The Resurrectionist

27 06 2009

Does anyone ever pray for the dead?  I’m not talking about the Mormon practice of praying for ancestors, or the old Catholic practice of buying indulgences to get people out of purgatory.  Does anyone ever pray that the dead will be resurrected, or is our faith in death stronger than our faith in God?  If Jesus could bring Lazarus back from the dead, and if the bones of Elisha can bring some stranger back to life, then a prayer for a dead man is not beyond the limits of our doctrine.  People have been brought to life again.  My grandfather, a pastor of a small church, prayed for a dead man, and that man came back to life again.  He had been certifiably dead.  My grandfather didn’t expect anything to happen, but it did.  He only prayed because members of his congregation insisted on it.  People have been to Hell and back.  People have been to the gates of Heaven and back.

As with any miracle, the deed eventually becomes undone with time.  The resurrected eventually die.  The final resurrection at the end of time will be another matter, but for now all things are temporary.  However, God’s purpose is never temporary, so while we aim for a second chance at life, he aims for a second chance at eternal life, either for the one brought back, or for those who knew him.

People pray for the most terminal of illnesses, but they draw the line at death, the most terminal of all illnesses.  However, the last signs of life are still barely going in a corpse long after death.  Your hair and fingernails will long outlive you.  They grow very long on a dead body.  When does the last living cell finally become aware of its fate and follow suit?  In a sense, death is only a systemic illness, destined to win over the entire body, eventually.  The brain is dead, and the spirit is gone, but something in that darkness yet shines.

To be sure, the miracle of resurrection could not happen much of the time even if everyone prayed for every fatality all of the time.  Miracles that happen daily are taken for granted.  We don’t even call them miracles anymore.  Every breath is made possible by an act of God.  The breath of a dead man is no farther beyond God’s ability than the breath of a living one.  The question is not whether God can do it, but whether or not God would do it.  A man brought back from Hell, would he do more harm than good to the world?  A man brought back from Heaven, would the world do more harm than good to him?  If a person were brought to life outside of prayer, then who would get the glory?  Perhaps every case is different, and perhaps even among similar cases different treatment would be advised.

But a man need not be a model citizen to be brought back.  No one, in fact, deserves a second chance.  The only achievement  that all can claim is that we have all managed to increase entropy during our stay on this rock, and we’ve all managed to botch our theology in one way or another.  We all sin.  We’re all selfish at heart.  People are not often shocked at the suggestion of Hell for an unusually evil man, but everyone is shocked at the suggestion of Hell for themselves.  It’s like the poop in a toilet crying out, “Why me?!” as it flushes into the sewer, “Take the diarrhea; take the constipation, but don’t take me!  I don’t deserve to get flushed!  I’m a supple, well-formed log!”

I would argue, though, that every dead body should at least get one prayer.  Let God decide the outcome, but endeavor, at least, to ask.  I’m not talking about the prayer where we pray for Heaven to open its gates to the soul of the departed.  That prayer really is pointless.  Either the soul is going to Heaven, or it isn’t.  I’m not talking about the prayer for comfort to those left behind, good as it may be.  I’ve never really understood why we should be comfortable with death, though.  It is the wage of sin.  It’s definitely a bad thing to its core.  When a man clearly went to Hell, why do we stand around and comfort ourselves with platitudes?  This is insane.  A soul in Hell is an utter outrage.  No, what I suggest is that we get in the habit of praying for resurrection, and all other kinds of healing.  If we lose our faith in the miraculous, then the Spirit of God will surely pass over us and continue on its way.

It’s easy to have faith in the healing of a living person, though it isn’t a hope for the miraculous so much as it pretends to be.  Praying for a dead man is a real test of faith.  There exists no natural mechanism for making that happen, so that when it does happen, there’s no easy way to rationalize it away.  Praying for a broken bone to heal is easy.  Praying for a corpse to sit up and talk takes guts.  The vast majority of the time nothing happens, and that takes a spine of steel to deal with, but every now and then something does happen, and that’s no easy matter to sleep on, either.

But God is a master of the miraculous, and we treat him like a hamster, running in his wheel, going nowhere.

dawnsig

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Kosher Swine

25 06 2009

When I first dared to read straight through the Bible, I was but a pre-adolescent kid who thought he already knew everything there was to know about the Bible.  I figured, I had read the children’s picture Bible several times, and the adult version was basically the same thing, right?  At first, everything was going smoothly with the Garden of Eden, and the flood, but then came the animal sacrifices and the dietary laws, and my first thought was, “What kind of pagan religion is this?!”  Naturally, I took the matter up with my mother, who adequately explained that the animal sacrifices were an atonement for sin, primarily foreshadowing the crucifixion of Christ.  What she really dropped the ball on was the reasoning behind the dietary laws and the reason we don’t follow them today.

Now, most Christians do not follow the dietary laws.  In fact, most of the Jews I’ve known personally do not follow the dietary laws.  I, myself, have never followed them, but I’ve always wondered if I should.  The reasoning in Christian ideology for not worrying about it mostly stems back to Peter’s dream, in which he’s presented with unclean animals, which he is told to eat.  Some have said that this is mere symbolism, that the laws were not nullified.  Others say that these laws were for the Old Covenant.  In attempting to form my own opinion on the matter, I first had to understand the basis for the dietary laws.  Most laws, religious or otherwise, have a fairly clear reasoning to them, by which we can improve our lives through a more civil and orderly way of living.  Some laws, primarily religious, exist solely for symbolic reasons.  Obeying a symbolic law without grasping the symbolism is like reading a foreign language aloud without having the slightest idea what you’re saying.  You may be going through the motions, but it does you no good.  The purpose is in the meaning.  When the meaning is forgotten, the law loses its intended effect.  Therefore, in order to understand the dietary laws, one must first determine whether those laws are for symbolic reasons or practical ones.  I’ve read and heard of physiological reasons for not eating pork.  I grew up with these notions in my head, mainly because my father told me that pigs tended to be parasite ridden.  When I got to my current job, I learned that beef is also parasite ridden.  Once the local beef industry became concerned about the possibility of this news leaking out, our source of laboratory control parasites was lost.  They would not send us the worms anymore.  I got to talking to my wife about the subject, and she dug a book out from somewhere, and it described other physiological reasons for preferring bovine meat over porcine meat.  My reaction to that explanation was negative, too.  It did not fit with what I learned in school.

I cannot condemn those who eat pork, nor will I rebuke those who do not.  The reason behind the dietary laws is entirely unclear to me.  By all appearances, it seems to be unclear even to many Biblical experts.  One thing that I wish to mention, though, is that the most notable question that hit me all those years ago, which I have not seen anyone else address, is the question, “Is man an unclean animal?”  My father might make the ruminant category of animal, with his abominable bouts of acid reflux, but he lacks the cloven hoof.  The fact is that if we apply those rules to ourselves, then we are all as kosher as swine.  In fact, the swine actually come a little closer to being kosher, with their cloven hooves.  Imagine, then, bathing a pig and dressing it nice.  We’ll say you train it to go potty outside like a good little pig.  We can teach it all kinds of manners and give it a touch of perfume.  All of this is to no avail.  It’s still an unclean animal by ceremonial standards.  In a sense, humans following the dietary laws are like a pig refusing to eat pork.  I highly recommend not feeding pork to a pig, but that pig will never be kosher.  It can be taught kosher behavior, perhaps, but it will always retain its species.

Was God hinting at something that people could not openly swallow?

The inherent problem with rules that have no obvious underlying principle is that such rules are almost always misapplied.  Either the law will be followed to a uselessly obsessive extreme, or it will be largely ignored in time.  Truth be told, though, no one really knows why certain meats were forbidden.  The uncleanness of a pig, in a way that cannot be solved with soap and water, is something that simply does not obviate itself.  So, when Christ came and declared us clean, many people seemed to think, “What do you mean?  I was already clean.”  The intrinsic uncleanness was as invisible for us as it was for the pig.  In truth, accepting the absolution of Christ’s death and resurrection first requires acknowledging one’s own unclean state.  But people don’t see their uncleanness any more than a pig sees its own uncleanness.  We were told what an unclean animal looked like.  We could have seen ourselves in that description, but we did not.  The pig was unclean, and we were superior, or so we thought.  Or, did we?

But, if we do not understand what makes a pig unclean, then we do not understand what makes us unclean.  Then we do not understand what makes us redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Sin is so much a part of our nature that we cannot see it.  The washed and perfumed pig takes a dump on your living room floor and thinks nothing of it.  It does not know how putrid it is, nor how inappropriate its residence in your home.

But for the grace of God so are we in Heaven.

gothamsig





The Divine Holotype

19 06 2009

roseA rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.  The plant taxonomists could have a field day with that one.  Multiple names for the same flower are a relatively simple matter, though.  The scholar who adequately describes the plant in a published journal first is the one who gets to name it, officially.  This has lead to much splitting of hairs for people interested in officially naming plants, or otherwise obtaining a relevant subject for a doctoral thesis.  What most people would say is certainly the same species, the taxonomist often separates based on some trivial detail.  Some details require a dissection microscope to adequately discern.  Ultimately, there is only one precise flower design that is officially a rose.  Variation does exist within a species, though.  The question is, how much variation can a rose have before it is no longer a rose?

 More troublesome is the matter of other flowers being called by the same name.  They might even smell as sweet, yet not be a rose.  A daisy by any other name, even “rose,” does not smell as sweet as a rose.  Let’s say roses became scarce.  Terminology becomes regional.  One person’s rose is not nearly the same as another person’s rose.  Two people might get into an argument over the definition of the term, and they might turn to an authoritative book on the subject.  The problem with written descriptions of plants is that, no matter how descriptive they are, they still might accurately describe some other plant by accident.  Likewise, there is also a chance that certain variants that are actually the same species might be excluded from the group based on the description.  So you might have two different people holding two different flowers, reading the same text and equally convinced that it describes their respective flowers.

 For every known species of plant on this earth, there is probably a single pressed specimen in an herbarium somewhere in the world, officially acting as the representative of its species.  We call it the holotype.  There can only be one holotype of a given species, ever.  We might have other examples of it in other places, called isotypes.  If it gets lost or destroyed, then we might obtain a new one, but it would then be called a neotype.  There is only one official example, though.  There is only one holotype, because there is always the possibility that two seemingly identical specimens are actually distinct from each other due to a previously unnoticed detail.

 Comparing plants against a written description might leave room for doubt, but comparing them against an official specimen allows for an unlimited number of direct comparisons, not the least of which is an intuitive visual impression.  Two people holding differing “roses” might compare them against the official rose holotype specimen and determine very quickly which one of them was closer to the truth.

 Naming a rose is relatively easy, though.  It physically exists.  It can be observed directly, and it can be described precisely.  In the event of a dispute, the official specimen can always be dragged out of the space-saver shelves and compared against the imposter.  Naming God is not so easy.  We don’t have him pressed and dried somewhere.  The ideas about him are diverse, even to the point where there seems to be millions of different gods, all given the same title of God.  Originally, though, there was only one religion with a concept of God, and it was relatively unified.  The Israelites had it easy.  They were the first ones to describe God.  Their god was God, and that’s all there was to it.  These days, we’ve got three different major monotheistic religions, each claiming to have its own official definition of God, not counting the pantheistic religions that complicate the matter by calling their amorphous over-soul “God.”  Within each of these major divisions, we have different sects that differ so greatly over the identity of God, that even though they supposedly agree on who he is, they still disagree so greatly on what he’s like that they seem to be followers of different gods.  Within a single sect, even, every single person has a different view of God.  Even two people who describe him in the same way may actually hold different impressions of him.  They may use the same words but hold to different meanings.

 The Jewish world was relatively at ease with these differences of opinion for quite some time.  Time gave rise to much theological drift, despite the fact of their tireless fidelity to scripture.  For a time, they were the only monotheistic religion.  For a time, their differences of opinion could not be resolved, and the matter of his exact identity was moot point.  From one scripture came a variety of different outlooks, and there existed no authority to confirm one and dispute another.

 Then came the Divine Holotype and shattered this blissful ignorance.  He walked the earth as a person.  He said that if we saw him, then we saw God.  Some people looked at him and declared that he did not match their preconceived idea of God.  They unwittingly declared themselves the followers of some other god.  Some people looked at him and saw a close enough match to their own ideas that they declared that he was, in fact, the Son of God.  Both groups, for and against, originally conceived of their ideas from the same source.  They both came from the same culture and the same religion.  For whatever reason, different people within the same religion and even the same region worshipped very different gods, yet they all called their different gods by the same name.  Each believed that his god was the God, and each believed that when others mentioned God, that they were both talking about the same thing.  Christ was crushed and his memory was preserved for all time, like a definitive rose.  Some people hold their flower, their concept of God, up to him and they say that Christ is not the Son of God.  In truth, what they’re really saying is that their god is not God, though he may be called by the same name.  Some people hold their image of God up to Christ, and they see enough similarity between the two that they declare them to be the same thing.  In effect, they have confirmed that their god is, in fact, God.

 This is the crux of Christianity.  If a Moslem sees Christ and does not accept him as Lord, then he has identified his own god as something different from the holotype.  He worships a monotheistic god, but he does not worship God.  The Jews who accepted Christ came to be known as Christians.  So did the gentiles who accepted him.  Any one of us might be of Jewish ancestry.  Most of us could easily be descendents of Abraham, at the very least.  The Jew of today is the same as the Jew of Christ’s time, except that an additional qualifier has been thrown in.  Judaism has come to be defined as a religion that overtly does not accept Christ.  Israel, the Jewish nation, is definitively un-Christian.  I love Israel, and I’ve never met a Jew that I didn’t like, but I must force myself to admit that when I say “God,” I do not refer to the god of the Jews.  As counter-intuitive as it sounds, it must inherently be true.  We both say “God,” and they even gave us our current understanding of God, but through a strange and ironic twist of fate we have diverged in our paths.  We no longer mean the same thing when we use the term.  The two meanings are close enough to cause confusion, but when we bring out the holotype of Christ, ours matches and theirs does not.  When we say “God,” we can point to Jesus and say, “by ‘God,’ I mean him!”  The confusion clears, and we rectify our miscommunication.

 While it is true that no two Christians have the exact same ideas about God, it is also true that they can agree on the definitive example of God, which makes them close enough to be talking about the same thing.  We can be wrong in our way of thinking about him, and we all probably are to some extent, but we’re close enough to the truth that we’re not talking about two different things.  You may be speaking of a ten-petal domestic rose, and I might be talking about a five-petal wild rose, but we’re both talking about a rose.  We’re not like the person holding a daisy who looks at the pressed holotype rose and says, “That’s not a rose!”

 Oh, yes it is.

melancholysig





Symbolism and Idolatry

13 06 2009

The doors parted, and in walked this shaky-legged man, gripping his staff for support.  Everything in him wanted to turn and run.  By all rights, he should have, except that to flee the wrath of this king would land him at the whipping post of another, far greater,  king.  This staff that he was leaning on was more than just a stick.  It was a symbol of power, given to him by the king whom he came to represent.  Physically, he knew that it was just a stick, but it was an ever present reminder of the moment when his shepherd’s crook had been turned into a snake and then back again.  Whenever he doubted himself, all he had to do was look at this staff, shaped like a rather long serpent, to remember that he was not just acting upon a foolish fancy.  He was, in fact, fulfilling the command of I Am.  The staff had become a symbol of God and his power.  It was the central object in each of his miracles, a way of identifying those miracles with the same God that had altered the shape of this stick.  If the stick parted the water, then God parted the water.  If the stick made water come from a rock, then God made water come from a rock.  God performed the miracle, and the stick’s involvement was the symbol that identified that miracle as having come from God.  Ultimately, though, it was still just a stick.  That would eventually change.

 The great Pharaoh looked up and saw the prophet of God standing before him.  This man had become a symbol of God, himself.  If this mortal turned water into blood, then it was an act of God.  If this man made fire rain from Heaven, then it was God that made fire rain from Heaven.  Had it been a miracle by any other hand, it would have been a miracle by some other god.  Ultimately, though, this was just a man.  Men could be stopped.  Defeat the symbol, and you defeat its reference, right?  No, but Pharaoh could not defeat either one, anyway.

 After succeeding in taking his captive people out of Egypt, the miracles of I Am continued through Moses, or, as Moses would see it, the miracles continued through the staff.  A change was taking place in the mind of the prophet, though.  As time progressed, the stick was less and less a reminder of Yahweh and the burning bush and more a reminder of all of the miracles that it had been party to.  Moses’ own history with that piece of wood had grown to eclipse its symbolic reference, God himself.  His trust in the stick was no longer symbolic of his trust in God.  He actually had come to trust the thing independently of God.  However, God does not empower idols.  The stick had to go.  One day, God told him to speak to the rock to make it bring forth water.  Moses then struggled between his faith in God versus his faith in a piece of wood.  Formerly, there could have been no such dilemma, because his faith in the stick was synonymous with his faith in God.  Unfortunately, the stick won the battle of the wills.

 Our lives are filled with symbols.  Some of them are traces of ink on a paper.  Some of them are actions.  Some are objects.  The cross is a symbol of Christ.  A statue of Mary is a symbol of Mary, who is, herself, a symbol and testament to Christ.  However, when we bow to statues or pray to people, we cross that fine line between symbolism and idolatry.  A prophet is a symbol of God.  Every magical thing he does and every edict that he pronounces is attributed to the God he serves.  Sever that psychological connection, and the prophet becomes a god.  It’s like the people of Lystra, bowing before Paul and Barnabas, calling them Zeus and Hermes.  The identity of the prophets was temporarily shattered, making them objects of idolatry.  Instead of representing God, they were competing with him.  God empowers no idol.  If they had not rectified the situation, they surely would never produce another miracle, at best.  It’s the Devil’s first rule on how to destroy a prophet.

 This is an interesting matter, because it means that an important part of what determines who will be the prophet is based on someone other than the prophet.  A good man does not make an acceptable prophet.  A charismatic man cannot be a good prophet.  Any man of any character shape or style cannot be a prophet.  The choosing of a prophet is determined by what that person represents in the eyes of those who see him perform miracles.  They are the listening ears that hear the prophet and know that they are hearing the words of God.  The difference between a good Christian and a good Christian prophet is how other people relate to him.  Granted, any two people could be exactly alike, and one would become a prophet while the other does not, because God does not automatically choose any specific course of action just because certain factors happen to be true.  He is not just an impersonal force, like gravity, which always behaves a certain way under certain conditions.  However, while we can not say exactly what he will do, there are certain things that we can know with certainty that he will not do.  He will not promote idolatry.  He will not mislead.  He does not instigate sin.  God does not make supermen.  He makes servants.  The prophet is to the world what the staff was to Moses, initially.  The prophet is God’s way of letting people know who really did it and who really said it.

 Moses put a brass serpent on a pole, so that people bitten by a viper could look at it and yet live.  The brass serpent was a symbol of God’s mercy and a symbol of the Christ who would one day hang on a cross.  As such a symbol, it served God’s purpose.  Eventually, though, it came to be seen as an entity in and of itself.  It became an idol and had to be destroyed.  The fine line between symbolism and idolatry was crossed.

 Symbols change their meanings with time, often.  Words, which are written symbols, have their own unique drift.  The word “gay” used to mean “happy.”  In those days I would have been content to call myself gay.  When that meaning changed, not in my own ears but in the ears of my audience, I could no longer comfortably use that term to describe myself.

 The pastor of a church can be a symbol of God.  He can also be a usurper.  The difference is subtle, and the line of distinction is often crossed.  If he is not seen as just a person, and if his authority seems innate, then he creeps ever so imperceptibly toward idolatry.  However, if he is not seen as a representative of God and his authority, then he cannot be a pastor at all.  On the one hand, he stands as an authority and a representative of God, but on the other hand, he is just a man, like any other.  When I say he is just like any other, I mean exactly that.  Moses could have been carrying any stick the day that he met the burning bush.  The power of that stick had nothing to do with the qualities of the stick, but it had everything to do with God.  Moses was just a dirty aimless shepherd, carrying an ordinary shepherd’s crook.  Without God, he and his stick would have continued to be exactly as they were.  God could have used any man and any stick.

 Jesus was crucified on a cross, and so the cross has come to symbolize Christ.  But the cross is not a talisman.  It has no power of its own.  A cross is only meaningful in so much as it represents Christ.  You can spell out the word, “Jesus,” or you can carve a cross, but both the word and the sculpture are effectively the same thing, a symbol meaning “Jesus.”

 Christians, these days, are becoming increasingly fearful of symbols.  Non-phonetic symbols hold a certain intrigue to people not thoroughly familiar with them.  However, a phonetic symbol can also become an idol.  Even the name of God can become a dissociated symbol, treated like a talisman, worshipped as an independent thing.  If you say “Jesus,” and you’re thinking of the name, itself, rather than the person it refers to, then you’ve made the name an idol.  It’s no wonder God chose to call himself, “I Am.”  It’s akin to not giving himself a name.

 The prophet is a symbol of God.  The Bible is a symbol of God.  The word, “God,” is a symbol of God.  A painting of God is a symbol of God.  A cross is a symbol of God.  Even a thought about God is a symbol of him.  Remove the symbols from society, and you remove God from society.  On the other hand, if the meaning of those symbols changes, if they stand independent from God, if we worship them, then they become idols.  It’s like looking at your reflection and forgetting that it’s just a reflection.  If you start talking to that thing, then you’re nuts.  The reflection is just another way of looking at yourself, in the same way that a symbol is just another way of looking at God.

backlightsig





Symbolic Interactionism; A Battle of Little gods

11 06 2009

I hear people say that they’re not too big on symbols.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The irony is that the word, “symbol,”  is, itself, a symbol.  A person cannot claim to reject all use of symbols without using a symbol to say it.  All words are symbols, whether spoken or written.  All text is a series of symbols, whether multiple symbols are used for a single word, or a single symbol is used for a hugely elaborate concept.  All communication is through various forms of symbolism.  However, it doesn’t stop there.  All human thinking also involves symbolism.  The idea in your head of an object that is not immediately available is a symbol of that object.  The idea of the object stands in the place of the actual object, and you manipulate the image or the sound or the shape of it, not really thinking about the fact that you are utilizing a conceptual substitute.  You think that you are thinking about the object, but you’re not.  Instead, you’re really thinking about the mental symbol of that object.

Symbolism goes beyond mere words and mental objects, though.  It’s fundamental to all human interaction.  In truth, we don’t get angry at people for what they do to us.  We get angry at them for what they say to us.  Let’s say you’re driving down the road and a rather large tree branch falls in your path, right at the limit line of an intersection.  You try to change lanes to get around it, but the traffic is a little heavy, and you miss the light before you can make the maneuver.  You’re a little annoyed, but you’re not mad at the tree branch.  It’s just a dumb piece of debris.  It’s a little inconvenient, to be sure, but it’s no reason to honk your horn and wave an obscene gesture.  Well, I’m hoping you wouldn’t do it to the tree branch, because it certainly doesn’t care.

Let’s change a few details in that story.  You’re waiting at a light and the woman in the car in front of you suddenly realizes that she was supposed to turn left, but she’s in the lane to go straight.  As she sharply angles the car into the other lane, you see the cause of her absent-mindedness.  She’s holding a cell phone to her ear, despite the fact that state law forbids it.  The light turns green, and she’s now blocking two lanes with her askew car, content with making you miss your light so that she won’t have to miss hers.  You try to change lanes to get around her, but the traffic is a little heavy, and the light is again red before you can make the maneuver.  You honk in frustration.  Maybe you yell and make rude gestures.  Let’s say you make some comment about getting her rotten hunk of junk out of the way.  There’s something different about this lump of debris than there was about the previous one.  The difference was not in what she did to you.  Both the tree branch and the driver accomplished exactly the same thing, except that the driver succeeded in arousing quite a bit more anger.

You see, it isn’t what she did to you that made you mad.  It’s what she said to you that really peaked your ire.  By using her cell phone when she wasn’t supposed to, she said, “Laws are for everybody else.  I’m above the law (and, therefore, above everyone else).”  The implication is that she valued herself as better than you.  She could have taken responsibility for her mistake and gone straight, thusly missing her intended turn, but she chose not to suffer the consequences of her own bad decisions.  Rather, she let you suffer the consequences instead.  It was her mistake, but you got stuck with the inconvenience.  Effectively, she was saying, “My mistake is your problem, because I’m too important to be inconvenienced (and you’re not).  What’s important is not justice, but that my interests be served, even at your expense.”

A fallen tree branch says nothing.  Did it make poor growth decisions?  Maybe so.  Did it leave someone else to suffer the consequences of those decisions?  You bet.  What did its act of falling communicate?  Nothing.  A piece of tree sits in your way and you drive around it.  A human sits in your way, and you get angry, because for the human the act was a symbol that sent a message that you really didn’t like.  What was that message, in a nutshell?  She said that she was more important than you…way more important.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise, though.  Every single person has a somewhat elevated view of themselves.  Even the man who gripes and complains about how worthless he thinks he is…only complains because he hasn’t achieved enough  to convince himself that he’s at least as good as you are.  He’s just upset that he’s having trouble worshipping himself.

Yeah, well, it’s easy to get a little irate at people who worship themselves.  It’s even easier to get fuming mad when you, yourself, have an ego the size of Jupiter.  The first person to complain about another person’s arrogance is an arrogant person.  Pride is, essentially, self-worship.  It’s like getting mad at someone for not only worshipping the wrong god (themselves), but also disparaging the right one in the process (you).  How dare you worship yourself!  You’re supposed to worship me!

Yeah, well…I hope you don’t get angry at that tree branch, because God may have sent it your way.  He may have sent the other driver, too.  Now, what did he mean by that?

redsig





Dead Carps, Cream Pies and Rubber Chickens

7 06 2009

[fiction]

fishHello, my name is Gary, and I’m a fish slapper.  I came out of the closet ten years ago, and I’ve never looked back.  Ever since I was a child, I knew that I was special.  At first, I thought something was wrong with me for wanting to slap myself in the face with a dead carp, but after hiding my nature for years, I finally realized that it’s just who I am.

In the early days, I used to be content with slapping myself  with a carp in the privacy of my own home, but I soon came to realize that the world should love me for who I am.  I must admit that I was a little scared the first time I ordered a raw unprepared carp in a fancy restaurant.  The waitress looked at me like I was a little nuts, but she did manage to serve me one.  For a moment I hesitated.  Then I took hold of it and gave myself a firm slap in the face.  By the third slap, the tables all around me had grown quiet, and everyone was staring at me like I had grown a second head.  Undaunted, I continued to slap myself in the face, until the manager came over and insisted that I leave.

Of course, such discrimination was to be expected in those days.  Narrow-minded individuals were common, believing that the food was either to be eaten or not eaten.  Unconventional uses for food, such as mine, were not accepted as normal.  I had to convince the world that fish slapping was a veritable alternative and that I deserved to be accepted for the fish slapper that I am.  Eventually, after getting thrown out of several restaurants, my story made small news.  Pretty soon, I was getting mail from other fish-slappers who had been hiding their true selves for years and just wanted to come out of the closet.  I decided that it was time for something to be done about it.  We formed a society of fish slappers, and we even gained enough momentum to hold a fish slappers pride parade.  With enough publicity, the society at large was being made aware of the plight of fish slappers everywhere.

The downside to the publicity is that certain small-minded individuals became ever more vocal against us.  They called us “odd,” to the point where the word, odd, came to specially mean people who slap themselves in the face with a dead carp.  I cringed when I heard a teenager call his peer, “odd,” comparing him disparagingly to one of us.  These days, after much activism, schools teach kids to be more sensitive to people who are different than themselves, but the early days were painful.  We tried, with great success, to change the terminology used to describe us.  We called ourselves “happy,” and the public generally accepted that term.  Now, if you call yourself happy, people think you mean that you like to smack yourself violently with a fish.  Ask any guy on the street, and he’ll swear that he’s feeling miserable.  They’re all afraid to call themselves happy, now.

Despite all of these victories, there was still one looming problem.  It was an area of intense and unforgivable discrimination that had been institutionalized from the very beginning.  Our manner of eating was rejected in restaurants and eating establishments everywhere.  Happy people were not permitted to practice their preferred use of food in the same way as fish-eaters.  What became clear to us is that we would have to fight for our civil rights in the same manner as Martin Luther King Jr.  The problem was that, while the African American population was discriminated against for what they were, we were discriminated against for what we did.  We had to prove that fish slapping was something that we were born with, like being born of a different race or being born with a disability.  We did, in fact, manage to publish a few scientific journals that pointed to a possible genetic connection with fish slapping.  These were much-derided by the intolerant members of society.

“Do you think I would actually choose to make myself open to ridicule for the whole world?!” I complained to my friend, Norm, one day.

He shook his head and replied, “No, I think you’re right.  I can’t imagine ever wanting to slap myself in the face with a fish.  You must really want to do it, or you’d never be willing to put yourself up to such ridicule.  What I don’t understand is why you’d insist on having fish slapping  be treated as equal to eating seafood.  It’s just not the same.”

“It is the same!” I insisted.  “No one’s preventing you from doing what you want with your fish.  Just because I like to do something other than chewing and swallowing the fish doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to be treated the same as everyone else.”

“No one’s treating you differently,” Norm replied, “If you want to eat a fish in a restaurant, then you can do that, just like everybody else.  It’s just not the same to consume a fish as it is to slap yourself with one.  Eating the fish serves a functional purpose.  We were made to eat.  Survival of the human race depends on it.  Sure, it feels good, but that’s not the point.”

“Hey, you do what feels good to you, and I’ll do what feels good to me,” I replied in anger.

“No one’s stopping you from doing what feels good to you,” Norm said, “but restaurants were made for eating.  Waiters and chefs work to feed people.  That’s what they’re there to do.”

Norm never understood my lifestyle.  Having failed through parades and media coverage to win the public over, we turned to the law.  We sued restaurants for discriminating against us.  We protested in front of the homes of public figures who advocated against us.  We harassed, bullied, pleaded and educated.  Eventually, we won a popular vote that mandated restaurants to provide us with our own eating area.  They could no longer deny us service.  This wasn’t enough, though.  We didn’t want to be marginalized, slapping ourselves in a separate room, while all of the other diners ate in peace.  We failed to pass legislation forcing restaurants to allow us to slap ourselves in the main eating area, so we sought to change the meaning of the words “eating,” and “dinner.”  Fish slapping needed to be considered a form of eating.  In a landmark case, a high court ruled that separate was inherently unequal, and restaurants needed to accommodate alternative dining lifestyles, such as ours.

Unfortunately, this turn of events was short-lived.  The populace passed a law that defined eating as being the chewing and swallowing of food.  Only that definition of eating was permitted in the main dining areas of restaurants  Even before that law came to vote, we were already at the works to bring that one to court.  The judges ruled in our favor and overturned the law.  We could once again slap ourselves as loudly as we wanted in the main dining area of restaurants.

Shortly after that, though, the people voted for a constitutional amendment redefining eating as the chewing and swallowing of food.  We were once again denied the main dining areas, meant for eating, because what we were doing was not considered an act of eating.  This outrageous amendment was, unfortunately, upheld in the high court.  We’re going to keep fighting this one, though.  We have teamed up with the pie-in-the-facers and the rubber chicken flagellants to form the Fish Slappers Cream Pie Smashers and Rubber Chicken Whippers Society (FSCPSRCWS).  We will not be stopped.  We will not be forced back into the closet.  We’re in your face, and we’re here to stay.

Look out world, ‘cause here we come.

[/fiction]

Just wait until those hate speech laws kick in.  Then we’ll never be able to address anything by name.

reflectivesig





A Simple Enzyme

4 06 2009

flagellum I was halfway through my second semester in college, heading to an advanced cell biology class, thinking about the F-class ion pump when I suddenly lost my faith in evolution.  All at once, I realized that no argument in favor of blind unintelligent design could ever amount to anything better than a clever twist of reasoning.  My professors had, by their very authority, convinced me that evolution must be true.  Making that mesh with my faith in God was an act of mental acrobatics.  I am convinced that Christians are the best at seeing through the brainwashing because they have the most reason to be suspicious of the world’s ideology.

I remember the exact spot on the walkway where I stopped, had my eureka moment and thought, “It’s just like a three-phase electric motor.”  In retrospect, it’s really like a generator, but as electric generators and electric motors are both essentially the same thing, just that one works in reverse, the same is true for the ion pumps embedded within the membrane of every living cell.  On the one hand, they can burn the chemical energy of ATP to pump ions across the membrane against a gradient, causing a particular ion to have a higher concentration on one side.  On the other hand, they can use a hydrogen ion gradient to make ATP.  They can act as both generator and motor.  Specifically, they act something like a three-phase electric motor, having three sections on the outside that take turns attracting the three segments on the inside, rotating the inner core one-third rotation per step.  The electrical aspect of it is similar, too, except that instead of running on electrons, they can run on protons.  The cell, itself, acts like a battery, storing charge relative to its environment, so that the leakage of protons is used to physically turn the motor.  The motor-like aspect of the ion pump design is even harnessed in bacteria to spin a flagella, making it the propeller that drives the organism through its liquid environment.  It even has some comparable bearing surfaces.  The winding of the peptide chains into the various subunits resembles the winding of the wire in an electric motor.  The coils don’t function in the same way, though.  The peptides are more complex than the wires.

So, what we have here is a machine that looks and acts like an electric motor that was made by intelligent design, except that the biological version is more sophisticated.  And that’s just one enzyme.  It’s not even the most complex enzyme by any means.  Yet, I challenge any fool to look at an electric motor and tell me that it came about by chance.  A person cannot identify a continuum of evolution from rock to motor in which every little perceptible change makes it functionally better, because, until that thing is complex enough to work at all, it is not complex enough to be better off than a rock.

That’s just one enzyme in the simplest of all living things.  One enzyme was enough to convince me that life had intelligent design, and I knew that it was just the tip of the iceberg.  We have enzymes that can cut DNA, unravel it and then reattach it.  Enzymes can cut it, allow another strand to pass through the cut and then reattach it.  Enzymes can copy DNA, use it to make RNA and use the RNA to make protein.  They can compare two sister strands of DNA, looking for disagreement, then determine which of the two was the older strand (and probably the right one), then change the other to match.  They can examine the DNA for errors, decide if it’s too damaged to risk allowing the cell to live (and possibly hurt the rest of the body), start a timer which they must race to fix the DNA, and if they fail at that, they begin a self-destruct sequence to destroy the cell, thereby preventing it from becoming cancerous.  Enzymes do all kinds of amazing things, and they do it at a speed that approaches the theoretical speed limit, according to physical chemistry.  They perform risky delicate procedures with a certain expert deliberateness.

And the teachers feed us this trash that it all came about as a matter of chance, like a landslide that just happens to form a fully-equipped state-of-the-art house…that can reproduce.  I am convinced that no one who has studied the intricacies of cell biology has any excuse for believing in Darwinist origins.

It reminds me of a time in second grade, when I happened to come to class a little late.  It just happened that the teacher had chosen that day to do a little psychology experiment involving long and short lines.  We were to identify the shortest line by a raise of the hand.  While the whole rest of the class was scripted to raise their hands for the second-shortest line, two or three of us were left to choose between the truth and consensus.  I remember when the class picked the wrong line.  I was thrilled to think that I might be the only person in the class who would get it right.  I proudly raised my lone hand.  The other kids that didn’t know about the scheme failed the test.

While it’s easy to say that truth does not depend on consensus, all of those poor saps you meet on the street have largely swallowed everything they were taught in school, and everything that the news media told them that everyone else believes.  It’s a game of follow the leader, without a leader.  Everyone is following everyone else in a circle.  The whole thing is a sham.  Evolution is taught as the scientific truth.  Never mind the obvious design of life.  It’s what every sensible person believes, blah, blah, scientific, blah, blah.

What if everyone who shared your views on God and life started to turn away from them to accept something that you knew was false?  Would it seem like the end of the world?  What if you were the only one left who believed?  The truth is the truth no matter who believes it, even if no one believes it.  The day may come when you are the only one you know who believes.  The truth is worth fighting for at all costs.  Live tenaciously.  Better to be the only soul who follows the truth, than to follow a lie and live comfortably for a time.

Truth is sweet in your mouth, but it sours your stomach.  Better to eat it anyway.

spotlightsig