abounding with verbosity

Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Confession of Chalcedon

I’ve informally made sure to keep this writey blog Christian-theology-free — and sometimes I skirt too close to the edge — but I’m not afraid to post in that area of interest if it has something to do with the engrossing use of language (I have a Venn diagram benignly hovering in my head).

Enter the Confession of Chalcedon, written in 451 AD in present-day Turkey by church leaders. There was a lot of debate on the exact relationship between the divine and human natures of Jesus, which seems kind of petty to non-believers but had great implications to Christian doctrine.

This small creed, translated from Greek, is a poweful use of language that distilled and defined a complex, important issue — maybe the paramount issue in Christendom. I liked this so much I printed it out and tacked onto the corkboard in the spare room, right next to a Biz Markie trading card. They generally play nice with each other.

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

Kill Your Friends

A longtime friend of mine, Seth W, wrote an e-book on killing your blog, a minimalist diatribe to encourage us to spend more time doing things rather than writing about them. This is coming from someone who has been blogging for nearly a decade and runs the Internet’s biggest metal sites (and who is singlehandedly responsible for most of my writing “career”).

Admittedly I felt above criticism because as a writer, writing is doing; there’s no further step to take if you’re a writer typing away into your blog, outlining your plot in Word, or scribbling down an interesting phrase. Even writing about writing — what I’m dong now — is still writing. The scribe’s pen stretches all across infinite regressions.

But there was a little window left open in my self-assurance, because sitting and thinking can sometimes only get you so far in writing fiction. There’s the minutia-sized event that just passes and can’t be chased after — that one thing that sparks inspiration. I’ve had it countless times: in the shower, walking from the bus to work, or thinking about the mechanics of blinking. If writers stop doing things we shut the door on the stray traces of inspiration that enable us to keep typing and pushing boundaries.

I don’t bold important parts of my posts and I don’t like analyzing the latest publishing trends or gimmicks, so as a writer I might not be the one to consult if you want to make it big in modern times. But I know that going off a ski jump and planting your self face-first into a pile of snow may do more to help your character development than reading yet another book on how to write effective dialogue.

Book Review: Why I Am Not A Christian

Book Review: Why I Am Not A ChristianNot so much a book as it is a compilation of essays and lectures, Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian encompasses, presumably, his reasoning for Christianity as a religious truth. I say “presumably” because I know Russell to have been a noted and influential philosopher, and that Why would follow in the tradition of philosophical publications, but this was not the case — perhaps because of the nature of it being a compilation where many topics are covered and not a predetermined proposition and the trail of reasoning behind the proposition. Whether the former constitutes an adequate statement of (dis)belief is up to the reader. To me it doesn’t, but that doesn’t necessarily make for bad reading.

It starts off in the initial, namesake chapter with brief criticisms of common arguments for the existence of God, like the argument from natural law and the law from design. This is what I had expected from the book and I thought that Russell would go into more depth with these in the later chapters. Instead, much of what Russell asserts as arguments against Christianity — or why he found Christianity unacceptable — might be appealing to those already convinced of the the untruthfulness and a selection of undecided thinkers, but it does nothing for believers nor most theists in general. This is because he presupposes the untruthfulness of Christianity in to bolster Christianity’s untruthfulness (circular reasoning…please note the example used on the site). Now, this is in a sense allowable in certain situations, such as when presenting propositions to those who share your own views already, like other skeptics, or if he’s working out his internal epistemic justification for his beliefs. But to Christians his arguments are logically unacceptable, just as using scriptures to convince skeptics of Biblical truths are logically unacceptable to skeptics.

To set this up this idea briefly, I wanted to look at a very barebones set of presuppositions of the Christian and atheist belief systems. They aren’t by any means comprehensive and someone has undoubtedly covered this before in better detail, but I think they are workable for now.

  • 1. God A exists.
  • 2. God A exists to the exclusion of other gods B.
  • 3. God A has property x.
  • 4. God A has property y.
  • etc.

An atheist like Russell, on the other hand, would have something like this, depending on his type of atheism:

  • 1. No gods C exist.

Russell posits that his rejection of Christianity stems from the belief that humans to do not need experience fear. He defines fear as “an irrational passion, not of the rational prevision of possible misfortune” (pg. 79), and that “all fear is bad” (pg. 54). To a Christian, fear of hell or God’s wrath are completely rational responses given the set of presuppositions outlined above (I would set “hell exists” as a very strong implication and not a presupposition, but that is irrelevant). In fact, to not have a fear of hell would be highly irrational with the premises of the Christian belief system. To deny the rationality of the fear of hell is to already presuppose Christianity’s presuppositions are false, a logical state of affairs which is cognitively assonant if you already don’t believe. The circular reasoning is complete, but I am hesitant to be really final about that. I’m nowhere near the logician Russell was so it’s possible there’s something I’m not inferring properly. I’m sure smarter people have already determined that; I’m not interested in being “that guy” to say that a genius is missing the mark in his own expertise.

There are other fallacies that Russell commits, like some odd overgeneralizations and biased sampling, and the false dilemma of religious belief versus scientific inquiry, a worn artifice of a conflict that may have been more novel in his time — but I wanted to focus on some positives. In the chapter “Can Religion Cure Our Troubles?”, he laments the idea that some offer proof of Christianity’s veracity in that “if people think this, they will act better than if they do not.” (pg. 196). Whether or not one might believe propositions like “belief system x causes behavior y“, categorically, it can be hard to verify or negate. Utilizing it as a measure of a belief system’s truthfulness is poor reasoning. The essay, “A Free Man’s Worship” was beautifully written and is a wonderful standalone piece of prose, no matter what the reader’s presumptions. The rather lengthy recounting of how Russell was prevented from teaching at the City College of New York was interesting as it was tragic.

Russell’s philosophical legacy is an important one for skeptics, though his bullets will only fit the gun held by the already-convinced. There is still a good deal of value in it for thinking believers as well as confirmed skeptics, who would do well to read his Why I Am Not and challenge themselves.

Your Writing Is Terrible: You Write Like A Dead Person

I came across You Write Like, where you can input text that you’ve written, a form of necromancy passes through your hard drive, and you are assigned a literary doppelganger.

I input about a half-dozen bodies of text that I’ve done, from stories on here to a some paragraphs from my book. About four times I was compared to Mark Twain, while on the other two I got Nabokov. Then I became smartalecky and submitted text from a random paragraph generator, which resulted in Jane Austen all the five times I did it. Then I submitted some random Facebook status updates that I found on a site. Five out of six said they were Chuck Palahniuk.

Even though it smacks of those ubiquitous make-your-own-quizz stupidness that was the rage a few years ago, this seems to have more substance, even though the developers apparently think Austen was a schizophrenic and Palahniuk is a lovelorn teenage girl. I agree on the latter.

Anyone else get some interesting results?

English Be Hard: Skeletal Punctuation

The other day in the car the family was listening to a song from Anberlin, called “Reclusion”. One of the lines in the chorus goes like this:

Sins like skeletons are so very hard to hide.

Nice line, but it had me thinking that this could be taken two different ways, which aren’t radically different but noticeable. I don’t have a physical copy of this release so I had to go by what lyrics sites have it listed as, which may or may not be accurate.

The thing with lyrics is that bands and their proofreaders sometimes aren’t the best at spotting ambiguity, maybe from the nature of lyrics. Worse still is going by the vocals, which often do not follow the natural rhythms of speaking and can drop or add subtle emphasis and can change meanings, or at least the implication of meanings.

If I take the line as I think it should be taken, it would be written like this:

Sins, like skeletons, are so very hard to hide.

Which translates more clearly into:

All sins are like skeletons in that they are hard to keep hidden.

Without the commas, it could mean that, or it could also mean:

The sins that are like skeletons are hard to keep hidden.

This implies that all sins are not like skeletons and the ones that aren’t are able to be kept hidden. Although the way this line was written in the song is a little awkward to get across this meaning, this proposition is a little more reasonable since there are some wrongdoings that are very easy to hide (from other people at least, not from the Big Guy).

I know I can say for certain that there are most likely more little nuances like this in lyrics that we might not notice, and that my mind wanders a little too much when driving.

How the Gods Shook, Excerpt Two

“What’s the story?” I asked.
“Morning glory!” he said. “My battery is getting worse and worse. We should move to a quieter place. What’s with the cap?”
“I’m not allowed to wear one?”
Pedaling slowly, he led me over to a corner of the building populated with people hushed by their cigarettes. “Well, you’re allowed I guess,” he said, “but you never do. Bad hair day?”
“More or less.”
“You look like one of those sorority chicks the morning after. You’re just missing the baggy college sweater and the sense of shame, although you do look a bit tired.”
“Tactful. What’s going on?”
“What’s the tale, nightingale? That’s the next line, right?”
“Yes, the next line. I’m talking about the job.”
He summoned a granola bar from somewhere on his messenger bag and unwrapped it. “Want half?”
“Gosh. No.”
He shoved the enormity of the bar into his mouth.
“Did you talk to your boss?” I suppressed the growing urge to throttle him.
His chipmunked face lit up. “Yeah! I just found out before my last run.” It was agony watching him articulate. “I didn’t have time to let you know. You can start whenever you can.”
My heart skipped a beat at the news. “Thanks for doing this for us.”
“No need to thank me. Thank our dispatcher. He kind of left it up to me to find someone. He trusts me for some reason. How ’bout that?”
He had just finished his sentence when a low-statured man in a spotless suit and a cell glued to his ear knocked straight into him with his shoulder. Marcus’ limbs, flummoxed, splayed about while he coughed to control granola that had gone down prematurely. I reached out to steady him by grabbing the top tube of his bike. I managed a firm grip but his instability tilted the bike enough to bring it toppling onto its side, bringing me fully down on top.

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