were conditioned to as children many times. These accepted beliefs are things they wouldn't normally accept as adults otherwise (and they don't accept them when it comes to the religions/beliefs/superstitions of others, but they are already "stuck" in one faith which they aren't going to abandon). For a couple of good books on the subject see:

received 6/10/00 (but lost in the shuffle until July of 2001)
I'm writing for a couple of reasons. I've just spent quite a bit a time at your site reading through several of the pages, including some of your book reviews. In a discussion forum recently, I was introduced to the concept of 'memes' and found the information you provide on the subject most helpful.

Also, I've been a wandering spirit for years, although I was a practicing Christian for the better part of my childhood and did dabble in TM, then Buddhism in later years. As time has passed, my spirituality has evolved in such a way that I am irreligious without devaluing my spirituality. I'm 43 now and have longed for a 'church' in which my questioning mind could be free to rest and gain new sustenance. The information and links you provided on the Universalist Unitarians may lead me to the kind of congregation I've been looking for. I hope it will.

Lastly, given what I've gained from you, I thought you might enjoy reading about Charles Sanders Peirce (if you haven't already). I won't spoil the surprise by jading it with my own interpretations of his work or the potential implications for those of us who thrive on continued inquiry. I would only ask that you follow a couple of links, sniff around, and see if he might 'potentially' hold for you a 'light' in whatever darkness might still remain.

The above link leads to the introduction to a collection of Peirce's writings called "The Essential Peirce." Make particular note of the way he would have categorized subjects of study at the university and also the few paragraphs on his theory of evolution. I haven't read the full collection myself I but have read selections of his work that are available online at this location:

The essay entitled "Evolutionary Love" may pique your interest as well as the others entitled "The Fixation of Belief" and "How to Make Our Ideas Clear."

There are a couple of reasons I think you might enjoy Peirce. For one, it appears that the concept of the 'meme' may not be new, since it appears that Peirce may describe the same thing as a 'sign' requiring an 'interpretant'.

I will warn you, his breadth of knowledge and thought is exceeded by nearly no one (except maybe Aristotle) and his history is curious, given the time period in which he lived; the fact that he challenged the accepted method of structuring American universities; he was essentially an outcast among the intellectual elite of his day; and he also challenged Darwin's Theory of Evolution. He thought it was too mechanistic. He has a few critics but the truth is that no one fully understands him because of the breadth of his thought and the fact that his work remains largely hidden from broader public view and is still in the process of being properly catalogued and put into published form. Much of it is very difficult to come by.

Another good place to get an idea of his background and the scope of his work is at Arisbe:

Be sure to follow the link within to "The Wasp Leaves the Bottle."

I realize this will take you some time to digest but I do hope that you will write back and share your response. I've known about Peirce since 1983 while studying Pragmatic Reasoning in college. The particular instructor I had favored Perice's Pragmaticism although, back then, his work was nearly impossible to find. I strayed from my interest in him for years, though I've been practicing his Pragmatic Reasoning ever since passing the class. It is there that, again, I see similarities between the 'meme' and the 'presupposition in a statement' which I've learned to identify in my own thinking as well as in my communications with others. Honestly, I've only recently, in the past 3 months, rediscovered Peirce and I couldn't even begin to express how overwhelmed I am both with awe and gratitude for having stumbled onto his world.

So, I've said too much and shared with you my obvious bias toward him. Once you know Peirce, you'll realize the comedy in that. *chuckle*

Happy hunting,


received 6/23/01
1. I turned Google loose on "
Foucault's Pendulum" (that amazing satire on conspiracy theories) and there you were! The Serendipitimeter pegged.

2. Call me "God-Fearing Agnostic". See #3 below.

3. 11th Commandment: "Thou shalt hedge thy bets at all times. And drive defensively, while you're at it."

4. Books to reread, depending on one's life expectancy:

Science and Sanity, by Alfred Korzybski

Teacher in America, by Jacques Barzun

Zen & the Art of, etc., by Robert Pirsig

Anything by Theodore Sturgeon, Cyril Kornbluth, Walt Kelly

5. And so on.

Watch this space!

Best to all freethinkers,

received 6/15/01
After reading a small portion of your site, I have much respect for your objectivity you attempt to keep throughout the site (although some comments could be left out, but its understandable). Being a theist (more specifically, a Roman Catholic Christian looking to becoming an ordained priest), I of course disagree with your views, however it has been difficult for me to find a truely intellectual "free-thinking" site that doesn't try to throw in strange emotions to seemingly try to anger thiests. I just wanted to give you a thumbs up on a job well done. Why am I trying to find a good atheist site? you may ask. In actuality, I can't think of the right words. I guess I more or less want to get into the mindset and try to find some more modern western philosophy that doesn't have a preconceived notion of God, and see what ultimate conclusion I come up with paralell to that of religion and see at what places they cross. It seems that since Christ, all renown great thinkers have built on Jesus' teachings and adopted thier own such as Socrates, or tried to "rebel" against a popular idea.

Are you sure? From my readings, Christ's teachings were hardly unique or new. Nor have many of the recent great thinkers been relying on him. Rather they look for what is most reasonable and utilitarian, trying to foster actions that help individuals and communities.

By the way, do you recommend any specific reading that doesn't ecompass either of these, so I can get the best objective POV possible?

I'm not sure what you are asking for here. Are you looking for works on the history of philosophy that ignore Christ and "rebels"? If so, who, for example, do you consider to be merely a rebel?

Thank you for your time, and I apologize for the length, its late and I get pretty wordy at night. Take care, I look foward to discussing much with you.

received 6/5/01
I stumbled upon your page ( by accident. I saw an advertisement [through linkexchange] that mentioned the site not being endorsed by the pope and it caught my eye. I spent the last few hours reading through what you have to say and, while I may not agree with all of it, I did find it to be an enjoyable experience.

I recently left the Catholic faith. A combination of articles I've read and thinking I've done on my own have led me to the conclusion that their god does not exist as they believe. I have since turned to Paganism, more specifically the adoration of nature. I believe that divinity lies in natural forces. I also believe that this divinity is not a being or entity. Having said that, does it make much sense for me to worship it? It's certainly not going reward me for my praise and write me a "thank you" card. Despite having no proof that my practices are doing any good on any sort of cosmic scale I continue to study and carry on with my new faith. I can honestly say that my life has changed for the better; I am a much happier person.

As for thinking, I'm not through with that (I'm young yet and have a lot of time on my hands. ;) ).

Keep up the good work and take it easy!

Thanks for you kind words. I, too, am a sort of Pagan, Pantheist, Naturalist, or whatever you want to call it. Life can be grand even without pretend "Thank You" cards from an Almighty who demands praise and worship. (What kind of an Almighty would demand or request things like obedience, praise, and worship anyway? One with low self-esteem? ;) ) Stick around and enjoy the site. And let me know (specifically) what you don't agree with. Maybe I don't either.

received 5/21/01
Since your site concentrates on books with a religious theme I thought I'd tell you of a great book I just read. "
Saint Jack and Toad/Third Angel of the Apocalypse" by P. Carraher. I think it's natural for those of us who believe in God to contemplate (now and then) the idea of what God is like. I just read this book (of fiction) and it actually made me stop and consider this very question.

It's an entertaining book. Has now a bit of a cult following, I understand. Very well written indeed. Full of metaphor and imagery. It's about a New York City (USA) fireman named Jack Cassidy (Saint Jack) whose family dies in a fire. He's so distraught that he decides to kill himself. He's kept from doing that by the appearance of a vision (from God) that tells him he must live in order to find and destroy a growing evil that will cause the world great harm if not stopped. (A possibly real danger in the real world as it turns out. The 'third angel" in the title refers to the angel in the bible (Revelations) who talks of the "pollution of the waters of life". It's Carraher's viewpoint that DNA can be thought of as the true "waters of life" and that the current genetic science might very well be the pollution the angel talks about. Apocalypse Soon? Scary thought.)

Really good book. But I'm writing specifically about a couple of paragraphs in it. At one point Saint Jack questions two angels (they befriend him to help him in his epic quest) about the nature of God.

The angels tell him that: "You imagine God to be like you. Except superhuman. You've created God in your image. God's not like that."

It struck me that that is the way we imagine God. Most of us.

Then the author goes on to say that it is not humankind that is made in God's image, but rather the world in which we live. To quote the book:

"Your world and its small section of the universe, Jack, and it is a marvel, a wonder of subtle choreography and artistry, but for all its marvels it's only a pale imitation of the true jewel. You humans live in what is a mere suggestion of God. You glimpse only luminous sparks so to speak and not the full blazing sunlight that is God..."
Another quote:
"Now imagine a world similar to yours but one in which Nature's indifference to its parade of cruelties is replaced by love and compassion. A world in which the underlying bonding element is not Nature's laws but rather a loving and compassionate God."
This idea struck me as quite good when I read it, if not profound. The thought that our entire Earth is made in the image of God rather than the human being strikes me as one that would tend to eliminate (subtly) the many differences between the peoples of the Earth. It would help us think of ourselves as all one family. And under this kind of all encompassing image of God, those silly arguments about whether God is white or black or male or female would also be eliminated.
received 4/25/01
I thank my good fortune for having stumbled on your site,, last year. It is my constant companion when I need to enlarge my interest in: History-Science-Religion etc. I either purchase the books referred to or read them through our library system.

Again thank you for illuminating my retirement.

received 4/18/01
I wanted to make a comment about
this quote:
"The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God's commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force."
Although this may have been the first commandment given to both Adam and Eve together, there was a previous one that both Adam and Eve were both expected to obey. Genesis 2:17 says
"17: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
Verse 18 begins the introduction of Eve's creation from Adam's rib. It could be viewed that this previous commandment says (basically) that man is not to pursue knowledge; and that the punishment for doing so is very severe. Implications of such a commandment are somewhat phenomenal in light of what church leaders would like us to believe -- i.e., don't think, just have faith, believe, and everything will be alright because God will take care of the faithful.

Good point. Certainly obedience is more important than knowledge in modern Mormon neo-orthodoxy.

received 4/14/01
Although I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and hold faithful to the doctrines of Christ that are taught, I was impressed with your site in many ways. There are many things on your site of which I agree, and many things of which I disagree (based on possible misinformation of sources). I appreciate the effort that you have made to produce such a site.
received 3/31/01
I've been accessing your web page ( since August of last year, and I am thoroughly amazed at how well all of the information is interlinked. I sometimes get carried away by following too many links.

My wife and I are on our way out of the "Morg", but we still haven't severed our social ties. I had known deep down for quite some time that there were serious problems with the doctrine and history of the church, but I would not confront my doubts for fear of the repercussions. Last summer we went to Nauvoo as a family, and contrary to the grand "uplifting" experience that others had described, I got the distinct impression that it was all just a big cover up. Shortly thereafter my wife went to visit her family for a few weeks, and I did a little studying while she was gone. It didn't take more than a couple of days for my meager testimony to be shattered. What followed was an insatiable desire to find out the whole unbiased truth about the history of the church, and although that is unattainable, I certainly feel like the pieces fit together much better now than as a "believer".

I couldn't hide my new attitude from my wife for very long, and I was forced to tell her everything. She was quite shocked, but to her credit, was willing to listen honestly to my opinions, and read a couple of books on church history. She is gradually coming to accept (although not enjoy) the reality that Joseph Smith never saw God, and now we have to figure out what we are going to teach our children. I wouldn't mind staying with the Church, but I know that someday, my kids would have Joseph Smith forced upon them, and I won't accept that.

What's most important is that our family is past the tough part, and now we can figure out the rest on our own. Having so many resources available was a great help for both of us. My wife was particularly impacted by the revisions in the temple ceremony, as so well presented on your site. You have contributed to keeping my family in tact and I thank you for it.

received 2/27/01
First of all, I have enjoyed your site for some time. Thanks. I found my way out of Mormonism five years ago thanks in great part to the web.

Secondly, I want to comment on something you wrote about Joseph Campbell. On your page, "What to Believe In," you conclude that Campbell was a believer since he said, "pity the person with no invisible means of support." When asked by Bill Moyers if he had faith, Campbell said he didn't need faith because he had experience. I've read several of Campbell's books and nothing indicates that he was anything but an infidel according to the way that is conventionally defined. He did talk about "higher consciousness," but I think that was drawn out of him in interviews and he didn't make it clear enough to people like Moyers that he was outside of the vice grip of belief. Like every great thinker, he's misunderstood.

Actually, I didn't write the page in question. It is a message from a newsgroup, but I will add your message to the feedback section and link to it from the page for clarification. Thanks!

received 2/6/01
Recent[ly] found your pages doing a search for LDS related material. Thought they were great. Very thoughtful, objective and near as I could tell, honest. Some biographical information on you would be a nice addition to your site. In some of your pages you refer to yourself as "I" and it would be nice for readers to have a frame of reference.

A very popular request/question I must say.

I've thought about putting an autobiography up at times but then stop short--mostly for the reasons described here.

I really don't want the site to be about me. I'm not just saying this to be humble. I want the site to be about ideas, ways of thinking, and things along those lines rather than some sort of tribute to the author (mostly myself). If my biography is the first thing people see, some people may be turned off or taken off on a tangent from the real purpose of the site.

See this page if you want to know more about me though.

received 1/30/01
Previous to your discussion of
the "Virgin Mary" mistranslation, [the person] asked if anyone had an authoritative reference to provide information on the subject. In her book "The Origin of Satan", Elaine Pagels discusses this topic [on page 77].
received 1/18/01
I don't know who you are, though after spending 18 hours at and I feel I'm pretty familiar with some of your thoughts. (12 of those hours were consecutive. A long attention span can be a bad thing at times!)

That has to be a record!

I want to thank you for creating and maintaining your sites. Thank you for presenting the information in a fair and balanced manner, without malice or exaggeration...

(like my signature? I shamelessly lifted it off your site.)


One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth... It's simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we've been taken. --- Carl Sagan

received 1/16/01
Thank you for an informative and enlightening web page! Pease keep the faith... And keep on thinking!
received 1/15/01
Parallel Thoughts

I just thought it was funny you should write this... Because I recently e-mailed Chuck Colson's site, making very much the same sort of point:

"To begin with, I assert something that is obvious, yet which is absolutely always critical to reinforce and remember: Truth-seeking is the single most important endeavor any of us can engage in and thus should be approached with the utmost seriousness and intellectual rigor. The "philosophy" of truth-seeking needs to take a position of primacy in terms of the development of our understanding of the Universe and our individual belief systems. Any hesitation in our dedication to discovering greater degrees of truth is hypocritical and/or destructive."

received 1/14/01
Good bloody grief! What barbarian editor put that label [Young Adult] on it [
Childhood's End]? Maybe some cretin saw the title and assumed it was about adolescence. Despite some clunkiness (especially the kidnapping huggermugger), this is a bold and mature work for adults.

I once asked Sir Arthur about [the "paranormal mumbo-jumbo that he uses to enhance the story"]. His disclaimer [that "the opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author"] was *not* about the paranormal gadgetry, which is just a story-telling device. He wished, rather, to dissociate himself from the claim in the book that `the stars are not for Man'.

[By the way, I reached your pages via the excellent critique of Richard Milton's absurdities.]

received 12/18/00
I recently stumbled across your page, seeking information about
Thomas Paine and his writings. After reading your "what is this site about?" page, I was intrigued.

Is your site simply about the ability to live in a world where one pays attention, questions items that require it, makes their own decisions, and views life through somewhat widely open eyes? It seems that perhaps that is your message....?


You have caught my interest as I am probably in that grouping of people who DO think on a constant basis, and I seem to find myself in a minority. Are there many more out there?


I'm not talking about Mensa, or people who simply want to be contrary to whatever is the norm, or the desire to bash anything religious. But it would be nice to find open-minded people in the world, less parroting, more consciousness.

I completely agree. In Brain Waves Through Time Dr. DeMoss describes various stages of cognitive development. The "highest" stage is termed "post-formal operations". Only some people achieve it. It allows an individual to really put themselves in another's shoes, to question even their most cherished beliefs, to spot their own logical errors, and to see numerous aspects of a problem while others are stuck with a single or limited perception.

For older messages click here.

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