Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days

The logo from the Marvel comics The Inhumans

What is it about tragedy that brings out the worst in people?

I know what you’re thinking: Tragedies can also bring out the best. We have seen how America has banded together in the wake of the terrible devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose.

But then, there’s the recent Las Vegas shooting.

I’m not going to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say an incredibly evil man shot a bunch of people at a music festival, killing close to 60 and wounding hundreds of others before turning the gun on himself.

Once again, the reaction to this act of inhumanity is nearly as inhuman as the act itself.

No, you see, it wasn’t the killer who bears responsibility. It’s the NRA. It’s NRA members. It’s the Republican Party of the United States of America. It’s any lawmaker who didn’t vote to enact laws (that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway).  It’s anyone who supports the Second Amendment. It’s anybody who likes country music. It’s anybody who voted for Donald Trump. It’s Donald Trump himself (for God’s sake, the man is living rent-free in 60,000,000 people’s heads. Why does anybody let a politician control their thoughts and emotions?!).

The impulse to immediately start casting blame at people who had nothing to do with an act of violence instead of blaming the actual perpetrator is terrifyingly inhuman and evil. 

It’s sick and it’s wrong and it explains so much of what is going on in this country.

This attitude explains why there seems to be no hope of communication, no hope of reconciliation. One group of people wants the other to actually die.

How do you overcome this? How do you get over hatred, which seems to be one of the easiest, most enjoyable emotion to succumb to?

For starters, you have to imagine the other person as a human being with a soul and inherent worth. This might take a hell of a lot of imagination, but it can be done. And once it’s done, you start to extrapolate what would happen if this person were to die:

  • Do they have wife? Children? A family?.
  • Do other people enjoy spending time with them? Are other people relying on them?
  • How would other people’s lives be impacted if this person were to die?
  • What about the important people in your life? How would they be affected if you died?
  • How would you feel if someone that you cared for were murdered merely for their beliefs or opinions?

Really, it’s no different than the old cliche of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. These are really basic, human questions to act. And yet humanity seems in such short supply. Continue reading “Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days”

Eight Insights About God, Man, and Creation from Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed

Moses Maimonides - The Guide for the Perplexed cover

How does one “review” a dense, millennia-old treatise on Jewish philosophy and religion?

One doesn’t. But what one can do is share insights and particularly powerful ideas and concepts with another.

In The Guide for the Perplexed, written around 1190 in Moor-occupied Spain, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (aka Maimonides aka Rambam) writes to his student Rabbi Joseph ben Judah of Ceuta, to remove some of his confusions regarding certain aspects of faith and philosophy.

The Guide touches on many, many topics including:

  • The multiple meanings of Hebrew words and how to properly interpret the Torah (aka the first five books of the Old Testament)
  • Aristotelian philosophy: what Aristotle got right and wrong
  • Problems Maimonides sees with certain aspects of Islamic theology
  • The nature of God and proof of His existence
  • The nature of evil, and why it exists
  • Divine Providence
  • The nature of angels, prophecy (with a detailed discussion of Ezekiel) and dreams
  • Astronomy (as understood at the time) and the “spheres”
  • The purpose of God’s commandments

And yet instead of seeming disjointed, the Guide has as a constant thread two main themes:

  1. Discerning who God is and what He wants
  2. Achieving perfection, as much as possible, by coming to true knowledge of God

It’s heavy stuff, but it makes you appreciate the magic of the written word, and how one man’s letters nearly one thousand years ago still speak to us today, explaining mysteries and, as the title says, removing perplexities . . . or at least easing them and providing a way forward for further studies and thought.

Moses Maimonides statue Cordoba, Spain

Regular readers of Amatopia know that I am a Christian and don’t shy about writing on religious topics, so if that isn’t your bag, you have been warned. But even though Maimonides was Jewish, there is much overlap between Judaism and Christianity–same God, same creation stories, same traditions, similar rites (or at least the meaning behind them) and much of the same general theology and philosophy about God and man.

Obviously, Christians accept Christ as the promised Messiah and Son of God described in Jewish prophecy and Jews regard Him as a prophet and religious leader, but not Divine.

But the point remains: Christians can get a lot out of The Guide for the Perplexed. And even if you are not Christian, Jewish, or religious at all, Maimonides is a powerful thinker you will get a lot out of reading. Here are eight of my favorite takeaways from The Guide for the Perplexed:

Continue reading “Eight Insights About God, Man, and Creation from Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed

Must We Politics?

Must politics ruin everything?

Must politics infect even our art?

Must blog posts have bad grammar?

These thoughts came to me recently (well, maybe not the grammar one) as I witnessed author Jon Del Arroz on Twitter going back-and-forth with other authors about the seeming impossibility of keeping politics out of fiction. Jon, clearly, thinks that it is possible to write politics-free fiction, and that it is, in fact, easy to do. This is part of the impetus behind the Pulp Revolution, after all:

Just don’t write politics into it.

 

Author Jon Del Arroz
Jon Del Arroz

On the other side is the view that it’s impossible because political viewpoints form who the author is, and that such a fundamental part of the writer–or artist in general–is always going to seep through:

Politics are a part of the author, and every work is a piece of the author’s soul.

I have a problem with this second position, for four main reasons:

  1. Hypocrisy on the part of those who make this argument. These are the same people who try to tell us that, in our politicians, character doesn’t matter and that personal beliefs, whether philosophy or faith, need to be kept out of politics. Yet it’s “impossible” to separate personal values and beliefs from something with arguably far fewer consequences like art? Do we pick and choose based on some arbitrary metric? How does this even make sense?
  2. The conflation of contemporary politics with universal themes about humanity. Much of what passes as contemporary political philosophy is meaningless gibberish. Deconstruction, critical theory, tax policy, post-modernism, and the reduction of every single facet of human interaction into the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy has as much to do with the human experience and the intellectual life as your bowel movement has to do with high art (unless you’re a Dadaist, I guess, then have at it).
  3. It demonstrates a lack of skill. This one is short but sweet: a good writer can write from the perspective of anyone, and make the reader believe it…without the character sounding like a mouthpiece for the author.
  4. The conflation of politics with values. This is the big one. Values might determine what political affiliation–if any–you gravitate towards. But when we talk “values,” we usually aren’t talking “I’m a Republican!” or “I’m a Democrat!” Or at least we shouldn’t be.

I am a firm believer that one can enjoy art despite its creator’s politics. Don’t like Nazis? No one does! But just because Richard Wagner was Hitler’s favorite doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy The Nibelungenlied.

What’s that, you say? You’re not a Che-worshipping, Lenin-loving murderous Marxist? Well guess what: You can still listen to–and enjoy!–Rage Against the Machine (though those dudes will still hate you).

You get the idea.

But far more interesting is the “power lifts as values” issue. Let’s explore this a bit further. Continue reading “Must We Politics?”

Everyone Is Garbage and I Want to Go Home

I have refrained from writing about Charlottesville and other politics stuff because it’s all too stupid. HOT TAKES are flying around everywhere, nuclear hot takes, and the hottest of hot takes are usually exceedingly dumb and offered right after the incident in question.

They also suffer from a lack of nuance.

Worse, they present us, the regular person with a job and bills to pay, maybe with a family, who has nary an ounce of hate in our bones and who wants to just be left alone, to pick a side between two options.

Two garbage options.

White nationalists Reichtards are garbage. Violent Antifa communist anarchists are garbage. Politicians are garbage. Our two major political parties are garbage. The fringe parties are garbage. Our media is garbage. Our education system is garbage. Law enforcement is garbage.

Everybody is garbage.

Why on Earth, then, would anybody pick either side of this false choice? Continue reading “Everyone Is Garbage and I Want to Go Home”

No One Can Do the Work For You

People want to be told what to do. This is a fact, despite our protestations to the contrary. Many of us crave leadership, reassurance, a direction.

But when when we get this, we resent the fact that we still have to do the work to get where we want to be.

Otherwise, we resent that we’re being led by the nose and micromanaged.

We’re a fickle species, aren’t we? Especially when it comes to the King of All Topics to Be Avoided: religion.

Me, I’m not a very good listener.

I had an interesting conversation the other night with two co-workers, one who is a Catholic and the other who had actually studied and trained to be a Catholic priest, but ended up not taking his vows.

The discussion was far-ranging, covering things like the nature of belief, why rituals and rites are important, where morality comes from, and the vital role played by tradition and study versus personal interpretations of Scripture.

But what I started thinking about after this conversation really got my mind abuzz.

One attack used by opponents of religion (though their ire strangely always seems focused only on Christianity…) is the idea that, if God were real, why would He allow any suffering on Earth? “Show us a sign, losers!” they demand, as though God is a puppet to dispense blessings, or a slot-machine that just the right prayer worded just the right way can force to give a winning spin.

Such a deity would be a puppet master, treating humanity the way that lots of pagan gods, from the Greeks to the Norse to the Egyptians did.

He would be telling us what to do…and make us do it.

Instead, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, of Jesus and John, Peter and Mary and Paul lets us figure things out on our own. He may give leadership and guidance, but instead of fastening us with a leash, He opens the door and let’s us make our own ways through the wilds of the world.

Why is that?

I think a lot about how our interactions with others mirror God’s interactions with his creation. Even the Deists viewed him as a “Watchmaker,” so to speak, setting the machine in motion and hiding behind the scenes.

Think of God as a Father: The way He relates to us, his “children,” if you will, is a model of how we should relate to our own children as parents. Particularly the example of Jesus (“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”)

A good parent isn’t one who coddles their children. This ensures that the child will grow up to be a fearful and risk-averse adult, always appealing to authority for help, unable to make anything resembling an adult decision.

But what about being a teacher? It sounds kind of similar, doesn’t it?

Continue reading “No One Can Do the Work For You”

Ask a Christian, Part II

I had a classmate in school. She was part European and part Arab, and spent time growing up in both parts of the world. 

She was an atheist, and explained that the sectarian violence she saw while living in Lebanon had convinced her that there was nothing good whatsoever about religion.

During one section of our studies taught by a futurist–one of the most fascinating people I had ever met, actually–we were tying to gameplan how things may look 500, 100, and even 50 years from now.

I was in a group with this particular classmate, who predicted that in 50 years, religion wouldn’t matter, and would indeed vanish entirely from the face of the Earth.

“Fifty years?” I said, and I’m paraphrasing here so bear with me. “There are a few billion people who might disagree with that!”

In fact, I further propounded that, no matter how “modern” we get, religion probably won’t ever entirely go away.

Anyway, we had an interesting, very civil group discussion. But one thing this classmate said to me those years ago still resonates.

“You’re Orthodox, aren’t you? I’ve been to a few churches. That’s really…heavy.” She said the word “heavy” as if she felt the weight just speaking it.

I had no good answer then, and indeed didn’t know if I had to answer, since she didn’t seem to be saying it as an insult. Now, though, I realize what my answer to such a charge is:

Of course it’s “heavy.” Why wouldn’t it be?

How couldn’t matters of the soul, of eternity, of the literal meaning of life, not be heavy, regardless of what faith you belong?

This, perhaps, is what most non-Christians don’t get about us. Maybe we’re just wired a different way, but if you want to understand why we’re preoccupied with these sort of things, it’s because eternity is a very, very long time.

We also aren’t satisfied with the explanation that everything just happened and continues to happen for no reason whatsoever, nor with the certianty that humanity will ever know, and indeed might know now, everything about everything, ever. This seems…arrogant to us. 

So to help with this and a few other things, I’m back with another edition of Ask a Christian to maybe explain some of this heavy stuff we’re so preoccupied with, as well as a few other common misconceptions.  Continue reading “Ask a Christian, Part II”

Lessons from a Life


I know that most of my fellow Americans are gearing up for their Independence Day celebrations–which are important–but this time of year has a different meaning for my family.

It was around this time last year that my mother-in-law passed, just shy of her 57th birthday, after a nasty 10-month bout with the god of all sicknesses, cancer. We just had her one-year memorial service, which has overshadowed any Fourth of July-related activities. 

Even before she got sick, I spent a lot of time thinking about death and what it means, and I suppose her illness got me thinking about it more

But I don’t want to talk about death right now. I’d rather talk about life. And though I only knew my mother-in-law for nine years, they way she lived her life, and how she acted at its end, made a strong impression on me that I’ll never forget.

See the good. My mother-in-law, no matter what, has everyone the benefit of the doubt. Every person, no matter who or what they were, had a chance in her eyes. And if they did something to prove they weren’t worthy of her time or respect, she never acted maliciously towards them. Her attitude was “Everyone’s different, and everyone’s going through something.” So why waste your energy hating them, or letting them control your thoughts and emotions?

Party. My mother-in-law didn’t drink, but she was an incredibly vivacious person. And she loved having fun whenever the chance presented itself. Dancing, music, laughter…she was always the life of a party. As her and my father-in-law ran their own businesses, they worked very hard. But she never forgot that it was good to let loose and have fun with family and friends. 

Forgiveness. Even at the end, she forgave people who did them wrong. And let me tell you, she would confront people about things…but always in a respectful manner, from a place of love and of wanting to move past it. She took Church teaching on this very seriously. I think we’d all be better off if we did too.  Continue reading “Lessons from a Life”