If There Were Intelligent Alien Life

I hope we discover proof of intelligent alien life in our universe, within my lifetime.

I would love to see how this discovery alters the views and behavior of humanity.

In many ways I hope it would create a new, more helpful context for our local conflicts, because we would realize we are not the center of that universe anymore. We’ve got a bigger game of competition to worry about, rather than squabble about exclusive use of land and resources at home.

But in many ways I also think I would be disappointed that, for many, this would not alter the belief people hold that make humans seems like the centerpiece of the universe, the sole focus of the grand story of creation. I anticipate that they would just adjust their theology to explain how even the new alien life is still an accessory to the preeminent human narrative.

What if we we were able learn that an alien civilization also believed in God or gods, but were not like anything in the collection we have on earth? Would this be evidence against anyone’s sense of having the right one among many? Or would the aliens different belief be regarded as proof that they are lost and in need of the Good News only one tribe of humans alone in the universe has to deliver?

What if we were able to learn that an alien civilization had a particular God and religious narrative that nearly perfectly matched one of those on earth? Would this convince the other earthly religions that they must be on the wrong track? Or would it be regarded as proof that the same ‘deceptions of the devil’ have manifest all over the universe?

What if we were able to learn that a whole network of alien civilizations, far older, far more advanced than our own, no longer hold any belief in God or gods at all and are doing far better because of it? Would we be persuaded that our notion of gods and religion were primitive adaptations that must eventually be discarded? Or would we maintain some sense of superiority and persecution because we choose to faithfully hold on to belief despite the temptations of advancing civilization?

I would be pleased to see how some people accept this new information at face value and allow it to alter their world view. I would be disappointed that the beliefs of many would remain impervious to falsification – or at least some reasonable alteration – no matter what kind of facts were presented.

Free Will For Others

I was listening to a 2009 Design Matters podcast where Debbie Millman interviews Milton Glaser, a celebrated graphic designer.

At around minute 28:00 they were talking about the ethical limits in the use of design services; where would the line be drawn when a designer was asked to promote a product or service or idea that could possibly end up causing harm.

Based on a survey of design students Milton took in one of the classes he taught, they were discussion whether there was a difference between promoting a product that involved child labor in its fabrication and a product that could kill the voluntary (adult) user. Is there a case to be made for one saying the deadly product is OK to promote because it involves the free will of one who may not care enough about his own well-being to refrain from using it? Is he choosing it freely? Many in that survey said yes.

Milton made the point that, when you defend the so-called ‘free will’ of another person to choose a harmful thing, it requires you to objectify that person who uses his free will in a way that may harm himself. This person you refer to must be a faceless, nameless other that you really don’t know or care about. But if you were talking instead about the freedom for your loved one – such as your spouse, sibling or child – to choose something that harms himself, most likely you would reconsider your role in making that harmful product available.

The ethical line we draw when it affects those closest to us – our family and tribe – is often much tighter than the line we draw when it affects people who mean much less to us personally. We are much more likely to exercise a right to interfere with the free will of a loved one where we stand to lose if they lose.

But, in this age where (I hope) humanity is slowly starting to emerge from a my-tribe-only mentality, does it make sense to refrain from interfering with the choices made available to the rest of the inhabitants on this small, struggling planet? Can we afford any more to say, “It’s not my problem. I’ve got a job to do.” ?


One Word For Love

Many times I have found myself frustrated that we have only one word in English to describe a wide range of feelings and intentions that we call ‘love’.

“I love you,” can be spoken by a lover, by a parent to a child, by a politician’s or guru’s fanatic, by one life-long friend to another, by a rock star to his audience.

We use it for ordinary objects in one moment and sacred things in another.

“I love God.”

“I love America.”

“I love the way you say that!”

“I love chocolate chip mint ice cream.”

To love something can mean I lust for it, I adore it, I am devoted to it, I crave it, I appreciate it, I prefer it over other things on the menu, or I am ready to die for it. It can be extremely strong, or slightly more attractive than other trivial objects.

It is used so much, for so many common things, over such a wide range of intensity, that it is difficult to communicate precise feelings with that word alone.

Up until now, I have found it hard to use that word toward someone in the situation where I held one form of love for that person, but definitely did not feel or focus on another form of it. If I were to to say “I love you,” in that context the person may be mistaken about which form of love I currently held and which form I did not. At other times I have found myself feeling unauthentic, or even manipulative in the use of that word because my intention would have been to express a more shallow form of love when they would most likely interpret it as a deeper one – I had only one word to choose from.

But I’ve recently realized, for this very same reason, the vagueness of the word ‘love’ could actually be useful. The inability to be precise with that single word leaves room to mean one aspect of love without meaning all of them – yet, leaves me without obligation to precisely define the boundaries of my current feelings and give an explanation for it.

For example, there are times when there is a strain in my relationship with my spouse or with my child. It would be important for me to affirm that some essential feature of love is standing firm in that moment, while I may not be obligated to feel or declare love the other forms of love that might apply at other times in that relationship. “I love you” can communicate there are boundaries to our conflict, but we’re still having a conflict.

The vow to unconditionally love the other person – as in the context of marriage and parenting – does not mean I have to always uphold all the forms that might be appropriate under good and easy circumstances. I can love you, but not particularly like you at this moment; I am committed to working this out but I don’t feel like kissing or throwing the baseball around.

Sometimes, to someone I am having a conflict with, I need to say “I love you” and leave it certain that some essential form of love is there – that the other person is safe, in this regard – while leave it mysterious as to what other forms are missing. It may be good that the other person notice the imprecision, and wonder which parts of love have gone missing and why. Hopefully, he will notice the commitment and the protest loaded in that single word.  Hopefully, he will be motivated by his own love to ask and find out if he has done something to injure it.

Seeing Without Prejudice

We all have them – a prejudice that emerges, a quick judgment, when we see another person with some characteristics that we look down upon.

I study a lot about health and causation of illness, and work on creating lifestyle solutions. In the locker room at my fitness club I cannot help but notice when others are taking off their clothes to reveal the signs of disease or destruction caused by a poorly maintained body.

The indicators of disease are just impersonal biological and sociological facts. The general causes are fairly well documented: a mixture of personal lifestyle and the patterns of our culture. But this individual has a unique story that I don’t know. I rationally understand that it is really difficult, if not impossible, even with the best education and practice, for any individual to avoid some destruction from our modern lifestyle.

Yet, the judgment pops up: you’ve done this to yourself. Don’t complain, especially if you are still not taking appropriate measures to remove those causes in your lifestyle.

People ask, “When you know all this, do you just see these problems everywhere you turn?”

Yes, I do notice involuntarily… unless I train myself to not notice, and look past it, and first notice positive characteristics instead. This doesn’t come naturally.

The first stage of the training of mindfulness – for the removal of prejudice – is to simply notice that a judgment arose in my mind and that I have grabbed on to it and am stimulating it. It takes some time for this initial act of awareness to become a habit, and not condemn myself for having the thought.

The next stage of training is to let go of that thought, to quit handling it. This takes some time time to form into a habit also.

The next stage of training is to notice the thought emerging, without grabbing on to it in the first place. Just watch it come and watch it eventually go. It takes a great deal of effort, at first, to do nothing with that thought.

With this level of practice done over time, it is anticipated that this kind of thought will just quit coming at all. If I no longer exercise the neural pathway it depends on – by grabbing onto it and giving it stimulation – that pathway will eventually atrophy and fade away from disuse. There will be no more impulse for this kind of thought.

This training is easily described, but not easily accomplished.

Mutual Maturity

I’ve had this observation for a while. It seems that if one stays in a marriage relationship long enough – the maturity of the people involved tends to be quite similar, even if they seem to have a difference in age or experience.

The less mature may be pulled up a bit, and the more mature might be pulled down a bit. But somehow, when the going gets rough, they operate at a similar level. Or, they don’t stay together long.

It is most noticeable when there is a disagreement or conflict.

The one who thinks he is more mature doesn’t quite end up acting more mature than the other in how he deals with it.

I catch myself feeling ‘above’ my spouse on certain matters, but when I imagine having someone step in to mediate the impasse, I see the discussion of what’s wrong always leading back to some way I’ve contributed to the problem – just as negligent or careless, just as immature in my expectations or response to frustration. In the court of my own head, I never find the higher ground.

I suspect that those who are truly more mature don’t position themselves the same way when they enter into a relationship with someone less mature – parents are clearly parents, for example. They are not as vulnerable to the gravity of one with far less maturity. Not that they consciously do this, but that it is the way it works.

I see some marriages where there is an unusual difference in age, and one might assume there would also be a difference in maturity. But I am not quite so sure. Either one is more mature than he seems, or the other is less than she seems. Or something is really weird that causes us to question the health or appropriateness of that relationship.


God Working Through You

If God is love, and if He is all powerful, then why does He do nothing (that we recognize as Him doing something) about these massive problems in the world?

To this I ask, Do you have love inside you?

Then you have God inside you.

Why then are you not doing anything about these massive problems?

Is it about not having enough power in your individual self? Is that the excuse?

History has given us so many examples of people, even ordinary individuals like you, who stood up and acted in seemingly supernatural ways against problems in their world, and made a difference in their times.

Those who let love in them act boldly against those problems are, in fact, God-taking-action.

The question is not about God and His nature and His capabilities. That is and always has been an excuse humans use to absolve themselves of responsibility to face the overwhelming complexity, to grow stronger under the stress of the mess, to increase capacity to understand and act and find ways to fix things. God is there and always has been there to strongly support those with the courage to stand up for things that matter.

The question is not about God. It is about you:

Do you have love?

Do you take action?

If not, don’t blame God for it. He is in you already waiting to be released through your courageous actions of love.

Is Your Sacrifice Like Mine?

Occasionally, someone will feel a need to remind me how they’ve ‘sacrificed’ their dream or desires in life to serve someone else’s dream or need for a season. They hinted at disapproval of my freedom to live out my dream without making the kind of sacrifices they have made in theirs. There is an undercurrent of self-pity, and an assumption that if they have been required by their God to ‘die to self’ in this way so too should I in a similar way, as well as anyone else who claims to be as obedient as they are.

But who is in position to say what God has called another person to do with his life?

Who is able to measure all the facets of ‘sacrifice’ that person has made to follow his chosen course?

One person’s act of sacrifice is another person’s act that brought satisfaction. It depends on if and how well a person has aligned his choices and actions with his inner goals.

There is really no sacrifice when one does what he loves to do, and is designed to do, although for another doing the same thing it would feel like one. To the one called, or wired for this kind of life the cost doesn’t feel like something has been lost. In this case ‘sacrifice’ may be defined as  one good thing being lost in order to gain another – and it is a sign something is wrong, not that something is right.

As the popular theory of obeying God goes, if you are doing what you should, doing good, then no good thing will be lost to you in the process. It’s all good and you just need to see it God’s way. If you feel a sense of sacrifice this means something in your perspective is not lined up with how things should be.

If one feels that he is making a big sacrifice for something or someone else maybe this person should pause to consider that the problem is right there, where there is a difference between what he wants to do and what he feels he must do. A person who has not set up his direction in life to include the very (difficult) things he thinks is expected of him by his God, this person is going to have problems in his conscience, or have problems with a sense of self-pity; he may feel himself to be a victim to the will of God.

It is a serious conflict when this God outside-of-me who knows better what is good for me than this same God inside-of-me who has told me in my heart what to do with my life. I had better get those two God’s on the same page.