Archive for May, 2009

Black Panther – A Review

Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Drawn by: Ken Lashley
Published by: Marvel Comics

I always pick up any new #1 of Black Panther. I just can’t help myself because part of me is always hoping that they’ll do the character right. The quintessential interpretation of the Black Panther was Christopher Priest’s classic run on the book. In it, we saw a king ten steps ahead of anyone else, who had different character motivations, and who was a complex yet driven character. Reginald Hudlin generally continued in this vein, though to a much more hit and miss extent.

From the cover, we’re promised a female Black Panther. Unfortunately, this is the age of stories written for eventual collection into trade paperbacks, meaning that the initial storyline is 4-6 issues long and issue number one, with few exceptions, plays like an extended prologue. In other words, the promised female Black Panther doesn’t make an appearance in this issue.

However, the story picks up against the back drop of Marvel’s company-wide “Dark Reign” storyline (which boils down to Norman Osborn having been given the keys to the Marvel kingdom). The story unfolds in a fractured style, bouncing between past and present, taking a page from the Christopher Priest brand of storytelling. We have royalty (in the form of Prince Namor) seeking out an audience with T’Challa, with eventually another fallen monarch, Dr. Doom, making an appearance.

“They follow his every move. To say they worship him is not a figure of speech.”

The Black Panther is a book about a king protecting his kingdom. What I appreciate most about these characters is that it’s easy to forget that he and Namor aren’t typical of the spandex set. They are monarchs, with different agendas and kingdoms to protect and guide. The Black Panther, along with his new bride, Storm, is practically worshiped by his people.

The natural spiritual connection that stems from this is the idea of the “kingdom of God”. After all, Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand. But what does it mean? Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi, in his book Kingdom Come, defines it this way: “the kingdom of God is about the dynamic of God’s kingship being applied”. That is, God reigns and when that reign becomes specific one can say the kingdom of God is here. Jesus announces the near-arrival of the kingdom, this continuity between our here and now and a future heaven. His call was simply that all those who wanted to enter this kingdom simply had to repent and believe his gospel message. And we’re all invited into this kingdom.

Too much about the book reeks of hype, from the re-launch as a new number one (making this essentially volume 5 of the Black Panther) to the extension of the “Dark Reign” metanarrative to the promised female Black Panther to paying for a double-sized issue and only getting the standard length comic plus some filler, er, bonus material. Not exactly the best way to deliver on the hype.

S. Darko – A Review

It’s difficult to make sequels of certain movies, especially movies which don’t need a sequel. Movies that had their own magic, where everything came together to create a special moment, for example, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial. Then there are movies that seem like a sequel could be made, to continue the adventures of their characters, yet sometimes even those sequels prove tricky (Blues Brothers 2000 springs to mind).

Donnie Darko is more like the former. Richard Kelly’s cool cult phenomena offered an original and disturbing vision of suburban life, the terror behind the white picket fence, capturing the isolation and desperation of teen angst. A tale of alienation, being invisible, yet desperately wanting to be known; of parents not knowing they exist as they search for a place to belong and tendrils of connection. All layered with a healthy serving of science fiction fable.

S. Darko takes place seven years after the events involving Samantha Darko (Daveigh Chase, reprising her role from the original film) and her brother Donnie. Seven years to end up in essentially the same place. Lost, alone, struggling her way through life and its meaning. She joins her best friend Corey (Briana Evigan) on a road trip to California or to otherwise find themselves, as Sam dreams of becoming a dancer. Their car breaks down in a small Utah town, filled with eccentric characters and religious fanatics. Of course a meteor hits and sets in motion a chain of events that lead to prophecies of the end of the world happening.

Make no mistake, the only members from the original team behind Donnie Darko present for this debacle are Chase and a producer. All other caretakers of the vision are perfectly absent, leaving us with a poorly written, cliché strewn, tedious mess of a movie that barely makes sense when it’s not delivering banality at a record clip.
“We have the same holes in our hearts, you and me.” –Randy (Ed Westwick)

In the “Darko” universe there are the “manipulated dead” (Frank the Bunny in Donnie Darko and Samantha in S. Darko), someone whose future deceased self communicates with the receiver, prompting them to follow the destiny set forth for them; and “living receivers ” (Donnie in the first film and Iraq Jack (James Lafferty) in this one). Between the time travel, wormholes, and connections to other realities or dimensions, especially set against the backdrop of religious fanaticism, one can’t help but wonder about how God fits into this space-time continuum.
“God has all the time in the world for you.” –John Mellit (Matthew Davis)

The idea of heaven –God space, His dwelling place, His dimension—sits opposed to our space in some people’s mind, not God’s location within our space-time universe. So when we talk about heaven, this pie in the sky when we die place, we think of a destination spot for the redeemed. We occupy earth space, our dimension of reality. Heaven is not just a future reality, but a present one, where we go to be with God where He’s always been. So does God space and our space intersect, if so, how, when, and where?

“But when I was your age, I experienced things that made me feel like God didn’t exist. Maybe you’ve experienced something like that too.” –John Mellit

Embracing the complexity of our reality, we have quasi-independent, mysterious overlapping dimensions. The two dimensions overlap and interlock in specific weighs as God intrudes or otherwise makes His presence felt. Abraham met Him, Adam walked with Him, He led the nation of Israel by pillars of fire/cloud, introduced Moses to Himself via a burning bush (holy ground), and was worshiped through the Temple. God operate under certain parameters, acting from within creation through His Presence, the Torah (the Bible), and Spirit. Ultimately, Jesus is the intersection: in him, heaven and earth intersect.

No one quite found their footing in S. Darko, from the writer (Nathan Atkins ) to the director (Chris Fisher) to the actors/actresses. It’s not like the core audience of Donnie Darko longs for a movie that makes sense, but there at least has the be the semblance of logic rather than events playing out for their own sake and characters that are weird for weird’s sake. Unfortunately, rather than re-create any of the magic of the original, this is a sequel best left forgotten. It’s more like they decided to re-tell the original movie in a less interesting way.

The Uninvited – A Review

“The Uninspired”

The Uninvited is one of those kind of horror movies that leaves me frustrated. It’s a time worn premise that could still be mined for something interesting, which languishes on the screen. It has the trappings of a horror movie, some requisite boo moments and random creepy visions, which don’t really add up to a sustainable atmosphere. When it’s not pretending to be a horror movie, it’s half a thriller, in the vein of the 90s cautionary movies such as Fatal Attraction, Pacific Heights, Single White Female, etc. It’s strictly (horror/thriller) movie by numbers.

Based on Kim Jee-Woon’s 2003 Korean horror film, Changhwa Hongryon, The Uninvited centers on the story of Anna (Emily Browning), a troubled teen who returns home after spending time in the hospital following the tragic death of her mother. Her family situation continues to be complicated as she finds out that her father is involved with her mother’s former caretaker, Rachel (Elizabeth Banks). Anna’s mother’s ghost shows up to warn her because her soon-to-be evil stepmother isn’t who she claims to be. Anna teams up with her equally troubled, though in a different way, sister, Alex, as they investigate their father’s girlfriend in a battle of wills.

“We all have things in our past that we’re ashamed of. I think sometimes it’s best to let them go.” –Rachel

We all have regrets. Fixing matters isn’t always an option: what’s done is done. Sometimes you just have to carry the weight of your bad decisions and selfishness and hopefully let them shape you into a better person. Even our mistakes have value, if it leads to a transformation of who you are and what you do. If we can’t go through life doing our best to love one another, then the least we can do is try and go through life trying to cause as little damage as possible. And have fewer causes of regrets.

Danny DeVito’s character in the movie The Big Kahuna put it this way: “I’m saying you’ve already done plenty of things to regret, you just don’t know what they are. It’s when you discover them, when you see the folly in something you’ve done, and you wish that you had it do over, but you know you can’t, because it’s too late. So you pick that thing up, and carry it with you to remind you that life goes on, the world will spin without you, you really don’t matter in the end. Then you will gain character, because honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself across your face.”

Sibling directors, Charles and Thomas Guard, haven’t quite mastered the rhythms of a horror movie, inserting predictable creepy elements rather than doing anything with them. The movie arrives a few years too late to ride the coat tails of the Asian horror re-make trend (The Ring, The Grudge, Shutter). Dull, flat, and obvious, the movie lacks style, grace, creepiness, and any originality and there are better ways to kill an hour and a half of your time.

Mo*Con IV: In Absentia

What connections do you see between Spirituality and … Horror?

We’ve talked about scary stuff before. Way back in 2007, we published an interview with Bible scholar Marcus Borg, who is an insatiable fan of character-driven mystery novels, but we’ve rarely returned to the topic. We are aware that mysteries and scary stories in general are very popular with religious men and women. A number of famous religious writers, including C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, dabbled in both faith and fright.

Plus, nearly every major religious tradition has horrific stories within its sacred literature.

So, we invited author James Leach to write a short overview of a Horror-and-Spirituality conference he just attended in Indiana.

(Continue reading Horror and Spirituality here)

For the record, my favorite line in the article was “As I sipped absinthe from a Sponge Bob dixie cup at the after party…”

There were a couple of awards given out at Mo*Con IV, but the recipients weren’t able to make it. So I thought I’d share them here:

Mo*Con IV: The Story of (My) Christianity Part II

(Continued from Part I)

There are two kinds of writers: those who can sit down in front of their keyboards or with their pad and pen and simply start writing, letting the story and characters go where they go. I hate them. I’m the other kind, the ones who outline because we have to know where the story is going or else we’d get lost. Me viewing my life through the lens of a writer had implications on how I viewed the Bible. I started to read it as a storybook, a collection of stories. The story of God’s interaction with His people and a collection of stories I choose to live my life by.

A story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. With the Bible, the beginning starts with … the beginning, the creation. The act of creation provides not only the setting, but also the characters. But who is the central character, the protagonist? Who is the hero of the story? God? Humanity?

So we start with God. I believe that there are things we can’t/haven’t measured, a spiritual transcendent dimension to our reality. There is something wholly other, a complex other. If you’ve ever tried to get to know someone, you know that it requires work, trust, intimacy, and time, and that’s for people. God is ineffable (beyond words) and incomprehensible. God would not be God if this were not the case. And we’re handicapped by having only limited perception.
There is mystery and paradox, involved in getting to know him.

If there is a God, he has to have revealed himself or else he might as well not exist. We would end up endlessly wondering what “the Universe” wants. On faith, I believe Christ is not only the bridge to that other, but also the full revelation of that Other. But I’m skipping ahead in the story.

The protagonist (for that matter, all the characters) has a long-term goal for the duration of the story, so in this case, it is God interacting with humanity for a purpose. God creates, for the same reason we echo in our lives, because he has to. It’s a well spring of who he is. The Creator loved world he made, wanted to look after it best possible way so he created care-taker creatures modeled on Himself, embody his characteristics (though not fully).

The action that propels a story is some sense of conflict, in the form of the Fall: the sin of Adam and Eve. Moving beyond a literal interpretation of the story, let’s look at what the sin represents. Adam’s sin represents man seeking his own way. Sin becomes its own undoing. We’re left with a fear of death and end up spreading further sin and destruction in light of that fear. Our pursuit of what we hope to create out of rebellion (the lie of independence), attempting to write our own stories; all the while ignoring the grand story of which we’re a part. The Fall also gives us the main themes of Story. Relationships are broken and look at what we arises from this conflict: man vs. man; man vs. God; man vs. self; man vs. Creation. One of the things that makes suffering so bad is the sense, the part of us that knows, that things aren’t as they’re supposed to be.

In a way, the story is part romance, about God wooing humanity back to him. Meeting us where we are, messy and broken. And I mean romance in the best sense of the word (and wouldn’t it be great if Bibles came with covers of Jesus with a half ripped open pirate shirt or something?)

Yet with any good story, something stands in the way of the protagonist achieving his goal.
The story of God putting things right, isn’t that he just woke up one day, decided to pay attention, and suddenly decide to do something to fix the mess by condemning Jesus to a cruel fate to satisfy some blood thirst. Nor would his passion to put the world right, fulfilling this idea of justice involve swooping in, waving a magic wand, and cleaning things up. That would be him forcing himself on us. Instead, His plan has always been to work through people. From Abraham and Israel to Christ and the Church, he stirs our spirits and acts from within creation.

So the story builds to a climax. The climax is the point at which the story goes from being an interrelated, deliberately arranged, set of scenes to a cohesive story. It provides a fundamental meaning to events. That’s what the incarnation (birth in human form), life, death, and resurrection of Christ did for human history.

I’m not a God apologist. I can’t argue philosophical points. I can only speak to what forms my faith. I tend to subscribe to a “something happened” brand of apologetics. Christianity is the story of something that happened, centered around to and through this Jesus of Nazareth person. Something happened more than a guy coming along laying down some moral guidelines and teaching or else we’d see people worshiping Oprah.

Something happened which changed the course of history. I know that Jesus was not the hero they were looking for. Those waiting on a messiah were looking for someone to overthrow their Roman oppressors.

Something happened which caused massive transformation as people saw that they could be saved from an empty way of living, if they choose to accept that. That we may be lost, dying, and in need of new life, resurrection could be had. That the rule of death had been broken, freeing us to live for others. Something happened which gave them the sense of mission to the world to be a blessing.

It’s a story of big ideas with big characters who often make big mistakes. It’s a love story of a Creator rescuing his creation from rebellion, brokenness, corruption, and death. It’s a story we’re a part of and a story we’re invited into. It’s the story thus far, as we live out and work toward the ending. We propel the story, invited to become fresh, new characters.

And that’s the point of the story. We’re invited to join in God’s mission, to be a part of reconciling the universe. We’re called to heal it, to bring restoration, redemption, and reconciliation. We needed a new way of life and living to fix it and Jesus modeled a new way of living and people chose to conform their lives to his example. We need to be continually renewing this example, because it’s easy to fall back into old patterns and old ways of living. We need to be a part of the solution, not the problem. What good is faith if we don’t put what we say we believe into action, living it out as best we are able.

Where there’s a story there’s a plot, there’s a plotter. Not the best proof of the existence of God, but it works for me. We connect with story because we’re a part of a grand story. The story comes full circle as Christ undoes the way of Adam, showing a new way (as high priest and intercessor), and recreating community and relationship with God. In short, He redeems Creation. In turn, we’re all called to live in light of this story, aligning ourselves with this truth.

The one true overarching story of Christianity is that all stories are finally brought not only to fullness and completion, but redemption in Christ. In Christ, all stories are finished. If I had to guess Wrath’s reaction, it would be to say that what I’m saying is that I cling to a fairy tale I hope is true, because what I’ve said isn’t logical. And he’s right. It’s as logical as falling in love. You can’t help who you fall in love with, you do have a choice about what to do about it.

Me? I’m just a man searching for truth and trying to work out his faith. Stories can take you to a deeper reality. My stories are one way I work out my faith. The world is good, but broken, a paradox stories can help us understand. I see the reality of evil and darkness. Sometimes I see how love and relationships can become twisted and selfish. I look into the heart of humanity, into my own heart, and find it wa
nting. I question, I doubt, I often miss the point, and I fail.

Faith is confidence in the goodness of God remembered on how he has shown goodness to you in the past. Remembering and re-experiencing the way God has touched your life. It leaves you with a sense of hope, that you have a future. Doubt is useful for a while … but we must move on. We can deconstruct our beliefs all we want, but after awhile, we have to construct something.

I have hope and I cling to it. Darkness may win battles, but light win the war. Justice is real, if sometimes slow in coming. Love, true love, forgives, heals, and triumphs. And humanity, even me, can find redemption.

Stories can show us possibilities. Stories can let us have glimpses of a future hope. Stories can encourage and sustain us. For me, it comes back to the recognition that “we are imperfect people living in a very imperfect world and worshiping a perfect God in an imperfect church.” What I want is to truly experience, the true prayer of my heart, is to truly feel God, to truly know God. Until then, I can only cling to my faith and continue to pray my favorite prayer found in the Bible:

“Lord I believe. Help me with my unbelief.”

Mo*Con IV: The Story of (My) Christianity Part I

Faith hasn’t always come easily to me. I’ve always been intellectually curious, things had to make sense for me. I’m trained as a scientist because I’ve always been about searching for answers. For truth. But it’s also why I don’t hold to a “everything can be explained in nature” sort of worldview. Facts only take you so far. You can assent to a set of facts, but you can’t disprove my faith with facts. You can’t argue someone into faith with facts. Plus, facts equal certainty and certainty is the opposite of faith. It’s the frustrating thing about faith: it’s an intuitive leap that isn’t always logical. I do, however, believe one can think critically and logically about one’s faith.

For the record, I didn’t grow up in a faith-filled home. My father and his father before him were about as God neutral, even anti-God as you can get. My father, in one particularly chilling conversation, once told me that he understood fully the choice he made living his life the way he wanted. He recognized the consequences and if that meant an eternity of hell, then so be it, but he at least got to live his life his way.

My mother talked about God on occasion, but I had no sense of her having a spiritual life until the last ten years or so. I grew up in the church, however, and our family has a history of spiritualism, such as the obeah people, the practitioners of the Jamaican form of voodoo. My first major sale, “Family Business” to Weird Tales, was about wrestling with that branch of the family. [But I’ve detailed this part of my journey before.]

Faith is what you choose to believe in. You have to have some system of belief, something to hold onto, or else you end up just flailing about through life. Just like it’s easy to have faith when everything is going well, when life chugging along pretty much as expected, going along the way you want. But what happens when things go off the tracks?

Any followers of my blog know that I have failed: as a man, as a husband, as a father, as a friend, as a leader. And in light of the mess I’ve made of my life, it’s left me asking a lot of questions about what I believe. I’ve wondered if there’s any truth to the Christian story? Why does it feel like I’m not close to the person I should be by now? I’m left wondering what’s real about it and with doubting eyes, I have to re-examine what I hold to be true.

So here’s what I know, or rather, what I believe to be true. I firmly believe that this life has meaning and is heading towards something. If this is all there is, I feel sorry for us, because then we truly aren’t any different than any other animal.

We’re hard-wired with certain longings, certain base ideas. Like the idea of justice. We have a passion for justice. We have a sense pretty early on of what’s fair and what’s not, like a dream written onto our hearts. We know there’s something like justice, but we can’t seem to get there.

I also firmly believe that the human heart longs for fellowship, love, and communion. We’re wired for relationships. We want the comfort of an embrace, we want to be known and loved. It’s as if we were designed to find our purpose and meaning in community: family, friends, co-workers, or nation. Yet there is a pain and brokenness to our relationships. What should be so natural is often difficult to navigate.

And the world is full of beauty. Now, I’ll admit, where some people see mountain vistas, lakeside view, a sunset, all I see is why God created tv and air conditioning. There is truth and goodness in beauty, one that we recognize without having to be told. Beauty calls us out of ourselves, is outside us, and appeals to something within us. Beauty touches a primal chord within us, captivates us, and spurs us to adoration, even worship. Beauty is in our art. We know it in music, we interpret it in dance. The idea of beauty points to something greater. It’s a longing we want to express as we try to capture an ineffable quality, an indefinable … truth.

And we have a quest for spirituality. One of the reasons I started Mo*Con was because I believe most of us are on a spiritual quest, a search for truth, and we don’t have enough folks to ask our questions to. We may embrace the western mindset that right-thinking people give up their silly superstitions, and see religion as little more than a runaway imagination, misguided feelings, mixed with wishful thinking, foolish and unsophisticated. A cultural neuroses. Yet we can agree that we all want more for ourselves and our lives. We want meaning, for all this, our struggles, our pain, to have been for something. To me, that very human experience and longing points to an exploration of a spiritual dimension to this life.

So we have this nebulous idea of the need for faith which becomes shaped by personal experience and intuition. I’m a scientist and a theologian (in the way that all spiritual seekers are theologians). So how do I make sense of it all? I’m also a writer.

I love story. I was the kid in class who instead of having a comic book in my text books, I had Bullfinch’s mythology hidden in them. Okay, comic books too. I love all stories. I believe we’re caught up in a story, Wrath and I at different points in it. We connect to a story. We choose the stories that ring true to us, each choice is a leap of faith. The story of evolution doesn’t move me, doesn’t give me purpose and sense of being. It doesn’t take me outside of myself and connect me to others. So the story of evolution couldn’t be the complete story for me.

The Christian story claims to be the true story about God. It’s the story with the recurring themes of going away and coming back home again, of slavery and exodus, of exile and restoration, of death and resurrection. Yet, as Wrath has pointed out, The Church and its people have never gotten it all right, sometimes doing as much harm as good. It’s easy to take any story and do bad things with it.

(To be continued… )

Mo*Con IV: My Atheism Part II

(Continued from Part I)

I didn’t become an atheist because I was mad at God. You can’t be mad at someone that doesn’t exist. I didn’t become an atheist because some tragedy befell me that made me turn my back on religion and deny the existence of God like some sort of grudge. If I was mad at God I wouldn’t deny his existence because if God doesn’t exist than he’s not responsible for anything. God’s only excuse is that he doesn’t exist. That would be like denying the existence of Hitler because I was pissed off at him over the Holocaust. It wouldn’t make sense. I’m not an atheist because I find Christian morality too hard to live up to and I want to just sin freely without repercussions. There are always repercussions for your actions in this life.

There’s no need for a heaven or a hell because we get them both right here, right now and it isn’t as simple as good befalling the good and bad befalling the bad. You can be the most loving and giving person and still make bad decisions that you ultimately suffer for. The morality I subscribed to, in my opinion, holds me to a much higher standard because it requires me to be more than simply good, it requires me to be smart. It doesn’t allow me to hate someone for no other reason than because some book says I should.

I became an atheist when I realized that the only reason I had ever believed was because that’s how I had been raised. I had been a Christian only because my family and everyone else I knew were Christians. That was it. That was my only reason. It had nothing to do with proof. If I had been raised by Hindus I would have been Hindu. If I had been raised by Muslims I would have been Muslim.
When I realized this I was embarrassed. To me, it was the most random, the most arbitrary, the most ridiculous reason I could think of to believe in anything. And that’s the way most people adopt their religious beliefs, it is simply handed down to them like a used sweater and we put it on before we are old enough to question it. Most people go their entire lives without ever questioning why they’re wearing it, if they need it, or whether they would be better off without it.

I didn’t have any proof that anything in the bible was true and once I read the bible, I realized that I didn’t believe half of the things in it and that neither did most of the people I knew. Yet somehow they still called themselves Christians. Most of the people I knew didn’t believe in Adam and Eve. They didn’t believe that Jonah lived inside a whale’s belly for days. They didn’t believe that Noah put two of every animal onto a boat for thirty days and thirty nights and that somehow every animal on earth lived within walking distance of Noah’s house, several million species of insects, thousands of birds and rodents that would have taken several lifetimes to collect. They didn’t believe that women should be silent and subservient. They didn’t believe in slavery. They didn’t believe that if someone worked on Sunday or cheated on their husband or didn’t obey their parents they should be stoned to death. They didn’t believe that it was a sin to eat crab or lobster or rabbit. Most of the Christians I knew had never even read the entire bible. They accepted this ideology and didn’t even know what the book really said. I became an atheist when I realized that I had no logical reason for being a Christian.

When I first began to question religion I assumed that I would find answers to my questions and that nothing would change. I assumed that the failing was in me and not in the bible. I thought that if anything, my belief would be stronger in the end. Instead, the more I read, the more I questioned, the more doubts I acquired and the harder it became to hold on to my beliefs. I found falsehoods. I found contradictions. I found immorality. I found that all the things I had believed made no sense and those things that I believed that did make sense were not even really in the bible or else were actively contradicted by other passages in the bible. That so much of what was written in its pages flew in the face of reason and morality. At that point, I would have had to deny all logic in order to believe and I just could not do that.

Isaac Asimov said, that when “Properly read, the bible is the most potent force for Atheism ever conceived.” That’s why those who know the bible the best and follow it the most literally look crazy to most people. Even moderate and liberal Christians think fundamentalists are crazy. Because the passages that most sane and reasonable people completely ignore or choose to interpret symbolically or metaphorically, they believe. So we call them extremists and zealots when what they really are, are true believers. When the church was burning infidels at the stake and sending armed missionary soldiers abroad to slaughter or convert entire cultures, they were following the bible. Today’s fundamentalists don’t even follow the bible 100%. They can’t. If anyone was to follow every command in the bible 100% they would be a criminal and a murderer. They would be a thoroughly reprehensible human being—a racist, sexist, homophobic, wife beating, gay bashing, child abusing, slave trader. But the bible was written to be followed 100%. There’s nothing in there that says or even suggests that certain parts were to be ignored or taken lightly. When Jesus said, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling.” He didn’t wink afterwards. He didn’t laugh. In Titus 2:9 when it says “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect.” Afterwards it doesn’t have a little note in parentheses that says “just kiddin’”. He meant that literally.

In order to keep Christian beliefs in line with modern morality you have to reinterpret passages that are relatively black and white or else disregard them entirely because so much of it runs contrary to commonsense morality. To be a good person and continue to believe you have to cherry-pick the good stuff and disregard all that slavery, homophobia, and misogynism stuff.

So, after reading the bible, I decided to reevaluate all of my beliefs. I abandoned everything I had believed for which there was no evidence and I started over, putting my beliefs back together piece by piece and only including the things I could logically support and defend.

I realized that the first step in achieving true knowledge was admitting my own ignorance. Not going in already committed to a conclusion and just looking for facts to justify the conclusions I had already reached. If I had begun asking questions when I was already one hundred percent emotionally committed to a conclusion those questions would have been worthless. So I let all these emotional convictions go and it was like a great weight had been lifted. The scales had fallen from my eyes and I could finally see the world as it was rather than how I had been conditioned to believe it was. My mind was now opened by wonder rather than closed by faith.

History has shown us again and again that the closed mind created by faith is fertile ground for hatred and prejudice, not to mention that it has often been an impediment to both moral and scientific progress. To quote Blaise Pascal, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” That alone would be enough for me to reject faith. This irrational illogical thought process, to me, contradicts the very definition of a human being, the rational animal. We were given these great big brains in order to allow us to answer questions and find true knowledge. Filling in the gaps between what we know and what we don’t know with beliefs that we lend the same weight as knowledge ensures that true knowledge will have a hard time ever finding fertile ground upon which to grow.

The virtue of ignora
nce is that it allows for knowledge. The sin of faith is that it does not. If you believe before you know and are committed to that belief you will NEVER know. Your belief has taken the place of knowledge. Why would you search for truth if you believe in your heart that you have already found it? Faith does not give you the answers, it just stops you from asking the questions and that alone is enough reason for me to reject it. You cannot fill a vessel that is already full and that is the problem with faith. That alone is reason enough to be an atheist. Not because I have anything against any one religion but because of the foundation of faith upon which all religions rest. That is why I am and will always be a skeptic.

The reality is that when it comes to creation and the existence or non-existence of a creator we just don’t know. Anyone who says he does know is either deluded or disingenuous. We don’t know. There is no shame in admitting that we don’t know. There is no dishonor in admitting our obvious ignorance. The dishonor is in resigning ourselves to remaining ignorant. Not just belief without evidence but belief against all contradictory evidence. That type of willful ignorance is a sin against all the potential within human nature. An open mind that leads to the pursuit of knowledge is the very definition of what it means to be human and as such is the highest virtue.

Thank you.

Mo*Con IV: My Atheism Part I

By Wrath James White

Good afternoon, my friends. I’d like to first thank Maurice for inviting me here and thank you all for welcoming me. My name is Wrath James White and I am a humanist, an atheist. As Maurice’ll tell you, I am about as passionate in my disbelief as he is in his belief.

Let me begin by explaining what atheism is. Atheism, simply put, means not believing in any god or gods. There’s a quote made popular by Richard Dawkins: “We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” We are all atheists when it comes to believing in Zeus or Odin or RA. I just believe in one fewer god than you do.

But, so what? I don’t believe. You do. Who cares? And if there was a way to keep these two viewpoints from coming into conflict with one another I wouldn’t care. But I believe in many things that are threatened by the church.

I believe in euthanasia. I believe that people should have the right to choose when and how they die. I believe they have the right to a dignified end. But because of the dominant religious beliefs in this country, if I became paralyzed with some crippling, agonizing illness that deteriorated my quality of life to the point that I no longer wanted to live, I do not have the legal right to end my life. That pisses me off a little. I believe in same-sex marriage. I believe that society benefits from people being in committed relationships. It serves a stabilizing function by encouraging people to settle down, get a job, raise children in a stable loving environment, buy a house, and pay taxes. But once again, because of the dominant religious beliefs in this country many loving couples are not able to enjoy the same rights as every other American. And that pisses me off. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I don’t believe it benefits this society and, in fact, it does great harm to bring unwanted children into a world already straining beneath the weight of overpopulation, crime, and poverty. But the dominant religion in this country is constantly trying to curtail that right.

I believe that people should be judged by their abilities, their morality, and their actions rather than by their religious beliefs or lack thereof. But yet, in this country atheists are the minorities least likely to be elected to public office. And yeah, that pisses me off. When asked who you would like your son or daughter to marry, once again, an atheist is at the bottom of the list. Despite the fact that atheists are most likely to be college educated, least likely to go to prison, and least likely to get divorced. And finally, I believe in reason. I believe that the practice of believing without evidence is demonstrably dangerous and has historically led to abominable acts of intolerance and cruelty. As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

I don’t think it‘s a coincidence that nearly all the racist organizations in this country are religious organizations. When you don’t need evidence for your beliefs you can believe anything and that tendency can be easily exploited by the corrupt and the unscrupulous.

Atheism is not a belief system. There are no dogmas attached to it. No mores. No rituals. There are no Ten Commandments of atheism. It is simply the absence of belief.

I’m sure you have been told and many of you perhaps believe that atheists hold science up like a religion. That we have faith in it the same way believers have faith in their religions, but there’s no such thing as scientific faith. Science is the study of evidence whereas faith is belief without evidence and often in spite of all evidence. They are the antithesis of each other. There are no scientific beliefs that are sacrosanct. If a scientist could disprove evolution or gravity or relativity he would be famous. He’d be almost guaranteed a Nobel Prize.

“… my belief in evolution is not fundamentalism, and it is not faith, because I know what it would take to change my mind, and I would gladly do so if the necessary evidence were forthcoming.”

That was Richard Dawkins who said that. He is about as close to a fundamentalist atheist as they come. And that is why there is no such thing as a fundamentalist atheist, because if there were scientific evidence that God existed there would be no atheists. I know exactly what it would take to convince me of God’s existence, verifiable evidence, facts.

I don’t have, and never had, the ability to suspend my disbelief and natural skepticism. Not even when I was a believer. I always questioned and doubted. That’s just who I am. I can’t believe just to satisfy anxieties about death or my place in the universe. I can’t believe simply because a particular belief system is popular. Truth isn’t decided by majority vote. I can’t be persuaded just because some priest or minister talks real pretty. I know they are just men like me. I talk pretty too. That doesn’t mean I’m not full of crap sometimes. I can’t just choose to believe because I don’t trust my own moral compass and fear that I wouldn’t be a good person without the threat of damnation and the promise of paradise. I cannot believe just to fit in, for that safe, comfortable, sense of community. I cannot believe just because everyone in my family, culture, or country believes and it has become a custom or a tradition. My mind just does not work that way. I am not terribly skilled at the art of self-deception.

I can only believe in any religion or ideology when I know it to be true, when it can be verified by empirical facts, by experiments that produce predictable results that can be duplicated. That’s the basic standard of proof we use for everything except our religious beliefs. If someone were selling me a TV set and they said “You can’t turn it on. You just have to have faith that it works. You can only turn it on after you’re dead.” I’d think they were crazy. And hopefully, so would you. But religion doesn’t allow you to turn it on and try it out before you buy it. You don’t know if religion works until you’re dead. Now, I’m just a kid from the ghetto so to me, that sounds like a con.

When I was growing up on the streets of Philadelphia, I learned the hard way not to blindly trust in pretty words and beautiful fantasies spun by charismatic individuals no matter how desirable the fantasies were, no matter how well they fit my personal aesthetic, my personal vision of how things ought to be, no matter how much they flattered my ego or calmed my fears. I learned to question everything. I wasn’t fooled by the pimps, hustlers, conmen, and drug dealers because I questioned every lie that came out of their mouths and I demanded proof. I demanded evidence. I saw what a crack addict looked like and so I never fell for the lies of the crack dealer. I saw the drunks and winos. That’s why I never drank when I was young no matter how much peer pressure there was to get drunk and party. I never smoked cigarettes. I never smoked weed. No matter how many of “the cool kids” were doing it. I never got into crime. I saw the end results of the drug dealer’s life, the pimp’s life, the gangster’s life, and so I was never impressed with their temporary wealth and ghetto fame.

Likewise, I heard the preacher telling us that “Jesus Saves” and then I saw my friends and neighbors gunned down in the street by drug dealers. I saw them in welfare lines and unemployment lines. I saw them get sick with cancers and diseases and die in agony. I saw crack babies born into abusive homes. I saw the socio-economic oppression of my people, crushed beneath the weight of racism and poverty and it was hard to rectify that with anything the preacher was saying. I read in the bible, Mathew 7:8 , where Jesus said “For everyone who asketh receiveth; he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” It floored me, because I had been asking for bread for as long as I could recall and had usually received stones and serpents. My own life proved the lie in this statement and it called everything else into question. As I looked around at my neighbors I saw that most of them had likewise learned to subsist on stones from heaven. The bible was obviously wrong. And so, like the lies of the pimps, drug dealers, gang bangers, and conmen, I learned not to trust it. Just as it had on the streets, being a skeptic kept me from being a fool and a victim.

Atheism, for me, is not a statement of any knowledge concerning the origins of the universe or of life. It is not saying, “I know for a fact that there is no God.” What it says is simply, “I don’t know if there is a God and neither do you. And because I don’t know I can’t believe.”

(to be continued)

Mo*Con IV: Twittered

· T-minus 6 hours before I pick up my first mo*con arrival (yeah, a few come in early). this thing will become all mo*con all the time then.9:59 AM May 14th

· At airport, waiting, with great anticipation & trepidation, on @kellidunlap. She has a “special” greeting for me.4:07 PM May 14th

· *OW*4:45 PM May 14th

· And now I’ve whisked @kellidunlap off to a magic: the gathering tournament.6:03 PM May 14th

· And now to be greeted by @aletheakontis …10:15 PM May 14th

· *OW* 4:45 PM May 14th

· Suddenly not looking forward to being greeted by @WrathJW…10:17 PM May 14th

· It’s 1 o’clock in the morning. Fixing Jack Daniels Steak for @WrathJW, @kellidunlap, and @AletheaKontis. @j_c_hay is missing out …12:35 AM May 15th

· Any @WrathJW story that begins “so i had this moment of black rage” is a must listen.1:10 AM May 15th

@kellidunlap QOTD: the big negro ate all my sweet tarts!

· I’m REALLY going to regret getting so little sleep BEFORE Mo*Con even officially starts …7:19 AM May 15th

· RT: @kellidunlap mo’con = listening to @mauricebroaddus talk about religion…and then telling him why he’s wrong =)8:46 AM May 15th

· On our way to pick up @j_c_hay and @WrathJW to head to brunch.8:55 AM May 15th

@kellidunlap Following @MauriceBroaddus on the hwy is like getting directions from a drunk!

· At The Journey, a sushi buffet. Waiting to see how long it takes for them to tell @WrathJW “you go now!”10:35 AM May 15th

@aletheakontis Entering dessert coma on my mark MARK.

· Twenty pounds of chicken being cooked for chicken marsala. If we run out of food, it’ll be fishes and loaves night at the church.1:34 PM May 15th

@kellidunlap Nap good… But woke to @MauriceBroaddus in full on con-panic mode

· uh oh … Linda Addison is grading our poetry …8:38 PM May 15th

@j_c_hay Okay, okay. I’ll read a poem. You first @MauriceBroaddus.

· And now the after party at the Broaddus’. Tomorrow’s going to come too soon.11:15 PM May 15th

· On a Wayne hunt. I hate misplacing guests.

@KyleSJohnson Its raining, we’re walking, @mauricebroaddus has a paper hat on. Life is good.

@kellidunlap mo’con day 2: the party-goers sleep soundly while the con-rooster makes the coffee and plays with the muse… rudely pouncing comes later!

@kellidunlap Kelli’s mo’con schedule: “love sucks” & “there is no god”… and hey, i’m a GOH next year, just imagine the damage!!

· Off to go shoe shopping … don’t ask.8:36 AM May 16th

· The horror community has bought so many flowers for @supersbroaddus you’d think there was a funeral about to happen … uh oh …12:31 PM May 16th

· Off to go get interviewed.12:32 PM May 16th

· If The Boondocks have taught me anything, it’s that white people really love their cheese …1:21 PM May 16th

· Nervous. @WrathJW and I are about to do our talks. Or settle the God issue with Greco-Roman wrestling…4:34 PM May 16th

· Mo*Con is the convention that happens in the (well-stocked) con suite.

· And now … the absinthe fountain. This will end well.

· ok, they’re drinking absinthe from my kids’ spongebob dixie cups.

@aletheakontis Late nights, bad fiction, & absinthe FTW!

· RT: @kellidunlap QOTD: @aletheakontis: my stomach will not miss eating at strange hours…

· RT: @AletheaKontis Having to leave is the worst part of any good Con. This was a great Con.

@KyleSJohnson The sadness is palpable…Mo*Con almost done, but NEVER fucking done, professionally. Until then, sunshine and cheese steak.

· Well, Mo*Con V has now been COMPLETLY planned out. I mean Kelli*Con … (yay @kellidunlap)

· “Would you stop filming this?!?”

@kellidunlap Per the norm… Last man standing. Con done 🙂

· oy. RT: @AletheaKontis: Sometimes what happens at a convention…goes on YouTube. http://bit.ly/8080d

I’m Not Talking About Mo*Con IV … (5/22/09 update)

Once again, there’s no easy way to describe Mo*Con so go read Kelli Dunlap’s blog summary.

or

Bob Freeman’s summary

Tom Piccirilli’s The Brotherhood of Inspiration

Brian Hatcher’s summary

Kevin Lucia’s reflections

or from a fan perspective:

Sheryl Hugill’s summary

Tony Tremblay’s summary (through which you can almost entirely relive the con. wow.)

I have posted:
A sample of what Mo*Con looked like on Twitter
Wrath’s sermon on atheism
The Story of My Christianity
The awards given in absentia (including a feature story on Mo*Con)

And if you want to see some pictures, we have:

My FaceBook Album

or my wife’s facebook albums
05-14-2009 Arrival of Mo Con Guests
05-15-2009 Pre-Mo Con Brunch at “The Journey”
05-15-2009 Pre-Mo Con – Getting the church ready
05-15-2009 Mo Con – Day one
05-15-2009 Mo Con – Day One – Poetry reading
05-16-2009 Mo Con – Day 2
05-16-2009 Mo Con – Day 2 – Art Gallery
05-16-2009 Mo Con After Party
05-17-2009 Mo Con Day 3 – Just Brunch today

Alethea’s Pics

[Two things on a personal note: 1) I can’t state strongly enough how great it was to host our guests. They were truly epic; 2) It’s great to have friends who speak truth into your life–even when it’s painful to hear–and who support you during times of trouble; 3) there are a few folks I especially can’t thank enough for the help and support in making Mo*Con possible: Sally Broaddus (whose patience and support continue to amaze me); Sara Larson (without whom, this con would not have happened); Ro Griffin, Jenn Baumgartner, and Larissa Johnson (Team Broaddus); brunch chef, Rob Rolfingsmeyer; and Michelle Pendergrass, Jerry Gordon, Bob Freeman (yay! all the IHW).]

UPDATE:

Oy, I’ve been re-mixed…