Welcome!

I'm James Maxey, the author of the Dragon Age fantasy series of Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed, the Dragon Apocalypse series of Greatshadow, Hush, and Witchbreaker, as well as the superhero novels Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Atheism as Faith

I am about to confess something that will drive my fellow atheists crazy: I am an atheist by faith. Many, if not most, atheist pride themselves that their ideas are based firmly in rational thought. The godless universe is a logical bit of clockwork, comprehensible and explainable through laws of nature. The god-based view of the universe is in defiance of logic and reason. It persists through emotional appeal, or perhaps unquestioned tradition, the momentum of all of human history carrying the idea of God forward despite all evidence to the contrary.

I'm not going to dispute these basic premises. I do believe that the universe is comprehensible through natural laws. I do believe that religion persists mainly through momentum. But, the key word in these sentences that can't be ignored is "believe."

I've been reading the Bible a lot lately, as research for my next novel. I've been muddling through Revelations, and have come to regard the experience as similar to the way I felt about Naked Lunch--it has some interesting images and poetry, but as a coherent narrative, it's a bit lacking. I'm not incompetent as a reader--I would actually rate myself rather proficient. I'm not a Bible scholar, but I was raised in the church--it's not like the Bible is a book I'm completely unfamiliar with. If I'm left so befuddled, I can't help but wonder how many Christians really understand the Bible from a direct reading, and how many rely on authority to interpret it for them. They don't know and understand Revelations because they've read it, but because they've been told about it by people they trust, by people they assume to be smart enough and studied enough to understand the words. Trust is often just a matter of gut. A preacher tells you that the Lord is coming soon, and the righteous shall be rewarded, and the wicked punished, and it just feels right deep in your gut. It makes sense.

Is this really so different from the way I understand science? I confess--I have no direct understanding of quantum mechanics, or relativity, or genetics. I can sit and read a book on evolution by Stephen Jay Gould and follow it with no problem--but when I actually try reading the science journals directly, I am utterly lost. I've read a dozen books about relativity, and I get the broad strokes--but, if asked to explain it to some one, I wouldn't be able to explain the actual theory--I'd be explaining the analogies and metaphors that I've read that explained the theory to me. I could talk about clocks on trains and spaceships turning on thier headlights, but if you asked me to pull out a calculator and actually start doing the math to prove Einstein grokked the universe, I'm in over my head. So, a lot of the scientific world view, I take on faith, trusting that other people have the time, energy, and brain power to truly comprehend things that are slightly above my head, yet make sense to me in my gut. The narrative of science, a world created by chance events, unfolding over almost incomprehensible scales of space and time, feels right to me. I believe it without deeply understanding it. I trust that it's possible to go to the Galapagos and study Darwin's finches, but I haven't, and I'm pretty sure I won't. Again, I trust that the scientists who have studied this are telling the truth about what they've found.

Before I get flamed by atheists, let me say that I'm not claiming that science is faith based. I know that science is full of checks and balances, peer reviews, and expiriments that prove or support the theories advanced by science. I'm just saying that when I talk about these things, I find myself appealing to authority, and using the word "belief" a lot.

And, if God can be embraced purely by faith alone, why can't atheism also be a purely faith-based choice? You can believe in faith without believing in God. At least, I believe you can.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The Art of Style

Paraphrasing James Kilpatrick from a column in today's paper:

"Nouns are the bones of language, verbs the muscle."

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Ouroboros

(Note: This post makes more sense if you read the "Entropy and Death" post beneath it first.)

So if I'm not a writer, what am I?

I am an Ouroboros. Microsoft Word scolds me with a red squiggle when I type this. You won't find the term in Webster's or American Heritage. Even the hefty OED on my bookshelf doesn't define it--although I may simply be looking under the wrong spelling. It's absence from dictionaries is a little bewildering. I'm not making this word up. If I google the term, I get 139,000 hits, and that's just under this spelling. Oroboros and Ourobouros turn up still more hits.

The Ouroboros is a symbol. It's likely you've seen it before if you've hung out in tattoo parlors. An Ouroboros is most commonly depicted as a serpent biting its tail, forming a perfect circle. One dictionary of symbols I consulted defines it as " symbolic of time and the continuity of life.” It then goes on to define it further as "the union between the chthonian principle as represented by the serpent and the celestial principal as signified by the bird." To which I can only say, "whatever."

I actually have an Ouroboros tattooed on my left shoulder. To me, it symbolizes the most central aspect of my personality--my deep, unceasing introspection. I think about things. Then I think about thinking about things. I think. It is my greatest strength and my greatest failing.

Strength: I feel that I gnaw on the bones of life. I question everything, and often I like the answers. Nothing is insignificant in my world. I once spent the better part of a day contemplating a cardboard box, utterly lost in thought. The box had held a bottle of tequila, which might explain some of the fascination. But it wasn't just a simple box--it had been folded into this origami artistry to both contain and display the tequila and the margarita mix packaged with it. A 3-d cutout of a parrot rose jutted from the side of the box, looking approvingly at the beverage mix. And I thought: Someone made this. Not just someone--a whole chain of someones. Someone dreamed of the package. Someone painted the parrot. Someone wrote the promotional copy on the back, and someone had designed the font it was typed in. Somewhere, someone had the job of taking blank cardboard and making a machine that would cut and fold and glue it into the package sitting before me. Somewhere in Mexico, someone had harvested the agave. There was a factory somewhere that made the bottles. Some chemist had created the glue that attached the labels. A vast, unseen chain of commerce and legal hoops existed to bring this bottle to the local ABC store. The ABC stores existed due to a series of historical events that nearly wrecked America. The money I made the purchase with had its own complex history. This is world through the eyes of an Ouroboros--you see the everything in anything. The world is a vast web off connections and threads that leaves me fascinated by the most trivial things. I swear, this summer, I spent several hours online reading about dust, what it is, how it forms, and how the laws that govern the dust bunnies beneath my couch also govern the formation of planets.

Weakness: I eternally walk the razor pathway of solipsism. It easy to lose sight of the world around me as I wander the world within me. I can grow so drunk in thought about a box, I forget to drink the tequila. Actual experience is shunned for the chance to think about the experience. I find myself at parties, surrounded by dozens of people, and I don't want to talk with any of them. I just want to go someplace quiet and think. I am eternally struggling with questions I will never have any hope of answering. Often, I've thought away any flicker of emotion. I have a difficult time staying angry, and an equally difficult time staying joyful. When I was a child on Christmas day, I would often think, "Is this it? Is this joy, peace, and love?" Because I couldn't tell. I believe my first marriage ended because I let these questions spiral out of control. Is this love? Do our vows mean anything? I made them in the church of God I don't believe in. I pledged eternal love, but do I even know what love is? I don't believe in eternal life, so isn't a promise of eternal love a lie? Did we marry of our own free will, or are we just puppets, dancing on the strings of biology, or culture? Is free will even possible, or am I just a mass of echoes, the mutated expectations of my parents and their parents and their parents before them? I think my first marriage crashed and burned because I asked these questions. I think my second marriage crashed and burned because I didn't ask them early enough. And I wonder--what's the point of asking questions? Do the words even have meaning? When I talk with other people, I sometimes sink into despair at the almost impossible task of even having two people agree on the meaning of the most simple words. My time spent with others can leave me even more isolated and alone. The snake curled into a circle may not have its tail in its mouth. It might have its head up its ass. I sometimes tell myself to shut up, to stop thinking, to just live my life, to simply feel and do and be. Sometimes, I succeed, for an hour or so. Then, inevitably, I'll be left alone in darkness, and the questions will return. It will surprise no one to learn I am plagued by insomnia.

Another definition of Ouroboros says its "symbolic of self-fecundation." I think this is a polite way of saying the Ouroboros has fucked itself. And, yeah, I feel pretty damned fucked at times. But then the wheel of life rolls another turn, and suddenly I feel pregnant. I'm full of life. All these thoughts have given birth to characters, to plots, to places that have never existed, to worlds that will never be. My head is full of voices and I hear the conversations of people never born--people who exist only inside me. I write down these snippets of conversations on note cards, or start describing a room I've never stepped foot in, and before I know it, I've made a story. These stories are little Ouroboros--existing only within themselves, tiny universes completely self sustained. Once I give birth to these stories, I'm always left empty. I wonder if I will ever be able to write another story, of if this was the last one. The energy of creation is always followed by a veil of exhaustion. At these, my lowest moments, when I'm too tired to resist, the voices begin again.

The Ouroboros, a circle, a wheel. I'm not a writer. But the pages accumulate as my life rolls on.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Entropy and Death

Okay, I know I've been using this blog so far to blather on about politics and religion. If you're into that sort of thing, you can skip this post, because I'm about to blather on about me.

Am I a writer? In other words, is writing vital to my identity?

Or is writing just something I do?

This question came up recently on the Codexwriter's board. Several people there answered it, with most coming down on the side of writing as vital to their identity.

I confess--the reason the question came up is because I asked it. This is a question I've been struggling with for almost 25 years. Am I a writer?

On the surface, sure. Why not? I've published a novel. I've got half a dozen books on my bookshelf that contain my words somewhere between the covers. My published works are only the tip of the iceberg, since I've written 5 novels and more short stories than I can count. I used to try to list every story I had written, and could never remember all of them, and this was years ago--the list of stories is only larger now, as is the list of stories I've forgotten.

Still, I called myself a writer long before I'd ever sold a single word. In retrospect, there was something almost desperate in my clinging to the label. If I wasn't a writer, I wasn't sure I had any identity at all. I'm not a father, or a husband, nor do I define myself by the way I earn a living. I've called myself a writer despite the fact that I barely write. Five novels over twenty five years is nothing. There are professional writers who crank out five novels in a year. It's not like I'm laboring over War and Peace sized volumes of deep meaning either. I'm writing fluff and fantasy for the most part. I set my goals low, and even then I have trouble meeting them.

About a decade ago, after my thirtieth birthday, I went to the beach with my friend Greg. It was near New Year's Day--the beach was icy cold. There wasn't a soul around. All the restaurants were closed, as were the grocery stores. We survived on chicken bouillon and a box of spaghetti left over by past residents of the condo we stayed at. Both Greg and I were recovering from recent break-ups. I'd divorced from my first wife, and had broken up with a rebound girlfriend. Greg had never married, but his broken relationship lasted almost as long as my first marriage. We weren't in the most upbeat mood. I came down with a cold early on, and spent most of my time staring out the window at the gray sky fading into the gray ocean.

Greg and I went for a walk. He talked a lot about reconnecting with the artist he had once been. Greg was fairly multi-talented--over the years, he'd been an actor, an author, a folk singer, an improv comic, and a painter. He was cursed with actually being fairly good at everything, I think, and had never settled into just one talent. He recalled how, when he first met me, I had been a more visual artist. I'd almost forgotten this, but when I entered college, my primary creative outlet hadn't been writing--it had been drawing. In High School, I had been the "art guy," doing cartoons and illustrations for the school newspaper, painting banners for the football team, and designing and working on sets for school plays. As a college freshman, I never went anywhere without a pad of paper, which I would studiously use to draw my surroundings. Yet, by my senior year, I had abandoned visual art and decided I was a writer.

Part of this was financial. Art supplies cost a damn fortune, and I was broke all through college. Part of this was ego--there were several fantastic visual artists at the college--my stuff looked like scribbles next to their work. But no one there could write worth a damn. Each year, the college published an arts magazine, awarding three prizes for stories, and in four years I won four prizes, for stories I now consider juvenile and undeveloped. I won only because the competition was so thoroughly bad, and I was moderately less bad.

One final thing that attracted me to writing was that the standards were much, much looser than they were in the world of visual arts. If you paint a picture of a dog, and people look at it and think you've painted a sheep, or a cloud, or a bagel, you might not be an artist. But poems--poems are marvelously ambiguous. Nobody knows if you've written a good poem or not. Indeed, if you wrote a poem that was popular, that people could identify with, you would be dismissed as shallow and pandering. True success as a poet seemed to be measured more by your level of obscurity. If you wrote a poem about a dog, and people thought you were writing about a bagel, this wasn't proof that you were a poor writer--it was evidence of your brilliance. No one actually makes a living as a poet any more. Other arts run the risk of financial success. It's possible (though rare) to make a living, or even become wealthy, being a great actor, or musician, painter, or novelist. Poets need never risk being judged by the marketplace. If their is no possibility of financial success, it follows that there is no risk of failure. Poetry is therefore the perfect art form. So, when I left college, I was a poet. Only later did I morph into a novelist, on the foolish hope that someone might actually pay to read my words.

Back to the beach: Greg and I had walked for miles. The wet ocean wind was blowing against us. I was wearing a sweater that I had pulled up to cover my head to protect my face from the wind. Fortunately, the knit was loose enough that I could still see where I was going. Yet, it still must have been a surreal sight, as we stopped to rest on some rocks, and Greg carried on a conversation with a headless body.

Why had I stopped drawing things?

The walk, the cold, and the near starvation diet had lowered my defenses. I answered truthfully. "I didn't have any real talent. I could draw, but it wasn't art. The real artists at the school seemed to be able to put their world view into their work. I was never anything more than a highly inefficient camera."

"And you think you do put your world view into your writing?" Greg asked.

"I try. Sure."

"So what is your world view?"

I had never actually summed it up before. But I had written novels and short stories--all had common threads. And, of course, there was my vast body of poetry. It wasn't exactly a struggle to find my overall beliefs about the world in my words.

"Things tend to go wrong," I said. "Then they get worse. And, eventually, something will kill you."

And that was it. That was everything I knew about life when I was 30 years old. We both had a good laugh.

After that, my depression and gloom lifted. I was actually rather thrilled to discover that I had a world view. I believed in entropy and death--and I believed in laughing at them.

My writing before that beach trip and my writing after are fairly easy to tell apart. The best of my earlier work wallows in the gloom and despair of living in a cold, uncaring universe. The best of my later work celebrates the boundless joy of living in a cold, uncaring universe. Year after year, I've looked into the abyss, the abyss has looked back, and we've both grinned. It's a bizarre sort of life, only borderline what you call normal. I frequently have trouble explaining myself.

So, I write. I craft tasty little prose cakes that I spike with jagged, razor sharp chocolate chips of nihilism. I write in hopes that people will read my words, and understand.

So, am I writer?

No. Not really.

To be continued....

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Natural Selection

The kite story below (which, for some reason, I can't make function as a normal link, although the link works if you cut and paste it into the address bar) is, briefly, the story of how a 7 people were killed and 100 people injured during a nationwide kite-flying festival in Pakistan. On girl had her throat cut by a kite string while riding on a motor cycle, others were electrocute flying the kites into power lines, a kid was run over chasing a kite into a road, and a couple of other folks fell off the roofs where they were flying kites. At first, I linked to this story because of my morbid sense of humor, the unexpected juxtaposition of "Seven Dead" and "Kite Festival." But, in retrospect, it fits in nicely with the thread about evolution.

A highly unscientific reader poll at World Net Daily (one of my right wing news feeds--I balance this with left wing news feeds like Buzzflash) showed less than 3% of respondents thought that only evolution should be taught. Even some very liberal minded people are swayed by the argument that "it's only fair to hear all sides of an issue." I'm actually very open to the Biblical creation story being taught in school--but it should be taught as literature, perhaps in a module on myths, not as science.

Actually, in my more radical moods, I'm in favor of ditching public education altogether. It seems like when we educate children using public funds, a committee-consensus blandness permeates the entire educational process. It seems like almost every thing you might possibly want to teach a child will trigger a protest of some sort. Any book you might want to assign, from Heather Has Two Mommies to Charlotte's Web, is going to piss off some nut job--the two mommies book will get you picketed by fundamentalist, Charlotte's Web is going to get you firebombed by some animal right's wacko that considers county fair pig judging to be an abomination comparable to a Nazi gas chamber. I don't know why every teacher in America hasn't long ago thrown up their hands and shouted, "Screw this!"--then told their various tormentors to go fly a kite.


Monday, December 13, 2004

Seven Dead at Kite Festival...

www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,8696545%5E1702,00.html

Was Darwin Wrong?

Last month's National Geographic had as their cover the question, in large type, "Was Darwin Wrong?" You turn to the article, and in even larger type, the answer is "No." Sadly, I am certain not one person will be swayed by this article. A century of ever building evidence hasn't convinced most people, so this one article certainly won't do the trick.

As mentioned in my Jack Chick posts, there are a lot of people in this world who find the whole notion of evolution to be absurd. The strange thing is that these people aren't some tiny minority, as rare and easily dismissed as flat-Earthers. I've seen polls showing as many as half of all Americans believe in creationism. (If you want, you can dig through this article for the relevant numbers--sorry I couldn't find an easy table for reference http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/bishop_19_3.html ) President Bush doesn't believe in evolution (this may be apocryphal, I don't have an actual quote on tape of him saying Darwin was a fraud). Local school boards all around the country are infested with people who want to do away with teaching evolution. This isn't some red state/blue state thing either--the latest case of a school board voting to teach "intelligent design" is out of Pennsyvania, blue for the last two election cycles.

Having grown up among fundamentalist, I can assure you no scientific theory has ever been more subject to ridicule than evolution. The whole idea that our "grandparents were monkeys" just leaves these folks slapping thier knees and laughing so hard they vomit. They fight tooth and nail against evolution for one simple reason--evolution punctures big gaping holes in Genesis. To people who believe that the Bible is infallible--and there are many, many people out there with this belief--evolution is the most dangerous lie the devil has ever implanted in society.

So, they ignore fossil evidence. They ignore genetic evidence. The ignore the microbial evolution unfolding within human lifespans as diseases adapt and evolve in response to mankind's attempts to eradicate them. They ignore the evidence of their own eyes, claiming to see absolutely no similarity between a man and a chimpanzee. Why, it's as crazy as comparing a fish to a pineapple to them.

When I went to college, we had a "rap session" where all the freshmen were invited to sit in a circle with twenty other freshmen and talk about thier values and life experiences. I was the only atheist in the room. I still recall the absolute horror and panic that my opinions stirred up for one girl in the circle. To her, I was a potential serial killer. She said that if I had no foundation in God, I had no morality. If there was no fear of the punishment of Hell hanging over my head, no hope of a Heaven, then at any moment I was likely to pull out a knife and start stabbing people. I didn't, of course, although I admit I withheld from slaughter mainly just to spite her. But, I think her fear is the central fear of all people who cling to belief in God. They feel the universe simply must have a higher authority to ensure that the world and society runs in an orderly fashion. Absent God, we are left with anarchy and despair.

Actually, reading the papers, it's not to difficult to find that the world has its share of anarchy and despair, but maybe God is just busy. After all, in American, he has to ensure our "inalienable rights," life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Curiously, have you ever noticed how easily alienated we are from these rights? We don't recognize any fundamental right to life. As a society, we agree that life can be terminated for any number of good reasons--you might be a convicted killer, or an enemy soldier, or even just an innocent civilian standing too close to someone who might be a soldier. Or maybe you are a fetus only devoloped a few months. We can and do allow people to take the lives of other people all the time. The right to liberty? Again, we yank that away from people at the drop of a hat. We throw people in prison with depressing ease, often for pursuing happiness--just try smoking a little pot or walking naked down a city street. You can pursue happiness only within certain broadly defined boundaries. So, actually, God doesn't seem to be too busy keeping our rights intact. So, really, what is he up to? He rested on the seventh day, but does the Bible mention whether he ever bothered to clock back in on the eigth?

The notion that we owe our existence to chance rather than to intelligent design strikes a dark pit of terror into the hearts of many people. To me, I look at it as winning a lottery. If you win a million dollars in a lottery, its due to chance. Does that make the money any less fun to spin? Being alive means you've won the only lottery that really matters. Spend your life here and now, don't save it for a rainy day.

Years ago, I was pretty frustrated with my fellow human beings for their rejection of reality. But, as I've matured, I find that it really doesn't get me down as much as it used to. There's even a kind of beauty in it, a Don Quixote nobility of clinging to fantasy. The one sad thing is, Don Quixote attacked the windmill, believing it to be a monster. But windmills can actually be kind of beautiful. By keeping their eyes fixed firmly on Paradise, fundamentists are blind to the wonder of the living world that surrounds them. Still, I'm a sucker for people who throw their whole hearts into absurd and lost causes.

After all, I'm trying to make a living writing fiction.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

More JTC

I only hope I one day craft a line of dialogue as perfect as, "You devil... you sold her baby ears for $75 and I damn you to hell." You have to admire the restraint of any author who can write this and not give in to the temptation of an exlamation point.

http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/1009/1009_01.asp

Everything I need to know about life I learned from Chick Tracts

Last week I found a new Jack T. Chick comic. I don't know if you've seen these things--for a long time I assumed everyone in the world knew what they were, but more and more I run into people who've never heard of them. I blame the decline of phone booths.

There was once a time when it seemed like any phone booth I went into would have a Chick publication stuffed into some nook or cranny. These are little mini-comic books, black and white, with a single spot color added to the cover usually. They are about two inches tall by four inches wide, and follow a format where each page usually consists of two panels. The artwork in these things ranges from simple and cartoonish to highly detailed--some of the artists could have made a killing drawing mainstream comics. The plot line in these things is always the same--someone scoffs at Jesus and goes to Hell, while another person repents and goes to Heaven. There are variations on this theme--sometimes everyone goes to Hell, sometimes the Christians are already Christians at the start of the book and hold fast to their faith through various temptations. Another subset of comics are more documentary, containing detailed explanations as to how you people can be seduced by false religions such as Catholicism, Masonry, or Islam. Jack T. Chick, the minister who produces these things and, as far as I know, writes most of them, never seems to worry about offending anyone. Gay? You're going to Hell unless you repent. A scientist who believes in Darwin? Hellbound, baby! A good, pious, nun who devotes her life to feeding the poor? YOU'RE GONNA BURN!!

Seriously, this guy is crazy. And I love him. I deeply admire him because he is so fearless in speaking what he considers to be the truth. He's not pussy footing around, trying to spare people's feelings. He's in your face with his fire and brimstone, my God is bigger than yours, nuns eat babies theology and if you don't agree with him, well, quite literally, you can go to Hell. I also admire him because he's one of the most efficient writers of all time. In an age when books are bloating to mamoth proportions, JTC keeps his stories tight and to the point. That teacher at school who wants you to decorate a pumpkin for Halloween? She's a witch, leading you straight to Satan! Run away from her fast, shouting for Jesus! OH! Too bad, you were run over by a car while you were fleeing. But it's okay! See, there you are in Heaven. JTC sets 'em up and knocks 'em down, always staying on message, never fearing tackling the tough questions, such as whether Catholic priests are pedophiles stalking after young boys. Actually, he turned out to be ahead of the curve on that one.

Let me be perfectly clear: I disagree with every single point this guy has ever made. I imagine that if I met him in person, he would quickly hate me and I would quickly hate him. But I'm not picking up his comic books for a laugh. I admire him for trying to change the world, two panels at a time. He's combined two of my greatest loves--comic books and lunatic rants--into one almost perfect art form. If you have never laid hands on his stuff, or just like reading about how Catholics/Masons/etc. are trying to destroy the world, check out his little universe at www.chick.com. They're all pretty good, but I'm especially fond of the anti-evolution message of this one http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/1051/1051_01.asp .

One last point--when I'm talking about Chick comics, I suppose I should more accurately be saying Chick tracts. He does, in fact, publish actual full size comic books, although I haven't seen one of these in years.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Thou Shalt Chill Out

It will surprise no one to learn that I'm an atheist. I'm also a card carrying member of the ACLU, except that, you know, I haven't actually joined them and don't have a card. But I'm with them in spirit on about 90% of their battles.

Still, I often wonder if some of the battles are worth fighting. The whole issue of displaying the Ten Commandments in classrooms and courthouses, for instance. Sometimes, it's a battle worth getting into. Judge Roy Moore in Alabama was pretty blunt when he put the Ten Commandments into his courthouse, saying it was to remind people that God was the foundation of law. This is absolutely worth opposing. America of all places should never be a country where the laws are built on a foundation of trying to figure out what God wants. Our laws are built on a foundation of democracy and debate, confined by a constitution. We should never adopt laws because God tells us (or a few of his chosen representatives) to adopt them.

On the other hand, I'm a little bothered by some liberal voices who react with outrage that the religious right goes to the voting booth and votes for candidates who profess their values. To me, this is part of the beauty of America--we can vote for whoever we want for whatever damn reason we want. Telling religious people that it's wrong to vote their values is just stupid.

Back to the Ten Commandments: While I enjoy fighting people like Roy Moore, it seems to me that the vast majority of times the Ten Commandments appear in a public building, they are utterly harmless and insignificant. Has any hit man in the history of America ever been on their way to a job, walked past then Ten Commandments in a courtroom, and thought, "What the hey? Thou shalt not kill? Time for a new line of work." How many people even stop and look at these things? How many people read them and remember them? If you stopped the average person on the street and asked them to recite them, what percentage of the population could spout them of? Five percent? Ten? I grew up in a fundamentalist household. My mother read the Bible out loud to us at bed time every night. For the first 18 years of my life, I went to church three times a week. I've been pretty much raised in about as much Ten Commandment saturation as is humanly possible. Put me on the spot, I can probably name, oh, six of them.

Let's see: Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's ass. Honor they father and mother. Remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Hey! I did know six. Then. . . the rest are all involved with making sure God gets his props, just like the Sabbath one. Really, if memory serves, God could have made the list the six commandments. The thou shalt nots, then one uber-commandment that boils down to, "I am God. Deal with it."

The people on the religious right who have faith that if the Ten Commandments were plastered on every inch of public space, we would live in a peaceful, just paradise, are, bluntly, insane. But I also have to wonder about the number of atheists in America who worry that thier children are going to be warped if they walk to close to a stone tablet with these words on them. One case before the Supreme Court recently involved a homeless atheist in Texas who is offended by the Ten Commandments plaque in a public square. If you're homeless, shouldn't you have more important things to worry about? What kind of mindset leads one to think, "Hmm. I could attempt to get a job and put a roof over my head. Or, I can fight this stone monument all the way to the Supreme Court." Have some priorities, folks. As an atheist, I'm embarrassed that so many of my fellow faithless seem so brittle and easily offended.

I think both sides of the debate should just loosen up.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The New Federalism

Last night I listened to Talk of the Nation, where some liberal guests were now advocating state's rights and federalism, taking power away from the federal government and giving it to the states. As a libertarian, this gladdens my heart. To me, this recent election is a good reason for liberals to join forces with libertarians in advocating smaller federal government. Liberals believed for years that there was no problem, individual or collective, that the federal government should not step in to solve. To do this, it's neccessary to grow and expand the power of the federal government, increasing its cooercive power to punish those who don't fall into lock step with progressive goals. The pitfall in creating this powerful, coercive government, however, is that eventually people who don't share the progressive's values will take control of the government and use it to steer society in entirely different directions. I'm not accusing conservatives of "bad" values here--I fully believe that they feel like they are using governmental power for the greatest public good, just like liberals do. But no matter who has power, they are going to leave half of the public unhappy. With liberals in power, the government seems geared toward keeping people from starting businesses, owning guns, and smoking. Conservatives use their power to keep men from kissing other men and terminally ill patients from smoking pot or dying with dignity with a doctor's aid. Both sides are fated to have the governmental power they grow and empower eventually turned against them. When the hobnailed boot of government is standing on their throats, I hope they remember they helped tie the laces on that boot.