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The Bookshelf

Doug's bookshelf: read

AntwerpWarsaw BikiniIcelandHow the Soldier Repairs the GramophoneThe Original of LauraBrief Interviews with Hideous Men

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Doug's  book recommendations, reviews, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

Time Since Reboot

  • 1122 days, 4 hours, 48 minutes, 34 seconds ago

Évforduló

Tonight: Celebrating 2 Years of Wedded Bliss

IMG_0711 Cheers!

Everything In Its Place

IMG00014-20090320-1105

A tax accountant’s workspace.  I looked up at one point this morning and thought “damn.”  I had to share. 

Don’t You Forget About Me

Fotoblog

Just a friendly reminder.  I’m still here.  Tax season and (to the extent my comatose wife will allow, anyway) vacation planning may be monopolizing my prime blog-writing time right now, but I am trying to at least update the fotoblog fairly regularly.  And I promise, at the first break in the tax action (taction?), I will be here spinning yarns, spewing vitriol and generally journaling the mundane life of the G-caster once again.  Stay tuned. 

For a peek into the lives of accountants such as myself, check out this blog.  It is all applicable.  It is all true.

Gramma-Travel Blog Begins 4.17.09

Croatia (NatGeo)

The annual post-tax season vacation is officially in the planning stages.  This year’s destinations: Hungary and Croatia.  Flying in to Budapest on April 17th.  Flying out of Dubrovnik on April 28th.  Lots of dining, photographing, and motoring around the countryside in between.  And blogging, of course, when internet connections permit. 

Saving Daylight?

It is time once again to “spring forward” – sounds like a bouncy, playful contrivance, now doesn’t it?  Until you think about it.  I say the entire practice is absurd.  You lose an hour of sleep, for one thing.  For another, I have to go around the house tomorrow and change every single clock (in theory, that is… in practice, our living room clock has been on daylight saving time since March 2008).  It is an outdated hassle that serves no purpose.  And can someone explain to me why we still call standard time “standard time” if it is only in effect for 4 months out of the year? 

I found this insolent nugget of wisdom at a DST informational site:

A writer in 1947 noted, "I don’t really care how time is reckoned so long as there is some agreement about it, but I object to being told that I am saving daylight when my reason tells me that I am doing nothing of the kind. I even object to the implication that I am wasting something valuable if I stay in bed after the sun has risen. As an admirer of moonlight I resent the bossy insistence of those who want to reduce my time for enjoying it. At the back of the Daylight Saving scheme I detect the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves." (Robertson Davies, The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks, 1947, XIX, Sunday.)

Amen, Mr. Marchbanks.  Amen. 

There are more people out there who think as I do.  Oh, yes.  Like the good-intentioned folks at standardtime.com.

And then, there are the freaks. 

I do not want to carry this rant too far.  There are certainly more important matters to attend to right now.  Exhibit A:

(disturbing, don’t you think?)

The “Is God Great?” Debate

You, my always attentive readers (see how I arbitrarily assign personality traits to the shadowy, perhaps nonexistent, grammaticaster.net audience?), will undoubtedly be aware that I attended a religious debate last night on the Samford University campus between noted atheist Christopher Hitchens and Christian apologist John Lennox.  I am not a journalist, and I am not a very good commentator – largely because I wear my biases and opinions (at various stages of development, I might add) squarely upon my sleeve.  Instead, I pretty much excel at extracting my own inner monologues and thrusting them into my tiny public corner of the world wide web.  So, as I try to tamp back my gross lack of objectivity, I will try at the very least to present a fairly-worded description of what I took away from last night’s discussion. 

I am profoundly aware – as has been reinforced in several non-related but extremely obvious ways over the past couple of weeks – that my audience is much like the audience in the auditorium yesterday: almost entirely made up of believers in the Christian faith.  I, indeed, used to count myself as one of their number.  I was raised in the Methodist church.  Many of my remembered songs of childhood are Christian hymns.  Almost all of my fondest memories are of the nights I would spend after youth fellowship activities talking and goofing around with friends who to this day are closer to me than my own blood.  I met my wife there.  I triumphed, for a time at least, over my social phobias there.  My experiences there shaped how I view the world.  The congregation there has shown me on more than one occasion the virtues of acceptance and forgiveness, friendship and solidarity.  My eternal conscience speaks in the many voices of Sunday school teachers, mentors and pastors of yesteryear.  That church – that particular church – is profoundly important to me.  I respect it and its past and present members to an immense degree. 

But lately there has emerged a division in my mind between my thoughts on that church and my thoughts on The Church.  While that church still represents safety and warmth, The Church has come to embody intolerance, hypocrisy, willful ignorance, and scorn towards intelligence, inquiry and education.  It has become a closed, impenetrable system – a vast subset of society that claims sole sovereignty over the truth and enjoys a manufactured immunity to questioning and criticism.  I do not intend to hold myself out as some pillar of worldly or metaphysical knowledge, but as religion scoffs at discovery, innovation and ever-deepening scientific understanding, so I detest religion all the more for its fear of and resistance to change. 

And I write those words knowing full well that the tendency of my readers of faith will be to interpret them as personal attacks.  I assure you: they are not. 

Christopher Hitchens What immediately struck me about the “Is God Great?” debate was the gulf that separated the two schools of thought present in that building last night.  The overwhelming majority of the attendees were Christian – a consequence of location (Alabama, the Heart of Dixie, Bible Belt, USA) and institution (Samford is a private, Baptist-affiliated college).  In the minority were the enthusiastically expressive Hitchens-worshipping atheists.  I would be disingenuous if I pretended not to feel more closely aligned with the latter, but I am not ready to call that vitriolic group my own just yet. 

I briefly entertained the idea of live-blogging/tweeting the debate, but it turns out that walking and chewing gum at the same time just isn’t my thing.  That, and the thick, rapid-fire British accents required about 150% of my attention.  Blogger ickna, however, was somehow able to manage the feat.  For my part, I will not attempt to recount the entire event.  These remembrances are just that – fuzzily gleaned and paraphrased from my memory.

I can say that Hitch’s argument was more convincing to me, largely because he has reason on his side.  When pressed, Lennox several times resorted to preacher-speak (invoking the evidence of “the resurrected Christ” and lapsing into childish rhetoric “I say ‘atheism is not great!’” designed to pander to the Christian majority, who ate it up and applauded wildly whenever he offered up those tired clichés).  That isn’t to say that I totally dismissed his side of the debate, mind you. 

Hitchens’ best moments came when he would draw a clear contrast between atheistic and religious world-views.  He pointed out, for one, that while he and other atheists could make solid statements about what exactly it would take today to convince them to change their minds, believers would never make such rigid claims.  The other high point was Hitch’s two questions:  1) Think of a moral action that a believer can do (or has done) that an atheist could never do; and 2) think of an immoral action that a believer could do that an atheist could never do.  The point being that 1 cannot be answered while 2 can be answered quite readily (given the injustices and horrors done in the name of God over the centuries, etc.). 

Lennox’s best moment, on the other hand, came during the question & answer segment.  When the question was posed to Hitchens, “how should a new adherent of atheism deal with being a part of a group, family, or institution (like Samford) that subscribes to a particular faith?”  Hitch’s answer was that you should get as far away from those groups as you can.  Lennox, on the other hand, said that you should remain where you are – that diverse groups with differing viewpoints can learn and benefit greatly from one another.  Lennox’s answer was the correct one, without a doubt. JohnLennox-large

That is what the lesson was for me.  I have already read Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and God Is Not Great is on the to-read list.  In fact, I find it extremely unlikely that anything either man said came close to changing anyone’s mind.  What struck me most was the divide between believer and unbeliever – the closed-mindedness on both sides of the issue.  The Christians were fervent and, in the case of the two women having religious-experience orgasms next to me, in full holier-than-thou mode.  In that same vein, however, the atheists were sure to give Hitchens his standing ovation and punctuate his points with the same enthusiastic applause – the enthusiasm of the blindly faithful.  Both displays were despicable to me. 

The enraptured lady next to me, after the debate was over, confronted me about what she perceived to be my atheism (presumably because I was nodding more approvingly or clapping more heartily for Hitch than for Lennox).  I didn’t quite know how to react to that.  When pressed, I wavered and said I wasn’t quite ready to call myself an “atheist”… that I just didn’t know what ‘the answer’ was.  As she emoted about the unbridled joy of the holy spirit and the obvious truth of Jesus, I countered not with indignation, but with this statement, surprising even to me: “I cannot say that I believe that, but I do think it would be nice if that were true.”  She looked at me with – I swear to God – tears in her eyes, touched my arm, and kindly said “it would be, wouldn’t it.”  It was powerful in a way I cannot convey clearly here, in words.

She struck me as the kind of person who I have, I am ashamed to say, looked down upon in the past.  Someone who blindly and blissfully accepted a “truth” for which there is no evidence, and without questioning why or exploring the other side of the argument.  But in that moment – in those five minutes – she, the firm believer, and I, the skeptic, shared something transcendent and true.  That is the kind of experience I would wish on everyone.  That is what John Lennox was talking about.  Our human experience is enhanced by our heartfelt, accepting interactions with those around us who are different.  I would like to think that, had she and I spent another three hours discussing belief and non-belief, that while we would probably walk away with our positions unshaken, we would still walk away with our lives more enriched by the act of communicating with each other.

That openness is what is missing from the global religious conversation. 

I will end with a book recommendation that may surprise you: The Language of God by Francis S. Collins.  I will tell you that I do not agree with Collins’ conclusion.  He, like Lennox last night, ultimately rests his argument on the existence of a “moral law” which, in his opinion, can only have come from a divine, caring creator.  I am not convinced that the existence of right and wrong necessarily entails a higher power.  All that aside, though, I found his book respectful and as well-rounded as it could be and still endorse Christianity.  I started out intensely disliking his approach, but there were four chapters – each devoted to a different conclusion: atheism, creationism, intelligent design, and his own hypothesis – which spoke to me as a free thinker.  His expertise in scientific fields affords him a great deal of credibility, too.  I would want readers of the book to approach it, as much as possible, as blank slates.  Impossible, I know.  But that is how we should be.  That we are not there yet should not mean that we should simply throw up our hands and say to hell with it. 

Now, goodnight Christians and atheists too, and goodnight Muslim, Zen Buddhist and Jew.  Goodnight human beings under stars which we share, and goodnight, good creatures — live, love, and take care.