August 27, 2019

Let’s begin with a story. We live with ideological contradictions all the time, but one of the strangest might be our treatment of “innovation” as an automatic positive. I mean, it hardly matters what you put after the word–“innovative torture methods, innovative route to state oppression, innovative gas chamber”: That first descriptor lends a positive spin to the whole, as if to say, “yes, this is awful… but also pretty darn clever!” Then again, progress, in general, is hailed as a… Read more

August 23, 2019

Let’s begin with a story. It’s the story of lignin: one of the plainest illustrations that evolution has no grand design. Our planet’s earlier worlds were also rich in biodiversity–not billions of years ago, mind you, but relatively recently: 470 million, give or take, being when the first plants arrived on land. Even then, these were fairly rudimentary species: mosses and the like. Root systems, vascular systems, seed structures… these all took time to evolve–which is why, at first, there… Read more

August 18, 2019

Let’s begin with a story. This one is Ursula K. Le Guin’s. It’s called “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (1973), and it was inspired by The Brothers Karamazov–specifically, Ivan’s discourse on the immorality of heaven. The “plot” of Le Guin’s story is simple: we’re introduced to one utopia, Omelas, where all is as splendid as splendid can be. Then we’re introduced to the secret to this community’s prosperity: a social contract that compels one child to suffer horrifically, that… Read more

July 30, 2019

Let’s begin with a story. In 2013, the Pew Research Center released survey data that was widely misrepresented among atheists, because of how easily it tickled our horror, disdain, and general assumptions about religious believers. 33% of estadounidense (U.S. citizens) don’t believe in evolution? Another 24% believe that evolution was a divinely guided process? Oh, the scientific ignorance! Oh, the poorly educated sods who walk and vote among us! Well, no, not exactly. The problem with survey data is that people are… Read more

July 20, 2019

Let’s begin with a story. A few weeks ago I had a charming encounter on the street. I saw an old, rather frail-looking lady stop about a block from her church (contextually obvious due to all the seniors gathering for service at the time) to adjust her make-up. I don’t know what it was about that morning, but there’s such an atmosphere of warmth in my neighbourhood that I felt safe saying to this stranger that she looked just lovely… Read more

July 12, 2019

Let’s begin with a story. It can be a delicate matter, even just saying to someone of faith that I don’t believe in a god. If they’re not used to atheists (and I find many are especially surprised by a female-presenting atheist), many tend to take my personal views as an attack on their own. And, well, that’s understandable, because a few times I’ve then been asked what I think of their belief in a god. And… that one’s even trickier to answer…. Read more

July 6, 2019

Let’s begin with a story. I’m about 10 or 11, having just finished B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two (1948). I’m in bed reeling from the utopia it imagines. I especially love the idea of standardizing work obligations through a 4-units-per-day point system, with the most arduous and messiest jobs in the community gaining a person, say, 1 or two points per hour, and work like writing a play garnering, say, 0.1. In such a system, you can easily meet your daily quota by… Read more

June 23, 2019

Let’s begin with a story. I was at a school bazaar as a small child, playing on a hill a little ways from the outdoor festivities, when suddenly an angry woman grabbed me by the arms and shook me. “Michael,” she shouted, “What have I told you about running–” “I’m not Michael!” It took her a split second to realize that I wasn’t, in fact, her son. But rather than apologize, she did that thing we humans so often do… Read more

June 9, 2019

Let’s begin with a story. In 2010, in a now-locked Livejournal episode, someone took to task one of the most unrealistic “TV” series ever: World War II. Robert Farley thankfully excerpted a significant portion of that original post: But then there are some shows that go completely beyond the pale of enjoyability, until they become nothing more than overwritten collections of tropes impossible to watch without groaning. I think the worst offender here is the History Channel and all their… Read more

June 2, 2019

Let’s begin with a story. This one isn’t mine–it belongs to James Carroll, who recently published an extraordinary piece in The Atlantic, “Abolish the Priesthood”. I’ve read it a few times, because it well and truly broke my heart. Here’s a man who studied to be a Catholic priest after Vatican II, inspired by the message of reform he thought it contained; who then served as a Catholic priest for five years; who realized that Vatican II would never be put as fully… Read more

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