I’m probably going to be too busy to do this regularly, but for old times’ sake here’s another. I’m not trying to take any position on the gay marriage fight in this post; that would take a much longer post, and everybody’s made up their mind on that already.
Is there anything sillier, or more painful to watch, than an amateur trying to show up an expert by citing cherry-picked information from the expert’s own subject of expertise? For example, creationists trying to “disprove” evolution by pointing to some trivial anomaly in the body of research. Much of the time it isn’t even a real anomaly, and reflects only the creationist’s ignorance of how evolution is supposed to work. My favorite: “If people evolved from apes, why do we still have apes?” The creationist smiles smugly; every educated person listening to or reading him winces, sighs, and decides it simply isn’t worth the effort of even beginning to correct this rube. Continue reading →
Ancient Athens, at the height of its power, commanded an empire of millions, covering most of the Eastern Mediterranean. Nominally, they were the foremost city of an alliance, but in practice, they dominated and extracted tribute from settlements in the Cyclades, Ionia on the west coast of Asia Minor, Italy, Sicily, Cyprus, and various points on the north coast of Africa. They even had a couple of colonies in Spain. This whole maritime empire was held together by the trireme, a 120-foot warship alternately propelled by sails or three banks of rowers, with a vicious battering ram on its tip. I’ve mentioned the trireme before, in my Darkened Ages post. It was a mighty weapon, but it had its limitations; it was strictly a coastal vessel, which had to make landfall every night to restock with food and water. Also, very expensive. At its aforementioned height, Athens could only build three or four triremes per year. Usually this was done by selecting one of the city’s richest citizens for the “honor” of funding it, in the form of a charitable endowment called a liturgy (lit. “work for the people”; also an apt term for our religious service, but one wonders exactly how the term got transferred!).
Anyway, suppose you were to go to one of Athens’s busiest shipyards and tell them that, at some point in the past, a man and his three sons, possibly assisted by their wives, had built a ship three times the length of a trireme, and far wider–a boat the size of a modern American football field. That these men had then loaded down said ship with massive amounts of heavy cargo–live animals, and plenty of fodder–and kept it afloat through forty days of nonstop storm conditions, plus an indeterminate period of calm afterwards. Continue reading →
I apologize for the lengthy interval since my last post–with the proviso that there will probably be just as long an interval before the next one. Ordinary life calls, I have children, and so on, plus I have been bitten by the novel-writing bug yet again. But, since I don’t have access to my novel-writing PC right now, I might as well do my duty here, right?
Since I’m feeling lazy, I’ll tackle another of the internet’s common attacks on religion: the argument from atrocity. Here I mean extra-biblical atrocities: certain incidents from the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, various pogroms, the Thirty Years’ War, etc. Those weird little bits from the dusty back corners of the Pentateuch, which all go something like, “And the Lord commanded Jerushaphat to slay seven and fifty of the Edomites, together with their wives, and their children, their slaves, and the slaves of their children, the children of their slaves, the children of their slaves’ children, and their oxen, and their sheep, and the sheep of their neighbors, but not the sheep of their neighbors’ slaves, etc.”–well, those are a different matter, which I will probably not bother over, because those bits are only ever read by infidels with chips on their shoulders, and these days said infidels tend to focus more on obscure anecdotes from the Koran. Also, it’s not clear whether any of the early Biblical atrocity anecdotes ever even happened. Continue reading →
I read somewhere–I can’t recall where exactly, to my regret–that there are two opposed forces within Christianity, constantly tugging it in two different directions. They might go by many names: conventional and unconventional, worldly and unworldly, fleshly and ascetic, or what-have-you. In Orthodoxy, they are roughly represented by the hierarchy and the monastics, respectively, though neither has a strict monopoly; there are “unworldly” elements within the first, and sedate, passive, and conventional elements in the second. And this duality, this push-and-pull division, is not unique to Christianity. There are austere Hindu ascetics and serene village Brahmins, Buddhist Lamas and Buddhist family altars.
Only one of the two forces can be dominant in a given area, in a given faith, at one time. A balance between the two is possible–and desirable–but not likely to occur, or to be stable when and if it does. We’re always drifting in one direction or the other, and back again, overreacting to an excess before we overreact to our overreaction. Continue reading →
Before I start this post, a quick apology or proviso of sorts: in my last post, I held up typical Christian children’s books as an example of flawed “Christian” culture. I do believe it is true that presenting the world as divided between “Christian” and “Secular” cultural spheres, with the “Christian” as ostensibly superior (but really just a whitewashed imitation of the secular), is a losing bet. However, the problem confronting Christian children’s books is much the same as that confronting children’s books, and especially very young children’s books, in general: people tend to believe that, because small children are not mentally and emotionally sophisticated, you can foist off whatever doggerel you like on them, and they’ll love it. On the contrary, small children are as challenging an audience as any–perhaps more than others, even, because of their limitations–and people like Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein are their Shakespeares and Mark Twains. Little children only continue to have crummy fiction dumped on them because they are a largely captive audience, with little input into which books are purchased for them. But this is not an exclusively Christian, or “Christian” problem. See also Sturgeon’s Law.
With that said: there is a second major reason, in my opinion, why religiosity is fading in America today. Like the first, I think it grew out of the Sexual Revolution. Specifically, it developed in reaction to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. As I understand it, what we now call “socially conservative” religious leaders, fired up by a seven-judge majority essentially steamrolling over conventional morality, offered a pledge of mutual support to Reagan and other GOP leaders. The result was the prolonged disaster we know as the Religious Right. Continue reading →