Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reflections on Caution

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is an ongoing work of fiction. If you're just coming in on it, you may want to read the whole thing. If you're a new arrival and short on time, it will help if you read the previous entry before this one.

I’m in luck... I think. The Elders didn’t want me to get rid of Claire - or (to use the same phrase in an entirely different sense) to get rid of Peter. That’s the good news. The bad news? They wanted me to “investigate” them: find out what they know and what they want.

So last Sunday I went to church with Claire. It wasn’t hard to arrange; I just mentioned being curious about it. After all, she and Peter both went there, so it must be a pretty decent place.

Claire said (something like), “I didn’t think you liked churches.”

I just shrugged. “It’s important to you.”

And she hugged me, hard; and that was that.

The church itself is... Well, it’s an older building, by the standards of modern American construction. Despite this, it has (what I think of as) a modernist flavor inside: clean white walls, stylized columns and a low dais to set off the sanctuary from the nave. The outside is simple brown brick, punctuated with stained glass windows. It’s old enough that the trees and bushes around it are firmly established. The building has obviously been well maintained.

The people... well, they were a mixed bag. Well dressed, for the most part, and even those without expensive clothes were dressed neatly. A couple of the younger members had the “Austin Weirdness” vibe - colored hair, piercings, and like that - but for the most part they were... maybe not conservative, but traditional. Claire and I fit right in, except that everyone seemed to know her - and half of them were actively curious about me. That could have been awkward, except that Peter found us shortly after we arrived, and helped run interference for us. He sat with us, too, which should have made me suspicious but (strangely) didn’t.

I followed their cues for the ceremony, but I didn’t rise to take communion. Peter suggested I go up for a blessing, so I did that instead; that seemed to please Claire.

“I like sitting in the audience,” Peter whispered when we sat back down. “It keeps the clergy on their toes.” He was wearing his collar, of course. I smothered the urge to laugh. Everybody around us was quiet, which made it even harder to do. The old guy might be the death of me, but it’s hard not to like him.

Claire and I headed out when the mass was over. Peter waved us off, and Claire thanked me for coming with her. I told her it was no big deal, which was sort of true: no unexpected threats, no sudden revelations, nobody doing anything but acting their part. It was... weirdly comfortable.

I’ll have to go back.

Declaration on Religion in Public Life

Okay, I just saw this this morning. Offhand, though, I like it.

The recent Gods and Politics conference in Copenhagen adopted the following Declaration on Religion in Public Life. The conference was the first European event of Atheist Alliance International, and was co-hosted by AAI and the Danish Atheist Society.

We, at the World Atheist Conference: "Gods and Politics", held in Copenhagen from 18 to 20 June 2010, hereby declare as follows:
  • We recognize the unlimited right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief, and that freedom to practice one's religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights of others.
  • We submit that public policy should be informed by evidence and reason, not by dogma.
  • We assert the need for a society based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular.
  • We assert that the only equitable system of government in a democratic society is based on secularism: state neutrality in matters of religion or belief, favoring none and discriminating against none.
  • We assert that private conduct, which respects the rights of others should not be the subject of legal sanction or government concern.
  • We affirm the right of believers and non-believers alike to participate in public life and their right to equality of treatment in the democratic process.
  • We affirm the right to freedom of expression for all, subject to limitations only as prescribed in international law - laws which all governments should respect and enforce.
  • We reject all blasphemy laws and restrictions on the right to criticize religion or nonreligious life stances.
  • We assert the principle of one law for all, with no special treatment for minority communities, and no jurisdiction for religious courts for the settlement of civil matters or family disputes.
  • We reject all discrimination in employment (other than for religious leaders) and the provision of social services on the grounds of race, religion or belief, gender, class, caste or sexual orientation.
  • We reject any special consideration for religion in politics and public life, and oppose charitable, tax-free status and state grants for the promotion of any religion as inimical to the interests of non-believers and those of other faiths. We oppose state funding for faith schools.
  • We support the right to secular education, and assert the need for education in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge, and in the diversity of religious beliefs. We support the spirit of free inquiry and the teaching of science free from religious interference, and are opposed to indoctrination, religious or otherwise.

Adopted by the conference, Copenhagen, 20 June 2010.

Please circulate this as widely as you can among people and groups who advocate a secular society.

Update: I've had a little more time to read and reflect on this, and I still really like it. I'm not particularly antitheist - that is, I see no reason to believe that God exists, but I don't see religion as inherently evil, either - and this makes a nice outline for promoting secular governments without trying to drive out religions per se.

Despite its origins, I hope that a great many religious people would agree with this - or at least most of it. Promoting secular government works in everybody's favor; mixing religion and politics isn't just bad for policy, it's bad for religion as well.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bad Jokes

Just because I can...

Two cows are standing on a hill. The first cow says to the second cow: "So, are you worried about this Mad Cow Disease?"

The second looks at the first cow and replies: "Why would I be worried? I'm a penguin."

And, while I'm at it...

A bear with three legs walks into a bar. He looks around, and then says in a slow, western drawl: "Ah'm looking for the man who shot my paw."

Feel free to contribute your favorite dumb jokes in the comments. Maybe we'll have a whole thread full of jokes and then everybody who reads it will feel irrationally cheered. Come on, it's for the good of humanity!

Doggies Gone Wild

Last Friday after work, I joined my wife, both boys, and my in-laws at the neighborhood pool. After we finished swimming, we had a nice picnic dinner, including beer. (There are a great many things to admire about my father-in-law.) After we finished eating, we loaded the boys up and headed home.

I’d come directly from work, so we had two separate cars. My wife took Secondborn (who isn’t quite three months old yet), while I took Firstborn (who just turned four). We all live within a single city block, so it was a short drive through a residential neighborhood. As we were making our way back home, I came upon wife’s car. It was stopped at a T-intersection, and parked at a peculiar angle in the street. Creeping up on it, I saw why she had stopped: there were a pair of small dogs running around in the street.

Another car, coming the other way, stopped on the other side of the street. The driver, a woman who might have been a few years older than me, got out. She approached the two dogs, and picked one up. It came easily; it was limping a little, and looked at her as if to say, “Oh, you want to carry me? Great!”

So my wife approached the second dog, and it - perhaps predictably - fled down the sidewalk. An older man - probably not that much older than me, but with white hair combed back in a mullet - got out of the other car, and came over to help.

Well, by that time I had gotten out of my own car. My wife got back into hers and went on her way; she had the baby, and there were three adults (plus, arguably, our four-year-old) to capture the remaining dog. So we moved around, trying to get the dog into a position where one of us could pick him up. The dogs were long-haired dachshunds, small and fuzzy and cute.

The remaining dog was having none of it. He dodged, fled, showed his teeth, and feinted at nipping if anyone got too close. So I collected the first dog, and put him in the back seat with Firstborn. (Firstborn was happy to hold the dog, and the dog was happy to be held.) Then I started the car, and followed them halfway up the block, to where the second dog had now run.

This time, when I got out of the car, I picked up my towel - because, really, you should always know where your towel is. (Also, because I’d seen the second dog snap at the other guy who was trying to pick him up.)

Now, bear in mind that I’m still wearing my swimsuit. I’m not wearing a shirt, and I’m barefoot. But I cut back to where the dog is, and chase along beside him until he’s pretty well sprinting. The problem is, I’m also sprinting, and it’s been a long time since I’ve done this sort of thing. He can keep this up a lot longer than I can.

But, I took my position just behind him and to the left, and I got him going to where he couldn’t change directions easily, and I reached out with the towel, and cast it.

It fell over him, and he skidded to a stop and started whining. I reached down, and scooped up dog and towel together. Then, very cautiously, I pulled the towel back from the dog’s face. That way, he could see, and my hand was on the back of his neck. He kind of glanced around, and then he settled. It was perfect - just exactly as if I knew what I was doing. One quick move with the towel, one captured dog.

So I put him in my back seat (along with Firstborn and the first dog), and drove back to the corner where we’d found them. The second dog had run up to one particular house, but they weren’t answering the doorbell... but their neighbor was just coming out the front door. I accosted him and explained the problem. He wasn’t looking for his dogs; he was just out for an evening constitutional. However, while I was talking to him, the other couple honked behind me. A woman was coming around the corner, and she was looking for some lost dogs.

To make a long story short, she was the puppy-mommy. She reclaimed them, and took them home; and I exchanged thanks and compliments with the other car; and we all went home and lived happily ever after.

The End.

(Don't mind me. I'm just going to stand here for a few more minutes, savoring how perfectly that maneuver worked. 'Cause, y'know, damn.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

plus ca change

"People are all the same."
"Crap. If that were so, you wouldn't need to tell me - I'd already think so."

Building the City, Part III

Cross-posted from here.
“My question for you: which character in your current book (the one you’re reading or writing) is going through the most dramatic journey? And do you like that character better than the rest?”
I’m not sure if mine will be especially helpful, but you’re certainly welcome to quote it if you like.

I’m working on a fantasy adventure rather than a romance, so I don’t really have a hero and heroine; I only have a single protagonist, the heroine. Her journey/ladder is mainly external, as she’s struggling to survive in a very strange place. Internally, she’ll be progressing from actively antisocial to someone who is at least tolerant of other people; but I’m not sure that’s a matter of character growth so much as the difference between feeling forced to interact with others at first, and having it be entirely her own option later on. She is, of course, my favorite character in the story… but that doesn’t mean I’ll be nice to her!

The antagonist isn’t really a villain; he’s just a very authoritarian (and somewhat self-centered) fellow who’s trying to keep his group alive and fed in a harsh and unforgiving environment. He probably has a steeper ladder than the protagonist; interacting with the heroine is going to force him to realize that authority is not a guarantee of obedience. I wouldn’t say I like him, though.

Building the City, Part II

Writing ideas come from funny places. Take my current project:

The setting is courtesy of a dream I had. This wasn't the setting for the dream itself; it was the setting for a MMORPG that I was play(test)ing in the dream. But it was a hell of a cool setting, and I was having a lot of fun playing a character there - or dreaming that I was playing, anyway. (It's really not as surreal as it sounds...) If I were a programmer, I might try to build that game. If I were an artist, I'd draw pictures of that place. (Unfortunately, stick figures really wouldn't do it justice, and that's about the limit of my artistic ability.) As it happens, I enjoy writing, so I decided to set a story there.

Which was fine, but what would the main character do? Well, he'd be a new arrival; so there would be scavenging, exploring, and other survival-oriented activities. He would discover that people here had powers - they could do things that weren't supposed to be possible. And he'd quickly discover that some powers could be acquired... and not just acquired, but accumulated. It was dangerous, but it could be done.

What sort of power would he acquire? What direction would he go with that knowledge? In a setting like that, what would he want for himself?

I read a lot of comics when I was younger. (I still read some, but it's nowhere near as many. Partly that's because of time and money considerations, and that's partly because the quality seems to have dropped off - couple not-so-good writing with an addiction to endless crossovers, and I'm gone.) At one point, while reading the New Mutants, I started wondering about what sort of character I'd add if I were writing a story in that setting. Well, Marvel Comics has a character called Selene, a sort of psychic vampire who drains people's life energy to fuel her powers and extend her life. And it occurred to me that if she had a son, he might have a similar power, but fueled by blood. This appealed to me, since it added an interesting moral dimension to using his power: he could be as powerful as he wanted, if he was willing to take enough blood. Plus, it would be fun to write: you could introduce him with a couple of minor powers (strength, dexterity, a bit of damage resistance, and a powerful mind shield to hide his secrets from prying telepaths), and then drop hints (dead animals around the estate, using powers he hadn't shows previously). When his parentage and the true nature of his powers was finally revealed, you could have a big, dramatic showdown over whether he'd be able to stay with the team.

Sadly, Marvel never hired me as a writer, and the idea was left to languish on the top shelf in the back of some dark closet in my mind. I didn't forget entirely, though; and it occurred to that it would be an excellent fit for this setting.

The character himself wouldn't work, though. His background was too specific to the Marvel Universe. That could be adapted, but I didn't want him to be born with the power. I didn't want him to be born in the city at all; part of the weirdness of the setting is that people just occasionally wake up there. (New arrivals have no memory of their past, or how they got there; but they retain their skills, and they all have a single power: they can understand each other's languages.)

Which led me to another question: what sort of person would actually want a power like that?

It would be somebody who wanted access to a lot of power, obviously, and wasn't too picky about what he had to do get it. So, probably somebody who didn't have a lot of power, and couldn't afford to build up slowly (by accumulating minor powers). Right about then, my protagonist sudden became female, and Eve was born.

Eve, I thought, would be a new arrival and something of a loner by nature. She'd be a fighter, but also realistic about her limitations. She would feel trapped by the people who had taken her in, and by her inability to survive without them. Then she'd learn about the Temple on the Hill, and see a possible way out - if she could survive it.

Eight weeks and fourteen pages later, I have the heart of the story. It already begs for a sequel.

I wish I had more time to write.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Building the City, Part I

So... I finally finished writing up the short story about the Ruined City. Except, it's not a short story, exactly. It's more a capsule version of a book - like an outline, but with scenes, if that makes any sense.

This idea of using a short story as an outline is new to me, but I like it. I'm usually not much for outlines; in my youth, I'd just sit down and start writing. Of course, in my youth I had time to sit up writing for a couple of hours every night, so it was easy enough to keep my head in the story. These days I don't have that kind of time - at least, not if I want to see my wife and the boys. (This story/outline is about fourteen pages long, and it took me eight and a half weeks to write it. That's an insanely long time, but it's a direct result of trying to cram the project in around the edges of everything else.)

So I've had to become more organized in order to compensate: make lists of characters, take notes on the setting, outline the story. The problem is, I'm not very good at that sort of organization; it takes time, and makes writing feel more like work and less like fun. This, on the other hand, was actually enjoyable, and didn't rob me of my enthusiasm for the setting.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reflections on friendships

I came into the store two days ago, and found Claire talking to Peter at the front counter. For those coming in late (or those who’ve been following along, but have just forgotten), Claire is my girlfriend who doesn’t know anything about my religious beliefs, and Peter is a retired priest who may be all too aware that my religion requires the occasional human sacrifice and the eventual end of the world.

Finding the two of them chatting it up was not the most comfortable moment in my life.

I waved at them and went into the back to get ready for work. Interrupting them, or showing anything other than a casual, matter-of-fact greeting, would give the game away. The first rule of appearing normal is assuming that everything around you is normal, even when it isn’t.

So when I asked Claire about it later, it was very casual: “How was Peter doing?”

She said he was fine. He’d just come in to pick up his Diltiazem. Why was she talking to him? Because he goes to her church.

I said, “Oh.” Claire looked at me, surprised, and I smiled. “So you know each other,” I said, to cover my reaction.

I was worried that she was a spy. I had to be, because the Whisperers are unforgiving. If there was any chance that Peter wasn’t retired, or that Claire had been sent to learn about me... I needed to know. Never mind that she only goes to church about once a month, or that she doubts that Jesus was a historical figure. She could just be saying that to put me off guard.

She pointed out that there were a lot of people in the congregation, which didn’t help me at all. It could have been a perfectly innocent response, or a clever cover - either one.

I said, “Well, I hope he takes care of himself. He seems like a nice guy.”

She smiled and nodded. “I think so. He’s always been nice to me. And he said the same about you: you seem like a nice guy.”

“Well,” I said, “that’s good to know.”

We grinned at each other and went back to work. I wish it was this easy, but it won’t be. The Whisperers haven’t come around, so our secrets are still safe... but given their relationship, I need to talk to the Elders. Depending on what they know, or what they find, I may have to be rid of Claire - or kill Peter, or move somewhere else. Possibly all three, and none of them sound like ideal solutions.

You don’t last this long if you panic easily. I’ll make my report, and see what comes. I survived quite a while before Claire came along; sure I can continue without her. Surely...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Father of Boys

Tune in for our next exciting episode, in which we settle in to life as a family of four. Will Daddy ever find any free time? Will Mommy finish grading her papers? What does Theron think of his new younger brother, anyway? Join us for all of this and more:


(I keep the parenting thing separate so that people who are only interested in the family-friendly stuff don't accidentally get exposed to the blog - or vice versa, really.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Penal Substitution, Or Not

So, I was looking at Slacktivist and I saw this advert: "Find out how Jesus really saves!"

Now, I've been following Ken Pulliam's dissection of the Penal Substitutionary Theory (basically, the idea that Jesus "died for our sins") with considerable interest. My inability to accept this doctrine was a large part of my departure from Christianity, though at the time I didn't really have a good way to explain my disagreement; and Dr. Pulliam is making a very thorough examination of the theory.

So, naturally, when I saw the advert, I clicked on it. It took me to a page belonging to something called The New Church. I was hoping that they'd have an interesting new take on the PST, and I wasn't disappointed:

They reject it utterly.

No, seriously, they do. They claim, basically, that Jesus' death on the cross was not necessary for our salvation. They say that he accomplished that by becoming human, and through the example he set in his life.

Now, this is interesting to me on two levels. First, it's a pretty stark reminder of the huge variety of actual beliefs that exist under the umbrella of "Christianity." I'd have said that the belief that Jesus died for our sins was one of the defining beliefs of Christianity. The New Church apparently disagrees, but in such away that they're still legitimately "Christians" (in the sense of "Followers of Christ").

Second, it interests me because of how it relates to the rest of Christianity. They're saying that mainstream Christianity has been missing the point for two thousand years. Quite possibly they're even saying that the Apostles missed the point. Offhand, I'm not completely certain whether this view can even be supported biblically; I think you'd have to do some very interesting exegesis in order to conclude that the death of Jesus on the cross was not some sort of payment for our sins.

It certainly is an interesting take on the New Testament, though.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wisdom Teeth and a Notable Lack of Wisdom

When I was eighteen, I had my second set of wisdom teeth taken out. The upper ones had already been removed. That hadn't been a big issue, since they'd come in straight. The lower ones, by contrast, were coming sideways: growing towards the front of my mouth, and pushing everything along in front of them.

So I had them removed, too. This was, obviously, a much more complicated process than the first set. They couldn't just be pulled; they had to be cut out. This was done under local anesthesia. I don't remember much about the process except that I couldn't see what was going on, so it was long and boring.

After it was over, the dentist gave me some instructions on what to do and what to watch for. He also gave me a bottle of pain pills - or maybe we picked those up on the way home; I don't think so, but I'm not sure.

Anyway, my dad drove me home. He needed to get back to work, so I was going to be home alone for the rest of the afternoon. That was fine, except for one thing: I'd wanted to stop for a milkshake and maybe rent a couple of movies, and he didn't have time. But okay, no big deal. The McDonalds and the video store were pretty close to each other, and only a block away.

I didn't have access to a car, and either I didn't have a bicycle handy, or I didn't think to ride one. (Maybe I didn't want to balance a milkshake while riding a bike?) So I locked up the house and started walking. It wasn't that far to go; I'd done it plenty of times before.

I was just a little over halfway to the McDonalds when the local anesthesia from the surgery wore off. This would have happened anyway, but heading off for a brisk walk may have hastened the process. The pain pills, of course, were back on the kitchen table. I was increasing aware of two things: somebody had just cut open both sides of my lower jaw, and this wasn't the best plan I had ever come up with.

So I kept walking. I mean, what else was there to do? If I went back, I wouldn't leave the house again - and we didn't have cable, or anything like the collection of videos I own now. I really didn't think I was going to be up to reading a book, either. At the moment, watching a movie seemed more like my speed.

I got my milkshake, and then I rented some videos. Until then, I hadn't considered that trip to be much of a walk. The throbbing in my jaw was making me reconsider. Pain makes everything seem to take longer.

But, finally, I got back home. I immediately took two of the pain pills, put in a movie, and completely failed to move for the rest of the afternoon. My parents came home to find me immobile on the couch, covered in a thin layer of dust, with the dog sitting in my lap.

Well, okay, I'm making up the part about the dust. But the rest of it is true.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Minor Powers

I've been reading comic books for most of my life. Some of them are very episodic, but others build complex storylines across multiple issues, treating each issue as a chapter in the story.

Among the various things that interest me about comic book mythology is the way in which relatively minor powers get explored and applied. This is particularly true among the Marvel Universe mutants, but it shows up in plenty of other places. Just to choose an example from a completely different genre, consider Emma Bull's Finder - a novel set in Bordertown, where the Faerie Realms have returned to touch Earth again. The main character has a power which sets him apart from other people, which makes him into both a freak and a hero. His power...

...is the ability to find things. He's a locator. Tell him what you're looking for, and he can lead you to it.

It's not especially potent, and it's certainly not useful in combat. But it's an extremely useful ability in everyday life. And it gets him into trouble as much as it helps him out of it, maybe more.

So tell me: what are your favorite underappreciated powers? What abilities offer the most potential for clever use? What superpower might make someone famous, outside of superhero slug-fests? If you could have one stupid little ability, what would it be?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reflections on Research

Since last week, I've spent probably twenty-some-odd hours going through the archives, and what I've found is very disturbing.

I've found nothing. Nothing about a strange place where the ground is made out of hexagons, or where life itself is little more than a mist. You'd think that someone, somewhere, would have had learned about this place and written it down. But, no.

So, I wrote the dream down and added it. It took a little while, and the... administrators... will have to review it. But it's there, in case anyone else stumbles onto the place. I haven't had the dream again, so maybe this was just one of those weird little things.

Claire has now met Billy and Crystal, and seems to like them. We rented a movie, and watched with beer, coke, and popcorn. Mbata wasn't there - he was out of town again - but that was probably for the better. We're used to keeping secrets, but the more of us who get together - especially when we're somewhere familiar and private - the more likely someone is to let something slip.

But this went well, and it was fun, and I'll probably have everybody over to my place on Friday - assuming the world doesn't end first.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Not the Christianity I Knew, Part IV

Okay, so... I've talked a little about the enormous varieties of disbelief and deconversion, and where I fit into all that; I've said that my own exit from Christianity was a relatively gentle departure. I've talked a little about the fact that people tend to judge things based on their own experiences, and I've talked a lot about my experiences in and around the Episcopalian Church. In particular, I've talked about how strange and limiting Biblical Literalism seems to me, and how I was taught that the Bible, while still the word of God, should be considered in light of tradition, reason, and experience. Now, let's see if I can tie all that together.

There are people who object to this sort of moderate, balanced approach to Christianity. They say that if the Bible really is the Word of God, then it must mean everything it says, exactly the way it says it. Otherwise, you end up picking and choosing the things you like, the parts of the message you agree with - "cafeteria Christianity". If you're going to do that, why bother using the Bible in the first place?

Interestingly enough, I've heard this from both fundamentalist / evangelical Christians... and from outspoken atheists. And in both cases, I think it says more about the speaker than it does about either the Bible or Christianity. I suppose that's just another way of saying "I'm normal, it's the rest of the world that's odd" - but I stand by it nonetheless.

First of all, there's an element of all-or-nothing thinking, there. Considering what the Bible has to say in terms of reason, tradition, and experience could become a matter of just choosing the parts you like... but it certainly doesn't have to. There's some middle ground there which frequently gets overlooked, either accidentally or deliberately.

Secondly, I'd argue that everybody interprets the Bible in light of reason, tradition, and experience - it's just that some denominations don't like to admit it. ("Oh, we're not really part of a denomination. We just read the Bible." I was sitting in on a youth group meeting in one of those churches, and the youth leader started talking about prophecy, the Rapture, and future history. What did he pull out to support the lesson? It wasn't a direct reading of the Bible. It was one of those bizarrely convoluted Scofield reference charts.)

Thirdly, the Bible itself supports a more moderate approach. Consider Matthew 22: 37-40: "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Which two commands? Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. If some specific law seems to violate either of both of these commandments, then you're either reading it wrong, or applying it incorrectly... and, to crib from Fred Clark again, you're probably trying to turn the Bible into a rulebook.

So, obviously, I think it's a mistake for believers to dismiss the more moderate and/or liberal sorts of Christianity as insufficiently Christian, insufficiently devout, or insufficiently correct. And, insofar as the reasoning is the same, I think it's a mistake for nonbelievers, too.

But for nonbelievers, I think it's doubly problematic. Not only is the logic suspect, but the practical considerations... Well, look at it this way:

I don't think we're ever going to get rid of religion, at least not in the broad sense of the word. One or more specific religions might fall into decline and eventual extinction; or, more likely, society-at-large might rein in their less acceptable behaviors. (Consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and their early embrace - pardon the term - of polygamy.) But religion in some form - some belief in the Unseen Forces That Govern Our Lives - seems to be a universal in human societies. Anywhere you find people, you find religion. Maybe the race will outgrow that, but frankly I doubt it.

And, to be honest, I'm not at all sure that the end of religion is a desirable goal. I'd like to see an end to the more pointless forms of tribalism; I'd love to see the more authoritarian personalities robbed of the ability to claim divine sanction. But religion overall? I'm not sure about that at all. How much would that change people? Or, to ask that question another way, how much would people have to change to be rid of religion? What underlying qualities would we have to lose, or transform, or re-channel? Would people without religion even be recognizable as people? I don't know, and I suspect the question is even more complicated than I'm suggesting here.

So, basically, I don't think we're ever going to get rid of religion. Even if I'm wrong, and religion really is a source of great evil, I think we're stuck with it. So, that being the case... Well, there are plenty of atheists who would like to promote less religion; there are even some who hope someday to see no religion. I'd like to see better religion: religions with more tolerance, religions which respect the conscience of the individual believer, religions which accept - even revel in! - the contributions of science to human knowledge.

For that reason, I think that atheists (and other nonbelievers) do themselves a disservice when (and if) we insist that if someone is going to self-identify as a Christian, they have to take the entire Bible at face value; or they have to accept everything that (some value of) Christianity has historically taught; or even that they must know everything there is to know about scripture (or near enough) in light of their particular denomination.

In a lot of ways, lukewarm Christianity - comfortable, familiar, not-too-well-examined Christianity, Cafeteria Christianity - is a good thing. It leaves room for advances in science. It leaves room for evolving (hopefully improving) morality. It doesn't insist that it has - and more to the point, that it understands - the whole of the Truth. It doesn't threaten anyone who disagrees with an eternity of fiery punishment. And to insist otherwise, to insist that this sort of approach isn't legitimate... I think that plays directly into the hands of those who would conscript the religious impulse for their own benefit.

That may not be Christianity as you know it. But it is Christianity as I knew it.

Not the Christianity I Knew, Part III

Stephen Hawking, in a recent interview, had this to say about science and religion: "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works." (h/t to Bruce)

While there is some truth to this, at least in the context that Hawking was probably thinking about it, in a larger context I disagree. Partly that's because when I hear “religion” I think of some of the strange little hunting rituals of the Mbuti pygmies; or the idiosyncratic, individual interpretations of Wicca; as well as the strongly hierarchical religions such as Christianity. So it depends a lot on how you’re defining “religion”.

But, basically, I think it’s possible for religion and science to be complementary, rather than contradictory, views of the world. In this case, science tells us how and why things work, and religion tells us (or, and this is important, lets us tell others) what’s important to us as people. That requires a fairly radical reinvisioning of what religion is and what it does; it also requires a firmer understanding than most people have of what science is and what it does.

Except... that view of religion doesn't seem that radical to me. Episcopalians, as a rule, don't have the same issues with science that more fundamentalist denominations do. The Earth was created in seven days? Well, okay, but what exactly does "day" mean if the sun wasn't created until a couple of "days" in?

I don't remember whether I was ever explicitly told about the "four legged stool", in which scripture, tradition, reason and experience each make up one leg of the stool. It seems to be a fairly common concept among Episcopalians (though most of the references I can find involve people objecting to the metaphor). In any case, whether or not it was ever an explicit teaching, it's a good reflection of the way that I was taught to think about faith.

Fred Clark, over at Slacktivist, has done a series of posts about the dangers of mistaking the map for the terrain. He talks about the difficulties involved in trying to use the Bible as a rulebook. He also tells the touching (I'd say heartwrenching) story of a classmate of his, a Young Earth Creationist, who found himself looking at a building that had existed for two thousand years long than the Earth itself, at least as he'd been taught.

I mention this because that reflects the way I was taught about Christianity. The Bible doesn't have to be a rulebook. Even if you believe that it's the Word of God, that doesn't make it a rulebook. The former does not require the latter. It can be a history, a love poem, a story of struggle and encouragement... and it probably is all of those things. But some people will make a rulebook out of anything.

I tend to think of it as the other way around. I don't see the Bible as a message from God to humanity, but rather as a chronicle - one among many - of humanity's attempt to understand God. But then, I am not a Christian.

There's more of this to come. I warned you it would be long and meandering...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Not the Christianity I knew, Part II

Continuing to explore... I do have a point that I'm working towards, but we'll get there a bit at a time. So, again, if this seems incoherent and/or directionless, please bear with me.

On Sunday, I dropped Firstborn off at my parents' church. Now, Beautiful Wife and I have recently had our second (and probably last) child. And, as I was handing Firstborn off to my father, one of the parishioners saw me and said, "Hey, pretty soon you'll be dropping two off! Congratulations." Now, I suppose you could find something offensive in that if you dug deep enough, but as a message - "Congrats on your second child, and we're happy to have them here" - I thought it was a pretty nice thing to say. Also, notice what he didn't say (or even imply): there's no hint of a "you should stay for the service" anywhere in there.

That's the church I grew up in. (Well, it's not the only one, but it's the main one.) It's changed somewhat in the... Hell below, has it really been two decades? ...since I last attended; but the environment is very much as I remember it.

People tend to judge things based on their own experience. There's no helping it, and it isn't necessarily a bad thing - but it's something to keep in mind. A large part of the reason that I don't view religion, or even Christianity, as inherently harmful is because that's not my experience of it. The Christianity I grew up with was essentially harmless, and occasionally even did some good (by way of charitable giving, for example). At worst, you could say that it was a waste of resources that could have been better used elsewhere; but that's true of a lot of things.

It's probably worth noting that my point about people judging things based on their own experience cuts both ways. It's possible that religion really is fundamentally harmful and oppressive, and I just don't see it because I happened to grow up in a church that wasn't - a rare exception to the rule. I don't actually believe that, but maybe my bias is leading me astray.

Not the Christianity I Knew, Part I

This is going to be more of an essay than most of my posts: I'm not trying to make a particular argument, so much as exploring a particular line of thought. So if it's a meandering and/or a little incoherent, bear with me.

I've mentioned before that I hang out on a fair number of blogs belonging to unbelievers. They're not the only places where I read and respond online, but they're a significant fraction. Now, unbelievers are not exactly a monolithic group. The simplest division is between "atheist" and "agnostic", but even that isn't really clear cut. There's a lot of arguing about just how to define those terms, and how they relate to each other. In addition, a lot of people don't find either one entirely satisfactory, so there are a host of less common designations: free-thinker, rationalist, humanist, apatheist, etc. There are people who were raised without religion (not many, but some); there are people who became devoutly religious and later deconverted; there are people who were never that devout to begin with. So, yeah: a lot of variety.

There are also varying degrees of what I'm going to call antitheism - the belief that religion is harmful. Think of how much further along we'd be if religion hadn't been suppressing scientific discoveries for all those centuries. Do you know how many wars and inquisitions and genocides religion is responsible for? Or, in a milder form: good men can be good on their own, and bad men bad, but for a good man to do bad requires religion. With the population pressure and technology increasing the way they are, we just can't afford to keep accepting irrationality.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the people who are strongly antitheist have come out the more oppressive, abusive, and authoritarian strains of religion. Here in the U.S., that's usually Fundamentalist and/or Evangelical Christianity. And, perhaps equally unsurprising, some of them fairly strongly disapprove of my own attitude toward religion, which might be described as "gentle tolerance".

But, of course, we're coming at this from very different directions. For most people, losing their faith and/or leaving their religion is a hugely traumatic experience, akin to divorce or a death in the family. (Dr. Ken Pulliam has a post on the subject here.) For me, it was a much gentler experience, more like I went to take a look outside and just never went back in. But then, I was a strange child (who knew, right?). I wasn't so much antisocial as asocial, and Church was just one of a long list of things that seemed very important to everyone else and didn't make much sense to me. I remember, in the course of looking back at my religious upbringing, being angry at times, and sad at other times; but I didn't go through the wrenching grief that so many former believers do. Christianity just wasn't that big a piece of my identity or my emotional life.

And, of course, I didn't experience the social consequences that other people do: lost friendships, exile from the community, having the people you rely on for support turn on you. When I show back up at my parents' church (which I do, because my son spends his Sundays with them), people are friendly and happy to see me. Nobody stops to ask me why I drop my son off and leave; nobody feels compelled to warn me that my immortal soul might be in danger. It's not that sort of church.

Keep that last thought in mind; I'll be coming back to it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Peer Pressure

"Honey, I think it's time we had a talk about peer pressure."

Lisa set her books down on the kitchen table and turned to look at her mom. "No... No, it isn't."

Her dad spoke up from where he was leaning against the counter beside the sink. "Well, you're in High School now, and some of your friends are probably going to-"

"Stop," said Lisa. "Please, just stop. This is the same message I've gotten from every fourth cartoon since I was six years old. We've talked about it at school. It comes up at least four times a year in youth group." She took a breath. "I promise you, if I wind up hooked on crack, or get pregnant, or get myself arrested, it won't be because everyone else is doing it."

Her dad's lips quirked, and he straightened. As far as he was concerned, the conversation was over. When he turned to open the silverware drawer, that confirmed it.

Her mom wasn't entirely reassured, though. She was on the other side of the table, and Lisa could see her open her mouth for another attempt.

"Besides," Lisa continued, smoothly cutting her mother off, "have you seen the people I go to school with? We may be classmates, but they aren't my peers." She hesitated, hating to ruin the line by nitpicking, then added. "Well, one or two. But those aren't the sort to get me into trouble."

This is, in a nutshell, the response I had to every Peer Pressure presentation after I turned about twelve - and I was forced to sit through a surprising number of them. "What makes you think these people are my peers?"

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Could you wait just a couple of days?

This isn't the sort of thing I usually post here, and it will probably get reproduced in the Book O' Parenting, but I wanted to get it down while I was thinking about it. So, here you go.

So, last Saturday on his fourth birthday, Firstborn Son slipped while climbing down from something. He didn't fall far, maybe two feet at most. I really expected him to just bounce right up, as he usually does.

Instead, he cried... and kept crying. Apparently he'd clocked himself on the underside of his chin. So I felt around down there, making sure the bones were all intact. Then I checked his teeth. Then I carried him back to the picnic table, where he steadfastly refused to do anything but lay on the bench.

I sent my dad back to our house for Motrin, and took him into the pool. (We tried both ice cubes and a cold Capri-sun to keep the swelling down, but he wouldn't take either one for more than about five seconds; the pool was the next best option for keeping the area cool.) And, after a bit of swimming and some Motrin, he did seem to feel better. So, after the party, we went home and he spent most of the afternoon playing Lego Star Wars (and opening robot toys).

I checked his jaw and teeth again before I put him to bed. Honestly, I wasn't too worried: he'd been eating with no evident discomfort, so he'd probably just bruised himself. I could even see where some of the bruising was.

Well, by Sunday evening I was starting to reconsider. There was still only a little real bruising, but the bottom of his chin had swollen... badly. Like, all the way up to his cheekbones. That badly. He still wasn't showing any discomfort, and he was still eating without difficulty, so I stood by my initial diagnosis; but man that was uncomfortable to look at. He'd gone from this:

To this:

It was like someone had snuck in and replaced my son with a tiny clone of Jay Leno. It was creepy. I mean, he spoke like my son, he acted like my son, and he played with the same toys as my son; but every time I looked, I found him wearing a stranger's face. I spent most of Sunday in the grip of a deep, quivering panic that I couldn't do anything about.

My wife, who was understandably upset by the idea that her son was now disfigured, declared that she was taking him to the doctor on Monday. I didn't expect them to find anything, or be able to do anything about this, but I agreed anyway: I hadn't expected the bruising to reach these epic proportions, either. And even if I was right, it would be mightily reassuring to have a professional tell us that our son was still basically okay.

So she took him, and the doctor checked for a long list of possible injuries (including several things I hadn't even considered: damage to the hinge of the jaw, ruptured eardrums, and pockets of scar tissue forming in the swollen area). The doctor then told my wife more or less what I'd expected: the boy just needed time to heal. "Relief" is entirely too mild a word for it; it was like having a massive rock lifted off my genitalia.

So we put him to bed Monday night (along with a couple of the newly-opened robot toys), and eventually went to sleep ourselves.

And then, at three in the morning, my wife came into my room and turned on the lights to inform me that Firstborn had somehow managed to fall out of his bed and bite his lip. Now, first of all, this never happens. The child has been alive for four years, and he's never once rolled out of his bed in the night. We even have a little barrier in place, to keep him from doing that. How in Hell did he manage to do it now?

Second, I was in absolutely no condition to deal with this. The clutch on my brain was broken, and no matter how much I revved it, I couldn't find a gear. I staggered out into the hall with my wife, and looked past her to see Firstborn, who had followed her out of his room. My wife immediately turned and hustled him back to his room, which left me lurching along behind them and making inarticulate grunting sounds that were meant to convey things like, Wait! Come back! I'm supposed to be helping you! I mean, she'd woken me up in order to help him, and now she was herding him away from me.

I finally made it into the boy's room, and found that while he had bitten his lip, he apparently hadn't done much else. (I later found a small bump on the side of his head, but it was barely detectable.) So I wiped up the blood, gave him some ice water to drink, and added another round of Motrin. And, after a while, he went back to sleep. I, of course, didn't.

So, for most of Tuesday, my one recurring thought was this: Couldn't you at least wait a couple of days before hurting yourself again? This was, as often as not, accompanied by another thought: Arrrgh!

All's well that ends well, I suppose. The swelling is going down, and Firstborn is starting to look like himself again. I'm still short on sleep, but I'm pretty much used to that by now. Give me a few more weeks, and no doubt cognitive dissonance will set in and I'll think that these are the moments that make parenting worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reflections on a Dream

I had a strange, strange dream last night.

Before I describe it, I want to throw in a little background. Dreams, for us, are a lot like dreams for everyone else... most of the time. Mine are usually jumbled images of things I've read or seen or done, sometimes with a coherent scenario, sometimes just nonsense. Crystal's tend to be more narrative (she says), but don't usually have any special significance. Billy's dreams fall somewhere between hers and mine, but every few months he has a true dream of the past or the future. Oh, nothing that you might use to win the lottery; usually the distant past or the far future, and sometimes it's hard to tell which.

I know this because we discussed it over a couple of beers at Billy and Crystal's house a few months back. (Mbata was there, too, but when we asked him he said, "I don't dream." And maybe he doesn't. I mean, that's not supposed to be possible, but I've seen a lot of things aren't supposed to be possible.)

So usually, my dreams aren't anything important. This one may not be important either, but it certainly was unusual.

I was drifting along a strange, grey landscape. I was in a sort of wide valley, which seemed to curve and narrow as it went on. The sky overhead was white, and if there was a sun or moon or anything like that, I couldn't see it. The light (if it was light) seemed to come from the entire sky.

The landscape seemed to be formed of hexagonal columns. The widths varied, but I don't know how much - and the thicker columns might have been a lot of thinner ones, side by side. It gave the strange impression that instead of having four compass points, this place had six. At a distance, the walls and floor of the valley seemed to show a gentle slope, but up close that curve was just the sum of angles. It was like an abstract, geometric model of a landscape. Even stranger, it seemed to be all of a piece: there were no fallen pillars, no broken chunks of rock, no evidence of sand or rubble.

Nor was it uninhabited. What I had initially taken for a drifting, irregular fog appeared to be some form of life - perhaps a whole ecosystem. As I focused on the difference in individual movements, I realized I was one of the denizens of this strange place - a drifting bit of fog myself. It was a pleasant sensation, kind of like like swimming underwater, but without the sense of weight. I had no trouble controlling my movement, and I drifted upward to get a better look at the landscape.

I had nearly reached the top of the valley when I realized that everything beneath me was moving. All the little individual wisps were flowing down the valley, making a sudden river of fog. I looked back, and realized that they weren't just flowing: they were fleeing.

Coming down the valley was a great, black cloud. It filled the valley, overlapped the sides, towered above. Suddenly, I was very afraid. I raced away, following the rest of the fog, but the cloud just kept coming.

I woke up suddenly, and in a cold sweat. My first thought was that I was glad I hadn't woken Claire. And really, I might not have thought much more about it. I mean, people have nightmares, and usually they don't mean anything. But when I was in the shower this morning, I noticed a stain on my ankle. It looked like someone had spilled India ink on my foot, and it didn't wash off. It seems to be fading now, though.

So... I don't know. My sleeping spirit found its way somewhere. Was it random? Did something, somehow, call me there? If so, for what purpose? Is it likely to happen again, and if so, should I be worried?

Time to consult the archives.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Return of Dennis Markuze

A quick note on June 29, 2010: I see that people are finding this post while looking for information on Dennis Markuze. You can see the entire sequence of my interactions with him here. Thanks for dropping by.

So, Mr. Markuze came by to visit, and pasted the current incarnation of his message in the comments on my last post. I deleted it. He posted it again. I deleted it again. And I left him a message, which said:

Come on, DM. Say something relevant - about bad drivers or bad driving - and I'll leave it up.

Or, if you prefer, answer the question I asked weeks ago: why do you post your comments?

Dennis, to my surprise, actually answered. (Only the first line of this is relevant, but since I told him I'd leave it up if he answered, I'm including his whole message.) He said:

because I like the TRUTH over LIES...


they are incapable of telling the difference between SCIENTIFIC *FACT* AND RELIGIOUS AND PHILOSOPHICAL *TRUTH*... FATAL ERROR!

they also preach a *VALUE FREE SCIENCE* called *POSITIVISM* that ignores the inequalities of wealth and power in capitalist civilization...

for a sample taste of PZ Myers' GARBAGE...






what happens when you LOSE Pascal's Wager...




the blood and bodies of the atheist movement...

you mofos killed MICKEY MOUSE!!!!

this has more TRUTH then what Dawkins, Randi, Harris, Myers, and Shermer
combined have said in their entire lives...


they tried to BULLDOZE the entire METAPHYSICAL DIMENSION...

they LOST THE WAR......

you have FORFEIT YOUR SOUL, shermer... you have become an object in the
material world, as you WISHED...



we're gonna smash that TV...

you pushed too much and *CROSSED THE LINE*

degenerates (PZ) or children (HEMANT) - ATHEISTS!


do you have anything to say, you STUPID LITTLE F*CKER?

how about I tell you, Mr. Shermer, EVERYTHING YOU THINK ABOUT THE WORLD is







Mr. Markuze, that isn't much of an answer. I do wish you'd give me more than cryptic, one-line answers. It would make talking to you a lot easier. Right now, talking to you is like playing a particularly surreal game of Twenty Questions.

You said earlier that my life was forfeit because I'm an atheist, and that I should repent and turn to God. Okay, I get that.

But I'm more interested in you. So tell me, please, is your goal...?
A. To deliver that message.
B. To show that atheists are lost, ignorant, and damned.
C. Both.
D. Something else entirely.

THAT is the kind of answer that I'm looking for when I ask why post your comments. I invite you to answer, or not, as you please. I do wish you'd do me the courtesy of telling me a little about yourself and your work.

And now that I have moved all this over here, I'm going to delete the replies on the previous message.

Texas Drivers

Grrrrrrah! All right, you useless waste of neurons, look: if your driving is so freakin' sloppy that I can't tell whether you're actively changing lanes or just drifting randomly, maybe you should reconsider whether you ought to be driving at all.

Just sayin'.

My Supposed Former Wife

Back when I was in college, I started dating a girl.

Well... sort of. I didn't really intend to start dating her; in fact, I'd decided not to do anything of the sort. So how did it happen? She had a particularly rough weekend just before the end of the school year. Most of our group of friends were there at that event, but I was the one who happened to see everything come crashing down. In the course of reminding her that this wasn't actually the end of the world, I agreed to meet her for lunch over the summer. Lunches became dates, and by the time Fall Semester rolled around again, we were an item. Girl had become Girlfriend.

That was... let's see... the end of my junior year and her freshman year, going into her sophomore / my senior year.

We eventually married, as people usually do, and Girlfriend became Wife. I had some misgivings at the time, and I should have listened to them more closely; instead, I wrote them off as the usual anxiety about Big Life Changes. And I am, in many ways, a child of seventies; I came of age in the late eighties and early nineties. Growing up, I heard a lot about the importance of communication, and how marriages (and relationships) take work, and like that. So I was actually fairly optimistic, because our communication was excellent.

What we lacked was basic compatibility.

As a result, we could talk about our problems and discuss our areas of disagreement in exquisite detail. What we couldn't do was actually resolve them. So, three years later, we divorced. (Technically, she divorced me; but it might have been the other way around if I'd been less of a coward. On the other hand, I have some reasons for thinking that the way it went down may have been for the best.) Wife then became Ex-Wife.

I'm being somewhat glib here, and skipping over a lot of details; but this time I'm not going to elaborate. Suffice to say that I can be a right bastard, and I probably owe her a lot more apologies than she actually received.

It was actually an amicable divorce, as these things go. However, and I speak from experience here, even an amicable divorce sucks mightily. In our case, we'd spent so much time picking over our relationship in the time leading up to the divorce that by the time it happened I think we were both just ready to move on.

So we went our separate ways. She married someone else, and stayed married to him; he was a bit older, and seems to be a whole lot better for her than I was. (This was a second marriage for him, also.) A little later, I also remarried; we just had our second child. And that, really, is where the story should stop: the crisis is resolved, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Except that a couple of years after they married, my Ex-Wife and her new husband decided, for inexplicable reasons of their own, to become Catholics. The Church was happy to have them, except that they were, well... {hem} {haw} {cough politely} ...divorced.

That simply wouldn't do. God's word is eternal and immutable, and divorce is simply unacceptable. The only way a marriage can end is if it never happened in the first place. Which brings us to the concept of annulment. Annulment, in Catholicism, is a process in which the church considers your particular case, and decides whether your marriage ever really happened. This serves precisely the same purpose that divorce serves for sane people, except that the Catholic version is vastly more complicated and takes absolutely bloody forever. (No, seriously. At one point I wrote the arch-diocese a letter asking if they'd ever sent me a response; I wasn't sure because I'd moved - twice - since sending in my side of the material. They hadn't. They were still considering it.)

Yes, I participated in the process. My Ex-Wife (as she was then) called me up and asked if I would help. She said it would make the process go faster. I said that, sure, I'd fill out a couple of forms if it would help. I was expecting maybe a page or two, with some basic information and a couple of questions. What I got was an eight page essay test. I was doing okay until about the fifth question, which was something on the order of, "Did you intend to create a good and lasting union?" After that, I kind of went off - not on my Ex-Wife, but on the questions themselves.

Anyway, a couple of years after I filled out that questionnaire, I received a notice that a Declaration of Nullity had been granted. So, evidently, our wedding had actually just been a really expensive party, with a priest acting as the MC. My Ex-Wife was now my Supposed Former Wife. My second wife was now my first wife.

I submit that if you have to refer to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to find the right grammar for what just happened (I think it's Past Proto-PluPerfect Implausible), then something is deeply wrong with what you're doing.

There's one more point to consider, though: the icing on the cake. If Supposed Former Wife and I had happened to have children, those children would still be considered legitimate by the Church. Yes, really. This says to me that even the Church knows that its policy is bullshit.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Did You Actually Listen To The Lyrics?

Every once in a while I run into a situation where someone is, well, misusing a song. Perhaps the most amusing of these was Kelly Clarkson's "Because Of You", which I heard played at - I kid you not - a wedding reception. I can only assume that they chose it based on the title, since you only have to get to about the second line to figure out that it's not exactly a song about a happy couple in love. ("I will not make the same mistakes that you did. / I will not let myself cause my heart so much misery.") So, yeah, that one was funny.

The one that really drove me up the wall, though, was Bette Midler's "From A Distance". This was years ago, but you probably remember it: it got a lot of airplay, and a lot of people seemed to find it hopeful and inspiring. And every time I heard it, or every time someone mentioned it, I just thought: Did you actually listen to what it's saying?

Here's a sample:
"From a distance we all have enough,
and no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
no hungry mouths to feed."

And I'm sure that makes all the war orphans, perpetually hungry, and poverty-stricken people of the world feel better.

A bit later in the song:
"From a distance there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
And it's the hope of hopes, it's the love of loves,
it's the heart of every man."

Yes, it's only when you look closely that you see all the pain and strife and neglect in the world.

And finally, the uplifting conclusion:
"God is watching us from a distance."

So, basically, all these horrible things happen because the Almighty isn't paying close enough attention? And you find this inspiring? I don't care how stirring the melodies are, that's a horrible attempt at theodicy. Please, try again... or better yet, don't.

Feel free to contribute your own examples of misused/abused songs in the comments.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Reflections on Housekeeping

Claire stayed the night last night, one month to the day after we started going out for coffee.

You might expect that this would require a great deal of cleanup on my part, and in the old days it would have. These days, though... well, we put a lot of effort into helping our brethren seem normal. You won’t find any musty tomes on my bookshelves, or sinister black robes in the back of my closet. The books are all archived electronically, and the information isn’t even on my computer; you’d need the username and password for the VPN in order to see them. Only a few rituals require specific outfits, and those are kept - along with most of the related paraphernalia - in the basement of a local costume shop.

Oh, I have a few things that I keep around for emergencies: a couple of amulets, a pair of sigils, an old scroll written in apparently-incoherent latin. Someone with the right knowledge might identify them, but there’s nothing to tell the casual observer that they’re anything other than decorations. They sit on a shelf with some old trophies, a couple of mugs, and a potted plant. If anybody asks, they’re just mementos - a bit odd, to be sure, but then mementos so often are.

So really, there’s nothing to clean. It’s just a nice, ordinary apartment that I can bring my girlfriend home to see.

I can’t believe I just wrote the word “girlfriend”.

Anyway, I’ve told Claire that I have a background in theater (sort of true), and that that’s where I learned to dance (also sort of true). So when she arrived last night, she just looked around like she hadn’t been sure what to expect. Then she smiled, and said, “Nice place.” And that was it.

We had a nice dinner (which was takeout, since I can’t cook, but it was still good). Then we settled in with a bottle of wine and a movie, and...

Well, she’s still here this morning.

This is, pardon the term, miraculous. I’m actually beginning to understand Toby’s position: this all seems so ridiculously unlikely that it only makes sense if some unseen Supreme Being is guiding our steps. Even though I know better - and I promise I didn’t do anything to, erm, help things along - the feeling is hard to shake.

It’s a good, good day.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Light Blogging

Not that anybody probably cares, but I'm taking this week off from work - with the amusing result that I'm spending a lot less time online than I usually do. The results are predictable: sunburn, hangover, rumpled bedsheets. Oh, and less blogging than usual.

The deranged cultist will make his usual addition tomorrow, though.