Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

A whiny thanksgiving

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Today is a day that is supposedly set aside for giving thanks. I suppose that there are worse traditions that one could start.

It certainly seems healthier overall than Christmas. At least Thanksgiving only gets perverted into stuffing one’s face and going hunting or watching football. Overall, it is far healthier for the country as a whole than Christmas is.

But for me, the day is just a reminder that of how hard it is for humans to be satisfied.

As I told my Uncle, I have it all. A good job that has kept me interested this year and one where I rarely hear anything but praise. I have health. All of my family has their health. I have plenty of money.

And yet, I can’t help but think that it is all being wasted on me. I don’t know what I should be doing, but I feel like it should be something more or different from what I am doing know. It just seems like I am just drifting through life wasting everything I have been given. It seems like God ought to come down out of heaven and show me where I should go. After all, he did promise wisdom to those who asked without having a double mind.

But the story of Abram and Ishmael demonstrates what happens when we try to use God’s promise as an excuse to make something happen. So I shall wait for understanding and seek the grace to enjoy what will probably be the best time of my life (in retrospect).

On a different note, all those news junkies out there should read this. I would bet dollars to donuts that it is going to be a big story next week. See here and here for more info.

Hiding in plan sight

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Today I was reading about Imhotep.

I had things in particular that I was looking for. Things that I pretty much already knew were there. But if you want to stay in a state of knowing everything, you have to refresh your memory every once in a while.

By all accounts, Imhotep was a pretty extraordinary man. He made such an impression on the Egyptians that they deified him a couple thousand years after he died as the God of Healing. Some modern scholars still argue that he is the father of medicine as we know it today.

But that stuff does not interest me, as it is a little dubious. What does interest me is the full list of Imhotep’s titles….

Chancellor of the King of Egypt, Doctor, First in line after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary Nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor and Maker of Vases in Chief.

Now if your knowledge of ancient Egypt is a little lacking, there are some things that might not jump out at you. For example, do you know what Heliopolis was? From Wikipedia……

As the capital of Egypt for a period of time, grain was stored in Heliopolis for the winter months, when many people would descend on the town to be fed, leading to it gaining the title place of bread.

Now Heliopolis is how you write out the name by today’s conventions. But in Biblical Hebrew, Heliopolis is called “On” (or at least that is how they transliterate it into English). If you don’t immediately recognize where “On” is mentioned in the Bible, think “Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On”.

Incidentally, in ancient Egypt Heliopolis was the center for the worship of Atum. Atum was at that time was seen as the creator God through whom all other things were created (Egyptians religious views fluctuated through time, but this seems to have been the prevailing understanding of Atum at the time of Imhotep).

And those are some random facts from a man who spends to much of his life reading (I blame my father).

Bits of Hilarity

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Today the news was just full of jokes. My sick sense of humor has been getting a real work out this evening.

Here is a joke that you might not have heard. Here is another one that you probably did hear.

But if you have as sick a sense of humor as I do, the fun is just getting started. Try saying the quote that leads off this post out loud and see if you can keep from laughing. If at first you don’t find it funny, try thinking about the implications of such a statement. Here is some more background info.

While we are on a role, it should be noted that Brant Hansen is always good for a laugh. The only problem with today’s post is that he pulls his punches and goes all PC at the end.

This one from a while back was a lot better. I did not realize at first that he was talking about a real service on offer.

A slightly more obscure source of fun comes from this letter. Hard as it may be to believe, Hertz was actually dumb enough to sue those people in open court. A better way of convincing the world that they are about to go bankrupt could not be found. Especially when their whole argument boils down to saying “6 months ago we were even more likely to go bankrupt then we are now.”

Believe it or not, I did not stay home today to collect all these bits of hilarity. Instead, I went to work even though I still don’t have my voice back and I still am coughing and hacking like a fool. But nobody threw rocks at me so all is well.

Expect for the fact that I am feeling a little crazy.


Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

I so badly wanted to comment on “pomocons, Freddie, and god.”

I rationalized this desire by telling myself that the comment section is badly missing the token ignorant religious fundamentalist and who better to fulfill that roll but me? The little boy in me is squealing “pick me, pick me.” I so badly want to get in the game.

But I did not for two reasons. The first one is that I don’t have the time. The second is that I have never failed to regret participating in a comment section. I take myself way too seriously to be a good commenter.

As it is, I wasted way too much time thinking about how I would reply to it. I was going to try to exorcise my mind and spew all those thoughts onto my own web site, but it turned out not be necessary. Since I did not have time to write my thoughts out during my productive hours, I had to sit down and try to write it out when I was dead tired. You would be amazed at how well the desire to go to bed can make your desire to toot your own horn go away.

Plus, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would have to spend a lot of time regurgitating things I had already articulated in The Aesthetic of Despair and Spinoza, Einstein, and the Failure of Reason. Why go through all that again?

I might still have given it a go if the parts that I was going regurgitate from those two essays were in any way germane to what Freddie said. The only reason I would need to regurgitate them was to establish where I was coming from. Whenever you need to go through that much work to establish where you are coming from, you have a lost cause already.

For those who are curious, my comments on “pomocons, Freddie, and god” would have run roughly like this….

As I see It, Freddie’s point is simple. There is no meaning/authority without God and yet a God you can choose has no meaning/authority. To these points I can only say Amen. But in the process of making these points, Freddie reveals flaws in his thought process that are just crying out to be addressed.

You see, Freddie is an Existentialist. In other words, he understands the failure of reason and at the same time he recognizes that truth exists. But Freddie succumbs to the arrogance of Nietzsche instead of sticking to the basic understanding that Kierkegaard expressed. That is to say, Kierkegaard saw the great chasm and understood that it was fundamental to the human condition. Nietzsche saw the great chasm and thought he was a prophet.

In other words, I see Freddie as setting up post-moderns as being some kind of Nietzschian type supermen. By setting up post moderns as being different from pre moderns, Freddie betrays the basic truth that underlies Existentialist positions and shuts himself off from fruitful lines of inquiry.

Of course I would have used a lot more words then that. Each one of those points is worth an essay all by its self if you really want to do it right. Also I was planning on working in a demonstration of the fact that Rod Dreher and Will Wilkinson’s positions are exactly the same from an Existentialist perspective. This would not really have been a critique of Freddie so much as a natural extension of his argument.

As such, it did not really fit in with the rest of my argument. But I liked the idea of demonstrating that two people who seemed to be on the opposite end of the spectrum were in fact demonstrating the exact same conception of authority and meaning. Maybe I will make a post on the subject someday when I have more time.

But I decided that for now, I needed my sleep more than the world needed my thoughts on Freddie’s post or the similarities between Rod Dreher and Will Wilkinson. Besides, as one of those de-evolved ignorant religious fundamentalists, I have better things to do then to help some godless atheist pick on those who believe in motherhood, apple pie, and, well, something.

Speaking of wasting thought, I was listening to Joel Dueck’s latest podcast, and I was struck by how perfectly he describes the reason that I never have any time in spite of not being that busy. In his case, he was talking about why he is not a good framing carpenter, but for me it is the story of my life.

The problem particularly bothers me when I am writing. I my mind is always skipping ahead to where I am going and never focusing on what I need to be writing at the time. It drives me nuts and makes it take far longer for me to write something then it should. But I can’t seem to stop myself.

Speaking of Joel Dueck’s podcast, I am so disgusted with myself for not guessing whose biography he was reading out of. In hind sight, it was so obvious to anyone with a half-way decent knowledge of American history. My only excuse is that I immediately thought of Samuel Johnson and this false trail used up quite a bit of time needed to come with the right answer. Once it became clear for various reasons that it could not be Samuel Johnson and that it had to be an American, my mind went blank and I could not think of another answer fast enough.

So know that you know that it has to be an American, why don’t you listen to and see if you can guess the right answer. I hope you fail. It will make me feel better.

Observations on a poem

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Every now and again, a poet will ask his audience for thoughts on his poem. This has always struck me as a vaguely indecent proposition. It’s rather as if someone stood before you fully clothed and asked for a commentary on their body. Technically all modesty is preserved, but it’s still a rather awkward request.

My feeling of awkwardness is further compounded by my dogmatic insistence that good poetry conveys something that is beyond the ability of prose. Naturally, I feel inadequate to talk about good poems with mere prose. And when I do talk about poetry with prose it almost seems like an implied insult.

This problem has a simple cure. I try to avoid answering all questions relating to a poem’s interpretation even if the questions come from the poets themselves.

But an occasion has arisen where such tactics will not suffice. In this case, the unfortunate occasion is Joel Dueck’s request for observations on a poem he wrote. Normally, I would ignore such a request for the reasons that I have already elaborated on. But this is not a normal situation.

For one thing, Joel Dueck’s poem was added to the august list of Poem of Week over at The Ethereal Voice. More to the point, a couple of the residents here in the Ethereal Land took Mr. Dueck up on his offer and sent him their observations. I happened to see these replies and as is my habit I offered up some criticism. This has created some pressure on me to put up or shut up, as it were.

Moreover, it was Mr. Dueck’s blog that inspired my essay site and indirectly this site as well. Before my brother showed me Mr. Dueck’s site, I did not believe that a blog could be anything other than useless drivel. But upon reading Mr. Dueck’s inspiring example, I ventured off to make a fool of myself with the rest of the blogging crowd. Given that, I think it would be churlish of me to ignore a simple request from the man.

Since I don’t intend to make a habit of voicing my thoughts on a particular poem to the world, I am going to turn this into a two for one deal. I figure that this would be a good time to explain how I approach a poem. I happen to suspect that there might be one or two people in my audience who are interested in knowing such things.

But enough blather. I have put my analysis of Mr. Dueck’s poem below the fold in order not to scare off those who have no interest in pondering poetry.

Poetry's religious function

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

So once again I continue my unbroken string of not completing a series. I ought to be putting up Revenge of the Invisible Hand Part II right about now. I did start on it, but time and tide have sidetracked me.

For those of you who care, that series has a better chance of being finished then most of my uncompleted series. Though you would never know it from the way I started out in Revenge of the Invisible Hand Part One, the series relates to my personal feelings of self pity over the last year or so. Since those particular feelings show no sign of going away in hurry, the impetus to finish the series is likely to remain.

But today I am going to put aside my personal “tragedy” and offer up my observations on poetry in general.

Now normally I don’t like writing out my thoughts on poems. Analyzing a poem in prose almost misses the point poetry. If prose can capture and explain a poem in detail then the poem is nothing more then a glorified cross word puzzle. Such a poem is an unnecessary act whose only function is to make its author feel sophisticated.

On the other hand, good poetry takes you places and shows you things that are beyond the power of prose. This is a hard thing to articulate. You know good poetry when you see it but how can you explain it?

Someone I know argues that good poetry is a type of prophecy. I understand what he is saying, but I think that this is a poor choice of words for this day and age. When you say the word prophecy everyone understands you to mean the foretelling of the future.

This is not what poetry is about. If I tell you that the sun is going to rise tomorrow, that is not poetry, even though it is a type of foretelling.

But if you think of prophecy as speaking for the gods as opposed to specifically foretelling the future, then the idea that good poetry is prophecy is pretty close to the mark. To put it another way, good poetry is the giving voice to the formless things that are beyond our understanding.

Sometimes this giving voice to those formless things can seem prophetic in the Old Testament sense. One thinks of William Butler Yeats famous poem “The Second Coming.”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

When you read that poem and remember that it was written in 1919 you cannot help but remember that Stalin and Hitler did come and set themselves up according to a messianic type. The remorseless beast did arrive in Bethlehem so to speak.

Yet if Yeats had simply predicted the rise of men like Stalin and Hitler it would not have been poetry. “The Second Coming” still has power because we recognize that the formless beast is still striving to be born.

But the “prophetic” nature of most good poetry is not as evident as it is in Yeats poetry. Take Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night” as an example…

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Now most people would not think of the above poem as being “prophetic” in any sense of the word. But then, most people do not seem to have a very good understanding of “Do not go gentle into that good night.” This quote from Wikipedia is sadly typical….

Thomas addresses wise men, good men, wild men, and grave, or serious, somber men all with the same message to pursue their passions even in the face of their mortality and impending death. The message is not to let your passions be compromised. However, we are subtly reminded throughout that their rage will be ineffectual in the face of death. It is one of his most popular, most easily accessible poems, and implies that one shouldn’t die without giving death a battle or fighting for your life.

What this quote from Wikipedia and many other analysis of this poem miss is what Dylan is referring to when he says “Do not go gentle into the good night.” It simply amazes me that people can read that line and think that Dylan is simply telling people to try to battle death and stay alive.

To me, it seems obvious that Dylan’s phrase “going gentle into the good night” is referring to the ideal of peace in death that most Christians hold. After all, Dylan grew up in conservatively religious rural town in Wales. In such an environment, you would be expected to face death calmly and profess that you were ready for it. To rage against death in the way that Dylan demands would be to rage against all the values that such a community held dear.

Dylan is not up holding his rage as something will help you live longer. Nor is he giving you some kind of pap about how life is good and you should cherish it. Instead, he is holding up his rage as something that is better then the peace of those who go gentle into the night. In other words, Dylan is not writing out a prescription to help you live longer, he is writing out a moral imperative.

Once you understand what Dylan saw as the alternative to his rage and how his poem is demanding obedience to a moral imperative, you can how his poem is “prophetic.” Not prophetic in the sense of foretelling the future, but prophetic as in speaking the word of his “god” to an unbelieving people.

I have been stressing the “religious” nature of good poems in spite of my ambivalence over the use of such terminology. Such terminology can all too easily become a barrier to communication. But it can’t be helped. True art and religious thought are twins that can never be separated. So it is hard to talk seriously about one without talking about the other.

These two subjects can never be separated because the core of both “art” and “religion” revolve around the subject of meaning. You can not prove that this is meaningful or that this is not. Yet your understanding of what is meaningful and what is not meaningful governs how you live.

What gives your life meaning is your “god” regardless of whether you profess to believe in one or not. The meaning you attach to things reveals what your “god” is like no matter who you profess to believe in or what you say he is like. We get so hung up on names that we neglect the reality of people’s actions.

Put it another way, there is no gulf between the gods of the pagan Norse of long ago and the gods of Dylan Thomas. Both the Norse pagans and Dylan Thomas had a conception of what was meaningful that is almost indistinguishable. To argue that Dylan Thomas was an atheist while the Norse were polytheistic is to get hung up on meaningless words. The sprit that speaks through them both is the same even if the words are different.

That is not to say that all good poetry accomplishes the same “religious” function. More importantly, it does not mean that all poets attribute the same meaning to things. In other words, good poets can have completely different “religions.” But if you hold that good poetry is meaningful, then you should acknowledge that good poetry is in some sense “religious”.

As people who have followed my writings know, I believe that everyone is “religious.” To use a more commonly accepted philosophical terms, I believe that “existential” issues governs our reasoning process. To my mind, there is no such thing as a man whose core beliefs have been derived by reason. Rather, what man can reason is limited by his beliefs.

This is why I have been making a big deal about the “religious” function that poetry serves. To my mind, good poetry deals with the existential issues that shape how we can reason. Thus, I feel that good poetry provides a truer view into why people believe what they believe then a well reasoned polemics.

But that raises the question: If good poetry is the exploration of the existential issues that govern our thoughts, how can we understand poetry that comes from a “religious” (or existential if you prefer) starting point that differs from our own? But that question will have to wait for another day. I am already running out of time.

Young male economic participation, existential questions, and the failure of the social sciences

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

Why should we bother to exist? What gives life meaning? Why shouldn’t we all just give up and go off into that good night?

I doubt that you want to hear my answers to those questions. And frankly, I am not at all sure that I would be edified to hear your answers to those questions. But in spite of our reluctance to talk about such existential issues, we should always remember that those questions are foundational to the social sciences. To forget this is to render the social sciences worthless.

In the past, such a reminder would not have been necessary. To even raise the issue would have had all the relevance of pointing out that the sky was blue. After all, most of originators of the social sciences were philosophers who dealt with existential issues as a matter of course. For example, Adam Smith wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments as well as An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

But these days it seems that the social sciences would rather forget the existential questions. They envy their comrades over in the hard sciences. They want to spell out the laws that govern men with same precision that the physicists have when they lay out the laws that govern rocks.

It is only natural, then, that the social sciences would seek to emulate the way that the hard sciences ignore the existential questions. After all, it would be kind of silly for a physicist to explore the purpose of a rock’s existence. A physicist can never answer such a question. Thus, pondering such questions would only distract the physicist from the questions that they can answer.

Similarly, a social scientist cannot really answer the question “what is the purpose of human life” with a scientific answer. Hence, any social scientist who desires to be “scientific” will seek to avoid dealing with those questions.

The problem is that people are not like rocks. They can ask “To be or not to be?” The answer they give to that question has profound implications for how they behave. Those changes will not be predicted or understood by theories that assume that peoples’ answers to existential questions remains constant amongst all people and all cultures at all times.

It is not healthy to be a vegan.

Monday, May 21st, 2007

All of us barbarians here in the ethereal land are down on vegan’s for a variety of reasons. But their fundamental problem is that they are not connected to reality. This from the New York Times….

When Crown Shakur died of starvation, he was 6 weeks old and weighed 3.5 pounds. His vegan parents, who fed him mainly soy milk and apple juice, were convicted in Atlanta recently of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty.

This particular calamity — at least the third such conviction of vegan parents in four years — may be largely due to ignorance. But it should prompt frank discussion about nutrition.

Now I think that it is unfair that Crown’s parents were convicted of murder and cruelty. At best, I can see involuntary manslaughter.

I mean, if they had gone back 6 weeks in time and diced Crown up while he was still in the womb their right to do so would have been protected as a matter of law. How come people are entitled to their own opinions on when life starts but not on the morality of eating meat?

The fundamental fact is that the Vegan diet is not particularly healthy. Even the Vegan Groups admit that you have to take supplements to make it work. But that does not mean that Crown’s parents should have got a life sentence.

Better dead then red?

Friday, May 4th, 2007

From time to time I read blogs such as The Gates of Vienna and The Brussels Journal that are devoted to the “coming culture clash between Moslems and the West.” I go to these blogs because sometimes they alert me to interesting stories and issues that I would otherwise miss. Yet they always leave me feeling profoundly troubled.

It is not that I find anything wrong with the idea of worrying about a culture clash. Throughout history, most of the worst clashes have come from having two different cultures in close proximity to each other. So I don’t think that it is unreasonable to be concerned about a growing Moslem subculture in Europe or to worry about the effects on global stability of a growing Moslem demographic. Wars are made of such things.

To be sure, it is not a foregone conclusion that there will be troubles because of these things. As the Turks proved with their Janissaries, there is nothing stopping blond, blue-eyed boys from becoming warriors for the Turkish culture. By the same token, there is nothing stopping Turks or Arabs from adopting western values.

But can and will are two different things. Many people have lived for a long time in the company of other cultures and never lost their hate for each other. One thinks of the former Yugoslavia, one thinks of northern Ireland; one even thinks on how African-Americans have been in this country for over 200 years and we still have racial problems. I bring these points simply to note that just because you throw people together does not necessarily mean that they will get along.

That should be obvious, but many people seem to take it as a given that immigrants to Europe will adopt western values. I think we can safely say that on present evidence that remains to be proven.

All the preceding was just to say that it is not the fears of The Gates of Vienna and others of that ilk that disturb me. Rather it is their solutions that worry me. They seem to be willing to do anything to make sure that the west “wins” any and all future clashes.

Now traditionally, American conservatives have looked down on those who were willing to do anything in order to live. If you have nothing for which you would die you have nothing to live for and all that. To a certain degree, this belief carried over to their views on how society should behave. They believed that it was better for western society to risk annihilation then for it to risk falling under communist dominion. For them it was “better dead than red.”

Those conservatives who are worried about the Moslem hordes seem to have a similar ethic. For them, everything is on the table to ensure the survival of western culture except surrender.

But to my mind, this raises a question; what does the survival of western culture mean? Does it only mean keeping places where white people are in the majority from being overrun by dark-skinned dudes? Or does it mean upholding certain values?

It seems to me that if trying to insure the survival of western culture means upholding certain values, than there are some things you cannot do even for survival’s sake– assuming that you truly hold that it is better to die than to lose western culture, of course.

For example, if it became necessary to raise up Hitler to save western culture, can you truly claim to be saving western values? At best you are preserving your language and your skin color. Are those things really worth doing anything for?

Whenever I hear people saying that we need to do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of our culture, I hear people announcing their allegiance to the god “Volk“. How is he any better than Allah?

I always want to ask these questions on Gates of Vienna and the other such sites but I don’t. It never seems like a post comes along where I can ask those question without seeming like a troll. But I can never go to those types of sites without thinking them in my head.

A Devastating Critique

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Nobody can hurt you like somebody who knows you. J. Dueck recent post called “Dia Gnosis” is a hand’s on demonstration of that truth.

J. Dueck purpose is to call attention to a common flaw in American Christianity (primarily of the evangelical variety). His form is that of a biblical parable. The result is a devastating critique of American Christianity that fits into three paragraphs.

I would like to note that there is a little bit of word play going on with title. As it stands, the title is means Separate Knowledge. But if you put both words together it forms the English word diagnosis. I think that Dueck has both meanings in mind.

I also wonder if he is trying to call to mind the Gnostics, but that might be over thinking it on my part.