The Antifa Bible

I heard a rumor that – just in time for Christmas – a noted Christian publisher will be releasing its new Antifa Study Bible.  Informed by current social themes, the gift Bible includes a flammable, tear-out section containing passages offensive to modern readers.  The remaining eight pages of scriptural quotations, handsomely bound in Corinthian leather, include several words from Jesus, the lyrics to “Imagine”, and a tribute to Moloch’s visionary nexus of fire and birth control.

The editor I reached for comment apparently misunderstood my concern.  “I know, I know,” he said, “Jesus had his racial blind spots regarding ‘Gentiles’, and bought into the misogyny of the whole Judaic tradition, but he did knock over some tables and threaten to tear down the temple.  In the end, I’d say he’s one of us.”

“B-but,” I stammered, “that’s not right!  Jesus didn’t come to ‘abolish the law and prophets, but to fulfill them’.” 

“Oh, I know,” he chuckled, “and we put that passage in the flammable section, of course, but one must make allowances.  I can’t very well sell a Bible with no Jesus in it, can I?”

“But why sell a Bible at all, if the historic Jesus is offensive to your audience?”

“Ah, well,” he said soothingly.  “I can see you don’t understand marketing, my boy.  The churches are full of people who are offended by the historic Jesus – or would be if they knew who he was.  But Jesus is bigger than history.  Nicer, you know.  More symbolic.  His ideals transcend those dodgy old Bible stories and hard-nosed moral platitudes.  It’s like he said, there’s ‘nothing to kill or die for’.  We’re ‘a brotherhood of man’ and all that.”

“Uh, no, that was John Lennon,” I said.

“Same difference,” he said, brightly.  “Look, people really like Jesus, so let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  We can get rid of religion but keep Jesus.  Better still, Jesus will get rid of religion for us, once we cut him loose from all that dogma, which nobody cares about anyway.”

“But he cared about it.  He said none of it should be changed.”

“Ah, well, don’t be too hard on him.  And I admit, his statues may have to come down, too, but let’s give it a year.  Long enough, at least, to get us through this election.”

“What’s the election have to do with it?”

“Those churches full of people I mentioned?  Well, lots of ‘em will be on our side if we do this right, and after that, it won’t matter.  Just remember: Jesus Is Nice.  And that can mean just about anything.”

“Even the opposite of what Jesus taught, you mean…”

“It doesn’t matter what he taught.  They’re not looking for instruction, they’re looking for comfort.”

I hung up, shaking my head and wondering if he was right or if this was all just a bad dream.

* * *

(Note: This story is fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, businesses, or products is purely coincidental.)

Of All the Things to Forget

We are, as one old American said, a house divided. In his day, we were divided by the evil of slavery. In our day, we are divided by our memories of his day.

But memory is too strong a word, for none of us was there and few of us know much about those who were. Weakness in knowledge does not, apparently, diminish the strength of opinion and I hear mournful accusations to the effect that racism “is shamefully enshrined in our Constitution”.

Abraham Lincoln would understand our day better than we understand his. Not 75 years since the Constitution was written, some were already working to obscure our nation’s identity and history, defending slavery and setting us on the path to civil war. Lincoln responded as we should respond, by examining the facts.

In the Cooper Union speech Lincoln delivered as a presidential candidate in 1858, he carefully documented the voting records of “the thirty-nine framers of the original Constitution, and the seventy-six members of the Congress which framed the amendments thereto” in regards to slavery and demonstrated that “our fathers – the men who made the Constitution – decided this same Constitutional question in our favor, long ago – decided it without division among themselves”.

“We do,” he said, “in common with our fathers, who framed the Government under which we live, declare our belief that slavery is wrong”. He pleaded with his audience to “speak as they spoke, and act as they acted upon it. This is all Republicans ask – all Republicans desire – in relation to slavery. As those fathers marked it, so let it be again marked, as an evil not to be extended, but to be tolerated and protected only because of and so far as its actual presence among us makes that toleration and protection a necessity.”

Slavery existed on this continent before there was an America and, as Lincoln said while debating Stephen Douglass, “The fathers of the Government expected and intended the institution of slavery to come to an end. They expected and intended that it should be in the course of ultimate extinction.”

Lincoln appealed to the founders’ example to defend his own opposition to slavery – he never imagined they would be themselves accused of favoring that evil, but that is where we find ourselves today.

To those who would expand slavery, Lincoln complained “You will rule or ruin in all events” and “It was not we, but you, who discarded the old policy of the fathers”.

We, too, live among some who would “rule or ruin in all events”, those who – in Milton’s words – think it “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven”. They use our fading memories against us and discard the old policy of the fathers, calling into question even our fundamental agreement that “all men are created equal”.

Please, let’s read some history (and Mr. Lincoln’s speeches are a great place to start) before we surrender our rightful pride in the founders’ vision for a free country.…/speeches/cooper.htm…/speeches/house.htm

All the Light We Choose Not to See

“It is a dark world…”, the professor typed, then grumbled at the glare on his computer screen and rose to pull the window shade. “… bleak and precarious…” (Here, his fingers left a smudge of powdered sugar on the keys, residue of the half-eaten doughnut at his elbow.) “…hostile toward continued existence.”

He scrolled up and down the page, sharpening his comments about the brutality of life in a godless universe. His eyes scanned the screen, sensing minute differences in color that his brain resolved into letter shapes and somehow buffered into a sequence of words that reproduced his ideas. His fingers flicked smoothly over the keyboard, their shape changing rapidly and gracefully in a dance that featured an astounding array of muscles and ligaments, bones, joints, and nerve endings, all choreographed by his thoughts — which at this moment focused on the undirected nature of human existence.

“What we call life”, he typed, “is not a story, but a random stream of mechanical and chemical events, including our sensations of…” – the door to his study opened, admitting his young daughter. His irritation at the interruption was balanced by the tenderness between them. She loved him, and he scooped her into his arms and promised to come to dinner in a minute, then turned back to his computer. “…chemical events, including our sensations of…”, of what? “…of meaning and purpose, which are logically unsupportable, and feelings of personal significance which are fraudulent but compelli…” – here the door opened again.

“Daddy! It’s been a minute. C’mon!” He rose and carried his princess down the hall toward the comforting smell of dinner. There was no bowing of heads before the meal, no one to whom gratitude was due. He ate, mostly listening to his daughter talk with excitement about her day, unmindful of the intricate process by which plants and animals become food, become nourishment and strength and consciousness and life.

After dinner, he returned to his study and wrote about the tribal origins of religion, unaware of the gentle sky that overshadowed his neighborhood, the cool evening air that charged his lungs and brain, the passing of the sun that had filled the house with light and warmth, the thousand little things that gave him strength to refute and comfort to ignore the one toward whom all humble things point.

Is Anything Simply True?

A bulky robot trots stiffly across the lawn, pauses before an obstacle then clears it with an awkward jump. A computer-generated voice on the telephone negotiates an appointment for a haircut. We watch the demonstration videos and stare, amazed.

It has been a big week for technology news and there are several miracles here. First, that we have – through the expenditure of great genius and motivation and resources – produced machines that move and talk a little bit like humans. Second, that the earth – possessing no genius or motivation or resources – produced the humans who made the machines.

It is not quite safe to think about that. We believe two contradictory things and those things must be kept apart or awkwardness ensues. It is perfectly respectable to say that our own complexity is the product of luck and muck and time. On the other hand, no one throws parts in a box, shakes it for a while and expects an assembly to emerge. As we have all learned to our sorrow, life does not work that way. Luck does not do work. Luck does not make machines.

It is uncomfortable to think contradictory thoughts, so we don’t. We build mental fences to keep our hard-fought experience away from our fragile theories.

I read an editorial yesterday that wondered if anything is simply true – true for everyone. Subjectivism is a popular theory these days and many people liked what she wrote. I don’t know the author, but I suppose that she has a car, and perhaps a spouse, and maybe even children. If so, she probably believes in stop lights and is confident that other drivers do, too. Very likely, she believes in hunger and is anxious to prevent it in those who depend on her. As a successful person, I think she must believe in kindness, and probably takes care to encourage and protect those around her.

In fact, she believes that many things are simply true and she expects that other people should believe those things, too. Without shared truth, we could not live together in peace.

I respect the robotic accomplishments demonstrated this week – the tenacity and tough, independent thinking required to learn how things work. Our thinking about the creatures who inspired and produced the robots should be that way, too – grounded in logic and experience and open to all of the data around us.

The Argument of Windows

It can be dangerous to look out the window. A quick glance is safe – to check the weather, maybe, or to see who is pulling into the driveway. But it’s a different thing to really look at the world, as you might look at a picture or a page in a book – to look carefully, thinking about what you see.

It is a strange world, outside that window. If you watch long enough, you might see something terrible but, of course, that’s the exception, or we would not make windows. Most of what we see through them – the trees and sun and birds and the million leaves of grass – is wonderful. Literally: objects of wonder, beautiful and important in ways we sense but don’t fully understand. Their existence feeds something in us, and so we make windows.

But there is a danger in looking out the window, a slippery slope that leads from beauty, which happens in nature, to wonder, which happens in us. Our sense of wonder at the beauty around us suggests that there is something powerful and purposeful at work in the universe, something benevolent before which we might be quiet and from which we might draw comfort.

Through the centuries, most humans have hurtled down that slope, seeing no reason not to. But it is different in this century, and especially in this generation. Great minds have found a reason to refrain from wonder and an explanation of the world that puts us in no one’s debt. They have found our creator, and his name is luck.

In our age, wonder is becoming a false religion and even beauty a dangerous illusion. There is no power at work in the universe, they say. No purpose, no benevolence – and no malevolence, either, for there is only matter, and matter knows nothing of good or evil. There is nothing alive that did not spring by luck from muck. Nothing to thank. Nothing to admire. Nothing to revere.

They know this, they insist, though it seems odd that they can know anything. If, as they say, our brain is also an accident – if our mind is a little raft of thought sensations floating on a restless sea of blood and tissue and nerve endings – why trust it? What, in their view, inspires confidence that there is such a thing as truth, or that such a peculiar instrument could know it?

Still, they are sure they do know the truth and they shout down anyone who disagrees. They know there are no Gods or morals, or even girls or boys. And nothing, it seems, can stand against the force of their knowing and shouting. It is a world without truth, except for their truth.

Well, all right, but they should be wary of windows, which have defeated many great minds before theirs. It is a strange world, outside those windows, full of beauty and elegance and complexity that our science is still trying to understand. Even an innocent person, trying her best to believe their story, might look out a window and lapse into wonder, or even ask herself why, for all our proud knowing, we cannot make even an amoeba. If building a living world is so easy that luck can do it, why can’t we?