Monday, December 31, 2007

My New Year's resolution: To favor science and fact

Because apparently I don't. So says Tom Gregory in his
New Year's Huff-Po piece.

Religion, it seems, is the answer to the timeless question of why we, as humans, are so violent. It's the cause of it all.

And you thought there was some long, complicated answer to that question for the ages. Stop making things so hard.

As Tom points out, "Humanity's habit of violence is counterintuitive to progress. Now more than ever we need a choice to leave the religion behind in favor of science and fact. Perhaps then humankind can see its way clear of the bloodshed that has plagued man since written history."

Clearly, religion is the cause for the bloodshed that has plagued man since written history, though all of the violence prior to that point was caused by eating undercooked meat and sleeping in stuffy, smoke-filled caves.

Yes, when people leave science and fact behind in favor of "the religion," they become violent. And then they become even more violent. And, eventually, they do violence. Got that? I hope so. There'll be a test.

This answers a lot of questions for me. Because, for as long as I can remember, I've been opposed to facts and science, especially scientific facts. Not to mention the very fact of science. Why must science exist, I used to yell out loud to no one in particular? Why? Why?

Now I know where I was coming from in those days. My religiousness made it impossible for me to respect, let alone embrace, science and fact.

Tom continues: "Violence such as Bhutto's death and the Iraq war, jar change on a political scale, but science can stir truthful, meaningful change."

And precisely how can science do that? By showing us images of Earth--how else? (You were probably thinking along the lines of creating a drug that calms human aggression, or concocting some way to accelerate the evolution of the human brain, a la The Outer Limits. Get with it.) Nope, with faraway images of our planet. "The space program's most arresting image proves just how far science, not superstition, can take mankind."

Gregory is referring to an image taken of the Earth by "Voyager one (sic)" in 1990 after it passed Saturn--an image in which our planet registers as nothing but a tiny spot of light. "Humanity's most poetic image," he calls this. This is supposed to get us to thinking about how tiny we are in the scheme of things, and how, therefore, there can be no God. Because, prior to that 1990 image, no one--especially religious people--ever considered our tininess in the vastness of space. Not to mention our tinniness. (Can you imagine sound waves from Earth getting even so far as Mars?) Once you realize that, God just sort of fades away.

"Change your perspective and alter our world." Okey-dokey! I'll do that. And Tom's advice is not only free, he didn't even get paid for dispensing it. So, it's free in two senses.

Like so many drop-religion-and-save-the-world types, Gregory has trouble with elementary punctuation and meaningful word choice. Which makes it a good thing he's not suggesting we trust in his wisdom, but rather in the wisdom of fact and science. That way, it's O.K. that he types things like "Now more than ever we need a choice...." Which must mean, "Now, more than ever, we must make the choice between...." I'm just guessing. My Huff-Po-to-English software recently crashed, so I'm at the mercy of my best shots in the dark.

Then there's the lost comma at the start of "Violence such as Bhutto's death and the Iraq war, jar change on a political scale." (Jar change? Is that any different from coinage kept in a sock?)

Now, what an interesting concept in punctuation--a comma following a clause but not preceding it ("Such as Bhutto's death and the Iraq war"). Amazing. And Tom definitely makes his point that science is not the same thing as the Iraq war or the assassination of Bhutto. Wow. And here we were, thinking it was. Damn, we people of faith are dumb.

That's one of the reasons I was so opposed to science. Not just because I was religious, but because I didn't realize science was different from the Iraq war or the assassination of Bhutto. How could I have known? We're all raised to think these are the same things, and so we never think to question the connection. Until something jars change. And I think I spotted a device along those lines in a Harriet Carter catalog, next to a "World's Greatest Source of Natural Gas" ballcap.

"Humanity needs its own a New Year's resolution." Exactly. I've been saying this for years.

"Faint Light for the New Year," Tom's essay is called. I think I might have changed that title if I knew that my photo and byline would be appearing above it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

'Twas the Weekend Before Christmas (and all through the land, the ARSEs were stirring)

I mean, 'tis the weekend before Christmas.

And what, to my surprise, should appear in both papers (local and big city)? Why, mention of Christmas! On the front pages, no less.

Yikes. And we just heard from some guy who was all upset because he spotted a Nativity scene at a small suburban city hall. This traumatized him to the point of having to complain officially. And to write to our big city paper. He loudly expressed the wish that religious people (Christians, in this case) keep our views private. Fittingly, he used a public forum to convey this. I guess some views are more sacred than others.

Hugh Briss, president of our local Americans Riled by Sacred Expressions (ARSE) chapter and author of Shutting People Up in the Name of Free Speech, recently wrote a friendly essay to"religious morons everywhere" in which he pointed out, "It's about not promoting religion. Once you start allowing Christmas scenes on statehouse lawns and such, people start celebrating Christmas. Before you know it, they start singing carols. And I don't like carols. Therefore, you people should either stop singing them OR sing the damn things where I can't hear them. Got it?" Asked if he plans to take the holiday off, he replied, "Of course. Are you nuts?"

Hugh's authority? The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which states, "Let it be established that Nativity scenes, in particular, piss us off."

In another local piece, a person objecting to some other Nativity display asked that he remain anonymous, lest religious fanatics come after him. Good point--the pages of recent history are littered with terrifying tales of Nativity scene gripers who disappeared or were found floating in a lake someplace. Thus, it takes a heck of a lot of courage to speak out in this fashion. In the Hall of Heroes, a special wing has been dedicated to the take-down-the-creche cause and its manly members.

Being a Christian, I am, of course, too dumb to understand evolution, the need for stem cell research, or why HBO shows are--as a rule--vital and indispensable, but even I can grasp that the Establishment Clause is mainly about not creating a state church. Which is why we don't have one.

Now, creches are familiar symbols of our culture's biggest (by far) annual holiday. They go up for the season; they come down when it's over. In any way, shape, or form, does the displaying of these symbols contribute toward making Christianity the state religion?

I'm glad there are people loony enough to think so, but we need not bend to their perceptions, any more than you or I need to take down our back porch light because the guy down the street thinks it's a beacon for space monsters.

As for Christianity becoming the official religion, good galloping luck. There are only five million different versions thereof. I'm amazed by those who think Christianity exists in a single, simple, totally-agreed-upon version--no, scared by them. People capable of stereotyping that broadly are people who need help.

Anyway, try sometime to get ten humans to agree on what to bring to the next potluck. Multiply those odds by a million, and you have some idea how likely we are to wake up anytime to church rule, no matter how many creche scenes we establish annually.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Talking the F-word (Faith): Great wisdom is needed these days. Until then, we have mine.

I'm going to cheat and back-date this to yesterday to create the illusion that I wrote and posted it on Sunday. Sneaky, no? But no one will know. Unless, of course, I reveal that I....

Wait a minute. Oops.

Anyway, this is the essay I would have written yesterday, had I done so. But I didn't.

The issue of religion in politics (as in, its proper role) is one of the most boring topics on Earth, but one kept alive by the inability of huge numbers of people to understand the issues involved. No one sums up the basic facts better than Charles Krauthammer in a column that just appeared in our paper. And I would gladly link to his column if 1) The Washington Post site had it, and 2) If using the site didn't require registering. To heck with that. I'm tired of creating new passwords. Aren't you? I think we all are.

Anyway, Krauthammer notes that there are two issues being confused as one--the fact that religion is very much okay for the public square (we live in a free country, after all) vs. the fact it's not O.K. (it's unconstitutional, in fact) for the government to favor one religion or religious view over another. And, therefore, it's a cause for concern when someone (like Mitt) gives a speech suggesting that the establishment clause was written mainly to waste ink.

Such is the essence of the exciting, energizing, talk-to-your-friends-at-the-watercooler-until-you-lose-track-of-time "dialogue" that is faith and politics.

Point being, Krauthammer puts his finger on the real topic--which is not the establishment clause/principle itself, but the inability of people to grasp it. Which is to be expected when the issue is constantly being side-stepped and/or misrepresented. People get confused. Confusion not being a bad thing (it's a good defense against the mass input of b.s., after all) unless it remains unresolved.

Unresolved confusion tends to lead to indifference. That's the main danger.

The press has no time to worry about its role in generating indifference--it has sponsors to please and jobs to keep. And so, in our case, it focuses on religious controversy, to the point of generating it. For the same reason, of course, that it goes on about Britney's cellulite--such issues are easier than heck to report on, they can be repeated over and over, they simply require the rerunning of the same tape loops, and any controversy they generate is safe controversy. The press doesn't have to answer to how (no pun intended) it covers Britney's ass OR how it covers the latest complaint from Americans Against Religion. It's the safest stuff to cover, and the easiest, and it generates lots of money.

Otherwise, the press would have to do its job. Which, in defense of the press, the public tends not to make worth its while. (Yes, you heard me correctly.) Put yourself in the press' place. When you knock yourself out to get the news to the folks, what's your reward? Complaints about the negativity of the reports, accusations of bias, and a generally indifferent reaction to items that OUGHT to (but don't) concern the news-viewing public. Worst of all, three months after you've covered something, there are angry bloggers accusing you of not having covered it. Never mind that, back when you made the mistake of bringing it up, nobody gave a tinker's dam. Then, once people DO start caring, they start asking why you didn't warn them. The press can't win.

So, in a very real way, I can't blame the press for dumbing down its coverage. As far as I'm concerned, the audience is chiefly to blame. Ultimately, news consumers determine the menu.

It's just another way of saying that, if McDonald's patrons wanted healthier food, they'd demand it. And they don't. I'm thinking of a quarter pounder with cheese, so that's why the McD's metaphor. (As if I needed the fat.)

Anyway, the milking of religion in politics is to be expected in a dumbed-down media. Not that the faith-based issues are meaningless, by a long shot. Not that we aren't being given a wonderful opportunity right now to meaningfully discuss the basic American principles in question. Not that there's anything wrong with reviewing who we are and how we got there. (Help--I'm running out of cliches.) But it's not going to happen, so long as the cheap exploitation of faith means ratings.

And, yes, the press is helping this stuff along. Mightily. Frank Rich--a columnist I like most of the time--just wrote about the hyping of Romney's speech on religious intoler.... I mean, the role of religion in governing. Rich concludes that the press pre-hyped the thing because it thought Romney was going to give a JFK-level speech.

Frank. Frank. Frank. Earth calling Frank.

Nobody in the press thought Romney was going to give a JFK-style speech. The media hyped up the speech so that everyone would get even more upset about it than they would have, sans any build-up. The press smelled a fight, and it proceeded to make it as big a fight as possible. Again, safe coverage.

I'm only the one-zillionth blogger to suggest that the press focuses on non-issues in order to avoid the real stuff. It's not a new concept. Yet, specific instances of this practice, no matter how blatant, aren't always obvious to us. And that's where I come in.

I'm the specific instance pointer-outer. Or, the SIPO. The sound of which I don't like. SIPO.

Let me come up with a different phrase.

Oh, and did I mention that this is Sunday?


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Let's Talk the F-word (Faith): "YES, I am the brain surgeon!"

Secular--what does it mean? I mean, really mean. Here are some of the on-line-dictionary definitions I found:

"Worldly rather than spiritual." "Relating to or advocating secularism." "Of or relating to the worldly or temporal." "Of or pertaining to this present world, or to things not spiritual or holy."

A synonym for secular is irreligious. Antonym-wise, "spiritual" fills the bill.

Of course, relying on a dictionary to find out what a word means is so... old hat. I'm not pretending otherwise. I'm fully aware that, to be completely with it ("Uh... man"--Roger Price), we're supposed to A) make a wild guess or B) go with the NPR definition. Such as NPR's definition of "problematic," which I wrote about several weeks ago. There's what the word really means (puzzling, enigmatic) and there is what people misuse it to mean (problem-filled).

Actually, to me, "problematic" sounds like some TV product designed to solve problems. "Get your Problematic today! Only $19.99. Call now and get an Enigmatic FREE of charge!"

Anyway, secular is the opposite of religious or spiritual. We can agree on that, I hope.

So, what are many people taking it to mean? Neutral. They think it denotes neutrality. Our Founding Fathers, for instance, were neutral on the subject of religion. Religiously neutral about religion, we could say. (Get it? Ha-yuk, yuk!)

And, somehow, that stance is seen by many today as a secular one. Worse, it's cited as proof that our government is a secular government. (Stop me when this starts to sound sane.)

And we're hearing this dictionary-uninformed notion a lot in the wake of Mitt Romney's half-baked speech about the role of religion in politics--the one in which he pointed out that, no, we aren't a religious nation, but yes, we are a religious nation.

Which brings to mind the Monty Python sketch with John Cleese saying, "No, I am not the brain surgeon! No, I am not.... YES, I am the brain surgeon!" Somebody please send Mitt to Dr. Cleese.

And, so, some folks are scolding Romney for (guess which?) A) continually contradicting himself virtually within the same damn sentences, or for B) failing to recognize that our nation is a secular one, in spite of the fact that it isn't. If you guessed B, then you're pretty far-left-literate.

The secularists in question are chiding Romney for not grasping, as any self-respecting dictionary avoider would, that our Founding Fathers, by not establishing a state religion, were in effect creating a secular nation. Because the opposite of religion in government is....

A) A neutral stance in regard to the religious AND the secular or B) The United States of richard dawkins.

Idiots choose B. I'm guessing you chose A. Congratulations.

Is a non-religion-based system of government necessarily a worldly, irreligious, or secularist one? Of course not. It's entirely possible to have a form of government that doesn't cater or answer to religion yet which does not embrace secularism. Proof: that's the government we happen to have.

It's so beautifully simple. By contrast, the false notion of a secularist America is based on a series of Homer-Simpson-style pseudo-conclusions. It starts with some dawkins-style celebrity atheist (take your pick) insisting that atheism is not a belief system but rather something based on absence of belief. And, because the point is so meaningless, we're willing to agree. Fine. Who cares.

Then, suddenly, atheism becomes secularism. And secularism, by misdefinition, becomes the absence of a stance. Secularism therefore comes to be misdefined as neutral.

In other words, "No, I am not the brain surgeon! I am not the.... YES, I am the brain surgeon!!"

In reality, whereas atheism is the absence of belief, secularism is nothing of the kind. Equating the two is therefore a mistake. And, in terms of keeping our tradition of ideological freedom intact, even a dangerous one.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Let's Talk the F-word (Faith): It's O.K. to believe in invisible beings--but only if you're Arianna

Otherwise, watch it. Arianna Huffington, who shamelessly exploits each and every item that might bring readers to her comment forums in hot-headed form (but who is otherwise the model of web-lisitc integrity), is up to her usual nonsense with Will Hill Kill Bill for Lying About Iraq? Her piece begins, "I'm hearing that Hillary is ready to kill Bill. But it has nothing to do with his roving eye -- and everything to do with his Rovian lie."

Elegantly-written trash, yes. But trash is trash. You know, I once thought that Huff-style liberals wrote this way in ironic response to O'Reilly, Goldberg, and Coulter, but anymore I'm afraid they're operating under a double standard--namely, that such cheap journalism is fine if the left does it, and not so fine from the right. Naturally, I'd love to believe that the left has higher standards than their ideological enemies, but Huff-Po has, for me, pretty much shit on that illusion.

To date, Arianna's major insult to fair play has been been her practice of throwing believers to the raving, faith-hating lunatics in her audience (gotta get those numbers--the pop-up advertisers insist on it), only to turn around and reveal that she, herself--that is, Arianna--believes in some kind of God herself. As in, the old-fashioned, invisible-being-type God. Her New-Agey reasoning for believing in God the Daddy has something to do with how we dare not believe that science is all, that's there's Nothing Out There. (I'm paraphrasing her twaddle.) We need to believe in Something More. It's like something out of the second grade, only written by someone with a mild gift for prose.

I've always wanted to type "worded her twaddle in babble."

Believing in some Invisible Something Out There is apparently O.K. for progressives to do, but NOT for evangelical Christians (and, by extension, all Christians, because in Huff-Po Land, all Christians are evangelicals). I hope you were able to keep up all the logic there.

To review, Arianna routinely plays host to snarky and classist ridiculing of believers. Then she writes about how it's O.K. to believe, so long as you do it like Arianna or the late Norman Mailer. I'm happy to report she's gotten a fair amount of comment-section bashing over this, but not nearly enough, because she's also gotten an equal share of compliments from the site's ass-kissers.

I guess I'll have to link to her vapid essay. Fear of Faith.

Note Arianna's inane thesis (a false and self-serving dichotomy): "In the twentieth century, the response to fear-filled religiosity has been atheism and fear-filled alienation from all things spiritual." This false, nothing assertion sets things up for her to promote a middle ground--a response that lies between "fear-filled religiosity" and the other extreme. Never mind that members of the latter extreme are periodically given the run of Arianna's blog. Which might suggest to them that she really doesn't have an issue with their stance, after all.

Her middle-ground response? (Let's see.) Oh, here we are. It doesn't amount to a bubble in the bathtub, but here it is: "Without faith in a higher order and the existence of something outside ourselves and our everyday lives, life can become emotionally unbearable and filled with fear."

Again, woe be the "evangelicals" (Huff-Po's word for Christians) who believe in "a higher order and the existence of something outside ourselves and our everyday lives." We are brainless, critically clueless, mob-oriented, victims of groupthink, pawns of the right, and we don't clip our toenails except for special occasions.

On the other hand, if you're someone with no thoughts of her own but a certain ability to write, AND you hang with the progressive crowd and flash a model's smile on TV, it's O.K. to believe in something supernatural. Logical, even. Smart, too.

We lefties need Arianna on our side. To remind us of what our side's positions sound like when drained of all integrity.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Get out of Paul Raeburn's way!!!

I won't make this long. No need to rant. Rant I shant.

Paul Raeburn wrote this brilliant blog post at Huff-Poop: Memo to Religious Fellow Citizens: Please Get Out of My Way.

Notice how carefully (throughout the piece and in the title) Mr. Raeburn qualifies who he's talking about/to? Religious fellow citizens--how precise can a writer get? You don't suppose he knows that most of Huff-Po's readership is made up of fashionably anti-faith sorts given to sometimes childish paraphrasing of sam harris and richard dawkins? (Ha! I can play the lower-case-to-demonstrate-lack-of-respect game, too!) You don't suppose that he, or Huff-Po, would openly cater to prejudice for the sake of numbers (and, hence, advertising dollars). Gosh, no.

Another possibility is that Mr. Raeburn never learned to write, that he went to an unusually laid-back high school where the English teachers gave A's for penning unqualified vitriol. However, take a look at Raeburn's resume, as listed in great detail in his Huff-Po celebrity bio:

"Paul Raeburn is the host of Innovations in Medicine and The Washington report on ReachMD on XM satellite radio, channel 233. He is the former senior editor for science, technology and medicine at Business Week." And so on. In other words, he has no excuse for not knowing how to qualify his statements with a simple phrase or two. Which doesn't mean he knows how to do any such thing--just that he has no excuse.

His essay received the usual Christians-are-evil-and-ape-like-and-they-spread-cooties type of comments that Huff-Po might, for all I know, resort to writing itself when they fail to energize the yahoos in question. Wouldn't put it past them. Meanwhile, I wrote a short response--totally in keeping with the tone of the former AP science editor's essay--pointing out that I'd figured out the difference between "religious" and "fundamentalist" by the time I was eight. (True.) I added that qualifying our statements is not only the professional thing to do, it's respectful of others. Hey, this is a progressive blog--such appeals should hit right home, no?

They didn't allow my comment to go up.

I wrote Raeburn an email and cc'd it to Huff-Po (they are really going to care!). Now, let me clarify two things: People have the right to want nothing to do with religion. A constitutional right. They even have the right to slander all people of faith if they choose to do so--there's no law requiring that journalists write as if they'd been to school and understood the stylistic evils of broadly generalizing.

And Huff-Po has the right to censor anyone and anything it chooses to. If they want to play to a certain crowd, so be it.

But I have an equal right to point out what schmucks they are.

And I heard back from Mr. Raeburn, who insists that my comment went up. I replied that, no, my comment did not appear. And that, no, he did not in any way qualify his charges against his "religious fellow citizens."

I wrote, "You have a right not to qualify your statements, and, for all I know, to do so might be a violation of Huff-Po's editorial policies. However, I have an equal right to call you on it."

Best of all, Mr. Raeburn, who instructs all who disagree with him to get out of his way, says, "I made clear that I am happy for people to believe as they like." If so, that's an odd way to put it, though it's understood he doesn't literally mean it. Rather, he'd like those who would stand in the way of scientific progress on stem cell research not to do so.

Which isn't the issue. The issue is that not all people of faith are against the research. I don't have figures at my disposal, but anyone knows the figure isn't 100 percent either way. File under Duh.

I received a second response from him--"As I said, I have no complaint with you, or with anyone else who wants to practice religion. My comments were directed to those who want to limit my freedom."

If so, he should have qualified his comments. Isn't it a little scary that the former science editor for AP doesn't understand what I'm saying in that regard? I speak as one who vividly recalls catching grief for making an unqualified claim on a junior high school essay. And I got the point right away. Most people do. Then again, most people don't work for the AP.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

"Nuance," and other deceased words

For a while, it was "problematic." Which means puzzling, open to doubt, baffling, even enigmatic. Confusing. Hard to solve.

And how is the word used? To mean "filled with problems." A problematic thing is supposedly a thing filled with problems. How did it come to mean this? Who knows?

For that matter, how the hell did "verbiage" (which means prolixity or verbosity) come to mean word choice? And why did my supervisors at my next to last company misspell it "verbage"?

Leethinks that people are ceasing to give a hoot what words mean.

Anyway, the new word in the "problematic" category--and one that's driving me nuts--is "nuance" (or, even worse, "nuanced"). The actual meaning of the word? It has to do with subtle shades of meaning, slight differences therein. Ah, but what are people MAKING it mean? Complex. Layered with meaning. Containing many meanings, even.

It's none of those things, but why get technical about definitions when we're defining something? That's too much like paying attention. We Boomers never do that.

Nuance involves subtle differences in things. It has nothing to do with context, as a richard dawkins fan tried to suggest recently. And it has zero to do with some deeper meaning lurking beneath a seemingly simple surface--to wit, if you think my analysis of something lacks depth, don't tell me I'm missing the "nuance," or however NPR puts it. Unless you want to babble.

Oh, and I forgot "irony," which has somehow come to mean saying the opposite of what you really mean. It's like, "Hey, nice car," when what you're really doing is making fun of the car. "Nice" being sarcastic (a word used, anymore, to mean satirical).

How that qualifies as irony is anyone's guess. In fact, saying the opposite of what you mean is... saying the opposite of what you mean. There's nothing ironic, in and of itself, about mocking someone or something. Nor anything ironic about the other person (or his car) not knowing he's being made fun of, unless we presume that the other person should know he's being mocked. But why would we presume that? Just because we think he should know?

How is our perception correct and his not correct? Or vice versa? In a piece of literature, the reader knows which perception is correct and which is not. In real life, there's no text. (Text-messaging, yes, but no text.) Literary devices can fall flat when taken out of their natural environment.

No, irony is more nuanced than... erp... I mean, more complex than that. The disconnect between the expected outcome and the actual outcome, or the intended vs. received meaning, has to have a point. The irony consists of the point in, or of, the disconnect itself.

To put it another way, where there's irony, there's a disconnect. But where there's a disconnect, there isn't necessarily irony.

In other news, a Huff-Po blogger has written about Rep. Stark. Cool. Saturday morning, and HP is writing about something that happened Thursday morning. And.... Oh, this is nice--the blogger doesn't agree with Stark's statement. No, probably not--Stark spoke his mind, and he did so directly. And with his ego in park. The HP'ers are ego first, honest stand second, if at all. They're trying to impress someone, and that never entails putting your heart and soul into your utterances. Too uncouth.

Many on the so-called progressive side are downright annoyed (in Junior High School fashion) by honest and direct communication--you should read, for example, the nasty things said about Cindy Sheehan by some of them. Cindy speaks up, and she does so in simple (but elegant and eloquent) English. But she should use bigger words, presumably. And more "nuance." Always more nuance.

Meanwhile, they're the first to bitch because Dems in Congress (or elsewhere) aren't speaking up. Ohhhhhhh-kay.

Fit these folks for straitjackets, lace them in, and cue Napoleon XIV's great novelty classic.

(Remember when you ran away, and I got on my knees, etc.--Jerry Samuels)

Which reminds me--I need to finish They're Coming to Make Me Pray. More on it later.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

How to recognize believers in your midst

(Continued from here.) Anyhow, with religion becoming so fashionably unpopular these days, many folks are wondering how to tell believers from normal, everyday people. To avoid accidental interaction, or whatever.

I've been thinking about that a lot, and I've come up with a list of features to look for--tell-tale signs that the person you're observing is... one of those. You know, believers. Someone with faith. Of which I am one, which means I know what I'm talking about, believer-standard-characteristics-to-look-for-wise.

Here's my list:


Believers are bipedal primates, male or female , black or white (or neither), and native to America or some other country. We vote Democratic, Republican, other, or not at all.

We watch TV, listen to the radio, go to movies, rent videos and DVDs, own iPods, send and receive email, use pocket calculators, and talk on cell phones.

Those of us born in the United States call one or more of the fifty states our home, depending upon how many places we've lived and for how long.

Some of us are musical, some of us aren't. Some of us are multilingual, though most American believers, like most Americans, aren't. We speak and write one language well, if that many. Some of us are really into cameras, and others of us never caught the photography bug.

As a believer, I like to drink coffee (can't stand tea), and for breakfast I prefer eggs and juice (usually orange). I like cats and have a lot of sheet music.

So, there you have it--a short, handy guide to figuring out who among us is a believer and who isn't. (Oh, Who's an atheist? Never mind.) Ha-ha. Just thought I'd throw in that Abbott and Costello reference.

Next week: Church and State: Is Separation Good Enough, or Is a Divorce Called for?


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thrift store score--or, adventures in finding stuff

A small haul, but one to be remembered. Adventures in Sound and Space looks especially cool, and it's in very nice condition. (Hopefully, a closer inspection won't reveal a long and deep cross-cut or something.)

Let It Be is on the Apple label and in nice condition, so I got it. I think I've heard of this group someplace. Heard them even, maybe. There were a number of LPs by the same guys, most in crappy condition. The owner may not have liked this one so much--hence, the good condition?

TV-theme LPs are always worth getting, especially when they're put out by Peter Pan. And I live to find stuff like A Visit to New York with Arthur Godfrey and All the Little Godfreys.

I found three or four other things that are nice but not worth picturing. You gotta love the grease-pencil prices on these things--I've gotten so used to such defacement, it hardly registers any longer. I'm just glad to find cool stuff for 99 cents a pop.

Thrift reports don't get any more exciting than this, do they? Oh, well--the moment the exciting details of any hobby are committed to paper, they become about as interesting as dried toothpaste. Yes, you can quote me.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

A bad day for the faith

What can I say? I had no gospel tracks prepared for today. And, why not? Because I've been busy getting stuff ready for Halloween.

God hates me.

Yes, a bad day for the faith. And I say "the faith" in a tongue in cheek way, since there is no single faith. I'm one of those liberal believers, remember. It just sounds good as an expression.

Anyway, no gospel tracks--Halloween posts start tomorrow. God help my soul.

AND we have yet another religious bash-athon in progress at Stuffington Post, thanks to Arianna herself, who not too long ago told Keith Olbermann (or maybe it was Joe Scarborough) that she doesn't think religion-bashing happens at her blog. She said it with that "Who, me?" expression that she wears whenever she isn't grimacing.

And she's right. Unless we define religion-bashing to mean taking a candidate's words out of context and setting the progressive dogs on him for uttering the dreaded C word. (Arf! Arf!) John McCain stated that he preferred a Christian president, which--and this is a major news flash to Arianna and half of her blog staff--is what we're going to get. On my side, it's going to come down to Obama or Hillary (both terrific candidates, in my liberal opinion). And they're both (gasp!) of that C word persuasion. (Insert cliches about the end of church/state separation.)

Never mind that McCain qualified his statement (which happened to be a statement of OPINION, which apparently isn't allowed in a free society) by saying he'd vote for the best-qualified person, regardless of his or her faith. Arianna had no use for that part. She's got her Bill O'Reilly act down perfectly.

I posted three comments, two of which were censored. Meanwhile, of course, the same old bigoted anti-C-word drivel has gotten through with no problem.

As fun as my adventures in Huff-Po censorship have been, I'm hardly in need of further evidence that Huff-Po is the left's copy of the worst rightward blogs. We lefties have our versions of Rush and Bill, and Arianna is one of them. I especially love the way she chose Sunday to throw this sound byte to the progressive dogs. Classy.

Bev and I both wonder about progressives. As in, what are they? They don't seem to be very liberal. Here we have a great chance at getting a Democrat into the White House, and progressives are busy labeling Hillary a traitor, a clone of McCain, etc., etc. And they're not sure about Obama on account of he goes to church. In general, they refuse to root for anyone who has a chance of winning. That's progressive? I call that stupid.

But, back to topic, let me share a few quotes from the comment section. These are unusually mild, I should note. Normally, there'd be twenty really rabid statements begging to be cited. But it's Sunday:

"I agree MCain should quickly apologize But these religious (mind poison) tapes are laid down before the age of 5."

"I'm sick of being buried in christian dogma 24-hours a day."

"McPain is no 'Christian.' Like most of the 'Christian' world he happily resorts to violent means to accomplish what he has determined to be 'good.'"

I wish I could be that open-minded. Maybe I should embrace logic and reason. Yeah, that'll do it.

Anyway, this hasn't been a good day for the faith. Maybe next week.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Join the cool crowd--bash religion!

Off the top of my (bald) head, I can think of two groups which might be astounded by the latest "controversy" over faith. First, the great liberal theologians of the 19th century, who probably wouldn't know what to make of the early-21st-century atheists who think they're shocking someone by pointing out that A) God probably doesn't literally exist in the Big Bearded Guy Overlooking Everything sense, and B) the Bible is filled with contradictions. Their response would probably be 19th-century German for "Duh."

When atheists try to shock me with such information, I congratulate them for catching up, as a group, to the last 150 to 200 years of Protestant Bible scholarship. Not the answer they want to hear, but life can be like that sometimes.

And I think our Founding Fathers would lose faith in the future of our nation if they got a whiff of what certain fanatics make (or don't make) of the separation of church and state. The Founding Fathers, of course, were all for religious freedom--that's why they forbade the formation of a state church. This way, people are free to believe (or not to believe) as they choose. Great concept, and it's worked remarkably well.

In spite of this, certain idiots on the far right and the far left can't wait to toss out this idea. Oh, the guilty far-lefters pretend they're all for church/state separation, but only because they misperceive it as a tool for outlawing all expressions of faith. If they had their way, believers would be required by law to sign a statement prior to voting in any election--a promise that their faith has not, never has, and never will inform any of their voting decisions. All public mention of sacred texts or sacred texts--or the word "sacred" itself--would be outlawed. No problem with believing, so long as you don't do it outside of your cage.

Not the religious freedom the Founding Fathers had in mind, but why get technical?

Similarly, the far-righters want to force their views down everyone's throat. Except their views happen to be (more or less) religious. Leethinks that our brilliant Founding Fathers had both batches of cretins in mind way back when--such control freaks not being an invention of our time but a perennial bane of humanity.

At any rate, we're in the middle of a big "debate" about religion--a debate in which certain angry atheists, tired of having to be reminded that religion exists (oh, the pain!), toss out crude and ridiculous stereotypes about believers and then break out in sunspots the moment a believer dares to say, "Wait--we're not like that." At least, that's how it works at Huffington Post and at's review comment sections.

All Christians are the same, you understand--hyper-conservative, hyper-intolerant, and in love with Bush. We all voted for him, you know. Even liberal Christians voted for Bush. We had no choice--our ministers ordered us to. And God knows we can't think for ourselves. We dare not, because Hell's a-waitin' for us if we get to thinkin' our own thoughts.

This is the bizarre view of faith we find everywhere today, and I've come to a number of sometimes surprising conclusions regarding the whole sorry situation.

1) Obviously, conventional church services (with hymns, a sermon, Bible readings, etc.) are unknown to the majority of Americans. All they know is what they see on TV. They watch some lunatic screaming about damnation and those dang liberals, and they think that's what they'd encounter at the Methodist or Presbyterian church down the block. As some rocket scientist explained at Huff-Po, moderate believers rave on just like fundies--only at a lower volume. I suggested he was flat-out wrong, and he did what such geniuses always do--he ignored my input.

2) Similarly, moderate/mainline Christianity is unknown to most folks. Granted, TV ignores the Christian middle ground entirely--in spite of the fact that, at present, a number of moderate Christians are all over TV! You may have heard of some of them--Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards. And the dawkins-ites are foaming at the mouth over any and every mention of faith by these very folks, because they don't understand that religion isn't illegal in the United States.

If it ain't on TV, it don't exist.

3) Logical thinking is dead, at least on a popular level. How many times have I been informed that the majority of Christians voted for Bush in both elections? Tons of times. This, from the same folks who insist that unthinking, robotic, Bush-style believers are in the majority in the U.S.

Okay. So, by the most basic logic, Bush should have won by wide margins both times, assuming that all Christians voted for him, and that we make up a majority of the population. Right? So, how do they explain the fact that Bush got barely half the popular vote both times? Simple--they don't. Such people ignore anything they don't want to believe. While, of course, bashing believers endlessly for allegedly doing... just that. Yeah.

In the latest issue of The Christian Century, moderate and liberal Christians are urged to make our existence known--we have a duty to do so, the article says. Yes, well, I've been trying to do just that for the past year or two. And, frankly, I think I'd achieve better results for the Christian cause by sticking my head in the commode and gargling Mary Had a Little Lamb until I pass out. Not that I plan to. For one thing, our cats like to sample the water from that location, and I wouldn't want to get in their way.

If I had to choose the more clueless bunch, I'd go for the Huff-Po anti-believers (the bloggers and comment-leavers, both), if only because of their genteel conceit. Whereas the Amazon Bible-bashers are out to draw blood and don't intend to apologize for it, the HP'ers get genuinely offended whenever they receive unfavorable feedback for portraying believers as idiots, liars, and Nazis. Why, whatever did they say or do that might have rubbed us the wrong way? Like, what would the average believer find wrong with the use of "religion" as a metaphor for conformity, war-mongering, hostility toward women, hatred of liberals, and so on?

It's one thing to slander those who don't agree with you. It's another to act surprised when they turn out not to like it.

At any rate, after a year or two of debating such folks, I reckon I would believe anything regarding the public's sheer ignorance about religion. I speak as one who, according to a couple of quizzes I've taken (one in the pages of Christian Century), apparently knows more about the Bible than most evangelicals. And any acquaintance I've had with that document started after I'd left home and joined the Navy. By all logic, I should score low in terms of Bible literacy, but it seems I'm ahead of the pack. No wonder most bashers of faith have no idea what they're bashing. But watch that not slow them down at all.

(Note to Ulo--I almost deleted your first comment--sorry! I was attempting to delete my own but got the wrong one. But I was able to save your comments by paging back and copying them--they're there, out of order, below. My sincere apologies!)