thoughts on morality and religion

I haven't posted on this blog in quite a while, but I'm reviving it to process some ideas in response to Josh's recent meditations on religion and morality. The question under consideration is: is religion a necessary social tool to teach morality? Initially I wasn't sure, but I'm beginning to feel that the answer is no.

I was driving home tonight and listening to Drink Small on the radio - that's his real name, it's on his birth certificate and everything (or so he says), and with a name like that of course he grew up to be a blues singer. He had a gravelly voice and a great New Orleans drawl. He was in the studio being interviewed and also playing music, and he had the kind of confidence and joviality and down-home-ness that make you laugh along with all his jokes even though none of them make a whole lot of sense. He was talking about how he got his musical start playing gospel music in church, and at the interviewer's request he launched into one of his favorite gospel songs. It was really moving. It was easy to tell that he felt great joy and passion in what he was doing, really singing from the heart as he put it, and his musical talent was kind of secondary to that - a medium, but not a message. I feel indifferent at best toward Christian or gospel music in general, but it's not uncommon for me to have this feeling when I hear someone who's really into it. The interesting part is, it's never really about the religion - it's just about this person's talent and good-naturedness, and religion only comes into it when you see how it motivates them.

Religion is a tool, and like any tool, it becomes a weapon if you hold it right. It can be very different things in the hands of different people. Everyone knows there are endless examples of religion being used to justify prejudice and violence; the Crusades, the "war on terrorism," Fred Phelps, just to name a few. A subtler and more widespread purpose of religion is to inspire a sense of guilt in people if they disobey whatever laws the church sets forth. It's a very effective way to keep people in line. But even though this is my current, somewhat sinister view of religion, I can't help but notice and respect people whose religious beliefs motivate and inspire them to do beautiful things. As disgusted as I am by fundamentalist hatred, I'm equally awed by social workers, monks, or reformed convicts who demonstrate such profound hope, joy, and compassion as a result of their religion.

What causes some people to turn out "good" and others "bad?" The way we define morality is a really interesting question, and when you start to question whether ethics are absolute or relative, it all gets super spooky. But the point I wanted to make is twofold, or I guess one-and-a-half-fold. You don't need religion to see the importance of being moral. Arguably, those who don't believe in an afterlife might be more motivated to create a peaceful society in the world they can see. But (this is the half point), it is popular, and likely to continue to be popular indefinitely, because it works.

A couple years ago, when I was home visiting my dad for Christmas, I went back to my old church for the Christmas Eve service. It's a pretty standard small, non-denominational Christian church, not particularly hatemongering but not particularly tolerant. I pretty much considered myself agnostic at that point, but I was still wondering if I might feel some surge of religious impulse if I revisited my old stomping grounds. I was a little surprised to find that I genuinely enjoyed the service; I appreciated the ritual and the familiarity, and as they read the story of the birth of Jesus from the gospel of Luke, part of me was really engaged and enjoying it, but as I thought about it, I realized it was the same part that enjoys Neil Gaiman stories, or fairy tales, or roleplaying. It's the part that responds to mythology of all kinds, and seeks purpose and meaning and patterns, and likes to make things up. Everyone has this to some extent, and think what that means for religion: everyone gets wrapped up in an epic story, a classic struggle between good and evil, complete with heroes and martyrs and monsters, and it doesn't end until you die.

Personally, I think the world would be better off if we could all look more objectively at morality, and make decisions based on their practical results in the real world. Will that ever happen? Who knows. I also don't presume to tell people what they should or shouldn't believe, and I guess this train of thought opens up more questions than it closes. But that's my two cents, for what it's worth.

on being a dirty hippie

Long time since my last post... I think everyone who will potentially read this is pretty much up to speed though. Just taking a break from my self-imposed busyness to attempt to be meditative. I knew life would be more hectic once school started, but it still caught me a little off guard. I've never before had the experience of work, school, and home all being the same place. Not that I'm complaining, it pretty much rocks, and especially as I re-read some of my posts from around the time I was leaving my old job, I feel content and fortunate and so forth. It still has its own set of pitfalls, though. It takes concerted effort not to let entire days slip by unaccounted for, letting all the important things pile up on the deadline's doorstep so to speak. Additionally, I find that the fun, non-mandatory things I promised myself I'd do more of once I was free from corporate slavery - playing guitar, sewing & crafty things, etc. - take almost as much effort as the things I'm "supposed" to be doing. It's not like they just automatically happen once I have some free time. But, granted, it's a different kind of effort... once I get in the swing of a random artsy pursuit, it's relaxing and energizing, not stressful. But then, I feel the same about writing code. Which is lucky, I guess.

Lest anyone think I'm not taking advantage of my opportunities to be irresponsible, I blew off work last Tuesday & Wednesday to go to Chicago for an Okkervil River show. I highly recommend Okkervil River, especially for those who already like indie rock... they play high-energy sort of folky rock, and clearly are totally passionate about it. The lead singer's kind of an emo fuck, but is unpretentious enough and a good enough musician that it doesn't really matter. The show got me excited about being a rock star again, and I've been attempting to practice guitar more than I had been. Kel and Jake and I have longstanding half-assed plans to form a shoegazer nerd band, so maybe that'll happen sometime.
  • Current Music
    The Decemberists - Sons & Daughters

happy monkey

I feel like I've done a complete 180 from yesterday. I got to train my replacement at work today. Apparently this is really all I wanted... someone to ask my opinion, someone to show things to. Look, this is the job, this is how I do it. Wow, that's a great idea. Why, thank you. :)

In fact, disgruntledness aside, this whole week has gone really well, and seems like it will only go uphill from here. An impromptu D&D session on Saturday was a lot of fun, and my monk rolled natural 20's twice in a row and ripped off an owlbear's face with her bare hands. The joint birthday party was a blast, my new goth fairy wings were well-received, and I learned about ten million new songs on the guitar. I finished my proofreading project, and was told that once I'm done with my day job and have time to take on bigger projects, I should be getting a lot more work from them, which was exactly what I wanted to hear. I have appointments set up to look at apartments with Maif. I've been in touch with the admissions rep from the web design MFA program, and it sounds like I should be able to start in either summer or fall (assuming I'm accepted, which seems challenging but attainable). There's a ballroom/swing dance on Friday night, which seems like a good end for my last day at work, never mind that it will be mostly 50-something couples who don't know a good joke when they hear it. I think Friday night may also entail some kind of attempt to see the new Aqua Teen movie. And Saturday night is the Decemberists show, and Sunday is D&D again. And then... nothing. No realtors, no waking up at 7 am... just infinite time to do all the things I've been wanting to do. It is a little daunting. But this is ok.
  • Current Music
    The Shins

one last harumph

I'm experiencing very mixed emotions as I begin my last week at my job. Most of my thoughts are along the lines of, "What took you so long?" I'm completely floored by the apparent worthlessness of my opinions, advice, and skills. Never mind that I've been crushing this job for the past two years... no one has asked about how I do it. A traveling consultant came up from the corporate office to train Kelly and Sarah on Quark, and no one bothered to tell me, let alone ask for my input. I was talking with the consultant (also Jennifer) toward the end of her stay, and knowing that she was interviewing the applicants for my position, I asked her what sorts of things she looked for, thinking I could pick up some tips for interviews I might go on in the near future. She responded with some pretty no-brainer advice, and closed with, "Well, come on, when it comes to graphic design for this magazine... I'm not really looking for a brain surgeon here." I felt kicked in the teeth. Even so, I don't think it was an intentional slight, and I've chosen not to take it as anything more than further evidence that I can do better than this.

I've been tempted to berate myself for staying on here when I've felt stuck for so long... it seems incredibly unfair that I devoted so much time and energy to this place, and felt sucked dry but was willing to deal with it, because I thought I was getting experience and skills that would take me to the next place I wanted to go, and now it appears that's largely untrue, and to top it off, no one here seems to have noticed or cared what kind of job I did. I can hope that after I leave, I'll be appreciated slightly more, and it's likely that their deadlines will suffer for a while, but even this offers limited satisfaction... haphazard as it is, the whole operation's probably not going to fall apart.

So, I could be really frustrated, but I'm trying to look at everything in the most self-aggrandizing possible light. If I can say so without seeming arrogant, I'm used to being the best at what I do, and having everyone fawn over me for it. When I first got this job I worked hard to do really well at it, and even with limited recognition, this continued for a long time, just for my own satisfaction. When I got disillusioned with it, I started giving about 60%, and was still better (or at least faster) than most of the designers in the company. I know there's an argument to be made for not letting yourself get stuck in a rut, but having the discipline to stick with a difficult situation isn't so bad, either. And now, having seen things start to head downhill, and having felt like I've put enough time in anyway, I'm moving on. I'm inexpressibly excited to do something new, and to be challenged again. With any luck, I'll get accepted to the online web design MFA program I'd like to do, which would give me, among other things,

1) A crash course in all the sweet web coding sk11z I've been wanting to learn
2) A less poserly feeling when I use 1337
3) An excuse to move to San Francisco next year if desired (the ground campus is located there).

Ideally, I can take out student loans to cover some of my living expenses during this time, and therefore have the flexibility to experiment with freelance design work, play drums, make wings, learn about photography, and dye my hair ridiculous colors. If I did move to Frisco, I would be near the following:

1) City Lights books (which hosted the poetry reading which was, arguably, the start of the Beat movement - Allen Ginsberg read Howl for the first time, and Jack Kerouac ran around pouring everybody wine. I'm sure it's commercialized all to hell now, but I would still go there.)
2) Mountain View, CA, home of the Google offices, at which I could potentially work after I get my 1337 sk11z, and how much would that rock? Answer: infy.
3) The ocean. I'm not much of a swimmer, and jellyfish freak me out, but still. Ocean. Fish. Surfers. Seems good.

In fact nothing seems bad about this plan.
  • Current Music
    Badly Drawn Boy

Balrog v. Realtor

Man oh man. Several times now, since I put in my notice at work, I've been beset by a niggling feeling that maybe this was the wrong play, maybe it was irresponsible to leave my job without something else lined up, etc. etc. Thankfully, lots of things have happened today to make me feel really justified about jumping ship. As if it wasn't bad enough that the production team's (i.e. my) deadlines are being bent more and more - what's an example of an official document that doesn't actually have any regulatory power? All I can think of is the Magna Carta, but of course that was actually a big deal and very effective... well, I can't think of one, other than the deadline schedule on my desk. Anyway, everyone starts to get a deer-in-the-headlights look if I go into the details, but suffice it to say the production team is being raped in the ass, by progressively deeper degrees. Because we are the stone nuts, and respond with indignant competence instead of rebellion, there's been no reason to stop this progression... I'm really, really hoping that after I leave, the whole operation will just fall to pieces. At some point I'll let go and be a little more zen about it... and maybe I'm wrong, maybe a monkey could sit in my chair and do exactly what they want it to and be just fine... but part of me would like to see my doomsaying proven true.

Anyway, the original point of the story was that on top of this, people at the office are being tools to each other today and sending mean emails and swearing and freaking out... really inexcusably unprofessional behavior. And the little voice in my head that has been saying more and more insistently, "GTFO!" over the past few months, and would now be listening to Dashboard and cutting itself if I hadn't quit, is instead happily lounging on one of those little floaty rafts in a swimming pool, and has a margarita, and is the calm little center around which the madness flows. I don't have any idea what I'm going to do after this, but it will be better, because *anything* would be better. In fact I've found myself thinking of that scene in Fellowship of the Ring, where they're in the mines of Moria and all the little orcs are surrounding them and there's obviously no way to fight them all off, and then the balrog booms ominously in the distance and all the orcs scramble away. They don't know what's coming, and it might even seem worse when they first get a look at it, but it is something other than certain doom, and therefore preferable. I expect my next few months to be significantly better than fighting a balrog - something I would not say about my current job. :)
  • Current Music
    Iron & Wine - the sea and the rhythm

long random rambliness

since re-watching fight club a week or so ago, i've been meditating extensively on the ability to let that which does not matter truly slide. i don't think the central challenge of existence in our culture could have been better summarized. (maybe it's not even culture-specific, but i'm assuming for the moment that it is.) oddly enough, i think learning to let go of something small is the hardest step. i think once one has a frame of reference, it's just a matter of recognizing more and more things as unimportant, and applying the steps. though, then again, maybe there aren't steps per se. the handful of times when i feel like i "get" this, it tends to come in sort of a sudden wave, as opposed to a methodical ascent. i realize the gun isn't in your hand, and all of a sudden it's in mine. that kind of thing. but i still think that once you start to get that feeling about one thing, it comes more easily.

i'm being sort of rambly and abstract... don't know where i was going with that. i've noticed myself overreacting to small things in the last few days/weeks - really minor annoyances that should NOT be a big deal - i'm sure it has to do with being stressed out about bigger things (jobs, directions-in-life, etc.), and every once in a while i have sort of a revelation, or at least feel right on the cusp of a revelation, that whatever thing i'm worried about really isn't worth all the energy i'm pouring into it.

the beats (kerouac, ginsberg et. al.) talked a lot about reducing yourself to the bedrock of consciousness. you can try to build whatever you want on there, make yourself a little teepee out of your job and friends and beliefs about yourself, but it will all come crashing down sooner or later. and (at least in my experience, which is somewhat limited), it's always a relief when that happens. i often worry that i won't be able to handle what's expected of me, that i won't make it to the next step without punting... i feel like i've done a lot of punting already, especially in the last few years. like every time i try to build something, i don't have quite enough nails or 2x4's or whatever, so i end up just sort of squatting in this half-finished building. i feel like if there were some way to mentally tear down whatever expectations i'm trying to live up to and just start from scratch, it would help enormously.

(TMI? I always wonder if i'm being a little too honest, when i write things on the internet. the part of me that is absolutely an island, fuck you john donne, thinks it is a bad idea. the part that thinks almost everyone is dealing or has dealt with basically the same struggles and if we would all just be a little more open we'd all be better off, thinks it's worthwhile.)
  • Current Music
    wilco - i am trying to break ur heart

minor irritations

Sometimes I feel like Data from season 1 of TNG. Like nobody ever wants quite as much information as I could, gladly, give them. This mostly happens at work. One of our currently visiting grand high muck-a-mucks just popped in my office and asked, "Say, I was wondering, what kind of system do you use to organize [random thing]?" And I explain, succinctly I think, but about halfway through she just sort of wanders off... "ok, just wondering, thank you." Like, "Why are you accosting me with all this... information? Did I somehow indicate to you that I wanted you to tell me, actually, what your system is like? Christ." ("Information" is inflected in approximately the same way one might say "fish offal" or "rotten zombie livers.")

It is probably me, though. I like organizing things... I like explaining to other people how and why I have organized them. I can't blame people for not getting quite as excited as I do. I suppose there's nothing more stereotypically geeky than sympathizing (deeply) with Data when he spouts off his endless strings of synonyms, or figures the Enterprise's time of arrival to ten decimal places, only to be cut off once he's passed the point of usefulness. He's just trying to help, people.
  • Current Music

i like this

In the course of looking for pictures of the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, to see how ambitious I would need to be to make a costume of it for visioncon, I stumbled across the full text of the book... I'd forgotten how awesome it is. This is the bit right after Alice has turned into a flower, and is trying to placate a pigeon, who is bludgeoning her about the head because it thinks she's a serpent...

"But I'm NOT a serpent, I tell you!" said Alice. "I'm a--I'm a--"

"Well! WHAT are you?" said the Pigeon. "I can see you're trying to invent something!"

"I--I'm a little girl," said Alice, rather doubtfully, as she remembered the number of changes she had gone through that day.

"A likely story indeed!" said the Pigeon in a tone of the deepest contempt. "I've seen a good many little girls in my time, but never ONE with such a neck as that! No, no! You're a serpent; and there's no use denying it. I suppose you'll be telling me next that you never tasted an egg!"

"I HAVE tasted eggs, certainly," said Alice, who was a very truthful child; "but little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do, you know."

"I don't believe it," said the Pigeon; "but if they do, why then they're a kind of serpent, that's all I can say."
  • Current Music
    Ok Go - they won a grammy for that treadmill video you know

he is more of a gif man

I was feeling frustrated - more than frustrated... irate, maybe - about my work situation just now, and, well, I guess I was already talking myself down, but toothpaste for dinner (the comic above) made things a lot better. Like the police counselor shouting up to you as the firemen maneuver the little trampoline... he's not going to do any good if you're hellbent, but if there's still some hope left in your mind, he will latch on to exactly the right thing to make you remember it.

We all know already that I'm discontent with my job and planning on leaving soon, so feel free to skim over this rant, which is not really anything new... i just realized anew this morning that the effort that I exert on this job, the diligence with which I show up every day and plow through the chaff which is the majority of my work, is NOT worth what I'm being paid. The rationale for dealing with it for this long has been that, with a few years of experience under the belt, the doors will be magically unlocked and I can go do whatever I want... I'm really hoping that's true, because the current situation is no longer tolerable.

On some level it may be self-indulgent to think this, but seriously, if you get your degree, and find yourself a job which is more or less in your field, and show the fuck up every day, even when you really feel like just sleeping in and going to the park and playing your guitar, and correct other people's incompetence all day long, and have as your only reward the fact that everything goes smoothly and nobody notices, your one consolation in all that should be that you are making an OK living. (I am defining "OK" as "not shot to hell if you unexpectedly josh your car one month.") :)

I won't say it was the wrong play to stay here this long, because everything might work out exactly as I hoped, and I might now get to go be a glamorous designer at some glamorous publication and throw paper airplanes at office-mates who also have emo glasses. I just can't handle being unchallenged any more. I hope I can hold onto this anger for a while, because I think it will carry me through the transition process pretty effectively.
  • Current Music
    Franz Ferdinand - the burn this city song

two welcome quiz results

Stolen from eatenmyeyes, who may or may not have befriended me yet...

I've taken the myers-briggs infy times, and consistently get this result:

, you're now logged in!

Below you'll find your test result. After, continue on to your
homescreen to discover what we're about.

Almost Perfect- INFP

33% Extraversion, 80% Intuition, 40% Thinking, 33% Judging

So, you want to make the world a better place? Too bad it's never gonna happen.

Of all the types, you have to be one of the hardest to find fault in. You have a selfless and caring nature. You're a good listener and someone who wants to avoid conflict. You genuinely desire to do good.

Of course, these all add up to an incredibly overpowered conscience which makes you feel guilty and responsible when anything goes wrong. Of course, it MUST be your fault EVERYTIME.

Though you're constantly on a mission to find the truth, you have no use for hard facts and logic, which is a source of great confusion for those of us with brains. Despite this, in a losing argument, you're not above spouting off inaccurate fact after fact in an effort to protect your precious values.

You're most probably a perfectionist, which in this case, is a bad thing. Any group work is destined to fail because of your incredibly high standards.

Disregard what I said before. You're just easy to find fault in as everyone else!

Luckily, you're generally very hard on yourself, meaning I don't need to waste my precious time insulting you. Instead, just find all your own faults and insult yourself.


If you want to learn more about your personality type in a slightly less negative way, check out this.


The other personality types are as follows...

Loner - Introverted Sensing Feeling Perceiving

Pushover - Introverted Sensing Feeling Judging

Criminal - Introverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving

Borefest - Introverted Sensing Thinking Judging

Freak - Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging

Loser - Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving

Crackpot - Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging

Clown - Extraverted Sensing Feeling Perceiving

Sap - Extraverted Sensing Feeling Judging

Commander - Extraverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving

Do Gooder - Extraverted Sensing Thinking Judging

Scumbag - Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving

Busybody - Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging

Prick - Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving

Dictator - Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging

Link: The Brutally Honest Personality Test written by UltimateMaster on OkCupid, home of the The Dating Persona Test

What this result lacks in consistency, it makes up for in FUCK YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1!!1!1!!!

You scored as Miyamoto Musashi. You're considered a sword saint, whatever the fuck that is. You don't give two hoots what weapon or tact people come at you with, as your solution is a steady grip on a sharp blade and it tends to work.

You're never going to be defeated in battle, but you are going to die of Cancer.


Miyamoto Musashi


Dante Alighieri


Adolf Hitler


Jesus Christ


Friedrich Nietzsche


Stephen Hawking


Mother Teresa


C.G. Jung


Steven Morrissey


Sigmund Freud


O.J. Simpson


Elvis Presley


Charles Manson


Hugh Hefner


What Pseudo Historical Figure Best Suits You?
created with

Not sure what it means, if anything, but I am equal parts Hitler, Christ, and Nietzche.
  • Current Mood
    cheerful fuck YES i'm musashi!!!