Platonism, Mental Health, Bodies, and Souls

I was out on a run the other day, and I had a stray thought about the soul, and it kind of whirled out into an extended rumination on a couple of trends that I’ve been wondering about for a while.

There are two Christian bloggers that I read regularly these days: Samantha Field and Fred Clark.  Field’s expertise is in deconstructing the harmful assumptions that are endemic to fundamentalist Christianity from the perspective of a survivor of that culture, while Clark’s interest is more broadly focused on issues of social justice and calling out hypocrisy among conservative Christian leaders.  Recently, they’ve been discussing slightly separate topics in some depth, and the stray thought I had on my run led me to realize that they’re pretty closely connected.

One of Field’s hallmarks is her ongoing reviews and critiques of seminal evangelical advice books, particularly advice books related to marriage.  Not too long ago, she wrapped up her series on Tim LaHaye’s How to Win Over Depression (first entry can be found here), which is a notable book in evangelicalism for its central premise that depression is a condition which can be overcome through prayer and sufficiently disciplined practice of Christian faith.  Field, who’s very open on her blog about the challenges she faces dealing with clinical depression and several other chronic illnesses, takes LaHaye to task repeatedly over his sexist, dismissive characterization of depression as a moral failing rather than a legitimate illness that requires treatment and understanding.

In another vein, Clark wrote a recent post about the challenges of discussing the concept of the soul.  In that post he refers to the fact that the idea of the soul, the eternal, spiritual aspect of a person’s being has pervaded our cultural consciousness since the days of Plato, with his philosophy of the Ideals from which all material things emanate as pale imitations.  Clark’s point is that the talk of the soul as a separate thing which temporarily inhabits a material body is an unfortunate linguistic pattern that subtly reinforces the idea that bodies don’t matter in relation to the eternal aspects of a person, which in turn contributes to the dominant narrative of American evangelicalism that focuses on the eternal afterlife at the ever expanding expense of the temporal present.

Clark’s point about the way we tend to think about the soul is a significant one because it points towards how contemporary evangelicalism has allowed elements of gnosticism to creep into its theology (it’s arguable that gnosticism has been exerting influence on Christianity since the beginning; Paul did write several letters to early churches addressing the issue) through a decoupling of the importance of both body and soul to a person’s spiritual well being.

Bringing that back to Field, I realized that part of the evangelical distrust of mental illness that LaHaye’s book typifies stems from this Platonist/gnostic line of thought.  Bodies are less important than souls, and the influence of the body on the soul is something to be minimized as much as possible.  Framing depression as a spiritual malady limits one’s capacity to seriously consider how bodily factors contribute to mental illness, primarily because we don’t want to think of our minds as being subject to the whims of our meatbags.  In evangelical thought, the preference is to imagine a system akin to the ancient concept of the homunculus, a little person sitting inside us who manipulates our bodies, rather than admitting that there are material factors that influence our minds.  Mental illness, we’ve continuously learned, is a result of both environmental and biological factors, which threatens the homunculus theory.  God forbid something about our bodies could directly influence the operations of our minds.

So in one sense, yes, of course LaHaye treats depression as a moral failing.  His theological schema, influenced by Platonism to the degree that we all are, precludes him from seriously considering that a quirk in the body might be the source of something like depression, and that treating depression is therefore a task best approached from a material perspective (the great exception to this of course is whether a person has a vagina, since, as Field points out, LaHaye almost invariably characterizes depression as a woman’s problem; even then, he’d couch the distinction in complementarian terms like the intrinsically different natures of the male and female souls; don’t try to examine that too closely, because the contradictions inherent in describing multiple categories of a metaphysical concept using biological, and therefore physical, characteristics will make your head explode).

So where does all that stuff leave us?  Speaking from my own experience, I recall a time when the idea of material influence on my soul was a pretty scary idea.  Considering that possibility can very quickly lead to the conclusion that we might simply be organic automata, devoid of any eternal component.  That’s not a position with which I’m comfortable, because for all my criticism of the idea of the soul as a separate, eternal thing, I still want to believe in a system in which something about us lasts past the destruction of our bodies.  Whether that’s possible to do consistently, I’m not sure, but it does lead me to believe that within the closed system that we call ourselves, our bodies do matter.  They are on equal footing with our souls, and that means that we have a responsibility to care for them here, now, today.

How Do We Address Fundamentalism?

I’ve had a lot of thoughts swirling around in the last week about a bunch of apparently disparate topics that have a single common denominator.

Last Tuesday, while Rachael and I were coping with the inconvenience that comes from an ice storm in Georgia that knocks out your power for most of the day, I came across a great article discussing the state of mind of contemporary evangelicalism and making a case that the movement has a lot in common with nineteenth century liberalism (this is a school of theological thought, not a contemporary political ideology), and I was particularly struck by an idea that it offered that evangelicals exist within a mindset that they are fighting against modernist thought through their theological positions while being unaware that they can’t possibly escape their inherent modernism resulting from the peculiarity of when and where they are living in time and culture.  It’s a good article, and you should go read it.

Then on Friday, Fred Clark at Slacktivist began a three post series discussing a point of contention he has with the otherwise excellent longform article by Graeme Wood at The Atlantic about the theological motivations of the Islamic State (these are all excellent reads, and you should read them as well if you have the time and inclination).  Clark’s primary point is that the Islamic State is fundamentalist in relation to the rest of Islam in a manner similar to how adherents of the eschatology presented in the Left Behind series of books are fundamentalist in relation to the rest of Christianity (I’m more educated about varieties of Christianity than I am about varieties of Islam, so I apologize to anyone for whom I’m oversimplifying the relationship between the Islamic State and the rest of Islam or undersimplifying the relationship between one particular kind of Christian fundamentalism with the rest of Christianity).  The most salient point to take from the comparison is that any kind of fundamentalism will claim stronger legitimacy than its related, more moderate, ideologies, but the rest of us are making a mistake in judgment if we allow that claim to stand unchallenged (let alone for now the problem that more moderate ideologies will tend to not jump in on the “No True Scotsman” action, and thereby lose the rhetorical advantage of a really stupid fallacy).

After reading all that, I then began thinking about GamerGate, because it’s a topic of frequent derision in my Twitter feed (and rightfully so), and it occurred to me that GamerGaters are falling into the same intellectual patterns as religious fundamentalists.  I regret that I’ve lost the link to an article that made a pretty compelling argument that GamerGate is a manifestation of current politically conservative ideology, but given the strong connection that conservatism in America has with Christian fundamentalism, that idea seems like an apropos one.  More recently, in a similar vein, there was this article from VG24/7 discussing the fact that some game developers have started actively trying to shame gaming news outlets for discussing all the horribleness surrounding GamerGate; there’s something in the way this insistence that problematic elements of the community be downplayed that resonates with the idea of fundamentalists being given legitimacy simply because they say they’re more legitimate than everyone else speaking a different vision than them.

I’ve been pondering all these threads and wondering what connects them, and I think it goes to something that Cara Ellison, a writer on sex and video games (sometimes even at the same time!), tweeted this week in response to the Mark Kern story:

Replace the phrase “videogame” with Christian or Muslim and you get a similar vibe.

The thing I’m trying to get at is that fundamentalist groups have a tendency to be obsessed with exclusivity to the point of saying that no one outside of their purview can claim a similar identity.  The Islamic State engages in takfir (excommunication) of Muslims who disagree with them, Christian fundamentalists are fond of saying that only they have a claim on Real True Christianity (to borrow a phrase from Fred Clark), and GamerGaters (along with many others in gaming) obsess over the difference between a “hardcore” gamer and everyone else.  These distinctions are largely pointless and fail to acknowledge the much broader spectrum of opinions contained within any of the larger identities of Muslim, Christian, or gamer.

So how do we deal with the fundamentalists?  Often these people represent an extreme portion of the community, and their extremism is built on the self-concept that they are infallibly right in their opinion.  Very often, arguing with any of these people directly is pointless, and in many situations can actually end up being harmful.

I think the ultimate solution is more about educating people outside of fundamentalism rather than trying to persuade people within fundamentalism.  We have to address others who don’t understand that fundamentalists really are an extreme group within a larger community, and they really have no greater claim to legitimacy than any other group.  If we can teach people about that important difference, then fundamentalists will gradually lose their grip on the popular narrative of what it means to belong to a given group.  People of faith do not have to be antiquarians who want to return to an imagined golden era and are willing to enforce barbaric rules in order to achieve that end, and gamers do not have to be misogynist manchildren who throw temper tantrums when people who don’t look like them want to engage with their hobby as well.

What about you?  Do you have any other thoughts on how people can reduce the influence of fundamentalist narratives on popular thought?

Some Stuff That’s Nifty (5/18/14)

Sorry for no link round up last week; we had friends in town and I didn’t spend my usual lazy Saturday morning poring over the internet for cool stuff.  No fear though!  That just means I have two weeks’ worth of links to share today.

Comics

1. Life in Aggro is a regularly featured webcomic on Kotaku‘s weekly webcomic, and for the past month it’s been running a story recounting what I’m assuming is one of the authors’ experiences playing through the game.  It’s a beautifully drawn comic, and this series has been particularly good.  The final part of the four part story just went up yesterday, so you can see the whole thing on their website.  Here’s the link to the first part of the story.

These Watercolors Distill Superheroes to Their Very Essence

Black Widow in Watercolor. By Blule. (Image credit: i09)

2. I don’t use ComiXology to buy comics.  When I do buy comics, I prefer to purchase physical copies (the one area where I feel like a luddite is digital purchasing; I just struggle to get over the hump of not having a copy of the content that I can store and maintain how I like).  Even so, this article is a fascinating look at ComiXology’s business model and how their recent decision to remove in-app purchasing from their iOS app impacts both their business and the consumers who use their service.

3. Because it needs to be said again (it always needs to be said again), there needs to be more to female superhero design than sex appeal.  Here’s a wonderful article from Lauren Davis explaining why (if for no other reason, read it for the plug that the new Ms. Marvel series gets; that book is fantastic and I want to read more of it like now).

4. Though I have a passing interest in comics history, I’m not really into comics from the Golden and Silver Ages.  Apparently that’s a mistake, at least for Golden Age stuff, because it was a diversity wonderland before the Comics Code came along and whitewashed everything.

5. I generally think of myself as more of a Marvel fan when it comes to superheroes, but I have to admit that I do agree with pretty much everyone on this list of in-universe jerks.  And yeah, Professor X just keeps getting worse and worse.  Cyclops, on the other hand, has always seemed like a justified jerk, and I love him for it.  Namor’s debatable, because I’m not sure you can classify the level of egotism he displays as necessarily jerkish so much as “I’m the King of the Ocean.”

Faith

1. Candida Moss explains what professions were not recommended for Christians in the third century by St. Hippolytus of Rome.  The list is, unsurprisingly, filled with jobs that Christians nowadays not only do, but often aspire towards.

2. Fred Clark is a straight white male.  I am also a straight white male.  If you want to read something not written by straight white males, then check out Fred Clark’s recent list of blogs that are written by people other than straight white males.

3. Richard Beck answers reader questions about his book The Slavery of Death.  There’s some really interesting thoughts going on here.

4. Zach Hoag: “The Christian faith, rightly understood and practiced, is both syncretist and separatist all at once, and in different ways. In fact, syncretism is at the core of Christian identity, as the very definition of the faith is the expansion of first century Judaism to include Gentiles without requiring total change to their religious practice! It was an honest to goodness combining of Greco-Roman religious practice with Israelite religious practice, seen through the lens of a new Messianic identity. Christianity IS syncretism!”

5. A breakup letter to John Calvin (I’m not sure I was ever in a relationship with him, but I think it still sums up my feelings about his theology rather nicely).

6. I don’t typically post articles from i09 in my faith section (mostly because their articles that touch on religious subjects tend to have a bit of an anti-faith bent), but this article from Mark Strauss is thoughtful and nuanced in how it approaches the problem of creationism.

7. More from Fred Clark (remember, I have two weeks of material to sift through), this time about the phenomenon of mondegreens and their relationship to interpretive differences between Christians who disagree about the Bible.  Don’t know what a mondegreen is?  Then go find out.

8. Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, Matthew Vines, and Jay Bakker had a talk this week discussing Vines’s new book God and the Gay Christian.  It’s an hour and fifteen minutes of good dialogue about the issue (complete with lots of technical difficulties!), and I’d definitely recommend watching the video of it.  Fortunately, Tony Jones has posted the talk on his blog.

9. Samantha Field at Defeating the Dragons wrote a post this week coming out as bisexual.  I’m really happy for her.

Fiction

1. I’m not the most educated person when it comes to speculative fiction.  Most of my knowledge has been acquired by proxy of Rachael, so this essay, which seems pretty impressive and persuasive to me, may be a bunch of hot air.  Nonetheless, I think it does raise some interesting questions about the relation between contemporary speculative fiction and literary fiction.

2. The Star Wars Expanded Universe is dead.  Nonetheless, it did give some good stories.  Here’s a list of 10 particularly notable ones (as an aside, I’ve begun watching the Clone Wars cartoon now that the whole thing is on Netflix, and being only halfway into season 1, I think it’s great; it’s a wonder what can be done with the prequel-era setting when George Lucas isn’t pulling all the strings).

Film

1. For all my criticisms of various movies that I see, I like to think that generally I’m a pretty easy to please viewer.  I have an overly developed fondness for superhero movies (even the ones that don’t deserve it), so I’m really a poor judge of which big movies are not so great (case in point: I really liked Man of Steel except for the ending, but everyone else I talk to thinks it was the worst Superman adaptation ever conceived).  This article and subsequent conversation in the comments does a pretty good job of elaborating on why certain superhero movies get really positive reactions from viewers while others don’t.  It’s all speculation and opining, but it’s interesting speculation and opining if you like to think about superheroes and the movies we make about them.

2. For your enjoyment, a comic explaining why DC hasn’t started production on a Wonder Woman movie yet (as an aside, I first came across this comic through Kotaku where a conversation in the comments erupted where one very obtuse fellow began complaining about how everyone’s constantly calling for movies featuring female and minority superheroes just irritates him, and we should all shut up because it’s going to happen anyway; except, y’know, it’s not going to happen if no one says that’s what they want to see).

3. I like animation.  I also like live-action.  I get a little wary when animated franchises get live-action adaptations.  Apparently so does Jason Krell.

Fun

If Disney Characters Were College Students

Of course Quasimodo would go to art school to be a sculptor. By Hyung86. (Image credit: Kotaku)

1. I wish I had space to display a four-foot wide drawing of an imaginary megacity that features iconic buildings from all the most famous cities in the world (and throughout history).

2. Did you know that the number of Nicolas Cage movies in a given year correlates with the number of people who drown in swimming pools?  Neither did I, but here you go.  Have fun.

3. What about Zoidberg?

4. And just in case you prefer real cephalopods to imaginary ones, here’s an octopus unscrewing a jar from the inside.

5. Someone invented retractable metal claws.  It’s pretty adorable to see how excited he is to be able to tear stuff up with them.

6. It’s not often that I see discussion of Breaking Bad where someone reads Walter White as so adamantly sympathetic.  For my part, I gravitated more towards Jesse as the emotional center of the show after the end of Season 3, but to each her own.  Here’s a post from Scribalishess where Susan Pigott discusses her experience of watching Breaking Bad for the first time.

Gaming

1. For what it’s worth, I’m still not tired of jumping and punching in video games.  I spent the last week of school this year playing Street Fighter II and Super Mario Bros. 3 with my students as a way of passing the time after we turned in our final grades.  Nevertheless, this is a good article wondering about the seemingly interminable popularity of first person shooters and whether gaming is due for a new golden genre like the platformers and fighters of the ’90s.

The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past 3D Papercraft Map

The overworld map of Legend of Zeld: A Link to the Past as papercraft. By Wuppes. (Image credit: Kotaku)

2. Gilbert Gottfried is famous as the voice of Iago from Disney’s Aladdin and as the guy who did that video for the internet where he reads excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey.  We can now add to his impressive resume the fact that he made a video where he reads some of the most famous lines from video gaming.  “Holy hell is it erotic!” indeed.

3. Nobody likes trolls.  I’m not sure anyone really understands why they do what they do either; not even the trolls themselves.

4. Minecraft‘s pretty much the best thing ever when it comes to creating interactive online learning experiences.  The world’s fully customizable, and it’s a lot of fun to build stuff with friends.  So using the game as a lab for teaching Japanese sounds like a wonderful idea.

5. Jason Schreier has crowdsourced from the Kotaku commenters a compilation of good entry-level games in the JRPG genre.  I agree with much of the list (I’ve played a lot of them myself), so if you have any interest in that most quirky of story-driven game genres but don’t know where to start, this is a good thing to look at for ideas.

6. People like to play as characters who are not themselves when they’re gaming.  This article talks about what it’s like to play a character who also happens to not be the same sex as the player.

Science

1. Cartwheeling spider.  That is all.

2. Kidney disease runs in my family.  Just last year my mom received a transplant that she had been waiting on for three years, and the donor was, unfortunately, someone who had died.  We don’t know who the donor was, but it’s weird to think that my mom had to wait for someone else’s misfortune just so that she could get the kidney she needed.  It’s an objective fact that a live donor would have been better all around; kidneys from live donors last much longer than kidneys from deceased donors, and the donor’s still alive when the procedure’s over.  Of course, it’s a scary thing to donate a kidney; you’re voluntarily giving up one of your organs.  This article explores this topic more in-depth and considers some potential solutions to help incentivize the donation of kidneys, since there’s a constant need.

3. Scientists have engineered a strain of e.coli that contains six base pairs instead of four in its DNA.  This is kind of a big deal.

4. I donate blood on a regular basis because I think it’s an important thing to do if you meet the guidelines for eligibility.  One weird quirk of the experience that I’ve always wondered about was the fact that I’m always asked multiple questions about whether I’ve ever had sex with a man.  Seeing as I’ve not had that particular experience, I always answer no and move on with life.  It never occurred to me before that answering yes would prevent me from being able to donate.  What the heck, FDA?

5. So how would people react if we were to discover extraterrestrial life?  For my part, I’m pretty psyched about the possibility, but this article from i09 suggests that in general, people of faith tend to be poorly psychologically equipped to deal with aliens.  I’d like to counter that if you have religious beliefs, especially of a Christian variety (I’m not going to speak to any other traditions because I just don’t know well enough to say), and you’re still engaging in anthropocentrism as part of your faith practice, then you’ve probably missed the point Jesus was making about dying to the self; that’s not just a personal exhortation, but a fact of communal living that you have to accept things are bigger than what you see around you.

6. Neil deGrasse Tyson said that philosophy was a useless field to study.  Many people on the internet disagreed.

7. Hurray for advancements in prosthetics!

Miscellaneous

1. “How Misunderstanding Disability Leads to Police Violence”

2. I think this one’s already been all over the internet, but here, for anyone who hasn’t read that awesome Slate article about Phineas Gage.

3. We interred over 100,000 Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II.  That’s an important thing to remember.  Fortunately, Ansel Adams helps us out with that through these photos (here’s a link to the full online collection at the Library of Congress) that he took of the internment camps during the war.

4. I find it doubtful that China’s actually collaborating with Russia, Canada, and America to build an intercontinental rail line.  Still, it would be really cool if this does happen for reals in a few decades.

5. My students have an unhealthy fascination with Beats by Dr. Dre headphones.  You can imagine my childlike glee when I read this, because it means that I’m now justified in telling them that their taste in headgear is not only ridiculous, but also appallingly bad from an audiophile’s perspective.

6. H.R. Giger passed away this week, and i09 saw fit to post a collection of some of his assorted works in commemoration.  Giger’s work is extremely fascinating, and highly creepy (he did design the look of the original xenomorph in Alien).  Go check the gallery out if you’re interested, though keep in mind that one of Giger’s favorite subjects was the interplay between humanity and technology, and he tended to use lots of sexually evocative imagery.

7. Deaf culture is a complicated thing.  The introduction of cochlear implants into the deaf community a little over a decade ago was pretty big news; not everyone received the new technology with enthusiasm, because it was seen as a threat to Deaf identity (for a really good documentary exploring this issue, look up Sound and Fury; it’s available to stream on Netflix, or if that’s not your style, you can find the whole thing freely available on Youtube, along with its follow-up from 2006).  This article from The Atlantic discusses some of the issues surrounding a new type of cochlear implant that has no external component.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty (5/4/14)

I nearly had to climb in a dumpster this past week to save a football.  Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.  Still, I’m ready to declare DumpsterGate 2014 the best work-related story of the year.

Faith

The Pope's Audience Hall Looks Like A Final Fantasy Boss Fight

La Resurrezione by Pericle Fazzini. The sculpture stands behind the chair of the Pope in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. (Image credit: Kotaku)

1. Richard Beck commemorates Yom HaShoah this week with a post from 2008 about a visit he made to the Buchenwald labor camp.

2. Also from Richard Beck: “This is why, in my estimation, many progressive Christians, despite their focus on social justice, still struggle with being kind, gentle, forgiving and loving human beings. If you aren’t attending to the affections in your pursuit of social justice you’re prone to becoming harsh, angry and judgmental. Or just burnt out. Joy rather than righteous indignation has to be what carries you forward.”

3. Matthew Vines is getting a lot of press lately since he published his new book God and the Gay Christian.  I’ve not read it, but from what I hear, it’s a good book for people who still feel the tension between holding a high view of Scripture (that you just can’t ignore when the Bible condemns something) and being gay affirming.  Vines identifies as a traditional evangelical, and he argues his case from that position.  His original lecture, which I watched a few years ago, was very helpful for me to begin exploring my own thoughts on gay people and the Church.  I’m very hopeful that his book gets traction in the evangelical community and it does some good there.

4. Candida Moss offers a brief review of a new book on the history of the tradition of Peter being the first Pope of the Catholic Church.  Early Church history is not something that I study extensively, but glimpses like this one always seem to pique my interest.

5. Zach Hoag on some pitfalls that come with the American, post-evangelical appeal to grace.  Hoag makes a good point about being wary of grace leaving us in a position to enable others to continue doing harmful things.  It’s a difficult line to walk.

6. At Theoblogy, a guest post from Rabbi Joseph Edelheit condemning a recent video that was produced by Jews for Jesus that depicts Jesus as a victim of the Holocaust.  Edelheit’s writing is pretty raw, and some of the comments criticize his harshness, but in this case I think it’s important to remember that this is a case of a Christian group co-opting the Holocaust for the sake of prosletyzing to Jews.  That’s bad evangelism.

7. This critique of the attitude behind the recent movie God’s Not Dead gets at something I’ve been saying for a while, although it’s done in a way that’s much more snappy and readable.  God, by definition, is a supernatural being, and experiences of him in the physical world are unprovable.  It’s vacuous to argue for or against his existence, even though so many things in popular culture seem bound on that exact course.

8. Al Mohler’s also been getting some attention for writing an op-ed where he argues that supporting the death penalty is a morally justifiable position for a Christian to take.  Here are Zack Hunt and Jason Micheli explaining why that’s absurd.

9. For blog host Patheos’s fifth anniversary, they’ve asked their various bloggers to compile lists of their top five posts.  Fred Clark just published his collection yesterday, and he links to some really good stuff.  Better yet, he asks for feedback from his commenters, who form a very lively community, and they have tons of recommendations as well.  I’ve been a fan of Fred’s for a little over a year now, I think, and this is a great collection of his work.

Feminism

1. Bill O’Reilly’s not clueless.  I think he is a total cad though.  Here’s his latest bit of dog whistling to get his audience all frothed up over a celebrity they probably don’t really care about because she happens to perform songs that contain positive messages about sex.  Take note of how, in O’Reilly’s estimation, this is a problem that uniquely affects the Black community, regardless of what statistics about teen pregnancy say.

2. A follow up from Slate about the story from last week regarding the kidnapped girls in Niger.  This article gives a pretty good overview of what the terrorist group who kidnapped the girls, Boko Haram, wants to do, and why we should care about this stuff.  Also, as a side note, remember that some of the girls escaped from their captors.  None have been rescued.

3. I want to be a traitor to the mens.  Thanks Scalzi!

Fiction

1. So Disney owns Star Wars now.  They will be releasing new Star Wars movies in the near future.  I feel positively disposed towards this fact, because I know that Disney is in the business of making money and producing entertainment that has broad demographic appeal.  Whatever Episode VII ends up being, I doubt it will match the craptitude(tm) of the Prequel Trilogy.  Of course, this also means that the Expanded Universe post-Return of the Jedi is getting pretty much completely annulled.  I actually read a lot of books in the EU when I was a kid, and I enjoyed them.  All the stuff that Phil Owen discusses in this article more or less went over my head at the time (and I didn’t stick around long enough to read any of the books that take place more than ten years after the Battle of Endor).  I suppose for more dedicated fans of the EU it’s a bittersweet thing to see it decanonized for the forthcoming movies, but I prefer to think of it as simply an alternate continuity.  The new Star Wars movies will probably be original stories, but I’m guessing there’s going to be a generous share of adaptations from all that source material.

2. In a similar vein, here’s the announced cast list for Episode VII.  And here’s a series of articles dealing with the fallout that comes from having only one new female character in a franchise that has no reason to be bound by contemporary gender politics (see that article about what the Expanded Universe did to see what I’m talking about).  Maybe I should rethink my placid confidence that the new Stars Wars movies will be okay.

3. Bob Hoskins passed away this week.  To commemorate his talent as an actor, here’s a video of raw footage from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? showing Hoskins acting against blue screen running parallel to the finished scene.

Fun

1. I’m a fan of Parks and Recreation.  It’s like a much happier version of The Office, but without all the jerks.  Folks who follow the show probably know that season 6 ended with a three year time skip into the future.  That’s always a risky thing for a show that’s been so grounded in current pop culture to do.  On the other hand, we’re seeing Parks and Recreation move into a speculative mode where the show will be doing a little bit of very immediate futurism.  Since the show’s already comfortable with suspending reality for the sake of comedy, I think this will work out fine.

2. Forced perspective chalk drawings are always fun.  So is the classic time wasting game Snake (I know I spent my share of Algebra classes playing snake on my calculator instead of paying attention).  Here’s something that combines the two, although the comments on this article indicate that this is an old thing from the internet.  Well, it’s the first time I’ve seen it, and it might be for you too, so enjoy it!

3. Maybe I’m just desensitized to hyperbole on the internet, but Buzzfeed style headlines have never really bothered me much.  However, if they bother you then there’s a plugin to help with that.  Of course, fogeys like myself prefer to just add snark the old-fashioned way–with our minds.

4. Have some very well done Batman cosplay.

5. Conservation of ninjutsu indeed.

6. Okay, so maybe the problem with Star Wars movies being so male-centric has to do with the fact that they’re all actually bees.

Gaming

1. I don’t play dating sims, but I thought this was a very thoughtful article about how a genre that’s so mechanically different from the types of games that are popular among Western audiences could offer some new insights into how to advance the medium beyond experiences that focus on competition and violence.

2. Also, here’s an article about why The Wolf Among Us, the episodic adventure game from TellTale Games that’s based on Bill Willingham’s Fables comic series, is basically a stealth dating sim.

Science

1. The universe is a big place.  Enjoy some pictures of it.

2. I want to live in an algae tent someday.

Superheroes

1. A visual history of Spider-Man’s costumes over the decades.  There’s been a surprising amount of variation (especially in recent years) for a character who’s look is pretty iconic.

Miscellaneous

1. Here’s an essay from 2010 discussing the ideological make up of the Tea Party movement.  It’s an interesting analysis that I think does a pretty good job of pinpointing the weird mishmash of conservative and libertarian values that inform the movement’s members.  Also, the importance of karma as an ideal to aspire towards strikes me as pretty insightful.  It’d be nice if folks considered that karma’s also not a terribly Christian ideal (I’m pretty confident it’s a universal value among Christians that people should always get better than what they deserve; we call that grace).

2. I’ve been getting inundated with banner ads for the past few weeks advertising John Oliver’s new comedy news show, Last Week Tonight, that premiered on HBO last Sunday.  HBO, in their infinite magnanimity, put the first episode on Youtube for free.  I enjoyed it.  I’m not going to buy an HBO subscription to watch it regularly, but where it’s freely available, I’ll tune in.  The segment on the national election in India was very informative, and the bit about ridiculous food advertising was quite good too.  Also, Oliver’s response to the Pop Tarts commercial was excellent and spot on.  Eating sugary foods for breakfast doesn’t help my students rise and shine; it just encourages them to punch each other relentlessly before 8:30 in the morning.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty (4/20/14)

It’s Easter and National Stoner’s Day (as my students so love to remind me).  Make of that conflation what you will.

Faith

1. Fred Clark writes about why he still claims the evangelical identity.  I admire his resolve, but for myself there’s too much of the identity wrapped up in a particular political stance.

2. Richard Beck: “There is the simple intellectual recognition that faith is provisional, and then there is the cognitive and emotional obsession over that fact. There is a doubt that doesn’t bring about negative mood, and then there is the ruminative doubt that creates or exacerbates depression and anxiety.”

Feminism

1. John Scalzi is a very intelligent writer, and I very much enjoy following his blog.  This recent post about the background bigotry that we’re all guilty of and how it turns into overt bigotry is really good, and I recommend you read it.  Yes, you.

2. As a white, fairly middle class person, I have somewhat varied tastes in food.  My coworkers complained very vocally last year when I said we were going to eat sushi for my birthday.  I told them to deal with it, because when we eat out, it’s usually at places with very limited options and lots of really greasy food, and I wanted to eat what I like for my birthday.  That’s all fair and in good fun, because I get along with my coworkers and we’re all adults who accept that we have different tastes in food.  Also, we’re empowered to eat what we like because we’re, y’know, grown-ups.  This article highlights an issue with how extracurriculars tend to be run at schools nowadays.  I remember pretty clearly from my days in marching band that it was the parents who could afford to donate their free time instead of working extra shifts to pay their families’ bills who did all the volunteer work for us.  They were a great group who went the extra mile to make sure marching band was fun for us students.  They also understood something that I think the parents highlighted in that article fail to remember: there can be huge economic diversity in an extracurricular, and it’s never a good idea to try to impose your own tastes on the realities that the students have to deal with.  If you can afford to help them, that’s fantastic; they are grateful.  Just don’t alienate them with sushi and spring rolls when it’s your job to feed them something simple and nourishing.  Leave that to messing with your coworkers.

3. I didn’t do policy debate when I was in college, but the debate society that I participated in did put an emphasis on a specific kind of oratory.  I find this article fascinating because it highlights a tension between the traditional values of order and decorum that my debate society prized in public speaking and a more recent trend towards highly theatrical oratory that’s not typically “white.”

Fun

Surly Link Is A Terrific Video Game Figure

Surly Link is Best Link. (Image credit: Kotaku)

1. Edgar Allan Poe is getting a statue in Boston.  The model features Poe doing a badass walk while a heart and a bunch of papers spill out of his suitcase behind him.  If anyone ever makes a scale model that could sit comfortably on a desk, I’d seriously consider buying it.

2. It’s not that I really like Frozen or anything.  It’s just that this video makes the same joke about super powers that I did in my post about that movie, and it tickles me.  Also, I feel like Wolverine singing Broadway is on the verge of becoming a major internet meme.

3. Bob Ross was a phenomenon before my time.  I mean, I get the schtick: the white man afro, the soothing voice, the happy little trees.  I can see how that could be pretty cool.  This remix video of Ross is really cool.

4. Myers-Briggs personality types mapped to Disney characters.  It’s fun, if completely unscientific (and there is absolutely no reason to read into the fact that my personality type matches up with Elsa from Frozen).

5. What happens when Bill Shatner travels back in time to kill Bill Shakespeare (in LEGO)?  Action Bill.

6. I enjoy the Harry Potter series, but I’m not a gigantic fan like a lot of people.  Nonetheless, I am very impressed with the polish on this fan project: Hogwarts is Here.  It’s a website where you can sign up to take free classes as a Hogwarts student and do actual homework for actual grades.

7. Screen caps from a 1974 book that explained to children how to do magic.  Not having lived through the ’70s myself, all I can conclude from artifacts like this are that it was a weird decade.

Gaming

1. The culture surrounding Islam is an interesting and often alien one to Western audiences.  This essay highlights some concepts in the aesthetic of Islamic artwork that could make for some really nifty innovations in game design.

2. For your weekly Minecraft here’s some 3D printed models of a guy’s Minecraft creations.  Yes, you can now have 3D printed models made of stuff you build in Minecraft.

Science

1. I posted this bit of news on Facebook when I first saw it, but I’m adding it in here as well just because I think this is too cool.  I try to donate blood as often as I can (and if you’re eligible you should do the same), and advances like this are a really big deal.  Yes, it may mean that someday I don’t get to go have free cookies every couple months in exchange for a bodily fluid that I’m constantly producing anyway (although realistically I think that’s doubtful; donated blood is almost certainly always cheaper to obtain than blood that must be bought), but I think that’s a small price to pay for better medical technology.

2. Scientists have discovered a bug in South America whose females have a never before seen sexual organ that they’ve termed a gynosome.  That’s cool.  What’s not cool is describing the discovery as “females with penises!”  The only similarity between the two organs is that they’re inserted into the mate.  There’s a good rant over at io9 to go along with that point.

Walk Humbly: Your Interpretation is Not My Interpretation (And That’s Okay)

All posts in this series refer to the conversation found here.

“Is there any reason the Bible -cannot- be literally true (where it claims to be) and the infallible message of the Creator to His creation?”

I think Damon gets back to the heart of the conversation here, and helps to refocus what we’re talking about (I’ve gone over the whole conversation multiple times now, and if there’s a common flaw in both of our arguments, it’s that we allow ourselves to get sidetracked by tangents really easily).  My answer to the above question is a rather firm “Yes.”  Earlier in the correspondence, I mentioned the fact that Genesis contains two accounts of creation which contradict each other chronologically.  The first has plant life created before the man, while the second has it created after him.  This is not a minor detail like the discrepancies in the synoptic gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ ministry that can be handwaved away as different recollections of the same events (though that’s not really a strong point in favor of literalism either), but a significant difference in how God went about making the world.  Further, both accounts ostensibly come from the same author under a literalist hermeneutic, so it doesn’t make sense to have that kind of contradiction if we’re intended to read them as accurate history.

Moving along in the conversation, there comes a point where I tell Damon that I disagree with the literalist hermeneutic because the way it’s exercised in America today stems from opposition to the abolitionist movement prior to our Civil War (an excellent, if anecdotal, illustration of this point can be found in the film Twelve Years a Slave where a slave owner quotes from a parable Jesus tells in Luke 12 as justification for beating disobedient slaves).  My understanding on this topic comes from what I’ve read from Fred Clark at Slacktivist (he leans heavily on the book The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark A. Noll, which I haven’t read, but do intend to read soon).

I was really disappointed that Damon didn’t address either of these points as the conversation proceeded.  I think they’re worth exploring.  What Damon did respond to was my point about the contradiction between the accounts in Samuel and Chronicles where one writer attributes David’s decision to hold a census to God, while the other writer attributes that same decision to Satan.  I argued much earlier that both accounts couldn’t simultaneously be true and likely reflect the historians’ differing opinions about the census.  Damon’s response to this assertion isn’t a bad one, but it’s worth analyzing because it demonstrates how we’re interpreting the passages differently based on our own theological assumptions.

Here’s Damon’s response in full:

I really don’t have time to go through everything you’ve said and respond to it, but I did want to respond to your proposed contradiction between Samuel and Chronicles. I refer you to the book of Job. If one is describing the events that happened to Job, who is responsible? Who did those things to him? God, or Satan? God, as the sovereign Ruler, is ultimately responsible for everything that happens ever. That does not mean that He literally, directly -does- them, but He allows them. I have heard a quote that, “Even the devil is God’s devil.” “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Damon uses the story of Job as his cosmological model where Satan is subordinate to God and conducts evil in accordance with God’s ultimately good will (we know his will is good because of the proof text that Damon concludes with).  Under this model, an event may be attributed to both God and Satan simultaneously without contradiction.

There are several assumptions implicit in this model with which I disagree, and which need to be examined.  The text of Job is fundamentally an exercise in exploring theodicy, the problem of suffering in a divinely ordered world.  Large portions of it are parodies of contemporary wisdom regarding the responsibility of the victim in any sort of calamity (come to think, Job is an excellent text on how asinine victim-blaming is).  Job is innocent of any wrongdoing, but God allows Satan to torture him.  The only explanation God offers for this is that he’s beyond our understanding, so shut up and deal with it.

Personally, I think that Job ends in a rather unsatisfying way, but I don’t take the fact that God comes off as a jerk in that text to mean that God is actually a jerk (I belong to the school of thought that Job is not a historical book, but a work of fiction that was intended to serve an instructional purpose).  Further, I don’t believe that Satan actually exists, but that he’s a fictional personification of the evil forces at work in the world that drive people to sin.  Under that understanding, it becomes nonsense to say that God authorizes sin in the world when the work of Jesus shows rather clearly (in my mind) that he’s looking to eradicate it.

The point I’m driving at is that Damon and I spend a lot of time talking past each other here, because our interpretations of certain things differ and have rather far reaching effects on how our theology is shaped.  I’m still very firmly convinced that Damon’s literalist reading of the Bible is flawed, but I don’t believe that because his theology contradicts my own he’s somehow outside the realm of God’s grace.  I’ll get more into that problem next time.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/28/13

Let’s see what’s going on!

Religion

1. There has been a lot of good stuff coming out of Defeating the Dragons this week.  It’s hard to pick just one article that I really liked, so I’m going to link a couple.  ForgedImagination’s writing about her struggles breaking away from a fundamentalist branch of the Church are incredibly moving.  Here’s one about her experiences with the toxic effects of modesty culture, and here’s another where she discusses her difficulty even setting foot in a church these days.

2. In a similar vein, Morgan Guyton at Mercy Not Sacrifice has been churning out a ton of good material this week.  He’s discussed the nature of the gospel as an open invitation to a party instead of a get out of hell free card, what it means to participate in a Church that is “exclusively for the excluded,” posted an open letter to an atheist that he hopes to begin a dialogue with (there’s discussion of Slavoj Zizek), and offered up a meditation on how the doctrine of utter depravity is better interpreted as utter providence.

3. From Richard Beck at Experimental Theology, a rumination on hopeful belief versus dogmatic belief framed in the context of the question of what the Christian afterlife looks like.  Beck calls himself a hopeful universalist, and makes a good point about the reality that faith consists of a certain amount of doubt, and so certainty is not something that’s helpful to throw into the equation. Also from Beck, a paper he presented at a conference on Christian ethics back in June which discusses the connection between Christianity and anarchism.

4. I read Fred Clark at Slacktivist regularly.  He’s a very harsh critic of the religious right, and sometimes with good reason.  Here’s a critique he recently wrote pointing out how the purity culture that parts of the Church participate in creates a bizarre climate where ideological extremism only exists in one direction.

5. I’m so happy that Rachel Held Evans is back from vacation now.  She’s the reasonable bridge builder in my regular diet of Christian bloggers.  This week she wrote a thoughtful post about how anger is a useful tool for spurring action, but a hindrance in maintaining a clear vision.  Also, because she blogs for CNN now, she wrote a great article there discussing the reason that people are becoming disillusioned with the modern evangelical branch of the Church.

Comics

Kitty Pryde

Kitty Pryde (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Over at Beyond the Gamer, XmenXpert posted a nifty list of five superheroes in the Marvel universe who haven’t been made into Avengers yet, but really should be.  Kitty Pryde tops the list, which why not, seeing as she did single-handedly save the Earth from a giant bullet by phasing it through the planet.  Honestly, if you’re a hero in the Marvel universe and you save the whole world all by yourself, that should be an instant Avenger card right there.

Science

1. Magnets are a lot of fun.  Magnets used to make ferrofluids do interesting things with their structure is more fun than that.

2. Rachael and I saw Waking Life this week (in what I’m calling the slowest movie line-up of the summer), and while I thought it was strange, it did ask some interesting questions about the nature of dreaming.  If you haven’t seen it, then it might be worth your time; just don’t expect any comprehensible plot, since the entire two hour film seems to be mostly a simulation of a dream.  To help you figure out what that’s supposed to mean, here’s a list of ten theories on the nature of dreaming.

3. So, leave it to a bunch of Germans to freeze light for a minute.  “This light moves too quickly!  We must stop it so we can optimize its efficiency!”

4. I’m not sure this is exactly what they were talking about in Inception, but it’s an interesting avenue of research.  I’m curious to see what comes of memory implantation (one person in the comments mentioned that this could have profound effects on treating Alzheimer’s if it eventually led to being able to implant a person’s lost memories).

5. I listened to an audiobook a few years ago that was set in the near future where everyone had these weird silver glove things that worked like a cell phone.  They were fully flexible, and people just kind of stuffed the gloves in their pockets until they needed to make a call, then they pulled the rumpled little thing out, put it on, and got connected.  The first step to getting those gloves is this stuff here.

6. “We all love cephalopods!”

7. We actually get yellow skies like this in Georgia on occasion, though never with the awesome cloud formations.  Rachael and I used to joke that maybe it was the world ending; apparently we weren’t the only ones thinking that.

8. A quote from Rosalind Franklin, who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, about the importance of allowing science and everyday life to intersect as much and often as possible.

Gaming

1. I don’t have a smartphone.  If I did, I doubt I’d try to do this with it.  “You died of the plague, roll a new character.”

2. I haven’t played this game, but the trailer looks good.  It’s a point and click adventure about a woman who’s nine months pregnant, in jail, and suspected of murdering her cellmate.  Also, it’s free.

3. Chrono Trigger is, objectively, one of the best games ever made.  I own it on three different platforms because no matter how many times it gets re-released, I always want to play it again.  This tribute makes me all nostalgic, and also leaves me wondering if Square Enix will ever do an HD update.  Check it out.

4. When you stop and think about it, you realize that the play cycle on Donkey Kong really was pretty short.  So short, in fact, that one guy with way too much time on his hands did a play-through of all three levels using stop motion photography and beads.

Movies

1. I feel very ambivalent towards the X-Men movies.  Even the ones that are generally considered good aren’t perfect.  Also, like any action movie, there are always plot holes.  For your consideration, a series of videos enumerating all the problems that were in the first three X-Men movies.

Current Events

1. Via MaddowBlog, an article discussing the recent trend in conservative policy toward instituting prison reform as a cost-saving measure.  Personally, I think this is a wonderful move on the part of the conservatives, because it holds true to the conservative ideal of fiscal responsibility while doing something that really will be of benefit to society as a whole.

2. From The Next New Deal, an article reviewing the libertarian model proposed by Robert Nozick in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  I am not a libertarian, so I won’t say that this is a good critique of libertarianism writ large, but it puts the model that Nozick promotes in a very different, very harsh light.  If I have any libertarian readers, would you care to comment on this?

What the Heck, China?!

1. A man in China has a pet turtle whom he gives cigarettes to.  The turtle is a nicotine addict.  This is very sad, because I love turtles.

The Internet is for Sharing

1. Kotaku links to a Reddit thread where people are posting comparisons between Game of Thrones and Star Wars.  It’s Reddit, so you’ve probably already seen it, but I live under a rock and found it novel, so here it is.  Obviously, it contains spoilers for both franchises.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet.