Monday, December 31, 2007

Last post, 2007

Well, 2007 certainly hasn't been a great year for blogging here at A Healthy Alternative to Work. But it's been a pretty eventful one for me, personally.

Here's a partial list of Big Things that have happened this year:

- Turned 27, was reminded of creeping mortality
- Won first place for commentary in the Army's Keith L. Ware journalism competition
- Finished my enlistment in the Army, joined New York National Guard
- Moved home to Cortland, New York, after five years of sojourning the wilds of South Korea and Kentucky
- Hung around doing pretty much nothing for a few months
- Was hired at the local newspaper as police beat reporter

Later today, I'm going to be driving down to D.C. to attend Scythian's New Year's Eve bash, "A Mad, Mad Masquerade." They're throwing it in the historic Carnegie Library, and everyone will be dressed to the nines and wearing masks. I need to find one of those, come to think of it. Anyone know where to find a Zorro mask on December 31?

Anyway, I'd promise to do a write up of the party later for this blog, but every time I do something like that, I never follow through. So maybe there'll be something -- but there probably won't. Check back here in three weeks or something.

In the meantime, enjoy your New Year's plans.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Mike Huckabee loves the baby Jesus

Mike Huckabee says that the reason we have so much government is because there's too much sin in our country. And that's because as a country, we've turned away from The Savior.

It doesn't bother me when someone proclaims things like this on the nightly "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" variety show called "The 700 Club." But Huckabee is vying for the Republican presidential nomination, and is already a state governor.

Just like the Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are wont to do, Huckabee has used tragedy (his being the recent mass shootings) as a springboard to advance his ignorance of the first amendment and the establishment clause:

"Government knows it does not have the answer, but it's arrogant and acts as though it does," Huckabee said. "Church does have the answer but will cowardly deny that it does and wonder when the world will be changed."
Again, I don't have a problem with Huckabee's personal beliefs. He's free to believe (at least for the time being) whatever he wants. He probably nodded assent when Robertson and Falwell blamed Sept. 11 on feminists and lesbians. But what's scary is that he's proudly trumpeting these beliefs while on the campaign trail, which seems to indicate that he's got an audience eager to hear him -- an audience of people who really don't think there should be any separation of Church and State. These are people who have no idea what religious freedom means.

But they'll vote. And this is how they'll vote: "I believe in Jesus. Mike Huckabee believes in Jesus. I'm voting for Mike Huckabee!"

This is not a mentality that's worked well, historically.


Friday, December 07, 2007

My problems with religion

Growing up, Catholicism was a very important part of my life, and I think I'm right in thinking that faith had a very influential hand in my development into who I am now.

However, over the last couple years, I've done a lot of thinking about it, and I've fallen away from belief. This hasn't been borne out of a convenience or distaste for attending Mass -- it's more based on some very deep and important questions that I believe are left unanswered by Catholicism in particular and religion in general.

These questions might be better termed catastrophic philosophical errors -- because in a few cases, they are mutually exclusive postulations that are both required to be true in order for religion (particularly Christianity) to have any merit whatsoever. So here we go with two I feel are most important and foundational:

I: The Concept of Original Sin and Salvation through the self-sacrifice of Christ

Christianity holds that all of man is cursed with "Original sin" due to the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Creation story. Since humanity is all presumably the offspring of that first couple, it is held that everyone must be sacramentally baptized in order to be cleansed of that stain and thereby gain eligibility for eternal reward.

Additionally, it is due to Jesus Christ's sacrifice of himself that my temporal sins can be forgiven.

The problem with the first idea should be readily apparent. While the ancient Jewish tribes did not believe in any real afterlife, they did believe in a sort of trans-generational karma, whereby the good or bad deeds of a man (women rarely figured into such ethical calculus) would positively or negatively affect the livelihoods of his offspring.

This belief has been discarded by Christians -- except in the case of so-called "original sin." In order to believe in original sin, one must accept the idea that one person's actions, good or bad, have a spiritual impact on his or her progeny.

By any objective ethical standard, this is ludicrous. If my father were to deliberately disobey the rules of the Church in some way, I would not be punished for his "sin." And if I were, it would not absolve him of his own culpability for it.

Similarly, it is ethically ridiculous to believe that it would require the self-sacrifice of another person (albeit the son of God in human form) to absolve me of any sins I should commit 2,000 years after the fact. Were God really inclined to A) innumerate the sins of humanity and hold them guilty for them, and B) offer absolution from the same, it would not require him to send a son to die on a cross in a middle eastern backwater in order to do so. He could simply do it.

Christianity wants to have it both ways, but can't: Either I am accountable for my actions and my actions alone, or I am not.

II: Divine Providence versus Free Will

Another perennial problem for Christianity are the mutually-exlusive postulations that 1) God is all-knowing and is aware of the past, present, and future all at once and therefore knows the outcome of all of time and that 2) man possesses free will.

This is problematic, because if someone -- including God -- knows for a fact and has seen that I am going to pick a red shirt to wear tomorrow, then when I ultimately choose that shirt, I have only made what feels like a choice to me. If the outcome has already been seen, then any choice I have in the matter is illusory.

So, either the future can be known, or I can have free will. It cannot be both.

Over and over, I've heard Christian apologists try to address this very quandary (Augustine wrestled with it in Confessions) by way of various analogies. Tonight, I heard a priest use the concept of a film strip -- as temporal beings, we can only be aware of what is happening around us immediately, in the frame of film we are currently in. God, however, can see the entire film at once, and is aware of how things will eventually unfold.

This metaphor actually serves better to underline the serious philosophical problem rather than solve it. I've seen The Godfather Part II many times, and every time, Fredo Corleone gets shot in a rowboat toward the end. Never once have I seen Michael's weak brother do a thing to change the way his fate unfolds and avoid his pathetic death on Lake Tahoe.

The point is that characters in a film reel have no choices, and if they did, it would require breaks and branches in the film. And if there were breaks and branches in a film reel, then no one could know which ending was going to result in any particular viewing -- it would depend on the choices the characters made at each branch.

So, if time is truly like a film reel, then it is true -- human beings do not possess real free will and any choices we make are illusory. If this is the case, then striving to be good is futile, since our fates are already known by an Almighty who is allegedly willing to damn us to an eternity of torture for simply following the path he so wisely set out for us. This would also make intercessory prayer ridiculous, because changing the future would be impossible if it is already known.

If this is not the case, then God does not know the future and we can't really be sure of any prophecies we've ever been provided with, since God would apparently be giving us his best guess at an outcome that even he could not yet see, since it does not yet exist.

Personally, I think the second case is more likely, but since so many people are so attached to the Bible, I doubt it'll ever gain much mass appeal.

I'm not trying to be blasphemous or to denigrate anyone for their own faith. I am well aware that people much more intelligent than I am have had very strong faiths... but I cannot be so dishonest with myself as to pretend to believe something when these seemingly deal-breaking problems exist in the faith that's been set out before me to believe.


Monday, December 03, 2007

I'm a crummy writer when I don't have deadlines

Not really a crummy writer -- just an incurable procrastinator. Without a strict deadline, I don't seem to ever get around to writing anything. Even despite my excitement over the prospect of the music piece I'm working on, it's been incredibly hard to actually sit down and write it. In fact, in stead of simply bearing down and cranking it out, I went out and bought a bunch of needless upgrades for my computer and workstation -- a new chair, more RAM, a flatscreen monitor, wireless keyboard and mouse... apparently anything in order to put off the task of actually writing.

I don't know why that is. I do know that the piece is daunting, but that's never stalled me to the point of paralysis before. I suppose part of it is the fear that whatever I come up with is going to disappoint me -- and, by extension, anyone who reads it.

There's just so many things I want to address and capture. I've taken a writing course or two in the past, and one of the first things they'll inevitably tell you (after they get the tired old saw "Good writing is re-writing" out of the way) is that you need to limit the scope of whatever you're writing to something manageable. This is very good advice when you're putting a term paper together, but I have serious doubts as to whether that was on Jack Kerouac's mind when he wrote "On The Road."

Organizing my thoughts, here are what I need to cover in the story, in no particular order other than the one they occur to me in as I write this list:

- The history of the band
- Character studies of each member and the tenant characters
- The sound of the band
- The narrative of the week I spent with them
- My own reflections on what it's like to see an old friend making it in the music business
- Various rantings about how roots music is better, and is unjustly relegated to a corner of a music business that has been hijacked by hucksters and charlatans.

Now that I look at it, that's a tidy little list (other than the prevailing vagueness that characterizes the last half). Can that be done in 15,000 or 20,000 words, and then sold to a major-market magazine?

Maybe, maybe not. It can certainly be written, and in that case, at the very least I'll have come up with something that recalls an amazing time of my own life and provides a snapshot of sorts of life as a traveling Celtic-gypsy musician.