I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. 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. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Church of Atheism

Today being Father's Day, Laura and I were talking about our fathers and she mentioned that her dad had once had a serious discussion with her to warn her not to become a Scientologist. This is no doubt good advice, but strange advice, since at no point in Laura's life has she ever had any inclination at all to become a scientologist. For starters, she doesn't have the money. An even bigger obstacle, of course, is that the central beliefs of Scientologists are completely wacko. Let's face it: If you get to the part where your guru (or whatever they have in Scientology--an auditor, I think) is telling you the part about the intergalactic lord Xemu and you don't break out in a broad grin and laugh at how dumb all of this is, there is no hope for you. You have swallowed the Kool-aid.

Laura's 11 year old son, Simon, hadn't heard of scientology and asked us about it when he heard our conversation. He was actually somewhat inspired at the notion that a pulp science fiction writer could invent his own religion and rope in converts, and spent the ride home from the restaurant jotting down notes for starting his own religion. He wrote out his own ten commandments, only he didn't know how to spell commandments, so he called it the "To Do" list. Also, I think he only got through about six of them. Among them were "don't be picky" and "share your food." Religions have been built on foundations nowhere near as solid as this.

Which led me to remember my second wedding. Not my second marriage, which is mostly blotted out now, with only three whiny cats to remind me it ever happened at all. But the wedding was interesting because we wanted something fancier that just going down to the courthouse, but by state law we needed some ordained pastor to perform the ceremony. We finally settled on a Unitarian minister who promised not to use the words "God" or "prayer" in the ceremony. She broke her word, alas, deviating from the script in the actual ceremony. After that, I gave serious thought to starting my own Church of Atheism. Churches have many, many advantages. They make great places to hold weddings and funerals. They are nice meeting places to socialize with like-minded folks. They also provide a terrific support net for members, a community to turn to in times of trouble and grief, or to share in celebration. Finally, they frequently have great architecture and nifty art. So, there are dozens of things I love about churches--but I can never belong to one because I'm unwilling to sit there and listen to fairy tales for an hour. I have no doubt that there are people in this world who go to church because they enjoy the fringe benefits of church without actually sharing the beliefs of the church. My old scoutmaster, who was a member of my church, loved being a church member. But get him outside the confines of the church and he was a prone to telling dirty jokes and sneaking six-packs along on camping trips. I'm not saying he wasn't a good person, or even that he wasn't, in his mind, a christian. But he regularly engaged in behavior outside the church that he would condemn within it. Something about churches seems to breed hypocrits--although, of course, that could just be the nature of the human beast. There are so many hypocrits on so many levels throughout society that the church population just reflects the general population as a whole.

But, still, there are times when I fantasize about buying an old church one day, and replacing the stained glass window on the front with a mosiac of a big, cartoon monkey winking his eye, giving a thumbs up, and saying in a big word balloon, "Darwin Rocks!" Each Friday night me and my fellow atheists could get together and socialize. (One foundation of atheism we must not surrender would be the right to sleep late on Sunday mornings.) We could distribute little Chic-style tracts entitled "There is No God" and "This is Your Afterlife." (That last one would be nothing but blank pages.)

Would we have Commandments? Or, as Simon put it, a To Do list?

How about:

Remember this is your only life: Cherish it.

Cherish your loved ones; you have only your shared lifetimes to show your love.

Live responsibly: there are no higher forces to bail you out of the messes you create.

Hmm. Only three. Maybe that's enough. Probably three too many, in some people's mind. If you must have more, how about:

Don't be picky.

Share your food.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Body and Soul

So tonight I read that the Terri Shiavo autopsy showed severe brain damage. It made me realize something that I've always known, but didn't really get, if you know what I'm saying: I have a very different idea of "soul" than most people.

I think that, to the vast majority of the world, the notion that people are purely physical creatures is a deeply non-intuitive notion. People are committed to the idea of soul--something that exists beyond the body and the brain, and animating force that can survive independently, and that can carry on after death. I've met many, many people who didn't identify themselves as Christian or as a member of any other religion, but were still, on a gut level, convinced there was something spiritual within them.

I've never seen the slightest shred of evidence that this is so. The fact is, if you change people's brains, you change people. Case after case shows that people with brain tumors or brain trauma can undergo tremendous personality changes. People even self-inflict short term personality changes through the use of drugs and alcohol. The pharmacopia available to alter human behavior is staggering. If we were something more than physical, how could these chemical changes to the brain have any effect?

Not to flog a dead horse on the Shiavo case, but I was listening to callers tonight on the radio and it was clear to me they embraced one central myth--Terry Schiavo was more than the shell that lingered on in that hospital bed. The fact that she was brain damaged means nothing to them--her soul hadn't been damaged, had it? It was still intact inside her, as healthy and whole as it had ever been. After all, what physical trauma could harm a soul?

I think that there is something inherently harmful in this attitude. Not that I'm a poster child for health and moderation, but the notion that people have that their bodies and thier brains aren't really them leads to a loss of respect for one's own self. Who cares if you get fat, get stoned, etc? It's just your body that you're messing with, not the real you.

Listen up, people: The body you're in? It's the only one you get. The brain you have? You won't be issued another one. Take care of them.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Where to begin? Last weekend, a pipe burst in my apartment. I had been fixing an outside faucet, and when I went back down to turn on the water, there was the sickening roar of water running behind the drywall in the closet. It was only a few months ago that I had a pipe burst in the same general area. The pipes through there are corroded to a crazy degree, and apparently my just touching the outdoor faucet had sent sufficient vibrations through the pipes to burst them. So, I turned off the water and went at the wall with an axe. Then, I went at the ceiling with an axe, since it turned out thats where the breach actually was. The pipe wasn't just leaking--it had actually snapped in two at one of the joints. The copper pipes were so covered in corrosion they looked like something you'd find in a cave. This was Saturday morning--Laura's plumber of choice couldn't get here until Monday. So, it was a hot, sweaty weekend. Very hot and sweaty, in fact, because, oh yeah, this was the weekend the air conditioning broke. It's still broken--her chosen AC repairman hasn't even called back yet (to be fair, she only called yesterday). And maybe he has called--because, also over the weekend, Laura's phone went on the fritz. It would ring, but when she'd pick it up the line would be dead. People calling her would get a busy signal, or dead air. She could call out, however. I tried to diagnose this by going to the phone box outside, to see if the test jack in it worked, but when I opened it: No test jack. Just an empty slot where it was supposed to be. So, about five calls to the phone company later, we do get a repairman out Monday morning. The call to let us know they are on the way. Which, huh, is funny, since the phone worked. We do several test calls. The phone is working more or less perfectly when the repairman pulls into the driveway. We have him install the outside test jack (the phone company owes you one, man, seriously) and he says the problem must have been a short in the house that "needed time to work it's way through the wires." This explanation makes, like, zero sense. A short isn't like an air-bubble working itself through a pipe.

So, it was a trying weekend. Except, it was also an excellent weekend. On Sunday we went to a swimming pool. Laura and her kids Simon and Veronica fit very nicely in my Scion. We drove around with the AC cranked high and They Might Be Giants playing loud, singing along to the "Istanbul" and "Dr. Worm." Tons of fun.

Follow up from last post: Angel Hunted is out to the critique group now. It weighed in at 15K words. YOWZA. I honestly thought my edits were trimming it, not adding 2000 words. We'll see if anyone bothers to read it--the normal word limit on the group is 7k words, but the group has been in doldrums lately, with weeks going by without a new story.

One interesting thing about the story is that it contained one of my favorite lines ever: "Use your teeth." I know that doesn't look impressive out of context. But there was a time in life when it was my motto--if you swallow anything whole you'll choke on it. Use your teeth--tear and grind at anything the world tries to shove down your throat. It's a good motto. I feel like going out and biting something right now.