Thursday, September 29, 2011

Random Advice for Better Living

1. Never use Lowe's Signature Valspar paint.  It sucks.  Period.  The regular Valspar has never been a problem for me, but the more expensive, supposedly better Signature line made life a living hell when I was painting my front hallway red.  The pain was thin, runny and kept leaving drip marks all over the walls. And the color comes off when you wipe it. After noticing a mark on the wall, I wiped a wet paper towel across it and it came back pink.  This was a month after I painted it.  It should have been cured by then.

2. If you'd like to download some free music, check and see if your library system is working with freegalmusic. You have to gain access through a library's website and have a library card number handy in order to use it. It's great. You get 3 free downloads per week from Sony-affiliated artists of your choice.

3. Have more than one e-mail account.  I have at least 3.  One is affiliated with my blog.  One is an account that I use for joining websites or internet shopping. One is an old one from when I used to sell jewelry online.

The older one was originally my only account and is still the only one some people in my life have.  The reason I never upgraded those people to my blog/official e-mail is because those particular people are always sending e-mail forwards, stories, cutesy videos, or chain e-mails.  Once someone does that to me, I officially cross off the possibility of upgrading them to my "new" e-mail.

It's rude, especially when they forward the e-mail to 100 other people who now have your e-mail address in the long list of forwards.

The second e-mail address I use for my blog and for any official correspondence from schools, banking, insurance companies, etc.  Organizations that aren't going to spam me or release my e-mail to spammers in Russia who want to sell me Viagra.

The third account is strictly for promotions and internet shopping.  It's full of thousands of "free offers" and enticements to shop more. I also let my kids use the address when they sign up to play online games at cartoonnetwork, or nick.

4. Never assume that someone else is going to handle a problem for you. Someone else never shows up when you need them and rarely understands what the problem is anyway.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Evolution as Theology, Part 3; Calvinism's Twin?

(I contrast Calvinism with evolution in this post...but any religious belief with a strong emphasis on a God who uses nature and events for some greater purpose could be interchanged with Calvinism.)

One of the most basic presuppositions of Calvinism is that God is sovereign and nothing ever happens without His direct knowledge and will causing it to happen. Whatever happens was meant to happen.  The appearance of "free will" is just that, an appearance, not a reality.  This applies to not only people but also nature. Earthquakes have a reason.  Premature death has a reason. Coincidences have a reason.

Somehow, someway, everything works together to bring about what God wants and we are powerless to resist it, or exert our will upon it.

Taken at face value, this can be a comforting idea. If one surrenders to the idea, then every bad event has a good purpose.

Because a Calvinistic God is a constantly active God, guiding history and nature, there is a connection in how Calvinists use nature to uphold their doctrinal beliefs. Paying close attention to how Calvinism handles gender differences, it's possible to see how, besides Scriptural input on the matter, much is made of the nature of men and women.  Arguments will frequently veer into the biology of men and women, emphasizing the hard wiring of traits and tendencies into the physical body/mind.  Men are the way they are because God created them that way and set a universal pattern for them to be that way. Women are the way they are because God made them to be that way.

This is why conservative Calvinists get up in arms about masculinity, femininity, and gender roles.  Stepping outside those roles is not only going against God's will, but it is denying the inescapable nature of biology. In Calvinist theology, one could say that we know God has fixed roles for men and women because historically, and naturalistically, those roles have existed for millennia.

In other words....If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The interesting thing about this framework is how it could be tied to evolution.  We are the way we are because we could be no other way.  We were formed by our world and selection pressures to develop into what we are. The environment, food sources, and our relationship/interaction with other competing animals formed us. Different pressures would have caused different results.

In this case, Nature made us and there is no resisting Nature.

In reality, Calvinists could readily incorporate evolution into their theology because it would allow for a portrayal of evolution as God's sovereign, guiding hand. They usually don't, not because it couldn't be done, but because it would have implications for how they read and interpret Scripture.

In Calvinism, everything has a reason.  In evolution, everything has a result.

Calvinism assumes a purpose moving forward according to plan.  Evolution assumes a purpose discovered through the past. Calvinism assumes an intentional progression towards a finite, determined end.  Evolution assumes an infinite progression without an end, sprouting from a finite beginning.

They are mirror images of each other in a strange way.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Truth exists within a specific context. Outside of that context, the truth content of a particular claim or idea is decreased. 

This is an idea that is not new, but is recent to me.

Terms like "conventional wisdom" and "subversive readings" get tossed about in the area of religious studies. While understanding them in their most basic sense is fairly easy, the terms have stayed with me for some time as I've tried to meditate on them.

Commonly, conventional wisdom gets a bad rap. Like a poster child for bourgeoisie values, "conventional wisdom" is visualized as the witless, dull wisdom of the status quo; terribly boring and unimaginative. Creative people aren't interested in conventional wisdom. No.  They must all be ground-breaking rebels shaking the prison bars of conventional minds.

That's the stereotype anyway.

Yet, conventional wisdom is what guides our lives on a daily basis.  It's what society depends on in order to be stable and peaceful, a collection of commonly held ideas and attitudes holding things together.
Inevitably, though, conventional wisdom either fails a large minority of the population, or directly undermines it. All of the people who don't fit into conventional modes can find themselves stuck and despised by the rest of their society.  There is no place for them, no acceptance of the issues they face, no acknowledgment of how convention has contributed to their problems.

These people have no hope if they can't find an alternative means to live and think. They must find a way to validate their own ethos and being, a way to value their own history in the midst of the conventional majority, or risk living at the mercy of the group.

So, subversive wisdom is usually directly opposed to conventional wisdom and is formulated in direct response to it, answering specific questions and addressing particular differences created in the clash.

What does all of my word salad mean?

It means that religious teachings and claims are highly contextualized. They rely on the foil of the opposing viewpoint in order to become fully formulated.  Take the foil away, and they lose much of their meaning.


I often have had the experience, when reading the gospels, of siding with the Pharisees and Sadducees. They make a lot of sense in some areas. Jesus comes along and skewers them, overturning their traditions, undermining their authority, generally rebuking them.  We are supposed to feel exhilarated by his revolutionary take on things.

And, we do in some cases. The value placed upon the poor, the sinful, the "less than" individuals that make up Jesus' followers is freeing. It gives hope to those who previously had none. It paces worth within people who were considered worthless.

Jesus' proclamation gives the individual a path towards redemption over, above, and apart from the community in which they had no path. Joining the invisible Kingdom of God meant cutting ties to the earthly community if necessary; hence all that talk about hating mothers and fathers, and giving up the world to gain one's soul.

In order to grant value to those deemed valueless, the entire system must be declared fraudulent.  Value is gained by rejecting the core beliefs of the oppressive system. Freedom is obtained through rising above the system, refusing to be subject to it any longer.

Within that brief period when revolution occurs, subversive wisdom is at its peak essence.  It is poignant and powerful.

However, inevitably, if the revolution is won a new kind of conventional wisdom is established.  The system returns with a few tweaks and the roles of who is valuable, and who isn't, are switched around and dressed up a little differently.

The symbiosis continues with the roles reversed.

It reminds me a little of this image:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

4 times less wise

Expect my posts to make even less sense.  I just had my wisdom teeth yanked.  That has to have set my wisdom quotient back quite a bit.

That, plus the Vicadin they gave me, must account for my brain fog.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Evolution as Theology, Part 2

I picked up Thank God for Evolution at a steep discount when our local Borders was going out of business.  I'd read about it on other blogs and was curious enough to read it for myself and see what I thought of it.

I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting. The subtitle, How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, should have given me a clue about the optimistic giddiness I would frequently encounter in the book. It was so overwhelming, that Pollyanna optimism, that after reading the first chapter or two, I put the book down and didn't touch it for several months.

Dowd's own description of himself and his mission in the prologue to the book made me roll my eyes:
Itinerant Evolutionary Evangelist
Since April 2002, Connie and I have been full-time "evolutionary evangelists." We live permanently on the road, offering a spiritually nourishing view of evolution throughout North America. In the tradition of traveling preachers we gave up our worldly possessions, left our home and now carry everything we need in our van. We go wherever we are invited. Our goal is to inspire people of all ages and theological orientations to embrace the history of everyone and everything in personally and socially transforming ways. (pg.4)
It goes on like that for a few paragraphs with the following graphic inserted into the text:

It was just too much for me. I have an instant distrust of anyone who describes their particular view, and themselves, in such glowing, self-promoting, pat-themselves-on-the back terms, followed by a cutesy picture.

The whole prologue rubbed me the wrong way in terms of its presentation.  I wasn't looking for cutesy optimism.  I was looking for serious engagement with the issues at hand.  Disgusted and annoyed by the approach I practically gave up on the book.

A few months later, I decided to give it another go, moving past Dowd's personal commentary and into the heart of the book. What I found was sometimes interesting, sometimes very similar to thoughts I had already had about certain theological themes, and sometimes more giddy optimism.

In general, what Dowd does is re-frame traditional religious themes, usually Christian themes, in evolutionary terms.  "Original sin" is a remnant of our reptilian brain, our base, selfish instincts which had their place at one point in our evolutionary history, but which are counterproductive now that we are social animals with higher cognition and desires which don't directly rely on simple instinct in order to be fulfilled.  "Salvation" is an acknowledgement of the Whole of Reality and submission of our lower selves(reptilian brain) to our higher selves and the world at large.

Being "in Christ" and being " in evolutionary integrity" (or, deep integrity) are different ways if saying essentially the same thing.  One uses night language; the other, day language. To speak traditionally, deep integrity is the way, the truth and the life that Jesus embodied. "Christian, : after all, originally meant "little Christ." When I trust like Jesus, love like Jesus, live my truth like Jesus, take responsibility like Jesus, and serve the Whole like Jesus, I know heaven--even in the midst of the chaos and crucifixions of life.(pg 184)

When Dowd analogizes this way, it leaves me with diverging reactions. One part of me essentially agrees with what Dowd is saying while another part of me feels as if he is trying too determinedly to make things fit within a Christian frame.  It seems untenable to me, trying to shove new concepts into pre-determined shapes.

I can't help but think that Dowd has simply moved the conversation to a more abstract level without acknowledging what must be left behind once the move is made.

More on that later.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Evolution as Theology, Part 1

(This is a brief intro to my thoughts about reading Thank God for Evolution, by Michael Dowd)

Accepting evolution within a Christian mindset isn't an easy thing to do.  I have always suspected or believed in some form of evolution, or at the very least would have thought of myself as an Old Earth Creationist or maybe an Intelligent Design sympathizer. I don't think that I ever qualified as a true YEC believer.

I settled on an evolution-as-a-means-to-creation mindset for a while, with humans being perhaps the only spontaneously "created" creatures.

Eventually I had to face facts that, scientifically speaking, that idea didn't have traction.  At this point, the theory of evolution is the best explanation we have for the existence of human beings.  It's what fits the data we have so far.

The theory of evolution presents many problems for the average Christian.  It means reinterpreting Scripture and it's themes, placing all references to creation by God within a mythical realm meant to propose a manner in which the present world could have come to be. It's possible to do that, to sift and measure theological approaches throughout Scripture and take a metaphorical slant; but it always results in trouble with clashing metaphors and themes.

Outside of the Scriptures, evolution presents other theological dilemmas.  While it would be possible to think of evolution as the "how" of existence and Scripture as an attempt to explain the "why" of existence, thereby separating the influence of one over the other, it doesn't quite work.

Why not?

It doesn't work because theology and Scripture are actually based on what the theologian sees in the world around himself. Theology isn't created in a vacuum, meant to explain a non-material, unseen world.  It is meant to explain the world we see around us every day. Whatever we learn about our physical world has to be incorporated into our theological world.  Failing to do so creates a disconnect between what we can see and what we are supposed to believe.  The more we retreat from the physical world, the more elaborate and confusing theology becomes. Eventually, it loses all sense and we wind up with mental gymnastics tying us up in knots.

If evolution is true, what does it say about the kind of God that might exist? This would not be a God who planned every detail.  This would be the kind of God who was interested in unleashing life and seeing where it led.  This would not be the kind of God who was worried too much about death.  Death is a natural part of life and most creatures, especially those with the biggest brains and best cognition, can only survive by eating other living things.  They only develop in symbiosis with their food source; other living creatures.

Cheetahs become faster in order to catch fast prey. Snakes become more poisonous in order to more quickly immobilize their food. Owls develop night vision in order to sneak up on rabbits, mice, and other animals.

These traits develop because they help animals survive.  These traits are honed at the expense of other creatures. Inflicting death on fellow creatures keeps other creatures alive.....otherwise we would all be plants surviving on sun, water, and chemicals.

Well, that's very different than the God we have conceived of.

The God of evolution would also be a God whose work was never finished. Instead, there would be a constant, perpetual motion in all living things.  There would be no day of rest, no period at the end of the story.  If evolution is true, then we are not the end; we are only one form in a chain of possibilities, one step leading to who-knows-where in a million years, one permutation of sentience in the universe.

Evolution makes us small and fragile and not entirely sure of our own long-term survival. And that is vastly different from the type of God which Christians imagine.

Underneath the complicated theology of Christianity that exists there a couple of important points:

That we are important...the crowning, final achievement of Creation.

That we will live forever...that our survival is/will be eternal.

That the story ends with us...there won't be higher, better beings on Earth.

Evolution says "meh" to least in the way that we think of it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

One more by Weird Al:

Making murder, mayhem, and torture funny again!

Thanks, Al!

Weird Nostalgia

The Dead Puppies video that my husband sent me yesterday reminded me of the Dr. Demento radio program, where I first heard that song.  My older brother and I used to listen to Dr. Demento on the weekends.  The bizarre, dark, demented humor was just funny enough to be appealing without going too over the top.

Wandering through Youtube reminded me of this bizarre song and video, which I recall MTV playing quite frequently.

the music starts around 2:20

The eighties fostered out and out weirdness...Devo, for example:

And then there was Weird Al:

Weird All still makes parodies.  This parody of Lady Gaga's Born This Way is slightly disturbing, mainly because of the effect of Al's computer-generated head on a female body is creepy. The proportions are all off.

It's not hard to parody Lady Gaga.  I looked up the original video for Born This Way and the sci-fi narrative intro is so dumb and pretentious that it made me laugh more than Weird Al's version.

I guess the weirdness of the eighties isn't any stranger than Gaga.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Keeping the Bar Low I watched about 15 minutes of the Miss Universe contest the other night and couldn't stop the snarkiness pouring out of me.  It reached a peak when one of the ditzy commentators said about Ms. Australia,"She likes to stay on top of her health and reads the newspaper's Health section everyday! She's not only beautiful, she's so smart too!"

Apparently, reading the newspaper puts one ahead of the pack for Ms. Universe.


Trying to analyze how exactly I have wound up where I am in terms of my current beliefs, I wondered abut a few things.

I started to think of my religious beliefs as a world that has been carefully constructed in order to be conducive to an altered state of mind.  By altered, I don't mean crazy.  I mean groomed to respond in a certain way. I mean trying to achieve a detachment, or peace, or serenity that belies the current circumstances in one's life.

Prayer, worship services, reading Scripture, listening to the right speakers, reading the right books, carefully checking one's conscience....these common religious practices are used to try and shape one's mind and character in the hopes that a person's mind and attitude will be transformed.  It is a constant exercise in achieving a certain state of mind.

This is common in most major religions.  Fashioning one's life along a certain path, giving it definite borders and limits and direction becomes a means to inner peace.

The pitfalls of this common approach is that it instantly puts religious practitioners on the defensive.

When I posted about belief a while ago, it was because I had wondered to myself why people become so vehement and hostile in the face of having their beliefs challenged or overturned.  Why do we have such emotional, angst-ridden responses? Why does making sure that all of our beliefs are right become such a consuming driver for us?

I think, partly, that it has to do with our social groups, which I hinted at before.  I also think it has to do with these meticulously crafted thought-worlds that we erect.

Once a person accepts a belief of any sort--and by belief I mean an idea that cannot be fully proved or disproved, a way of making associations in the world around us that may be plausible but is not airtight,--they are in a position of having to defend that belief, having to make data fit into the overarching belief, and having to justify to other people why they believe what they believe.


Partly because no matter what a person believes there is always disconfirming, contradictory evidence; ideas and events which go against the grain of a carefully constructed thought system. No system is completely airtight, and whiffs and breezes from other systems usually waft in unbidden and unwanted.

Defensiveness is a natural stance, an automatic response from an invested mind.

That natural defensiveness can become a barrier.  It keeps us from seeing the other side of an argument.  It keeps us from having open discussions....because once you start defending an idea you have committed yourself to it.  You have already made up your mind and want only to convince other people to follow suit.


Originally I was thinking that practicing the art of defenselessness was a Buddhist idea that was appealing to me, a sort of detachment from the emotional trigger that can set us off.  Then, I was reminded of the portrayals of Jesus as defenseless, refusing to defend himself vigorously to current Jewish leadership, the emphasis he placed on non-retaliation, and the portrayal of him as taken to trial and crucified without a defense.

Defenselessness is just as easily construed as a Christian spiritual practice as it is a Buddhist one.

Is learning to not be defensive a key to either spiritual, or mental, maturity?

I believe it is. It requires us to not react emotionally when we feel threatened or fearful or angered.

Social Security...a Ponzi Scheme?

Rick Perry made some waves recently by calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme.  Others have called it a scam. It's popular right now to disparage the program.

John Stossel is screaming the same thing.

What I have realized, however, is that most people don't understand Social Security for what it is.  Many average people think that Social Security is like a retirement fund that they are paying into, that somehow they will be getting back what they have put into it. If someone starts with that assumption, then the prospect of lower benefits, or no benefits, feels like a bait and switch. It feels as if they have been ripped off. They have invested in something that has been devalued or bankrupted.

It's not too far of a jump from that feeling to comparing Social Security to a Ponzi scheme.

Social Security is not an investment fund.  It isn't even about saving up money for people. Social Security is a current benevolence fund run by the government for those who currently need it.

We pay into it to sustain the elderly and disabled in this day and age.  The idea is that when we become elderly, or disabled, there will be other young people paying into the benevolence fund for us.

For churchgoers who have tithed, Social Security is like the tithe one pays consistently over time.  You don't expect to get anything back from that tithe other than the continual running of your place of worship.  And, when you are old and need the services of the church/synagogue more intensely, or have less income to give, you simply move along the continuum of giving.

In many ways, I would think that religious conservatives would "get" Social Security better than the secular public.  They should be used to the idea of giving without future gain, giving to help out unknown people without seeing any return on the "investment".

Now, people may object to the idea that they bear any responsibility to elders and the disabled, collectively speaking, but that's an entirely different point.  That has nothing to do with retirement, Ponzi schemes, or disappointing investments.  Instead, believing that each person is responsible for their finances once they are elderly or disabled in the same way they were when they were young or healthy is an objection based in libertarian, self-sufficient values.

Some people argue that people need to fund their own retirement accounts, or have the government direct their taxes to private pension funds or investments.  That sounds well and good until one considers how the stock market has played out in the last few years.  Many retirees have seen their retirement investments tank because of the decline in stock prices and the volatility of the market.  Combined with declining house values, leaving them little equity to tap for emergencies, many retirees who did all the "right" things face uncertain futures.

Additionally, as an anecdote, there is my mother who worked for a company for over 30 years.  She works part-time now because of health reasons and is able to draw the pension she earned from a private company, supposedly one of those paths that conservatives hype all the time.  Yet, she has received letters indicating that the company that she worked for all those years may declare bankruptcy, and if they do so she will lose the pension she was "guaranteed".  Legally, if they go out of business, they can't be required to pay their pensions.

The question looms....what are people to do when facing retirement? There are no "secure" options for anybody. We forget that much of our livelihood can disappear in a moment, whether it is through losing a job during a recession, having a 401K, or IRA, dry up because of a down market, or having a pension fund disappear into the ether through no fault of our own.

Comment of the Day

Read elsewhere on the interwebs:
I’m still reeling from the Tea Party debate. My favorite was Bachmann’s rant about all the innocent little girls who are now irreparably immune to a carcinogenic virus, because the government won’t allow them the freedom to get cervical cancer.
Oh, this made me laugh so wickedly!

So true, so true.

I don't know how Bachmann can go on about government mandated injections by executive order as if the majority of the nation's children don't already get those between the ages of 0 and 18.  They're called vaccines and they have saved millions of lives over the years.

The objection about this vaccine revolves solely around the fact that it is for a sexually transmitted virus. That freaks people out. However, even if your daughter remains pristine and virginal, there is no guarantee that her future spouse will have remained that way, or that her future spouse won't cheat on her, or that she won't make a mistake and give into temptation at some point.

This is one of those times when people shouldn't let their worries and hang-ups trump the future health of their children.

My Husband's Advice for a Career Path

Maybe I should submit to my husband's guidance for my career path like Michele Bachmann did.

After perusing my county's civil service board for employment opportunities, I mentioned to my husband that they're looking for someone for the animal euthanize the unwanted, ferocious puppies picked up off the streets and to "Surgically prepare deceased animals for rabies testing."

In other words, the Animal Care Assistant gets to kill dogs and then cut them open to be tested for rabies.

Here's the e-mail he sent me this morning:

Your new career: 

mmkay...thanks hubby.  You, sir, are one sick puppy!