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My schedule for the remainder of the afternoon:

3:10: Click "Post & Publish."
3:15: Publishing complete. Click "view web page."
3:17: New window appears on screen.
3:22: Blog finishes loading in new window.
3:23: Click on Outlook in taskbar.
3:26: Outlook comes to the front. Click "Send/Receive."
3:28: Send/Receieve box appears on screen.
3:37: New mail received.
3:39: Send/Receive box disappears.
3:41: Screen refreshes to show new mail. Click on one message.
3:45: Window for new message appears on screen.
3:47: New message visible in window. It's a person who wants to subscribe. Click to close window.
3:50: Message window gone. Drag message over to "subscribers" folder.
3:51: Cursor actually moves.
3:55: Message moves into "subscribers" folder.
3:57: Screen refreshes to show new mail, minus the subscriber message. Click on next message.
4:00: New window opens.
4:03: Message opens in new window. It's from the guy who has the theory about the dinosaurs being killed by a reversal of the Earth's magnetic field.
4:04: Pick up lamp.
4:05: Insert lamp into computer screen.
4:06: Call the helpline: "I'm sorry, but I think I may need a new computer."



Whenever I read the news in Spanish, I always wind up reading the story about the Pope.
So here we are at the new address, with the new look. I've moved all my stuff from my personal site (well, most of it -- I'm not used to having a memory space restriction) over to brunchma. If any of the links aren't working, let me know.


The Importance Of Speaking English

The Brown County Board of Supervisors in Green Bay, Wis., home of the Packers, has declared English as the official language of government.

There are many ways to look at the same thing, and our land is famous for the freedom of doing so. Alas, the right to free speech does not come with guarantees of rational thought, or even the assumption that people will necessarily speak the truth.

Jodi Wilgoren, writing in the New York Times, and Karl Txajkaug Thoj, director of the Hmong Association of Green Bay, are competing for my "Most Inappropriate Response" prize this week. "The movement [adopting English as the official language] has gained strength in recent years as part of a backlash against growing numbers of immigrants," writes Miss Wilgoren....

...Instantly prohibited [when first the Nazis, then the Communists, took over his native Hungary] was any contact with the English-speaking world. Listening to an English-speaking broadcast would land one in jail more certainly than serious civil crime. Target practice from age 14 upward meant shooting at images of the current American president.

"If their chief enemy is the same," I reasoned, "then their underlying philosophy must be the same." Thus the conventional wisdom of Nazis on the Right, communists on the Left, and America in the middle was rather short-lived for someone of my experience. More realistic was the image of Nazis and communists on one side, the English-speaking world on the other...

...If properly examined, it will become clear the purpose is not to "make life easier for immigrants." Nor is the purpose "diversity." The purpose is to do away with the powerful concepts that English, and English alone, transmits across generations, across the globe. No other language, certainly not Spanish -- the primary weapon in this battle -- can imbue a person with a sense of fairness, because no other language has that word. It's impossible to translate legal concepts such as "reasonable doubt," or "unreasonable searches and seizures," because it never occurred to possessors of power in the countries from which we immigrants come to behave reasonably.

So the people defending the status quo (i.e., no official language) are the ones who want to fundamentally alter the nature of America. And because the Communists and Nazis didn't like English speaking countries (seeing as neither the US or UK was ever communist or nazi), therefore everyone should speak English. And allowing people to speak non-English languages is actually an insidious way of introducing newspeak that makes them unable to express free and democratic ideas. I think this guy needs to stick to being a concert pianist.


Lawyers Fight Over Homer's Intellectual Property

Homer Simpson, the benign patriarch of the best-known animated family in the world, has become the centre of a censorship dispute between Rupert Murdoch's television company, Fox, and counter-culture comedian and writer Paul Krassner.

Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer on The Simpsons, performed an introduction for Krassner on a live comedy album, Irony Lives. In Homer's voice, Castellaneta said his only problem with Krassner was that he was an atheist. He asked: "If there is no God, then who has placed a pox on me and mocks me every day?"

But Fox's lawyers stepped in and insisted that Homer's voice is part of their intellectual property. After requesting copies of the CD they denied permission for its use.


I'm starting to think that writing the Bible down was one of the worst things that ever happened to Christianity.

The problem is the concept of scripture. To say that the Bible is scripture means that it is a complete and perfect record of truth. The text becomes authoritative in and of itself. This tends to create a sort of absoultism, the idea that there is one correct Christianity. The text has a meaning, that can be discovered by careful attention to every detail of wording (since everything, down to the smallest preposition, is there for a reason). The authenticity of the version being used becomes paramount, and conflicts over disputed verses revolve around whether the verses are "supposed" to be there. Obviously, this phenomenon of absolutism and authenticity is not solely a product of making the Bible a fixed text (and it would be hypocritical of me to suggest that). But it is an illustration of a problematic trend.

Contrast this with "living" traditions, whether they be "traditional" oral traditions like the body of Navajo myths, or scriptureless religions like neo-paganism. These religions provide their practicioners with a common vocabulary, shared reference points that can be used to frame ideas and expressions of truth or religious experience. Norse bards, for example, did not aim to recite myths word-for-word from memory, but rather to creatively shape the familiar outlines of a story into a new and interesting form, embodying morals appropriate to the situation and the audience.

Christianity is very malleable, too. While it has influenced centuries of Western thought, it has also been used by various movements. Much of what has been done through history in the name of religion was done simply "in the name of" -- not "because of," or "due to," but "justified by reference to." But despite this history, Christianity operates with the assumption that the practicioner's version is the "real" one that all others ought to be like -- hence the ironic situation of evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses expressing very diverse theologies but all claiming to be living as the first apostles did.

This attitude of authenticity has spilled over into non-Christian religions in the West as well. For example, there is a current in neo-paganism that stakes the religion's claim to validity on its roots being older than Christianity, that today's neo-pagans worship just the way people thousands of years ago in pre-Christian Europe worshipped. And those inspired by Eastern religions will sometimes assert that these traditions have retained a purer version of the original religion that was corrupted in Christianity.

Seeing Christianity as having one, unchangeable message has led to it being written off. Ever since Lynn White's charge that Christianity is the culprit in the modern ecological crisis, various ecological and feminist theories have written Christianity off as patriarchial, dominating, and otherwise unsuitable for today's reality. These types of charges partake of the idea of an "essential" Christianity, the idea that any other form of Christianity is ignoring parts of or distorting the "real" message. For example, a lecturer last semester was discussing a passage in one of St. Paul's epistles (I don't recall specifically where) that, while on the surface homophobic, had been re-interpreted by some in the queer community as empowering. She explained that her textual analysis showed that the real message of the passage was unfortunately homophobic, and therefore "revisionist" reinterpretations were just denials of the underlying homophobia of Christianity. While she may have been correct in ascertaining what St. Paul meant when he wrote the words that are in today's Bibles, it is the idea of scripture that led her to believe that the "real" interpretation is the only one that can be used.

This is not to say that all religions are infinitely malleable, or that any religious tradition works as good as any other in any personal and social context. And it is not to say that non-Christian religion is unnecessary or that non-Christians should "come back" and work within the Christian tradition instead of leaving it. I'm just raising these thoughts because in many contexts I've encountered criticisms of Christianity that suggest that the religion is one thing, and that thing is outdated or dangerous. Any attempt to find an ecological Christianity, for example, is seen as forcing the tradition to be something it's not -- using a screwdriver to pound in nails, so to speak. There is an assumption there that an outsider can define the tradition and state its limits, which is only possible if the tradition has one authoritative and universal identity.
Did You Know? Angelfire and Webmonkey are teaming up against us ...


Honey, They Shrunk My Penis

A Malaysian man has claimed that a treatment for hiccups left him partially deaf in one ear, damaged his throat and shortened his penis, a news report said today.

Chong Wee Ken, 38, told The Star daily he had sought treatment at a hospital on April 24 for hiccups, and was put on an intravenous drip and oral medication.

"After two days, my left ear started to turn red and my throat started to hurt. When I asked the doctor, he said I had shingles and told me to continue with the medication.

"I also discovered that my penis had become shorter because of all this," he said.

We can only hope he has a Hotmail account.
In light of the fact that I will (theoretically) soon be kicked off of, I have registered myself a more permanent account at Sometime in the very near future (hopefully Monday) I will be moving debitage over to its new location, And in honor of the move, I've done a redesign. Take a look and let me know what you think. I've taken a couple screen shots of how it's supposed to look. I'd appreciate any comments, no matter how nitpicky, about anything that is a) different from how it ought to be, or b) correct but ugly. The index page that is currently on brunchma just has one post of placeholder text at the moment, and I haven't done anything to the archive, about, or best of pages as of this post. But the links to other blogs should be working. The light patch behind the second placeholder paragraph is the equivalent of the lighter gray I've been using behind quotes from news stories and other sources.


Danielson's Third Law:

The amount of time a website spends declaring that it is for "free thinkers" is directly proportional to the rigidity of the ideology it is advancing.


Network Of Waterways Traced To Ancient Florida Culture

The casual visitor to this small rural community about 15 miles west of Lake Okeechobee might barely notice the broad indentations that run for seven miles from a cluster of oak-shaded mounds through scrub pine and palmetto to the Caloosahatchee River.

But to archaeologists they are monuments to prodigious engineering skill and hard work — canals that enabled Indians to travel between Lake Okeechobee and the Gulf of Mexico.

Around A.D. 250, Indians inhabiting this area began digging the canals by hand, using wooden and shell tools to create waterways 20 feet wide and 3 to 4 feet deep, said Robert Carr, the Florida archaeologist who directs excavations at the site.

Their goal was not to drain or irrigate land, Mr. Carr said, but to create a waterway to bring dugout canoes to their village, a mile north of the Caloosahatchee. The canals also allowed paddlers to bypass rapids roiling the river.

Archaeohydrology is cool. Every time I think about what I might do for my dissertation, I assume it's something ethnographic -- talking to actual people. I forget that there's so much great archaeology out there.


I'm wondering if I ought to create a second blog to hold some of this theology that I've been posting recently. I feel like it's taking debitage away from its old identity as a place for personal reflection and experiences mixed with commentary on the news. And I wonder how much most people really care about long-winded Christian ramblings. But on the other hand, I feel like making the theology too separate and official puts too much pressure on me to make it polished and systematic, rather than spontaneous. And I wonder if I'd be able to get back into it after hitting a plateau (as I'm sure I will eventually). So, I'm still thinking about it.
In St. Augustine's Confessions, he spends some time trying to imagine what the earth was like in Genesis 1:1, when it was "formless." His attempts center on the idea that formlessness is somehow between non-existence and form. Ultimately, he gives up on trying to picture formlessness, but I think he was on the right track for understanding it. Formlessness in the sense that it's used in Genesis (not the colloquial "formless" that means its form simply doesn't fit any pattern or shape we're familiar with) is, for all intents and purposes, nothingness. Form is a pattern of connectedness, a scheme that establishes relations between parts. Without relationship to anything, they might as well not exist. I'm reminded here of the "invisible, intangible unicorns in your garage" analogy that people sometimes use to disprove God. Essentially, the argument is that if you can't sense it or determine its existence in any way (and we would assume that in addition to being unable to be directly sensed, these unicorns don't scare cats or paint graffiti or do anything else to connect themselves to our world and thereby make their presence known), its existence is profoundly irrelevant. It might as well not exist. This is what is suggested by Genesis's statement that the world was dark -- inaccessible to our senses.

What God did in creating was not so much to bring something out of nothing, but to connect the formless "stuff" into form. Its existence became relevant because it could interact, it had relationships between parts. (I'm tempted here to make an analogy with electrons that can be understood only as fields of potentiality, until interaction with something else forces them to take on a definite position and motion -- but we've already established that my grasp of particle physics leaves a lot to be desired.)

I think the shift from "something from nothing" to "relevance out of irrelevance" makes God's act of creation more closely parallel what we know of creation since the Beginning. In art (for example), nobody ever creates something new, an idea out of nowhere. What true creativity consists in is making new connections. "Love is like a rose" is not creative, because it's a connection that's been made so many times it's become a cliche. But "Love is like an aardvark" is potentially much more creative, if it can be substantiated (otherwise the connection is uselessly weak).


Maybe it's just because I grew up in valleys, but I find the open ocean more claustrophobic than being surrounded by mountains.

It's hard to set aside the notion that the earth is more or less flat. Even if you know that the earth is technically round, that roundness is so huge that you can treat the world immediately around you as more or less flat. This illusion is even easier to maintain when there are mountains on all sides of you. You don't have to confront the fact of the earth's curvature because the horizon is blocked by a big mass of rock. You can conceive of the world stretching out flatly beyond the mountain, invisible only because the mountain is opaque.

But on the ocean, the horizon is an obvious fact on all sides of you. The sea seems to come to an end, an edge, running flatly out to a measurable distance and then stopping. You seem to be circumscribed by this edge, left without the fiction that the world would keep going if only you could see through mountains.
The symbolism of fire in the Bible is interesting, taken in light of what fire ecology tells us about fire.

Fire plays a key role in ecosystems such as Australia's. Though it kills plants, their long-term survival as a species depends on fire. Fire takes plant growth -- a highly structured biological creation -- and breaks it down, reducing cells to chemicals. But those chemicals are then available to the next generation, fertilizing the soil and becoming the building blocks of more wood and leaves and flowers.

In this sense fire is both God and his antithesis. It is appropriate to use fire as symbolic of hell because it is the opposite of God, breaking down where his nature is to bind together, reducing when he is a creator. Fire seen this way parallels the Jewish understanding of Satan as the Advocate, drawn from the Book of Job. In Job, Satan is not simply an enemy of God, whose work is anathema to God's work, a rebel angel needing to be taught a lesson. Satan is instead one who opposes God as part of God's plan (playing devil's advocate, if you will), questioning God at every turn to test for weakness. While building up is good, there come times when the way we have built allows us to go no farther and we must tear down and build in a new and better way, much like fire consumes the old wood that inhibits new growth.

Yet it is also appropriate to make fire a symbol of God, as the Zoroastrians do. The thing we see when we look at fire -- the energy and light that are released -- is the tangible manifestation of the structure that the fuel once had. Carbon in wood is bound together in a complex structure that is more than just the sum of its atoms, and when that structure is lost in the transformation to ash we see the energy, which allowed that structure to exist, as fire.

All this seems to indicate why the burning bush that Moses sees in the beginning of Exodus is an appropriate symbol for God. It's not simply that the bush is a miraculous anomaly, which cannot exist except by divine intervention. The content of the anomaly -- that the bush burns yet is not consumed -- is relevant. For the bush to be consumed would be for it to break down, its constituent parts becoming dissassociated. But God cannot be consumed, because God is connective. So on one level we have a fire -- a force of dissassociation -- made impotent by God's nature as a builder. But on another level we can see the fire not as a foil against which God is defining himself, but as a projection of God in the Zoroastrian sense. The bush is filled and running over with connectiveness.


Yeah, I've done too many posts today, but I wanted to throw this idea (without a conclusion) out there. It had been nagging me a bit while I wrote the long post about Jesus the other day, but tonight Amanda referenced Durkheim's view on the subject, which got me thinking it was important enough not to shuffle aside.

What concerns me is the issue of hate. I defined love as a form of connectedness. But as Amanda, Durkheim, and part of my own brain pointed out, hate is also a form of connectedness. Specifically, it's the inverse of love. When you love someone, their happiness causes you happiness and their unhappiness causes you unhappiness. When you hate someone, their happiness causes you unhappiness, and their unhappiness causes you happiness. So how does one account for hate in a scheme that promotes connectedness and love?

Off the top of my head I see two possibilities. On the one hand is a sort of Zoroastrian worldview. The divine (connectedness) manifests in two conflicting forms -- a positive one (Ahura Mazda/Ohrmazd) and a negative one (Anghra Mainyu/Ahriman). The two are eternally at war, promoting opposite brands of the same thing.

The other way is something like the way Plato talks about Justice in The Republic. Hate, while a form of connectedness, would in this sense be self-defeating because it's based on inverses. Two people can hate each other reciprocally -- A is happy, which makes B unhappy, which reinforces A's happiness. But if you have three people, they can't all be in a state of pure mutual hate -- If A is happy, B is unhappy, which makes C happy, which makes A unhappy... It's an unbalanced sort of connectedness that destroys itself, leading to either disconnectedness or love to resolve it. It's heterosexual, so to speak -- you can have a homosexual orgy with as many people as you like, but three heterosexuals can't all be attracted to each other (all love triangles have an open side).

At the moment it seems Christianity takes a sort of middle ground -- Satan is there opposing God throughout human history, but he is ultimately weaker than God (by some conceptions, God only allows him to exist to prove the point that evil is self-defeating). It's something that I'll have to think about a lot before I can figure out what middle ground is possible, if any.
Can anyone make any sense out of this e-mail? I know it refers to Ishnarth, but beyond that I don't know.

what the hell is wrong with you saying crappy snow the snow god will kill you and there is a ice god the snow god has a wolf with her now tell me this if you go to a place with snow she will but here animal will GET you first I dare you to go tell me this tomorrow did you dream about you need to be afraid.

Oahspe, which I quoted in the previous post, was written by a man who claims to have sat in front of his typewriter and let angels control him. It claims to be a revelation from God ("Jehovih") about the spiritual history of the world and all the ethereal beings who have ruled it through the ages. Yet in it God says the following:

"Of all things, therefore, man should learn, especially of what he can see, and hear, and prove, rather than of spirits whom he cannot prove, nor find when he wanteth them."
He who admitteth the universe moveth in harmony and discipline, already admitteth the All Person, Jehovih. He who denieth the All Person, Jehovih, denieth unity in all things. If all things are not in unity, then are all things divided, one against another. Whoever holdeth this, is a disintegrator; and whoever holdeth that all things are a unit, is a unitor. Wherefore, if there be greater strength in unison than in isolation, then therein hath unison won the battle and become the All Person.

-- Oahspe, Book of Osiris, 2:16

I found it interesting that I ran across this qoute so soon after the discussion about Jeff's quote.


My personal site has gotten a disturbing number of hits from people searching for "Stentor Danielson." But it's good to know that the first thing that comes up is the old WRPSL tournament.
German Supreme Court backs gay marriage law

Germany's Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a law that allows gay couples to marry and gives them many of the same rights as heterosexual spouses.

The court rejected a lawsuit by conservatives who argued it violates constitutional provisions protecting marriage and the family.

Judges at the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe voted 5-3 to back the law, which was challenged last year by Bavaria and two eastern states.

Germany is cool.
This may be just a form of political correctness, but I've always tried to make a point of calling people what they call themselves. I always say "pro-life" instead of "anti-abortion." I once spent an entire page of a paper about the native people of Tierra del Fuego explaining why I was calling the tribes there Aonikenk, Selknam, Manekenken, Yamana, and Kaweskar instead of the much more common Tehuelche, Ona, Haush, Yaghan, and Alacaluf. When I was nearly done with my anthropology honors paper, I had to go back through and change every instance of "Native American" to "Indian" because I discovered that's what the Oneidas (my case-study tribe) prefer.

Today it paid off -- a friend thanked me for saying "one of Jehovah's Witnesses" rather than "a Jehovah's Witness."


I've discovered the secret of getting a response to a query from an organization like National Geographic: write to them in Flemish.
I've been thinking of God (more properly his manifestation in our world, since God as a whole is beyond our comprehension) in terms of interconnectedness. Things interact with each other, forming a system rather than remaining isolated and independent atoms. The world isn't just a collection of things, it's an arrangement of things.

Sin, then, is not just a violation of some arbitrary rules that God decided we should adhere to. Sin is anything that breaks down that beneficial interconnectedness. Harming someone else is directly harmful to God, because the relationship we damage is a manifestation of God. "As you do unto the least of these, so you do unto me."

Sophisticated observers have pointed out that hell -- the fate that awaits sinners -- is not the land of fire and brimstone, with demons poking people with pitchforks, that pop Christianity gives us. It's more a state of separation from God. Thinking of it in this way, hell is not a punishment. Punishment implies a disconnectedness (which is contrary to the nature of God). Punishment is artificially imposed justice. A hurts B, so B (or someone external to the conflict but claiming to act on B's behalf) decides to hurt A.

But punishment is the opposite of restoration. People speak of "paying for" their misdeeds, but that is not what happens when a person is punished. Think about what happens when you pay for something at the store (for example, a pewter Jesus figurine). The store is losing something of value (i.e., being hurt) when it gives you the figurine. It may seem that, in return, you are losing something of equal value -- your money. But if that were the case, then it wouldn't matter whether we gave the money to the cashier, or gave it to the person behind us in line, or flushed it down the toilet. What's really happening is a restoration -- the store is getting money equal in value to what it lost. And in fact, as long as they get taht restoration it's immaterial who it came from -- if the person behind you in line pays for your figurine, or you find some money in the toilet for them, they'll take it.

So therefore the idea of hell as a place of deliberate punishment by a God who could choose not to doesn't make sense. Going to hell doesn't solve the problems created by sin -- if anything, it solidifies them.

Hell, then, is something that sinners bring on themselves. They find themselves disconnected because they broke those connections. Of course, it's possible to restore connections. This is the basis of the Old Testament tradition of animal sacrifices -- God was believed to enjoy the smell of burning sheep, and so a negative (sin) was addressed by a positive (animal sacrifice) rather than another negative (punishment).

However, there's one problem here. God becomes passive. When a person breaks connectedness, God allows that to be broken. When a person restores it, God accepts that restoration. That conflicts, though, with the idea of love. Love is a specific human form of connectedness. Philosophically speaking, to love someone is to make that person's happiness important. We love ourselves, to the degree that we want to be happy. When we love others, their happiness becomes important to us. God-like love is found in the commandment to love our neighbor as ourself -- that is, to make it so that whether or not happiness is mine or somoene else's is irrelevant to its importance. It resembles an interest in happiness from an impartial, non-partisan, non-favoritist, outside perspective. Love is active because it can be one-sided. Love is not simply a connection that can be broken by either party. Love actively reaches out to other things.

So to conceive of God as not just an impersonal principle of interconnectedness, but specifically of love, is to make him active. A loving God does not allow us to send ourselves to hell because, while we may be damaging our interconnectedness, he won't let it be broken. He loves us even if we don't love him. God essentially turns the other cheek, absorbing the damage we do and presenting an undamaged front (another, unbruised, cheek, if you will).

This, I think, is the theme (or one of them) of Jesus' life and death. His crucifixion was not a "payment" for our sins, unless we imagine that God is sadistic enough to enjoy seeing someone tortured to death (which makes one wonder how much God really enjoyed animal sacrifices as such, especially given that the Cain and Abel story seems to indicate that the sacrifice is simply an acting out of the more important element -- repentance and a desire to reconnect with God). And if this was truly a payment of some sort, then Jesus ought to have gone on suffering for as long as people continued sinning, rather than rising from the dead after three days. What really happened, it seems to me, is a demonstration. Jesus, is acting out the part of God (and I think this works whether you see Jesus as part of God [the second person of the trinity] or just a representative of God). He absorbed the worst the Romans could do to him -- beatings, crown of thorns, forced labor, exposure, public humiliation, nails in his extremities, and finally death by asphyxiation. And yet he came back a few days later, apparently unhampered by the wounds in his wrists and side (wounds likely just left visible for the benefit of doubting Thomas). In his crucifixion, Jesus demonstrated what he had been saying all along (in contrast to the purity-obsessed, disconnecting philosophies of most Jewish sects of the time) -- no matter what you've done or how much you've screwed up, God's active love is reaching out to you.

And casting the story this way makes it irrelevant whether the New Testament account is a historical fact or a myth. God didn't change between the Old and New Testaments. God loved Moses the same way he loved Paul. The Jesus story was simply a powerful message, conveying the nature of God's love in terms that, to judge from the spread of Christianity, had a powerful resonance with a lot of people.
A letter in today's Wall Street Journal suggested another good reason to get rid of farm subsidies -- the war on drugs. Subsidies on legal crops in the U.S. drive down the worldwide price for those products, making it impossible for farmers in countries without subsidies (i.e., the whole third world) to make a living growing them. So they turn to crops like coca and opium poppies, which they can grow profitably because there's a properly functioning market for them. It seems obvious that we could make actual progress (rather than just torching coca fields) by reducing farm subsidies so that the market would give poor farmers real options. But then, why would a Republican administration do something that promotes the free market and combats drugs?


In celebration of one year of debitage, I've compiled a Best of page. Enjoy.


Since there's been a request for the post about salvation, I thought I'd begin by quoting what I posted about this topic a month ago on the Brunching Board. There will hopefully be elaboration on this later, once I get my thoughts in order. For context, this was in response to an atheist who was demanding to know why he needed to be saved.

First, three basic concepts:

1. Love. The goal of religion is to bring a person into a right relationship with God. This means that the person's actions will be motivated by universal love, which is the principle that God embodies. The more we love, the closer we are to God.

2. The hereafter. My theology has little to say about the hereafter. The expectation of a reward or punishment after we die is not a good basis for morality. So the afterlife component of salvation is not relevant here.

3. Human nature. A perfectly right relationship with God is impossible, because humans are imperfect creatures.

Now, there are a variety of things that can be obstacles in our struggle for a right relationship with God. One of these obstacles is a fixation on the falliability of human nature. This can manifest in several ways. A person can become discouraged, believing that they aren't worthy of any relationship with God if they aren't perfect. Alternately, a person can become uptight about regulating every little thought and deed in order to be perfect, which distracts the person from actually loving (essentially they're "trying too hard").

Salvation is the answer to these obstacles. Salvation is the recognition that our imperfection doesn't separate us from God's love, and that perfection is a direction for us to head in, rather than an all or nothing goal.

Salvation is a solution to a particular religious problem. Salvation is a way of overcoming a particular religious fallacy. Trying to peddle salvation to people who don't feel inadequate because of their imperfection (and there are secular forms of this feeling, just as there are secular ways to be motivated by universal love) is like selling refrigerators to Inuit -- you get so distracted trying to give them something they don't need that you never notice whether they might need an oven or a dishwasher.

The process of salvation is impossible without God-belief, as it's premised on a particular type of mistaken God-belief. But the state that a person is in after going through salvation is accessible through other roads. Being "saved" just means that you have encountered a particular obstacle in your quest to being a "loving, kind, and giving" person.

I imagine that the idea that salvation is universally needed comes from thinking that theism is universally needed -- which may be partially an effect of the fact that, in the time and place that the Bible was written, it was reasonable to assume that most people you'd meet would be theists already, and most theists would need salvation. But more and more I'm coming to the conclusion that this kind of thinking is one of the more common barriers to love for today's theists. Maybe we need a new explicit "fix" for this problem, paralleling the way salvation was a "fix" for perfectionism. We could call salvation as I've outlined so far Salvatio e perfectione (or Salvatio christiana, since salvation from this particular fallacy was Christianity's big innovation) and the new thing Salvatio e universa.

Because making up Latin terms for things always makes them more profound.


I got one of those exhilarating feelings of having a sort of intellectual breakthrough today. Not a sort of "Eureka!" where I had the answer, but more a feeling of having the materials in my head to put together something meaningful. I had to go to the Italian dinner at the house soon after, so through the whole meal (one of the best I've ever had, incidentally) my mind was swirling and keeping me from concentrating. I still haven't put everything together, and it may be that my thoughts turn out to be incomplete or nonsensical. I don't know if I'll write everything here -- I feel much freer to critique things than to affirm them in a public forum. I may work things out privately, then let elements show through here. And it may be that I'm totally overbilling the significance of what will come. I'll start with one thing that I seem to have a somewhat better grasp on.

I think that if some evangelical/fundamentalist asks me if I've accepted Jesus as my personal savior, I can say "yes, but that doesn't mean what you think it means."

I think the key word here is "personal." To say that Jesus is one's personal savior is to say that the New Testament Jesus-mythos in some way speaks powerfully to you in your particular context. And that implies that there are other traditions, other spiritual paths (including a non-spiritual outlook) that could also speak to a person in a powerful way. Different contexts require different messages. To say that everyone should have Jesus as their savior, or even to tell one person that, is to destroy the personal nature of his savior-hood. It becomes a depersonalized, one-size-fits-all approach. And in not being tailored to particular people in particular situations, it loses its deep connection to the person -- and therefore its salvific power.

To be a savior, Jesus must be personal. And to be personal, he can't be universal.


My roommate has had a postcard taped to his bookshelf depicting a beautiful sunset over a lake, with the words "Atheist: Reconsider" on it. I had wondered what it meant -- was he some sort of religious nut? Was this the postcard equivalent of a tract?

Today I went over to his desk and peeked at the backside. It was a tourist ad for Wales, with a "our scenery is so breathtaking it will make you believe God must have created it" theme.


Random speculation about pronouns:

In most languages' system of pronouns, there are six basic forms -- the three persons, each with a singular and plural form. There may be some other divisions as well (often in the third person -- hän for people and se for non-people in Finnish, for example, or él and ella for masculine and feminine in Spanish). But some languages don't have the typical singular/plural divide -- ancient Greek has a little-known "dual" form, and highland Nepalese languages also have it, while I'm told Japanese has no plurals. And when you think about it, why if the difference between 1 and 2 so important as compared to 2 vs 3, or 40 vs 41?

Then there's the interesting divide made by Quechua in the first person plural -- noqancheq if it includes the person being spoken to, and noqayku if it doesn't. It seems like a more logical system would cover all the permutations of the three possible parties to a communication -- 1. the speaker(s), 2. the listener(s), and 3. other person(s).

So by this system, the pronouns would cover: 1, 1+2, 1+3, 1+2+3, 2, 2+3, 3. Or, in words: "just me," "me and you," "me and someone else," "me and you and someone else," "you," "you and someone else," and "someone else." A seven-slot system to replace the popular six-slot-with-modifications system.
We got the expected outpouring of creationist response to our lead story for yesterday, Skull Fossil From Chad Forces Rethinking Of Human Origins. There are a lot of easy explanations for the prevalence of creationism -- unthinking belief, misunderstanding of science (the big bang is not evolution), seeing a false conflict between religion and science (yes, there are evolutionary biologists who believe in God), or reading political implications into archaeology (does being descended from apes really degrade our human dignity?). But there was a common thread that illustrated what I see as one of the key differences between science and religion.

Religion lays a claim to absolute truth. The word of the Bible, or the Avesta, or the oral tradition of the Pitjantjatjara people, is the final word on every subject it addresses. These truths are revealed from an ultimate source -- God, or someone similar -- that necessarily knows the full truth. Science, on the other hand, can lay no claim to absoluteness. Science is the best explanation we can think of for the data we have. More data, or more insightful syntheses of the current data, will lead to different explanations of the world. Ideally, this would lead to a closer and closer approximation of the truth, though there are huge cultural factors affecting which data we use and what kind of explanations we think of.

But creationists seem to treat science as a religion. In part this probably springs from the apparent conflict of evolution with their religious belief, leading them to relativist arguments about "telling both sides" and thus equivalence between the two systems. But it also comes from not seeing how a scientific approach to the truth differs from a religious one.

A scientist would cite the adaptability of scientific explanation -- the willingness of the scientific community to adapt its theories win the face of contradictory evidence -- as a strength. Science thrives on finding increasingly better explanations. But creationists cite it as a weakness. They dismiss evolution as "just a theory," when scientific explanations are always just theories, no matter how well supported (and to a naturalistic or Kantian perspective, theories are all we can ever have about anything). They view each scientific theory as a religious truth, an absolute and final answer, which will bring down its whole intellectual edifice if it is undermined (much as they see their belief in God being challenged by revision of the Genesis story).

Most of the creationist letters told us simply "read the Bible, the answers are in there." There is a revealed truth, they say, which is final and absolute and has been available all along. Provisional explanations, things we believe "to the best of our knowledge," have no place when you believe there is an absolute truth accessible.


Should You Be a Vegetarian?

The other reason for beef eating is, hold on, ethical—a matter of animal rights. The familiar argument for vegetarianism, articulated by Tom Regan, a philosophical founder of the modern animal-rights movement, is that it would save Babe the pig and Chicken Run's Ginger from execution. But what about Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse? asks Steven Davis, professor of animal science at Oregon State University, pointing to the number of field animals inadvertently killed during crop production and harvest. One study showed that simply mowing an alfalfa field caused a 50% reduction in the gray-tailed vole population. Mortality rates increase with each pass of the tractor to plow, plant and harvest. Rabbits, mice and pheasants, he says, are the indiscriminate "collateral damage" of row crops and the grain industry.

By contrast, grazing (not grain-fed) ruminants such as cattle produce food and require fewer entries into the fields with tractors and other equipment. Applying (and upending) Regan's least-harm theory, Davis proposes a ruminant-pasture model of food production, which would replace poultry and pork production with beef, lamb and dairy products. According to his calculations, such a model would result in the deaths of 300 million fewer animals annually (counting both field animals and cattle) than would a completely vegan model. When asked about Davis' arguments, Regan, however, still sees a distinction: "The real question is whether to support production systems whose very reason for existence is to kill animals. Meat eaters do. Ethical vegetarians do not."

An interesting point made at the very end of a long article that was big on flowery language and short on solid reporting.
Essay: When "Ghost" Species Return from Extinction

"But two and a half years ago, a team of scientists at the Australian Museum in Sydney mapped out an audacious plan to remove tissue from a thylacine baby pickled in alcohol in 1866, sequence its DNA, reassemble its genetic blueprint in artificial chromosomes, and ultimately clone a live thylacine."

I don't see how this would reestablish the thylacine species, though. There would be no genetic variability in the population if they're all cloned from the same pickled baby. Lions are already having that problem, but they can't artificially inseminate a thylacine.


I was going through my archive, and I discovered that some of my old comments (from the Dotcomments-hosted-by-Affari days) are functional. Whoa.
By "beauty," I mean that which seems complete.

Obversely, that the incomplete, or the mutilated, is the ugly.

Venus de Milo.

To a child she is ugly.

When a mind adjusts to thinking of her as a completeness, even though, by physiologic standards, incomplete, she is beautiful.

A hand thought of only as a hand, may seem beautiful.

Found on a battlefield--obviously a part--not beautiful.

-- Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned

I think the point can be extended to other arenas, but I'll take as my starting point physical attractiveness, since that was Fort's example. I've never quite understood how people can describe their idea of a beautiful person in terms of specific characteristics -- this height, this color hair, this sort of nose, etc. If I think of a particular person who I consider attractive, I can't capture that attractiveness with a catalogue of characteristics, any more than you can describe a novel by listing the words that are in it. It's not the parts, it's how the parts fit together. It's not this shape of nose and this color hair, it's how this shape of nose and that color hair complement each other. It's not the word "brooding," it's the word "brooding" used to describe that character at this point of the story.



Yesterday, on the whale watch, we learned that while human milk is 2% milkfat, and cow milk is 4% milkfat (before people bastardize it into those watery non-whole milks), whale milk is 40% milkfat. I need to find out where I can get some whale milk. I figure, if they're making that drinkable yogurt stuff, there's got to be a market for whale milk.


Probably no meaningful posts from me until Monday. Happy 4th and such.


I've let the Pledge of Allegiance ruling distract me from the Supreme Court's decision that school vouchers that are used to send students to religious private schools. This post is my preliminary thoughts as I attempt to catch up on the issue which is, in all honesty, more important than whether "under God" is in the pledge.

My feeling at the moment is that the court got it right. Using vouchers doesn't violate the separation of church and state anymore than it would if a person took some of their tax refund and bought a Bible with it. The government isn't supporting religion, it's allowing its citizens to support the school of their choice without discriminating against some schools on the basis of religion.

I certainly don't think vouchers are the solution to the educational system's woes, as a commentary from last year outlines. But I seem to be one of the few voucher opponents who will say that they're constitutional.

The problem is that our nation's modern reliance on the courts to throw out policies they don't like has transformed the significance of the issue. The court's ruling -- which technically said only that they're permissible -- has been taken as an endorsement of vouchers. Voucher opponents feel like they don't have a leg to stand on, and supporters (like President Bush) have taken this opportunity to say "look, the Supreme Court thinks they're the answer!" I've no doubt I'll find that some of the arguments presented in court dealt more with why vouchers are good or bad for students, which is really irrelevant to the constitutional question. But we'll see. I'll hopefully comment more once I'm up to speed on the issue.


I want to drive up and down the street honking my horn as loud as I can, with someone hanging out the window of the car holding a huge sign that says "I don't care who won the stupid World Cup."
Native Elders Upset By Activists' "Spiritual Trespass"

Native elders allege G8 protesters may have upset the spiritual balance of aboriginal lands when they burned leaves and sprinkled water on the main road leading to the G8 Summit.

The ritual -- by witches, wiccans and native protesters from British Columbia -- was conducted on Wednesday evening when a caravan of about 350 G8 protesters tried to drive to the G8 site. Halted at the first security checkpoint, the protesters burned some smelly leaves in the middle of the road.

"I told them what they are doing here is spiritual and cultural trespass," said Peter Wesley, a media spokesman for the Bearspaw Nation, one of three bands from the Stoney Nakoda Nation that regard the Kananaskis region as tribal lands of sacred significance.

The 3,700-member Iyarhe Nakoda, or "people of the mountains," live on a 600-square-kilometre reserve on the edge of Kananaskis, which they call Ozade, the mountain area west of Calgary where G8 leaders ended two days of meetings yesterday.

Mr. Wesley said 12 Nakoda holy men conducted a spiritual ceremony at the G8 site on June 6 to sanctify the area for the purpose of keeping it safe for world leaders and to ensure the land remains environmentally pristine.

Now, the holy men may have to go back and have another ceremony to repurify the site and undo the influences of the protester's ritual, Mr. Wesley said.

"I told them [the protesters] we had already done this. They can't bring different religious things there because their idea of sanctifying the land might not be the same as ours."

via Witchvox