A view of the world from my own unique perspective

Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

Is There a Hidden Inspirational Message In Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?

Have you ever experienced a really profound dream – one in which you’ve stumbled upon the hidden mysteries of the universe, and one so intense that it actually woke you up in the middle of the night? Upon awakening, you think to yourself “This is it – I’ve discovered the secret! Yes, it all makes sense now!” Then you roll over and go back to sleep, and when you wake up in the morning, you’ve completely forgotten what your dream was about. I had one of those dreams a few weeks ago, but this time it happened just a few minutes before I was supposed to wake up, so I was able to remember it. It doesn’t seem as profound now as it did when I was dreaming it, but for what it’s worth, here it is…

In my dream, I uncovered a secret inspirational message contained within Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Of course, since Einstein died in 1955, we can’t ask him if it’s true, so this will be nothing more than the whimsical nocturnal speculations of my overactive imagination.

Albert Einstein

I suspect that I was able to connect the dots because I’m a fan of Leonard Bernstein and had recently been watching his Harvard lectures. In 1973, this Harvard alumnus delivered a series of lectures at his alma mater called The Unanswered Question. In the first lecture, Musical Phonology, he told the students that the principal thing that he learned from his masters at Harvard was a sense of interdisciplinary spirit, and that “the best way to know a thing, is in the context of another discipline.

It was in a similar interdisciplinary spirit that I was dreaming about something very analytical, which appeals exclusively to the left hemisphere of our brains – Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – from a decidedly right-hemisphere point of view. I was contemplating relativity from a new and unique vantage point: the self-help section of a bookstore.

EMC2

Even if you don’t understand it, you are undoubtedly familiar with Einstein’s relativity equation: E=MC² It states that energy (E) equals mass (M) times the speed of light (C) squared. It’s also important to know a couple of facts about the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second, or about 300,000 kilometres per second. Einstein stated that the speed of light was always constant, and that nothing (or at least nothing with any mass) can travel at or faster than light. I admit that it does seem strange that there could be a maximum speed for anything in the universe, but the concept of light’s maximum velocity can be illustrated in the following graph:

Energy vs Speed Graph

This graph displays speed along the x-axis (horizontally) and energy along the y-axis (vertically). The faster an object travels, the more energy is required to reach that speed. As you can see, there is a vertical asymptote at c (the speed of light). I’m sure that you already know that a vertical asymptote is a vertical line that the graph plot approaches but never actually touches (because its value would have to be infinity in order to reach it). In this graph, it means that it will take an infinite amount of energy to propel anything at the speed of light. That’s why nothing (with mass) can travel that fast – there just isn’t enough energy in the universe to do it.

And now, the essence of the dream… was Einstein an even greater genius than we thought? While E=MC² was certainly a groundbreaking equation for physicists, it could also be interpreted as an important social statement. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity might actually be a parable – much like one of Aesop’s Fables – disguised as an equation. I had finally decoded the secret, inspirational message contained within the equation, because I (much like Leonard Bernstein’s professors) was examining it within the context of another discipline.

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The 80/20 Rule and Project Management

If that graph looks familiar to you, then this might be why. If your job is at a manager’s level or higher, then you probably know about the 80/20 Rule, known formally as The Pareto Principle. It’s embraced by many different industries, and each one places their own personalized spin on it:

  • 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your clients
  • 80% of network traffic occurs during 20% of the day
  • 20% of computer code contains 80% of the errors

In project management, there is a popular maxim paraphrased as follows “80% of a project can be completed in 20% of the time… but it’s that final 20% that requires 80% of the project’s timeline (or even more, in many cases)“. This graph illustrates that maxim quite well.

Take a look at the graph from a Project Manager’s point of view, but relabel the x-axis as “Percent Complete” and the y-axis as “Time”. At the 80% mark, the project time requirements start to skyrocket, and soon it becomes clear that delivering every feature (flawlessly) within the initial time frame will not be possible. Compromises are inevitable. Did Einstein leave this message for Project Managers in his Theory of Relativity?

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Perfectionist Personalities

We all know people who are perfectionists, and I’m sure you’ll agree that they can often be trying. Some of these folks – those who insist that others should rise to their perfectionist standards – can be annoying or even insufferable. Personally, I think that perfectionists are generally not very happy, since they have set for themselves, a goal that cannot realistically be achieved, and therefore exists in a continual state of disappointment.

Perfectionist

In that same graph, let’s relabel the axes once again and assume that the x-axis represents our own perceived level of perfectionism, and that the y-axis represents the time, money and energy required to reach this level of perfection. Since we are all imperfect beings, targeting 100% is a pointless exercise. In fact, I would love to show this graph to a perfectionist and say “Study this graph, and then please abandon your quest for perfectionism. None of us will ever be perfect, so stop trying. As you can see, you can reach and maintain a fairly respectable level without even breaking a sweat, but soon as you set your sights on 100%, the effort (relative to the gains) rises exponentially. The graph is speaking to you!

Could Einstein have coded into his equation, this sage and practical advice for the perfectionists in our lives?

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Reinterpreting Relativity

For more than a century, Einstein’s concept of relativity has been viewed only one way. Could it also be examined within a social context? I’m going to propose that Einstein embedded a behavioural allegory in his Theory of Relativity, and that the following is his hidden personal and motivational message for all of us: What relativity really means is that you must measure yourself relative to those around you, and not on an absolute scale of perfection. Since none of us is perfect, then your life is really a lot better than you realize. If you’re a perfectionist, then trying to achieve 100% perfection is merely an exercise in futility. Do the best you can, but as you can see from the graph, anything more than that will take a disproportionate amount of time, energy and money.

Einstein was certainly a genius, but I’m going to propose that he was also a cross-disciplinary visionary who purposely designed his Theory of Relativity to appeal to both hemispheres of our brain. This theory challenged Newtonian physics and also contained an inspirational message for everyone. It simply took the rest of us a century to decode this second component. Who could have guessed that analyzing a graph of the speed of light might make us a little more… enlightened?

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And now, I’d like to pose what I call The Grand Unifying Question: should books about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity also be placed in the self-help section of your local bookstore?

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The Hidden Life Lesson In The Shawshank Redemption

So oftentimes it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.” – The Eagles, Already Gone

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I thought that The Shawshank Redemption was an outstanding movie – not just for the story or the acting, but for the subtle, yet profound message that it delivered to the audience.

I wanted to discuss this allegory a little further, so I decided to take an informal poll among my friends. Most of them have seen The Shawshank Redemption – some multiple times – and all of them told me that they enjoyed it immensely. However, when I asked them what they got out of the movie, no one extracted the same life lesson that I did. However, I saw this as a good thing; I could now argue that The Shawshank Redemption is a work of art, since art affects different people in different ways.

shawshank-redemption

If you’ve never seen The Shawshank Redemption, then stop reading this blog post and watch it now. Get what you can from it and then come back. If you’ve already seen the film, then I’d like to encourage you to watch it one more time – but first allow me to tell you what I gained from it, after viewing it from (what else) The Bob Angle.

As I’m sure you recall, one of the characters, Brooks Hatlen, is released from prison after completing his sentence. Unfortunately, after being in prison for 50 years, he is unable to adjust to society again and eventually commits suicide by hanging himself.

Before his sentence Brooks was able to function fairly well in society… except, of course, for his inability to stay on the right side of the law. So what happened to his ability to cope? The answer is: Brooks’ universe shrank. While he was serving his sentence, his universe slowly started to contract, and eventually the prison walls functioned as the boundaries of his new existence. For all intents and purposes, there was nothing – or at least nothing attainable by Brooks – beyond those walls. Once his sentence was over and he was forcibly pushed past those boundaries and into the universe that we inhabit, life became too much for him to bear.

The lesson, as I see it, is this: The more boundaries there are in your life, the smaller your universe becomes. While you may be content living a circumscribed existence, you will not be able to see and enjoy all that life has to offer.

At this point, you may be thinking “I’m sorry, but this doesn’t apply to me. I’m not living inside a prison, real or self-imposed. I function well in society and there are no boundaries whatsoever in my life!

Are you sure? I’d like to propose to you that your universe is also shrinking. Not through any physical constraints such as the prison walls in the movie, but by barriers that you have unwittingly created yourself. Most of us have invisible boundaries in our lives, and we aren’t even aware of the limitations that they are imposing on us. Let me give you a few examples:

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The Transportation Universe

First of all, I must admit that I am also susceptible to these boundaries. Before I bought my first car, I used to take the bus everywhere, and began to know most of the bus routes in the city. Shortly after getting my car, I was driving to the grocery store and, without even thinking about it, I took the same route as the bus (which wasn’t the fastest or most direct way to get there). Midway through my journey I suddenly exclaimed out loud “What am I doing? Why am I driving on this street? I have a car now – I can drive on any street I like!

bus-route-map

Years of riding the bus had made me assume that the only way to get from Point A to Point B was by travelling along the bus routes. All of the other roads in the city were purged from my consciousness. My transportation universe had shrunk, and I hadn’t even noticed.

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The Employment Universe

internal-applicantsYears ago, I had a contract job working at a government ministry. One day, my manager confided to me that he wasn’t really happy in his job, but couldn’t identify another position within the ministry where he would be happy. So I helpfully suggested that he should consider extending his search to the private sector, which was where I was working previously. He had been working in the Ministry for so long that his employment universe was limited not only to the public sector, but to a single ministry within it. It never occurred to him to look beyond it.

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The Culinary Universe

When you go grocery shopping, how many items are on your list? Probably 20-30. During an average month, that list may vary and you might buy 40-50 different items. If you buy groceries fro your entire family, then you might buy 80 different items each month. How many items do you think an average-sized supermarket stocks? The answer I found online is: 50,000 different SKUs. You can choose from 50,000 different items, yet you buy only 50-80 different items each month, and likely the same ones month after month. Even if you bought 100 different items each month, that’s still only 0.2% of the store’s inventory. Think about that for a second – when you walk into a supermarket, you are deliberately ignoring 99.8% of the merchandise. Nobody is forcing you to do it. This, too, is your own self-imposed limitation.

supermarket-aisle

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The Digital Universe

If you’re a software developer and you want to spruce up your application, the best way to do this is to ask for suggestions from someone outside your company – preferably, someone who’s never used the software before. In my experience, the best and most innovative ideas come from new employees. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it actually makes perfect sense.

I’ve written software, and after a while, you become so intimately familiar with the code that it feels as though you’re actually living inside the application. Each screen is a different room. However, just like Brooks Hatlen, the software slowly begins to impose its own barriers. Over time, my ideas become less grandiose and are eventually limited to minor enhancements or bug fixes. I no longer consider radical changes or bold, new directions. The code has become my prison, yet I am blissfully unaware of it.

New employees (or new users) have no such boundaries, and aren’t afraid to ask “Why don’t we do it this way?” or “Wouldn’t this approach be more intuitive?“.

Back in 2006, Microsoft developers were considering making the Windows Vista startup sound mandatory. Predictably, users were not too enthused with this loss of control. However, Steve Ball, Microsoft’s Group Program Manager for Vista, was unrepentant. When asked why he was imposing his will on the users, he explained that the startup sound was actually “A spiritual side of the branding experience. A short, brief, positive confirmation that your machine is now conscious and ready to react. You can turn on your Vista machine, go eat some cereal, while your machine is cold booting and then this gentle sound will come out telling you that you can log in.

windows-vista-startup-screen

What Ball didn’t consider were the myriad real-world situations in which any sound is not desirable. For example, if you’re studying for an exam in your university library, the last thing you need is to have your train of thought broken by a Windows startup sound every time a student turns on their laptop. This is obvious to everyone, except the Windows Vista developers, since their universe has become constrained.

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The Twitterverse

Finally, there’s Twitter, which irks me because of its 140-character limit. Now, you’re probably thinking “Wait a minute – that’s Twitter’s limitation, not mine!” Actually it is our limitation because of our tacit acceptance of this limit. When we’re composing a tweet and we’re approaching 140 characters, we never think that there’s something wrong with the design of Twitter – we just assume that our thoughts need to be edited. In my opinion, there shouldn’t be a limit on the complexity of our thoughts and ideas. We shouldn’t have to force them to fit inside a ridiculously small container. Yet we do, and we don’t question it.

Imagine that you are an art gallery curator, and that your gallery has recently acquired an previously-unknown Old Master, discovered (sans frame) at a garage sale. When the painting arrives, you realize that it’s larger than you thought, and that the frame you selected for it is too small. What do you do? Buy a larger frame, or take a pair of scissors to the painting to ensure that it fits inside your container?

cropped-mona-lisa

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The Shawshank Redemption is a remarkable movie, because it illustrated (to me, anyway) that we are all, to varying degrees, living a circumscribed existence. These invisible boundaries have placed you inside a prison of your own construction, yet until this moment, you were probably blissfully unaware of it. Now, by making you aware of just a few of these constraints, you now have a choice: you can continue accepting or even ignoring these limitations, or you can identify and break down your boundaries, break out of your own personal Shawshank State Penitentiary, and start flourishing in your new, unbounded universe.

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We Can Repair Police Relations, If We All Work Together

So far, July 2016 has been a very difficult month in the United States for police forces and their perception by the general public. There is an ebb and flow in this relationship, but there is also a continual underlying tension. This month, unfortunately, things have really deteriorated:

  • On July 5th, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alton Stirling was shot and killed by police as he sold CDs outside a store.
  • On July 6th, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Philando Castile was killed by a police officer after a being pulled over for a broken tail light. His girlfriend live streamed the aftermath of the shooting on social media.
  • On July 7th, in Dallas, Texas, five police officers were killed by a sniper, as a form of retaliation for the police shootings during the previous two days.
  • The following day, in Ballwin, Missouri, a police office was shot in the neck while walking back to his cruiser after a routine traffic stop, leaving the police officer in critical condition.
  • July 17th: In this still-developing story in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, multiple police officers have been shot, and three are believed to have died.

Right now there are probably hundreds of other bloggers thinking and writing the same thing I am right now: these events are horrifying, and the violence needs to stop immediately. To most of us, this problem does seem insurmountable, and you may feel, as an individual, that there is nothing you can do about it. However, when I examine things from The Bob Angle, I see a solution. Yes, it is more than one person can accomplish, which is why we need to work together. If we can coordinate our efforts in this area, then restoring a healthy relationship with our police forces can be an attainable goal.

The way I see it, the media’s predominantly negative reporting of police work makes it difficult for us to see the big picture. Here is a breakdown of what’s typically happens following a police shooting:

  • The story gets local, and often nationwide media coverage. Millions of people now know what happened, and understandably, become outraged.
  • Many of these people will be affected by stimulus generalization: they not only become angry with the officer responsible for the shooting, but also with the entire police force and the police forces of other cities. Police officers everywhere are now viewed derisively and may even be the targets of scorn, anger and hate.
  • Some people may even feel compelled to retaliate against individuals who have nothing to do with the original incident.

In Dallas, Texas, five police officers who had absolutely nothing to do with the Baton Rouge or Minneapolis shootings were killed, because the shooter was seeking revenge for the incidents in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. This is the devastating power of stimulus generalization; the fact that these five police officers were completely innocent didn’t deter, faze or perhaps even occur to the Dallas shooter.

Stimulus generation is a formidable force, but with a coordinated and focused effort, we can control it, and perhaps even make it work to our advantage. In my opinion, police relations are perpetually tense due largely to a prevalence of negative media coverage. The media reports unpleasant events for more often than uplifting stories. Incidents that keep us in perpetual fear seem to be the ones that are broadcast most widely. The “feel good” stories are usually left to the end of the newscast (if there’s time). As a result, we are getting a statistically skewed view of what’s happening in the world, and an especially distorted view of what our country’s police forces do every day.

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Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

To be fair, the media does report, from time to time, on the more positive examples of police work. Here are a few of those stories:

  • During the July 7th Dallas protest in which the five police officers were killed, a mother of four was shot in the leg. As she was attempting to shield one of her sons, she looked up and saw a police officer running over to shield both of them from the gunfire.
  • On January 15th, 2016, a Florida police officer was called for a noise complaint. Some kids were playing basketball too loudly in the street. However, instead of admonishing them, he decided to join them in a game. Afterwards, he promised to return and bring a special guest with him. That special guest turned out to be Shaquille O’Neal

Shaq

  • After responding to a trespassing call, two Barnesville, Georgia police officers discovered a homeless teenager who told them that he had ridden his brother’s bicycle for six hours in order to register for classes at Gordon State College. These two officers put him up in a hotel room (and paid for it themselves), and then set up a GoFundMe page in his name to help him get back on his feet again. In an example of how kindness feeds on itself; the owner of a local pizzeria hired the teenager and said that he would schedule the shifts around his college classes.
  • In Charlotte, North Carolina, officer Tim Purdy responded to a call about a suicidal teen with autism. He sat down with him, talked things out, and likely saved this young man’s life. Purdy later told a reporter “This is something that tens of thousands of law enforcement officers that are out there do every single day,” Purdy said in a video. “You just don’t hear about it.

Police Officer Consoling Teen

  • In La Plata, Maryland, an 81-year-old woman who has dementia was reported missing by her daughters. After a brief search, officer Morrison found her, and held her hand as he walked her back home, chatting with her on the way.

Police And Dementia

  • Each year, police forces in Toronto and the surrounding suburbs hold a “Cram a Cruiser” food drive to support local food banks. They set up a patrol car up just outside the entrance of participating supermarkets, and encourage shoppers to donate food, which is then placed inside the car. A couple of years ago, they were able to fill 50 cruisers full of food. This event is publicized, but only in the local community newspapers.

Cram A Cruiser 5

I agree completely with officer Tim Purdy’s comments; in fact, they reflect the central theme of this blog post. The good deeds performed daily by police officers all over the country vastly outnumber the bad things. Unfortunately, we don’t recognize this because media reporting is weighed heavily on the stories that sell the most newspapers or that generate the most page views – that is, the decidedly unpleasant ones. That’s why our perception of police forces is distorted.

After reading my brief descriptions of these good deeds, how do you feel about police officers right now? I’ll bet that your faith is being restored, and that you now have renewed hope for a brighter, more harmonious future. Listing just a few examples of officers who go above and beyond the call of duty to help others was my modest attempt to create a more statistically balanced reporting, but it still isn’t even close to representing all of the helpful things that police officers do for us every day.

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What We Can Do

Individually, we aren’t as powerful as media outlets, which is why we need to work together to create and promulgate a more accurate view of law enforcement across the country. First of all, we need to consider all of the little things that police officers do for the general public every day, and recognize that the vast majority of these acts receive no publicity at all. Secondly, if you’ve had a positive experience with a police officer, then tell your family, friends and colleagues about it. Tell the story repeatedly, and spread the positive message. This is how we can help give the rest of society a more statistically accurate view of police officers, and the good deeds they perform each day.

I’d like to get the ball rolling, by sharing a couple of stories of my own:

  • A number of years ago, one of my father’s friends was in Chicago, attending an educational conference. This was his first time visiting Chicago. After the conference, he had a bit of free time, so he decided that he would drive around and just explore the city, with no particular destination in mind. As he was driving along, he noticed the flashing lights of a police car behind him. He immediately pulled over, and was baffled because he wasn’t speeding or breaking any other laws (that he was aware of). The officer walked up to his car and demanded “What are doing here?”. This man told him about the conference, and mentioned that he was visiting from Canada. The police officer told him that he had wandered into a very bad neighbourhood and that he shouldn’t be here. He then said “I’m going to drive ahead of you. Follow right behind me, and I’ll take you out of here and to someplace safer“. And that’s just what he did.

My father told me that he’s heard similar stories from some of his friends in other cities – Atlanta and Miami – and added that helping people in this way appears to be quite common. This is the type of police story that is never reported by the media, but should be.

  • Back in the early 2000s, I visited a bar in Fort Lauderdale called The Elbo Room. At the time it stood out from other bars because it had three streaming webcams: one inside, one pointed toward their outdoor patio, and one on the roof aimed at the beach. At any time, I could go to their web site and see what was happening there at that exact moment (which was really cool during the early 2000s). About 3-4 years later, a major hurricane was approaching the south-east coast of Florida.

All businesses were closed and people were urged to stay indoors or even leave the area. I visited the Elbo Room’s web page to see if their roof-mounted web cam was still functioning, and perhaps get a glimpse of the weather and the waves. Surprisingly, the web cam was still functioning in the torrential rain, and although the image was distorted by creeping rivulets of water, I could still get a fairly decent view of the surroundings. This hurricane was a sight to behold. As George Costanza would say “The sea was angry that day, my friends“. The waves were crashing onto the beach, almost reaching the road, and the palm trees were bending in the gale-force winds. Despite the less-than-ideal view though the webcam lens, I saw the flashing lights of a police cruiser, right at the intersection of Los Olas and A1A. It was the only sign of humanity in this decidedly inhospitable environment.

As I watched this scene for the next 10-15 minutes, it occurred to me that this police officer was likely stationed there to keep an eye out for anyone who still hadn’t found shelter, or to make sure that no one got too close to the beach. I was impressed by his/her dedication. While just about everyone else in Fort Lauderdale was safe and sequestered inside their hurricane-shuttered homes, this police officer was watching out for others. This is another story that you won’t find in your local newspaper.

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Closing Thoughts

When we read and watch the daily news, we assume that we have an accurate and balanced view of things. However, our view of the world depends on what is reported to us. Fortunately, our skewed perception of police work can be corrected if we all work together, recognize all of the good work done each day by law enforcement officials everywhere, and share those stories. Only then will be have a more statistically accurate view of what’s really happening, and how much assistance we’re actually receiving from our men and women in blue.

Finally, I’d like to propose the following: the next time you see a police officer, say “Thank you for your service” (or something along those lines). We say this to our veterans who protected us during wartime, so why not express the same sentiment for the men and women who continue to protect us every day?

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We Are Worshipping The Wrong God

The top news story across the country this week is the raging wildfire that was encroaching upon and is now consuming Fort McMurray, Alberta. The video footage of the fire and of those affected is both horrific and heartbreaking. Thousands of people have been evacuated and may have nothing to return to. Hundreds have already lost their homes and as of this writing the fire is still spreading; more than 200,000 hectares have already been destroyed.

Fire 1

Television reporters have described the devastation as hellish and even apocalyptic, with the burned-out areas compared to a war zone. This fire is now so enormous that it can be seen from space.

Fire From Space

As I was watching the news coverage on television, it seemed as though I was staring right into the very bowels of hell itself. At that moment, I had a religious (or more accurately, a secular) epiphany. If I may quote Leonard Bernstein, it “all came together in one luminous revelation”: we are worshipping the wrong God.

There is another god who has been in the vicinity for just as long – one whom we should be worshipping – but we’ve been so pre-occupied with our God v1.0 that we’ve failed to notice what was right in front of us. Therefore, I’d like to propose that we elevate Mother Nature to a similar God-like status and then start worshipping her as our new deity.

I admit this sounds like a bizarre thing to think while watching the news, but keep in mind that I am looking at the world from The Bob Angle. Allow me to detail my thought process as I contrast our current God with Mother Nature, and then explain why we need to start paying close attention to her.

For 2,000 years, many of us have believed that God first created the universe, and then created the Earth and everything in it for our benefit. In fact, in Genesis 1:28 (KJV), God said that we humans “Have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth… Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree“. It seems reasonable to assume that the more literally you interpret the Bible, the more likely you are to feel that everything around you has been created with you in mind, and that the planet is yours to exploit. To be fair, God didn’t tell us to plunder the Earth’s resources, but one could make the following counter-argument: since the oil beneath the ground used to be animal protoplasm and organic matter, we can do what we like with it, since Genesis 1:28-29 gave us dominion over every animal and every tree.

The problem with this world view is that it’s self-centred, self-serving and ultimately destructive. We are not (in my opinion, anyway) the masters of our domain. We are a decidedly small part of a vast and intricate ecosystem. The reason we are able to exist on this planet is due to the establishment and maintenance of a delicate equilibrium with a relatively narrow temperature range, an abundance of sunlight, oxygen, water, food, and arable land on which to grow food. If we disrupt this equilibrium – much like an asteroid did 66 million years ago – then the Earth will simply establish a new equilibrium which may or may not include Homo sapiens.

The second problem with our current God is His empty threats. He and His son try to keep us with line by threatening us with eternal damnation, but this is really more bombast and posturing than anything else. First of all, this will scare only those who actually believe that hell exists. Secondly, the punishment doesn’t even remotely fit the crime. I will admit that the “eternal” part may initially give one pause, but if you look at it objectively, you’ll realize that it’s utter nonsense. How can one legitimately deserve an infinite punishment for a finite transgression? Thirdly, the punishment doesn’t even begin until after we die. In the meantime, you can live a full, rich life and are still free to behave any way you like until then. With a lag time that could often be more than half a century, we may not always make the connection between hell and the specific behaviour that brought us there. Finally, no one has ever returned from hell (or even purgatory) to tell us what is was like. There are no eyewitnesses and no proof that such a place even exists. As a behavioural modification technique, I think it’s pretty ineffectual.

The third difficulty we’re facing is that our current God is a passive deity. Some of my outwardly religious friends believe that God is hovering over their shoulder, 24/7, and giving them continual guidance. However, I disagree; I think that God is following His own version of Star Trek’s Prime Directive. We’re all pretty much free to do whatever we like without any divine intervention, including polluting our planet until it becomes uninhabitable. Unfortunately, as a species, we’re not quite mature enough to govern ourselves yet – we’re still too inward-looking. What we need is a no-nonsense, hands-on deity; one that won’t hesitate to let us know when we’re engaging in self-destructive behaviour or otherwise behaving foolishly.

Interestingly, we’ve already touched upon this “deifying nature” idea a couple of times already with Gaia in Greek mythology and Terra in Roman mythology, but there wasn’t really much traction with either of them.

Mother Nature has always been characterized as a friendly and benevolent personification of nature: a kind lady who created for us, a beautiful planet with an abundance of resources – full of everything we need to live, eat, drink, and flourish. In fact, the only fleeting glimpse we’ve seen of her malevolent side was during a commercial for Chiffon margarine, when she warned us “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”.

That is, until now… as I was watching the graphic news coverage of the Fort McMurray wildfire, I realized that Mother Nature has a darker side – a side that is revealed to us only when her life-giving gifts are being squandered and destroyed.

Unlike God, Mother Nature doesn’t make empty threats. After seeing the extent to which we’ve been polluting and poisoning our home – her gift to us – she makes her wrath known in a more immediate and pragmatic way: she creates an actual fire & brimstone version of hell, and places it right on our planet. God merely threatens to send us to hell after we die; Mother Nature brings hell right to our doorstep… and if that wasn’t enough, she then proceeds to consume our homes and destroy all of our material possessions with the hellfire she spawned. Memories accumulated over a lifetime, items of immense sentimental value – all reduced to ashes. This isn’t some ethereal theoretical concept – this is real, immediate and devastating.

Fire Aftermath

As I was watching the news, one reporter said “It was the perfect storm. Global climate change is creating conditions that will spawn intense, unstoppable wildfires like these more frequently in the future“. This is our wake-up call. We have pillaged the land and polluted the seas. We have extracted organic resources from the ground and then polluted the air as we burned them. Now Mother Nature is saying “You are destroying the home I created for you, and acting as if you’re the only ones who live here. I tried to give you a gentle warning by raising the global temperatures, but not enough of you were paying attention. In fact a large number of you were even in denial. Now it’s time to dial things up a bit and tap into your collective fear of hell and eternal damnation. Rather than simply reading about it, perhaps it’s time for you to see hell up close.”

One news source stated that only the weather can stop this inferno; extinguishing it is now beyond our collective firefighting capability. This is a truly horrifying statement because Mother Nature is essentially humbling us by explaining “This isn’t a run-of-the-mill forest fire – I have conjured up hell itself and brought it to Earth. There is nothing you can do to extinguish these flames. Only I possess enough power to call it off.”

I think it behooves us all to make a perceptual shift in our ecclesiastical world view and consider the deification of Mother Nature – a hands-on, no-nonsense taskmistress who will not hesitate to give us the biggest smack-down of our lives. It’s a discomfiting hypothesis, but it may be the observational adjustment that we all need in order to continue living our pleasant life on this planet.

Tonight, turn on your television, watch the news and then stare into the very pit of hell itself. Mother Nature is our new god, and she is badass…

Fire 2

.

Own Your Actions

Every now and then, some of my well-intentioned Facebook friends will post what they believe are inspirational stories. Unfortunately, many of these are usually urban legends, and my friends didn’t notice the telltale telltale signs. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a link to a story about the last wishes of a death row inmate, that included the following picture.

Jeremy Meeks

The text of the story was as follows:

A death row inmate awaiting execution, asked as a last wish a pencil and paper. After writing for several minutes, the convict called the prison guard and asked that this letter be handed over to his biological mother. The letter said…

“Mother, if there were more justice in this world, we would be both executed and not just me. You’re as guilty as I am for the life I led.

Remind yourself when I stole and bring home the bicycle of a boy like me? You helped me to hide the bicycle for my father did not see it. Do you remember the time I stole money from the neighbor’s wallet?

You went with me to the mall to spend it.

Do you remember when I argued with my father and he’s gone?

He just wanted to correct me because I stole the final result of the
competition and for that I had been expelled.

Mom, I was just a child, shortly after I became a troubled teenager and now I’m a pretty malformed man.

Mom, I was just a child in need of correction, and not an approval. But I forgive you!

I just want this letter to reach the greatest number of parents in the
world, so they can know what makes all people, good or bad …is education. Thank you mother for giving me life and also helping me to lose it.

Your child offender.”

I knew immediately that something was not right about this story. The accompanying photo wasn’t of a death row inmate, but of Jeremy Meeks. He gained considerable media exposure in June 2014 as the “hot convict”, after his mug shot was posted on social media. In late 2014, Meeks was sentenced to 27 months for gun possession but he was never on death row. This unrelated image alone made the story suspicious.

Secondly, death row inmates in the United States receive a last meal, but not a last wish. Thirdly, how did a note written exclusively for his mother end up being published in the media? If you were his mother and had been maligned and shamed to that extent, would you take that note to a media outlet for publication? Finally, this story also had all of the hallmarks of an apocryphal tale: the inmate was not named, and neither was the prison. The location, crime and date – all items that could be used to check the veracity of the tale – were curiously missing. Finally, Snopes verified my suspicion; this was indeed an urban legend.

Normally, this is where it would end. I would usually continue scrolling through my news feed, and wonder why so many people fall for what is to me, such obvious fakery. However, this article stood out because of the reader comments below it. The commenters were not only fooled by the story, but they also took to heart, the parenting message that they believed was contained within it. Here are some of their comments:

  • “Wow! This touched me. I am crying not because he would be executed, but because his mother failed to raise him properly. I hope she gets this letter and see what a failure she has been.”
  • “This letter will hunt the mother for the rest of her life, she use her own hand to destroy the future of her son. what a pity.”
  • “SMH! What a mother”
  • “some women dont deserv to b mother’s”
  • “She was a total failure as a mother”

On the surface, this article seems to promote a positive parenting message: teach your kids right from wrong, and practise what you preach. However, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I see things from The Bob Angle. Not only is this an apocryphal tale, in my opinion it’s is also one of the least helpful messages I have ever read. There is another, more important lesson to be learned here, and one that seems to have escaped all those who commented beneath this story.

Stop Blaming Others

Right up to his final hour, this fictional inmate is blaming others for his poor behaviour. In this case, he has the audacity to blame his mother for his imminent execution. Admittedly, his mother was an enabler, and implicitly condoned his thefts through her actions, but one doesn’t end up on death row for petty thievery. Death row is reserved for capital offences. This web site describes 41 capital offences. Thirty-nine of them involve death or murder and the other two are treason and espionage. In the United States, five people have been executed for treason or espionage; the most recent ones were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, in 1953. Since there are no more recent examples, this man must have murdered at least one person. While his mother may have implicitly condoned his thievery, he alone is responsible for making the leap from theft to murder, despite his claim of “You’re as guilty as I am for the life I led”.

Our Role Models Are Not Perfect

None of us is perfect, and this means that we have all been raised by imperfect parents, relatives or guardians. Many of us grew up in a single-parent home. A few of us may have been raised by people who were alcoholics, or who had other addictions. Most of them did the best they could, but ultimately it’s up to us, as we move through our formative years, to understand the difference between right and wrong and to eventually rise beyond the limitations of those raising us. We can’t expect perfect or even admirable parents. We are responsible for internalizing whatever life lessons we can from them, and then for setting our own moral code and level of behaviour.

Secondly, we were all taught by imperfect teachers. Discovering that your teacher is wrong about something is not a traumatic event. Personally, I was delighted when I knew something that one of my teachers didn’t. It made me feel more grown-up, and certainly wasn’t an excuse to mimic a teacher’s ignorance or to refuse to learn. I was proud that I had something valuable to contribute.

Thirdly, our peers were probably the least well-informed of all. Over the years, I’ve received all kinds of dubious or even dangerous advice from my peers (usually in the form of dares and double-dog dares). Fortunately, I knew when to listen to them and when to ignore their boneheaded suggestions. Growing up, we (or at least most of us) learned how to be true to ourselves and behave accordingly, regardless of what those around us were doing.

Finally, we are continually exposed to all sorts of poor behaviour and dubious role models during the thousands of hours of television and movies that we watch. Despite being exposed to boorish celebrity behaviour, televised violence and a multitude of criminal or otherwise unhealthy lifestyles (Cops, The Sopranos, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Orange Is The New Black, Criminal Minds etc.), the vast majority of us still manage to obey the law, remain kind to others and lead productive lives.

Own Your Mistakes

Being responsible for your behaviour and your actions is part of being an adult. Blaming others for your shortcomings is a sign of immaturity and demonstrates a decided lack of integrity. People are not stupid – they understand cause and effect, and will see right through your attempts at deflecting blame. If you make a mistake – even an egregious one – you have to own it; it’s the adult (and expected) thing to do. Blaming your parents for a less-than-ideal upbringing means that you’ve merely joined others in the world who are refusing to adapt to and rise above their own set of less-than-perfect conditions.

Learn The Right Lesson

To all of the article commenters: yes, she wasn’t close to being an ideal mother, but by focusing solely on her dismal parenting, you are absolving her son of any responsibility for his behaviour. He can’t be let off the hook – especially for a capital crime. He needs to own his actions.

What God Said To Stephen Fry (Long Version)

On February 1, 2015, Stephen Fry was a guest on Ireland’s RTÉ One television program, The Meaning of Life. The show’s host, Gay Byrne, asked Fry (who is an atheist) “Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the Pearly Gates and you are confronted by God. What would Stephen Fry say to Him, Her or It?”.

Stephen Fry Interview

Stephen Fry: “I think I’ll say ‘bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I’d say.”

Gay Byrne: “And you think you’re going to get in, like that?”

Stephen Fry: “No, but I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to get in on His terms. They’re wrong. Now, if I died and it was Pluto, Hades, and if it was the 12 Greek gods, then I would have more truckles because the Greeks were… they didn’t pretend not to be human in their appetites, and in their capriciousness and in their unreasonableness. They didn’t present themselves as being all-seeing, all-wise all-kind, all-beneficent. Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac; utter maniac; totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking Him? What kind of god would do that?”

“Yes, the world is very splendid, but it also has in it, insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. That eats outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable. It’s not just about not believing that there is a God, but on the assumption that there is one, what kind of God is it? It’s perfectly apparent that He is monstrous; utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish Him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion.”

.

In this creative writing exercise, God attempts to answer Stephen Fry’s questions.

———————————————————————————————————–

Stephen, my boy – it’s so good to meet you! Just about everyone else who arrives here falls to their knees as soon as they see me, and they quickly become a quivering, snivelling, incoherent mess. It’s almost impossible to carry on a meaningful conversation. However, I can tell that you’re going to be different. Yes, I already know that you are an ardent atheist, and I can see from your expression that this obviously wasn’t what you were expecting. Don’t worry – I know what you’re thinking, and you didn’t pick the wrong side. Actually, there is no wrong side, but I’ll explain that in more detail a bit later.

Pearly Gates

Let me explain these Pearly Gates. They’re just a prop; they help put our newly-arrived souls at ease, since it’s what many of them expect to see. Of course, they can also be a bit disconcerting for atheists, who assumed that there was nothing beyond their mortal coil. Your friend Stephen Hawking said “An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when He might have carried out his job”. That’s actually a pretty good hypothesis.

OK, first things first. I just happened to catch the RTÉ One interview you had with Gay Byrne back in February, 2015. It seems that you have a few things that you wanted to say to me. Don’t worry, I’m not the least bit offended by any of them. You’ve clearly given a lot of serious thought to ecclesiastical topics – much more than most people – and I’ll be glad to address all of your comments.

Let’s start with this one “Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac; utter maniac; totally selfish.”

To answer the first part of this comment, yes, I am the creator of your universe, or more accurately, I created the initial conditions that allowed a universe to emerge, and then develop. You can think of it as a science experiment… actually, it was more of a proof-of-concept than anything else. In fact, here it is – this is your universe!

Universe

You can rotate it and see things from all angles. I have the ability to zoom in and see not only individual galaxies but individual solar systems, planets and much of the activity on the surface of each planet. To be honest, this universe still needs a bit of tweaking, but I’m pleased with the progress so far. It’s been quite stable, and hasn’t collapsed yet.

Your friend Hawking noted, quite correctly “If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have re-collapsed before it ever reached its present size”. I must admit that quite a few of my previous models failed and collapsed almost immediately, but I’ve finally fine-tuned the laws of physics well enough to prevent that from happening. Of course, there are still a few problems with this one, but I’ll go into more detail a bit later. Hawking was also right about multiverses. I often have several universes on the go at any given time. Each one is an entirely self-contained plane of existence, and its inhabitants are blissfully unaware of anything outside it.

You’re probably wondering what to call me. I don’t actually have a name. Humans and other being scattered around the various galaxies have given me quite a number of names, but you can call me whatever you like. If calling me “God” makes you feel at ease, then that’s fine with me.

As for being an utter maniac and totally selfish, I need to explain something that I thought would be obvious to you humans by now. After I created your universe, I simply let it unfold and then watched what happened. I abided by my own version of your Star Trek Prime Directive – non-interference. However, for some unfathomable reason, this is something that so many of you presumably enlightened beings – including hard-core atheists like yourself – have never entertained, or perhaps refuse to acknowledge. Your holy books state that I created you in my own image, and I suppose that did indirectly – I created an environment that eventually allowed humans to emerge – but I didn’t model humans after myself. Besides, humans are still evolving. While you humans were busy proclaiming that they were made in my image, they also created a multitude of gods in their own image; unfortunately, none of them is anything like me, which is why everyone is so utterly astonished when they arrive here for the debriefing.

The reason for this disparity is that your God – the one created and promulgated by many of your Christian religions – is not merely an omnipresent and omniscient god, but one that functions as a proverbial “third parent” to all adherents – one who watches over every individual continually and who guides them through life, as a parent would. I admit it’s a comforting thought – that one is never alone because there is an ethereal guardian present at all times. It’s also a decidedly ego-gratifying thought – being the proverbial apple of the creator’s eye, and assuming that the creator of the universe is taking a personal interest in details of one’s life – but I’m afraid that it’s just not true. I do not “micromanage” your lives; I simple watch everything unfold. You can call it maniacal or selfish if you like, but I call it being completely neutral.

Interestingly, one person who came close to understanding how everything worked was not even a religious leader. It was the American comedian George Carlin. He described the creator of the universe as The Big Electron “It doesn’t punish, doesn’t reward, it doesn’t judge at all. It just is, and so are we… for a little while.”. It’s a great hypothesis: simple, elegant and accurate.

Let’s examine your next comment “We have to spend our life on our knees thanking Him? What kind of god would do that?”

An excellent question! Let me assure you, Stephen, that no thanks is, or ever was, necessary. You’re absolutely right – what kind of god would do that? The notion of a god who is that insecure is ridiculous. Your religious leaders have told you to worship their version of a creator, because they live in fear, and spend their lives under the proverbial Sword of Damocles. I’m sure that they genuinely believe that they are doing everyone a favour by preaching this subservience, but ask yourself this: why would a god be substantially less secure than his creations?

Let me reveal something that almost everyone finds surprising. While watching your universe unfold, one of my pleasures was noting all of the different gods and religions that the various species have created – on your planet and on many others. Over the millennia, you’ve created an impressive number of gods – some more enduring than others, but all very interesting, complex and nuanced characters. There are so many fascinating and disparate points of view – atheism among them – that have been formed in your collective quest to make sense of your surroundings. This bowing down in my presence is just nonsense. Do you really think that I’m going to give preferential treatment to annoying little sycophants? Do you think I can’t see right through that rubbish? In broader terms, is it reasonable to assume that one’s opinion on a single subject – how the universe was formed – is going to determine the ultimate destination of one’s soul? That’s utterly preposterous!

I embrace the multitude of opinions, and I couldn’t care less who spends time worshipping me. In fact, It’s always amusing to meet someone who was ultra-religious or pious back on Earth. They think they have it made, until I tell them “I don’t care how many times you went to your place of worship or how much you prayed during your life – talk is cheap. The only thing that matters to me is what you did, how much you helped others, and how you used your talents to try and make your world a better place”. Then I give them a piercing stare and say “Every hour you spent praying in church is one hour that you could have spent helping others”. They certainly weren’t expecting that…

I’ve noticed that your Bible. despite all the talk about unconditional love, often portrays me as a vengeful god, who won’t hesitate to destroy all life on Earth if people aren’t behaving well. I’m sure this is meant to keep the followers in line, but it doesn’t place me in a very flattering light. It makes me out to be a frustrated child who will break a toy or overturn a board game in frustration if things aren’t going his way. Surely you can give me a little more credit than that.

Noah's Ark

Which brings me to the story of Noah’s Ark. I am astounded that, despite your global literacy levels and technological advances, some people still believe this tale in your 21st century. My non-interference policy should make it obvious that it never happened, but let me state categorically that I didn’t flood the Earth and drown everyone except Noah and his wife – do you realize how shallow that would have made the human gene pool? It would have resulted in a planet full of drooling imbeciles! Secondly, the oceans and other bodies of water cover about 70-71% of your planet’s surface. Weather systems move this water around a bit, but the planet-wide percentage is always the same. How is it possible to achieve 100% coverage in only 150 days, simply by making it rain? Where would all that extra water come from? Furthermore, how could the percentage drop back down to 70% again simply by stopping the rain? That water has to go somewhere, and the Earth is a closed system. For such a technologically advanced species, your critical thinking skills are simply dreadful! Don’t believe everything you read – even if it is written in a leather-bound book with gilt-edged pages.

While I’m on the subject, what is this rubbish in Genesis about a rainbow after the flood being a covenant between me and Mankind? Imagine the following scenario: the global flood did actually occur, and all land masses are completely submerged. Suddenly the rain stops and the sun breaks through the clouds. After non-stop rain for 150 days, the humidity level will be 100% and the air will be completely saturated with moisture. When the sun appears under those conditions, try *not* seeing a rainbow!

When Ken Ham arrives at these Pearly Gates, he and I are going to have quite the discussion… in fact, you may want to sit in on that one, because I think you’ll find it quite entertaining!

You also said “bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil”.

If I had deliberately introduced cancer into otherwise healthy children, then yes, those actions could be described quite fairly as “utterly utterly evil”. However, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I am a “hands-off” creator who lets the evolutionary chips fall where they may. I have no direct involvement with bone cancer in children, or with any other disease.

As you can see, the relationship between Man and God is entirely one-sided. People pray incessantly, and when they experience the desired outcome, they genuinely believe that I have intervened on their behalf, and then declare that their prayers have been answered or that a miracle has occurred. When the outcome is unfavourable, people merely shrug their shoulders and say “God works in mysterious ways” or “This is all part of God’s plan – it is not for us to understand”. Bone cancer in children is not part of my plan – it simply emerged – so one mustn’t assume that everything that exists is something that I implicitly endorse.

Let’s examine your next comment “insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. That eats outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us?”

Continued existence among members of any species is an ongoing battle – viewers of nature documentaries know this intuitively. Right now, homo sapiens are enjoying their lofty perch at the top of the evolutionary ladder, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still have adversaries. Every species, including the human botfly, fights continually for its own survival and even dominance. No one gets a free ride. For 160 million years, the dinosaurs lived in complete harmony with the planet – which is more than I can say for humans – and they were wiped out in a geological instant by the climate change resulting from a meteor strike. Had they been able to speak, their lament may have been similar to yours “Why? Why did you do that to us?”.

You also noted “You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable.”

Your Bible suggests that God has created a made-to-order world, exclusively for the benefit of humans. It’s a decidedly egocentric view, which as you now know, just isn’t the case. Humans have discovered 1.9 million species so far, and you’ve only scratched the surface. Think of it this way: if you live in a city of two million, there are bound to be in the some people whom you don’t like. Similarly, there will also be an assortment of undesirable species on the planet.

To be fair, I will say this: despite your Bible’s assumption that God is perfect, I will admit that your universe could use a bit of fine-tuning. I view tornadoes the same way you view the human botfly. What is the point of having a weather system that does nothing but destroy property and kill people? That’s a bug in the program, because tornadoes don’t need to exist. On a larger scale, black holes are a bit of a concern to me. In the same way that cancer appears in humans, black holes also appear in this universe, and they just devour everything around them. So far, there is nothing powerful enough to stop them and there is a real possibility that they may eventually consume the entire universe. I’m going to adjust a few variables in my next universe to prevent them from forming again.

Then you added “It’s perfectly apparent that He is monstrous; utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever” and asked, somewhat rhetorically “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

If you don’t respect me, that’s OK – I’m not offended. In fact, it’s a perfectly understandable position for anyone who has accepted or internalized the notion of the God that their religious leaders have presented to them. Your religious leader have weaved an elaborate tale and they promised the general public quite a bit. However, being human, and not knowing any more than anyone else, they weren’t in a position to even know my nature, much less deliver a god custom-made to their specifications. They are the ones who disappointed you, Stephen, not I.

Another interesting remark you made was “The moment you banish Him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion”.

I agree, in principle, with this comment, because it shows a maturity far beyond what most people possess. This is why I have a particular fondness for atheists and agnostics, because they don’t invent spirits to fill the gaps in their knowledge. They realize that they haven’t figured out how everything in their world works, admit that there is still much to learn, and aren’t afraid to modify their models. By concentrating on empirical observations instead of ecclesiastical speculation, you stimulate an interest in learning and discovery. I’m glad that you’ve adopted a secular world view, Stephen, because it demonstrates that you have a very logical and structured mind. I’ve never interfered with the development of the universe, and this lack of divine intervention lends should lend itself to the adoption of atheism or agnosticism. Unfortunately, few humans have done that. Yours is a courageous stance, especially in your present-day world.

And finally, you asked “It’s not just about not believing that there is a God, but on the assumption that there is one, what kind of God is it?”
Now you know…

So there you have it, Stephen. There is a creator of the universe after all, just not the one you humans invented in order to comfort yourselves – the benevolent, omnipresent, omniscient third-parent figure, who will protect you from all bad things. Now that you’ve been given the proper context, I hope that your world makes a little more sense. Now if you’ll just follow me, I’d like to introduce you to someone. Oscar Wilde has been looking forward to meeting you!

What God Said To Stephen Fry

On February 1, 2015, Stephen Fry was a guest on Ireland’s RTÉ One television program, The Meaning of Life. The show’s host, Gay Byrne, asked Fry (who is an outspoken atheist) “Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the Pearly Gates and you are confronted by God. What would Stephen Fry say to Him, Her or It?”.

Stephen Fry Interview

Stephen Fry: “I think I’ll say ‘bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’ That’s what I’d say.”

Gay Byrne: “And you think you’re going to get in, like that?”

Stephen Fry: “No, but I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to get in on His terms. They’re wrong. Now, if I died and it was Pluto, Hades, and if it was the 12 Greek gods, then I would have more truckles because the Greeks were… they didn’t pretend not to be human in their appetites, and in their capriciousness and in their unreasonableness. They didn’t present themselves as being all-seeing, all-wise, all-kind, all-beneficent. Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac; utter maniac; totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking Him? What kind of god would do that?”

“Yes, the world is very splendid, but it also has in it, insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. That eats outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable. It’s not just about not believing that there is a God, but on the assumption that there is one, what kind of God is it? It’s perfectly apparent that He is monstrous; utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish Him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion.”

.

In this creative writing exercise, Stephen Fry has just arrived at the Pearly Gates, and to his astonishment, realizes that God does in fact exist, and that He also happened to watch that interview Fry had with Gay Byrne. God then responds to the questions and comments that Fry made during the interview.

———————————————————————————————————–

Stephen, my boy – it’s so good to meet you! Yes, I know that you are an ardent atheist, and I can tell that this obviously wasn’t what you were expecting. These Pearly Gates are just a prop; they help put our newly-arrived souls at ease, since it’s what many of them expect to see. Of course, they can also be a bit disconcerting for atheists and agnostics…

I just happened to catch the RTÉ One interview you had with Gay Byrne back in February, 2015. It seems that you have a few things that you wanted to say to me. Don’t worry, I’m not the least bit offended by any of them. You’ve clearly given a lot of serious thought to ecclesiastical topics – much more than most people – and I’ll be glad to address everything.

Let’s start with this one “Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac; utter maniac; totally selfish.”

To answer the first part of this comment, yes, I am the creator of your universe, or more accurately, I created the initial conditions that allowed a universe to emerge, and then develop. You can think of it as a science experiment… actually, it was more of a proof-of-concept than anything else. To be honest, it still needs a bit of tweaking, but I’m pleased with the progress so far. It’s been quite stable, and hasn’t collapsed yet.

As for being an utter maniac and totally selfish, I need to explain something that I thought would be obvious to you humans by now. After I created your universe, I simply let it unfold and then watched what happened. I abided by my own version of your Star Trek Prime Directive – non-interference. For some unfathomable reason, this is something that so many of you presumably enlightened beings – including hard-core atheists like yourself – have never entertained, or perhaps refuse to acknowledge. Your holy books state that I created you in my own image, and I did indirectly – I created an environment that eventually allowed humans to emerge. At the same time, humans also created a multitude of gods in their own image; unfortunately, none of them is anything like the actual creator of your universe.

The reason for this disparity is that your God, the one created and promulgated by many of your Christian religions, is not merely an omnipresent and omniscient god, but one that functions as a proverbial “third parent” to all adherents – one who watches over every individual continually and who guides them through life, as a parent would. I admit it’s a comforting thought – that one is never alone because there is an ethereal guardian present at all times. It’s also a decidedly ego-gratifying thought – being the proverbial apple of the creator’s eye, and assuming that the creator of the universe is taking a personal interest in one’s life – but I’m afraid that it’s just not true. I do not “micromanage” your lives. You can call it maniacal or selfish if you like, but I call it being completely neutral.

Let’s examine your next comment “We have to spend our life on our knees thanking Him? What kind of god would do that?

An excellent question! Let me assure you, Stephen, that no thanks is, or ever was, necessary. You’re absolutely right – what kind of god would do that? The notion of a god who is that insecure is ridiculous. Your religious leaders have told you to worship their version of a creator, because they live in fear, and spend their lives under the proverbial Sword of Damocles. I’m sure that they genuinely believe that they are doing everyone a favour by preaching this subservience, but ask yourself this: why would a god be substantially less secure than his creations?

While watching your universe unfold, one of my pleasures was noting all of the different gods and religions that the various species have created – on your planet and on many others. There are so many fascinating and disparate points of view – atheism among them – that have been formed in your collective quest to make sense of your surroundings. This bowing down in my presence is just nonsense. Do you really think that I’m going to give preferential treatment to annoying little sycophants? Do you think I can’t see right through that rubbish? In broader terms, is it reasonable to assume that one’s opinion on a single subject – how the universe was formed – is going to determine the ultimate destination of one’s soul? That’s utterly preposterous!

You also said “bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil.

If I had deliberately introduced cancer into otherwise healthy children, then yes, those actions could be described quite fairly as “utterly, utterly evil”. However, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I am a “hands-off” creator who lets the evolutionary chips fall where they may. I have no direct involvement with bone cancer in children, or with any other disease.

Let’s examine your next comment “insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. That eats outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us?

Continued existence among members of any species is an ongoing battle – viewers of nature documentaries know this intuitively. Right now, homo sapiens are enjoying their lofty perch at the top of the evolutionary ladder, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still have adversaries. Every species, including the human botfly, fights continually for its own survival and even dominance. No one gets a free ride. For 160 million years, the dinosaurs lived in complete harmony with the planet – which is more than I can say for humans – and they were wiped out in a geological instant by the climate change resulting from a meteor strike. Had they been able to speak, their lament may have been similar to yours “Why? Why did you do that to us?”.

You also noted “You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable.

Your Bible suggests that God has created a made-to-order world, exclusively for the benefit of humans. It’s a decidedly egocentric view, which as you now know, just isn’t the case. Humans have discovered 1.9 million species so far, and you’ve only scratched the surface. Think of it this way: if you live in a city of two million, there are bound to be in the some people whom you don’t like. Similarly, there will also be an assortment of undesirable species on the planet.

Then you added “It’s perfectly apparent that He is monstrous; utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever” and asked, somewhat rhetorically “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?

If you don’t respect me, that’s OK – I’m not offended. In fact, it’s a perfectly understandable position for anyone who has accepted or internalized the notion of the God that their religious leaders have presented to them. Your religious leader have weaved an elaborate tale and they promised the general public quite a bit. However, being human, and not knowing any more than anyone else, they weren’t in a position to even know my nature, much less deliver a god custom-made to their specifications. They are the ones who disappointed you, Stephen, not I.

Another interesting remark you made was “The moment you banish Him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion.”

I agree, in principle, with this comment, because it shows a maturity far beyond what most people possess. This is why I have a particular fondness for atheists and agnostics, because they don’t invent spirits to fill the gaps in their knowledge. They realize that they haven’t figured out how everything in their world works, admit that there is still much to learn, and aren’t afraid to modify their models. By concentrating on empirical observations instead of ecclesiastical speculation, you stimulate an interest in learning and discovery. I’m glad that you’ve adopted a secular world view, Stephen, because it demonstrates that you have a very logical and structured mind. I’ve never interfered with the development of the universe, and this lack of divine intervention lends should lend itself to the adoption of atheism or agnosticism. Unfortunately, few humans have done that. Yours is a courageous stance, especially in your present-day world.

And finally, you asked “It’s not just about not believing that there is a God, but on the assumption that there is one, what kind of God is it?
Now you know…

So there you have it, Stephen. There is a creator of the universe after all, just not the one you humans invented in order to comfort yourselves – the benevolent, omnipresent, omniscient third-parent figure, who will protect you from all bad things. Now that you’ve been given the proper context, I hope that your world makes a little more sense. Now if you’ll just follow me, I’d like to introduce you to someone. Oscar Wilde has been looking forward to meeting you!