My Science Fiction Church: ST Klingon References

I attend North Cary Baptist Church, and I’m frequently pleased by the large proportion of genre fans in our church. (I even blogged about that in this post.)

Yesterday Pastor Mark started his sermon by explaining that the title of the book of Acts is the Greek word, “praxis,” at which our pianist remarked that Praxis is also the Klingon moon. This prompted the pastor to point out that the Bible is being (or maybe has been) translated into Klingon — is that right, Dr. Schoen? — and to give and receive from many of us the Vulcan salute. And at least one of us (that would have been me) exclaimed “success!” in Klingon.

We have a great church, and you’re welcome to visit any time.

[BREAK, BREAK]

In other news, I passed the 85,000-word mark yesterday in MARE NUBIUM, my novel about an early lunar colony. Still hoping to make 100K, if not finish outright, by the end of the month.

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My Damaged Brain

It’s always refreshing to learn that others think you’re mentally ill. Not mentally deficient, which would imply that if I learned enough I would be better, but sick in the head.

And I’m not talking about the standard “brain-damaged male” motif that I learned about so long ago; i.e., that male babies, bathed in testosterone in utero, emerge with damaged brains. Male brains. Same thing, apparently.

Guilty as charged.

But this is different: this has to do with those of us who consider ourselves to be conservative versus those who are liberal. The contention, expressed in the opening of “What Makes People Vote Republican?” by Jonathan Haidt, is that being a conservative, much less a Republican, is a mental illness:

… now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer “moral clarity” — a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.

So Republicans do not respond to reason, while Democrats do not respond to references to good and evil. I love the assertion of intellectual superiority on the part of the author and the author’s peers, but the point seems sound that one side of the aisle operates under a moral relativism while the other prefers a clearer, more concrete morality.

The author examines this by considering morality and social contracts, primarily contrasting a hypothetical society based on John Stuart Mill’s assertions with one based on Emile Durkheim’s. This leads him to present the following distinctions between conservatives and liberals:

… people who call themselves strongly liberal endorse statements related to the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations [of morality], and they largely reject statements related to ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. People who call themselves strongly conservative, in contrast, endorse statements related to all five foundations more or less equally…. We think of the moral mind as being like an audio equalizer, with five slider switches for different parts of the moral spectrum. Democrats generally use a much smaller part of the spectrum than do Republicans. The resulting music may sound beautiful to other Democrats, but it sounds thin and incomplete to many of the swing voters that left the party in the 1980s, and whom the Democrats must recapture if they want to produce a lasting political realignment.

So rational Democrats use only a fraction of the “moral spectrum,” rejecting other parts that irrational Republicans include in their approach to the world. And being Republican is a mark of mental illness, as implied above. Isn’t it at least possible that the author has it backward, that liberals and Democrats, however intellectual, are morally stunted?

If Democrats want to understand what makes people vote Republican, they must first understand the full spectrum of American moral concerns. They should then consider whether they can use more of that spectrum themselves.

If my damaged brain is why I am more of a conservative than a liberal (in modern terms), I wonder if it also explains why I feel I need a relationship with God to anchor my life. That’s part of the Anti-Candidate position on FAITH & FAMILY, recently posted over in the forum:

It took us awhile to accede to the faith of our parents — we thought we were too intellectual and sophisticated when we were younger — but having accepted it we did our best to pass it on to our children. And for one key reason: because faith provides an anchor in troubled times, and lifts our vision beyond our current situation and limited circumstances to consider the wider world and our proper place in it.

But that’s just me, and I’m brain-damaged. So don’t take my word for it: give it a try yourself. And let me know how it goes.

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Is SPORE an advertisement for Intelligent Design?

Disclaimer: I’m not an on-line game player (not since playing on-line chess occasionally while I was stationed overseas), so I haven’t played “Spore.” Maybe I will, but I doubt it.

The first things I heard about the game Spore focused on the evolution aspect of the game, and made it sound as if the game was a computer simulation of evolution and natural selection. I didn’t see how that kind of long-term, random mutation simulation could be any fun to play, but it turns out that’s not the focus of the game at all. It’s a game that lets the player act as God, guiding the actions and development of little creatures in the computer.

So I wondered if the game might be a subtle advertisement for Intelligent Design as an alternative theory to evolution. I couldn’t imagine that was the case — not since the game has a tie-in to a National Geographic video. But the ID possibility remained: after all, the player is presumably intelligent. And the player’s intelligence apparently guides the actions of a virtual creature that normally would be acting without volition (i.e., by stimulus-response and “instinct,” however that developed.)

I went to the Spore web site to see if my suspicions were correct. On the “What is Spore?” page, the opening text is, “How will you create the universe?” Then the page enjoins the player to “create and guide your creature through five stages of evolution.”

But life on the virtual planet doesn’t spring out of the local primordial ooze, nor does it give the player the option to “create” life — instead, life arrives inside a meteorite in a computer version of panspermia. So maybe Spore isn’t the best advertisement for ID, since it doesn’t address the central idea of where that life really came from.

I’ll leave the answer to that question up to God.

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Year of the Jubilee

Another of those strange thoughts that come to me from time to time: did the Israelites ever actually celebrate the year of the Jubilee?

The book of Leviticus outlines the requirements for the Jubilee year, which was to come after the seven sabbaths of years (7 * 7 = 49 years), so that every 50th year they should “proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

Yet the Bible doesn’t tell us that they actually did all that was required in the year of the Jubilee: releasing bondservants, cancelling debts, etc. All we have are the instructions in Leviticus 25 and 27, and another reference in Numbers 36. That’s not to say they never did it, just that it’s not plainly recorded.

I wonder if they did, or if they even tried.

And I wonder if I’m better off sometimes not asking these kinds of questions.

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Not the El Condor Pasa Snail

Yesterday Pastor Mark made the comment that, “It was only by perseverance that the snails reached the ark.” I turned to my lovely bride and said, “That’s why it took 120 years for Noah to build the thing.” 😉

Okay, so it’s not that funny, but it seems as if some of those animals had to come from a long way away….

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Great Quote on True Religion

Yesterday — the day after I posted about last week’s “discussion” of theology on The Ornery American — a friend from the Codex Writers Group, Kirsten Lincoln, posted an excellent quote she’d found on the Net:

“True religion invites us to become better people. False religion tells us that this has already occurred.”
— Islamic scholar Abdal-Hakim Murad

Click on through to read her entire blog entry. Go ahead. Really.

Bottom line: I wish I’d had that quote handy when I was Being Ornery. I think I could’ve been clearer that even though I feel that I’m a better person now than I used to be, I know that I am not yet truly a good person. I still have a long way to go.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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