Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Three Rabbis

This is an excerpt from Orson Scott Card's novel, Speaker for the Dead. It's a quote from an imaginary character in the story named San Angelo who started a Catholic Order centuries earlier. I thought it was good.

A Great Rabbi stands, teaching in the marketplace. It happens that a husband finds proof that morning of his wife's adultery, and a mob carries her to the marketplace to stone her to death. (There is a familiar version of this story, but a friend of mine - a Speaker for the Dead - has told me of two other Rabbis that faced the same situation. Those are the ones I'm going to tell you.)

The Rabbi walks forward and stands beside the woman. Out of respect for him the mob forbears and waits with the stones heavy in their hands. "Is there any man here," he says to them, "who has not desired another man's wife, another woman's husband?"

They murmur and say, "We all know the desire, but Rabbi none of us has acted on it."

The Rabbi says, "Then kneel down and give thanks that God has made you strong." He takes the woman by the hand and leads her out of the market. Just before he lets her go, he whispers to her, "Tell the Lord Magistrate who saved his mistress, then he'll know I am his loyal servant."

So the woman lives because the community is too corrupt to protect itself from disorder.

Another Rabbi. Another city. He goes to her and stops the mob as in the other story and says, "Which of you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone."

The people are abashed, and they forget their unity of purpose in the memory of their own individual sins. "Someday," they think, "I may be like this woman. And I’ll hope for forgiveness and another chance. I should treat her as I wish to be treated."

As they opened their hands and let their stones fall to the ground, the Rabbi picks up one of the fallen stones, lifts it high over the woman’s head and throws it straight down with all his might it crushes her skull and dashes her brain among the cobblestones.

"Nor am I without sins," he says to the people, "but if we allow only perfect people to enforce the law, the law will soon be dead, and our city with it."

So the woman died because her community was too rigid to endure her deviance.

The famous version of this story is noteworthy because it is so startlingly rare in our experience. Most communities lurch between decay and rigor mortis and when they veer too far they die. Only one Rabbi dared to expect of us such a perfect balance that we could preserve the law and still forgive the deviation. So of course, we killed him.

-San Angelo
Letters to an Incipient Heretic

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Final Transformation

I've had a small mole beside my nose since I was born. At least it used to be small. It also used to be light in color and mostly unnoticeable. People even used to call it a beauty mark. A mole can make a face interesting if it's small and in the right place. Did someone say "Honey West?"

But during the past ten years that mole of mine got bigger and darkened in color. Instead of a beauty mark, it began to stick out like a witch's nose wart. I finally decided enough was enough and went to have it removed. No big deal right? I mean, it wasn't hurting or bleeding or anything. It was ugly, not cancerous. Any doctor/dermatologist could do the job in five minutes. I used to be in the VA health system until a few weeks ago when they told me I made too much money and promptly booted me out. Serves me right. I was a bad soldier. My soldiering was almost as bad as my singing. I haven't gotten any other health insurance yet. No health insurer would have paid for this anyway unless I lied and said the mole was hurting or something. But I figured, how much could it cost? It's not much worse than popping a zit. Sure enough, the doctor put a shot in to numb it (moles don't have much feeling anyway), cut it off, cauterized it, and bandaged it up. It took maybe five minutes. The bill—$200!!!!!!!!!!!

To say I was put out would be a great understatement. I asked why such a hefty fee. Would you believe his reply was, "It's cosmetic surgery." I said, "So is a haircut, except it takes considerably more time and talent to perform."

Doctors are as greedy as anybody else. Have you noticed that the more money people have, the more they want (and think they deserve)? Now I've always been a republican at heart, but this is exactly why we need a two party system. Many republicans are greedy, but many democrats are power hungry. Their faults are what actually allows them to keep each other in check.

We need a new kind of court system. One that allows you to take someone to task for their greed. I didn't pay just to have a mole removed. I made a greedy man's boat payment this month. This is exactly the point CS Lewis was making in his Reflections on the Psalms. Many of the Psalms are about the topic of justice. "Lord, these people have mistreated me. When will you bring them down low and exalt your faithful servant"? The Jews wholly believed that in this world, or some world to come, there would be a just account given for every action in this life. They were anxious to get what they felt was rightfully theirs, but they were also anxious to see sinners punished. But you'll notice that there were precious few prayers for their enemies.

That to me is the most striking aspect to reading the Old Testament. Forgiveness seems all but lost on the Jews. They're always anxious for God to forgive them, but where do they ask God to forgive their enemies? Where do they themselves forgive their enemies, especially those who are not Jews? You seldom run across such a passage. They had trouble just forgiving members of their own families.

When Jesus came into the world he brought about a true paradigm shift on the subject of justice. He implored us to temper justice with mercy. But forgiveness was better than either. I heard a friend talking on the phone to someone a while back saying that Christianity was all about forgiveness. Without forgiveness, justice and mercy go out the window. If we don't forgive, we won't be forgiven. And if we don't love others, God won't love us.

In Lewis' Till We Have Faces the character of Orual in many ways exemplified the Old Testament (the old paradigm) view of justice, while Fox, whom she called grandfather, saw the new paradigm coming into view.

Orual: "Are the gods not just?"
Fox: "Oh no, child. What would become of us if they were?

Jonah slept through a storm because he had no conscience. Jesus slept through one because he did, and it was clear. Most people don't sleep nearly so well as either.

Till We Have Faces was about a young women's journey from childhood to adulthood, about her awakening from childhood selfishness to adult selflessness, and about learning to let go of anger while learning to love her enemies. She also learned to see herself for what she truly was and what she truly was becoming. She learned that her own heart was the most deceitful one of all and that with a deceitful heart comes a false face. And by the end she learned that in order to find her true face—the person she was meant to be—she had to seek the face of another, the face of a God.

Her story reads very much like the story of the Old Testament's transformation into the New. We find a different kind of man in the old one full of selfishness, envy, greed and violence and yet remarkably intent on getting an undeserved justice from God. But in the new we find a man humble, claiming to own nothing, giving all his excess to the poor, loving his enemies and wishing them the best, and perhaps most importantly we find him at peace while the world around him is in turmoil because his conscience is clear and beaming. And in the end we find the new man transformed yet again into a new body and a new world. It's not a new paradigm but a perfection of what began with Christ.

It's the final testament, but not the final story, for the best story has been saved for last, and only God knows its content. I often imagine it will be like that show "Stargate SG1" where we find these adventurous people stepping through a stargate for the first time, not knowing what they'll find on the other side. It must be very much like being born again. Personally, I can't wait. I like to say that the older I get, the better eternal rest sounds. But I'm only joking because I'm expecting eternal life—not rest. And it will happen. But this stargate will have a sign above it: NO MASKS ALLOWED.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Kubla Khan in Perelandra

I wrote this in 2006 and posted it to my old blog. Since I've been consumed with work as of late and haven't had time to write much, I thought it might be nice to post this old article here.

CS Lewis was extremely fond of the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and often made mention in particular of his poem, Kubla Khan. In the afterward to the 3rd edition of The Pilgrim's Regress Lewis talks about mystical longing: "...that unnamable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of a bonfire... the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of Kubla Khan... or the noise of falling waves."

That "unnamable something" is of course what draws all the mystically curious to the writings of CS Lewis as well as to poems like Kubla Khan. I think (sadly) that few people take part at that table where sounds are felt, and curious smells produce imagery from the fringe—the borders of consciousness—where just on the other side of the wall lies the source of that unnamable object of desire that tries to sing out to us of its existence all of our lives. How very few listen for it at all.

Kubla Khan presents us with the imagery of forbidden lands from the other side of that wall. We find both the paradise of the pleasure dome and the deep mysterious icy cavern, "A savage place! as holy and enchanted". Holy in this case meaning just what it was intended to mean—set apart by the divine, apart from our present material existence and, for us, forbidden realms. But now and then there seem to be some people who are allowed a momentary glimpse into these realms. The poetry of Kubla Khan provides for us such a glimpse; Perelandra builds from it. But lets read Kubla Kahn before we venture any further here. It's a short poem:

Kubla Kahn by Samuel Taylor Coleridge-1798

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And `mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And `mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight `twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honeydew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
Xanadu, originally known as Shangdu, was a real place, a sort of miniature city that housed the summer palace of Mongolian Emperor—Kubla Khan (sometimes written as Kublai Khan). It was only about 5 1/2 miles around, but Marko Polo described it as quite beautiful with palaces carved from marble and covered with gold. Other than the fact that the city existed and was quite exquisite the rest of the poem would seem to rest on poetic license. There are no caves or caverns nor rivers running through Xanadu. The river, Alph, mentioned in the poem is likely a variation on the Alpheus River of Greek mythology. So let us bear in mind that Coleridge probably made use of several old tales in fashioning his poem.

Lewis, it would seem, drew deeply from Coleridge's poem for the final four chapters in his novel—Perelandra. There are some striking similarities between the descriptions of the two worlds.

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
This one is obvious enough. In chapter 14 of Perelandra, Ransom is fighting at night in the ocean with the Unman and finds that he's being dragged way down deep until he's sure he can hold his breath no longer and will die. But just then he finds that they are on a beach. After managing to subdue his adversary, Ransom waits for what seems like an eternity for daylight to appear. It never does. Eventually his suspicions are roused. He stands up and walks along the sandy shoreline feeling upward with his hands until he touches rock. The realization sinks in that, during the struggle, he must have come up into a cavern of some sort from under the ocean. This underground shoreline is certainly "a sunless sea" for him. There is total darkness here. After following along the cavern wall, he meets up with a trickle of water which he hopes may come to a stream if he follows it, as he desperately trying to find his way to the outside world again. He gropes in the darkness for what must be days. The cavern opens up into a vast array of underground vaults which seem endless, "caverns measureless to man". Eventually he comes to a red glow that leads to a very hot area in the cavern, very deep, and it becomes evident that this leads down to something like a river of lava and a huge pit. It's hot, but at least now he can see a little. Ransom descries some strange things including beings that he can only see shadows of far off but which appear humanlike. He's in a chamber now that seems manmade, something like a cathedral with two huge thrones and chairs on either side of them that are much too big for any earth man. Ransom has said on a couple of occasions already in the story that he wonders, "Were all the things which appeared as mythology on earth scattered through other worlds as realities?" But he doesn't pretend to know if these are some sort of gods. A short time later he slips and falls into the rushing water, and soon he's cast out into a pool with the sun shining overhead. He's free. Looking back at the entrance to the subterranean world, he sees, "...a river pouring from the mouth of a cave, a cave that seemed indeed to be made of ice." Actually Lewis decides to make a change here and Ransom finds that it's not really ice after all, but rather, a transparent substance of some kind. However, it is interesting that Coleridge's Xanadu is described as, "A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!"

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst

It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
Now compare the above with Ransom coming from the cave, and, taking in his surroundings, he sees the river going down a long, steep slope, "in a series of cataracts... It went down a long way and ended in a winding and wooded valley which curled out of sight...", and likely back to the ocean from which he came. In his description, he also talks of huge mountains and hills, "of almost Himalayan height." An interesting choice of words. Not that Xanadu was in the Himalayas, but it was in China at any rate.

He goes on in his description of the mountains, woods, and valleys: "At his side rose a cliff mantled with streamers of bright vegetation, but gleaming like glass... at each pace his contact with soil and bush appeared to wake new odours that darted into his brain and there begot wild and enormous pleasures."

In Xanadu we find:

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
And we also find aural sensations of a mystical nature in both worlds. In Perelandra, Ransom says that there were three lasting impressions on him of his journey beyond the cave and that one of them was, "the song... it floated through his sleep and was the first sound at every waking. It was formless as the song of a bird, yet it was not a bird's voice... rich and golden-brown: passionate too, but not with the passions of men." Ultimately, we learn that it's the song of a large dog-like creature as big as an elephant, a creature who's very existence was owed to its song. When Ransom hears the eldila (angels) speaking, he takes great pains to remind us that they are not creatures of flesh and blood, and as such, have no lips and vocal chords; their voices are of an entirely different nature, "like a chime of remote bells... It is by art, not nature, that they effect human ear-drums and their words owe nothing to lungs or lips." He also mentions the songlike sound of the streamer-trees.

In Kubla Khan sounds also play a big role:

And `mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
And also Kubla Khan presents us with the singing Abyssinian maid:

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight `twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
Perhaps this would be a good place to take a closer look at the structure of the poem and Coleridge's opening comments on it. Coleridge says of himself:

In the summer of the year 1797, the author, then in ill health, had retired to a lonely farmhouse between Porlock and Linton, on the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire. In consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne had been prescribed, from the effects of which he fell asleep in his chair at the moment that he was reading the following sentence, or words of the same substance, in Purchas's Pilgrimage: "Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto. And thus ten miles of fertile ground were enclosed with a wall." The author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which time he has the most vivid confidence that he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines; if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort. On awaking he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter!

"Yet from the still surviving recollections in his mind, the author has frequently purposed to finish for himself what had been originally, as were, given to him. [I shall sing a sweeter song today]: but the tomorrow is yet to come. As a contrast to this vision, I have annexed a fragment of a very different character, describing with equal fidelity the dream of pain and disease."
So it appears that the last fragment he refers to are the lines beginning with: "A damsel with a dulcimer", and we can probably assume he means that the rest of the poem was exactly as he remembered writing it during his dream-state. Incidentally, the "slight indisposition" he speaks of was actually a fairly severe case of rheumatism, and the "anodyne" prescribed was opium. This was really just about the only effective drug known to ease pain in those days. Some critics are of the assumption that his opium induced trance states shouldn't be taken seriously by the modern student of the metaphysical. I differ in opinion with those critics, and I believe Lewis did too. Coleridge meant no harm in taking the drug, and I find it's best not to limit the powers of the Divine by claiming that drugs effectively keep them at bay. If God be God, he can certainly do as he wishes during a man's drug induced state just as he can in his normal dream life. This is probably subject to the reasons for taking a drug. Coleridge probably didn't like taking it. It was simply something he had to do if he was to live at least a somewhat normal life.

In the final two lines of the last stanza Coleridge writes:

"For he on honeydew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise."
In Perelandra when Ransom first emerges from the cavern weak and hungry, he finds that within arm's reach are clusters of something like grapes. He lays beside the pool eating and sleeping for quite some time until he recovers from his injuries and fatigue. It may have been as long as three weeks he tells us. Lewis also says, "Indeed it was a second infancy: in which he was breast-fed by the planet Venus herself...." And of course Perelandra was a new Paradisiacal Garden of Eden. Honeydew by the way is a sticky material found on certain plants and was often referred to as the food of fairies. Lewis also writes, "Much that his fingers touched was gummy...".

Coleridge mentions reading, "Purchas's Pilgrimage". He's referring to the book, Purchas his Pilgrimage. Besides Marko Polo, Purchas also mentions seeing Xanadu. It is Purchas who mentions "streams" and "springs" within its walls. When Coleridge writes of an "Abyssinian maid... Singing of Mount Abora" he is probably making reference to a hill in Ethiopia called Amara. (Ethiopia used to be called Abyssinia). Purchas also wrote of this sacred hill:

"Heauen and Earth, Nature and Industrie, have all been corriuals to it, all presenting their best presents, to make it of this so louely presence, some taking this for the place of our Forefathers Paradise." The sides of the hill are of overhanging rock, "bearing out like mushromes, so that it is impossible to ascend it" except by a passageway "cut out within the Rocke, not with staires, but ascending little by little," and closed above and below with gates guarded by soldiers. "Toward the South" of the level top "is a rising hill ... yeelding ... a pleasant spring which passeth through all that Plaine ... and making a Lake, whence issueth a River, which having from these tops espied Nilus, never leaves seeking to find him, whom he cannot leave both to seeke and to finde.... There are no Cities on the top, but palaces, standing by themselves ... spacious, sumptuous, and beautifull, where the Princes of the Royall blood have their abode with their families." [Quote taken from Frederick H. Sykes]
It's likely that Lewis also read of Purchas' journeys and got some of his ideas directly from it as well as from other old tales about lost regions of paradise (especially the realm of Prester John of which much has been written; it held a particular fascination for his friend Charles Williams).

One could easily write a book twice the size of Perelandra in trying to describe all the small details Lewis encompassed in the making of the novel. Having no wish to do so, this is where I will end.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My New Blog

I've started a new blog that's just about anything and everything. Basically it's just a place to cut loose a bit and talk about whatever's on my mind from the latest computer gadgets to last night's basketball game.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Big Blue Castle

Stephen Hawking made some big waves last month upon the release of his latest book: The Grand Design. You've probably heard about it already, but indulge me. For the record, I haven't read the book yet and have only browsed the internet for quotes from it.

In The Grand Design Professor Hawking syllogizes (his hypothesis is based on both M-Theory and the Big Bang Theory) an argument for a self-creating universe. You may have heard lately that Hawking has stated that the universe was not made by God. Well he hasn't actually said this. He does, however, come very close to it. This seems to stem from an article in last month's Wall Street Journal where they printed an excerpt from the book. The excerpt was titled: "Why God Did Not Create the Universe (There is a sound scientific explanation for the making of our world—no gods required)." Then below this it says: "By STEPHEN HAWKING And LEONARD MLODINOW." This makes it appear as though Hawking and his physicist writing partner had written the excerpt and the title of it. Obviously a guy like Hawking does not send in articles to publications like the WSJ. Of course the excerpt title was given by a staff member there.

But Hawking does say something very disturbing: "As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist."

That sure sounds like an atheist talking to me. This genius professor has never professed a belief in any kind of God, but in his past books he always seemed open to the possibility of a mind in the mix of things. What happened? Hawking is now 68 years old. With Lou Gehrig Disease, it's amazing he's lived this long. He's made some amazing discoveries throughout his career. It seems to me, however, that he's losing his perspective on what science is actually capable of achieving.

For instance, he says, "According to M-theory, ours is not the only universe. Instead, M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing."

Really? Out of nothing? Undoubtedly he's knowledgeable about primordial matter—that small bit of stuff which has always existed and from which our universe sprang. The only thing that comes from nothing is nothing. Something had to have always been here. According to Big Bang Theory, in the beginning the universe was a very tiny place indeed. There was not in it the four forces of energy we know so well today, but instead one super-force. Was there matter? We have to remember that all energy has matter, and all matter has energy. It's very much like the way a particle can also be a wave. Therefore we have to think of this super-energy as being matter also, but not yet in a material state so to speak. The super-energy would remain in an energy state for a an unknown period of time before it changed into matter, so we should probably think of it more as potential matter. At the very least we can say that the energy has always been here. Energy is not "nothing." But I am certainly not telling you anything Mr. Hawking does not know himself and know better than I, so why he states that universes were created out of nothing is curious. He even mentions primordial elements (what that energy turned into) at one point in the book and goes on to list many of the things that had to have taken place to the nth degree for a place like Earth to exist where life can thrive.
The tale of how the primordial universe of hydrogen, helium and a bit of lithium evolved to a universe harboring at least one world with intelligent life like us is a tale of many chapters. The forces of nature had to be such that heavier elements—especially carbon—could be produced from the primordial elements, and remain stable for at least billions of years. Those heavy elements were formed in the furnaces we call stars, so the forces first had to allow stars and galaxies to form. Those in turn grew from the seeds of tiny inhomogeneities in the early universe.

Even all that is not enough: The dynamics of the stars had to be such that some would eventually explode, precisely in a way that could disperse the heavier elements through space. In addition, the laws of nature had to dictate that those remnants could recondense into a new generation of stars, these surrounded by planets incorporating the newly formed heavy elements.

By examining the model universes we generate when the theories of physics are altered in certain ways, one can study the effect of changes to physical law in a methodical manner. Such calculations show that a change of as little as 0.5% in the strength of the strong nuclear force, or 4% in the electric force, would destroy either nearly all carbon or all oxygen in every star, and hence the possibility of life as we know it. Also, most of the fundamental constants appearing in our theories appear fine-tuned in the sense that if they were altered by only modest amounts, the universe would be qualitatively different, and in many cases unsuitable for the development of life. For example, if protons were 0.2% heavier, they would decay into neutrons, destabilizing atoms.

If one assumes that a few hundred million years in stable orbit is necessary for planetary life to evolve, the number of space dimensions is also fixed by our existence. That is because, according to the laws of gravity, it is only in three dimensions that stable elliptical orbits are possible. In any but three dimensions even a small disturbance, such as that produced by the pull of the other planets, would send a planet off its circular orbit, and cause it to spiral either into or away from the sun.

The emergence of the complex structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile. The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned. What can we make of these coincidences? Luck in the precise form and nature of fundamental physical law is a different kind of luck from the luck we find in environmental factors. It raises the natural question of why it is that way.

Many people would like us to use these coincidences as evidence of the work of God.
In reality he hasn't even begun to list all the things that had to happen for us to be here. That life exists anywhere is a miracle beyond any proportion the mind can conceive. There are billions of biological evolutionary steps that had to happen and happen in just the right way at just the right time, all while the cosmological setting of our planet maintained a near perfect orbit for billions of years in just the right conditions. Professor Andrew Watson from the University of East Anglia, a mathematician, says:

If we learned the planet would be habitable for a set period and that we had evolved early in this period, then even with a sample of one, we’d suspect that evolution from simple to complex and intelligent life was quite likely to occur. By contrast, we now believe that we evolved late in the habitable period, and this suggests that our evolution is rather unlikely. In fact, the timing of events is consistent with it being very rare indeed. ... Complex life is separated from the simplest life forms by several very unlikely steps and therefore will be much less common. Intelligence is one step further, so it is much less common still....
He goes on to say that the probability of each step occurring at all is less than 10% and that the probability of intelligent life occurring is less than .01% over 4-billion years. Also, each step must happen in a precise order, and this is even less likely.

Professor Hawking invokes the atheist magic dust of infinity to account for all this. M-theory predicts nearly an infinite number of universes to have coincided with the Big Bang. He believes that with an infinite number of universes anything and everything will eventually happen—possibly more than once. Some people actually believe that infinity could eventually produce an exact duplicate of Earth somewhere in some world—perhaps many copies with doppelgangers of each one of us.

Now I ask you, if you were to roll one die, what are the chances of that die coming up on a number you predict? One in six of course. And the chances of two dice coming up on the same number is much greater than that. If you had a trillion dice, what do you think the chances are of every one of them coming up on the same number? It will likely never happen did you say? Every time you add more dice your odds get worse—not better. The number of particles that had to be aligned just so in such a way to get an Earth and intelligent life on it is immeasurable. It might as well be an infinite number. To think this would ever happen again is the stuff of such madness that only a conspiracy theorist of the highest order would entertain such a notion. I've heard similar imaginative ramblings from professors who claimed that if you tossed a box of sand in the air enough times, the grains would eventually land on the floor in a perfect outline of the Mona Lisa along with every other piece of art ever created. The fact is that this has been attempted several times with computer generated random graphics, and not once has it ever exactly duplicated any recognizable artwork.

Here's something else to consider. I mentioned before a trillion dice all coming up on the same number as probably being impossible even given an infinite length of time. Let's say they all had to come up with the number-3. That atheist magic dust of infinity also works the other way. If you want to say that anything is possible given an infinite amount of time, then it's just as possible that a trillion dice could all land on the number-4 every time you threw them till the end of time... (Wonderful how a tiny ellipsis can represent something as large as infinity isn't it)?

I'll tell you how I view this world of ours. Suppose you had a bush pilot fly you to a remote part of Alaska that wasn't on any map. Someplace where there exist mountains, valleys, and lakes that no man has ever seen or set foot on. And after hiking through this barren landscape for several weeks you climb to the top of a mountain and find there a large blue castle luxuriously furnished with all the requisites for life—a refrigerator full of food, running water, a bed and chair that seemed tailor-made for you, a furnace to keep you warm, a thermostat set at the exact temperature your body desires, electric lights along with a hydro powered generator outside perfectly placed by a waterfall to keep them on, and every other modern convenience you could ever desire. If it's a matter of odds, which would seem more likely to you: that this big blue castle and everything in it "just happened" to be produced by mere chance? or that someone created it?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Life as a Quitter

I don't know what's wrong with me. I really don't. I've passed up so many opportunities to really do something with my life. My parents discouraged me from going to college, and it'd hard to blame them. They really couldn't afford to send me, and my grades sure weren't good enough for a scholarship. I never brought home a book during high school. Actually, I hated school and hated studying, but I somehow had it in my head that I would do well in college despite my track record for being lazy with the books and not sticking with things. I didn't recognize it for what it was then. I just knew I had a kind of restlessness in me that wouldn't allow me to focus on anything long enough to get good at it or take it seriously. I also had a prideful streak. I was a darn good basketball player for instance, but when we moved to a new town and I had to transfer schools after my sophomore year, I decided I didn't like the new coach and would just be a walk-on in college. Of course college never happened really. (I did eventually get a year in). I went into the Army instead and was basically a washout there too. That is, I didn't even finish my first hitch once I was offered an early out. Also, my second day at boot-camp, myself and one other recruit, were pulled out of the lineup and taken to a room where we were both offered the chance to go to West Point because our entrance scores were pretty good. Here I finally had my chance to go to college, and I promptly turned it down!, saying I had already had enough of the Army. All I did was complain the whole time I was in too. And there were other missed opportunities. Lots of them.
My sister and I were going through some old books our parents had after they died. In one of two big family bibles I found the following pictures. I drew them when I was only about five or six years old, and I think anyone would admit these are pretty accurate drawings for someone so young. And no, I didn't trace them either. Most of these cartoons were on a lunchbox and thermos I had. I just sat in front of them and drew what I saw. The Popeye drawing comes from a punching bag I had. Part of the reason it looks a little out of kilter compared to the others is because I had to try to follow around the curve of the bag,
and also because I wasn't very good yet at up-sizing and down-sizing pictures, so trying to make this big print on the punching bag fit onto a small piece of drawing paper was quite challenging for me as a child. However, I soon managed to draw this Popeye picture from memory. I recall all the kids in my 1st grade class hovering around my desk waiting for me to finish a drawing of Popeye for each of them.

Many people, especially teachers and an artist from our church, constantly told my parents to get me into an art school. I'll tell you what happened though. When I was in the 5th grade I met a kid who was better then me. He already knew all about shading and other things no one had taught me.
I didn't realize at the time that someone had taught him these things. I just figured he was naturally a lot better or smarter than me, and I didn't want to do something unless I could be the best at it, so I basically quit drawing after that. That was my life in nutshell until I was in my late thirties. I seldom finished things, and would quit anything art related if I thought someone was better than me. I guess the latter was a pride thing. I wanted to make my mark in the world. It's hard to do that when other people's marks are so much bigger than yours.

What turned me around? God and Christianity did. CS Lewis once said that Christianity was an education in itself, and that it's what permitted a guy like John Bunyan to change the world with just one book despite his lack of formal education. I think this must be true. I had read the bible all my life, but had never really studied the thoughts of other people about God and the world. I had plenty of my own thoughts about the cosmos, because I had been a slacker and had little else to do but daydream and think about life. I figured no one else thought like I did about things. Then I read Mere Christianity and found someone who had all my thoughts. More than that, Lewis knew of lots of other people who had had those same thoughts long before either of us did. He had studied the philosophy of mankind through the ages and the mythology that inspired so much of it. Before long, reading philosophy became a passion for me too, especially theology and thoughts in general from Christian thinkers. I learned things from them, but it was mostly this confirmation of my own thoughts I was after, and I found it in spades. There was something about studying spirituality on a deeper lever that turned my whole life around although I couldn't tell you how it happened. All I knew was that when I emerged a few years later on the other side, I was suddenly a better man. I could stick to projects and get things done. I've recorded several CDs, written a book, made a movie etc. None of these are great art by anyone's measure, but just the fact that I was able to get them done seems a minor miracle considering how useless I was before. I guess that's the bottom line in a Christian self-education. It takes useless people and makes them useful. They used to call Christian hippies Jesus Freaks, but those same people would reply, "God doesn't make freaks out of people; he makes people out of freaks."

I always knew I would have to be an autodidact if I was going to learn anything in life. I don't like formal education. I enjoy learning what I want to learn on my own. But it took Christianity to give me the tools to do it right. I'm fifty-one now, but I'd like to think I'm actually gaining steam, and the best is yet to come.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fray José de Guadalupe Mojica

When I was about five years old I was playing in the woods near my house when I found some old broken records sticking out of the dirt. They looked like they had been there for years. They were also about a quarter of an inch thick--much thicker than other records, and I had never seen anything like them before. I eventually discovered that these were Edison diamond discs and could only be played back on a diamond disc player.

Ever since then I've wanted an old Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph. When I saw one on Craigslist this week for only $150, I jumped on it, figuring I'd never see one that cheap again.
The guy I bought it from also gave me one diamond disc record to go with it. Now I'm not one of those people who believes there are no coincidences and that every single event in my life is orchestrated by God. For one thing, a life that's nothing more than a written script would be very little fun for God or me either one. When someone ties their dog to the back of a bumper and accidentally drives off later, dragging the dog to his death, I don't think God's behind that. That person simply made a mistake. Accidents happen. Tornadoes kill people. Old folks fall and break their hips. There's plenty of happenstance in the world. But there are also times when God intervenes and puts you on a particular path for a particular reason, and it's important to be able to discern between the two. And now, as I listened to the voice coming through the speaker I began to feel that God put this recording in front of me for a reason. The recording was made by someone I had never heard of. His name was Jose Mojica. I began to research him, and was very glad I did.

Jose was born in Mexico in 1896. As a young teenager he was already tall and strong. He ran with a tough crowd and eventually joined Francesco Madera's group of revolutionaries that ousted Porfirio Diaz from power during the Mexican Revolution. It was also about this time that Jose discovered he had a real talent for singing opera. Overnight he was able to bring his family out of poverty and became a sensation both in Mexico and abroad. But this was just the beginning. While on a trip to Mexico, Enrico Caruso took in an opera in which Jose was appearing. He was so taken with the young singer that he had him brought over to his table. They quickly became friends for what was left of Caruso's short life, and Caruso, unbeknownst to Mojica, recommended him to the producer of the Ravinia Festival in Chicago in 1919. Jose would remain there for the next nine years singing with the Chicago Opera. It was during this time that Thomas Edison signed him to sing for Edison Records after having no luck finding any good Italian tenors.

Before long Mojica's talents and good looks also came to the attention of movie producers, and in 1930 he made his only American movie called "One Last Kiss" in which he played a sort of Zorro-like singing cowboy. He made several other films in America aimed primarily at a Mexican audience, and afterwards he would go back to Mexico and become a regular big screen attraction there where he was known as the Mexican version of Valentino.

But he also, for some unexplainable reason, would very often find himself playing religious roles in films even though he was not a particularly religious person like his mother. In fact, Jose was always in search of a good time, and more often than not he found it. He always had an eye for the ladies, and the ladies sure had an eye for him.

He had several friends in both the opera and movie industries. People like John Wayne, John Ford, and Gary Cooper often would visit at his sprawling Mexican estate. He would later give this estate to his mother as a gift.
He never knew his father, and like a lot of young boys in that situation, he grew-up being very close to his mother. After her death in 1942 his life would take a staggering turn. Before she died, she asked him to give his life to the church. This was the one woman in his life he found hard to refuse. But another would soon enter. He was working in America at the time, all the while deep in grief and depression, when he suddenly had a vision of St. Theresa of Avila who outright commanded him to follow the path of Christ. Now he was certain of what he had to do.

At the age of 46, he gave away all his possessions, most of it to the church, and started a new career. He boarded a plane for Peru with nothing but $35 in his pocket, and joined the Franciscan order as a monk and was given the name of Fray José de Guadalupe Mojica. Within five years he would attain priesthood.
After becoming a full-fledged priest, the church decided they would use his talents rather than put them to waste, and he began singing at many fundraiser events while also doing missionary work. He eventually worked in three more films over the next twenty years, always playing himself as a priest, with the proceeds going to the church.

He wrote two of these films including one which was based on his big selling 1958 autobiography I, a Sinner which he wrote to earn funds for the rebuilding of a school which had fallen from an earthquake. During the mid 1950s he counseled another great Mexican movie star, Humberto Almazan, advising him to also follow the gospels, turn his back on the bright lights, and give away all his possessions, which he did, and today Father Almazan's story is equally inspiring.

In 1969, Jose was given a tribute by the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico City. He was beginning to go deaf, and it was one of the last events at which anyone would ever hear him sing. Soon after he returned to Peru where he spent his final years in retirement among fellow monks.
He died in 1974 of heart problems, and oddly, like Thomas Edison who had given him his start in recording, he was nearly completely deaf but as content as a man can be in this world. It's been said that Edison liked Mojica's voice so much that he played his records every night before going to bed even though he was so deaf that he had to actually bite down on the record console so the vibrations from the record would travel through his teeth and make their way to his inner ear.

For a hundred and fifty bucks I got more than a record machine; I got an education.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Closer To Truth

This is probably the most thought provoking video website on the internet. They have all the episodes that the "Closer To Truth" TV Show has ever done. I don't think there are many stations in America that carry the show, so it's good to see it on the web. It features interviews with scientists and philosophers talking about God and the universe. Some of you may be surprised how many scientists are either believers or are at least open-minded about the God question. Actually according to most poles the majority of scientists in the world believe in a higher power.

Closer To Truth

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Other History Of The Jews

I've only read bits and parts of the works of Josephus until now. I already knew there were several things in his Jewish Antiquities which were slightly different from the history of the Jews as given in the biblical books, and that there were some details which were exceedingly different. Historians, however, probably turn to Josephus more often than not for the stories he gives that are nowhere to be found in any bible or any other piece of writing. Now there are other Jewish writings such as the Talmud which also give a somewhat different version of biblical writings here and there, but those works generally deal with a very different kind of information centered almost exclusively on religious rituals and the spiritual life rather than a historical outline of a nation.

At any rate, I've finally decided to read all, or most of Josephus' Antiquities although I'll probably skim less interesting parts, and I'll not read much of his other volume on the Jewish War with Rome. I thought I would share some observations that might wet your appetite to read Josephus yourself.

He begins much as the bible does, with the creation, followed by stories about Adam, Eve, and their children. He then moves on to Babel, the flood, and the patriarchs etc. The Gospel of Luke starts out with the author sounding as though he intends to write a more accurate history of Christ than some of the other writings about him which had already surfaced (whether he is referring to Mathew, Mark or apocryphal gospels is unknown, and of course John's Gospel hadn't been written yet). Luke states this in quite diplomatic tones however. But Josephus is not nearly so subtle. He starts by saying, "...I intend to refute those whose writings were falsifying the truth...."

In his retelling of the tempter in the Garden he mentions a tree of wisdom (knowledge?) which Adam and Eve were not to touch, but he says nothing about a tree of life. One of the more astounding claims he makes here is, "At that time, all living creatures spoke a common language, and a serpent maliciously lured the woman into tasting of the tree of wisdom..." So he believes that every animal, bird, fish etc. spoke and communicated. How fish were able to speak underwater is difficult to comprehend. And how larger creatures such as men or horses were able to hear the tiny voices of lice, dust mites, and fleas is beyond understanding.

His take on the story of Cain and Abel is that Cain was "depraved and greedy". He goes on to say that God preferred Abel's offering because it was "produced by nature, not human ingenuity." This is interesting because the bible doesn't tell us why God preferred Abel's offering. There's also the fact that God does in many instances seem to have little use for the human capacity in using our intellects while building things. Many times the Jews were told to build objects like altars without the use of tools, as though a tool would defile the rocks or wood. I realize the tree of knowledge was symbolic of something by which mankind tapped into imagination, but I've often wondered if our use of imagination in order to make tools, smelt metals, and build things was something God was angry about. In fact, the book of Enoch says that it was some of the fallen angels who taught men the use of the first tools, medicines, sorcery, astrology and so on. Later God appears to have relented and even gave specific instructions on building-projects. Josephus also says this about Cain: "Indulging in every form of vice and violence, he grew rich and ended the simple life by inventing weights and measures." We can come up with all kinds of scenarios concerning Cain having inventing weights and measures (something not mentioned in Genesis) and how he might have cheated people (think of the butcher's thumb on the scale) to get rich by them; however, it's Josephus' line about how Cain "ended the simple life" that's more interesting to me. I think Josephus believed that eating from the tree of wisdom/knowledge was the beginning of the end of a more simple kind of existence mankind was originally meant for--probably not so different from the Neanderthal who ate what he could find and lived wherever he found shelter in his natural surroundings. If Josephus was right, it must make us wonder why God would bother to make man such an uninteresting creature in the beginning?

Josephus says of Seth's descendants, that they, "...discovered the science of astronomy. To prevent their findings from perishing in the destruction by fire and deluge predicted by Adam, they inscribed them on two pillars, one of brick and the other of stone. The latter exists to this day in the land of Seiris."

If those two pillars ever actually existed, no one else seems to have written about them or knew where they were. We have no ancient records of Adam having predicted the flood or another kind of destruction by fire. Josephus often mentions and quotes historians from other nations and equates them with certain old testament writings. It may be that he believed something another historian wrote about a man predicting a deluge and a fire was actually about Adam and incorporated that into his own Antiquities. He also quotes from questionable sources from time to time. For instance, he makes mention of some writings by the Chaldean historian, Berosus, where the famous historian supposedly talks about the location of the ark, but many of the works attributed to Berosus are thought to be later forgeries. Josephus also says (as do other ancient historians in regards to the flood) that there were other people besides Noah's family that survived by fleeing to the mountains.

I've barely scratched the surface concerning Josephus' work. Even though his writing isn't always trustworthy, he'll give you things to think about, and in the process, you may find yourself with a whole new perspective on biblical figures such as Abraham and Moses, both of whom he makes out to be very smart and brave military men rather than just the humble prophets most of us generally think of them as being. (He confirms, or perhaps just borrows, what the earlier Jewish historian, Artapanus, said about Moses leading an Egyptian military campaign well before the Exodus in which the Ethiopians were defeated). If you can read his works with an open mind, neither believing too much nor too little, (and how rare those individuals are) you may find yourself making connections within ancient legends that will change your outlook on the history of both the Jews and the peoples of the Mesopotamia Valley.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Dad

The nursing home my dad has been recuperating in temporarily just called saying they couldn't wake him up this morning and that they're sending him to the hospital. He's been sleeping almost constantly for two days and has lots of things wrong with him. Maybe it's just his time to go. But if he's going to live I want him to live well and not be sick. Prayers are appreciated.

Update: Dad died about an hour or two after I left this post. Thanks for your concern and your prayers. This is one of the last photos taken of him. He was teaching at his little Assembly of God Church, the same one I grew-up in.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Initiations of Myth

It's often been said that real mythology died out with the Norse sagas. The people who say this assume that science now provides us with the answers to our origins and the origins of all things, and that if science can't yet answer all our questions, just give science time. Statements like these make me think that real wisdom died with the ancient Greeks because Plato would have been very amused at such assumptions. And it wasn't as though science didn't exist in Plato's time. They were already working with very advanced concepts in geometry. Eratosthenes had actually managed to calculate the Earth's circumference by the 3rd century BC to within 15% accuracy. Aristotle probably knew more about zoology (a science he practically invented) than any man who ever lived. Earth science, biology, and botany all had their start in ancient Greece. But those Greeks were smart enough to know that science always introduces more questions than it answers. Plato would have told us that the world would always be in need of fresh myths.

Myths vaguely explain the unexplainable in wispy, shadowy terms like dream symbolism. God sends us these myths through various means. They can come by way of imagination, meditational states, dreaming, real life strings of coincidences where it seems the world is trying to tell you something, or through the observance of animals and nature.

A few years ago I was watching the 70s sci-fi movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, certainly one of the very best films ever made about alien encounters with man. As I was watching, I came to two realizations. One is that our generation's stories about space aliens are a new kind of mythology. There are a few tales here and there about visitors from space found among ancient legends but certainly not anywhere near the level our age has produced. Whether there really are intelligent non-spiritual life forms (beings composed of matter like us rather than ghostly types of beings) outside of Earth I wouldn't venture to guess. But there have been so many tales of encounters with space aliens that even if these tales come only by way of trance states, dreams, or imagination we still have to wonder what these stories are trying to tell us. Even if people are just tapping into the world of imagination, that world is ruled by God too. We have to consider that he may be sending us a new myth. We should ask ourselves, what is the purpose of this new myth? While I do believe the many, many stories of space aliens and UFO encounters are a kind of new mythology for our age, I have yet to discover its deepest meanings.

The other realization I came to while watching the movie was the way myths come to us in this hazy sort of state. In the story, certain people around the world were having visionary experiences that were very undefined. They would see an object shaped a certain way, kind of like a small mound, and it would remind them of something, but they couldn't quite figure out what that something was. A man would be shaving and look down at the mound shape of cream in his hand before putting it on his face and realize it meant something. A person might be eating mashed potatoes and instinctively push them together to form a mound shape without knowing why. Another person might be driving by a haystack and have that same vague recollection of something. People started trying to better define what this something was. They would try to draw it over and over or make clay models etc. Some of them eventually managed to get a form that satisfied them. They all created the exact same shape that looked just like Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, which ended up being the place where the space aliens landed.

I think this is very much the way God introduces myths to mankind. These symbols may come through dreams, real-life experiences, or any number of other ways. We should be on our guard when we notice many individuals all encountering the same manifestations of what may or may not be imagination, but which seem more symbolic than anything. They will generally be something that gives you a vague sense of having come from another world. As fortune would have it, I just finished rereading Arthur C Clarke's 2001 A Space Odyssey last week and started on CS Lewis' The Magician's Nephew a few days ago. They both contain passages that to me convey the same mythical message even though the two storylines are quite different.

From Clarke's story:

David Bowman, an astronaut, is flying in a space pod toward a mysterious object. It's a giant monolith nearly a mile high resting on Saturn's moon--Japetus. He tries to land on it and instead feels himself sinking into it. As he does so he can see that inside this slab of darkness there are innumerable stars. Time begins to slow down as well. It says, "The seconds themselves were passing with incredible slowness, as if time itself were coming to a stop. At last, the tenth-of-a-second counter froze between 5 and 6." Eventually he comes out into another world. Whether it's merely another part of our universe or another universe altogether he can't say for sure:

He was emerging from the tunnel. ... At the same time, he felt that he was moving upward.... But even before the space pod soared out into the open he knew that this place had nothing to do with Japetus, or with any world within the experience of man. ... He must be above a world of enormous size--perhaps one much larger than Earth. Yet despite its extent, all the surface that Bowman could see was tessellated into obviously artificial patterns that must have been miles on a side. It was like the jigsaw puzzle of a giant that played with planets; and at the centers of many of those squares and triangles and polygons were gaping black shafts--twins of the chasm from which he had just emerged. a flash of insight that might have been wholly spurious, he knew what this thing must surely be. It was some kind of cosmic switching device, routing the traffic of the stars through unimaginable dimensions of space and time. He was passing through a Grand Central Station of the galaxy.

So imagine an artificial planet that has upon its surface thousands of giant domino-shaped monoliths, each of them routing you to a different world or a different part of our world. We're never really made clear on that. At the book's end we certainly find David Bowman living in a totally different kind of existence, yet he can still find his way back to Earth anytime he desires. He's living in a very strange form of non-material existence now.

From CS Lewis story:

Two children, Digory and Polly, have found that all the houses on their street are connected together with no space between them. There's a passageway in the attics, a small space close to the roofline that will allow you to crawl from house to house. Climbing through it, they accidentally come out into Digory's house but in the upper room where his uncle lives. The uncle is a typical freemason magician wannabe who thinks he knows things that he doesn't. He does, however, have in his possession a set of rings that will bring you to and from another world. Both children put on the yellow rings and end up in something like a small pool, but you can breath in this pool and you don't get wet. It comes up into a wooded area that appears to be another kind of reality that's very dreamlike and is described as a place where nothing ever happens:

The pool he [Digory] had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others--a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach. ... This wood was very much alive.

"What's the matter?" said Polly.

"I've just had a really wonderful idea," said Digory. " What
are all the other pools?"

"How do you mean?"

"Why, if we can get back to our own world by jumping into this pool, mightn't we get somewhere else by jumping into one of the others? Supposing there was a world at the bottom of every pool."

"You mean, this wood might be only one of them?"

"No, I don't believe this wood is a world at all. I think it's just a sort of in-between place." ... Think of our tunnel under the slates at home. It isn't a room in any of the houses. In a way, it isn't really part of any of the houses. But once you're in the tunnel you can go along it and come out into any of the houses in the row. Mightn't this wood be the same?--a place that isn't in any of the worlds, but once you've found that place you can get into them all." ... "And of course that explains everything," he said. "That's why it is so quiet and sleepy here. Nothing ever happens here. like at home. It's in the houses that people talk, and do things, and have meals. Nothing goes on in the in-between places....

"The wood between the worlds," said Polly dreamily. "It sounds rather nice."

Lewis says a little later: "It seems to be always the same time in the Wood between the Worlds." So, like in Clarke's story, this sort of switching station is a place of no-time.

Now in the case of the Lewis story it seems rather obvious that he's giving a short lecture on the out-of-body experience taking you to another world and the trancelike sleep state you need to attain that kind of journey. However, he also makes it clear throughout the Narnia tales that you should never try to enter these worlds on your own, but rather, you should wait to be drawn in by Aslan if you're to go at all. He's obviously read his MacDonald.

The Clarke story is of course a little different, yet at the same time we have here two tales expressing doorways into new worlds and the unknown. We also find in both Clarke's novel and the Narnia tales a new world that's coming into view which will change our current world. A new heavens and earth so to speak. And it is in these other worlds that we find the beings (either God or godlike) who truly run our own world and bring it into being.

How did these two authors end up writing stories about trips to other worlds through holes in reality in much the same way? I really don't think Clarke borrowed from Lewis on this (although they did correspond from time to time). And they aren't the only ones. For instance, there is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges called "The Library of Babel" which is about a cosmic library that represents the universe, which in turn represents not only multidimensional space and time, but the building blocks of reality on every level:

The universe (which others call the library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries. In the center of each gallery is a ventilation shaft, bounded by a low railing. From any hexagon one can see the floors above and below--one after another, endlessly. The arrangement of the galleries is always the same: Twenty bookshelves, five to each side, line four of the hexagon's six sides.... One of the hexagon's free sides opens onto a narrow sort of vestibule, which in turn opens onto another gallery, identical to the first--identical in fact to all. To the left and right of the vestibule are two tiny compartments. ... Through this space, too, there passes a spiral staircase, which winds upward and downward into the remotest distance. ... (Mystics claim that their secret ecstasies reveal to them a circular chamber containing an enormous circular book with a continuous spine that goes completely around the walls. But their testimony is suspect, their words obscure. That cyclical book is God.) Let it suffice for the moment that I repeat the classic dictum: The Library is a sphere whose exact center is any hexagon and whose circumference is unattainable.

Men for ages have searched through the library trying to find the meaning of life etc. It contains all the mysteries of the world. Now you may look at the passage from Borges and not see any connection to either of the other stories. But I think most of you will feel there is a certain something being conveyed that is somehow related, and yet you can't say why. Well that is precisely how the symbols of myth come into the world. What does it all mean, these infinite spaces, infinite worlds, and travel between them? Does it relate at all to the space alien myth our age has produced as well? I really don't have an answer. But I feel there's one coming. We are experiencing a myth in the making, and that myth has to do with a remaking of the world. Perhaps God is merely trying to give us a sense of destiny. Mankind cannot go on existing without one.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Ethanol

Christians have been called upon by God to be the caretakers of the Earth since the first man appeared. We're also commanded to be good stewards of our money. It's with that attitude in mind that I present this article.

There are currently 1900 filling stations in the USA with E-85 fuel pumps. The number goes up considerably every year, and the trend is not going to go away. Despite attempts from the oil industry and its congressional cronies to defeat ethanol proponents entirely and send them packing, the grassroots efforts to bring ethanol into the 21st century are alive and well. I will attempt to be a political centrist in this article. In interest of full disclosure, my political leanings are mainly conservative. However, the topic of ethanol is one in which everyone, republicans and democrats alike, have been handed a fistful of misinformation thanks to the deep pockets of the oil industry.

I don't know if ethanol, hydrogen, or some other fuel will win out in the end. But as far as ethanol goes, there are no inherent problems with ethanol itself as a fuel alternative to gasoline; the problem is primarily with corn and corn subsidies. I've been investigating this a lot the past year after hearing David Blume, author of Alcohol Can Be A Gas, give a short talk about the benefits of ethanol and the many false claims about it. Here's a short rundown of much that I've discovered:

1. Corn is one of the worst crops to use for making alcohol/ethanol. It requires much more by way of farm equipment, underlying groundwater, and energy, yet it only produces between 350 to 500 gallons of ethanol per acre. It's simply not worth it trying to make ethanol out of corn, and no one in the greater ethanol industry supports doing so. Sugar cane, for instance, costs less than half the price of corn to make ethanol out of and produces twice as much ethanol in the process. So why do we continue to pay out all this subsidy money to farmers for growing corn? Because, believe it or not, farm lobbyists are extremely powerful critters. The one and only reason they have any power at all is because of the almighty Iowa Caucuses. If we would simply change early caucus locations every four years it would take away all the power that the farmer welfare kings now enjoy. Farmers are used to growing corn and have a lot of money invested in harvesting equipment and so forth that's corn related. Many are reluctant to change. But farm subsidies of any and every kind need to go! Enough of this welfare already.

2. Some of the better crops for ethanol are sugar cane at 900 gallons per acre, buffalo gourd & fodder beans 900 gallons, cattails 1,000 gallons, sorghum 1,500 gallons, switch grass 2,000 gallons, and industrial hemp possibly as much as 2,500 gallons. This last one is very controversial; however, there isn't an agriculturalist on the planet that won't tell you what a tremendous textile industrial hemp is/was. It's the strongest textile known to man which is why boat sails are still made from it (albeit from foreign farms). You can make some 10,000 different products from hemp including every single thing that comes from petroleum oil such as plastics. You can even make a darn good particle board from hemp. I for one would like to see hemp grown again in America. And, no, you cannot make marijuana from industrial hemp.

3. Ethanol detractors constantly talk about how much energy it takes to make ethanol. One of the many things they don't realize (or don't want you to) is that the byproduct of ethanol can be run through a digester to make methane gas. That same methane gas can then be used to heat your next batch of ethanol in the distiller. I've also read of complaints about ethanol not being suitable for sending through large pipelines for shipment like the oil pipelines in Alaska. This is silly. Few, if any, modern pipelines are made from iron. More importantly, crops for ethanol can be grown in every individual state, so there's no need to ship it through pipelines anywhere to begin with.

4. Nearly every detractor of ethanol not only bases all his arguments on corn, but will generally use it to tell you that it will take an incredible amount of land to grow all the ethanol crops we would need to become an all ethanol fueled country. However, Brazil is a good example of what the reality is. They import no oil whatsoever. They have quite a bit of their own oil for one thing, plus they raise sugar cane to make ethanol out of and then run a 50/50 blend in their cars. Sugar cane produces around 900 gallons of ethanol per acre. They grow all the sugar cane they need on only 2% of the land. They've been doing this successfully for over 20-years. They also have enough ethanol leftover to export to other countries every year. If they can do that, then it's hard to believe that we couldn't grow a crop that produces 1500 gallons, or more, of ethanol per acre and run on E-85. Switch grass and hemp will both grow just about anywhere by the way. In fact, it's been said that there's enough switch grass growing wild along the highways in Missouri to fuel every vehicle in the state for the next year. And if you're still concerned we might not have enough land on which to grow our ethanol crops, here's an idea: ban tobacco, the most useless excuse for a crop ever seen on the face of the earth, and use that land to grow ethanol crops. The only downside would be that healthcare costs would drop by at least 20%. Oh... wait....

5. Any gas based car can be converted to run on ethanol, although cars made before 1985 that have carburetors will need several more modifications. Most cars made after 1980 will do just fine with only a cheap converter kit installed. Of course flex fuel vehicles are ready to go.

6. There is nothing better that you can put in your vehicle than ethanol. You'll get around 15% more horse power than with gas. Your motor will have almost no carbon buildup at all which means it will last two to three times longer. Imagine getting 500,000 miles on your car before its first overhaul! There are almost zero emissions. Your motor will run so cool that in many cases you won't even need a radiator. Some naysayers claim that you'll get worse mileage; however, if you design a motor with ethanol in mind you can get better mileage than with gas. Also (and this is a biggie), ethanol burns over 98% clean. That means we can get rid of our catalytic converters and other pollution control items that kill our gas mileage and performance. Your fuel mileage will be considerably better with ethanol. We can also go back to making simple cars that we can all work on again. Wouldn't that be nice?

7. Ford's Model T was designed to run on ethanol. Both Henry Ford and Charles Kettering (of GM back in the day) referred to ethanol as "the fuel of the future". The only reason we're running on gas today is because Rockefeller and his oil baron pals got together and priced gas so cheap (even taking a loss on it for a few years) that ethanol couldn't compete back in the 1920s.

8. GM is plainly on the ethanol bandwagon and will have the world’s largest ethanol plant, 100 million gallons/year, up and running by the end of 2010, and they already have 2.5 million flex fuel vehicles on the road. GM has also invested heavily in Coskata, a company that's producing ethanol from agricultural leftovers and municipal and industrial waste. They claim to be able to produce ethanol for around a dollar a gallon in the near future using an entirely different technology in making it. They say: "During gasification, carbon-based input materials are converted into syngas using well-established gasification technologies. After the chemical bonds are broken using gasification, Coskata's proprietary microorganisms convert the resulting syngas into ethanol by consuming the carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) in the gas stream. Once the gas-to-liquid conversion process has occurred, the resulting ethanol is recovered from the solution using "pervaporation technology.""

9. One of the many myths about ethanol is that it will corrode engine parts, especially seals. This is only partially true. Ethanol is hard on gaskets and seals made from cork, and can eventually erode iron fuel tanks and lines (though it would take a long time) because of the small amount of water present in ethanol. Also, fuel pumps have to be made to withstand the slight electrical conductivity of ethanol. However, all cars made after 1980 or thereabouts have corrosion resistant tanks and fuel lines, they have no cork gaskets anymore, and they all have the correct fuel pumps. A lot of ethanol corrosion myths are based on ethanol's evil cousin--methanol--the stuff they use in race cars which is generally made from wood grain alcohol and is very hard on a motor. There's a fantastic video on YT showing the torn apart motor of a 2000 Chevy Tahoe which was run almost entirely on E85 for 100,000 miles. This vehicle is NOT a flex fuel vehicle, and it never had an ethanol converter kit installed. It was completely stock. I've never seen such a clean looking motor inside. Even the seals look like new:

10. The question on your mind should be, why doesn't the general public know all this? Why have we been sold this ridiculous bill of goods? Of course the answer lies where it usually does when politics are concerned--in money. Very simply put, ethanol has no rich men with deep pockets to fund campaigns or to even fund their own lobbyists, while the oil industry is so powerful and has so much money to throw at legislators, even funding their campaigns, that ethanol is completely shut-out. Big oil spent over $400 million in lobbying while Bush and Cheney were in office, and 80% of it went to republicans. (When Bush and Cheney, two oil magnets themselves, took office, they put together a special energy taskforce in 2001 and wouldn't tell anyone who was on it. It was later leaked in 2005 that every person on it was a representative from a big oil company). But now that the democrats are in control we're seeing big oil starting to toss quite a bit of money their way as well. Among all the people running for political office in 2008, the person who received the largest campaign contribution from big oil was John McCain. However, you may find it harder to guess who the person was that received the second largest amount. It was Barack Obama who raked in a cool million from them. Yeah, it's good to be president.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seeing Around Invisible Corners

I've mentioned several times how much respect CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien had for John Dunne's dream experiments with Oxford students during the 1920s. These culminated in his seminal book, An Experiment With Time, about people who often dreamed of future events. Something that I think is just as interesting are the experiments Rupert Sheldrake did with cats and dogs that proved they can often find their way home from just about anywhere. Some dogs also showed an amazing ability to know the exact moment their owners were about to come home. The dogs would go over and sit by the door at the precise moment their owners were beginning their homeward journey. He wrote a book outlining his experiments called Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home.

While I have very little use for psychology, and I think Carl Jung's dream archetypes are a bit silly, Jung did have a very honest outlook on the more strange abilities that humans show now and then. The following is from a TV interview he did toward the end of his life:

Interviewer: I know that you say death is psychologically just as important as birth and like it is an integral part of life, but surely, it can't be like birth if it is an end. Can it?

Jung: [W]e know that there are these peculiar faculties of the psyche--that it isn't entirely confined to space and time. You can have dreams or visions of the future. You can see around corners and such things. ONLY IGONRANTS DENY THESE FACTS. IT'S QUITE EVIDENT THAT THEY DO EXIST AND HAVE EXISTED ALWAYS. Now these facts show that the psyche--in part at least--is not dependent on these confinements. And then what? When the psyche is not under that obligation to live in time and space alone--and obviously it isn't--then to that extent the psyche is not submitted to those laws, and that means a practical continuation of life, of a sort of psychical existence beyond time and space.

Isn't it nice those few times you come across a respected professional who acknowledges the incredibly obvious?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Aberrations of Intimacy

This is one of those politically correct, or incorrect, topics that people with brains are smart enough to leave alone.

So, as I was saying... I'll be the first to admit I don't understand homosexuality anymore than I appreciate it. And quite honestly, I don't think I'm supposed to understand it. Sin is an aberration. Beyond that, the actual mechanisms of sin are something completely beyond human understanding. Only God can properly understand sin and properly hate it. That almost magical framework which supports sin and infuses our world with it is unknown to mortals. Negative thoughts, suggestions, appetites and habits are constantly poured into the cup of each soul. The bible tells us from whom they flow. It does not tell us how. At its most diminutive, sin preys upon the weakness of our flesh. These are appropriately referred to as sins of weakness. Sin begins to show its real strength, however, when it is premeditated. It then gathers even more steam and becomes the custom of small groups. And at its deadliest it takes on the function of a worldwide tradition just as human sacrifice once was.

If there's one characteristic of sin that stands out it must be that of senselessness. Not that all sins appear senseless at all times. For instance, to a lazy man, it must seem quite sensible to steal. But there's usually a root to sin that has no sense in it. In this case it is the laziness itself. Laziness provides no real function in life. Laziness enhances the life of no man, and lazy men do nothing to enhance society. It's not just that no good thing comes from it that should astound us though. It's that any man should ever think to be lazy in the first place. How did he ever conceive of such a way of life? Did the world's first lazy man actually conceive anything at all of laziness? Or did he merely act on impulse? Impulse! Ah, where did that impulse come from? How? And why? I also must say that the closer you look at the psychology professional's view on the impulse to sin, the more you come to realize his view is all smoke and mirrors. It's no secret that I have always had a very low opinion of psychology. There are simply no answers there--only men who put on the pretense of one who knows.

The only thing about homosexual acts that can in any way be construed as desirous is that of the physical pleasure some claim to derive from it. But physical pleasures cannot be thought of as positive or negative. They are simply physical states such as hot or cold. They are neither good nor evil. Physical discomforts are also neither good nor evil. They may not be desirous, but they are just a state of existence.

I would also quickly admit that I've heard locker-room talk where guys mentioned things their wives or girlfriends did with them sexually that seemed quite pleasurable to them, but which sounded just as strange to me as any homosexual act and sometimes just as sickening. Frankly, anything involving the word "anus" is disturbing, and to me, comes under the heading of mentally imbalanced. Is this a way of getting back at their parents for not allowing them to play in the city sewer system as kids? That might be the best answer a psychologist could come up with. But isn't it obvious that there's something very wrong, something very insensible going on?

Of course it hardly stops there. One of the more oddball intimate behaviors people sometimes engage in was immortalized by ZZ Top in the song "Pearl Necklace". Need I say more? My question is, what's the point? Physical pleasure? But couldn't performing the sex act in the normal way bring the exact same pleasure? What compels people to do the very strange?

These are the kinds of weird explorations I would expect of six year old kids if six year old kids could have sex. But is there anything about these acts that conjure up images of well-balanced adults?

Now I'm not letting myself off the hook here. For several years I had a thing for married women. I never once acted on the impulse, but still, the compulsion was there, and for the life of me, I don't know why. It made no sense whatsoever. The last thing I was looking for was a wife myself, so it wasn't like I was hoping any of these women were going to leave their husbands for me. That was the last thing on my mind. It was simply a kind of appetite, and maybe that's the word we should be focusing on.

An appetite in this case can best be described as a wild craving. For some it can even become insatiable over time. Life is about making choices. But where do those choices come from? I'm especially thinking of choices involving cravings that appear from within. Sexual appetite is often thought of as merely a physical and biological desire (or bio-physical if you like), but I see much more at work here because so often those cravings have little or nothing to do with the flesh. Normal humans have a physical craving for sex. But strange sexual aberrations begin from within and will manifest themselves even when the physical body is craving nothing at all. Our mind tells us it wants to have sex, and it wants to have it in an abnormal way, even though our bodies are telling us no such thing. I truly believe this is how many people get involved with weird sexual behaviors. They'll so often claim, "This is the only way I can do it", when the truth of the matter is that they could perform the act in the normal manner if they waited until their physical bodies were actually craving sex rather than just their minds. It's rather like a man saying he doesn't like water and can only drink a particular kind of imported wine when in truth he would gladly drink water if he were very, very thirsty.

I've mentioned before of how I once knew a married couple, both of whom were afraid of being in high places, not because they were afraid of heights, but because both of them felt the same insensible compulsion to jump.

These insensible impulses we feel in life have a way of bringing about self-hatred. It begins with a sort of disgust we have toward ourselves for even being tempted to act irrationally in the first place (perhaps because we allowed the impulse in) and ends with an all out self-hate when we fall completely out of control. I've always felt homosexuality was somehow a form of self-hatred. It's only recently that I've come to this understanding of why.

The things of God, however, are usually pretty straight forward. This in fact is one of the things that draws us most to him. We're bombarded with irrational impulses day after day, and if we give in to them, we know that irrationality is only a step away from insanity. But there is sanity in God. I often think this is what's being referred to by that "peace that surpasses understanding". It is simply sanity. A devotion to God is a devotion to all that is rational. It makes sense of the world and gives clarity to the mind.

If you ever try to talk rationally with a homosexual you will immediately find his world is full of irrationalities. I recently found myself having just such a discussion with one. The first thing he did was to say that I hated homosexuals. I of course said no such thing. He had instantaneously drawn the conclusion that if I thought homosexuality was wrong that I must hate anyone who does it. When I informed him that it was only the act that was the object of my scorn, he quickly replied, "The old hate the sin, love the sinner nonsense, eh? That's just a copout. Nobody buys that."

He then went on to say that since I had never tried homosexuality that I couldn't make an informed decision about it. I replied that I had also never tried murder, torture, rape, incest, biting off an ear, or poking out someone's eye with a stick either, but that all rational people realize such things are wrong.

Next he trotted out the old standby of how I was being "intolerant" and that he was promoting "openness and acceptance." I replied that he was being "permissive" that he was promoting openness and acceptance to something that most of the world considers to be a vice.

I also pointed out to him that, without fail, every single homosexual person I had ever encountered had been extremely self-centered and incredibly childish. Well of course he was just aghast at such a comment, but I was simply telling the truth. The fact is that every homosexual man I've ever met, or ever saw on TV, acted much more like a child than a woman. Richard Simmons is probably a pretty good example. I asked him how I could think of homosexual men as being "normal" well-balanced adults when they acted like children?

His only answer was that I must be bigoted. I said that I certainly was not but was only relating my impressions. I said that I had never known a homosexual that I felt comfortable being around but that I didn't see that as bigotry. There are in fact all kinds of people we don't like being around such as those who are childish, selfish, foolish, loud, obnoxious, rude etc. If I don't like being around a fool, does that make me a fool-bigot? Isn't it just common sense not wanting to be around a fool?

His last argument was perhaps the least sound of all and one I've heard many times before, and that was the fact that there are some animals that engage in homosexual acts. This in his mind made it all right for humans too. Actually, he went on to mention some studies done on rats which showed that they became more prone toward homosexual behaviors when their populations were increased within the same small area. The idea behind this argument is that homosexuality may in some cases be nature's way of population control.

First I mentioned that we humans are in dire straights when we start to use the criteria of other animals to judge our own behaviors. Some insects eat their mates after sex. Some eat their children too. Does that make it okay for us to do these things? Does it really imply that homosexual behavior in humans is just a part of nature if other animals do it? Or could it possibly imply that animals simply have no moral conscience? No real sense of right and wrong? I once saw a cat play with a snake and basically torture it to death. I'm no fan of snakes, but the cat never ate the snake. What purpose did it serve to torture it to death like that? Once again, could it be that other animals have no conscience and have no qualms about doing anything irrational that comes into their feeble minds?

The entire conversation with this man felt very strange. It was almost like I was conversing with an animal rather than a human. His arguments made no rational sense at all. They were the types of arguments I would have expected from someone below the age of ten. But the man wasn't stupid. He was irrational. There's a difference. I couldn't help but think that this is what a lifetime of willful sin will do to an intellect. There's no sanity away from God. There's only confusion, selfishness, and inner strife.

By the way, I recently had a chance to look up that study on controlled rat populations. It had the following to say:

"Males became aggressive, some moving in groups, attacking females and the young. Mating behaviors were disrupted. Some males became exclusively homosexual. Others became pansexual and hypersexual, attempting to mount any rat they encountered. Mothers neglected their infants, first failing to construct proper nests, and then carelessly abandoning and even attacking their pups. ... The crowded rodents had lost the ability to co-exist harmoniously, even after the population numbers once again fell to low levels. At a certain density, they had ceased to act like rats and mice, and the change was permanent."

It almost sounds as though homosexual behavior and mental devolution go hand in hand. The whole point in his bringing up the rat studies was to offer evidence that physical environments cause homosexual behaviors in some rats, and thus, that their behavior is not their own fault--the implication being that humans can't help their own behavior either. It's basically a determinist view of the world. That to me is absurd.

That humans may find themselves in situations that tempt bad behavior is a given. It's not even interesting. What's interesting is the way some people fight that same temptation and don't allow it to control them. It's our ability to go against these outside influences (or at least give it our best try) and remain in control of our natures that makes humans interesting compared to all other creatures on earth. The very fact that some of us remain loyal to a higher standard (what the ancients called first precepts, the Tao, or the laws of nature) in the face of adversity is truly astounding and goes against all science since science by its nature is deterministic. Call me crazy, but that a rat chooses to make poor choices doesn't matter to me.