Thursday, June 17, 2010

Humanity's Belief

A few weeks ago I came across this chart on someone's blog:

It's made the rounds here and there to bolster the argument that science and studying science doesn't make one an atheist. Usually, this comes up in the discussion of Creationism and Evolution.

What I found most striking, however, was the large correlation with studying the humanities and social sciences and the drop-off in religiosity for people in those fields.

My initial stab at explaining this is to posit that science is about facts while the humanities are about ideas. And nothing is quite as disturbing to one's own preconceived notions as encountering other people's well-argued, preconceived notions.

While scientific discoveries can lead to people re-evaluating their religious beliefs, it is usually not at the hands of scientists that we falter and rethink our assumptions, but at the hands of people who try to integrate those scientific discoveries into far-reaching ideas.

Those people tend to be writers, philosophers, social other words, people who dabble in the humanities.

Most students arriving as freshman have only been exposed to a basic sweep of ideas and a general overview of literature and philosophy. Plunging deeper into that pool will naturally expose students to ideas they have never considered or arguments that are more powerful than what they have gotten at home.

On the negative side, it only takes one or two confident, authoritative professors to completely undermine a student's wavering faith....and humanities professors are more prone to see it as their duty to strip away and challenge their students' ideas.

Science professors are more concerned with teaching their students the facts and theories of their particular fields. While a science professor might spout off his or her theist/atheist philosophy in the midst of a class, it isn't the main subject, or even relevant to a student's understanding of how DNA works.

A humanities professor, on the other hand, has a much more powerful position because they work in the trade of explaining concepts and ideology through Literature, or Philosophy, or History, or Language, etc. Completing a humanities course and getting a good grade will inevitably involve regurgitating an interpretation of a particular text or idea that meets with the professor's approval.

Anyone who has ever had a terrible humanities professor, or perhaps better put, a biased humanities professor, can testify to how frustrating it can be.

I recall one Dr. Stanley who gave me my first ever D on a World Lit. test because he didn't like my answers. I was mortified and a little outraged because I felt that the answers he marked wrong, weren't wrong. I was shocked until I heard that almost everyone else had failed the test. I had to take him again the next year for European Lit. The first test gave me a C+. Once again everyone else did worse than me....and these were small classes filled with bright students, many of them smarter than me. However, we had run up against a professor who was certain of his interpretation and wasn't open to anyone else's. We survived the only way we giving him what he wanted, even if we didn't believe it ourselves.

Dr. Stanley wasn't very charismatic, so he didn't win any converts to his ideas, but it isn't hard to see how if he had been more charismatic he might have been able to convince everyone to take a particular view of the subject matter, especially if it had been about something more substantial than literature.

BTW....this isn't an indictment of all Humanities profs. hate mail...OK!? ;-)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Every year, the weekend after school gets out, we take a trip to the beach to celebrate. I especially wanted to get there early this summer because I'm not sure what's going to happen in the Gulf over the next few months.

One simulation seems to keep the Tampa Bay area relatively safe from the effects of the spill...but those estimates are only taking currents into account, not the possibility of Tropical Storms or Hurricanes coming our direction from the west of the Gulf, which occasionally does happen when one slides past Cuba, into the Gulf and hovers there for a little while before deciding where it wants to go.

In other words....who knows what the heck is going to happen?

So far our favorite beach has remained pristine and we even saw a pod of 3 dolphins coming up for air.

We'll probably head to the beach as often as we can, trying to take advantage of what we have before it might be gone.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Rock the Casbah!

Who else can rock a mohawk and a polo shirt buttoned up to the very top button?

No one else but The Intuitive!

He's been pestering me for a mohawk since he was 5. I kept pushing the idea away, telling him he had to wait until he was older. Finally, I compromised and told him he could have one during summer break, when it wouldn't be a distraction in school. A couple of weeks ago, I moved up the date and told him that I would give him one the night before the last day of school.

So, here it is.

Despite his less than excited expression...he was very happy!

The Intuitive is even more excited because next year the "mandatory uniform" policy at his school has been changed to a "voluntary uniform" policy.....which might as well be a "no uniform" policy because who is going to continue to wear uniforms when they see all their classmates being allowed to wear anything they want?

Oh, that's right....The Rationalist will!

He's already informed me as much. A love of uniforms, patrol authority, and a reverence for following the rules....that kid is cut out for the military.

Meanwhile, The Intuitive is thinking of all the different ways he can wear his hair and clothing.

Experimentation, thy name is The Intuitive.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The line between what I would intuitively think was an ad on The Onion and an ad made for real-life is getting more difficult to discern:

If you really need this blanket to fend off "flatulence molecules"....then I give you my condolences!

FYI...if I ever got this as a wedding or anniversary gift...I'd be sure to reciprocate the gift with something as equally disgusting in concept.

God and Sales

Leila walked in the door, long black hair framing her brown face, smile wide and white and I gave her a quick hug. I hadn't seen her in almost a year, just before our kids started school. They had been neighbors and schoolmates of our children until they had moved south of us to a newer house, in a close-by town.

Birthdays and summer breaks kept us in touch, occasionally. I always showed up on the dot for her son's birthdays, in my way too literal, prompt, Anglo fashion, while the rest of her Latino guests would arrive about an hour or two later. She would joke that she should send me a different invitation with the "real" time listed so that I wouldn't always be so early.

She had called me the day before to say "hi" and to see if I'd like to get together to talk about the summer and what we could do with the kids that would be fun. After chatting for a few minutes, she asked if I had half an hour to spare the next day. Having just finished my last day of work for the school year, I gladly made time for her.

As she sat down on the couch next to me, I noticed she wasn't wearing her normal make-up and her eyes seemed a little puffy and tired. She works two part-time jobs, so I dismissed it as fatigue.

As we talked, I realized that the thirty minutes she had asked about was going to be spent on a sales pitch. She moved quickly from general conversation, with a purposeful side discussion about the church she was now attending and the Bible Institute she was taking classes from which was strict, but according to the Bible, to a DVD presentation about the company she was working for and their products.

I covered over my swirling anxiety with a fake smile and nodded while she talked, simultaneously thinking of ways that I could disentangle myself gracefully from the situation and not hurt her feelings.

Sadness began to well up inside of me as I listened, half of my mind attempting to stay engaged while the other half began to contemplate what had happened to my friend Leila. I realized that the black, curly hair, which tumbled down her shoulders, was different than the orange-y, blond streaks that she used to like. I noticed that she was dressed more conservatively, in a high necked shirt and wearing a skirt, instead of her normal shorts and showy blouses, bare ears instead of her usual dangling, sparkly earrings

I slowly began to piece things together and was left inwardly conflicted.

Leila and her husband, Angel, had just started attending a very conservative church the last time I had seen her. She had been excited and interested in sharing things with me. I was happy for her, but also uncertain in what to say, if anything, to her. My own spiritual mess kept me from being crazily enthusiastic, but I also didn't want to discourage her or challenge any of her new-found excitement.

I kept silent as I so often choose to do when someone I care about believes something in a way that I personally don't care for. I restrain my emotions. I tighten my tongue into lock-down mode. I carefully guard what I'm thinking, trying make sure nothing slips through to pour water on someone else's lit fire.

Doing this makes me feel if I have some terrible secret that I can't share without it destroying everything in its whirlwind path. It sections me off from people I care about but can't be fully honest with, not just for my sake, but for their own sake. I wind up living with these segmented relationships that can go only go so far, and then no farther.

All of these emotions bubbled up in me as I listened to Leila's accented English, which she always apologizes for but which is actually quite excellent.

What would I say to her? How would I turn her down without crushing her hope of growing her business through signing me up? Could I turn her down when I knew that the money would be very helpful to her family?

When she finished her presentation, I asked her how she had gotten into this particular business and was unsurprised when she said it was through a "brother" at her new church. I had been expecting that answer and would have been shocked if she said she had gotten into it any other way.

Conservative, evangelical/fundamentalist(?) church culture and direct marketing, or multi-level marketing, seem to be common bedfellows at times. I still remember the time DH and I started attending a large Baptist church in Ohio and had someone try to set up an appointment for his direct marketing business during the greeting/hand-shaking portion of the service. His handshake ended with a business card being placed adeptly in DH's hand.

Completely dissonant with what we thought we were at church for.

I told Leila that I would think about her offer...which was a lie because I already knew what I thought of her offer...though technically I am writing and thinking about it maybe I can skate by with the rationalization that it wasn't a lie.

We ended the conversation discussing the summer and our kids again, and whether we were busy on Sunday. I wished her a good day and she left.

A few years earlier I would have been thrilled at Leila's involvement in church, any church. I had the sense that there was turbulence in her relationship with her partner and sometimes with her mother. I would have wanted her to know God as a grounding presence in her life.

In a way, I think she has found that. She certainly seems more focused on working on her family and doing things the "right" way. Those are all good things.....and those are some of the things that keep me from feeling as if I have completely fallen over the edge of Christian faith.

I wouldn't be who I am now without my conversion at the age of almost seventeen. I wouldn't have the family I have now. I wouldn't have the marriage I have now. I wouldn't have had the strength to move through so many of the problems that have come my way in life.

Without that faith.....I'm not certain what path my life would have followed.

On the other hand, I have had a lot to work through in that same faith. It hasn't come without its share of hurt, disappointment and disillusionment.

When I see Leila, I see myself and the bone-headed enthusiasm that led me to say and do a lot of things that I wish I hadn't said and done in the name of my faith.

It's hard not to make my story be her story. It's hard to separate myself and my fears for her if things go south at this particular church she's attending. I want to protect her.

It's ludicrous and condescending to think that way....I know it is. We must each find our own way.

Watching other people do it is simply hard for me.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Only the Beginning

These photos show only the beginning of what we're going to see in the next few weeks and months.




Wednesday, June 02, 2010

BP-Bumbling People

Yet another failed attempt by BP to stop this leak. One more failure in a monumental list of failures that boggles my mind daily.

I'm not upset that a mistake happened. I'm not upset that something went wrong. Human error will always be a part of any equation involving just about any business, machinery, or venture.

What upsets me is the complete inability of BP to plan for the worst-case scenario, or to even ponder that a worst-case scenario might even exist. There is some indication that BP knew there might be a problem with the casing and/or the blow-out preventer in the weeks leading up to this disaster.

It's unclear what exactly BP might have done to address the problems, but I can guarantee that there was one solution they probably never even considered....simply shutting the thing down until they knew what the hell was going on.

No. That would probably tick off all of their investors.

BP has repeatedly defended its failures by consistently reminding everyone that trying to work at these depths of water has never been done before and they are in uncharted territory.


Here's an idea:

If you haven't planned beforehand how to solve a catastrophic failure that you know would lead to disastrous results...then maybe you shouldn't move forward into "uncharted territories". And...even if you have planned beforehand what you're going to do in a worst-case scenario, it might be helpful if you actually try working in those depths with some training runs to make sure that your equipment and personnel can actually do what you propose.

I know, I know...totally crazy idea, right?

The military and NASA understand this concept. They spend years and years training and honing skills that they might hopefully never need, but are tested and proven just the same. No one goes into space without having had extensive simulation training. By the time astronauts are shooting through space they have been subjected to just about every possible strain that can be reproduced while still on earth.

Makes a lot of sense to do things that way.

Sickening me even more is BP's notion that if they aren't successful in this latest attempt that we will all have to wait until August for them to drill relief wells.


They're kidding right?

They really believe that they can just decide to give up and wait until August and allow two more months of uncontrolled oil spilling into the Gulf? Two more months of this and there won't be any Gulf of Mexico left to save.

It will have to be renamed the Gulf of Tarry Death and Putrescence.

You know that section in Revelation about one third of the seas being dead is starting to seem all too real to me.