Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Approaching Fatherhood: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

This is a photo of me, my Dad and my sister Karen. Karen, as you can see was very sassy and I was laid-back, chilling on my hipster dad's lap (notice the black label next to him).

Jackie (my wife) and I are 5 weeks from being parents and I can't believe that I am six years older than my Dad was in that photo. I am overwhelmed with excitement and feel about as small as the little guy I was on my Dad's lap.

My Dad and I never were friends when I was growing up. About 2 years after this photo was taken I began to read and soon after that, armed with ideas, I launched arguments against the old man when I thought he had sucked down one too many and his hipster pose seemed like a shaky pretense.

Dad didn't talk much. He still doesn't. His catchphrase for why he never told us he loved us was that, "actions speak louder than words." I hated that. I'm verbal. Very verbal. Too verbal. I basically could benefit from shutting my trap more often (blogging helps).

"What if" has always held me while "What is" has kept my Dad fixed in his idea that existence demands action if character is your goal. Dad started paying rent when he was 11. His alcoholic Dad couldn't be counted on to follow-through with the promises fathering 9 children demands. Paper boy, Pin setter, Photo assistant provided Dad action that led to survival so, when I asked him "Why" he'd shrug and say "Actions matter."

My Dad was a journey-man rough carpenter which means he built the two-by-four skeleton of residential sub-divisions. This meant early mornings of Winstons and coffee and 10 hours of pounding nails in alternating Michigan seasons of suffocating humidity and crippling cold. A good day was when you got the roof on early so you could "roll 'em up" and suck down a few cold Altes before a cross-town drive home.

Dad would stagger in at night but, he'd get up the next day at 4 AM flip through yesterday's paper and choke down a cigarette and a cup black before he'd head out to the burgeoning suburbs where the cry of "generator!" would jump-start a morning in the shadow of skeletal frames.

He lost his knees from negotiating 9 pitch roofs and his hands are calloused to the core. He fell through two stories once with a power saw in his hand and was told he wasn't needed when Reaganomics broke the unions and left Dad with a Journeyman's card facing a dead-end industry.

"Actions speak louder than words."

I remember him crying at the Kitchen table when he didn't know how he was going to pay for my education.

"Get college," he'd say so, "you don't have to be stupid like me and work with your hands."

I did. I studied and read and launched more arguments at the old man when he would offend me with his blunt response to life.

I've prided myself on being smart but that seems small now because facing fatherhood makes my Dad's philosophy immediate. Ideas without action are just empty promises. Actions speak louder than words.

I don't know what kind of father I will be. I hope to be honest and kind and fair and courageous but, I know me and more often than not I am manipulative and mean and partial and scared. I am still full of ideas but they run in tangents too often contradicting themselves and leaving me paralyzed with doubt.

The psychologist and philosophical father of pragmatism William James is attributed with saying, "One cannot think himself into good action but can act himself into good thinking," and Aristotle said that action is the "the vital principle and very soul of drama."

I hope to pass on to my son the mysteries of science and the wisdom of literature but, more importantly, I will give him the simple truth his grandfather gave me when the old man would drag his ass out of bed on a freezing February morning and flip to yesterday's obituaries to remind himself he was still alive. He'd light up a king filter, choke down some coffee black, then pull on his boots fire up his truck and say nothing. He'd kick his ass for 10 hours and take some comfort in a few cold ones and a warm bath and when his cocky book-worm son would try to get him to speak to the secrets of life and love, the old man would nod a bit and say, "actions speak louder than words."

The Christian Delusion (A Review)

I just finished reading "The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails" and found it to be very valuable. I recommend it to all who read this blog. Here's a review.

The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (TCD) is a necessary source-book for anyone who values the individual liberty found in questioning superstition for the sake of critical thought. It exposes the fallacy that Christianity's divine command authority is necessary for individual betterment or societal progress. It identifies Evangelical Christianity's superiority claims in the areas of personal transformation, theological/scriptural veracity, and ethics for the superstitious group think they are. It arms truth-seekers with intelligent answers rooted in sound scholarship that can defend them from pseudo-intellectual-Christian-apologetic-razzle-dazzle.

A truth-seeker must face a culture dripping with Christianity when assessing Evangelical "truth-claims". These "truth-claims" operate like intellectual pollution compromising healthy reason and mutating it towards emotion-laden-group-thought, devoid of logic, intellectual honesty or material ethics. American Christian Culture is aimed at end-times exceptionalism where the highest understanding of morality is obedience to whomever the masses deem the absolute authority.

The elevation of superstition to a divine commander stands in the way of individual freedom and honest scientific exploration. We see these threats realized today when Evangelical Christians deny constitutional freedoms to homosexuals and obscure useful science in the name of their divine commander, dressing up creationism as Intelligent Design. We are facing crucial times where Biblical Inerrantists, Christian Reconstructionists, and Dominionists in the state of Texas are looking to over-throw the aims to Liberty offered by the Enlightenment in favor of the Calvinist Doctrine of Total Depravity. America is in a struggle between reason and faith and too often the side of faith is given credence as good while reason is demonized. Presuppositions to invisible kingdoms indicate a healthy humility but genuine curiosity as to why reality is the way it is with an aim towards progress is considered arrogance.

This is the context in which TCD has been born and it lives up to its necessary birthright by defending enlightened thought with well-researched argument. It also does this in a way to invite the reader into a non-threatening conversation prior to exposing Christianity for the collection of neurotic lies it is.

Loftus has done an exceptional job of gathering a cross-reference of experts who strategically dismantle the Christian heuristic and show the reader how the religion's revelations are both artificial and banal.

The genius of the book is in its structure so kudos to Mr. Loftus for his editorial guidance.

We are taken on a narrative which first shows us that the "born again" experience is not unique to Christianity and can be easily explained without an appeal to the supernatural. This is a wise choice in addressing the Christian Delusion because so often Christians claim their religion true due to anecdotal evidence that over-values life-transformation as proof of an in-dwelt Holy Spirit. Essays in cognitive science and perception help expose Christianity as a constructed choice in alleviating cognitive dissonance and therefore no better than any cognitive bias that allows emotional comfort in the face of randomness.

We then see how using the Bible as a transcendent document ignores its inefficaciousness in explaining reality or providing a clear understanding of the human condition. The former is evidenced in the objective description of the pre-scientific (and wrong) cosmology attested to in scripture and the latter is shown by the exposition of the sectarian Christain wars that have haunted human history.

We then make a turn and the book's tone goes from invitational to confrontaional. This shift in perspective is exciting to readers (like this critic) who have had to endure the propaganda and lies Jesus-followers dress up as scholarship. You see how Yahweh is a moral monster, how Christians have only childish answers to the inevitable suffering animals endure, how the Jesus legend is not unique, why the Resurrection is unbelievable, and how Jesus operated within a tradition of failed apocalyptic prophecy. All of these arguments use the Bible as reference, allowing the text to expose Christianity's ad hoc fallacies.

Finally we get arguments which bring us back to the thesis of this critique. The ultimate value of TCD is its ability to arm the reader with knowledge and insight to counter claims that Christianity is essential for morality and progress. This reader was delighted to be armed with retorts to each of the dog-eared Christian assertions that morality depends on religion, Hitler's atheism (rather than his Catholic Christianity) caused the Holocaust, and Science depends on Christian presuppositions.

We've seen explosive progress within modern civilization over the last 250 years which one can reasonably claim was caused by people who chose to offer empirical proof rather than divine revelation as the final arbitor of truth. The American Christian Church threatens to over-throw this progress for the sake of the safety superstitions seem to offer. They want to replace the hard work of thinking with the easy comfort of faith. TCD helps one see how this type of drive as both fallacious and dangerous. It offers intelligent argument in the face of ignorant righteousness.