Tag Archives: god

World Religions: Islam – Lecture 3 – Muhammad as Prophet and Statesman

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 3: Muhammad as Prophet and Statesman

Before Islam, the Middle East was a pretty rough place.  The Persians and the Byzantine Empire fought over the trade routes that crisscrossed the region while the locals formed tribes that raided each other for material wealth.  These raids avoided bloodshed if possible but still degenerated into open warfare from time to time.

Religion at the time was polytheistic centered on sacred objects and local Gods.  Even at this time, however, the tribes already had a yearly pilgrimage to Mecca to venerate the kaaba which contained 360 idols, one for each day of the year.  Even Allah was already installed as the head of the pantheon of Gods.  The Christian and Jewish faiths too existed in the region.

Muhammad lived from c570-632 and was an orphan who grew up to become a business manager for caravans.  It wasn’t until 610 that the angel Gabriel called to him in what has come to be known as the Night of Power.  Muhammad denied Gabriel twice but on the third time he understood and complied with Gabriel’s requests.  Afterwards he thought himself insane but his wife reassured him and believed him and she is said to be the first convert to Islam.

For 22 years Muhammad received the revelation of God and all that he said was first carried by oral history and then written down in the form of the Quran as we know it today.  At the time, what Muhammad had to say was distinctly unpopular.  He stood up against the polytheism and avarice of the times and advocated for a complete revolution of society.

In particular, he fell afoul of the Meccans themselves.  They profited greatly from the influx of pilgrims each year and Muhammad stated quite clearly that these people should not be used as a vehicle to line the city’s pockets.  As a consequence, the Meccans starved Muhammad out of town and bankrupted him but not before Gabriel came to Muhammad with a mystical steed.  Together they traveled to Jerusalem and then to heaven where the prophets and Allah himself instructed Muhammad on how the faithful should pray five times a day.  This event of revelation is known as the Night Journey and occurred in 621.

Bankrupt or not, in 622 Muhammad is invited to Medina to act as an arbiter in a dispute.  Muhammad and his people travel to Medina and there start the first Muslim community.  This event is known as the hijra or migration and marks the official beginning of the Muslim faith.

Having established himself in Medina, Muhammad begins to move militarily against Mecca.  In 624 the Battle of Badr occurs and the Muslims rout the Meccans but the victory is only temporarily as in 625 at the Battle of Uhud the Muslims are defeated and Muhammad is wounded.  Resolution is not reached until 627 at the Battle of the Ditch at which the Muslims fend off the Meccans and come to an uneasy truce.

During this time Jewish and Christian faiths are welcome in Medina and each person need only pay a small tax.  However at the Battle of the Ditch the Jewish population is seen to side with the Meccans and Muhammad has them slaughtered for their treason.

The truce between the two great cities carries on until 630 when some skirmishes between neighbors escalate and eventually Muhammad conquers Mecca entirely.  He is magnanimous in victory, however, and Mecca is incorporated into the Muslim community and Islamic law.  By 632 at Muhammad’s death, the entire Arabian peninsula is united under the Muslim faith.


jahiliyaa – Term for pre-Muslim society in the Middle East.  Also used to describe the decadence of the current age.

Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam


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The week in book reviews for 5/21

Well, here are the books that I scoured my brain with this week. It is, if I do say so myself, a pretty varied collection of randomness.

Alien Hunter: Underworld: A Flynn Carroll Thriller (Alien Hunter Series) by Whitley Strieber (*)

The nutshell summary of this book is simply that it’s gritty alien noir. Aliens come to earth. One man must stop them. That man stops them. Sorry if that’s a spoiler but that’s essentially what it boils down to.

To the positive side, the author has a unique take on the genre and the setting. No aliens are like Strieber’s and he isn’t afraid to go with something new and different. These aren’t your captain Kirk aliens. These are the terrifying and quiet Grays of your nightmares along with their many comrades from the stars.

To the negative, the whole thing is so incredibly implausible that it borders on idiocy. The aliens work in their quiet way but the hero somehow manages to go through so much and yet come out on the other side unscratched. I stopped counting the number of crippling injuries he had and almost threw the book in the trash when he underwent open brain surgery and then walked out of the hospital a few hours later. Related to this, the author wants to keep you engaged with gripping action but often when he tries to do so he seems to lose his grip on the narrative thread and the reader is simply pushed forward in the story and left wondering what happened. Many times a crescendo is reached and problems are somehow immediately resolved in a way that just isn’t explained. It’s as if a curtain of misdirection is laid over the story and we simply move on to the next bit. I’ve never quite read anything so poorly written.

In summary, this is a pretty strong avoid. It tries to be something great but just ends up being a disconnected mess. I read this through to the end but feel I could have spent my hours much more productively doing just about anything else.

I Don’t Believe God Wrote The Bible: The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To Another Reality. (Life) (Volume 1) by Gerald Freeman (**)

The nutshell on this book is that it’s the autobiographical retelling of the author’s adolescent adventures in Europe after overcoming his drug addiction and stepping out into the wider world. The story is a pretty typical hippie adventure of youthful excess and exuberant living. It does have a fairly strong moral thread that basically boils down to living the life you want to lead rather than feeling you have to adhere to someone else’s expectations.

To the positive, I love the book’s central message. The idea of grasping at life’s opportunities and not adhering to some societal standard is a strong one. The author gives us a fine example of how to pull yourself up by the proverbial bootstraps and suck the marrow from existence. We’d all do better to try to live more of our lives true to the example the author gives.

To the negative, as a narrative the story has a strong ‘you had to be there’ component. Freeman did a lot of amusing things but they all start to run together after a while. There’s not a lot of real surprises and things turn out in a pretty predictable way. It’s just not quite interesting or diverse enough to be a novel of wide appeal. Those who know the man will be vastly impressed but most casual readers will get bored after the 57th or 58th drunken escapade. Also, the book suffers from some textual errors which are fairly distracting. The whole thing needs a good sound drubbing by an editor.

In summary, this is an interesting slice of one man’s interesting life but it’s just not interesting enough to appeal to the average reader. It lacks narrative arc and progression and manages to travel across a fair amount of the European continent without actually going anywhere.

I Take You: A Novel (*****)

The nutshell view of the story is, as the blurb states, the story of a woman who really shouldn’t be getting married. She’s got every issue that traditionally disqualifies a woman from being ‘marriageable material’ from substance abuse to a Federal criminal record. Despite that, she still manages to be an incredibly adorable person.

To the positive side, this book is just a delightful romp. It fails to take itself seriously for even a full page and the vibrantly drawn characters are just made for a movie. The story is constantly and delightfully shifting and touches on some deep human questions specifically in the area of human sexuality and relationships. I’m a guy, not exactly the target audience, and I inhaled this in one long sitting while getting my knees tattooed. It’s a wonderful distraction even to the most obnoxious pains of life.

To the negative, this book will be incredibly polarizing to many. It’s got drugs and sex and alcohol and more sex and infidelity and incredibly graphic descriptions of sex. There’s a lot going on here and it’s not always terribly light-hearted and fluffy. But then again, what normal life IS all light-hearted and fluffy? Our protagonist is deeply “flawed” by societal standards, but is she really?

In summary, this was, for me, a grand highlight to the genre. I could have done without some of the gratuitous sex scenes, but the richness of the depiction was one that made you wish that maybe YOU were marrying into this land of ribald dysfunction and merriment.

Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan (***)

The nutshell view on this book is that it is essentially the story of a friendship torn asunder. The narrative is fairly complex and the writing exceptionally literary but it does take a really long time to get to its ‘hook.’ Even when it does so, the hook isn’t terribly strong and takes a fair amount of willpower to carry forward with.

So on the positive side, the book is exceptionally erudite and paints a fine and detailed picture of its protagonists. They are very real and vividly portrayed and one could imagine knowing them in real life. Their intercourse is fairly realistic and they carry on like old friends tend to.

To the negative, the book takes a long time to get find its way to something interesting. The first full third of this short novel sets the stage and I found my mind wandering terribly and I wondered what exactly why I was bothering. Once I found the hook the a-ha moment was brief and only mildly impactful.

In summary, I can’t really find any group of readers to whom I would recommend this book. It wallows in the shallows of mediocrity and is not one that will come to mind unbidden over the coming months. In fact, utterly forgettable I’m afraid.

Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders by Cole Cohen (***)

The nutshell view on this is that it’s the memoir of a woman who finds out one day that she has a hole in her brain the size of a lemon. From that point of introduction, the story spirals forwards and backwards in time describing her struggles before her diagnosis and her coping mechanisms afterwards. All in all it is an exceptionally detailed but rather disconnected tale.

To the positive side, the author is completely honest with us about her life. She’s candid and leaves no stone unturned from her sex life to just getting around town. The level of insight she grants us is extreme and she invites us into her life without apparent hesitation. Because of this, her treatise is a wonderful guide for anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation at least to the extent of the emotional and social aspects of such a diagnosis.

To the negative, the book as a narrative fails in many spots. The storyline is at times disjointed and fails to flow in anything approaching a consistent manner. The author seems to jump around in her story as much as she does geographically during this period. It is disconcerting and at times completely impossible to follow.

In summary, this is an intimate portrait painted with a confused brush. The author lets us into her life but once we get there the whole thing is a mass of carnival mirrors and foggy recollection. I understand the spirit of what the author is trying to say but her thesis is lost in a mass of proverbial spaghetti.

PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you’d want to know. I always aim to improve.

Snoopy, Master of Disguise (**)

The nutshell view on this book is that it’s a collection of about 100 classic strips from 1966 through 1987 in chronological order with one 4-panel comic per page. Most of the strips feature Snoopy prominently as doctor, Joe Cool, Masked Marvel, etc. The Red Baron is strangely omitted, however.

On the positive side, it’s hardly possible to say anything negative about Peanuts and Snoopy in particular. Snoopy is as adorable as always. However, as collections go this one just fails to be at all evocative. The omission of Snoopy’s most famous pseudonym aside, the collection just doesn’t have any cohesiveness; it’s as if comics were picked out somewhat at random. In a few instances a series of 3-4 consecutive days appears but for the most part each comic is a standalone. As a person who has ready the entire strip from beginning to end, I felt this a rather pale shadow of the true spirit of Schulz’s work. Further, printing one comic per page in a horizontal format seems like it’s just trying to waste paper and print as little content as possible.

In summary, a pretty large disappointment. I was really looking forward to this one but it turns out to be a very poor value.

The Worrier’s Guide to Life by Correll, Gemma (***)

The nutshell view on this book is that it is, simply, a collection of small graphical witticisms drawn from daily life. The topics covered range from women’s hairstyles to the contents of their purses and all the typical mundanity in between.

My fiancée and I both took a look at this book and ultimately I found it slightly more entertaining than she did. Even with my direct prompts of the form, “Don’t you think THAT is a little bit funny?” she just looked at me with almost a look of pity. On the grand scale of humor I found one “heh” in about every 5 pages or so (my favorite reference was the “twerker’s carbuncles”) my fiancée saw nothing of redeeming value. Our shared decision was that the author was “trying too hard” to be funny and thus failed more or less completely. (though I still have affection for those carbuncles).

So on the positive side, the author did provide a few amusing turns of phrase and her artwork is very simple and easy to digest. Unfortunately, it just never quite makes its way to humorous for either of us. Sad to say that this was well intentioned but just didn’t quite make it to the starting gate.

Girlgoyle by Army, Better Hero (*****)

Firstly, this is a YA novel and my criteria for judging those is fairly straightforward and three-pronged. First and foremost, I ask myself if there’s anything in the book that I would not want my own children to read or be exposed to. I have absolutely zero tolerance for sexual or drug references and this book has none of that. In fact the only thing I can find of even remote concern is some light non-graphic violence and exactly one profanity in the use of the phrase “p***ed off”. So this is a clean one for all but the youngest and most sensitive children who might have difficulty with the fight scenes.

Secondly, I ask myself if the book offers anything positive for the reader. In this case, it’s not effervescing with positive themes but it’s not entirely devoid of them. During the course of the book the female protagonist deals positively with and overcomes her own misgivings about her body and manages to overcome her initial misgivings about a group of girls that she had initially had difficulty with. There are strong themes of reconciliation and cooperation and shows the reader a good example of building trust. It also teaches the key idea of not judging people based on their appearances.

Thirdly, and most importantly to the reader, will it entertain them? I’d say the answer is a resounding positive. I pulled through the book in a few hours without difficulty and it has an early hook and brings you along quite steadily throughout the story. The 14-year-old female protagonist is relatable, kind and she finds herself in a varied and unique situation with engaging characters who are both friend and foe. I can easily imagine this as a prolonged series as the heroine develops into a woman.

The only negatives I can cite about the book I relate to overall story cohesion. At times the story makes reference to previous points in the story that just don’t exist. It feels as if the story was cut down from a longer version and in doing so lost some hunk of the story. I cannot prove that, of course, but in a few instances the text calls back to previous stories and plot points that just never happened. This is a fairly minimal concern, however, since context wins the day and one can make assumptions around the missing bits.

In summary, I was thoroughly entertained and the book is a positive one for the target audience. The plotline seems to be a mix of “Dead Like Me” and a standard youth exceptionalism tale like “Harry Potter”. I’m excited to see where the series goes from here.

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Movie Reviews: Noah (***)

The majority of the negative reviews on this movie seem to center around how un-biblical it is. As a ‘secularist’ (as my Christian friends call me) I couldn’t give less of a hoot about about Biblical accuracy but I still found the movie rather annoying.

To the positive,as is typical in most modern movies, the visuals were wonderful. A lot of the scenery was truly stunning and made me wish I did a lot more traveling. The CGI details of the ark in motion we well done enough and as a work of visual art the movie was pretty good. Also, as much as people complain about the “rock monsters” or “transformers” I found their origin story rather intriguing.

To the negative, I tend to complain endlessly about unnecessary action sequences and this movie had plenty of them. I fail to see how the death and destruction depicted really moved the story along or why anyone bothered to include them. As a story, I tend to think that, ironically, it depended too much on the viewers previous knowledge of the Biblical version of events. I’m at least vaguely familiar with the original story and even with that knowledge I’m not sure why some things happened. It just doesn’t hang together very well at all.

In summary, as everyone else has said, if you’re looking at this movie because you feel it to be somehow Biblical, don’t bother. If you just want a good storyline, probably also don’t bother. If you just like action for the sake of action, well go for it. It’s got that but be warned that your action will be interrupted by some rather feeble attempts at a story.


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Sacred Games by Gary Corby

Sacred GamesSacred Games by Gary Corby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual, I didn’t pay for this book but despite that kind consideration of a free item for reading, I give my candid opinions below. It’s also worth saying that I did not get this through GoodReads as is so often the case but instead through a Shelf Awareness galley drawing.

Our story begins and the year is 460 B.C. From all over Greece athletes have gathered to compete in the Olympiad. All seems well, more or less, until one of the star athletes turns up dead with a blow to the head. Our protagonist must sort out the clues and find the real killer before the games end and his friend is executed for the crime he did… or didn’t… commit.

On the positive side, our author has done something fairly extraordinary. He’s taken reasonably true history and woven it into a story that’s entertaining. Complex issues of human rights, feminism, religion and spirituality are all meshed together in a manner that makes you think you’re learning something but captures the reader’s interest as well. I tend to be a one who will easily slip into ‘skim mode’ and just breeze over pages by the handful when bored but there was no temptation during any of this book’s 300 or so pages. The author’s also kind enough to provide a glossary of terms as well as a section detailing the real history behind some of his contrived (and not so contrived) events.

To the negative side of the ledger, Corby at times made the reading too easy. The characters were supposed to have lived 2500 years ago yet they speak like the kid down the street. A bit of me cringed as some characters developed a bit of a Southern drawl. I suppose that could be author’s attempt at indicating that some players in his book are more sophisticated than others but the purist in me was a bit tweaked. Also, I wanted desperately to be able to pass this book along to my 14-year-old daughter but there were just a few too many uses of the word penis. Corby’s writing style is accessible to the point of being adolescent so it would be a great choice for teenage readers if not for all the references to sex.

In summary, a wonderfully accessible and simply written novel about an intriguing period in history. It is at times a bit anachronistic but on the whole it does educate more than it misinforms. This would make a wonderful book for the younger set if only it contained its educational content ever so slightly to cover less sex-ed topics.

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Drunk Dialing the Divine by Amber Koneval

Drunk Dialing the DivineDrunk Dialing the Divine by Amber Koneval

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before I begin I should say that as usual I received this book via a GoodReads drawing. Despite the kind consideration of receiving a free book my candid thoughts follow.
As further preamble it should be noted that if I’m not really in this book’s target demographic. As a book of Christian poetry it should have little appeal to me since I’m neither religious nor much of a fan of poetry. However, I pride myself on an almost self-destructive open-mindedness when it comes to GoodReads drawings. So, when flipping through the titles the thing that caught my eye and made me request a copy was the title. Just those four little words give one the feeling that the book has an edge to it, that it’s not just an empty, vapid book of praise but offers a bit more.
To my delight, the contents live up to the title. Koneval’s work not only celebrates the God she praises but also dares a bit to question him. Her work has a wonderful edginess and, to put it as simply is possible, is just great poetry. So many times in works of a religious bent, the art is lost under the religion. In this case the author starts out with solid, evocative images and uses them to make her point rather than trying to cram doctrine into free verse.
As illustration, I give you a small sample from page 35, a poem titled “God is a Nutter.” In it she paints us a vivid picture that is sure to hang about in my mind for a while:

Babies born with smiles that gleam
Like bullet casings
Pulling grenade pins
Like they were the strings on balloons

Innocence lost; how could a just and vigilant God let such things come to pass one might say?

In summary, I’m the last person one would expect to appreciate such a work but it’s rather irresistible. Not just a book of Poetry. Not just a Christian book. Surprisingly exceptional.

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Reviews: God’s Eye by A.J. Scudiere

God's EyeGod’s Eye by A.J. Scudiere

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First things first as always. I received this book via a GoodReads drawing and therefore didn’t pay anything for it. Despite that kind consideration I’ll give you my honest assessment as always.

In general I find it rather distasteful to say much of anything about the plot but in this case I will make a very slight exception. At a very high level the book shows us a woman of privileged background who is being ‘courted’ by an angel and a demon come to Earth in human form and her choice of one of them will determine her eventual fate. The only reason this tidbit is at all important is to clarify for potential readers that this book is in no way a religious one. It deals with eternal moral questions but not in any way that’s directly religious. Or, to put it more bluntly, at no time is the reader preached at. Not a religious book at all.

Double preambles now complete, we get along to the assessment of the novel. Stylistically Scudiere’s writing is very solid. Reading pace is swift and easy and the author’s intent is clearly transmitted. The story is mildly cliche but it’s rather impossible to be otherwise when dealing with any topic so basic. Overall I’d rate the book as mildly amusing but sadly not worth the time it took to consume it. The same story could be covered in half the time and deliver much more punch. Lastly, the novel’s ending, after so much gritty darkness, is sappily and inanely sweet. When cutting the novel down to a reasonable size the first thing to be eliminated should be the last 30 pages.

Editorially I think the book suffers from some unskillful excisions. In several places the text refers to past events that never occurred in a manner that makes me think we were supposed to know about them. I also wonder if the ending was cobbled on at the request of some early reviewer who thought the original ending too dark.

In summary, this is a great idea for a story but there’s just too much of it. At times the author’s rendering of events is dramatic and gripping but one must tread water for far too long to get where the author’s taking you.

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On Evolution and Abortion

Wandering through my archives I found this particularly … assertive… post about Evolution and abortion from 2007.  I hope you enjoy it. 

One of the many things that annoyed me last week was one of those ‘This or That’ questions on the mega-popular cox-tv.com website. The question this time was ‘Evolution or Abortion’. The question itself was perfectly apropos but I did wonder exactly in what context this was conceived (no pun intended). Anyway, what got me was the first response/comment:

“I’ll take a lie over a murder anyday[sic]…”

It’s not very often that a person manages to irritate me so completely in so few words. Let’s start with the more obvious implication in the poster’s statement: “Evolution is a lie.”

Anyone who denies the mechanism of evolution is either a fool or vastly under informed. Typically, evolution’s detractors labor under the deluded belief that evolution states that monkeys wandering through the jungle suddenly just gave birth to humans one day. This, of course, is a vast oversimplification of the processes involved and fails to relate the real heart of what evolution says about organisms on this planet (or any other for that matter). Let’s review from high school biology…

Premise #1: Animals within a population vary from each other.

If one has doubts of the correctness of this then one need only look as far as the next available human. People, animals, plants, bacteria… anything that reproduces by combining its own genetic material with another of the same species displays variation. Every single one of us is different from the next. Some of us can run faster than others; some are taller; some are shorter; some have dark complexions; some have light complexions. We’re all physically unique from each other. Even twins have distinct physical differences that make them very subtly unique. Even if we can’t see it, we all display variation.

Premise #2: Animals and plants that are better suited to survive in their environments live to have more offspring.

Frankly, this is just common sense. Why are antelope so fast? Because all the slow ones were eaten. Why do giraffes have long necks? Because the ones with shorter necks starved as they couldn’t reach anything to eat. From Darwin to Adam Smith, the strong survive and prosper while the weak die.

That’s it. That’s all the premises there are. Sorry if you thought there was going to be something about monkeys or apes driving Volvos. That’s all there is to it: two simple indisputable premises. To defy those premises is to defy all reasonable logic. The funny thing is that everyone blames Darwin for evolution but it actually existed as an idea long before he came along. He just formalized the idea and put it on firmer scientific ground by citing examples from the world around him. It was the religious zealots of the time who denied anything ever changed because it implied imperfection in God. See, God made everything and he made it perfect the first time. If an animal has to evolve then it wasn’t perfect the first time and therefore God screwed up. At least that’s how the argument went.

Now of course we’re much more sophisticated in our thinking. We see the obvious examples around us such as when man exploited the mechanisms of evolution and turned wolves into poodles over the course of several thousand years of selective breeding. It’s universally acknowledged that bacteria evolve defenses against our medicines making antibiotics of yesteryear ineffective against modern bacteria.  If we can actually see any evidence of evolution whatsoever in the tiny span of time we’ve been watching for it (200 years) then what must those same mechanisms have been able to do in the 5 billion years the Earth has been around when we weren’t watching?

Even my daughter who is only 25 years removed from me is significantly different. In the 500,000,000 years of life on this planet that means even if life only changed as much as my daughter did then it would still show 25,000,000 times more differences than I do from my eldest offspring. Creationists argue that we don’t see any monkeys evolving into humans nowadays but that completely misses the vastness of previous history. A lot can happen in 5 billion years.

Now that we’ve gotten that all out of our system, let’s move on to abortion. Let me start by saying that abortion is a nasty business. It’s very sad to me any time any organism dies but what makes me festeringly and profusely angry is the pedestal on which people place humans and it all begins at the moment of conception. As I’ve said before though, all I ask is that you be consistent. You can happily believe that the sky is green if you like as long as you do so all the times even when it’s to your detriment.

If you draw the line of human life at conception, there are a few of things you should keep in mind.

* If you take birth control pills, you are murdering your children. See, birth control pills don’t stop you from ovulating. Your body is happily pumping out eggs and if you’re having sex then those eggs are still being happily fertilized. However, the egg can’t implant because the pills have caused your uterus to be unable to support the baby. So your delightful little child just goes straight out your cervix with your period and dies. You killed your children with birth control pills.

* Also, just because you don’t want the child doesn’t mean you get to abort it. It’s really easy to point at other people and say, “You shouldn’t have an abortion” but it’s not quite as easy to say that when, for example, your 12-year-old daughter is raped and becomes pregnant by the rapist. Now suddenly the terror of being raped isn’t enough torment for your daughter; because of your beliefs she gets to be reminded of it for 10 months, be removed from regular classes at her school and generally ostracized by her peers. To cap it off, she’ll have the joy of childbirth. Isn’t that nice? Oh, and this also doesn’t change just because it’ll be embarrassing for you to walk into your church with an obviously pregnant pre-teen for six months.

* Finally, remember that you don’t get to decide to kill your baby just because it will save your life. If you’re the victim of an Ectopic Pregnancy then you get to make the supreme sacrifice. As the pregnancy grows and grows within your Fallopian tube you’ll experience months of excruciating pain. The good news is that eventually you’ll pass into oblivion as the tissues of your abdomen rupture and you slowly bleed to death. Now, it may be tempting to try to take matters into your own hands but let’s remember that the fertilized human egg is a life and tampering with it is murder. Anyway, it’s God’s will so don’t feel too bad.


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Response to Reader Comments – 1/19/2012

As I sit here on Thursday the 19th, I realize that I’ve done you all a great injustice.  I’ve procrastinated and procrastinated away several days since answering any reader comments.  It has slowly come to dawn on me that it may very well be impossible to keep up with you.  After all, there are… well, LOTS of you and only one of me.  I can’t help but feel that if I gave every response the attention it rightly deserves, I may very well never write another new entry at all.  Using this notion to my advantage, I have determined that the best course of action is to simply write a post about the comments.  This accomplishes two things in one simple act.  It not only acknowledges your fine contributions to this blog but also allows me to get a free blog post out of the deal.  We all win, so let’s begin.

Can’t Even Give It Away

The main themes of the responses to this post seem to center around the idea that people just don’t appreciate free things and that photography specifically isn’t much of a commodity any longer due to the ubiquity of photographic recording devices.  Clearly, price perception is an issue here but I’d argue that people do still hire photographers.  So while I’m sure the demand has decreased dramatically in the past few years, the market does still exist.

Another reader suggested that perhaps I needed a new hobby on the basis that my current one simply wasn’t in demand.  I can certainly see that as a reasonable point and I have considered branching out into basically any field of artistic or intellectual pursuit that seems to be in demand.  If someone really needed a 10-page summary of the history of Uzbekistan, then I suspect that I’m just crazy enough to write it if they ask for it.  Other readers suggested volunteering at some local organization and I have looked into it but found little publicized opportunity that suited my particular skill sets.  I’d be happy to go spread mulch in some park somewhere for free but it’s not something that’s really going to fill the particular need I’m expressing here.

I think my ultimate plan of action is to simply go with the flow.  If society only values services for which people actually charge money then perhaps, quite simply, I need to devise a simple cost structure and hang out my proverbial shingle.  Based on some anecdotal contributions on this post and others, I’m tempted to post identical ads which vary only by pricepoint just to see which one performs best.  Ultimately, the goal is to find new inputs so who am I to fly so boldly in the face of society’s expressed norms?  Further, I suspect that even if I did somehow contrive to do something for someone at little or no cost, they still wouldn’t appreciate it properly without actually having invested themselves in it by paying for it.  So updates to that line of pursuit pending.  I’ll report back later.

Oh for the Love of Cookies

Response to this bit was brief but amused.  We did learn, however, that they don’t have Girl Scout cookies in Australia and also that they use palm oil rather than butter, much chagrin of orangutans.  Oh, and the final sales tally was 102 boxes.  Girl Scout tshotshke ahoy!

An agnostic view on The Ten(Twelve) Commandments

So looking at the comments from the last week, this is post that generated enough feedback that you can swim around in it for a month.  Some of the individual comments were actually longer than the original post.  To give them their just responses would take me, quite literally, hours.  I will say though that the responses left me with two overriding thoughts.

Firstly, the classic atheist attitude towards religious people tends to be that people are religious because they’re too weak and stupid to be atheists.  If they were only educated then they wouldn’t believe in God.  Or to put it more succinctly, only stupid people believe in Christ.  Threads of discussion like the one on my post from a week ago paint a vastly contrary picture.  There is at least a significant subset of the religious population that is astonishingly erudite.  To slip into the vernacular, collectively, you really know your stuff.  And really, what better motivation for deep and considered study than the knowledge that all of eternity hangs in the balance?

Secondly, the angry atheist type would proclaim that all the religious masses are merely mindless sheep bleating out a tune proscribed by some deific head of the church.  Clearly though, even those who believe have questions and they’re not afraid to raise them up.  They’re also not afraid to defend when it’s just to do so.

All in all, discussions like these solidify my respect for the many religious communities with which we share the world.  Well, except scientologists.  I refuse to respect any religion whose founding documents aren’t at least old enough for the copyright to have expired.


Filed under blogging, personal, photography, religion

An agnostic view on The Ten(Twelve) Commandments

This post is a re-edit of one I wrote years ago for my other blog.  As would be obvious to any of my readers who have hung about for a while, I’m a religious agnostic who is intensely curious about others religion and welcome an open discussion of same with anyone who cares to have it.  Unlike many who claim the moniker of agnostic or atheist, I’m respectful (hopefully) and appreciate the views of others.  In this spirit, I’m putting this post up to prompt my Christian friend Grant Dawson to begin the project we’d agree upon that pits us both head-to-head in a discussion of modern Christian faith.  Help me in motivating him by visiting his blog.  He has a lot of great posts but he has one in particular that I consider his writing “hook”.  Read that, follow his blog and let’s get this party started.

Firstly, it should be noted that while the Christian faith is keen to claim the Ten Commandments as their own invention, the concepts embodied in those rules predate Christ by tens of thousands of years.  The Christians are certainly the best known codifiers of these somewhat obvious laws of behavior but by no means did they invent them.  Just for grins though, let’s look at each one in detail.

#1:  I am the Lord your God

This one is rather obvious.  In order to have a religion of any merit whatsoever, you have to have a cohesive leadership.  It also establishes the speaker as GOD and lends weight and influence to the other commandments.  It’s a good start, though somewhat predictable.

#2: You shall have no other gods before me

Somewhat redundant with #1 really and undermining of the speaker’s position.  It seems to admit to the existence of other gods and attempts to subordinate them.  A real king of kings doesn’t need to do this.  He stands on the mountain and says, “I AM KING, tough cookies”.  This commandment seems like a throw away.  The speaker’s position would be stronger without it.  If you must say something, say I am the ONLY God or depending on your position on the trinity question, say that you’re God, father of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.   Either way, this one doesn’t work.

#3: You shall not make for yourself an idol

Alright, this one bugs me.  As I would understand this, the speaker is forbidding his followers from creating anything which constitutes a stand-in for him.  In other words, you can’t make a physical representation of God and worship that instead.  You must worship the unembodied idea of  god but you can’t construct a golden cow or anything else in an attempt to give him a material representation on this earth.  If that’s the case, then isn’t the cross itself a violation of this?  Isn’t this a physical representation of the holiness of god that is treated with veneration?  Similarly, what about graven images?  I see a lot of portrayals of Jesus in churches.  This seems like a violation of that commandment.  Even worse, I’ve seen people dressed up as Jesus for various reenactments and that seems like it would violate the spirit of the commandment entirely.  I’d be interested to have someone explain this one to me.  As commandments go though, not a bad one.

#4: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God

This is your basic, don’t take the Lord’s name in vain or use it to sell vegetable choppers on late-night television.  I get this.  If you’re the boss you don’t want people sullying your good name.  Does strike me as a tad vain, however.

#5: Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy

Well, this is certainly open for interpretation.  Personally, I like the Jewish interpretation of this commandment.  Jews can’t even turn on a light switch during the Sabbath because it would be considered ‘starting a fire’.  I really respect that because they go to a LOT of trouble to keep this.  I can’t help but admire anyone who goes to a lot of trouble to obey such a rule.  I like the Jewish faith.  From a commandment perspective though, this says, “dedicate a day to me and me alone.”  Not a bad idea, especially if that day is also a day of leisure.

#6: Honor your father and mother

This one isn’t all surprising considering that the promulgation of religion primarily from parent to child.  Even if it wasn’t in the Bible per se, I suspect an enterprising parent would add this commandment themselves just to keep the young people in line.  It’s also worth noting that this commandment represents a transition from the previous ones which were designed to establish the authority of God and those which are intended to confer a competitive advantage to the adherents of the religion.  From an evolutionary standpoint, this has a lot to be said for it.  Previous generations are invaluable to the child-rearing process.  It would be a distinct evolutionary advantage to foster those relationships.  Say what you will about the Bible, it has a fairly good grounding in simple practicality.

#7: You shall not murder

Continuing in the vein of practicality, we have the prohibition on murder.  I can almost hear a primitive man, millions of years ago talking to a friend around a roaring fire: “You know Both, me no like Gorth.  Me want kill Gorth but if kill Gorth, Gorth no hunt, no bring food.  Me think not good kill Gorth.”  And thus was this commandment was born.  The simple fact is that we all do better when we get along and don’t slaughter each other.  Again, simple practicality.

#8: You shall not commit adultery

This one is actually an oddball in that in strictly biological terms, it works AGAINST the group.  Promiscuity is actually a POSITIVE trait from an evolutionary perspective.  Males and females of the species are likely to bear more healthy offspring if they have several sexual partners.  The only problem, of course, is that possessive males, when they find their brides violated, tend to violate the previous commandment.

#9: You shall not steal

Similar to murder and adultery, there’s an advantage to cooperating and not filching each other’s stuff.  Adultery is actually a subset of the concept of theft in this case and it’s simple good sense to get along, keep your hands off other people’s stuff and not subject yourself to the potential for murder.

#10: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor

As with #9, we have to just find some way to get along.  More than that though, we have to be honest with each other.  Of all the commandments, this one is probably the deepest and most meaningful for me.  It’s a lot of wasted energy to be anything BUT truthful so the optimal and most efficient state is to just start out that way.  When we’re all straight up with each other, we all benefit.

#11: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife

#12: You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

These two are merely subsets of one another, recognized as separate, according to Wikipedia anyway, only by the Catholic faith.  This seems to simply say that you must not even CONTEMPLATE breaking commandment #9.  If you covet, that will inevitably lead to theft.  So the origin of this falls directly in line with the idea that we have to get along and not get ourselves murdered.

Looking back over the list in general, it’s really somewhat disappointing.  Everything that God has to say to us in these 10(12) snippets of wisdom is obvious to any school child.  There are variations to these (cannibalistic, polygamist tribes) rules but in general all societies that live in groups adhere to these laws quite naturally.  Sure there’s an occasional primitive tribe that shares wives between all the males but in general they don’t go around killing each other for no reason.  The rules are basic common sense even to the most unrefined.

The fatuousness of these rules makes me question the very motives of any God who would hand them out.  Why proclaim with such formality something which is so obvious?  Is this is the best that God can do with all the forces of omniscience on his side?  How about some rules about which berries to eat and which are poisonous?  Something we can use but not pick up on any street corner?  Further, why is God so insecure that he spends nearly half of the commandments trying to solidify his own position?  If I’m God, omnipotent and omnipresent, I might spare one commandment to say, “Look, I’m watching you.  I see everything so don’t even THINK about breaking my commandments” but *5*?!  To me this indicates a certain level of narcissism on god’s part.  He spends half the time talking about himself and only after he’s done telling you why he’s the only god you’ll ever need does he get down to the business of telling you anything useful.  Frankly, it’s a disappointment.

If anything, I’d say this is just more evidence that god, if he existed, had nothing to do with the commandments at all.  A real god wouldn’t bother.  He’d tell us something useful rather than spouting obvious truths.  If this is God’s best work, then I’m sadly disappointed.  Of all the things to be promulgated among the mass of humanity, this is a poor effort.  Perhaps he’ll do better at the second coming.  Not that anyone would care at that point, of course.

Now that you’ve suffered through that, read Grant’s response from the Christian perspective.


Filed under history, personal, religion

On “On Tebow”

Today’s open missive written to the wide, wide world is actually a reaction to someone else’s blog post.  You can read the original here.  Go ahead.  Go read.  I’ll wait.  OK, now that you’ve carefully and thoughtfully read that other post you can either decide to read this or you can just decide you don’t give a hoot about either post and go on with your life.  Either way, going on with life is a good thing just as reading is so whatever your decision, I stand behind you.  If in doubt, Magic 8-ball can help.

The article I pointed you to is from my friend Grant.  He’s a devout Christian and as a result he disagrees with me about a lot of things that he thinks are really important and that I think are just nice, fun(?) things to do on Sunday.  No matter in the end though since I love a debate more than … well, just about anything else.  I will say that on many levels I think that by responding it’s just possible that we may discover that as contentious as the religious debate is in this country we’re not really all THAT far apart on most things.  Issues of salvation aside, we’re all children either of God or of the heartless but infinitely orderly universe.  Perhaps the two aren’t all that different?

Grant begins with a disclaimer and it’s a very tempting one when writing about religion.  Grant, like many writers on this topic, doesn’t want to offend anyone else.  Talking about religion is one of the supreme conversational no-no’s and that’s always bothered me immensely.  Come on.  Let’s put it out there where everyone can see it.  Discuss, debate, you might learn something.

Getting some housekeeping out of the way, I’m with Grant in that last night’s Broncos v Steelers game was a grand one.  Exciting, big personalities, etc though I am forced to point out that Denver didn’t exactly claw its way back from adversity.  They were up big time and just about blew the game in the second half.  So this particular game wasn’t so much a Cinderella story as it was a near replay of the Tortoise and the Hare.  The guy pulled it out but not before taking a bit of a nap.  Oh, and as to the hype, I’m not sure anyone else was really following him either so Grant shouldn’t feel bad about catching the Tebow train after it was well underway with a good head of steam.  We’re Americans, it’s what we do.

The heart of Grant’s post is to answer the question: “Did God help Tebow win?”  As an Agnostic, I don’t really think I’m in a position to make a value judgment on the validity of that question.  I can, however, (much to my insane and giddy glee) make a logical assessment of the validity of Grant’s arguments.  His first response here is pretty typical and unassailable: (to paraphrase generously) “God is infinite and therefore can do any damn thing he damn well pleases.”  No argument from me.  Christianity defined its God in a manner that can’t really be refuted.  By definition God’s existence can never be disproven since his definition also includes the ability to hide himself from outside scrutiny.  So to this point I merely shrug and say, “ok, sure.”

Grant’s second argument seems to say simply that God did not intervene directly but granted Tebow the skill, talent, dedication, whatever to make this happen on his own.  This bit makes me ponder a bit more than the previous since this doesn’t actually REQUIRE a benevolent creator be involved.  Grant even admits that an atheist could also have been successful so it almost begs the question of why bring the creator into it at all?  It would seem that a faithless man can work hard and wring benevolence out of the universe even without God?

Grant closes with his third point about Tebow’s ending prayer.  Again, as a non-religious person this totally fails to offend me.    Do whatever it takes to make you feel inspired, grateful, whatever.  I will say that those showboating wide-receivers who praise God for every single catch do tend to get on my nerves.  Do what ya gotta do, but keep it classy.

Personally, the idea of God’s interference with… well, anything on a local level, is just insulting.  It’s insulting to God.  If God exists, he’s been sitting back and watching for the past 15 billion years with absolutely no interference necessary of any kind.  Why do I say this?  If God exists, he’s also absolutely perfect.  If he wants Tebow to win the Super Bowl then he doesn’t have to do anything.  Tebow would have been destined to win the big game from the absolute first instant that God put pen to paper.  Everything, the entire history of the universe, the path of every single molecule, the outcome of every game was mapped out with absolute certainty on the EXACT moment of creation.  God, if he exists, isn’t some celestial plate-spinner dashing from plate to plate keeping things going just the way he wants but rather an immaculately perfect clock-maker who wound up the cosmos billions of years ago and went off to smoke a really good cigar but hasn’t touched the damn thing since.  Anything less… just wouldn’t be very God-like.


Filed under non-fiction, personal, religion