The Saccharine and the Profane

Originally published at An American Atheist, by Anthony David Jacques on March 11, 2012

I was on a walk with my three year old daughter when she heard one of her favorite sounds; a train’s whistle. In the evenings you can hear the whistle of the local line if you’re in the right spot and things are otherwise quiet. My daughter has taken quite a liking to these trains and it’s not uncommon for us to stop when walking near the tracks and wait for the Sprinter Line to go by on our way to the beach.

She looked up to me, brimming with excitement, and asked, “Train, daddy? Train, daddy?”

“Yeah, sweetie-pie,” I replied, “that’s the train.”

With her excited tone dropping, however, she then said, “No. No train.”

“Why not?”

She stopped walking and thought for a moment, looking up and down the street with her hands stretched out, and she said, very matter of fact, “No tracks. No train.”

I was stunned. She was looking for evidence and didn’t see any.

“No tracks, daddy,” she reiterated. “No tracks. No train.”

At three, my daughter already understands the very basic necessity of evidence for the formation of a belief. I did take a moment to explain that the tracks are only a mile away, which is why we can hear the whistle even though we can’t see the train, but I had to commend her on her desire for proof. 

She wrapped up the moment by pointing in the direction of the whistle, saying, “Train over there. Train over there, daddy.”

I’ve never felt more proud.

On the opposite end of this spectrum, Rick Santorum has claimed (among other things) that no one has ever died for lack of health care, despite a recent Harvard study suggesting that an average of 45,000 people every year do just that. Put another way, that translates to one death every 12 minutes. Facts, it seems, have yet to find purchase as the currency of our national discourse when dealing with this increasingly ultra-conservative GOP.

Santorum’s response to this rather robust Harvard study was as crude as it was tautological: “People die in America because people die in America.”

Makes you wonder, if a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a typhoon, how many natural disasters are the side-effect of letting a gasbag like Santorum have a soap box*. All that hot air is bound to have some effect on global weather patterns.

As I write this, the man who produced that nearly unutterable stupidity is running for President against a field well-equipped to give him a run for his money on that front, but somehow this comes as less of a shock than it probably should. Who can forget President G.W. Bush waxing ecstatic about the Biblical apocalypse in the wake of 9/11? (I’d love to think this was just a smoke and mirrors act to distract all of us from that fact that we were invading the wrong country, but I don’t think the Gee-Dub-Yuh was ever that smart.) And it was President Reagan, after all, who admittedly made decisions for this country based on his wife’s astrological chart.

There are those among us who will never value evidence over their deeply held beliefs, but this is no reason to elect someone to public office. On the contrary, it’s a perfectly good reason not to. At present, it doesn’t look like Santorum will get the Republican nomination, but this comes as little comfort. To quote Thomas Brackett Reed, “They could do worse, and they probably will.”

In the twenty-first century, in a tech-savvy culture such as this, one should rightly wonder how it’s possible that the psychic or astrologer still find gainful employment, but somehow not the alchemist. Could it be so simple as the fact that the latter is nowhere to be found in the Bible? Probably not, but the idea is tempting.

The aforementioned politicians all share the same basic religious belief system as a foundation for much of their political platform. Their beliefs, and in some cases, their theology about the end of the world, directly informs their politics. How is it that so many Christians find the book of Revelation (and for that matter, much of the rest of the Bible) to be metaphorical, while some small minority, quite often these well-funded right-wing politicians, still cling to a literal interpretation and wish to run our country on that basis?

On the other hand, liberal Christians do not seem to understand that they are disagreeing with the lion’s share of religious history, and scarcely appreciate how metaphorizing these sacred beliefs used to mean risking one’s life. I wonder, have any of these believers, the conservative literalists or their liberal counterparts, ever asked themselves: What is it that turns a literal belief into a religious metaphor? Yet the answer is so simple it’s almost shocking.

The breaking point for theology, where the literal suddenly becomes the metaphorical, comes not from a lack of evidence, but for exactly the opposite problem: Too much.

The difference between science and religion is that scientists don’t hold on to their old, outdated or defunct theories and ideas as metaphors, they just toss them out. Science is all about proving bad ideas wrong in order to acquire better, more precise knowledge of the world.

Religionists do the opposite. They take their once literal ideas which science has rendered obsolete, and they call them “metaphors” and go right on believing anyway, scientific facts be damned. They’ll even tell you such ideas were always meant to be understood as metaphors. How is it possible, then, that this arbiter of Truth, Science, never gains their full appreciation? They still prefer their beliefs, even though it is Science which now determines what they take as fact or myth. Yet what meaning could a man or woman of science derive from metaphorically believing in a geocentric universe, blood letting or spontaneous generation?

Isn’t it clear by now that the modern theologian would be unemployed tomorrow if the churched masses—liberal or conservative—suddenly insisted on evidence, reasoned argument or clear language for the explanation of doctrinal paradoxes and Biblical contradictions? But this is not what the masses have been taught to value, and this is where the theologian shines; defending obsolete truth-claims, diffusing self-contradictory scriptures and reinterpreting failed Biblical prophecies by hiding behind their degrees and ten-cent vocabularies until believers are literally balderdashed away from the edges of serious doubt.

Even in the face of hard, incontrovertible evidence, the true believer often hunkers down and believes more, not less. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only survives, but thrives, regardless of its nearly dozen failed rapture prophecies in the twentieth century alone.

Sam Harris’ words should put this problem into perspective: “I would challenge anyone here to think of a question for which we once had a scientific answer, however inadequate, but for which now the best answer is a religious one.”

However, lest you think I’m being unforgiving to the faithful: I understand that we all share the desire to believe that which gives us comfort even in the face of radical disconfirmation. However, there are those of us who, despite the difficulty, have learned to value a desire for Truth over false consolation. The moment our desire to believe impedes our march toward Truth, we humbly admit that we are irrational creatures and press on with the understanding that Reason is a mental discipline that takes practice and is rarely, if ever, perfected.

Once again, Harris puts it best: “I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.”

Some day I’ll explain to my daughter that the level of evidence required for a belief is directly related to the nature of the claim she’s investigating. In most circumstances, the sound of a train is all the evidence we need to assume the presence of a train nearby, since trains are not considered supernatural or even rare things. But something tells me this is a connection she already understands.

On the contrary, The Church wants the believer to foster credulous, swallow-anything-faith; they call it having “faith like a child” and quote Jesus’ own words in Matthew 18:3 to this end. However, isn’t it clear the world would be so much better off if we sought to teach healthy skepticism in the face of obviously silly claims?

I could easily convince my daughter, with enough repetition and maybe a few parlor tricks, that I am the Magical Lizard King and I can read her thoughts. But I would be a scoundrel to do so and take advantage of her implicit trust in this way. Yet we praise and even revere the minions of credulity in funny hats for doing essentially the same thing with children everywhere in the name of God. How else could the US be in such a state as it is today, with millions of adults who honestly believe that thinking like a little child is a virtue, or that the one requirement a Presidential Candidate must meet to earn their vote is to claim he has an imaginary friend?

Instead of being born again, it’s high time we learn put away such childish things and grow up.

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*Special thanks to @DanDonche for inspiring this little quip. He recently tweeted, “Please. If a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a typhoon, then so can a fart.” Which, obviously, made me think of Santorum, which then made me think of Rick Santorum. In retrospect, this whole thing does leave me a little uneasy.

Warmed and Bound News and Interviews

Warmed and Bound is now available at Amazon.com, and was so popular on Barnes and Nobles’ site that we effectively broke the computer (and until they get things figured out, I suggest ordering through Amazon.)

The good news out of all that, however, is that we climbed the B&N sales charts, becoming the #1 trending book the day of release, and finishing the night #7 overall and #3 in paperbacks, just above the Harry Potter boxed set. Which is quite an accomplishment, to say the least.

In other news, many of the authors from the collection have been interviewed by Booked Podcast and many of those interviews are available now, with many more to come in the following days. Mine just went live today, as a matter of fact.

The Johnnie Walker Gold Label I'd been saving for the release.

All in all, we’re selling like hot cakes and getting some real recognition.

I’m sure all you who read the blog have already ordered a copy, and if it was cancelled form B&N due to the popularity, you’ve likely placed your order elsewhere.

How you can help, of course, is by spreading the word and keeping the momentum going.

Many thanks to those of you who have been supportive of me and the rest of the Velvet writers, for your loyalty and your friendship, and for making this whole experience such a rewarding success, and cheers to all of you.

ADJ

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To order Warmed and Bound : A Velvet Anthology on Amazon, click here.

To check out my Booked Podcast interview click here. (And be sure to check out the other contributors as well. There’s some real gold in these interviews.)

To stay up to date with more book news faster than I am able to post, check out Warmed and Bound dot com.

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© Anthony David Jacques MMXI

Please allow Steve Erickson to tell you about Warmed and Bound

Front cover design

The book is called, Warmed and Bound : A Velvet Anthology, and among such notable writers as Craig Clevenger, Stephen Graham Jones and Brian Evanson, you’ll find a short story of my own. For a complete list of authors, click here or go to the official site (which looks hauntingly like my own, and that’s awesome).

Steve Erickson has written up his take on the collection in the form of a foreword, so here’s a little taste of that.

 The writers of the Velvet are contemporary fiction’s most effective and least self-conscious aesthetic guerrillas and obliterators of “literature,” vaporizing arbitrary distinctions intended to tame a spirit that needs neither distinctions nor quotation marks.  The result is fiction at once conceived from high artistic intent and executed with depraved populist energy.

Warmed and Bound : A Velvet Anthology will be available on Friday, July 22 on Amazon both in print (15.95) and as an eBook.

You can “like” the book on facebook and stay up to date on the release either here, on twitter @WarmedAndBound, or on the official website.

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© MMXI

Blogging as Writing

This is a guest post by CalebJ Ross as part of his Stranger Will Tour for Strange blog tour. He will be guest-posting beginning with the release of his novel Stranger Will in March 2011 to the release of his second novel, I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin in November 2011. If you have connections to a lit blog of any type, professional journal or personal site, pleasecontacthim. To be a groupie and follow this tour,subscribe to the Caleb J Ross blog RSS feed. Follow him on Twitter: @calebjross.com. Friend him on Facebook: Facebook.com/rosscaleb

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There is a quiet debate taking place regarding the validity of blogging as an honest and measurable (as in word count) form of writing. The debate is so quiet, in fact, that I just made it up for the sake of this post. Can fiction writers count blogs as butt-in-seat time? Does blogging offer any benefit to the novelist? I ask this question here because, as you likely know, Mr. Jacques has established quite a history of churning out fiction as blog posts. A history I envy. But what if the post isn’t story? What if the post is standard blog rambling, like this one seems to be?

On the sentence level, sure, blogging helps the fiction writer. On the narrative level, probably not.

Okay, I admit, I’m reaching for support here. Over the past few months the only writing I’ve done is for this blog tour. For someone who has written at least one sentence of fiction, building toward a novel or story, almost every day for the last 10 years, blogging feels like a cop-out. But should it feel that way?

I didn’t want to believe it, but it’s true: promotion takes just as much time as, if not more time than, actually writing. When I set out to organize this blog tour, I assumed a few hours each week would be plenty to allow for the emails, the phone calls, the quick mention here and there, all the tedious stuff necessary to make sure people are aware of my book. A few hours each day is more appropriate.

Anyone have any ideas to help me change my perspective?

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© Caleb J Ross MMXI

Warmed and Bound : Table of Contents

I’m re-posting this from the official Warmed and Bound news blog, just to help get the word out.

The whole project is shaping up to be fantastic, so here are some highlights right out of the gate. First and foremost, an excerpt from Axel Taiari’s Death Juggler is being released along with this official list. You can find that at the bottom of this post or over on the official blog.

The next thing to point out is that some of the authors who made the cut are heavy hitters that many of us in the anthology have been drooling over for years now. Stephen Graham Jones, Brian Evenson and Craig Clevenger top that list for me. To check out each of their bios, just head over here.

And I don’t know if it means anything, but my story hitting the list just ahead of Clevenger is really cool. I like the proximity.

Table of Contents

Death Juggler by Axel Taiari
Click-Clack by Caleb J Ross
The World Was Clocks by Amanda Gowin
Mantodea by Matt Bell
All the Acid in the World by Gavin Pate
Crazy Love by Cameron Pierce
Chance the Dick by Paul G Tremblay
Soccer Moms and Pro Wrestler Dads by Bradley Sands
Take Arms Against a Sea by Mark Jaskowski
This Will All End Well by Nik Korpon
Midnight Souls by Christopher J Dwyer
The Tree of Life by Edward J Rathke
The Killer by Brian Evenson
Headshot by Gordon Highland
Inside Out by Sean Ferguson
Laws of Virulence by Jeremy Robert Johnson
Bruised Flesh by Craig Wallwork
Bad, Bad, Bad Bad Men by Craig Davidson
Three Theories on the Murder of John Wily by by J David Osborne
The Road Lester Took by Stephen Graham Jones
My German Daughter by Nic Young
What Was There Inside the Child by Blake Butler
Seed by Gayle Towell
They Take You by Kyle Minor
The Redemption of Garvey Flint by Vincent Louis Carrella
Blood Atonement by DeLeon DeMicoli
The Liberation of Edward Kellor by Anthony David Jacques
Act of Contrition by Craig Clevenger
Say Yes to Pleasure by Richard Thomas
The Weight of Consciousness by Tim Beverstock
If You Love Me by Doc O’Donnell
Touch by Pela Via
Love by JR Harlan
Practice by Bob Pastorella
Fading Glory by Brandon Tietz
Little Deaths by Gary Paul Libero
We Sing the Bawdy Electric by Rob Parker
In Exile by Chris Deal

And here’s that excerpt like I promised.

It’s all laughter and nervous giggles until the bombs explode for real. Then the audience’s mood short-circuits fast as a brain stroke: a boom louder than staccato lightning strikes eardrums, a body skyrockets into the air, screams zigzag through the big top, people trample over each other for the swiftest way to the exit.

—first page, opening to Axel Taiari’s Death Juggler

If there’s one thing I love, it’s a good opening line. I can’t fucking wait to read Death Juggler.

So stay tuned here, or just bookmark the official blog, for further updates as events warrant.

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ADJ MMXI

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