Two Books of Note

Dropping in here for a moment between writing PBS and living a normal work-family life.

Upon a recent visit to amazon.com I saw one of their “recommended books”: Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. Despite something of an embarrassing cover featuring a photo of that Nazi treasure hunter from Raiders of the Lost Ark, I stuck it in my wishlist within seconds.

There was another recommendation in the “people who bought this book also bought” section on that book’s page: The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation. After clearing my head at the accuracy of Amazon’s book recommendation logarithm, I wishlisted that book as well.

I did some quick searches on the latter book and came upon this article. I have no commentary on it—just presenting a section here for the intellectually curious.

The main question in the controversy is this: Is Christianity a force that supports or opposes the efforts of the right to defend the European-American way of life? Christians on the right argue that their religious commitments are central to Western civilization, while pagans and secularists on the right (especially in Europe) argue, with Spengler, that Christianity undermines the West by pushing a universalism that rejects race, class, family, and even nation.

Mr. Russell, who holds a doctorate in historical theology from Fordham University and teaches at Saint Peter’s College, does not quite answer the question, but his immensely learned and closely reasoned book does suggest an answer. His thesis is that early Christianity flourished in the decadent, deracinated, and alienated world of late antiquity precisely because it was able to appeal to various oppressed or dissatisfied sectors of the population—slaves, urbanized proletarians, women, intellectuals, frustrated aristocrats, and the odd idealist repelled by the pathological materialism, brutality, and banality of the age.

But when Christian missionaries tried to appeal to the Germanic invaders by invoking the universalism, pacifism, and egalitarianism that had attracted the alienated inhabitants of the empire, they failed. That was because the Germans practiced a folk religion that reflected ethnic homogeneity, social hierarchy, military glory and heroism, and “standards of ethical conduct … derived from a sociobiological drive for group survival through ingroup altruism.” Germanic religion and society were “world-accepting,” while Hellenic Christianity was “world-rejecting,” reflecting the influence of Oriental religions and ethics. By “Germans,” it should be noted, Mr. Russell does not mean modern residents of Germany but rather “the Gothic, Frankish, Saxon, Burgundian, Alamannic, Suevic, and Vandal peoples, but also… the Viking peoples of Scandinavia and the Anglo-Saxon peoples of Britain.” With the exception of the Celts and the Slavs, “Germans” thus means almost the same thing as “European” itself.

Given the contradictions between the Christian ethics and world-view and those of the Indo-European culture of the Germanic peoples, the only tactic Christians could use was one of appearing to adopt Germanic values and claiming that Christian values were really compatible with them. The bulk of Mr. Russell’s scholarship shows how this process of accommodation took place in the course of about four centuries. The saints and Christ Himself were depicted as Germanic warrior heroes; both festivals and locations sacred in ancient Germanic cults were quietly taken over by the Christians as their own; and words and concepts with religious meanings and connotations were subtly redefined in terms of the new religion. Yet the final result was not that the Germans were converted to the Christianity they had originally encountered, but rather that that form of Christianity was “Germanized,” coming to adopt many of the same Indo-European folk values that the old pagan religion had celebrated.

About Sleep and Light – Pale Blue Scratch Email Newsletter #7

“At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”
-Willa Cather

Have you ever gone camping overnight? There’s an astounding lack of electricity in the wild, unless you bring batteries with you. But that’s where this illustration point ends since I wanted to talk about how people slept before electricity…and those convenient batteries.

The world of Pale Blue Scratch is at a pre-electric level; or rather, electricity is really at the intermediate experimental stage. Light comes from candles, lanterns, and the sun. The artificial providers of light could be costly, so people tended to go to sleep not long after sundown, and didn’t start their day until dawn.

That leaves a rather long stretch of time for sleeping—a few hours more than the eight or so most people need or can tolerate. How did people “get through the night?” They may have slept twice:

[Historian Roger Ekirch’s] arguments are based on 16 years of research during which he studied hundreds of historical documents from ancient to modern times, including diaries, court records, medical books and literature. He identified countless references to ‘first’ and ‘second’ sleeps in English. Other languages also describe this pattern, for example, premier sommeil in French, primo sonno in Italian and primo somno in Latin. It was the ordinariness of the allusions to segmented sleeping that led Ekirch to conclude this pattern was once common, an everyday cycle of sleeping and waking.

….

For those who indulged [in segmented sleep], however, night-waking was used for activities such as reading, praying and writing, untangling dreams, talking to sleeping partners or making love. As Ekirch points out, after a hard day of labouring, people were often too tired for amorous activities at ‘first’ bedtime (which might strike a chord with many busy people today) but, when they woke in the night, our ancestors were refreshed and ready for action. After various nocturnal activities, people became drowsy again and slipped into their second sleep cycle (also for three or four hours) before rising to a new day. We too can imagine, for example, going to bed at 9pm on a winter night, waking at midnight, reading and chatting until around 2am, then sleeping again until 6am.

For those of us who are creative types, like some quiet time, or just have trouble sleeping in general, segmented sleep not only sounds like a good idea, but may be completely natural.

Further reading/watching:
The myth of the eight-hour sleep
Sleep Patterns Before Electricity were Very different
Busting the 8-Hour Sleep Myth: Why You Should Wake Up in the Night

When Living is a Crime

I’ve said it before on here. Other, more adept and well-known writers have said similar: a non-belief in God requires, philosophically, that one must find or apply Godlike attributes to something else. It’s an accidental side meaning smuggled in Voltaire’s famous quote: “If God didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent him.”

Related to this is an article from Reason.com, a site not particularly friendly to religious belief but not necessarily opposed to it. “Born Guilty: How the fed govt has replaced Original Sin with its own version of existential guilt“:

Have you diverted rain water from around a building? Then you might be guilty of a crime. Inadvertently pick up a feather that once belonged to a bald eagle? Same deal. Welcome to the Kafkaesque world of “regulatory crimes,” a vast atlas of misdeeds that increasingly covers just about the whole of everyday existence.

Writes the Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds of University of Tennessee, in USA Today:

“Regulatory crimes” of this sort are incredibly numerous and a category that is growing quickly. They are the ones likely to trap unwary individuals into being felons without knowing it. That is why Michael Cottone, in a just-published Tennessee Law Review article, suggests that maybe the old presumption that individuals know the law is outdated, unfair and maybe even unconstitutional. “Tellingly,” he writes, “no exact count of the number of federal statutes that impose criminal sanctions has ever been given, but estimates from the last 15 years range from 3,600 to approximately 4,500.” Meanwhile, according to recent congressional testimony, the number of federal regulations (enacted by administrative agencies under loose authority from Congress) carrying criminal penalties may be as many as 300,000.

About Time and Travel – Pale Blue Scratch Email Newsletter #6

“I let my past go too fast
No time to pause
If I could slow it all down
Like some captain whose ship runs aground
I can wait until the tide comes around”

-Rush, “Time Stands Still”

Though in Pale Blue Scratch there isn’t any time-travel—or is there?—the idea of a machine that allows for traveling time is the catalyst for much of what happens in the story.

There’s plenty of media out there that deal with actual time travel and the different avenues of possibility. From books to films and…video games. Everyone can easily rattle off 2 or 3 titles easily that use time travel as a major plot point.

As a matter of coincidence, the past week celebrated the 20th anniversary of one of my favorite video games of all time, Chrono Trigger. You can read all about it on its Wikipedia page, but for those of you who are unacquainted and are currently Wiki-averse or in a tl;dr mood, Chrono Trigger can easily place in the top 10 video games of all time in a lot of people’s lists, and this is due in no small part to the story, which involves heavy use of time travel.

Why am I mentioning a decades-old game in this email? Well. mild gaming enthusiast that I am, in honor of its 20th anniversary I put a reference to Chrono Trigger in Pale Blue Scratch. It’s not obscure but it’s easily passed over if one isn’t looking for it. No decoder ring or calculators are needed, but basic knowledge of the game and a keen eye will help.

Time To Brag About Not Getting Sick Again

I don’t mean to brag, but tThis is the third year in a row I haven’t gotten sick—not the flu or anything else. This is even with living in a small house with a wife and two kids who all got sick, and with a 9-5 type of sit-down desk job.

There was a time late last year when I started to get sick. For maybe a day or two I developed some of that flu-like fatigue, but it wasn’t severe enough to cut down activity at all, except for going to bed a little earlier than normal. The fatigue dissolved on the third day.

Here’s what I did/didn’t do. In last year’s post I mentioned these things but there’s a few different factors.

  • No flu shot.
  • No obsessive use of hand sanitizer. I think I used it maybe once or twice the whole season.
  • No alien mushroom supplements or detox/cleansing schemes. From time to time I took a multivitamin, Tummy Tuneup, or Immuno Max, like before, but I was far from being religious about it.
  • A diet high in fat and cholesterol, moderate in protein, low processed carbs and sugar, with lots of vegetables and fruit. That’s animal and nut fats, by the way, not test tube-Frankenfat. I eat bacon and eggs, full-fat cheese and other dairy, and fish many times per week, sometimes every day. I add full-fat butter (Kerrygold is my favorite) to nearly everything and use olive oil where appropriate. The diet is not exactly paleo because I eat legumes and dairy, and the occassional side of pasta or rice, but it’s fairly close. Sure, I’ll have a cheat meal here and there, but I don’t stress about it (see last item below). Larabars are a quick and easy way to get nuts and fruit. I don’t count calories at all.
  • A batch and a half of beef bone broth. Great for cold mornings, an adding different veggies and bacon will kill hunger until lunchtime.
  • Smoothies nearly every day. There are some slight variations among them but the key sickness-preventers are various dark berries and spinach or mixed greens.
  • Daily resistance training. Well, mostly daily. Some days I rested or went easy. 30 minutes of moderate to high intensity. No weird infomercial contraptions. Just bodyweight, weights, push up bars, and a pull up bar.
  • Mild to moderate cardio: two mile bike ride or walk in frigid temperatures, twice a day. If you can walk and have the right clothing, all you need is a disposition adjustment and it’s easy. Hint: if you have a good jacket, hands-in-pockets is much more effective and cheaper than $200 winter gloves.
  • Lots of coffee, sometimes with full-fat creamer, but usually black. I drink barely any water since I don’t get thirsty at all.
  • Sleep is okay, but not ideal. 5-6 hours a night, a little more on weekends.
  • Little to no stress. I don’t get riled up about stupid or inconsequential things, and most things are stupid or inconsequential in the grand scheme of life.

Imagery in Halo: Reach

Halo: Reach - mountain

Here’s a neat bit of imagery I noticed at the end of the Halo: Reach game.

Some backstory (and spoilers, obviously): your player-character arrives on the scene in the beginning of Reach, on the planet Reach, as the replacement for the Spartan’s recently-KIA sixth member. Hence, your player’s name is Noble Six.

The end of the game involves Noble Six having to provide cover for a ship, the Pillar of Autumn, leaving Reach that is carrying an AI construct crucial for the human side of the war. Noble Six is essentially left behind as all the human military forces have evacuated the planet, and he’s left to fend off Covenant forces by hand. This last mission is called “Survive,” even though to complete the game you have to be killed.

Besides taking out as many Covenant soldiers as he can, the Covenant end up glassing the planet anyways, killing all life on it.

Without Noble Six’s sacrifice, the war may not have turned out the way it did. The last scene shows Noble Six’s helmet on the ground at Reach. There’s a large mountain in the background with a large vertical gash, symbolic of Six’s sacrifice and impact on the Human-Covenant war.

Can You Understand Jesus’ Divinity Via Enlightenment Reasoning?

Short answer: no.

Longer answer: watch video. Guest speaker’s at my church last Sunday, Austin Hohn.

Jesus is God from Discovery Christian Church on Vimeo.

To be clear, I think you can get some vague idea of what Jesus’ divinity was because, as the famous phrase goes, “words mean things.” I think Chalcedon is about as clear and succinct as we’re going to get to explaining it on a human level, especially to those of us in the modern day, English-speaking Occident. Every sort of culture will have some starting point as such, but to go further in that direction is to court disaster.

Language is a product of the human mind, and it’s rather useful when we’re talking of in-universe phenomenon. Language can provide a little outline of the “idea” of Jesus’ divinity; just the barest of directions, but that’s about it. Understanding Jesus’ divinity is apprehended by the spirit, not the mind. Maybe during Eden there was some better congruence between mind and spirit, but the repairing of that relationship in the world’s current state can only go so far. Things need a complete overhaul if that were to happen again.

Images. And Words. Part 2 – Pale Blue Scratch Email Newsletter #5

Nothing fancy-pants this time around–just another email with some quote images. I don’t even have a quote under the email title!

But there is some actual news to share: there will soon be a first-draft chapter of Pale Blue Scratch available online soon. It’s called “The Flights at Bridge Zero,” and yes, the chapters have titles. My chapters are like children, or really well-made, delicious sandwiches. How could I not name them?

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Update: Russell’s Cosmic Teapot Argument is Still Bad

I posted about Bertrand Russell’s teapot argument a while back, but it’s been resurrected to my attention recently by some random blog post I read that voiced support of his argument in passing. In reading the post (it was more of a quasi-academic article than something linkable, and I have no idea where I came across it anymore) and the documented comments brought up even more thoughts.

Russell’s teapot is really a criticism of the burden of proof for an empirical claim. Even if a supernaturalist makes the teapot claim, and even if it’s based on his religious beliefs, the criticism says nothing about the truth of those religious beliefs necessarily.

The evidence of the cosmic teapot would have to exist somewhere in some manner and be apprehended by someone: someone had to make the teapot, send it into space (or let it float out the airlock). Someone knows it’s up there. This is a burden of proof scenario that it (literally) worlds apart from supernatural knowledge.

This brings up another issue. Russell is implicitly proposing a level of technology in which a small teapot can be sent into orbit but can’t be detected. I generally despise useless hypotheticals when they don’t conform to statistical likelihoods. People navigate the physical world based on what’s most likely to happen. That’s why I really don’t care for the question whether it’s more ethical to divert a runaway train so that it kills 20 babies instead of 20 nuns. There’s no falling piano insurance.

This constant dragging of every claim into the realm of empiricism is getting annoying.

Images. And Words – Pale Blue Scratch Email Newsletter #4

“The role of the artist is to not look away.” -Akira Kurosawa

I first saw that Kurosawa quote on Mike Duran’s blog. After I finished writing my first book which will never be released, I had searched for “swearing in Christian fiction” and Mike’s blog was one of the first results returned.

The quote is no longer on his blog’s sidebar but it stuck with me for a few years, to this day. It inspired one of the lines of dialogue you see in the second image below.

Oh, by the way, this email is the first of an undetermined number of emails with images of quotes from the book. They link to larger versions. Keep in mind they are initial-draft quotes so they are subject to change. You get what you pay for.

Not that anything online requires practical or social blessing, but feel free to share them however you like–but don’t be a butt and remove the URL. That makes baby seals cry.

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