Mar 28, 2014

Treasures of the Tubes, pt. 1: Sinfest

I'm thinking of a bit of a change of pace around here: something positive.  Ranting about stupidity in politics, evolution, and religion is great, but the recent experience of introducing a good friend to something wonderful made me feel all tingly inside, so with that in mind here's a new series.  The basic idea is to take something that I love, and give it a link and little write-up.

So! Let's get started.

Sinfest.  What can I even say about Sinfest?  This is where it begins:


It just gets better from there.  Slick (the Calvinesque fellow about to strike the Faustian bargain) and 'Nique (the Hobbesian hottie with whom he is perpetually stuck in the friendzone) are the stars of this daily webcomic with a 4000+ strip archive.  Read the whole thing if you have time--the artwork improves, the many characters and their relationships develop and change, and the strip slides along the spectrum between 1-offs and longer, more focused story arcs--such as when the devil, realizing he's just playing the role God assigned him, commits the ultimate act of rebellion by walking away from his booth and hitting the beach.

Then there's God himself, who speaks to man through masks handpuppets:

It's incredibly creative, endlessly entertaining, beautiful to look at (at one point, the Sunday strips began appearing in full color) and hits altogether too close to home in discussions of politics, pornography, theodicy, relationships, loneliness, pot, and pets.  It also gave us what may the greatest line of any webcomic ever, in panel 2:
I leave you with some of my favorites:









Mar 27, 2014

Threatened

This morning, Mother pestered me about some or another apologetical work in that plausibly deniable way she has--"I was just asking for you opinion!"  Faced with the familiar "put up with false-consensus BS" or "start a fight and have everyone jump on you for being unpleasant", I picked B, and in the ensuing argument she asked just why I was so threatened by religious ideas.

Apparently she confuses "being annoyed by repetitive garbage" with "having my rebellion against God shaken to its core".

But the truth is ... I am threatened by religious ideas.

Just look at yesterday's Hobby Lobby oral arguments, in which sincerely held religious beliefs--that contraception is an abortifacient*--are being claimed as grounds for special legal privileges.  This despite that 1) carving out a specifically religious privilege specifically discriminates against the nonreligious and 2) contraception is not an abortifacient, you raving morons.  This infuriating lunacy not only made it to the Supreme Court, but might just carry the day.

Or take today's big headline: World Vision allowed gay-married employees, then reneged as 2000 Christians cut off their sponsor child.

Or go a little further back.  Do a Google image search for "Jessica Ahlquist death threats."  I'll wait.

Or consider the more recent squashing of a SSA club in North Carolina via death threats and blackmail.

Or take my Mother, who votes against my healthcare and my brother's civil rights because of ... wait for it ... her religious ideas.

So yeah, Mom, you're right: I am threatened by religious ideas, because people insist on acting them out.

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* Oh, and, I now believe that enforcement of copyright law is an abortifacient.  Sincerely believe it, as my Church, The First Church of FSM, Piratist, teaches.  Donations are tax-exempt, and if the legal winds blow some precedent our way then we, too, will be hiring lawyers.

Mar 23, 2014

REC

So ... I finally got around to watching REC and REC2.    I'm not a fan of the "found footage" conceit, but the films do showcase the possibilities--the things that it does very well.  For example, because the first film was shot by a local TV person, she gets to stop in a quiet moment and talk to people on camera.  It also works very well for suspense, mostly because we only see what the characters see.  Their panic becomes our panic as they run away, their suspense becomes our suspense as they scan the room with their nightscope.

It also showcases the weakness of the conceit.  The human visual system is pretty finely calibrated to compensate for how much we move our heads.  Video cameras?  Aren't.  So when the characters run away, you can't see for crap, whereas in real life you would still be able to.  You have to create increasingly contrived reasons for the characters videoing instead of doing something useful and/or realistic.  The first movie did this all right--they were a news team after all--and the second movie tried really hard without quite getting there: sure, the SWAT team has cameras on their vests, but the priest repeatedly yelling how everything must be documented ... uh ... why, exactly?  Then there was the ending of 2:

*major spoilers here, highlight to read*

If the demon had control of the camera, what possible motivation could it have for leaving the huge loose end of the footage which showed that it had escaped?  And why on earth would it drag her back into the room it had just dragged her out of, apart from the fact that that's where the camera was?

*spoilers end*

That happened so that the dropped camera could catch the action, not for any discernible narrative reason.  I also--and this is a *HUGE* pet peeve of mine--hate the sound of people breathing/clothes rustling into a too-close microphone.  Hate it hate it hate it hate it, and sadly the continued "the characters themselves are filming this as they go along" schtick means we get a lot of it.

Like most original/sequel pairings, the original was better.  There were the obligatory "people in a traumatic situation screaming at the authority figures who won't give them information" scenes, but while I find them annoying they are fairly true to life.  There were the obligatory "girl who is 'just sick'--'she has tonsillitis!'--actually has the zombie virus!" scenes, and there were the obligatory "OMG what's happening?" scenes as the characters figure out which genre they're in.  Again, realistic, but watching characters try to figure out what you learned from the trailer (ie, this is a zombie flick) is boring.  But cliches aside, the movie kept me guessing, kept me in suspense, and while I really wish the girl had been less panicky and/or breathy, I highly recommend the film.  I love the ending bits particularly:

*MOAR SPOILERS, highlight to read*

The demon possession angle was masterful.  I mean, of course the Church would think that a zombie virus was possession and try to treat it as possession.  And of course it wouldn't work, because it's a virus!  I love that their interference prevented proper medical treatment (up to and including getting actual medical personnel on the job of finding a vaccine) by abducting her from the hospital and I love that it's their failed meddling that allowed the thing to spread.  Marvelous.

*spoilers end*

The second movie wasn't nearly as good.  Okay, I kinda understand why they didn't brief the SWAT team.  I also understand why the SWAT team is mad about this.  But the aforementioned "people in a traumatic situation screaming at the authority figures who won't give them information" scenes don't work so well when the folks doing the yelling are trained combat professionals in a building known to be chock-full of face-eating undead with functional ears.  Discipline, much?  Also, we were given to understand that how fast you succumb to the infection depends on blood type.  Rotten luck that everyone in this movie had the same blood type.

But its worst crime is to "solve" the issues raised by the ending of the first movie in the boringest way possible, and since the second movie spoilers the first we won't have any more warnings.  Just stop reading here if you haven't seen it.

Thank you for shitting all over the brilliant ending to the first film and retconning it to something utterly banal.  But since you did, let's talk about it.  The zombies are actually possessed.  Not some kind of viral zombies plus brilliant commentary on the Catholic Church, just an actual demon(s?) which needs a biological agent to function but against which Catholic implements are super effective.  But about that ... you know crosses hold the possessed at bay.  And you didn't hand out crosses to the whole team.  Ooookay.  You know headshots kill them permanently, and you didn't feel like sharing.  You need a sample of the original's blood, not one of the subsequent infections, because MacGuffin.  You can't take the original's blood once the original has been shot because reasons.  Certain things are only actually there in total darkness because it's scarier that way faux archaic mumbo-jumbo, but they radiate infrared.  What's so magical about the visual spectrum?  Can demons only see the same frequencies that we do?

I love zombies, though I'm not a huge fan of horror, but I really wish films would follow their own rules and actually think through the implications of their world-building beyond what will be scary right this second.  Yes, REC2 was scary, and tight (mostly--the teenagers were stupid and should have been cut), but not nearly as good as the first.  Go watch REC, but skip 2 and stick with your headcanon.

Mar 9, 2014

In Defense of the Courtier's Reply

I've recently become a fan of The Secular Outpost over on Patheos, where this post brings up a bit of poo-pooing over The Courtier's Reply--an unsophisticated tack by unsophisticated people, as they would have it.
Except that ... it's not.
I was raised Christian and spent most of my twenties desperately trying to stay one. Then when I left (both the religion as a whole and individual doctrines within it), tons of people told me, often in so many words, that they won't take my rejection seriously until I read 'X', where 'X' is derived by marching down a list of apologetical works/arguments/authors until they reach one I haven't encountered. Then invariably when I do, it's the same old nonsense as before, and now 'X' has become the next such item on the list. No Christian has EVER admitted to me that I know enough to reject either their religion or even their pet doctrine--in fact, many have told me to my face that this is impossible. This despite the fact that 1) I almost always know more than they do and 2) I know exponentially more about this particular claim that I reject than they do about the thousand claims that they reject, and I've had it with their crap. The Courtier's Reply quite fits the bill.
The sophisticated theologians (who everyone assures me exist and further assures me are not represented by whatever awful codswallop I just got done with) are just the same thing with bigger words (occasionally used correctly, I'll admit), but they use their sophisticated arguments in defense of sophisticated beliefs that bear precisely zero resemblance to Christianity as it was conveyed to me in a thousand sermons, Sunday School lessons, AWANAs, RAs, MK Retreats, Mission Meetings, dumbass books well-meaning relatives give you when you go off to college, EBC conferences, hymns, small-group meetings, family prayer time, BCM gatherings, and a lifetime of conversations with actual believers.
Whatever bit of my childhood indoctrination I reject or criticize, I'm met with "Ahahahahaha that's not what Christians believe you should go read Aquinas! Oh you've read Aquinas? Erm ... uh ... Craig! Oh him too eh ... uh ... well ... I bet you haven't read ... uhm ... Origen!"
They were nowhere to be found when their 'unsophisticated' counterparts fucked with my head all through childhood, but boy-howdy they like to get in my face now that I'm fighting back.  Tell ya' what: if you sniggering fluff-and-rufflers want my unsophisticated self to take you seriously, then start by getting in the collective face of everyone who lied to me about the cowboy boots.
The Courtier's Reply is a PERFECT encapsulation of that frustration. They defend the tribe against legitimate criticisms of things large swaths of the tribe not only believe but teach their children while doing sod-all to correct them. I've never yet encountered a theologian or apologist who didn't pull some version of this crap, despite how everyone likes to assert they exist. Hell, look at the very first entry in that debate that the poo-pooer mentions as transcending such unsophisticated things:
"[He] dismisses as a “fraud” an entire academic field to which many thinkers of universally acknowledged genius have contributed." Feser then follows up with endless name-checking. Then comes comment #3: " Do you think he has actually read S.C.G. 3:65 or S.T. 1.104.1 ? I doubt it."
Does anyone want to tell me that's not the Courtier's Reply, through and through? Would anyone who wants to tell me 'no' also like to explain just what the difference is? 
I hear and I hear and I hear that it doesn't work. But it just keeps right on working, because they just keep right on doing it. Let them stop doing it, and I'll stop saying that they do it--let them specify in advance how much I have to know to reject their position, then let them deal with that level of haute couture for every rival court, then let them not move the goalposts, and then I shall retire my beloved Courtier's Reply.
Now let's be frank: it doesn't prove I'm right. What it demonstrates is that I can be confidently right without exhausting the musings of every crank who ever opined on the subject, just as I can reject astrology without having first familiarized myself with the mathematical computations--whose complexity puts apologetics to shame!--that underlie it.

Nov 23, 2013

Nuclear Disarmament

Let's start with the obvious: back when the Democrats were obstructing Republican nominees, the Republicans loudly derided their obstruction and threatened to change the Senate rules.  The Democrats--the same who just followed through on those Republican threats themselves--objected to them in the strongest possible terms at the time.  Much as I usually hold the "both parties do it" folks in contempt, here, at long last, is something that both parties actually do.  The minority obstructs the majority, the majority rumblingly threatens to curtail its power to do so, the minority whinges about tyranny or time-honored Senate traditions with a tone of voice somewhere between grave disappointment and constipation, and it's all Very Serious.

I've now spent the last couple days watching conservative friends post democratic contradictions and liberal blogs post republican contradictions, as if the mere fact that the Republicans and Democrats routinely reverse opinions on the question actually constituted an argument for or against either position.  The basic argument, as I see it, is that the present obstruction is sufficiently greater in degree that it amounts to a difference in kind.  The old rules no longer allow for a functional government in our present circumstances, so change them.  For the record, I buy it.  The US system has too many potential chokepoints--contrast a parliamentary system, in which one side actually runs the damn government and then is judged at the polls on its performance.  There's a continuum here, but we're rather too "choked" at present.  Will I still think so when next--FSM forbid--a Republican is elected?  Consistency demands it.

There is, of course, a more cynical way to view the calculation.  Republicans, on the whole, block far more nominees--and keep them blocked far longer--than Democrats.  Stifling the ability to do so would therefore be a net gain for the Democrats.  One party's interest will--on balance, mind you--be advanced, and the other's set back, by the proposed rule change.  The parties and their supporters have lined up appropriately, and marshaled arguments in support of their positions, but the real position comes from the interests and not the arguments.

Well, cynical mode off, now.  What I would really like to see happen is to keep the filibuster, but make it an actual filibuster.  In other words, no longer can any Senator simply place a hold on any bill or nomination.  No--if they object to something and wish to delay it, then they can stand up and start talking.  Then the vote happens when everyone is done talking.  I'm not sure how this would work in a practical sense, however: victory would come when the majority party simply gets so tired of it that they cave rather than letting you go on.  But that would happen whenever you expressed a willingness to go on that went beyond the majority's ability to tolerate/get things done.  This in turn incentivizes grander threats and earlier caving, leading quickly back to the situation that we are in now, unless the majority leader had the stones to force the issue every time.  So it's very pretty to think that something like this might be workable, but in practice the willingness to use whatever weapons are at hand to obstruct means that's unlikely.

Which is why, on balance, I'm in favor of the present forced disarmament, which everyone melodramatically insists on calling the 'nuclear option'.

Oct 24, 2013

Al Mohler and the Storehouses of Hail

No one really follows the Bible.  The folks so fond of its manifold condemnations of homosexuality ignore its teachings on slavery, usury, and blood sausage; the tinfoil-hat-wearing prophecy enthusiasts largely shut down when confronted with Jesus' words about "this generation will certainly not pass away" (spoiler alert: it did) or "all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet"; and nobody but nobody believes in firmament cosmology anymore.

The thing is--and those who have read the Bible can back me up on this--there are certain minor incongruities between the Biblical account and reality as it is observed to be, and between Biblical teaching and what have since been found to be dietary, moral, and legal principles conducive to human wellbeing.  The core difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals admit this--and can therefore occasionally be argued into a less harmful interpretation--whereas conservatives do not.

These differing approaches naturally come to bear on our aforementioned incongruities.  Conservatives either deny that they are falsehoods (young earth creationism), or else deny that they're in there (firmament cosmology).  This denial can reach hilarious levels, such as Al Mohler claiming that the cosmos looks old because God made it look old (this is more broadly known as the Omphalos Hypothesis, or Last Thursdayism).  So determined is Al that the Bible be right about creation that he actually proposes a God that deceives us by planting evidence contrary to revealed truth.  The firmament keeping out the water above the stars, or the foundations of the earth, on the other hand ... nada*.

Liberals admit that the Bible says what it says, and (usually) admit when what it says is wrong, but they deny that it means what it says.  For instance: the first chapters of Genesis are a poem of creation or a parable or a record of people's ideas about God and not really a history.  See? they say, that's a metaphor** just like those passages about storehouses of hail!  Except not, because firmament cosmology really was the going world picture in the time and place of the Bible's writing, and the Biblical authors really do reference it extensively, and not just as metaphor: they praise God for making it and include stories (the Tower of Babel) which make precisely zero sense without it.

Conveniently, both sides have done excellent work demolishing the other.  Follow, as Bishop Ussher did, the Bible's chronology: so-and-so begat so-and-so when he was however-many-years old.  That goes from Adam (made on the sixth morning-and-evening day) to Solomon, and a slightly more approximate chronology goes from there to historical events whose date is independently corroborated.  The Earth, according to the Bible, is young.  The Bible really does say that, and conservatives really do believe it, and they should like to know on what authority liberals reject it.  Of course, liberals reject it on account of it being retarded, which leaves them in the tight spot of either admitting that large chunks of the Bible are wrong, or else pretending that it doesn't actually mean what it very plainly says.

Liberals are right: if the Bible really means that the earth is 6000 years old, then it necessarily falls.  Conservatives are also right: start explaining away the bits you find ridiculous, and there's just nowhere to stop.  You have a book which is either a) wrong or b) metaphor on point after point of morality, cosmology, and history, and you want people to just take its word on the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and Heaven?  Both sides think not--and both are right.
---------------------------
*Google only turns up three links (one bad and none promising) for "Al Mohler firmament".  If I'm wrong on this, correct me, because that would be amazing.

**"It must be a metaphor because what it actually says is stupid" is a terrible argument--you can't just nebulize a text into respectability, though FSM knows that was more or less what I was up to most of my years as liberal Christian.

Sep 1, 2013

The Ass Twerked Round the World

Folks, we've had something of a national crisis on our hands these last few days.  Something that points to the rot at the heart of our society, and something that we all need to be deeply concerned--even outraged--about.

I'm speaking, of course, of Miley Cyrus' skanked-up performance at the VMAs.

At first, I refrained from commenting.  Pop divas are rather like a monster under our collective bed--if you retards would just stop thinking about them, and talking about them, and clicking on them, and would immediately change the channel whenever the shit-fest that passes for news in this country started 'covering' them, then they would go away.  But apparently that is beyond the mental ken of most of my countrymen, and as the gab-fest and manufactured outrage and concern trolling and 'what-about-the-children' continued, I noted, with increasing dismay, that hardly anyone cut through the fog of vacuous crap to say what needed to be said.

One man tried, I'll give him that, but after landing a single magnificent hammer-blow right on the pigtailed clusterfuck that was the nail's head, he then wandered off to go yell at some kids to get off his lawn.  So apparently I have to do it.  Thanks for nothing, internet.

My dear retarded fellow Americans, my purveyors of moral outrage at skankitude and minstrelsy, my fashionistas and "news" "reporters", my gossip columnists and half-interested googlers, ye drooling mouthbreathers that stopped flipping at the sight of tits, my representatives of the "music" industry and concerned mothers everywhere, all of those 'saddened' that sweet little Hannah Montana reverse dry-humped some cunt in a prison tux: HEAR ME!, for you have missed the fucking point.

Miley Cyrus is shit.  

Always has been, always will be: irredeemable, worthless, soul-destroying, aesthetic detritus utterly devoid of artistic merit; a betrayal of the human spirit and a slanderous misrepresentation of the human experience; a cliche wrapped in a canned beat, sung by a no-talent, auto-tuned hack, injected with hormones and antibiotics, force fed the decaying parts of previous 'artists', and finally topped off with some cellophane and a price tag--you know, shit.  Shit before tits, shit after tits; shit as a lily-white Disney prostitot, shit in her 'daring' attempts to co-opt 2010 black culture--just plain ol' shitty shit.

So how did it come to this?  How did this lukewarm diarrhea get loaded up with sodium, preservatives, and artificial flavoring and shipped out for human consumption?  Because folks would rather talk about the new skin-colored label than the product.  Because we're more 'concerned' about tits and twerking than the thought of our kids actually ripping open that package and slurping it down.

Where are your goddam priorities, people?  There is one thing, and one thing only, that needs to be said about Miley Cyrus, and, by extension, nearly all of pop music--it's shit.  Don't google it, don't talk about it, don't click on the links; when it comes up on the "news", then change the channel; if you catch your children with it, then beat them with a stick and drag them to the symphony.

Flush the turd--don't stand around and flap your gums and stare.

Aug 25, 2013

The Inconsistent Abdication


Oops.

Related:  John Piper recently talked about same-sex marriage, saying:
Living in a sexual relationship with a person of the same sex is forbidden in Scripture with terrifying clarity. “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10).
This means putting a child in the personal care of a same-sex couple would put the child’s soul at jeopardy along with the couple’s souls. The couple would be endorsed by the adoption, and thus their hell-bound pattern of life would be endorsed, implying that we don’t care if they go to hell, which would be unloving. And the child would be taught that a damning behavior is normal and acceptable.
That is the main reason. But there is also the common sense and biblical wisdom (as well as contemporary studies) that show a child needs a mother and a father for their fullest flourishing.
Let me say in passing that there are two types of people who make the 'deserve a mommy and a daddy' argument: adoptive parents, and unreconstructed shit-heads.

But let's think about this.  John Piper believes that a being made the universe, the light from whose most distant galaxies reaches us after 13 billion years, fainter than a firefly on the moon.  The universe, whose observable portion contains almost 200 billion galaxies by the Hubble Extreme Deep Field estimation, an estimation that is probably low (the article linked estimates by as much as a factor of five) as it excludes infrared observations.  These galaxies each contain hundreds of billions of stars, thermonuclear furnaces, around many of which orbit planets, worlds heretofore only guessed at and just starting to be directly observed.  One of them, Terra, spun happily along in its orbit, suffering catastrophes (such as the massive impact out of whose debris its moon coalesced, or the strike which killed the dinosaurs) and long periods of slow evolution in between, before the most recent such period produced sapient life a few hundred thousand years ago.  These creatures lived in much they state in which they had evolved for most of those few hundred thousand years, discovering agriculture less than ten thousand years ago, discovering the microorganisms which cause disease only a few hundred years ago, discovering the Big Bang less than a hundred years ago, and still trying to work out genetics, cognition, physics and a thousand other branches of knowledge critical to their survival, wellbeing, and understanding of the universe.

In Piper's story, this same Being that made the universe 13 billion some-odd years ago took a special interest in those creatures about 3 thousand some-odd years ago, and started writing a book.  Like many a procrastinating novelist, this Being then took another thousand years to finish.  In said book he revealed fuck-all of the wonder, intricacy, and danger of his creation that human beings were later to work out on their own (often over the strenuous objection of the fans of his book!) in favor of extensive pronouncements about where to stick it, and how badly he was going to fuck up anyone who ignored these pronouncements.  Piper claims to believe that god thought these rules were more important than germ theory, more important than relativity, orbital mechanics, green energy, quantum electrodynamics, genetics, plate tectonics, chemistry, democracy, computers, mathematics, antibiotics, evolution, optics, anesthesia, and a hundred others.

On this basis, Piper claims a certain helplessness before the plain meaning of the text.  It's not that I'm a bigot, he seems to say, the Baby Jesus thought it was super duper important that we do this.

The gaping hole in this "logic" is that the book he invokes contains lots and lots of lots of admonitions, and Piper does not follow them.  The mind reels at the thought, but there it is: does Piper accept slavery?  No?  God's word is clear: Leviticus 25:44 "Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves."  Piper believes that a perfect and eternal god found this advice more pertinent than germ theory.  Is Piper a snake-handler, tongue-speaker, or faith-healer?  Mark 16:17-18 says he's not a real believer: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."  Mr. Piper: The Supreme Being, He Who Fashioned the Laws of Physics, considered that pronouncement more pressing, more useful, and more worthy of inclusion in his great message to humanity than relativity, or even the time and location of every fatal natural disaster.  How dare you ignore it?

But ignore it he does, wheresoever it suits him.  Unfortunately, it suits him to ignore it when it comes to his own safety (despite divine assurances that he will come through unharmed!) and not when it comes to the happiness and legal rights of millions of his fellow human beings.  Seriously, John: put your money where your mouth is and try drinking some poison rather than just spewing it out.

Either that, or stop fobbing off responsibility for your bigotry onto the "terrifying clarity" of a book you ignore whenever convenient.

May 13, 2013

A Leap of Faith--in What Direction, Exactly?

Today I was browsing through my google reader subscriptions and feeling nostalgicy about its imminent demise when I saw that one of said subscriptions had linked to this article on Kierkegaard, specifically this passage:
Kierkegaard’s greatest illustration of this is his retelling of the story of Abraham and Isaac in Fear and Trembling (1843). Abraham is often held up as a paradigm of faith because he trusted God so much he was prepared to sacrifice his only son on his command. Kierkegaard makes us realise that Abraham acted on faith not because he obeyed a difficult order but because lifting the knife over his son defied all morality and reason. No reasonable man would have done what Abraham did. If this was a test, then surely the way to pass was to show God that you would not commit murder on command, even if that risked inviting divine wrath. If you heard God’s voice commanding you to kill, surely it would be more rational to conclude you were insane or tricked by demons than it would to follow the order. So when Abraham took his leap of faith, he took leave of reason and morality.
How insipid the modern version of faith appears in comparison. Religious apologists today might mumble about the power of faith and the limits of reason, yet they are the first to protest when it is suggested that faith and reason might be in tension. Far from seeing religious faith as a special, bold kind of trust, religious apologists are now more likely to see atheism as requiring as much faith as religion. Kierkegaard saw clearly that that faith is not a kind of epistemic Polyfilla that closes the small cracks left by reason, but a mad leap across a chasm devoid of all reason.
It's that last clause that is the most problematic: when we come to the end of reason, logic, morality, and evidence, we are not faced with a chasm, which we must then take a leap of faith across.  That would be bad enough--if you wanted to put me off the idea of something forever, you would have merely to describe it to me in much those same terms.  But those terms are incorrect, and the real difficulty is infinitely worse: at reason's end, there is not a chasm, which must be leaped, but a multitude of chasms, which any would-be leaper must choose between.

A leap of faith, you say, beyond reason and evidence?  Very well, I shall die heroic in battle and be escorted across the rainbow bridge by a beautiful blonde war-maiden, there to feast in the company of Wotan and his heroes until the clarion call of the Gjallarhorn summons us forth to perish in fire and glory at Ragnarok.

Oh ... you meant a leap of faith beyond reason and evidence towards your god as opposed to all the others that ever were.  Ah.  Well then.  But why, exactly, should I leap across this chasm as opposed to that?  Be sure not to use reason, logic, or evidence in your answer, because once you've allowed those into the equation, the only possible conclusion is not to leap.

This is a very grave problem, and one with very real consequences: suppose Abraham was right to defy all morality and reason and ready a knife to plunge into Isaac, to be stopped only by an angel's timely intervention.  On what grounds, then, were the 9/11 hijackers wrong to defy all morality and reason and ready a plane to plunge into a building?  If there ever was a mad leap over a chasm devoid of all reason, then surely that was it!  And yet we rightly abhor them--as we should abhor Abraham as well.  The willingness to ignore morality and reason and kill for the voices in your head--that you distinguish from all other such voices, and furthermore trust, on unspecified grounds--is the mark of the psychopath, not the saint.

In the end, the leap of faith isn't so much an argument for faith as it is the admission that there aren't any good arguments for faith, and that we should do it anyway.  But, having dispensed with arguments, we find that without them we are powerless to determine what exactly the 'it' should be.

Mar 2, 2013

The Batman Shootings--Mystery and Selective Evidence

When the Batman shooting happened, there was one particular survivor--a girl shot in the face who lived thanks to a birth defect that deflected the bullet away from more vital areas of her brain.  Of course, humans like to look for agency in improbability, and being as how the girl was a Christian, it sparked remarks such as:  "It’s just like the God I follow to plan the route of a bullet through a brain long before Batman ever rises."

I was working on this blog entry at the time, but decided not to post it as the event as too raw.  With the benefit of the calmer perspective of the present, however, I would like to take another look.
 
This first thing to say is that I'm happy that this girl lived.  Really.  That's great.  I'm happy that the marvelous coincidence of birth defect and gun angle saved her life.  But God?  It's a classic Argument from Incomplete Devastation.

Here's the deal: if God planned the paths of the bullets through the brain of the one who lived, then he also planned the paths of the bullets through the bodies of the twelve who died--and where does that leave him?  "Good things happen, therefore God is good," as Christians are wont to say--and it annoyed me even when I was one.  If the universe is run by a supreme being whose character can be deduced by human reactions to events within it, then complete the following sentence: "Bad things happen, therefore God is ____"

Mysterious.  Very, very mysterious.  This 'every good thing, God takes credit for--every bad thing, that's a mystery' line?  Try that on your boss and see how far it gets you.  If there is a god who is responsible for the way that the universe turns out, then he's responsible for the way that the universe turns out: for the twelve who died every inch as much as the one who, improbably, lived.  You're claiming--in so many words--to believe in a being that knew this massacre was coming for twenty years, knew that thirteen people were going to die, and in his infinite goodness mysteriousness decided: "This won't do at all!  Instead of thirteen people killed, we'll have twelve people killed, and the thirteenth can get off with a gunshot wound to the face and brain damage."

Praise Jesus.

Don't get me wrong--I'm glad this girl is alive.  I understand the overpowering gratitude that her friends and family are feeling, and I know that they have been trained to direct it to God.  But if we step back from that emotion and examine it critically, we'll find that a being that could have saved her any injury at all and didn't; that could have saved all the others from injury but didn't; that could have saved the twelve who actually died but didn't--such a being isn't very deserving of gratitude.  Such a being would be capricious, indifferent, cruel--the gaping wound over which theology slaps the bandaid of 'mystery'.

The truth is that the universe shows every sign of being indifferent to us.  Sometimes that works out in our favor, as with those who made it out of the theater without a scratch.  Sometimes that means we get screwed, as with those who died.  And sometimes that means we have a close shave, and one improbability--being in the theater in the first place--meets another--having the life-saving birth defect--and things don't work out nearly as bad as they normally might have.  If we want to know a player's batting average, we have to count the misses and not just the hits.   If we want to know whether or not a proposition is true, we have to examine the evidence against, rather than contenting ourselves that a misapplication of probability counts as irrefutable evidence for.