This Weeks Reader December 22, 2007  

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The "New Atheists" are responding to provocation, not mounting an arbitrary attack
For the "New Atheists" all religious people are suicide bombers, says Mr Dalrymple. Hmm: I don’t think so; but I wonder why they make any connection between religion and suicide bombings at the extreme margins of things? Answer: we look around the world and across the landscape of history; we hear the clamour of strife arising from religious discord, persecution, oppression and execution; we smell the burning flesh of the Inquisition; we see how much and sometimes how violently Sunni hates Shiite and vice versa, we learn that the martyrs of Islam will go straight to paradise, and so dismally, heart-sickeningly and too often dangerously on. But, implies Mr Dalrymple, all we need do is look at a cathedral and lo! all is justified, and it does not matter that very small children are being brainwashed into the beliefs of herdsmen who lived in tents several thousand years ago, the better to quarrel with, and sometimes perhaps even kill, one another later for not agreeing that bread turns into human flesh or that this relative of the Prophet is more important than that one.

A "Haught"y Ally?
Yes, Nietzsche did recognize the potential danger of nihilism in the vacuum created by the absence of god belief, but he provided ample material to fill that void. Hope in the perpetual betterment of self and mankind through the idea of the Ubermensche and the assessing and assigning of values and meaning to life through the Revaluation of all Values alone are enough to fill the void. True, Nietzsche's tone is certainly evidence that he knew he wasn't writing for the masses of his time, but his hope was that it would be for the masses of the future, and the few today who can understand and have the strength of mind and will to help forge a world for the "next" men, rescuing it from the "last" men.

Misunderstanding Atheism
Atheism is a response to theism. The theist claims that some sort of god or gods exist; the atheist does not accept this claim as accurate. Theism is the belief that a god or gods exist. Atheism is the absence of, or lack of, agreement with this belief. To say that an atheist does not believe in gods is an accurate statement, however, to insist that an atheist believes that there are no gods is erroneous. Atheism does not entail the conviction that there are no gods. Moreover, atheism says nothing whatsoever about the presence or absence of various unknown or unexplained phenomena. And finally, while lack of "proof" is a justification some atheists will offer for their unwillingness to accept theism, it is certainly not the only one. Other atheists would argue that they cannot accept the theistic belief claim because the concept of god is logically incoherent or undefined.

Does Hoping For An End To Religion Make Me Intolerant?
In fact, I'd like not to have to care what a believer believes. I'd like to leave that completely up to them and not concern myself with it. If religion could somehow be divorced from politics and if I could escape the constant bombardment by Jesus music when I'm shopping or door-to-door evangelizing when I'm at home, I could probably remain content to remain oblivious to what religious folk believe. Maybe I'd examine it as a curiosity, but it wouldn't have great relevance.

SOE confirms allegations of developer misconduct in EQII
Members of Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest II team have confirmed allegations of unfair relations between a member of the development team and Unhallowed Triad, a guild operating on the EQII test server, according to MMO site Massively. The scandal surfaced several days ago, and, a couple of hundred-page forum threads later, it was revealed that SOE transferred characters from EQII's test server to a live server, violating SOE's own end user license agreement.

CIA photos 'show UK Guantanamo detainee was tortured'
Mr Stafford-Smith added in his letter: "As you know, the only purported basis for the US holding Mr Mohammed is an allegation that he is an ('illegal') enemy combatant. Five-and-a-half years after his initial seizure, he is not currently charged in a military commission, and he has never been offered a fair trial. As you are aware, Mr Mohammed was rendered to Morocco by the CIA and tortured for 18 months in a way that was medieval.

I Am Legend
So while it was far from a bad film, it was really disheartening to watch as the film went from great to merely OK. Like 30 Days of Night, this has the potential to be one of the years’ best genre films (luckily, the PG-13 rating is of no real consequence in relation to the film’s flaws), but the lazy script prevented such a thing from happening. Still, I was entertained for the most part, thanks in part to the antics of my fellow moviegoers.

Friends of Peace

Nonbelieving Literarti
The Sparrow and the Large Steel Pipe
This just reeks of phoniness, and half the words are extraneous. He’s got a long nose, close-together eyes, and curly red hair. The shape of his nose, the monkey business, the semicircle smile (what else would it be, a hyperbola?), and the child’s scribbles don't help us picture the guy. And they have nothing to do with plot foreshadowing, character analysis, mood, anything. They’re just stuffing.

Nonbelieving Literati: The Sparrow
But taken alone I think I can find a compelling argument against theism, or at least, for humans being unable to understand God. Emilio thought he understood God's plan and was horribly wrong. Either there was no plan or it's incomprehensible to us as humans because it's too horrible to think that would be part of a benevolent god's plan. There was a sense that, even though the characters believed they were working under a divine plan, in the end we're all alone.

NL: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
In the end, The Sparrow is a fascinating failure. It's tightly-plotted and well-written, with (mostly) interesting characters - and she does us the favor of telling us upfront that virtually all of them will die, so we aren't crushed when it happens - and the device of parallel stories works very well. I don't think the book would be have as engaging told in strictly linear progression: our gradual penetration of the mystery along with the priests conducting the hearing works, but we'd be too impatient if we already knew it. Where it falls down, for me, is that Russell does, in the end, accept that God has the right to do whatever he wants with us - to kill so many to make a saint of Emilio Sandoz. (Again, a comparison came to me: the invasion of Earth in Signs just to restore the wavering faith of one man.) There is no true evil because it all redounds ad majorem Dei gloriam.

Nonbelieving Literati: The Sparrow
It's hard to tell where the author of this book stands on religious issues. She knows a lot about Catholics, but it's hard to say whether she writes from the inside or as an apostate. I know the Nonbelieving Literati have had more liberal, irreverent Christian authors before, so the choice of this book isn't necessarily a sign that the author doesn't believe in God. I suppose a web search or something might turn up more information, but if you ask me, that's cheating. I'll take the book as is and never mind the author, and I'll say this. The fact that you can't tell where the author stands is at least in part because this is a good book, a realistic book, a book that doesn't paint ideology into the storyline half so much as it allows the characters to be believeable. Many of the characters hold views I don't agree with. Many of them espouse reasoning that I consider to be highly questionable, and large parts of my viewpoint don't even make it into the conversation. But that's life. That's believeable. And I can't help but admire the author for being able to write with such sympathy for her characters, and yet such coldness when it comes to the pain she'll put them through and the problems she'll hand them that challenge the views they hold dear.

Rakhat Rising
When human beings are faced with certain transcendent experiences, we seem to instinctually jump to a language that is spiritual or supernatural to explain it. We reach a point that surpasses our limits of experience and instinctively reach to define the void beyond. Some will call it God, assigning intellect and purpose where there is none. For me that point beyond ourselves, that brink of space between what we know and the potential of what lays outside has no name, no purpose, no reason. All I’m left with are feelings that I lack words to adequately describe. Small words like ‘awe’ or ‘hope’ are merely the click of a pebble bouncing down the sides of well it can’t possibly fill. I have a euphoric feeling of standing at the edge of the abyss about to take flight. I get these feelings when contemplating the potential future of space exploration, such as the documentary series Mars Rising. For the religious, these are the feelings they get when contemplating the nature of god and his purpose for creation. To-may-to -– to-mah-to. What does it matter how we classify this experience?

God snores as another Sparrow bites the dust
Oh sure, there was great doubt about god in the Sparrow. But the nagging feeling I was left with is still – "oh yeah, there is a god. We just don’t comprehend It’s ways."

A Liberty

The Power of Personality
But when I think about what is truly distinctive about the way I look at the world, about the advantage that I may have over others in understanding foreign affairs, it is that I know what it means not to be an American. I know intimately the attraction, the repulsion, the hopes, the disappointments that the other 95 percent of humanity feels when thinking about this country. I know it because for a good part of my life, I wasn't an American. I was the outsider, growing up 8,000 miles away from the centers of power, being shaped by forces over which my country had no control.

Campaigns Like These Make It Hard to Find a Reason to Believe
In my view, however, the biggest flaw in Pascal’s argument is that it understates the costs of belief. Because believing, it seems to me, is not free.

Belief in God too often spawns reasons to punish sinners — “adulterers” in Saudi Arabia, gays for some Republican presidential candidates. Through the ages, it has provided people of all sorts of creeds a great argument to kill and maim the people from the next creed over. If it turns out that God doesn’t exist — having bought into the notion, it seems to me, would prove a pretty bad wager indeed.

Tyrrhenian Sea and Solstice Sky
Today the Solstice occurs at 0608 Universal Time, the Sun reaching its southernmost declination in planet Earth's sky. Of course, the December Solstice marks the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the south. When viewed from northern latitudes, the Sun will make its lowest arc through the sky along the southern horizon. So in the north, the Solstice day has the shortest length of time between sunrise and sunset and fewest hours of daylight. This striking composite image follows the Sun's path through the December Solstice day of 2005 in a beautiful blue sky, looking down the Tyrrhenian Sea coast from Santa Severa toward Fiumicino, Italy. The view covers about 115 degrees in 43 separate, well-planned exposures from sunrise to sunset.

219 - Found: a Map of the Island in ‘Lost’
Lost is not only the title of a popular American tv series, it also describes the exasperated feeling of those viewers looking for a semblance of a plot in the series. The broad outline goes something like this: The survivors of a crashed jumbo jet on a transpacific flight find themselves stranded on a tropical island, cut off from the civilised world and left to fend for themselves.

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2 comments: to “ This Weeks Reader December 22, 2007

  • PhillyChief
    Sunday, December 23, 2007 at 11:40:00 PM CST  

    This is a great little list of quality links. I'm honored to be a part of it.

  • Monkey Migraine
    Wednesday, December 26, 2007 at 7:43:00 PM CST  

    Favorite line: "[UK Guantanamo Detainee] has nothing to do with Morocco, and he was not taken there by the CIA for a Club Med vacation."

    I Am Legend: I agree. It was good, but could have been better. [SPOILER ALERT] While I'm not one of those people who thinks every movie should end happily, I think a downbeat ending should at least be the logical and only end result of the plot. In this case, I thought it felt forced. There was room in there for three! She said so! [END SPOILER] And I spent most of the movie coming to understand what led up to the present. Just when the story had developed to the point where it was fully-developed and getting interesting, it was over. But there are great visuals, genuine scares, and fun stuff.


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