Monthly Archives: December 2014

Definitions, and “Growing Christian”

I have a great job, and I feel lucky to have it – and I hope I keep it as long as I can work! Or until I find something as good, but much closer. So I check job boards… semi-regularly. Maybe Rand will post something for a Technical Writer Editor. If I got that, I could bicycle to work, not to mention work near the beach!

A recent job posting for a related job was to work with Reasons to Believe, which turns out to be a Christian apologist (apologetic? doesn’t sound quite right…) site, focusing on scientific questions and how they justify, or at any rate fail to contradict, Christian tenets. The focus seems to be on emphasizing that no matter how small the Gap seems to be (from God of the Gaps), there still is one, and it will always be there. A statement with which I don’t think any reasonable person would argue, by the way. In fact, with better and better instrumentation, the gaps, namely questions and the unknown, seems to grow. (And how wonderful is that, by the way!)

I thought that would be an interesting job (though an atheist, I am interested in religion as I am in other human cultural products). But one of their criteria for applicants is “Growing Christian.” Sort of confusing phrasing… if I already had that job as editor, I would ask, did they mean “having had a Christian childhood”? Or maybe “becoming more and more Christian every day”? Hints at a lot of things, doesn’t mean anything much – but maybe it’s a sort of jargon that is used in Christian communities, and is intended to exclude me.

So that disqualifies me. I was raised in a secular, half-Jewish and half-lapsed-Catholic household, and I am a stone atheist today. In fact, for anyone who cares (and why should anyone, but this is a blog post), here’s my “statement of faith” – I think a Biblical God is vanishingly unlikely; moreover, I find it surprising that anyone would turn to ancient texts to explain phenomena at all. Turning to those texts, or any texts, for moral guidance, historical interest, or insight into human nature, makes perfect sense – I’m not sure what else one would turn to but human cultural products (part of my statement of faith is that the Bible is a human cultural product, and a central one, right along with other great literature, Beethoven symphonies, and Monet’s paintings) to determine what it is to be human and how to live a good life. Along with introspection.

But to determine what life and death are? To probe the beginnings of the universe? For anything phenomenal at all? Might as well read Moby Dick – you’d learn something about the ocean and whaling, but not enough to crew a ship. On the other hand, you’d learn quite a lot about hubris, humility, and what it is to be human in extremis.

So, just as an interesting article on probes various meanings of the word evolution, I thought I would probe the word “Belief”:

Phenomenal Belief: Say I believe that matter bends space, and makes light waves curve. I do the math, and decide that, if that is the case, a star which one would expect to appear at a particular point in the sky (from many prior measurements) will appear at a different point in the sky due to the intervention of a massive object. I publish this prediction. Others point their telescopes to that point in the sky and, lo and behold, they see the star at the spot I predicted. From then on, they start to believe what I have written as the explanation – namely, that mass bends space, and that light takes the shortest distance, which in curved space isn’t exactly a straight line. This belief, contingent as it is on observation of phenomena, I’ll call phenomenal belief.

Situational Belief: A softer version of the above. I believe day-to-day things that I expect to happen because they happened yesterday – this belief is often upended as products I buy vanish from shelves, businesses close, people move or die, etc. Until they are gone, I have a convenient belief that they will continue.

Allegiance Belief: People believe what their team believes. If your community – ethnic, religious, familial – has a credo, you’ll tend to claim belief in it, which strengthens the bonds in your community. Either we’re better for some reason, or we have a task to perform, or we have certain characteristics (favorite food; weakness for certain sins; resistance to certain other sins). These beliefs are generally partly true, partly silly. Random chance indicates that there will be individuals all over the map vis-a-vis stereotypical characteristics. My childhood exposure to a “nice Jewish family” with a violent, drinking father inoculated me to the Allegiance Belief that Jewish men didn’t drink or beat their family. Maybe they cheated on their wives, certainly they gambled, but no hitting or boozing. Where these stereotypes are concerned, we have strong confirmation biases, supporting our belief that the “vast majority” of whoever conforms to the stereotype, and those who don’t are “rare exceptions.”

More later… have errands to run.

More NPR Watch…

In a previous post, I expressed my unease at the state of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me. Peter Sagal and his new partner Bill Kurtis didn’t seem to be getting along, and I found that very distressing! I depend on them every Monday morning to start off my week. I’m happy to say that everything seems fine with them. Bill has toned down his rather over-hilarious (in the sense of boisterously merry) delivery, and Peter isn’t subtly putting him down in his scripted ripostes.

All is once again love and light, and I can relax.

On the other hand, I’m detecting a little subtext in Warren Olney’s To the Point and Which Way L.A., shows which ought not have any subtext. Like Shakespeare, they are their text, right there on the surface.

Thankfully, the subtext is not in the show proper, but in the promos for other podcasts, which apparently all NPR podcast hosts have to do now. Planet Money does it for the Ted Radio Hour, even This American Life does it. Warren has been tasked with promoting DNA, hosted by Frances Anderton. Warren pronounces it “Fraunces” (like New York’s famous Fraunce’s Tavern), which seems odd. Maybe she’s English and he’s deferring to her own pronunciation? But what I noticed in his promo is the strange stilted delivery and writing. He says the podcast is called “DNA, which, as the name suggests, is about design, art, and architecture.”

The name doesn’t suggest that at all. It suggests microbiology. I have to say, “huh?”

Further, he insists, in a strained voice, that, “she’s wonderfully qualified” and “you’ll really enjoy it.” I feel about that the way I feel about restaurants that have “Wholesome” in the name – if they have to say it, I have to wonder what’s going on in the kitchen.

Also, he says that she edited an architectural magazine, but doesn’t say which one. A quick google reveals that it was probably London’s Architectural Review. Why not say that? It sounds impressive to me.

The thing about Warren (can I call him Warren? Uncle Warren? Mr. Olney?) is his utter straightforwardness. It so cheers me up when, after one of his guests has utterly demolished another guest, Warren turns to them and just says, “Well, what about that?” This curt query is followed by a pause, as the guest waits for waffling or equivocation, but they won’t get that from Warren. Not ol’ Uncle Warren. He just asks the question and lets the guest try and dig their way out.

Doesn’t always work. The guest will often be evasive and jump to a preferred topic, and Warren doesn’t always insist on a direct answer. He does sometimes, which is bracing, but I suppose in the interest of time, he lets the answer stand on its own, and allows the audience decide whom they want to believe.

So hearing him do this awkward promo cuts into my mood. Sorry Warren, I love your shows, and I’m sure Frances’s podcast is terrific (actually, it seems that it isn’t called DNA, but rather DnA – hard to get that distinction across on the radio). But someone needs to take a look at rewriting those promos.

Note – there is a second version of the promo which is much more direct, and in which he doesn’t insist on how much we’ll enjoy it, or how “wonderfully qualified” she is. Better.

Best regards.