Tagmeaning

Carl Grimes, Hope and Merry Christmas

At the end of the mid-season finale of the 8th season AMC’s The Walking Dead, Carl Grimes reveals that he’s been bitten.  Fans are upset. 50,000 fans have signed a petition to remove showrunner Scott Gimple from the show.

Why are they so upset? I think it’s because children, Rick’s children, Carl and Judith, and Maggie’s unborn child, mean something. They are a glimmer of future hope in a very dark world. Perhaps they represent our hope as well, because, for some of us, the real world is very dark as well.  To kill a child is to kill hope, and we don’t like that.

We shouldn't be all that upset with Gimple for killing off Carl Grimes.
The thing is, we shouldn’t be all that upset with Gimple for killing off Carl Grimes. Gimple is doing what all zombie storytellers do–they give us characters that embody things that we value and then the kill them.  This goes all the way back to Night of the Living Dead in which most of the traditional values are murdered.

Barbara embodies devotion–dead.

Johnny, cynicism of every kind–dead.

Ben, the hero–dead.

Tom and Judy, romantic love–dead and dead.

The Coopers, the nuclear family–dead, dead and dead.  This, of course, includes little Karen, representative of innocence, who slays her mother with a cement trowel.

Conclusion:

If you are watching a show about zombies, get ready for the things you hold dear, and the characters who represent them, to snuff it.
Zombies are trying to tell us something

Zombie narratives force us to face the contradictions between what we profess and what we actually believe. It’s why monsters appear, and why the zombies have been so popular for the last fifty years.  On the one hand, we profess that there is no God, no universal truth, no ultimate meaning in life,  just what we create for our individual selves.   On the other hand, we believe that families and promises and honesty and courage and fair play matter. We live and act as if things like these are universal and objective.  We believe it’s wrong to deny someone their rights.  We believe that it’s wrong to exploit the weak. That it’s wrong to use women for sex against their will. We believe it’s wrong to kill and eat other people. We believe these things to be universally wrong.  We profess that life has no universal meaning, but we love the parts in TWD where the characters talk of the “something else” that we are fighting for that goes beyond survival.  Zombie narratives don’t let us get away with these inconsistencies.

Much of what Carl did in the final episode was to make his life have some meaning before he died–I can’t recall exactly, but I think his last words included, “I did this” as he pointed to all the people he safely evacuated from exploding Alexandria. But, unless the show does something totally inconsistent, and lame, Carl will die.  Will his life have meaning?  Will his death?  His future is now certain–he will either be dead or he will be lurching-dead–that’s it.  In the fictive world of The Walking Dead, millions have already met one of these two ends.

But the central question to zombie narratives is, if there is no transcendent meaning, is our existence really any different than Carl’s? Death is certainly at the end.  Perhaps we can say, “I did this.”  Is this adequate?  Is this all there is?

Don’t get mad at Gimple.  This is all our idea.

Unless, of course, there is a transcendent God in whom Truth and Meaning dwell–who Loves the world and has come to live among us to show us the way out of zombieland.

Merry Christmas

Is Atheism a Religion?

alikeI recently read an article in which the author insisted that public funds not go to support religious schools. The rhetoric in this article was very much in the “us” versus “them” vein. In essence, “their” views, that is those of the religious, are tainted with the irrational and divisive forces of faith or belief common to all religions, unlike “our” rational and unifying position which is free from dangerous subjectivity.

In the comment section someone agreed saying:

Religious indoctrination of children is nothing less than abuse, and ought not to be allowed let alone publicly funded.

What this commenter does not understand is that there is no way to raise a child without “religious” indoctrination.  Modern rationalism or postmodern relativism, which dominate much of western education are inherently “religious.” Even atheism are in a sense “religious.” So public schools are, in essence, are engaged in religious education.

I said as much in my own comment. Another commenter objected saying:

Atheism is not a religion for the same reason that bald is not a hair colour.

He is right, baldness is not a hair color, but it is a hair style.

There are two ways in which one might use the term “religious.” In one sense, atheism is not a religion–if religion is defined by religious rituals and believing in spiritual beings. In this sense, atheism is not a religion for the same reason baldness is not a hair colour. But in another very important sense, atheism is religious. The term can also refer to the guiding principles that one accepts by faith that shape ones reality and around which one organizes ones life.

These guiding principles revealed in how one might answer fundamental questions about reality. Not everyone is aware of their own answers to these questions, but their lives testify to having answered them one way or another.

Does life have meaning? If so, what is it?

Does human life have value? If so, why?

Do we have a purpose? If so why?

Does the universe have a purpose?

Is the universe friendly, hostile or indifferent?

What’s wrong with the world?

What is the solution to what is wrong with the world?

Is there a God or gods?

Every human being lives out their answer to these questions. Interestingly, many people proclaim an answer to a question, but live out another answer. The answers, stated or lived, are religious. They are religious in that they cannot be proven; they are accepted by faith.

The atheist believes that there is no God on the same, some would argue less, grounds that theists believes that there is.  Both do so by faith; neither can know it to be so.

One may chose not to use the term religion to describe this category, but it doesn’t get atheism out of the category, whatever you call it.

Baldness is not a hair colour, but it is a hair style. Atheism does not engage in religious activities that arise out of a belief in a God, but they do make unverifiable claims about reality based on faith.

There is no way we can have an a-religious education, so the government will always be funding religious education. The question now remains, which religions will they fund.

Time and Despair

Time and DespairWe modern folks have a very modern view of time.   Having emptied time of transcendence, we think of it as mere chronology or sequence. Still, this sequence can be viewed optimistically; in our culture we tend to find meaning in time in terms of human progress. But there is a darker view of time in the absence of higher things. If God doesn’t exist, are Goodness, Truth, Beauty possible? Some say no, and despair.

This is the case of Maneck in A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Time and its relationship to meaning is woven through the novel, most often through the words and musings of this young man. For instance, there is the idea that life is essentially tragic because it is embedded in sequential time:

Our lives are but a sequence of accidents–a clanking chain of chance events. A string of choices, casual or deliberate, which add up to that one big calamity we call LIFE.

Why does Maneck see life as tragic and time as meaningless? It’s because for him there is no God who is active in his creation.  He has this conversation with landlady, Dina:

‘God is dead,’ said Maneck. ‘That’s what a German philosopher wrote.’

She was shocked. ‘Trust the Germans to say such things,’ she frowned. ‘And do you believe it?’

‘I used to. But now I prefer to think that God is a giant quilt maker. With an infinite variety of designs. And the quilt is grown so big and confusing, the pattern is impossible to see, the squares and diamonds and triangles don’t fit well together anymore, it’s all become meaningless. So He has abandoned it.’

In the novel, we find reflections on the nature of time as we experience it–no minute is like another minute. Where I find this a piece of an argument for meaning in time, Maneck ends up using the same phenomenon as evidence against meaning:

What an unreliable thing is time–when I want it to fly, the hours stick to me like glue. And what a changeable thing, too. Time is the twine to tie our lives into parcels of years and months. Or a rubber band stretched to suit our fancy. Time can be the pretty ribbon in a little girl’s hair. Or the lines in your face, stealing your youthful colour and your hair. …. But in the end, time is a noose around the neck, strangling slowly.

On his return home after the spreading of his father’s ashes, Maneck sits on the porch and begins

escorting a hose of memories through his troubled mind.” His mother’s interruption of his thoughts irritated him “as though he could have recaptured, reconstructed, redeemed those happy times if only he had been given long enough.” While he sits in the deepening dusk he spies a lizard. “He hated its shape, its colour, its ugly snout. The manner in which it flicked its evil tongue. Its ruthless way of swallowing flies. The way time swallowed human efforts and joy. Time, the ultimate grandmaster that could never be checkmated. There was no way out of its distended belly. He wanted to destroy the loathsome creature.

In a world where God does not exist, or has gone far away, if we are to find meaning in time we must find it someplace else. Some will find all attempts to find meaning under these conditions impossible. They, like Maneck, may despair.

Is Atheism a Religion?

AthesismBill Maher sure doesn’t like it when religious people say that atheism is a religion.

In one sense, Maher is right; atheism is not a religion.  Atheism doesn’t have any explicit rituals or holy texts, nor does it believe in a deity.  When Maher restricts his  definition of religion to “this looney stuff” he can safely declare that “atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position.”

But if we were to broaden the definition of religion to something like–people who have faith in something that can’t be proven rationally.  Well, then it would be a little more legitimate to declare Maher a religious person because atheism is based on a belief that cannot be proven.  It requires a leap of faith to accept the claim that the whole of reality is strictly material.

A lot of discussion (argument) comes after we have agreed on this point.  For instance, we’d have to talk about upon whom the burden of truth rests, but it is important that we accept the fact that there is no belief that does not begin with a claim that cannot be proven rationally.

Maher claims it is only “idiots” who stand in the “grand intellectual tradition of ‘I know you are but what am I?'” who assert that atheism and theism are “two sides of the same coin.”  But this isn’t exactly true.  Fredrich Nietzsche, who on the continuum between idiocy and genius makes geniuses look like idiots, said exactly this.

In one sense, Nietzsche would lump Maher and the Christians who drive him crazy into the same category.  He that, just like religion, the rationalism and scientific optimism celebrated by Maher, is another attempt to set up an ideal to which we might aspire.  Maher’s transcendent ideal is an aggregate of equality, freedom of speech, science, democracy, etc.

There is nothing wrong with belief in transcendent meaning.  Nietzsche said that human beings have a hard time flourishing without something to believe in.  So it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

. . . the line between faith and reason

There are some pretty distinct lines between his “evidence based belief” and my “faith based malarkey” but it is not helpful to draw ones that don’t really exist.

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