A Response to “Sacred Geometry”

It is unlikely that anyone knows how many types of superstitious nonsense exist, for counting them would be an enormous task, with no compelling reason to do it, and only a slim hope of actually finding them all. However, a given person will be more likely than other people to know about a particular type — if it is related to things the first person finds of interest. For example, a physician will be more likely to be aware of homeopathy, and the faulty ideas upon which it is based, than would a randomly-selected college-educated adult.

It won’t take long, reading this blog, for anyone to figure out that I have a strong interest in geometry. Were it not for this, I likely would be unaware of another type of superstitious nonsense: “Sacred Geometry,” which I cannot bring myself to type without quotation marks. If you google that term, you’ll quickly find an amazing number of websites devoted to that topic, with many extraordinary claims about certain polygons and polyhedra, but you won’t find more than miniscule amounts of logical reasoning on any of these sites, mixed in with large portions of utter nonsense.

Geometry is inherently interesting, and many geometrical shapes and patterns are aesthetically pleasing. However, to search for their mystical or spiritual qualities is to do nothing more, nor less, than to waste one’s time.

chestahedron-blue-model

I did not create, nor discover, the figure above, but found this picture at http://earthweareone.com/a-new-form-has-been-discovered-in-sacred-geometry-meet-the-chestahedron/. It is described there as a polyhedron with seven faces (well, they call them “sides,” but they clearly mean faces) of equal area — three faces with four sides each, and four faces with three sides each. Knowing that, I tried to figure out exactly what the back side of the figure would look like, but the text at that website isn’t particularly helpful in that regard, being filled with claims, allegedly related to this shape, regarding the human heart as an “organ of flow,” not a pump (What’s the difference?);  “the earth in its foundational form [as] not a sphere but rather [with] its basis [being] a ‘kind of tetrahedron'” (What?); and a (claimed) special relationship between this polyhedron, and the oh-so-profoundly-mystical Platonic Solids. If none of that makes sense to you, you are not alone. It doesn’t make sense.

I often use software called Stella 4d (which you may try at http://www.software3d.com/Stella.php) to investigate the geometric properties of polyhedra. Based upon comments about this polyhedron written by Stella 4d‘s author, Robert Webb,  I was able to create the rotating virtual model below, with Stella, to help me understand what all the faces of the green polyhedron above look like, included those on the back side, as the figure is shown in the picture above. This polyhedron is similar to an octahedron, with a single face augmented by a tetrahedron, and with three pairs of coplanar equilateral triangles then fused into rhombi. Here is that figure:

Augmented Octa

This isn’t the exact polyhedron in the first picture, but is isomorphic to it. Vertices and edges are moved a bit, changing the size and shapes of the four-sided faces, as well as the dihedral angles between the triangular faces, until all faces are equal in area. This process turns the three rhombic faces into kites.

On the above-linked “Earth We Are One” website, where the “sacred geometry” of this polyhedron is “explained” (and where I found the non-moving first picture here), this is called a “Chestahedron.” While Stella can help someone understand the geometrical properties of the Chestahedron, it offers no information whatsoever about the spiritual or mystical properties of this polyhedron, nor any other. There’s a good reason for this, though: the complete lack of evidence that any such properties exist, for the Chestahedron, or, indeed, for any geometrical figure.

As for the people, whom I’m calling the “Sacred Geometricians,” who are pouring so much time and effort into investigations of these alleged non-mathematical properties of hexagons, pentagons, enneagons, many polyhedra, and other geometrical figures, I have three things to say to them:

  1. This isn’t ancient Greece, and you aren’t in the Pythagorean Society.
  2. That part of the work of the Pythagoreans had no basis in reality in the first place, anyway. Geometry, together with religion and/or mysticism, as it turns out, can be mixed — the Pythagoreans were correct, on this one point — but such mixtures are invariably incoherent and illogical, revealing the efforts to create them as activities which are both pointless, and useless. Just because two things can be blended does not imply that they should be blended.
  3. Please stop. You give me a headache.

Rampant Islamophobia At “The Gun Cave” — an Indoor Firing Range in Hot Springs, Arkansas with an Owner Who Wants Her Range to Be A “Muslim Free Zone”

ani-hello

When I heard there was a indoor firing range in Hot Springs, Arkansas, only an hour away from me, and that this establishment doesn’t want Muslims there, I looked up their phone number, 1-501-767-9944, and called them. Before accusing them of Islamophobia, and threatening to urge others to boycott the place, I wanted to know if they had changed their policy to something more, well, sane.

The woman I spoke to corrected me, by telling me that her establishment was not banning Muslims, but simply making it known, on the Internet, that Muslims are not welcome there. She asked me, rather than reading all the stuff on the Internet written against her position, to read her statement at http://janmorganmedia.com/2014/09/business-muslim-free-zone/ — and I agreed to do so. Why not read her statement first? I saw no reason not to.

When I read it, I found one of the most shockingly ignorant pieces of writing on the subject of Islam which I have ever encountered. Just for starters, she uses the word “Islamist” in place of the word “Muslim,” an error I have never seen before, even though I have read plenty of disgusting anti-Islamic material. The two words don’t even have definitions which are close to each other!

Here’s a particularly appalling excerpt from the site:  “I view Islam as a theocracy, not a religion. Islam is the union of political, legal, and religious ideologies. In other words, law, religion and state are forged together to form what Muslims refer to as ‘The Nation of Islam.'” (Clearly, even though she claims to have read the Qur’an in its entirety, she has not heard of such things as the long, bloody Iran-Iraq War, fought between two majority-Muslim nations, only one of which — Iran — is, or was then, a theocracy.)

In actuality, many real Muslims (and well-educated non-Muslims, also) know that the Nation of Islam (or NOI, as I call it, for clarity) is a small, non-Islamic religion founded in Detroit, Michigan in 1930 — and that there is absolutely no connection, other than a similarity in the name, between the religion called Islam, which originated in the Middle East, and the very different religion practiced by the NOI. You can find the original religion called Islam (the real one) described right here — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam — on Wikipedia, which is an objective source, precisely because anyone can edit it. If, on the other hand, you look at Wikipedia’s corresponding article on the Nation of Islam — at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nation_of_Islam — you’ll see that Islam, and the NOI, have nothing in common except for a proper noun appropriated, without justification, from a centuries-old religion. The beliefs and practices of Islam, and the NOI, are no more alike than those of, say, Christians and Hindus.

I won’t try to catalog the numerous other mistakes in the post on her website, simply because they are so plentiful, but I do encourage you to look at this appalling website for yourself — just as the woman I spoke to on the phone asked me to do. If nothing else, the numerous writing errors (for example, “Muslims” should always be capitalized, and the writer really needs to use spell-check) should convince you that this place is a hotbed of ignorance.

This place deserves to be boycotted, permanently. They also deserve to go out of business, as all bigots should. They deserve to be “called out” for their ignorance, also, and that’s exactly what I am doing in this blog-post.

Let the boycott begin! Also, please call these people, and tell them what you think of their incredibly misinformed position. Their phone number, again, is 1-501-767-9944. Places like this are not helping the world become what it needs to be — a world where Christians, Muslims, those of other faiths, and the non-religious can coexist peacefully.

[Image credit:  I found the “empty head” image above, online, at http://school.discoveryeducation.com/clipart/images/ani-hello.gif — and believe it to be legal to repost this image. If I am mistaken, however, I will remove it, or pay reasonable royalties, at the request of the image’s owner.]

Recovering from Theophobia: My Personal, Secular Jihad

640px-Lutte_de_Jacob_avec_l'Ange

The image above is a 19th-Century painting by Eugène Delacroix, depicting the story of Jacob, wrestling with a being often described as an angel, as described in the Book of Genesis. An interesting part of the story is that there were no witnesses to this struggle in the darkness (“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak,” Gen. 32:24, NIV), which tells me that the conflict could have occurred entirely inside Jacob’s mind. It does not matter if there was, or was not, an actual person, named Jacob, who had such an experience. No supernatural beliefs are necessary to find this story interesting, and there is no good reason to avoid thinking about it.

Thought is, of course, a mental activity which can bring clarity to confusing things in life, just as a sunrise can enable one to see things which have previously been hidden by night. There are times when thinking requires solitude, and the process of figuring out difficult problems usually doesn’t succeed without some sort of internal struggle. If you have ever wrestled with a single, difficult mathematical problem for several days running, as I have, then you understand this already — but the need for clear, rational thinking is certainly not limited to the field of mathematics. Rational thought is important in all parts of life.

Whether we like it or not, life contains a series of both external and internal struggles. Many people dislike conflict, and go to great lengths to avoid it. I am not one of those people, but this is not by choice. It is, rather, a result of the fact that I was born into an intense struggle-in-progress:  the efforts of my now-deceased father, a religious fanatic, to control the lives of everyone around him, and use them for his own selfish purposes — and the efforts of some of these other people, myself included, to escape his efforts to control every facet of our lives. From an early age, out of necessity, I had to develop complex techniques of mental and verbal combat, both defensive and offensive, simply to survive childhood with some semblance of sanity intact — although the resulting PTSD, from growing up in the war zone I called “home,” is something with which I will always have to cope. My earliest memory, after all, is surviving shaken baby syndrome at age 2½, and that sort of experience simply cannot be escaped without consequences.

My mental-combat techniques still exist, available for use at any time of my choosing, and can have devastating impact on others — I seldom lose an argument — but using these verbal and mental weapons at full power is, I now realize, quite dangerous, more so to myself than to anyone else. Now, decades later, I still have to be careful not to be overly eager to jump headlong, as if by instinct, into any conflict which presents itself, especially if I see those I care about being bullied, or otherwise abused. I have neither the time, nor the mental energy, to fight every single injustice I see, but it took many years for me to understand the wisdom of the well-known saying that it is important to choose one’s battles carefully.

The word “jihad,” which I deliberately used in the title of this post, is complex, and has multiple definitions. It is also an emotionally-charged word, and out-of-control emotions are, perhaps, the greatest enemy of rational thought. So, first, please understand this: when I use this word, I am not referring to any sort of “holy war,” which is the first thing that comes to mind, for many people, when they hear what I sometimes call the “j-word.” I am also not making any sort of comment for, nor against, Islam, but am simply borrowing a word from another language, Arabic, because it applies so well to much of my own life. Another definition you will find here is “a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline” — in other words, an internal struggle to do the right thing. While I am not religious in any conventional sense, I definitely understand the important idea of an internal, mental — or “spiritual,” if you prefer — struggle. My personal internal struggle involves a never-ending effort to maintain self-control, especially over destructive emotions, such as hatred, and fury. Fury isn’t simply anger, after all — it goes far beyond that. It is an absolutely horrific state of mind where one is so overcome by anger that the rational self becomes utterly consumed by white-hot, blinding rage.

For years, without realizing it, I was a theophobe — hardly surprising, considering the religious elements of the more unpleasant parts of my childhood. Theophobia is not a familiar word to most people, but it can exist in both religious and non-religious people, and can be defined as an irrational fear and hatred of God, religion, religious people, and religious institutions, such as churches and mosques. There have been entire years — especially since the Catholic Church’s pedophilia scandal blew wide-open in the media, worldwide — when I could not bring myself to go near a church of any denomination, let alone enter one, for fear that being near such a place would trigger a panic attack, or, even worse, a PTSD “freakout” episode. It isn’t hard to spot theophobes, of course; they are easily identified, especially among the much larger, rapidly-growing group of people who call themselves atheists. You probably know at least a few atheists yourself, and might have noticed that some of them seem to be at peace with life, and can easily interact peacefully with religious people — while others are a perfect fit for the “angry atheist” stereotype, attacking religion as if it were the source of all evil in the world. It isn’t, but that didn’t stop me from thinking that it was, for many years.  Recovering from theophobia is not easy, and is definitely a struggle, but is also very much worth the effort.

Unusually, several of the people I am now grateful to, specifically for helping me recover from theophobia, are practicing Muslims. This doesn’t fit the stereotype of Islam portrayed in the Western media, of course. If you get all of your information about Islam from stories in the news, you might think all Muslims hijack airplanes, commit suicide bombings, oppress women, and decapitate “infidels” every time they get they chance. Fortunately, I started using another approach, while still in college:  conversation. Simply by talking to Muslims I am now proud to call my friends, I have learned several things, among them that most Muslims are kind and decent people, and also that most Muslims intensely dislike the extremists within Islam — about as much as the average Christian dislikes, say, the Westboro Baptist Church. Adding practicing Christians to the list of people I can successfully engage in productive conversation took a lot longer, but the reason for this has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity, and everything to do with my own personal history. My father was, after all (among many other things), an ordained Christian minister. Later, he moved through several other religions, attempting to drag my family along with him, and these religions included his own warped version of amalgamated Native American religious traditions, the Soka Gakkai sect of Buddhism, and several others. A notable absence on this list — one of the few religions with which my father never developed an obsession — is Islam. This fact made Islam, and those who practice it, a logical place for me to start the process of making peace with certain inescapable facts: (1) the world contains billions of religious people, most of whom are not dangerous fanatics, and (2) religion is not going away any time soon, no matter how much the furious theophobes of the world rage against it.

This personal recovery-process is not over; I still have much internal, mental work left to do, especially when it comes to establishing peace with Christianity, the world’s largest religion. The important thing, at this point, is that I am doing it. I’m quite happy to have left the “angry atheist” phase of my life in the past, where it belongs, and have no intention of returning there.

The Ill-Fated Quest for “Genesis”

NT

In the “too funny to be made up” category, I recently had someone ask me for help, because he could not find “Genesis” in the paperback New Testament he was reading. I referred him to the complete Bible on the bookshelf, told him to look in the front, and somehow didn’t laugh until he was out of the room, but this took extreme effort.

In Anticipation of Sam Harris’s Newest Book

Waking_Up_Cover_Small

Sam Harris has already written these five books, all of which I have read. I wasn’t crazy about the first one, but thoroughly enjoyed all the others. They are presented here, in order, by publication-date.

  1. The End of Faith (2004)
  2. Letter to a Christian Nation (2006)
  3. The Moral Landscape:  How Science Can Determine Human Values (2010)
  4. Lying (2011)
  5. Free Will (2012)

This month, he has a new book coming out. It’s called Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. I have already pre-ordered it on Amazon, and am looking forward to its arrival. 

Here is a link to a book review of Waking Up which was published in The New York Times, yesterday:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-between-godliness-and-godlessness.html?_r=1.

This link is to the page on Amazon where you can order Waking Up: http://www.amazon.com/Waking-Up-Spirituality-Without-Religion/dp/1451636016/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409584480&sr=8-1&keywords=waking+up+sam+harris.

Ten Easy Ways to Oppose Secular Superstitious Nonsense

broken-mirror

It is a common mistake for skeptics, such as myself, to focus too much attention on religion. Do I understand why so many people lack religious belief, due to a lack of evidence to support it, and/or bad experiences with religious fanatics? Yes, I do. However, I also understand that the First Amendment, which protects my right to live my life without religious belief, equally protects the right of believers to practice the religion of their choice — and I recognize that it is unreasonable to expect one of those protections to exist, without the other, for both are important. If no one tries to force their religious beliefs on me (and very few people do), what harm do those beliefs do to me? Also, I know many people who find comfort in religious belief, especially in difficult times. I have no wish to deny others that particular form of comfort, even though I am incapable of experiencing it myself. To do so, after all, would be cruel. The world has plenty of cruelty already, and it certainly doesn’t need more.

When referring to myself, I prefer the term “skeptic,” over “atheist,” even though both labels are accurate. The reason is simple:  “skeptic” covers more ground. It’s a broader term, and using it reminds me that the world is (still) filled with superstitious nonsense which has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. What’s more, non-skeptics are generally far less tied, emotionally, to the beliefs they hold which are non-religious in nature. If skeptics wish to persuade others to abandon beliefs they do not share, therefore, increased attention to non-religious beliefs offers a greater chance of success, combined with a much lower risk of alienating and/or offending people.

With these things in mind, then, I offer this list of ten easy ways to oppose, by example, some of the many secular superstitions which have not — yet — been abandoned.

  1. When a mirror is accidentally broken, by yourself or others, remain calm, and simply clean up the mess, so no one gets cut by broken glass.
  2. Deliberately open umbrellas indoors, after checking to make certain no one is close enough to get struck by the umbrella in the process.
  3. When you see a ladder leaning against a building, and it is safe to do so, casually walk under it, without comment.
  4. Ask people in tall buildings to help you find the thirteenth floor, after checking for the (usually missing) “13” button in the elevator. (If the building actually has a floor numbered “13,” though, just wait for another tall building.)
  5. Adopt a black cat. (The cat, itself, will take care of the “crossing your path” part of the superstition.)
  6. If you are ever offered homeopathic “medicine,” ask for at least twenty doses, to take all at once. (Twenty or more, times zero, is still zero, and homeopathic products are nothing more than harmless-but-expensive placebos.) 
  7. Stare directly into a mirror, with witnesses present, and say “redrum,” or “bloody Mary,” repeatedly.
  8. Each time you are asked for your astrological sign, refuse to give any answer, other than “skeptic.”
  9. Don’t throw salt over either shoulder, ever. Why waste perfectly good salt?
  10. Have your children vaccinated.

I saved the most important one for last.

A Quote from Voltaire, on Absurdities and Atrocities

Voltaire-lisant

Examples abound. Here are two:

Absurdity #1:  Pure human races exist.

A resulting atrocity:  the Holocaust (~20 million people, including ~6 million Jews, killed by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s).

Absurdity #2:  Acts which are both suicidal and homicidal can be wonderful things, and can earn a person an eternal reward in paradise after death.

A resulting atrocity:  the destruction of the World Trade Center, and attacks on other targets, on September 11, 2001, which killed over three thousand people, including the hijackers themselves.

Please note that this list is far from complete. A complete list would fill several very large books. Beware of absurdities in your thinking, for they can actually be fatal.

My Four Favorite Authors

favorite authors

Whenever people ask me to name my favorite author, I always have to ask them to be more specific, for I cannot bring myself to choose just one. If gender is specified, and either fiction or non-fiction is, as well, then I am able to choose a favorite author in each of the resulting four categories.

My two favorite writers of fiction, Flannery O’Connor and Robert A. Heinlein, are shown at the top. Flannery O’Connor was often described as a Southern gothic writer with an excellent ability to describe the grotesque, mostly with short stories, while Robert Heinlein was often called the greatest of all writers in the genre of science fiction. I wish it were possible for them to write even more, but, unlike the two authors described next, they are no longer living.

Shown below O’Connor and Heinlein are my two favorite authors of non-fiction, Jung Chang and Sam Harris. Jung Chang writes about Chinese history, eloquently, from the perspective of someone who actually was a Red Guard during the utterly insane period known as the Chinese Cultural Revolution, as a teenager, but later managed to get out of the People’s Republic — and, crucially, she was also able to mentally escape the powerful cult of personality which surrounded that nation’s leader for over two decades, Chairman Mao Zedong. She has gone on to become one of Mao’s harshest critics.

Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, began his career as an author by writing books criticizing religion, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. He has since moved on to other topics (and writing better books than his earlier work, in my opinion), such as the corrosive effects of lying, the question of the existence or non-existence of free will, and a scientific approach to dealing with issues involving good and evil. He also has a new book coming out in September.

Other than their amazing skill at the difficult craft of writing, these four have little in common . . . but who wants to read the same sort of books all the time? If you aren’t familiar with their work already, I recommend giving each of them a read, and seeing what you think of their books. For one of them, Sam Harris, you can even give some of his writing a try for free, for he maintains a blog you can check out for yourself, at http://www.samharris.org.

For the other three, it isn’t quite that easy to get started, but their books may still be found in any decent public library, or, of course, websites such as Amazon. For O’Connor, the best place to start is with her collected short stories (Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Complete-Stories-Flannery-OConnor/dp/0374515360/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1405366654&sr=8-2&keywords=collected+short+stories+of+flannery+o%27connor). For Jung Chang, I recommend starting with the story of what happened, against the tumultuous backdrop of Chinese history, to her grandmother, mother, and finally herself, in Wild Swans:  Three Daughters of China (see http://www.amazon.com/Wild-Swans-Three-Daughters-China/dp/0743246985/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405366792&sr=1-1&keywords=wild+swans). Heinlein’s works are numerous, and there are many good starting places to be found. Among the best books with which to start reading Heinlein are Stranger in a Strange Land (his most famous work), Friday, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Job:  A Comedy of Justice. Amazon’s Robert Heinlein page may be found at http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Heinlein/e/B005GDIOHM/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1405367065&sr=1-2-ent.

Enjoy, and, if you have book recommendations of your own, I invite you to leave them in a comment to this post.