I am not a religious person, but Reverend Smith spoke a few lines of the Prayer of Saint Francis on an episode of Deadwood I watched recently and I can't stop thinking about it. The prayer in full:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The Reverend put it slightly differently:
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted, to understand, than to be understood, to love, than to be loved...
Believer in eternal life or not, that's a way of living life I can get behind.
Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham's servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.
These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories "do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium," said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, "but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period."
Dr. Mizrahi likened the practice to a historical account of medieval events that veers off to a description of "how people in the Middle Ages used semitrailers in order to transport goods from one European kingdom to another."
Archaeologists have established that camels were probably domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula for use as pack animals sometime towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. In the southern Levant, where Israel is located, the oldest known domesticated camel bones are from the Aravah Valley, which runs along the Israeli-Jordanian border from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea and was an ancient center of copper production. At a 2009 dig, Dr. Ben-Yosef dated an Aravah Valley copper smelting camp where the domesticated camel bones were found to the 11th to 9th century BCE.
I agree; it is amazing! I've written about this manytimes. But we know that complexity can arise naturally through the laws of physics. It doesn't take very complex rules to create huge diversity. Look at poker; a simple set of rules creates a game that has so many combinations it's essentially infinite to human experience. We can figure out the rules of nature by studying the way processes follow them, and deduce what's going on behind the scenes. And whenever we do, we see science.
This makes me think of Richard Feynman's ode to the scientific beauty of a flower:
I have a friend who's an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don't agree with very well. He'll hold up a flower and say "look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. Then he says "I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing," and I think that he's kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is ... I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it's not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there's also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.
According to Time, its award, which will be bestowed on Wednesday, goes to the person who, in the opinion of the magazine's editors, had the most influence on the news. By this metric, it's no contest. In downloading thousands of files from the computers of the electronic spying agency and handing them over to journalists like Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Barton Gellman, Snowden unleashed a torrent of news stories that began in May, when the Guardian and the Washington Post published a series of articles about the N.S.A.'s surveillance activities. Seven months later, the gusher is still open. Just last week, we learned that the agency is tracking the whereabouts of hundreds of millions of cell phones, gathering nearly five billion records a day.
Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan) has made a movie called Noah, about Noah's ark. It stars Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Anthony Hopkins. Here's the trailer:
I am always the last person to eat. It's part of a compromise I worked out with the skinheads who run the western state prison complex where I am incarcerated. Under this compromise, I'm allowed to sit at the whites' tables, but only after the "heads," and then the "woods," and then the "lames" have eaten. I am lower on the totem pole than all of them, the untouchable. I should feel lucky I'm allowed to eat at the whites' tables at all.
Not that there's anywhere else I could eat. The prison yard is broken down into five distinct racial categories and segregation is strictly enforced. There are the "woods" (short for peckerwoods) that encompass the whites, the "kinfolk" (blacks), the "Raza" (American-born people of Mexican descent), the "paisas" (Mexico-born Mexicans), and the "chiefs" (American Indians). Under the strict rules that govern interracial relations, different races are allowed to play on the same sports teams but not play individual games (e.g., chess) together; they may be in each others' cubicles together if the situation warrants but not sit on each others' beds or watch each others' televisions. They may go to the same church services but not pray together. But if you accidentally break one of these rules, the consequences are usually pretty mild: you might get a talking to by one of the heads (who, of course, claims exemption from this rule himself), or at worst, a "chin check."
Eating with another race, however, is a different story. It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. Violating this rule leads to harsh consequences. If you eat at the same table as another race, you'll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray as another race, you'll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item as another race, that is, after another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed. This is one area where even the heads don't have any play.
Religion is faith. Faith is belief without evidence. Belief without evidence cannot be shared. Faith is a feeling. Love is also a feeling, but love makes no universal claims. Love is pure. The lover reports on his or her feelings and needs nothing more. Faith claims knowledge of a world we share but without evidence we can share. Feeling love is beautiful. Feeling the earth is 6,000 years old is stupid.
Religion is often just tribalism: pride in a group one was born into, a group that is often believed to have "God" on its side. We don't need to replace tribalism with anything other than love for all humanity. Let's do that, okay?
This year, the first day of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving Day. Amazingly, this is the first second time it's happened since President Lincoln established Thanksgiving in 1863 and it is also the last time it'll happen until the year 79,811. I'll say that again: after this year, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving Day won't overlap for another 77,798 years.
The reason is because the Jewish calendar is very slowly getting out of sync with the solar calendar, at a rate of 4 days per 1000 years (not bad for a many centuries old calendar!) This means that while presently Hanukkah can be as early as 11/28, over the years the calendar will drift forward, such that the earliest Hanukkah can be is 11/29. The last time Hanukkah falls on 11/28 is 2146 (which happens to be a Monday).
John Travolta began taking Scientology courses before his audition for the TV show Welcome Back, Kotter, and fellow students pointed in the direction of ABC Studios to telepathically communicate: 'We want John Travolta for the part.' (He got the part.)
Thankfully, Horshack got the part the old-fashioned way. He raised his hand and said, oooooohhhhh! oooooohhhhh! oooooohhhhh!
When God said in the Bible "you shall have no other gods before me", one of the gods he was referring to was Moloch, an Ammonite god worshipped by the Phoenicians and Canaanites who was associated with the sacrifice of children by his followers. In a short essay for The New York Review of Books, Gary Wills singles out the gun as America's Moloch.
Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains-"besmeared with blood" and "parents' tears." They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily-sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children's lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).
The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?
Some genius paired 50 Cent's In Da Club with a video put out by the Jehovah's Witnesses to encourage deaf people not to masturbate. This is probably inappropriate or deafist or whatever, but it also provided me with a much-needed tears-rolling-down face laugh the other day.
A small piece of papyrus with 4th-century writing has turned up recently and the text on it refers to Jesus' wife.
A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ...'"
The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, "she will be able to be my disciple."
The article says the papyrus is "probably genuine" but I wouldn't rule out a forgery financed by Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code fortune. (via @Rebeccamead_NYC)
He unlocked the front door, went outside, got into the car, and was driven away. Although he did not know it then -- so the moment of leaving his home did not feel unusually freighted with meaning -- he would not return to that house, at 41 St. Peter's Street, which had been his home for half a decade, until three years later, by which time it would no longer be his.
The article is excerpted from Rushdie's memoir, Joseph Anton, which comes out next week. Joseph Anton was the name Rushdie adopted in hiding and, now that I think about it, explains why the NYer piece was written in the third person.
In some ways, Brousseau's tale is one of the most remarkable to come out of the secretive organization, and one that parallels so much of Scientology's own development and controversies.
He and [Scientology leader David] Miscavige were brothers in law. They were both young cameramen working for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard during his movie-making phase. Brousseau was Hubbard's personal chauffeur and helped maintain the cloak of secrecy when Hubbard vanished for good. He watched Miscavige transform Scientology and turn its base into a prison camp. He worked for Tom Cruise, which included serving in the household with Cruise and Katie Holmes. And having worked closely with both Cruise and Miscavige, he has choice things to say about the nature of their relationship.
Pagels then shows that Revelation, far from being meant as a hallucinatory prophecy, is actually a coded account of events that were happening at the time John was writing. It's essentially a political cartoon about the crisis in the Jesus movement in the late first century, with Jerusalem fallen and the Temple destroyed and the Saviour, despite his promises, still not back. All the imagery of the rapt and the raptured and the rest that the "Left Behind" books have made a staple for fundamentalist Christians represents contemporary people and events, and was well understood in those terms by the original audience. Revelation is really like one of those old-fashioned editorial drawings where Labor is a pair of overalls and a hammer, and Capital a bag of money in a tuxedo and top hat, and Economic Justice a woman in flowing robes, with a worried look. "When John says that 'the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear's and its mouth was like a lion's mouth,' he revises Daniel's vision to picture Rome as the worst empire of all," Pagels writes. "When he says that the beast's seven heads are 'seven kings,' John probably means the Roman emperors who ruled from the time of Augustus until his own time." As for the creepy 666, the "number of the beast," the original text adds, helpfully, "Let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person." This almost certainly refers-by way of Gematria, the Jewish numerological system-to the contemporary Emperor Nero. Even John's vision of a great mountain exploding is a topical reference to the recent eruption of Vesuvius, in C.E. 79. Revelation is a highly colored picture of the present, not a prophecy of the future.
You'll have to read through the article to discover what early Christianity has to do with this ad for Prada perfume directed by Ridley Scott and starring Daria Werbowy:
Walking around Pinecraft is like entering an idyllic time warp. White bungalows and honeybell orange trees line streets named after Amish families: Kaufman, Schrock, Yoder. The local Laundromat keeps lines outside to hang clothes to dry. (You have to bring your own pins.) And the techiest piece of equipment at the post office is a calculator. The Sarasota county government plans to designate the village, which spreads out over 178 acres, as a cultural heritage district.
Many travelers I spoke to jokingly call it the "Amish Las Vegas," riffing off the clich'e that what happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft. Cellphone and cameras, normally off-limits to Amish, occasionally make appearances, and almost everyone uses electricity in their rental homes. Three-wheeled bicycles, instead of horses and buggies, are ubiquitous.
"When you come down here, you can pitch religion a little bit and let loose," said Amanda Yoder, 19, from Missouri. "What I'm wearing right now, I wouldn't at home," she said, gesturing at sunglasses with sparkly rhinestones and bikini strings peeking out of a tight black tank top. On the outskirts of the village, she boarded public bus No. 11 with six other sunburned teenagers. They were bound for Siesta Key, a quartz-sand beach about eight miles away.
And I venture to predict that after all the huzzas have been uttered and the public acclaim is but a memory, you will derive the greatest satisfaction from the serene knowledge that you have discovered new truths. You can say to yourself: this I saw, this I experienced, this I know to be the truth. This experience is a precious thing; it is known to all researchers, in whatever field of endeavour, who have ventured into the unknown and have discovered new truths.
The media environment that Luther had shown himself so adept at managing had much in common with today's online ecosystem of blogs, social networks and discussion threads. It was a decentralised system whose participants took care of distribution, deciding collectively which messages to amplify through sharing and recommendation. Modern media theorists refer to participants in such systems as a "networked public", rather than an "audience", since they do more than just consume information. Luther would pass the text of a new pamphlet to a friendly printer (no money changed hands) and then wait for it to ripple through the network of printing centres across Germany.
Unlike larger books, which took weeks or months to produce, a pamphlet could be printed in a day or two. Copies of the initial edition, which cost about the same as a chicken, would first spread throughout the town where it was printed. Luther's sympathisers recommended it to their friends. Booksellers promoted it and itinerant colporteurs hawked it. Travelling merchants, traders and preachers would then carry copies to other towns, and if they sparked sufficient interest, local printers would quickly produce their own editions, in batches of 1,000 or so, in the hope of cashing in on the buzz. A popular pamphlet would thus spread quickly without its author's involvement.
And the bit on news ballads is especially interesting:
The news ballad, like the pamphlet, was a relatively new form of media. It set a poetic and often exaggerated description of contemporary events to a familiar tune so that it could be easily learned, sung and taught to others. News ballads were often "contrafacta" that deliberately mashed up a pious melody with secular or even profane lyrics. They were distributed in the form of printed lyric sheets, with a note to indicate which tune they should be sung to. Once learned they could spread even among the illiterate through the practice of communal singing.
There is no god and that's the simple truth. If every trace of any single religion died out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.
Richard Feynman talking about the beauty of science and of the natural world over a bunch of video footage taken from NASA, Microcosmos, and BBC nature docs like Planet Earth? This is fantastically right up my alley.
Part two is Honours and part three is Curiosity. If I ever go on hallucinogenic walkabout in the desert, I'd want Richard Feynman to be my spirit animal. (via ★interesting)
Since then no country has been allowed to apply for membership or association with the European Union without, as a precondition, dismantling its apparatus of execution. This has led states like Turkey to forego what was once a sort of national staple. The United Nations condemns capital punishment-especially for those who have not yet reached adulthood-and the Vatican has come close to forbidding if not actually anathematizing the business. This leaves the United States of America as the only nation in what one might call the West, that does not just continue with the infliction of the death penalty but has in the recent past expanded its reach. More American states have restored it in theory and carried it out in practice, and the last time the Supreme Court heard argument on the question it was to determine whether capital punishment should be inflicted for a crime other than first-degree murder (the rape of a child being the suggested pretext for extension).
Hitchens, as you may have guessed, pins much of the blame on religion...after all, the US is the most (or only?) fundamentalist country in the West. (via ★interesting-links)
I'm still powering through it, but the Scientology article in the latest New Yorker is a great read. The article focuses on director and screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), who recently left the church after reaching the church's highest level.
Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur'an.
The Pew Research Center recently ran a religious knowledge survey in the US and the results show that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than adherents of various Judeo-Christian religions.
On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.
This animation shows how a strong east wind over the Nile Delta could have pushed water back into ancient waterways after blowing for about nine hours, exposing mud flats and possibly providing an overland escape route similar to the biblical account of the Red Sea parting.
Jeffrey Goldberg visited with Fidel Castro recently and has two posts on his Atlantic blog about his meetings with the former Cuban head of state: part one and part two.
After this first meeting, I asked Julia to explain the meaning of Castro's invitation to me, and of his message to Ahmadinejad. "Fidel is at an early stage of reinventing himself as a senior statesman, not as head of state, on the domestic stage, but primarily on the international stage, which has always been a priority for him," she said. "Matters of war, peace and international security are a central focus: Nuclear proliferation climate change, these are the major issues for him, and he's really just getting started, using any potential media platform to communicate his views. He has time on his hands now that he didn't expect to have. And he's revisiting history, and revisiting his own history."
This is substantial reporting but I'll admit my favorite line was:
I've never seen someone enjoy a dolphin show as much as Fidel Castro enjoyed the dolphin show.
Because of Goldberg's reportage on Castro's remarks regarding anti-Semitism, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (and strong critic of Israel) announced yesterday that he would meet with Venezuela's Jewish leaders. Someone get Errol Morris down to Cuba to make a sequel to his film about Robert McNamara. The Fog of Cold War perhaps? (via @kbanderson)
A year later, Obama's appointment of Collins seemed an inspired choice. The President had found not only a man who reflected his own view of the harmony between science and faith but an evangelical Christian who hoped that the government's expansion of embryonic-stem-cell research might bring the culture war over science to a quiet end. On August 23rd, however, Judge Royce C. Lamberth, of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, halted federal spending for embryonic-stem-cell research, putting hundreds of research projects in limbo and plunging the N.I.H. back into a newly contentious national debate.
A show like Futurama just can't stay in the past. It keeps coming back, just like our friend Jesus. So do references to Jesus in the show.
You would think that dropping the J-word would initially be pretty mild and nonspecific, then ramp up. But the first season's "When Aliens Attack" comes out swinging:
Earth is invaded by Omicronians demanding to see the season finale of Single Female Lawyer, a television show which was accidentally knocked off the air 1,000 years earlier by Fry. Professor Farnsworth explains that the show no longer exists because most video tapes from that era were destroyed during the Second Coming of Jesus in the year 2443. Ken Keeler, the writer of the episode, considered this joke one of the most blasphemous lines in the show, because it suggested that the Second Coming had been and gone and life on Earth had carried on much as before.
The beginning of "Future Stock" has a toss-off reference:
At the Bot Mitzvah, Fry asks a Jewish robot if they don't believe in Robot Jesus, to which the robot replies, "We believe he was built, and that he was a very well-programmed robot, but he wasn't our Messiah".
In "A Tale of Two Santas", Bender, posing as the murderous robot Santa Claus, is arrested and put on death row. "All of the crew dress up as Santa and Zoidberg dresses up as 'his friend Jesus' to attempt to stay Bender's execution."
Fry: I'm Santa Claus! Hermes: No, I'm Santa Claus! Amy: We're also Santa Claus! Dr. Zoidberg: And I'm his friend Jesus. Mayor: You guys aren't Santa! You're not even robots. How dare you lie in front of Jesus?
When the real Robot Santa appears and attacks the crew and the people attempting to execute Bender, the executioner exclaims "Get him, Jesus!" before diving behind an object, and in reference to Benjamin Franklin's famous remark, Zoidberg replies, "I help those who help themselves."
On several occasions, Professor Farnsworth uses the phrase "Sweet Zombie Jesus!" as an expression of shock or dismay. These exclamations are usually cut for syndication in the United States. In the DVD of Futurama episode "The Deep South," a cut scene shows Farnsworth muttering in his sleep about the Zombie Jesus returning at tea-time, when Farnsworth has no food to supply it.
But that Wikipedia entry missed this line from "Less Than Hero":
Leela: Man, I'm sore all over. I feel like I just went ten rounds with mighty Thor. Fry: I feel like I was mauled by Jesus.
1. a creation myth highlighting the counter-cultural origin and emergence of the Apple Mac as a transformative moment; 2. a hero myth presenting the Mac and its founder Jobs as saving its users from the corporate domination of the PC world; 3. a satanic myth that presents Bill Gates as the enemy of Mac loyalists; 4. and, finally, a resurrection myth of Jobs returning to save the failing company...
On Twitter, Tim Carmody adds that Apple's problems are increasingly theological in nature -- "Free will, problem of evil, Satanic rebellion" -- which is a really interesting way to look at the whole thing. (John Gruber the Baptist?)
** The Antennagate being, of course, the hotel where Apple Inc. is headquartered.
The American scholar Bart Ehrman has been explaining the scholars' truths for more than a decade now, in a series of sincere, quiet, and successful books. Ehrman is one of those best-selling authors like Richard Dawkins and Robert Ludlum and Peter Mayle, who write the same book over and over -- but the basic template is so good that the new version is always worth reading. In his latest installment, "Jesus, Interrupted", Ehrman once again shares with his readers the not entirely good news he found a quarter century ago when, after a fundamentalist youth, he went to graduate school: that all the Gospels were written decades after Jesus' death; that all were written in Greek, which Jesus and the apostles didn't speak and couldn't write (if they could read and write at all); and that they were written as testaments of faith, not chronicles of biography, shaped to fit a prophecy rather than report a profile.
The early meetings were stormy. "You oughta worship me, I'll tell you that!" one of the Christs yelled. "I will not worship you! You're a creature! You better live your own life and wake up to the facts!" another snapped back. "No two men are Jesus Christs. ... I am the Good Lord!" the third interjected, barely concealing his anger.
Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.
Update: The Times article quoted above is a little misleading says Dawkins.
Needless to say, I did NOT say "I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI" or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself. What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope's proposed visit to Britain.
Nonetheless, there is a legal challenge involving the Pope's visit underway, initiated in part by Dawkins and Hitchens. (thx, lots of people)
Omar Hammami was a fairly normal kid from a small town in Alabama -- "as a teenager, his passions veered between Shakespeare and Kurt Cobain, soccer and Nintendo" -- who is now in Somalia, leading terrorist attacks for a group called Shabab, which is loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda.
In the three years since Hammami made his way to Somalia, his ascent into the Shabab's leadership has put him in a class of his own, according to United States law-enforcement and intelligence officials. While other American terror suspects have drawn greater publicity, Hammami exercises a more powerful role, commanding guerrilla forces in the field, organizing attacks and plotting strategy with Qaeda operatives, the officials said. He has also emerged as something of a jihadist icon, starring in a recruitment campaign that has helped draw hundreds of foreign fighters to Somalia. "To have an American citizen that has risen to this kind of a rank in a terrorist organization - we have not seen that before," a senior American law-enforcement official said earlier this month.
Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking couldn't throw away her dead husband's shoes, for fear that he'd need them when he returned. After my grandfather died I used to fantasize that I could call him and he would answer. "Hey buddy," he'd say. "I was just thinking of you." But they changed the area code for that part of Pennsylvania, from 215 to 610, sold the house, and got rid of his clothes.
Kevin Kelly on defining ourselves by technology we don't use:
I'm interested in how people personally decide to refuse a technology. I'm interested in that process, because I think that will happen more and more as the number of technologies keep increasing. The only way we can sort our identity is by not using technology. We're used to be that you define yourself by what you use now. You define yourself by what you don't use.
I haven't yet run into an argument that has made me want to change my mind. After all, a believing religious person, however brilliant or however good in debate, is compelled to stick fairly closely to a "script" that is known in advance, and known to me, too. However, I have discovered that the so-called Christian right is much less monolithic, and very much more polite and hospitable, than I would once have thought, or than most liberals believe.
In 1907, Dr. Duncan MacDougall found a bunch of people who were about to die and weighed them as they expired. MacDougall claimed that at the point of death, the bodies became lighter. That lost weight, the doctor assumed, was the escaping soul. He even postulated that the souls of the sluggish in life are slow in death:
The subject was that of a man of larger physical build, with a pronounced sluggish temperament. When life ceased, as the body lay in bed upon the scales, for a full minute there appeared to be no change in weight. The physicians waiting in the room looked into each other's faces silently, shaking their heads in the conviction that out test had failed.
Then suddenly the same thing happened that had occurred in the other cases. There was a sudden diminution in weight, which was soon found to be the same as that of the preceding experiments.
I believe that in this case, that of a phlegmatic man slow of thought and action, that the soul remained suspended in the body after death, during the minute that elapsed before it came to the consciousness of its freedom. There is no other way of accounting for it, and it is what might be expected to happen in a man of the subject's temperament.
The weight lost of MacDougall's first subject at death was 3/4 of an ounce...or about 21 grams. (via radiolab)
I bring good news! These two warring groups have more in common than they realize. And, no, it isn't just that they're both wrong. It's that they're wrong for the same reason. Oddly, an underestimation of natural selection's creative power clouds the vision not just of the intensely religious but also of the militantly atheistic.
If both groups were to truly accept that power, the landscape might look different. Believers could scale back their conception of God's role in creation, and atheists could accept that some notions of "higher purpose" are compatible with scientific materialism. And the two might learn to get along.
This is essentially the subject of the last chapter or two of Wright's The Evolution of God, the only part of this excellent book that I didn't quite buy into, even though I've been thinking about his conclusion quite a bit since finishing the book.
The mother of an 11-year-old girl who died of undiagnosed diabetes as the family prayed for her to get better testified Tuesday that she believes sickness is caused by sin and can be cured by God.
Leilani Neumann told the jury in her husband's trial that she thought her daughter's March 2008 illness was a test of her religious faith and she didn't take the girl to a doctor because that would have been "complete disobedience to what we believe."
There isn't enough hard drive space on my server to record all the Fuck Yous I'd love to direct at Mrs. Naumann and her husband in this post. I hope the judge's god is telling him to sentence these two monsters to forever in prison. (via cyn-c)
Lakewood and America's twelve hundred other megachurches -- congregations that draw between two thousand and fifty thousand people per weekend -- are not simply vast machines for passive spectatorship. Sunday services are convergences of worshipers who spend their weeknights at prayer groups, Bible studies, ministries, and missionary training sessions. Successful megachurches are like well-run companies, with intricate corporate structures devised to keep each member personally engaged; their pastors are like chief executives, maximizing the productivity of laborers in the evangelism enterprise. Jumbotron notwithstanding, the architectural and organizational tropes of the megachurch are best compared to those of the modern white-collar workplace.
Last night I found out about the most amazing load of crap I have ever heard of: breatharianism, a extreme diet whose most dedicated followers claim to subsist on air only. There are a number of variations on this basic theme but perhaps the most colorful breatharian is Wily Brooks. From Wikipedia:
Wiley Brooks is a purported breatharian, and founder of the "Breatharian Institute of America". He was first introduced to the public in 1980, when he appeared on the TV show That's Incredible!. Wiley has stopped teaching in recent years, so he can "devote 100% of his time on solving the problem as to why he needed to eat some type of food to keep his physical body alive and allow his light body to manifest completely." Wiley Brooks believes that he has found "four major deterrents" which prevented him from living without food: "people pollution", "food pollution", "air pollution" and "electro pollution". In 1983 he was allegedly observed leaving a Santa Cruz 7-Eleven with a Slurpee, hot dog and Twinkies.
He told Colors magazine in 2003 that he periodically breaks his fasting with a cheeseburger and a cola, explaining that when he's surrounded by junk culture and junk food, consuming them adds balance. On his website, Brooks explains that his future followers must first prepare by combining the junk food diet with the meditative incantation of five magic "fifth-dimensional" words which appear on his website. In the "Question and Answer" section of his website, Brooks explains that the "Double Quarter-Pounder with Cheese" meal from McDonald's possesses a special "base frequency" and that he thus recommends it as occasional food for beginning breatharians. He then goes on to reveal that the secret of Diet Coke is "liquid light". Prospective disciples are asked after some time on this junk food/magic word preparation to revisit his website in order to test if they can feel the magic.
He further mentions that those interested can call him on his fifth-dimensional phone number in order to get the correct pronunciation of the five magic words. In case the line is busy, prospective recruits are asked to meditate on the five magic words for a few minutes, and then try calling again; he does not explain how anyone can meditate with words they cannot yet pronounce. Brooks's "institute", in the past, charged varying fees to prospective clients who wished to learn how to live without food, which ranged from US$15 million to $25 million. These charges have historically been presented as limited time offers exclusively for billionaires, New lower fees have been set to $10,000 with an initial deposit of $2,000.
He wants to consume only air but can't stop eating McDonald's hamburgers! Diet Coke is liquid light! My impulse is to say "you just can't make this stuff up, folks" but that's obviously not true. Kinda makes you want to start your own completely implausible religion, doesn't it? (thx, andy)
Geeking Out sounds interesting, but I can't go. Perhaps you'd like to?
This month, we'll be discussing the interaction between science and religion with speakers including: astrophysicist and Is God a Mathematician? author Mario Livio; psychologist Paul Bloom, the author of Descartes' Baby; and The GOD Part of the Brain author Matthew Alper, one of the founders of the field of neurotheology. The work of local artists will be on display as well.
Geeking Out will be held Thursday, June 18th, at 7:30 pm (doors open at 7:00 pm) at the JLA Studios art gallery on 63 Pearl St in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn. Admission is FREE. Drinks will be available. Please spread the word and bring your friends.
From primitive animists to the legends of the first gods, battling like irrational cloud-inhabiting humans over the cosmos, Wright tells the story of how war and trade, technology and human interaction slowly exposed humans to the gods of others. How this awareness led to the Jewish innovation of a hidden and universal God, how the cosmopolitan early Christians, in order to market their doctrines more successfully, universalised and sanitised this Jewish God in turn, and how Islam equally included a civilising universalism despite its doctrinal rigidity and founding violence.
For all the advances and wonders of our global era, Christians, Jews, and Muslims seem ever more locked in mortal combat. But history suggests a happier outcome for the Peoples of the Book. As technological evolution has brought communities, nations, and faiths into closer contact, it is the prophets of tolerance and love that have prospered, along with the religions they represent. Is globalization, in fact, God's will?
I loved two of Wright's previous books, The Moral Animal and especially Nonzero. (via marginal revolution)
Trying to suggest that a lack of explanation is evidence that supernatural powers are at work is actually a contradiction. In effect what it's saying is, "I can't explain something, therefore I can explain it."
- The door can be opened/closed at any time without concern of directly turning on or off any lights, digital readouts, solenoids, fans, valves, compressor, icons, tones or alarms.
- Any defrost cycle that becomes active will not be a function of the number of times or the length of time that the door is opened.
- The ice maker is disabled automatically. Ice cubes can then be made manually (using a standard ice cube tray) as needed for that Sabbath/Holiday.
- All dispenser functions are deactivated.
There are also special Shabbot elevators that stop on each floor so that no buttons need to be pushed. One could imagine a Sabbath Web Browser that would require no button pushing...it would just browse through a list of your favorite web sites automatically and you could dip in and read when you wanted.
"There's nothing balanced here. It's completely, 100 percent evolution-based," said DeWitt, a professor of biology. "We come every year, because I don't hold anything back from the students."
Creationists, who take their view of natural history straight from the book of Genesis, believe that scientific data can be interpreted to support their idea that God made the first human, Adam, in an essentially modern form 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.
A 2006 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 42 percent of Americans believe humans have always existed in their present form. At universities such as Liberty, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, those views inform the entire science curriculum.
Gorbachev tried to switch the subject. Perhaps the United States and the Soviet Union might open the way for greater cooperation in space, he told the president. But the president wasn't to be diverted. According to the transcript, Reagan told Gorbachev that space was in the direction of heaven, but not as close to heaven as some other things that they had been discussing.
As the meeting ended, Reagan became even more direct and personal. He noted that his own son Ron did not believe in God either. "The President concluded that there was one thing he had long yearned to do for his atheist son. He wanted to serve his son the perfect gourmet dinner, to have him enjoy the meal, and then to ask him if he believed there was a cook."
Kevin Kelly has written a great post called Amish Hackers, which addresses the myth that the Amish don't use technology. As Kelly illustrates, the Amish use electricity, cell phones, cars and even the internet but their adoption of technology is not quick, they rent rather than buy (e.g. taking taxis rather than owning cars), and their default stance with any new gadget is to test first to see if it fits with their views.
One Amish-man told me that the problem with phones, pagers, and PDAs (yes he knew about them) was that "you got messages rather than conversations." That's about as an accurate summation of our times as any. Henry, his long white beard contrasting with his young bright eyes told me, "If I had a TV, I'd watch it." What could be simpler?
Telling the magazine that he was asked why he did not give "credit" to God, Attenborough added: "They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator."
Some customers say the Cavanaghs have such a big market share because their product is about as close to perfect as earthly possible. "It doesn't crumb, and I don't like fragments of our Lord scattering all over the floor," said the Rev. Bob Dietel, an Episcopal priest.
The Green Bible will equip and encourage people to see God's vision for creation and help them engage in the work of healing and sustaining it. With over 1,000 references to the earth in the Bible, compared to 490 references to heaven and 530 references to love, the Bible carries a powerful message for the earth.
In a voice as rich as it is recognized, James Earl Jones lends his narrative talents to the King James Version of the New Testament. In over 19 hours on 16 compact discs enhanced with a complete musical score, James Earl Jones interprets the most enduring book of our time utilizing the acclaimed actor's superb storytelling and skilled characterizations. Hailed as the greatest spoken-word bible version ever, and with almost half a million copies sold, this exquisite audio treasury is certain to enthuse and inspire.
The Message Remix 2.0 is a version for young people written in "today's language". Here's the first few verses of Genesis:
First this: God created the Heavens and Earth -- all you see, all you don't see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.
Last Monday, chairs, iron bars, and fists flew on the roof of one of the most revered sites in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. When the dust cleared, seven Ethiopian Orthodox monks and four Egyptian (Coptic) monks had been injured. The fight started when an Egyptian monk decided to move his chair into the shade -- technically, argued the Ethiopians, encroaching on the latter's jurisdiction.
The linked-to page is on Geocities so it'll likely reach its quota very quickly...maybe bookmark and come back for a look? (thx, phil)
In the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the eucharist actually becomes the blood and body of Jesus Christ. [...] Transubstantiation means that eventually the earth's entire biomass will be made out of Jesus.
Man, I love this video. It's some guy explaining how the banana -- "the atheist's nightmare" -- so perfectly fits in the human hand and peels so easily that it must have been made by God**. Kirk Cameron listens intently. I can't wait for the followup video where he explains why watermelons don't have handles and what God was thinking when he built the coconut.
** Not that this guy cares or whatever, but the modern banana is a cultivated fruit...i.e. pressured by humans to, oh what's the word...evolve into its present form. And other varieties of bananas are smaller or larger and differently shaped. Some wild bananas have large hard seeds. I could go on....
You won't need to do that. She will be alive by then.
That's what the parents of a dead 11-year-old girl said when told the medical examiner was to do an autopsy on her. The girl died from untreated diabetes while her parents, convinced she was under "spiritual attack", prayed for her instead of taking her to the doctor. They face up to 25 years in prison and probably zero guilt because it was all God's plan.
Sizemore looks at Roberton's weight-loss diet shakes, his Liberian diamond-mining operation, African gold-mining operation, his Cayman Island for-profit corporation, and his role in the US attorney appointments scandal. In short, Sizemore doesn't find much to like about the man.
And here's a fun little snippet about how they were planning for the broadcast of the second coming of Jesus:
We even discussed how Jesus' radiance might be too bright for the cameras and how we would have to make adjustments for that problem. Can you imagine telling Jesus, 'Hey, Lord, please tone down your luminosity; we're having a problem with contrast. You're causing the picture to flare.'
If only toning down the luminosity of Jesus were that simple.
Arabs are part of an ethnic group, not a religion. Arabs were around long before Islam, and there have been (and still are) Arab Christians and Arab Jews. In general, you're an Arab if you 1) are of Arab descent (blood), or 2) speak the main Arab language (Arabic).
A companion list of what every resident of the Middle East should know about the US might also be helpful. (via chris glass)
The book that came out of the year has several layers.
- An exploration of some of the Bible's startlingly relevant rules. I tried not to covet, gossip, or lie for a year. I'm a journalist in New York. This was not easy.
- An investigation of the rules that baffle the 21st century brain. How to justify the laws about stoning homosexuals? Or smashing idols? Or sacrificing oxen? And how do you follow those in modern-day Manhattan?
Like most west Europeans, Britons tend to have more left-wing views than Americans, but the first chart shows that this is often by a surprising margin. ("Left" and "right" are harder to locate than they were: here "left" implies a big-state, secular, socially liberal, internationalist and green outlook; right, the reverse.) The data are derived by subtracting left-wing answers from right-wing ones, for each country and for each main political grouping within each country. A net minus rating suggests predominantly left-wing views and a positive rating suggests a preponderance of right-wing views.
Is it right to suggest, as many have, that atheists and agnostics are somehow less moral when the numbers on crime, divorce, alcoholism and other measures of social dysfunction show that non-believers in the United States are extremely under-represented in each category?
How would you suggest that we reason with someone who claims that his or her decisions are informed, shaped, even dictated by fundamental religious principles, which nevertheless can't be probed or questioned by those who don't share them?
The show has no redeeming/moral value what so ever. The show actually had the gall to show GOD in bed with a young woman ready to have sexual intercourse and the dialogue to go with that event, including the use of condoms. They also had Jesus and his earthly father Joseph having an argument. Along with portraying the total disrespect of family values Stewie hitting his mother, the father and son ganging up on the wife/mother, there was also a male sexual predator in this episode as well.; The whole show was quite revolting. It should be taken off the air.
Duelity is a split-screen movie with one half of the screen showing the six-day creation of the earth & man in scientific terms and the other half showing the Big Bang/evolution origin of the universe as it might have been written in the Bible. (Click on "watch" then "duelity" to get the full effect.) Nice use of infographics and illustration. (thx, slava)
With the blessing of the main abbot, Shi Yong Xin, Guariglia has earned the full collaboration of the monks to create an astonishing, empathic record of the Shaolin art forms and the individuals who consider themselves the keepers of these traditions. It is the first time the monks have allowed such extensive documentation of these masters and their centuries-old art forms-from Buddhist mudras to classical kung fu-in their original setting, a 1,500-year-old Buddhist temple.
Photos and video here. Watching the videos, especially the one featuring Tong Jian Quan, I was reminded of hip hop dancing (Michael Jackson in particular) in a way that watching kung-fu and other martial arts in Hollywood movies does not.
We're running a bit behind in watching The War; we stopped the other night right before D-Day. The series is quite good so far, even with all its flaws. The last section we watched dealt with the Battle of Monte Cassino and the related Battle of Anzio in Italy. With the Germans holding the high ground, these battles were some of toughest of the war for the Allies. During one particularly difficult moment, an American soldier yelled out a prayer (I'm paraphrasing slightly): "Oh God, where are you? We really could use your help down here. And don't send Jesus, come down here yourself. This ain't no place for children."
Most unsettling to religious Jews and Christians may be Kugel's chapters about the origins of God and his chosen people. Kugel says that there is essentially no evidence -- archaeological, historical, cultural -- for the events in the Torah. No sign of an exodus from Egypt; no proof that Israelites ever invaded, much less conquered, Canaan; no indication that Jericho was ever sacked. In fact, quite the contrary: current evidence suggests that the Israelites were probably Canaanites themselves, semi-nomadic highlanders or fleeing city dwellers who gradually separated from their mother culture, established a distinct identity and invented a mythical past.
In going through the Bible, however, this book will focus not only on what the text says but on the larger question of what a modern reader is to make of it, how it is to be read. This will mean examining two quite different ways of understanding the Bible, those of modern biblical scholars and of ancient interpreters.
(via mr, where the normally unreserved Tyler Cowen says of the book, "[it's] so good I don't know what to say about [it]")
"At one point in Jared Hutchins' young life, the Beatles were a big problem. 'I had to stop listening to them for a while,' said Hutchins, who lives in Cumming, Georgia, and plays the piano, guitar and harmonica. He said the group's world view 'had a negative effect on me,' and made him irritable and angry."
"'We're fighting for those who don't know they have a voice, that are being manipulated by our pop culture indulging in things that, really, they're not mature enough to be thinking about yet,' Luce told CNN. 'Kids are hurting,' he said. And of those who he feels inflict these moral wounds, Luce said, 'We call them terrorists, virtue terrorists, that are destroying our kids. They're raping virgin teenage America on the sidewalk, and everybody's walking by and acting like everything's OK. And it's just not OK.'"
"Virtue terrorists raping virgin teenage America" is quite the turn-of-phrase.
Biologists Helping Bookstores is a guerilla effort to reshelve pseudo-scientific books (books on intelligent design, for instance), taking them from the Science section and moving them to a more appropriate area of the store, like Philosophy, Religion, or Religious Fiction. (via mr)
David Plotz has finished his Blogging the Bible series at Slate...he wrote about each book of the Old Testament. "While I've been blogging the Bible, I have tried not to take myself too seriously and not to pretend more insight than I actually have. I just wanted to read the book and write about what it's like to read it. No essays, no philosophy, no experts."
My short post on Nina Planck's reaction to the recent "death by veganism", as she calls it, of a baby boy is a good reminder that I don't always agree with the things I link to. My only criteria for posting a link is that it's interesting, whether I think it's right or wrong or am still trying to form an opinion about it. Anyway, I got lots of mail about this one, much of it that said that the parents' veganism was beside the point -- which the prosecutors and jury in the subsequent criminal case agreed with (thx, matt) -- and that a headline like "Death By Stupidity" was probably more appropriate. After all, you don't see "Death by Omnivorism" headlines every time a baby with a more traditional diet dies of starvation.
jkottke: Do you do anything to celebrate or recognize the changing of seasons? ELLEgirlBuddy: do you do anything to celebrate or recognize the changing of seasons? that's a tough choice. jkottke: yes, to celebrate or merely recognize. that is a toughie. ELLEgirlBuddy: yes to celebrate or merely recognize that is a toughie? i dunno. jkottke: you seem like an actual 13 year old girl. ELLEgirlBuddy: i haven't really made a decision 'bout that. jkottke: growing up is tough, isn't it? ELLEgirlBuddy: i dunno.
Are you a good liar? Most people think that they are, but in reality there are big differences in how well we can pull the wool over the eyes of others. There is a very simple test that can help determine your ability to lie. Using the first finger of your dominant hand, draw a capital letter Q on your forehead.
Some people draw the letter Q in such a way that they themselves can read it. That is, they place the tail of the Q on the right-hand side of their forehead. Other people draw the letter in a way that can be read by someone facing them, with the tail of the Q on the left side of their forehead. This quick test provides a rough measure of a concept known as "self-monitoring". High self-monitors tend to draw the letter Q in a way in which it could be seen by someone facing them. Low self-monitors tend to draw the letter Q in a way in which it could be read by themselves.
High self-monitors tend to be concerned with how other people see them. They are happy being the centre of attention, can easily adapt their behaviour to suit the situation in which they find themselves, and are skilled at manipulating the way in which others see them. As a result, they tend to be good at lying. In contrast, low self-monitors come across as being the "same person" in different situations. Their behaviour is guided more by their inner feelings and values, and they are less aware of their impact on those around them. They also tend to lie less in life, and so not be so skilled at deceit.
By now, you've probably heard of the Creation Museum that just opened in Kentucky with the idea that the Bible is "the history book of the universe". Pharyngula has an extensive roundup of information and reaction to the museum, including this inside look at the place. "Journalists, you have a problem. Most of the articles written on this 'museum' bend over backwards to treat questions like 'Did Man walk among Dinosaurs?' as serious, requiring some kind of measured response from multiple points of view, and rarely even recognized the scientific position that the question should not only be answered with a strong negative, but that it is absurd."
Update: An earlier version of this post wrongly stated that Mitt Romney raised his hand when asked about disbelieving evolution...Tom Tancredo was the third person. (thx to several who wrote in about this)
Darren Aronofsky is working on a screenplay for a film about Noah. You know, the dude with the Ark. "Noah was the first person to plant vineyards and drink wine and get drunk. It's there in the Bible -- it was one of the first things he did when he reached land. There was some real survivor's guilt going on there. He's a dark, complicated character."
Even though I wasn't that familiar with the whole Jim Jones/Jonestown story, I felt like they rushed through the early parts of the story...might have worked better at 2 hours than at 90 minutes. The ending is great, a well-paced mix of personal narrative, photography, audio, and video from the last fateful day of over 900 people. After the movie ended, I was trying to imagine what would happen if Jonestown (or to a lesser extent, the Branch Davidian thing or Heaven's Gate) occurred today. Religious cult leader brainwashes all these people and then kills 900 of them in the South American jungle, including a United States Congressman? CNN, et. al. would got nuts for a start...I don't know if 72 pt. type on their homepage would be enough. The blogosphere would probably go supernova as well.
Thoughtful post on the extreme recency of recorded human history. We know very little about the people who lived before the invention of writing and collections of stories like the Bible, save for what we can glean from speechless skeletons, footprints, and other remains. "And look at how much is lost. Between the time of the couple fleeing across a field of volcanic ash and poor dead Lucy lies 400,000 years. If a Bible is a record of the struggle of a people for 2,000 years, we'd need 200 Bibles to tell us the tale of just this one obscure, remote branch of our lineage." (thx, alexander)
An Intelligent Designer designs a cow. "How about we give it three, no eleven, no four stomachs! Four stomachs! For the efficient eating, of the grass. I am truly inspired! Don't stop there. How's this? This animal should urinate milk. From its groin, no less."
The cover story in this week's NY Times Magazine is called Darwin's God and covers, from an evolutionary biology standpoint, why people believe in God. Most scientists studying the matter believe that humans have a built-in mechanism for religious belief. For instance, anthropologist Scott Atran sometimes conducts an intriguing experiment with his students:
His research interests include cognitive science and evolutionary biology, and sometimes he presents students with a wooden box that he pretends is an African relic. "If you have negative sentiments toward religion," he tells them, "the box will destroy whatever you put inside it." Many of his students say they doubt the existence of God, but in this demonstration they act as if they believe in something. Put your pencil into the magic box, he tells them, and the nonbelievers do so blithely. Put in your driver's license, he says, and most do, but only after significant hesitation. And when he tells them to put in their hands, few will. If they don't believe in God, what exactly are they afraid of?
Or rather, why are they afraid? One possible reason is that humans are conditioned to be on the lookout for "agents" and we tend to find them even when they're not there:
So if there is motion just out of our line of sight, we presume it is caused by an agent, an animal or person with the ability to move independently. This usually operates in one direction only; lots of people mistake a rock for a bear, but almost no one mistakes a bear for a rock.
What does this mean for belief in the supernatural? It means our brains are primed for it, ready to presume the presence of agents even when such presence confounds logic. "The most central concepts in religions are related to agents," Justin Barrett, a psychologist, wrote in his 2004 summary of the byproduct theory, "Why Would Anyone Believe in God?" Religious agents are often supernatural, he wrote, "people with superpowers, statues that can answer requests or disembodied minds that can act on us and the world."
Another reason for the instinctive religious impulse may be that people are able to put themselves in other peoples' minds, to think about how another person might be feeling or thinking:
Folkpsychology, as Atran and his colleagues see it, is essential to getting along in the contemporary world, just as it has been since prehistoric times. It allows us to anticipate the actions of others and to lead others to believe what we want them to believe; it is at the heart of everything from marriage to office politics to poker. People without this trait, like those with severe autism, are impaired, unable to imagine themselves in other people's heads.
The process begins with positing the existence of minds, our own and others', that we cannot see or feel. This leaves us open, almost instinctively, to belief in the separation of the body (the visible) and the mind (the invisible). If you can posit minds in other people that you cannot verify empirically, suggests Paul Bloom, a psychologist and the author of "Descartes' Baby," published in 2004, it is a short step to positing minds that do not have to be anchored to a body. And from there, he said, it is another short step to positing an immaterial soul and a transcendent God.
There's lots more in the article...it's well worth a read.
Not a joke: James Cameron claims to have discovered the burial cave of Jesus and his family. Includes the obligatory Da Vinci Code reference. "The [burial] boxes bear the names: Yeshua [Jesus] bar Yosef [son of Joseph]; Maria [the Latin version of Miriam, which is the English Mary]; Matia [the Hebrew equivalent of Matthew, a name common in the lineage of both Mary and Joseph]; Yose [the Gospel of Mark refers to Yose as a brother of Jesus]; Yehuda bar Yeshua, or Judah, son of Jesus; and in Greek, Mariamne e mara, meaning 'Mariamne, known as the master.' According to Harvard professor Francois Bovon, interviewed in the film, Mariamne was Mary Magdalene's real name."
An interview with Tamir Goodman, the "Jewish Jordan". Even in the Israeli pro leagues, he is the only Orthodox Jew playing. "Tamir [has] the respect of his coaches and teammates for his religious dedication, as well as for his ability to throw down two handed jams and no look passes."
"Love bombing is the deliberate show of affection or friendship by an individual or a group of people toward another individual. Critics have asserted that this action may be motivated in part by the desire to recruit or otherwise influence."
The Orthodox and other observant Jews living within this 'home' are permitted certain actions outside their literal homes -- pushing a stroller to the synagogue, carrying keys, walking a dog on a leash -- that would otherwise be forbidden on the Sabbath.
Why I Celebrate Christmas. "[Santa Claus is] clearly what Jesus would be if he was real. Nobody would ever consider nailing this omnibenevolent deity to anything, would they? Nor does he hold anything against you longer than a year." (via cyn-c)
Two weeks ago, author and professional gambler David Sklansky offered $50,000 to any Christian who believes in Jesus' resurrection, believes non-believers will go to hell, *and* could beat his score on the SAT. A dumb bet, but ok. Jeopardy uber-champion Ken Jennings, a Mormon, says bring it on: " I've already taken the SAT -- why bother taking it again? I know what I got, and the College Board can back me up on it. Sklansky looks older than me, but I assume he took the 1600-point SAT at some point. I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours. Fifty grand, math/verbal total." (thx, david)
Richard Dawkins: Why there almost certainly is no God. "We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can't disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can't disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable."
According to the Ussher-Lightfoot Calendar, today is the 6,009th birthday of the universe. Based on James Ussher's interpretation of the Bible, God created "the heaven and the earth" on October 23, 4004 BC. Happy birthday, everything!
Note: I'm doing Mr. Ussher's precise chronology a disservice by fudging the Julian calendar date that he derived with the Gregorian calendar we now use. For that, I apologize.
Some notes from day 2 at PopTech, with a little backtracking into day 1 as well. In no particular order:
The upshot of Thomas Barnett's entertaining and provacative talk (or one of the the upshots, anyway): China is the new world power and needs a sidekick to help globalize the world. And like when the US was the rising power in the world and took the outgoing power, England, along for the ride so that, as Barnett put it, "England could fight above its weight", China could take the outgoing power (the US) along for the globalization ride. The US would provide the military force to strike initial blows and the Chinese would provide peacekeeping; Barnett argued that both capabilities are essential in a post-Cold War world.
Juan Enriquez talked about boundries...specifically if there will be more or less of them in the United States in the future. 45 states? 65 states? One thing that the US has to deal with is how we treat immigrants. Echoing William Gibson, Enriquez said "the words you use today will resonate through history for a long time". That is, if you don't let the Mexican immigrants in the US speak their own language, don't welcome their contributions to our society, and just generally make people feel unwelcome in the place where they live, it will come back to bite you in the ass (like, say, when southern California decides it would rather be a part of Mexico or its own nation).
Enriquez again, regarding our current income tax proclivities: "if we pay more and our children don't owe less, that's not taxes...it's just a long-term, high-interest loan".
Number of times ordained minister Martin Marty said "hell" during his presentation: 2. Number of times Marty said "goddamn": 1. Number of times uber-heathen Richard Dawkins said "hell", "goddamn", or any other blasphemous swear: 0.
The story of Micah Garen's capture by Iraqi militants and Marie-Helene Carlton's efforts to get her boyfriend back home safely illustrates the power of the connected world. Marie-Helene and Micah's family used emails, mobile phones, and sat phones to reach out through their global social network, eventually reaching people in Iraq whom Micah's captors might listen to. A woman in the audience stood during the Q&A and related her story of her boyfriend being on a hijacked plane out of Athens in 1985 and how powerless she was to do anything in the age before mobiles, email, and sat phones. Today, Stanley Milgram might say, an Ayatollah is never more than 4 or 5 people away.
Lexicographer Erin McKean told us several interesting things about dictionaries, including that "lexicographer" can be found in even the smallest of dictionaries because, duh, look who's responsible for compiling the words in a dictionary. She called dictionaries the vodka of literature: a distillation of really meaty mixture of substances into something that odorless, tasteless, colorless, and yet very powerful. Here an interview with her and a video of a lecture she gave at Google.
Over the weekend, my thoughts kept returning to Michael Lewis' story about Michael Oher, a former homeless kid who may soon be headed for a sizeable NFL paycheck. Checking around online for reaction reveals a wide range of responses to the story. Uplifting sports story was the most common reaction, while others found it disturbing (my initial reaction), with one or two folks even accusing Lewis and the Times of overt racism. While Lewis left the story intentionally open-ended (that is, he didn't attempt to present any explicit lessons in the text itself), I believe he meant for us to find the story disturbing (or at least thought-provoking).
Just look at the way Lewis tells Oher's story. Oher is never directly quoted; it's unclear if he was even interviewed for this piece (although it's possible he was for another part of the book). Instead he is spoken about and for by his coaches, teachers, and new family...and as much as the article focuses on him, we don't get a sense of who Oher really is or what he wants out of life. (An exception is the great "put him on the bus" story near the end.) He's playing football, was adopted by a rich, white family, graduated from high school, and is attending college, but all that was decided for him and we never learn what Oher wants. Religion is referred to as a driving factor in his adopted family's efforts to help him. Again, no choice there...not even his family or school had any say in the matter, God told them they *had* to save this kid.
Then there's the sports angle, the parallels between Oher's lack of control over his own life and how professional athletes, many from poor economic backgrounds, are treated by their respective teams, leagues, owners, and fans. At one point, Lewis compares Oher's lack of enthusiasm for football's aggression to that of Ferdinand the Bull, a veiled reference to the perception of the professional athlete as an animal whose worth is measured in how big, strong, and fast he is.
So what you've got is a story about rich white people from the American South using religion to justify taking a potentially valuable black man from his natural environment and deciding the course of his life for him. Sound familiar? Perhaps I'm being a little melodramatic, but this can't just be an accident on Lewis' part. As I see it, Oher is Lewis' "blank slate" in a parable of contemporary America, a one-dimensional character representing black America who is, depending on your perspective, either manipulated, exploited, or saved by white America. Not that it's bad that Oher has a home, an education, and a family who obviously cares about him, but does the outcome justify the means? And could Oher even have contributed significantly to his direction in life when all this was happening? Who are we to meddle in another person's life so completely? Conversely, who are we to stand idly by when there are people who need help and we have the means to help them?
I'm not saying Lewis' story has any of the answers to these questions, but I would suggest that in a country where racial differences still matter and the economic gap between the rich and poor is growing, this is more than just an uplifting sports story.
The AAAS, the organisation which publishes Science magazine, has produced a book called The Evolution Dialogues. "Meant specifically for use in Christian adult education programs, it offers a concise description of the natural world, as explained by evolution, and the Christian response, both in Charles Darwin's time and in contemporary America." (thx, mike)