Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Great Writing

Funambulism, by D. Harlan Wilson. I missed this story when it made it's debut at Thieves Jargon. I wish I had written it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Saddest Unicyclist In The World

The reason that the title of this post is funny is that it is impossible to be sad while riding a unicycle. I don't know this from personal experience, but if it is in fact possible to cry tears of sorrow while riding a unicycle, there is no hope for mankind.

There is a woman at my college who rides a unicycle to and from classes. She is always smiling when I see her, because when I see her she is always riding a unicycle. There is nothing sexier than a woman who can ride a unicycle.

I take that back: Maybe a woman riding a unicycle while juggling would be sexier.

And this brings me to the point of this post: I take New Year's resolutions very seriously, and have decided to make my resolution this year to learn how to ride a unicycle.

Many people resolve to lose weight, be nicer, go to church more often, blah blah blah. These things are destined for failure because none of them are things people really want to do. I really want to learn how to ride a unicycle. I'm even excited about falling off it the first time.

So, if you want a new year's resolution that you can actually keep this year, and you want to be happy and sexy for the rest of your life, I think you should join me in learning how to ride a unicycle. The world will be a much sweeter place for it, I promise.

PS: Maybe next year we'll add juggling.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lost & Found

The other day I was running around the house looking frantically for my cell phone. I patted my pockets, but didn’t feel it there. Then I looked around on counters, bookshelves, & down in couch cushions. It was nowhere to be found.

I asked my son if he’d seen my phone, and (smiling) he said, ‘Daddy, it’s in your hand.’ And so it was. While trying to accomplish a slew of different things at once, I had taken my phone out of my pocket and then not realized that I was holding it when I felt my pockets for it’s familiar form.

And here I am again about a week later finding something that I thought I had lost: My faith.

My faith is an unspecific thing. It is a kind of focus: In a world where there is enough information available to support any conceivable worldview available, my faith--when I listen to it--zones in on hope, personal discipline, mankind’s potential, and the possibility of God.

I know, I know. Very fuzzy. Very vague. Faith is hard to talk about because it’s not something you can describe in measurements. But it is something you can choose to pursue. It can be an elusive thing, but it is handy.

I rediscovered this faith yesterday night on the way home from my in-law’s house. It was such a small thing with such little fanfare. I had spent a night watching my children unwrap Christmas presents and play with their cousins. My wife and the kids spent the night at her parents’ house, but I drove home because I had to work the next day, and our house is closer to my place of employment.

I was feeling warm with food and hugs and kisses from my kids and my wife, and was listening to a mix CD that had some of my oldest son’s favorite songs on it. Pete Townsend’s Let My Love Open The Door came on, and my heart opened up. I have always felt that music is one of the best proofs of God’s existence, so it is appropriate that it was a song that did me in.

As Townsend coaxed me not to let tragedy bring me down , I saw a glimmer of those familiar little seeds. These seeds aren’t fixed to any part of my being, so they kind of slosh around. Sometimes they get lost in all the bustle, and other times they almost seem to swell & overwhelm the entire space. I eventually need to find a more secure place for my faith, but meanwhile, it’s nice to know it is still around.

"When people keep repeating
That you'll never fall in love
When everybody keeps retreating
But you can't seem to get enough
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart
When everything feels all over
When everybody seems unkind
I'll give you a four-leaf clover
Take all the worry out of your mind
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart I have the only key to your heart
I can stop you falling apart
Try today, you'll find this way
Come on and give me a chance to say
Let my love open the door
It's all I'm living for
Release yourself from misery
Only one thing's gonna set you free
That's my love
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart
When tragedy befalls you
Don't let them bring you down
Love can cure your problem
You're so lucky I'm around
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart"
- Pete Townsend, Let My Love Open The Door

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Species Of Users

“Drugs have taught an entire generation of American kids the metric system” -P.J. O’Rourke

When Winston Churchill suffered a really bad fall in his childhood, his nurse brought him heroin--then legal--to rub on his face. He smoked and drank his whole life, and still managed to be instrumental in the defeat of the Nazis. Sigmund Freud smoked opium and snorted cocaine: Thanks to Dr. Freud for the concepts of ego and id, and a differentiation between the conscious and subconscious mind. William James experimented with psychotropic drugs, and Ernest Hemmingway invented a cocktail out of Absinthe and Champagne which he called Suicide at Sunset. The canon of Catholic saints is chock-full of people who had hallucinations that were brought on either by drugs or mental illness. An iconic picture of FDR has him smoking a cigarette out of a holder, and how many business moguls do we regularly see chomping on cigars or drinking scotch? Don’t even get me started on the Beatles.

Oh, and Harvard: you can thank Adderall for all of those high test scores.

It’s not my intent to make some kind of political point about the war on drugs (which is silly, and a waste of resources): I’m just saying that throughout history, we as a species have been looking for--and finding--ways to alter our perception of reality, stay on task, and generally get our groove on. It’s hardwired into our brains at this point, and once you answer that call, it becomes harder to imagine a world without your drug of choice.

Which is why I was disturbed this morning to find our coffee maker not working. Daily operations at Troxell ranch are highly ritualized and fast paced. Waking up in a world without coffee is my bourgeois version of a Twilight Zone episode. In all honesty, I’d prefer the episode where I wake up to a world full of pig-faced people. At least then I’d have something to dip my blueberry scone in.

Some would say that oil is the engine of our Democracy, but I would disagree. It is caffeine. And I am all-American in my drug of choice. It’s caffeine that gives me the energy to pursue my particular American dream so relentlessly, and it is caffeine that is going to help fuel all of my activities in this promising new year. Unfortunately, it is also brewing coffee that I did not smell this morning as I got out of bed.

But America is a land of opportunity: There’s a Starbucks not ten minutes away from my house.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Seasonal Gorey

Christmastime is a good time to revisit the little books of Edward Gorey. I found this reading of The Epipleptic Bicycle on YouTube:

I was actually surprised by how much Gorey related stuff could be found on YouTube. Here are a couple parts of interviews he gave before he died (I would've posted excerpts of interviews he gave after he died, but death has made him kind of prickly. Better to preserve the image):

The Mystery! intro:

And I found this tribute to Gorey. The description of the video says it was created for a college animation class. Very nice.

I was going to embed Trent Reznor's Gorey-inspired music video for The Perfect Drug, but it was prohibited by YouTube. To watch it, go here.

I probably won't post anything new until after the holidays have wrapped up, so feel free to go through the various writings I've done for other online outlets (listed under Extra Sauce on the sidebar), or take a stroll through the archives. All of the blogs and websites I link to under Free Refills are also very good, and worth perusing.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Always Wear Clean Underwear. Why? You Never Know.

Sunday morning while I was at work, I began to feel a little bit of tightness in my chest. “I’ll schedule a physical on Monday.” I told myself. My heart has been misbehaving for a couple of weeks. Every now and then it kind of flutters, like it is taking a big gulp of air. I had been waiting for winter break to make an appointment, but the Sunday tightness emphasized the point.

I pulled into a gas station on the way home from work, and began to pump gas in my car. I was thinking about a world without me: What would happen to the kids? My wife? Me? External threats are different than internal ones. If, say, a rabid dog were chasing me, I would be prepared to defend myself. If I had a bloody wound somewhere on an arm, or a leg, or on my chest, I would wrap it up. If I had a splinter, I would pull it out.

There is something sobering about an internal threat. A piece of your essential hardware may be malfunctioning. Not out of malice; there’s no sense in arguing with it. It may just be irregular. Not six sigma.

It’s better when you can see the threat.

As I was thinking about these things and pumping my gas, a little blue Camero came roaring up next to me, radio blaring. It had a little pirate’s patch of plastic duct-taped to it’s window frame. It was that Papa Roach song that was playing. I don’t know the title, but the first line is ’Cut my life into pieces, this is my last resort…’ etc. The guy who stepped out of the car (flannel coat, dirty blond beard), was bobbing his head back and forth to the music as he left his car running and began pumping his gas.

It got better:

Not only was his car running while he was pumping gas, he lit up a cigarette. Not only did he light up a cigarette, but his cell phone rang, and he answered it. I swear it’s the truth. I laughed to myself. Here I am, thinking my heart is going to kill me in a very typical all-American way, when really I am going to explode and have my skin melted off my bones. Life is what happens while you’re out making other plans, I guess.

But I survived. I went home, ate dinner with my family, and helped get my kids to bed. I read them Goodnight Moon, although I think my oldest son wanted me to read him another chapter in King Solomon’s Mines. I opted out of the longer book because I was beginning to feel nauseous, and something was going wrong in my chest.

I kissed the kids goodnight and went to the computer to look up chest pains. Wham. A small (but significant) jab in my heart, followed by a few duller, pulsing jabs.

I asked my wife to drive me to the hospital. I was kind of embarrassed to ask this, because I felt fully functional. I’m not very good at measuring what degree of pain is supposed to alarm me. At the dentist’s office, when they’re drilling me, I just assume that the pain level I’m experiencing is what I’m supposed to experience. It was only the last time that I went for an appointment that a dentist said, ‘Spencer, you’re making faces at me. Are you feeling too much pain?’ and I said, ‘How much pain am I supposed to feel?’ He said ‘None.’, and gave me another Novocain shot.

So I felt a little weird about going to the hospital for something that hadn’t completely knocked me on my ass. But there is bad mojo around heart issues, so I took it seriously.

We dropped the kids off at my parents house, kissed them, and headed off. My son seemed a little worried, although we were all acting very calm. ‘See you soon buddy. Have fun with Mommaw and Poppaw.’ I said.

On the way to the hospital, I was feeling kind of woozy, and the light jabs in my chest were concerning. I don’t know why I was embarrassed when I leaned over the receptionist’s desk in the ER, but I whispered, “I’m having chest pains”, as if I were telling her instead that I was there because my syphilis was flaring up.

Anyway, the weird feelings resided throughout the night. The doctors did some tests on me, all which came back normal. Conversation with my wife while we sat in our little room together gradually came back down to normal content.

“You were scaring me in the car.“ She said. “You were like, ‘I want the kids to be hopeful people, okay? I want them to give people a chance, and have good hearts, and not be too hard on God. You were talking like you were going to die.‘

‘I wasn’t sure.‘ I said.

Then it went down a notch. We began talking about our parenting skills. Things we do right, things we can improve. And then it went down a little from there to us talking about becoming healthier, and then making jokes. Eventually we were looking at an ad in Time Magazine, talking about how much better Sean Connery looks in his old age.

I just set up an appointment with a Cardiologist for tomorrow morning. Hopefully, everything is cool. I definitely want to chill out with the caffeine, and work out a little more. Little surprises like the one I had last night can shake a person up.

Driving home, I told my wife that it’s kind of hard in the context of my Book of Revelations religious upbringing not to think that events like this are God’s way of sending a message.

“If it’s God,” she said, “Hopefully next time he’ll consider UPS instead.”

That would certainly be a lot less scary for me, although I do hate waiting around all day for a package to arrive.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Maybe The Dingo Ate Your Baby Jesus

Christmas was a big deal at our small Southern Baptist church when I was a little boy. It was, in fact, the event of the year. Understandable, when you consider that John 3:16 (for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.) was the bible verse that practically under girded our entire theology.

Christmas was a big deal: wreaths, gatherings, revivals, plays in full costume, activities, feasts (no dancing or drinking), cinnamon and merriment; all with only a slight whiff of brimstone. There was a huge Christmas tree that stood in front of the baptismal behind the preacher’s podium. Little girls wore emerald dresses with white stockings and red ribbons to services, and the preacher’s nose and cheeks were rosy and red like Santa’s, which seemed festive around Christmas time, but were (in actuality) that color all year round.

Our church’s biggest point of pride was our nativity scene. We were a suburban church, and thus were not immune to the arms race of Christmas yard decorations that only escalated year after year. The secular stuff was easy: Neon reindeer, giant blow-up snowmen. Strobe lit sleighs. The religious stuff took a little more tact.

Our nativity scene was the biggest & most detailed of all the churches in the area. A large, hand built manger. There was a thick bed of yellow, welcoming hay. All of the figures were made of realistic looking wax, and the whole scene was lit up from below by three well placed spotlights. A small fence had been built around the display, and on the weekends--when the church offered free hot chocolate to anyone who attended bible study, member or non-member--one of the parishioners brought in an alpaca from his farm to lend some realism to the scene. Subtle organ music piped in through two speakers at either corner of the set up, and the conservative, white lights that adorned the outline of the church created a perfect frame for our little attraction.

It was a sight to behold. Cars would stop to look at it. It was even featured in the community journal one year. Our whole congregation pitched in with maintenance. We were very proud of our nativity scene.

That’s why it was such a big deal when our baby Jesus went missing.

The pastor called a church meeting to see if anyone knew anything. He had arrived at church one morning earlier in the week, and it was just gone. No one could imagine who would’ve stole the baby Jesus.

Some of the teenagers in the church suggested that maybe it was a couple of Goth kids that lived down the street. No doubt if they took it, it was in the woods somewhere; probably hanging by it’s neck from a tree, graffitied with lewd words and Marilyn Manson makeup.

Unfortunately, the Goth kids down the street were the son and daughter of the local Unitarian minister, so it would do no good to confront them over any part they may have had in the disappearance of our infant savior. The Unitarian minister would say that his children were being unfairly singled out because of their chosen style of dress, and it would create unneeded tension in the community. So that option was out.

But let me digress.

My whole life, I have been a cat owner. I like that they mind their own business, and that you can forget they are there if you want to. Every now and then you will seek them out and pet them, and every now and then they will sit on your lap. Other than that, cats are virtually invisible roommates.
Recently I bought a dog for my kids, and it was a big adjustment for me: Dogs are very needy, and very active. They want your attention constantly. They bark, they need to be taken for walks, and taken outside early in the morning and late at night to relieve themselves. Also, if you don’t want your house to smell like them, you have to give them frequent baths (which is harder than it sounds).

But my kids love the dog, and I like the dog, so I adjusted. I also learned a few things:

1.) If I were single right now, having a dog would be the best way to meet women. Even more so than when you are walking around with a newborn, strangers will come up to you and talk to you about your dog. They will even bend down and pet your dog, and not mind if your dog licks their face. I’ve never seen anyone bend down and pet a baby, and I can only imagine what would happen if they did and the baby licked their face.
Many attractive women have come up to me while I was walking my dog in a park or on a trail and started warm, familiar conversations with me, simply because I had a dog. It’s true. If I were single, my dog would be bringing home the strange.

2.) Everyone’s dog is good with kids. When you’re at a park where there are dogs and kids, and the dog people are communing with one another, inevitably in the description an owner will give of their pet will include some variation on the following: ‘Oh, and Blue is great with kids.’ I hear this all the time. Sometimes people will ask if a person’s dog is good with kids, other times an owner will volunteer the information for no reason. There doesn’t have to be a kid around for miles. It can be two sterile couples who hate kids and have never seen a kid in their life standing around talking about a dog, and the owner will say, ‘Oh, Blue loves kids.’ and the person listening will nod approvingly.

I have never heard a person say,‘oh man, Blue is great, but she hates kids. Actually, I’m surprised she hasn’t killed your little toddler over there already. Great dog, but it sure loves to disfigure kids.’I haven’t heard that yet, but surely, somewhere out there is a dog that hates kids.

I would even be happy to hear about a dog that only humors kids. ‘Oh yeah, Blue is great with kids, but he/she doesn’t really like them. But don't worry. She's really polite about it.

Kurt Vonnegut (whose novels are a big blur to me now) wrote somewhere about a woman who left her kid alone with a starving Doberman pincher, and the dog ate the kid. Edward Gorey made a little book about a woman who dresses her newborn up in a realistic looking bunny outfit, and watches with terror as a pack of dogs tear the little thing to pieces. There are all kinds of horror stories, in both the news and in literature, about dogs. But you never encounter some place in between Dog Loves Kids<--->Dog Kills Kids. Where are the people with dogs in the middle of that spectrum?

I mention all of this dog stuff in the middle of my Christmas reflection, because thinking about this strange relationship between dogs and kids is what brought that Christmas crime scene of my past back into my conscious mind.

The church members shook their heads about the theft of the baby Jesus, but did nothing. We all just assumed it was the Unitarian Goth kids, and left it at that. The pastor put a jar in the foyer to raise money to order a new baby Jesus for the nativity next year, and perhaps some closed circuit cameras. We moved on with our lives.

But thinking about dogs just now got me thinking about another suspect.

The pastor had a German Shepherd named Sheltzie. While the pastor was upstairs in his office, Sheltzie was permitted to prowl through the church, and around the property. Sometimes some of us kids would go up to the church after school to play on the swingset, and to toss a ball to Sheltzie. Sheltzie was really good with kids.

But I remember one day, not long after the baby Jesus went missing, that one of my friends was throwing a ball at Sheltzie in the yard while I was laying in the sandbox staring up at the sky.
“Hey Spencer!” He called.
“Help me find the ball! It just rolled off into the woods!”
“Okay!” I said, and I got up and headed towards the woods. My friend was there at the outskirts of the little wooded area at the edge of the property, standing on his tippy-toes looking for his ball. I ran towards him to help out, but slipped on something and came crashing down to the ground. I stood up, brushed myself off, and looked at what I had slipped on. I picked it up.

I was going to yell, “Hey, I found your ball!” when my friend called out, “Never mind! I found it!”

I looked down at the thing that I held in my hand. It was roundish, colorful, and kind of waxy. There was a strange, earthy odor to it.

I looked at it, looked at Sheltzie; so innocently jumping up around and chasing after my friend, who was holding a tennis ball above his head and running in circles.

I shrugged, and dropped the weird little ball of wax, and ran to join my friend and Sheltzie in the field. I made no connections between the object and our disappeared lord. In fact, I soon forgot the incident.

That is, until now.

Stewart & Huckabee Politely Discuss Gay Marriage

"Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality."-Jon Stewart

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Suburban Ghost Story

Around 2 o clock this morning, my dog began barking & growling in the kitchen. It woke me up.

"Is she growling?" I asked my wife.
"Yes. Will you go check it out?" She said.

'Checking out' mysterious noises in the middle of the night is part of my husbandly duties. Secretly, I enjoy it. I don't get to do it often, but when I do, I get a primitive thrill.

We are not so long out of the trees, you know.

So I grabbed the Louisville slugger that we keep just inside the closet door, & slid down the hallway like a stalking puma: I was ready to take down whatever invader it was my faithful companion had apprehended.

Let me add this detail: My dog is not a regular barker. She typically will only bark when someone is coming up the pathway to our house, or when someone is on our deck. When she hears the doorknob in the living room jiggling when either my wife or I are inserting our keys into it, she barks. This trait has reassured my wife & I, because we have kids.

My dog barks when there are strangers approaching our house, or near our house. I've never heard her growl before, in addition to the barking. At 2 in the morning when you are creeping around your house in a t-shirt and a pair of boxers with a Louisville Slugger hoisted at the ready, the mind can only settle on a few options: Someone is in the house.

I turned the corner to the kitchen to see what all the ruckus was about. We had left the oven light on to remind us there were biscuits in there for breakfast: It cast an eerie glow on the whole room, which was neat and orderly, no sign of anything inappropriate.

Except a few steps away from our little fold-in kitchen table, one of the chairs was turned around. It was in the middle of the kitchen, facing the doorway in which I was standing. The light from the oven was illuminating it, & and the dog was right in front of it, snarling and barking. I felt a small chill run down my back.

When the dog saw me she relented, & I scratched her behind the ear. I turned the chair around & pushed it back under the table. After I did this, our dog relaxed.

My wife came around the corner. "What was she barking at?" She said in a sleepy voice.

"It was this chair." I said. "It was in the middle of the room, facing the doorway." I made a grimace that I hoped might suggest something creepy about the rearranged furniture. I don't think it worked.

"hm." My wife said. "So our dog is into Feng Shui."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Medicine Cabinet Recommends

Speed Read, by Chris Major: Good concrete poetry. Also see here.

Mark Daniels goes deep on Album cover parodies, self deprectation, & the Beatles.

GODSPAM: A cool blog I will be keeping up with.

Roger Ebert finally gets around to reviewing Ben Stein: Expelled.

Conflict: It's A Good Thing, By Christine Carter: I'll take all the advice I can get.

Rachel Naomi Reven on loss & listening generously: Wonderful. Listen here.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds perform Abbatoir Blues:

Have a great weekend!

Large Objects Moving Slowly

As your breasts
make their glacial excursion
towards your hips,

and my balls begin to droop
like a Halloween bag
full of too much candy:

I will pause
(from time to time)
and remember years before:

when our two taut bodies
were so easily entertained
by such equally firm surfaces.

We explored them ruthlessly:
Like conquistadors,
looking for golden cities.

I will smile,
and consider these current days:
Terrain complex. Unpredictable.

A safari nowadays of the many
curves and folds,
may take months of planning.

And only god knows
how many hired natives
will be lost along the way.


Monday, December 1, 2008

How About A Little Grace?

There is a lot of talk these days about whether the world would be better or worse without religion.

I reject the premise.

There are many fine & passionate people on both sides of this argument. Many people find a strictly empirical view suits their needs just fine. Others look towards the numinous & inexplicable to explain their lives. All is well, right?

Maybe not. The discussion has begun, but there seem to be alot of hurt feelings floating around. Surely not all atheists have come to their rejection of religion by strictly empirical means, and surely all believers do not believe because the truth was revealed to them from on high. There is insecurity about the state of religion in the world on all sides, and it will be expressed in different ways. Some people will sulk. Some will use humor, the arts, or biting sarcasm. Some will engage in healthy debate. All forms of expression are okay, as long as things don't get violent and people's rights don't get infringed upon. There is something else beneath our current attitudes towards religion, and it is coming out in a big & public way. The world is going into group therapy. We've got daddy issues.

I am an agnostic. For many years I was a nominal (yet studious) Christian, but then the bottom fell out of my religion. I had to leave it there on the beach, like a pretty rock that was appealing, but just a little too heavy to accompany me on the rest of my journey.

It’s true that sometimes I still long for that connection that I felt when I was a dogmatic believer, although I can’t tell if the longing is that of a scorned lover watching a happy couple in the park, or if it’s more akin to an alcoholic watching beer commercials on T.V. Either way the feeling is there, and I understand why those who have it might feel the compunction to defend it. Religion is comforting. It gives us a pre-packaged world view and boundaries within which to think about all that is around us. It clearly marks the safe zones and the danger zones, and promises rewards for the good, and punishment for the bad. It also grants us a creator that loves us, understands us, and will ultimately vindicate us, if only we stand by him. I get that.

I also can understand the intent behind the onslaught of the neo-atheists. There can be some debilitating effects of religion, to be sure (this includes secular religions). Neurosis about natural sexual impulses. The willingness to commit violence against ‘infidels’ . Opening the mind up to softened, uncritical thinking, and making a person vulnerable to the scams & advances of hucksters. Religion can also put irrational fears into the minds of children by creating a bogeyman out of Satan, and plaguing them with the threat of damnation if they deviate on even an intellectual level: If you stop believing in Santa, he just won’t bring you presents anymore. If you stop believing in God, he’ll send your ass to hell.

But truly there is a middle ground, and I think that middle ground is called grace.

I know this is a religious term, but I can’t think of anything more applicable. Typically it means 'the favor of God', but here I am going to employ it as a mix of graciousness and humility when talking about God, with just a smidge of that 'attractiveness in presentation' aspect. We can handle the humor, but leave your misanthropy at the door.

To the religious:

We cannot know anything about God. We can suspect things, we can posit things, we can hope for things, but we cannot know them. Our religious texts are unreliable. As Sam Harris is fond of pointing out, there is nothing written in any one of them that could not have been written by a person of that era. He’s right, and the only acceptable response to the truth of this assertion is to acknowledge it, and to have the humility to not claim the statements in our religious books as absolute truths. This does not mean that they can’t be hoped to be true, or treated as if their underlying messages were true. It just means that we would have to switch the way in which we derive our values from them. We would be more free to throw out things that are no longer applicable, and to reinterpret certain other codes and rules and parables for more modern times.

To acknowledge that the source of our dogmas is not infallible is to acknowledge that any view of God that we arrive at is either a mirror or a blank slate: Something that we can either look into to exalt ourselves, or to draw our most fanciful dreams and hopes on. Upon neither of these versions of God is it practical to build a religion, but it is possible to create a colorful patchwork to derive personal meaning from.

To The Atheist:

Point taken. You have successfully begun a healthy discussion that we all can benefit from. But be careful not to condescend to those who find comfort or meaning in religion. Richard Dawkins’s suggestion that atheists refer to themselves as ‘brights’ is not going to open any minds. A belief in God doesn’t make a person stupid. We are pattern finding machines. We have evolved to cooperate (and it is possible that we’ve been designed to do so), and to empathize and help out one another, even occasionally in a way that is to the detriment of our own well-being. Let’s honor that adaptable trait and have some understanding for those who do not think exactly as we do. Being open to outside answers and challenges is the bedrock of the scientific method. Don’t rush ahead of yourself to declare that there is no God. As with everything, morality has evolved, and religion has been (and will continue to be for the unforeseeable future) an important step in that process. It may not be the last step, but it is a part of the stairwell that we are still on. It’s never benefited man to think of themselves as the pinnacle of evolutionary accomplishment. The age of humans is but a speck on the heap of time. That we’ve come as far as we’ve come is incredible. Consider: mankind has had to try to create a better world without any confirmable instruction from above. It's akin dropping a crate of paper, a pair of scissors, and some tape in front of a three year old and saying, ‘construct a perfect model of a bacterial flagellum’ The kid has to be like, 'what the hell is a bacterial flagellum?'

So, even with a few bronze age conceptual holdovers, we’re doing a pretty good job. The discussion can (and should) continue, but respect has to be given to the process by which we’ve gotten to where we are.

In psychology, we employ a term called the Group Attribution Error. The definition of this term--basically-- is that we attribute agency, intellect, and diversity to members of our tribe, and employ a uniform (usually negative) definition of behavior to those who are not of our tribe, characterizing their apparent defects as the results of some kind of internal factor, while attributing our own to outside sources, if we attribute our own at all. This is what I see in a lot of cultural conflicts. ‘We are the good guys, they are the bad guys.’ This is illustrated especially well by the current lack of goodwill floating back and forth between certain hardcore proponents of the theists v. nontheists war in our culture.

Personally--although I myself cannot always accomplish this--I find it a better route to take the people that I meet in the course of my life as individuals, and see through their affiliations and groupthink. It does not mean that we don’t have substantive conversations about important issues, it just means that we don’t harden our minds and hearts to individuals who happen to subscribe to certain ways of thinking different than our own. We can try to persuade each other out of our backwards ways all day long, but underneath, we have to see the humanity of the person we are dealing with, and be willing to accept that they too are searching for answers in earnest. I think this would be best in this new environment we are entering too, where every conversational topic is fair game, no matter how sacred. I also think it would be beneficial to admit to each other--and to ourselves--what we do not know, and to be okay with not knowing.

Because it is okay to not know. It’s okay to not get it right all of the time. Being a human is a hard job, and it’s all on-the-job training. We've got to be graceful in our inter-dealings.

Why People Believe Weird Things

A lighthearted (and enlightening) little talk Michael Shermer gave at the TED conference this year:

good stuff.