Thursday, March 31, 2011

Draft of a Novel Whose Protagonist is an Angel Named Michael, ch 1, pt 1

This woman was a difficult case: her moods were fragile and changed abruptly, and Michael was concerned that he might do nothing other than upset her greatly. A couple of times he considered just giving up on her and moving on to the next case, but giving up and moving on was not really his style. She had just loaded a washing machine, she hadn't brought a book with her today, and hadn't found a magazine or newspaper laying around. For the next few moments at least her mind would be very open, looking for something to do. This time was about as auspicious as he could hope for if he was wasn't going to wait indefinitely. And the woman had been waiting long enough for this problem to be solved. Michael materialized in the laundromat, sat down a couple of chairs away from her and pretended to look around the place randomly, but made sure that their eyes met long enough for him to smile and nod.

She said to him, "Your aura is very interesting."

Was it really interesting to her? Could she see his aura at all? Frequently it was not clear whether a human was seeing an aura, or just had a very vivid imagination. Michael's aura was a steady, deep blue at the moment; the woman's aura was jerkily shifting color and intensity, somewhat reminiscent of a pre-cable television with bad reception. Her distress was palpable.

"Is it really?" Michael asked, and leaned toward her, trying his best to look non-threatening.

She moved to the chair next to his and said, "Let me read your palm."

Michael hadn't expected an opportunity like this to present itself so soon, and he didn't feel completely prepared, but he felt he had to seize the moment. It occurred to him that the problem here might not be entirely the woman and her loneliness, as he had been thinking, but also his own indecisiveness. "Let me read your palm," he said. He took her hand and wrist in both of his hands and performed a simple manipulation to soothe her nerves. At once her aura stopped flickering like a bad TV picture; for a while it was a dark brown-green, but then it settled to a pleasant, mild yellow-green. Perfect.

"Wow," the woman said. "What was that?"

For a moment Michael was about to tell her that what he had done, any masseur or accupressurist could have done, although unfortunately few of the human ones were skilled at such things. He had to remind himself to do what he had come there to do. Mentally he repeated to himself the old saying: when you're up to your ass in alligators, sometimes it's hard to remember that you started out to drain the swamp. In this case the alligators represented Michael's own issues, his confusion and indecisiveness --

Focus! he told himself. Here we go: "I'm an angel," he told her.

Good, he'd managed to get this far without freaking her out. She seemed to believe him, and she seemed to be receiving the information calmly. "Are you my guardian angel?" she asked. She was as open as she could be, he hadn't had to do anything more than that little wrist massage in order to gain her full attention and trust. So why did this seem so hard? Why was Michael so scattered?

Focus! Michael told himself again. Do what you came here to do, and you can analyze yourself later! "Ah, no, I'm not your guardian angel. I'm just here to help you out with one thing. Look, I know you're lonely. I know you've been lonely for a long time. I'm just here to tell you to go and talk to Joe."

"Joseph Manelli, the guy who works in the office across the street?"

"Yes. Talk to him. Next chance you get. As soon as you see him leave the office. He's a nice guy. You're a nice person. He's lonely, too. Something nice could happen between you, you just have to get his attention. Just -- talk about the weather or something. You don't have to throw yourself at him or degrade yourself. Just be there, and something will happen, something good."

"He's the guy. Why can't he take the initiative? Why aren't you over there talking to him?"

"I'm talking to you about this because Joe doesn't believe in angels. He wouldn't be able to see or hear me. You should wait until you're with him for a couple of years before you mention me to him. If you ever mention me at all."

"Joe and I are going to be -- really together? For years?"

"Yeah. It'll be really good. He's a sweet guy. Not particularly open to metaphysical things, but -- "

Michael touched her forehead and mumbled a blessing in Latin, figuring that would work well in this case. For a moment his aura and hers were both pure white. Could she really see auras? he wondered. Then he started to prepare mentally for the next case.

Chapter 1, Part 2

Chapter 1, Part 3

Chapter 2, Part 1

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More Actual Dialogue With Real-Life Dingbats!

My dear readers, once again I have ventured out into the wild in order to interact with dingbats in their natural habitat, the readers' comments section of the Huffington Post. The transcript which follows is guaranteed word-for-word real, and shows the dingbats in all their horrifying opaqueness. The "KJV" referred to by DINGBAT 1 and myself is the King James Version of the Bible.


Yet another example of how the politics of Kings and Empires determine the beliefs of people.

ME: I'm sure you'd be glad to give examples of this by quoting verses from the KJV and showing us how they differ from earlier versions and what nefarious political designs of King James were behind these treacherou­s changes. Please, enlighten us!

DINGBAT 2: You do not have much theologica­l history background­, do you. Read up.

ME: You didn't answer my question, did you. Just changed the subject. Weak.

DINGBAT 2: ???

What's the question?

Indeed. What is the question?

And still it goes on: DINGBAT 1 continues to address me as if I were a believer, although I've told him several times plainly enough that I'm an atheist. In fact he has just made some general remarks to believers, among which he stubbornly continues to count me, on behalf of what he plainly considers his tribe for whom he is eminently qualified to speak, the atheists... DINGBAT 2 just cut-and pasted, for my supposed benefit, a dictionary definition of "Septuangint." But I can count to a thousand in Latin, in fact I've actually begun to do so in order to try and calm down. Stupid people enrage me. Didn't I recently say, in this very blog, that I was done with this specific type of of fool? I spoke too soon.

What's the Deal With Airline Peanuts? (A Country-and-Western Song)

What's the deal with airline peanuts?
Why are they so small?
In the space of one half-minute
I could eat them all!

An' I'm not talkin' 'bout just one bag --
I mean all the peanuts on the plane!
What's the deal with airline peanuts?
They're drivin' me insane!

Monday, March 28, 2011

More Awful Truth, or -- Free Your Inner Walter Mitty!

A lot of atheists comment upon the articles in the Religion section of the Huffington Post -- in fact, HP's Religion section has become, among other things, the largest online community of religious skeptics of which I know.

To be sure, HP's authors on religious topics are almost all believers themselves, and it often seems -- especially to us godless types -- that the moderation leans heavily toward the religious side as well, and displays some intolerance toward atheistic readers' comments. (Of course, it's impossible to be sure about this without being able to see all the comments which don't make it past the moderation. Maybe they're much more fair than I imagine. Maybe some of my comments today didn't get posted for a long time today because it's Monday and there's a huge volume of comments on Monday and the mods get swamped.) There's no official atheists-are-not-welcome policy there -- on the contrary: recently some of the article authors have remarked on the large number of atheists commenting on their work, and made some gestures meant to be understood as reaching out toward us -- but not infrequently a religious reader will ask us atheists why we are there, or, even less pleasant, flatly assert that we are not atheists or we would not be there. Occasionally someone goes even further and claims, smugly -- "Smugness is stupidity's surest sign" -- William Gaddis --that no-one is really an atheist. (A fairly popular standpoint among mainstream Christian theologians two to three centuries ago.) [PS, 31. August 2011: It appears I misquoted Gaddis. It would be quite presumptuous to add, "He would've loved that!" but he was very interested in misquotations and made them a significant theme of his fiction, along with forgeries, impersonations and so forth. Sorry, Mr Gaddis. Anyway: the character McCandless in Gaddis' novel Carpenter's Gothic says several intelligent and earnest things about stupidity and smugness. Right now I can't find the authentic quote which morphed in my mind into "smugness is stupidity's surest sign." Much better by far anyway that you simply read the whole novel. Wise men tell us great things.]

It's generally not asked in a nice way, in my humble opinion, but the question of why so many atheists congregate at HP to comment on articles about religion posted by believers is, of course, not entirely unreasonable. I don't think there is any better answer than that we are there because we have happened to find each other there. There are not buildings in every city and town in Christendom expressly built for us to meet and exchange our thoughts about the nature of the universe, as there are for Christians. Even Jews, Muslims and Hindus are much better provided for with meeting places. We gotta go with what we got. The overwhelming majority of HP's readership is on the Left, it shouldn't surprise anyone that many of us are atheists. Indeed, perhaps the surprising thing is how solidly theistic the editors and writers on religion are.

People tend to daydream about what is lacking in their lives. Hungry people, whether dieting or desperately poor, dream of food. Lonely frustrated people dream about romance. I dream about great professional success as a writer, as I confessed in a blog post posted here yesterday. Earlier today I read another one of those "Why are you atheists here?" comments in the Religion section at HP, and I began to daydream about a more atheist-friendly Internet forum -- and then very suddenly that daydream combined itself with the daydream of success from yesterday: I daydreamed of Internet traffic beginning to flow here, to The Wrong Monkey, in proportions rivaling HP's business, many thousands of readers' comments on my blog posts being left here every day, The Wrong Monkey replacing HP as the place on the Internet for atheists to meet and get all atheistic. ("Sorry, Arianna, you HAD your chance to do business with me. I pitched my blog to HP -- and you never got back to me! Oops! MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAA!")

Yes, you may say that I'm a dreamer. Some people seem to mock all dreamers. I've never imagined for an instant doing what they suggest, and ceasing to daydream. But I do think about them sometimes. I can't imagine that they've thought things through. Surely the briefest realistic contemplation of a world full of people like them, fully devoid of dreamers, must horrify even the most drab mind.

Or maybe they just assume that successful people are substantially different from anyone they would ever happen to know personally. While it may be true that anyone with an ounce of ambition would LIKE to avoid their company completely, as we all know, you can't always get what you want. Again, I think the mockers of dreamers have not thought things through. Very few people were ever born rich and famous: Liza Minnelli, John-John Kennedy, not too many others. Most of the rich and famous were at some point in their lives mere dreamers, being mocked by unpleasant people who never in their wretched lives thought a damn thing through with any consequence.

Albert Einstein is a particularly clear case of the connection between stupendous success and the sort of daydreams routinely mocked by loathesome little human worms. This is not always recognized, because Einstein referred to the daydreams upon which his success was based as thought-experiments. Po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to. Keep dreaming. It's vital that you do, or else we'll all end up like --- brrrrrrrrrr! (Ha! No way we'll ever ALL end up like that!)

Cute Baby Animal Pictures!

In this post I'm going to pander to mass tastes.

Lookit the liddle cuties!

Shhh, da liddle poopie dawg and da widdle kitty is sweeping! Awwwwwwww!

Widgiewidgiewidgiewidgie! Who's a pwecious liddle fing? Who's my liddle pwecious?

Look out! It's a fierce liddle king of da jungle! It's a fierce liddle pwedator, ahhhh helphelp!

Uho-oh! Looks like maybe this one isn't done yet!

What a dapper young gent!

I hope you enjoyed this radical departure from my usual blogging tendencies. (Squeee!) Please feel free to click on "COMMENTS" below and leave a URL to a cute baby animal photo, or to a website that has a bunch of 'em. In my next post I might revert to my usual remarks about things which happened hundreds or thousands of years ago, remarks which manage somehow to be both angry and dry, and which only four of you seem to understand. I haven't decided yet.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Awful Truth Slips Out

(Just now someone very kindly mentioned that they were going to bookmark my blog, and this is how I responded)

No! Please! Please! Don't bookmark my blog, I beg of you!

Actually, I'm very pleased when anyone reads my blog -- that's right, even him, over there -- and I'm even more pleased when they become official "followers" of it, and when they make comments on the blog. I want more and more people to do these things, and I want them to link my blog on their blogs, and I want Oprah Winfrey and Charlie Rose to praise my blog on their TV shows and put the URL up on the screen, and I want to become rich and famous and have my blog posts collected into bestselling books, and be a frequent guest on Conan O'Brian and Jimmy Kimmel and I want to hang out with Thomas Pynchon and Salman Rushdie and have a stormy celebrity romance with Chelsea Handler with pictures of us constantly in the tabloids over misleading headlines, and --


(Well, it's out there now, nothing I can do about it. It's out there, and it's the truth. Especially the part about Chelsea Handler. She's so good-looking, sometimes it almost makes me cry.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

30,000 Years

So many people, atheists too, act like human activity in the world began 2011 years ago. That dividing point between BC and AD seems to have an inordinate effect on people's conceptions of history. There's a great coffee-table book entitled 30,000 Years of Art.One work of art is illustrated per page, on pages 4 through 1,003. (Hey, that makes exactly 1,000 illustrations all together, dunnit.) The smaller works of art are reproduced life-size. The works of art are presented chronologically in the order they were made, from ca 28,000 BC to unfinished when the book was published in 2007.

All the artworks are presented chronologically. And we don't get to ca AD 1 until page 311. 89 works of art are dated ca 2000 BC or earlier, 12 are dated earlier than 10,000 BC. From my layman's perspective it seems that non-European works are well-represented. I suppose it will always be a subjective thing, whether or not a given selection of works of art is representative in the way it should be. There are amny good art books and many good coffee-table books. This one just has a nice, consicely mind-blowing quality to it.

And archaeologists keep finding older things. The next edition might need to be entitled 35,000 Years of Art. Or 40,000.

So my point is? That for many of us, our mental frameworks concerning human activity go back only 2011 years in some ways. Or just 5,100 years or so, because we've heard that writing started around 3,100 BC in Egypt and Mesopotamia, probably in Mesopotamia first. But that figure isn't current any more either: specimens of writing from before 3,100 BC have recently been unearthed in Mesopotamia. I am aware that there are still older artifacts which are considered writing by some and not by others. I don't know enough about this issue to take a side in it.

I guess my point is that archaeology is wicked cool. Screw Indiana Jones,he's got nothing on the real thing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Great Secret

"Das Grundgeheimniß und die Urlist aller Pfaffen, auf der ganzen Erde und zu allen Zeiten, mögen sie brahmanische, oder mohammedanische, buddhaistische, oder christliche seyn, ist Folgendes. Sie haben die große Stärke und Unvertilgbarkeit des metaphysischen Bedürfnisses des Menschen richtig erkannt und wohl gefaßt : nun geben sie vor, die Befriedigung desselben zu besitzen, indem das Wort des großen Räthsels ihnen, auf außerordentlichem Wege, direkt zugekommen wäre. Dies nun den Menschen einmal eingeredet, können sie solche leiten und beherrschen, nach Herzenslust. Von den Regenten gehn daher die klügeren eine Allianz mit ihnen ein : die andern werden selbst von ihnen beherrscht."

("The central secret, the main treachery of all preachers, all over the Earth, in all ages, whether they are Hindu, Muslem, Buddhist or Christian, is the following: they have recognized and understood the great strength and indestructibility of mankind's metaphysical longings, and now they claim to be in possession of the means of satisfying these longings, because the solution of the great riddle has come directly to them in an extraordinary way. Once people believe this, the preachers can lead and rule them to their hearts' content. Therefore, the cleverer among the rulers make alliances with the preachers, and the others are themselves ruled by them.")
-- Schopenhauer,Paralipomena, § 176: Offenbarung (Revelation)

Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Druid, Wicca, Kabbalist, Gnostic, (from "gnosis," the secret knowledge, uh-huh) Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss/Heydy Hidy Hody/Aha aha aha. Wonder if Google will ever figure out that I'm writing for atheists here, not believers. (Check out the ads.) Seems to me there's almost always something to point and laugh at, if nothing else.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Goodbye To All of That

I've given up on arguing with religious people about religion, because it's a waste of my time. I made that decision quite a while ago. I didn't figure out all on my own that it was a waste of time. There are many very important things I know because wise people told them to me. In this case it was Nietzsche.

But today it occurs to me that I have been wasting my time on another large group of people: those who attack the Bible on specious grounds having to do with textual transmission, claiming that the King James Version is a translation of a translation of a translation of a translation, or that Roman Emperors had Biblical texts edited to suit their political ends, or that used to be hundreds of Gospels. You know the type, if you've participated in a lot of discussions of how the Bible came down to us and reached its present form. (You may BE one of those people.)

It's usually atheists who raise these and other inaccurate objections to the text of the Bible. But not always: there are those who might be described as Ur-Christians, people who believe that Christianity was impure even before it reached the stage of being written down in the New Testament. They may believe in a Q source for Matthew and Luke, which no-one has ever seen. There are angry Protestants who think that Catholics have greatly altered the Bible. (There are a few angry Catholics who think that the Vulgate is just fine and that the King James Version is a mess.) What these people and others have in common is that they object to the current Bible on the grounds that it is not the original Bible, that the text has been corrupted.

To be sure, they can't SHOW you very many examples of this corruption. If challenged to do so they'll typically take off on a non-sequitur tangent. If pressed, they might assert that the entire Christian concept of the Virgin Birth is a linguistic error, because the term for "young girl" was mistakenly changed to the term for "virgin." Actually, virgin birth is one of many concepts integral to Christianity which are not original to Christianity. The many alleged errors and/or deliberate changes in the Biblical text are typically part of a narrative repeated at second or third hand. A mythology, asserted without evidence just as religious mythology is asserted without evidence.

If you take the trouble to go back to the written sources of early Christianity, you will see the record of the very opposite of the alleged willful alteration of Holy Scripture. You see an immense effort on all sides to identify and faithfully preserve the earliest and purest written records of Christ and of the Church. Immense, and I think actually successful: the "other" Gospels, that of Thomas, of Judas, of Mary Magdalene, all seem to have been written significantly later than the four which were eventually included in the Christian canon, in the late 2nd century AD, when Irenaeus was referring to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the original accounts of Jesus' life.

And I think they are actually the closest to original accounts of all the known Scripture and would-be Scripture, of all the Bible and all the known apochrypha. Perhaps the atheists and others who constantly cry corruption cannot conceive that Christians as early as Irenaeus could A) honestly want to find the most original documents pertaining to the life and teachings of Jesus, and B) actually succeed in the attempt to identify the most original such documents in existence. All through the history of Christianity, countless scholars have vied with each other to transmit these documents faithfully, and to translate them accurately, and ever more accurately. (I don't mean to diminish the huge contribution made by Jewish scholars in preserving the Old Testament, beginning who knows how many century BC. It's just that this whole meshuggah discussion of Biblical texts being intentionally corrupted seems to center around Christians and ex-Christians and people who are angry specifically at Christianity.) Those who allege intentional corruption have got nothing, it's just as simple as that. They're repeating a political talking point, they are not familiar with the relevant source documents. Just like religious believers, their point of departure is the evidence of things not seen.

And it's futile to argue with people like that. They're not open to arguments, whether they believe in the content of the Holy Scriptures under discussion, or in the currently popular myth of that content having been intentionally altered any time after, say, AD 150. Earlier than that, there's very little historical record to tell us anything about the content of the New Testament or people's attitudes toward it. But there are scraps of papyrus with fragment New Testament texts from around that time -- not the texts themselves, but copies of the texts actually written down in the 2nd century AD. Smoking guns which could prove that someone later altered them extensively. They prove the opposite.

So -- goodbye to all of that nonsense. The search continues for sensible discussion partners to add to the few I already have.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Coming Soon to Basic Cable

"I declare him to be... an outLAWAOGHUHOOAAWWGHAAOOUGHAOOO!"

"That was good, but on this next take do you think you could roll your eyes a little bit more?"

"Whatever you say, Ridley!"

(And that's one of the shots that made it into the trailer.)