A Spiritual Crisis
To believe or not to believe...
A thought exercise. I admit (attest??, proclaim??) I haven't fully bought into this, but here goes...
Atheists: "Faith has no basis in fact."
Religious types: "Duh, if it had fact, it wouldn't be faith."
I understand this point. I've been a Christian all my life and know the words when Jesus spoke to Thomas "Blessed are they who do not see, and yet believe" We're taught there this is merit in faith without seeing.
Here's the thing:
Somewhere in the wilds of some jungle in the South Pacific, there is some guy named Ubu who believes very confidently that the world was created on the back of a great multi-headed war duck. His father and the witch doctor in his tribe taught him this. He went through an induction ceremony involving sharp sticks and scars when he was 11. He believes that if he keeps less than 3 wives and does not kill at least 2 enemy tribesmen, he will not go on to receive the great infinite prize. Ubu has never seen the multi headed war duck. Ubu will live with that faith, struggle with it from time to time, think other people are unworthy or unchosen because they don't believe it, and die clinging to it.
19 young men from another place had a different looking war duck, a god named allah, who with the involvement of Mohammad even wrote a big long book for them to refer to and pray over, and told them to kill people who didn't believe as they did. They hijacked airplanes and killed 3000 of my tribesmen.
My god also has a book, which says some pretty good things, a lot of very scary things, and a lot of weird things. I have to seriously ask myself - what really is the difference between my clinging to my faith and Ubu clinging to his? The faiths are different. Some parts seem better than others. Some parts seem more beautiful than others. The idea of forgiveness certainly is more appealing than your eternal destiny being determined by how many wives you have. But is there a real way beliefs can be compared? Parts of Ubu's faith are more beautiful than mine. If we go a couple of thousand miles to the northwest, we'll find probably the world's most complete, well thought out, and reasonable faith - Hinduism. But they still have a brutal caste system and some very strange elements in their beliefs. Can I really say, in terms other than simply that it is my faith, there there is something of intrinsically greater value about my faith as compared to that of others? I know the right answer to that from my training, but really, seriously, can I say that? Can I really believe that Ubu and I are qualitatively different on an order that carries eternal consequences?
If it were that important, wouldn't it make more sense? In my faith, all goodness, nobility, courage, etc. comes from a single source. Such things are the purpose of the faith. Christianity is all about being made clean from sin and perfection in the person of Christ. Which is more noble and courageous of me in considering the person of Ubu? That he is tragically uninformed and ignorant, doomed to an eternity of hellfire because of where he was born, and who is father and witch doctor were, or that we might be more similar than I would like to admit?
What if Ubu, Mohammed Atta, etc. and I are really doing the same thing? What if we all are meeting the same human need? Why believe? Because I want to walk the streets of gold and bask in the light of god's glory? An infinite reward is an easy choice. All of my other life's experiences to this point suggest that easy choices are unfulfilling and pointless. I can feel myself flee back to my faith, and insist upon believing that those streets of gold really are there and that the war duck isn't, but it feels like I am running away from something. I feel like a baby eagle who has put off learning to fly for one more day. There is comfort, but is that the same thing as significance? It doesn't feel right. If that is the path to enlightenment, why doesn't it feel like it?
If I think that Ubu and I might be the same, it's compassion. I am looking at a strange human living a strange life, and finding common ground between us. If I think about Ubu as being ignorant and damned, that's exclusion and condescension. If my faith is the source of compassion, then how can it be the opposite point of view from compassion?
Then I consider the implications. If Ubu and I are the same, then Jesus is no more real than Ubu's war duck. I am a pitiful speck in an immense and eternal universe, and when I die, I will cease to exist for all time. That's terrifying. I am alone. There are no streets of gold. There will be no reward.
That is scary. Can something not be true just because it is scary?
But if Ubu and I are the same, then I am not alone. I have Ubu. I can learn things from him. He can learn things from me. We can find out a little more about what is meaningful or valuable in the cosmos and pass that knowledge on to those we interact with and to those who follow us. If the goal of my existence is greater compassion in the world, which is a more meaningful afterlife - for my eternally preserved self to experience a forever of personal comfort in a heavenly paradise, or for people to actually be more compassionate to each other after I am gone? Which choice is more noble? Which is more meaningful? It seems that if we can commit ourselves to real compassion, nobility, goodness, etc, then the most important parts of us really do live forever. If, that is, we truly think those parts are important. As I consider that, I find myself confronting real courage, real compassion, real hope, and the world really does become a better place.
An interesting problem, wouldn't you say?
Movie review - The Descent
- It was very well acted
- It had a story. This was a guy who talked to his mother's corpse. We knew he was a monster and we knew why.
What story can be said to exist in "The Descent" consists of one character's action, and one character's reaction. Pretty simple stuff. But even that one event was poorly explained, badly executed, and mystifyingly stupid. You can't string a series of cleverly storyboarded scenes together and call it a movie. There are two critical elements any movie must have. It must be well written, and it must be well acted. "The Descent" has neither.
An unbiased Analysis of Gun Crime vs. Gun Control
Check this thread.
Behold this tortured mass of comments, boiling with vitriol and outright moderation warfare.
What's going on here? I think this topic, and another a few days ago about Microsoft being cheaper or some such shit, scoring 3000 comments, were trolling on the part of Slashdot editors to test the new server cluster.
I have to say, the results are certainly interesting.
My sig database
Encouraged by my recent ranking among the worst sigs on slashdot, I've decided to become more prolific with my writing of sigs. Here is where I will keep them, as I think of them much more frequently than I update my sig. Here's the one that started it all; my personal crowning glory.
- If you broke the corner off of a piece of toast, and tried to stab food with it, it would not become a spoast.
I liked this sig. It kicked off many a discussion, my most favorite of which started with "You are absolutely correct. It would be a toark." Sadly, this sig is not original on my part. It's part of a long rant about the great spork conspiracy to delude us into believing that defective spoons were actually a utensil. I thought it was intensely funny, and crammed as much of the core points into my sig as possible.
- There are only so many witty sayings in the universe. This one is taken.
Of course, I encourage everyone to use this sig. There is never enough self referencing irony in Slashdot sigs these days, and all of us could certainly stand to see more.
- ... to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.
Certainly not original, but you can never go wrong with a Conan quote. Especially with one as unrepentantly male as this one. I suddenly have the urge to go into the woods and beat on drums.
In the spirit of the joke, I'll refrain from explaining it.
K5 - is it really all that?
Most /. readers have at least some complaints about the /. moderation system. Hell, if you've been around for any length of time (not that I'm an old-timer), I'd be suspicious if you didn't. Very often in these conversations, K5 comes up as the example of how to solve the moderation problems effectively and fairly. I've spent a lot of time on K5, and have seen how their system works - and doesn't. I'd like to try to deconstruct the myth of perfection which seems to be associated with the K5 moderation system, and point out some aspects of the rather dirty underside of that system.
For those of you who are unaware, the K5 moderation system is completely democratic. Everyone can moderate each other's posts. You can give any comment a score of 1 to 5. The story posting is also completely democratic. Anyone can post a story, which then goes through a series of queues where it is moderated - again by everyone - and then posted, if it gets enough votes.
That's basically it. Sounds good, doesn't it? Any of us who've dealt with some of the moderation and editorial inanity which occaisonally goes on here would love to be able to have a voice in posting and moderation. Unfortunately, the K5 system has some problems. The first and most obvious is the question of just how well the comments are actually moderated. Because any single user can give a comment a score of 5 with a single vote, K5's moderation system does not serve as an effective signal/noise ratio filter. Browsing by score on K5 does not yield higher quality reading. While K5 has erred on the side of fairness in its moderation system, /. has erred on the side of quality. Each sacrifices one aspect to gain more of the other. But is K5's system really more fair? Because the K5 system is open to anyone, vocal emphasis is granted to those who spend the most time moderating comments and stories. This serves as a sort of demographic filter in its moderation system. Those most concerned with how comments are moderated (activists) are the ones who dominate which comments and stories get voted up. Again, this sounds good, but consider the implications. Thousands of people pull up /. every day. Most only read stories. There is a whole spectrum of people, varying in agenda and goals, who participate in the /. community. The /. moderation system recognizes that those most concerned about karma and moderation are probably not representative of the interests of the community as a whole. That's why the /. faq tends to suggest that the obsessive wackos probably won't moderate much (/. surfing habits play a part in moderation chances). On K5, the wackos are running the show.
But probably the most revealing fact about the fairness of the K5 moderation system boils down to a single question: Does the moderation system = censorship? That is to say, do the results of moderation actually cause material to be invisible to other readers? In the /. system, the answer to the question is no. What about the K5 system? When I made "trusted user" status on K5, I gained the ability to rate a comment at "0". This is the rating which is supposed to be reserved for spamming. As part of the new privileges, I got a new button on my navbar - "review hidden comments". This is where you can browse comments scored at 0 to determine if they should be promoted. It seems that when a comment is rated at 0, it becomes invisible to common readers. Worse yet, if a poster makes a certain number of score 0 posts, they become "untrusted". At this point, everything they post is invisible to common readers. The idea is that this group of K5 members must prove themselves to the "trusted" users in order to earn their voice back. In practice, this area is a permanent "troll jail" - the trusted users bloc vote nearly every comment by untrusted users at 0, preventing them from ever re-entering K5 society. In summary, K5 not only censors comments, it censors people.
What's the answer? The /. system is probably the best when it comes to actual content quality, but its abuses are legendary. I suggest the following changes:
- /. editorial control over which stories are posted should remain. K5's stories suck.
- Comment moderation should be fully democratic. Each person can add or subtract one point to or from a comment's score, and comment scores should have no upper limit. This will help to control the activists who mod every single comment, but who are relatively few in number.
- All comment moderation should be public knowledge. Everyone should know how everyone else moderates.
- There should be no karma or mojo. The fact that K5 has both mojo and democratic moderation results in very bizarre alliances and infighting. Neither a group of editors nor an inner circle of trusted users has demonstrated that they can fairly police abuses, so this should be left to the general population. It means we'll have to look at a lot more crap, but I believe it's worth it.