Posts Tagged ‘atheist’

SERMON: “Wonder Beyond the Veil” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

If you stop to think about it, the fact that I am writing my thoughts into a sentence that you can read and understand is nothing short of amazing.  As far as we can tell, such acts of communication are not occurring anywhere else in our solar system.  And even on our small planet, teeming with life, you and I are members of the only species that reads and writes (though whales and dolphins may very well have their own book-of-the-month club that they are very adept at concealing from us).

We naturally take for granted the things that seem to come naturally to us.  We don’t have the time, frankly, to sit in wonder at every little thing that — were we to see it in its true historical or biological context — would blow our ever-lovin’ mind.  So we spend the time we must learning how to walk and talk and drive and sculpt and dance and compute and then just get on with living our life.

But one of these times while you’re walking from your car into your house, thinking about the next thing on your to-do list, consider what underlies these regular acts that seem so effortless to us.

Walking upright is a good start.  That is quite an evolutionary change for a body of muscle and bone that began as a bacteria that managed to clump together enough to become, eventually, an actual body of a lobe-finned fish that adapted to walking on land, then developed into a small mammal, then a primate and then the upright hominid that was our great great great great grandmother.

And what about the air that flows so easily into your lungs?  It’s easy to think of that air as having no mass at all, but of course it does.  The one-ton weight of the atmosphere over our heads weighs down upon us every moment, but we don’t even notice it.  Our bones and muscles have evolved under that weight (not all of which is, exactly, pressing “down” on us) so that our density and shape and mechanical arrangements are so well suited to air’s “mass” that we only sense when the breeze blows it across our face, or when we stick our hand out the window of our fast-moving car and play our hand against the force of the air compressing in front of it .

This is where creationists stop one step short of a true sense of wonder, and invert reality when they decide to praise God for making the world so perfect for us to live in.  It’s quite the other way around, I’m afraid.  The world was not made for us.  The reality of evolution is that we were “made” for the world that we evolved in, or — more precisely — that we were “made” (evolved) in the world as it already existed.  That is the power of evolution as the result of natural selection: the things that work well in a given environment have a better chance of being preserved in reproducing life forms than those that don’t.

One could argue that the original conditions that were made possible by earth’s particular composition and location in relation to the sun were “made” just for us, but that would be pushing things more than just a bit.  For there is no evidence of intention in anything that exists — other than the animals, like ourselves, that possess consciousness.  What we can say with absolute confidence is that the conditions that came to be on Earth were hospitable to the beginning — and continuation — of biological life.  And knowing — as we now do — just how rare of an occurrence such a state of affairs is in the known universe, it is easy to be overwhelmed with the sheer luck of it all.

But the idea of such cosmic, existential “luck” really bothers a lot of people.  And so there arises in humans a deep cry for intention, and a purpose for our existence that must be rooted in some larger intelligent force.  I hear this from Christian friends who are sincerely baffled by the notion that existence can, well, exist without an intelligent, interested source.  (What they are really concerned about is how one could deal with this reality in an emotional and intellectual sense).   But this impulse toward religious belief is, I believe, an artifact of the way we have mentally and emotionally processed our physical reality over the generations, and has everything to do with our brain-based consciousness and absolutely nothing to do with the physical world.  It is a “software” issue.

Be that as it may, human belief systems are a definite social and cultural reality that is deeply embedded in our intellectual life.  And old ideas die hard.

Speaking up for science in a culture of religious belief, once can feel like a "voice in the wilderness".

Speaking up for science in a culture of religious belief, once can feel like a “voice in the wilderness”.

I have often wondered at how religious belief survived the arrival of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  But others have pointed out that the end of the earth-centric view of the universe should have been enough to knock the pins out from under the truth claims of the church.  Right they are.  And I’ve just been reading about the intellectual and spiritual crisis that the discovery of the Americas caused for the Europeans (in “The Great Divide”, reviewed here this week).  For here was an entirely new world (filled with people) that — because the discovery of its existence came with no hint or mention in ancient literature or biblical texts — was completely unexpected and shocking.  It took Europe and the church a few hundred years to really get used to the idea.  And so it goes.

Every new scientific discovery erodes ancient religious claims about our physical reality.  I think that is indisputable (at least in a general sense).  But, seen anthropologically, this is not surprising: almost all of our early philosophy and religious ideology was developed in a context of deep ignorance of the inner workings of biology, cosmology and geology.  Fortunately for us “westerners”, the evolution of Christianity took a course that embraced Greek thought, and led us to the idea that the “one God” was a god who had created a nature that could be understood (as He could be understood) through continuing study (Islam — and the shamanistic religions of other cultures — held that all that could be known had already been revealed in holy books, and to seek additional knowledge was to blaspheme).

In this way, the evolution of thought in the “Old World” of Europe and Asia was open to the discoveries of science, at least until those discoveries began to bring the revealed wisdom of scripture into question.  But by then the cat was out of the bag, as it were, and, despite the excommunications and heresy trials, scientific discovery has became our primary source for reliable knowledge about reality.

Be that as it may, actual non-believers (in God or in “divine purpose” generally) remain the minority, even in America.  Most people believe in God.  And most of those believers, whether they realize it or not, tacitly accept as true scientific descriptions of the world they inhabit, without realizing the profound implications of those scientific truths.  The result being that the majority of humans, to my mind, take for granted the true miracle of their existence as a thinking, feeling, personality in a discreet physical body living on a planet hospitable to such an existence.  No, to them a wonder of this magnitude (if they give it a thought) is not nearly enough.  They require (for their sense of well-being) that there be a single great god of the universe who is just like them, and who, despite all of his necessarily awesome responsibilities and powers, must reliably bend an ear to any individual’s urgent prayer request for a good parking spot at the mall.

But the rather amazing (and counter-intuitive) point of all of this should be plain by now: the believer in God, by holding fast to a religious view of existence, actually limits their capacity to experience the true awe of seeing creation for what it really is: an expanding universe of a scale we cannot truly comprehend; a tiny, blue planet of water and air and elements born in exploding stars; the continuous, persistent non-random selection from random genetic changes that, over time (and under changing environmental pressures), transforms a bacteria into a fish, a fish into a mammal, and mammals into elephants and whales and humans that, after millions of years develop language and then an alphabet and then the technology that allows this one human to write his thoughts for other humans to read and understand.

In the larger scheme of things, one has to ask, what does it matter if people believe in God or angels (or fairies in the garden, for that matter)?  It’s not like adults playing pretend or believing in magic is going to slow or speed the final, fatal blossoming of our sun, or the eventual contraction of our universe.  No — we are blessedly powerless on those scales.  But where we are powerful is in our effect on the quality of our own lives, and, potentially, the lives of others.

And so it’s none of my business if one of my fellow humans is comfortable in a world governed by a god of their choosing.  But when so many live in that kind of world, one has to speak up for that which is obscured by the veils of religious belief.  There was a time in the evolution of religion that called for a “voice in the wilderness”, a “John the Baptist”.  What’s needed now is more “John the Scientists” to stand by the doorway that science has opened for us in the wall of human ignorance, pointing the way to the unseen wonders that await beyond.

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “The Self” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

It’s an old saw about military boot camp: they have to break you down as a civilian before they can rebuild you as a soldier.  But what is it, exactly, that they are “breaking down”?

The stated purpose of military training is to develop in soldiers the capacity to act first and ask questions later.  It’s not unlike the way that a parent might hope to inculcate an immediate response to “no” in a child so that any number of potential dangers can be averted — touching a boiling pot on the stove, running into a busy street, annoying an unfamiliar dog.

And yet we also have the idea that one shouldn’t “break” a child’s spirit in the pursuit of this kind of obedience.

Clearly we carry a sense of what it means to have a “self”, and that it is a part of us that is both essential and — to some degree — subject to influence.

One of the things researchers look for in other animals is whether they have a “theory of mind” like we humans do (meaning, in short, that they understand on some level that the other animal that they are interacting with has a mind that is having its own equivalent thoughts).

We humans develop this “theory of mind” in spades, and the theory goes that we evolved such large brains in no small part because of the need to be able to read the minds of others.  Almost everything about our cognition (that isn’t geared to basic metabolic survival) can seem to be geared toward figuring out the intentions other people (and animals).  I think that this kind of thinking is so integral to us that we don’t even realize how important it is to our sense of self.

What am I really saying here?  Let me offer this example: There are many who sincerely believe that the basis of human morality is divine law, and that without the knowledge of good and evil that is given us by God, we would be cast adrift in a lawless universe, and that every individual would, in an instant, revert to rape, robbery, murder and mayhem.  Therefore, they rightfully (at least according to their world view) fear any suggestion that a) God may not exist, or; b) that morality is at all relative, or human-based.

As a young man, I joined the Coast Guard, and experienced the reshaping of self that is military boot camp.

Now what does the above example have to do with our highly complex social sense?  I use it as an example of how that social sense has been conceptually displaced from its actual location (in our psyche) and transferred to God as the focus of its activity.  We may, in practice, behave more morally in order to please the all-knowing God of our imagination, but what we are really doing is acting as a profoundly social animal could be expected to act (with or without divine supervision): engaging in only as much selfish behavior as one can get away with without damaging essential, personal relationships.  The only difference here is that we have personified (in an external way) that part of our consciousness that is our “conscience” — meaning the level of our brain with which we carry on a conversation when we “talk to ourselves” or pray out loud.

Let’s talk about the “self” that we converse with in this manner.  The dynamic is essentially the same as if we were interacting with another human being, and that is my point:  We are moral animals because we want — no — we need to get along with our fellow moral animals.  And we have come to understand (at some point in our distant past) that we will all be much better off if we behave ourselves in a civilized manner (meaning that we respect certain group-defined limits on our selfish behavior).

And this is where our sense of our “self” and the self-limiting conscience of the “social self” come together.

For our sense of self is, to a large degree, a collection of ideas about our own personality (and moral sense) that we have gathered to ourselves over the years of our maturation.  And where do most of those ideas come from?  From the way other people have responded to us.  Someone tells us that we’re pretty, or smart, or funny, and we take that to heart (our brains are hard-wired to believe what others in our social circle tell us first, and only question it later — hence the enormous potential power of the abuser that — in order to gain control of another — tells them they are ugly, stupid or unworthy in some way).

Those that are in the business (or hobby) of selling religion are really offering a balm to the wounds that a “self” is almost sure to pick up over time.  They also offer a ready absolution (or, at least, a path to atonement) for that nagging sense of selfishness that is inherent in an animal that — no matter the modern trappings — must still feed itself and see to its basic survival needs in a most primal (selfish?) manner.

(But since we are all in the same existential boat, we humans extend to each other the polite fictions and euphemisms with which we cloak the naked fact that in order to live we have to, for instance, physically consume other life, be it vegetable or animal).

But we humans need to do this for each other, as the other animals seem not to be troubled with self-awareness in the way that we are. ( Which is why — one can assume — ants don’t need religion).

All of this leads, I think, to a certain natural instability in our sense of self.  In order to be as responsive as it is to the nuances of the behavior of others, it must sacrifice a certain degree of solidity — like the narrow-bottomed canoe designed for maneuverability in white water will not be stable in placid lake waters like one designed for such use with a wide, flat bottom.

It’s impossible to know what is in anothers mind, though we know enough to know that there is certainly something going on in there.  I figure that we all live somewhere on a continuum of psychic stability, from those that have a more simple cognitive framework that is resistant to self doubt, to those that have troubled minds that make the maintenance of a stable sense of self rather tricky.  We all have friends or family that are troubled my mental or physical illness, which can also challenge the strongest sense of self.

The journey of discovering my own self has been an interesting one.  Like many, I tried on the self of the Christian believer.  I even took a stab at being one of those re-shaped by military boot camp.  But in my quest to dig down to some existential bedrock upon which to stand as my self, I have, instead, come to an increasing realization that there is no bedrock to us at all.  How can there be when we are these temporal physical beings whose entire experience of the world is mediated through an organ of flesh and electrical impulses?

It’s a troubling thought, that.  And troubling thoughts are kryponite to a coherent sense of self.  For no matter what sins we commit (or what sins are done to us), we humans have a deep, abiding, and survival-level need to maintain a coherent sense of ourselves (just notice how hard we work to restore our preferred sense of ourselves as decent people when we have behaved badly or wronged another person in our social circle).  And this is why it matters so much what the other humans we live around think of us.  They are, in fact, the only mirrors that give us glimpses of how we come across from the outside.

There are those who say they don’t care what other people think of them.  We all nod in agreement and envy them, even if we don’t quite believe them.  The reality is that a certain amount of social power or financial success can seem to insulate the self from the power of the bad opinions of others.  But fortunes can change very quickly, and our dramas are full of stories of the suddenly rich “nice guy” that then becomes an asshole, but then loses everything and has to win back all the friends that he pissed off in his hubris (and who he now needs again).

In my case I’ve come to the conclusion that the inherent sensitivities and instabilities in my own temperament are part of what enables my creativity and artistry to be so delightfully responsive and acute — just as the most aerobatic of aircraft are the most inherently unstable in straight and level flight.  (There is a reason, after all, that artists are naturally seen as living on the social margins).

But we are all vulnerable creatures.  It is only a question of degree (just as I think that artistic talent is simply our natural problem-solving ability cranked up a few notches, and not some otherworldly ability).

Whether or not we choose to recognize it, everything we do contains an almost automatic, quiet calculation of the social cost or benefit of that particular action.  To admit this seems crass, but it is the reality that underlies the smooth social functioning of a bunch of social animals like ourselves.

And that is why I don’t think that we would stop behaving morally if God were to suddenly pack up his tents and ride off across the cosmic desert.  Sure, there would be a bunch of former uptight believers who might cut loose a bit, but they would instantly discover that it was never really God who was keeping them in line at all, but their own precious sense of self, and the very real humans who would very quickly let it be known that an asshole is an asshole, whether God is in his Heaven or not.

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “Seedlings of the Gods” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

It’s interesting to reflect that it is not only our biology that is shaped by evolution, but also our culture.

By “culture” I mean our language, our technology, our social codes, fashions and religions.  All of it.

I don’t think we generally recognize this.  I think we tend toward a conservative notion that there is a certain way things ought to be in our society — sort of an objective standard — and we ought to just get on with getting there.  The more “conservative” mind assumes that the questions (and therefore the answers to those questions) are limited and simple, the more “liberal” mind has a much higher tolerance for complexity, but still has an underlying belief that we humans are clever enough to figure things out.   In short, we all pretty much think that we (above all other animals) know how to run things.

In that regard, one of the more laughable aspects of our human character is the belief that we should –, with our wisdom and technology — be able to create even the smallest of a functioning ecosystem from scratch.

The scientific reality is that we are now able to assemble life, and will soon be able to “create” it.  The thing is this: that new life (or lives) that we create will then begin to interact with the real world (as it actually exists) and will begin it’s own adaptation as it becomes subject to the laws of natural selection (or will become an agent of the same, displacing other species with which it competes).  In time, a new equilibrium will be established, but no human on earth will have accurately predicted exactly what that will be.

We see the outcome of the sudden introduction of new life into old systems in the myriad exotic species that humans have transported from one ecosystem to another, whether it’s a rat that soon kills a dozen species of birds on a Pacific island, or a plant that takes over a forest unprepared to fight it.

This is what happens in the real world of competition for resources.  The ferocity of this competition is hidden from our view, perhaps, by the ecological balance that we often witness, where thousands of species of plants, animals and insects, in combination with climate, have, after eons, established themselves into a sort of stable order (this is the basis, I think, for much of the passive belief in Creation over Evolution).  But we know from geology and paleontology that such systems have formed over and over again, replacing earlier systems that were wiped away by natural catastrophes large and small.

Societies of humans are no different.  We, too, take our fairly stable American “social ecosystem” for granted, acting as if it has always been so and will always be just as it is, even as it continues to evolve before our eyes.  The utopians among us like to believe that newer, better human societies could be formed best from scratch, guided by this ideological bent or another.  But history has shown the seemingly natural course of every utopian society, and the result is generally a devolution into strife and collapse.

I would venture that there are certain constants in the collective human consciousness that draw us to certain states of living, and that we ignore these at our peril.  Such existential rip currents are the bane of every would-be social engineer.  Economists, it seems, are notorious for basing their predictions on the choices of a mythological “rational actor”.  Unfortunately, none of these “rational actors” seem to actually exist.  And politicians, for all of their demagoguery, are limited in power by the sheer unpredictable force of the masses of the governed.

It’s a funny state of affairs to ponder.  And it’s a state more clear to me, I expect, because I have worked so diligently to engage my own rational brain.  The result has been a new level of clarity about how we humans are partly rational and partly magical in our thinking, and that both of those aspects are our natural birthright.  And to the degree that we rail against one or the other of those two aspects of our selves may be the degree to which we add to our own unhappiness.  For the reality of our situation may be that we need both to be happy.

Now I don’ t take the view that the presence of this duality in our consciousness justifies the idea that “they must be there for a reason for it”.  Such a statement assumes a teleological, purposeful path for evolution.  Of course there is no such thing.  But what our dual nature does tell us is that there is strong evidence that our strange combination of reason and fancy has somehow aided us in our survival as a species.

But, then, one of the most basic aspects of natural selection that many people, I think, fail to appreciate, is that evolution can only work upon the raw material that is already in place (and the range of possible mutations inherent within each living genome).  Therefore, just because we retain a huge dose of magical thinking does not guarantee that it was that magical thinking that brought us through.  (The magical thinking part could just as easily be a side-show that was just never detrimental enough to get us all killed).

More likely, there is something to this imaginative part of our consciousness that has been crucial to our capacity to problem solve, and/or the development of verbal language, and that the rest is, well, extra.  We may never really know.  For now, it is enough to recognize that it is, and that this is the kind of animal we are.  We are not, by any stretch of the imagination, examples of perfection in natural design.  We are, however, examples of success in evolution, which requires only that the beneficial adaptations outnumber the detrimental ones to a certain critical degree.

The human organism exhibits all the complexity, nuance, confusion, mutations and mix of parts that one would expect from millions of years of evolution and natural selection.  Certainly no one sat down and designed us to be this way.  To borrow the creation myth: even the God of the Garden of Eden probably only meant to grow a pretty flower when he planted us.  But once planted, nature could not be kept out of it, and things got a bit out of hand!

Humanity itself feels to me like a sort of multi-cellular organism, pulsing and pushing and pulling against itself and against the limitations of it’s own existence.  And like in the rest of nature, parts of our population expand, rise up, gain education and prosper, even as others seem to be in a race backwards through history.  It’s a maddening thing to try to manage.  But our attempts at social (and self!)management are not entirely futile, for they can and do have effects on the course of human (and our own personal) social evolution.  And so we keep trying.  But as we try, it’s good to recognize that we are as powerless to re-make man according to our wishes as we are to re-make a rainforest from a genetically-engineered seedling and a chemistry set.

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “By the Power Vested in Me” by t.n.s.r. bob

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Among the comments I heard after “Happy Birthday Charles Darwin at the Church of Evolution with the not-so-reverend bob” (the show that led to the church of bob) was this one: “When are you going to start doing weddings and funerals?”  It made me laugh, but it also made me think.

We humans have a need for ceremony to mark the big events in life, and it seems that the market for such events has pretty much been cornered by traditional religions.  I’m certain that you can recall the funerals and weddings you’ve attended where you could tell the minister didn’t really know either the deceased or the betrothed very well.  Sometimes I’ve known that the deceased or betrothed weren’t particularly religious.  And so it seems that when confronted by disaster or celebratory need, the desire to participate in a ceremony trumps the trouble it takes to find a ceremony that actually suits our real beliefs.

So this last year I took stock of what I felt about life, death and everything else, and drafted a funeral sermon that reflected a humanistic, Darwinian view.  I wanted to be ready for the call.

The call came, but it wasn’t for a funeral — it was for a wedding.

A woman I’d done several stage shows with over the course of some 15 years was getting married, and she and her fiance’ were wracking their brains for someone to officiate who wouldn’t come with the risk of hijacking their ceremony for evangelistic ends.  And for whatever reasons — they told me — my name kept coming up.  (The bride was as surprised that she was the first one to ask me to perform a wedding as I was to be asked.  Go figure).

I was thrilled and terrified, and couldn’t resist saying “I will”.

Part of my task was to research marriage in the State of New Mexico, and see to it that I could guarantee them a legally-binding contract.  The other part, of course, was meeting with them (like any minister) and determining their desires and goals and crafting a text (and vows!) that would give them the ceremony that would perfectly suit them.

While drafting the wedding text (which would follow a traditional form, leaving out prayers and religious references), I began my research into getting an “on-line” ordination, should that be necessary.  Starting with the County Clerk’s office, I was told that I had to be a minister recognized by the State, and it was suggested that I contact the Office of the Secretary of State, which I did.  The Secretary of State’s office sent me to the Office of the Attorney General, where I was given a link to the relevant statute and the phone number of the Regulation and Licensing Department (where I experienced a brief, fruitless diversion to the Public Regulatory Commission’s office, which confused both of us).  Finally I was directed to the Office of the Governor, where a friendly but befuddled woman suggested (as had another state worker) that I contact the local Catholic Archdiocese (where, one must assume, I would get tips on how to register a new church in the State of New Mexico).  I finally ended up back at the Attorney General’s office, where I learned that they could only tell me the statute, not pass judgement on whether or not I was in a position to satisfy it.  The gentleman was, however, able to answer a direct question when I asked: “To your knowledge, has anyone ever been prosecuted for performing a marriage against the statute?”  “No”, he said.

In short, no one knew what the hell to tell me.

At this point, I should probably show you the statute: NMSA 1978, § 40-1-2(A) (2001) “A person may solemnize the contract of matrimony by means of an ordained clergyman or authorized representative of a federally recognized Indian tribe, without regard to the sect to which he may belong or the rites and customs he may practice.”

On the upside, I witnessed in practice the principle of the separation of church and state.  Clearly, neither the legislature, the executive or the front-line bureaucrat wanted to step into the domain of dictating religious qualifications.

Finally, I asked an attorney friend who put the question out on his list-serve, and came back with a “ruling” that I could probably just do it as the fake minister of the pretend church of bob, but to be sure, recommended that I go with the “on-line” ordination of the Universal Life Church.

Not wanting to make my friends into matrimonial guinea pigs, I got the ULC ordination as a backup.  Although submitting to another church’s authority offended my sensibilities a bit (after all, why should special deference be given to ministers of any kind?) I did the deed.  (Fortunately, there is no test of membership and no stated list of beliefs one must ascribe to for the ordination).

I felt surprisingly good once I got the confirmation in my mailbox that I was now an “Ordained Clergyman”, with statute and lawyer’s counsel backing me up.

The wedding vows and text went back and forth between myself and the bride-to-be until we got everything just right.  All that awaited now was the actual wedding.

I used my experience from other wedding’s I’ve been part of to play the role of stage-manager-cum-minister at the Friday evening rehearsal, and showed up in plenty of time for the actual wedding.

I tend to be calm when others around me are taking care of the need to be nervous, and so I was as we awaited the start of the wedding.  Until, that is, I actually had to be the minister.  I burbled a few words, called upon my acting experience to take a moment, a few deep breaths, calm and continue.  We all got through it alive.

The best man was an attorney, and together we negotiated filling out the marriage license and the after-wedding photos.

How did I feel about performing the role of a “real” minister?  The actor in me wanted another shot at it after the “full-dress rehearsal” so I could get it perfect (I was surprised how much it felt like being on stage inhabiting a role).  I remembered the nerves I had as a nineteen-year old Coast Guardsman playing taps on a blustery California hillside for a military funeral (you only get one shot at hitting that final high note).  I also had the odd realization that there were a number of people at the wedding who — having never met me before — would forever think of me as “the minister”.   Finally I had to answer the inevitable feelings of presumptuousness with the answer that there was no extra-planetary credential I was lacking to do this service.  (Makes me wonder how ministers allow people to treat them as “holy”).

But underneath there was satisfaction at having done a service to two fellow humans who were ready to solemnize a deep commitment to each other and deserved to do it in a way consistent with their atheistic worldview.  I wasn’t the point of the event at all.  I was a vital yet supporting player.  I can do that.

And now I’ve got a wedding under my belt, and a “Clergy” card in my wallet.  And, in a way, I’ve maintained my status as a “fake minister of a pretend church” as that card in my wallet doesn’t say “The Church of Bob” on it – yet.

I’m reminded of an insight I once had that ministers and evangelists are, in reality, giving the people something for the money they take in with their collection plates: It’s not really God or miracles or answered prayers, but a feeling — a moving performance.  The contract they have with their followers is that any sins they are committing away from the pulpit will not come to light in a way that violates their believability.  Believers want an ideal (unrealistic though it often is) to look to, a beacon on a hill.

The advantage I carried into the wedding was that all I had to be was a sensitive performer and thoughtfully articulate this couple’s desires.  Though armed now with experience should the call come again, I think I’ll pass on ordering the clerical collar the the ULC on-line store.  For now.

t.n.s.r. bob