Thursday, September 28, 2006

Book bargains are wonderful!

Two recent trips to McNally have resulted in the following:

The Borrowers Afloat, The Borrowers Aloft, The Borrowers Avenged - all for just $3 each, thus completing my collection of the series

The Cider House Rules by John Irving ($7 - I like Irving even though he seems to incorporate the same odditities into each of his books over and over again, leading me to conclude that he has a serious fascination with prostitutes - particularly those from the Red Light District in Amsterdam; but he does write about other things and he's a very good story teller.)

The Sad Truth About Happiness by Anne Giardini ($7 - this was my risky purchase as I know nothing about the book)

The Knight by Gene Wolfe ($7)

Dragon's Blood by Jane Yolen ($4 - another risky purchase; I mistook it for a book that I'd read and loved back in junior high; sadly, this is not the book I was thinking of nor did I find it at all intriguing when I picked it up last night and attempted to get into it. It seems Jane Yolen is a hit-and-miss author at best and in my experience usually a miss.)

* * *

Conversation with the bookstore guy (B.G.) when I went to pay for The Borrowers Avenged and Gene Wolfe's The Knight:

B.G. "Oh, Gene Wolfe! He's great."

Me: "Yep, I know! My favorite by him is... the Long Sun... no, wait the New Sun... well, whichever one has Severian in it."

B.G. "I don't think I've read that one..."

Me: "Have you read this one?" [pointing to The Knight]

B.G. "Oh, yeah!"

Me: "And is it... fairly comprehensible?" [laughing]

B.G. "Well, you know Gene Wolfe - every sentence he writes is deep." [Pause] "Its definitely not a beach read."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Schwarzenegger signs landmark global warming bill

"We will create a whole new industry that will pump up our economy."

(Of course, I'd be all over that statement if it wasn't such happy news! Especially in contrast to this - argh!)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Who knew?

Evolution isn't incompatible with faith; human goodness is a result of natural selection; atheists are drastically outnumbered. All this and more in...

The New Naysayers

Atheists "are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public," according to a study by Penny Edgell, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota. In a recent NEWSWEEK Poll, Americans said they believed in God by a margin of 92 to 6—only 2 percent answered "don't know"—and only 37 percent said they'd be willing to vote for an atheist for president. (That's down from 49 percent in a 1999 Gallup poll—which also found that more Americans would vote for a homosexual than an atheist.) It is funny how atheists can cause such a fuss and yet be such a minority.

But its actually one of the responses to the article above that I find more interesting (or at least arguable) then the article itself....

Wordverter airs his grievances on atheist thinkers - here

(And, to make much sense of anything further past this point you'll probably want to go and read what he has to say first.)

Now, how to word this...

Let's just say I find it... funny when Christians (usually of the more liberal/moderate/academic sort [is that too wide a generalization?]) grow annoyed at the idea of anyone taking what the Bible has to say - heaven forbid - literally.

Its true that some books, not just the Bible, can be read on many levels and literalism is not the only way to interpret a text.

However, when most of us first pick up a text, the first time we read it we usually assume we should be reading it literally. Reading for symbolism or figurative meaning, etc - that comes later, usually after at least one read in which you (correctly or incorrectly) assume literalism.

And so when Wordverter says that choosing to take the Bible in a literal way "doesn't speak well" for Harris - he seems to be implying that no educated/informed(?) individual would read the Bible and do so. I'm not sure what that goes to say about a great many Christians who do accept the Bible's literalism, but I've grown to wonder why a book like the Bible is thought of by so many to require the assistance of numerous manuals just to be understood.

The fact of the matter is that the Bible is a... I'll just go with the word "mysterious"... a mysterious book that can be (mis)understood on any number of figurative or literal levels.

Because divine inspiration or not, its just not the most easily comprehensible book in the world.

Which is why so many different Christian denominations exist.

Which is why so many Christian academics exist - all with their different interpretations and translations.

Back to the point.

The point was - can you really pick on an atheist for taking the Bible... literally?

Moving right along...

Wordverter comments:

The same questions are posed [by the atheists in the article]. If there's a God, how can there be evil in the world? [Italics mine] Really, this question presupposes a lot; it's a loaded question, in fact, which is why I dislike it. Presumably God would not allow disasters, either natural or man-made, because He's so gosh-darn good. But because these do occur - well, how could there be a God? So goes the reasoning.

Well, actually that wasn't the question. What Harris asked was: "How can anyone believe in a
benevolent and omnipotent God who permits a tsunami to swallow 180,000 innocent people in a few hours?" (pg. 1, par. 4)

I personally think it's a reasonable question and I would think even the most stalwart believer must wonder about it at some point in their lives - particularly in the face of mass tragedy.

For Christians are told that "God is love" and takes no delight in evil and injustice. And yet still they exist all around us. Many (or most, should I say?) Christians take comfort in Christ and a Biblical promise that suffering and injustice are temporary.

But is it so impossible to accept that not everyone can find such comfort in the Christian ideal of Christ dying for our sins and redeeming us? Some cannot reconcile the idea of a loving god with ongoing human misery. Perhaps its just a trait of we imperfect humans to want instant solutions (and really this debate goes back as far as the Garden of Eden, doesn't it?), but just as Harris said - the idea of a loving, all-powerful god (which Wordverter himself may
not believe in but which many, many do) allowing humanity to suffer for whatever reason is abhorrent and unbelievable to some.

Wordverter goes on to give an illust
ration of a human parent, who possesses greater wisdom and foresight then their child and then says:
Now, if it's so easy to understand that fact, why isn't it so easy to see it in religious thinking? Maybe God knows something we don't? - what a concept! Maybe God doesn't have to play by our rules. Indeed, why should He? I'm not saying I can sit back and cheerfully watch all the hell on earth around us today, like some Dr. Pangloss, only that the combined intellect of those atheists - the combined intellect of the human species, for that matter - is pretty paltry when held up against the wisdom of God.
Of course its easy to see it in religious thinking.

But speaking of presupposing, this confidence in god's greater wisdom, greater knowledge, greater intelligence, etc. - all of these are suppositions based on faith.

Faith in a god that agnostics and atheists don't believe in. Faith grounded in a book that they see no reason to put any trust in. And so you can use the illustration of a wise parent all you like - its not going to sink in as anything more then a trite analogy that just doesn't make sense to some who are looking for a more satisfying answer then "Father knows best."

With that in mind should it really come as any surprise that Harris can acknowledge religious faith and belief but cannot understand it?

And here is where I start to wonder whether there is any point in addressing any of Wordverters' remarks because he, we, and the atheists are all coming from such different places. *

And as the wise Conciliator recently commented:
I'm not sure if ANY two people whose presuppositions differ can ever find a common reasoning ground! Isn't that one of the insights of postmodernism?
Wordverter himself has caught on to almost the same idea when he says in frustration...
What we find here, then, is a position that is unassailable - unbeatable because it refuses to fight. Walled itself up in its own circle of logic, it is impenetrable. Kind of like conspiracy theories.
... except that what he seems to forget is that the same can be said for both sides.

Both sides refuse to accept what the other holds as unassailable fact - and so how can there be understanding?

(No, really, I want to know. I'm taking Conflict Resolution this year and any attempts at an answer would be interesting. [smile])

As for the rest of Wordverter's post - I'm not going to bother with most of it as (I think) it really comes down to a matter of personal opinion (e.g. "What I find most striking about the so-called debate is how much religious thinkers have developed over the years, and how little the atheists have come along.")

However, I do want to respond to this one last comment:
I get the feeling that most arguments against the validity of the Bible come from people who are very uninformed about the Good Book, reading it selectively, partially, or not at all.
Speaking of tiresome conclusions, this is one I'm sure growing tired of - this somewhat arrogant assumption that anyone who misunderstands or chooses not to accept the Bible has simply never read it before. Or if they have read it, there comes the more insulting insinuation that they must have misunderstood it. Or read it with severe bias. Or any other number of things.

The point is, there exist individuals who have indeed read the "Good Book" cover to cover* and while they may have been intrigued and impressed by it as a marvelous work of some historicity and not a little literary worth, have not been moved to the point of faith or conversion.

I sure would be curious as to how many of those who identify themselves as Christians have read the Bible in full.

Because just going on what I remember from my earnest preaching days, I could make the (equally unfounded?) statement that what most Christians know of the Bible is acquired solely from sermon.

However, I won't make that statement because while it might be quite accurate, I can still hold out hope that it is not.

In summation, I agree with Wordverter (*gasp*) that there were some highly annoying parts to that MSNBC article.*

  • Harris' condescending statement "Tell a devout Christian... that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever."
  • Harris' (almost hopeful sounding) comment that "many readers will expect, or hope, to see him burning in hell." (As well as his hilarious request that "the name of his current university not be publicized" for his own protection.)
  • Dawkin's belief that "the impulse for generosity must have evolved while humans lived in small bands in which almost everyone was related, so that goodness became the default human aspiration."

* Even for my personal satisfaction, I mean. Ha.
* Of which I am proudly one.
* Which, in typical media fashion, ultimately takes no position whatsover but instead plays each side off the other, eschewing any attempt at harmonious relations, and instead glorifying happily in "highly inflammatory material."

God's World

by Edna St Vincent Millay

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this:
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.
Airport Oversecurity

How to get kicked off an airplane....

1 - Wear a shirt with Arabic writing on it

2 - Pray

3 - Read Harry Potter

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

And now for a fantastically written review of Sarah Polley's new movie which is based on a short story by Alice Munro...*

“The idea that you can be a sexual being past the age of 45 is something we don’t deal with in cinema,” says Polley. “And we don’t do devotion, either — what it looks like in a real way, as opposed to a Hollywood version."
Sarah Polley discusses her moving directorial debut, Away From Her

*I wanted to throw in some endorsements here - for Sarah's movies in general but My Life Without Me in particular; but I'm feeling very lazy & incoherent today so elaboration will have to wait. *yawn*

Monday, September 11, 2006

Just to keep track of things...

Eve has responded to my earlier post (which touched on original sin and homosexuality) on her blog - here.

As always, its an interesting read but part of it tells me we are still not on the same page (understanding-wise).

Or actually, maybe we are, because when Eve says...
"In order to figure out if something is okay to do, you can't just ask whether people who seem like good upstanding citizens (according to some culture or subculture's definition of "good"!) want to do it."
... I am in agreement.

However, the fact that Eve thinks that I would disagree with the logic in that statement tells me I haven't presented my thoughts as clearly as I would like.

But that's okay; this is a good challenge for me as I often spew out ideas without thinking them through clearly enough. (Zip it, Elliot!)

So, it may take me a few days but I plan on writing a post that 1) goes back to the original question I had asked on Elliot's blog * (which may seem like an annoying repetition but isn't meant to be as I really don't think its been fully answered; however, I am also willing to accept that it may never be) and 2) clarifies my position on why I am... pro-gay.

I may also delve into the question of whether or not a Christian and a non-Christian can ever truly find a common reasoning ground but that may be a topic that is over my head! :P

*Anactoria said...

Her position has always really disturbed me.

Does her choice of inaction mean that she believes god would condemn any action on her part towards her lesbian desires? Since her sexuality is part of her, like it or not, does that mean she abhors a part of herself? Or believes that god does?

Its funny. How can someone be a prolific, well loved, innovative author and yet be such a very bad writer?

I've been reading Foundation by Isaac Asimov and though I went in with high hopes and great expectations I'm ending up disappointed.

As with everything I've read so far by Aismov, the concept is an very interesting one and the plot has many witty twists and turns but the execution of it all is carried out so poorly that the ideas which should be captivating, instead end up being dull when read.

Asimov's writing puts me in mind of cold steel, uncomfortable medical procedures, and stern faces...

I suppose I'm saying his writing is to me... robotic.

Lifeless. Lacking in warmth.

Also, where are the women???

I'm 25 pages from the conclusion of the first Foundation book and with every chapter a new cast of characters arrive (since the book transitions from generation to generation) but of those, all have been men!*

How can you write an entire book without a single woman character? Not even the wife of a main character or a secretary!*

* * *

"In 1940, Asimov's humans were stripped-down masculine portraits of Americans from 1940, and they still are. His robots were tin cans with speedlines like an old Studebaker, and still are; the Robot tales depended on an increasingly unworkable distinction between movable and unmovable artificial intelligences, and still do. In the Asimov universe, because it was conceived a long time ago, and because its author abhors confusion, there are no computers whose impact is worth noting, no social complexities, no genetic engineering, aliens, arcologies, multiverses, clones, sin or sex; his heroes... feel no pressure of information, raw or cooked, as the simplest of us do today; they suffer no deformation from the winds of the Asimov future, because it is so deeply and strikingly orderly."

(from the 1985 Washington Post)

*Actually, since writing this a woman has appeared for all of three paragraphs. She is simpering and silly, the trophy wife of a monarch. She does nothing for the plot.
*And the same men! Different names but the same men - simply reincarnated over and over with different positions and labels but the same attitudes and manner of speaking.
(Of course, since this is the Foundation series we're talking about I guess it could be argued that Asimov did this on purpose to show how his whole psychohistory theory can be played out over a milennia. Strong, similar leaders arise from every generation, shaping history as predicted by Hari Seldon.)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

"It ain't no sin if y'all truly love each other. "

Rogue - the (lapsed) Southern Baptist?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Something old and something new...

An older, excellent post (one of my all time favorites) from Rose and Rock on whether who one desires is a matter of choice (relating to homosexuality)

I particularly like this thought and there really will have to be some kind of a post here on bisexuality soon (if you're reading, do please read the entire R&R post so as to get the full context):

"Sexuality is so complicated that I think we have to concede that desire exists along a continuum, when we speak of what is given to us; what we actually have control over is a much smaller continuum. If you’re like me, you desire women; if you’re gay, you desire people of the same sex; if you’re bisexual, you desire both and can “choose” one or the other; but all of us find it exceptionally difficult, perhaps even impossible, to change what we discover early on in life, so long as we’ve been open to its discovery and not repressing it. A bisexual person can choose to have sex with only one gender, but cannot choose to desire only one gender, and can make a “choice” in behavior only because restricting your sexual appetite to one gender does not force you into celibacy."

I also like R&R's use of this Aquinas quote:

"First, the truth of Scripture must be held inviolable. Secondly, when there are different ways of explaining a Scriptural text, no particular explanation should be held so rigidly that, if convincing arguments show it to be false, anyone dare to insist that it still is the definitive sense of the text. Otherwise unbelievers will scorn Sacred Scripture, and the way to faith will be closed to them."

And as for the 'something new'...

"Sex is powerful, sex is important, sex is profound, sex matters": from Noli Irritare Leones

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it,
and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking successive autumns.
George Eliot

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one autumnal face.
John Donne