The Com Box– EXPLAINED

 

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By Wolfgangbeyer (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Com Box– EXPLAINED.

Have you ever wondered about those seemingly unassailable arguments that are ringed by a fence of obscurity– yet win every time? When you ask questions, try to probe what the underlying foundations or goals, you find… nothing. The ponderous pronouncements never become clear– but imply things that never get defined. It is as porous and adaptable to your questions and as inert as a noble gas. It always points to whatever the assumed audience wants to hear.  Yet the artist is highly skilled at dismantling the arguments of others.  You see this a lot.

Smarter people than me have come up with both a description and a name. One of those people, an innovator of exposing much modernist thought for what it is, is Pope Benedict the XVI. My source relies heavily on his theology, as well as philosophy from Edward Feser.   Simply put, it’s a well crafted sophistry that can grow any ideology you like, including for the very occasion of the discussion you happen to be having.

Created by Wolfgang Beyer 99seehorse)  with the program Ultra Fractal 3.

By Wolfgangbeyer (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Admittedly this is an old answer.  The first man to get irritated with this tendency was Socrates.  He started asking the right kind of questions to bring to light this chicanery of cleverness. It led the merry mind out of it’s safe circles, and the less disciplined to fury and frustration.  Alas, so many love to justify whatever behavior they are fond of, so, “for the good of Athens”, they killed him. That’s what “a cup of hemlock”. I understand, it’s an ugly way to die.

Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

Cristo_crucificado

The persons (and Persons) and antecedents are not comparable, but killing people who get in the way of pleasant untruths– who show off the folly we gleefully engage is a fairly common human thing.  We can’t call Socrates a patron saint, but perhaps the virtuous pagan of combox discipline?

This is what we mean when we say “The sleep of Reason produces monsters.”  We’ve been living in the twilight of reason for quite some time. And the monsters keep coming. The world and it’s leading lights get more decadent and reckless with each passing year. They seem to be enjoying the decline– so far.

How long before they realize they are playing with fire?  Will they see soon that fire burns and is dangerous? Or do they think that they will be shielded by hordes of People Who Don’t Matter indefinitely?  It really reminds me of those people who set fire to their own beards as some kind of prank.  Don’t they realize that the best case scenario are nasty painful scars? The worst case– and I’ve heard of a few– is death.

Yeah, apparently, if you soak your beard in some kind of flammable liquid, set it on fire, and… gasp, it’s dangerous! It’s stupid, too! The trouble is, these leading lights aren’t even setting fire to their own faces, but that guy next to them, figuring it can’t possibly come back on them.  But there’s all this flammable liquid sloshing around, and open, uncontrolled flame.  What do you think is going to happen?

What does that have to do with combox trolls, you ask?

One gets the impression that there is good to be had being one.

Ramon Casas i Carbó [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ramon Casas i Carbó [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Darkness = Depth?

398px-Goya_Caprichos3

Does Darkness equal Depth?

Confession: I grew up in this subculture. The closest I came to being in any social group was a child of Goth.  From where I stood, the real difference between goth and emo is that Goths have a 19th century fetish and dress better, and the emos only started wearing black after Kurt Cobain died. Before that, we called them grunge, and they tended to be happy-ish. After that, they co-opted Morrissey (good riddance) and rode off to find more bitter horizons. Even the death of the sun in a million shades of red, flesh and gold is too cheerful for them.

So where did Goth really come from?  What was it all about? Well, there is a reason why there’s a 19th century fetish in there, it was a movement back then, too.

Left over from the 18th Century, there has been this idea floating around since some German or other said that reality is not really real, and that our senses are useless. After a while, some philosophers decided that there had to be SOME way to perceive what truly was, so they said, “HA! The EMOTIONS have to give us something! THEY are the true insight into reality!” <sarc> Not too long after that, somebody decided that psychic powers were plausible. </sarc>

This  idea captured the popular imagination. The resulting movement was called Romanticism.  It helps to know that Romanticism was the birth mother of Modernism. The two share a lot of roots.  Basically, Romanticism goes like this. We cannot use reason against monsters. The world sucks, so we may as well enjoy the decline. “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die,” is the bottom line. It’s basically an overly educated remake of that tired old hedonism.  We are all monsters, so we may as well enjoy it.

 

This is where the idea of “Darkness=Depth” really comes from. You can blame Freud, too. He said that all the monsters of the subconscious were really taboos created to protect the ego from whatever threatened it. So using monsters as a psychopomp into the subconscious.

The theory goes, that they show us what really matters. They argue that fear = power.  Emotions are ultimately more useful and deep than our reason.  As an added bonus, nobody needs to really learn anything except what you wind up finding during that extended navel gazing session. From personal experience, I’ll give you all the spoilers you need.  It’s a combination of wishful thinking and what you want to see. Problem solved, right?  Um. No, not really.

Some creative people also borrowed from gnosticism, which explains everything you need to know about social groups in high school. Combine that with the accumulated wisdom of Versailles (substitute Hot Topic for having your own garment manufacturing empire to keep up with the Le Jonses) and the exegesis pretty much writes itself.

After that it was a lot of drivel and nonsense that led to all sorts of exciting ideologies that a little bit of reason would have kaiboshed before their adherents decided to kill off millions of people.  The sleep of reason produces monsters, indeed.

'From_the_Earth_to_the_Moon'_by_Henri_de_Montaut_01a

 

 

 

Water falls

The National Catholic Register had this to say about today’s human response to the barrage of news, social media, and especially facebook.  Hashtag activism taking the place of real action.  I have some different thoughts, though our sentiments are similar.

There is a psychological concept called “compassion fatigue”. While much psychology is ideology with a medical wrapper, this is a real phenomenon. It is a product of human biology, and not necessarily the unpalatable fruit of human indifference.

My concern starts focus not with the message, but the media.  I think computers and instant information has the potential to be a great good. But like anything else, it is a tool. It can lead to poison if used improperly.

And that can be summed up in the classic phrase, water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.  There is so much information. So much! Not all of it is even true, but all of it is shaped and channeled to grab your attention, to make you care, and to imply you are a horrible person if you ignore it. If you open yourself to all of it, you drown in sorrows, and fall into despair.

After a while it becomes a wall of noise, just so you can stay sane. I believe human persons developed this so that living in cities is bearable, or surviving terrible calamity is possible.    But that doesn’t mean this sort of thing is outside your control. While the result is an uncaring facade– it must be admitted to be a tool.  A tool is a thing that is both useful for good or ill, and a thing which you have conscious use.

Certainly if you create a safe tunnel exclusively for yourself, it is not a laudable thing.  The fact remains, some acceptable solution must be brought forth to both have soft hearts and a discerning palette, yet prevent total meltdown.  This is a problem that has been going around for a long time. Longer than I’ve been around, even. Where do you think the Good Samaritan story comes from?

Where can we look to find an acceptable guide? Go too far back, and some would say, “it wouldn’t work in our time.”  But a guide who has holiness, who spoke the truth, is in order.

So I look to Bishop Sheen. He may be ‘a mere Venerable’ (and slated to say that way until the two diocese who share him can behave like grownups). He, as a public figure, had to swim these waters before it was common.  What did he do?

1.  He did not watch the news.

2.  He spent an hour a day in front of the Blessed Eucharist.

I look at this and think, Oh, I wish I could spend an hour a day in front of the Blessed Lord. It is not quite jealousy, for I would never take such a blessing away from anyone.  I am even lucky enough to live within commute distance of a place where Adoration is available 24/7, save during masses and high holy days.  Getting there isn’t easy for me, but I make excuses.

Second, I cannot afford to be completely ignorant of day to day events. Though, it is clear that Bishop Sheen did not, either. The point is, custody of the eyes, discernment and plenty of quiet and time for reflection, and to put First Things, first.

Author: Agência Brasil

Source: Agência Brasil, Creative Commons License

 

 

Writing and things

Thia picture⇑ was taken by corinnemills. Distributed by the Creative Commons License.

For a while I have been afraid to put personal stuff on here. Part of it is that I sort of ooze all over FaceBook.  Then I retract into my shell and wonder where all the time went.

For a while, I’ve been dealing with sciatica.  FUN.  No, I don’t like pain killers, but Dr. House would never believe me.  I don’t like that floaty feeling, I don’t like navigating as an act of will, and that focus is– look a chicken!

Altered by Margot St. Aubin. I healed and removed the watermark (the date stamped by a rude camera) and corrected the RGB color space, then converted to PNG. The original Author of this photograph is 	Ashwini Sukhdeve, AKAAshwini1909, from Wikimedia Commons. Distributed under the Creative Commons License.

This Photo⇑ was altered by Margot St. Aubin. I healed and removed the watermark (the date stamped by a rude camera) and corrected the RGB color space, then converted to PNG. The original Author of this photograph is Ashwini Sukhdeve, AKA Ashwini1909, from Wikimedia Commons. Distributed under the Creative Commons License.

Or that plans are more like suggestions written by a sadistic and depressive comedian.  Sure, I don’t like pain, either.  Being someone with PCOS, that is… well, pain happens. I’m just pleased I’m no longer heading to the ER every nine months.  Knowing that parts of my body aren’t being twisted into irrelevance is nice, too. But I’m not sure if trading that for RH was the right choice.

But I really liked straightening up. It’s starting to be possible, I guess. It seems like the muscle relaxants aren’t doing what they once were, and the muscles in my lumbar spine are doing impressions of steel rods.

This X-Ray Image⇑  © Nevit Dilmen  Dude, I tried to get your email, but I’m lazy.  This is a reality I hope I can avoid in the future.

But the worst thing about pain killers is that writing has been nonexistent up until today. I got irritated with my past blog non-performance and decided to make a lot of blog. Whether my fans of my greatest hits will like it, is another thing.  I don’t know if politics is something I should talk about here. I think art and culture will suffice. Sure, the writing is still coming, and I plan on putting that up once a week, until it’s finished, or I stop hearing Karry Grace’s voice. There’s plenty more to come.

Public Domain; Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

Life and Joy

“Baby kissing mirror image.” Uploaded to Flickr on July 29, 2005 by roseoftimothywoods

So I was at a baby shower today, with friends. It may shock you to discover it was a peaceful, fun and lighthearted hang out session with people I love, surrounded by yummy sweet (yet oddly healthy) delicious food, and great story. Babies, young mother stories, presents, strawberry wine, mimosas, and chasing the guys away with threats of tasting baby food.

Wine_Glass_SplashThere were hand made blankets, adorable plush animals, and cute but gender neutral clothes (mostly).  The games were silly but low key, and fortunately not disgusting or overly embarrassing– or worse yet, Calvin Ball for the status conscious.

But it is really amazing, in some ways, that I had such a good time. Only because in that circle, Life is literally Good.

There were no snarky comments about saying goodbye to freedom, or even grousing about the tough parts of child rearing.  Because we already know these things. They don’t have to be rehashed when you are celebrating the coming of new life into the world. There is hope, there is gladness, and it is unvarnished joy.

And joy is different than happiness. It is a firm foundation, and acknowledgement of goodness at it’s core, and is mostly comprised of gratitude. Gratitude for friends. Gratitude for the gift of life, gratitude for the bond of family.  Because the friends you invite to these sorts of events, to even meet your embarrassing family members, are pretty much family you have chosen. It’s the acid test to reveal our origins to the people we want to impress, that we can go beyond impressing and to the truth of what we are.

What we forget is that when we are at our best, we are telling truth about ourselves, even as we confess our sins is also truth about who we are.  Because life is beautiful, even when it sucks. Suffering and death are not the whole story. And that is the devastating truth that the philosophically WISIWIG totally miss.

Otherwise, cynicism would be pro-survival. It’s not. It leads to death as surely as holding your breath too long. You can do it until you turn blue and things get dim, but eventually your lungs will force air back into you with a kick of your diaphragm.  And there’s a reason for that. And it’s not some mind control conspiracy going on in your genes.

So, you might be asking yourself– “So you believe in all this candy coated nonsense. Why on earth would a baby shower be depressing, even potentially?”

Well…

Not to put too fine a point on it… I turned 39 this year. My husband and I do not have children. We are quite pleased with each other, and there’s nothing wrong with our marriage.  Do the math.  I haven’t actually hit menopause yet, but the odds are not great for little ones of my own.

YOU would think that the more modern, hyper-critical “reality based” snarkfest with a side order of irony would be more the spinster+1’s style. You’d think I’d get estrogen poisoning, or maybe flee with the vapors.  Nope.  This morning, dire predictions  of hiding in the bathroom, crying haunted me.  But it didn’t happen.  Why?

Because I did not have to be ashamed of my pain. Because I did not have to hide, it faded with a touch of sunlight. Their joy eclipsed whatever sob story I may have entertained and wiped it all away. It’s a gift; I can’t take credit for that. That it was possible to welcome a bit of hope, even in my place of pain… speaks of something greater.

Not necessarily hope for myself, but hope in the eyes of young fertile friends who understand love and  joy in the first place.

It reminds me that not everything in the world is up to me. That God will cheerfully take up all burdens, and offer me rest in his Love.  If I could bottle it and sell it, I’d be a billionaire.  But I’m okay with that being impossible. The world would be a fairly horrible place if you could turn real joy and love into a commodity. Love’s not a zero sum game; it is created out of nothing.

The most cheerful people I’ve ever met have suffered the kind of hardship I cannot imagine.  One was an Indian fellow, a math prodigy.  He went to all the best schools, he won competitions, and contributed value to some of the worlds toughest problems.

Then, at 18, he crashed.  Most math minds do, sooner or later– but the average is at about 30. One of the distinguishing features of Einstein is that he functioned in that headspace until he died.  Most mere mortals are not graced with that longevity.

Spiegel_mit_zwei_Putten_19Jh_(01)If you lose this thing you have focused your whole life and livelihood around– especially in a place like India, things go from great to crap in an eye blink. He was thrown out and disowned by his parents. Most teens here would think that’s a good thing, but they’ve never seen the streets of Calcutta. Or understand how caste and relationships work in India. Basically, if your parents give up on you, so do your friends.

His crash had been epic.  He lived with the Little Sisters of the Poor for a while.   To give you an idea of how low that goes, the LSP’s primary mission was to give AIDS patients a place to die with dignity.  Fortunately, after these nuns intervened on his behalf,  his grandparents made him an offer.

“Go to America. Seek your fortune.”

So, he came to America, and decided to dwell in my high school home town, and wound up being a physics teacher. A brilliant, top notch instructor– beached in an inner city school. Yes, he taught AP Physics, but, also intro classes for remedial students.

It’s the sort of job with a high burnout rate. Yet, he seemed to be the happiest man in the world. It was that simple joy at existing in the world, a delight with the little things in life, that spoke to me of the depth of what he knew the world was, and could be.

The more you see, the more you know that what is seen can’t be the whole story. Because context is everything. How can you know you are really seeing what’s in front of you if you don’t have that context?  What’s the bigger story behind the mess, financial struggle and challenge that child rearing brings? What’s the bigger picture behind a man who found a greater challenge with teaching teenagers a new way to see the physical world around them, and infuse it with the math he could still do and take joy in?

Those things are all immaterial. We tell each other stories about how they exist, and those stories are far more valuable than just making us feel better.  Purpose isn’t just a panacea, it too points to that superstructure that shifts reality into a comprehensible whole. But then, mathematics and all ideas are metaphysical, too. If they don’t exist, where does that leave us?

This is where we get the concept of Vocation. Like child rearing, it is giving more than yourself back for what you have given. It sending joy forward into the world to make existence even better.

Because living out a joyful life is more than just amassing a lot of happy times. It’s even more than fulfilling a plan, or having all the dominoes line up just right.  That is great when it happens, but it often doesn’t. There’s something more, and it’s there, and it doesn’t generally depend on outside circumstances, or even finding that place where you are home.  To make things confusing, when you find joy, it can seem like all of these things have happened.  It is a process we call love.

The only way I know of how to explain how all of this happens is to describe it’s opposite.

The best way to be miserable is to enforce a reality that isn’t there. The excellent map of this is one who molds reality by manipulation, to make it what she’s already imagined. Always applying pressure to those she knows, she gets everyone to bend to her vision.

Yet finding faults, there has to be a reason why it did not turn out as planned, and so victims must be established and villains proclaimed and vanquished. Running running running, just to stand still. It is depressing, exhausting, and ultimately futile. The classic image of the Bridezilla, or any individual regardless of sex, who must deny what is to make what should be.

I have often been guilty of this. The maps are useful because they show not only how this malfunction operates in terms of output, but also how one can fall in.

However, the way out is not to give up goodness, truth, or on ideas themselves. The only way to accomplish that in this life is to trust in God.  This is only a small lowly sliver of what Aquinas meant when he said, “God is… Existence Itself.”

I did not stay home today. I decided to give up on my own predictions, and just to see what would happen. I adjusted (with help) what I could offer by what I was capable of, and let the rest ride.  Whatever I felt this morning, I decided to not carry it with me into my friend’s home.  So I took in a fruit bowl, rather than a lot of baking I really didn’t have time — or the energy– to do.  I let the day decide what it would bring.

Because you can only change yourself, and have no control over outcome of most things. And forcing desired outcomes internally necessarily means denying reality. This leads to buying into those dangerous thought eddies that lead to more pain.

The best you can do is trust, and set sail.  Then trim the sails and aim for the best possible outcome, enjoying every small moment as a gift.

By Weird Beard (Happy) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Ash Wednesday

AshAshWednesdayOkay, I’m turing this into a real post.  Because I can’t help it.  🙂

Anway, I finally figured out what I’m giving up/taking up for Lent this year.  Technically before Ash Wednesday even started!  Yes, it *was* 11:58 PM and 32 seconds, but who’s counting?  😉

So… giving up meat or pleasure or things like that are problematic for me. The former because protein is a Big Deal in my diet.  What a diet it is! Soy and seitan and many other happy options are not available to me. I’d have to be so anal about my diet it’s not even worth it. Trust me, I do scrupulosity with the best of them.  In my book, keeping bees is *still* not slavery.

Pleasure is another problem, because the topic is so broad that things can deteriorate into absurdity.  Like “Oh, no, traffic got better! I enjoyed being able to *move forward* to my destination! Hair shirt! Hair shirt!” Or… “Jesus gifted me with special Joy this morning when the sun creeped through my window and a bunny jumped across my yard! Oh, bother!”

There are a lot of emotional things you don’t have control over directly. You can choose how to REACT in real time, but not the advent of these feelings in the first place. That is, you can say, “No!” to what your psyche is offering, no matter what that is. Saying no does not mean the feelings go away, it just means you don’t respond to them or encourage them.  Often, you can say, “Look, a chicken!” and the feeling will get tired of being ignored and go home. Eventually.

People get confused about repression. Where it becomes a problem is when you deny having the feeling in the first place. Not reacting to something you KNOW you have is very, very, different.  It hurts more in the short term, but fails to cause lasting psychological harm. Denying the feelings themselves is lying to yourself. If you knowingly do it, it’s even a sin, because you are just as much a Child of God as anyone else.  That’s a double edged sword, ain’t it?

Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It fits under the broad category of pleasure.  Bing bing bing! Big flashing red sign that you have NOT chosen wisely for Lenten fast. Not only can you not avoid feeling pleasure about little things, but you can’t even deny it exists. God doesn’t set you up for Catch 22s. If it happens in your moral calculus, that’s a sign you need to go back and reexamine your assumptions. Of course, Joy has a special meaning in theological circles, and is not mere happiness, being thrilled, or things like that.

It is an admiration and recognition of God’s goodness, coupled with a deep seated Peace that comes from trusting God.   They can be attached to other things indirectly.  For example, C S Lewis talks about a time when he was first aware God existed in a palpable way. He rode his bike through some trees on his way to school.  The morning was still, and dawn had just kissed the sky with pale pinks, salmon and purple. There was a light mist in the trees and they were in bloom, and for a brief moment it was like the whole world stopped to take a breath.  For that small moment it was perfection, and he felt that all was right in the world.

By vastateparksstaff (Dogwood treesUploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By vastateparksstaff (Dogwood treesUploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

That, my friends, is Joy.  I’m paraphrasing mightily here, and I promise I will go look up the passage and post it here at some point. But I’m already running late today. And, I even forgot to tell you what my choice was this Lent.

I’ve decided that I’m giving up pre-packaged convenience foods for Lent. Focusing mostly on the snack, meal, and especially dessert category.  Note that this doesn’t count pasta because that needs preparation to be used. I mean, if you look at it correctly, *eggs* come prepackaged. But chances are I will save brown rice pasta for Sundays anyhow.  Ironically, my “brown rice couscous” does count, even though it requires cooking. It’s fast and has seasonings and you can just add…a can of chicken and you have a meal.

The protein powder would also count, but I’m counting an exception to that, too. I’m doing a liquid fast for Ash Wednesday. I figure avoiding solid food will be enough to pass muster.  (So, protein shakes, herbal tea and unsweetened jello! Yaay!) My husband is doing a full-on fast today. This means I drive us to Lenten Service.  (I’m having a brain fart as to whether or not it’s a complete mass today… I haven’t eaten yet, so begging pardon!)

By Darrinm (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

I hold an exception for gelatin, because… because protein is good, and deciding if it’s solid or not is treading mightily in the philosophical realm. I’d have to ask Aquinas to find out!  Don’t worry dears, my protein shakes won’t have any added sugar and a very limited amount of cherry juice in them, say a teaspoon.  (That’s medicine that helps with my arthritis. REALLY.) Since there will be three times as much kale powder, I think I get a pass. No other fruit save (if it counts) coconut water.  Yeah, we are kind of serious on Ash Wednesday. Probably because we are sinners the rest of the year. 🙂

But what I’m taking up for Lent is a special focus on the Domestic Church here at home. That is, integrating God with the way I run my household. This has been an issue for a while. I can get so distracted with my own stuff and any computer screen ever, that I forget to stop, take a breath, and say a prayer, write my spiritual director, read the bible, etc.  So, I will focus on how to order my day around a greater awareness of God in my day.

I mean, I create for a living. How hard can it be?  😉

By Ingeborg Bernhard (Schnorch) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Deconstructing “Change”…

So… what IS change?  Why do people want it?  What do people mean when they say they want CHANGE?

By Felix Burton (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

So…. what is change, other than that nearly worthless stuff in your pocket? Admittedly it adds up after a while. Various charities including the indigent know that bit of math. Banks are known to take advantage of it, too.  If we view our circumstances as dire, I suppose, then any change might shake things up.

So,  what do people think change actually is?

What is the nature of change? It is not a simple thing.  Is change an illusion? Is it real? Is it constant, or variable? Under what circumstances do we see undefined change as good?          If it’s so obvious, than people should agree. One might suspect that it depends on one’s political inclinations.   If something is not defined, then it must be easy, right?

By Triplegold3000 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Triplegold3000 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

That’s the problem. We think it’s so obvious that explanations are not necessary, and disagreement is a sign of mental illness.

Really it has to do with philosophy. Yeah, I know. But it does. And this is where politics and philosophy collide like the pissed off rams they are.  Marching and protesting do not change anybody’s mind about philosophy.  What makes matters worse, that philosophical disagreement is used as a wedge to put EVERYBODY under the heel of an oppressive government.

By Chem538w10grp8 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Our disagreements divide and conquer us in the ensuing confusion.  The other problem is our agreement directly affects the health of future freedoms. If we don’t agree, we wind up with the same problems all over again.

These are the meta rules, so there can be no confusion about human nature, or the definition of words, which is what philosophy is all about.  See how the Republicans will compromise with everybody but their own people.  See how the Democrats keep reiterating it’s importance but fail to even negotiate.

You just can’t trust people who want to rule.  Because with that desire come the temptations and vice of every dictator in history. Oh, little things  like purges and genocide.

I’ll wait while you refresh your memory. It’s hard to conceive in a land where things have been so good for so long, that prosperity and freedom is not the natural way of things. Even people who should know better seem to think that what we’ve known will not change.  Even after we’ve driven past that precipice.

By Chem540grp5f08 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

News flash. Change is NOT always good. Change is frequently bad, especially when you’ve had it so good.

There is one thing you can be certain about– rulers not bound by principle will try to get away with whatever power they can.  Little test balloons go up everywhere to see how far they can push their desires without blood in the streets. Ultimately they don’t care about other people’s blood– only the blood of theirs and their own.  I don’t see members of congress (or the executive branch) lining up for martyrdom.

By Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Antonin Scalia – The Oyez Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ooops. Maybe I was mistaken. He was seen wearing one of these….

Hans Holbein the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With the rest… knows, maybe they want revolution.  But they know that whomever fires the first shot, will be the villain.

Change is constant. It’s always around us. Stability is not an illusion, but a homeostasis,  regular progression of managed change that manifests a pattern. This maintains a situation of stability because each step relies on things known to be true.  But changing those conditions leads to situations made of… we know not what.

By F l a n k e r, penubag (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Without those trusted pillars in place, the changes become unpredictable and obvious.  The only things that do not change are immaterial, such as principles, mathematical constants, and forms. A triangle will always have three sides and three angles. The number two will always have two grouped elements, etc.

Natural Law is the body of constants of observed reality on this planet.  Even if science allows you to “break” some of those laws, this process will have unintended consequences. They will be unpredictable, and should be examined very carefully. Just because it has one immediately good outcome, doesn’t mean we should do it.

Beating someone over the head and taking their money might allow me to pay to save the life of my child dying of cancer. But is it a good policy for a stable productive society?

I have a suggestion.

public domain Source: Wikimedia Commons

This also includes killing genetically complete human beings who don’t look like human beings. Does that mean we can destroy a part of the brain in a person so they are pliable and peaceful, for example? You are only killing tissue, and everybody knows that cancer is tissue, too.  Every decision builds expectation for a given precedent. Even if each event seems separate, law is built on regular patterns that lends itself to a given climate. Kill a small insignificant person on habit, and the next larger size is in danger.

Once you are confused about change, or rights, or what is good, a stable and productive society can’t be discussed coherently. By ignoring and disparaging the philosophy, we have surrendered our most important asset.  The basic definitions our highly successful society relied on, are in disarray. We are so confused we can’t even trust ourselves to remake it anew.

So if we can’t rely on tradition, if we can’t rely on ourselves, if we can’t rely on rulership, or even the meaning of words– what’s left?

That’s right. Whatever the strongest wants.

Does God want Bible Thumpers?

466px-Albrecht_Altdorfer_-_Christ_taking_Leave_of_his_Mother_-_Google_Art_Project

I was wandering on the Catholic Answers site, and somebody asked, “Does God want Bible Thumpers?  I wrote a lengthly reply, and decided to post it here.

First… let’s look at the stereotype of the “Bible Thumper”. This person, if the stereotype be true, is one who knocks on the doors of strangers, who accosts them in lines at the grocery store with a message. Then he asks if you believe in Jesus. He then proceeds to give one reasons, threats and tracts based on various memes associated with Christianity. He is often holding a bible, but not always. They are known to have many lines memorized for any occasion. If we can agree that this is what we are talking about when we say the words “bible thumper” than we can proceed to the next step.

What does God want from us? Well, that’s a big sort of question, but we can narrow things down a bit. Is this what God wants from us? I’m not so sure.

You see, he DOES want us to spread the Good News, to be gracious and kindly to our neighbor and to care deeply about the Eternal consequences of actions. But were the missionaries who were truly successful do it in the way of the Bible Thumper?

What does this man have to offer the sinner? Did Jesus rebuke the sinner? He rebuked the pharisees the people who thought they were blameless and without blemish– and in many cases ABOVE the Law. He knocked over tables in the temple. He chased out the money changers. He called them (like John the Baptist) a brood of vipers. He accused them of being poisonous leaven.  And he mentioned that when the apostles were arguing over who was the greatest.

He rebuked the woman at the well only after she said she desired the Waters of Eternal Life. Only after she honestly revealed her soul to him. He called her on covering up the truth of herself, to look honestly at her wounds and repent. She was ahead of the game by even knowing she sinned, because she bothered to hide it from someone she wanted to impress. She knew she yearned desperately for love, and admitted it to him.

After the death of John the Baptist he told everyone to repent in hard terms. He even went to the land of the Gentiles to do so.  This is a troublesome event for those who would argue that facing down the sinner in his own den is not God’s will.  Then there’s that whole, early church thing, where millions of Christians were killed– in ugly, public ways– before Constantine. It happened afterwards, too. But some folks only pay attention to the before part.

The Nazis struck with brutal reprisals against anyone who protested their horrible behavior. The ever enlightened intelligentsia of the time blamed the Catholic Church for baiting the SS and “making them do it.”  Because the Pope incessantly spoke out against them, not because they supported it.

They KNEW what he was saying, because there were prophecies available, and everyone in the community knew what was happening.

He freely opened his healing to those who were outside, and welcomed the gentiles in his midst. But he never approached the gentiles with the same knotted cords as he did the Pharisees, Sadducees and their Jewish brethren. Because they could understand, and the gentiles had to learn.

This is what he meant about pearls before swine.

He taught them with stories from their own lives. He did not speak directly of the scriptures in his public ministry. He referenced in metaphorical ways. He told basic stories, and spoke of love. Most importantly, he talked about how the law of Love works, and how simple it is at it’s heart. But because life is complicated, being loving is more than being nice. But he talked about how love even in this complex world leads to a just society– and the failure to love, even in the name of being nice– leads to tyranny.

He spoke of how the real and the eternal are interlocked, and reflect each other at many levels. He left those seeds to be planted in whatever soil it found itself.

It is easy to think ‘Well, everybody knows Christianity exists these days, we just have to remind them.” The problem is, we don’t. Most people think we do, which is yet more dangerous. The Pharisees at least read the Torah and knew it well, yet interpreted it to their wants and desires. Then the people were taught by these men, and knew no better of what they were taught. Today, people think that the spiritual twinkies and fizzy drink that has been promulgated for 50-100 years are the Body and Blood of Christ.

So how on earth can you possibly know what that stranger knows about God and the Truth? Saying “Christian” by itself can mean so many things these days.

The only way to really do evangelization in this way is to foster a relationship with the stranger. So you can’t just open with a line about believing in Jesus. They could say yes, meaning that they believe he existed in history, or perhaps a lovable guru who founded a religion a long time ago.

It used to be that people would go to the public square just to listen to folks speaking on street corners. It was sort of like watching Youtube today. You never knew what sort of freaky thing the next guy was going to say. In those days of Christ and his apostles, everybody was their own philosopher. There were also all kinds of mystery religions and foreign gods, and people would often just wander around to listen, with a voyeuristic ‘collect the whole set’ sort of mentality.

What was impressive (from a purely physical perspective) about Christ is that people would not just listen, but stay. They would follow him out to the wilderness to hear His words, risk long treks with no food and drink. Granted, a part of that came later when they expected to be fed, and wanted him to perform miracles so they could see the goodness for themselves.

The upshot is, people haven’t changed much. We still want to see the goodness for ourselves.  We want to see it, touch it, taste it, and devour.  But that goodness doesn’t make sense without the dust of the street. I’m not talking about relevance, necessarily.

The Truth itself should be relevant– as it applies to all peoples and all times. Even today we have death, and we fear it more than ever. Even today we have sin, and we ignore it more than ever. Today the ugly outcroppings of sin hurt us more than ever. Sin is a weed that when ignored grows ever stronger and takes over the whole greenhouse. But how do you say “Repent” when people do not know what sin IS, or that SIN is even bad? The culture has completely divorced the conditions of their lives from the actions that they take. You can no more talk about morality than controlling the weather. They may not believe in badness as a concept!

So “Bible Thumping” is a useful concept only in a limited respect. It only works on people who are Christians already. We passed outside that event horizon 60 years ago. But making relationships, speaking from the heart, and not keeping your mouth shut when a person knows does wrong is important. Being honest is important. And you can’t do it with a sound bite.  Your words become weapons pointed inward rather than potential crack in the armor of sin.

By Vortix (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Pagan Mindset (*) Part I

By Illustration from: Rodolfo Lanciani: Pagan and christian Rome, Boston and New York 1892. [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Warning to a friend: This will cover some obvious things you already know. But I develop it anyway, so as to demonstrate the appeals from the perspective of the modern approach.

Saying the anything, as if daring to proclaim a definitive, used to get my dander up. It seemed unfair. How could you talk about anything as being definitive? It seemed to deny the endless variety of what is out there and available.  What I did not understand is that everything also has an essence, that is,  a set of qualities that define what it is at it’s heart. Or said in another way, a shared set of qualities that define a thing as a member of a set.

All human beings are different, like snowflakes. But we are all alike, like snow.  If you were to look close up at a snowflake you would see that they are not uniformly white. Some of them are brownish, gray, clear, or a kind of ice blue. But stacked up all together and reflecting light in the same direction, they demonstrate that snow is white.   This concept offended me, even as I continued to use it as a base assumption for pretty much everything. It is hard to operate as a human being without it.

Being upset by examinations of this sameness is a sign that one is slipping –or as fallen– into Relativism.  Because Relativism denies Realism, they often feel they are more realistic, being flexible and able to change with the times.  But there are many things that benefit from stiffness, from solidity, from firmness.

Modern progress only defines itself by dissecting it’s target until it is rendered meaningless. It sketches out movements supported by hazy feelings, then proceeds to shred whatever real evidence there may be. It does not think very clearly about the destination. Because movement is the goal, as well as the intention. But it offers nothing of itself, has no solution, merely the outrage based on a universal problem.

 Gray goo is the mindset of the formless sea of modernity. To understand this is to understand where paganism gets it’s appeal.  After all, people want goals. They desire the real, they want values because they are wired that way. People, being difficult, want goals and a destination.  It is not enough to only wander. 

By Uploader. (Own work (Own picture).) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Uploader. (Own work (Own picture).) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Trouble is, you can’t admit this in public… so you drift into equally vague spiritualities, knowing that there is something interesting out there, somewhere. None dare call it truth, but people do admit they want to connect with something. Something real. Something that builds, something that defines. ‘Union with the Absolute’, though replaced with trendier yet similar catch phrases. Though this one works pretty well for our purposes.    All sorts of expansive talk, and it is hard to discern a meaning.  The vaguer the better, it seems. There is only one place to start in a formless landscape, and that is with proximity.

Because you have to go through the Christian ideal– a pitiful watered down parody, with a bearded God who sits on a throne in the fluffy clouds and smiles down on his people. Then you are disappointed because praying for goods and needs “doesn’t work”.  Somehow, Mick Jagger has left the building. (Repeat after me: “You can’t always get what you want…”) The heart is crushed when a loving, wonderful person suffers and dies. Santa Claus is discovered to be a sideshow barker for the sales industrial complex– a phantom, a lie. Largely because he is a  distorted and watered down portrait of a saint. This being a concept that a large chunk of the Santa Claus parents don’t believe in anyway.

395px-Scheme_of_things1475

Once you have scaled those peaks, you have to get back down again.  A nice bitterness based on past disappointments keeps you focused.  Then you discover relativism means you can do whatever you want without old bearded grumpypants getting angry.  You find yourself threatened with feeding pigs for the price of a handful of feed, and lo, you’d even think longingly of your childhood home.  This seems absurd. How on earth could flimsy unreal things like ideas destroy the solid comfort of a good family, a store of treasure, and good friends? Sooner or later, you discover you don’t even need to waste your resources or leave home to find yourself bereft and empty.

It all just seems so meaningless in the mush of secular relativity.  You look for an out, a way of expressing those ineffable somethings that you experience in life– even as you suffer the school of hard knocks. You wince as the materialist decries those sacred moments as less than fiction and worse than insanity. You long for the world to talk to you, the spirit to breathe and move you. You hope in the woods at the stroke of midnight that something might be true.

Mountain_Hemlock

Then, at the breach of dawn, you dare to hope that the world is real. and it’s peopled with mysterious beings who dwell beneath the forbidding dome of grumpypants sky. Hey. Maybe mr. grumpypants was all a dream. Maybe these beings– who live by different rules than we do– are more real than he. Perhaps magic is not a lie. You are so distracted by this thought that it never occurs to you that the atheists are right about one thing. Mr. grumpypants does not exist, any more than a super-sentient pile of spaghetti. The Christian truth is far more complex, but it far easier to kick at a figment than contemplate the real thing.

What are these beings? Could all of the ancient peoples have been irreparably isane? What are they like? What are these stories about? What do they tell us?  You read some mythology, but are frankly a little put off at first. They have fights like us. They argue like us, but their powers are wider, but more specialized.  Looking around, it does seem like a world built by committee, right? Things always fall between the cracks.

NO one will admit this, but it sits at the base of your skull as a satisfying explanation.  Then other ideas well to the surface. All bad that happens seems to come from other people. Maybe we just invented it, because we don’t know how special we are, we don’t know how blessed? Well, yes, this truth is out there, but to say that we are all the end and summit of anything evil has certain…consequences that come back to bite you later.

For now, all is bright and new, made to mysterious purpose. The world comes alive again, because it all hints to where you fit in this world. The dance of life is the call of nature, and we dwell in the classroom of the gods. This is lovely in the Disney Edition of Nature. Sure, Bambi’s mother dies once in a while, but her sacrifice is the start of a great adventure, and the finding of new friends.  There is something that is always missing, though. Even with infinite variety no one god seems to be quite the right fit. So we wander to find it.

What is interesting about all this is that the idea of all of nature being an expression of the love of the gods is not a pagan idea at all– but a Judeo Christian idea. Yet it is all made new, once names despised are filed off to make way for jubilant laxity. There is a thread of the pipes of pan in this song. The joy of Pan’s vine was the joy in annihilation, of being devoured by the god Pan–the man subsumed by his animal nature. That’s why the bacchi ripped their victims apart with their bare hands. That was Pan’s idea of evangelization– sharing the joy of his blessed destruction.  Pan and Shiva have a lot in common.

But we play on the edges of this awareness, to gradually wear down our old habits and live a life free from the concept of sin and judgement.

By Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At the base of it, there are only three ways to be a neo-pagan. There’s the soft atheists who want to have better parties,  more satisfying stories and ritual to pass on. Then they discover the special blessing of a seemingly irrational joy. This gifts them with more colorful language– a nice dollop of Jungian mysticism. It’s a psychology for the inner self, boiling down to self-worship using archetypes. The ultimate spiritual reality of this reminds me of the mechanics of Unknown Armies, the RPG.

This is not far different from those who believe of a higher power as a great force, with any reference to god being a metaphor. We use shells and gods as an operating system to interface with the force for life in the Universe. It may operate as a person, but only for our benefit, donning whatever mask suits it’s purpose.

You pick a mask, plug in, and it all just works, right out of the box.  It is not explained why all of these different systems may contradict each other, with sometimes violent consequences.  It is thought that this is a fruit of our own weakness or perhaps some kind of misinterpretation that we inserted for our own benefit.  This is a good argument. But if each person has a tailored religion and ethic for himself and no other– how can we ever tell the difference between this positive force and our own selfish desires? IF there is an objective evil lurking out there, the messy quest for truth becomes that much harder.

By Malcolm Lidbury (aka Pinkpasty) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes, this is not the case. Perhaps Evil is comes from us not knowing how awesome we really are. It is true in a sense, that is, we forget who we are.  Often we forget that we aren’t at the top of the metaphysical pyramid. This forgetfulness feels good, and is useful. It can seem empowering, gratifying and even like the ultimate secret.  Lots of organizations make money off of this idea. So if this idea is the sum-all of empowerment, why is it we need so much coaching to get there?

You can have all the knowledge in the world, but still be confused by whether or not what you do is for the good– or even what’s best for yours in the mirror.  Then we say that the TRUE desires of our heart are what this god wants for us, and everything else is false. Um, I often can’t figure out what I want for lunch on a consistent basis. How do I know that what I want right now is REALLY true?    There isn’t really an answer save some amusing zen koans. Beyond those, there is subtext about creating your own reality, and lo you are back to solipsism again.  This is a very lonely place, and in our darker moments we can’t even believe that.  Peace love and rock ‘n roll will surely save us from ourselves.  Pause and reflect on the lives of many very famous rock musicians. Well, maybe not.

In part two, we will examine the path of various dimensions of hard theism, polytheism and pantheism.  Depending on how that goes, there will be a third part or a coda here that sums the matter up in a smaller package.

Response to the Novel Ninja– Stories are about Things

By Mead Schaeffer (artist) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

{EDIT:  Okay, turns out I misread some things over on Novel Ninja’s site.  

We had a lengthy discussion in the comments, and I made some mistakes. But… turns out, we actually agree on many things.  Like, everything. Except I totally misconstrued what the man had to say.  I think I got hung up on some words… and stuff.   For example, I totally missed the last three paragraphs (!!) of his post. So you don’t have to click through… I will just quote it here.

My advice for you is to focus on a story. If you’ve got a message in there, great! Just make certain that it stems from the story, and not the other way around. Don’t write by thinking “Gosh, I hope this wins this particular award” or “Hey, I bet this will be a great book for students to study!” Awards won’t get you sales except with those who live by awards. Most people don’t. I’ve worked with authors who have one different awards, and I’ve rarely seen — even at conferences and conventions — that having that badge on your cover means diddly to the people actually buying it.

The best award you can possibly get comes when one friend hands your book to another and says “You’ll like this. It’s great.” It’s one of the best feelings in the world, right up there with cute little animals and watching your firstborn learn to walk.

Remember, there are nearly 10,000 books published every single day. Focus on reaching your intended audience, and not the awards banquet. And never be concerned with following someone else’s checklist for what causes you should and should not showcase in your fiction. Write the story you want to tell. Write the story that your audience wants to read.

EDIT note: I bolded where he had italics so there’s stress consistency. My original post is as follows (and the comments) are as per the original. }

To make sense of this post, read this link first, from the Novel Ninja. Ironically, there are plenty of things that I agree with him in the article, but this article is about my disagreement. I think if we had a general clarification in terms, we would find we actually agree, for the most part. But these points needs to be made.  So here goes somthing.

Sure, sure, the polemic screed is not entertaining. But can you seriously say that tales involving morality or love or honor are not entertaining? Really? People still read Shakespeare to be entertained. Youth fiction, those rolicking tales involving pirates, exotic locales and buried treasure aren’t amoral romps through a child’s imagination. Heck, even South Park is about something. Sure, they make fun of it, but it’s not exactly news that they have an agenda. I hear they have wild success in the entertainment world. Why is it that Duck Dynasty is biggest thing since the Beatles? That’s a show that’s about something, pointed and specific. I admit, those are not things I would call political. Then again, A&E would. “What side you are on” also determines what you mean by political. That is the most irritating of all.

I think there is a difference between those stories that are about reality, and those stories that are about ideas that have to be explained. Shakespeare was all about the realities of his time. Yet those realities were so universal we still love the stories, even for what they say. He doesn’t have to tell us what those realities are. He can just show us. We KNOW what he means by honor. We know what he means by love. But when the author has to explain what he means by gender (or sex) then we know that it’s no longer a story but a dissertation.

The New Wave has veered well off the path of connection to it’s readers. It has forged ahead into experimental psychology and recreating society from reality on up. They have mistaken reality for perception. Unfortunately, the whole movement missed cues from Utopia (Thomas More) who accompanied his astute analysis with ribald humor. That’s why I forgive Kurt Vonnegut his crushing nihilism– at least he was entertaining by it, and gave us glimmers of light in darkness. Though he hated the world, he saw hope in the oddities of men.

Trying to figure stuff out is hard work, so one should be rewarded for making an effort. This is pretty basic, and a rule no writer should ever break, no matter what they are writing. Yes, even if it is a dissertation!  Furthermore, a lot of them aren’t very good at explaining what they mean in novelistic form. They can hardly be faulted, because the novel was not designed for this kind of effort. The novel gives us a story window into the life of an individual, or an individual’s picture of a world. Or at it’s broadest, a limited view on the actions of a group through the progression of conflict.

Kids love fairy stories, comic books, myths, call them what you like. They are more real than those stories you complain about, because they are metaphors and symbols to tell the tale of good vs evil. You can’t really have a story without that conflict in some form.  The further we get away from that, the less entertaining, the less exciting they are.

They are the same thing that you dismiss as “morality plays”,only timelessly well-told. Dumb plays were the most popular form of entertainment for over 1000 years, the poor benighted fools. They are the origins of all theater, opera, and the musical. They represent how the theatrical tradition survived through the fall of Rome, and well beyond. The parable is the most pure form of entertainment –and education– that human beings have. The problem is, the trend is to ignore the truism that the story is not compatible with the dissertation. Frankly, I’m glad it isn’t. Learning would be a lot less fun otherwise, and width and breadth of child’s stories would be ponderous and dull.

But writers and artists need to be put on notice that dissertations do not produce art, and never will.  I’m sold on the idea that stories, well told, are art. Well beloved stories  still count, no matter how dogeared and trite. The language may be simple, the prose might be more to the taste of a child than a language professor, but it’s not his call to arbitrarily declare what art is.  Art touches humanity, not the ivory tower.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the interests of Internet Fellowship, and as a peace offering, I proffer this. Yep, he is a pirate. My guess is he’s probably ronin by background, thus both a pirate AND a ninja.  😉 Enjoy!

PS. I think this problem actually goes back to the Dada and Surrealist movements, and how they started pushing art and literature beyond the limits of thier previous aims.  Another article for the list.

EDIT 3: We had a very long and very pleasant conversation. It’s one way to make new friends…  🙂