Archive for February, 2007

Situation Earth

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

I brought up the subject of suffering with God again today. I’ve established in previous conversations that the amount of suffering one endures in their life has nothing to do with whether or not they get into Heaven. This led me to wonder why a loving compassionate God would allow suffering to exist at all in the world. Now I didn’t want to just come out to God and say he was a mean old man right to his face so I struggled for a kinder, gentler way to make my inquiry.

But I didn’t really find one.

The best I could come up with… I asked, “Why don’t you wipe out suffering? I mean, I know you prefer not to get involved and all, but with your connection to everything, doesn’t all the suffering just, I don’t know, drive you crazy?”

He asked me a question back. He asked me if all the art that came out of man’s suffering wasn’t enough to make it all worthwhile? Wasn’t one Van Gogh painting worth the suffering of a generation?

I told him, “No.” Surely an omnipotent being could come up with another form of inspiration. Surely if God were to just show himself to people with artistic potential that that would produce art as great as any that came out of pain.

Like he does far too often, God dodged my argument and went off in a new direction. He asked me why I liked watching situation-comedy TV shows. He pointed out that those shows were filled with people suffering and struggling to make it through their modest lives, yet I didn’t write to the networks and petition them to improve the lot of their characters.

So that was it. The great answer to the plight of man. The Earth is God’s own sitcom.


Monday, February 26th, 2007

It was time, as such things go, for me to ask God directly about homosexuality. Obviously she can’t be all just fire and brimstone about it, because she comes and talks to me every day. Of course, she could have been playing the same game as me, she could have been just biding her time, trying to establish a good rapport and friendly relationship before coming down on me like a pile of bricks, but if that was the case, well it was time for me to blink first.

So, now that I’ve mangled enough metaphoric cliches, let’s get on to how she responded.

She asked me why I thought she had something against homosexuality. I pointed out that fundamental Christians and Muslims alike have been making a big stink about being queer for longer than we’ve had a rights movement and that the last couple of decades they’ve been particularly vehement about it. Perhaps the most egregious example is the infamous Reverend Phelps who pickets the funerals of AIDS victims with signs that say things like “God Hates Fags.”

Well, she asked me a couple more leading questions until we got around to the point that what most of these fundamental types use as the basis for their particular line of vitriol is the passage in the Bible, Leviticus 18:22, which reads, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” She had me skip ahead a little, to Leviticus 20:9, that one reads, “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death.” She sent me there to make two points. The first was that these modern Pharisees are pretty brazen about picking and choosing which Biblical passages they want to enforce. The second was that while a lot of Leviticus stands on it’s own and makes sense in the context of any system of justice, an awful lot of it is just absurd to anyone with an even vaguely modern set of sensibilities.

Frankly she’s appalled that anyone looks at Leviticus as anything other than an historical curiosity. And she’s always been considerably pissed that anyone believes that she had anything to do with writing it. She told me we should get something of a hint from the fact that the name “Leviticus” has a passing similarity to the name “Lucifer.”


Friday, February 23rd, 2007

A lot of fiction is about super heroes of varying degrees. Some of it is explicit to the point of being over the top, like many famous comic books and the movies based on them, but a lot of it is more subtle. So there’s this whole range, everything from barely super, like when Mr. Smith goes to Washington and learns that he can stand up to the system, to something a little more explicit, like King Arthur pulling Excalibur out of the stone, to the essentially magical nature of Superman. I asked God if we were attracted to this sort of thing because of a distant racial memory of a time when he was a lot more active in our daily lives on Earth, to a time maybe when we had occasional glimpses of the goings-on on Mt. Olympus and Heroes really were the offspring of Man and God.

He just sort of shook his head at first, as if to tell me that sometimes I just let my imagination get carried away, but I pressed the issue, I wanted a real answer.

Finally, he told me that I was dreaming too big, looking too far. If I wanted to see the real prototype for super heroes I only needed to look back as far as when I was a small child. When we start out our lives are parents are magical to us. They can do anything and they can protect us from anything. As we get a little older they seem to see right through us, look into our cores and see not just the things we try to hide from them but our motivations too. They mete out justice. They answer every question.

So just as we learn to live on our own, to go beyond needing our mothers and fathers, we can learn that even though we don’t need heroes in our daily lives, they can still make for good entertainment.

Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

Well, today is Ash Wednesday. That’s the Christian holy day that marks the start of Lent, the time of preparation for Easter. On Ash Wednesday all good Christians are supposed to head to church and get ashes smudged on their forehead in the shape of a cross.

I asked God what she thinks of this practice.

She said that as far as advertising goes it seems fairly innocuous and unobtrusive.

Fat Tuesday

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday. That’s the day before the start of Lent, a period that Christians are supposed to spend purifying themselves for Easter. Of course more people these days seem to know Fat Tuesday as the final day of Mardi Gras. This follows the same trend that Halloween has used to overshadow All Saints Day. Let’s face it, parties are more popular than somber reflection.

Or to put it another way, a lot of Christian holy days seem like their real purpose is to give us an excuse to sit quietly while we nurse our hangovers.

Dogs and Cats

Friday, February 16th, 2007

I was thinking about “cat people” versus “dog people” and it occurred to me to wonder if God ever thought of us as pets. Of course there’s a lot of different animals that we keep as pets, so reducing it down to a question of dogs versus cats is about as much of an over simplification as the Republican position of you’re either with us or you’re against us. Still it was dogs and cats I was thinking about when I asked God if she ever looked at us as pets, and so it was about dogs and cats that she answered me.

She told me that she loves everyone but that loving us didn’t always mean liking us or liking what we do.

“Dog” people will tell you that nothing is more loyal than a good dog. Dogs love their masters unconditionally and completely. Dogs seem to relate to us much the way I imagine the ancient Greeks and Romans related to their gods. They see us as magical beings able to navigate the world with an ease and power that they can only ever approach in their dreams.

“Cat” people will tell you that cats are independent beings that like having us around but that they won’t put up with any nonsense. A cat does not love unconditionally, rather it lets us know that we must earn its love. A cat, while not seeing itself as equal to humans, does not see itself as being lesser either, just different.

Given all of that, God told me that religious people tend to be like dogs, while people that are merely spiritual or even atheistic are more like cats.

She says she likes dogs, and can certainly enjoy their company, but she rarely admires them. Cats, though, cats can be quite admirable, but at times, well at times they’re pretty annoying.


Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

What with today being St. Valentines day, I was thinking about sex again. In particular I was thinking about the whole “be fruitful and multiply” thing. What I asked God about, was that it seemed to me that it was kind of a redundant thing for him to tell us to do, after he had made sex so compelling in the first place.

He agreed. Then he went on to explain that he never really told us to be fruitful and multiply, that was one of the things that got tossed into the Bible by special interest groups. It’s in there for a couple of different reasons. If you actually look the phrase up, you’ll find it often doesn’t refer to people but rather to other animals. In these cases it’s mostly in there for reasons of economic development. Most animals that people deal with fall into the category of livestock, so if we grow lots of them, we increase our gross national product, or the ancient equivalent. Even those animals that aren’t livestock are part of a diverse and thriving ecosystem which means indirectly they still support us.

Now when the men that wrote the Bible urged us to be fruitful and multiply, ourselves, God tells me they were usually doing it as a kind of religious arms race. The surest way to get people to believe in a religion is to raise them in it. You want to train them to believe it’s all true before they get old enough to realize that you’re fallible. The obvious solution then, to making sure that your religion has more members than the other guys, is to out-breed them. Big families make for big attendance at Sunday services. They’re also very useful as cheap labor, in an agrarian society, and not incidentally also good at keeping the woman of the house from having enough energy to demand equal rights.

So it turns out a more crass way of saying be fruitful and multiply is to just say “shut up and breed.” This explains a lot about religions.

Ones and Zeros

Monday, February 12th, 2007

I was mulling over the notion that both monotheism and polytheism are true at the same time. If you’ve been reading along, you may remember that that first came up in a conversation back in October (see Universal Truth?) and then again in November (see Elephant Parts). The idea is that everything is God, so every way of looking at God tends to be correct in so far as it goes.

I continue to try to wrap my head around that supposedly simple truth and it continues to elude me in ways that make my head hurt.

So I gave it another go today.

I asked God if it was like memory in a computer. If you set the bits one way you get the complete works of William Shakespeare, and if you set them another way you get The Bible. Either time when you read the memory what you get is the truth of the memory, but really neither reading explains what the memory is.

To understand what I’m about to explain you need to know a little bit about the way data is stored in computer memory. In the name of not making this explanation into a whole book, I’m going to gloss over details nearly to the point of incorrectness. So if you already know this, don’t get all pedantic on me, instead just focus on the big picture that comes from these small details.

Everything in computers is represented as binary data. So everything is expressed as a series of ones and zeros. Computer memory, then, consists of a sequence of bits and each bit is either true (set to one) or false (set to zero). So in one very common scheme for interpreting what the bits mean the letter “a” is represented by the sequence 01100001. That should be just enough for you to get the import of this next analogy.

God told me this way to look at the computer memory analogy. He told me to imagine that the universe completely exists in computer memory. The computer memory that comprises the universe is actually all set to ones, everything is true at once and nothing is false. However, we aren’t very good at reading the values of memory, so when we read it a lot of it gets interpreted in our minds as zeros and that way we get the illusion of either Shakespeare or The Bible. The more consistent we are about how we misread the memory, the more consistent the particular truth that we’re reading seems to be.

I don’t know why I continue to expect that asking God for explanations should make my head stop hurting. As often as not, it only makes it worse.

You Say You Want an Evolution

Friday, February 9th, 2007

One of the big fights between the Christian Fundamentalists and, well, others, is the battle over which is correct, Evolution or Intelligent Design. It’s such a big battle, in fact, that you can expect me to keep bringing it up when I talk with God. It’s not that I think God has been holding out on me or that I can’t accept what he’s told me about it, it’s just that so many people are so caught up in this that I want to keep finding new ways to talk about it so that for everyone reading there’ll be at least one way that gets through to them.

Now in case you’ve missed it, Intelligent Design is the idea that God created things pretty much as they are, but the idea is dressed up to look kind of like science. They dress it up and leave God out of it because they want to get around the prohibition in the United States constitution against government supported religion. They want to get around that so they can get the basics of Creationism taught in public schools. The main thing that God has to say about this is that lying, no matter how subtly it’s done, is no way to get on his good side.

He’s also told me time and time again that he gave us our brains to use. He made the universe a puzzle for us to figure out. It’s great for people to know that he created the universe, but it’s even more important for us to figure out how the universe works. He doesn’t care if he gets credit nearly as much as he cares that we learn and grow as individuals and as a people.

So when we look at the world around us, examples of evolution abound and we’re not supposed to ignore them or look the other way. When I asked God if Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection was true, he told me that it was definitely the best explanation for the “how” of evolution that we’ve come up with so far. God told me that he’s very proud of Darwin for developing the theory and his only surprise is that someone didn’t figure it out sooner.

So if your goal is to get into Heaven, denying what science has shown us about the way God’s universe works isn’t the way to do it. So believe that God created the universe or don’t, but if you believe in God, unless you think that God is stupid, you should believe that evolution is an intelligent design.

Peak Oil

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

There’s this thing out there called Peak Oil. Peak Oil is the point at which the daily production of crude oil reaches the maximum it’s ever going to be. Now production here means “taking oil out of the ground” since the actual production of the oil was a natural process that took millions of years. Some of the people that look to figure out when the point of peak oil will happen think that we’ve already hit it. Most of the rest think we’ll get there in the next decade or two.

I asked God about Peak Oil. She wouldn’t tell me if we’ve hit or, if we haven’t, when we will, which was just sticking to her rules about not making any predictions, so as not to give me an unfair advantage. She did all but confirm the concept, however. She told me that oil is supposed to be a bootstrap fuel. We use it to develop our technological society and then we move on. So I asked what we are supposed to move on to. Solar? Nuclear? Wind? Geothermal? Organic thermal depolymerization?

She asked me why I thought the next phase should be just one thing. Just because we started off on a vehicle with training wheels doesn’t mean all future transportation has to be bicycles.

A Little Less Unscriptured

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Starting Monday, I’ll be posting a little less often. I’ll be putting up a new Unscriptured post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For those of you that are regular readers, I hope this won’t be too big of a disappointment.

Life in the Middle

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Heaven has been depicted many different ways both in religious texts and in popular entertainment. To a lesser extent so has Hell. Both of them have, at times, been depicted as just being life here on Earth, perhaps best illustrated by the famous Marlowe quotation, “Why this is Hell, nor are we out of it.” Whenever my conversations with God have gotten around to what Heaven or Hell are really like, she’s always steered the discussion somewhere else. She’s kind of like a politician that way, if she doesn’t want to answer a question she’ll usually just try to redirect things rather than flatly refuse.

She did tell me though, that both Heaven and Hell have been used much more by religions to keep us in our place than by her. She wants us to live good lives and be kind to each other because we want to and because we’re good people, not because we’re afraid of being punished or because we’re like dogs hoping to get a biscuit.

So the next time someone tells you that “the meek shall inherit the Earth,” maybe you should give a thought to who wants you to be meek and what’s in it for them. Maybe Heaven and Hell are really just the carrot and the stick, tools to keep people from demanding their fair share here on Earth.

Suicidal Tendencies

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Christian religions, and I assume many others, have an injunction against committing suicide. So do many legal systems. I asked God why this is. He told me that the official reason for religions has usually been one of two things. The first is that our lives belong to God so we don’t have the right to choose when to end them. The second is that God has planned his own way for us to die and we shouldn’t go against his plan. The legal reasoning goes more along the lines of making sure that someone doesn’t manipulate us into killing ourselves so they can get rid of us without having to face the consequences of committing murder.

All of that made a certain amount of sense, but since I’ve already established that God doesn’t have a divine plan that goes to the level of detail of specifying how and when we die, I knew that going against his plan wasn’t a valid reason. So I followed up on the part about our lives belonging to him. He pretty much said that as individuals we just aren’t that important that he’s going to raise killing ourselves to some exalted level above the many other things that we do wrong. Basically, he said that what we do to ourselves isn’t as important to him as what we do to each other.

So what if someone killing themself deprived their kid of getting enough to eat? Well, then the bigger sin was depriving their child, and it didn’t much matter what the mechanism was.

Then I realized that God had said that he was telling me what the official reasons were that were given by the religions, so there had to be some unofficial reason.

So I asked.

God told me that real reason generally had a lot more to do with perpetuating the power of the people in charge of the religion. The best way to indoctrinate people into a religion is for them to be born into it, to be raised within it. Because of that, the most successful religions tend to have rules that favor having kids. Suicide takes people out of the pool of eligible parents. For that matter so does effective birth control and homosexuality.

I was starting to feel an awful lot of cynicism, so I decided it was time to commit conversational suicide. I changed the subject.


Monday, February 5th, 2007

Billy Joel wrote, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun.” I’ve known a lot of people that believe in that assertion, so I thought I’d ask God how he felt about it.

He told me he’s amazed at the number of people that use him as an excuse to deride having fun. The puritan ethic? Well, he doesn’t understand how people were able to look at the outrageous array of colors and styles of everything animal, vegetable, and mineral with which he populated the Earth and then decide that simple colors and demeanors were the proper way to show respect for God.

If there’s any lesson to be learned from looking at nature, it’s that God likes variety, and he likes spectacle.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of things that over the years have been claimed to be sin that really aren’t. So the thing that Billy Joel got wrong is thinking that there aren’t any “saints” with whom you can laugh, or more correctly, thinking that if people are having a raucous fun time, that they must be sinning.

Athletic Supporters

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

So, finishing off this week’s sports theme, I decided to ask God what she could tell me about our worldwide fascination with physical competition. If there’s anything that rivals religion for the amount of time we devote to it, especially on Sundays, it’s sports.

God says, we revere people that are good at sports so that, if we ever wipe out civilization, we’ll have some people around that can take on the wild animals around us. Somewhere in our collective subconscious we figure we may need to hunt again and also to have people that can defend us from the lions and bears in the world.

It’s all about a fallback position. It’s like when someone wants to break into show business but they study accounting so they’ll have something to do if they don’t make it. It may be our brains that put as at the top of the food chain, but as a species, we still want to keep some athletes around. Just in case.

Lions Ahead at Half Time

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

My mind is still on the upcoming Superbowl. Football has been called a modern form of gladiatorial combat. I asked God how he felt about that. I mean, back in the days of the gladiators they were just one part of the bread and circuses; another part was throwing the Christians to the lions.

To my surprise, God said that he didn’t really take it personally when people were tossed into an arena to be torn apart by wild animals because they practiced the “wrong” religion. After all, the people being thrown to the lions weren’t being any more tolerant and inclusive in their religious practices than the people doing the throwing.

On the other hand, just because he’s gotten used to us killing each other in his name, doesn’t mean he likes it. So if you’re part of a religion that has ever advocated intolerance or violence, you might want to think a little harder about what you’re support enables.