What is the Origin and Meaning of “Agnosticism”?

For T.H. Huxley, who coined the term in 1869, agnosticsm was as demanding as any moral, philosophical, or religious creed. Rather than a creed, though, he saw it was a method realized through “the rigorous application of a single principle.”

He expressed it positively as: “Follow your reason as far as it will take you,” and negatively as: “Do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.”

This principle runs through the Western tradition: from Socrates, via the Reformation and Enlightenment, to the axioms of modern science. Huxley called it the “agnostic faith.”

Buddhism Without Beliefs
Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
Stephen Batchelor

Background on Stephen Batchelor

How Did Ancient People Use Calendars?

Oldest Calendars

The oldest ‘calendars‘ are vast archaeological sites that aligned posts or megaliths (giant stones) with the rising of the Sun or Moon on significant dates, such as the summer or winter solsticeThe earliest structures built as calendars seem to be designed to help calculate the solar and lunar months. Priest-astronomers used these. 

Prehistoric astronomers left no user manuals for their monuments – their uses had to be rediscovered by archaeoastronomersarchaeologists with knowledge of astronomy. 

Warren Field, Scotland, found in 2004, is the earliest site found so far. It tracks events some 10,000 years ago.

Development of Accurate Calendars

Calendar development was often driven by the need to fix religious festivals and observance, an impulse that continued with the formation of new religions such as Christianity and Islam. Both put astronomy to use in this way.

Arab astronomers and engineers were zealous in their pursuit of improved methods for keeping time so that daily prayers could be received by the devout at the right time.

Time-keeping on a larger scale was essential in scheduling religious festivals.

Lunar Calendars 

Time is naturally divided astronomically by the Earth’s orbit around the Sun (a year), the Earth’s rotation (a day) and the phases of the Moon. A lunar month (a full cycle from one new or full moon to the next is approximately 29 1/2 days. A year is 365 1/4 days.

Inconveniently, a year is 12.37 lunar months long. For early societies, a lunar month was a useful and countable period of time, one that could be easily observed and checked just by looking up at the night sky.

But if you use 12  lunar months as the basis of your year, the calendar will drift out of sync quite quickly. It will be a month out after only 3 years, and 6 months out after 18 years. To avoid this, an extra (intercalary) month has to be added every few years.

Egyptian Calendars

The ancient Egyptians began their year with the rising of Sirius (which they called Sopdet) above the horizon before sun rise.

  • System dates to c. 3000 BC.
  • Divided year into 365 days.
  • Used two different calendars.
  • Sirius, a stable star, and the brightest star in the night sky, was the basis for the Egyptian calendar.
  • Ptolemaic rulers depended on calendars.

Other cultures developed independent calendars, notably China and Mesoamerican (Central American) civilizations.

Chinese Yin-Yang Li Traditional Calendar

Origins of the Chinese calendar can be traced back to 14th century BC, though legend says it was invented in 2637 BC.

  • Literally ‘heaven-Earth’ calendar.
  • Used alongside imported calendars such as the Hindu calendar.
  • Used until 1912, when China officially adopted the Western Gregorian calendar.

How the World Works: Astronomy: From Plotting the Stars to Pulsars and Black Holes
How the World Works: Astronomy: From Plotting the Stars to Pulsars and Black Holes 

Anne Rooney

 

How is Our World Formed by Culture and Language?

Earth

Look Around You

Look out at your own present visual field. What you see before you is in the minutest detail framed and formed by culture and language – framed by cultural categories, seen in the light of theories formed by words colored by our feelings and evaluations. Our world is our own self-objectification.

Our Conscious Experience

It remains curiously difficult to recognize that we made it all up. We evolved the entire syllabus. We slowly evolved our own languages, our values, our systems of knowledge, our religions, and our worldviews. We evolved our own subjective consciousness, because the brightness, the consciousness, of conscious experience is a by-product of language.

After God: The Future of Religion
After God: The Future Of Religion
Don Cupitt

Background on Don Cupitt

Why is Easter Celebrated on Different Calendar Dates From Year To Year?

Easter

Standardization of Easter Celebration Date

The Catholic Church fixes the date of Easter, its celebration to mark the resurrection of Christ, using a method set out in AD 325 by the Council of Nicaea. In the first centuries AD, Easter was celebrated on different days by different groups of Christians, the Council of Nicaea sought to standardize it.

Role of Full Moon

Easter is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon occurring on or after the spring equinox. Early Christians couldn’t simply wait to find out when the full moon would fall, then quickly celebrate Easter. They had to fit in Lent – 40 days of fasting – immediately beforehand, so had to know several weeks in advance when that full moon would fall, a task that could only be achieved by keeping astronomical records and projecting into the future.

Easter Dates 

What is Compassion?

Compassion

Caring for Yourself and Others 

Compassion is the fundamental quality that allows us to stretch ourselves and to grow in our awareness, care, and love of ourselves and others. 

Practicing compassion can lead to lasting happiness for oneself and others.  

Cultivating Compassion

Compassion is cultivated through loving-kindness, in which one begins by imagining how they feel toward a loved one, then turning it toward themselves, then family and friends, then strangers, then enemies, and finally toward all beings.

The feeling of compassion is not something that can be generated quickly or halfheartedly. Compassion is not a one-time thing – striving for compassion is an all-consuming, full-time undertaking.

Compassion & Suffering 

Though compassion is extolled, compassion in and of itself, is decidedly not a happy feeling – it is explicitly and unquestionably uncomfortable.

Inherent in compassion is the recognition of universal suffering. If you are genuinely able to have compassion toward all living/feeling beings without exception, then this means that you are also able to recognize the suffering of all beings all the time.

The intensity of compassion is like a trial by fire:

The extensive and vast mind possessed of compassion for all living beings, like love starting from the present mother and extending to the limits of space, must be cultivated to such a degree that it compares to that of a tearful person who sees or remembers that his or her only child has fallen into a pit of fire.

Gorampa Sonam Senge, Buddhist teacher, 15th-century

Motivation to Act

Imagine having this intense feeling all the time, about everyone. This is universal compassion – it is something that is uncomfortable, unsettling, and incredibly difficult to comprehend. But this is why genuine compassion is so important, and why it has the potential to be so powerful.

Operating from a place of discomfort is more likely to motivate us to act. By recognizing the suffering of others and having a sincere and urgent desire to alleviate that suffering, we can learn to act compassionately in the world.

We must try to really see and understand the suffering in the world, and to lean into our own discomfort in order to work toward alleviating the suffering of all.


For a more in-depth look, see The Discomfort of Compassion, by Constance Kassor.