Well it's been a crazy week. I moved into my new place, got a bunch of versatile solutions for modern living to fill it with, (i.e.; Junk) had my first Blacksmithing class, and tried to figure out which home theatre system speaks to me as an individual. Oh, and which bag hutch. Never go cheap on the plastic bag hutch, children.
I apologize to anyone who was worried that I was off the air for so long. It took a week for them to hook up my internet, and in the meantime I was far too busy moving in to bother sitting down at a borrowed computer to try and write some inane post about selling out and settling down into the American dream, becoming a hypocrite in new and exciting ways.
But I won't bore you with all that. I'll bore you instead with a brief description of the process of training in Blacksmithing on the first day: Make big fire, stick metal rod in, pull it out and bang on it with hammer until it is flat. And that's all I have for you on that so far. Except to say that it was pretty fun. There is indeed a very satisfying aspect to smashing a steel rod flat. I can't wait until I learn to make other shapes.
I like the town I've moved to. I have a really good pizza place a block away and two great bars; one of them has awesome buffalo wings and the other is a jazz bar. There's a bakery and a diner. I'm in American cuisine heaven! AND, one of my favorite aspects about this town is that it is too small for them to have postal delivery service! You have to go to the post office yourself to pick up your mail, and the postmaster lady is really nice and recognizes you when you come in. Another nice thing is that sometime during the summer, there is a big jazz festival in town. Lots of sun, lots of homemade crafts kiosks, beer and food, people, and a big stage with pretty famous jazz musicians. Bob Dorough? Thorough? I know-how-to- say-his-name-but-not-spell -it-the- guy-who-wrote-those-schoolhouse- rock-ditties plays there a lot. And some um, other, Jazz musicians whom people that like Jazz think are pretty cool. I like jazz, but I don't really know of too many not-dead jazz musicians. My favorites are like Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane and like that. Stephane Grappelli & Django Reinhardt rule the most.
So... that's pretty much all I got. I still have a lot to do before I get to the point where I'm trolling the internet, looking desperately for ideas to write ranty self-involved blog posts about, so you know, don't even think about me. Take me off your radars. I very much doubt I'll have anything interesting to say for a long time coming. I'm all deeply involved in finding the right bookshelf for that corner over there. If anyone wants to visit, I'm thinking about getting one of those jackknife sleepy couch thingies for my Den. That's right, I have a Den. It's really a second bedroom, but I turned it into a Den. My Pop-Pop had one, and I firmly believe that a man should have a Den. You need a place to keep your toys, so that that the other rooms look all mature and grown-up when important guests come avisiting. And while the women do the washing up, the men retire to the Den for cognac and cigars. Not that I have those things. While I may enjoy the occasional cigar, the stale smoke they leave behind for days is foul, and I'm not sure I care much for cognac. In MY Den, the men retire for a beer and a hookah.
So yeah, as you can see, I really won't have anything to say for a while. I wound up boring you with my apartment stuff after all, despite my best intentions.
This is going to be one of those dull "Hey this is what's going on in my dull stupid life these days" posts, so, get out while you still can.
THE MUNDANER THAN MUNDANE
I was really excited yesterday because a bunch of movies that I'd ordered from Amazon showed up. I had gone through my wish list, which had DVDs on it which I'd added like five years ago, and snagged a bunch of them that had gone down in price to between $5 and $10. Except for Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, which was still $18 or so, but I really wanted a copy of it in case it goes out of print.
Ok, see, it's because of the fact that the biggest things going on in my life that give me jollies right now are things like the above paragraph that I have forced myself to move in a lurchingly forward direction:
THE SLIGHTLY LESS MUNDANER THAN MUNDANE
I've decided to just bite the bullet and get an apartment. I've been bouncing back and forth between my Dad's house out near Allentown, and crashing at a friend's place in Stroudsburg, and it's starting to make me a bit loopy. I don't like not having my own space. So, as foolish as it probably is, I'm signing a lease on Monday. I don't actually have a job still, of course, but I've recently had a few conversations with someone who used to work in Real Estate, and so I'm going to make an attempt to purchase some property and see how that goes. Should be interesting, since the very act of typing out that last sentence has already bored me. If my whole Real Estate scheme doesn't work out, I'm going to go be an airline flight attendant. Good travel benefits, and I'd get to wear a stylin' corporate monkey suit. That's the plan for now, anyway.
I'm really excited about this next bit. There is a place in Stroudsburg called 'The Artisans of the Anvil', which is a smithy. A Blacksmith workshop. They make real stuff though; it's not some Renaissance Fair club where they wear ye olde man skirts and say things in silly affected ye olde accents. They make things like gates for houses, bed frames, clothing racks, etc etc. But nice ones. Anyway, I signed up for a blacksmithing class with them which starts next week and goes for 8 weeks. It's only one night a week because I'm sure it's very hard on the body to be banging around with metal all the time if you're not used to it. It's one of those things that I've thought about in the waaaay back of my head for years that would be a cool thing to do, but that you would never actually do. You know, learn a real craft. I think that most people have a couple of those types of things... woodcraft, or pottery, or fireman, for instance. Anyway, I saw the ad for the class and kind of chuckled to myself, but then I was kind of like wait a minute, why wouldn't I try that out?
If I really hate my life in 8 weeks, I'm breaking lease and Going West.
Here's a picture I took the other day. In case it's too small for you to read, that sign on the right says 'Save a tree... Help your school.' Ahhhh, the irony of modern American life.
In the interview, this guy says that when he was growing up, they taught "Values Clarification" and played this game in his school. I want to know what kind of scary ass school he went to, and was it in Nazi Germany?
While I'm waiting for inspiration on the eternally boring question of what to do next with my life to strike, as it has been so kind to do in the past, I am always on the lookout for new things to blog about. It helps keep my sanity, you see. In that rather pitiable spirit, here is something I woke up thinking about this morning; the why and wherefore of religion. So yes, if you are not in the mood for another rant on messiestobjects' tired, banal views on religion and why it's bad for you, feel free to bail now.
I often worry about publicly talking about my views on religion, because I know that my family, who are devout Christians, care about me and therefore worry that my soul is condemned to a fiery eternity for saying such brash things as I tend to do. The problem is that I know that no amount of discourse will ever bridge the gap between what they believe and what I believe, and so I tend to keep my mouth shut and avoid the topic. The fact of the matter is that people, once they reach a certain stage in their lives, and have given the matter serious thought and/or credence in their lives, are almost never capable of changing their minds. There's actually scientific evidence somewhere out there about the hardening of our minds as we get older, although don't look to me for details as it's something I read a long time ago. Something about our neural pathways being wide open when we're babies, gradually becoming more solidified or defined as we apply words to objects, and later becoming downright jungle elephant paths in our brains as we ascribe our beliefs to ideas. In other words, the more times you tread a path, the easier it is to follow that same path the next time you go that way. It's very hard for even the most open minded person keeping pre-set personal beliefs or perceived truths out of our rational observations as we get older. But that's really not the point of this.
I thought that this time, rather than expounding on why I think religion (Not God! I think I've been rather clear on the difference in my mind in the past.) is not only false but unhealthy, I would rather explain how I came to these ideas in the first place. Not that I'm special in regards to my beliefs; lots of people share them. I just feel I have a unique perspective, being a reformed religious type rather than the offspring of godless academics.
I was born and raised a Christian, and generally speaking I think that in some ways it did me good. Or at least, I believe I have a highly sensitive view of Good Vs. Evil, and I think that's a good thing. I also don't believe it's unhealthy to walk around with the constant feeling that somebody is looking over my shoulder, whether it's true or not. It can be a valuable mental trick. The first time I started doubting was at a Christian rock concert I went to with a church youth group. The performer was a guy that went by the name of Carmen, whose stuff I actually liked. I had a tape of his; I was probably 13 or 14 years old at the time. Anyway, we were at this concert and he had been singing his tunes, with no band... lip synching. But whatever; at the time I didn't know that was cheesy and nobody seemed to care anyway. But he would stop every once in a while and preach a little bit, and there were two things in particular that he said at one point that just kind of made me go, "ummm, really?"
The first was minor, as indicators often are, but it made me think a little bit. Apparently The Grateful Dead were playing that same night at another venue up the street, and Carmen was all like "Let me tell you, The Grateful Dead may be sinners who think it's cool to be dead, but tonight we here are grateful to be alive in Jesus!!" Much cheering ensued. But I was kind of like, and I didn't even know all that much about them, but I knew enough to know that they didn't actually want to be dead, at least not in the sense that Carmen was saying. He was saying it like they were willful emissaries of Satan or something. In their Wikipedia entry, it says that they chose the name in this manner:
The name "Grateful Dead" was chosen from a dictionary. Some claim it was a Funk & Wagnalls, others, the Bardo Thodol (Tibetan Book Of the Dead), but according to Phil Lesh, in his biography (pp. 62), "...Jer (Garcia) picked up an old Britannica World Language Dictionary...(and)...In that silvery elf-voice he said to me, 'Hey, man, how about the Grateful Dead?'" The definition there was "A song meant to show a lost soul to the other side."
So, it was really pure hippie bullshit, but hardly Satanic. This statement of Carmen's, when I thought about it later, made me begin paying attention to preachers and to begin the realization that most of what they say is off the cuff and full of assumptions. They often, especially at that time in the 80s, called things Satanic which they merely didn't understand or was associated with things which they found personally distasteful. It made me realize that they often didn't really know what they were talking about, which is a shattering blow to a religion that claims to have knowledge of the truth of the way of things. If you can't back up simple statements of fact, why should I take it on faith that you know what you're doing in other areas? Faith belongs to God anyway, supposedly, not preachers.
The second thing he said, later that night, was a larger issue for me. Towards the end of the show, when he'd just played his biggest hit to a crowd of young screaming christian rock idolators, (And I admit, I was one of them. I loved that song.) he bellowed out, "I can feel the spirit of Jesus here with us tonight! Can you feel the holy spirit in the room? He's speaking to all of us, can you feel his love, right here right now!!?" And, as my fist was in the air and everyone around me, tears of joy in their eyes and answering with a heartfelt "Yes! I feel him! I feel Jesus!", and I, about to join in and add my agreeing sentiment, had an odd sensation. I was still for a moment, and kind of quietly thought to myself, (and I'm paraphrasing, of course; it was a long time ago in a mindset far, far away. But I remember very well what was going through my head in spirit. Snicker.) "Jesus? Huh. Actually, what I'm feeling is awe for the rock star that just lip synched that awesome song and got my fist pumping and adrenaline rushing, and has even made me feel good about being a Christian since I'm in a large group of people that feels the same way and we're all cheering for Jesus, but one thing I don't feel, and have never felt, actually, is anything spiritual. It actually feels a lot like that time I got all excited and heart-full when Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star. That made me SO happy, and that's the kind of elation I'm feeling right now, so, unless Jesus had something to do with the destruction of the Death Star, and said destruction was a spiritual event, I don't think that what I'm feeling right now is him in the room."
Now that I'm slightly wiser, I can add even more significance to that event. It was a rally, pure and simple. The theatrics and speeches that those guys use is no different than, say, Hitler's Nazi rallies. Or the Republican party rallies. It's a leader taking advantage of the psychology of mob mentality, and getting the crowd all worked up into a frenzy, and directing that energy in a desired direction. Jesus is not actually in the room, folks. The emperor is wearing no clothes. This doesn't in and of itself mean that what is being preached is bunk, (The Reverend Horton Heat, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon, The actual message of love preached by Jesus himself, (which you can hear if you you read closely between the lines) for some examples) but I think it's important to be aware when age-old crowd control techniques are being used on you. In other words, if the leader is being honest with his agenda in such a rally, he's trying to passionately convince you of the logic of his argument, not passionately trying to beat you over the head with a scary dogma.
Anyway, for some reason, that night my mind opened up a little bit to more rational thought and always afterwards I applied a much more critical eye to what was going on around me. It's not like all of a sudden I ceased being a Christian. In some ways I always will be; you can't really escape your roots, and anyway I have never confused the sins of men, even self-proclaimed spiritual men, with a failing on God's part. One of the facts of nature that I will always hold dear, in my slowly hardening neural pathways, is that men are quite capable of committing acts of good and decency without invoking God, and men are capable of choosing to commit the most heinous evils without needing Satan as a scapegoat. People make their own choices, plain and simple. Blaming Satan or thanking God, or vice versa, is a cheap and easy way of avoiding responsibility.
I remember, one time in church, I was listening to the pastor give his sunday sermon; He was addressing a germaine issue: "Some people say that the Bible contradicts itself. They say that the Bible was written by men, and is not the true word of God. Well folks, I'm here today to tell you that those people have been misled by Satan, and that they are liars! The Bible does not contradict itself! It is God's word, handed down to us by his prophets, and it is the truth!" I kept waiting for him to expand his argument, but that was all he had; a bald statement containing bold word stresses. I kept thinking to myself, That's it!?That's Christianity's argument for itself?! And for the record, there was no paraphrasing there. I remember very clearly that day, and what he said. It felt like an extremely disingenuous thing to say... basically he was saying, believe that the Bible is the literal truth and word of God, because I say so, AND so does the Bible itself. So there. Which struck me as rather circular and unproductive logic... That's pretty much what all the religious leaders are saying, all the time.
Another extremely revealing experience I had, I've already blogged about here.
Anyway, this is a conversation I've been having with myself for a very long time now, and I could go on and on, but those are a few of the more important moments which made me switch gears a little bit. Basically, I've come to the conclusion that in order to come to grips with God, the Universe, and Everything, one has to distance oneself from the religions of men, because they are a framework for misdirection, power, and corruption. If there is a God, then love and understanding come from him, not religion, and not men's inane preachings. If there is not a God, then love and understanding come from chemicals and neural pathways. If there is a God, then there is only one thing which he gave me in order to understand him. Not the Bible, not Pat Robertson, not even Jesus. Men took control of those things, and handed them down to me the way they wanted me to see them. No, what He gave me is my mind. We have this amazing tool which is capable of rational thought, and the application of that tool has yielded more knowledge about the nature of the Universe than any preacher or prophet ever has. If there is no God, well, thank evolutionfor my mind. If there is a God, He invented evolution. Either way, it's all good.
Now that I'm done preaching, for the moment, I'll leave you with a YouLube that I found of that Carmen song I used to love so much, as performed via Lipsynch by some church kids. I'm kind of cringing about the fact that I used to like this song... I remembered it as being much cooler. I can only offer extreme brainwashing as an excuse. Anyway, in this video, God is a bearded girl, so, enjoy! ... or not. I myself had to stop it just a few minutes in, or I was going to cringe myself into a fetal position.