Friday, November 21, 2008

A Petty Pet Peeve about Vampires

The movie Twilight opens today. The movie is based upon a book series; the author, Stephenie Meyer freely admits she did no research on Vampires prior to writing the books, “Because I was creating my own world, I didn't want to find out just how many rules I was breaking.”

This disrespect for the genre has always bothered me. (Told ya it was petty.) I watched movies where Vampires can go in daylight. Where Crucifixes and garlic doesn’t bother them. Where a wooden stake is meaningless. I can’t tell you which ones because after I watched them I did not bother watching them again.

Apparently in Twilight the Vampires can choose to be “vegetarian” meaning they will on suck blood from animals and not humans. Too bad for the animals, of course. Yet the Vegan Vamps (Come on—how stupid does that sound?) still have quite a longing for occasional human Vintage 2008, so they have to keep their sexual desires in check and refrain from thinking too longingly on a juicy, ripe, pulsating jugular.


Look, part of the complete, scare-the-bejesus-outta-ya fact of Vampires was their moralless view of humanity. It wasn’t evil to kill humans; it wasn’t moral to save humans—humans were food. Much like most of us would approach a hamburger at McDonald’s. We don’t wrestle with the implications of eating a brown-eyed Bessie. We order it with extra ketchup and let our chompers fly.

What made Vampires scary was the inability to reason with them. They considered you one or two steps down on the food chain, and thus unnecessary as part of any moral quandary. A vampire with angst? What is scary about that?

I love the idea they cannot be in sunlight. There is something so temptingly delicious about this weakness. As if somehow we could conquer a Vampire within the few hours of daylight, due to their inherent inabilities. Yet (as the great authors write) it always seems as if time is slipping away. Daylight, once thought so plentiful, becomes less and less. And every time one is finally prepared to meet the Vampire—daylight is almost gone. Stephen King’s writing in Salem’s Lot comes to mind.

Or the idea they can be held at bay by simple sticks of wood. Sure, if they come at you from behind—you’re royally screwed. But if you can find a couple a popsicles, and a corner, and can hold out all night—you could survive a Vampire. There is hope, even in the darkness. Of course, part of the problem was the Vampire’s cunning, hypnotic eyes, and ability to shape-shift; all resulting in this being a terrible strategy—doomed to failure.

The adrenaline-enhancing fright of a Vampire was how one could—so close—perhaps overcome it; yet never quite manage to do so.

I know, authors who re-write Vampires make millions more dollars than I do, and another Vampire move like Count Dracula wouldn’t even make it to pre-pre-production.

I just happen to like the scary, “Holy Crap!” vampires—not the “Ain’t he just dreamy?!” sort.

Monday, November 17, 2008

If you can’t say anything nice…

I recently had a medical incident causing my family members to send a rare contact. Most were thoughtful; but a few had to add they were praying for me. One went on and on about it.

I never know how to respond to this. Do I say, “Thank you”? I know this is how they handle difficulties and to them they are offering me a great and wonderful gift. “We took time out of our busy, busy commute when we would much rather be listening to local newscasters telling us once again the weather to turn off the radio and talk out-loud to a God who apparently needs constant reminding that humans actually like to be healthy and not in hospitals.”

I understand it is comforting to them. Not so much directions to a God, but a way of feeling like they are doing something rather than nothing and feeling useful.

Yet I can’t bring myself to say, “Thank you.” See—I am NOT thankful they are praying for me. I don’t care whether they are praying for me or not. Actually, rather than waste the time praying, I would rather they spend a 5:1 ratio in talking to me rather than praying about me. For every 5 minutes they spent talking to God, if they spent 1 minute e-mailing me it would be far more beneficial.

And I don’t think praying is doing anything. I view it much the same way as if they said, “Every time I mow the yard and go around a tree, I am going to scream out your name. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Sure,” I would reply, slowly backing away.

And I could almost understand if they didn’t know me. Almost. Because of sheer numbers, it could be presumed the other person is a Christian and would appreciate the concept of being prayed for. Even though it is still presumptuous; it is a natural reaction.

They know I am an atheist. They know I find their prayers of little meaning. As if they are reiterating, “See? We are Christians and we want to subtly remind you once again of what that means.” To them it has meaning, truth and depth; and since it is true, my own personal feelings on the matter must take a far, far second to their “truth.”

But to me—atheism is true. Does this justify my making some smary comment in reply? “Hey, your prayers really helped. Well…in addition to the medicine. And the Doctors. And the Nurses. And the diagnostic machines. And the technology available to us today. I’m sorry—what was it you said you did again?”

If their “truth” trumps courtesy; can mine?

Or another example. My hospital roommate was a devoted Christian. I heard him praying out loud. As we talked, it was not a surprise when he started to share his faith. I became real silent. How do you tell an 82-year-old man who is having health difficulties his hope of an afterlife is pure fantasy? As make believe as Dungeons and Dragons? At one point he said, “Make sure you take the Great Physician with you. You know who that is, right?”

After a dramatic pause: “Jesus.”

The first thought crossing my mind was, “Well, I hope he has studied up some, ‘cause medicine has really changed in the past 2000 years.” The second thought was, “I wonder if my roommate knows how health was viewed in First Century Mediterranean, and it was a disassociation with one’s place in society, and not an illness as we understand it.” My third thought was “Er….thank you?” My fourth thought, the one I went with, was silence.

I find these statements awkward.

So what do you say? What do you think I should say?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Great Greeting Giver

For a period of time, I attended college in the Southern United States. Even though we share the same citizenship, it has some very different nuances in its culture. One of those was the open and friendly way in which people interacted with each other. Even strangers. Two illustrations of what I mean:

I am from the Midwest. We are in a hurry, avoid eye contact in crowds, and attempt to get from point A to Point B with as little inconvenience as possible. Including human interaction. I did not realize how ingrained my southern interaction had become until I came back to Michigan. I was walking through a local campus (summer courses) and as I saw people—anyone, really—I would wave; calling out a friendly greeting, “Hi, there!”

They started back at me; moving as quickly as possible away from the strange little person who dared say “Hi” and slow them on their way. I was shocked at how rude and impatient these “northerners” were. My inner-being had changed to the point it felt “wrong.” This was not how humans were to interact! Of course, I quickly re-assumed my Midwestern “values.”

The second instance was when I took my wife back to visit friends. I warned her things were just a little bit…different…than she was used to and moved at a distinct pace. “Oh, that is fine by me,” she said, “I think it will be nice to slow down and be friendlier.” She didn’t know what she was getting in to.

We bought some items at a store, and got in line at the cashier behind a person with only one or two items. Lucky, right? Er…no. The cashier and the buyer struck up a conversation. Now it was evident they didn’t know each other; but that wasn’t hindering the conversation a bit. They were more than willing to chat away. After about a minute I turned to my wife:

“Are you O.K?”
“This is fine. It’s kinda nice, actually.”

Another minute passed.

“How are you doing?”
“Do they always talk like this?”

Another long minute passed.

“You O.K.? You look a little…red.”
“Don’t they know people are trying to purchase things here? Don’t they know we have things to do?”

And another minute…

“Uh…maybe you should wait in the car…?”
[words chopped off with a snap of the teeth] “WHY. CAN’T. THEY. SHUT. UP?”

Even though we are but a 1000 miles apart in distance; the cultural divide may be far greater.

As humans we recognize the cultural and societal impact of greeting each other, and how that varies from place to place. In some parts of world, touching each other in greeting would be considered very rude. A bow is appropriate. Yet in others, a greeting may be on the other end of the spectrum, consisting of a firm hug and a kiss on each cheek.

We have quick handshakes, firm handshakes, handshakes that the more respected person must offer first, power handshakes and no handshakes. We have bear hugs and side hugs and one-armed hugs. We have kiss on the cheeks, kiss in the air near the cheek, one kiss, two kiss and three kiss greeting. Here are different forms of greeting from a few selected places.

We even indicate the depth of relationship by the amount of body we use: to a friend we use a whole arm (hug), to a stranger this is reduced to one hand (handshake) and by the time we reach an enemy, the only thing left in our greeting is one finger. In business gatherings we have one form of greeting; in doctor’s offices another. (Who shakes hands with a proctologist?)

We understand both the differences and the force of upbringing affecting how we view greetings. In fact, as cultures interact, they can even affect each other. Because of Japan’s interaction with Americans, the handshake has become more common, for example.

None of us is surprised at the differences of greeting. None of us is surprised that how we were raised causes us to feel some greetings are “right” and some feel “wrong.” If I met some of you in person and grabbed you in a great big hug—some would find this shocking, others would take little note. Why? Because of our relationship and our culture. On the other hand, if I were to bow and not offer a hand in a handshake—this, too, would seem stilted and odd.

Fine and dandy but…so what? Here is my question: Why is this any different than morality? In the same way greetings are determined by culture, time, locale and society—why can’t morality be determined the same way? The same way greetings modify upon meeting new cultures; morals can change.

At some point humans met each other. They learned there must be a way to indicate how this meeting was to progress. Were they to fight? To talk? To avoid each other? By creating simple forms of greeting, these questions were answered. How many fights start with, “Hi”? (Curiously, after all these years, we still haven’t figured out a way to end conversations. How many times, at parties or meetings, does an awkward silence eventually end with a muttered, “So..O.K., then…uh…see you later?”)

In the same way, humans recognized they had to interact with each other and began to institute morals within these interactions. If I could steal stuff from my neighbor’s cave, then they could steal stuff from my cave. Meaning I could never leave my cave to get more stuff. If I was burned with a stick, I didn’t like it. Presumably if I burned someone else with a stick; they would like it.

Yet somehow, in our discussions on God, theists are vastly impressed with the fact there are morals--that this proves there is a God; but are not equally impressed with the fact there are greetings. Look, if morals (which appear driven by society) imply there is a Great Moral Giver then greetings (which appear driven by society) imply there is a Great Greeting Giver.

What is the difference? When we point out the vastly different morals over locales and time (slavery, polygamy, divorce, euthanasia, abortion, etc.) what we are told is the point is not what the morals are—it is the fact there are morals.

All right. Then it is not important what the greetings are—it is the fact there are greetings. Thus proving the importance of greeting to this Great Greeting Giver. We can even continue this argument along similar lines; using it to demonstrate if morals must be absolute by their mere existence, then greetings must equally be absolute by their mere existence.

What does this mean for the Christian? According to 1 Cor. 16:20:

All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

If we have “absolute greetings”—it would seem the Christian God requires it be a kiss. Not a handshake. Not a bow. A kiss. (And not just “any” kiss mind you—but a “holy kiss.”)

Does this seem ridiculous? Isn’t Paul talking about a cultural norm? Well…wait a minute. Then we could equally claim the prohibition against homosexuality in Romans 1 was merely a “cultural norm.” and dismiss it as well. If greetings are relative to time and place—why can’t morals equally be relative to time and place?

What method does the Christian use to determine greetings are NOT absolute under their God, but Morals are? If the only proof for absolute morals is the claim “Well gee--everybody has morals” then I can claim “Well gee--everybody has a form of greeting” as well.

If you can see how greetings are derived from culture, develop over time, modify upon interaction with other cultures—can you see how morals will too?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama – the next contestant on “Who is the Anti-Christ?”

Well, maybe not. Every presidency or so, there are claims the person is the Anti-Christ. I remember the claim “Ronald Wilson Reagan”—six letters in each of his names---666. Proving he was the antichrist.

Christians, especially of the Rapture Ready sort have a bizarre love/hate relationship with the Rapture, End-times, Tribulation and, of course, the Anti-Christ. They recognize Matthew 24:36 says no one (not even Jesus) knows when the Second Coming is…yet they guess anyway. They would refuse to vote for a person they thought was the anti-christ…yet acknowledge their God is sovereign and would control the vote putting the anti-christ in power.

They don’t want to act as if they would enjoy the terrible deaths of the tribulation…yet it is these deaths that usher in the age they look forward to. They talk of ancient times when it was necessary for God to use genocide…yet readily hold to the same God using genocide in the future.

It is so curious how Christians think they can affect their own God. If we all managed to never vote in the anti-christ, or never place him/her (*cough, cough* “Hillary”) in power—could we thwart their God? Does God watch CNN on election night to determine his game plan? Or if we planned very hard on electing the perfect anti-christ person—would God be forced to “move up” his timetable to conform to our vote?

They want it…they don’t…they do. Like constant air quotes: “Wouldn’t it be ‘terrible’ if Obama was the anti-christ? He He he.” Do they want this country to fall into bad times under Obama? Just to prove their point?

When will this particular flavor of Christianity cease to exist?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tradition Protected

With the passing of Proposition 8 in California, I am hearing the statement, “Thank goodness the traditional definition of marriage has been affirmed.” I have seen the argument against homosexual marriage is that it is not ”traditional.” This is a stupid argument, and should rightly be abandoned.

Two questions immediately come to mind:

1) How long must something be practiced before it is “traditional”? and
2) What is it about “tradition” that makes something correct, moral or right?

As I grew up, steeped in Baptist Culture, I attended weddings. After a while, to a young boy, they all looked the same. There was a reason for this—they were. The wedding would take place in the church. Same wedding song was played. (“Here comes the bride. Big, Fat and Wide. Where is the Groom? In the Dressing Room. Why is he there? He lost his underwear.” Sung by every 8-year-old at some point, I warrant.) Same formation on stage. Same verses read. (Ephesians 5. 1 Cor. 13) Same sermonette. (“The ring is round, indicating eternal. It is made of gold, because it is precious.”)

Candles. Kneeling bench. Coupla solos.

Reception to follow in the church hall. Same food. (Even the same mints.) Same ceremony. Toss the bouquet, toss the rice, toddle off.

It was…tradition.

In my wedding, we mixed things up a bit and had the wedding party face the crowd, with the pastor’s back to the audience. (Hey—it was 1990. More radical back then.) The funniest item within our wedding was that one of the bridesmaids was 9 months and 3 days pregnant. A few times she would startle a bit and grab her stomach (as pregnant women do) and every time she did there was an audible “GASP!” in the audience. They figured she would drop the baby right there on stage!

[Ironically enough, the only song I wanted sung was “Sunrise, sunset” because I didn’t want a dry eye in the place. A good wedding is a crying wedding. The song comes from Fiddler on the Roof--a movie about following tradition.]

But our reception violated all kinds of tradition from my family’s point of view. We had…dancing. Before this, a (very) few had been to weddings—such as distant cousins—where dancing occurred. Those cousins were heathens; it was expected of heathen cousins to perform heathen rituals.

This was a…Christian wedding. With dancing? Broke every rule in the book! A Band playing Rock ‘n Roll??!! Wedding party members who had never dared to walk quickly to music for fear of angering God expected to go out on…(I can’t bring myself to say it)…a dance floor?! Many of my father’s Baptist friends were aghast, appalled, and so outraged they only stayed for seconds. And desert. And the cake. But then they showed their moral uprightness and social disdain by leaving immediately afterward.

Humorously, many of my wife’s relatives equally felt a severe breach of tradition as we did not serve alcohol. (Luckily there was a bar adjacent.)

Seems quaint and silly, doesn’t it? 18 years ago what was considered a supreme breach of tradition would now pass without notice. Almost embarrassing to recall how upset people were over such a minor item.

Isn’t that what tradition is? Something we do over and over and over…until we don’t?

What if I told you I would pick out my daughter’s husband? And it would be a choice based upon his family, their position in my society, their wealth, and how it could benefit me? The age, disposition, character of this husband is meaningless. The idea they should “love” each other—preposterous. Marriage is about uniting families to form societal bonds. Not love, or romance, or making a home.

You would (rightly) consider me out-of-my-mind. Yet for 100’s and 100’s and 100’s of years—that was exactly what marriage was. (Tragically, because that was how marriage was performed at the time of Jesus, some Christians believe this system has “divine blessing” and impose it upon their children in our time. Crazy.) It was tradition. It was how marriages were formed.

At some point, one person within this traditional culture went against tradition; decided to do it differently. What we now consider normal and expected would have been NON-normal and UNntraditional.

Polygamy was traditional. Taking captive females as wives was traditional. If an American soldier took two (2) Iraqi females, forcing them to be his wife—we would be shocked. Headlines would scream. Yet 3000 years ago, this would not even cause an eyebrow to rise.

So here’s the thing. I don’t give a flying fuck if “traditional” marriage is one man and one woman. Even if it is—it is time for that tradition to end. There is nothing about “tradition” making an idea sacrosanct. If it was, we would still have slavery, women wouldn’t vote, and schools would be segregated.

There is nothing about “tradition” giving the concept a pass on its correctness. We never are entitled to say, “This is the way we have always done—so that makes it right.” We must always adjust our thinking, re-evaluate our position, and question our long-held belief.

For those using “tradition” as a weapon against homosexual marriage—don’t. Stop cowering behind important-sounding, multi-syllabic words. Stop acting as if you have the higher moral ground because you think the same way as other people. If you want to be against homosexual marriage—lay claim to your true feelings. You don’t like homosexual sex. You don’t. You find it “icky.” Start being the bigoted bastard that you are; not the intellectual, morally-minded protector of all things traditional you want to portray. We aren’t buying it.

In case you can’t tell, I am sick by the passing of Proposition 8. I hope the youth—my children—can change the thinking from the twisted, cobweb-ridden mind of yester-years “tradition.” I hope my grandchildren look back at our generation as an anathema, just like we look back at our slave-owning ancestors.

I don’t give America the “pat on the back” for voting in the token African-American when, at the same time, it denies privileges to another segment of the population.

“Traditional marriage” proponents can bite my shiny metal ass.