Saturday, November 7, 2015

Update

I kept telling myself I would keep updating this, but you know how hard it is to keep those promises to oneself.

I was shocked to find that the issues I mentioned in that blood, I means specifically the conjoined twin body part thing was something I started obsesses over again a few weeks ago. I'm just going around in circles again.

I wish I had other things to write about that I felt were really important than religious stuff, but as it turns out that doesn't happen so much. I've been worrying this week about whether or not Romans 9 is advocating a Calvinist view of Predestination. I get the same stomach pain from these things as I do with worrying about God's existence, so I don't know what's the point even trying to get out of that rut when there are a thousand others after it.

For like the first year few months I was here, I was in a Dark Night sort of state like the last blog said. I was full of doubt. Then one day...well, I know how this will sound, but I'm going to say it anyway. I actually might have blogged about this story before, but whatever, I'll repeat it in that case. I don't feel like linking a bunch of things so you'll just have to trust me.

You know the Fatima apparitions? Well, putting aside all the people who were there when Miracle of the Sun supposedly happened, there was a reporter, Avelino de Almeida, from a liberal-leaning newspaper who after the fact said he had indeed seen the sun dancing. I had of course read that bit on the Wikipedia page. But then I found this book on Google Books that I now cannot seem to find, but it was a sort of Religious Studies book about the apparitions--it wasn't from the Church--and it had an excerpt of an earlier article of him driving to Fatima and talking about the whole affair cynically and postulating that one day the city would be lined with hotels full of tourists because of the whole affair. I could see in Almeida's tone the sort of religious indifference and cynicism I've seen in people since I came here. So outside of all the other people, the fact that this one person had seen it who was so like the people I knew who I could never imagine deceiving themselves into seeing something that wasn't there out of mass hysteria, that was something that I could cling to on an emotional level.

But you know, Our Lady of Fatima, while she didn't say anything against doctrine, did say plenty about modesty and piety and having physical penance (like, hair-shirt penance) that seems really rigorist. I think there's even one part about a girl who was a friend of Lucia, the seer girl and later nun, who had died after some kind of scandal involving her "dishonor" meaning I suppose some kind of premarital sex (though this is only something I've heard around, I can't seem to find anything solidly confirming it) being in Purgatory until the end of time. If just that ends you up in with the most severe penalty you can get while still being saved, I can hardly imagine what fate awaits most of us in the 21st Century, particularly me who has been regularly committing a certain sin that according to Aquinas is more serious that Lucia's friend since I was in fifth grade. Then again, that girl who died, she still "won"---even if she's in Purgatory until the heat death of the universe, like Dostoevsky says (sort of), it will still be worth it for even one second in heaven) but it still make Our Lady feel more like a really strict mother who is always out to catch you being bad than the loving and compassionate person I want to see her as. This isn't to say she isn't compassionate though, it's just, you know, a feeling. I know I am in the wrong, but can't she recognize how difficult things are, how hard it is too be good, especially when good and bad are so hard to tell apart half the time?

 Well, I don't have anything else. I'll try to keep up with this more often. Writing about my religious views under my real name probably isn't such a good idea for someone about to go into the job market, but I need this sort of thing from time to time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Dark Night of the Soul

I have been trying to get off obsessively pouring over atheist blogs or anything to do with atheism or skepticism cold turkey. I have had a few lapses, but for the most part, I have managed it.

But in the place of frantic anxiety of colliding into the views of people who not only disagree with the Church, but the very idea of the Church--people who think not only is Christianity false, but it isn't even a good story, and we're better off that its not true--a dull, formless mass of doubt and pain has set into my heart. I wonder if this is what the dark night of the soul of St. John of the Cross is like--I have had this feeling many times before and wondered so every time, but I think that might be a feeling of being cut off from God's presence, not doubting that presence was there in the first place. Maybe it is at least analogous.

There is so much I don't know. Today, I was talking to Dr. Gamble in between my conferences and he, in relating how he had come to be at Arkansas, said something to the effect of "God decides everything." And in my subconscious, the half-formed, not even verbal idea bubbled up, "Maybe God does not even exist." I only realized afterwards I had even had the thought. It was appalling. I have referred in the past to pathetic accounts of former believers who are beset with a persistent shapeless doubt built up from a thousand little pinpricks on their faith who finally realize they are atheists with thoughts like this. How disgusting! I don't want to be like that, no matter what, like a deflated balloon who admits his inflation was simply a delusion against the scientific truth of atmospheric pressure.

God, please help me. If you don't help me, I will try to soldier on. I can't make any demands on You. But help me still. I don't want to worry that percentage chance for the likelihood that You exist might be considerably below 50%. I don't want to read about twins with body parts from their dead twins still stuck to their bodies and wonder if this means You don't exist--if it must make me think of something, let it be pity, however worthless or hypocritical.

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Disliking Carl Sagan

I spend a lot of my time reading the blogs of rather shrill atheists, but those aren't the only ones, nor even the most effective. It is the ones like Carl Sagan that I don't engage with that much, because they are not sufficiently lacerating - whatever I mean by that. But that doesn't mean they are any less insidious. Yes, I said insidious, knowing it makes me sound like the evangelical pastor of a megachurch. I don't care.

Take a look at this and this.

I know perfectly well, dear reader, that you may well be moved by this. Especially the former - why, with such a mellifluous tone and tinkling music, why the Pope himself might cry out, "Ah, it has all been for naught, all these years, we do not indeed live in a privileged reference frame, we must find some worthy goal as this man has said."

The hell we don't and the hell we must.

Isn't this exactly what the Underground Man despised, this nonsensical idea that science and pursuing our rational betterment will be our salvation. If "We long to be here for a purpose, even though, despite much self-deception, none is evident", then let us throw off the final self deception that there is any goal worth pursuing. 

Maybe it is different for you reader, but for me, this is the only conclusion I can come to. For you, there may be some sense of secular meaning. Me, I spit at it. All the familial love and friendship in the world, all the protection of civil and human rights, all the feeding of the hungry and nursing of the sick, all of it doesn't mean a damn to me if the goodness of it isn't metaphysically significant.

For me, all I can say so a statement that we are unimportant and therefore should pursue our rational interests -- to hell with that. If I am unimportant, I have all the more reason to be as irrational as I feel like. But I am not unimportant. This is not a pale blue dot, but the seat of a finer majesty than any star however massive.
Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings; how eager they are to kill one another; how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
But you're wrong! They were justified, in their cruelty, in their hate, in their killing, in their misunderstandings, in their spilling of blood, in their glory, in their triumphs, in their posturings, in their self-importance, in their delusions.

I may just be dashing my head against the wall of materialism, but I'll do it again and again. They were right, and you are wrong Mr. Sagan. It isn't naive romanticism to say so. The murderers and the saints, the victors and the failures, the singers and the silent, none of them were obscure, none of them were specks.

They were men.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Note on Mythicism: Goodbye to All That

(Maybe one day I will try to compile all of these entries on this topic into a coherent essay).

I am trying as hard as I can not to read anything more on Mythicism. The whole thing is indeed greatly troubling - and I admit as much - but at the bottom, I found that what is today called Mythicism is primarily backed by the idea that Paul wrote his letters about a "Celestial" Jesus who supposedly was born and killed by devils in a sort of "sublunar realm" between heaven and earth (and so he never appeared to anybody) which is supposedly from Platonism. It is the lowest of the heavens, but not quite Earth - apparently, Paul thought that the god acting out some sort of pageant in here was the salvation of us all. Now, for all I know, it may well be that Osiris and the like were indeed supposed to carry on such pageants. But the idea dying and rising gods being some kind of unique category is basically dismissed by most comparative religion scholars.

But that's not the clincher. The fact is, the entire argument is based on the idea that every single time Paul refers to Christ as coming in the flesh, shedding his blood, etc. it refers not to real flesh, but magic Osiris flesh. A man named Earl Doherty, who I don't care to link to, is the source of most of this, and if you look on his site, you can find his exegesis of all these passages in Paul - and in all of them, you can see nothing but a lot of what appear to me (though I only know Latin) to be a bunch of convoluted readings that he twists to fit into his paradigm. He claims that Paul is "silent" about the life and the Earthly existence of Jesus, but he has no trouble accepting his apparent silence about his sublunar existence - you never, for example, see Paul making any disclaimers that he isn't talking about real flesh and blood, but "mythical" flesh and and blood. And these interpretations passages are basically the crux around which Mythicism is built, since without them they have nothing to stand on for Paul quite obviously at least believed that Jesus was a man, and they are all bad bad bad. You can poke all the holes you want in the Gospels, but if this is your best explanation of where Christianity came from, then agnosticism about Jesus's existence is by far the more reasonable position, and I would even say that hisotricism is considerably more probable given the fact that this is the apparently the best alternative they can come up with, and it is terrible.

Like I said, I am trying to turn my back on it, let it go, but it is hard. I keep on wondering if there is something I have missed, something I am not admitting to myself. Maybe I on some subconsciousness level I feel Mythicism might confirm that old notion that Christianity is simply too good to be true and therefore everything that attacks it might be coming from someone with a clearer viewpoint than I, someone less afraid of death than I am. I am insecure I admit it.

But I think this is one of those cases where I might be able to somewhat securely say, no, this is just wrong. Or maybe I want to say that, but I do have this nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach. But then again, I almost always have that. So for now, I'm just going to go with the consensus of NT scholars and seems to be true, that Mythicism is (probably) just wrong.

Now I just have to be able to accept that and stop reading their stupid blogs.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Follow up - more of the same

Spent pretty much all day reading, practically against my will, about the Mythicism. The strange thing is that it brings me into sympathy with Bart Ehrman, an agnositic NT scholar who nevertheless argues Jesus was a historical figure - one who just a few months ago was my worst enemy for introducing me the seriousness of the Problem of Evil. Going back and forth between Ehrman and this so-and-so (I'mma try to to stoop to his level) who is nevertheless one of the more credible voices for Mythicism, actually having a degree with history instead of Educational studies, like this guy and his pal Widowfield, who studied I know not what. The main mark of Mythicism seems to be a rather derisive attititude toward NT scholars, who they rightfully point out are mostly Christians trained in divinity schools, even if many of them went on to study the New Testament (if you were wondering what that acronym meant) as a historical document. They don't, they say, use the same methods for establishing evidence that real historians use. Here's a taste:
I began this post with a claim that these methods are unlike those used by historians of other ancient peoples and topics. I will need to address that more specifically in a future post again, too, though I have posted several times on it already.
In brief, the first thing historians generally establish is the nature of the evidence they are working with to determine the most appropriate way to understand its contents. This means literary and textual criticism of some sort must be applied first before assuming any historical intent at all in its contents or any core historical event at its base. It also means the importance of external (independent) attestation for the provenance, nature and/or contents of the text. These concerns are generally taken for granted in studies of, say, Julius Caesar, Hadrian, Justinian, even Socrates. Casey follows pretty much most historical Jesus scholars in overlooking these  practices that are standard in scholarly studies of ancient persons outside the Bible.
Which sounds all well and good. But one problem, as far as I can tell, is that if NT scholars don't follow the rules of historical analysis, then why is it that, instead of, you know, real historians pointing this out, we get the Mythicists, none of whom have real academic chops in history. The only one who even comes close is Richard Carrier (So-and-So from above) and he only has a few articles in legitimate (i.e. non Skeptical Inquiry) journals, and he was never even an adjunct (though I imagine he would claim that's because of the prejudice of his NT scholars against Mythicism that has nothing to do with his inability to publish much of anything on other topics).

Oh, not to mention, dying-and-rising gods of Frazer are not accepted as, like, a thing anymore, and this isn't by NT scholars but people working in comparative religion and specializing not in Christianity but Hellenic religions. Even Tryggve Mettinger who has tried to resurrect (no pun intended) Frazer's view admits the consensus it that it's bogus.

But what do I know? Maybe the Mythicists will win the day, and as one of their ranks claimed, "Within 5 years it will be widely accepted in the West that Jesus never existed." Maybe.

Ack. The worst part is that, caught up in my obsession, I basically consciously missed Mass. I want to say I can't stop myself, but I could have. That's what really gets me. Why can't I just let these things go? Why am I so worried about what other people think? Why can't I just live the way I think is right without having to refute, in explicit detail, every possible objection.

Also, yesterday, when I was working the basketball game, being disappointed they weren't giving out free brats, I snuck into one of the open suites and purloined some of these tiny burgers. A lady saw me through the window. I didn't make out what she said but I think it was something like, "We need to close the doors to the suites" or "You need to stay out of the suites". I was all like "I'm really sorry, it'll never happen again [please don't report me]" but she just kept walking.

I'm really just the worst.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Can it just be okay?

I have for the past several days been caught up in what has turned into an obsessive compulsive mode such that I alluded to in my past entry. Basically, whenever I am confronted with a name or an idea, I am compelled by the thought that I must find out what those atheists think about it, in particular the one I mentioned before.

It is getting/has gotten very bad. I considered at one point calling the emergency line at CAPS, but I didn't. I read in the Wikipedia article on OCD that what you have to do is allow the trigger to be pulled, and then build up a tolerance for the unbidden thoughts that tell you "Doing it will allow you to enjoy the thing you want to do now." But I just haven't been able to do it.

One of the persistent ideas I have been slamming into my head with these constant readings is that it's not okay to have faith. Faith is a vice. Any definition of faith that isn't "blind faith" isn't really faith at all.

Is it really not okay to have faith?

I think I can maybe establish the existence of a necessarily existing being that is not the universe itself - but even this most atheists dismiss out of hand (I only cite this as an example of the "dismissing out of hand" - you can find plenty of examples of them dismissing it normally as well) - but the rest, that is all on faith. Or rather, the way I think things ought to be if God does in fact exist.

I just want to be able to feel like that's okay. Without an addendum like, I'm not hurting anyone. I just want it to be okay to believe in a thing I know I don't have the proof for. I just want somebody to tell me that and believe it.

I just want to let go so badly. When I was thinking of an example showing an atheist dismissing the cosmological argument, I began to flagellate myself again - "You should look at more of these arguments." It's not even a "You should do it, or else your a coward who's totally insecure in your beliefs" it's just "Do it! Do it! Do it!" There isn't even a reason anymore, just a horrible subconscious shriek.

Some people reading this are probably unbelievers. I know a good deal of the people I know are, though I don't know specifically and I don't really want to know - when you work in the academic world, that's just how it is.

Could it just be okay for me to let it go? I know you probably think I should just become like you. I would be happier if I did, I would get away from all this madness that you think has been imposed on me by superstition.

But I just don't feel like it, for some reason. Maybe it is because I really sincerely believe, in spite of my doubt. Maybe I a just afraid of death and want to cling to my deluded fantasies. Maybe I am just a troubled, depressed person who would be this way no matter what I believed.

But I just don't feel like it, even if I don't know why. Can that be okay? Please?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A post just to say I've posted

I don't want to let this blog go silent - not because I think many people are reading, but because I want to keep at a writing project for once without giving it up. I may one day turn these posts into essays or something.

I've been doing very bad with my fixation on atheist blogs. One of a certain Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago in particular has given me a lot of trouble. The man truly hates religion. It is not just that he thinks it is incorrect, it is absurd and not only is everyone who embraces it absurd, everyone who does not think it quite so absurd, even if they do not agree with it, is also absurd. I have been, on several occasions, prompted by a thought "I wonder what that man thinks of this issue?" Like, if I put "faith in yourself" into the search box on his blog, will I come up with a tirade against believing in oneself without any evidence. I don't know why I fixate on people like this, because even if I became an atheist, I would not be one of that sort - I would be the reluctant William Rowe type of atheist.

Anyway, this when this sort of thing gets to the point that I even think "What does that hateful fellow think of Weird Al?" even I get embarrassed enough to force myself to resist. But for those weaselly little sentences and phrases like "believe in yourself", it is hard to resist the call of the search-box. I know these thoughts are absurd, but what you are caught in a kind of monomania, there is no way out but to surrender to these impulses and hope the next doesn't prick up too soon. I once grew so tired of this impulse that I wretched the Shift key off my keyboard and threw it into some trees behind my old apartment in Chapel Hill so that I would no longer be able to use the quotation marks to engage in this sort of Boolean madness.

I am out of metaphorical breath at the moment, though I feel I have more to say. Maybe later.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Reader Became the Book

Having troubling inclinations to read the blogs of known skeptics and professors of skepticism - the sort who say faith is not only not a virtue, but a vice; and any attempts to say that faith doesn't mean "blind faith" are for naught. The blindness is, for Skeptic-sensei, the heart of the matter.

All very troubling. And uninteresting for you, my reader. Maybe you agree with Dr. S. If you do, nothing I can say will change it. There's no point debating about most things.

Instead, I'll talk about something interesting I learned about myself.

Today, Geoff Brock asked us how we read books. Like, the actual physical process. I elaborated first, because I am a loudmouth. When I read a book, if I can, I'd rather listen to the audiobook while laying down with my eyes closed and trying to imagine what is being described. This, Geoff said, was not ideal - it was too passive. The book teaches you how to read itself, and you have to be paying attention to it. Geoff goes back and makes a bunch of notes and cross references.

Now, what I did was quote the man himself, having once said that a poem (which here I extrapolated to the novel) is like a machine that creates an emotional response in the reader. I said that I felt this sort of back and forth reading was gumming up that machine - if I had been cleverer, I would have said it was like constantly shifting the gears back and forth. He objected that it was in fact the opposite, that this sort of reflective reading was what was needed to have an understanding of the text. I didn't say much after this, because I had already interrupted the man once and didn't want to dominate the class discussion, which I know I can do at times. But I think this is where the difference lies. The difference between understanding and emotion.

Now, outside out our differences in appreciating the audio part, which Geoff didn't care for, guess seemed to believe that a sort of reflexive reading, writing notes in the margins and looking back at earlier passages, should be the primary reading - I think he even said, something like an audiobook could be something you enjoyed after a reflexive reading as a secondary reading. But my view is that the primary reading is created in the impression, the emotional content produced in the reader's own mind by the book. It is not a passive process, as I think Geoff surmised, but one in which the reader and book have a meeting of the minds. I think Wallace Stevens had this sort of thing in mind with "The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm and Still":

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

I was long familiar with this poem from the anthology The Voice That Is Great Within Us, which formed my introduction to poetry. But this sort of significance was first noted to me by the professor of my teaching reading class as an undergrad at Grand Valley State University - as a representation of the philosophy of Reader Response Criticism, which hold that the "text" of a work is something the reader constructs as they experience it.

Even then, I was opposed to  the view - the New Criticism, focusing on the text itself, had the right idea, but had been unjustly displaced by critics fixated on identity politics. But I have thought lately, that maybe I am more sympathetic with this view on some level than I thought. When I went to France, I didn't take any pictures. It seemed like a hassle that would impede me from actually enjoying the experience of seeing those things in the moment. The impressions on my heart were what really mattered, not a literally representation on film. I suppose the idea is similar.

I should add - I don't think Geoff is wrong. I think it might ultimately be a matter of personal preference.  Maybe I'll think more on it at a later date.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Something about a dream



We let her die.

She had been an annoyance for so long. Whenever she wasn’t in bed she was mad about something. Usually it was that the house wasn’t clean enough. She would yell. She and Dad would fight and we fight her and fight each other.

Over the years, it came to seem that it was better she stay in bed.

I still remember how I felt before it happened. She had been in the hospital for several weeks – was it for depression or she had been abusing some new painkiller, I wasn’t sure. In that last year in particular when I was on the cusp of graduating, of finally being shot of her, something I can remember explicitly wishing for as far back as 8th grade, it seemed almost like she wasn’t even there even when she was. I don’t think she spent that much time in the hospital that year outside of that time, but it had felt that way. It was like she had packed up and taken all the stress she caused us with her.

We all really let her die. We didn’t care about her enough. It was all of us. We are all guilty, except for the youngest two. No one had even gone into her room until like 12:00.

It’s not your fault. You were the least to blame. You were the only one who went in there. I don’t know the reason, but none of the rest of us did, until it was too late.

She was so sick – why weren’t we checking on her until that late? Why didn’t we love her more? Why did we let her pain become nothing more than annoyance? It was more than just that we were young. We didn’t do what we should have. Me most of all, because I was the oldest.

I let her down and she died. I told her I loved her every night, but it was for the wrong reason, it was for myself, not for her. I was so selfish. She wasn’t perfect, she could be awful sometimes, but I was so selfish. We all were. But I was so stupid, because I thought I wasn't.

 In my dreams she is usually still alive, but the other night, she was gone somehow. She will probably come back in time. But in my dream I was yelling at the rest of you, when I should have been yelling at myself.

I wasn’t a good enough person. If she has to be gone from my dreams, at least don’t let me kid myself there. She died because of me as much as anyone.

I'm so sorry.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Something That Happened a Long Time Ago

I am not going to link this post on my Facebook or anywhere else. It is one of those things you want to talk about but you don't know to whom. Something you couldn't even take to a confessor because it's not clear a "sin" per se is what is being confessed.

When I was a junior in high school, one evening after a brisk walk and what I thought was a fit of inspiration, I wrote in one sitting a short story that I have for many years sat in bed wishing I had not. It's not simply that it was a bad story in terms of prose - I'm sure it was, as my prose has never been my strong suit. It was that I gave it to a teacher of mine, who I am to this day friendly with and who gave me plenty of encouragement in my writing, Mrs. J-- I'll call her, and the content of that story, as I came to realize the further I got into teaching myself, was so inappropriate a thing for any student to give to a teacher, literary mentor or not, that I thank my stars I was not called into the school councilors office the next day. I cannot possibly publicly confess what this content was - I will only say that it was in conception supposed to be something like Eliot's Sweeney poems, particularly this one, but conveyed in much more vulgar prose dialogue. 

I took my writing very seriously at that point, and it had come into my head that in literature, nothing should be forbidden. This isn't to say I was advocating moral nihilism at the time - on the contrary, the moral of the story was extremely Puritanical, and it was meant to be a story that conveyed a moral through what I thought was "satire". It is a very strange thing, satire, because it seems for the novice writer the easiest thing in the world - you depict something you hate in an exaggerated way, and are vindicated by righteous laughter. But good satire, and I have come to realize that there is in fact very little of it and much of what is taken for satire is merely expansive sarcasm, good satire is actually very hard to do because you actually have to understand how that thing is actually hateful in the first place.

There is no moral of this story, except for me personally. I think the only way I can every fully purge myself of the shame and horror of having written that story is to become a respected writer and win some big literary prize - or maybe even a little one, just something. I need to be able to look back and say, that was the silly juvenalia of a writer, something all writers have, rather than something uniquely, unendurably, and uniquely shameful.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Heart of a Dog

Read Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov (who I am embarrassed to admit I had never heard of before) for my European Novella class. Not the sort of thing I would usually read - its a sort of scifi satire of Soviet life in the 20's in which a professor, Phillip Phillopovich (I think that's how it was spelled) implants the pituitary gland of a dead man into the brain of a stray dog who proceeds to become human. The satire part is that the dog-man, named Sharikov, takes on the worst qualities of his dog self (attacking cats on sight, being aggressive toward most people) and the worst qualities of the human, a drunkard who had recently been in prison before his death in a bar fight - and these qualities make him quite well suited to the Soviet system of the time. He is eventually able to find employment as a cat-strangler (strays, of course) which are then made into cheap coats. Other Soviet officials are, quite correctly I imagine, depicted as cloying idiots with nothing better to do than sniff out anything that might be "counterrevolutionary".

So - is the book any good? Well, I liked it better than The Immoralist, I think, but that's not saying much. The main problem is that Sharikov's dog-self is much more interesting and sympathetic as a character than his human self - and also more interesting than any of the other characters - but he is cut out so the satire can begin about mid-way through the 121-page book. His man-self, as I think the Professor says, is basically a different person - insolent, crude, but more damningly, just not very enjoyable to read about. There is a rather long passage in which Sharikov has a row with the cat of a some old woman trying to get a look at him and ends up locking himself in the bathroom, breaking a pipe and flooding the professor's office (he's also a physician - this is an important plot point, because there is a scheming official who hates the Professor for his dislike of the Proletariat, but because the Prof. has many important officials as patients, he is untouchable). Anyway, the whole scene is supposed to illustrate just how much of a nuisance and an imbecile Sharikov is, but it just drags on and on, to the point my eyes started to glaze over. I don't know, though, how I would have handled it - obviously, his boorishness is the point - I just wish it was a more interesting boorishness.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Darwin Awards: Homo Hyaena Homini

Time for some easy moral indignation.

I've been reading a lot about the Problem of Evil - the idea that the existence of evil is proof against the existence of God - a lot for the last several months. I had previously neglected it compared to other arguments, because even if that argument is successful, it doesn't go to show there isn't a necessary existence that isn't the universe itself, and just getting that far was enough of a challenge, as I thought. The strange thing is that even though I became much more aware of the seriousness of the problem, my answer to its question - a quaint sort of Augustinian theodicy, which, according to Nick Trakakis (whom I've corresponded with and who is quite a friendly guy) at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the Evidential Problem of Evil is "...given the doubtful historicity of Adam and Eve, and given the problem of harmonizing the Fall with evolutionary theory, such an account of the origin of evil cannot reasonably held to be plausible". So, it's just implausible. But, implausibility and all, I still prefer it to Skeptical Theism (which I know sounds contradictory, and which you will just have to read about in the link if you want to know about).

Now, getting back on track - for a lot of people, the fact that horrendous evil like this exists in the world is proof enough there is no all-loving God. But in a bizarre twist, there exist things like The Darwin Awards, an appalling celebration of the Province of natural selection in weeding out people who die because of making the sort of stupid mistakes that most people occasionally make and not die from.

I think this Amazon reviewer nails it:

"A typical story tells of an abusive boyfriend (guffaw) who goes to jail for beating his girlfriend (chortle). She begs the judge to release him because she can't afford the rent (hee hee). He kills her and burns her body (giggle), and then blows himself up trying to burn the house down. Haw Haw haw! If you like that you'll love the book."

There are times when I want to vent moral indignation about things on a blog like this, and so far I haven't, because I don't want to espouse, even accidentally, any unpopular political sentiments. The academy is a politically charged arena, and I think it's stupid to make those sort of blog posts to be read by people the writer knows will agree. But here, at least, is something I hate that I don't think has any political dimension anyone could object to: the creator of these awards, Wendy Northcutt, is an appalling person, a hyena laughing at the tragic deaths of people who were somebody's son or daughter. I'm far more embarrassed by having someone like her in the same species as me than any of the people she and her readers get their kicks laughing at.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Still more on disbelief

I don't know why I am making a second entry in the same day. I have papers to grade and I need to read Death in Venice, both for Monday. But I've just been watching anime all afternoon, not to mention that I only got up at 1:30 I think.

I want to hopefully bring a close to this consideration of that sentence "God's existence is too good to be true." I talked before about Hume, and about probability. About the idea that, as long as you can't be completely certain of a thing, you can always doubt it and it can always drive you mad.

I could imagine some skeptic objecting, Ah, this simply isn't the case Kevin. You don't very often meet irreligious people who have an equivalent anxiety that God might exist and they might be damning themselves. Oh, there might be some like that, Kevin, but we both know the proportions are not equal. The truth is, this skeptic holds, that the arguments in favor of God are simply so weak that an intelligent person - and the skeptic here acknowledges my intelligence - can't overlook them, at least subconsciously.

I don't know about that, Skeptic-kun. Like I have said, I don't tend to debate anything here - but I can tell you that I am more troubled by the thought "Its too good to be true" then the idea that there can be a completely inexplicable infinite regress, and that the universe is an example of such. I am not, again, debating the point. I am only saying, I am not psychologically bothered by it to the extent that I am with the the too-good-to-be-true argument. Nor am I saying that the possibility of an actual infinite regress doesn't actually bother me, just that the worry is lesser - but this could just as well be because I am irrational or unable to evaluate arguments correctly. But by the very fact that those arguments are arguments, and have the structure of an argument, they don't back the same punch as the too-good-to-be-true argue, which is essentially a troll - which are always more effective deep down than an argument can be.

Let me take another example that I can tell you I have enjoyed a full year of peace through - The Miracle of the Sun. You can look up Fatima if you like reader - I am not even talking so much about Fatima itself, because there isn't that much one can verify, as I found, if one doesn't read Portuguese. What I did find, in a book on the sociology of religion I don't care to look up again, but it is on Google books for those interested, was the report of of Avelino de Almedia. Before whatever happened in Fatima, he wrote a rather scathing and cynical appraisal of the situation, and that it was I found translated in the book. But as you can see in the Wikipedia article, he (apparently) saw something. It took awhile for it to sink it, but eventually, the thought dawned on me that I knew many people who used the same tone as Almeida had in the original article, and I can't imagine any of them writing the things he wrote after the fact if the whole thing had simply been the result of a mass hallucination. Soon after this, I had peace for almost a year.

But it is easy to forget that peace. I eventually forgot where that peace had come from in the first place, except that I made a concerted effort to avoid atheist blogs when they popped up on Google search results. I had also convinced myself that as long as I kept myself occupied, usually with a vidya game, the shadow of doubt would stay away from me. But a few months ago, when I couldn't really afford any games and there weren't really any I wanted to play, at a time when I had been having stomach problems, I lay awake during the middle of the night and thought "Why do I even believe in God?" And any answer I could come up with was met with "Ah, but isn't that just wishful thinking?" Just that little thought was enough to destroy my peace. Even now, the fact I am writing this shows my peace has not been entirely restored.

What this is showing is simply that that thought, too-good-to-be-true, is the most pernicious I know of. I can think of. It doesn't just do me psychological harm in the religious realm, but in the mundane as well. As the example I gave before might suggest, I have never had the courage to persist in trying to establish a relationship with the opposite sex. After two rejections in high school, I simply lost interest, and any feelings that might have stirred in me in the interim were snuffed out.

I don't know if I have said everything I wanted to say, but I am sick of writing at the moment. I shall, at least, try to hold off until tomorrow if the mood strikes me.

Follow up from last night

So I got to thinking of this interview with atheist philosophy of religion guy (I'd call him a philosopher of religion, but he might take offense) Stephen Maitzen. The quote is actually from the blog-writer, not Maitzen, so I won't discuss the man himself to much. Any way, it goes:

"And I know from my own personal experience I mean when I lost faith in god I was begging god to respond because I didn’t want to lose my faith. And I know when I was travelling one of my friends was really struggling with the same thing. She said, for years I’ve been calling out to god and just please speak to me I want to know who you are and she just got nothing. I remember one night she just wept and I just can’t imagine a loving god who wants to relate to the human beings that he created to relate to refusing the desperate cries of people who really want to know him. I think it makes a lot more sense that he’s just not there"

Part of me thought that my example of the boy longing for a girl he finds it hopelessly optimistic to think likes him in return resembled the pathetic-ness of this sort off scene, which I'll admit isn't far from something I experienced when I was, like 20. I don't want to make it seem, though, that I couldn't have had this kind of breakdown at any other time, it's more that I turn those feelings inward so they manifest as stomach pain rather than tears.

But anyway - divine hiddenness isn't relevant here, because I'm not talking about what God should or shouldn't do if He exists and what we should infer or not on the basis of what He doesn't do that we think he should. I'm not a theologian or a philosopher, and I don't think there's any point in debating most things of this nature. Instead, as I said, I'm trying to make a psychological point - one about pessimism and optimism, and more particularly, about anxiety.

Take what Hume says about whether the sun will rise tomorrow:

"Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible, because it can never imply a contradiction, and is conceived by the mind with the same facility and distinctness, as if ever so conformable to reality. That the sun will not rise tomorrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction, than the affirmation, that it will rise. We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood. Were it demonstratively false, it would imply a contradiction, and could never be distinctly conceived by the mind. (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding)"

What Hume really means here is to dismiss most metaphysical thinking - he isn't saying we shouldn't rely on the sun rising tomorrow; rather, the mere fact that it isn't impossible that the sun will not rise doesn't mean we should trouble ourselves to prove it is so. In the same way, for Hume, just because miracles are not impossible doesn't mean we should take them seriously - it is enough that they are extremely improbable (for Hume, in part because they are reported by people who are not white European men).

But anyway, it really is possible that the sun should not rise tomorrow. The Earth may be blown up by a meteor tonight. It is unlikely, it is possible. This is where I mean to bring in pessimism - for a pessimism of sufficient extremes, the mere possibility of such a thing will manifest in anxiety. People are not always rational, and the underbelly of the mind is certainly not rational. If it seems too good to be true that the world should endure another day, part of you will believe it won't.

Now, I am not trying to make a statement about the arguments in favor of God's existence or not - again, I think there is no point in discussing that sort of thing. What I am saying is that even if it could be supposed that one found such arguments rationally persuasive, even if it were only by a kind of delusion or error of judgment, stronger subconscious rebuttal to them than any skeptic can provide is already pre-made in the mind - the fact that they argue for something very good, and for some, good things seem impossible regardless of how much or little sense they seem to make.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Disbelief

I've mentioned before that I have struggled with my beliefs as a Catholic for a long time (since I was a teenager) but I haven't given them up yet. Which is often strange to me, because if I was someone else and read my personal history, I think I would be the sort of person who frequently becomes quite irreligious. That is, I'm in an academic field, most of the people I associate with in real life don't share my beliefs, and my own behavior frequently does not live up to my beliefs - which isn't just to say, I'm almost always late for Mass - I am - but there are other things as well.

I read a lot about atheism. I am obsessed with it to an extent. I can't see the name of a celebrity without feeling the urge to look up their beliefs, no matter how obscure (i.e. Tiffany Amber Thiessen or Gilbert Gottfried). I don't know why I do this - to insulate myself against atheists perhaps? I doubt that, since I always assume my fellow grad students are not believers, and usually I'm right. With them, though, I wouldn't want to know under any circumstances. I hold them manly of them too dearly, and deep in my heart I can always say, "I don't know for sure that they think I am a superstitious fool for believing what I do" - though, in truth, I am sure that even those of them who are nonbelievers and know I am one view that fact, when presented with it, with indulgence. We are in creative writing, after all, not evolutionary psychology.

I sometimes wonder why I can't put doubt aside or put faith aside for good. I have managed to do the former, in a way, for as much as a year and a half when I was substituting, but I think that is in large part because I had no chance for extensive personal reflection, as that job drained me of all mental energy. But anyway, I think I know the reason I cannot put doubt aside for good. I am not talking about an intellectual reason - I've learned there is no point, really, writing about the intellectual side of belief unless you are very well read in both the literature of your opponents and your supporters, and also have the "stomach" for it, and I have neither, only the limited knowledge and stomach that obsession gives one. I'm talking about a psychological reason. It is embodied in this sentence:

Christianity, and religion in general, is too good to be true.

I think this is what drives the kind of unbreakable atheism that arises in those who become atheists at 12 and go on to write atheist blogs at 17 - and then continue them indefinitely. Now, there are some atheists who would probably argue that they would find it a detestable thing to find out the God of the Old Testament was in fact real and the real and living God, and so they would say that it could not possibly be a good thing. But you can always reformulate an image of God that would be palatable to them - that is, a God who used evolution to create life so that people would not be forced to accept the truth of the Bible upon finding carbon dating confirmed it exactly, a God who will still save the virtuous atheist and not fault his lack of faith overmuch, who was heavily misinterpreted by his followers, and so on and so forth. I think this is the God that atheists talk about when they are asked what they will say to God if it turns out they are wrong and will quip that they lacked sufficient information for belief.

But this God is simply too good to be true, from a psychological perspective. Any boy who has ever been in love with a girl and considered the possibility she might love him back knows this doubt, and it is for many people - like me - the one doubt that nothing but a confession from the beloved could ever truly dispel.

Right now, I am filled with an appalling urge to rewatch a speech wherein Richard Dawkins was asked "What if you're wrong?" because I can't remember the exact answer. I know it is something like "I'm not wrong" but my obsession makes me want to know for sure. So I am going to quell that obsession by ending this entry, incomplete as it is, here.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sleep, Philosophy, etc.

I have a poor sleep schedule. One night, I will sleep maybe 3-4 hours, then the next day, I either sleep during the day or for 10-11 and end up feeling groggy and awful. It is especially bad was I sit down to play a game, as I have been this week, and start yawning even though I think (though naive introspection may be deceiving) that I'm having fun.

I feel sort of bad because today, during my Shakespeare class with Dr. Candido, who is such a lovely and interesting man, I somehow started reading this article on philosophy of religion alleging that the preponderance of the religious in philosophy of religion can, according to this blog post/article it was reporting on, be explained by selection bias, not expertise. That is, philosophers of religion are more religious not because they have a better understanding of the arguments of the field, but because they are more biased in its favor. This was all inferred from a study Helen De Cruz is assembling, and apparently the inference is based on the fact that this study found 11.8% of those who entered the became agnostics or atheists, whereas only 8.2%. A comment, Joel, pointed out what I think is a serious flaw in this inference:

"This inference seems to me unwarranted. There are more theists to begin with, so there’s a larger pool to convert to atheism/agnosticism. If 21% of philosophers of religion are atheists/agnostics and 58% are Christian theists, then 11.8% moving towards atheism/agnosticism is roughly 1/5 of Christians becoming atheists/agnostics, whereas 8.1% revising to theism is over 1/3 of atheists/agnostics becoming theists."

Also, the blog post says:

A survey conducted among philosophers in 2009 shed some light on this question. Of the 3226 philosophers who took the survey, 72.8% were atheists and only 14.6% theists. (The remaining 12.6% chose another option.) This is especially interesting when contrasted with the percentage of atheists among the global population: a paltry 2.01% in 2010.

But this is incorrect: the 72.8% percent is for the 933 target faculty they used for the survey - atheists are still at 66.2% in the full survey, which includes other staff, undergraduates and graduate students, but it's still not accurate as stated. I can't help but feel if this sort of discrepancy occurred in an article trying to defend the philosophy of religion, it would be immediately seized on as an example of the sort of bias this article is accusing it of.

But whatever, I am not a philosopher, but a (sort of) poet. This means that, in spite of what apparently seems to be the norm with philosophy grad students, I don't have to post under names like "Anonymous Until I Get Tenure" - the fact you have to do that sort of this is kind of scary, but I guess that's how it works in contentious fields. Though I would not, I suppose post anything overly critical of any living poets who could one day get me a job. But that still leaves me lots of room for be a hater.

Yet, if blowhards like Brian Leiter (I'll not link to the blog of the sort of scoundrel that man is) can opine on poetry, I don't see any problem in engaging in some amateur philosophy now and again.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Immoralist, etc.

I didn't watch the Super Bowl. I don't particularly care about football, though I've taken a liking to the Arkansas team since I started tutoring the athletes here and working as a bag checker at the games. I kind of stopped caring when the Lions (I'm from Michigan) lost, though its not like I watched the game. I do listen to a lot of sports radio, though, because I'd much rather listen to some kind of talk radio than music, and the NPR station here plays a lot of classical music instead of stuff like The Diane Rehm Show. I'm still kind of bummed they canceled Talk of the Nation - I called once when when they were doing a show on the the Great Adderall Shortage of 2011.

So, the Immoralist: didn't end up the living to what I had been expecting. Gide was, by his own admission it would seem, a pedophile - in a published diary from I believe the 20's, he outright describes his sexual experiences with different young Arab boys. Apparently, he thought of his practices as an extension of benevolent Greek pederasty that elevates the "beloved" though the "lover" serving as a sort of mentor - or at least, he doesn't seem to have admitted to having raped these boys, though of course, one today would say that there was no way for said boys to consent to  such a thing, even if they initiated it (I tend to agree with this), so maybe we can't put Gide in the same category as, say, Jerry Sandusky.

Anyway, the point is - I was expecting some real debauchery at some point. There isn't really much story to the novel(la) at all, just the MC Michel getting sick, feeling better, getting bored, his wife getting sick and finally dying. Along the way he has some sort of conversion to...hm....what would it be? You know how some people go to the gym with almost religious fervor? He gets sort of like that I guess. He becomes something of a sensualist. But the thing is, from the summaries I read, I thought there would at some point be more than just an insinuation of pederastic attraction on his part, that he would abandon his dying wife to diddle little boys - if not, why was the title of the book The Immoralist? But it never happens. All of Michel's "immoralism" is interior: with the exception of what amounts to a prank he plays on the caretaker of his own farm, occasional neglect of Marceline (his wife) which is always followed by him explaining how he thereafter stayed at her bedside for weeks, and holding some unconventional opinions about the Goths, Michel's considers himself in total rebellion from society because he enjoys looking at nature-y stuff and hanging out with lower class people.

Now, there are parts where he comes off as an ass. Being sick made him only want to be around healthful people, to the point that illness and lack of vitality in people disgust him. There are other bad qualities in him too, to be sure - but I was expecting something akin to Lolita, to which the book has been compared, and it never happened. I'm not disappointed because I wanted some sensationalism I never got - it's just that Michel's whole character arc is almost entirely in his own head. I think this piece in The Guardian has some good points about the issue.

What else? Still have some quizzes to grade. And still planning to play a bit more MGS: PW tonight.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Read a bit more of Andre Gide's The Immoralist for a Craft of Translation class I'm taking with Geoff Brock. What we are doing is reading two different translations of some modern European novels and comparing them - or, at least, reading one and comparing the important passages.

I've never read anything by Gide before, at least that I can remember. I know he was a Nobel laureate, but you don't hear his name bandied about that munch. Though that might just be because he was writing in French and my knowledge of the modern novel outside of English is comparatively poor outside of the stuff everyone knows. Actually, my knowledge of modern non-English poetry is also pretty poor. I'm stuck in the past I suppose.

I do like the novel well enough, it--how shall I say this, it tastes French. You can tell it was written by a Frenchman.  There are passages in it about being watched by others that remind me of things from Satre's "Existentialism is a Humanism" - I begin to wonder if this metacognitive awareness of deriving ones emotions from looking at people looking at you is a particularly French phenomenon. I think it is true enough as something that happens in every life, but I always thought Sartre gave such things too much universal currency. Or maybe it is just that we in English speaking countries do not want to admit the extent to which social realities beyond reason control our own psychological makeup. But I'm just being diplomatic to say that - I really think its a crap idea.

Lots of color in the book, and homoeroticism directed at young boys (I haven't gotten to the part with the straight up pederasty at this point, so its all just -eroticism at this point.)  I read that Said thought this novel was a perfect example of Orientalism, and I see his point - but on the other hand, I think purely historical or sociocultural approaches to literature are, well, they're dumb. All of those things are valid, but there is more to literature than that, there are parts of literature that transcend that, and I think most writers of every race, gender, sexuality, etc., when they write, are writing for something bigger than identity politics. But whatever, I am white and straight, and I if I wasn't maybe I wouldn't think that. But I still do.

Now, about to start MGS: Peace Walker HD. Sold back my PSP before I had the chance to try it.