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    Any way of life that involves spiritual thinking or should I say metaphysical thought can be termed some sort of a religion if there is a Deity or Deities that are venerated or worshiped.  The root of the word “religion” can be found as the Latin word religare (re: back, and ligare: to bind), so that one is tied to or bound to that ritual that makes up that school of thought. The word relic comes from a similar root as well as it means “from the past.”  Living with different points of view results in different “dogma” whether it is “religious” or a life experience.  Zen is nothingness….to be in a Zen state is to be a state of nothingness.  Buddhism is more of a way of life as no “god” is venerated so I think the word “organized” is the source of confusion of terms that most get tripped up on.  All religions have source points from older religions and all life experiences that constitute a “metaphysical belief” system or disciplined regimen have common threads so to say that sticking with “one” religion or philosophy is a moot point as they are all merged versions of each other in some sense.

     Christianity itself is a composite of older religions and the schism of Martin Luther in the year 1517 along with the not so coincidental widespread use of the Guttenberg printing press, began the different directions of “protesting religion” hence Protestantism.  Catholicism itself is rooted and it’s holidays based on the god with the “halo” or Helios also known as Ra the Egyptian Sun God that was the basis of worship in King Constantine’s Empire in 312 AD when the Holy Roman Catholic Church merged with the Paganism of Constantine to reform the entire European Empire.  Although howls of protest continue on to this day from theologians entrenched in Catholicism, ancient Mithraism was an influence as well and much of the old legends coincide with many of the precepts of Christianity.  Acceptance of new religions required morphing of past rituals in order for any new religion to prosper and this is precisely how Catholicism did spread with little resistance other than the Jewish order that knew Judaism was the basis from whence the schism developed in the first place.  Until persecutions began after overzealous fanatics convinced the faithful to resort to bloody violence, Jews paid little mind to the lifting of their holy words of the Old Testament because of this morphed transition.

     One can believe in Buddhist principles and not be Buddhist.  The acceptance of Christ defines one as Christian.  To be honest I don’t split hairs as billions of beings on this earth all believe in something different than the person next to them and that includes those of the same faith.  One’s mind decides what image their god is, not an organized religion and that is the point.  The rest is just debate over semantics of, why, where, who, and when.  Here’s the secret-No One Knows.  The interpretation of that quote itself is in the Rig Veda one of the oldest religious texts in the world, predating the “Bible” by thousands of years.  What you think and feel is totally different than the guy next to you no matter if you both are indoctrinated in the same religion.  The abstract image that your brain produces is unique to you.  Gods are creations of man and to begin to separate and get totally technical over the four ‘w’s is mentally exhausting for me.  It doesn’t matter.  Even Christianity, (that would be the new members that were converted to Judaism without circumcision or dietary laws) had over 17 sects by 100 AD all of which were radically different from each other.
 

     In the end, you have the choice to believe in the self and your ability to draw on the energy inside and that is the essence of the metaphysical and hence religion’s essence as well, it just that we externalize those wants and feelings to solidify our security factor in numbers and the manipulative power mongers and opportunists take advantage of it as they have throughout history.  Is there a God?  I think so, therefore there is.  Atheists may cringe at that thought but again, there is no absolute proof either way and to reduce the debate to the usual Spaghetti Monster tactic doesn’t prove or probe what is deep seated in our human psyche. God? In what form? The answer is the form I choose as I can only think for me.  Only I can live my life and die when the time comes. No matter what your choice, your brain decides what imagery you choose, it is the only thing you have, you are the only person that can be in your reality of life on earth to think. I have no use for man-made ditherings of belief so I believe in the energy of life (God) and myself as the two are inseparable. 

     It takes conviction and the path is only for those who are strong as it is the road not taken and it is the one path that gets the most abuse from both devout believers and atheists (believe me).  I don’t really care, my life is full and my worries few.  I’ve died and gone over and as beautiful as the experience was, it is much better to be alive than absorbed by eternity. 

     Live life fully and don’t question it’s why, where, who, and when’s.”

I was all of 16, popcorn in hand, watching the most peculiar film.  Confused and curious I saw apes and airborne bones, spaceships, stars and perfect monolithic structures that foretold the essence of an all-knowing being.  I watched in wonder at a renegade talking computer that seals the fate of astronauts pursuing the message of a distant alien beacon.  And then to top it all off an incredible light show intended to show the passage of one’s soul through another dimension right before my very eyes in 1968.  I like many people, left the theater scratching my head and wondering what exactly did I just see?  Space Odyssey 2001 was probably the only film I went back to the theater to see six times.  Of course being at that youthful age, some of the impetus was to see that incredible light show in a cannabis- induced altered state of mind.  John Dykstra’s montage of colorful landscapes in high-speed superimposed in various colorful grids is quite dated in 2008, but back then there were no computerized graphics, no teams of visual design wizards, just plain old ordinary inventiveness. 

Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Krubrick teamed up to produce a screenplay to attempt to show the future of humanity 33 years from the film’s debut.  Of course, Mr. Krubrick’s penchant for passionate filmmaking with his own vision eventually drove Mr. Clarke from the set, much the same as Stephen King stormed-off during the filming of “The Shining.”  Afterwards, Mr. Clark’s book of the same name was released and people that took the time to read it finally did understand what this incredibly cinemagraphic tale was all about. Arthur C. Clarke was far ahead of his time.  His theories of geosynchronous orbits for satellites became a reality 25 years after he predicted such.  He is the author of over a thousand short stories and over 100 books.  A character in the late Carl Sagan’s movie “Contact” is loosely based on his character paying homage to him.  A resident of Sri Lanka, he kept in touch with the world via videoconferencing on computer and had many friends and fans that he kept in contact through e-mail. 

To say I was somewhat influenced by this man would be putting it lightly.  His image of the future foretold hope and promise for the human race.  It sparked imagination that anything was possible and that the mysteries of life and of our origin could be surmised and possibly obtained some day, and that the question “why” might finally be answered.  His writing is not complicated or hard to understand but his concepts went far beyond mere words printed on paper.  He was a man of vision, a man of hope in this world of harsh realities in the day-to-day struggle of survival.  He provided dreams-dreams of humans at their finest, and technology at its worst and vice versa.  The ironic dichotomy of humans having come so far yet basic instincts of fear and greed, having being imprinted well within our DNA, helping to destroy those opportunities that have allowed our lives to be enriched by the advance of technology.  One of the common themes I’ve discovered about my writing is this human versus environment versus technology predicament, and I find now I owe it all to this man who’s thought process influenced me at a very young age.  I am greatly in his debt-the world is greatly in his debt. He may finally be able to answer HAL’s question-“will I dream?”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLXQ7rNgWwg

My wife has been pestering me for the last few months to take her to see Barry Manilow.  I have been resisting her for many different reasons.  Having been a musician seeking work in the recession era of the mid-70s, and experiencing the repercussions of the disco era disc jockeys that put many a musician out of work, I had a little bit of bitterness at just the sound of his name.  It’s not that I didn’t listen to the songs, I just had a bad attitude towards any of the popular music of that time.  Give me the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, and The Band anytime.  After all, that was the era that produced the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie starring the BeeGees-how much more sacrilegious can you get?  Having spoken to other people who had seen the show, I was aware that, not only was it entertaining, but that many people went back a second and a third time and that Mr. Manilow had to rotate his musical selections to accommodate that.  Not many shows in Vegas have that repeatability factor so I was a little impressed.  I broke down and bought tickets for my wife’s birthday and then had to endure the ridicule of my brother a former metalhead 10 years younger than I.

The crowd became restless when the preshow music repeated itself 15 minutes after the show was scheduled to open.  We were directly in front of the soundboard and there was some hubbub related to the show’s late opening.  Finally the lights dimmed and the show went on.  His voice seemed a little off key and scratchy which is not unusual for a singer in Las Vegas.  Due to the very low humidity and dryness “Vegas throat” can strike at any time.  His band consisted of three very multi-talented and beautiful female dancers/backup singers and one equally talented male, three keyboard players, a more than adequate horn section, and a very tight rhythm section that replicated those pulsing sweaty disco beats that brought a bevy of inebriated John Travolta wannabes to the wooden parquet dance floors as part of the mating call rituals of the late 70s.  Not having heard these songs in over 25 years I was able to judge them without prejudice and indeed I was extremely impressed at Mr. Manilow’s arrangements and especially the complexity of each song’s developmental middle sections.  The little Jewish boy from Brooklyn really did a monumental job of taking influences from jazz and the big band era and infusing them into sugary teenage love ballads that struck a chord and delivered to him the most of commercial success.  For that he should be given his due, and the passion that he evokes from his audiences cannot be ignored.  He IS “Music and Passion” as is aptly the name of this production.  There are film clips and an audio piece of a recording from his childhood that plays into a wonderful true story of how Mr. Manilow began his travels on a path to stardom.  Overall, the music was more than entertaining, it brought you back to a time of innocence a time when you shook your thing (as he did more than once calling himself “a boney ass”), did not worry about tomorrow, and merged with the flashing lights and disco ball’s splintered starlight and didn’t worry about what it all meant.

As he warmed up his voice got stronger and stronger as each song demanded more and more of his upper register, something I do believe was preplanned and smartly executed, as age begins to diminish one’s vocal range.  He performed everything that one would expect him to perform and delved into some Motown and other 60’s songs that were most entertaining.  The grande finale was of course Copacabana and a giant steel staircase with a huge disco ball dropped from the ceiling and he danced and cavorted with his fellow singers and mimicked the bygone era of disco.

Objectively, I must admit I was fascinated listening to his arrangements and the complexities of this man’s music.  He was indeed the king of the pop ballad back then and he deserves his due.  And as much as I despise that whole era of mindless music, his music is anything but mindless.  His words may appeal to the heartstrings of female adolescence, but so did that of the Beatles in the very beginning of their careers.  Yes, I have to admit it, I thoroughly enjoyed the show and would highly recommend it.  That, in itself shows you how much I’ve matured as well.  No hard feelings Barry, you indeed were the man who wrote the songs and lived your dreams.