Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Stage 1: Clear the rubble

So here I am going to begin the attempt of something that has eluded me time and time again: the creation of a personal ethos, or to be closer to what I'm trying to say, the Japanese do.

It's something that has been turning in my head for nearly a decade now.

Why am I doing this? I am doing this because I am someone that tends to pick up new hobbies and interests very quickly. This isn't a good thing. The nature of humanity, the nature of the world we lives in, shows that 5 specialists will always be superior to 5 generalists. This quote from one of my heroes, Bruce Lee, summarizes my sentiments well:

"Perfection is achieved when nothing more can be taken away, not when nothing more can be added."

The less I have in life, the better off I will be.

It occurs to me that civilization would be better off without television, for example. Think of how much information is accessible with the television. And more than that think of how much of it is absolutely useless. To take it one step further, think of how much actually makes one more foolish and contemptible for having acquired that information. Every reality show, every new drama, the vast majority of what I see is not worth watching. I do not care who was kicked off the Real World last week, I do not care who is left on American Idol, I do not care why there are polar bears and secret societies on some stupid Pacific island. All of that clogs up the pathways of my mind. Once again, this is only an example.

This path, ethos or do, should serve as a reminder to me and a standard for me. This is worthwhile. This is not worthwhile.

I know some things about life already. I know that it is not an accident. I know that I'm only going to get one pass through this tunnel. I should not waste it. I cringe when I gaze upon the section of humanity available to me. What waste! The covers of their magazines, the topics of conversation, their very existence crushes my spirit. It is as if they live life accidentally accumulating experiences and sentiments. I do not see how the life of the average human being is so far different from the life of a sponge on the sea floor. That is a tremendous tragedy given the capacity of a human being.

So this do is also a reaction and a response to humanity. I do not quite know what I want to be but I know some things that I do not want to be. I do not want to waste my life like the vast, stinking mass of American civilization. I have no desire to be a sponge.

As I intimated earlier, there is no tragedy in a sponge existing as a sponge. That is the limit of its abilities. Humanity is capable of so much more. I agree with Mark Twight in this article of his where he correctly states that

"Athletes are 'entertainers' rather than examples of mankind's potential."

To boldly go, to dare, to dream, to achieve, to accomplish great things in life should be applauded, but too often it is seen as the hubris of a pretentious individual. "Do you think you're better than us?", "So you think that I'm a bad person because I watch this or that T.V. show?" and so on and so forth.

I, honestly am sensitive to all those statements, and that is why I want to forge this ethos. I want to have my own aegis and proof against these barbs that soft and flaccid people hurl at me. I want to finish this race, to achieve my potential. I want to see the utmost limit of my capability. This is why I am going down this path.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Rolling Six Feet Deep

R.I.P Gary Gygax
6/27/38 - 3/4/08

I want to blog about Dungeons and Dragons in honor of Gygax's life. It's not a typical Christian blog on D&D because I've already made my decision on its relation to Christian life and I believe it's OK. I find him a phenomenal genius who constructed amazing world building rules which are, honestly, very foundational to how I see the world in many ways. 3rd Edition more than 2nd Edition because I think THAC0 was a disaster just like 2nd Edition's multi-classing rules.

At any rate, I want to blog on an obscure element that rarely gets addressed and that is the construction of the alignment system. Game worlds operate in moral absolutes and I find that odd considering how game worlds are almost always polytheistic with any Uber-deity acting as a stand-offish clockmaker. AO in Faerun, for example, fits the bill.

Pelor, Correllon, Moradin, Yondalla and Garl Glittergold are deities on the side of "Good" while Nerull, Gruumsh, Kurtulmak and Llolth are evil-aligned deities. I wonder how they can make that judgment call in absolute terms given the lack of an Over-God in most gameworlds.

Gruumsh, god of Orcs for example could really be the result of bad press. As his mythos goes, the various racial deities drew lots and Gruumsh was left with no home for his people. He then stabbed his spear out and said that he would conquer other lands to make a home. Now, in this particular case, is this a particularly evil act? From an Orc perspective it is simply a matter of being able to self-determine a national destiny. An Orc, sociologically speaking, is lawful good or chaotic good in Orc society but chaotic evil in human lands.

The greater problem is any attempt to posit a morality without the existence of an active moral Uber-deity. As D&D clerics can draw power from "principles" like "Justice" (lawful neutral), "mercy" (neutral good), "freedom" (chaotic good), "tyranny" (lawful evil) and so on and so forth, it might be tempting to think that having mere "discoverable" moral absolutes would answer the question. It doesn't for morality posits, by necessity, a value system, namely that good is better than evil and should be chosen.

When morality is reduced to principles, randomness becomes the inescapable conclusion. They may be socially beneficial but that is just an opinion of science. Further studies may prove the opposite. Also, why should "socially beneficial" be privileged over "individually beneficial" and how do they interact with each other? Adam Smith has one answer and socialism another. Which is good and which is evil?

The Gygaxian world's morality is incapable of answering these deeper questions. Not that we should have expected it to but it is for me one of the great annoyances of the game (especially as my favored class is an Aasimar Paladin that puts all his points in CHA so that he can later take the Divine Might feat and then have the bonus apply to dual wielded weapons... but that's something else altogether.)

Back to morality.

As far as I can see morality cannot itself be supreme otherwise it becomes arbitrary. Morality itself must always be secondary to something else. In a Christian sense, I often wonder if anything is supreme, is it also arbitrary, in this case, God.

If God's supremacy serves as the basis of morality, his fiat being the sole determinant of what is good and what is sin (as I believe the Bible substantiates) then the question "Why follow God?" still applies doesn't it? It may offer a whole host of benefits such as "reconciliation with the Creator," and "living by the principles with which we were meant to live with," and "suffusing your life with the presence of a truly Omnipotent and Omnibenevolent being" and all that but that I don't think would be appealing (or even sensible) to vast tracts of humanity.

And these questions aren't asked in terms of apologetics or with an evangelistic purpose in mind. I am well aware that eventually God transforms the heart of the elect to believe and worship His person and that it is not cognitive decision-making that precedes regeneration.

The best answer I can have for this is that the most basic states of a dualist universe are best expressed in internet vernacular.

God = win
~God = fail

In the end God has all the win and everything opposed to God is the fail. You might even say it's Epic Fail.
All internet humor aside, I cannot think of any other possible metric which would make one system preferable to another. Even God's supremacy seems arguably arbitrary. His qualities may demand more respect, awe and adoration and all of that should factor into a person's calculus but aside from win-state or fail-state I can't see any other metric that would elevate a system or a being above arbitrary.

And I hope my readers, both of you, can see that even with win-state and fail-state logic, I have still have some reservations about its ability to separate anything out of arbitrariness.

So I guess this post = fail. : (

Friday, March 7, 2008

On Mediocrity In a Christian Sense

I wonder what it is about Christianity that so many object to it on the basis of its mediocrity. Ayn Rand makes this objection in the form of one Ellsworth Toohey where lack of strength becomes a perverse strength. Nietzsche has a similar objection calling the faith an aberration grown out of a certain slave morality.

As a product of the Jewish culture, the slave morality objection cannot be avoided. It can only be endured. The Jews for a great part of their existence, wandering as vagrants with Abraham, enslaved in Egypt, lost in the desert with Moses, oppressed under the Judges, and eventually exiled in Assyria and Babylon. The Joshua eras, the Davidic and Solomonic kingdoms seem to be the exception. Even after the Old Testament, whether that refers to the Maccabean rebellion or to Christians crawling through catacombs, little changes.

If the Jews were strong, they would not have been chosen. It was because they were a weak, miserable, worthless mess of a people that God chose them. It says as much in Deuteronomy.

Even Christian testimonies for the most part have much the same form:
"I couldn't do anything in life. I couldn't get good grades. I couldn't get a girlfriend. And that's when I found Jesus!"

"I had it all. I had money, power, respect, women but then I realized it was all worthless and that's when I found Jesus."
Christianity is for the most part predicated on failure.

And I can empathize with how Nietzsche and Rand feel. In fact, it's probably the front where I battle God the most. Other humans are only roadblocks to my true development as a person. That's what I get when I read Nietzsche and Rand. Other humans are rabble that want to feast on your individuality. They are only mobs of stupid and mediocre roaches that hate the light of genius and excellence.

Should this blog have a happy ending? Some twist at the end where I suddenly refute two great minds with one expert move? They wouldn't be great minds if I could do that. I'm not sure I can do that.

The best I have so far is that this is all seen from a human perspective. And that their anthropology is not particularly well done. Man was not made to live alone. Howard Roark, even married, is alone.

But that doesn't answer my deeper questions. Why is there such a tendency towards mediocrity and such an antipathy towards ambition and greatness? Why is it that so often the urges in me that I declare best and most worthy in me are crushed so violently in the vice-grip of church society?

There is an easy theological answer there too, but that doesn't much help. Easy answers never help.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Struggle and Strength

Tonight was the first time I have ever heard Dr. Keller speak in person. I downloaded (but never finished) one of his sermons online. Needless to say, he has quickly gotten himself on the short list of pastors who I enjoy and freely respect.

One thing he said in particular tonight re-affirmed many deeply held convictions of mine; to paraphrase, doubt is a sign of a healthy spirituality. And in the limited sense he was referring to, he was correct. Doubt, certain kinds of doubt, indicate a vibrant and growing spirituality.

"Whether we immoralists do virtue any harm? -- As little as anarchists do princes. Only since they have been shot at do they again sit firmly upon their thrones. Moral: one must shoot at morals."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

Doubt, when acknowledged and confronted, leads to struggle and all struggle that does not kill, makes strong. As an aside, this perhaps is the reason why no empire can last forever. Once an empire reaches the peak of its ability, the fullest extent of its dominance, it begins its decline. The sun at noon marks the descent into twilight. The people become fat and rich and worst of all, comfortable. Frivolity and entertainment become necessities as people look for ways to fill the time that was previously spent on survival. And this is a drug worse than any chemist has ever concocted. It not only degrades the body, it atrophies the soul. Eventually such a society will collapse under the impossible burden of a wasted people scavenging for fashion and status among the ruins.

As that is true of empires, so it is true of individuals. Stagnation is the phenomenon of rotting before dying. Beliefs, a faith, unquestioned, unchallenged, unprovoked ceases to be worthwhile faith.

"Some wish to live within sound of chapel bell. I wish to run
a rescue shop a yard from Hell."

-- C.T. Studd, missionary

I sometimes wonder how Christians can remain Christians in the South or the Midwest? How does one live as a Christian in areas where there are mostly Christians? How does one find relevance and meaning to Scripture in a place where it is not openly mocked?

"If it's 90 degrees with 80 percent humidity, Roger Clemens is
able to say 'So what? I've trained in that. I've trained for that.' Actually,
his program is harder than the games themselves."

-- Jeff Mangold, former Yankee Strength Coach

One of the reasons I love New York so much is that it never fails to present some kind of challenge to overcome in my faith. Whether it is the ever-present homeless that wander the subways begging for charity, the kids whose parents are strung-out on drugs, the teenage mother, the former convict or the transvestite prostitute, New York never stops asking me the question: "Do you really believe that?" What happens when you meet a genuinely interesting, loving, kind and wonderful person who happens to be homosexual? What if you looked up to and admired this person? Will such a person truly be sent to Hell by a God of Justice?

"For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work."
-- Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians

But these are only small and passing trials. The final trial will be far more telling. And when that final day comes, I know I'll have spent my whole life preparing for it.