Archive for April, 2007

Fair Enough

Monday, April 30th, 2007

God and I were talking about religion today. God told me that she really doesn’t have a lot of use for religion as such, she just wants people to be good and has come to the conclusion that religion is not doing that good a job of making that happen. She asked me why I thought people went to church. She wanted to know if I had any ideas that would qualify as thinking outside the box.

I thought about it for a little while and finally came up with something. I had the idea that maybe people did it to be part of the show. I worked at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire for about ten years of my life. The fair is different than going to a play. At a play or even a movie, you sit in the audience and watch the action from outside. If the show is good you can become absorbed in it, but there’s always a separation, you’re always outside of it. But the Faire isn’t like that. The audience enters into the Faire, they walk onto the stage and it becomes their world. In many cases, the actors and players will interact with the audience and make them truly a part of the show.

So I said that maybe that’s what people feel they get out of church. If you think of the universe as a show, then God is what’s backstage, God is the director, God is the writer. So if you want to be part of the show, you talk to God.

So what did God think of the idea? She said it was possible that that’s what some people get out of it, but if it was, well, she’d just as soon they went to the Faire.

The St. Peter Principle

Friday, April 27th, 2007

One of the things that religious folks like to say is that without the promise of an afterlife in Heaven or Hell there is no reason for us to live our lives morally and ethically. When I asked him about it, God wasn’t particularly impressed. In fact, he seemed downright saddened.

He told me that Heaven and Hell are not the reasons to be good to each other. We should be good to each other because it makes life better for everyone here and now.

God said that being good just to get into Heaven, is like going to work and playing all the corporate political games but not doing the job you were hired to do. It might get you promoted in the short term, but sooner or later someone will notice and then you’d better watch out.


Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

I was getting on the road early the other day and stopped in at a convenience store to pick up a donut and a drink. While I was in there I looked over the few shelves of groceries which hold just a little of not a lot. It got me to thinking about shopping as an analogy for the afterlife.

I started from the idea that convenience stores are like Purgatory. They don’t have good selection. They don’t have good prices. They don’t have anything particularly fresh. What they have got going for them is that they’re easy to get into and pretty quick to get out of.

So from there I figured that Heaven must be like a high end grocery store. They don’t have everything, but what they do have is the best, and you pay a premium to get it.

So what about Hell? I had a hard time with that and couldn’t really figure it out. When God stopped by for our daily chat I told her about my new analogy and asked if she had any ideas for Hell. She said that nothing was going to really capture the feel of it, but imagine going into your favorite supermarket, finding out that your favorite food was on special, and then getting arrested for paying for it with counterfeit money.

I thought about it and then decided that maybe God just wasn’t very good at analogies.

How Low Can You Go

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

So after a lot of advance warning and minor speculation, the Catholic Church has published a report that says they will no longer teach about the existence of Limbo, which they point out was never an official church doctrine anyway. I haven’t taken the time to read the forty-one page document, “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised,” that was released on Friday, but it’s been widely reported that this is the final death knell for Limbo, which was dropped from the official catechism in 1992.

Naturally, I asked God how things were going in Heaven right now, what with the influx of eight hundred years of dead babies. Not surprisingly he said that babies don’t come or go from Heaven on the say of the Catholic Church. Really, he said, the Catholic church, like all religions, is fighting a losing battle in trying to understand the nature of Heaven.

Heaven is just not something that the human mind is capable of imagining. We can come up with all kinds of mnemonic devices to try and comprehend it, everything from being served by seventy-two virgins, to it being a bar where the band always plays our favorite song, but it’s a little like asking your pet dog to understand the inner workings of a nuclear power plant. You can take your dog to all the lectures on the fundamentals of fission that you want but it’s still not even going to know what a light switch does.

So go ahead and go to church if you want, but don’t spend too much time worrying if there’s enough baby sitters in Heaven.


Friday, April 20th, 2007

I’m old enough to have played a lot of pinball, back before the machines were crowded out of the arcades by the frenzied beeping of the video games. There’s actually two different approaches to playing pinball, two different philosophies, if you will. They diverge over the way they deal with the tilt mechanism.

For those of you that may have never actually encountered a pinball machine, let me explain a little. The key driver of pinball is gravity, no matter where you hit the balls, gravity sends them back down towards your paddles because of the slope of the table. Now, obviously, if you just pick up your end of the machine and eliminate the slope, you could keep the game going forever. To avoid this, they built sensors into the machines. If the machine was tilted or even just pushed around with a little too much zeal, your paddles were turned off and you could score no more points.

So back to the two philosophies. Some players considered learning how much jostling of the machine they could get away with to be an important part of the strategy of the game; others felt that the game was meant to be played purely, with only the pressing of the flipper buttons being legitimate, any shaking of the machine should only be by accident.

So why am I telling you all of this? Because God and I got to talking pinball today and she told me that pinball made a good metaphor for the way many people approach religion. One of the basic tenets of Catholicism is that we all sin, we’re imperfect beings and sometimes we just can’t help it. Because of this, Christ was sent to give us a path to forgiveness, the church teaches that if we confess our sins we will be forgiven.

So sinning is like tilting the pinball machine. Some people figure they can sin all they want as long as they make sure to go to confession. Others figure that sometimes they’ll get over excited and do something they shouldn’t, but that they should do all they can to avoid it.

I hope you can guess which side God favors.

Spreading the Word

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Some people make a point of bringing up God all the time. In almost every conversation they point out how their decisions were informed by their understanding of God. Instead of forwarding emails containing lame jokes, they send out lame sermons and trite parables. I got one of these today. So I asked God what he felt about such evangelizing.

He told me that he mostly didn’t care. He’s actually not real big on religion. He says it’s just one way to figure out how to live good lives and that so many people have used it as a means to live bad lives, that we’d do just as well without it. He says he really got tired of the whole “worship him” thing ages ago and wishes we’d just spend more time on actually being good.

He says that being Godly is just being good. He doesn’t care so much why we we’re being good at the moment, he just wants to see more of it.

Why Me

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Today I focused on the question of why me. God has been generally evasive when I ask her things like that, but I kept at it today. I came at the question from different angles and tried to piece together her scattered answers.

She told me it wasn’t any one thing and it wasn’t just random, like I’d won the lottery or something. Given the track record of people that God contacted in the Old Testament, I didn’t find this news particularly comforting, so I pressed on.

One of the biggest things, from what I could gather, was that she knew I wouldn’t just collapse to my knees in abject worship. She wanted someone she could actually talk with, someone who wouldn’t necessarily just take her word for things, someone who would challenge her answers, because that would be someone to whom the message would actually be getting through.

She did admit, though, that sometimes she regretted the decision just a little. She said it could be pretty annoying when I got on a question and just wouldn’t let it go.

Hedge Fund

Friday, April 13th, 2007

Long before Game Theory was formally developed as a branch of mathematics, Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher developed what is known as Pascal’s Wager. The wager is predicated on the premise that God rewards those who believe in him with an eternal life in Heaven. The gist of the wager is that since there is no downside to believing in God if there is no God, but a great upside to believing in God if there is a God, then it makes sense to believe in God, just to improve your chance at the big payoff.

It’s like a joke I heard once. This devout man spends all his time in service of the Lord, except for one night a week when he prays to God to let him win the lottery. He works in a hospital so he can be of aid to the sick and dying. And after work every Wednesday, he prays to God to let him win the lottery. He spends his evenings and weekends working at the local soup kitchen, except for Wednesdays which he spends praying to win the lottery. This goes on for years. He donates his savings to a relief organization, he spends his vacations working for Habitat for Humanity, but even then takes out time for that one evening of prayer. Finally, one year as he’s getting nearly old enough to retire, he’s down on his knees before bed, praying to God, “Please, God, let me win the lottery this week,” when all of a sudden a blinding light fills his room and the most beautiful, deep and sonorous voice he’s ever heard says, “Meet me half way, buy a ticket.”

So while I didn’t inflict my mediocre joke telling on God, I did ask him how he felt about people that take Pascal’s Wager to heart and because of it accept God into their lives.

He told me that he’d rather they had the courage of their convictions. Either believe in him or not, but don’t treat him like a slot machine.

Atheists in Foxholes

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

When God and I were talking today, the old maxim, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” came up. God told me that while there’s certainly some merit to the concept it didn’t turn out to actually be true.

There are two kinds of atheists in foxholes, she told me.

The first are true non-believers, in which she includes committed agnostics. These are people that take credit for their own actions and responsibility for their own fates and if their going to die in combat they’ll do what they can to avoid it but aren’t going to compromise their own beliefs by asking for help from a God they don’t believe in. She likes or dislikes these folks on the basis of how they live their lives and how they treat people and animals, the same as she does anyone else, but she respects their commitment either way.

The second kind don’t believe in her any more than the first, but that doesn’t stop them from praying and bargaining anyway. But it’s not really her that they’re praying to, she says. They’re praying really to themselves. They’re praying as a way to focus their attention, in a fit of irony they’re focusing on the imminent possibility of death as a way to help keep their minds off the danger all around them.

So remember, just because you can’t take God out of the foxholes doesn’t mean you can take the atheists out either.

A-tisket, A-tasket

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Yesterday was Easter, so I kind of figure I need to say something about it. Now it’s pretty well known that Easter is another one of those holidays that the Christians grabbed onto to ease the transition for newly converted pagans. Easter gets to be the big spring celebration. It always happens sometime just a little past the vernal equinox and is full of celebrations of new life and rebirth. That covers things like bunnies, chicks, and the rising of slightly dead messiahs.

But since all that is pretty common knowledge, I didn’t see a whole lot of point in rehashing it with God. But then, I figure it’s kind of my avocation now to rehash things with God, so I went ahead. I outlined what I said in the last paragraph, but I was a little more verbose. Then I asked God if he had anything to add.

He said not really, but then a few minutes later, did come up with something. He told me that there was a group once that made their Easter baskets out of crowns of thorns and put them out on Saturday night for the Easter Bunny to fill, kind of like hanging up stockings at Christmas. They tried to get other people to take up the practice, but it never really caught on. People kept sticking themselves on the thorns.

Come to think of it, maybe spilling a little blood was the original way of coloring eggs.

God’s Friday

Friday, April 6th, 2007

Well, it’s Good Friday, two days before Easter, the day we’re supposed to remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

I never really understood why we call that “good,” but then I had an idea. I thought that maybe it was like African Americans embracing the “N” word or homosexuals referring to themselves as queer, or other words that had been used to attack them in the past. I thought maybe it was an example of early Christians refusing to be oppressed, turning the tables on an event the memory of which could have sent them to wallow in the deepest pits of despair, but no, they choose not to wait until Easter itself to exalt in the resurrection of their Lord, they choose to say that the killing itself was good, because without it the resurrection could never have come.

When I launched into an impassioned explanation of my theory, God just sort of looked at me funny. She said actually, the word “good” was just a degeneration of “God,” that the day was originally called “God’s Friday,” but the pronunciation had been slurred by lazy speakers over the centuries.

Boy, who would have thought that talking with God was a good way to take the magic out of the world.

Entropic Principle

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

One of the big questions is, “Why are we here?” When I ask God about this, and it comes up pretty often, he doesn’t generally give me an answer that’s meaningful in any significant way. So I was kind of surprised when something relevant came up in an entirely different conversation.

I was asking God what he thought about the anthropic principle. For those of you that don’t know, the anthropic principle sort of makes us responsible for the entire state of the universe. Okay, it doesn’t really do that. Briefly stated: Within the limits of what science has so far been able to figure out about the history of the universe, there seem to be a number of things that had to be amazingly “just so” in order for life to have developed. These cosmological constants are used as one of the supporting principles for Intelligent Design, the idea being that God must have “fiddled with the knobs” to fine tune the universe to make it hospitable to us. The anthropic principle counters this by saying that if the universe had not, out of all the possible permutations, come up with the one set that made us possible, than we would not have been here to observe these constants, so we could only be even asking the question if the answers were what the answers are.

To put it even more briefly, albeit metaphorically, just because whenever I look straight into a mirror I see myself, doesn’t mean that my image is inside every mirror.

Anyway, God made sort of an offhand remark that he preferred the entropic principle, which I’d never heard of. He said the entropic principle is the notion that he created us as a force to fight against entropy. The gist of entropy is that everything in the universe tends inexorably towards chaos. So God’s suggestion was that “why” we’re here is to make things less chaotic. It’s an interesting thought.

Inheritance Attack

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

In the book of psalms (37:11) it says, “But the meek shall inherit the Earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” I’ve been trying to reconcile this revelation with the actions of the Republican party for some years now.

The Republicans have made great efforts to convince us that they’re the party of Jesus, that their’s is the politics of the Bible, yet their actions seem completely at odds with this simple sentence from psalms, containing one of the most famous phrases in the Bible. The Republicans dismantle government assistance to the poor, they advocate the death penalty, they push us to war, and they do as much as they can get away with to shift wealth from the workers that create it to the corporations and the rich that own them.

I finally figured it out though.

The meek will inherit the Earth, so the Republicans are doing their best to make sure it’s not worth enough to qualify for the estate tax.