Friday, August 24, 2012

Sometimes Something Goes Right

By NASA. Photo taken by either
 Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans (of the Apollo 17 crew).
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes something goes right in the world.

It's been a rough week for sane readers of the news. With everything from a certain Republican showing an abysmal ignorance of female anatomy to horribly offensive topical bibles... it's been easy to fall to despairing.

But sometimes, something goes right with the world, and I can't help but smile.

You see, being pro-life should be about more than an opposition to abortion. It should be about a passionate respect for all life, and a commitment to the protection of those who cannot protect themselves, be they the unborn or rape victims. Yet, as Rep. Akin's comments earlier this week showed, those in the pro-life movement can sometimes loose sight of that fact.

Then today I read this piece of news at the Huffington Post. Go ahead, read it.

Now let that soak in. 50,000 Pro-Life Christians are supporting care for the environment. 50,000 Pro-Life Christians are putting life first, not a particular issue. 50,00 Pro-Life Christians understand that protecting the environment is not about the defense of some abstract thing, but about the stewardship of our world.

Somewhere, right now, out there in America, 50,00 Pro-life Christians who get it are walking around.

Sometimes something goes right in the world.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Every Man Just Wants To Be a Princess

Aaaand now that I have your attention.

That's exactly what I mean. Well, almost exactly. "Every" is a bit of an exaggeration, since it's hard to say that every individual member of any particular group wants one thing. There's always exceptions (like sociopaths for example). But given that caveat, and the context I'll shortly be giving you, I'm pretty sure that what I said is 100% true.

So, onto that all important context. If you're the sort of person who reads this blog, then you probably know what a complementarian is. Nevertheless, I'll give you the short of it. A complementarian is someone who thinks that there is an essential difference between men and women, and that this essential difference in some way suits them to different roles (that complement each other). Just what these different roles are can very wildly from one complementarian to another, but in general I've found it's not in terms of, say, work. I've rarely met a complementarian who just thought women should stay at home.1 More often, the important axis for explaining the essential differences purported to exist between men and women is marriage.

Frequently, the details of this essential difference are couched in mythic terms. In everything from Wild at Heart to the unintentionally ironic organization "Lancelot Lives" (which itself is apparently no longer alive2), the difference perceived between men and women is painted in vivid pictures of knights and princesses. This, they say, is no accident because those tales aren't accidental, they portray something essential about humankind. Men, you see, are knights, or at least desire to be, and women are princesses. The men want to fight battles, rescue the weak and defend there homes. Women want to be rescued, and... um.. be beautiful... and some other stuff I guess. Both parties, they say, want love, but love of a different kind. The men want their strength and leadership to be respected. The women want to be cherished.

And I say that's a load of crock. Of course men want respect for what they've accomplished, but so do women. Men want to be cherished too. I don't there's a man in the world who, when faced with darkness, doesn't desire to be rescued, held, shown nurturing love. It's not always a romantic desire to be sure. Sometimes they just want it from friends, sometimes from their parents, sometimes from God. But they want it.

Moreover, as a Christian I'm inclined to say this is a good thing. The faith we practice teaches us that we are dependent upon God, that we are literally nothing without Him. Every Christian, male or female, should experience points in their life where they fall on their knees and cry out to God for rescue, beg Him to come down, wrap His wings around them and cherish them. Moreover, every Christian, after having been cherished by God and fed at His table, should find the strength to gird themselves for the battle of faith and go out into the world as knights for the gospel, spreading not violence, but the very cherishing love they have been given.  So, in short I agree with the complementarians that the myth of the knight and the princess is no accident. It tells us something about ourselves, but it isn't a lesson about gender. Every man just wants to be a princess, and every woman wants to be a knight.3

1. Though most are opposed to women in ministry. 2. At least I cannot find it anymore, but I saw it once, I swear.
3. None of this is to say I don't think there's any difference between men and women. At the very least, our bodies are different, and I think that's important. I don't know what the difference is though, and I certainly think it's problematic to make it a matter of roles. Especially when those roles involve terms like "submission" and "leadership".

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Windup Girl Review

Worlds Without End
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi 
2010 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel and 2009 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel 

 I'm a sucker for a good setting. After all, I was raised up on a steady diet of The Lord of the Rings and learned early that a well built setting is a wonderful compliment to a good story, and can even be a pleasure all its own. When you come down to it, that's probably why I love science fiction and fantasy - they're the only genres were I can indulge in the pleasure of world building. Well, The Windup Girl is an absolutely fantastic bit of world building, and I'll waste no more time in giving it high praise.

Rather than being set on some far off planet or in a gritty metropolitan future, The Windup Girl takes place in a Thailand of the future, one that exists in a radically different, but utterly believable, political and economic world from our own. It's that believability that's so incredible about Bacigalupi's world. Our world has gone through many economic shifts, from agrarian to industrial and beyond. But who from an agrarian society could have pictured an industrial world? Of course, there's no guarantee the world will go the way of Bacigalupi's vision (hopefully it won't) but one can readily imagine it, and that makes it a wonder to behold.

Without giving too much away, since so much of the pleasure of The Windup Girl is the slow unraveling of its setting, the world Bacigalupi builds is one of a post-industrial crunch. Well before the time of the book, the petroleum that fuels our world's economy ran out, without any comparable alternative being found, and the global economy quickly became a thing of the past. The world couldn't just go back to being agrarian though, because industry had changed the world forever. Alternative technologies provide for some of what petroleum provided before, though with nowhere near the power, and the world is slowly inching back towards a global economy. Maintaining these technologies is crucial, because during the industrial age the agro-businesses had created genetically engineered crops and plagues that guaranteed humanity would need to continue to rely on advanced technology to keep itself alive and fed.

In the midst of this world of economic isolation and genetic disaster, the city of Bangcock is a boiler plate of political and economic tensions. Two major forces jostle for power within the city, as those who seek to protect the city from the outside world, the "White Shirts" of the environmental ministry, butt heads with those of the Trade Ministry who see salvation for Thailand in the recovering global economy. The Windup Girl is the story of one genetically engineered Japanese girl who becomes caught up in these forces.

This book certainly won't be for everyone, however. It is a story about politics, and so naturally it moves at a lumbering pace. Mind you, I enjoyed nearly every minute of it, but it was certainly not a page turner and took me awhile to finish.  Also, the exploitation which the titular Windup Girl Emiko faces throughout the story is not easy stuff, so if you've got a queasy stomach you should probably stay away. It's also not a book without it's flaws. The prose is perfectly serviceable, but not incredible, and the characters that inhabit it, while not flat, fail to really jump off the page.

It's also not a book whose message I can get on board with, though that certainly doesn't mean its poorly done, or that I can't enjoy it. Without giving too much away, the books overall slant seems to be something of a Buddhist Transhumanism. Which, when you come right down to it, is a very interesting worldview, just one dramatically opposed to my own.

So, if you love world building, and enjoy political stories, I can highly recommend The Windup Girl. If that's not your style, then this book is definitely not for you.

Also, fantastic cover.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Anti-American

I, Daniel Schwen
 [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
Anti-American is a phrase I hear bandied about a lot these days. Mostly, I'm afraid, it's in conservative circles. It's a phrase, however, that doesn't seem to have any clear content. Or, rather, it's a catchall for anything and everything the conservative speaker disagrees with. Obama is anti-American because he's "a socialist," for example.

The thing is, I cannot imagine anything more fundamentally anti-American than this use of the phrase. The very foundation of what it is to be American, I would think, is to be (little "d") democratic. Our society is built on the principle that government serves by the will of the people. The people, the society, not you and your personal opinions. Of course, "the people" is an abstract concept - the will of "the people" really consists of the will of many of the people, and your personal viewpoint is one that must be taken into account in determining that will. That's why we vote.

In the end though, sometimes the vote goes against you. Sometimes a president gets voted in on a mildly liberal platform, promises he'll reform healthcare and then actually does it. Well, you may not like it (I'm certainly not sure what I think of "Obamacare") but it is, to some degree or another, the will of the people.

So it's not your will. Well, good thing is we are a democracy, and you can fight Obamacare, or anything else about liberalism you don't like, and try and get things changed. Of course the system isn't perfect, many people are disenfranchised in one way or another by our society because all human societies have at least some oppression built into them.1 But you can try, and you won't be shot for it, and that's a good thing. More importantly, it's the fundamentally American thing, the ability to disagree, to debate, and then to build a society off of the results of that debate, in our case determined by vote.

The flipside of that is, however, that if the debate doesn't go your way, you don't dare call the outcome anti-American (assuming the result isn't one that someone disenfranchises someone). To call viewpoints you disagree with anti-American is to subvert debate, to say that democracy is fine and all as long as it goes my way, and so is, in short, to be a tyrant. It is to be anti-American.


1. I don't mean to be flippant about the oppression that exists in our society. I'm a Christian, I believe Christ came to set all captives free, and that all societies that exist for the sake of the small elite and the expense of the weak and downtrodden (read: all societies ever until Christ returns) are to some degree or another demonic. We should fight the demonic, and always strive to make society more equitable, even if we never reach our goal.