Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Having it Both Ways

The Christian religion has had two millennia to hone its arguments. Since many Christian stances are self contradictory it's good that they've had time to work with them. The confused and contradictory nature of the two stories of the creation in Genesis is an example. One argument goes that the first account is of a "spiritual" creation, sort of a practice run I'd say, and the second account is the actual, physical account where it's okay to divide the light from the darkness before the sun is created. With perseverance and lots of words, Christian apologists have managed to reconcile sometimes quite disparate elements in (general) theology.
Consider the the Christian attitude toward proof. In the normal world of science, evidence precedes belief. It's the way we conduct all our business. If my faucet leaks, it's not a matter of belief, it's a matter of plumbing. In the New Testament, this rational take on life is personified by the Apostle Thomas, who (the story goes), wouldn't believe in the resurrected Jesus until he actually saw him. In the story of the meeting, Jesus sets the tone by gently suggesting that belief without evidence is better than belief because of evidence. As an outcome of this exchange, Thomas, the only scientifically and rationally minded of the set became forever stigmatized as "Doubting Thomas."
So, blind faith becomes better than rational thinking. But rational thinking is still an acceptable mode of operation. Isn't it?
No, because later on, Jesus responds to people who want some evidence that he is who he says he is. His reply is enlightening, "A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign." Somehow, rational skepticism is morphed from an acceptable method of  inquiry into a sinful one. Not only is it not a good thing to question the pronouncements of  religion, it's downright bad.
Why this mania to turn a reasonable request for evidence into a scrofulous, sneering, unwillingness to have faith?
Seems to me that the reason is fairly simple. Religion has to sneer at proof, downplay evidence, and make logical connection sinful because they can't do it. They can't prove anything: not the existence of God; not the divinity of Jesus; not the resurrection; not any miracle; not the claim of the Catholic church that it's the continuation of the one Jesus founded; not the fact that Jesus started a church; not the claim of the Mormons to be the really real church restored; not the validity of the biblical account of things (The Bible is looking more and more like a collection of folk tales written for political purposes); not any claims to a conduit to the divine.
The irksome thing is that, after a thousand years or so of drumming the same thought into people's head --HAVE FAITH -- the world has by and large accepted that the stance of the Christian church is, if not thoroughly valid, still a reasonable one.
It's a neat technique. Religionists in general have succeeded in convincing us that there are two worlds out there; One, the everyday, mundane, dull, world, works normally. The faucet leaks; we change out the washer. The other one, the spiritual, exciting, exalting world works though belief, wishing, the will of God, the prayers of the priesthoods, the flame of candles, the scent of incense or the feel of olive oil.
Of course, there is no evidence at all for this world. Look, our bodies have built-in sensory mechanisms that we don't even know about. If we are out in the sun, our bodies darken; this without our knowledge or understanding. There should be a holy-ghost sensing mechanism in us, so we can hear and heed the "still small voice" that the HG uses to talk to us.
But, there isn't.
Religion just smiles smugly and says, "Just because you can't sense it doesn't mean that it ain't there." Their great victory is that, not only do we not stone them where they stand, we accept their answer as valid.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Searching for dirt on the AG

Backstory: The former Attorney General of the state of Utah and the former former Attorney General of the state of Utah are both under investigation by people, feds and staties, who think said Atty. Gens. committed various crimes and indiscretions when  they were in office.  Now, this investigations is some months old. Yet, today it was reported that search warrants have been issued for the homes of the two ex-AG's.
That's really stupid. I mean, can you imagine a conversation between the two, or better yet, some incriminating emails. One says, "They will probably search our houses in the near future. Let's leave some incriminating evidence lying about, marked bills, forged passports, something like that." The other says, "Great. I have some counterfeit money I could put in a safe."
Now, for all I know these two are really crooks and not merely sleezebags. But I also know that they are not stupid. They have had months to prepare their houses for the possibility of a search. I'd be willing to bet that there are more illegal things in my house than there are in theirs, and I don't know of anything illegal in my house.
The  former AG's are complaining that the searches were demeaning and intrusive, an assault on their privacy and in insult to their families. And they are right. It was harassment, pure and simple. The only object of the searches was to humiliate the F-AG's.
It will backfire, I surmise. The dingleberries who thought this one up have done nothing to advance any case against the F-AG's, and have probably generated some sympathy for aforesaid F-AG's. I know I feel more sympathetic toward them than I did yesterday.
It just goes to show that being righteous and being smart do not necessarily occur together in the same person.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A New (Old) Economic Model

I have been supporting the economy in a number of ingenious ways. Because of a recent move that necessitated inventorying all my junk possessions, I've discovered just how heavy my support has been. I call it the "Buy, lose, replace, find" model. As an example, I now have in one place in my medicine cabinet 15 tiny jars of Carmex that I've bought, lost, replaced, and found again. The same is true for razors, sunglasses, nasal spray, glass polishing cloths, car-care products (waxes, brushes, hose sprayers, buckets, electric polishers), pepto-bismol bottles, watches, and, of course, ball-point pens.
I have four sleeping bags, three tents, three camp stoves, four fire-starters, and dozens of tent pegs. I have six blue plastic tarps and three canvas ones. I have three bicycle pumps, and perhaps ten little bicycle valve tools. I have three sets of cycling gloves, three sets of ski gloves, five sets of winter gloves (three black and two brown), three sets of mechanics gloves, and about seven singlets that I can't throw out because that would ensure that I find the missing ones. I have 22 bungee cords.
 I have three shop vacuums, at least five sets each of SAE and metric end wrenches. Ditto socket sets. My screwdriver collection is second to none. I have two huge cross-shaped lug-nut wrenches, neither of which fits any car I currently drive. I have enough micro-fiber polishing rags to open my own store. I have two sets of brown, two sets of black, and two sets of gray automobile rubber floor mats. I have six folding pocket knives (ten if you count the little Swiss Army ones with the tiny scissors). I have three come-alongs, four ladders, at lease four claw hammers and as many ball-peen hammers.
How, you may think, does one lose a ladder. Especially an extension ladder that if ten feet long when collapsed? I don't know. All I know is that one day I need a ladder. and when I look around for it, it isn't there. So, I buy a new one, and sometimes as soon as I get home, I discover the old one in a spot that I was sure I had searched earlier. My socket sets mysteriously disappear and as mysteriously appear again when I open my tool chest to put in my just-bought set. Carmex simply vanishes temporarily.
I now have enough of the items above to last me for the rest of my life. I have done my part for the economy, and am considering taking it to the next level. Now, where did I leave my car?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

One of the glories of our governmental system, I always thought, was that those who served did so out of a desire to help their fellow beings, and not for fame, loot, or power. I had in mind Washington and Jefferson, aristocrats who devoted themselves to a noble cause; Lincoln the self-made man who ruined (and lost) his life serving others; and a host of other figures whose creed was to serve. It didn't bother me too much that the Brahmins in office usually regarded those they helped as being little better than peasants. Their vision was still one in which the populace, the unwashed, the proles, hoi polloi, were still bettering themselves.
I would contrast this vision with the reality of government in other countries, when political office was the key to the bank, and corruption was the rule. The people? Let them eat cake.
I guess, though, that we are catching up to the rest of the world. I am a resident of the state of Utah, based on a set of governmental postulates (in turn based on a set of religious postulates) which make service to one's fellow beings the highest calling one can have. One of the state's highest elected officials may be, in blunt terms, a crook who sold influence and shielded the very people he should have been putting in jail. He resigned just ahead of a lynch mob, but waited long enough to be sure he got his pension funded.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bible City musings

Utah, or Salt Lake City, or maybe Mayberry, has been designated "Bible City" for 2013. To celebrate this, a group of dignitaries and other high-minded people gathered in the rotunda of the capitol (I think) to read passages from the Bible. I wasn't invited, and didn't attend, but you can be sure that the passages read from the Bible were all 1) very familiar, 2) uplifting, and 2) G-rated.
The truth is that of the 1590 pages in my version of the Bible, only about 50, total, are worth reading or something you'd let your kids look at.
Let's suppose for a minute that I were invited to the read-a-thon in the rotunda, I think it would be nice to read something that really represents the spirit of the Bible. Here are my selections, both from the Book of Numbers:

11:1 And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord: and the Lord heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.

21:2 And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then, I will utterly destroy their cities.
     3 And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah.

Some interesting things here. In the first selection, there is the puzzling fact that only the "uttermost" parts of the camp were burnt. That shows, clearly, I think, the danger of living in the suburbs.
In the second section, the King of the country that the Israelites were travelling through took some of them captive. The gall of the man!  I am assuming, by the way, that the they and the them in verse three refer to the Israelites and Canaanites respectively.

These two typify the Old Testament much more exactly than "The Lord is my shepherd." The whole Old Testament is a dreary parade of murder, rape, genocide, slavery, and brutality, interspersed with excruciatingly tedious genealogies.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Merciful Talliban

Somewhere in the middle of my morning paper, I ran onto two stories posted side by side, so that the headlines could be read almost together. The first headline was, "Taliban Prisoner Complains about Treatment." It seems that a jailed terrorist thinks that his keepers are being too strict on his, limiting his ability to practice his religion, and therefore putting him in danger of hellfire. He claims that if he can't exercise his religious convictions to the fullest, he is unacceptable to God. In this case it's prayer, something about the way his rug is positioned. The second headline read, "Taliban beheads 13 at party." It seems that some people, exercising their religious convictions to the fullest, broke into a home and cut the heads off of a bunch of people. All in the name of God, of course. Ah, those Talibaners, they know how to have a good time.
I'd like to believe that the layout person at the paper put those two stories together deliberately, so that the forbearance of one society could be contrasted nicely with the viciousness of the other. But, probably not.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Grammar King

I just finished a most unsatisfying semester. I was notched into a class I didn't want to teach, and felt that I was really not able to give my best shot. Not because I didn't know the material -- it was Grammar, and I am a Grammarian. Or, at least, a linguist.
Y'see, the problem is that as a linguist I know that there is a huge difference between the knowledge of the rules of grammar (as they are taught in the school system) and the ability to produce grammatical sentences. For most people, there is no reason or value or validity or worth or profit in studying traditional parts of speech grammar. I felt obliged to share this information with the class, which caused them to ask the question, "Then, why are we here?"  I couldn't answer that one very well.
So there I was, teaching grammar. Since I had to teach it and they had to take it, I vowed that I'd try to 1) make it interesting, and 2) make sure the students got it. As a result, I basically worked on a day to day schedule, talking about nouns and verbs and adjectives and (shudder) adverbs, then testing the students to see what they had absorbed. It made for an up-in-the-air experience which must have been unsettling to modern students, who want to know exactly what they are doing from day to day, and, more importantly, when the test days are.
In this class, students knew the general trend of the lessons, but didn't know precisely what we would be doing on any one day.
It was actually a very liberating experience in a way. I wasn't simply covering a set amount of material in a set time -- I was covering as much as I could cover thoroughly in the time I had. And, I have to admit, for a linguist, talking about syntax and words is fun any time, even if it doesn't serve any real-world purpose.