Me, Being Ornery

I usually try not to get dragged into Web-based theological discussions, because they don’t seem to accomplish much and take time away from more enjoyable (and more productive) pursuits, but this week I slipped. I found myself embroiled in a thread on The Ornery American which linked to a video of Richard Dawkins on Bill Maher’s television show. I don’t have QuickTime on my computer, so I haven’t watched the video, but someone posted an excerpt from Dawkins’ book that I found interesting.

In his book, Dawkins printed a letter sent to Albert Einstein by the president of a New Jersey-based historical society. Dawkins wrote that the letter “damningly exposes the weakness of the religious mind,” and that, “Every sentence drips with intellectual and moral cowardice.” (Note that you can find all this on the thread on The Ornery American site. But keep in mind that while this post itself is longer than usual, since I quote so much of the thread, the entire thread spans 3 web pages now.)

I quoted that intellectual cowardice bit and wrote, “I reckon I’m not intellectual enough to understand this…”, and the fun began. A couple of people tried to explain it, but frankly I didn’t find their explanations illuminating. So I wrote back,

I think for many of the faithful it’s easier to understand our own struggles with the truth as we know it — through which we continue to believe despite the doubts that may nag us — than to understand the choice to utterly reject it.

We … would do well to remember that “many are called, but few are chosen.” Flannery O’Connor* summed up why: in many cases, “it’s harder to believe than not to.”

I’m only familiar with the Flannery O’Connor quote because it became a Steve Taylor song, but oh, did I get a response:

“Many are called but few are chosen”? If that don’t sound elitist I don’t know what does. I didn’t even get a call much less chosen.

And not just “harder” to believe, but “impossible” to believe. I’ve tried, and how anybody with a brain can “believe” is beyond me. And I know a lot of people that I consider to be very intelligent that claim to believe.

(And in a subsequent post, the same person wrote,)

It’s crazy but people think better of you for having blind unquestioning belief in a being that nobody has ever seen and for which there is not one shred of evidence exists!

Here’s my reply (“KE” and “OR” are shorthand for the handles of two Ornery members):

KE wrote, “for which there is not one shred of evidence.” I disagree. But just as two eyewitnesses can see the same event and report it differently, I do not expect KE or anyone else to draw the same conclusions I have. As for “many are called, but few are chosen” being elitist, I suppose it can be seen that way … though in practice it usually works out as “many are called, but few answer the call,” which seems to be shown in KE’s own experience: he may not feel as if he was called, but from my perspective if he wasn’t called he wouldn’t have tried to believe in anything, at anytime.

OR is right that the excellent observation that “The real test of atheism is ‘do you alter the way you live your life because you think a god exists'” applies equally as a test of whether those of us who profess to be Christians are indeed living the life. For some people, this lies at the root of why they choose not to believe: because believing would require altering the way they live their lives.

This raised the ire of yet another forum member, TomD, who wrote (emphasis in original), “You think so? Can you provide me an example of such a person — someone who would believe, but who doesn’t want to change his lifestyle and thus chooses not to?”

I wrote back,

… I think one example might be the rich young ruler with whom Jesus talked (q.v. Gospel of Mark, chapter 10). He asked Jesus what he had to do, Jesus told him, and he went away sad. Jesus asked him to make a drastic change to his lifestyle, and he wasn’t prepared to do so. (This may not be the best example since he ostensibly believed, but was not willing to put his belief into action.)

Jesus said it was hard to enter the kingdom of God. In many ways I think we make it harder than it has to be.

TomD then wrote, “I should have clarified: can you provide me examples of non-allegorical people?” So I replied,

… I disagree that the rich young ruler is allegorical.

That being said, I’ll offer a more contemporary example: me. When I was young, I rejected everything about the church. I agreed completely with an older friend who, in his first year of college, was asked, “Are you saved?” and responded, “No, I’ve got better things to do with my time.” Accepting what the church taught would have required me to moderate my behavior, and that wasn’t something I was willing to do. (For reference, I took my first drink at 13 and was well into weekend binges by 16.) For me, claiming to be an atheist (which I did, to my mom) was not an intellectual exercise — I don’t have that much intellect to exercise — but outright rebellion.

I am a different person now than I was then. Not perfect, but I think quite a bit better.

TomD wrote in again (emphasis in original), “I’m curious what your response to that question would have been.” So I answered,

My answer to, “Are you saved?” was, “No.” If pressed, I usually followed up with some variant of “And I don’t want to be” or “Leave me alone.”

If you are asking whether I would have said at the time that I was rejecting salvation because I refused to moderate my behavior, I probably wouldn’t have admitted it. I don’t recall ever being asked that question. But if pressed on the point, I imagine I would’ve tried to present any number of arguments to avoid admitting any personal moral shortcomings. Like a criminal faced with the consequences of his crimes, I would have pleaded not guilty even though I was.

Later, I pleaded guilty and threw myself on the mercy of the court. And as I said: I am a different person now than I was then.

That’s where I last left things. I suppose the conversation will continue, but we’ll see.

___
* Spelling corrected in this quote.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Space Strategy, Policy, Missiles

New in the Space Warfare Forum: Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado recently called for a new space strategy and space policy, as well as development of “a layer of space-based interceptors.” He made the statements last week at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

For more, see the New Call for Strategy & Space-Based Weapons thread in the Space Strategy section of the forum.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Filmmakers in the Triangle; and, After the Peak

My writing friend Alex Wilson first alerted me to the Triangle Filmmakers’ Special Interest Group (TFSIG*), but unfortunately he and I have never been at a meeting together. He’s been very busy recovering from a serious head injury sustained in an auto accident, so he’s got a good excuse. (He’s a great guy, so go ahead and check out his web site.)

You came back? Thanks.

Tonight’s TFSIG meeting was a smallish affair. I listen a lot at these meetings, and have learned more than I ever thought I would about the ups and downs of independent filmmaking. One day if I write a story that’s film-able, I hope to at least be conversant about the process … even though I won’t have any control over it, I want to understand it. (Of course, if I quit going to meetings and sat down to write, I’d be a lot closer to fulfilling that “if” clause. 🙁 )

Anyway, I thought this would be a good time to introduce After the Peak, a docudrama made by Jim McQuaid. Jim is the driving force behind the TFSIG, and even though only a few people will see this I’m happy to plug his film. It’s certainly a timely subject:

The end of cheap oil is coming. Gasoline prices over $3.00 a gallon isn’t the end of cheap oil. The end of cheap oil will look a lot worse than that. Unfortunately.

We might argue the details about when we will hit the downslope of the oil availability curve, but I’m not sure anyone can deny that we will hit it. And we need to have alternatives ready to deal with the inevitability. Orson Scott Card argued awhile back on The Ornery American (sorry, I can’t find the precise link right now) that we’d be well served to slow our use of oil for transportation and power because we’re going to need the remaining oil for a long time to keep making plastic.

I haven’t seen Jim’s film yet, but I plan to order a copy.

___
* Yes, I wish we had a better name.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

More Public Art

I’ve done my civic duty for the week: Tonight’s meeting of the Town of Cary’s Public Art Advisory Board went pretty well.

We got to see and comment on preliminary designs for a cell phone tower that’s going to replace an old water tower close to downtown. This is a semi-big deal, since a few years ago the town (or some part of the town) demanded that a cell phone tower near I-40 be “disguised” … so now we have an obviously artificial-looking “pine tree” that sticks way up above all the real pine trees. It was poorly done, so we wanted to avoid that kind of mistake. Several companies have antennae on the water tower now, but the town put up a new water tower awhile back so this one’s going to come down. We want to keep the cell service where it is, so a new tower has to go up; and since the tallest buildings downtown are only a couple of stories, the tower will be seen from a long way away. The first concepts looked pretty good — very unique, and in a good way — and I look forward to seeing the next iteration.

The next event is the “Spring Daze” arts & crafts fair, on Saturday April 26th at Bond Lake Park. Come on out and see us, if you’re in the area! 🙂

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Happy Happy Tax Day

And once again we celebrate the Ides of April. This weekend James Maxey had a (mostly) amusing tax-related post about the National Debt on his blog. I especially liked his idea to levy a “too much fame” tax, though the effective tax rate seems a bit draconian:

We could have a vote each year of the celebrities we’re most tired of hearing about. Then, we’d just go and grab everything from the top ten folks on that list. Britney would be too broke to afford her brazilian waxes after a few votes. Rush Limbaugh could no longer afford to hire a housekeeper to score hillbilly heroin from. If you’re a baseball player caught up in a steriod scandal at the same time you’re closing in on a home run record, well, you’d better hope there are ten people more loathed than you are this year. If you do manage to get rich, you’d learn to keep your head low. The new rule would be, you can be famous, or you can be rich, but it’s dangerous to have too much of both.

The post is called “The Ten Trillion Pound Gorilla,” and as I said I found it mostly amusing. I didn’t think his get-rid-of-the-military idea was very funny; as might be expected from my personal history, it raised my hackles a bit. I’ll leave it at that.

Continuing with the tax theme, I thought my “Direct Deposit” tax scheme from last year had at least the merit of being original, if not being a little amusing too. And if your frustration with Tax Day has you looking for a write-in candidate for any office — from school board on up, anywhere in the country — you’re welcome to check out the Anti-Candidate’s position on taxes. We won’t promise to make it any better, but we won’t promise to make it any worse, either. 😉

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

More AUDACITY

I was very confused by this passage on p. 177 of Senator Obama’s THE AUDACITY OF HOPE:

…FDR recognized that we would all be more likely to take risks in our lives — to change jobs or start new businesses or welcome competition from other countries — if we knew that we would have some measure of protection should we fail.

That’s what Social Security, the centerpiece of New Deal legislation, has provided — a form of social insurance that protects us from risk.

I guess I don’t understand this because the fact that I have a Social Security account that I’ve been paying into for the last umpty-ump years doesn’t enter into my calculus on whether to change jobs or anything else. Nor do I see how Social Security protects anyone from risk. If you lose your job, or your business fails, you don’t start drawing Social Security — in fact your overall Social Security status is hurt because you’re no longer paying into the system.

So if someone could explain that to me such that it makes sense, I’d appreciate it.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Following as the Spirit Leads

For the last four days I puzzled over what song to sing in church today.* By this morning I’d narrowed it down to four choices:

– “Big Enough” by Chris Rice — “I hope you don’t mind me asking the questions”
– “Trinity” by Jennifer Knapp — “Where do I stand, on the rock or in the sand?”
– “Pray Where You Are” by the Lost Dogs — “In our hopes and fears and struggles, great or small”
– “Beautiful Scandalous Night” by the Lost Dogs — “At the wonderful, tragic, mysterious tree”

I like each one for different reasons; they all speak to me, but I wasn’t sure which one to do. I was leaning away from “Big Enough” because it’s the hardest to play; I need to practice a lot more to get the chord changes. And I wasn’t sure how many people would appreciate the whole of “Pray Where You Are.”

Then, stopped at a traffic light on my way to church this morning, I thought, “I’m a little hungry” … whereupon the song “Hungry” popped into my head: “Hungry I come to you for I know you satisfy.”

I thought, No way. (I didn’t even remember what chords it had in it.)

But when I got to church I figured I had to at least try it, so back in the music room I found it in my notebook and gave it a go. It was rough, and awkward, and I still thought hard about doing “Beautiful Scandalous Night,” but in the end I went through with it and nobody threw anything at me. It helped a lot that Pastor Mark played along on the piano (without any music, of course, the show-off 😉 ).

And all the time I think God was chuckling, pointing at me and saying to the angels, “Look what I made him do.”

___
* I wasn’t asked to sing until Tuesday evening, after choir practice.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Genesis for Scientists

My friend Karina Fabian, whose flash fiction story, “Innocents,” tied for first place in the Muse Marquee Flash Fiction Contest and will appear in their May issue, had a great post on her blog yesterday. She must not have had time to edit, since she misspelled “Darwinism” [:confused:], but I love this:

It’s not like God could say, “In the beginning, I (complex problem in physics involving quantum mechanics and unification theory) and created light.” Even if he gave Moses the divine ability to understand that–which puts him ahead of our current scientists–what’s Moses going to tell the people? “God said, ‘Let there be light. And there was.'”

I imagine Moses on the mountain, trying to wrap his human brain around the immensity of creation …

“How’d you make all this, LORD?”

“In the beginning, Moses, all the matter that would eventually become everything you see around you — the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars — was compressed in an infinitesimal space where what you know as ‘gravity’ and even ‘time’ didn’t exist….”

(Reminds me of a story I tried to write [and may revisit some day] about an alien scientist who tried to reproduce the initial conditions of the Big Bang.)

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Taxes, and the Heart of America

With tax day approaching, I was interested to read that “California Republican John Campbell yesterday introduced in the House his ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is Act,’ which would amend the tax code to allow individuals to make voluntary donations to the federal government above their normal tax liability.” Notwithstanding that you can already do that if you want, which the Wall Street Journal editorial points out, I of course thought of my Ornery American essay on taxes:

Tax day offers us the privilege of demonstrating our civic duty and pride by giving our fair share….

Imagine if we had a new 1040-series form … with boxes for various agencies and programs from Agriculture to Commerce to Transportation and beyond. You could check as many boxes as you like, to split your money between different agencies….

That’s not exactly what Representative Campbell suggested, but his bill would put a box on the 1040 form that you could check if you want to donate extra to the government. So warm up your checkbooks!

____

With respect to the “heart of America,” this was one of the most moving things I’ve read in a long time:

A young Iraqi translator, wounded in battle and fearing death, asked an American commander to bury his heart in America.

Read Michael Yon’s Wall Street Journal op-ed for more. And be proud of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen who stand in the gap and make life better for oppressed people. I salute each and every one of them.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

More Books I Want to Read

“So many books, so little time” has been a refrain in my life for years. My Christmas list is full of books, and I barely get through the ones I receive one year before the next set of gift books arrives. (I’d do better if I didn’t go to the library and pick up books from time to time.)

This evening I had a nice chat with John, a friend from church, and he told me about two books from the Barna Group that I added to my “want to read” list. The first is unChristian, and it presents “research into the perceptions of sixteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds” that “reveals that Christians have taken several giant steps backward” in terms of how we come across to nonbelievers. The second is Pagan Christianity, which traces the historical development of the church structure and service to see how different the current church is from the original church. Both of them sound fascinating to me.

In Heaven, after the feast is over, you can find me in the library. 😉

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather