Saturday, April 25, 2009

What do you expect of me?

I was cruising the various right-wing blogs and saw a discussion of Miss California who happens to believe the same thing about gay marriage as President Obama, and for that distinction alone she has been nominated for sainthood by the right. She is an attractive woman who has been photographed as you can see here (scroll down to the last picture).

The photograph shows this young lady holding up a wall and looking backwards. From the look on her face she seems to be inviting the cameraman or someone to assist her in the holding up that wall. Presumably, someone beset by less pure thoughts might think her come-hither look inconsistent with her professed Christianity.

And that's what I'm on about right now. I'm a Christian. What do you expect of me? Should I go around in a white sheet and lynch folks who aren't like me after the fashion of the antagonist in The Foreigner? Should I engage in all manner of sexual misdeeds whilst preaching whatever Reverend Dimsdale preached in The Scarlet Letter? Do you expect me to wag my finger at Ms. Carrie Prejean and insist that she should dress more like Ms. Susan Boyle?

Ms. Prejean is a single lass. And anyone who's read their fair share of Jane Austen novels knows that the raison d'ĂȘtre of every single girl is to attract a rich Colonel Brandon, Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, and marry him. Nothing wrong with that.

(Why yes, there is a tongue in my cheek. I hoped you'd notice.)

This whole matter suffers from a misapprehension of what Christianity is. It isn't a set of legalisms designed to trip up those less holy than oneself--a sort of moralistic king of the hill where the more righteous knock down the less righteous with a lot of blamestorming. Primarily Christianity is a mechanism for getting rid of one's sin. The role of Law in Christianity is to convince ourselves of our own failings. The role of Christ in Christianity isn't to provide quotes from the Sermon on the Mount, but to die on the Cross providing a mechanism for granting mercy to some.

If you don't understand this, and you've felt the sting of a guilty conscience, then I think you may be inclined to play your game of king of the moral hill. Every time you push a Christian down, you can call him or her a hypocrite and explain away your stinging conscience with something like, "I'm not perfect, but I'm better than that." Or suppose you lose the game of king of the moral hill. Then you can say, "well, at least I'm not a stick-in-the-mud like him."

Christianity really isn't about that kind of game. It's one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Everyone gets justice or mercy. I happen to need mercy, and I seek it in Christ. It isn't just that I want a "get out of hell free" card, because if I'm going to be saved from my sins, I'm going to have to be saved from doing more sins. And I'm counting on Christ to make that happen in my life. What you can expect from me is a halting, imperfect transition from what I'm doing now to what God expects from me.

A Call For Socialism

I am no fan of socialism. But there are some non-individualist solutions I readily endorse: insurance companies. These work by spreading risk around so that no one person bears the entire cost of whatever hazard is being insured against. This works and it is in a sense a socialist solution even when the government isn't involved.

I am a big fan of tools. I like building things and finding just the right tool in my shop. At Harbor Freight I'm like a kid in a candy store. But there are tools I cannot afford, but would dearly love to own. And I wouldn't buy them even if I could afford them because I wouldn't use them enough to justify the expense. Like a laser cutter. I'd dearly love to own one of those. Or a 3D printer. Or a CNC milling machine. Or a 3D scanner.

I'm looking at using these tools for individual, onesey-twosy projects. Like a pinewood derby car. Or a wooden case for my Sony Reader. I can't justify the expense for a few, little projects.

I don't think I'm alone in this. There are a lot of guys and gals who'd love to have temporary access to some of these wonderful machines. Sometimes you can "know someone" at a company with a model shop, but if you don't, I have a proposal.

Someone either in the private sector, or in the public sector, can set up a public workshop and fill it with tools like I've just described. Given the moribund manufacturing sector in this region, such machines could be had cheaply. Then this workshop can be made available to hobbyists, entrepreneurs, anybody who can afford either a monthly membership fee or an hourly access fee. The workshop would hold classes on how to make simple projects using each tool and on safely using each tool. And after you've passed a safety course, you could use each tool.

This would put some expertise into the hands (and minds) of people who might not have marketable skills at present. It'd provide an interesting diversion for the hobbyist.

I don't think I'd be writing this if I lived in San Francisco. I think I'd just drop by and buy a membership at the TechShop.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"The Foreigner" is really about Democrats & Union thugs

My wife scored free tickets to a play downtown, "The Foreigner," and I came within epsilon of walking out. The play is a remarkably bigoted achievement. It teaches that:
1) people with English accents may be neurotics, but they're invariably the smartest people in the room.
2) people with Southern accents may be good or evil, but they are invariably stupid.
3) preachers are venal manipulators altogether willing to destroy anyone who stands between themselves and a donation
4) Christianity is just another word for racist hate-monger

I was about to leave when it struck me that the post-modern method of deconstruction fits quite nicely here. For one thing, the main antagonist sounded exactly like Jimmy Carter. Every time the preacher came out, I thought of killer rabbits and smiled. And then there was his flunky, a big, stupid, superstitious Klansman who threatened violence to get his way. Heh. Just like a union organizer.

So then, if every time they said, "Christian" I mentally substituted "Democrat" and every time they said, "Klan" I mentally substituted "Union." And everything made perfect sense. I relaxed and enjoyed the play.

Now, you may not agree with my politics in which case, please feel free to find your own substitutions.

Good art tells the truth. If you're going to make the preacher the antagonist, his villainy must ring true to the essential nature of preachers. However, if all you're writing is propaganda, your free to set up a cardboard villain and then paste the label of your favorite out-group onto him. Don't like Nazis, Commies or hippies? The antagonist works equally well. Just paste a different label on the cardboard cut-out.

This is the challenge to the artist. Don't write propaganda. Or if you must, simply recycle the other guys' propaganda and switch around the labels as I've demonstrated. If you're selling to a particular market you can pander to their bigotry. But it is better to capture human nature as it is, people are not cardboard antagonists or protagonists. Everyone is a mix of the noble and the venal. That should be depicted so ambiguously that Democrats see the protagonist as one of their own and the antagonist as one of the out-group. And simultaneously Republicans will do the same.

You may be happy that Democrats are in complete control of the government. But when 51% of the people vote Democrat that means there's 49% who didn't. Why do you want to alienate 49% of your market?

If you tell the truth of the essential nature of each of the characters in your play, you needn't paint yellow stars or scarlet letters on people's breasts. The audience will do so according to their own bigotry. But the truth of those characters' goodness or evil will shine through and you'll have done your job as artist.