Monday Highlights

Good morning.

  1. A letter posted.
  2. The fluidity of language.
  3. Mr Roberts reluctance.
  4. Much to lose means having much in the first place.
  5. Visiting other places and rites.
  6. Talking tough, sort of.
  7. Who is “really Black” or really Native American, or White, or whatever … the problems with the left’s race identity politics. Someday, we’ll judge people by the content of their character … but before the left can let go of their racism, they have to admit that their racial identity crap is racist.
  8. Grrrr.
  9. Civilization ending? Yikes.
  10. Betting on ignorance.
  11. Now there’s a question that displays lack of self-examination. “Where’s the atheist fiction.” Hello? That describes most fiction, almost all science fiction and probably 98%+ of regular fiction. Look at the NYTimes best seller lists for the last year. Name three books in which religion and theology factor in a meaningfull way. I’ll wait. Name a mainstream science fiction book written in the last 20 years in which any character is religious, in most of them religion doesn’t even exist and/or is never mentioned. How about thrillers?
  12. Pedagogy.
  13. Look at the places you can go if your premise if false. I suspect a true statement would be that the motives behind charity are varied and that there is not one.
  14. St. Patrick.

20 Responses to Monday Highlights

  1. RE 7:

    Sadly you’ missed the boat on this one by about 20 years. Obsessing over who is or isn’t white or black isn’t much of an obsession for the left anymore (note, for example, Morgan Freeman’s stance on Obama sounds a lot more technical than critical…) but it has become one for the right where we now seem to be told that Zimmerman is Latino or Black depending on minute examination of his family tree but the candidate for Senate in Mass doesn’t have ‘enough’ Native American blood to say she has ‘some’ Native American blood.

    Note the blog you cited essentially makes this point that race is essentially a cultural creation that can’t be defined by any sharp genetic boundaries….hence its chiding of Freeman’s assertion since there’s hardly any black people who can’t locate some white blood in their family trees. This doesn’t mean that white and black have no meanings. They simply mean whatever culture defines them to mean. If you want to say 1 black parent and 1 white is ‘mixed’ go ahead. Or if you want to say its black go ahead too. There’s no absolute objective standard that can declare one right and the other wrong.

  2. Atheist fiction:

    Sci-fi is produced by the ton so I’m not sure it makes much sense to ‘name three books’. In terms of respect and influence, I’d say both Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars were huge and religion played a large role. Star Trek probably would qualify as more ‘atheist’ since more often than not supernatural seeming events almost always reduce to science of some sort (although Deep Space 9 did get into incorporation religion more realistically). Of course many major sci-fi authors like Asmiov were atheists and were vocal about it (not quite at the level of the late Christopher Hitchens, though).

    I would disagree with your assertion that most fiction is atheist. I think at best its agnostic or secular meaning religion is not its focus and it takes little interest in religious questions. Very little fiction is explicitly atheist in the sense that its focus is religious issues and its ‘answers’ are atheist. The only explicit example that comes to mind is the His Dark Materials trilogy (aka The Golden Compass) series. Although even there some have said its more of a criticism against organized religion rather than atheism itself.

  3. BTW, NYT hardcover fiction list is here:
    http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2012-07-15/hardcover-fiction/list.html

    From a glance, I suspect religion would be a large factor in #6 and and possibly a factor in #8 (I’m only 100 pages into the first Game of Thrones book so its too early to tell). Numbers 14 and 16 also seem to likely have religion playing something of a role in their plot.

    Looking at the combined print and ebook list I’m wondering if we should consider all Vampire fiction to have religion as a major element? Ann Rice’s Vampire novels, clearly, came with heavy doses of religion with God and Satan even playing lead characters in one of them.

    Just out of curiousity, the nonfiction list (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2012-07-15/hardcover-nonfiction/list.html) has BECOMING SISTER WIVES. There’s no other books that are explicitly religious although one suspects the mass of Conservative pundit entries would probably say nice things about religion out of good form (and this list is probably distorted by the large bulk orders that always seem to surround right wing pundit books).

    What’s pretty clear is that there are no explicitly atheist books on any of these lists. At best I think its a cop out to just declare any book that’s not explicitly about some type of religion to be automatically an ‘atheist book’.

    BTW, other major sci-fi heavyweight with religion playing a large role, Dune of course.

  4. 13.Look at the places you can go if your premise if false. I suspect a true statement would be that the motives behind charity are varied and that there is not one.

    I think charity is due for a good takedown. Fact is it is mostly about making the giver feel good and very little of it can objectively be measured as doing good for the people on the other side. I think in modern times charity has taken the place of selling indulgences whereby its a transaction that makes people think they are buying themselves into holiness. (In fact my brother-in-law loves to couple his claims to charity by chiming in with ‘I give more than liberals give to charity’ thereby demonstrating how savy a shopper he is, buying both indulgences and self-righteousness at once!).

    A more interesting form of charity, I think, happens on the individual level. The person who let’s a not-so-favorite relative live with them rent free, for example. Giving up your vacation money for your nephews operation etc. All these I think are more direct and real examples of private charity that would probably have resonated with ancient Christians as real charity (did they even have large organized institutions in the Roman Empire that casual donors could just ‘write a check too and forget’ like the Salvation Army is today?

  5. Boonton,
    Fantasy is an exception, in that gods (many) typically enter in frequently. I missed that. I should have offered that as an exception. I never suggested horror (either) as a possibility, which would likely include your vampire novels. Although more and more, as vampire mythology moves secular into romance territory the divine (theology) becomes rarer and rarer.

    Interestingly enough, another sub-genre, military fiction rarely makes reference to religion. The maxim “there are no atheists in foxholes” is perhaps true in real life, but in novelists foxholes God rarely enters.

    What’s pretty clear is that there are no explicitly atheist books on any of these lists.

    Now you’re confusing your categories of atheists. JA and I disagreed on this point. He contends a person that never considers or mentions God is not an atheist because he doesn’t deny God’s existence. My thought experiment was to compare his brand of atheism to an alien for whose civilization the very concept of divinity has never arisen. That alien is more the atheist than Mr JA. Likewise a Sci-fiction book in which religious experience is completely missing (or like most of those fiction books) they are more not less atheist than one like Star Wars which posits the divine as a biological organelle (or your Golden Compass thing which moves God to merely a powerful entity (I think)).

    BTW, other major sci-fi heavyweight with religion playing a large role, Dune of course.

    Yes. that’s 1 in a thousand.

  6. Boonton,
    Interesting that you noted Dune. There’s lots of eugenics/race-based talk in Dune, enough so a former (Jewish) roommate of mine virulently opposed the writing because of its attitudes to race (and master race ideas).

  7. Boonton,

    Fact is it is mostly about making the giver feel good and very little of it can objectively be measured as doing good for the people on the other side.

    Fact? Based on what?

    (did they even have large organized institutions in the Roman Empire that casual donors could just ‘write a check too and forget’ like the Salvation Army is today?

    I don’t know ab out a Roman “Red Cross” equivalent, but the late Roman (Eastern) Empire began the notion of hospitals serving (for free) services to the poor. They were sponsored likely primarily by rich donors and additionally by parish coffers. So, you could in fact, “give” at church knowing that you were funding a hospital. Monasteries served a similar purpose housing orphans and widows (and widowed women who wanted off the die-in-childbirth lottery). Monasteries were work based, but donors were also present.

    The care often given by charitable givers to the nature and effectiveness of the charity gives lie to your suggestion. Why would someone care? Wouldn’t different criteria be at stake then?

    As I said, the motives are many. If you give “for a reward in the afterlife” that is pointedly not in line with the premise unless you think that contributions to your 401K is for the purpose of “making the giver feel good.” You might be able to twist a reading of the motive that way, but the twisting belies that it is not a good fit to your motive.

    Most commonly I’d suggest that giving is syllogistically (“I am Christian” “Christ calls all to charity” therefore “I will give to charity”). That syllogism is not based on “feel good about self”.

  8. I missed that. I should have offered that as an exception. I never suggested horror (either) as a possibility, which would likely include your vampire novels

    I got off the whole vampire thing when it was Rice. Her characters though struggled to reconcile their Christian upbringing with the fact that they were vampires. Newer vampire novels, though, may just treat vampires as something akin to a medical condition leaving out a lot of the whole religious element.

    Not sure you’re right about fantasy. Gods don’t typically enter Lord of the Rings, for example. The fiction writer has a problem with God(s) entering the action too much as it makes it harder to build suspense. Are you going to try to reclassify Star Wars and Dune as fantasy though?

    He contends a person that never considers or mentions God is not an atheist because he doesn’t deny God’s existence. My thought experiment was to compare his brand of atheism to an alien for whose civilization the very concept of divinity has never arisen.

    I think you’re confusing the fictional character with what the author tells you about the character. Just because religous thought or speculation or action never happens in the action of the story is not quite the same as saying the character him(her)self is athiest by your definition. Consider a novelization of your work life dealing with various automated systems. You might appear to be an atheist character to a reader with your mindset but that’s only because the books ‘action’ will be your troubleshooting of automated systems.

    they are more not less atheist than one like Star Wars which posits the divine as a biological organelle (or your Golden Compass thing which moves God to merely a powerful entity (I think)).

    I think The Force in Star Wars is more religious than you depict. The ‘biological organelle’ is only introduced in the newer movies and even then it’s limited to being a way to communicate with it, not the thing itself.

    Re: Dune well not quite 1 in a thousand. They churn out sci-fi almost as fast as they churn out paper so we have to go with influence and gravity and Dune is pretty high up there. That being said I never got through a page of the books.

    Most commonly I’d suggest that giving is syllogistically (“I am Christian” “Christ calls all to charity” therefore “I will give to charity”). That syllogism is not based on “feel good about self”.

    That may be but I think you have to admit while motives are many there’s quite a few that could be characterized as either the ‘indulgence motive’ whereby people think their charity goes into some type of ‘spirtual 401K’ to return either as ‘good karma’ now or something else in the afterlife or to elicit a ‘positive feeling’.

    I’m curious as to how much monasteries were ‘donor based’ relative to the way we think of that. A rich man may have given a trac of land and building to a monastery but did the monastery ‘collect donations’ the way a modern charity might do with numerous small donars?

  9. Boonton,
    Indulgences were not bought so you could feel good about one’s self. They were more like pension funds.

    did the monastery ‘collect donations’ the way a modern charity might do with numerous small donars?

    Depends on the when and where. In the late-Medieval west monasteries became quite wealthy. At the start, the city monasteries were a place for single women and orphans and I doubt they managed, via work, to support themselves without donations and were also attached to churches. So, inasmuch as donations supported churches they would do with small donors.

    there’s quite a few that could be characterized as either the ‘indulgence motive’ whereby people think their charity goes into some type of ‘spirtual 401K’ to return either as ‘good karma’ now or something else in the afterlife or to elicit a ‘positive feeling’.

    “either a return” or a “feel good”. The latter was the ONLY motive that the poster indicated. You have two already. Which is a tacit admission (or explicit) that we’re not talking about one motive that ruled them all.

  10. Boonton,
    Re “Gods and LOTR” … you have (?) read the Simarillion? You know it is the basis for the history/backstory of LOTR and does include gods and creation mythos.

    I think you’re confusing the fictional character with what the author tells you about the character.

    Yet those characters, often enough, spend time frightened (or should be) in foxholes … and are not praying overmuch.

  11. Re “Gods and LOTR” … you have (?) read the Simarillion? You know it is the basis for the history/backstory of LOTR and does include gods and creation mythos.

    Not really, mostly unreadable to my point of view but I have read summaries of it. Gods? I think it might be closer to say it has a God and then angeles who are less than God but more than humans.

    Speaking of your definition of atheism, LoTR would seem to qualify. Even though Gandalf is probably literally an angel on a mission, nearly all the populations of Middle Earth appear to have no actual religious beliefs at all. There are no temples, churches, ceremonies, or even prayers.

    Now I recommend to you the Prince of Nothing series, which has a very complicated universe with multiple religions deeply integrated into its societies.

  12. Boonton,

    Speaking of your definition of atheism, LoTR would seem to qualify.

    What do you think the elves are doing most of the time if not liturgical poems.

    I’d also recommend (on the question of relgion and Star Wars) the somewhat humorous trial. I think a convincing case is made there that the religion as such in Star Wars … isn’t religion as we understand it.

    I’m re-reading the Prince of Nothing (book 2 actuall now) right now. I read the first book when it came out. Re-read it recently, but havn’t as yet read books 2 & 3.

    Again, I admit fantasy very often has religion. So does horror. Standard (literary) fiction rarely does, and science fiction rarely does (you can make an argument that a space opera (like Star Wars) is more related to fantasy than the rest of science fiction).

  13. I would note that the Jedi have prophecies, a cosmology that seems to explain the universe on a meta scale, and a set of rituals and devotions (note, for example, what seems to be a vow of chastity that Jedi are expected to take). While ‘science’ mixes with their religion, I would say that their relationship with the force is not technological the way Harry Potter’s world uses magic.

    I would also note that the sharp distinction between religion and science is a product of our modern culture. To many medieval philosophers, many ‘religious’ beliefs sounded a lot like science such as speculation about hell being underground in the center of the earth, heaven being just above the celestial sphears that carry the stars around, speculation about whether Jesus’s foreskin ‘resurrected’ when he did and so on. The Jedi are somewhat similiar IMO in that they live in an age where there is no dichtomy between the two. In fact, the Star Wars universe is sort of the reverse of our own. There is no ‘science’ there, all scientific knowledge has already been discovered and for the last so many thousands of years all the that has happened technologically has been rearranging the styles of technology use. ‘New discoveries’ happen on the religious front rather than scientific.

    Also recall that Han Solo AND the Imperial General both referred to Jedism as a religion (the first ‘hokey’ and the second a ‘sad devotion to a long dead religion’). Vader chides the general for his ‘lack of faith’. Non-humans aren’t really explored that much in Star Wars, but remember the Ewalks clearly had some type of religious belief which caused them to mistake C3PO as a god….and none of the other characters needed the concept of religion explained to them to understand that.

    In contrast, Middle Earth is simply not religious IMO. Yes the Elves sing long sad songs but no one really talks much about the afterlife, there’s no structure to the universe laid out by metaphysical belief. Tolkein himself said that he was creating a ‘pre-Christian’ world but in fact you might say he created a ‘pre-religion’ one….religion is true in his world *but* most of the characters seem unaware of it (some, of course, were nearly eyewitnesses to creation itself so they know more than others). Consider a character like Tree-beard. An age old Ent whose been around thousands of years but he is a ‘regular guy’ type. He has all sorts of stories and memories but had no supernatural encounters yet after asorbing all that common wisdom of Middle Earth, he clearly has little or no thought about dieties. Ironically I think a lot of your definition of atheism fits the ME characters perfectly.

  14. Boonton,
    The elves don’t talk of an afterlife because they don’t have one. Here is a sight that gives some data.

    I’ll scan the book (Star Wars on Trial) on the religion aspect and report back tonight. It was certainly argued both ways.

  15. The word ‘some’ is pretty important there. Essentially the entire world seems to have maybe two Temples devoted to the two competiting religions. And these religions sem to be nearly entirely absent from the common knowledge of the population.

  16. Boonton,
    Regarding religion and LOTR … if angels don’t worship in churches do they have religion? Elves seem to me “closer” in a similar fashion to Iluvatar (sp + missing diacritical marks). Do you need organized religion when elves are wandering through your woods (and not asking you to build churches and form an organized religion?).

  17. Elves are not angels, they are more or less people who just do not happen to age past adulthood and do not die of natural causes (but can get killed by violence or accidents). The closest you get to angles would probably be the wizards like Gandalf, but note they appear to be rather ‘under cover’ and Middle Earth has a habit of making ‘angels’ forget where they came from so they are unlike Biblical angels who usually are running messages for God and know quite well who and what they are.

  18. Boonton,

    they are more or less people who just do not happen to age past adulthood and do not die of natural causes

    Untrue. Not even in LOTR itself not to speak of the Silmarillion. Elves have a different ontological relationship to nature and the creator than man. Elves like Galadriel were mentioned in the earliest stories of elven struggles against Melkor (Sauron was one of Melkor’s captains). What I mean by angels is not that they are servants of God, but that they have a different nature than man, a different relationship with creation and the creator. The Wizards as well were not human, they were more properly akin to angels. See also Valar.

  19. Boonton,
    So the point is, those epic poems recited and venerated by Elves (and our Hobbits) … are basically recitations and memories of the Elvish encounters with the Valar, i.e., the gods. How is that unlike religion? Recall how important music was to the Elves. Do you see mention of the song in the cite on the Valar? Seems like that’s alot like religion.

    Oops. I didn’t get to the “Star Wars on Trial” and its takedown/defense of the force as religion. I’m traveling tomorrow (on vacation, but should have time to research en route and report back).

  20. In LOTR, however, the story is centered mostly on the race of men (hobbits being part of men), not elves.

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