Saturday, July 31, 2010

Clerk Shares Jesus With Robber

The press certainly loves its stories of courageous Christians. A headline news video on Yahoo today tells of how a clerk shared Jesus with a man who was attempting to rob the store. It wasn't that long ago that the story of another clerk praying with a robber became the inspirational talking point of many believers, raving about how God can do anything and always looks out for his people. But I have to wonder, how many clerks have been shot or robbed even after trying to witness to a criminal? Will we ever see a headline, "Clerk Shot in the Face After Preaching to Robber"? Not likely... except in The Onion, perhaps.

I see this sort of feel-good story in the same way I see the reports of miraculous survivals against the odds. When someone suffering from a terminal illness lives and attributes it to God, the other countless unlucky persons are usually never allowed to give their side of the story. Mostly because no god came through to save them. Likewise, for every tale of a courageous believer foiling a criminal's plans by ministering to them, there are countless dozens of unlucky others who were killed despite their efforts. Missionaries die all the time despite their efforts, and yet this is never counted as a strike against faith.

Maybe this blog entry will seem callous and heartless to some people, but it's worth asking why we count the hits and ignore the misses often times. I suspect that we don't count things fairly because we fear what the results might reveal to us. Random, indiscriminate circumstances. Then again, doesn't the bible say that God sends rain on both the righteous and the wicked? So what's all this nonsense about thinking that God's tweaking knobs behind every corner?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In Awe of Nature, Enhanced by Science

The poet William Blake wrote that, "Art is the tree of life. Science is the tree of death." I have known some who hold a similar disdain for inquiry and investigation into the significances of life. Mystery and mysticism are good and necessary, they say, and science supposedly dissolves them. Blake penned the line just mentioned in reflection on the theory of optics put forward by Isaac Newton, which he considered a gross inadequacy compared to his idea of 'spiritual vision'. Does a scientific lens truly reduce wonder and inspiration? Does it strip beauty and vandalize mystery?

I was out on my back porch the other day, admiring the butterflies and hummingbirds that occasionally congregate around the vegetation. Over the steps that lead from the deck to the grass, there is a wireframe arch that we've decorated with plant and flower growth. I noticed that under this arch, hanging in empty space, was some object or unlucky insect. As I moved closer, I could see the bright wings of a butterfly. I planned a rescue mission, but further inspection revealed that the wings and a thin veil of a carcass were all that remained.

My initial thought was not sorrow, but wonder. The spider that weaved its web in this manner had cleverly placed it in a spot that was obscured by shade, and also happened to be an area where butterflies routinely passed through on their way to draw nectar from the plants hanging off the sides of the wireframe arch. Years ago, as a Christian, I might have pondered the artistic hand that made such a skilled arachnid. I would have also thought of the puzzling mind of God, that would create animals in constant competition with one another. But that thought would only linger a second, before I'd abandon its implications and reassure myself that God has a plan.

Now, however, I pondered the skills of the arachnid, not as those instilled by a 'benevolent' god, but as a product of progressive adaptation. Spiders have had millions of years to perfect their craft, I thought to myself. They are, along with insects, one of the oldest surviving species. Rather than deprive my mind of wonder and awe, this sudden reflection brought an increased appreciation. To think that these creatures were playing their game of cat and mouse so many centuries before humans even arrived on the scene... was a moment of amazement for me. Then to think we are all distant cousins, originating from single-celled organisms some 3-4 billion years ago... I fail to see how this is not a humbling and fascinating fact to understand.

Science does so much more than just unlock the mysteries of nature, it creates them too. If we were to leave mystery untouched, we would be all the less prevalent in mysteries! Scientists like Galileo unleashed whole new worlds of wonder in studying the telescopic beauty of the night sky and the microscopic beauty of smaller organisms. The discovery of the atom brought a new age of wonder too. Are these not worth marveling over?

There will always be mystery and beauty to be found, no matter how ruthlessly science advances into explaining the unexplained phenomena of the universe. Our time on this earth has been breathtakingly brief when compared to the 14 billion years that our universe has been expanding and changing for. And it is STILL expanding and changing! New sources of mystique and wonder can never be eliminated, because evolution is a never-ending process. Even if we humans run ourselves into extinction, life will go on. It has proven itself very flexible, able to spring up even in the most hostile environments (we call these critters 'extremophiles').

When I look at a brilliant sunset, I feel no emptiness or loss of meaning to think that it is the result of atmospheric gases and light, as opposed to the painting of an artist who can also put vicious storms in the sky that decimate entire cities. In fact, I find it more mysterious to think there is a natural explanation than a supernatural one. Where is the room for deep and honest contemplation in an explanation like 'God did it'? Theists don't generally seem to believe that God will reveal how he did it, and besides, the point of faith is believing that he did it - the how doesn't matter so much.

Science is not the tree of death, it is, more literally than figuratively, the tree of life. But it is also art, and this is woefully overlooked by William Blake, Friedrich Nietzsche, and so many other great poets and philosophers. Science is an expression of all humankind to understand its surroundings, but more importantly, to understand itself. That's not to say that science is subjective or may not reflect reality, but the point is that the desire (or dare I say 'need') to understand ourselves and our environment is as much a form of art as any music, film, or illustration that strives for the same ends.

The tree of death is fear. Fear that will squelch progress and inquisitiveness in the name of prized dogmas or sacred beliefs that are too weak and static to survive change. But change is everywhere and no amount of fear will permanently bring its persistence to a halt. This is why science threatens the absolutist and antiquated values of many people, in my opinion, because it not only changes preconceptions, but it is the study of change. For those clinging to an idealized past, scientific advancement will spell certain doom. Yet a good part of wonder, awe, and beauty is often the unknown, and if change yields anything, it is a new frontier and a fresh new set of possibilities.

This is why I am in awe of nature, and that awe is only enhanced by science.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

No, Really, What's Wrong With Prostitutes?

I recently got into a discussion with a young Muslim girl who seemed absolutely astonished to find that I see no reason to demean or insult prostitutes. The discussion originated from a classy comment she made about how Muslim women are not prostitutes like the women in the West (showing your arms and legs is a huge offense, ladies!). My response to this girl was to challenge her conception of how people dress in the West, but also to ask what's wrong with prostitutes. Predictably, her answer was more of shock and disbelief than anything else.

But what is wrong with prostitutes? Why does choosing to make a living from sex automatically make you a dirty or immoral person, according to some people? We sell so much else about ourselves that no one seems to protest. We sell our time, our appearance (in the fashion industry, for example), our intellectual property (thoughts), our bodies (i.e. medical testing), and so much more, but selling sexual interaction is too 'sacred'?

Personally I think the thoughts in our head are more sacred and intimate than sexual interaction, but we sell them anyway, and I believe this is as it should be in the free market. If you have a good idea, what's wrong with selling it to someone else? If you're good at something, why not put that skill to use for a living? We all want to do this in one way or another, and for prostitutes, their talent happens to be sex.

There are negative aspects to prostitution undoubtedly, but these stem more from it being illegal then the simple act of prostitution itself. Abusive pimps are a problem, but in Nevada, where prostitution is legal, there is no such threat. Sexually transmitted diseases are not such an issue either, as each girl is regularly tested. Just as with consensual sex involving no money, prostitution can be safe or it can be dangerous, depending on the people involved and the choices that are made.

I have never been to see a prostitute, and I would probably never spend money to get something I can find for free (most of the time, lol), but I will not judge those who decide otherwise, because that is their decision, not mine. If we have the right to put alcohol and other harmful substances into our bodies, I think that should be taken to its logical conclusion - that we have the right to do anything we like with our bodies, whether we pay for it or not. This is the most basic right that we have as human beings, and to deprive us of it is to invite tyranny into our lives.