Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reading and 'Working'

Work has been really, really, really quiet lately. Especially this week. Few people and fewer phone calls. I can't complain.

I've found myself lately doing something I never do and never want to do; juggling several books at once. I am currently reading 4 books, and I don't like it because everything just drags out. What takes a week to finish takes four. It doesn't help that the books I am reading are goddamn huge. I am reading Journey to the West, which comes in four 600 page volumes. I am reading the second Drizzt collection, to try to get into fantasy again (more on that in a bit) which is three large fantasy books in one. Looking for Alaska is the third book, and it's actually short and pretty easy to read so far, but my Kindle I was reading it on froze up the other day and I haven't been able to fix it yet. Finally, as research for my novel that I will never write, I am reading Red Pine's The Diamond Sutra translation and commentary. That is a good 500-600 pages.

Anyways, fantasy. I used to love the crap out of fantasy books. I still love Lord of the Rings, but that's where my fondness starts and ends for fantasy. Those were books about characters, before the terrible genre standbys had infiltrated the genre. I know I am generalizing when I talk about fantasy, but after trying to get into it several times, I just got tired. Tired of racial attributes, black and white morality, stock characters and storylines. I think I lost faith a good 7-8 years ago when Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, which started so good, literally became arguably the worst piece of literature I had ever read in my life. That is not hyperbole. It is that bad. Imagine a writer devoting entire pages to the strength of one's tea, or the floral pattern on a dress, while simultaneously creating a plot in which literally nothing happens, and every single character becomes an incredibly one dimensional sex fiend. Words can not describe my dislike of that series.

So, I tried in recent years. I picked up some Forgotten Realms books, and outside of R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt Collection (which manages to be somewhat morally complex and character driven and well written) I have had no luck. Darkwalkers on Moonshae? Kill me now.

I picked up a Magic: The Gathering book, having loved the card game in middle school and really digging the lore. I read about 10 pages then shelved it indefinitely.

As I am writing this though, I realize I am having the same struggle with another genre that has been near and dear to my heart in place of fantasy; sci-fi. Now, I am about as anti-nostalgia goggles as it gets. I wouldn't go so far as to say everything modern is always better, but I am a big fan of modern cinema and literature. I don't see the complete decline in quality that some say is occurring. Perhaps it's just because we haven't had decades to weed out the bad, maybe it's rose-tinted glasses, whatever. But I have been totally without sci-fi for months now. I picked up some short story collections of some award winners in the genre and didn't really like most of them.

Most of my sci-fi favorites; the first book in the Dune series, the early Foundation books, Brave New World, We, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Fahrenheit 451 and various Ray Bradbury short stories, are several decades old, or more. I have even thought of picking up a Star Wars book again, before convincing myself that everything wrong with Star Wars literature is what frustrates me with fantasy. I remember finally giving up on it early in high school with some weird bug alien invasion series. Plus, I don't like Star Wars nearly as much as I used to.

I guess it's good that I am enjoying what I am reading now, then. Perhaps I am just more of a drama guy now. I am enjoying my time with Journey to the West. It has a lot of things in it that professors will tell you not to do. Fight scenes are generally vague and short. The narrator makes frequent remarks to the reader about continuing to find out what happens next. But it all adds to the whimsical feel of the book so far (I am about 200 pages in is all). The Monkey King who played center stage up until lately was a wonderful character. He was rambunctious, devious, greedy, and yet, strangely strong and admirable at times. The fight scenes were larger than life and exciting, even if characters always avoided death. The cast of characters as a whole has been interesting, even if you have to mostly imagine up what they look like.

The second Drizzt Collection picked off where the first one left off; pretty good but not extraordinary. The villain is not very compelling, sadly, as he basically amounts to some mystical source of massive magical power being unearthed after hundreds of years dormant. Stop me if you've heard that one before. But Salvatore has an eye for breathing life into anything and everything; giving towns and people characteristics and traits that make them seem at once familiar and exotic. By the time he is done, the characters feel about as real as they can be.

In the meantime, away from literature, I have started watching several animes. I am giving Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex a third try. It sounds like something I should love. Sci-fi, cyberpunk, strong female lead, great soundtrack and atmosphere, and politics. What a show! But I have seen it through one and a half times and remained unimpressed each time. I am now on episode 8, and so far, I am finding it much better this time through. I am not sure what changed.

I also started Casshern Sins, and will be watching Megazone 23, Nitaboh, and Howl's Moving Castle in the coming days to review on the anime blog I am a part of. Megazone 23 is horrible. But, it's so bad it's funny in some respects. We'll see how it all goes. Howl's is one of my least favorite Miyazaki works, but I want to give it another shot.

My gaming side of things has been quiet still. I was playing Dissidia 012 for awhile as well as The 3rd Birthday, but now I am going dormant again. Final Fantasy IV Complete Collection and Prince of Persia HD Trilogy are in the mail, but I don't know if they will get me back into things. I guess I just find myself drifting more towards music and movies and anime and reading instead of games, when I have free time. Not sure what's up.

Oh, and the weather here sucks. It's 40F and raining. Man, I need to live somewhere tropical.

Anyways, I am not too sure why I wrote this whole thing. I was bored at work and just started rambling and decided to go with it. It's a very self-indulgent piece but I felt like writing it up. I'll spare you from reading anymore though.

-GoodEnoughForMe .

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Biblical Literalism

I recently found myself lurking on a forum that contains a fairly prominent Young Earth Creationist member. Before you snicker, this guy is a decent person. He just appears to be under a misconstrued opinion of both The Bible and Christianity at large. And he wants morality to be based on The Bible entirely. But I digress...

This got me thinking on why YEC and Bible literalism is such a prominent minority (and perhaps majority in some areas) in America, while I will explore, briefly, how it is in direct conflict with the true intent of The Bible and Christianity. This will deal quite a bit with Christian theology, as a heads-up, and it should be noted that I do not believe in God or any higher being. With that out of the way, let us begin.

Biblical literalism has it's roots in an evangelical hermeneutical approach to Scripture and Protestant fundamentalism, and often results in people taking Creationism, Noah's Ark, etc., as actual, literal truth. The only case that allegory or metaphor is being used in The Bible is when it is explicitly stated, according to most literalists. I am going to ignore the overwhelming body of evidence that goes against The Deluge or Creationism, because most literalists don't accept that in the first place, and instead view this from a theological standpoint.

Literalism shares a bit of common ground with the "pick and choosers" as some people call them; people who pick and choose passages from The Bible to support their worldview, while ignoring others. The most mainstream application of this, perhaps, is in the diminished role that The Old Testament has in modern Christianity, to the point where many Christian theologists and Christian laymen make little apologies and simply say it is not reflective of true Christianity. However, like Literalism, we often see certain allegory still constrained to the belief that it is not allegory.

To cut to the chase; the act of picking and choosing, or in computer terms, cutting and pasting passages from The Bible is inherently lopsided. Christianity was never supposed to be represented in that way. Christianity was never founded under the pretense that the Bible is a source of infallible knowledge, or scientific knowledge. What it is supposed to represent is reason, and said reason can be based, when accurate, on scientifc knowledge. Look at the opening verses of John's Gospel; Logos/Jesus. He is the Word. Logos is a Greek term meaning reason. Thus, Reason made the world, and the world was made through Reason. Therefore, the world is inherently rational. As Logos also is a part of all humans, humans are also inherently rational (that is an entirely different can of beans).

The idea of reason/rationality being a fundamental part of Christianity was espoused by the likes of Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria. The Trinity itself was developed through assumed "rational" meditation, and goold ol' fashioned debate.

This idea continued well into the 4th and 5th century by the likes of Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose of Milan, Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine of Hippo, among others. The understanding of Christianity was drawn from secular information at the time. The idea that God is rational and humans are rational led them to use morality implored by modern, secular reasoning. There is no contradiction between what Christianity showed and what human reason showed. And while at times many theologians thought that the latter needed to be corrected by the former, there was no inherent conflict between recognizing both of them as integral to Christian morality and knowledge.

So, in effect, Protestant fundamentalism and YECers are directly opposed to what Christianity was originally supposed to be about. They essentially deny that Christianity is reasonable, by allowing interpretation that directly goes against all reasonably and rationally developed evidence and consensus. It leads us to believe that they are saying that all scientific consensus is not just wrong; but fallicious, and deceitful. It pits religion against the reason it was originally founded to represent. They are, ultimately, saying what many atheists and agonstics have been saying for years; that religion is unreasonable, without really knowing that that is what they are portraying. They are pitting their religion against the world.

True Christianity was never about following the Bible in all cases all the time. So what if Paul thought creationism was true? We now have the information that shows that it isn't; he did not. Why do literalists cherry pick that bit of information, but casually dispose of the fact that Paul also probably thought that the sun revolves around the Earth? Very few people are willing to argue against the Earth actually rotating around the sun, so why is creationism still such an issue? If Paul had ostensibly said that the Sun revolves around the Earth, would modern Christians take that at it's word? Probably not (well, not most of them, at least). So then why still take creationism so literally?

Actual Christianity is about incorporating many facets of knowledge, not just the literal word of The Bible. YECers and Protestant fundamentalists are bastardizing the religion, essentially. This is why, just like modern scientists ignore YEC claims, so to do Christian theologists. It is, quite simply, not a legitimate interpretation of Christianity as it was set out to be.

Perhaps ironically, these Protestant fundamentalists share more in common with Muslims than other Chrstians, because Muslim theology is built on the fact that the Koran is an unfallible source of knowledge that contains God's direct teachings to man, and that the Koran has everything we need to know; we just need to learn to interpret it. This is not a very different world view from Protestant fundamentalists.

Review: Ergo Proxy

As I very, very slowly make it through watching and reviewing my latest anime disaster (.hack//Liminality), I felt it appropriate to share a much more positive write-up of an anime; one Ergo Proxy.