Saturday, June 30, 2007

Whatever you planned for me, I'm not the one.

So, anytime one is starting to identify with Dave Gahan, especially this era Dave Gahan, that ain't a good thing. (Yes, I know Gahan doesn't write the songs, thank you very much.)

Coffee, on the other hand . . . coffee is good. Maybe some manga.

Reckon, I'm pushing that Gay Agenda...

(Nah, I reckon I'm just pushing that "liberty and justice for ALL" agenda. But if you want to view me as a tool of the vast gay conspiracy, go right ahead, I don't much mind.)

dis·crim·i·na·tion: treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit: racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.


So, would someone please explain to me how a certain portion of people within the United States can view scientific journals not publishing "creation science" as discrimination, but large companies refusing to cover the partners of gay and lesbian employees who have civil unions is not discrimination? Without having their brains cramp up from the mental gymnastics it would take to defend such a stance?

Civil Union Laws Don't Ensure Benefits

Friday, June 29, 2007

Follow me into the desert...

Time for some more thinking out loud.

So, I'm cool with evolution. I'm even down with the theory that humans and apes evolved from common ancestor. It doesn't bother me in the least little bit. And I don't consider evolution to be all at incompatible with a belief in a Divine Being. Frankly, I think it's better theology to posit that the world and everything in it is in a state of change as a part of a process toward some end goal than the most popular formulations of intelligent design. And, it's a greater wonder that a process could lead to the creation of something as intricate as a human brain, or a sense of taste than it is for some being to have simply said be.

And no, I'm really not bothered by the fact that there are holes and unexplained or imperfectly explained phenomenon. Science is a progress too. Scientists will continue to come into a more perfect understanding of the laws of the universe just as theologians (and, here I speak of theology in the grass-roots sense) will continue to come into a more perfect understanding the Divine and what the Divine calls on us to become. Revelation is constant and continuing and present in everything. That's my worldview, duckies. Love it or hate it, it's mine.

So, obviously, theories of the evolution -- much like anything else in human experience -- have something to add to theology. So then, what are some of the principle occurences described by the theory of evolution? Mind you, science isn't really my area, but then, for my purposes, I'm not interested in the intricate details just the general theory. So we have a principle of change. A principle that values adaptation. And it values variety and innovation.

The first two of these principles reveals that the Divine didn't set up a conservative world. The world is not intended to remain in stasis -- if that were the case, genes would not mutate. And genes do mutate. So, it seems quite clear, that the Divine likes change. Second, the ability to adapt is valued. Change in the environment, then adapt or be naturally deselected.

The third principle is the most interesting to me. The Divine isn't content with a single comforming cosmic muck. Or even some finite number of created critters. The Divine wants some bleeding variety and new inovations on a frequent basis. I see this being extended into a command for critters of the human variety. We're all different from one another for a reason. The imperative is not to conform to one single ideal of human behavior (or to one category in a gender binary). The imperative is to fully realize each individual, unique human self, thus acheiving the greatest possible variety. This means both realizing one's own potential and allowing others to recognize their selves. In other words, love thy neighbor as thyself. So, it's okay that other people don't express themselves in a way that is similar to one's or ultimately even in a way that is intelligible to one.

Further, I think that all the variety expresses something about the nature of the Divine. Namely, the impossibility of a single expression as sufficient to communicate the full nature of the Divine.

StrawPerson: But, wait, doesn't that rule out the possibility of the incarnation?

Well, no, not really. I don't think that it is at all impossible or even unlikely that the Divine was fully incarnated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. I'm going to fess up that I'm a bit more skeptical that J.C. is the only incarnation of the Divine as a human person. The thing is, it's notoriously difficult to know another person completely. It's notoriously difficult to know oneself completely. (i.e., it's not impossible that J.C. didn't fully understand his own divine nature.) And when you're two thousand years removed from an individual and relying on texts written at least one generation after the individual in question, there is no way.

This isn't to say that Jesus isn't a model for humans. It's just that the meaning of modeling one's life on J.C. needs some rethinking. Instead of suppressing the individual self to conform to what one's told Jesus lived like, look out how Jesus is portrayed as responding to human categorizations and commands to confrom to a code of expectations. Hmm, categories couldn't have meant too much to a dude who went around breaking social taboos and mores by eating with people considered unclean. In fact, Jesus appears to have had very little interest in folks who were conforming to social norms. He was more interested in embraced those who didn't fit. The one's who added to human variety. And, if a social code got in the way of what he needed to do, he outright ignored it.

Hmm, this is getting long. I'll stop here for now.

Methinks We Need More Loud-mouthed Southern Progressives

The Washington Post ran an article today on the impact of the small-town Southern constituency on the death of the immigration bill. Now, I didn't read the entirety of the bill that was being considered, so no comment on that one way or the other, but heaven help us, is this how they see the South. And then the scary realization that it might not be that far from the truth sunk in.

The article began with a quote from a lady who probably blithely chattered to the reporter without realizing just how racist her statements were; although, I'm not quite certain how you don't realize that this statement is racist. ". . . It was like an instant feeling of 'I'm in the minority, and if we don't get control over this, pretty soon all of America will be outnumbered.' "

Somewhere toward the middle we got a quote from a Christian Progressive who hopes that our hearts haven't become so hardened against our fellow human beings, but most the folks the reporter quoted have more in common with the first woman.

The writing technique the reporter were interesting as well. We get a landscape descriptions of Gainesville, Georgia that lingers on the remaining Antebellum mansions in the town and a park with a memorial to Confederate Soldiers. Anyway, interesting framing effect, lovely use of stereotyping there, Post reporter. But, I can't fault you on the nice way you pointed out that the South has become the tool of Bill O'Reilly and Fox News. One man "decided to get in touch with his senators because, 'Everyone [radio and television talk show hosts] was saying you need to let them know how you feel about this right now.'" Yes, and if everybody was jumping off a bridge would you jump too?

And we've got some work to do. Maybe, possibly, not responding to the cries of Bill O'Reilly and company to jump with a mass "How high?" would be a good place to start. Cause, frankly, if you don't want to be portrayed as the racist tools of talking heads the best thing to do is to stop being the tool of a talking head. Stop reacting out of fear.

I know there are some other Southern progressives out there. Let's speak up and speak out no matter how many fights we manage to cause over the turkey at Thanksgiving. Get an alternate opinion out there for consideration! And I know there are Southerners who find flaws with the way immigration into the US is handled currently but are more concerned that the system is creating a racially based caste system for low-wage labor. Talk a bit louder. Be heard. Shout!

Excuse me, I'm going to go put dents into a cinder block wall with my head now. And maybe just give up and work of losing some more of my accent.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I still don't get it...

Okay, maybe it's because I've been raised by science geeks and started reading my Dad's Discover magazines well before I knew what half the words meant. Or, the childhood interest in archaeology.

But, I'm trying. I'm really trying to wrap my head around how anyone can believe in Young Earth Creationism. I'm trying because I have relatives who are otherwise perfectly (well, mostly) rational people who do believe in Young Earth Creationism. Short of a heavy duty conversion experience (probably would take more than a trip to Damascus, folks), I'm not buying into it, but I'm just trying to understand how anyone could. (And supposedly, the relative in question is a science person.)

I've seen an argument for discrediting science that goes like this: scientists believed things that we now know are bunk 250 years ago, so modern science will probably be viewed as bunk in 250 years.

Okay. Science is a process continually refining itself. I'll give them that. In all likely, some theories that are today considered the best explanation for whatever will be considered total bunk in 250 years. But, how in the name of Holy Wisdom do you make the jump from that to, we can't trust the science of today because the science of 250 years ago was partly wrong, so lets throw it all out and go back to a oral tradition from roughly 3000 years ago. That makes perfect sense -- no, actually, it just makes my brain hurt. Why not go back to frigging Aristotle if you're going to do that?

And, what is up with the love affair with Darwin these people have? Yes, Darwin concocted the basics of the theory of evolution. Shitty, shitty things were done uses Darwin's theory. Other people have since modified it. And for pity's sake, claiming that Darwin teaches female inferiority is a reason to reject evolution is a horrible argument when the text one is promoting teaches female inferiority repeated and explicitly. (Note: Feminism isn't incompatible with the Bible, but for me, it is incompatible with strict Biblical literalism.) The negative impacts of Social Darwinism -- oh yes, they were legion! But would you like to have a chat about the Biblical defenses of racism, the continuing use of the Bible to justify the oppression of women at the "weaker vessel?" Honey, honey, let he who is without sin throw the first freaking stone! This is a logical fallacy on crack.

I decided to poke around the Answers in Genesis site. And it made my head hurt. Not in the good my head is hurting because this is just a little beyond me and I need to reread that paragraph -- three years in, I know that well. This is a different hurt. A hurt caused by trying to force connections that aren't there. Strains caused by trying a long jump into a conclusion that just doesn't follow.

And what on earth is up with their list of "scientists" who support creation? An associate professor of statistics -- my god, everyone who has taken a stat class knows you can make statistics say whatever you want. And what how does statistics make you an expert on evolution/creation/etc. Oh, oh, better yet, a dentist! And the fact that they don't have real curriculum vitae's handy for any of these folks is interesting. So, they got a Ph.D. from somewhere. Great, find me a legitimate college that hired them. No, Union (of the Jackson, TN) variety doesn't count, at least, not for biology. Publications? Oh, no, I'm wrong, this guy has an actual CV. But, please, note, his articles published in peer-reviewed journals aren't declaring, at least from that the earth was created in six days. Oh I'm sorry, he must have been discriminated against in the peer-reviewed journals. Well, gosh darn it, so I have, I was certain that my article on the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster should have been published!

Why in America they haven't spoken it for years!

Inspired by this rather amusing piece over at the Washington Post.

English -- the national language or the common language of the United States? Apparently the Senate added amendments with both terms into the current version of the immigration reform bill. Anyone else with me and just not give a flying rat's behind? I mean, come on, languages change. Ask any high school kid trying to read Shakespeare. (Granted, I was the kid getting malicious pleasure out of explaining to the boys what they had just read aloud and watching them blush.) And let's not be too vain, I mean English has its good points (I guess, you know, beyond the insanely unsystematic grammar), but honestly, it's a bastard child of the linguistic family, birthed from the unblessed coupling of Old French and Old Germanic languages. I suspect that American English is going to continue morphing and mixing with Spanish and in a couple of hundred years will have produced another little baby language. Nothing wrong with that, folks. Languages must to adapt to the changing needs of the population as a whole. Not to the needs of the elite segments of the population. (Anyone wonder why we're not speaking Latin?)

But really, why are the politicians so bleeding concerned with protecting and affirming English? Aren't there more important language matters to worry about? Like the fact that due to the abject failure of the public school system in America, a sizable percentage of the American population can not read any languages at all. Isn't that more of a threat to English than Spanish is? But we're not actually going to fix that. (Face it, no child left behind was a joke, is a joke, and will be a joke.) Or even really pay attention to it. After all, the people making the laws and donating money to the people making the laws can either send their kids to a posh private school or at the very least to a posh suburban public school. And, oh yeah, it'll take more than just educational reform. Doing something to fix the system so the parents of these kids can make enough to feed, clothe, shelter, and generally take care of their families might help out a bit too. Parental involvement in education is all well and good, but it's difficult to expect that if parents have to work two jobs at once just to have any hope of making the rent.

But, no, no, pay no attention to the suffering and exploitation behind the curtain. Look over here, look, look quick -- someone is speaking Spanish. How dare they! Это кошмар! Говорите по-англиски! I move we make Russian the official language of the US. Because the Cyrillic alphabet is much pretty than the Roman alphabet. Or, if we really must be English, I want some bloody British slang. Add some colour to the language.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

And the Moron of the Week Award Goes To...

Apparently, Orthodox equals Gnostic.

Now, these are my two pet areas mind you. I love 'em both. (Yes, I can do that, thank you very much.) But, no, no, that doesn't work that way. It doesn't even work linguistically, much less historically, or theologically.

Oh, it's connected to the Assemblies of God. That explains a lot.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

But Everybody's Doing It!

Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating

See that, kiddies, step away.

Birth Control, Abortion, Conscience, Those Sticky Subjects...

News article via Butterfly Cauldron. And her post on it is highly recommended reading.

I'm no longer surprised when I hear of women being denied access to birth control, particularly emergency contraception, because a doctor or pharmacist is morally opposed to it. The lack of surprise hasn't stopped me from experiencing a renewed surge of moral outrage with each new case.

First and foremost, my rage is directed at the nutters who have equated EC with the abortion pill. These are not the same drugs and do not affect women's bodies (or potential/established pregnancies) in the same way. EC works in the same way as the Pill, the hormones prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall. It will not cause an already implanted embryo to abort. But some talking head somewhere, it's probably Bill O'Reilly and Concerned Women for America has decided that EC is the equivalent of a medical abortion. Frankly, as sources of information, I think both of these are the pits, but apparently many people don't.

Second, I do have something of a problem with the way conscience clauses work out. Why would you knowingly go into a field where you know that you're opposed to standard practices? It would be quite similar to a confirmed small picture pacifist such as myself entering the military. And, while we're on the subject of the military, why in the name of all that is good and holy should doctors and pharmacists -- maybe ones who changed their "worldview" (that's the current catchphrase is evangelical land isn't it?) mid-through med school -- have a better conscientious objector system than folks in the military? The conscientious objector laws the United States currently has is rotten to core and allows little to no freedom of conscience. Or let's try something else, I could also decide to be a missionary on, oh let's say, the Southern Baptist ticket (when pig's fly, my pretties), would it be in anyway logical for me to go into the mission field knowing that I morally and ethically opposed to a huge, huge number of SBC teachings and practices? Or if, I made it to India and realized that I was really more called to Shiva or Kali that I continue working in the SBC mission field? No, it wouldn't. So, why would someone who is morally opposed to any kind of contraception go into gynecology where prescribing contraception is a standard practice?

Or at the very least, physicians should be required, as Butterfly Cauldron suggests, to inform potential patients upfront that they are morally opposed to contraception.

And to be frank, I don't fully understand the equivocation of potential life with an existing life. Further, I don't buy into claims that the Bible clearly states that anywhere. Last time I was reading, the penalty in the Levitical Code for causing a woman to miscarry was not the same as the penalty for murdering a person. This will get me into trouble, but God also never seemed to be above engaging in infanticide himself when he wanted to make a point. And, I don't think that there's anything in the New Testament regarding abortion and birth control at all. So, while people may indeed be convinced that contraception and abortion are morally wrong, that belief is based in something other than the Bible alone. You can believe in good faith that life begins when sperm meets egg just as much as you can believe anything else in good faith. But unfortunately, belief does not equal fact. The exact point at which life/personhood begins is unknown, unknowable, and we can't go around making laws that hurt women -- definitely established persons, right? right? maybe? -- based on a hunch that doesn't have much in the way of objective backing. Unless, of course, women aren't really persons which is indeed a belief espoused by some within this country.

Of course, the double standard here becomes clear when lesbians and single women are denied fertility treatments or even a routine physical exam prior to adopting a child. No, no, all potential lives are not precious and equal -- not when the persons who want to create a new life don't meet some arbitrary standard of who should be raising a potential life.

Hey and I'm even someone who's relatively disgusted by the number of abortions in this country. Of course, I'm disgusted because if we got some decent sex-ed for young persons some that they really knew what their options were and how to obtain and use said options, the increased ability to get ahold of those options, and the self-confidence to insist on what's right for them, there would be a heck of a lot less abortions. And yeah, abstinence is one of those options and young persons should feel empowered to insist on their right to remain abstinent if they so desire. Just like I feel empowered to insist on contraception should I ever need it (Why, yes. This post is being written by one person virgin enough to make St. Jerome shed happy tears and write creepy letters!) So let's abolish that absolute crap known as abstinence only sex ed, and maybe do something really radical like make regular old birth control available over the counter. (I can do a lot more damage to my body with Ibuprofen and actually probably have already.) And, further, the ability to prevent a pregnancy if I choose to have sex with a guy and the condom breaks or under any other circumstances gives me a heck of a lot more choice and autonomy over my body than an abortion does.

After all, I am a control freak.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Will God's Children Grow Up?

I think when I drive. And since I did a lot of driving over the past few days, I thought. A lot.

I've been reading through some of the criticisms of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I read the trilogy when I was younger and loved it. And since they're making movies, I figured I would reread. I actually want to see Pullman's worlds on screen, unlike the prospect of the Chronicles of Narnia which got a "meh" from me at best.

Of course, I also read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was little -- much littler than when I read Pullman. I enjoyed them at the time, but they never captured my attention the same way as other fantasy series did. I don't remember much about the philosophy expounded by C. S. Lewis therein -- I do remember realizing that it was an allegory. I only remember two scenes. Reepicheep sitting on the prow of a ship and somewhere in The Last Battle, Aslan allows a foreign prince into heaven because even if he didn't follow the right names his actions were worthy. That's it.

Pullman on the other hand had me at hello. This was refreshing. This was different. (By that time I had been jaded by Terry Brooks, Lloyd Alexander, etc. Never made it through Tolkien.) And there was so many things to contemplate! And, while I don't remember details from the second two books (my rereading plans have been derailed by my little brother's inability to keep up with things), I do remember that while God's death at the end of The Amber Spyglass made me raise my young eyebrows a bit, it didn't offend or bother me. (I also finished up the book while sitting in a church building, if you must know.) I certainly didn't see it as an attack on ethics or morality. And, in fact, it I remember correctly, God's "death" is actually a liberation, as God had been imprisoned and used by other forces. Now, I was a bit older than the publisher's target audience for the series (16, nearly 17 -- I had eagerly awaited publication and bought the book in hardcover as soon as it came out), but I had already figured out that religious institutions have no more a monopoly on truth than anyone else in the world, so you can't say that Pullman destroyed my faith in organized religion.

What I'm quite intrigued by, returning to His Dark Materials with an increased capacity for theological thought, is Pullman's concept of the Republic of Heaven, rather than a Kingdom of Heaven. I've been using the term Kingdom of Heaven myself in a very specific sense that draws on Vladimir Soloviev, Sergius Bulgakov, and other Russian Silver Age thinkers but is certainly infused with a number of notions I've taken from my own experience, sense of justice, and bite from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I've been using the term to refer to existence as it should be and is intended to be. And, in some ways, I think that perhaps the term Kingdom is incorrect for the vision I see and that the term Republic might come closer.

I'm bothered by the overlap of the usage of the world Kingdom by conservative, fundamentalist evangelicals. Perhaps they and I see the same thing, but from radically different angles. Perhaps we do not. I hear people insisting that we must toe the letter of laws that were written done for a society two thousand years gone like children who have been told that they shouldn't say the word "stupid" or "shut up" and run squealing to tell the teacher anytime one of their peers slips up. They want to cling to the forms of the dominant Western society and elevate the traditions of humanity (and only one segment of humanity at that) to Divine Law. Their Kingdom, however, is founded on absolute, unquestioning obedience to authority and submission to one's place within the hierarchy. This isn't an idea I have any wish to promote. It's an idea I have a firm faith is incorrect. (ETA: I should probably put a disclaimer in here that my disgust isn't with all evangelicals, or even all fundamentalists, some of them do have visions that overlap with mine a significant portion of the time. Unfortunately, the ones who dominant the stage and I seem to share little to nothing in the way of perspective.)

Drawing from Soloviev in particular, I see the duty of humans as continuing striving to reshape this world into something that more closely resembles this vision of the Heaven while gaining an ever-clearer vision of just what that Heaven is. We are not to sit passively by waiting for a heaven to come after we die. Further, we can no longer simply accept what we are told by the authorities of this world as if we were the small children of a large household in which the will of the Father is communicated through servants. We must grow up and leave the safety and the certainty of house in which things have always been done a certain way. We must take responsibility for finding our own truths and trusting ourselves as children and heirs of Divinity to see such things. The Divine calls on us all to grow up, assert our independence, gain our confidence, and speak freely before the Divine as an adult child might speak freely before a loving and beloved parent, not to cower as slaves before a cruel judge.

This means we must overcome our fears to leave behind the ways of past. We must recognize that to alter the revelation of our fathers and mothers is not taboo. We have to accept the responsibility of using our own judgement and the possibly that we may be wrong. I'm enough of a Gnostic to see the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as a precious gift -- not something unclean and criminal. The laws of Heaven are not found in carefully replicating the dominant themes of human history. Nothing in the statement, "well, it's always been that way" means that it always should be that way. Which is not to say that we can not take our lessons from human history. But one of the most valuable lessons of both the Gospels and the Prophets is that we should look to those marginalized by the dominant society. I mentioned in a previous post how I liked that the labyrinth in the floor of a local church forces one to go out to the margins before returning to the center. And whether this means leaving behind the notion that only men are allowed to have a leadership role in the church, or that marriage can only involve a man and woman, or that all women are intended solely for marriage and childbearing, or that only Christians have access to the truth, or that it's okay to not pay a worker enough to live on because he or she doesn't have specialized skills, we have to be willing move past what we previously held to be true. And we have to be brave enough to claim our birthrights as citizens of Heaven to speak the truth we see, strong enough listen to visions that oppose ours, and humble enough to accept it we have erred. And in our hungry for the good, the true, the just, and the beautiful, the most grievous error we could make would be to sell our birthright of thought, reason, and speech to the first person offering a tasty bowl of lentils.

I think Pullman's scene of God's "death" resonated with me, because I believe that God has been appropriated and trapped by other forces. I would perhaps hesitate to go so far as to say that God must die in order for humans to grow up and become citizens rather than children, but certainly the Divine must be liberated from the box it's been shut up in.

On the Rights of Damaged Goods to Speak Freely

I'm not fond of people telling me that I have no right to speak, or that my opinion is somehow not valid because of my age, my sex, my upbringing, my appreciation of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as comedians, etc. I'm even less fond it when someone tries to tell someone on my short list of people that.

My little sister and I were talking over the weekend. We were talking about a mutual friend -- B., a young man with a good heart to whom I also think the term zealot could be applied. B., as best I can tell, is a hard-core conservative, Bible literalist, creation science advocate who believes in editing out scenes of films and skipping chapters of books if he finds the content doesn't match with his worldview. I mentioned something about how I'd like to get B. alone in a room and have a long chat on respecting the right of others to believe as they choose, the legitimacy of other beliefs, and the reasons why I believe what I believe (and maybe if I'm in a bad mood, some of the research on what first century Christianity probably looked like before it was cleaned up). She said something about how she'd had a number of conversations with him over the past year -- they're both art students in the same high school graduating class. She said the last straw for her was when, in the course of an argument, he asked if she disagrees with the church (CofC) because our dad died. My sister said she couldn't think of a good retort and just said something that she had thought about these things for herself.

Of course, my blood promptly boiled to my brain, and I suggested that the next time B. tries pulling something like that to tell him the same argument could be made about Jesus and he was only convinced there is a Heavenly Father because of his intense grief over the loss of Joseph. Yes, obviously, the death of a parent at a young age is obviously going to have a profound effect on a person's personal theology/philosophy. I doubt age even matters in that equation. But to attempt to use something like that to discredit a person's beliefs and values is perhaps one of the lowest ad hominem attacks that I've heard of. No one should ever, ever tell another person that they have no right to think or speak because they are "damaged." Everything that happens to a person effects their theology and philosophy. It is impossible to think in a vacuum devoid of experience as a person! And while events in a person's life can rightly been seen as influences on beliefs or perhaps even explanations, a person's history does not invalidate the beliefs they are formed as a part of that experience.

End rant.