Monday, June 19, 2006

Dad's Day

For all those who are waiting to hear more about my recent Goddification, apologies, because I need to take a moment to embarrass my dad.

Which is only fair, since my dad is a constant embarrassment to me. He has cooler taste in music than me. He's more honest than I am. He always gets to online articles about/by Chomsky before I do. I've been practicing the flute recently, but he probably still plays the thing better than I do. He also probably knows more about computers than I do. He's in way better shape than me.

It's embarrassing!

My dad has had a big influence on me. For example, I'm pretty sure he had something to do with the fact that I'm a leftist, and the fact that I think Prince is a musical genius.

No matter what crazy things I decide to do with my life (e.g. pursuing a career in academic philosophy, converting to Christianity), my dad never tells me how crazy I am. I'm pretty sure he thinks it, but he never says it. And I appreciate that.

My dad is a crime-fighting vigilante. Probably a lot of the readers of this blog have already heard the story about the guy who robbed my dad's store at knife point, so here's an abridged version. The robber was a big dude in his twenties, while my dad is about my size, but about a century older or so. The robber got some money all right, but after he left the store, dad decided to chase after him. Dad chased the bad guy halfway across town, until the robber got so tired he stopped and got my dad to promise to stop chasing him if he returned the money. The robber then dropped some money on the ground, and took off. My dad retrieved the money, and then figured out that a bunch was missing, so he resumed the chase. The robber ran away again, and got tired again, and tried the same schtick again, and tried to cheat my dad again. So the chase resumed, with the robber trying the same deal a third time. The robber cheated my dad that time, too, and then dad's shoelace broke, so he had to give up the chase. I think the robber ended up getting away with 30 cents or something, which is a lot less than you'd want to get paid for having to run that far.

What I'm trying to say is, my dad is not as awesome as Chuck Norris, but he comes pretty close. (Dad has only two speeds: walk, and chase the bad guy to the point of exhaustion.)

Happy Dad's Day, Dad. (I would apologize for the lateness, but by now my dad should know that I do everything late.)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

It's a simple message and I'm leaving out the whistles and bells

The news

For everyone I haven't told yet; and also for those I have told, but haven't the foggiest idea what the hell has happened to me:

After a lifetime of atheism, almost entirely devoid of any exposure whatsoever to religious practices; after cofounding a secular humanist club in undergrad; after spending way too much time picking apart really bad arguments for the existence of God; after declaring a few times (before witnesses) that I was an "incorrigible" atheist, probably the last atheist who would ever, ever convert to Christianity--after all that, I've converted to Christianity.

(What really tears me up about all this is that I proved myself wrong. I hate that.)

No, it's true. It happened a couple of weeks ago. I committed myself to God and accepted Jesus Christ as my saviour.

Yes, I'm serious.

No, really, I'm serious.

No, I'm not crazy. (Or, if I am, it's the same kind of crazy I've always been, and not some new, extra-scary kind of crazy.)

And no, I can't explain why, because there is no explanation. I converted, and there was no reason for my conversion. None. Really, none.

(But, to adapt a bit of Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations, remark 289), to act without reason does not mean to act without right.)

Let me be a bit more explicit as to what I mean when I say I converted without reason. I received no visions, heard no voices, had no hallucinations of any sort (a pity, since I'm rather fond of hallucinations, though I doubt they're any sort of basis for faith). I was not convinced of God's existence by some amazingly clever philosophical argument I'd never considered before. I did not feel that I was at the end of my rope and needed some supernatural force to get my life back on track. I didn't feel a deep psychological need that only religion could fill. I felt no deep sadness, no sense of lack, no sense of despair. No arguments, no needs, no wants, no motivations were responsible for my conversion.

I found myself in a position where I faced an incomprehensible choice to either commit to God, or not, with no basis whatsoever for choosing one over the other--and I chose to commit. It was that simple (that difficult, that bizarre). I know next to nothing about existentialism, but I get the feeling this was some hardcore kinda existentialist moment.

I chose the title for this blog, based on PI 217, before my conversion, but it fits remarkably well here.
If I have exhausted the justifications I have reached bedrock, and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: "This is simply what I do."
Except in this particular case, I start out at bedrock. I start out without the ability to offer any justification for my conversion. I had none at the time, and I can't think of any now.

Anyway, there were no reasons for my conversion, but there is a bit of a narrative. The process of conversion itself took a few days, and was preceded and attended by a series of highfalutin intellectual developments. I'll try to cough up that narrative over the next few days, for anyone who's interested.

I'm still me

First, though, I'd like to do what I can to reassure friends and family that I'm still me.

My philosophical, moral, political, and scientific beliefs remain basically unchanged.

I still think the universe is however many billions of years old the astrophysicists are saying it is this week. I still think we are highly evolved pond scum.

I still think dualism is bad metaphysics--in fact, I still think metaphysical inquiry is mostly a waste of time (in philosophy, of course, and I think probably in theology as well). I still think arguments for the existence of God are (each and every one of them) bad arguments. (Arguments for the existence of God played no role whatsoever in my conversion, and have nothing to do with my faith.)

I'm still a political leftist. Far, far, far leftist. I still want to eat the rich. I still think LGBTQs should be allowed to marry each other (in whatever combination), and I still have a great deal of difficulty understanding why so many people are so opposed to that idea. I'm still pro-choice.

I still hate Bush.

I still think that state and religion need to be cleanly and thoroughly separated--in fact, this is infinitely more important to me now than it was when I was an atheist, because politicization is even more poisonous to religion than Goddification is to politics.

My taste in entertainment, music, humour, and etiquette remain the same. Kurosawa and Kubrick still compete for status as my all-time favourite director. I still think D&D is a lot of fun. I still like angry music, including music that's angry at religion. I still make really tasteless jokes. I still make jokes about the Baby Jesus.

My nascent theology

Ooh, I've got some work to do here. I have figured out almost nothing as of yet.

In general principle, if not in detail, the sort of Christianity I now find personally valuable is the sort represented by this story, or by the Slacktivist (whose blog struck me as way cool long before the possibility of conversion became a thinkable thought).

I'm not sure what sort of Christian I am. I've been trying to construct a label for myself; at the moment I'm tentatively inclined to say that I'm a Wittgensteinian-Kierkegaardian, anti-metaphysical, errantist, theologically liberal Christian. But that's pretty long-winded; for most purposes "miscellaneous Christian" would do just as well. (Technically, I'm also a "born-again". I like that label because of its happy connotations.)

I do know that I don't believe in the rapture. Well, actually, I don't much care what people think about the rapture. I do believe that many Christians think about it way, way too much--so much so that it has become a way of forgetting what it means to be a Christian.

I don't believe in hell, and I've suspended judgment about heaven. In general, I don't much care about the concept of the afterlife--I don't live there. The only issues I really care about are practical (in some very broad sense of 'practical'). I think the concepts of sin and salvation are important, but I don't really care about any role they might have to play in sorting people into a possible heaven or a possible hell. I'm more concerned with what they (and the Christian story of salvation through Christ) say about the possibilities of human existence, here and now, in this messy mortal world populated by various forms of highly evolved pond scum.

I'm pretty sure that being a good Christian involves, most crucially, (a) being committed to God and (b) being committed to alleviating the suffering of others, such that these become somehow inseparable. I'm pretty sure I have a long way to go on both counts. (Yes, having just (b) is good in itself. In fact, Matthew 25:31ff makes it pretty clear that (b) alone is enough to make the Baby Jesus dance a happy little jig. Nevertheless, adding (a) to the mix is important.)

Friday, June 16, 2006

What can be said at all can be said clearly

That's another quote from Wittgenstein--this time, the preface to the Tractatus. (Nowadays I can't go half an hour without thinking or uttering a quote from Wittgenstein. I may need therapy.)

Charles Travis considers himself a Wittgensteinian philosopher, and yet is apparently happy to produce such sentences as:
Properties of being true (false) if, given, of, or only if, thus and so, or thus, or the way things are, are all within this class.
Yes, that sentence was written, and presumably read by an editor or two, and then published.

I kind of like Travis's stuff, but as I read that sentence, over and over again, the language-processing centre of my brain had to recruit neurons from completely different cortices to help out with the parsing. By the time I figured out what it meant, I'd forgotten how to throw a frisbee, how to create a linked list in C++, and whether the Yamanote line is the quickest way to get between Ikebukuro and Ueno.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Small pleasures

The midterm elections in Illinois will feature a gubernatorial face-off between Judy Baar Topinka and Rod Blagojevich. I'm confident that this will prove to be an exciting campaign, seeing as how both candidates have such funny-sounding names.

For the past few weeks, the Chicago airwaves have been full of attack ads on Topinka. As much as I hate attack ads (or, rather, their prominence in political discourse), I have derived some small amount of satisfaction from one of the more recent anti-Topinka ads, which focuses on her positive appraisal of the job Dubya's been doing.

So, congrats to Dubya on his new job as a political liability for Republicans (finally, a post for which he's actually qualified).

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Grad school: one year down (sort of)

Four more to go. (Or thereabouts. If my undergrad experience is any indication, it may take a wee bit longer. But I hope to be more efficient on this particular run through academia.)

The academic year had a pretty good finale. In the afternoon there was a reception for philosophy undergrads, which involved a great deal of catered food. Not many grads were around for that, but a lot of that food was still there in the common room by the time the grad student "coffee hour" came around a few hours later. The pre-existing spread was augmented by one hundred fifty wonderful dollars worth of food and drink (double the normal amount set aside for coffee hour--I guess some money was left over in the budget). Included was a beer keg. This was advertised beforehand, and for some reason attendance was heavier than usual. Good fun.

I think grad school is treating my brain pretty well so far. I learned a bunch more about Kant (I was already a fan) and Frege (he's much more important than I ever realized). I was also introduced to the very cool Wittgenstein (already kinda knew he was cool), Wilfrid Sellars (ditto), Freud (used to think he was a nut) and Kierkegaard (had no idea who he was before). I can say without hyperbole that Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein in particular have already Changed My Life in a variety of positive ways. (Philosophy is not useless. It may even be good for the soul, whatever that is.)

One class focused on some really recent philosophy of language concerning one of the Big Debates of the day. This seminar was, in the words of the prof, both "sobering" and "encouraging". He mused that there have only been about ten good arguments in the history of philosophy, with the implicature that probably none of these arguments have been made in the past five years--and yet it is still possible to have a flourishing career as a philosopher. Yay!

Summer plans include a reading group on Kierkegaard, a reading group on Hegel, and a reading group on Miscellaneous Philosophers We've Heard Are Important (maybe starting with Dewey; I'm going to push for Rorty). Later in the summer will be German lessons. Meanwhile I'll have to spit out the approximately three dozen papers that I owe profs from the courses I didn't quite complete over the past year.

(In case anyone is wondering, I will probably be spending the whole summer here in Chicago.)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

And the peasants rejoiced

Because Fafblog is back!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Rabbit eared joy

When people want to get rid of household goods in my building, they often just leave it in the lobby for others to take. In this way I've acquired an end table (currently sitting in a corner collecting junk), a toaster oven, a vacuum cleaner, 3 plates, a bowl, a mug, 2 boxes of Kraft dinner (in festive Blue's Clues and Spongebob Squarepants shapes), a bag of instant fettucini alfredo, and, most recently, an antenna.

I get an impressive number of channels now. One of the benefits, maybe, of living in a large city in a part of the world where there are hardly any hills. I count 25 channels with watchable reception. One of my first viewing experiences with my new antenna was a bhangra show. Woo! At the moment there are shows in Mandarin and Korean on a couple of channels (I don't know if these are dedicated Chinese and Korean stations, or if they run programs in different languages).

For some reason I was briefly awake this morning around 6am, and caught a rerun of Saved by the Bell. That was fabulous! It's the one (I know you know this one) where everyone's at this resort, because Jesse's dad is getting remarried, to a much younger woman, and Jesse tries to break up the wedding. Meanwhile Slater is dating a princess and Zack and Kelly briefly consider getting back together, but decide against it. The episode ends with Jesse storming off, and Zack running off to convince her to come back, which he manages in about 30 seconds, because he is just that smooth.

By far, though, the most exciting viewing experience enabled by my new rabbit ears is, without a doubt, the Trinity Broadcasting Network. All Jesus programming, 24 hours a day!

I heard a guy report a vision in which he visited hell, which is inhabited by (among other things) giant spiders, 13 foot tall demons covered in scales and bumps, and an honest-to-God (ha!) lake of fire filled with the skeletal bodies of the damned (all of them?). He was pretty sure it was located in the centre of the earth, and not in "a different dimension".

I also caught Pat Robertson's show--if you make a pledge, he'll send you a DVD of investment strategies, because the baby Jesus loves sound financial management, I guess. If you pledge $10,000, you get to have dinner and pray with Pat, in person. Wouldn't that be lovely!

I watched some other guy called Hagee, who's in the middle of a series on "Promise, Problem, Provision". The way he says "problem" makes me smile. I also smiled when he uttered such wonderful sentences as "Jesus is omnipotent--he knows everything" and "for me, the story of Moses is one of the most striking in the New Testament". Nobody in the audience laughed. They just kept taking notes.

And during the "news broadcast", I heard about some women having C-sections specially scheduled on June 5, in order to avoid having their babies born on 06/06/06. It's hard to be an effective satirist when people actually go out and do things like this.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Patience please

Someday this blog will be a real blog. But not today.

As per some other words from Wittgenstein:
This is how philosophers should salute each other: "Take your time!"
Of course, with respect to most things, I'm generally inclined to take my time anyway, but only insofar as I'm really lazy.