Friday, August 25, 2006

The Summer Read I Just Couldn't
Seen a man standin' over a dead dog lyin' by the highway in a ditch.
He's lookin' down kinda puzzled pokin' that dog with a stick.
Got his car door flung open he's standin' out on Highway 31.
Like if he stood there long enough that dog'd get up and run.
-- “Reason to Believe”
I had not heard the final song from Bruce Springsteen’s 1990 album Nebraska in more than 10 years, but the opening lyrics came to mind while reading the first few chapters of Sam Harris’ book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (2004). Springsteen’s song is a bitter joke that comes at the end of an album filled with nihilistic despair, so, I was not surprised that my memory would call up this song while reading Harris’ depressing words:
“Despite the considerable exertions of men like [theologian Paul] Tillich who has attempted to hide the serpent lurking at the foot of every altar, the truth is that religious faith is simply unjustified belief in matters of ultimate concern – specifically in the propositions that promise some mechanism by which human life can be spared the ravages of time and death.”
An atheist friend suggested I read Harris’ book after I invited him to comment on my first post on this blog, Faith, Liberals, and Biscuits. He sent me an email complimenting me on my new hobby, made a snide comment about an admittedly shallow theological remark I made in the post and suggested I read Harris’ book. (Thanks for the prescription, Jimbo.)
End of Faith comes at a time when the Neocons and car bombers are sharing the news and beginning to wear down the American public; Harris started writing the book on September 12, 2001. Harris’ solution to the turmoil religion created was to destroy religion for the sake of world peace. Does Harris really think we will all be happier without God or, for his sake, the concept of God? Absolutely. In fact, reading End of Faith is a horrifying experience. “Words like ‘God’ and ‘Allah’ must go the way of ‘Apollo’ and ‘Baal,’ or they will unmake our world.” While he spends most of his time with fundamentalists in his sights, it is a bit strange how he seems to believe that even religious moderates are capable of anything. This, of course, is not a revelation to a Muslim, Jew or Christian. We have asserted from the Beginning that man is capable of atrocities, just as he is capable of lying or stealing an apple from a market; it is called “sin nature.”
If you can remove yourself from any religious predilections and look at the world with pure logic, most of Harris’ views are difficult to refute. Still, who is his audience here? Is he preaching to the choir? (Sorry folks, I just couldn’t help myself.) If he is trying to convert believers to the abyss it is a hard sell. Ask anyone who believes in God, whether their deity goes by Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah or some nebulous entity, and he’ll tell you the idea of abandoning this supreme belief for Harris’ solution is impossible to reconcile with what he knows and feels.
It is not just a choice of which is more sensible; any staunch nonbeliever who reads the Bible is confounded by the idea that millions of people throughout the ages lived and died not only understanding, but also believing in this nonsense. Any college student sufficiently full of himself can read Harris’ book and come away with the idea that this author has found the panacea for religious fanaticism. Conversely, anyone who has gone beyond Harris’ worldly assertions can see how utterly foolish they are and, Biblically speaking, “full of dead men’s bones.” (For a review far more eloquent then these comments by someone who, I trust, was able to finish the book, check out: Matthew Simpson’s review posted April, 5, 2005 at
Ultimately, Harris writes off the religious folk as people who have never reflected on the intellectual foundations of their beliefs. If his book is so tactfully written to cloak his contempt for Christians and other Believers, the titles of some of his posts in the Huffingtonpost like “Science Must Destroy Religion” and the presumptive “There is No God (And You Know It)” remove all doubt. Of course, there are plenty of contemporary works of religious philosophy to discount his claim. One that stands out can be found in To Everyone an Answer (2004), a collection of Christian apologies focusing on subjects that include God’s existence, Intelligent Design, miracles, and Christianity v other faiths and cults, among others subjects.
Like James Moreland and Kai Nielsen’s Does God Exist? and Peter Kreeft’s Fundamentals of the Faith, I found To Everyone an Answer at the bookstore and “just had to have it.” In addition, like so many other books I impulsively purchase, this one could have spent years on the shelf unopened if it had not been for Harris’ impish opus, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
One essay, “A Thomistic Cosmological Argument,” by W. David Beck, lays out the logic of God’s presence and our place in His universe. TheThomistic Cosmological Argument comes from Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century philosopher and theologian. His Cosmological Argument, as it is commonly known, is based on three premises:
  1. What we observe in this universe is contingent. Nothing we see exists in and of themselves.
  2. A sequence of causally related contingent things cannot be infinite. Just as one boxcar pulls another that pulls another, the boxcars cannot be infinite; there must be an initial cause, like the train’s engine.
  3. The sequence of causally dependent contingent things must be finite. The premise that completes the logic is that if the sequence cannot be infinite, then it must be finite.
His conclusion is that there must be a first cause in the sequence of contingent causes. Still, pessimists like Harris can retort that the initial cause was a “big bang” or something similar. What actually caused the initial “big bang” that ultimately ended in you and me is something Darwin, his followers and, I would assume, Harris would simply shine on as a goal for future science to patch up along with all the “Origin of the Species” holes.

I hate the idea of not finishing a book I started – almost as much as I hate walking out of a movie, even if it really stinks. It is just that I have so many books I want to read, and being such a slow reader, the list of books I want to read only grows longer when I am dragging my eyeballs across the lines of a suicide-inducing tome like this one.
I would like to think that Harris would consider the words of Beck and other apologists in To Everyone an Answer, but in the time it took me to read what little I did from this depressing book and all the time this post spent in my jump drive waiting for me to finish it, a new book from Harris titled Letter to a Christian Nation has been published. From the blurbs on the site, it sounds like another tombstone.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"I Started a Blog, Which Nobody Read"

Go to: Buzz 99: I Started a Blog, Which Nobody Read#links

And it doesn't matter how much I shamelessly promote this thing to those who I thought liked me, all I seem to get is, "Oh yeah, I'll check it out, man" followed by nothing, no comments, nothing. When you get to quizzing your nieces and nephews to find out whether they read the blog like they said they did, that's when you know you've hit rock bottom. Thanks, Buzz.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Week I Thought My New Boss was a Ninja
For five months, my office thrived without a manager. In that time we enjoyed long lunches, took breaks whenever we felt like it, and with the exception of only a couple of minor issues that brought down the section manager, it was a very relaxed and productive period.

Our office was like an open city: in-between the departure of one governing body and the occupation of a future one. Since we were only loosely supervised, we never felt we needed to be on guard and in fear of the boss. Unlike before, we were not bombarded by calls from the boss to see him in his office; nor were we pinned down in our cubes, pressed until we answered questions to his satisfaction. In addition, his absence from staff meetings was so refreshing that I made it a point to show up to these gatherings on my own time and nobody cared.

Just like the best all-night pool parties, our hiatus from office management had to end. An occupying force was bound to invade our little open city and re-establish “order.” While it is too early to tell how we will regard our new boss, one thing is for sure, if you would have asked me what I thought of him in that first week I would have told you that he was a ninja!

He was so busy the first day signing papers from our accounting and personnel offices, and getting his PC and phone set up that he was virtually invisible, but that is not the ninja part. It was on his second day when, with ninja-like stealth, he walked through our cubicle farm, surprising everyone. I was busted playing a sudoku puzzle, Edna was caught taking an unscheduled break watching her soap opera on Web-TV and eating cold cereal, I heard her attempting to say "Good morning" through a mouth full of milk and Special K. At the very same time our new boss was jolting Edna out of the world of melodrama and feminine hygiene product commercials, Dorothy was caught sleeping.

On the third day, when he began his walk through the cubes, I heard him speaking to Maureen, the woman who sits in front of me. A moment later, he was talking to Dorothy, the woman who sits behind me. There was no sound of his movement past me – and, believe me, with a half-done sudoku in in front of me, I was listening for him. It also took him only a second to pass me and engage Dorothy in his very soft voice. Did he fly by? My first – foolish – thought was that he threw his voice, but when I heard Dorothy reply to his query, I had to get up and confirm that he was standing in Dorothy’s cube.

When he left that day, I crossed him in the stairwell. He was skipping every other step as he bounded up the staircase. This is in itself nothing special; many people do it, but without making a sound? I only noticed him because he suddenly appeared below me. We reached the landing between the basement and first floor at about the same time. He spoke to me softly, “I’ll see you tomorrow—”. We passed one another. I took two steps on the landing and looked back up, thinking he was going to finish his sentence, give me a command, say goodnight, or something, but he had vanished – all I heard was the door to the first floor shutting.

On the fourth day, we had a party for a couple of departing employees. Occasionally, someone would ask me who my new boss is. When I tried to point him out in the crowd, he would disappear only to appear a second later across the room. A couple of people gave up on me identifying him, probably thinking I had spiked my cup of punch or something. Then he would appear behind me. The whole thing got nerve racking. On the fifth day things calmed down a bit, but still my boss seemed to appear and disappear from his office without anyone's knowledge of his movements. Creepy.

It is week number two of my new manager’s assignment and the mystery has vanished; we see him walking about the warehouse, he says hello to everyone in the office giving up his location in time for us to stash the sudokus and shut down the soap operas; he is just another guy and this is all for the best, I have got some sudokus to solve!