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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Full Day

Wife took a vacation day. We did a round of golf, had a nice lunch at a Thai place. Spent a fortune replacing ink cartridges in two printers and a bunch of other stuff. We're exhausted. Getting too old for days like this.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hell Yes or No

Sharon L. Baker has an interesting article at the Huffpo today. On the question of hell, she's actually plugging her book on the subject. It's an interesting topic. In all of Christian theology this is one of the focal points and perhaps the most difficult to reconcile with Jesus focus on forgiveness and love.

This is Dr. Baker's summation:

I wonder how many other pastors pounding pulpits across the world have their parishioners running scared out of their wits and into the kingdom of God, taking out fire insurance as a precaution against the threat of hell. "Who cares?" you might say. "As long as they purchase their policy in time, who cares why they buy?" God might. God may desire to save us from the flames in order to spend eternity in loving communion, not by scaring us to death but by luring us with divine compassion, urging us gently with a caring hand, forgiving, reconciling, and calling us to do the same.

Okay, everyone who's read Dante's Inferno raise your hand. Don't be shy. Surely you had to read part of it in your World Literature class in college. Oops, no one ever actually reads what they're assigned they use Cliff Notes. I'm one of the few who I've ever encountered that's actually read all three of Dante's Divine Comedy.

Here's an even more obscure attempt of describing Hell:

A science-fiction writer drinks too much, showing off for fans at a convention, and falls out an eighth-floor window. He wakes up in a brass bottle in the vestibule of Hell, and Inferno details his adventures trying to work his way out. A lot of Dante is recalled, but these authors have more fun with the damned than Dante, and invent a few newer sins to bring the tale up-to-date, including such things as a book collector who kept hoarding beyond the capabilities of his storage, and lost priceless books to mildew, rats, and insects — a hoarder and a waster at the same time.

The one quote I remember from this book where it asks: "Who can take seriously a god who keeps his own private torture chamber?"

After I came home from Seminary and was going through a divorce I started reading everything Sci Fi. I'd read Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein in high school, but during college and grad school other than watching reruns of Star Trek this genre took a back seat. I discovered Harlan Ellison, Anne McCaffery and many other great writers. The afore mentioned book caught my eye after reading their "Earth's too fragile a basket to place all of man's eggs in." Lucifer's Hammer.

Enough preamble. My take on the theology of eternal punishment.

Christianity falls in the catagory of Ethical Religions. That's a religion with a system of rewards and punishments. The Norse concept of hell (the germanic word used for the Greek Hades and Hebrew Gehenna) was a place of eternal cold, which is why Dante has Satan encased up to his waist in ice. Understandable since the harshest environment they encounter is winter. The Hebrews being from a desert environment found the heat the worst environment imaginable so it's understandable that a place of eternal heat would be their concept of eternal punishment. Gehenna was actually the town dump of Jerusalem outside the dung gate. Since all the trash was thrown there along with the animal waste which caused high concentrations of methane gas it was a place of continual fires. When Jesus refers to the afterlife for non-believers he refers to Gehenna which could be interpreted as a place of eternal fire or being thrown out of with the trash. The concept between those two interpretations is huge: literal or symbolic?

Is hell a place of eternal fire and torment, or is it being separated from God? Evangelists find selling "get out of hell free cards" easier than the promise of heaven. The Catholic Church even sells them (Indulgences) or makes you do penance. This is what makes Christianity different from other ethical religions. The others have a clearer concept of justice. Those who lived bad lives are punished, those who lived good lives are rewarded depending on what the culture's concept of good and evil. Jesus changed the rules from good and evil to believer or non-believer. No matter how bad you were, if you are saved before death you're in. Those who lived good lives, but worship differently are punished. Where's the justice in that?

Christianity is not about Justice, it's about forgiveness. It's about mercy. It's about Love. If it was about justice everyone would go to hell, no matter how good a life they lived. Christ's main point of the sermon on the mount where he compares being angry with murder, lust with adultery.

As Hamlet says: "If everyone were given what they deserve, who would escape whipping?"

Here's more rhetorical questions: If after death we have spiritual bodies, what damage could physical flames do? Wouldn't the flames also be spiritutal? Does separation from God need to be physical torture or can it be mental anguish? Does faith have to be only concrete? Isn't there room for abstract thinking too?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Another Year Older

Had a pretty good Birthday: Golfed with the gaggle, broke 100 (hit a 99). Had a nice steak dinner with wife, mother and daughter. At this age you kind of enjoy the simple things.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Costello Christians

I finally watched Bill Maher’s Religious. I wasn’t surprised. He’s a comedian and makes his living ridiculing whatever he sets his sights on. So does Rush Limbaugh, and most of the mouths that roar on radio or teevee. It seems poking fun at other people is what passes for legitimate debate today.

It was painful as someone of faith to watch the way he painted an entire belief system with the brush of fundamentalism or institutionalized religion. Believe it or not there are many believers that have not assassinated their intelligence to someone who rants and raves from a pulpit or considers themselves God’s elected mouthpiece and they enjoy a meaningful personal relationship with God.

It’s easy to make fun of fundies and the orthodox because they’ve taken reason out of their faith and delivered it into the hands of someone who does their thinking for them.

The mechanism used by charlatans to fleece the flock of all their money and gain political power is literalism. The Bible has to be interpreted literally, and only literally.

Today I’m coining the phrase “Costello Christians” to describe literalists. They are a laugh riot, just like Abbot and Costello’s routine Who’s On First. If you’re not familiar with this comedy classic you can google it. There are about a dozen or more U-tube versions of it.

Lou Costello tries and tries every way he can to find out who’s on first, but never makes the connection that the first baseman’s name is Who. He stays stuck in his literal understanding of the word and can’t make the leap from literal to symbolic. It’s funny because the audience knows the difference and enjoys listening or seeing someone who is that stupid.

Here’s my example of a Costello Christian:

Anyone who wants to argue or defend the idea that Jonah was swallowed by a large fish or whale. Bill Maher devotes quite a bit of his movie on the issue and both he and those he’s arguing with miss the point. The book is not about a fish anymore than Gulliver’s Travels is about Lilliputians or Yahoos. They’re allegories.

Jonah represents the Jews and Nineveh is symbolized as all the other people on the Earth. They are commanded to share their God and refuse. The symbol of the fish or whale would be the Babylonian captivity afterwards they are returned to their land. Jonah preaches and Nineveh repents and is spared destruction. The allegory here would be through Jesus the Gentiles become believers or Christians and are entitled to Heaven. At the end of the book Jonah goes up to the top of a hill to look down on the city. A large plant grows up giving him shade, but the plant dies and he is doubly miserable because the city has not been destroyed and he has no shade. This is a reference to Judaism’s refuting Christianity because they can’t stand the idea of the Goyim being in their Heaven.

The main points of Jonah are:

  1. The Jews are commanded to proclaim God to the whole world.
  2. They at first refuse and are punished until they consent.
  3. The World is spared destruction because of their belief.
  4. The Jews are upset and pout because they’ve lost their monopoly on God.

The central message of Jonah is:

God and Heaven are for everyone, not just a chosen few.

The Costello Christians want to make it about a fish and give fuel to the fire of skeptics and comedians who rightfully point out how stupid it is to interpret something written as allegory literally.

This is my interpretation of Jonah. I don’t claim it to be the official or only way to read the book. I don’t think anyone who understands it differently needs to be kicked out of the church or burned at the stake.

I wrote a post some time ago entitled “I’ve Been Fooled.” It’s still one of the most viewed posts I’ve ever written. It’s about an allegorical book and movie: The Princess Bride. I admit that while reading the book the author had me actually believing there were countries named Gilder and Florin, but I didn’t accept it at face value. I checked it out and discovered the deception. Kicked myself for being foolish enough to buy it in the first place, then marveled at how artfully the author had tricked me. It also made me realize the depth and power of the truth he was writing about in the story. As I explained how the story relates to economics to my wife she just fussed at me for ruining a good story. The beauty of a good allegory is that it can be understood on multiple levels. The power of allegory is that its theme and message can be understood without being preached at or to. You just have to exert more mental energy than most people are willing to spend today.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Quite a handful


Daniel, he has mischief written all over his face.

Monday, August 16, 2010


While waiting in the emergency room a few weeks ago I bought this book and started reading it to Mom. We had hours between times they'd do something. When Mom was finally admitted she read on it and finished it at home. Then I started reading it. It was nice having something to read while she was in the emergency room again and I was stuck out in the waiting room at a different hospital with different rules. I finished it today.

Mom wasn't too sure about it at first. She said it was slow getting into it, but turned into a fairly decent story.
I agree with her. After you wade through about a hundred pages of obscure descriptions the story becomes compelling.

The story revolves around those who are from the Otherworld, and can go between the two worlds through certain gates, but the gates can only be opened by Lawrence, the gatekeeper, and he refuses to open them because if he did an uspeakable evil would destroy everyone. Sounds like a simple premise, but the story is rather complicated which is why it takes so long for the story to get going. There is quite a bit of setting the stage so the reader can understand what's going to happen. I rate it *** out of *****.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tribute to Bill Chase

Click here and here for other Tributes to Bill Chase.

The wife makes me watch America's Got Talent. Now I don't mind Dancing with the Stars, the women have fantastic costumes, but AGT is at times like fingernails on a chalk board. Tonight something caught my ear more than a ten year old with a forty year old operatic voice.
Quick Change is a group that was guest appearing, a group that had been on the very first season of the show. They performed to Chase's Get It On. Who cares what they were doing, did you hear those trumpets?

Some history:
My senior year in high school Bruce bought two albums. Chase and Chase Ennea. We always recorded the lp's on cassette and listened to the cassettes using the lp's as masters. That way the records didn't get scratched up. When I went to college I took the two cassettes and drove my dorm mates crazy listening to them. No one has ever hit the high notes on trumpet like Bill Chase. He reached for the rafters on every song. In Ennea the song Boys and Girls Together has a rift where you think he's gone as high as possible and then effortlessly he goes up about four steps. The group had four trumpets on one song during the rift they sound like sea gulls. Tragically just as he was getting recognized the band was killed in a plane crash in 1974. There are very few people that I've come across that ever heard of him. I was pleasantly surprised when I checked on the internet for this post to find you-tube, my space and facebook sites devoted to him.
Technology changed and I converted over to cd's. Bruce boxed up the lp's and has them buried in his garage. The cassettes gathered dust. Then this summer I found a little gadget that converts cassettes and lp's to digital on your computer. A few years ago I bought a stereo that converted lp's to cd's and I'm still converting them, wife has over 50 Elvis albums alone. This summer I've been bringing the cassettes back to life and the first cassettes were the two Chase's and I've been in heaven listening to them all summer.
Funny how just as I pulled Bill Chase out of the dust bin that he'd be resurrected on a national show, even though just about everybody watching wouldn't know who they were listening to.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On the O2

Mom's home. Her lungs are clear of clots and heart is fine or so says the Cat Scan and stress test. She's still on the blood thinners and oxygen. They seem to think shortness of breath is the problem for her chest pains. She's not too happy about being tied down to the oxy tank, but hopefully this will get her feeling better.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Doctor's baffled

Mom's back in the hospital. I took her in today at nine in the morning. Doctor didn't decide to do anything until three thirty in the afternoon and they didn't get her into a Cat scan until eight tonight. I was with her most of the day, son is with her now and I'll be back first thing in the morning as I'm sure there's going to be a huge fight over whether to give her a stress test.
Everything they do is coming up negative, but she's still having chest pains.

Saturday, August 07, 2010


I've got a contest at my Optimus: Praetorian Guard blog. If you're interested check it out.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Good News

The ADA did the sensible thing and dropped charges against the client. He was released Friday and was on a plane home Saturday. Not much we can do about the five months he spent in jail being beaten by fellow inmates with the guards watching trying to force a confession out of him. If you are going to charge someone with that serious a crime there needs to be more oversight by the prosecutor's office to make sure the evidence supports the charge.
Guess I'm back to being retired again. Watch out golf courses, here I come.

Slowly it goes

Mom doesn't snap back from illnesses as quickly as before. I've spent most of the last few days with her fixing her something to eat and other things. She's still weak, but starting to feel better.
I'm sending son and his family over today so they can get her some groceries while wife and I go to church.

The attorney I work for gave me a book, Trying Cases to Win: Voir Dire and Opening Arguments by Herbert J. Stern, and he's paying me five hours to read it. The one good thing of spending those days with Mom was it gave me time to read. It's five hundred pages so I guess he figured a hundred pages an hour. It was so full of legaleze that some parts I had to read two or three times to figure out what he was saying. By and large though since it's for the opening and summation that he's hired me to help him it's what I needed to read.