Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

The Case for Optimism

April 23, 2017

THE UU PATH: Fireflies in the dark


by Hallas Midgette


With all of the mess going on in the world, it is hard to be an optimist. However, my friend Hallas Midgette has a made good case for being one. He made it in a talk he delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, Georgia on April 23, 2017.  Because I found it quite thought provoking I decided to share it with you. I know you have a lot to read, so I’m going to publish it in four episodes. 

Hal, who is one of the most intelligent persons I know, is a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. and retired science instructor at Brookstone High School.   

Hallas Midgette

Episode One

Optimists are hopeful and confident about the future or the successful outcome of something.  Optimism is thought to have a heritable factor, as well as being influenced by environment.  I believe the UU path is an optimistic way of navigating through life, and in my talk today, I will try to explain that opinion, but first, I’ll share my personal journey into optimism, starting with the title:  “The UU Path:   Fireflies in the Dark.

Some of you might be thinking that if fireflies were illuminating the UU path, it must be pretty dimly lit.  As a child, here in the South, Summer evenings were filled with the sounds of frogs, the buzzing of mosquitoes, the sweet smell of honeysuckle, and the delight of fireflies flickering in the yard and trees.  I knew from an early age that the light in fireflies wasn’t really fire, but bioluminescence.  Only later would I learn that the females were in the trees flickering in specie specific frequencies to lure the males from the yards below, and that sometimes carnivorous beetles would imitate the female fireflies in order to lure the unsuspecting males up to dinner, but not one of their choosing.  I had so much to learn….and still do.  This is how I viewed Summers for decades until one warm Summer evening in Kansas.  It was night and I was returning home from Kansas City, driving through the countryside…and that is when I noticed the fireflies.  I pulled over and for the next ten minutes witnessed the most amazing sight I’ve ever seen.  Untold millions, perhaps billions, of fireflies were lighting up, filling the whole field with light in a way that was and is still hard for me to comprehend.  In a world of many religions, UUs stand out as a light in the darkness. That light is optimism.  Unitarians are optimistic.  We are not Pollyannas, but realists, and I contend, are fundamentally optimists who see the possibility of a positive outcome for the human condition.  It is not there for the taking, but has to be fought for, and we are engaged in that fight.

I’ve always been a glass half full person, rejecting the half empty view.  While not always being happy, I’m optimistic about humans and our future.  Part of this might be explained by what I read as a child, starting with science fiction.  In science fiction, humans usually are pushing out from Earth, voyaging into the unknown and often finding strange worlds, and even stranger sentient beings.  Sometimes the stories are bleak as the aliens had ambitions to destroy us, but eventually we either overpower them with human ingenuity or befriend them, and ultimately humankind lives happily ever after….walking hand in tentacle into the sunset.   Perhaps these books shaped my views, or maybe I chose them because they fit my worldview…or those of my optimist genes.  Only psychoanalysis can tell, but I’m afraid of couches.

Those four books are “Candide,” by Voltaire, “Extinction: Bad Luck or Bad Genes,” by David M. Raup, “”On Human Nature,” by Edward O. Wilson, and “Nonzero: the Logic for Human Destiny”, by Robert Wright.  In our next episode, Hal will explain why those books shaped his worldview.

Samford University Choir at Columbus UU

October 17, 2015
Samford University Chior

Samford University Choir

The internationally acclaimed Samford University Choir – it took top honors in a competition in Tours, France in 2012 – will sing at the Dedication Service Sunday, October 18th,  at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, which is located at the end of Heiferhorn Way off Whitesville Road.  Samford University is located in Birmingham, Alabama. The Dedication of Grace Hall, the Fellowship’s new home, will honor Grace Jordan for whom the Hall is named. She is a wonderful woman and a dear friend of many years. It all starts at 10:45. Refreshments will be served after the service. You are invited.

The Hippie Effect and the Megachurch

April 14, 2013

Continuing my look at the phenomenon of the dramatic rise of the evangelical megachurch,  I’m going to t ell you about a Harper magazine essay Blinded by the Right? that had an interesting take on how the big shift started. According to T. M. Luhrmann,  who spent ten years researching American evangelism, Christian hippies “begat evangelical conservatives.” 

American evangelism goes way back before hippies ever arrived on the scene, he says, “but the hippies changed what it meant to be Christian in  America.”

As I attend Atlanta’s Mt. Paran services, I can observe the hippie effect.  The rock concert light shows that accompany rock and jazz Christian music all are remenicient  of the hippie era.  What has changed is the drug culture that went with the hippie music. The drug high has been replaced with the “Pentecostal spiritual high.” 

You would  never think that hippies would embrace the politics of the political right.  But, it seems most of those who  joined the Jesus People movement in the 1970s did, and  they, and their progeny, still do. 

I believe it is safe to assume that not all  hippies became Christian evangelical conservatives.   But, Luhrmann makes a good case that a lot of them did and had a huge effect on the movement.  Churches who adapted to that effect have grown impressively.  Perhaps there is a lesson in this for other organizations, organizations like symphony orchestras.  More on that in a future post.



The Sky is NOT Falling

August 14, 2011

By Hal Midgette

Hal Midgette, science instructor at Brookstone School, retired Lt. Col. in U.S. Army Military Intelligence, and friend of mine, delivered a thought provoking talk that I thought you might find interesting. He makes a very good case for the times in which we live not being “the worst of times.”  Here is most of what he told members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus on Sunday, August 14.

Those of you who know me will be surprised to learn that the inspiration for my topic today came from a book titled “Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann.   The book was loaned to me several months ago by a fellow Brookstone teacher who is a Presbyterian minister.  We had had a discussion in the teachers’ lounge about whether King David was a good guy or a bad guy, so she offered the book as a good source of spiritual readings. But the sermons in the book did not hold my attention as much as did a quote by pastor, author and activist William Sloane Coffin.  The quote, which appears on the book jacket,  is as follows: “These sermons and poetic prayers are lucid and passionate, tough-minded and tender-hearted, full of the hope and biblical insights so critically needed in these nightmarish times.”

“Nightmarish times?” Really?  Could a well-educated and spiritual leader such as Rev. Coffin honestly believe that we are living in nightmarish times?  The words appearing on the book  jacket were intended Presume to influence book sales, but I wondered how many ministers  might share his opinion that these are nightmarish times.  I hope there are more ministers who believe, as I do, that the sky is Not falling, so I thank Barry White for asking me to be a speaker in August and giving me this opportunity to calm Chicken Little with what I believe to be the truth:  The sky is Not falling.

While not being an expert on fear, I am aware of its use in history, and today, by political and religious groups to influence or motivate the populace to achieve or at least attempt to achieve specific goals. Fear-mongering is a self-serving tactic of those who would deceive the masses as if they are sheep to be shepherded, rather than individuals with free will.  I don’t doubt that many, to include Rev. Coffin, are true believers that these times are, to them, nightmarish.  I strongly disagree. I also object to the prophecies of doomsayers, end of days proponents, and to those who believe the best of times were the so-called good-old-days of times gone by.  Although disaster and what can only be described as nightmarish conditions do certainly exist in various pockets throughout the world at various times, it is not the general condition of the world. And these times, our 21st Century times,  are most definitely not the worst of times.

Just a brief review of terrible times in the history of the world…..with a much smaller population…reveals that in fact, we are living in good times, maybe not individually, or in every country, or even in our own country every day,  but for mankind in general.

About 70,000 years ago super volcano, Mount Toba, awoke in what is today Indonesia and visited death on a newly arisen species…us, Homo sapiens, and by some scientists’ account, knocked us down to about 5,000 individuals for the total world population. NOW, those were bad times, and the sky was literally falling.  Well, our species survived that, even thought left us with very constricted genetic variation.

The “Black Death” during the 1300’s reduced the world’s population from 450 million to about 350 million.  It was not just a European thing, but also ravaged Asia. Sadly, the victims didn’t have a clue that the disease was transmitted by fleas on rats.  It took its toll for decades.

Next, beginning in the1400s with European explorers sent across the Atlantic to find gold, claim land, and spread Christianity in the name of their countries, the completely vulnerable indigenous populations were introduced to small pox and measles.   This inadvertent, and totally unwanted, cultural exchange resulted in an estimated 30 million dying in the first 30years.  Of course, the ironic revenge, also totally unintended, was the introduction of tobacco to the Europeans.

Between 1850  and 1864 in China, a Chinese Christian led theta ping Rebellion known as the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace…..    The rebellion resulted in the death of between20 and 50 million people along the Yangtze River Valley, rendering what had been the most densely populated area on Earth nearly desolate.  I suspect most of the world didn’t know this was taking place.  China has certainly rebounded with its current population of 1.3 billion.  With the current standard of living in China and its new found economic position in the world, most Chinese would not be longing for the past.

The Spanish Influenza of1918 killed between 20 and 60 million. Because it was a pandemic, and communications ensured the word spread….the whole world was frightened, and it came at the end of the world’s 6thdeadliest conflict, World War I, in which approximately 14 million military and civilians were killed. 

Then in World War II, between 40 and 70 million died, depending on which source you use for statistics. At the time, that represented  1 – 3% of the world population.  In comparison, the Black Death of the 1300’s  killed about 30% of the world population.

How can someone with any knowledge of history look around and call today nightmarish?  The sky is not falling! Why then do so many long for “the good old days”?

On this journey to understanding, I  found some literature indicating  studies have shown that badness either travels faster than or has a greater impact than good news.  In one book, it justified this as part of a survival mechanism that our species has incorporated.   Example: Your read in the Centurion Times that Flavius was run over by a chariot while crossing the Apian Way….mental note to self….look both ways when crossing highways. So bad news helps us to avoid the same mistake.  Let’s face it, we all love to know what’s going on, and a lot of it is….how to phrase this….BAD NEWS.  As one airline executive commented the other day:  Of the 80,000 successful aircraft take offs and landings, the news only wants to focus on the one that did Not go so well.  Unfortunately, because of our penchant for or even craving for bad news, many people forget that there is a lot of good going on here and around the world.

Though we maybe genetically inclined to focus on bad news as a survival mechanism, we are also hardwired for optimism. According to an article on the Science of Optimism in Time Magazine on June 6th of this year, studies show that  people generally think they are better off than they really are and this is a good thing. We look for silver linings when actually confronted with catastrophe or misfortune.  Optimism is a form of planning for the future. So if someone tells us these are nightmarish times or if we believe that a particular day or year is nightmarish, we need to rely on our instincts, wake up from the nightmare and let our optimism lead us to a course of action or at least an attitude adjustment that opens our minds to the possibility of a better day.  And when you wake up you can realize how many good things are in our lives.

Since the 1960’s, we have doubled the Earth’s population, from 3.5 billion to almost 7 billion.  If we look around the world, more people are…in general….living longer lives, having greater access to educational opportunities, and having the ability to seek happiness for themselves and their families.  Yes, of course there are areas that continue to suffer from famine and tyrannical leaders.  But, the percentage of the total is smaller than in the past.

Let’s consider some of the  great things that continue to make life better. On average, worldwide, we live longer today.  This in itself presents some challenges, but it is so much better than when my father was young, and out of twelve children, four died as infants. In 1900 the average life span in the United States was 47years.  In 1950, which so many Americans view as a great time to be alive, the average person died at 69.  Today the average American can expect to live78  years.  And of course, many are living much longer. In fact, the 2010 U. S. Census reveals  5.5 million Americans are over 85 years old.  That’s almost double the amount of people over 85 in 1990. Let’s consider longevity for the whole world.  In 1950 the average life span in the entire world was 46 years.  Today the average life span of people in the world is 67. 

What else is good about these days we live in?  Well, particularly in medicine, these are amazing times.  I remember in the early 70’s playing racquet ball with a friend when his knee gave way and he collapsed.    Then, it took extensive surgery and months of recuperation to get back to walking…and then, with a limp.  Today, the same surgery is done arthroscopically….and is relatively pain free, and the patient can often walk without crutches within a few days.

Let’s not forget about the medical breakthroughs that brought us antibiotics, immunizations, organ transplants, and  cell cloning.  Smallpox, humanity’s scourge ever since we domesticated the cow, is not loose upon us anymore, but locked up in a few vials in liquid nitrogen held by the U.S. and Russia. Polio, tuberculosis, measles, chicken pox are some of the many diseases that have been brought under control.  Even AIDS, a worldwide threat, has been harnessed, with greater prospect for bringing it under control.  Cancer patients are living longer with better quality of life thanks to improved medicines and treatments. Every year there are better hearing aides, contact lenses, glasses, wheel chairs, artificial limbs and research underway with so much promise.

I think back on my father having a stroke and the lack of medications to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.  Today, we have a multitude of preventive procedures and medicines not just to keep people alive, but to enable them to feel better and lead productive lives. And for the terminally ill or the chronically afflicted, pain medications have alleviated much of their suffering.

Any mention of what’s good about our times would have to include the enormous impact of communications technology on our lives. Cell phones and the Internet have significantly changed the world, providing  information, entertainment,  business ,personal and group communication to even remote areas where people  were once isolated and powerless. Despite the unfortunate criminal activity of some Internet users, the Internet has enriched our lives and literally revolutionized some countries, as evidenced by the recent and continuing Arab Spring.

In addition to improvements in our life spans, health care, and communications,  there have been great strides in society, resulting in more people around the world having opportunities that once were limited to only the privileged classes or only to some races or ethnic groups. When I was in high school, the schools here and throughout the South were segregated so that Black students were deprived of the best opportunities for learning.  Now the law and our society demand equal opportunity for education and for employment.  Just think how many lives were wasted handmade miserable and at what cost to society in the so-called “good old days“. People who long for the past tend to overlook how bad the past was for so many people. But the good news is that equal opportunity and basic human rights are no longer enjoyed only by the developed countries in the world. Thanks to human rights organizations,  diplomatic efforts of democratic countries, and the power of the Internet, the word has spread that all human beings are entitled to those same rights that our Unitarian principles promote, such as the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice equity and compassion in human relations; and the use of the democratic process in society.

As the standard of living has increased for the newly industrialized countries, such as India and China, it is simply a fact that there is more competition for world resources, such as oil, and more competition too for marketing goods.  Clearly, our piece of the pie may not be as big as it was when more people in other countries were living in poverty.  Depending on your worldview, this may or may not be a bad thing.  If we, as Unitarians, believe in the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all, then we should not be frightened by the rise of other economies because peace, liberty and justice are certainly more attainable in societies where there is a decent standard of living.

Finally, in order to reject the notion that we live in nightmarish times, it is essential to keep things in perspective. While the media are of great value to a democracy, our24-hour media sources tend to keep us wired and frantic about every negative situation at home and abroad. After all, hype sells ads and news is big business. Our country has weathered greater storms than the current economic quagmire.  Have a little faith.  Our government may be run by people of conflicting views, stubbornly devoted to their own parties and re-election campaigns, but do you really believe they don’t love this great country?  Or that they will fail to do what is necessary to keep the ship of state afloat? Let’s not be misled by the tunnel vision of doomsayers and fanatics who frighten themselves with nightmarish scenarios. Let’s open both eyes, take stock of where we were, where we are, and where sacrifice, hard work or creativity may lead us.  Then we can see that the sky is not falling.  It’s only raining.

Gubernatorial Candidate DuBose Porter says, “Public Education is at Stake in this Election”

May 4, 2010


DuBose Porter, Georgia House Minority Leader and Democratic Party Primary candidate for Governor

“What businesses want when they are thinking about relocating to Georgia are better schools, better transportation, and a better quality of life for their families, and they also want security.  All of those things have come down under these Republicans.”  That’s what Gubernatorial candidate DuBose Porter told Muscogee County Democrats Saturday. 

He said Georgia is “number one in percentage of prison population, and about number 50 in education.  You pay early or you pay later.”  He believes education is the answer to keeping prison populations low.  “Republicans see prisons as a growth industry as more privatized prisons are being built.”  Commenting on the money the private prison companies give to legislator’s campaigns, he said it is a form of subtle corruption. 

Columbus area Democrats Rep. Debbie Buckner, and Georgia House Minority Whip Rep. Carolyn Hughley, who work in the legislature with Rep. Porter, were on hand giving their support

He said Republicans cut spending on public education by $3 billion over the last eight years.  “Georgia is the only state furloughing teachers,” he said, adding,  ” Public education is at stake in this election.” 

He also said they cut the State Patrol budget by a third, and cut funds for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation,  

He is not happy with their transportation bill that does not do anything for rail, which is essential to solving the highway gridlock problem, nor with the water plan that favors Atlanta developers who are heavy contributors to campaign war chests.  He said Republicans want to let private developers build reservoirs instead of impounding more water in existing lakes. 

On the question of religion, he said he usually didn’t talk about that in a campaign, but after he heard a Republican stand up and say, “If you are a Democrat you cannot be a Christian, I decided that’s it. The gloves are coming off. I am a Christian.”  He went on to say that it’s not being a Christian not to care about all Georgians,  just the people that can pour big bucks into campaign funds.   He also said that it’s not being a Christian not to want everyone to have health care. “Just look at the tax hike on hospitals. Instead of improving health care for all, they want to tax the sick.” 

During the Q and A following his talk,  he was asked if the Democratic candidates are going to make the big mistake of the last gubernatorial election by savaging one another in the primary, giving ammunition to the Republican candidate. He said he did not think that would happen this time, though differences in the candidates will be pointed out. He did take the opportunity to call primary front runner former governor Roy Barnes the “apology” candidate.  

What about the charge that his wife Carol’s running for Lt. Governor is a gimmick?  He denied that, saying that after people heard her making speeches for him, and participating in forums, they decided she was quite intelligent, could certainly handle herself in a debate, and encouraged her to run for something.  “We don’t have a candidate for Lt. Governor, so she decided to run for that.” 

“What happens if she gets elected and you don’t?” 

“I’ve been asked that before.  If that happens she will have my full support.  We’ve been married for 26 years.” 

Porter is a Dublin, Georgia newspaper publisher, attorney, and Georgia House Minority Leader.  The Porters have four sons, all Univeristy of Georgia students.  (Disclosure: Carol is my 2nd cousin. Yes, in my view, she is quite bright, a savvy businesswoman, has a warm personality, and I am going to vote for her.)

Did President Bush Go to War in Iraq Because God Told Him to?

August 24, 2008

  How can President Bush justify preemptive war? How can he answer those who say Iraq does not meet the definition of a “just war?” He doesn’t worry about such things. He doesn’t have to because he is doing what God has told him to do.

  He may not read the newspapers, but he does read religious tracts every morning, and they are basically of the Calvinist tradition, according to Timothy Renick, Director of Religious Studies at Georgia State University. (Normally, that’s his job, but this year he is serving as provost for the school.) Dr. Renick, speaking to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, said that it doesn’t matter that the president has been wrong about his reasons for going to war, because he knows that what he is doing was preordained by God. In other words, though hundreds of thousands, more than 4 thousand of them Americans, are killed or wounded, and 500 billion dollars has been spent, it’s really not important because he is doing God’s work.

Timothy Renick, Ph.D, Georgia State University Director of Religious Studies

Timothy Renick, Ph.D, Georgia State University Director of Religious Studies

  Dr. Renick says there is another very great religious figure, St. Thomas Aquinas, whose words refute the Bush rationale. St. Thomas, considered by many as the greatest Catholic theologian,  predated Calvin by a few hundred years. He thought that God gave man the power to reason and, therefore, he should.  He believed Godly decisions come from reason (and evidence), not from God. That goes against the Calvinist tradition, the tradition that President Bush and many Americans follow.

  Former President Jimmy Carter made the statement at the very beginning of the Iraq war that it was not a “just war.” He was basing that on international law which says that just wars are those that are waged to protect a country after it has been attacked. Preemptive war is not a just war. Iraq is a preemptive war.  St. Thomas addressed the subject of just war. He said, ” A just war is to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished for refusing to make amends for wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”

  Now, President Bush could claim that even though he was given the wrong information about weapons of mass destruction, and about Saddam Hussein being involved in 9-11, he still did the right thing because he was acting in God’s behalf. Dr. Renick said St. Thomas did not believe we can be excused for our actions because of sincere mistakes. Ignorance does not excuse doing the wrong thing.

  During the discussion session after Dr. Renick’s speech, I asked Dr. Renick if what he was saying boiled down to President Bush getting us into the Iraq mess because he is a Calvinist instead of a Catholic? His answer didn’t surprise me. I have been accused by college professors before of over-simplifying things. In an effort to make it easy for the public to understand an issue, broadcast news people aim for simplification. However, he went on to say that the Calvinist tradition does tend to exercise a great influence over many Americans, including the president. 

  He went on to explain how St. Thomas also addressed the consensus question. President Bush doesn’t give a fig for it. 75 percent of the American public is opposed to the war in Iraq. That doesn’t matter. The president is doing God’s work and that’s all that matters. Ah, but this great Catholic philospher and theologian says consensus does matter. If people agree on a thing then that is evidence that their reasoning is unified and, and since they are using reason, which God gave them to use, they are being Godly.

  I guess the big question for a lot of us is, how does president Bush know what God wants? I know, I know, if mess happens, then it was preordained  by God and therefore the president was following God’s wishes. After all, didn’t Calvin teach that everything is preordained?  How can you argue with such illogical logic?