Doctor JJ’s Religion-Choosing Research Up in the Air

28 06 2008

It’s Saturday night. Do you know where your religion will be Sunday morning? (Neither do I.)

First I tried the reality show competition approach to choosing a new religion — because it’s summer and what else is there? — but then I got serious.

A long time ago in an ivy tower far away — two-and-a-half hours by car, if you don’t mind literalism interrupting a good story — I labored over a solitary academic research project called a dissertation.

I learned through ritual trials (and an honest-to-god inquisition!) that the form of such a project is time-honored if not technically engraved on stone tablets, and must include a lot of tedious work on the front end, which amounts to defining a narrow question and then carefully defining and delimiting every term you use in that question, and then laying out criteria against which you will evaluate anything you find, to determine if it answers your question.

I also learned that finding no answer is just as good as finding one — you still get promoted to Doctor You which can then be “lorded” over lesser beings in the Promised Land — and it’s way better than getting contradictory or false results, either of which reflects badly on all that tedious work you did on the front end and sends you back around for some ritual mortification and possible sacrifice of your academic aspirations.

So not surprisingly, that is how I approached this fortnight’s Thinking Homeschooler wiki romp.

(It’s a good thing I already did the dissertation thing when it counted and they can’t rescind my degree for this essay!)

I disciplined myself to do my review of the literature, definition of the research question and design [yes, I said DESIGN and if it’s not intelligent, really, why bother?!] of my methods first, rather than just jump to the fun part, browsing and trying on different religions from the rack, maybe taking a friend to advise me and have lunch with afterward. I tried — and tried and tried — to honestly set out my objectives, criteria and methods for choosing a new religious belief system at this age and stage of my life BEFORE I went shopping and wrote up my choice for you.

And failed utterly. Which is pretty bad, because I am extremely flexible and creative. If anyone could have bent this task into dissertation shape, it should’ve been me.
Um, I.
You know what I mean. 🙂

This was more like trying to list criteria for a new bathing suit I would shop for, knowing full well I wouldn’t be caught dead in a bathing suit of any kind no matter what I wrote in some pandering paper for credit! So my comfortable intellectual process didn’t fit. And it’s not all that comfortable anymore after all these years of freedom from academic stricture. . .

How about seeking the Meaning of Life or at least the Afterlife, in divine comedy then? Click on the link for Botticelli’s elaborate full-color map to what awaits my spirit below! Ain’t research grand — seek and ye shall find.
But I’d rather go up than down, truth be told. Call it research bias.

So maybe go with hard news comedy instead of classical, what we might call reform religion? George Carlin is in the news, and he will be resurrected on Saturday Night Live in a few hours, reprising from the archives his seminal (can I use that word in a blog without being persecuted for my proselytizing?) role as the very first host ever, back in 1975. That’s old enough to seem a bit historic and he’s dead now, which lends gravitas to any words of his I might adopt as divine truth — so would researching his proposed religion count as real? Will there someday be Carlin Studies in colleges of religion and philosophy, are there already?

COD cited one of his religious tenets the other day — Frisbeetarianism — and said Carlin himself was “often right” which seems like witnessing, on top of which, he was an actual corporeal witness to his earthly presence (in Vegas) — and wait a minute, COD is the wikimaster who set this task for us before Carlin died, hey!

To Rest in Peace, Don’t Look Down

Is this a mere series of coincidences or some Grand Design revealing itself to me personally? Believe what you want, but Read the rest of this entry »

Ignorance Makes the N-Word Even Scarier Unspoken

27 06 2008

Read it and weep.

George Carlin’s seven aren’t the only words so scary we’re taught to officially pretend they don’t exist.
(Here are seven interesting words in coverage of his passing last week: “He was educated by priests and nuns. . .”)

And my shocking blog news today is sadly neither shocking nor even really news; I’ve blogged N-word ignorance before, how our own history revealed in language — in this one reductionist noun particularly — now scares us so much that even in historically “true” fiction on stage and screen, we’d rather rewrite it or just cancel it, than face it honestly and explain it to our children so THEY can understand.

Well, I’ll tell you what scares ME.

“You take that word out of this story and you invalidate my history as an African-American male,” said Perry.

“Do I like the word? No. But to pretend nobody said it is wrong. I wouldn’t even consider doing that,” Perry said. “Context is everything, and it’s not gratuitous, it’s not for shock value.

“How can we learn about our present if we don’t educate people about what happened in our past?”

We did this show here four summers ago.

With Every Single Word and Note. It was stunning, rocked my world and this whole community, nothing short of heart- and record-breaking. I saw it five times, laughed and cried and wrung myself inside out every time. Smash sell-out, universally acclaimed, lines around the building (in the Florida summer sun!) just hoping for standing room at the matinee, people still talk about it!

“I’m just terribly saddened . . .for this to happen in this manner, it’s just disappointing.
I guess the best way to say it is it really reflects the times we’re living in, in relevance to the show, and I think still the work that needs to be done on a lot of levels.”

Forget evolution, Ken Ham’s Creation Museum and the public school science teacher burning crosses into eighth-graders’ flesh for Christmas. Ignorance isn’t just about failing to master the rigors of science and math; ignorance in the liberal arts and humanities might be even more dangerous.

And what I am furious about today isn’t even about school kids and their stupid parents, teachers or principals. This news is about The Racially and Rationally Challenged Real World, out in grown-up free America where all the scary ideas and words and human differences are right there on every street corner and no one is in control of the script.

Dickens (not Darwin) wrote that between Ignorance and Want, Ignorance was more likely to doom mankind. The reason I happen to know and appreciate the true nature of his fanciful fiction isn’t because of science or math but because I am literary, and I mean to use the precise word literary, and not merely literate much less merely [shudder!] literal. Read the rest of this entry »

Thinking About Choosing My Religion

24 06 2008

In reality, I am an atheist. This makes this week’s topic — If you had to pick a new religion, which one would it be, and why? — a bit of a challenge.

I could just skip this one but that seemed wrong. Surely, I can be open-minded enough to imagine I am a member of some religion or other. Surely. . . . ??

I could just lie about being comfortable enough with one sect or another. I figure, in my atheist way, that that’s what a lot of people do. Can all of those people who say they believe in a god, 82% according to this Harris Poll or 92% according to this Pew Poll, be telling the truth? Surely not.

Surely some have gone along with what was presented as they grew up, perhaps questioning but not making a fuss about their doubts. Not speaking out about how wacky their religion sounds.

Because, I have to tell you, they do. When you come at them from the outside and shop around, as I have been doing in a non-scientific catch-as-catch-can way for this assignment, the oddities of each particular belief system are startling.

I’ll go to a website to read about a religion and find references to every sort of fairy story. It’s turtles, all the way down, no matter where you start.

Then I jumped over to the Unitarian Universalist page.

I have to give some credit to a religion that makes it all the way through their set of principles with only one “God” reference and that is to “God’s love” and the Golden Rule.

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

These principles and sources of faith are the backbone of our religious community.

They don’t seem to have anything too frightening or bizarre that they teach the children either, setting aside the whole belief in a god thing.

The kids get posters or stickers saying:

1. Each person is important.
2. Be kind in all you do.
3. We’re free to learn together.
4. We search for what is true.
5. All people need a voice.
6. Build a fair and peaceful world.
7. We care for Earth’s lifeboat.

So, I could live with that. I’d pretend about the god part and just concentrate on the basically good ideas in the rest of it. Perhaps not completely unlike the approach 70% of the believers in the Pew Poll take as they acknowledge that their religion is not the only way.

Of course, in my heart I’d know that this series of videos comes closer to anything I could ever have any real confidence in, compared with any UU potluck or whatever the hell they do when they get together.

Oddly enough, I learned about the videos on a message board called United Homeschoolers. United Homeschoolers claims to be a secular board, which is why I joined in the first place.

It turned out they weren’t so much secular as they were not the hyperjudgemental “Christians” on another board. When I pointed out that that didn’t actually make them secular, I got a nice but very Humpty Dumpty answer about things meaning what the board owner said they meant.

At any rate, nobody there minds that I am an atheist. And, I assume, nobody here minds either for, as you can see, I would not be a good addition to any religion’s membership. 🙂

Nance Confer — edited to add my name as I’m never sure who wrote what the way WordPress does things and this one should probably be clearly marked.

Talk About Teaching the Controversy!

23 06 2008

While science teacher John Freshwater is still playing out some kind of Christian belief competition with word games, Parenting Beyond Belief has found a board game that’s more educational, a lot more fun, and without the actual smell of burning flesh:

Blasphemy™ is a board game of fun, action, and adventure in the Holy Land for 2 to 4 players who can read. . .
In Blasphemy™ you take part in the fate of a would-be Messiah. Your aim is to convince your compatriots that your Jesus, and your Jesus alone, is the genuine article.

. . .Blasphemy™ is the race to the cross!

Think school boards will buy this game in bulk for science classes, as part of the Teach the Controversy movement?

Ohio Teacher Gives Cross-Burning Whole New Meaning

21 06 2008

[John] Freshwater has taught eighth-grade science in the district for 21 years.

In April, the school board hired HR On Call Inc. to investigate Freshwater, four months after the parents of a child in his class said he had burned a cross into the child’s arm, causing swelling and blistering.

[family photo provided to media via school district]

Hamilton called the complaints “fabrications created by a couple of students. … Not a single child has ever been harmed,” he said.

Freshwater’s earlier “defense” claim was to dismiss the children’s brand-like burn scars as merely X shapes, not the Christian cross symbol.

I don’t see how this would’ve helped him with shocked parents and school officials concerned with potential liability for his actions. It’s downright delusional imo– considering that hitting kids and leaving any mark at all is a serious offense with or without religious motive, and I seem to recall a kindergarten teacher fired for hugging kids who looked like they needed it! (Here’s a recent teacher-hug-spells-trouble news item from Texas.)

Intelligent teachers designing or not, Christian or not, effective or not, all ought to have learned one big lesson in our litigious system by now: any physical contact with a student in your charge is fraught with peril no matter what your intentions, and cooperation of the child with any such contact is no defense for the teacher.

Because the child’s independent consent is deemed not yet possible, the teacher must do all the thinking for both of them, and bear all the responsibility alone, like Rick singlehandedly deciding Ilsa and Victor’s fate — if not the free world’s! — in the movie Casablanca: “Oh, I don’t know what’s right anymore; you’ll have to do the thinking for both of us.”

And another thing, wouldn’t his Christian creationist supporters be put off by him trying to call the cross burns an X and deny it was religious expression (unless it was a wink-wink conspiracy to lie about it in service of the greater truth, which I can’t imagine ten commandment literalists rationalizing with a straight face?)

So maybe I’m not the only one who noticed that was a dumb argument all around. Read the rest of this entry »

Pregnant Teen Girls Gone Wild

20 06 2008

The question of what to do next has divided this fiercely Catholic enclave. . .Gloucester [MA] isn’t sure it wants to provide easier access to birth control. In any case, many residents worry that the problem goes much deeper. . .

“Families are broken,” says school superintendent Christopher Farmer. “Many of our young people are growing up directionless.”

If there are words for this pregnant power of story, I haven’t found them yet. How about you?

Once again, the news has touched off a round of soul-searching and finger-pointing. According to the Time article, adults in Gloucester variously blame a depressed local economy, broken families, adrift children, difficult access to birth control, and hit movies like “Juno” and “Knocked Up” that they say glamorize pregnancy to young audiences.

Bad examples set by celebrities off-screen did not come up, though, and no one Time talked to in Gloucester seems to have mentioned the most famous teen mother of the moment.

As American society, shall we teach our girls that teen pregnancy is desirable, or not? That it represents hope or fear? For the young mom, is it reward or punishment?

(Are these even questions with right answers to be had?)

Maybe I haven’t found the words yet, but the words of Alfie Kohn and Barack Obama come to mind.

Kohn of course wrote “Punished By Rewards” and Barack Obama said — here’s much more context than you may have gotten from the attacks on his words — in PA during the March 29 edition of CNN’s Ballot Bowl 2008:

OBAMA: . . . So, when it comes to — when it comes specifically to HIV/AIDS, the most important prevention is education, which should include — which should include abstinence only — should include abstinence education and teaching that children — teaching children, you know, that sex is not something casual. But it should also include — it should also include other, you know, information about contraception because, look, I’ve got two daughters — 9 years old and 6 years old. I’m going to teach them first of all about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby. I don’t want them punished with an STD at the age of 16.

You know, so, it doesn’t make sense to not give them information. You still want to teach them the morals and the values to make good decisions. That will be important, number one. Then we’re still going to have to provide better treatment for those who do have Read the rest of this entry »

Fox News Gives Michelle Obama an A-plus??

18 06 2008

I swear I just saw this on cable news — Shepard Smith and some expert analyzing clips of her dishing on The View today, in her so-called “soft debut” for the general election.

The video clips from the signature fun fist-bump and Go Beavers, to recounting her 10-year-old daughter’s take on campaigning, to writing a note to Laura Bush, were all really good — *she* was really good, I mean, see for yourself — but the gushing commentary about her, from Fox, was downright ASTONISHING!

(Maybe the network is trying to make up for BabyMama ?)

And may I just say — because she announced that she is five-eleven, same as your humble blogger — be careful not to get us confused now! 😉