fidesquaerens (marta_bee) wrote,

round-up: things I’ve been reading + saying

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a round-up looking at what I’ve been reading and saying. This represents the better part of a month, so Pinterest funnies will wait until the next round-up post in the interests of space.

Things I’ve Read

1. Peter Enns gets it just about exactly right. This way of treating prophecy as literal politicking is downright scary. What Does the Bible Have to Say About the Crisis in Syria? (Hint: Nothing, Absolutely Nothing), by Peter Enns

2. Il Papa’s response to a newspaper article re: atheism is not to be missed. Pope Francis’ Letter to the Founder of “La Repubblica” Italian Newspaper

3. A moving remembrance of the four girls who died in the Birmingham church bomb, by Leonard Pitts. Dead girls and the lives they might have lived.

4. Interesting take on how FB’s newsfeed changes the way we interact with things, in honor of feature’s 7th anniversary, by Farhad Manjoo. Facebook news turns 7: Why it’s the most influential feature on the internet.

5. Interesting history of why American women exchanged large dowries for spots in British peerage, from the Smithsonian magazine. How American Rich Kids Bought Their Way Into the British Elite.

6. Dr. Yancey on the subtle ways racial profiling dehumanizes black men + boys. Walking WHile black in the ‘White Gaze’.

7. Now you see the privilege inherent in the system! On why Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk doesn’t protect all the children. Stop-and-Frisk City: Does Michael Bloomberg Really Care about Kids’ Safety?

8. Slacktivist, making a good case against bombing Syria. Bombing Syria is Not a Last Resort, so bombing SYria is neither just nor justifiable.

9. Interesting take on how ancient Christians addressed problem of evil, particularly re: God’s role in Canaanite genocide. Two Gods, Two Bibles?

10. Nice look at different words K12 teachers use for dumb. Stupid is not the same thing as slow: all the words teachers use to describe student failure.

11. A different take on the Bible’s “poor always with you” line. Old post, but apropos to current events + good reread. The Poor You Will Always Have with You.

12. Fascinating look at how fundamentalism can often come out of a seekers’ mindset. Duggars are not crazy

13. Interesting look at why poor use check-cashing places rather than traditional banks. The Real Reason the Poor Go Without Bank Accounts.

14. Leonard Pitts on guns and craziness. Damn right. Our insanity over guns claims more victims.

15. On the under-appreciated work done by female Harvard astronomers @ turn of century. The Women Who Mapped the Universe and Still Couldn’t Get Any Respect.

16. Rachel Held Evans interviews Greg Boyd on new book on having faith without this requiring certainty, with a strong side of theodicy. I have my doubts on his answer to the later point, but even that’s worth reading. And on the faith-vs-certainty issue, his thoughts are particularly good. Faith, Doubt and the Idol of Certainty: An Interview with Greg Boyd

17. Good Slate piece on the extreme reactions to male circumcision. Worth reading for the look at how internet outrage machine works. Intactivists online; A fringe group turned the Internet against circumcision.


Things I’ve Said

… here …

1. Reason #1,437 I Love Sherlock

Today’s example: to prove how clever he was, he was literally willing to risk his life, even if the only person who would see it would be a cabbie who would (if Sherlock survive) have to die. But when he realized it wasn’t his life but John’s freedom on the line, he goes all mum.

Which is really just kind of awesome. Kind of more than awesome, but I’m trying to play it cool. (What is it about new fandoms?)

2. Love Song for the Tarheel State

Yesterday I stumbled across a blog post that basically asked “What the heck is going on with North Carolina? Just when did it become so reactionary, Tea Party-friendly blood-red?” If you watch some of the things done by the North Carolina state legislature these days, it’s not hard to see where that question is coming from.

But it’s always a bit odd to see the state that seems like your home painted in this light. I’m not saying the NC state government doesn’t have problems (it does IMO, majorly). So as an antidote to my own frustration, here are some things I actually like about North Carolina.

3. Interesting interview on RCC + celibacy

I wouldn’t be bothered nearly so much by celibacy if priests and nuns weren’t the only people making decisions for Catholic theology and policies. Celibacy can be beautiful, and enriching, I can see the beauty in that move. I mean, I’m celibate myself though I haven’t committed to making it a lifelong thing. But celibate people only represent a sliver of the human experience, and like with anything, there can be failures of imagination where you privilege your own experience and downplay or ignore or whatever the reality of married folks with families. If priests need to be celibate because of their calling, I can live with that. I can even celebrate it. But there’s a reason we value authors and thinkers from lots of different demographics.

4. This is just to say…

Sherlock fangirling, this time on “A Scandal in Belgravia.

5. A prayer for enemies, on a bitter anniversary

A little over five years ago I moved to New York and made friends with my neighbors, people whose home was attacked that day. I got to know the survivors and saw the way 9/11 has impacted my adopted home. So these days I have stronger feelings, but they’re more connected to later points built around 9/11, and my own growing pacifism and trying to live with the question of why civilians dying from planes flown into in towers was worse than civilians dying from drone attacks in Yemen, except for maybe the scale. I’m not saying they are the same, but living with that question has been a paradigm shift in many different ways.

6. on education reform, or, why words and facts matter

Now, universities definitely encourage things that are good on their own. No doubt about it – curiosity, open-mindedness, intellectual courage, these are things we should be honoring and praising. But the question is, are they good because they support the university, which is good on its own, or is the university just instrumentally good as a good way to get those other things? Take an example: when the university teaches its students to be open-minded and give new open ideas a good hearing, do we think this is good because open-mindedness supports the university’s purpose, or is this practice good because open-mindedness is good for life in general?

I’d answer a little bit of both, but then I’m a graduate student. But I’d expect there are a lot of people willing to pay tuition and make donations and pay taxes to support state schools who really aren’t that interested in the university as such – who really have no interest in the university as such. What they care about is the way college changes the students who pass through it. And many of them aren’t just concerned about jobs; a good number think the university actually develops virtues worth having once they move out into the world.

7. chickens in the outfield

The lighter side of news, + bonus “House” scene.

8. a pox on ten-word answers

I’m not on board with the anti-intellectual, anti-expert strain I see in today’s GOP, nor am I at all okay with some of the positions people in the GOP take that seems flat-out anti-LGBt, anti-woman, anti-poor people, and anti-everyone-but-white-Christians generally. But at a certain level I find myself very drawn to what I was taught conservatism was supposed to be about. Not entirely, but enough that I can see myself voting for (say) a conservative on the Eisenhower model. I probably wouldn’t agree with this person on every issue, and I definitely think pretty much anyone the DNC comes up with will be more in line with my values than the kind of politician who could be nominated by the GOP. But strong community, the importance of personal and communal responsibility, a focus on what I would call basic decency and consideration for those around you – this fits quite well with a certain conservative approach to society. And I could go along with that.

9. whence cometh evil, ancient edition

thoughts on parallels between the Marcion heresy and our current approaches to theodicy


Things I’ve Said

… at FaceBook …

1. In a discussion on a Slate article doing a bad job with the problem of free will.

there is a long history in philosophy of defining a free will in a different way, and it’s not all that confused. In a Schopenhauer passage I use with my class when we discuss these issues, he talks about contemplating what to do after getting done with work for the day – going to the club, or taking a walk, or going to sit by his fire at home if I recall correctly. And he says even though his character being as it is, there was never any chance he would decide to do anything different, that doesn’t mean the choice wasn’t his. It’s not like something other than his own preferences was forcing him to make that choice. To use Aristotle’s example, there does seem to be a real difference between the situation where you accidentally knock a rock off a ledge, killing someone below, and where you intentionally throw the rock down on him.

I’m actually inclined to think that’s a good distinction to make. Everyone makes decisions for reasons of some sort or another, and we can debate whether those are good reasons or not given the circumstance. (There’s a distinction between “he had his reasons” and “he was justified in acting that way”.) And if it’s not my reasons making me act a certain way, it does seem wrong to blame me for the consequences or bad motive or whatever we’re talking about. But if we’re not able to choose our reasons, if I’m determined by genetics and experience and circumstances I can’t change to have an uncontrollable temper (say) or a natural laziness that doesn’t lead me to develop my self-control… in what sense am I responsible for my actions driven by those motives? It’s not really clear what the relevant distinction is between a man who accidentally knocks a rock off a ledge versus a man who throws a rock off in a fit of rage he was powerless to avoid having.

One approach to all this is the idea that we *are* in control of our desires and motives, at least within reason – that the physical world may be controlled by laws, but that when it comes to virtues and character states, we have the possibility of developing control over time or not, as we prefer. The other approach is to think about freedom not as the possibility of doing otherwise but as something else. I’m drawn to that second approach at an intuitive level, but there’s definitely a lot of work to be done there. You need to think about praise and blame in a very different way, for instance, because if people aren’t choosing their desires and reasons, you can’t blame them because they could have chosen to act differently – *no* one’s capable of doing that.

Of course the third option is just to deny free will exists at all. To say freedom really does mean being free to choose something different than you actually choose, that this is impossible based on the way reality works (given certain starting conditions, there’s nothing in your control that could have made things turned out differently). You still have to wrestle with the same basic question, though. If this is the case, why are we blaming people for their actions, sending murderers to prison and so on?

Which, really, is why we need serious discussion on this question. Serious discussion, not this junk.

2. In response to this blog post:

This blog post made me giggle, because Fred is discussing Jonathan Blanchard the abolitionist and used a picture of Orlando Jonathan Blanchard Bloom, “because he’s much prettier than the 19th-century abolitionist he was named after.


I finally made time for a haircut at the unisex barber shop in the Columbus Circle subway station. (They do surprisingly good work.) I have officially traded in my Cumberbatch-esque brown wavy do for something more resembling Harry in the Order of the Phoenix. Too short for my tastes at the moment, but it’ll be fine in a day or two once I adjust.

4. In response to this picture:

Some people will say fandom is an indulgence, and a silly one at that. Jawn-as-hedgehog, wee!Sherlock reading the Hobbit and loving Bilbo best of all, grown-up (sort of) Sherlock as a dad, and all the other silliness gets me through hard days. It’s the yin to my oversized-brain’s yang, I think.

Then there are the moments that just make me smile at the sheer absurdity of it.

And pleas, let’s not get started on the sheets, the complete lack of trousers (or pants), and of course the ashtrays. Because that would just be silly.

5. In response to this link:

According to the Texas Freedom Network ( @ 5:10), one of the people *presenting at the Texas Board of Education hearings on their science curriculum insisted that “biblical truth” be included in the curriculum.

I’m sure he meant intelligent design, but it’s worth remembering that the oldest, smartest interpreters of Genesis might not have agreed with him. Be careful what you wish for. :-) The link below discusses how Origen and Augustine, as well as later thinkers Aquinas, John Wesley, and Calvinist theologian B.B.A. Warfield, interpreted Genesis 1.


I decided to play around a bit with baking cookies today. Gingerbread mix, pumpkin pie filling, and a little nutmeg and cinnamon. The batter is much too moist and will probably need to be eaten with a spoon, but the smell is wonderful.


On this defunding food stamp thing…

There’s this girl in the apartment next to mine who I’ve kind of developed a relationship with. Think Big Brother/Big Sister without the institution. Her mum works full time as an office receptionist but is a single mum and this is New York. So SNAP makes the difference between fresh fruit and canned, crackers with a decent fiber count and cheap crisps. The SNAP funding is for the child, not the mother (who doesn’t qualify on her own), and the girl gets to decide what to buy with it. I’ve taken her to the grocery store as we’ve gotten an apple and bakery roll for a little picnic in the park, and she budgets and uses the card like a pro. She is learning responsibility and economy, and also healthy eating. And she doesn’t receive a whole lot. Maybe $2 per day? Her mum of course buys the basics, but this program really helps her eat right.

So when I hear people talk about the lazy poor people on the government dole… I don’t know. I mean, I know not everyone’s like her, but when I think of how little the program provides, how it feels a real niche, how it is going to a child rather than an adult… I guess I just feel compelled to put her story out there. I get that people have real worries about the program and I don’t mean to shut that debate down. But it’s worth asking, when you think about these issues, whether the concerns you have really reflect reality.

Because honestly? When it comes to my tax $$$ being used effectively, SNAP is about the last program I want cut. And I’m including in that some of the programs I’ve personally benefited from, like subsidized student loans, public uni’s, mass transit, and other such things. Heck, I’d even suffer another MTA fare hike before I’d want to take away this kid’s apple and string cheese.


I think I’ve worked out how Sherlock is going to survive Reichenbach. I mean, he’s clearly spent quite a bit of time with John Watson, who is Martin Freeman, who is Arthur Dent. Is it possible he’s learned how to throw himself at the ground and miss, and so was able to simply fly away?

This makes as much sense as anything I’ve seen, and might fit how they solved the S01 cliffhanger quite well….


I’ve seen quite a few people lately talking about how there are more autism diagnoses these days than there used to be, often implying this is connected to vaccines. Here is another perspective on these stats, from Dr. Sanjay Gupta back in April:

Granted, I’m still on my first cup of coffee, but as far as I can tell he has two basic points:

(1) More people are being *diagnosed* with autism. That’s not the same as saying more people are developing symptoms – it could just be that fewer people are going undiagnosed.

(2) Children who develop ASD usually are exposed to risk factors in utero, not after birth. So if there is an increase (and with the amount of toxins out there these days, I’m not brash enough to completely rule it out) it’s likely caused by something other than vaccines.

Those explanations make sense to me. While I haven’t researched the studies Dr. Gupta cites, I have looked into his claims in the past, and have found him to do a good job representing the facts on whatever he’s discussing. And that’s important, particularly on this issue. Making a fact-based decision is important here, because the consequences of vaccinating or not vaccinating are deadly serious, for our own children and other people in our community who for whatever reason can’t be vaccinated and rely on herd immunity. If you’re concerned about this issue – and it really is good to take it seriously – I encourage you to look at the scientific studies medical doctors and respected scientists have done looking into this issue, so you can choose wisely.


I know that people who aren’t as intensely fannish as I am – people who can watch a show and like it without feeling compelled to hunt down the music, peruse memes, write fanfic and the like – I know these people exist. They seem happy enough, and I trust that they are. But at some level I really don’t get it. I can get satisfaction through relationships and experiences and work well done, but really? Those moments that make me smile through my depression, that thrill me to the core and help me make sense of my struggles and my life generally – they’re almost always fannish at some level or another.

So, intellectually, I get that some people have a life worth living without that life being filled with geeky references, soundtracks, and plot-bunnies just begging to be written. But at some level, that whole kind of life seems utterly foreign to me. Honestly.


Earlier this afternoon I crashed a Memorial Day barbecue. Or rather was sort of roped in by a complete stranger. I was waiting for a bus by Prospect Park, and this little girl was running around handing beers and sodas to her uncles, and she’d put one in my hand and run off before I realized what was going on. So I walked over to her family’s tables to return it, and they invited me to sit down and have some potato chips. Before I knew it I was slicing cucumbers and just enjoying the sun with women I never met before. What can I say? New York, New York, it’s a heck of a town.


The cheapo brand acetaminophen I use comes in tablets that are half red, half blue. As a scifi geek who cut her teeth on the Matrix movies, this is kind of freaking me out.


If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a treat. This post is too long for Pinterest shares, but I’ll include one as a taste for the next post. I’ll even fight the urge to make it Sherlock-related.

I said fight, not actually successfully resist. As it turns out, I have no willpower.

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