Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: spirituality

I dig Bill Maher, mostly. Like his stuff. I mean, he’s neither Eddie Izzard nor Jon Stewart, but I do appreciate both his candor and his challenge. I agree with him often, but often mostly in the sense that I agree with Jon Stewart: not in the sense that I’m lefty or liberal or whathaveyou, but more in the sense that I just find the whole system and process completely absurd, as well as many of the participants therein.

I don’t really watch television, though, so I rarely catch Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. I’m sure I could catch recaps, somehow, but I’m rarely so inclined.

I’ll tell you, though: I’m totally inclined to see his new “mock documentary,” Religulous.

I may even start using religulous as an adjective. Seems like, on the hierarchy scale, things would be first ridiculous, and then totally ludicrous, and then absolutely religulous.

Trailer after the Continue reading

This morning, I talked to my brother. My brother and I have a sometimes somewhat awkward relationship; he’s a “Born Again” Christian (I suppose my mother didn’t do a good enough job the first time?), and I’m, quite obviously, not. I don’t know what I’d call myself, actually, mainly because if I could sum up my faith easily I wouldn’t be writing a book about it (but I can’t, and so I am). When my brother and I speak, we usually try to set aside topics of religion and politics so that we can, you know, smile at each other and mean it.

Over the course of catching up (Christmas might well have been the last time we spoke. If not, sometime in the early spring?), I learned that he’s shortly going to be teaching science, math, and history at a middle school or somesuch. I didn’t get all the particulars.

But I wonder: how can a born-again Christian possibly teach either history or science? I’m fairly certain my brother believes two things:

1) God created the entire universe, from scratch, in six days, and

2) He did so approximately 6,000 years ago.

Now, mind you, I have nothing against the story of Creation, and of Adam & Eve. As fables go, it ranks up there with Aesop in its simplicity, message, and ability to teach young’uns a thing or two. Personally, I tend to think that one of the things that can tell you most about about a particular culture is its Creation story. Many of the tribes originally on this continent believed that the world was born on the back of a turtle emerging from the mud. Pretty much every culture has its own.

The Christian creation story seems to be one of arrogance and domination. Man created separately from beasts and in the image of a deity, and then handed dominion over all the land (and we wonder that the environment is currently buggered). It’s very little surprise Bush considers himself a born-again Christian.

I wonder about the curriculum. Didn’t some Kansas school board vote a couple of years ago about whether to give equal representation to both the science of evolution and the story of Intelligent Design (about which there is nothing intelligent whatsoever; if God does, in fact, exist, God does so in a way that transcends such an adjective as ‘intelligent,’ anyway).

The thing is, I do think everything in schools should be given equal representation, just not in the ways most boards attempt to implement it. I think we should start teaching children about the nature of myths and stories early. Like, in kindergarten, or even preschool, and I think that, when we teach children about creation, we should tell them every story of creation we still have on record. I think children should learn that God created the world in six days and that it came into being born on the back of a turtle (to name but two creation stories), because I think in so learning, they will begin to understand the real origins and meanings of stories. I think it will make richer their relationships with each other, and throughout life.

And then, when they are ready to learn more about physics and evolution and biology and reproduction, they will understand the science of it but still appreciate more subtle meanings. The child who learns how science works in equal measure to why we tell the stories we value might just change the world.

I went to an information session today at Regis University, a Jesuit institution in northern Denver. I think it’s best I didn’t manage to get into the University of Denver’s PhD program, but I still want to continue schooling somewhere. Thing is, there are two options now, both with Regis.

The first is another MBA, this time in religious studies. I’m fascinated by religion in all ways, but more important, I sense something right now. See, I’m thinking specifically of guys like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, both of whom wrote mega-bestselling books concerning the fact that religion is, at its heart, a bad idea.

But I think there’s a foundation for all religious thought and pursuit, really. Personally, I don’t believe there’s any difference between a spell, a prayer, and a meditation session; all are, at their bases, pretty much mainly modes of positive thinking. Same thing with that The Secret book from last year or so.

The problem, I think, is that Harris and Hitchens lack a scientific background, and are approaching religion from a mainly philosophical/ethical point of view.

Which is fine, of course.

But I think it misses some very huge things. I honestly think that the fact that most people believe in something of a divine nature has some substantive argument to it. But most of all, I think the more one examines biology and quantum electromechanics and physics, the more one starts to not just believe but realize that there’s something greater going on.

Einstein himself said that religion without science is lame, but science without religion is blind.

And I think there’s something there.

So I could, in theory, design a degree in something like scientific deology (they’re not allowed to use the word “theology,” apparently, for some Arch-Diocesan reason [okay, so there’s a spot where Hitchens and Harris have a point]), and ultimately produce a book I’m planning, called Godology, on the application of the scientific method to areas including God and the afterlife.

Or, I could go for an MBA. Which would really sort of be the first practical degree I could actually use I’d be earning.

And the thing is, it’s not a question of passion or love or whathaveyou, because just the existence of this blog and all I’ve done related to writing is evidence of how I’m fascinated by marketing and branding. I’m aiming for “Entrekin” to become a brand every bit as much as Crichton and King and Gaiman are. I’m not solely concerned with the airy-fairy artsy-fartsy aspect of writing, which is the most major reason I chose USC to study writing; it was about professional writing. About the craft of it yes, but also about selling it.

Because I’ll be honest; I’m not solely trying to write the best books I can. I’m also trying to get them to as many readers as I possibly can.

And part of that is marketing. Part of that is both about analyzing target audience and then reaching it.

So this weekend, I’ve got some figuring out to do. I think, ultimately, the MBA is probably more practical, and I’ll certainly write Godology anyway.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always wanted to post a blog from Leavey Library, here at school. I’ve posted from my office once or twice, but never from here. I come to the library fairly often before class–I like to arrive on campus early by at least an hour. Stop by the Writing 140 program office to pick up my mail, and then swing over here. Usually I read some magazines before class, or finish any last-minute preparation. I was going to read Wired today.

This is my last visit to the library. After I leave and go to class, I’ll probably never return. No reason to, really. No more classes.

In half an hour I’ll begin my final class at USC. Nothing to teach, of course; today is the day for the impromptu essay and students’ evaluations, and there’s nothing left to teach anyway.

It’s hard to teach writing, because often the most important aspect of strong writing is confidence, which you really can’t teach, anyway. Sure, talent is important, and craft, and work, and all the other stuff, but ultimately there’s that moment when you need to believe you’ve got something to say, and that singular self-belief is pretty much impossible to teach. Really, it shouldn’t be taught, anyway; that moment, that realization, has to come from within. It’s often less about inspiration than realization, and frequently, that realization is of the self.

Part of me correlates this idea with faith, which is why, I think, I favor more Eastern/esoteric spiritualities–they teach that true enlightenment comes from within. They don’t look to some barely famous rabbi for their salvation, nor place their entire faith and lives upon a myth. True faith, I think, is the kind of dirty that comes with real work–I think of Joseph Fiennes’ fingers in Shakespeare in Love. It’s certainly not easy.

Anyway, I’m off to say goodbye to my students, one last time. So far as they’re concerned, that’s all they wrote.

I’ve mentioned religion and faith a couple of times before, albeit in extraordinarily roundabout ways; I remember the first was simply to note that I had completely missed the fact that Ash Wednesday had come and gone and Lent was nearly already over, Easter more than halfway here. This isn’t really because I’ve rediscovered Catholicism after a many-years lapse–rather, I think I often just saw people with ashes on their foreheads. This past Ash Wednesday, I don’t think I had occasion to go anywhere or see anyone, and so I didn’t notice.

I bring this up because faith was one of the things I wanted to explore in greater detail when I started this blog. I was raised Catholic, and though I’d lapsed by high school, still I went to a Jesuit college, where I studied biology. The life sciences. Physics and chemistry and genetics. While I will note that I never had a priest for a science teacher, back then, I will also note that I remember all my teachers wore their ashes proudly when Wednesday came around. I learned about phylogeny recapitulating ontogeny (or vice-versa; truthfully, I can never remember, because truthfully, I never actually understood what it meant) from a woman who took communion. When I studied theology, Robert Kennedy taught not just the Bible from Genesis to Revelations but also Hobbes, Hume, Dante, and Joyce. I actually read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for a theology class.

My senior year, I began work on a novel about time travel. I had an idea for where it would end, but for a long while, never for how it got there; when I realized that Jesus of Nazareth might have a role as a character, I fought it–I didn’t want the book noticed for its controversy rather than for its story.

One of the most formative moments of my life was when one of my characters surprised me and I realized I didn’t have any choice in the matter. Not just because it was the first time a character didn’t merely take on a life of his own so much as actually fought with me, but also because it forced me to go back there. Back to Jerusalem (however metaphorically speaking), back to Jesus and the crucifixion. In order to get it right, I did a lot of research, reading just about every Jesus-related book I could find.

During the process, I became closer to the idea of Christ and God. Not in the Biblical sense of either word, but both ideas as I perceived them, and in that distinction there is, I believe, a very crucial difference.

I’ve been reading a lot about the recent spate of anti-religious books by guys like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. A lot of books that seem to speak about the evils of organized religion but ultimately fail, I believe, to address why faith exists in the first place.

Faith, I believe, is a story. It is one we construct by living, and I think, like all stories, it has come over the years to tap into our deepest realms of psyche. I think these books fail, finally, to explore faith, focusing instead on the negation of belief, religion, and dogma, which, while arguably a worthwhile goal in the day and age of extremists of all kinds, does not actually engage the topic in the meaningful fashion it deserves.

Where they failed, however, they left room enough for someone to try, which is what I plan to do.