Monday, September 26, 2011

A New Motto For the Arsenal

"Be as a lion in the path--be dangerous even in defeat!" ~ Anton LaVey

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Troll Hunter

was a really good movie. Aside from thoroughly entertaining me and sucking me into the fantasy, it also thoroughly entertained my kids and sucked them into the fantasy. Any movie that inspires my kids to make-believe after it's over is a good movie in my book. Even before it was over, Jack was fashioning a troll-catching device out of an empty diaper box, and Spencer was making plans for an anti-troll lego fort. We turned the back porch light on as well, just to make sure we were protected.

I also liked that you have to be an atheist to fight trolls. They can smell christian blood...

I liked Troll Hunter this much:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Talking To Friends About God

Since I don't have a new post for you yet, I thought I would update you on the conversation I am having over at The Smoldering Remnants with my friend Steve Perry. Steve tossed out the following questions and statements (paraphrased):

1) Couldn't a god that doesn't do miracles exist?
2) The 'god brain' is good evidence for the existence of god.
3) our personal experience should be considered when tallying evidence for the proposed existence of supernatural beings.

my answers:

re: miracles as a god killer: I can conceive of a god that doesn’t do miracles.

Re: the god brain: That religious feelings arise in our brains should be no surprise; it hardly indicates the existence of god. People experience all kinds of things; I have met people who experience a belief that they have had microchips put in their teeth by the CIA. I’ve met people who thought they were characters from the book of revelations. that they experience these beliefs–and that these beliefs can be traced to certain regions of the brain–does not validate the claim. No extravagant lengths need to be taken to demonstrate that you’re overreaching if you claim the ‘god brain’ to be proof of the existence of god. Religious belief seems to be programmed into many of us by evolution. We look for patterns in the world around us, and as you go back in time, you’ll see mankind attributing more and more agency to things that we now know to be natural phenomenon. The god brain could be an atavism in that regard. Religious belief has certainly been an aid to viability.

re: the validity of experience as evidence: Our experiences shape the way we interpret information for sure, but we need something more impartial to interpret phenomena than that, and we also need a way to remove more apparent conclusions before jumping to less apparent ones. If I get a chill up my spine when I pray, is it more likely that I am in communion with god, or that I have accessed an area of my brain that rewards me with a divine chill when I have certain kinds of thoughts or perform certain kinds of actions? Has the CIA really put a chip in my tooth, or is there a simpler explanation?

I wonder if there is any argument or evidence that would cast doubt on your god-belief, or your acceptance of christianity as the true expression of what that god wants from you. Is there something that someone could say to you that would make you say, ‘maybe there is no god’, or would the appearance of such an argument lead you to to believe that your truth detection device wasn’t ‘big’ enough, because it could no longer support god?

Regarding things like the supernatural, we have limited means of confirmation. Things like gods, ghosts, esp, extraterrestrials, etc. may exist, we just don’t have means to confirm them. I may know that extraterrestrials are real because I’ve been abducted, but I can’t expect you to accept that if I don’t have some kind evidence to show you. You may have all the respect in the world for me, and think that I’m generally very solid, but is it more likely that I was abducted, or that I had some kind of realistic dream or hallucination, or maybe an underlying mental health issue? Or maybe I’m just lying–possibly to myself as well as you–to validate some kind of wish or hope I have? Even when I was a christian, I knew that the only good argument for belief wasn’t really a good argument; it was the fideistic ‘I believe this crazy thing for some reason. Maybe I’m nuts, but I believe it’. Faith, with a shrug of the shoulders. It puts the believer in a very vulnerable spot, but It’s the argument for belief that I have the most respect for now. It eschews the obscurantism of modern theology, and it doesn’t take a PHD to make the statement. I think it’s wrong, sure, but I think it’s the most honest and humble approach to belief in god.

Cross posted at Daily Kos

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Guy With The Sign

Don't get me wrong: I'm glad this guy has a job.

But, whenever I see one of these guys on the side of the road (there's a guy who puts a little extra verve into his act--swinging his sign around, pointing at cars and singing--at a mini-mall near my house), I become uncomfortable.

I never even notice what they're advertising because two thoughts rush to my mind when I see them:

1) I could never do that.

2) I wonder how that person feels about what they're doing.

I also wonder what the companies and franchise owners think they're accomplishing when they hire people to hold signs. I see more and more roadside sign holders in my area of Cincinnati, so I would guess there was some value in it for the companies. It's just vaguely creepy to me. Something about it seems exploitative, and I have a hard time imagining a person whose ambition in life is to do a job where their biggest competition for promotion is a yard post.

But what do I know?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On Properly Expansive Gods

An old friend of mine recently suggested that I didn't allow myself to develop an expansive enough view of god, and that's why I turned to atheism.

If you read my writing on the subject, you may see me combating a pretty fundamentalist version of god quite often, because that's the god I grew up with; but I think the god I ended up with was pretty expansive, as far as those things go. I was reading Paul Tillich and Phillip Yancey and Thomas Merton, and was pretty sure they were onto something. The god I have now (none at all) is--if you ask me--even more expansive.

I get accused of not getting Jesus fairly often now that he and I are no longer hanging out. That's okay, because I think I understand the reason people feel compelled to accuse me of that. It's the same thing Job's friends did to him. It can't be God's fault. Somehow, there has to be something deficient in me; either I never saw the real Jesus, or I have hardened my heart to him. Christians can't entertain the thought that the real Jesus wasn't that great, or that he wasn't god.

but I disagree. Jesus was okay, I think, but definitely not god. God may exist, but he's definitely not tipping his hand. I think it's interesting that the most expansive comment I've ever heard made about God was issued from one of the most famous atheists around:

"If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed."

That's Richard Dawkins, right there. Talk about expansive!

I'm accused of having too shallow a notion of what god can be, but I'm not the one always making claims about god's nature. I don't know if there's a god. I doubt it, but I don't know. I definitely don't believe in any of the gods I've been told about by religion and the religious (or those who are not religious but have a personal relationship with god). But if there is a god, I'm sticking with Dawkins. Too big for us to understand, and obviously not interested in what we think about it. Definitely not so small as to require our constant adulation, or to make threats of eternal damnation if we don't fully surrender our will to it.

I feel like if there is a god, I give that god a lot of credit, and definitely a lot of latitude. I think most atheists do. If I were god, I would prefer that. But, of course, I'm not God, so who knows what such a being would want (if such a being exists). Certainly not me. Certainly not you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

In Our Own Image

 Discover Magazine has a good piece about those who think they can discern the will of god. It's called Creating God In One's Own Image.


"For many religious people, the popular question “ What would Jesus do?” is essentially the same as “What would I do?” That’s the message from an intriguing and controversial new study by Nicholas Epley from the University of Chicago. Through a combination of surveys, psychological manipulation and brain-scanning, he has found that when religious Americans try to infer the will of God, they mainly draw on their own personal beliefs.

Psychological studies have found that people are always a tad egocentric when considering other people’s mindsets. They use their own beliefs as a starting point, which colours their final conclusions. Epley found that the same process happens, and then some, when people try and divine the mind of God.  Their opinions on God’s attitudes on important social issues closely mirror their own beliefs. If their own attitudes change, so do their perceptions of what God thinks. They even use the same parts of their brain when considering God’s will and their own opinions."

It makes sense that if we project a lot while interpreting where real people are at (people who often are able to clear up any misconceptions we have about their position), that we would do so even more when interpreting the mind of a being that no one can honestly say exists. You can imagine how misinterpreting the position of another person may go either way re: personal fortune (imagining your parents like you the best versus thinking the guy planning to rob you in an alley is really only approaching you to solicit a donation to NPR), but interpreting the will of an all powerful being that a majority of your fellow citizens have been cowed (or cowed themselves) into believing could be very beneficial. Also, the amount of internal calm that is created when you know you are only trying 'to do god's will' can't be underestimated. Without having a God standing behind our moral suspicions and decisions, we're just humans trying to muddle through. Our positions suddenly become so...revisable.

Life requires us to make some tough decisions sometimes. Imagining that we are only trying to follow orders can allow us to make tough decisions fast without getting trapped trying to hash out the nuances of certain situations. This is clearly one of the more adaptable qualities of religion.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Songs About Recovery

One of the great and surprising things about being in recovery is how much it unites you with people who have had the same experience.

When I read Richard Lewis's The Other Great Depression,  I felt like I was reading about myself. When I watch Craig Furguson talk about his alcoholism on Late Night, I feel like I'm watching myself talk about my own past. When I listen to Brad Roberts sing It'll Never Leave You Alone, I know exactly what he's talking about.

The Vistas and connections that recovery opens up are amazing. Addiction is a terrible thing, but coming out of the other side of it in fighting shape, and seeing so many people fighting and winning the same battle (on a day-to-day basis) is a beautiful thing.

That's all. I was listening to Pearl Jam's The Fixer, and felt moved to write this little shout out to all of my brothers and sisters in recovery.

And for folks in recovery who are hesitant to share their testimony; there's no shame in where you're at, and if you're comfortable chiming in, you're voice is welcome in our chorus. It will certainly be appreciated, and you might be surprised by how much recognition you see in other people's faces when you tell your own story.

Craig Furguson on recovery:

Brad Roberts singing about a feeling I'm all too familiar with:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Orwell Can Still Sting

"But because he identifies himself with the official class, he does possess one thing which 'enlightened' people seldom or never possess, and that is a sense of responsibility. The middle-class left hate him for this quite as much as his cruelty and vulgarity. All left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy. They have international aims, and at the same time they struggle to keep up a standard of life with which those aims are incompatible. We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and those of us who are 'enlightened' all maintain that those coolies ought to be set free; but our standard of living, and hence our 'enlightenment', demands that the robbery shall continue."
- George Orwell, on Rudyard Kipling's middle-class left critics.

About 10 years ago I bought a collection of Rudyard Kipling's poetry, and the essay that this excerpt comes from introduces the collection. I read it then, but didn't internalize it, and only kind of flipped through the collection. For some reason, I woke up yesterday morning with Kipling's famous 'lesser breeds without the law' line in my head, and went looking for it in the collection. Orwell quotes it at the beginning of his essay, citing it as an example of how Kipling's critics misconstrue him. Kipling was a racist and imperialist in Orwell's view, but the poem that this line comes from is really 'a denunciation of power politics, both British and German'.

I'll be toting my Kipling book around with me for awhile, because the above excerpt really turns me on; Orwell's critique of the middle class left is as true in industrialized nations today as it was when he wrote it. All of us liberals--all of us--if we're not putting our 'queer shoulder to wheel', are as honest as vegetarians who still eat marshmallows. And if we aren't the radicals we claim to be, we should--like Kipling--accept the responsibility of being in the 'official class', and replace our Che posters with posters of President Obama. I have never owned a Che poster, because doing so has always seemed really phony to me, and I've never seen the appeal of Che or any leftist cult figures; if you're looking for an icon for progressive leadership in the real world, Obama's your man. You have principle operating through pragmatism. The results aren't as clean as the kind you get from assassinations and guerrilla warfare, but they are more lasting, and more moral. History has shown that change that is brought about by bloodshed ends in bloodshed. The president is working within the system; although the change is slower, it will be easier to sustain, and will become more robust as it grows.

But the middle class leftist isn't for either form of change: they talk like a devotee of Che, but they consider their social obligation fulfilled by attending an occasional rally. They scoff at President Obama, but they're not stepping in to organize better solutions, or run for office themselves. They free themselves of responsibility, yet retain--at least in their own mind--their righteous 'voice in the wilderness' status.

The liberal member of the ruling class--in a global sense, if you are an American (at least for now) you are a member of the ruling class--is responsible for easing all forms of exploitation, while accepting that they benefit from it. The most progressive Americans of all are still western supremacists, and maybe we should be; There are many western values that are superior. And maybe we can't address global exploitation until we address the exploitation that exists in microcosm within our own borders. Income disparities are enormous. Access to essential resources and services are far from universal. The playing field is not level, so competition is not possible. These are considerations we have to make.

Kipling accepted that he benefited from the exploitation of others, and he understood the responsibility that this entailed. His perceived vulgarity lies in the fact that he celebrated his spoils rather than wrung his hands over them. But what's more vulgar? To look at how a factory farm operates and say, 'yes, it's worth the cost, the meat is delicious', or to look at how a factory farm operates and say, 'oh that's, horrible. Can I get mine with extra bacon?'

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Epicurean Traffic

Since I have been getting a lot of blog traffic from people googling after Epicurus, I thought I would put the links to all of my little posts about Epicurus's Vatican Sayings in one easy to access spot. The series is called 'Drinking the Mortal Brew', and each piece so far has been named either after a favorite lyric or song title. I'll be continuing this series soon enough.

I. Intro: Epicurus In the Medicine Cabinet

II. You've Got To Tolerate All Those People That You Hate

III. Run On For A Long Time

IV. Send the Pain Below

V. Poor Old Granddad, I Laughed at All His Words

VI. The Future Is No Place To Place Your Better Days

VII. How Do You Afford Your Rock N Roll Lifestyle?

VIII. You Can't Always Get What You Want

to be continued...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Pulling Through & Famous Last Words

So, I have been absolutely miserable for about a month now. Clammy, sweaty skin, a vague, sickly odor following me around. Fatigue. Headache. Sore throat. chest congestion. I went to the doctor thinking it was my annual bout of bronchitis, and I guess my doctor agreed too, because he gave me a z-pack. That one didn't work, so he gave me another one. And then, about 2 days ago, I woke up at about 6 am and felt like I was trying to throw up some gigantic, stretchy, enormous thing that was blocking my air passage. It turned out to be my uvula. My uvula had grown overnight to the size of a grape! It was enormous, and it rested on my tongue and slid down my throat. I went to the hospital.

It turned out it wasn't bronchitis I had, but mono. They shot me up with steroids, told me to eat some ice cream and get some sleep, and I did. I felt much better the next day, and feel better still today. I'm still a little sweaty, and will be sucking on sucrets all day, but at least I know what the deal is. And that uvula thing...that was weird. I've spent my whole life ignoring that thing. I don't like it when organs decide they're not getting enough attention.

We had family movie night last night. We watched The African Queen together. We liked it, although Humphrey Bogart really reminds me of Bugs Bunny in that movie, which makes it a little hard to invest in. Abby & I were talking about the movie as we lay in bed. There was a silence as we kind of drifted off into our own thoughts for a minute, and then I said, 'You know, I don't think Katharine Hepburn was very attractive'. Abby said, 'I don't think that's why they picked her for her roles'. And then I started to fall asleep again; but then it occurred to me; Abby and the kids will be at her family's house all holiday weekend. What if I'm killed by a meteor or escaped tiger this weekend and that's the last thing I ever get to say to her? 'Katharine Hepburn wasn't very attractive'. That's not a good final statement. I told Abby about my problem, and she was nice enough to let me revise my final comment to her for the night. I came up with something much deeper: 'Audrey Hepburn was much more attractive than Katharine Hepburn'.

You can put that on my gravestone.