Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In honor of the day...

I offer this dramatization of a story from the first, and greatest, American master of horror.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The fear of faith

Despite- or perhaps because of- tremendous temptation, I have declared to myself a short moratorium on political or contentious entries, and will be posting only religious or philosophical entries for the near future. The first entry under this new policy is a snippet from my personal Book of Shadows, and is dedicated to Jamie over at Trivium .

One big difficulty in coming out of the “broom closet” is a societal problem with religion in general, not Wicca or Paganism in particular; certain strata of society are deeply contemptuous of any religious faith. Among such people, “faith” is synonymous with “ignorance”- they are truly astonished when they meet anyone of faith who has an IQ in triple digits. It’s hard enough to announce as a Christian if one has such aggressive skeptics in one’s important circles; fear of being seen as a New Age weirdo by them can be unbearable.

That fear is not completely misplaced; I have seen people become born-again Christians as adults and be treated by friends and family as if they were brain damaged. With each passing day such abuse becomes more public and more acceptable; books ridiculing the very concept of religion are best sellers, feeding the normal fear of ridicule. Fear of ridicule is terrible indeed- I have read that the prayer of test pilots and astronauts is not “God, don’t let me die”, but “God, don’t let me screw up!” Such deep seated fear can make it difficult to admit faith even to yourself, let alone others.

How is this fear overcome? By remembering what brought you to your faith in the first place. People don’t come to faith by logical syllogism; nobody draws a Venn diagram encircling both themselves and God and says, “It is proven!” People have faith because at some time in their lives, they felt the presence of the Divine. It may have happened in a church, or a forest, or a hospital waiting room... but at one point you felt, and you knew. Faith is not “belief”- it is inexpressible knowledge.

It has been argued that one cannot believe that Jesus was a good man, but not God, because his words would make him either a liar or a lunatic. But even the most devout Christian will agree that whether or not he was God, he was also a man- and so this must be true for all people of faith, all faiths. Either we have felt the presence of the Divine, or we are liars and lunatics. Billions have felt the touch, have direct knowledge of the Divine. It is not our burden to prove the ineffable to the atheist; our burden is to live the kind of lives we know we should, and not hide our light under a bushel.

So do not fear to declare your faith. And if your religion seems strange to others, what of it? Religions are not faith, they are merely how we choose to express the faith our hearts already knew to be true, the truth we have already experienced.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Now this is Sicko

It seems the British National Health Service is so short of dentists that people are treating themselves . From the CNN Europe article: "LONDON, England (CNN) -- Some English people have resorted to pulling out their own teeth because they cannot find -- or cannot afford -- a dentist, a major study has revealed. Six percent of those questioned in a survey of 5,000 patients admitted they had resorted to self-treatment using pliers and glue, the UK's Press Association reported."

Funny... national health care sounded so much better when Michael Moore talked about it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Are there cats in your house: a quiz

Five points for each phrase you have heard or uttered in your house:

There's a mouse in the bed!

Who barfed on the checkbook?

There's half a mouse in the bed!

Have you seen my earrings? I could have sworn they were on the dresser.

Better look in your shoes before you put them on.

There's hair in the butter!

Eww, I stepped on a bird!

Why are there a dozen old cigarette wrappers under the bed?

Wow, look at the holes in the window screen!

Honey, your pantyhose are on the stairs again.


10 points, there is a cat in your house.
20 points, there are several cats in your house.
30 points, you are probably a Unitarian.
40 points, you are probably a Wiccan.
50 points, you are probably a member of my family.

Friday, October 12, 2007

No Loose Change here

I spoke to an acquaintance (not a friend- I don't know what it would do to me to learn that someone I liked and trusted was this big a moonbat) recently who is a "truther", one of those who believes that 911 was a Bush administration conspiracy. He thought that as I had written against the conspiracy nuts, I should, in the interest of fairness, I should adress his side. He challenged me to link to the movie "Loose Change", the "documentary" that "connects the dots" and "conclusively proves" that the towers were brought down by demolition charges.

I've decided to do them one better, by linking to the documentary
Screw Loose Change . This contains every word, every image of the original, without alteration- but adds the answers to all their charges, half truths, and outright lies. It's long, I warn you; it takes longer to give explanations than merely make accusations. But it's well worth the time viewing.

Comments are on, but don't give me any conspiracy stuff unless you've watched Screw Loose Change.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A sobering thought

for the debate on Darfur, Burma, and even Iraq is hidden within Peacebang's post, Panzi Hospital in which she referrences a New York Time article, Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War . She is quite right to use terms such as "evil" and "Satan": "BUKAVU, Congo — Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore. Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair... Eastern Congo is going through another one of its convulsions of violence, and this time it seems that women are being systematically attacked on a scale never before seen here. According to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone, and that may be just a fraction of the total number across the country."

What does this have to do with Darfur, Burma, and Iraq? This quote: "The attacks go on despite the presence of the largest United Nations peacekeeping force in the world, with more than 17,000 troops."

We are already on record calling for UN intervention in Darfur, and many are calling for the same in Burma. The more responsible of the "Get out of Iraq now, not another dollar, not another life" crowd propose having the UN intervene to stop the certain bloodbath that would follow such a precipitous withdrawl. (Rev. Sinkford doesn't mention it in his fax to our congressmen, nor does it appear in the petition he asks us to sign- I guess he isn't worried about the aftermath) The situation in Congo shows just how realistic these calls are; if the largest UN force in the world can't stop mass rape in the Congo, how are they going to do anything in all these other situations? Do our calls for UN intervention really accomplish anything other than making us feel good for having "done something"?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


We went to the Ohio Renaissance
festival over the weekend and saw a lot of amazing things. Given the weather- brutally hot, in the 90s- (and 2 days later it was in the 70s, and today in the 50s, welcome to Miami Valley weather), the most amazing thing was a troupe of Irish step dancers in furs!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I saw a new plant today

in the backyard, something wild- I didn’t plant it. Probably a weed; it’s kind of scraggly. But it has dozens and dozens of tiny, purplely-white flowers, and it’s growing over the grave of our cat Tommyknocker. I think I’ll keep it.

Of Britney Spears, Middle Class, and “Voices of a Liberal Faith”

You may well ask what Ms. Spears has to do with our recent discussion of UUism and the middle class and the new short film available as DVD or download from the UUA, Voices of a Liberal Religion-Unitarian Universalists . The explanation will make the most sense if you first go watch the film.

Back? Ok... What was missing in that film? They mentioned that we welcome everyone, good, that’s our biggest draw. They mentioned that we’re big on social activism, fine, and they mentioned our sex ed classes for kids. All good things, especially the OWL program- that’s a huge draw for us; many come to us only to enroll their kids in our RE classes, and leave as soon as they’re old enough. So what’s missing? Personal ministry... how to live, day by day; how to be good (other than marching in Selma), how we can help you survive the daily grind, and be righteous in the face of temptation.

As was noted by Doug Muder in his UU World article that kicked off the discussion of our “Middle Class Problem, Not my father‘s religion , these are not UU issues, or sermons. His point was that UUs are almost universally professional class people, and so we no longer need that kind of ministry- “I felt smug that morning because I knew that Ed would have been so much better off in my church. We talk about real life, his real life. He didn’t need to be told not to be bad. His issue wasn’t Good versus Evil; it was Good versus another Good versus a third kind of Good. And that’s the issue in my life and in the lives of all my professional-class friends. The primary spiritual challenge of the professional class is discernment. There are so many good things we could do with our lives. How do we choose?
That’s the kind of issue a UU sermon talks about.

Doug is quite correct about the kind of issue a UU sermon talks about, but quite incorrect that this is the kind of sermon the professional class- or indeed, any class- needs. This is where Ms. Spears comes in. Her personal self destruction continues; she has now lost custody or her children. A multimillionaire before she was old enough to vote, she is perfectly able to take the God’s eye view above the maze of success that Doug spoke of, and she had even more choices than the usual professional- she could have taken her singing career in any direction she chose; she could have turned to acting, modeling, become a professional celebrity on the talk show circuit, or gotten her own talk show for that matter. Or even retired; she need not work another day in her life if she so chooses. But she seems bent on destroying her life. She needs help.

People in that situation most often turn to their church. Despite the growth in the therapy industry, and the lessening of any stigma attached to going to counseling, the church remains the counselor of first choice for most people. It’s not that hard to figure out why- you can go every week for free and without question, and the mainline (or “working class”) denominations teach “... the road to success is self-control. That’s what you want to teach your children: Resist temptation. Walk the narrow path. Do the hard thing you don’t want to do, so that you and the people who are counting on you won’t be punished.”- the way out of your problems, and the way to avoid them in the future. Would Britney hear these sermons in a Unitarian church? No- as Doug says, those are not our issues.

But they should be. Social activism is well and good- but as the airline safety lecture goes, “Secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others.” We need to teach how and why to believe in something larger than yourself. (other than the Democratic party, I mean) It doesn’t have to be an angry Jehovah- you can speak only in terms of the harm evil does to the interdependent web, as I do here . But we need to talk about good and evil. We need to make judgments. The professional and ruling classes need these lessons just as much as the working class. Moreover, they want these lessons- that’s why we’re not any better at recruiting the professional class than the working class.

How can I say that? Look at the numbers. There are more than 2.6 million millionaires in this country. What would you call the professional class- would knocking down $100,000 a year be a safe definition? According to the US Census Bureau, 17,803,000 households make 100k or above. Counting non-working spouses and children, that’s many tens of millions of people in “our class”- but there are only 200,000 regularly attending UUs. There are probably more red haired left handed professionals than UU professionals. We are not the church of the professional class, we are the church of those who are sufficiently satisfied with our lives as to have the illusion that we don’t need judgements and hard lessons- it’s just that that happens more often in the professional class.

I do not believe that this new advertising campaign will work in the long run. Oh, it will get people in the doors, no doubt about that- but we won’t retain them until we have a message that speaks to the real lives of more than one half of one percent of the populace. We can be as welcoming as we like, but Gays and Lesbians and Transgendered and African Americans and Semites and Asians and Atheists and Buddhists and Pagans and Red Haired Left Handed Professionals all want a church with a coherent message that speaks to simple human issues.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Words that have lost their original meaning

Words change their meanings over the years; sometimes deliberately and sometimes accidentally. Examples of accidental change include "tissue" (or, as we called them when I was a kid, snot-rags) becoming "Kleenex", or "reproduction" becoming "Xerox"- those brands had such a huge market share that the specific became the generic.

Examples of deliberate change include "Gay", "African American", and "Native American"; they were chosen because the previous terms had become pejorative. The first two mentioned have actually had several generations of change, and may change again in the future.

None of those changes matter very much to the common comprehension required for communication- if I say, "Hand me a Kleenex", my meaning is clear. A person who was unfamiliar with the term "Native American" could easily figure it out, and the only people I've known who were genuinely confused by the term "African American" were the young children of a white immigrant from South Africa. Other words that have changed, however, are becoming a true hindrance to clear communication. Here are a few:

Literally The way the word is used today, one would think that people literally do not know what it means.

God At one time, "God(s)" meant a supernatural being or beings. Discussions of "God" were limited to the quantity (Unity? Trinity? Poly?) of these beings, and the attributes thereof. Today, people speak of God being love, or the interdependent web, or some such. Of course, we know why these circumlocutions were invented- to allow Catholic and Anglican bishops who had lost their faith to continue to draw their stipends. But it has resulted in much miscommunication.

Liberal and Conserative, and to a large extent Democrat and Republican One small example among many: originally it was Liberal Democrat Kennedy who championed massive tax cuts to stimulate the economy, and Conservative Republicans who opposed it as a risky scheme. This was not a deliberate change, but merely reflects the fact that most politicians are not leaders but weathervanes. Nonetheless, it is rendering true communication difficult.

Socialist, Fascist, Nazi The original dictionary definitions of these words are no longer used outside of a polysci doctoral thesis; today they merely mean "Someone I don't like". The only difference remaining is in who is speaking: Democrats call those they hate "Nazi"; Republicans call them "Socialist", and conspiracy nuts call both of them "Fascist".

What words would you add?