After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why Tolerance is Condescending

Penn Jillette is a very talented magician, the more statuesque half of Penn and Teller. He is also an outspoken atheist. Yet he remains one of the, if not nicest, then honest, ones and often has good things to say about sincere believers, even if he believes them sincerely wrong. Here's an example:

"One of the reasons I get along so much better with fundamentalist Christians than I do with liberal Christians, is that fundamentalist Christians, I can look them in the eye and say, 'You are wrong.' They also know that I will always fight for their right to say that. And I will celebrate their right to say that. But I will look them in the eye and say, "You're wrong." And the fundamentalist will look me in the eye and say, 'You're wrong.'  And that, to me, is respect.
"The more liberal religious people who go, 'There are many paths to truth, you just go on, and maybe you'll find your way' --[this] is the way you talk to a child, and I bristle at that."
Here is the video which includes the comment. Warning: Not all of it is as polite.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The death of a bookstore, the rise of reading

   It was saddening news: Borders was closing its final 259 bookstores, this on top of the 225 it shuttered earlier in the year. Not only will some communities be deprived of a good bookstore, but tens of thousands will be deprived of a job. No one, reader or non, can be glad at the news.
   I have always been an avid reader. I remember reading Hardy Boys books in my upstairs bedroom at our house on B Street in Lindale, Georgia. We moved from there after my second grade year, so I was reading juvenile fiction at the age of seven.
   I love the feel, the heft, even the smell of a book. My idea of a pleasant day at the beach is a large umbrella, a cold drink, and a book. I love to own them, look at them on the shelf, underline, notate, and bookmark. Most of all, I like to read them.
   Yet I am as much responsible for Borders' demise as anyone. I haven't been there in years (I always found the actual stores too sterile, too European, for my tastes). As of late I haven't visited Barnes and Noble much either, for reasons I shall mention below. I do visit two used bookstores on occasion; I enjoy the aroma of older books and the dizzying layouts of the crowded pine shelves, but I seldom leave with a handful of books.
   So why is an avid bibliophile so infrequently in a bookstore? I hope it is the reason many others choose: the amazing variety of books offered by online sellers, and the ability to actually read them in digital form.
   As someone who appreciates physical books as much as I, I didn't think I would enjoy at all the notion of reading a book on an electronic device. Most of the earlier ones were atrocious. And reading on a computer, even a laptop, seemed awkward.
   But that all changed with the Kindle (and the Nook). Finally, here was a digital device that mimicked the look (but not the smell!) of a book,  was easy to use, and compact and light like a book. It took me a while to become accustomed to it, but once there, it became my preferred mode of reading. I especially like the way one can highlight and share passages with ease, and simply click on a word to find its meaning (I now know the meanings of risible and moiety). And another fabulous feature is that, if I pause my reading on any device, I can rejoin it on my laptop, tablet or even my phone, right where I left off. This is the best thing for a doctor's waiting room.
   Amazon doesn't release Kindle sales numbers, but most industry watchers expect that the seller will eclipse the eight million mark on 2011. They did announce that Kindle edition books have overtaken paperback sales, at least in units. Barnes and Noble's Nook is said by some to be the sales leader in books sold, but not in Nook readers. In either case, readers can read titles on a variety of devices (I use three), so proprietary hardware is not mandatory. And there are several publishers (Google Books, among others) that don't even sell hardware, but provide readers for devices.
   Both ease of use and portability are things I appreciate. Yet another key benefit is the price, with digital editions usually selling for much less than their paper cousins. Add the fact that it's available instantly, and tax-free, and it seems a no-brainer. Evidently I am not alone, judging by sales. So I don't fear the industry of writing and reading--it's still there. But it's changing.
   Will I miss Borders? Sadly, no. Would I miss Barnes and Noble, or the neighborhood bookstore, like The Shop Around the Corner in You've Got Mail? Perhaps (like I miss Meg Ryan!). But at its most basic, stripped of the romanticism, a bookstore is where you go to find a book. If I can do that from my home, is that wrong?
   Some people lament the loss of jobs and a sense of community. I regret the former, but question the latter. I can think of no time in my memory that a group of friends and I decided to meet up at a bookstore and spend some time together. I guess it happens.
   What intrigues me most about the digital age of publishing is the opportunities it affords writers like me, unable to attract attention with even modest publishers, to publish a book. And although it is a cash cow for some right now, I would hope that someday college textbooks might also be delivered in this fashion, thus lessening a large expense for financially strapped students.
  I don't know what the future will look like for bookstores, or books either. Music survived the demise of the vinyl record, and indeed thrived. There are more recorded acts now than ever in history. And I will, as long as I can, always buy good old-fashioned analog books (some authors, like Pat Conroy and David McCollough, will always be on the shelf). Yet I do not think it unfair to anyone that I read with pixels instead of ink.
   Because I am a reader. I don't listen to books. I don't wait for the movie. I read books.
—Wayne S.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Unproven doesn't mean unbelieveable

Can you prove the reality of the supernatural?
Even if I can’t, you also can’t prove its nonexistence. Naturalism cannot be proved. How could the fish in a little fishbowl prove that there is no world outside the fishbowl? How could an unborn baby prove there is no life outside the womb? How could man, bound to nature, prove there is nothing in addition to nature? You can’t prove a universal negative—that there is no X anywhere (unless X is self-contradictory, like a round square)—for to prove there is no X anywhere, you would have to look everywhere. Only God can do that.
Peter Kreeft, PhD, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, in Angels and Demons.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Reconciling God of the Old and New Testament

How does one reconcile the loving God of the Old Testament  with the harsh God of the New Testament?
 When I ask this question of students, at first they are shocked,  and then most assume that I have simply misspoken, as I am  prone to do. They typically have heard the question inverted,  along these lines: "How did the mean Old Testament God  morph into a nice guy like Jesus?" I assure them that this time,  at least, I have not accidentally inverted my words. I then observe  that God in the Old Testament is consistently described  as slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, but Jesus  speaks about hell more than anyone else in Scripture. The  word hell doesn't even show up in English translations of the  Old Testament.
David T. Lamb, in God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Evolved or God-breathed?

If you’re the king’s kid, you’ll act kingly. If you’re made in the image of King God, you’ll act godly. But if you’re made in the image of King Kong—well, you can read the papers as well as I can.
Peter Kreeft, PhD, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, in Angels and Demons.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Christianity gets an "attaboy" from an unusual source.

I have admired and enjoyed this man's words for over four decades. Now I have more to appreciate him for:
"Why so many expend such sweat and precious breath to fluidize and demonize Christianity is simply quite beyond me. Surely there are infinitely more negative and disruptive forces at work in the universe than something that gives hope and comfort, let alone refuge, aid and medical assistance to countless millions. I imagine it’s pretty much the same old bag of rattling bones, the detractors and stone throwers bitch and whine while negativity and selfishness runs rampant in their insular worlds. When was the last time you heard of “The American Atheist Association” building schools and housing for the homeless and disposed on the frozen slopes of China or bringing in medical supplies and vaccinating poverty stricken tribes in the African wilderness while warring factions try to kill them?" 
Bernie Taupin, long-time lyricist for Elton John, from his blog. Please go and read the entire thing.  (Hat tip Jared.)