Thursday, April 21, 2011

Elections, eh?

I'm sure that to most Americans, the only thing more boring than Canada is Canadian elections, and that's quite understandable. While Americans took the great step forward of electing their first black president in the last presidential election, we Canucks now have the opportunity of taking the great step sideways of re-electing a man with all the charisma of a piece of wood, or replacing him with another man with all the charisma of a piece of wood.

This differs from the last election in that we had a different another man with all the charisma of a piece of wood, and the previous one in that we had yet another different another man with all the charisma of a piece of wood. Of course we do have two major parties with radically different platforms - one, if re-elected, will take our money to benefit their friends in big oil, while the other, if elected, will take our money to benefit their friends in, well, just their friends.

Where Americans had to decide based upon the great issues of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, public health care, and saving millions of people's homes from foreclosure, we have to decide based upon the great issues of whether we will pay more taxes or pay more taxes, whether a major urban bridge should fall down sooner or later, and saving some members of Parliament (what we call Congress) from receiving a lifetime pension after only two years in office.

Americans get to see their politicians caught (literally) with their pants down in things like the blue dress scandal; the most exciting thing that has happened in the personal life of Canadian politicians in the last ten years was when a poor little rich girl dumped both her boyfriend and her party to accept a cabinet post from the other party, in what can only be termed the pinstripe slumber. Ironically, she lost her seat (if not her pants) in the next election when her new party went down to defeat, which is the only kind of going down that happens in Canadian politics.

Our good neighbours have presidential elections every four years that last for two years; we have federal elections every two years that last for about a month, which most of us find way too long. The longest-serving party leader is still known primarily for how silly he once looked in a hairnet while visiting a cheese factory, some 14 years after it happened.

American presidential candidates have included war heroes, movie stars, activists, lawyers, peanut farmers, and more; our Prime Ministerial candidates have included lawyers, lawyers, lawyers, lawyers, lawyers, and more lawyers. No wonder we keep getting screwed. And overbilled.

I guess these contrasts are what you get when you compare a country based on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with one based on peace, order, and good government. Oh well, two out of three ain't bad.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cardboard Jesus

The ladies with Cardboard Jesus
I don't know if you've read Leon's, My Holy Land Experience Redux, or not, but I'd recommend it. For a Christian pastor, he has a certain sardonic flare that makes the heathenish contrarian in me stand up and shout, “Hell yeah, brother, preach on!”

And please forgive the ironic flippancy in my use of the phrase, “Hell yeah!” It's a Southern thang.

His pictorial exposé of the Orlando, Florida amusement park, I dare say, is potentially more enjoyable than an actual visit to the park itself. I haven't personally been, but my wife and daughter visited recently, on a school field trip, and they led me to believe it's not necessarily amusing. I came to that conclusion when my daughter told me, “It was alright, but I was glad when we left.” Not a glowing endorsement.

Leon and his son with a real life Jesus impersonator.

Like Leon, they took pictures, and like Leon, got a picture with Jesus, the only difference being Leon's Jesus was three-dimensional, while the ladies was only two-dimensional.  Egads!  Leon does a great job of pointing out the over commercialization that's rampant in Christianity today, and the obvious hypocrisy of making Jesus a marketable commodity on his blog, but at least he got a full bodied Jesus impersonator while the ladies only got a cardboard cut out!  What gives!

I did see a certain irony in their pictures of Jesus, one I could relate to personally. The contrast of Leon's Jesus to my wife and daughter's cardboard Jesus made me think about my own perception of him, and how it's changed over the years.

Like many Southern children, I attended Sunday School. We were taught Bible stories, like; Jonah and the whale, Moses parting the Red Sea, Jesus' resurrection. We sang songs, recited Bible verses, ate cookies and candy. We also got the hell scared out of us, leading us to repent of our plethora of sins and hoping to get our Get out of Hell cards, because Hell seemed really bad to us. I have to admit, I never really got much more out of church beyond that back then. It seemed Christianity was only about avoiding hell in those days.

It wasn't until I was an apostate adult that Jesus started to make more sense to me. When I actually read the Bible – and not just listened to someone else's rendering of it - and read the words ascribed to be Jesus', I became interested. The Jesus of the Gospels was a freakin' revolutionary radical that turned the religious establishment on its ear! He challenged the predominantly Pharisaical Judaism of the day, even going so far as to suggest he was the fulfillment of their religious laws! The idea that one was to love sacrificially appealed to me, as did the concept that that all people were equally loved by God. The more I read, the more I studied, the more I liked this Jesus. He was so different from the Jesus I'd heard about in Sunday School. Back then, I was taught to fear Jesus, but I realized I didn't need to fear him after all. I actually came to love him.

My family and I started to attend church in order to worship and follow Jesus. It seemed the natural thing to do. My wife and I both had conservative Christian backgrounds, so we gravitated towards that type of church. In hindsight, I know that was a mistake. It's amazing what happened to the Jesus I'd come to love once he was put through the grinder of conservative, fundamentalist Christianity. Once again, he became a Jesus to fear, as doctrine and dogma sucked the life right out of him. Unfortunately, I'd fallen into a world where evolution is considered pseudo-science, despite the fact that seven day creationism can't be supported scientifically, that the Bible is inerrant, even though that notion can be dispelled with a cursory reading, and that today's evangelical brand of Christianity is the only way to heaven, regardless of the fact that it's a relatively new religion that ignored history and it's own two thousand year evolution. I'd fallen into a world of myopic ritual and self-inflicted ignorance.

I have to tell you, fear is a great motivator, and it took me several years to completely reject that belief system, but I'm glad I was finally able to. Sadly, my religious life relegated Jesus to resemble the cardboard cutout in my wife and daughter's picture; flat and without depth, and utterly lifeless. Gone was the Jesus I read about in my Bible; he'd become the Pharisee to me. He was condemnation and conviction, not love; he was the establishment, not the revolutionary. I have to tell you, that realization sucked for me. Still does.

I'd like to get back to the Jesus I admired some twenty years ago, the one I read about, the one before religion took him away. He wasn't some supernatural entity that was beyond my ability to comprehend, like the one I'd come to learned about as a child, the one my church espoused. I like the revolutionary Jesus, the Jesus that loved everybody. I don't like Cardboard Jesus.

Well, that seems a lot to get from a couple of pictures, but there you go.  Christopher Hitchens says religion poisons everything, and while I might not necessarily accept that fully, I anecdotally understand it.  Religion certainly poisoned my perception of Jesus.  Still, I have hope I'll see him as I did once, unencumbered by religion.  And maybe I'll even admire him again.

Monday, April 4, 2011

How Does The Universe Work?

The Universe, it is said, works in mysterious ways. But does it? I'm not so sure anymore.

I used to believe that the Universe was entirely random, much like the googleverse, but I'm not so sure about that anymore either. I had a theory that so many things happened that by pure chance, some would seem eerily coincidental. The laws of probability suggest that every now and then, coincidences would converge to seem entirely uncoincidental, but this too, said my theory, was also random.

At some point, though, enough is enough, and maybe even too much. Sure, sit an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of Macbooks and they will eventually produce the entire works of Shakespeare, but who can afford an infinite number of Macbooks? Not to mention that before they produce the entire works of Shakespeare, they are more likely to produce all the scripts from Hello Larry, the full repertoire of Journey, and the complete code for Windows ME. Okay, maybe that last one will only require half an infinite number of monkeys, and could probably work with baboons at that.

I should probably stop insulting monkeys before the good folks from PETA get on my case, so let's get back on topic here. Is there a point at which so many coincidences converge that it becomes unlikely that they are purely coincidental? Despite my earlier theory, I am inclined to think so. Without going into detail, which would just make me seem weird, I humbly suggest that the Universe is not quite as dumb as it seems, and this despite It having allowed a scenario where Sarah Palin is seriously considered as a presidential candidate.

I guess I'm going to have to go into some detail. By accident, I ended up somewhere that led me to random interactions that eventually inspired me to embark on an unlikely excursion that included an unpredictable series of events that later influenced me to follow an uncharacteristic course of action that brought me to an  improbable set of circumstances that resulted in something completely unexpected. If that's not a clear indication that the Universe has Its hand in things, I don't know what is.

The point is that the odds of all this happening the way it did are as unlikely as, well, monkeys writing Shakespeare. Yet it did, while the monkeys are still designing the next version of Internet Explorer. Add to all of those details some downright bizarre "coincidences" that relate to seemingly unrelated events and circumstances from the past, and even an infinite number of monkeys squared couldn't have possibly scripted something that obvious.

Does all this mean that the Universe has everything planned out for us? Of course not - then what would be the point? What it means is that the Universe gives us possibilities, and signs by which to recognize them. When we ignore the signs, we end up like the guy on his roof in a flood who asked, "Lord, I refused help because I had faith in you to save me; why have you left me to drown?" To which the Lord replied, "I sent you a ladder truck, a boat, and a helicopter. What more did you want?"

When we see the signs, we are able to follow the path the Universe has made possible for us, and once we're on our way, every now and then it throws in another sign just to let us know we are headed in the right direction. That's right, the Universe speaks to us in subtext. Meanwhile, back at the lab, the monkeys are still pounding away at their Macbooks, spewing forth a new Panic At The Disco song from time to time, but still no Shakespeare.