Friday, August 29, 2008

My Summer Vacation Essay, part II

The other day my little Léo was telling me about all of the stuffed animals he'd chosen to sleep in his bed with him, and he came to a WebKinz that my sister got for him at the Mall of America:

Léo: ...and this gecko we buyed when we were at the rides in... in... [thinks a bit] France.

Nico: No, in Minneapolis!

Our little trip to Paris last week to visit their French grandma had merged in Léo's mind with our earlier trip to Minnesota to visit their American grandparents. So if you were wondering whether my kids felt much culture shock going back to the U.S.A. for the first time in three years, the answer is that I don't think they did.

Staying at my parents' house for three weeks brought a whole lot of unfamiliar things, which my kids took in stride:

* Lots of dogs: My parents have a tiny but very loud yorkie, my sister has a quiet but big dog, and my little brother has a medium-sized, medium-loudness dog. My kids are normally a little afraid of dogs -- especially noisy ones -- but by the end of the trip, they were great friends little Louie the yorkie.

* A whole different set of toys! The first thing Léo noticed upon arrival was the electric train set my dad had set up in the family room. Then my sister brought over another train set (different from our train set at home), so Léo had the fun of setting up a new railway network all over my parents' basement!

* Riding in vehicles they don't usually get to ride in, namely cars, airplanes, and small boats on a lake. Their reaction to that can be summed up in one word: "Yay!!!"

* Having their own parents (us) with them all day with nothing to do but take them to the swimming pool or an amusement park (like at the Mall of America) or help them with a nature documentary.

* Getting to know the whole family, including cousins their own age and attentive grandparents who had a whole bunch of activities planned for them.

There were so many differences, but it was as much a question of "it's an adventure to stay at someone else's house" as a question of "it's an adventure to go to another country."

The one thing felt weird to me on this trip was the fact that we were surrounded by people speaking English all the time. In the past six months in Zürich, I'd gotten used to having a communication barrier between me and every random person I encounter. Once people discover I don't speak German, they immediately switch to English for me -- so I feel like I'm creating a little bubble of American-ness around myself (that I'm self-conscious about). It actually felt weird to be back in a place where American-ness is the norm and speaking English is the default assumption.

(As for my excuses for why I still can't speak German, that will be a topic of another post, probably entitled "A foreign language is best learned in the bedroom.")

Did my kids have a similar reaction to being surrounded by English-speakers?

Hard to say. The only noticeable change was that after this trip Nico started calling us "Mom" and "Dad" (instead of "Mommy" and "Daddy" or "Maman" and "Papa"). I think he was probably influenced by his cousins calling their parents "Mom" and "Dad". Damn peer pressure! J/K ;^)

And the religion question?

As I've said before, the fact that my parents don't agree with each other on religion has created this wonderful haven of secular space throughout the household. So there's no pressure to go to church, and non of those ugly, tense showdowns where religious participation is assumed -- so you're forced to go along with it silently or be seen as a bad guy for objecting.

The only exception was prayer over dinner.

Now, obviously I'm not going to complain about them practicing their own religion in their own house, even in front of my kids. As I explained here, I'd rather have my kids exposed to other ideas, not sheltered from them. If my religious family members had taken the liberty of teaching my kids about God and Jesus, I would have immediately responded with my own opinion on the same subject, but they didn't. And I appreciated the fact that they were willing to respect the values we're teaching our kids.

I wish I could say my kids were equally respectful of my parents' one religious observance. No matter how many times we explained to Nico that he had to stop talking for the prayer, he just didn't get it. The kid is fundamentally incapable of being silent for more than a few seconds at a stretch when he's with people. (My husband once played a game with him to see how long he could go on a walk with us without talking, and he never made it to a full minute.) So my parents were kind enough to just keep the dinner prayers short.

This was the simplest solution since, in fact, Nico wasn't the only disruptive one: Louie the yorkie also hadn't mastered the "stay quiet for the prayer" trick...

Monday, August 25, 2008

My Summer Vacation Essay, part I

The previous time I went back to the U.S. -- three years ago -- I was surprised by how much culture shock I felt.

Moving to Europe, I really hadn't experienced any culture shock to speak of. I'd expected various things to be a bit different (and they were), but not long after moving to France I had my first baby. And that was way more of a shock to my system than anything the French could throw at me.

Coming back to my home town after living abroad (if you'll pardon a Pulp Fiction cliché) the little things that had once been familiar now started to seem strange, like the particular foods at the supermarket or on a menu.

Even stranger, though, were the big things. Everything seemed enormous -- as though the country had been afflicted with a bad case of gigantism -- from the stores to the vehicles to the dinner portions to the endless parking lots. I gather many people arriving in the U.S. from other countries are dazzled and impressed by it. I was impressed all right, but not exactly in a positive way. It wasn't just the pointless wastefulness of it all, but even more it was the lack of alternatives and options.

Now, before you start rolling your eyes at me, I'll tell you that I'm perfectly aware that all of my praises for compact, walkable neighborhoods and public transportation have to be taken with a grain of salt since I obviously have the zeal of a convert. The funniest illustration of this was way back in the beginning of my European experience when I met a French woman who'd chosen to make a life for herself in the U.S.A. I started on my usual blah-blah-blah about walkability, and it turned out that she had an equal-and-opposite blah-blah-blah about how things are so much better in the U.S. than in France! (I don't remember what her complaints were, maybe something about French people having a bad attitude or something.) Anyway, I thought it was hilarious as soon as it hit me why she and I were having so much difficulty communicating with one another: As an expat, you constantly get asked to compare your old country to your new one, and naturally (in a friendly conversation with someone from your new country) you focus on what's better about the new one. But then that means that two opposite expats are like matter and anti-matter. I highly recommend moving to another country for a few years and then trying to have a reasonable conversation with someone who has chosen to make the opposite switch -- I guarantee you'll learn something amusing about human nature! ;^)

On my more recent trip back this past summer, I was ready for all the stuff that surprised me last time, so instead I got a new surprise! Everywhere I went, I would sing my usual praises of car-free freedom. I'm a total broken record on this (if you've somehow missed it, please review here and here), but the thing is that after living the first twenty six or so years of my life in car-dependent suburban-type areas, it was such a revelation to realize it doesn't have to be this way, and I'd like people to at least be exposed to this idea and encourage them to want to try (and create) alternatives.

But that was the surprise. My claim (here) that Americans can't take good ideas from other countries was proven wrong. Everywhere I went, my discourse on walkability was old news. (And not just because I'm repeating myself.) People all had their own tales to tell about their neighborhood's walkability and/or about public transportation! :D

Coming up in the next installment: my kids' reaction to America!

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I'm not sure what has become of the latest Humanist Symposium, scheduled for yesterday at Uncredible Hallq. Perhaps it will show up eventually... ;^)

However -- as a special surprise -- I had a post included in the 63rd Carnival of Feminists without even submitting it!!! Thanks Genevieve/redwall33!!!

This inspired me to go read and contemplate some of the other great posts in the carnival, and especially reminded me that I haven't contributed anything to The Hathor Legacy in a long time. This, in turn, reminded me that I've also neglected Main Street Plaza and The Visitors' Center, and, really, haven't written as many articles as I'd like for my own blog right here.

The explanation is that I've been reading a lot more physical books lately. I don't think blogging and reading real books conflict philosophically (far from it), but they conflict logistically: five hours spent relaxing with a good book = five hours less leisure time to devote to coming up with blog articles. And ultimately I'm replenishing my capital of ideas. Every book is full of new ideas to contemplate which lead to new posts. ;^)

I was feeling a little wrung-out on ideas to write about, and I don't want to be scraping the bottom of the barrel, talking about stuff my blog friends have thoroughly covered or any old random thing I can think of about my kids. I don't want people going "Oh god, not another story about Nico and Léo..." I want people to be begging for another story about Nico and Léo. ;^)

And I've got a few posts in the works about what it's like to be an expat coming back to the U.S. for a visit (with kids!) and I hope you guys will come by and have a read. :D

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Pink Phone: The Rest of the Story...

So is anyone curious for an update on the pink phone story?

Here's a quick recap:

My (then) four-year-old son Léo wanted a toy cell phone, and the most fabulous one at the store was bright, sparkly pink!!! Naturally that was the most attractive one, so he asked for it. My initial instinct was to balk, but then I said "Ah, what the hell," and bought it for him. Then he took it to school.

What happened next reminds me of something I read the other day in Dan Savage's The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family

Then one day we packed D.J. off to preschool [...] where he got a crash course in sex roles. It wasn't the teachers who poured this poison into his ears; we sent him to a progressive Montessori school on our left-leaning island, not some Southern Baptist preschool in a church basement. His teachers would sooner feed children tacks than force boys to do boy things and girls to do girl things. No, it was the other children who indoctrinated D.J. to think of boys and girls as two warring camps. From day one is was the boys vs. the girls, and there wasn't much the adults could do about it. When the children weren't engaged in Talmudic discussions about which toys or activities were male or female, the boys were chasing the girls around the yard during recess. When the boys got bored and went off to play with their boy toys, the girls would tease them until the chase started up again. Add fifteen years, some pubic hair, and a keg of beer, and it would be difficult to tell the difference between recess at Starbreak Montessori and friday night at a frat house.

lol. Well, it wasn't exactly like that as far as I know, but you get the idea. Léo swiftly and profoundly absorbed the lesson pink things are for girls. He even took it one step further: to this day he won't accept any object that is pink or purple.

Since Léo's older brother Nico apparently never picked up this lesson quite so intensely (he'll accept pink objects at home), I almost wonder if I did the wrong thing by allowing Léo to take that pink phone to school. Since, really, I knew what was going to happen.

On the other hand -- as much as I'm not fond of fixed gender roles -- I don't think it's necessarily bad for him to learn some social lessons the old-fashioned way. (I hope I don't get flamed by homeschoolers for saying this, but) I think it's valuable for children in modern society to be exposed to an alternate social structure (different authority figures, different expectations) than what they have at home. Even if I disagree with some of the values they're learning, they should be exposed to society -- to understand what's out there, to get an idea of the ways we're the same, the ways we're different...


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Carnival of the Godless #98

Welcome to the 98th bi-weekly Carnival of the Godless!!!

I've gathered up a fantastic assortment of god-free thought for you, so let's dig in!


Michael Meadon points out that going out of your way to bring up atheism when teaching about evolution isn't just bad strategy, it's bad pedagogy. Evolution doesn't require "non-existence of God" as a hypothesis, so (hardcore atheist and Dawkins fan) Meadon disagrees with Dawkins' approach of taking the incompatibility of theism and science for granted when discussing evolution with students in a science class. Meanwhile some Christians make a counter-claim that evolution is, in fact, at odds with "naturalism." If that leaves you going "Wha...? What are you talking about?" (since naturalism can mean a lot of different things, including nudism), then check out Jared's hilarious response!

A whole lot of religious people seem to think that belief in God requires disproving evolution. The frustrating part is trying to debate people who don't have the faintest clue about how evolution works (or how science itself works, for that matter). Norman Doering asks where do you even begin with people who seriously think that evolution predicts the existence of a crocoduck? At the end of his article, though, he links to a great place to begin: Berkeley's Understanding Evolution website which provides resources for a fun and painless introduction to evolution, including a fascinating article about Tiktaalik explaining what evolution predicts about transitional forms like the fishy ancestors of land animals. Similarly, Maria Salva provides a clear and eloquent explanation of how "gaps" are really just opportunities to learn more.

Next we have the prizewinner for "most creative use of ignorance about science": theists who think Pangaea is described in the Bible. On Open Threat we find a patient explanation of why believing that Pangaea suddenly split into separate continents a few thousand years ago (during the "days of Peleg") is a good deal crazier than just rejecting the theory of plate tectonics entirely. In a similar vein, Bing explains Dinesh D'Souza's misconceptions about prehistoric humans, and Naon Tiotami tackles the "Answers in Genesis" claims that car evolution disproves evolution of living things.

Of course there are other approaches. Andrew Bernardin suggests a counter-claim that the "Theory of Intelligent Design" predicts the existence of flying fruit.

Miller explains why reductionism (everything can ultimately be explained by its constituent parts) doesn't imply that complex objects don't exist. So does Allah read thoughts from people's hearts, as it says in the Koran? Bobby is not convinced.


As the Chaplain explains, God is horribly incompetent as a babysitter. Similarly Archvillain is none too impressed with God's record on protecting kids.

In addition to the kids He allows to die, if you think that He installs a soul at the moment when the sperm fertilizes the egg, then He's also the ultimate abortionist, as discussed by Ari.

Ron Britton reports about a pastor who holds an annual week-long crusade that involves arrangements with the local public schools to let the kids out during the middle of the school day to attend his church. Oh, and gloats over the death of a lawyer who had been preventing this unconstitutional activity in one town. Could be worse for the kids, I guess – could be Jesus Camp (reviewed by Ron Gold).


The top news story is that the Democratic National Convention has decided to add an "interfaith" religious service for the first time ever. To show how inclusive they are, they've made it "interfaith" to include everybody! Well, everybody who counts, that is. In an egregious and obvious display of Machiavellian strategy, the Democratic Party has noted that those people who think GWB's grand public piety show was a part of problem in the last eight years – they're sure as hell not going to desert the Democrats now. So why not throw them to the wolves and take a page from Mitt Romney, pretending that America's political discourse is a "symphony of faith"? If you're displeased by the DNC's cynical political pandering to organized religion, Vjack has provided info on how to get your voice heard here. On the other hand, if you're confused about this issue, Diana Hsieh gives a concise explanation of what our secular constitution has to say about bringing religion into government.

It's not clear who the Democrats are hoping to impress, given that the people who favor religious discrimination are currently praying that Obama's speech will be rained out as discussed by Doctor Biobrain.

The Republicans have their religion problems too. Postman channels God to have a little chat with McCain about his treatment of veterans, and the Whited Sepulchre passes along a message from a Republican politician that Jews (like Lieberman) don't believe in Jesus!

And, in world politics, Jeffrey Stingerstein explains that a theocracy that practices execution by stoning can't be trusted with nuclear weapons.


Let's start with the distance between what's true and what you'd like to believe. Irradiatus talks about the difficulty of seeing all of humanity "no more than blips of energy in an inconsequential cosmic blink." Hank Fox takes it a step further by asking what to say to a dying grandmother about meaning and human existence.

Then, on the other side of the coin, PhillyChief describes inventing excuses to justify belief in God. (The Exterminator has compiled some funny ones as well.) If unanswered (and unanswerable) questions get in the way of believing what you want to believe, you can always just call the problem a "divine mystery" and put it on the shelf (to be ignored), as Greta Christina explains in The Problem of Unfishiness. Then Larryniven takes a more serious, philosophical approach to deciding which beliefs are justified.

And Confused Liberal discusses the implications of atheism with respect to moral relativism. On the other hand, Ian explains that God's universal morals may well be worse.

Community and Strategy

The Amiable Atheist talks about the value of keeping the discussion civil when representing atheism. For example, LEECR7 describes a strange (but ultimately civil) highway encounter provoked by the Darwin fish on her car.

A Division by Zer0 has done some real work to help out the online atheist community, first setting up a tool that will allow you read a few top posts from all over Mojoey's 700+ strong atheist blogroll. Apparently for each blog it helps you find that blog's most popular posts. I'll probably try to use this one since I'd like to spend some of my blog-reading time on the various atheist blogs outside the few hundred blogs I've subscribed to, but it's a daunting task to know where to start. DB0 has also compiled a convenient list of resources for atheist bloggers.

As a supplement, I'll mention one item that didn't get included on that list: Social Rank's Challenge Religion. This one has the drawback that it's not clear how to get listed or how to move up. They have an official policy that they won't tell you precisely how their algorithm works (if they have one), and I'll admit I've spent some time contemplating this mystery. Nonetheless, by checking out their top posts, I've found some interesting articles outside my regular reading list. And if you'd like to play the "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" game here, you may notice that the Nonbelieving Literati blogs make a decent showing on their list...

Which brings me to that literate atheist playgroup, the Nonbelieving Literati. If blogging is one of your hobbies, then I'd be willing to wager that you like reading, you like your reading choices to challenge (as well as entertain) you, and most of all, you like to add your own thoughts and ideas to the discussion. So why not take it up to the next level? Join us in the world of stories bound up and printed on good old-fashioned paper! Anyone can join, all you have to do is get a copy of the book we're reading (in this case The Flight of Peter Fromm by Martin Gardner), and post about it on your blog on or soon after the due date: September 15. I've already read this one, and I can tell you that it's a fascinating portrait of struggling in the mire of Christian theology and of how the religion of your childhood affects your outlook for your entire life. (To get an idea of how this book club goes, read the last batch of entries where we read Cosmicomics: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

And in other atheist lit news (what else? ;^) ), remember that the serial novella Temple Wedding begins September 9. This segment is the one about the adventures of young adult non-believers coming back home for a big religious wedding. If you've lived this sort of thing (or expect you will), why not see how your experiences compare to those of our cast of exmormons? ;^) As always, you can read this segment as a stand-alone story (without going back and reading the earlier segments Young Women's, Youth Conference, Saturday's Warrior, BYU, Gratuitious Love Scene, and Polygamist), but you might want to catch up on the old ones since this is the story that brings all the characters together for a great big family gathering!

Well, that's it for this fortnight!! Tune in at Oz Atheist's Weblog in two weeks for the 99th thrilling episode of the Carnival of the Godless!!!

(If you'd like to submit an article, do it here. Also, you can submit a post here for the Humanist Symposium which will appear next week at The Uncredible Hallq.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A frog with a tail?

Here's something interesting we saw on our family walk the other day:

Cool, huh? Or at least cool for people like us who are as interested in the amphibian lifecycle. :D

During our vacation, my son Nicolas made a little nature documentary, which I've uploaded here. So you can see that I wasn't just making it up when I said he likes to do an impression of Sir David Attenborough when he's talking about biology. ;^)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Love, Science, and Unitarianism: Duck Egg Blue, by Derrick Neill

Since taking up my crazy hobby of studying Mormon and atheist novels, I've read a number of conversion stories and deconversion stories, portraying the path to accepting (or rejecting) a latticework of doctrines. Most religions have 'em both. But Unitarian Universalism seems like a bit of an outlier. Unlike most organized religions, this one doesn't appear to require belief in any particular set of doctrines, so it's hard to imagine how one could convert to or from this religion. If you've ever wondered how conversion to Unitarian Universalism works, then wonder no more: just read Derrick Neill's Duck Egg Blue.

Unitarian Universalism appears to be quite different in character from the kinds of religious traditions I'm familiar with because it doesn't center around the question of whether any given supernatural claims are true or accurate. It's okay for a Unitarian to be an atheist. It's okay to be a theist, even one that holds very specific beliefs about the nature of God, such as a Christian. It's okay to be an agnostic. And it's more than okay to believe that it's reasonable to redefine the word "God" to mean "nature" or "the universe." But combining all of these cosmologies into a single organized religion requires believing a different set of claims: (1) that one's conclusions about the supernatural are relatively unimportant, and (2) that it's interesting or useful to go to church.

I'm not trying to be flippant or dismissive with my claim #2. The thing is that religion can play a number of different roles in a person's life. "Providing answers for life's big questions" and "giving hope of life after death" are two of the most obvious ones, but it's easy to see how someone might not care about those two, yet might like some of the other perks of organized religion such as the traditions, rituals, community, and spirituality. I can't precisely define "spirituality" here (since I'm even less an expert on that subject than I am on the subject of Unitarianism), but it seems to be an emotion that is related to communicating with unseen beings and is also related to the sentiments inspired by beauty (such as through art, music, or nature), but isn't quite the same as either one.

The take-home message is the following: "Do you like church but hate what organized religion usually stands for? If so, have you tried the Unitarians?" Not a bad niche, really, since there are a lot of apatheists out there who are pretty pissed-off at the religious right these days. I suspect that at the moment the Unitarians are cleaning up just by getting their message out to the growing ranks of the "unaffiliated" and sopping up all the ones who are put off by the dogma of church but not by the Sunday ritual. That's what happens in this novel as science teacher Mark Edwards finds his soul-mate in the beautiful, sensual, and spiritual Harmony Anderson.

As the liner notes (quite accurately) tell us, "more than anything else, Duck Egg Blue is a love story." From the beginning the romance is one after my own heart: lots of honest, straight-forward passionate monkey sex, light on the roses, cupids, poetry, and whatever else it is that the chivalrous romantic hero is normally expected to do to prove the purity of his love before getting to the hot monkey sex. One highlight of their initial courtship is an amusing scene watching a life science video in which Harmony's question "How did they get that picture?!" [regarding the money shot] was the exact same thing I was wondering myself back way back when I saw that same scene from that same film at BYU, of all places. (After that I forgot about all the scientific content of the rest of the film as I spent the next few weeks contemplating the possible ways they might have filmed the shot. Those were the days. But I digress.)

Yet, all too quickly, the warning flags start waving. Harmony refers to working in her garden as "praying." She thinks the ending of Star Trek V is deep. (Star Trek five!) She says stuff like "I think it's like Jesus said. God is love...the center of life...the ground of all being. God's present everywhere, in all things and in all persons and at all times." [Anyone have a reference on that one? I don't recall the passage where Jesus supposedly said that...]

As with any entertaining novel, I immediately tried to put myself in the position of the protagonist. For the purpose of this story, I'm a nerdy, balding high school teacher. The chances I'll find mind-blowing sex like this anywhere else are pretty much zero. Is it worth putting up with the woo? I've gotten ridiculously lucky here since normally a chick this hot would be out of my league. Yet... tempted... to... dump... her... anyway...

I'm very big on taking a rational approach to relationships, and I think if I were a straight guy, I'd be inclined to lower the priority on some superficial traits (here: perfect-body redhead with carpet to match the drapes ifyouknowhatImean), so that I'd be in a position to be more demanding about other desirable qualities. Such as absence of woo. But then I remember I'm not the one who's being presented with this dilemma. It's Mark Edwards, agnostic apatheist who thinks it's crazy to believe in a personal God that answers human prayers, but when asked if he's an atheist, says "No way! That's crazy too!"

Never mind. They're perfect for each other.

Of course there's more to this novel than love, sex, and their relation to Unitarian spirituality. There are the central conflicts of the novel: Harmony's son Cameron is denied the Eagle Scout rank he earned when he admits he's not sure he believes in God, and the local Christian Coalition is running amok trying to get "Creation Science" taught in public school science classes. (This novel apparently predates the euphemism "Intelligent Design".) These and other nefarious schemes are masterminded by Harmony's evil Christian ex-husband, John Wright.

The issues raised are timely and interesting, but I felt like this book's treatment of them was too simplistic and heavy-handed for my personal tastes. Please see my parable of criticism as a compliment for my excuses, but I'm just that much less willing to softball a morality tale when it's one where I agree with the moral. This may be just a quirk of personal taste -- one fellow lit blogger likes to say "fiction is a lie" therefore the reader should be happy to swallow anything, no matter how eye-rollingly obvious the author's agenda may be ;^) -- but I really like a story to leave me a little breathing room to form my own opinions. I don't like feeling like the author is standing there saying "See how very right this character's viewpoint is? And how wrong and misguided this other character's viewpoint is?"

Regarding the Scouting question, despite being a girl, I have enough personal experience with the BSA to know that it has both very positive and very negative aspects which can be hard to tease apart. Exploring the justification for discrimination against atheists, gays, and even girls would be an interesting place to start a complex and nuanced story about Scouting. Instead Scouting is portrayed as nothing else but a grand opportunity to build service and leadership skills, and the fact that the kid is denied his rank for being an agnostic is presented as some hardly-Scouting-related fluke that's all the fault of the evil villain Christian ex-husband.

The villain himself is a little hard to swallow. He's around and clearly wants to play an active role in his son's life, but only to force fundamentalism on the kid, nothing else. Weird as that is, I guess it's not impossible. Still, I felt like the problem on the one hand was too simplistic (biological dad is just a nutty, narrow-minded, abusive fundy), and the solution on the other hand was too simplistic as well (the kid's high school science teacher replaces the defective dad both as the kid's father figure and in mom's bed). Even if the kid really likes and respects his science teacher and even if he thinks his biological dad is a jerk, this solution would still potentially be an emotional mine-field. Yet the possibility of the kid having confused emotions about his mom's relationship with his teacher/step-dad is glossed-over since it goes without saying that the kid wouldn't have mixed feelings about such an evil villain as his biological dad. I'm more than willing to believe that rigid religious beliefs can be used to justify intolerance and abuse, and still I felt like the villain came off as a bit of a straw-man. I found myself cringing even more at his over-the-top random fundagelical rants than I did at the atheist stereotype character (mean and bitter, but it's not his fault because he suffered a horrible personal tragedy).

Keep in mind that I care quite a lot about science and science education, which is why I'm holding this novel up to such a high standard, perhaps an impossibly high standard. After all, some ideas are just plain wrong, and the idea that "Creation Science" (I.D.) is science (as opposed to being a deliberately deceitful attack on science) is among them. That makes it tricky to come up with a story about it that's at once realistic, even-handed, and complex enough to be challenging. Kudos to Derrick Neill for tackling this subject. The world needs lots more stories about math and science educators. To start us off, for a fun portrait of Unitarian Universalism and the single science teacher, grab a copy of Duck Egg Blue!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Blogging Tech Question...

I hope I won't call down the wrath of Google upon me for posting this question on a blogger blog, but here goes...

I'm thinking of moving from blogger to some alternate blog hosting service. I like blogger's service overall except for one thing: they reserve the right to lock, delete, or otherwise sanction any blog on their domain whenever they want to.

Like a lot of bloggers, I started this blog on a whim, but over the years it has grown into something where it would be a huge problem for me if were to get deleted and they left me with a response like "Hey, this is a free service and we have the right to do whatever we want with the blogs on our domain." Ultimately I don't need a free service so much as I need a guaranteed service. Weirdly, though, blogger doesn't seem to even offer the possibility of a paid service that comes with some sort of guarantee or warranty.

I'd kind of like to switch to my own domain so that I can ask everyone on my blogroll to update their links once, and after that I'd have the option of changing services transparently behind the scenes whenever necessary.

Any suggestions or advice?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Seen from the other side


I'm sorry I've taken so long on this one. I have a horribly lame excuse: The thing is that I found Cosmicomics so astonishingly original, insightful, and entertaining that I'm not sure I can write a concise description that will do it justice. To get the general idea, have a look at the posts of the other Nonbelieving Literati: from No More Hornets, An Apostate's Chapel, Right to Think, Spanish Inquisitor, Tales of an Ordinary Girl, and The Greenbelt. All I'd like to add is that these tales are fundamentally human yet encourage the reader to contemplate the most fantastic physical possibilities and impossibilities.

My favorite passage from this book is one that describes a relatively mudane insight (relative to some of the stuff in this book), but which is one of my personal favorite topics: comparing a character's self-image with the way s/he is perceived by others. These are the words of a dinosaur living incognito among the "New Ones" who came after the dinosaurs:

The stories were terrifying. The listeners, pale, occasionally bursting out with cries of fear, hung on the lips of the storyteller, whose voice betrayed an equally profound emotion. Soon it was clear to me that all of them already knew those stories (even though the repertory was very plentiful), but when they heard them, their fear was renewed every time. The Dinosaurs were portrayed as so many monsters, described with a wealth of details that would never have helped anyone recognize them, and depicted as intent only on harming the New Ones, as if the New Ones had been from the very beginning the Earth's most important inhabitants and we had nothing better to do than run after them from morning till night. For myself, when I thought about us dinosaurs, I returned in memory to a long series of hardships, death agonies, mourning; the stories that the New Ones told about us were so remote from my experience that they should have left me indifferent, as if they referred to outsiders, strangers. And yet, as I listened, I realized I had never thought about how we appeared to others, and that, among all that nonsense, those tales, here and there, from the narrators' point of view, had hit on the truth. In my mind their stories of terrors we inflicted became confused with my memories of terror undergone: the more I learned how we had made others tremble, the more I trembled myself.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Great moments in visiting the parents, episode II: "Atheism/Astrology"

This is more a continuation of my incongruous book arrangements post than of episode I since this story takes place on a sub-voyage: a road trip to Madison, WI, to visit friends.

I've gotten into this crazy habit (probably inspired by Hemant's blog) of looking for the atheist books every time I go to a bookstore to see how they're displayed. This is the funniest one I've seen so far:

I know the tag is illegible in this photo, but this shelf's category is "Atheism / Astrology." I should probably make a joke about the word "atheism" being miraculously obscured from suffering this indignity, but my crappy photography skills require no supernatural explanation. (It's digital! Take two every time! says hubby.)

I hope this is somehow just alphabetical, but then it's not clear why "Wicca" is the next shelf down. Is it just me, or is this actually worse than getting confused with devil worshippers?

I found this in a feminist bookstore. To my fellow lady atheists: it looks like we have our work cut out for us, as usual. But I love a good challenge! :D

Anyway, I don't want to be too hard on A Room of One's Own Feminist Bookstore. They have a very cool shop with a large selection, and of course I was pretty psyched to find a women's bookstore at all. I haven't seen one since my pilgrimage to San Francisco a few million years ago.

And continuing my orgy of books, I picked up a few titles I'd been meaning to purchase: Parenting Beyond Belief, Dan Savage's The Commitment, and The Best of Best American Erotica 2008.

That last one wasn't actually on my book list -- it was a substitute. I was hoping to find Greta Christina's Best Erotic Comics 2008, and this was the closest thing. I'd just have ordered it through Amazon (as I did for a big chunk of my mountain of books I'll be schlepping back to Switzerland), but the thing is that for convenience I've been doing my Amazon orders through my Dad's account. I've ordered several books he probably wouldn't buy, but somehow I felt like buying a book of erotic comics was going a little too far... Maybe next year! :D

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Exmormon, the Musical!

This is a letter I received the other day from a reader, posted with permission:

Dear C.L. Hanson

I have spent all of my limited free time in the last week voraciously reading the online portions of your novel Exmormon (I was so disappointed when I discovered the last parts weren't available and I'd have to wait for lulu to ship it). I really have nothing of great insight to add, other than to say I really appreciated it. As an exmormon lesbian feminist expatriate I can scarcely describe how much I identified with it. The scenes from the Youth Conference dance brought back so many awkward and hilarious memories, even though I actually liked the dancing in a circle with the girls and platonic friends part, whether that was to do with how genuinely entertaining my avant garde church friends were (one of the boys even had a beard! imagine, and one of the girls had two sets of earrings and was therefore Satan's handmaiden) or how little I actually cared about the boys except as some abstract status symbol, I'll never know. I also don't think I've ever been more gratified in my decision not to go to BYU (not that I haven't been pretty glad of it for awhile now).

At lot of Mormon lit is either so positive and upbeat that it seems false, or at least the experience of someone far more popular and faithful than I, or so completely negative that it misses what it was really like growing up in the church. Your book really reminded me of my life, and I impatiently await the arrival of the rest of it.


PS: I can't wait to explain to my brother that he can drink beer!
PPS: I don't really think you should make it into a musical.


On an unrelated note, today is carnival day!!! So be sure to have a look at the fabulous post roundups on the Carnival of the Godless #97 and the Humanist Symposium #23!

And I'll be hosting the next Carnival of the Godless, so I hope you'll all submit some great posts here!!!

Friday, August 01, 2008

It's Nonbelieving Literati time!!!

And it's my turn to pick!

I assume you've all heard of Martin Gardner. He's well known for his "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American and for his many books on science and pseudoscience, not to mention his annotated versions of books such as Alice in Wonderland.

But did you know he also wrote a semi-autobiographical novel about a young, idealistic Christian Fundamentalist whose beliefs evolve over time, in part through the influence of a Unitarian (atheist) professor of religion? The book is The Flight of Peter Fromm.

Not to start you off with a spoiler or anything, but -- to head off my theistic readers who may be rolling their eyes at this seemingly biased choice -- I'll tell you at least that it doesn't end with the glorious triumph of atheism. And on top of that, this book goes against the grain of my biases in an even more significant way. Here's a taste:

The typical American Protestant today is in a state of unprecedented metaphysical indifference. His theology has the shape and substance of a fog-bank.

Question him about his deepest religious convictions and what will you discover? You will find him believing vaguely that Jesus is somehow the son of God, but in precisely what sense he neither knows nor cares. He may tell you, if he has thought about it at all, that the Bible is a unique document. In exactly what way it is unique he isn't sure. If he has read any part of the Bible since he went to Sunday School, the chances are high that he is some variety of fundamentalist: Pentecostal, Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witness, or any of a dozen other sects that bemuse the poor and poorly educated. If he is not a fundamentalist, he may still insist that the Incarnation and Resurrection are foundation dogmas of his faith; but ask him what exactly those dogmas mean, and you find him strangely ill at ease. He stammers gray phrases. He parrots fusty platitudes. Do you really think, he will counter, that those are important questions?

And it's the atheist character who is decrying this! See? This book perpetuates the myth that Christian theology is profound and interesting to contemplate.

That was my gut-level reaction when I hit this passage (among other theological points). Who is he kidding? I asked myself. Trying to figure out the precise nature of the Trinity -- attempting to tease it out of Bible passages -- is the same thing as coming up with ingenious explanations for why the Klingons didn't have head-bumps in Old-Generation Star Trek days and calculating formulas for warp speed...

Then it hit me that I'm being unfair (and I've been too mean to Christians lately). A wise person once said: "you're not doing yourself a favor when you work yourself into a state where you have no comprehension of another's viewpoint." And I can't imagine a better book than this one to help us understand the perspective of the intellectual theologist. Gardner is a talented writer who has written an engrossing story here. I've only read the first few chapters so far, but I hesitate to put it down even for the time it takes to write this post!

Plus, I know some of our Non-believing Literati friends have extensive experience in Christianity, and I'm curious to hear their reactions to this book. To any other non-believers who have been thinking of joining this book club: now would be a great time!!

Now, I know I was supposed to write about Cosmicomics today, but due to a failed attempt to read it in Italian, coupled with my vacation voyage falling right in the middle of the time set aside for reading it (making it tricky to order the book in English), yadda, yadda, yadda, long story short (if it's not already too late), I just finished it yesterday, so I need another few days to mull it over before deciding what to write about it. Please bear with me. :D