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Post Empathy and Its Neuroscience
Created by John Eipper on 02/26/18 4:06 AM

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Empathy and Its Neuroscience (Leo Goldberger, USA, 02/26/18 4:06 am)

After my long absence from these pages, I am most grateful to be called back by our always very empathic moderator for some observations on the current psychological research stance on empathy.

It is a topic that has always been of great interest to me and it's a literature I have keenly followed over the years, especially as it touches so directly on my own personal Holocaust-related experience.

Quoting the wonderful actress Meryl Streep: "The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy"...and she is so right on target, as this is the capacity that makes us social human beings. While empathy has its limits--as Istvan Simon so well points out in his moving, personal account--but more unfortunate is the fact that some people simply never developed the capacity for empathy at all. They are the folks we generally call egocentric or narcissistic--or the more extreme character flaw we call psychopathy, defined as the absence of a conscience as well.

In the most recent years--with the advancement in neuroscience, most notably at the Max Plank Institute in Leipzig--research has begun to identify the specific brain region that is the seat of the capacity for empathy. (The technical terminology has it located in the cerebral cortex at the juncture of the parietal, temporal and frontal lobe and it's termed the "right supramarginal gyrus.") What is of salient interest is the observation that at birth we are all inherently ego-centric (i.e. narcissistic), but with the stimulus provided by good parenting, a portion of this neuronal structure will develop the function for empathy. So in effect, empathy is a learned phenomenon with neurobiological roots--and it can be further nurtured and fortified over the years by good role models, be it parents, teachers or others who are not complacent about their fight against oppression and injustice.

All the best!

PS:  There's a very readable book by a former colleague of mine at NYU, Philip Zimbardo (before he moved on to Stanford). His book is entitled The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.  While not addressing the role of empathy, it does specifically address the Holocaust phenomenon.

JE comments:  So grateful you've weighed in, Leo!  I am especially intrigued by the identification of the brain center responsible for empathy.  One can imagine a scenario by which the overly narcissistic can be rewired to feel empathy.  (Please, no Trump jokes.)  Or consider the terrifying opposite, armies of super-killers created by suppressing the right supramarginal gyrus.

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  • Were Earlier Societies More--or Less--Egocentric? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 02/27/18 3:49 AM)
    I found this statement from Leo Goldberger (26 February) to be extremely timely and meaningful:

    "What is of salient interest is the observation that at birth we are all inherently ego-centric (i.e. narcissistic), but with the stimulus provided by good parenting, a portion of this neuronal structure will develop the function for empathy. So in effect, empathy is a learned phenomenon with neurobiological roots--and it can be further nurtured and fortified over the years by good role models, be it parents, teachers or others who are not complacent about their fight against oppression and injustice."

    A few days ago I was reflecting on the history of mankind. One of the shocking realizations was the incredibly violent life that earlier societies had to endure. Tribes had to attack tribes for fear of being attacked first, which was a common event. I am sure in such environments (i.e. Sparta) there was not enough time devoted for parenting and other mechanisms available for developing empathy. The emphasis was in developing military prowess.

    Thus, I wonder if there was a higher degree of egocentric, narcissistic behavior in those days than in today's "civilized" world. Or perhaps people in modern societies don't worry as much about being attacked violently in their huts but are egocentric/narcissistic for other reasons.

    Can someone comment on this?

    JE comments:  Fascinating question.  I'm going to go with the opposite:  traditional societies cared little for the individual, so the egocentric had slim chances for survival.  Only by interacting empathically with your band/tribe/nation was life possible--even though it was nasty, brutish, and short.

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  • Empathy and Religious Faith (Richard Hancock, USA 03/02/18 4:16 AM)
    I am surprised that no one in WAIS has offered religious faith as a help to people with emotional problems.

    Being a strong Christian can certainly help increase personal empathy. As Christ said in Luke 10.27, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." I have a friend who was paranoid-schizophrenic who found relief in active church membership. He became a strong Catholic and an admirer of Mother Teresa. His Christian intensity irritates some of his friends, but it seems to help in keeping him from becoming irrational. I have not heard any commentary on religious faith as a part of the solution to the mass shooting and other problems the world is experiencing today.

    Christianity is also a strong help to addicts, for example in Alcoholics Anonymous. Religious participation gives us all an ongoing reminder of living according to the words of Jesus, which have an answer for all of the world's problems. As a person who in WWII "walked through the valley of the shadow of death," I am a strong believer in the value of prayer in helping each of us to make temperate and sensible decisions.

    JE comments:  There are no atheists in foxholes, to be sure.  The 12-step culture stresses reliance on a "higher power," without specifying Christianity per se.

    (Great to hear from you, Richard!  Any trips or conferences planned in the coming months?)

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    • Confessions of an Addict (Tor Guimaraes, USA 03/02/18 3:59 PM)
      John Eipper commented on Richard Hancock's post of March 2nd: "There are no atheists in foxholes, to be sure. The 12-step culture stresses reliance on a 'higher power,' without specifying Christianity per se."

      Regarding not having atheists in foxholes, I wonder which God the devout Communists pray to while in their foxholes?

      I can speak from personal experience that the AA/NA meetings do speak of a "higher power" rather than any specific religion. Some of my friends are dedicated members of AA/NA and they conspired to get me involved. At first I dismissed their verbal attempts since I have never taken drugs and seldom drink alcoholic beverages.

      After a few months of relentless tag-team smooth talking, I finally agreed to attend an AA meeting of a select group at a friend's office building. As the AA members start sharing their extremely intimate stories, I increasingly felt I did not belong there because I was never an addict. I felt like a fraud and was afraid that I had no comparable horror story to tell when my turn to share came up. The alternative was to pass and continue the fraud of being there with no cause. I decided bolting was the only honorable thing to do and started planning the timing for it between speakers.

      Suddenly just before my exit, something hit me and I realized that I was an addict, that my drug was terribly insidious and extremely well-camouflaged. If you are a raging alcoholic or addicted to other nasty drugs, sooner or later your life will turn to hell: you will kill one or more innocent people, lose your job, family and friends, etc. My drug was worse, my employers and friends were proud of the results from my addiction, they encouraged me and applauded as I sunk deeper into workaholism. Then I decided to stay and became a regular AA/NA member. Before sharing I just say I am an addict and everyone accepts that.

      JE comments:  Any other workaholics in WAISworld?  Your editor is not one of them--I'm always up for goofing off.  (WAIS for me is pleasure, not work.)

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    • No Atheists in Foxholes: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (David Duggan, USA 03/03/18 3:51 AM)

      Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, who taught philosophy at Dartmouth, wrote of his conversion experience during an artillery bombardment in WWI.

      Although he had retired by the time I arrived at the College, he still lived in the area, and I am told exercised considerable influence over the Dartmouth philosophy department and is today regarded as one of the founders of the field of "metanomics" which doesn't translate well but can be loosely described as the grammatical approach to philosophical inquiry, that language and speech are the drivers of human thought and behavior.

      After his wife died, his companion was Freya von Moltke, widow of Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, who was executed by the Nazis for being an enemy of the state.

      JE comments:  Rosenstock-Huessy spent 18 months on the Verdun front.  There must have been many a conversion experience at that hellish place.  Freya died very recently, in 2010, at the age of 98.

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    • Summer Travel Plans (Richard Hancock, USA 03/05/18 8:40 AM)
      Responding to John E's questions about our travel plans, Nancy and I plan to travel to Wilcox, Arizona this spring to scatter the ashes of her brother, who died in October of last year, on the Dos Cabezas mountains in the area where Nancy's father owned and operated a copper mine.

      The family spent much time at their home in these mountains. We will be traveling to San Angelo, TX in April, where I will be giving a paper on the Luis Terrazas of Chihuahua, "The World's Greatest Rancher." We will also make our annual trip to Beaver's Bend in in far southeast Oklahoma to view the animals, birds, and alligators, which inhabit that region.

      Finally we will attend a Hancock family reunion which will be held in the Rocky Mountain National Park at the world's largest WMCA camp in July of this year. We will keep on traveling as long as we can. I am now 92 and still able to enjoy these trips.

      JE comments: You are an inspiration to us all, Richard.  I don't recall ever reading a post from you that didn't teach me something.  Today's example:  Alligators in...Oklahoma?  I would never have imagined it.

      Safe travels, Richard, and keep us in the loop.  Click below, WAISers, for Richard's 2017 post on Luis Terrazas, the titan of ranchers:


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    • "No Atheists in Foxholes" and Biblical Contradictions (Massoud Malek, USA 03/08/18 5:43 AM)
      John Eipper commented on Richard Hancock's post of March 2nd: "There are no atheists in foxholes."

      But people of the Judeo-Christian faith who were in foxholes in the twentieth century were encouraged by their faith to kill, even to kill children.

      The rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud held that God wrote the Torah in heaven in letters of black fire on parchment of white fire before the world was created, and that Moses received it by Divine dictation.

      Are atheists damned if they don't believe in a supreme entity described by the Babylonian rabbis?

      The Christian Bible that impacted human history throughout the centuries is a collection of tales that Christians consider to be a product of Divine inspiration. The Bible has two sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament, the latter written by Greek imposters.

      Reading both Testaments, one could find countless inconsistencies and contradictions.

      The Sixth Commandment says: "You shall not kill," but in the Bible, words having to do with killing significantly outnumber words having to do with love.

      Numbers 31:17:  "Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that had known man by lying with him."

      Exodus 32:27:  "Thus said the Lord God of Israel, put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man, his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor."

      I believe that Jesus never read Exodus. In Matthew 5:38, he told us: "Turn the other cheek and love your enemies." Here is why:

      Exodus 21:23-24 "23: If any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life. 24: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot."

      Here are other contradictions:

      Honor your father and your mother is one of the Ten Commandments, but in Matthew 10:34-37, Jesus ignores God's command and says: "34: Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. but a sword. 35: For I have come to turn a man against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36: And a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. 37: He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

      In Matthew 23:9 Jesus says: "And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' you have one Father, and he is in Heaven."

      In the Seventh Commandment, God prohibits adultery; but in order to punish the house of Jehu and put an end to the kingdom of Israel, he needed Hosea to marry a woman from the land of whoredom.

      Hosea 1:2 "The Lord said to Hosea, Go, marry a promiscuous woman of whoredoms and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord."

      Is two equal to seven?

      Genesis 6:19: "Of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female."

      Genesis 7:2: "Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female."

      Source: King James Version of the Bible.

      JE comments: It's no challenge to find contradictions in the Bible. Might we go further, and say that the fear of contradictions is a modern invention--say, from the dawn of the Scientific Age?  To fault the Bible for contradicting itself is like faulting it for not discussing penicillin or internal combustion.

      Old vs New Testaments:  Wrath and fury vs turn the other cheek.  Allow me to attempt a sweeping synthesis:  the history of the Western world is the conflict between the two.

      Good to hear from you, by the way, Massoud!

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      • Jefferson's Bible; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 03/09/18 12:34 PM)
        Ric Mauricio writes:

        I have a challenge for Massoud Malek (8 March) and the rest of WAISworld. Instead of focusing on the negatives (aka contradictions) of the Bible, focus on the positives. So how do we do this? Well, there is one man who attempted to do this and he hit the nail on the head. His name was Thomas Jefferson.

        The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth
        , commonly referred to as the Jefferson Bible, refers to was constructed in 1820 by Jefferson by cutting and pasting with a razor and glue numerous sections from the New Testament as extractions of the doctrine of Jesus.

        "Probably you have heard me say I had taken the four Evangelists, had cut out from them every text they had recorded of the moral precepts of Jesus, and arranged them in a certain order; and although they appeared but as fragments, yet fragments of the most sublime edifice of morality which had ever been exhibited to man." The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Lipscomb).

        I agree with Jefferson when he called the Apostle Paul the "first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus." He believed that the clergy used religion as a "mere contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves" and that "in every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty."

        Now, I have taken Rodolfo Neirotti's (March 3) advice to be careful about predicting the future of a neighbor's child (Asperger's Syndrome) and yes, one must take great care in their encouragement to others. But in this case, said neighbor's son was a scout in my troop where I was Scoutmaster. I often delegated to other adult troop leaders the responsibility of Scoutmaster reviews for a scout's advancement in rank. Now my neighbor's son, when asked if he believed in God, said no, he was an atheist. Oh, not the right response. You see, the Scout Law says you gotta believe. Asked by my neighbor to manage this quandary, I gathered the original reviewers and proceeded to probe.

        Here's how the conversation went: Ric: "It has come to my attention that you do not believe in a god. Are you saying that you do not believe in a so-called sentient god, one that answers prayers?" Scout: "Yes." Ric: "But is it possible that you believe in a life force, some call it God, that flows in the universe and through nature and through animals and human beings?" Scout: "Yes." Ric: "Ah, so you could believe in that kind of God?" Scout: "Yes, if you put it that way." Ric: "OK, we're done here."

        Now you see why I can compare him to that list. This kid was thinking; he was smart. His only issue was his communication and social skills.

        JE, in his comment on Tor Guimaraes's posting, asked how I can have a positive attitude. It is because I focus on the positives of our lives, realizing of course, in true yin and yang, that the negatives only serve to strengthen the positives. And above all, smile. It is amazing the reaction a genuine smile brings. Oh, of course, there are difficulties in life. My wife laughs that I don't call issues "problems" or "difficulties," instead I call them "challenges."  And I do savor challenges.  They make life exciting. And I always encourage others to do the same.

        JE comments:  Page and Brin have made the Jefferson Bible available to all:


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        • Gary Moore's Memories of the Boy Scouts (John Eipper, USA 03/11/18 4:48 AM)

          Gary Moore writes:

          "Okay, we're done here." Bravo, Ric! (Ric Mauricio, March 8,
          on finessing a Boy Scout through the hurdles of religion.)

          I went through all the Boy Scout hoops not only including Eagle
          but the God And Country medal--at an age when I had no idea
          what a deist, agnostic, or atheist was, or whether I was one.
          (Slow on motor coordination, I struggled with obscure merit
          badges like Gift-Wrapping, let alone dragging up the ten-pound
          cement block from the bottom of an opaque muddy pond,
          in the big merit badge called Lifesaving.)

          JE comments:  WAISers are an accomplished bunch, so I'm sure there are several Eagle Scouts in our ranks.  Please inform.  Yours Truly wasn't much of a camper, and washed out of the BSA after a few months.

          I just spent ten minutes perusing the colorful list of Boy Scout merit badges.  I would have excelled at coin collecting.  One of the "retired" badges is remembered as Tracking, but its original 1911 name was Stalking.  Sheesh.  (Gary, I don't want to be picky, but I couldn't find any reference to a Gift-Wrapping badge.)

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          • Memories of a Boy Scout in San Diego (Clyde McMorrow, USA 03/13/18 4:05 AM)
            I was a Boy Scout, Eagle, Order of the Arrow, in San Diego which, at the time, was very Republican and very anti-religious. The God & Country merit badge (I think it was required) was an eye-opener for me. I remember being fascinated by the number of religious sects and the quaint beliefs they espoused. Of course, the merit badge only covered the Protestant sects. I can remember my parents telling me that St. Rita's School was just the next step toward juvenile hall. I could see that.

            There were a lot of merit badges that related to farm animals--I think I did rabbit and chicken raising--quite a few that involved map reading and compasses, and some that were an introduction to modern technology like radio. I made a pretty neat crystal set based on a toilet paper tube.

            In those olden days, San Diego Republicans saw themselves as the educated elite with a strong tendency toward free-thinking. For those who felt they needed ritual, we had Madame Tingley's Theosophical Institute and its many feel-good offshoots but religion was generally seen as the opiate of the masses, at least by the Brahmins of Encanto who also didn't think much of Los Angeles.

            JE comments:  Clyde, I never knew that San Diego had such a Brahmin culture.  Did the San Diego elites see themselves as a West Coast offshoot of their Bostonian counterparts?  The Bostonians often espoused Deist and Unitarian beliefs.  (And for that matter, what ever happened to the free-thinking, "liberal" Republican?)

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        • Old Testament, New Testament, and Jefferson (Tor Guimaraes, USA 03/12/18 4:38 PM)

          Ric Mauricio's positive attitude about life is commendable.  In Ric's post of March 8th, he invited Massoud Malek to be more positive about the Bible.  But how can one be positive about a book (Old Testament) which condones historical violence including genocide, proposes a god that is partial to some people, and is capricious and full of hate?  Is that positive and constructive?  That is not God, but man-made nonsense.

          Ric mentioned "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, commonly referred to as the Jefferson Bible."  Ric also praised Jefferson, for calling the Apostle Paul the "first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus." Jefferson saw the clergy as a "mere contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves," and that "in every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty."

          Jefferson was a good man and a great writer, but morals was not his strong suit, judging by his treatment of his slaves. Also he was less than honorable in his dealing with Alexander Hamilton.  I confess that until recently I admired Jefferson more and Hamilton less, until I had a chance to study them a little deeper.  Now I respect Hamilton more and have been forced to agree with the venerable first President George Washington.

          JE comments:  Jefferson was always portrayed as a benevolent master, although we've advanced far enough to recognize the oxymoron of benevolence and slaveholding.  Is Hamilton's star rising and Jefferson's sinking?  A hit Broadway show does wonders for the reputation.

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          • Ric Mauricio Reflects on Old Testament, Hamilton, Jefferson, Jackson (John Eipper, USA 03/15/18 7:21 AM)
            Ric Mauricio writes:

            In response to Tor Guimaraes (March 12th), my challenge to find more positives in the Bible, if one reads between the lines, was more geared towards the New Testament and even more so towards the teachings of Jesus.

            As for the Old Testament, well, I don't know. People hearing voices (supposedly God) and acting on them? The justification of slavery based on seeing their old, wrinkly father naked? In fact, in reading the Old Testament, I found myself quite frustrated by the backsliding of the Chosen people. How many days was Moses on the top of the mountain, that in that course of time, the Chosen people turned to worshipping the Golden Calf? Couldn't God have lasered the Ten Commandments in an hour or so? Of course, Christians shake their head that to this day, many of the Chosen people still refuse to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Which of course, makes Christians right and the Chosen people wrong. Oh, I get into so much trouble with my Christian friends with this discussion.

            Upon reading Clyde McMorrow's posting on March 13th, it is very clear that people just want to believe what they want to believe. How do you explain that if God wrote the book, why there are so many different interpretations of it, even amongst the different Protestant sects, not to mention the disparity between the Protestants and the Catholics? As an aside, I hope that Clyde remembers his Personal Fitness and Personal Management merit badges, both Eagle required. I used to teach both. I recall parents telling me that my Personal Fitness requirements (which matched the Boy Scout handbook) were too hard. I made a deal with them. If they participate in my Personal Fitness workshops, I will "soften" my requirements. I had no takers. It was obvious that the parents needed the Personal Fitness workshop more than their sons.

            Ah yes, the complexity of our Founding Fathers' personalities and lives. Well, yes, Thomas Jefferson did have an illicit affair with Sally Hemings and Alexander Hamilton did have an illicit affair with Maria Reynolds. Yes, both were very instrumental in laying down the foundation of our great country. Yes, Jefferson appealed to me in creating his Jefferson Bible. But alas, Hamilton does not appeal to me in creating the Bank of the United States, the forerunner of the Federal Reserve. You know, that institution that looks quasi-government, but is ruled and owned by the banks and brokerage firms and yet purports to look out for the citizens of the United States. Yes, the same one that supposedly protects the value of the US Dollar, but has allowed it to depreciate 96% in its lifespan.

            Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr after calling him "unworthy." Hmmm. Derision and name-calling seems to never end. Oh yes, perhaps you would put me in the same bucket as Andrew Jackson, who fought courageously against the establishment of the Federal Reserve, even after several assassination attempts. Another complicated fella, this Jackson. Quite the Indian-killer.

            JE comments:  Ric Mauricio cannot possibly identify with Andrew Jackson.  One of history's countless ironies, given AJ's hatred of central banks, is putting him on the $20 bill.  He did have really good hair, though.

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            • Thoughts on Hamilton, The Fed (Tor Guimaraes, USA 03/18/18 4:31 AM)
              I know that Ric Mauricio's (15 March) and my positions on many issues would not be too far apart.

              To continue our exchange, what impresses me the most about Alexander Hamilton is that George Washington (who was his boss for some time) had complete confidence in the man and stuck his neck out for him on numerous occasions. I also have little respect for the Fed's overall performance over the years, but Hamilton's original idea was a good one. The problem is who is in charge ranges from great performers like Paul Volcker to idiots and/or crooks like Paulson and Alan Greenspan.

              The only group I respect less than the Fed is the US Congress as a whole. I see them as the two biggest houses of prostitution in America. Here is an example why: A bill (2155) designed to destroy what little control the American nation has over the protecting consumers and the ability to monitor big banks to prevent another financial crisis we barely just survived has passes the Senate 67 to 31, with all Republicans and 16 Democrats voting in favor. While still traveling to the House of Representatives where it is sure to pass, the Financial Service Committee Chair Jeb Hensarling has already repeatedly stated he wants even more financial industry deregulation before accepting the bill.

              God please protect America from another financial crisis.

              JE comments:  Returning to the banking deregulations of yore sounds like the recovering alcoholic insisting that "one little drink" won't hurt.  Who in WAISworld can write up a primer on what's set to change, and why?

              Paul Volcker gave us 20% interest rates and double-digit unemployment.  Tor:  why do you see him as a good performer--because his shock therapy reined in inflation?

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        • David, Solomon, Sodom and Gomorrah (Massoud Malek, USA 04/12/18 4:28 AM)
          On March 9, Ric Mauricio wrote:

          "I have a challenge for Massoud Malek and the rest of WAISworld. Instead of focusing on the negatives (aka contradictions) of the Bible, focus on the positives."

          I would like to challenge Ric:  Could he find positive aspects of the following two stories in the Bible?

          King David:

          The Hebrews believed that the fertility of the soil and the general prosperity of the people were bound up with the fertility of the king. David by this time was old and decrepit and his sexual vigor was called into question.

          Kings 1:1-4

          1 Now king David was 70 and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he could not keep warm.

          2 His servants said unto him, "Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat and regain his virility.

          3 So they sought for a fair virgin throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found a 12-year-old Abishag, and brought her to the king.

          4 And Abishag was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.

          After David's death, his son Solomon became king. Shortly afterward, another of David's sons, Adonijah, who had at one time tried to take over the kingdom, hatched another plot to wrest control from King Solomon. Adonijah's first step was to ask Solomon's mother, Bathsheba, to secure Solomon's permission to give him Abishag as a wife.

          In those days of royal harems, taking possession of a king's concubines was a declaration of one's right to the throne. So King Solomon killed his own brother for asking Abishag's hand in marriage.

          Sodom and Gomorrah:

          God said to Abraham, "I will bless Sarah and give her a son, and you will be the father. She will be the mother of many nations. Kings of nations will come from her."

          Abraham bowed face down on the ground and laughed. He said to himself, "Can a man have a child when he is a hundred years old? Can Sarah give birth to a child when she is ninety?"

          Later, the Lord again appeared to Abraham in the form of three men. The three men walked toward the eastern cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destroy the cities, because of their flagrant wickedness and corruption. Abraham pleads on the cities' behalf, convincing the Lord not to destroy the cities if only a handful of good men (10) can be found there.

          The men enter the city of Sodom, and Lot welcomes them into his home. Before bedtime, men both young and old and from every part of Sodom surrounded Lot's house. They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so we can have sexual relations with them."

          The sun had already come up when Lot entered Zoar. The Lord sent a rain of burning sulfur and fire down from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah and destroyed those cities. He also destroyed the whole Jordan Valley, everyone living in the cities, and even all the plants. At that point Lot's wife looked back. When she did, she became a pillar of salt.

          Why did God kill women and babies of those cities? What are the benefits of reading the Bible to our children?


          JE comments:  There is no shortage of racy passages in the Old Testament.  Massoud Malek asks a serious question:  is this stuff appropriate for children?  (I wonder if they've published an edition of the Bible with "trigger warnings."  If not, they soon will.  One course at the University of Glasgow issues a TW before studying crucifixion:  https://www.thecollegefix.com/post/30618/ )

          I attended Sunday school for my entire childhood, and we always managed to skip over Sodom and Gomorrah.  Onan, too, never got a fair shake.


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          • Thoughts on Job; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 04/14/18 4:49 AM)

            Ric Mauricio writes:

            Massoud Malek (12 April) finds the negatives of the Old Testament and expects me to find positives in them. But I must confess, much of the Old Testament is incredibly negative, from Cain killing Abel to the shame of Noah and the reason for slavery, to Sodom and Gomorrah, and so on.

            This is why, like Thomas Jefferson, I prefer to follow the teachings of Jesus as my positive take on the Bible. Don't even get me started on my disdain for the teachings of the apostle Paul. And Revelations was written by a mystic named John, who the Church at that time called "crazy." It is purported that the island of Patmos has a high proportion of hallucinogenic mushrooms and shrubs. So read Revelations again and see if one can see that this guy was trippin'.

            This morning my Christian Men's Fraternity discussed Job, that luckless, down-and-out, suffering soul. Growing up as a Catholic, I was taught that when something bad happens to you, it is because you sinned. Oh, the guilt trip laid on us. I shared with the group that I was only able to free myself from that mindset when a Buddhist taught me two words that reflected his take of why God lets bad things happen. Those two words, excuse my French, were "S**t happens." That totally freed me from that mindset. The reaction from the group: oh, not very Biblical.

            One thing that drives me crazy about Christians is they cannot take positive teachings from outside the Bible.

            JE comments:  The Holy Land is now being shaken (once again) by Old Testament wrath--eye for an eye, vengeance is mine, etc.  Shouldn't we take more direction from Job?  He lives in the Hebrew Bible, but his serenity before a capricious God has a New Testament feel.  (Theology is way above my pay grade, but I'm trying to spark further discussion.)

            One of my mother's favorite expressions when I was little:  "John, you try the patience of Job..."

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