Friday, July 29, 2005

I'm right and you're wrong.

It's funny that people are so repulsed by that statement. Yet we live with that assumption in many areas of life. What is school? It's a series of people who know more about a certain subject telling you that they are right, and you agree with them. How do we teach our children to be moral? We tell them that when they lie, cheat, and steal that they are wrong to do so. I am right and you are wrong. Such a basic principal. If we go to driving school and insist that we should be able to drive through red lights, what would our instructor say to us? That's right. We are wrong and they are right.

Now I could ask why this is fine for most people in those spheres of life, but when we make the claim about spiritual things we are horrible people. But instead I'm going to turn it around and ask this… Why don't you apply your insistence that no one knows the truth, and that everyone is right, to the real world? Why don't you tell the IRS that? Why don't you tell your teacher that? Why don't you let your kids do whatever they want because their viewpoint is just as valid as yours? Well there is a big difference, I hear you say. Why? Because if our kids eat as much candy as they want and stay up all night playing video games and making crank calls, then steal our wallet and drive our car off a cliff that won't be good for them, will it? Does that mean that when we tell our kids 'NO' we are asserting some kind of superiority over them? Are we saying that we are better than them, and that's why we are right and they are wrong? What about the police… Are they better people because they caught you going 50 in a 35 zone? No. The authority of parents and police are backed up by fact and law. There can be any amount of love, or lack thereof in the statements they make, but that does not change the fact that they are right. "It's not good for you to spit on your brother." is a true statement. I don't need to apologize when I tell that to my son.

Yes, I do have a point. If you are upset that any particular religion offers a truth-claim that excludes other viewpoints, please understand that it is not a judgment about your worth as a human being. It's very possible that the person delivering the message does not realize this, and is in fact a jerk. But the idea that one thing is right, and another is wrong, is not in itself biased in any direction. It's simple logic. Religions and philosophies have competing and contradictory claims. They can not all be true. Though it is possible that they are all false. So please don't think that because I think that I am right about what God has revealed to me, and that people who disagree are wrong, that gives me any sense of power, pride, or even dignity. There is one Truth that we all must submit to. My submission to it does not make me any better or worse than those who don't. I'm a leprous beggar who was shown where the healing water is. When I point it out to others, it's from love, not pride, that I do so.

What the bleep do I know? What the bleep do you know?

I read about a movie on video that just came out on an online forum called 'What the Bleep Do We Know?'. It sounded really interesting to me because it's about a topic that I find fascinating: quantum physics. Moreover, I heard that its thrust leads towards philosophical and spiritual ideas. I've been intrigued by the concept of quantum physics ever since I heard about it for just that reason. It seems that the more we try to understand the natural world, the more we realize we don't know. And many of the new discoveries and theories point towards what can easily be described as a spiritual reality. Scientists have found that the sub-atomic world have very different rules than what physics has said since Newton. Quantum physics is full of paradoxes, anomalies, enigmas, and every other synonym for weirdness that there is. So to explain why, scientists have come up with some theories, and they are really out there from a modernist, materialists viewpoint. But they are right at home in the worldview of people who embrace the idea of a spiritual reality.

One thing this movie really drove home for me is the fact that as a lay person with no inclination towards math, physics, etc., my opinions about the subject are going to very much be shaped by those who present the topic. But in this case, the film makers were so over the top in their desire to push a particular worldview that it was embarrassingly obvious. Let me first establish that this is not a normal movie. It's part documentary, part science lecture, part humorous/thought provoking fiction; and it's all spliced together in the most entertaining way possible. They have about a dozen talking heads with a very wide variety of credentials who say 5 to 20 second snippets of info/opinion, and cuts back and forth to a semi-narrative about a deaf photographer who is apparently having a series of epiphanies, then a nervous breakdown that leads to new age enlightenment where she learns to love herself and finds happiness. Her path through the story is structured around the way the ideas of the film makers are laid out. They start with some woefully anorexic explanations of what quantum theory is. But they leave out quite a few really important things. (For example there is no mention of the theoretical Higgs boson particles that would unify a lot of the disparate theories within the field.) They do let some of the interviewees confess that the whole field is a bunch of educated guesses, and that it's built on layer upon layer of supposition and assumption.

Then they go into biochemistry, and talking about addiction. That seemed a bit odd to me. But as the film progressed I realized it was because they had really wanted to make a point that really has nothing to do with quantum physics. Quantum physics is just a tool they are using to promote a new age philosophy. And what a tool it is! They said over and over, "Quantum physics shows us…" It reminds me of the turn of the last century when electricity was the new mysterious frontier of science. And it was used buy snake-oil salesmen as a tool to sell all sorts of fraudulent things like cures for mental disorders. The way this movie is put together leads the viewer from one supposition to the next in such an insubstantial, fast paced manner that when it reached its destination I was almost laughing at it's ostentatious ludicrousness. Once most of the talking heads said – with their own spin – that there is no right or wrong, that we are all God, and that established religions are the cause of most of humanity's suffering, it's hard to give any credibility to the film as a learning tool. Even if you agree with those claims, you have to admit that a film that is ostensibly about science but leads to a didactic philosophical message is dubious, if not downright sinister.

Add to that some completely unnecessary bad language, a few brief sex scenes and other vulgarities and you have a real loser of a film. Not to mention the fact that one of the interviewees says his interview snippets were taken completely out of context and made to look like he was agreeing with the main thrust of the film.

It's a real shame that the first big, popular exposure that quantum physics is getting is this propaganda piece of crap. It would be fine if it was marketed as a new age apologetic, but it's not. I'd love to see a real, non-biased, film about the subject that shows a true cross section of scientists in the field, nixes the chiropractors and channeled-spirits-of-the-dead (Yes, one of the main interviewees claims to be the mouthpiece of "Ramtha" an ancient warrior spirit), and lets viewers draw their own conclusions, but I guess I'll have to wait.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I'm a mess o' pain

So I thought I was getting better after my car accident last month. My side was hardly hurting at all. Then last weekend I decided I was well enough to swordfight with my kids on the playground. The problem is that when I play with my kids I tend to get carried away. We do some serious swashbuckling, complete with jumping off of high things, swinging on ropes and tumbling around. Well, I didn't tumble this time. But I had to stop after 20 minuets or so because my side started aching again. So I took it easy, but by the next day I was back to the way I was a day after the accident. I couldn't rotate certain ways, pick up anything heavy, and getting up and down hurt.

It subsided a bit by Wednesday, and I felt brave enough to attend a Zao concert I had a ticket to. I knew I had to take it easy, so I spent most to the show, (While the other bands were playing.) hanging out with Dan -the vocalist for Zao- in the bar area talking about all sorts of things. Then, when they went on I stayed in the periphery of the mosh pit, and kept my arm covering my wounded side. I got jostled a bit… and there were some songs where I just had to jump up and down a little. But over all I was really laid back compared to how I am normally at these shows.

Then that night I could barely move. Over the next several days every movement was wince-inducing. Saturday I started getting mysterious pains in my torso. But I had gotten Blindside tickets for me and my girl for our 4-month anniversary, so we went to the show. I displayed enormous restraint that night. I stayed completely off the main floor and barely nodded my head to the music. I was so frustrated! The mosh pit looked really fun. Despite my restraint and several chiropractor visits, my back is a tangle of pain and it's impossible for me to get comfortable.

On the plus side, this week I actually got some real work to do now. After we shipped our game we were in kind of a holding pattern for a couple of months. So while I had some busy-work to do, most of us were sitting on our hands most of the time. I kept bugging my boss about getting real work, so I was the first one to get a new level assigned to me. It's nice to actually be producing something again.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Southern Discomfort

One thing many Christians have a problem doing is differentiating Christianity from their culture. I was born and raised in the church, so I'm quite familiar with this phenomenon. In fact, I still struggle with it. It's really hard to evaluate all the assumptions you had about the societal norms that you grew up with. Which were biblically based, which are just cultural, and then how do you deal with all the sticky ones in between. Here's an example from my background…

My circle of friends who were all Christians in the same church thought that people who drank alcohol were hell-bound for sure. Same with smokers. Sure, we recognized that people who snorted coke were worse, but really, who cares… they're all going to the same place. So imagine my shock and horror when I met someone who seemed to be a grounded, rational Christian who drank an occasional beer. It made no sense to me. I think that was the first time I realized there was a difference between Assembly of God culture and what God intends for Christians to be like.

I don't know if this is the way it is in other countries, but the problem here is America is greatly exacerbated by the evangelical subculture we have created for ourselves. We have rightly observed that the culture at large is a cesspool of corrosive ideas, no morals, and godlessness. But then we wrongly retract into a hard shell of our own reactionary restrictions. We raise our children in this cultural carapace, and they don't even know how to relate to those outside of it. After all, why interact with the sinners who might corrupt us? We have our own music, TV, radio, books, and anything else that could possibly have the taint of secular culture upon it.

I think there are numerous problems that come from creating and living in our little Christian ghetto. First of all, like I pointed out from my own experience, it tends to create a very judgmental attitude towards those who are not in that ghetto. Notice I didn't say a judgmental attitude towards the culture at large. Being discerning about what is good, right, beautiful, etc. is a very important element in every Christians walk. But writing people off because they don't conform to your standards is the antithesis of a Christ-like spirit. So should we hang out with evil people? I wouldn't want my kids playing at friends house if their dad had pornography laying all over. Of course you still have to have standards. But excluding normal, law abiding people from your circle of friends and acquaintances isn't good for anyone.

Besides creating a judgmental spirit, our Christian quarantine does not prepare our kids for the day they leave the nest and start making their own decisions in life. It is a very common scenario that a kid will be a great Christian up until they leave home for collage, fall in with non-Christian friends, realize there are all sorts of other viewpoints out there, and fall away from the faith. Why? Is it because the new ideas, philosophies and lifestyles are superior then what they were raised with? I don't think so. It's because they never had to learn to defend their beliefs before. It's like sending someone with no training into a cage-match with a hundred ninjas! If they have been taught, (seldom explicitly) that outsiders are wrong, bad, and foolish, then the first time they meet a smart, kind person with a different philosophy they have no way to counteract their arguments. And I'm told there is nothing collage professors love more than trouncing the fragile worldview of Christian freshmen.

So why do we do this? Why do we hide our light? Why can't we recognize that too much safety isn't a good thing? It's like putting our kids in a bubble all their lives. As soon as they get out of it they are going to get every sickness around because they never had a chance to build immunity to them.

Of course any subculture that regularly get attacked and marginalized with withdraw. But I think this tendency in the evangelical community to hide from the world stems from a much deeper problem. I don't think the real reason is because we want to stay pure. I think it's because we are insecure in our beliefs. Parents don't have answers or rebuttals to the current attacks on our faith. Society at large has painted us as ignorant, anti-science, bigots, and we apparently don't have a good argument against that image. Is it because these answers and arguments don't exist? No. I've read many very good responses to every critique of Christianity I have ever heard. But because evangelicals are content to stay marginalized, they don't seem to be interested in learning these answers.

Back when I gave up on my dream of working in the videogame industry, we moved to Oklahoma where my then-wife's extended family lived. Though I have lived all over the place since I grew up in the Air Force, my default culture is northwestern through and through. I was too young to recognize the cultural difference when I lived in Texas. But this time, in Oklahoma, I really realized there is a big difference between south and north. Her family is all very entrenched in the southern evangelical subculture, so I got a really good dose of it for the three months we lived there. I was amazed at how judgmental they were about everything and everyone. Not discerning-judgmental, condescending-judgmental. I got to be on the receiving end of it on many occasions. You see, the fact that I wore black almost-combat boots was far out for these people. The music I like is clearly of the devil. I play fantasy video games, and we all know where fantasy comes from, don't we? That's right. Satan. I was advised not to show anyone my sketchbooks, as they are full of weird things that could only be inspired by the forces of evil.

I don't want to pick on southerners specifically. That's just where I experienced the phenomenon I'm speaking about the most. And I don't think there is anything wrong with cultural mores, but as Christians we need to recognize them for what they are. And most importantly, we need to make sure we don't attach the weight of divine scripture to what amounts to passing cultural customs and attitudes. Let's not put a "Thou shalt not" before our cultural restrictions when the Bible says nothing about them. Thou shalt not play cards. Thou shalt not dance. Thou shalt not read fantasy novels. Thou shalt vote republican. Thou shalt not listen to heavy metal. When we do this we are doing two things. First, we become legalists, substituting tradition for grace. And second, we make Christianity look really ridiculous to outsiders.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

How important is presentation?

I'm very sad to report that I've lost what may have been my only reader. I apparently offended them enough that they no longer want to know me any further. Being the type of person I am, my first reaction was "Oh well." Because I rarely care what people think about me or my ideas. But then I remembered how annoyed I get by most street preachers and other in-your-face proponents of my faith and ideas. Why am I annoyed by them? It's not their message. (Usually) It's the method by which they present that faith. Telling people that they will suffer for eternity if they don't start believing like me is not conducive to a loving relationship with God. For one, because most people simply don't believe it anymore, but more importantly, because those who do make a religious decision based on fear are more likely to be working the system then they are to be lovers of God and His ways. It's what we call fire insurance. And it's a relationship with God based on selfish motives. (Not wanting to go to hell.) So Christianity is presented as a sort of business arrangement. You go to church, pay your tithe, and check the box marked Christian on all the polls, and in return you go to heaven. I don't see the love there.

Then there are those who promise prosperity to those who will convert. They say God will make you wealthy if you just believe hard enough. He will answer your prayer if you give enough. Obviously this line of thinking gets you in the same kind of contractual mindset as the first.

Both of these presentations of my faith are fundamentally flawed and lead to bad religion. Not the band. Well, maybe the band. But mostly a faith that seems to run parallel to Christianity, but slowly and surely bends further and further from it. And what those initial presentations have that so offends me is that they share the same tactics as high-pressure sales. "You can't possibly keep driving your current car. It's a death trap! Think of your children. The safety rating on THIS beauty is so much higher." And, "Your neighbors will be green with envy when you pull this gorgeous automobile into your driveway."

So now I have to ask myself, am I presenting my beliefs in such a way that will unnecessarily turn people off to the gospel? It's something I want to explore, because of the nature of the letter I got from my gentle ex reader. They didn't say that my ideas were bad, my logic flawed, or that Christianity is just for losers. No, they said: "I think I finally see the true you, and I don't think you are somebody I want to know any further." This is a profoundly personal attack. (Please don't think I'm whining, it really doesn’t bother me.) This says that they have discovered my essence, and found it of so little value that they are choosing to never listen to me again. They go on further to say that they think I am being hypocritical and judgmental in a mocking way.

So I think there are three possible explanations for this. One would be that this person was just so offended by my ideas that they chose to lash out at me personally. (Something that I think everyone does from time to time.) Another option would be that I truly presented my ideas in a condescending manner, which exposed a real character flaw that is so repulsive it drives people away. I won't deny that this is a possibility. A third explanation would be that my beliefs are intrinsically offensive, and therefore a certain number of people will naturally find them -and the bearer of them- offensive.

Oh, and a forth option would be a big mixture of all of the above. This is probably closest to the truth, but I find that there is usually an option that is MOST true.

It would be really easy for me to argue option 3. Jesus said many times, and showed us even more, that His message offends people. He said he is a rock of offence that many will stumble over. He pissed off the religious elite and the secular rulers. He beat down a bunch of merchants selling animals in the temple. He hung out with prostitutes, ex-demoniacs, and thieves. The guy was clearly not trying to win any popularity contests. So I could easily claim all that stuff, dismiss my ex reader's rejection as a rejection of truth itself, and move on just fine. But isn't that exactly what the fire-and-brimstone street prophet thinks every time someone spits on him? Or the televangelist says when their ratings fall? Yet I point at them and say, "It's your presentation that is flawed!" So I need to look at the four fingers pointing back at me for a bit.

OK, so that's the religious counterargument I could make. Here is the philosophical one… If someone believes that no one can know absolute truth, as postmodernists and most agnostics think, then anyone who claims to know it must seem to be an insufferably arrogant person. Therefore any postmodernist believes any fundamentalist is arrogant. Therefore my ex-reader could never have a positive impression of me since I claim to know an absolute truth. Though I think I have made is clear that I don't believe I know this truth because of any merit of my own. I have said before, I, and every other Christian have been given revelation, not because we deserve it, but because God freely gives it to any who ask. Anyway. That is another way I could dismiss this persons apparent disgust… By showing that our philosophies are like oil and water.

But do I want to leave it at that? I suspect that probably accounts for everything. But I've been wrong before about a great many things. So I wonder, is there a better way for me to present what I believe to be truth? I could tailor my message to a postmodernist by downplaying all the absolute statements Christ made, and emphasizing that I don't know any of this for sure. But then I'd be pandering just like the prosperity preachers pander to the selfish. I guess there is no easy way to present an incompatible worldview to people who don't like what you have to say. I suppose that is why we need the Holy Spirit to guide us as we interact with those around us.

But what about the written word. There is no way to customize your message to an individual in this medium. There is no way to become silent when you notice that you should be, or warm your tone when you feel you may have upset someone.

With that in mind I'm looking over the offending entry and weeding out what could cause someone to dislike me so much. (Beyond just stating what I believe is truth.) I did use the word stupid to describe a moderate position on abortion. I usually try to avoid that because using the word stupid to describe something generally a shortcut for lazy thinking. It means you object to something, but you don't want to take the time to explain why. But in this case, I think I clearly articulated why I believe that position is stupid. And I have never heard a satisfactory rebuttal to the argument. Although that doesn’t give me the right to insinuate that people who disagree with me are stupid. Though I make a distinction between the quality of an idea, and the person who holds the idea, I recognize that many people do not. So I will strive to omit words like stupid from my writing from now on.

Another potentially offensive thing I said was that agnosticism is a place where men go to bury their hearts. Again, I draw a clear distinction between the validity of an idea, and the validity of a person who believes it. And when it comes to this statement, I am reporting what I have seen. Because I believe God gave us our hearts to give back to Him, the philosophy of agnosticism kills the intended purpose of our hearts. We can't very well give God our heart when we aren't sure if we believe in Him or not. So am I saying that agnostics are heartless? No. I'm saying they aren't doing what they should be doing with their hearts. But I can see how what I said could be taken the wrong way.

I guess this exercise was motivated by my desire to never get in the way of the message that God wants me to bring to people. I don't care if the message offends people. That is between them and God. But if my method for delivering that message is what is offensive then I have done a grave disservice to God and my audience. Therefore I want to be careful about how I present myself, my ideas, and my God.

And just in case my gentle ex-reader happens to drift through here again… I'm sorry that I offended you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Class envy

I can't think of a time that I have ever envied rich people. Perhaps because I grew up middle class, and was never deprived of the necessities of life. But mostly, I think it's because my parents instilled in me a four-dimensional view of life. It's not hard for me to see the downside of being rich or popular or beautiful. I value character much more than those outside facades. All those attributes are subject to change at a moments notice. But character will always remain. And when you factor time into the equation; and when you believe that this time on earth is a drop in the bucket, it's not hard to look past the inequalities of life. So I was surprised to find myself having a bad attitude towards a complete stranger today just because he was rich. I was standing in line and overheard these two guys talking about real estate. One was opening an office in Hawaii, the other had just sold a big hunk of land for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and starting to build a second house. Their tones made it very apparent that they were quite happy with themselves, and it irked me. Why? Wouldn't anyone be happy about making tons of money? Sure. I think the problem was it hit me in a sore spot. See, I have been looking into buying a house over the past month or so. I got my loan approval, and it seemed like a decent number to me. I'm not picky. I'm not looking for much. Just a modest house in a neighborhood with kids for my sons to play with. Something with a yard. Well, as it turns out, I live smack-dab in the middle of the most expensive area of the east side of Seattle. So unless I move 20 or 30 miles away, (which means an hour or more commute) than the only thing my loan could get me is a condo, (which is no bigger than my current 2-bedroom apartment) or a mobile home with paper walls, which has been relabeled as "manufactured". And why would I invest 30 years in that? So I'm looking at waiting several more years for my credit to inch upwards so I can get another hundred thousand added to my loan. (And by that time real estate will probably shoot up beyond that number.)

So I'm frustrated here. I feel like I'm not asking for a lot. I'm not demanding a lakeside mansion here. Just a plain old little house. But then I have to stop myself for a minute and take stock of something. First of all, I live in one of the riches parts of the most prosperous nation on earth in the most prosperous epoch in human history. So my whining about wanting a modest home, when compared to the historical norm, is like complaining that my palace is too small, and I need a bigger treasure room and a wider moat. We eat like kings and have more clothes than our ancestors going back several generations combined. We have so much entertainment at our fingertips that we don't know what to do with it all. We don't have to worry about many of the diseases and maladies that wiped out so many in the past.

So once I remembered this, I corrected my attitude, and instead prayed that these men would be blessed by God and that they would be good stewards with the wealth that He blessed them with.

In the mean time, I will just wait for God to provide a miracle-home for me and my family. And I will be thankful for what I have here and now.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Moderation in all things?

If there is one philosophy that could pull me away from my Christian beliefs it would be agnosticism. Why? Because I've found a lot of balance and maturity come from examining two sides of an issue and finding what seems to be the most true somewhere in the middle. This satisfaction with the center seems like a good rule to apply to many things in life. But is it good to apply to all things? That's what I am exploring right now. First, let's look at places where it has worked for me. I think the easiest way to define a position is to find the extremes on both sides of the spectrum. Let's take an issue like the environment. The absolute extreme from an industrial/economic interest viewpoint is what has been the historical norm. Basically, you use any and all resources available to you until they are gone. That's one of the reasons Australia has no local domesticatable animals and the Middle East is mostly desert. Some native Americans would start buffalo stampedes and herd them off of cliffs, wasting thousands of pounds of meat. It wasn't until the last century, (at least as far as I'm aware) that people began to realize that it's not in your best interest to destroy what your livelihood is based on. I assume this is because the population got big enough that the consumption rate for resources got high enough that an area of resources could actually be completely used in one lifetime. Anyway, now logging companies make sure they replant trees, and the fishing industry restocks and limits their catches. How much of this is government mandate and how much is good business sense, I'm not sure. But getting back to the extreme, let's just say for the sake of argument that the extreme on one side is total consumption with zero regard for the future or the safety or health of anyone. (This is what all the bad guys were doing on the propaganda-riddled cartoon Captain Planet)

Now the other side's extreme is pretty crazy too. There are groups that believe that mankind is a virus and should be completely destroyed. They believe the only way for the earth to find balance would be if we all disappeared. So clearly, they think that nature is more important than human life. I'd say the vast, vast majority of people fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes. But the question is: does the best, most truthful answer sit exactly between the extremes? Is the perfect answer a perfect balance between safety/conservation, and industry/jobs? Well, I guess there are so many factors involved that it's hard to say. But yeah, generally, I think somewhere in the middle sounds best. Let's not wipe out mankind to save the animals, but let's also make sure we don't use up everything all at once.

How about criminal justice? There are laws still in effect today where thieves get their hands cut off and adulterers are stoned or burned to death. Then there are people on the other side who think that with therapy, anyone can be rehabilitated and put back in society. Our country is probably closer to the liberal extreme than the other one. Sure, some states have the death penalty, but it's not used very often or efficiently. And you can check on line to see how many sex offenders live within a mile of your house. So clearly, someone, somewhere, thinks it's ok to let rapists and child molesters out of prison. Personally, I think that we should unify our penal code so there is no confusion. We should ship all sex offenders, killers, drug dealers, and CEO's who defraud investors to northwest Alaska to do heavy manual labor for the rest of their lives. I think that's pretty close to the middle. No executions, but no letting evil people out either. I'm quite comfortable in the center of this issue.

Politically there are a wide variety of views of what the government should and should not do. Limiting myself to those views that I have some familiarity with I can delineate two opposing views. One extreme says that the government should care for everyone as a parent cares for a child. It needs to make sure every citizen is fed, clothed, healthy, kept safe, and always treated fairly. (Unless they are a minority, in which case they need to be treated more than fairly at the expense of non-minorities.) They want laws to ensure that all these things happen and more government agencies to bring them about. The other extreme… well it's anarchy. But for the purpose of this exorcize I'll pretend that's not an option since it's silly anyway. Let's instead say the other extreme is libertarianism. They want to abolish the laws against drugs, prostitution, and a whole lot of other things. They basically want to limit the scope of government as much as is practically necessary. They would rely on capitalism to bring happiness to the masses. At least I think they are usually capitalists. Certainly all the ones I've heard and read are. So we have extreme minimalists, and extreme maximalists. (Not a word.) I see value in both sentiments, but find myself pretty much in the middle of those views. I'm glad that we, as a society, reinforced by law, reject things like prostitution and drugs. But I'm also aware that the government doesn’t do the best job at a lot of things. I think that military and law enforcement are great for the government to handle. But things like racial quotas, endowment for the arts, and heath care are all things better left in the private sector. That being said, I don't see capitalism as any kind of a pure, good system. I think it's the best we humans can do, all things considered. But it can be taken too far if there are no checks and balances on it, and suffering can result. I think it's good that our government doesn’t let industry dump chemical waste into our drinking water or let children work in factories. Still, I'm probably closer to the Libertarians than the Socialists because I would be all for getting rid of public schools and many other institutions most Americans take for granted. I think there is plenty of evidence that shows that the private sector handles these things better. Christians have all sorts of ideas about how we should apply our spiritual beliefs to our politics. Personally I think the Bible's apolitical nature and Jesus' admonition to "Render unto Cesar what is Cesar's." sets a good example for what our attitude should be concerning politics. Jesus wasn't about political activism. This is amazing considering the super charged political climate He lived in. Of course He had a different mission altogether. He was concerned with the big picture of things. He recognized that freedom and justice can never come from a political entity like government. His work was that of the next life. The only place where true freedom and justice can exist. He worked within the system, not to change it for the betterment of the people, but worked to change the hearts of the people. Because the heart of a Christian thrives in any political environment, from democracy to prison camps. So I want to follow that lead. The Bible says the government exists to reward the good and punish the bad. Of course that can be interpreted numerous ways. But I read it as a minimalist statement. As a Christian, blessed with a democracy, I think it is an exercise of thanksgiving to God when I vote. But I just don't get swept up in any political fever any more. It's not that I'm apathetic, just that I realize my focus needs to be on showing Christ to the individuals around me, not getting laws passed that they will still reject in their hearts.

Well, that was a bit of a tangent. Anyway, my point is that I'm pretty moderate politically. Though as the nation moves further and further left, I will appear further and further right. And that is exactly what I wanted to come to. One problem with making an equation out of being in the center, is that the center is always moving. Society is always swinging back and forth. If I was 60 years old, and wanted to always be a centrist on, say, skirt length; my opinion on proper length would have changed by 16" over the course of my life. I wouldn’t really have a standard beneath the shifting fashions. I would just be wishy-washy.

So I suppose it doesn’t make sense to idealize centrism. Because if I lived in Rome in 100 AD, I would be considered quite the radical for opposing public executions, and death for sport and entertainment. It wouldn't make much sense to try to form a moderate view on the subject, because my rejection of the practice is based on an underlying ethic that killing innocent people is wrong. I couldn't very well say that since one extreme is that we should murder as many people as possible, and another extreme is that we should never kill innocent people, I will choose to say that killing innocent people is OK half the time. Let's say on weekends and Wednesday nights.

That is why I don't understand people who are moderates in the abortion debate. A fetus is either a human or it's not. Make a choice and live with the consequences. It makes no sense to say that an unborn baby is alive and human, but if the mother was raped then it's OK to kill it. Or to say that it's not a human, but we shouldn't have partial birth abortions. Abortion either kills or it doesn’t. 'Half-way' on this subject is stupid.

So while I admire the concept of the wise moderate who considers all sides and finds that neither side is correct, I think it's a flawed ideal. Something that got me thinking about this is the humor of South Park and Daily Show. (Neither of which I've seen in years since I've stopped watching TV, so maybe my opinions are out-dated.) What both those shows have in common is really smart writing, and an above-it-all attitude that seems closer to arrogance than anything else. They project the idea that they are so far above the system that they have analyzed and found both sides equally foolish. Since the poke fun at both sides they can claim to be non-partisan. Though I've noticed that when they attack conservatives ideas and people it is always the core principal they attack, and usually by exposing either perceived ignorance or hypocrisy. But when the attack liberals, it's never their core principals, but rather personality quirks of the individuals espousing them. Bill Clinton was always depicted as a lovable scoundrel who just couldn't help himself. Bush is always an incredibly stupid warmonger. Conservatives are shown as racists, chauvinists, and basically evil. While liberals are shown as well-meaning, but messing up in some way. So while these shows poke fun at both sides, the size and temperature of the pokers used vary greatly.

Anyway, my point was that I found the attitude displayed by the self-proclaimed centrists to be snotty, arrogant, self-righteous, and ultimately just as extreme as the extremists they denounce. Funny too. But the basic position they take is that of the mature, thoughtful one who has 'moved beyond' all the screeching hyperbole and dogma of the masses. But I wonder, if you moved them to a different time and society, how similar their views would be. Would they instantly adjust to the middle ground of say, medieval Japan? Would their politics fall half-way between Emperor worship and feudal states? Hmmm….

So now back to my original thought. I admit that were satan to tempt me with any forbidden fruit, it would be the Banana of Agnosticism. It's the ultimate wishy-washy, sweet fruit of uncertainty. A panacea of soul-searching weariness. I could gorge myself and never again have to worry about the big questions, because golly, there's no way to know for sure! But here is the problem I see with agnosticism… It clears the head of worrisome issues, but clouds the heart that God is pulling on. I believe that God does not reveal Himself to us in any concrete, measurable, provable way for one very important reason. If we were to have God proven to us, our ability to CHOOSE to love and fear Him would be taken away. We would be compelled to obey, because well, obviously He's real and will smite us if we don't. God wants real love from us, not forced obedience. So without proof, how does God get a hold of us and draw us to truth with a capital T? I think there are many, many ways. There is logic and reasoning. The fact that we exist should be more than enough catalyst for that; though modern humanism has swooped in to try to answer all these questions of existence and nature for us so we don't have to consider them. There is the testimony of others which can work in the mind or the heart, preferably both. There is conviction, conscience, and the Holy Spirit who tugs, guides, and informs, but never commands. And that all happens in the heart. But agnosticism aborts that heart-tugging process by sending an automatic shut-off signal from the brain saying, "Nope. Already considered it. Can't be proven. Never mind."

And therein lies the folly of agnosticism: it's billed as a search for truth, but has a built-in mechanism for avoiding the Truth. Every agnostic I've ever talked to about spirituality has said they are agnostic because they either have given up on knowing what's true, (they usually come from a religious background and feel like they've 'grown past' it.) or say they are searching for the truth. Then throw in a self-defeating quip like, "But the journey is more important than the destination!". Which leads me to believe that agnostic belief is just the default that we are all born with, and we all fall back to it when we give up on perusing God whole-heartedly. I'm not saying that it's for lazy thinkers. I know some very bright people who have thought and talked a lot about faith who are agnostic. Just without a really strong pull, they are going to stay there forever because it's intellectually safe.

But for me, as one who has been convinced, to fall into agnosticism would be to slap God in the face. As one who has been given so much evidence of all variety- experiential, revelatory, testimonial, and intellectual- turning my back on that because none of it can be proven would be fool-hearty. I am convinced of my belief because the large body of evidence. But I will readily admit that it is circumstantial. It wouldn't hold up in a modern court of law. And it shouldn't. That is why faith is such a necessary component of love. And faith is both a gift of God and an act of the will. The two have to meet somehow. God pulled me into His Truth through revelation, and I choose to deny myself, (and my inclination towards agnosticism) in response.

So my basic response to agnosticism and centrism is this…

You claim to be neutral, unbiased, and above it all. You claim to be the home of the intellectual superior. You claim freedom through latitudinarianism. But you are a sepulture. You are a place where men go to bury their hearts. You are full of people who have ears but cannot hear, eyes but cannot see. Your stench is alluring to my carnal mind. But my pride is on the alter of the One who saved me from you. I will endure the mockery of those within your gates. They jeer and spit on me. But I remember the One who showed how to respond to ridicule and scorn. I will pray for your denizens, and show them a light that is in me. One that could not possibly come from me, but from a God who will destroy you in the end.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

More religious ramblings

I love my pastor, Curt. We have so much in common. Sometimes I think my love for him is colored by that commonality, so I try to be cautions about my enthusiasm. He keeps saying things that I have said before, and articulating ideas that were half-formed in me, or have heard from my parents before. There were many examples of this at our last Wednesday evening class. It was our last class and we were discussing the last chapter of the book we were going through called Doing What Jesus Did. We had gone through healing, and this chapter was about casting out demons. Over all, it had a fairly balanced approach. But our pastor had us look up and compile every verse in the gospels and Acts that had examples of this sort of thing, and told us to keep those in mind as we closely read the chapter.

He warned us of what he called charismatic baggage. He explained that every group has a certain outlook on life that colors what they teach and how they teach it. You may think this odd, as he is a charismatic pastor teaching charismatic people; but it is a demonstration that his heart is for sound theology that transcends denominational influences. He, like me, loves theology. Loves sound doctrine. And yet tries to operate on the K.I.S.S. principle. Keep It Simple, Stupid. One thing he focused on as it related to the subject of demons and healing, and all other Christian pursuits, is that it is easy to get sidetracked by them. To get lost in a maze of extra-biblical study material in order to address problems that should be addressed by realizing a simple truth. The truth of who you are in Christ. This truth is simple. It is powerful. It accounts for how little information the Bible gives us about the 'spiritual realm'. He described these side-tracks as almost "Gnostic". I have said exactly the same thing. In this blog I think. I was talking about the Ancient Paths program I took. (My pastor also listed some called Cleansing Streams and some other's I'd never heard of.) I see the value in Ancient Paths. Especially as it relates to, and points to the Bible. But there is something inherent about the search for hidden truths -that everyone else has missed- that smacks of Gnostic thinking. Why do we need these extra-biblical resources? One answer that springs to mind is because they pull back the curtain of our culture. They help us see past our place and time, to the truths that they hide. And Curt said that he sees this value as well. But he warned that any time we take our eyes off of the simple plan God has for us to find other ways of dealing with our problems we risk getting lost in a quick-fix mindset that doesn’t really work. He compared it to Prozac, the drug that 'fixes' part of the brain temporarily. But as the body adjusts to it, more and more is required to achieve the same effect. And in the cases where the problem stems from an emotional or spiritual problem, the medicine only covers the symptoms rather than addressing the problem. Likewise, if we forget the power that God has given us to overcome our problems, and look for hidden wisdom –even if it's hidden in the Bible- we may temporarily alleviate our symptoms, but that relief will not last if it comes from outside of the concept of God in us overcoming our old man. Because it is easy to take our eyes off of God in that search for hidden things. It's easy to exalt a process or discovery, and emphasize that above the simpler truth God has made abundantly clear in the Bible. I don't think God likes man-formulated processes. God wants a relationship with us that requires listening and responding, not incantational formulae. When we hear that X has overcome lust, and he did it by doing A, B, and C, we tend to think to ourselves, "Ah ha! That's how it's done." Then we go to X and ask for help and advice with our own lust. X is happy to help; maybe he writes a book and has a series developed based on the way God led him through his struggle with lust. But of course the problem with this scenario is that we went to X for help and advice instead of to God and His Word. Of course I'm not saying that we shouldn't seek out councilors, elders and mentors advice and prayer. What I am saying is that what worked for them is not necessarily going to work for you. Especially if you just parrot and repeat what they did. God is not a genie. His help is not summoned via magic words. He brings us victory when we put Him first in our life. My own testimony about how God gave me victory over lust is pretty dull. I didn't really do anything beyond becoming passionate about Him. I read my Bible, I prayed fervently. Simple. Just like the Bible promises. I didn't need to discover a set of 9 spiritual principals and apply them to my life in a certain order. I just got to know God a little better.

So when it comes to the topic of demons and spiritual warfare, we keep a close eye on man-made formulas, and experiential data. We hold those things up to the Bible, and what it says on the subject and find there is a substantial difference in approaching the subject. Anytime you focus on any topic, there is a propensity to become an expert on it. And once you are an expert you tend to loose your ability to see the big picture. This is true in all areas of life. At my work the designers focus on game design to the detriment of programming and art. The artists focus on art to the detriment of design and programming. That's why we need so many meetings. There are few people who can keep the big picture in mind at all times. But regarding our walk with Christ, that is what we are called to do. Sure some people are gifted in different areas like prayer, helping people, prophesy, etc. But the more they focus on that area, the more lopsided their view of the kingdom of God will become. The study of demons is one of those areas that is very easy to get lost in. Because if you want to be an expert, you have to look outside the Bible for material to study. And once you do that, you should seriously be asking yourself if that is God's will.

So what does the Bible say about demons and possession? Quite a bit less than Hollywood would lead you to believe. You know the crucifixes, holy-water, hours and hours of back and forth battles of the will. Yeah. None of that is in the Bible. Jesus said a word or two and the demons fled. When He commanded His followers to go out and heal the sick and cast out demons, that was it. No in-depth prescriptions for how to go about it. We are empowered by Him. His Spirit gives us the authority over them. We don't need accoutrements or elaborate ceremonial contrivances. We should say a word, and they will leave. If it was any other way wouldn't God know something that important would need further explanation? No. He keeps it simple. Why? Two reasons. First, it IS that simple. We have the authority if our names are written in the book of life. (We are saved.) And second, I don't think we could understand, even if the Bible had an extra thousand pages, what goes on in the spiritual realm. How could physical, time-bound spirit/animals possibly understand that stuff any more than a germ could understand how a computer works. Any time you think you can understand the spiritual realm read Revelation, an account of heaven and the last days. All the imagery is insane! Monsters with eyes all over them, multiple heads, sounds like thunder. The reason it's like that is because our human brains can't compute that stuff. When it's translated to human written language it becomes almost nonsensical. That's what I think at least. I don't think we were meant to become experts about the spiritual realm because it's impossible for us to do so.

So if you perform exorcisms, and they include anything that's not in the Bible I think

your not acting in the authority and Truth of who you are in Christ. Of course, that's easy

for me to say as one who has never been involved. But I really can't think of any way to

justify the difference between the way the Bible tells us to do it, and the way occult

experts do it. I've heard the argument that it was easier for Jesus to do because, well, He

was Jesus. That argument doesn't hold up once you look at the super-simple instructions

He gave His followers. There is a warning contained in the gospels about a group of

people (the seven sons of Sceva) who tried to cast out demons in "the name of Jesus who

Paul preaches". They got beat up real good because the demon knew Jesus and Paul, but

said, "Who are you?" and proceeded to beat their clothes off. That must have been

embarrassing. A good scripture to look to after this one is when the disciples came back

to Jesus reporting the great success they were having driving out demons.

Luk 10:17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!"

Luk 10:18 And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.

Luk 10:19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.

Luk 10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

In other words, the demons obeyed because of the Spirit of God in them. Because they were saved. Because they had the authority that comes with salvation. They guys who failed to drive the demons out failed not because they didn't do the process right, but because they were not granted the authority that having God inside you gives.

The Bible mentions many 'gifts' that believers may have. Things like the gift of prophesy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, teaching, exhortation, etc. But there is no 'gift of casting out demons'. I think this is because He tells us ALL to do it when we are called to do it. There is a gift of being able to distinguish between spirits. Which could be construed as a gift specific to exorcism. But then, there is also a gift of healing. And not many Christians believe that only certain Christians should exercise that command. Jesus didn't say "Only you with the gifts of healing and distinguishing of spirits go out and heal the sick and drive out demons." No. He told us all to do it. Sure, we could say that the ones with the gifts should be the ones doing any particular ministry. But to shirk a chance to be moved by the Spirit of God to help someone who needs help because it's 'not our specialty' does not strike me as very Christ-like. We were given the authority. If the need arises we should exercise it. Plain as that. We don't need books that theorize how demons think, what classes of dark forces exist, how we should talk to them, etc. If we are moved by God we will know what to do and none of that stuff matters. Jesus "…said a word.." And the demons left.

I think this cuts through all the superstitious stuff that we read regarding demons. Stuff about possessed items and places. Stuff about music that can contain demons. The Bible makes it clear that we are immune to all that crap if you are walking in Christ. We can eat the meat right off of a demon's plate.

1Co 8:4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one."

1Co 8:5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"--

1Co 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

The way many Christians act concerning these things is shameful to me. They will refuse to go into temples, new age book stores, or clubs. As though the demons might be able to jump on you and take you over. Please. That is NOT walking in the authority of God. Think about the native people bound in superstition and fear of the demons that continually attack them. That is the exact same state that Christians are submitting themselves to when they are afraid to touch an African tribal mask. Come ON. Whose God is inside you? Where are Christians needed most? Where it's darkest. We are to go to those dark places. We were called to it. Not in arrogance and pride, but walking in simple faith and trust that God will not leave us or forsake us. Not like I've heard Christian kids who say stupid things about kicking the devil in the balls and killing demons left and right. That is NOT walking in the spirit of God. And that will get you beat like the sons of Sceva. But that is not a matter of overconfidence. That's letting your fleshly bravado intermingle with a God-given directive. So while we are not to fear them, the lack of information about them in the Bible should give us the hint that they aren't to be toyed with either.

I've heard and read countless anecdotes about demons haunting places and things. About getting rid of bells, or cups, or whatever that could be keeping a demon around. About having houses blessed to remove some evil. I'm not saying none of that stuff could be true. But I am saying none of it is in the Bible. And that makes me very skeptical about it. Especially given the very suggestive nature of the human mind. But especially especially because it tends to put believers in the same state of mind that the poor tribes people are trapped in. So I'm guessing that's a trap that the enemy wants us to believe he's much more powerful than he really is. It's an obvious pattern, and I'm not going to fall for it.

The bottom line is that when God dwells within me there is no need to fear ANYTHING.

Friday, July 01, 2005

How to choose a pet

Dear Mr. Knowitall,

I am thinking of buying a pet, but I'm not sure what type of pet is right for me. How do I decide?

I've already detailed 3 different pets in other articles. Namely the Snake, the Woman, and the Bonsai Tree. Assuming these aren't the type you would like to get, I'll provide you with a fool-proof way of determining what pet is right for you.

Answer each question and add up your points according to the simple formula listed at the bottom of the quiz. Feel free to fill in the circles with a marker on your monitor. Remember: you must choose only ONE answer from each statement. While it may seem that more than one (or none) applies to you, I assure you that this is impossible.

1. I live in a:

O city (50 pts, 52 degrees Celsius, blue, diamond)

O barn (40 pts, 22 Celsius, white, onyx)

O igloo (10 pts, -87 Fahrenheit, brown, jade)

2. I enjoy:

O ice cream (40 pts, 75 Fahrenheit, purple, ruby)

O ice cream (22,620 pts, 22 Celsius, black, ivory)

O ice cream (47 pts, 21 Fahrenheit, blue, sapphire) *Value Answer!*

3. I never:

O talk (30 pts, 12 Fahrenheit, green, onyx)

O bathe (400 pts, 27 Celsius, mauve, diamond)

O move (10 pts, 29 Celsius, salmon, ruby)

4. If I was a character from a Star Wars movie I would be:

O Han Solo (900 pts, 100 Celsius, white, diamond)

O Greedo (-1 pt, 22 Fahrenheit, yellow, fool's gold)

O Sy Snoodles (60 pts, 72 Celsius, alabaster, pearl)

5. My breath smells like:

O ostrich plumes (40 pts, 22 Fahrenheit, leaf green, jade)

O cat food (40 pts, 27 Fahrenheit, tan, saphire)

O sea salt (40 pts, 42 Celsius, blue, diamond)

6. I always:

O breathe (20 pts, 92 Fahrenheit, black, emerald)

O digest (100 pts, 21 Celsius, red, silver)

O think (0 pts, 1,099 Celsius, seafoam, none)

7. If given a choice between death and getting plastic surgery to look like Christopher Walken I would:

O die (1,000 pts, 1,000 Celsius, chartreuse, diamond)

O look like Christopher Walken (2 pts, 86 Fahrenheit, olive green, sapphire)

O neither (99 pts, 43 Celsius, silver, blueberry)

O I already look like Christopher Walken (41 pts, 66 Celsius, pee-yellow, onyx)

O I am Christopher Walken (10,000 pts, 100 Celsius, burgundy, gold)

8. If I was a character from a movie I would be:

O Han Solo (11 pts, 28 Celsius, off-white, pearl)

O Greedo (41 pts, 82 Fahrenheit, gray, onyx)

O Sy Snoodles (71 pts, 37 Celsius, cherry-red, diamond)

9. I like to read:

O books (84 pts, 2,001 Fahrenheit, rust, ruby)

O magazines (835 pts, 21 Celsius, talcum-blue, onyx)

O novelty toilet paper (26 pts, 12 Celsius, black, sapphire)

10. My favorite food is:

O Macaroni & Cheese with cut up hot dogs in ketchup sauce (623 pts, 82 Fahrenheit, green, sapphire)

O Lasagna made with Velveeta instead of Mozzarella cheese (4 pts, 117 Celsius, white, ruby)

O Uncooked tater-tots (72 pts, 56 Fahrenheit, orange, diamond)

11. I firmly believe that:

O trash cans are sentient robots (44 pts, 1 Fahrenheit, pink, onyx)

O I can survive for years without water (12 pts, 44 Celsius, darkish brown, onyx)

O The F.B.I is secretly run by a ruling elite vampire class whose goal is to create an alien-human hybrid that has all the exotic flavor of Martian blood, but the low fat and carbohydrate quality of human blood. (21 pts, 22 Fahrenheit, red, ruby)

12. If I knew that I was going to die tomorrow, I would:

O liquidate all my assets and shred the cash (2 pts, 91 Fahrenheit, turquoise, ruby)

O go sky-diving into an active volcano and no parachute with lit dynamite strapped to my chest (46 pts, 67 Celsius, gunmetal gray, onyx)

O round up everyone I love and tell them… to late… already… dying… Arghhhghgh! (0 pts, 0 Celsius, blue-green, diamond)

13. If I were a historical figure I would be:

O Han Solo (76 pts, 33 Fahrenheit, flesh color, onyx)

O Greedo (21 pts, 32 Celsius, green, onyx)

O Sy Snoodles (90 pts, 28 Celsius, yellow with blue dots, diamond)

14. My favorite music is:

O Prussian folk rap (42 pts, 72 Fahrenheit, matte gray, onyx)

O Hardcore polka jazz (21 pts, 21 Celsius, pearlescent, turquoise)

O The theme song from The Never Ending Story (99 pts, 89 Celsius, bright yellow, onyx)

15. If I just won a million dollars in the lottery I would:

O fabricate a super villain suit that shoots flames and go around burning down orphanages knowing full-well that there are no actual super heroes to stop me (45 pts, 29 Fahrenheit, chrome, ruby)

O go to Vegas and triple my money in one night (49 pts, 73 Celsius, violet, diamond)

O realize I have multiple personalities because I'm not stupid enough to play the lottery (9,999 pts, 2 Celsius, yellow, diamond)

16. If I was a hot dog I would:

O eat myself (43 pts, 98 Celsius, ivory, ruby)

O eat everyone else (31 pts, 1,022 Celsius, florescent orange, onyx)

O sit still because I'm an inanimate object incapable of thought or movement (780 pts, 29 Celsius, forest green, sapphire)

17. I know for a fact that I could never:

O lift a bulldozer (43 pts, 12 Fahrenheit, natural cotton, ruby)

O kill a skyscraper (21 pts, 67 Fahrenheit, yellow-green, pearl)

O discover the sound of one hand clapping (99 pts, 22 Celsius, earthen clay, diamond)

18. My waistline is:

O 34 (34 pts, 34 Celsius, blue-green, onyx)

O 12 (12 pts, 12 Celsius, white, diamond)

O 97 (97 pts, 97 Fahrenheit, gross brownish green, sapphire)

19. I think modern art is all:

O crap (48 pts, 29 Fahrenheit, warning yellow, onyx)

O so utterly beyond me it must be good (908 pts, 12 Celsius, deep purple, ruby)

O worthy of government funding (0 pts, 22 Celsius, gold, sapphire)

20. Princess Di:

O Was a visionary of unparalleled magnitude and virtue (13 pts, 402 Fahrenheit, blonde, fools gold)

O Got what was coming to her (1 pt, 0 Celsius, pink, ruby)

O Meh (902 pts, 32 Fahrenheit, gray, diamond)

~How to calculate your score~

It couldn't be simpler. Just add up your points, use a color wheel to determine the average color of your responses, subtract the temperature points from that color to adjust for saturation, (or value if you got the "value" answer) and determine the carrot weight of the average gem you got based on the depth of the strata that the gem is typically found in. Clearly there are market factors involved, but I've taken that into account. Now inverse that number if you live in the southern hemisphere. Subtract this number from the first, unless that gives you a negative score, in which case add the age at which you had your first kiss. Now take that number and multiply it by the current temperature on the part of the world that is furthest from your home. You could still end up with a negative number, but that's OK.

~Your score and you~

Now you may be wondering how I've been able to develop such complex, yet stunningly accurate method of pet-to-owner alignment. Sometimes I wonder that myself. But that's not important. What is important is that it has worked with 110% accuracy for every single person who has ever done it.

Here is what you should get for your next pet:

Score =

Less than -2,000: humming bird

-2,000 – 128: kookaburra

129 – 130: kinkajou

120 – 140: luck dragon

142 – 290: 3 legged dog

291 – 311: hyena

312 – 665: camel (two humps)

666: locust with a mans head and scorpion tail

667 – 1,170: a family of squirrels

1,171 – 1,180: werewolf

1,181 – 2,319: manatee

2,320 – 2,450: sylent tiger

2,451 – 2,452: blue whale

2,453 – 3,001: leprechaun

3,002 – 3,037: screeching weasel

3,038 – 3,056: sea monkey

3,057 – 3,111: bald eagle

3,112 – 3,212: giant tortoise

3,213 – 3,214: wooly mammoth

3,215 – 3,498: beached whale (any kind)

3,499 – 5,027: dinoflagellate

5,028 – 5,148: maggot

5,149 – 5,220: fossil of a trilobite

5,221 – 5,345: R.O.U.S.

5,346 – 5,397.2: tumble weed

5,397.3 – 5,397.4: cat

5,397.5 – 6,093: brain in a jar

6,094 – 6,287: rhinoceros

6,288 – 6,299: Venezuelan fruit bat

6,300 – 6,300.1: hamster

6,300.2 – 6,439: aardvark

6,440 – 6,571: swamp water/paramecium

6,572 – 6,573: half a bee

6,574 – 6,661: Sy Snoodles

6,662 – 6,902: naked mole rat

6,903 – 6,903.7: lizard

6,903.8 – 6,993: camel (one hump)

6,994 – 7,188: lion statue

7,189 – 8,981: hydralisk

8,982 – 8,999: Bjork

9,073 – 9,073.3: gerbil

9,073.4 – 9,175: fire ant

9,176 – 9,233: polar bear

9,234 – 9,999: penguin with a cyber-eye-monocle and missile backpack

10,000 and higher: pet rock and/or pinecone done up like an owl

Too cool for math: snake

Now that you know what to get, it's time to procure it. One thing you may have noticed about this list is that the amount of people who are actually appropriate for the standard pet (i.e. dog, cat, hamster, etc.) are very, very few. (Less than 1% of the population!) This explains why so many people watch too much TV to get away from their mismatched pet. If only they had learned from my wisdom they wouldn't be forced to escape their inappropriate pet by force feeding themselves more C.S.I. and Baywatch reruns than they could possibly handle. Anyway, my point was that getting your ideal pet may require some work beyond driving to your local pet shop. For instance, most pet stores don't carry endangered or protected species. At least that's what they try to lead the authorities to believe. But if you know how to talk the talk, you can usually get access to their secret warehouse full of these things. For instance, let's say your ideal pet is a bald eagle. Being a protected bird, no store is going to advertise them in the front window. So you'll need to talk to an employee, ask to speak to the manager privately, then say something along the lines of, "So I hear bald eagles are illegal to buy or sell. That's a shame… By the way, I'm NOT a cop." It's important NOT to say the words, "I want to buy a bald eagle." If you are one of the rare folks who should own a wooly mammoth, say something like, "They SAY wooly mammoth are extinct!" Then snicker derisively. The manager will then probably chit-chat with you a bit to scope you out and make sure you're not a cop. Then let you into the secret elevator they have hidden behind the Alpo poster in their office. You will descend to their secret subterranean market of rare and exotic pets. Of course paying for black market pets can be pricey, but trust me, it's worth it.

Now that you have your pet I'll tell you the best way to deal with them effectively. Since I have a fairly diverse and long list, I can't detail them all, so I'll group them into categories.

  1. Mammals. As you should know from your days of elementary school, mammals are animals that melt if they touch water. These include camels (two humps), hyena, aardvarks, and screeching weasels.
  2. Fish. Fish are all animals that live in the water like whales (excluding beached whales), manatee, and polar bears.
  3. Fantastic. Fantastic creatures are thought to exist in myth only. But if you've ever been to the secret exotic animal bizarre under the Petco at the Factoria Mall in Bellevue, you won't believe that any more! These include leprechauns, luck dragons, werewolves, and Bjork.
  4. Tiny. Tiny animals are the small ones. Some are so small you need a microscope to see like; the dinoflagellate. Some are just small. Like the fossilized trilobite, the maggot, and the sea monkey. Which aren’t actually monkeys! (We all know that monkeys are a myth propagated by the movie industry.)
  5. Other. Some pets defy traditional categories, and thus are put in this category. (Take THAT you annoying antidisestablishmentarians!) These includes pet rocks, tumble weeds, human brains, and every other thing on my list that doesn't fall in the proceeding categories except for:
  6. Snake. Snakes deserve their own category because they just rock too hard to be put in with the other pets.

Now that you know what category your pet is in, I'll teach you the best method for hunting and killing your newly acquired pet.

  1. Mammals. Mammals have been hunted for over 900 years. Just look at cave paintings for tips on how to do it. Generally a sharp stick and flailing, disproportionate limbs are all you need to take down your pet.
  2. Fish. The best primer for hunting fish is the classic novel Moby Dick. It's a tail of a pirate who lost his leg to a giant fish and is so depressed he decides to while away the rest of his life fishing and complaining about the weather. Also the movie Jaws has some good pointers for blowing up fish.
  3. Fantastic. Fantastic creatures are hard to speak of in a general sense because they each have unique weaknesses. Werewolves are allergic to silver. Leprechauns die if you burry them in marshmallows. Bjork however, has no known weakness.
  4. Tiny. Well, if you can't figure out how to kill a tiny animal…
  5. Other. Most other pets can be done away with by using rocket propelled grenades. Many underground pet stores sell these as well.
  6. Snake. Why would you want to kill your snake?! Don't do that! Train them to become the World Champion Snake Charmer.

Now that your hunt is over and your fresh kill hangs from the tree in your front lawn, let's think about how you want to cook it. Most pet owners like to match the cooking style with the personality of their former pet. Here are a few examples:

  1. A feisty pet works best with hot spices or barbecue sauce. Generally, preparing their flesh carnitas style, shredded and braised is a good way to go. A generous side of mashed potatoes and a tall glass of milk compliments the dish.
  2. A cowardly or timid pet deserves to be ground up into hamburger and cooked as a burger or taco meat.
  3. An aloof pet should be heavily salted and undercooked. Be sure to serve it with a wedge of lemon.
  4. Was your pet loyal and loving? Then try a white wine sauce, and onion garnish. The onions will make you cry, which will be fitting since you will probably miss your pet.

So there you have it. Remember, being a pet owner is a lot of responsibility. Especially if you are having guests over to dine on its remains. Pets can be expensive. Pet's can be messy. Especially if you kill it with an R.P.G. But the rewards always outweigh the annoyances, as you will probably find out on your third or forth trip to Petco.