Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical science fiction.


Silent Sky‘s Closing Night

(Written September 16)

I have a lot to say tonight, on two different subjects. It was our closing performance of Silent Sky, and yes, I do tend to gush at moments like these. Je ne regrette rien, Gentle Reader.

Part 1: On Producing Silent Sky

Producing a show this big was a first for me. In eight years of college, I don't remember ever once hearing a lecture or reading a book about how to be an executive producer. I made it up as I went, tried to follow the film model when possible and remained determined to admit when I screwed things up. I learned a producer needs to trust her or his creative team to do the creative work the way they know best; your job as the producer is to smooth the path before them and make sure the flow of money and lines of communication remain unimpeded. I learned one may argue with doubters but never with the calendar. I learned the sincerest compliment is often a paycheck. And I learned, sometimes the hard way, a path toward success for Silent Sky.

I mention that because several people came up to me tonight and expressed sincere interest in porting our production to other spaces. As tempting as that may be, I gave them as soft a no as I could manage. It's not that I don't believe anyone else should produce Silent Sky — Oh, my, no, you most definitely should. It's so important for so many reasons that this singular script become part of our regional- and community-theater canon. But not our production. No, your Silent Sky needs to be local, and it needs to be offered from your heart, and it needs something very particular to this story.

I trusted my gut on this one, and I'm so glad I did. I knew this script needed a female director. Maybe not every year, maybe, but this year for sure. Then I went further, and in so doing, I learned something crucial about Silent Sky. Since you might produce it elsewhere, I will give you that lesson for free.

Silent Sky needs women. Great women. Brilliant women. Artistas, if you will.

What you want is to find a female director with enormous skill and a big heart. It doesn't matter if she's a science geek, but it'll be helpful if she's a sister. She needs to be able, as Deane Shellman did so gracefully for us, to convey complex ideas via magical images and sounds. Then, rally female designers to what is now that director's project. I don't mean one or two female designers. I don't mean a few. I mean your entire design staff should be women. Because to this day, even in our relatively liberal field, it's still all too common to see an all-male design staff but rare to see an all-female one. The latter should be and feel no more unusual than the former. As Gunderson points out in her script, "We need a model." We need everyone who does theater to see, and on a regular basis, that talent has no gender.

The rest will take care of itself. With much stress and little sleep, perhaps, but I promise you one day during tech week you'll look up and find yourself beyond the earth's gravity. It'll happen. Enjoy the view.

Part 2: The Meaning for Me

Directing and yes, producing, it turns out, are a lot of work, especially if you do those jobs correctly and with all your heart. And why would you do a job like that any other way? The object of the game is to find that charge of electricity you felt upon first hearing or reading that story and take a good look at it. Ease it out into the light. Name exactly what hooked you, then make that hook the focus of gravity for your own production. I can't and won't speak to what hooked Deane on this story. I can only tell you what captured me. Because just as Laughing Stock was my love letter to the theater that rescued me from loneliness, just as The Credeaux Canvas was my farewell to youth, my instigation of Silent Sky should tell you something about who I am on a very deep level.

Like the heroes of that story, I find a joy in learning I'm wrong about something. It's embarrassing, sure, but yesterday I didn't know what the truth was and now I know one thing it isn't! How amazing is that? Yesterday I imposed my wishful thinking on the world; today it told me its own truth — and entrusted me with the revelation! "You were perfectly wrong," Henrietta Leavitt announces, and her colleague cries, "I was!" — not with anger, nor resentment, but happily! That's part of what I find most persuasive about the scientific method over other ways of analyzing and interpreting the world. A good scientist understands it's better to know a less-than-optimal truth than to bank on vestigial fantasies. She knows graduating from the latter to the former is a moment worth celebrating rather than grieving.

Oh, and then there's that closing monologue. I fall in love with it every time I hear it. "A telescope named Hubble," says Leavitt, "with wings set for space, shows us how vast and beautiful it all is … Because wonder will always get us there — those of us who insist that there is much more beyond ourselves. And I do." And I choke back tears every night because Gentle Reader, that is my heart being spoken from that stage, by an actor who is not me, directed by an artist who felt that truth, too. And it means I'm not the only person who takes heart from that lesson. Lauren Gunderson does. Henrietta Swan Leavitt did. And I know from all the smiling, tear-streaked faces in the theater that our idealism has touched something in a hundred hearts each night at OLT. The audience members believe in that future; they just needed to be reminded of it. Hope is not lost, my friends. We may trip over our foolishness sometimes, we humans, but we do still have a calling. We are made of star stuff, Sagan reminds us, and there is something within us that looks up into the night sky and longs to go home there again.

Yesterday a machine made by earnest minds and begrudgingly rendered tax dollars met oblivion in the atmosphere of Saturn. Along the way, though, it sent us this photo.

Look at that pixel. It's the earth-moon system. It's you and me. It's everyone, in fact; all our stuff, all our art, all our music, all our wars, all our feelings, all our corpses, all our dreams. It's a stunning reminder of our fragility, our lifelong dependence on each other, and the ocean of silence and cold in which we swim. We are not merely a species. We owe each other and the universe — call it God if you like — more than that. We aren't just family. We are one. We are one tiny dot of desperate yearning but we are infinitely precious. Intelligence is the greatest thing the cosmos has yielded to date, and something tells me ours is not the gold standard for intelligence so it behooves us to get out there and mingle with our siblings. They have much to teach us, perhaps art and stories to share with us, and heaven knows we have much left to learn.

Last night I looked through a telescope at the Andromeda Galaxy. I gazed across two and a half million light-years of intergalactic space at the waltz of a trillion stars. I imagined them accompanied by all their associated worlds. Most were barren, of course, others spattered with life so primitive it could barely be said to deserve the title. Yet I find it impossible to believe I wasn't also looking at civilizations — starfaring species, perhaps, living and dying on the whims of supernovae and calling to each other dimly across the night. We will never meet those species. Their families and ours will have passed long before our galaxies collide four billion years from now; our sun will, in fact, be in the process of puffing itself up for a turgid, crimson swan song. All of that knowledge, all our music and art and beauty and emotions, will have come and gone long before that collision. So will theirs. Life is precious. Intelligence is a gift. Like all beautiful gifts, it comes with a responsibility to cherish and protect it.

The trick, I think, is not to waste energy seeing God as other earthlings do. We have a valueless tendency to lasso God down to our level, make him fallible and petty and vindictive like ourselves. It's a shame we ever feel that drive to domesticate the ineffable. No, I think the path forward is to see the earth as God does: a pixel in the whirlwind, a sputtering spark in a vast, frozen darkness, an embryo of life in the worthy throes of struggling to be born.

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3 Impossible Questions

Given that it's mentioned in the Fishnapped! program, I believe I can safely announce this now: A play I'm in the latter stages of writing, called 3 Impossible Questions, will be the fourth play in Olympia Family Theater's next mainstage season. It adapts fables from all over the Islamic world and introduces Western audiences to a beloved figure in many of those countries: Mullah Nasreddin. Nasreddin is a sort of wiseacre imam who teaches via riddles and paradox. I compare him to Bugs Bunny in American popular entertainment. For folks who think of Muslims as humorless, especially with respect to questioning Islamic beliefs and traditions, his popularity will come as a shock; but he appears in comic books, TV cartoon shows and bedtime stories all over the world.

I've had a wonderful time getting to know Mullah Nasreddin (as I also spend time with the congregants at the Islamic Center of Olympia), and I look forward to helping introduce him to you. This show will be directed by Ted Ryle, and it's my debut as a full-length, professional playwright. (I've had short plays produced in four states.) Look for exact dates and audition notices as we get closer to Questions' early-2018 run, insha'Allah.

Incidentally, my Muslim friends know I'm agnostic and are absolutely fine with it. One of them, in fact, likes to introduce me to other congregants at the mosque as "Christian...who isn't one."

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Mistaken Identity

When I was a teenager, I had an experience that most of you haven't. I realized over the course of a few years that everybody who loved me was wrong about pretty much everything.

I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. I was taught the tenets of that religion, along with its view of history and science, along with abstinence from politics, along with a distrustful view of humanity, by people who cared about me deeply. Those people weren't deliberately filling me with b.s. They thought they were telling me the truth. When Witnesses come knocking on your door, thereby annoying you in the middle of a college football game, they think they're potentially saving your life. I know because I thought so. I didn't want to "go in service." I felt I had to...for you. And no matter how passionate an argument I could muster at the time from my encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible, I was wrong. So was Mom. So was Dad. So were most of my authority figures.

So think about that. Put yourself in my shoes. Imagine learning everything you believe, everything you stand for, is a fraud. Perpetrated by whom, you ask? I don't know. I've often wondered about that. I suspect even the Witnesses' Governing Body in Brooklyn thinks it's telling its flock the whole truth. Maybe the fraud is in our own minds. We believe what sounds good to us, regardless of logic or evidence to the contrary. Are your beliefs so different?

The thing is, that experience changed me. It made me skeptical of concepts that sound too good to be true. Now I can't watch a single TV commercial without picking away at its promises.

Most of you have never dealt with this moment, at least not to the degree that I have. So for you, identity is everything, and by that I mean the identity you were given by Mommy and Daddy and the community in which you were raised. If your father was a Baptist, you're probably a Baptist. If your uncles were Democrats, you're probably a Democrat. If you're a Star Wars or Seahawks fan, your kids will probably wear those T-shirts before they learn half a dozen words. You've changed, sure, but only in superficial ways. And that's okay, generally speaking. It's good to be part of a community. It's good to know where you came from, to start your life armed with a preinstalled template.

Except here's the thing: sometimes the people who love us make mistakes. And sometimes, and this happens more often than we realize, the truth moves away from what it used to be. As a culture, we learn things. People my age can look back and see a time when racism and homophobia were ubiquitous on a level that makes most millennials queasy. It's not that we were awful people. It's that we just didn't know any better. I myself am a reformed homophobe, and I'm so glad I saw the light before most Oklahomans. But we didn't own magical Palantiri to help us see into the future--nor do you. The day may come, for example, when group or short-contract marriages are the norm, and our progeny will look back and wonder why we Generation X-ers were so keen to marry for life. They'll wonder how you could ever have bought tickets to SeaWorld or eaten the flesh of a mammal. Who knows? We aren't prophets, you and I, and always in motion is the future.

My grandmother was a staunch Democrat till the day she died. Y'know what, though? The Democratic Party she signed on for wasn't the Democratic Party of the 21st century. The Democratic brand in the mid-'60s included racist doctrines you and I now consider appalling. But my grandma, who, let's face it, came from a deeply racist Oklahoma tradition, never switched her party allegiance. She considered her party membership a key element of her identity as a person--regardless of what it meant from year to year.

So why am I writing about this now?

Each of us has a feeling of identity, a core group of ideas and values we consider our "self." Once we have it, we don't think about it often. An identity thief steals our Social Security and credit card information, but he never actually steals our identity. That stays with us like childhood inoculation scars. I'll give you a personal example. Right around the time I left the Witnesses, theatre became a huge part of my life. Three decades later, it's an aspect of who I am in my own mind. If you ask me, I'm a writer who acts and directs and loves his wife and Star Wars and a core group of family and friends. That's not all I am, obviously, but it covers about 80%. You could banish me to a faraway prison and if I escaped in five years, I would still be all those things. Did the uninspiring Star Wars prequels dent my fandom? Not one bit. Does my wife's snoring make me love her any less? Don't be silly. If I go two years without having a great time on stage, does it keep me from auditioning? Well, I've been through spells like that, and apparently not.

Should it? Therein lies the rub. I don't know the answer to that question. Some years I ask myself that question very pointedly. When I do, my mind yells back at me: Carv, if you aren't a theatre person, then what the hell are you? Who are you? Why are you even important? And that's a debilitating thought. It can sweep away reason. It can make us do and say things other people may look at and rightly evaluate as foolish and/or insane.

I'll give you another example. For most Americans, the Bible is a book of peace and the Koran is a book of bloodshed. That's just something we, you'll pardon the expression, take on faith. Now, I freely admit I don't know jack about the Koran, but I do know the Bible. And if you can look at the books of Deuteronomy (2:34, 3:6, 7:2, I could go on) or Joshua (6:21, 10:40...) and not see that Yahweh is a god who favors genocide as a method of acquiring preferable real estate, then you own one liberal translation. Read Hosea 13:16 and tell me Yahweh is a god of love, forgiveness and compassion. Tell me he's a god who loves life. Read Exodus chapters 21 and 22 and tell me he's a god who loves women. Because I can promise you this: if you had never read the Bible or had any emotional attachment to it prior to adulthood, and I asked you to sit down and read the Bible cover to cover, you'd be outraged that anyone could revere it an ethical guide. I mean, sure, there are great verses, too. I bet you know some of them by heart. But they don't paint a representative picture of the so-called Good Book as a whole. This is a book in which Yahweh told us ten moral rules were so important we could treat them as the sum of all moral behavior. And did "slavery is wrong" make the list? How 'bout "races who look unlike you are still people?" Or "stop beating your kids?" Nope. "Sex slavery is wrong?" Huh-uh. Know what did make the list? "No more sculpture." This is also a moral guide that frequently reminds you to throw rocks at your gay friends until they fall over dead. It's a book that claims Yahweh decided to kill us all, first one at a time, then with a global flood, then concocted a plan to make it stop--which, for some reason, required him to kill his own son. Oh, and by the way, death hasn't stopped. It's been two thousand years and counting, and earthquakes are still dumping church roofs on babies. But what a wonderful plan!

Now, I tell you all this knowing most of you will find ways to rationalize it away. And you'll do that, not because it makes any sense, frankly, but because Christianity is a part of who you are. It's a part of your identity. And very likely, it will be for the rest of your life. You might change churches or stop going altogether, you might accept the scientific fact of evolution, you might campaign for gay rights, but you'll go to your grave thinking this world would be a better place if more people just followed the Bible. Not read it cover to cover with a clear mind, of course--don't be silly. Simply followed it, meaning the verses we already know and like. We're about identity here, not homework!

I've never been shy about talking about religion, sex and politics--the socially awkward trinity we've been told to avoid in conversation. Screw that. I know what the weather looks like. I'm not here to belabor the obvious. That stuff bores me. But when I talked about these things, for years I went about it all wrong. I presented my arguments rationally, like we were in court and I was trying to send your most cherished ideas to logic jail. I'll be honest, I still try that sometimes. I can't help myself. If it annoys you, I apologize. If this essay has already gotten on your nerves, mea culpa. But I do try to learn from my mistakes, and I've realized in recent months that a lot of what you believe, you believe because it's part of who you are. It's part of your identity. If I tell you the Bible is a collection of short books written over hundreds of years by people who had no concept of physical or sociological reality and knew less about God or morality than any of us, I'm also telling you that your parents lied to you. I'm telling you that when you played cowboys and Indians when you were a kid, the Indians should actually have been the good guys. I'm telling you Jesus isn't coming to save you from the big D. I'm telling you neither "real men" nor "real women" have a divinely approved set of characteristics, which means you're not necessarily a "real" man or woman. I'm telling you Grandpa was a dummy about how nonwhites and women should be treated. I'm telling you Granny taught you methods of cooking guaranteed to make you fat. I'm telling you all those things, those vital contributing factors to your identity, those people who loved you and took care of you when you were sick and brought you nice things on Christmas, were all chock full of crap. And since that's clearly an awful thing to tell any human being, I must be wrong so all of them can be right--and so you can be right. It's vitally important that you and your loved ones be right about everything. Right? Because if someone else is right--especially a mean son of cultists like me--then what the hell is left for you to be?

My point is, I have to be careful when framing my arguments about these topics that I don't disrespect your identity and background. Because the truth is I value those things. I appreciate the countless hours my own mother spent teaching me how to be a better Witness. I thank my father for the snarky sense of humor he bequeathed upon me, though it often gets both of us in trouble--including with each other. I'm thankful to every teacher who taught me "all right" is a word and "alright" isn't, despite the fact that both are now okay in most dictionaries. I love the elder who changed my life by responding to one of my myriad pesky questions with the sincere claim, "Sometimes it's best not to speculate"--because that's the moment I realized it was absolutely necessary for human beings to speculate. Those moments built me. They're my own identity. And no matter how far I roam from McAlester and Crowder, Oklahoma, they'll be down there in my cellular nuclei, defining how I approach the world and my responsibilities to it.

We have come to a time in American history when the Republican Party, an organization that ostensibly represents a full half of our electorate, is in catastrophic disarray. That's a fact. I say it, not to gloat, but to find a way forward. And it's not just the Trump thing. We're also reaching the end of a period in which several Republican governors had the opportunity to follow the Republican platform to the letter in their states. Thus, we've been able to see, once and for all, whether those ideas pan out--and they don't. Those states are now bankrupt. Their educational systems are falling apart. As one of my Republican friends said of Oklahoma's political debacle, "We are basically in budget cut Hell out here," adding, "Thanks for my $30 per year tax cut and my kids' tears."

I'm not saying Democrats are better people. In no way am I saying we progressives have all the answers and ha ha ha, in your face. I'm saying good people had idealistic notions of how to run a government, but those turned out to be wrong. It'd be easy for us to go down in flames with those ideas because we can't admit our identities were flawed. It'd be easy to think, "I can see things are collapsing around my ears, and my kids don't have classroom supplies and the rest of the country is rolling its eyes at us, but I intend to stay loyal to Republican ideas and legislators because those are Republican ideas and I'm a Republican like my daddy before me and if I'm not a Republican, then who the hell am I?"--at which point there's a smell of fried circuitry in our brains and our vision gets blurry and we have to lie down for a while.

As we speak, the sole Republican candidate for president is a reality TV clown, a living parody of billionaire boobism. Working people feel shafted by the system, as well they should; but they've responded by rallying behind a vulgar tycoon whose tag line is, literally, "You're fired." They long for a return to Christian fundamentalism, yet they've voted for a non-churchgoer who said "Two Corinthians" at a Bible college. Donald Trump has never held political office, never served in the military, never learned how to compromise in a divided system, and never did anything for anyone but himself. He claims to be a uniter but called Megyn Kelly a "bimbo." I know the vast majority of Republicans see through his fools' gold facade. I know they do. But many will still vote for him--because there's an R by his name, and R's vote for R's, and that's just how these things are, because identity. I mean, what are they supposed to do, vote for a D? Stay home on R Day? Are you kidding?

My friends, identity can be a wonderful thing, but it is currently making us very, very stupid.

We fight tooth and nail against reasonable restrictions against guns, because we're gun people and you not-gun people shouldn't be attacking our identity as gun people. I mean, sure, some kids die in a school shooting each week, but I don't see myself as a bad person so somehow my complicity in that doesn't matter.

We refuse to admit gay people are people because we're straight people and it's part of our identity as straight people to look down on gay people. I mean, we say we love the sinner and hate the sin, but actually we refuse to acknowledge that being gay shouldn't be a sin because we're Bible people and we Bible people think gay people are sinners and if we're wrong about that, well, let's just not even go there.

We deny evolution because science people are nerd people and they're mean to us, I mean they act so superior, just because they studied anthropology and we didn't. And quit reminding us we were half-awake in science class, nerds! We're Bible people and who asked all you knowing-stuff people anyway!

We take an all-or-nothing stance on abortion because the way we feel about abortion was fed to us by people who love us, and this is babies and femininity and motherhood we're talking about so you know we can't be swayed by emotion or paranoia.

Folks, we have to take a good hard look at our issues of identity. It's long past time. Just because you were told some things in childhood by people who love you doesn't mean those good people were right about every single thing. And even if they had been, the world changes. We learn things. There's no good way now, for example, to argue climate change is a hoax. There's no world in which it's okay for Donald Trump to call Mexicans rapists and then claim he loves Mexicans because he ordered a taco salad. There's no way he wasn't screwing with us when he referred to 9/11 as "7-Eleven" in New York. That is not a mistake people make, especially adults who speak English and live and work in Manhattan. Trump is playing us for fools, and he's winning. There's no way the Republican Party can be said to represent everyday working people. You want to talk about Democrats? Fine, let's do that. I also think we picked the wrong candidate. And y'know why we did that? Because we couldn't expand our identity to include democratic socialism fast enough to take Sanders seriously. We went with the establishment candidate, because that candidate looked more like a D and we're D people and that's just what D people do.

Well, I for one am through feeling chained to my identity. I can grow. I can learn. And so can you. In fact it seems to me that cutting loose from what Mommy and Daddy told us with loving smiles on their faces is the only way any of us can move forward. The key to making America great isn't making it what it was. That country was only great to a select few. We make America great by making it inclusive and receptive and progressive and reasonable and above all, optimistic--not fearful. Let's be better than we have been. Let's be better than our parents and grandparents were. Let's build new and richer identities together. Can we do that? Can we please just try harder to do that?

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The Life of the Dead

"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living."--Marcus Tullius Cicero

The mother of some of our dearest friends passed away this morning, and it's kicked me down the lane. Of course, I'm only experiencing a fraction of a fraction of the grief her family is undergoing, and it'd be wrong of me to interject myself into their catastrophe. I don't want to do that. What I can tell you is it's reminded me of people I've lost, and that I've reached the age at which, as a character in the Indiana Jones fourquel says, "life stops giving us things and starts taking them away." I feel a breath of the loss Amanda and I will feel when our own parents are gone. I'm reminded of how close we came to losing my brother to that odious murderer, cancer, the same monster that stole another cherished life this morning. I feel heavy with mortality. It's the heaviness of winter and sorrow.

When my stepfather died, everyone wanted to tell us they were praying for us. I knew what they meant. They meant they were thinking about us and feeling the same helpless peripheral emotions I feel for my own friends today. But my stepdad was not a churchgoer. I'm not sure he ever had been. He believed in God, I think, but in much the same way he believed in Elvis or Steve McQueen. Like Han Solo, he felt the safest religion was a good blaster at your side. And if it strikes you as obnoxious that I've already quoted two popcorn movies in this meditation, well, get ready to hate me even more, because my own religion dwells mostly in theaters--in the hush of an opening curtain, the incense of butter on popcorn, the held breath between an emotional gut punch and applause. I must be true to it now. I must explain where it leaves me on the subject of mortality, and for that, I must also implore your forgiveness.

I've written before on the subject of the human soul. I don't believe some invisible ghost drives my body from the great beyond, nor do I believe I'll look down on you from heaven after my inevitable fourteen-car pile-up. But I do think we are more than our substance. We're told by the Internet, incorrectly, that our cells are replaced every seven years. In fact, some of our cells (sperm and colon cells, for example) last mere days. The neurons in our brains, however, last for decades, and if one of them dies, it is not replaced. But I still think it's true that everything about us changes, minute to minute, all the time, and one can never step in the same river twice. So as I go through my years, feeling much the same as I did at age twenty, even as the mirror reminds me over and over again that I'm someone older and dumpier, I have to wonder what it is about us that makes us US. I feel comfortable calling that configuration of neurons and data my soul. I don't know how that works. I don't think anyone does. But I know what I am has expanded to include all my writing, stories about me, my reputation, my friendships, the impact I had on people's lives, and so many other things I may not even consciously know about. And I am sure those things will outlast me. Not forever, I know, but dear God, I can't say I'm that greedy.

George Lucas says, and I have no reason to doubt him, that when he first wrote about the Force he was trying to find some common denominator between all the world's major religions. I think that Venn-diagram nexus is a wonderful place to seek divinity. And when Ben Kenobi faces death, he says, "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." In Star Wars parlance, we say he "becomes one with the Force." Then, of course, he turns into a kind of internal Oprah for a while, whispering life advice into Luke's ear and retconning the story of Anakin Skywalker's demise. Well, whatever. The point is this: we are already more powerful than we can possibly imagine. We have expanded beyond our physical volume. We are in other people, right now, and they are also in us. The Force is created by our lives. It surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. And I understand that now, in a less woo-woo way than I absorbed it when I was twelve. Now, some people hang onto a literal doctrine of souls their whole lives, and honestly, who the hell am I to judge them for that? But I don't need the New Jerusalem anymore. I don't need to believe my absent loved ones are waiting for me in some gated retirement community in the sky. What I need is to take a quiet moment, and I do, more often than most people know, to feel their echoes in the person I've become.

What I'm trying to say is I know I'll be meeting you again, Mister...I'm sorry, what was your name again? "Is it about the hedge?...It's a 'Mister Death' or something; he's come about the reaping? I don't think we need any at the moment." I know there are massive blows waiting in my future, blows that will gouge me in ways I can't possibly predict. I guess it's possible that Ray Kurzweil & Co. are right about the singularity and uploading me into the cloud, but if that's pie-eyed bunk, which it probably is, I'm over halfway to my own fateful moment. And I know some of you think that must make me a deeply unhappy, unsatisfied, un-spiritually-fulfilled person, but I must beg to differ. The truth is I feel the wonder and majesty and beauty of life more often, more profoundly, more insistently than I can possibly tell you. We are animal flesh, but we are not merely animals. We are solo acts, but also part of a choir. We are loved and WE ARE LOVE. We are the people we love. They are us. And cells are born, and cells die, and neurons wither, and where the hell are my keys? And when all is said and done, we are not said and done. Our echoes call to others through time. We are one with the force of human life, and we don't close the show just 'cause some stupid interloper turns out the lights.

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Science Mike

Star Wars, Episode VII (or, as Saturday Night Live called it, Star Wars and the Four Jamaicans) opens one week from tonight! If you haven't taken the time to swing by a Verizon store and grab their free Google Cardboard "hardware," and downloaded the Jakku Spy feature from the Star Wars app, you should. It's incredibly cool, and all free! That saves you hundreds of dollars on the cost of an Oculus Rift, while allowing you to experience one of the burgeoning technologies featured in Mr. Klein's Wild Ride. As for me, I'll be parked in front of Regal Cinemas in Lacey next Thursday, then at the Seattle Science Center IMAX on Friday. I've also been scarce on social media to avoid spoilers, so wish me luck! Er...the Force. Whatever.

If it seems I've been scarce around my own website as well, you're not wrong. I've been overwhelmed with work and kinda-work these last few months. I'm not complaining; every assignment helps. I was hired by an educational game company to work through Halloween, but that job was extended three times and will continue through at least January 18th. I've also done paid acting work for Joint Base Lewis-McChord, two radio interviews, the Creative Colloquy Volume Two release party, and further prep for Credeaux Canvas. Consequently, writing for fun--or even to promote my published writing--has largely fallen by the wayside. That won't last forever, but it also won't change much over the next week. With what little free time I had remaining last week, I followed friends' suggestions and played through Valve's Portal. Yep, that's me, a cutting-edge gamer from eight years ago.

Mostly I want to recommend the work of a guy named Mike McHargue, aka "Science Mike." I looked him up on the advice of my brother- and sister-in-law, and boy, did they fit the speaker to his audience and vice versa. If you've enjoyed my lines of questioning on this site in the past, particularly my nonfiction efforts on Rereading the Bible, then prepare to meet your new obsession. Like me, Science Mike was raised in a fundamentalist Christian religion but struggled to reconcile his growing understanding of scientific naturalism. Like me, he discovered moral conflicts between himself and his sexist, homophobic denomination. Like me, he made the change to atheism in early adulthood. Unlike me, however, he changed back--not to fundamentalism, but to a humanistic Christianity that reveres the Bible without believing every word of it. We differ in only one respect: he think it's somewhat more likely that God exists than that he does not, while I think it's slightly less likely (while still acknowledging the strong possibility of a deist or otherwise hands-off definition of a Creator). He knows more about science than I do, especially computer science. He claims a subjective experience of God I do not, yet admits anecdotal evidence shouldn't convince any other rational person to believe. I find him fascinating. I love what he does, and it offers a safe path for Christians who can no longer accept the fundamentalist notions of their parents or peer group but still wish to seek Jesus's nature in their lives.

Give him a shot, won't you? He's at I've been devouring his podcast over the last twelve hours as I worked and worked out. From where I sit, the world could use a whole lot more Christians (and other religious truth-seekers) just like him.

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A Straight Meditation on National Themes, Part 1

Unless you're an actor, it's probable you know nothing about Tony Kushner's landmark 1993 play Angels in America (though you may have caught the HBO miniseries version). Angels sounds like the kind of show you'd find at a Baptist theme park. It is not. Theatre folk revere this multiple Tony winner, but it's both arduous to stage and off-putting to elderly, conservative audiences, so most companies shy away from producing it. Oh! I should also mention it's divided into two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, each of which is three hours long. That's a long sit, especially when characters are rambling on about government and "power to the people." So why do we in the acting and directing games adore it so much?

A key element of the play is gay Americans' struggle for acceptance in the 1980s, as a viral plague ravaged their community while amplifying the phobias of heterosexuals. I've told the story before of how a visit to a drag club, and a list of names read there of the recently deceased, won me over once and for all to the side of righteousness--meaning I am a straight ally. That night in, I think, 1991 was a game-changer for me. It put the lie to everything I'd been told about homosexuality by my Christian elders while injecting harsh reality and urgency into the AIDS crisis. Five years later, I found myself playing Louis in an SIU-C production of Angels in America, Part 1. I auditioned in hopes of earning the part of Roy Cohn, a thinly fictionalized incarnation of the very real attorney at the heart of the Red Scare and marginalization of gay citizens. Cohn died of what he called "liver cancer," in actuality HIV, in 1986. Instead I got Louis, who has many more lines and is openly gay and is also kind of a bastard himself, in that he begins an affair even as his longtime boyfriend disintegrates from HIV infection.

We heterosexual folks who love theatre spend our lives working side by side with gay men and lesbians. We love them as family. They're part of us. So when we hear about legislators, to this very day, working overtime to curry favor with Fox News viewers by yanking hard-won rights away from those we love, it destroys us on a gut level. We embrace Angels in America because it articulates, in so many ways, a cause we view as embedded in our cells. Its characters demand equality, from God and other humans, as opponents close ranks around them. This play is the Marseillaise to our war: "C'est nous qu'on ose méditer de rendre à l'antique esclavage! Aux armes, citoyens!"

But if I'm being honest, even as the justice of our cause swelled my chest, I was uncomfortable rehearsing as Louis. I'd never kissed a man before, and I'd certainly never mimed sexual activity with my pants down before hundreds of people. The play is still shocking to conservative audiences, but man; in 1996, in Bible-belt southern Illinois, patrons' outrage--yes, I know the word outrage is vastly overused, but I stand by it here--nearly set the room on fire. I had to confront and get over my own hangups and prejudices, then face the collective displeasure of six hundred people a night. There were letters to the editor. People were assigned to walk actors to their cars. It was crazy. And I know it changed at least one life...mine.

Fast-forward 22 years to tomorrow at 7:55 p.m., when I'll walk on stage, finally, as Roy Cohn in an Olympia Little Theatre production of Angels in America directed by Nic Olson. We're presenting Millennium Approaches this first week, then Perestroika the second. It's a staged reading, meaning we actors will have books in our hands, but I think even OLT was surprised by the level to which this staged reading has been produced. It's fully blocked, costumed, lit, and sound-designed. There's a rudimentary set, complete with levels and special effects. To facilitate fight, love, and sex scenes, we've memorized certain pages. We studied Aramaic, French, Hebrew and medical jargon. No one gets naked, but we would've if asked. At the risk of implied condescension, I can't imagine how OLT could've asked for or gotten a smarter, more dedicated, talented cast. Kudos, for example, to Austin Lang, who's playing Louis; he's made choices I wish I'd been clever enough to make at SIU. I think what audience members get from this show is 85-90% of a fully-staged production, and remember, that's over six hours of theatre. Not too shabby!

If, that is, we get an audience. I haven't made too big a deal of the show up till now, because frankly, some of my readers won't want to see it. If, for example, you oppose gay marriage, this show isn't for you. Gay marriage wasn't a remote possibility when Angels was written, but the absolute rightness of it underlies every word. If the sight of two men kissing gives you the squeams, then, again, this show isn't for you. I suspect the 21st century won't be, either. If you can't abide swearing--I say words in this I wouldn't call my worst enemy--or seeing me play a horrible person--absolutely the worst I've ever played, by the time Perestroika gets through--then please stay home. Save your eight bucks a night. I mean, maybe this'd be a great learning experience for you, but frankly, you seem like the kind of person who avoids those. Not my problem. If you love to be challenged, however, to be wildly entertained by the hugest of emotional arcs at the climax of the Eschaton itself, then I damn sure know what you should put on your calendar.

It's different doing this show now, not just because I'm playing Roy instead of Louis. The world has changed in so many wonderful ways over the last two decades, some of which allowed it to mature in ways that helped it catch up with the play. My friends helped make some of that happen. One of our professors at ECU, Mary Bishop (now Bishop-Baldwin), was a driving force in legalizing gay marriage in Oklahoma. The cool theatre senior who lived next door is now a different sex altogether, which makes her one of three transgendered people on my Facebook friends list. Again: not part of our collective reality in 1996. Each day, the fight for equality is taking place in everyone's neighborhood, on TV and in social media, and the good guys and gals are finally winning. On the theatre side, no more do we see open homophobia in newspaper reviews. Actors are expected to be fully comfortable performing gay characters, including same-sex physical contact. It's part of our lives now. And y'know, once that period of uncertainty and yes, discomfort, passed, it freed people like me to understand that Angels in America has a much bigger theme than even the securing of equal rights for all our fellow Americans. It's about what it means to be a country itself. What is the point of all this? What are we trying to accomplish? How do we move ahead, and toward what, when we haven't decided what our guiding principles are? No, God isn't dead, but He also isn't president. He doesn't tell us which legislation to pass. The books He allegedly wrote seem decreasingly relevant to our daily lives, not because we're all fallen sinners, but because they predate modern science or humanistic ethics (or, in the case of the Torah at least, Euclidean geometry). In other words, while God continues His two-thousand-year history as a deadbeat dad, how and, as significant, why do we conduct our civilization? Those are vast questions. In some ways, six hours of drama isn't enough to scratch the surface, but Kushner's attempt at doing so is comparable to Shakespeare's meditations on the human condition in Hamlet. It doesn't get any bigger or better.

So that's the outline. I'll have more to say about our experiences with Angels, and in more of an anecdotal fashion, next week. In the meantime, wish us broken legs. Let us know what you think of our show. It'll be interesting, for both us and you.

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“It was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if you open it and read it, you don't have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don't have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or sold, or bought, or read.”--Philip Pullman

“Government has no right to hurt a hair on the head of an Atheist for his Opinions. Let him have a care of his Practices."--John Quincy Adams

“Because if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you've already lost.”--Neil Gaiman

“Most people do not really want others to have freedom of speech, they just want others to be given the freedom to say want they want to hear.”--Mokokoma Mokhonoana

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”--George Orwell

“If there's one American belief I hold above all others, it's that those who would set themselves up in judgment on matters of what is 'right' and what is 'best' should be given no rest; that they should have to defend their behavior most stringently....As a nation, we've been through too many fights to preserve our rights of free thought to let them go just because some prude with a highlighter doesn't approve of them."--Stephen King

“Free speech means the right to shout 'theatre' in a crowded fire.”--Abbie Hoffman


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A Happier, Sexier Me

"Just once after a checkup, I'd like my doctor to look up from her clipboard and say, 'Well, Mr. Carvajal, it says here you''"--a joke I've made at least a dozen times

My father-in-law made a crack after my last post that Carv's Thinky Blog was less agnostic than antagonistic. I know he meant that remark as a good-humored play on words, but it nestled in my head the wrong way. Is that what I've become, I thought--a constant adversary? Am I a killjoy? Does this blog do any good at all, or does it simply poke fun at its readers for cherished beliefs? I think it's important to ask myself these uncomfortable questions once in a while, just as I think it's important for you to confront why you believe what you do. We could all be wrong about anything or everything. It's a discouraging fact of life, but acknowledging it makes us smarter, maybe even better people.

I do my best to weigh seriously any argument presented to me. If I say something disparaging about Genesis, please understand I've actually studied Genesis in microscopic detail (Rereading the Bible, copyright 2011), so I've probably considered any objection one could raise in its defense. If not, I want to know where I've gone wrong. That's why I've always welcomed rational debate on any point, even as I did my best to keep things mutually civil and respectful. I'm not trying to make anyone unhappy, including me. Over the past few weeks, I've thought a great deal about why I write the way I do and why these subjects fascinate me so. Like many of you, I was raised in a fundamentalist religion. It's part of me. It's an element of my morality and the way I process information. But for all the bad days and inhibited social development, I'm not mad at my religion. I'm not mad at your religion or at you for having it. I don't think less of you for believing in God, even the Biblical Yahweh. I don't share your belief, but I'm friends with people who don't care for Star Wars (the closest thing I have to a religion) and we get along just fine so I know it can be done.

There was a time--and y'know, it may have lasted decades--when I felt a thrill of superiority while arguing with Christians. It gave me a charge to think I knew more than the person to whom I was talking. "You hold this book sacred," I'd think to myself, "yet you know almost nothing about it." And while that may have been true, it wasn't the whole or important truth. I know nothing about auto repair, for example, and while that does cost me money, it doesn't make me a less respect-worthy person. So I'm over all that, I promise you I am. It's a phase every apostate goes through, and it might even be necessary in the face of all the tugging and hostility and guilt trips we receive from people close to us. Our superiority buffers us against isolation. I don't need it anymore. My life is rich with love and friendship, as it has been for years.

People ask me what I think about the upcoming debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, a Biblical creationist, at the so-called "Creation Museum" in Kentucky. My prediction? Nye will mop the floor with Mr. Ham...and still lose. The facts will be on Nye's side, every one of them, and he'll have a much better understanding of logic and evidence than Ham--yet Ham will walk away victorious. How does that work? Well, by debating Nye, Ham achieves an equal Q rating with Nye. He appears to gain equal credibility and stature. People won't pay attention to what Nye says, no matter how knowledgeable and interesting he is, but they will notice hey, kids! There's a Creation Museum! Pack the SUV! This debate elevates creationism to an altitude it doesn't deserve. It has no science to debate. It's not a working hypothesis. It's already been disproved a hundred ways. If it were true, flu shots wouldn't be necessary, nor would they work. If it were true, we wouldn't have mountains of fossils from longer than six thousand years ago. If it were true, the oldest human fossils would come from the Middle East, not Africa, and they wouldn't look simian. Should we also debate germ theory with an exorcist, or the curvature of the horizon with some yahoo from the Flat Earth Society? Gimme a break.

But evidence doesn't matter in this debate. You've read mine. Some of you have read every word of it. So have I changed one mind? Nope. I have not. Not through this blog or my book, anyway. The evidence is all on my side, but that doesn't matter. I've realized something these last few days, to a degree I may have never understood it before. The fact is, most of us don't believe what we believe due to evidence. That's a secondary concern. We didn't weigh all the data in college and come to an informed, adult decision; we decided as children. We believe because we like the promised outcomes of our belief. You may know somewhere deep down in your mind that the Adam and Eve story is a preposterous myth; you may even park it in some vague Heisenberg uncertainty zone in your brain next to Heaven, Hell, the Devil, Noah's Deluge, and the non-subjective value of prayer. But for all practical purposes, you'll go on believing in Genesis because if you do, you've been told you'll live forever and make God super proud of you and earn jewels for a crown in Heaven. And that's a pretty great deal! I can see why you'd be reluctant to give that up. The feeling of superiority I got in place of all that was by no means sufficient reason to change my mind. What happened instead was this: I stopped believing in my rewards for belief. I could no longer convince myself the Cosmos was going to cough up those goodies. It started to seem arrogant of me to even expect such wonderful treatment. Why me, not a porpoise or octopus? In the grand scheme of things, was I really so much more intelligent or moral than a dolphin or bonobo?

In this regard, I think I had an advantage many of you did not. Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in the immortality of the soul, so I never did. They don't believe most believers go to Heaven. They don't believe anyone goes to Hell. And they emphasize the eternal perfection of God's wonderful plan (you know, that strategy wherein the only way Omnipotent God can end sadness and mortality is by killing His own son and then waiting for thousands of years), and that doctrine kinda got in the way of believing I could change Jehovah's perfect, eternal plan by asking nicely. So the Witnesses offered little, to me at least, in the way of self-serving rewards for devotion. Instead, they offered the charge of being right: morally right, and, more importantly, intellectually right. I felt pride, that most Christian of sins, in knowing I knew more about the Bible than other Christians. So when I found out I wasn't right at all, any reward I felt went right out the window. From then on, disbelieving in all the rest was a comparatively easy step.

You, on the other hand, retain that crown in your future! Lord A'mighty...ya gotta get that crown! So even if some part of you reads this blog, or any other agnostic commentary, and thinks, "Y'know, Carv may be onto something there," you'll probably still go right on believing that stuff you learned on Daddy's knee. I've met astrophysicists who went right on believing underneath all the science they knew. I had this amazing math professor, one of the smartest people I ever met, who could talk with undeniable authority about logic and Euclidean proof and the overwhelming evidence for evolutionary taxonomy, then go right on believing Genesis's magic garden story at the very same time. She understood this was a clear example of cognitive dissonance, yet the rewards for believing the Bible overcame her comprehension. Bill Nye won't change anyone's mind. Nor will Bill Maher, nor Richard Dawkins, nor I. Even the great Carl Sagan didn't change my mind, though he certainly reinforced my changing views. The facts were there before me always, I just had to wait to see them clearly until competing rewards sorted out.

So yes, I probably will talk some more about the Bible and Bill Nye and all that wonderful stuff, but mostly because I find it interesting myself. I know you'll still believe everything you want to believe. My facts and logic represent no threat to that. We'll all stay friends, and in some ways, you'll be happier than me, because your rewards will be better than mine. It's the hook of Pascal's wager, and it's something we nonbelievers will have to accept and get over. Godspeed, my friends. Enjoy what makes you happy. Life is hard enough without me knocking jewels off your crown all the time.

Instead, I plan to make you uncomfortable a whole different way, by talking about sex more this year. One of the nice things about being an agnostic is I don't have any great reason not to do that. Fornication isn't immoral in my world. Sex is a part of life, a fun part if all goes well, and almost all my readers have sex as well so you can't exactly act like you're shocked. I recognize we've made a cultural decision not to talk about sex in the workplace, but I work mostly for myself. So as this year rolls along, this blog will shift back to its intended purpose, which was to provide a place for me to talk about and market solo writing efforts. I'm in the process of trying to sell a new book about sexuality, and I have some ideas in that regard. (Coming soon, yuk yuk yuk.)

A caveat, and I think I've said this before: don't go overboard thinking I'm revealing my own sex life when I talk about sex in general terms. If you ask me in person, I'll probably tell you anything you want to know about my own experiences. For the record, 90% of them have been great, so if you've been part of my sex life over the last twenty-something years, give yourself a pat on the back (or wherever you feel it's most appropriate). I'm not going to reveal your secrets here, though. It takes two to tango, and I can't really talk about my own history without describing other people. They didn't sign up for that, so it ain't gonna happen. If my friend Gary Klein, for example, tells you something about his life here, that's on Gary. I mention him in particular because he's the narrator of the book I'm trying to sell now, an insider's look at the Bliss Panerotic debacle on Santa Catalina Island a while back. Gary was the brand management director for Bliss, so he was there when it--well. You remember. We won't get into that now. My point is, what Gary reveals about his sexual (mis)adventures applies only to Gary, not to me or anyone on my sexual CV.

Ultimately, I just want to be as happy as I can be. Part of that is feeling artistically fulfilled, and that includes conversations about subjects I want to talk about. You can keep your weather and local sports franchise, I'm more turned on by conversational taboos like religion and sex. At age 45, I find sexuality fascinating, though not in that OMG-I've-gotta-have-it-ASAP way we feel in our twenties and thirties. Instead, sex is simply a grand essential of human nature that I find rich and revealing. Freed from hormonal desperation, I can talk about sex from an overview, like a seasoned traveler who's made hundreds of trips to London. He loves the city, sure, and he's always happy to talk about it; he just doesn't need to hop on a plane and go there right now.

Here's hoping you'll continue to find this blog worthwhile and interesting, and that you won't always feel I'm trying to put you on the defensive. If, for example, you think sex should be totally private and has no place in public conversation, then more power to you. I guess we'll see less of you here, but that's your prerogative. If you're an atheist or agnostic who loved having me out here fighting for truth, logic, and the evolutionist way, I appreciate that, too; but dude, I don't want to spend any more time working as anyone's bulldog. I'm a lover, not a fighter. I'll let Dawkins and Nye have that fun.

Let's get it on! Happy 2014, everybody!

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“Something That God Intended”

I'm sure you've all heard by now that a Senate candidate from Indiana, Richard Mourdock, is in hot water over a reply he gave during a debate this week. He was asked if he'd allow abortion in cases of rape, and he said he believes "life begins at conception" and that "life is a gift from God." All life? You bet. "I think," he continued, "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

I hesitated before including Mr. Mourdock's party affiliation here, because I wasn't sure it was relevant and I don't want to come off as partisan. Ultimately, however, I decided to note that he's Republican, largely because it follows on the heels of several ill-advised remarks from other Republicans on the topic of rape. These comments have many female and/or feminist voters wondering whether the GOP has it in for women. In states like Florida, recent polls suggest the female presidential vote leans toward Obama while the male vote leans toward Romney, so this is no minor issue.

If the GOP has, shall we say, a more traditional view of women and what makes them tick, that shouldn't surprise anyone. By definition, conservatives tend to like things the way they used to be; the only real variation is whether they want to regress to 1900, 1950, or 33 A.D. Being a woman who's Republican these days is kinda like being a black guy who's a Klansman. Now, before that enrages you, please don't misunderstand: I get why a woman might be fiscally conservative. I get why she'd oppose bloated government or a staggering deficit. I can even understand why she'd be pro-life. I just pity her for all the nonsense she has to overlook to be in her party of choice. Whether it's Henry Aldridge and Todd Akin believing a woman's uterus contains anti-rape sperm stompers, or Rush Limbaugh (what a wonderful sense of humor he has) quipping, "I love the women's movement--especially when walking behind it," or Clayton Williams advising rape victims to "lie back and enjoy it," or Jon Kyl claiming "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does" is abortion (try 3 percent), then having his office tell CNN this "was not intended to be a factual statement," you conservative women must live in permanent cringe mode these days.

So yeah, it kind of is a party thing. I tried to find equivalently stupid things Democratic candidates have said about rape but came up empty. If you know of one, please, post it below. I know liberals say imbecilic things all the time--Joe Biden is everyone's current favorite example--but not on that subject. What I will admit about liberals is we take abortion too lightly. If life did begin at conception (more on that in a moment), then abortion would be the leading cause of human death in America. It's not just some occasional thing. If you believe a day-old fetus is a person, then yeah, abortion is genocide. I can see why you'd be incensed about it.

I have to say, though, I've thought about this issue very deeply, as deeply as most in the pro-life camp. Indeed, I used to be pro-life myself, at least until well into my 20s. Without getting into specifics, it's touched my family (though not me directly) in a personal way. I've walked down a line of museum displays of zygotes and fetuses and embryos and tried to determine exactly when I believed those lumps of cells qualified as a human. I couldn't do it. It was somewhere to the right of the start and left of the end. I go around and around on this, and I don't blame anyone for being undecided about it, though I disregard any claim that life begins either at conception or the instant the baby sees daylight. That just doesn't make any sense. If you're going to say life begins at conception, why stop there? A sperm or an ovum is still a potential life; in fact, it's already alive. If you're a man who's ever masturbated or a woman who's ever menstruated, you've terminated sex cells that could've been babies nine months later. If God wanted every sex cell to become a baby, He wouldn't have created a reproductive system that blithely dispenses with so many possible lives. On the other hand, it's pretty much impossible to look at a seven-month-old fetus and not see it as an infant in training. We have to understand these issues are not cut and dry, and even well-intentioned geniuses like you and me can disagree with good reason.

Now. Back to Richard Mourdock. I want to commit liberal heresy and let this guy off the hook.


Listen, Mourdock is simply wrestling with a problem as old as religion itself, the problem of suffering. If you believe in a loving, all-powerful God Who can see into the future, eventually (say, age seven) you're going to wonder why He doesn't do something about suffering. And your authority figures, who never quite figured this one out themselves, will say something soothing about "God's will" and the "divine plan." Later, as you get older, they'll develop this argument to contend that when Jesus died, this somehow fixed the problem of suffering. Then Mom or Dad or Pastor Smith will tell you to go outside and play before you can ask the obvious question, which is why we're still suffering and dying two thousand years after Jesus died. The problem of suffering, or, to use its smartypants name, "theodicy," is an insurmountable paradox. Now, generally speaking, when scientists discover a paradox in earlier thinking, they realize somebody made a mistake. Religious people have a harder time doing that, but it still comes up surprisingly often.

Epicurus said, "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?" Or, as Archibald Macleish put it more succinctly in his play JB, "If God is God, He is not good / If God is good, He is not God." Martina McBride developed this line of thought further in her song "Anyway" (written with the Warren Brothers): "God is great, but sometimes life ain't good. When I pray it doesn't always turn out like I think it should. But I do it anyway." To ask these questions is not blasphemous; they're basically the subject of the Biblical book of Job. And hey, if you think you worry about suffering, try being a Jewish Holocaust survivor. Some of those folks gave up on the whole question of whether God is good, preferring instead to concentrate on why we should be good and leaving God to deal with His own conscience.

That's a valid response. When scientists wonder where all the time travelers from the future are or run up against the "grandfather paradox," they tend to conclude time travel is and always will be impossible. That doesn't prove time travel is impossible, of course. It may be that time travelers are here right now, disguised as insurance salesmen or TV news reporters or pedantic bloggers. Likewise, the fact that evil exists may not be sufficient disproof of a loving, omnipotent God. It just doesn't help.

So when Richard Mourdock says if a woman is impregnated by a rapist, that tragedy must be God's will, he's simply beating his head against a very old paradox, and no more nor less successfully than most Christians. Mr. Mourdock's Democratic opponent, Joe Donnelly, of course, seized on Mourdock's remarks, insisting, "The God I believe in and the God I know most Hoosiers believe in does not intend for rape to happen, ever." Well...that's debatable, actually. I know, because I'm about to debate it.

Are you familiar with the Biblical term "concubine?" Do you know what it means?'s kinda like a wife, right? Kinda, in that concubines had sex with men and Israelites (especially kings) were allowed to have lots of them. Solomon famously had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). The English word "concubine" is a popular (because it's evasive) translation of pilegesh, a word Hebrews borrowed from the Greeks. What it actually means is women who were captured or purchased to use as unmarried sexual partners. But wait, you say, that can't be right. Isn't that fornication? Well, it is, and yes, God forbade it, but only if you were a Jew who had sex with an unmarried Jewish woman. If, however, you were a Jewish man and she were a Gentile captured in battle, no problemo! Not to put too fine a point on it, many concubines were sex slaves. Consider this passage from Leviticus (25:44-46), a direct quote from Yahweh:

"As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness."

Yeah, 'cause that'd be mean.

If you want a real hair-raiser, check out Judges 19. Just read that chapter from the woman's perspective. Spoiler alert: there's a twist at the end! So that's how the Bible feels about rape: it's terrific unless it happens to Jews or your sex slave, in which case it's best to kill the victim. Who, by the way, has been your victim all along anyway, so awesome job.

The fact is, in the Old Testament at least, God is pro-rape. I know that's not a fact that's going to sit well in your head. If you doubt me, please do the necessary research. You'll find countless Bible apologists who say, well, it's all part of "be fruitful and multiply" or "some concubines were treated like wives" (as if that were a supreme privilege in the B.C. 1000s), but none who can make Leviticus 25 or Judges 19 go away. You can also find Christians who say Jesus came to negate the filthy "morals" of the Old Testament, but none who can change the fact that Leviticus 25 is a direct quote from God (see verse 1). I say again: if most Hoosiers believe in a God Who's anti-rape, then they're ignoring the fact of God-endorsed concubines in the Old Testament. They're also ignoring the questionable relationship between the Roman centurion and his "servant" (Greek pais--better translated as "catamite" or, not to put too fine a point on it, "boy sex slave") in Matthew 8. But that's okay; Jesus ignored that relationship, too. He said nothing condemnatory about it, even bringing the pais back to life at the centurion's humble request. And yippee, what a life!

I know my own way around this eternally intractable problem. After decades of thought, I concluded that if there is a God, then the Bible writers had Him/Her/It/Them all wrong. God may indeed possess cosmic power, but I see no evidence that God intervenes in the day-to-day events of our lives or preserves earthly justice. That'd be like asking a biochemist to make life in a petri dish fair. Of course, I'm not telling you what to believe. I know my opinions sound dark-hearted or devil-possessed to some of my readers. But do yours make any more sense than mine? Do Richard Mourdock's? I'm just saying maybe we should cut the poor guy a little slack. There's nothing dumb about wondering why God lets evil happen. Indeed, Mourdock's efforts at armchair theodicy put him in the company of such great minds as Russell, Voltaire, Augustine, and Leibniz (who coined the term theodicy 35 years after, oh, inventing calculus). Like many Christians, Mourdock settled on the rationale Joseph gave his murderous brothers in Genesis 50:20: "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Awwww.

Still. That Rush Limbaugh. What a dick.

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Be Excellent to Each Other

Presented below for your listening enjoyment, it's the second installment of Carv's Unpleasant Truth podcast. This time, the subject is ethical principles for agnostics, atheists, and other non-fundamentalists. Now that I've moved the podcast to PodOmatic (based on Austen's recommendation--see "What a Piece of Work Is a Podcast" below), you can comment either here or there. Feel free to share! Much obliged...

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