July 2006 Archives

What He Said

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I haven't read The End of Faith by Sam Harris, but after reading this interview with him in Salon, I want to. He hits on some of the reasons why I find many true believers intellectually, morally and spiritually repellent, and why I refuse to let my family bear their testimonies to me. Here are two excerpts from the interview conducted by Steve Paulson:

What about the Bible? Do you see this as a recipe for religious intolerance?

Oh, I do. There's no document that I know of that is more despicable in its morality than the first few books of the Hebrew Bible. Books like Exodus and Deuteronomy and Leviticus, these are diabolical books. The killing never stops. The reasons to kill your neighbor for theological crimes are explicit and preposterous. You have to kill people for worshiping foreign gods, for working on the Sabbath, for wizardry, for adultery. You kill your children for talking back to you. It's there and it's not a matter of metaphors. It is exactly what God expects us to do to rein in the free thought of our neighbors.

Now, it just so happens, however, that most Christians think there's something in the New Testament that fully and finally repudiates all of that. And therefore, we do not have to kill homosexuals. We don't have to kill adulterers. And that's a very good thing that most Christians think it. Now, most Christians actually are not on very firm ground theologically to think that. It's not an accident that St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine thought we should kill or torture heretics. Aquinas thought we should kill them, Augustine thought we should torture them. And Augustine's argument for the use of torture actually laid the foundations for the Inquisition. So it's not an accident that we were burning heretics and witches and other people in Europe for five centuries under the aegis of Christianity. But Christianity is at a different moment in its history.

But isn't this a problem mainly when you read the Bible or the Quran literally? Doesn't the conversation change once you stop reading sacred scriptures literally? If you understand, for instance, the historical context -- when Judaism or Christianity were first emerging, they were religions competing with other religions. Doesn't that free you up to appreciate their spiritual teachings?

I'd be the first to agree that it's better not to read these books literally. The problem is, the books never tell you that you're free not to read them literally. In fact, they tell you otherwise, explicitly so. Therefore, the fundamentalist is always on firmer ground theologically and -- I would argue -- intellectually than the moderate or the progressive. When you consult the books, you do not find more reasons to be a moderate or a liberal. You find more reasons to be a fundamentalist. I agree, it is a good thing to be cherry-picking these books and ignoring the bad parts. But we should have a 21st century conversation about morality and spiritual experience and public policy that is not constrained by superstition and taboo. In order to see how preposterous our situation really is, you need only imagine what our world would be like if we had people believing in the literal existence of Zeus. I defy anyone to come forward with the evidence that puts the Biblical God or the Quranic God on fundamentally different footing than the gods of Mt. Olympus. There are historical reasons why Zeus is no longer worshiped and the God of Abraham is. But there are not sound epistemological or philosophical or empirical reasons.

A Slew of Inconvenient Truths

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Much to my surprise, the theater in the rancid backwater I call home actually booked a few showings of An Inconvenient Truth--the movie arrived on Friday. Convinced it won't stay in town for long, I went to see it yesterday.

It didn't tell me much I hadn't heard before, and I was just so thrilled that the movie might be seen by people who might otherwise not think about this stuff, that it really cheered me up. But then I started thinking about how different the world might be if Bush had not stolen the White House, and I got really depressed.

I don't know how Al Gore would have handled the 9/11 attacks but I am convinced he'd be a better president than Bush--and even in 2000, when I had little affection or admiration for Gore, I still knew he'd be better than Bush--I KNEW Bush would be a disaster; I knew he was simply a bad, bad man. It was very painful for me to listen to my friends in the Green party insist that there was no difference between the two major parties' candidates, because there was so little difference between the two major parties.

One reason I suffer so from insomnia is that I have always been a worrier. I sometimes wake up out of a deep sleep, my heart racing and my mouth dry with panic over melting polar ice caps and destruction of wetlands. My primary obsession is the environment and I admit that I have long felt it should be everyone's because if our world is uninhabitable, what does the rest of it matter?

FYI

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All I've ever really wanted, really and truly, is a lifetime of connection to transcendent beauty.

Really now, that's not too much to ask, is it?

There have been times when I've been willing to accept substitutes, like enlightenment and serenity, and I sought them diligently. But now I see what shoddy substitutes they are, and I seek them no more.

P.S. I'm not kidding.

More on Avocados

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In the comments on my guacomole recipe, Juti (thanks, Juti!) provided a link to this recipe for an avocado milkshilk on this very cool blog, the Traveler's Lunchbox, written by a gastronome named Melissa.

I just tried the recipe. I can't decide whether it is more aptly described as "heavenly" or "obscenely delicious."

It was also ridiculously easy.

I'm posting the recipe here the way I made it, because I want easy access to it. But you should follow the links and read Melissa's essay about "the secret life of avocados" and check out the rest of her entries as well.

Holly's ever-so-slightly-modified Avocado Milkshake

1 ripe Haas (dark-skinned) avocado, peeled and pitted
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup cold milk, more or less depending on thickness desired
several handfuls of ice
a splash of amaretto (Melissa recommends a few drops orange extract, or some vanilla, rum or coffee, but as I didn't have rum or orange extract or brewed coffee and wanted something more exotic than vanilla, I tried a substitution, which worked OK)

Put everything in a blender and blend on high until the ice is chopped fine. Pour in a glass and enjoy.

Itty Bitty Scraps of Fabric

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My last two weekends have sucked, especially both Sundays. Some miasmatic malaise has come upon me while I slept Saturday night, bringing with it troubled and unsettling dreams, so that I awoke in a truly vile mood.

Today I dealt with it by being dutiful; I went into my "screw it; I might as well do stuff I don't want to do if I'm already cranky" mode and attended to some chores I've long been neglecting. But last Sunday I took a completely different approach to my bad mood.

Around noon I was sort of reading The Great Transformation, Karen Armstrong's new book, out on my back porch, and sort of thinking about how much I'd like to piece a quilt top but really shouldn't because it's so labor intensive and I just shouldn't take that much time off from uh, WRITING (like I ever really write anything significant) until I get tenure. I'd wander down to my basement as I do from time to time, and, just as a diversion, look through the half a dozen bins and footlookers I have stuffed with unused fabric. I also delved into the big crate where I keep the scraps I will one day piece into quilt tops. And I thought again about how I really shouldn't start such a major project when I have all this writing to do. And I went back out on the porch with my book.

And then I shut the book and went back to the basement and hauled my ironing board, my iron, my rotary cutter, my cutting board and armfuls of fabric up to my living room, and I got busy cutting and piecing, because why the hell not be creative when it's what you really want to do.

Ding Dong, The Couch Is Gone

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Remember when I wrote about how much I hated my couch, the hideous, old, uncomfortable couch desecrating my living room?

Well, last week I just couldn't stand it any more, so I went furniture shopping. It took me a while to find something I both liked and could afford, but eventually I came across something I could live with and put down a deposit. Tuesday two very nice young men showed up and assembled a spiffy new futon in my living room. At first I wasn't sure I liked it: it's a futon, not a couch, and futons just aren't as settled and grown-up as couches. But I wanted something practical--something my cat couldn't shred, first of all--and I also don't feel settled enough to invest in expensive upholstered furniture. The futon is also big: taller, wider, and deeper than its predecessor. At first it seemed to overpower the room, and I worried that I'd made a mistake.

But now I've had a few days to get used to it and it's fine. I don't love it, but I don't hate it the way I hated that couch, either. But the real bonus is that the couch has been granted a new life and I no longer hate it, either. In fact, I love it!

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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