Tag Archives: Religion

Nobody Exists on Purpose. Nobody Belongs Anywhere. Everybody’s Going to Die. Come Watch TV.

As exciting as it has been to have new Game of Thrones episodes to watch over the past two Sundays, it pales in comparison to the return of one of the greatest shows ever made. Rick and Morty returns with the long-awaited second episode of the even longer-awaited third season this Sunday on Adult Swim at 11:30pm EST. If you’ve read some of my stuff before then you know I’m a big fan of both, but where George R.R. Martin’s incredibly intricate world and detailed characters are my preferred option for fantasy, mystery, and speculation, Rick and Morty is a show with an unending universe, nay, multiverse of possibilities that always surprises with how delightfully strange, silly, and smart it can be. Among poop jokes and quick quips about random pop culture are some brilliant subtexts that call into question everything we take for granted. I’ve never seen a show so masterfully handle sensitive subjects like religion so succinctly in such a skewering manner as the B-plot of an episode that runs 24 minutes. 24 minutes! You can learn more about what is going on with that particular episode from Jared and the Wisecrack crew:

When it comes down to it though, I love Rick and Morty because it connects with me so well. Rick and Morty just get me, man. This is of course true for many others, and the show has been a major common interest for some of my best friends and I over the last three and a half years.

Rick and Morty has also helped me to sort out my own stance on religious belief. I have always been a spiritual soul (perhaps “soul” isn’t the right word for this, but I like the alliteration). I attribute this to a degree to my years of Catholic education, the latter nine of which were at Jesuit schools. The Jesuits follow the example of the founder of their order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, in seeing God in everything.  Between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere! Yes! Even between the land and the ship. Of course the previous sentence is a line offered up by Yoda to Luke to teach him about the Force, which should indicate where most of my sense of spirituality comes from. I do not identify as a Jedi on my census form; I still mark Roman Catholic when asked about my religious affiliation, but where once I believed in the whole truth of the dogma, then to most of it, then to some of it, and now to almost none of it that is not historical at its core (the Romans did some not so nice things to the people of Jerusalem; there was a dude named Jesus who earned some friends among these downtrodden folks; the Romans perceived him as a threat and encouraged his execution, etc.).

My continued education in science, theology, and philosophy – which remember all occurred at Catholic schools – really cast doubt on what had frequently been presented to me as “the way it is”. The teachers and professors who challenged me to challenge my own beliefs were my Bruce Hornsby. No one person or event brought about my shift from faithful to factual, but all played a critical role in my growth as a person and my understanding of the universe (or perhaps multiverse!).

My favorite scenes in Rick and Morty were some of the final pieces for my personal philosophy regarding life as I know it. The first time I saw the show was midway through the first season and I binged all six episodes that had been released at that point. The sixth and final episode I watched, “Rick Potion #9”, might just be my favorite episode yet. The ending of it is one of the finest wrap-ups I have ever seen in any TV show, and again it was all done in less than a half hour. With the world wrecked by his Cronenberg-like mutants, Rick portals himself and Morty to a universe where the two of them have returned things to normal and promptly died. Rick explains nonchalantly how there are infinite realities and encourages Morty to not worry about it, but it’s all too much for Morty to take and we see his wide eyes gazing around this new, yet familiar world in shock while Mazzy Star’s “Look on Down from the Bridge” perfectly matches the tone on the scene.

I knew I would love this show forever after this. I never expected the wild ending filled with hilarity and high-concept sci-fi, not to mention the use of one of my favorite band’s best songs to wrap it all together. It was love at first sight. What a show, and what an earth-shaking bolt of doubt sent to my core. On the one hand, it’s a cartoon telling fart jokes, but on the other it has got some things to say and they are not always easy to hear. Just two episodes later, in another round of what seemed to be senseless humor for the sake of it, Rick and Morty offered up the best line I have ever heard in my life. That is not hyperbole; Morty’s words to Summer in “Rixty Minutes” are my mantra now. They have become a truth that I live by, and they were part of a B-plot to a primary storyline that consisted of Justin Roiland’s freestyling improvisation that had been animated.

After learning that she was an unintended pregnancy that prompted the marriage of her parents and would not have existed had they not decided against the abortion they were considering, Summer plans to pack up and run away when Morty takes a break from Ballfondlers to give her the dose of reality that I have titled this post after.

My dad was never much of a religious man, but he told me he and his fellow soldiers would offer up their own prays of sorts at times during his tour in Vietnam. He quoted the old adage, “There’s no atheists in a foxhole.” It makes sense that our natural fear of death is easier to accept when you believe there is something waiting for you after your life on Earth ends. We even see ultra-cynic Rick experience this from time to time:

Gotta love those countless Schrodinger’s cats to represent uncertainty.

It’s important to separate belief from fact. This is something that is easier said than done, but it is critical to ensuring that we do not take what is objective and muddle it with what is subjective. Facts can be proven as they have evidence that can be observed and replicated to back them up. Belief is what we choose to accept in the lack of evidence. Some beliefs can be disproved by established facts, i.e. global climate change is human caused and happening; there are hats. Belief in a deity or deities, or belief in an afterlife get tricky because these are not things that able to represented directly by scientific data. We step more within philosophy and the utilization of logic, especially in regards to what has been seen and what is most likely to be less false, but not necessarily more true.

Enjoy the continuing new season of my favorite television show on today, and enjoy your life and share it with others regardless of their beliefs. One of my friends questions the validity of the moon landing and I still speak to him. My oldest friend with whom I have made many great memories graduated from the University of Michigan and I still hang around with him. The point is, we are all different in less important ways yet have so much in common in what really matters. Religious belief can be helpful to help one find peace in the everyday, as well as for healing someone who has endured trauma. As long as religion promotes living in harmony with your fellow man, then it can do tremendous good. Many hospitals are managed by faith organizations, even more schools offer a better education in some areas (mine included), and mission work throughout the world helps to provide both by treating illness and educating populations without proper health care or formal schooling available. As long as faith does not become a banner of hate or blind following, it can help bring humanity closer to itself. Kindness is key, and ideally we can carry on with it without the need of enticement of eternal happiness.

Thanks for reading and watching! Portal back here next week for the quarterly recap in the State of the Season. As always, send any questions, comments, or suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com.

Don’t trip along the way,

Alex

A Super Show of Support

Boy, those birds sure can blow it against the Patriots! Last night, the same old stuff from New England won the Super Bowl once again, this time in the championship game’s first ever overtime contest at the expense of the shoulda, coulda, woulda Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons had the Pats dead to rights, leading by 25 points in the second half, but they just could not put the game away. The ending of the game may have been rougher for the Seattle Seahawks to see, as the Patriots won by handing the ball off to their reliable running back at the goal line to score the game-winning touchdown, something every team’s 12th man knew the Seahawks should have done against New England just two Super Bowls ago.

Last night’s game had one the most incredible finishes in football history, let alone Super Bowl history, but overall it still ranks behind the big game from nine years ago. The monumental stakes of the 2008 Super Bowl XLII matchup of the we-do-this-all-the-time Patriots and the New York Giants were greater than any other. The Pats were undefeated at 18-0 and looked like they could steamroll anyone, and they had already beaten the Giants to add to that reputation. However, the game was close the whole way, and the Giants put together a bonkers final drive highlighted by this unbelievable play and ensuing touchdown:

But I didn’t come here to talk about the game, oh no. I came here to talk about the halftime show and the commercials! Just not in the away I normally would. Instead of watercooler talk of what commercials were the funniest (not really any of them) or which part of the halftime festivities featured the weirdest wardrobe (or lack thereof – thanks Janet!), today I want to discuss a bit about the tone of the these forms of entertainment. The normally routine chuckle-worthy advertisements and spectacle-centered singing show were still present, yet mostly set aside to profess a message of peace, equality, and inclusiveness.

Coca-Cola, Budweiser and most poignantly, 84 Lumber of all merchandisers, all pressed points for the importance of opening your arms to people. These points were further exemplified by halftime performer, Lady Gaga whose rooftop diving entrance kicked off with an extremely abridged version of “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land” and an excerpt from the Pledge of Allegiance,

One Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

We Americans have really put that “indivisible” part to the test over the years – if you thought last year’s election was bad, you wouldn’t believe what we did in the 1860s! The American Civil War was fought for everything else in that back half of the pledge: keeping the US as one nation, with liberty and justice for all, including the people who had been wrongfully considered property for too long. We have come a long way since then, and while freedom has been extended to many more than before, we still have trouble keeping the whole New Colossus theme that is emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty. The famous sonnet from poet Emma Lazarus features the memorable declaration from Lady Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Thankfully, in the midst of fear pointed in the wrong direction, there are many who stand with smiles of welcome to people whose only real difference with them is where they were born. We are all humans, and we are all deserving of the rights granted by the United States’ Constitution, not by virtue of having filled out forms, or by having been lucky in where your mother gave birth to you, but because every human is worthy of those rights. There is nothing more elaborate to it. All people deserve respect and the opportunity to make this world a better place. I know not everyone chooses to do this, and I’m not saying that people desiring to be American citizens should not bother with applying for citizenship. By all means, I encourage you to go through the necessary channels to officially be recognized as a citizen of this country because you, the persevering immigrant are what continues to make America great, now as ever. Nevertheless, under no circumstances should you be denied the chance to apply for citizenship. There is no need to make the process more tedious with the aim to weed out certain groups, and an all-out ban is damnably unconstitutional. That is not America, because we are the nation that opens the door, not slams it shut.

Thanks for reading! Direct any comments or questions to monotrememadness@gmail.com, and be sure to rappel down this way again next week.

O beautiful for spacious skies,

Alex

Consider Again That Dot

Ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust. We are all part of the same pieces that exploded into existence as we know it with amazing energy 13.8 billion years ago. From that magnificent beginning of this universe, everything within it has grown and evolved. And that’s even before life on Earth formed. The ideas we study today regarding the Big Bang and what has occurred in the expansion of the cosmos since are relatively new, having come into scientific understanding during only the last century or so, however, the study of the stars and the infinity beyond has existed for millennia. Astronomers have long impacted our knowledge of our world and what exists beyond it, helping to pave the way for other subjects of study. We remember and revere the names and lives of many such people who helped teach us more about our place in the universe. Today, I am writing about a hero of mine and many others who did this in more ways than one, showing us just how small and special we are as a planet and a species.

Tomorrow will mark the 20th anniversary of one of the saddest days in science education history. On December 20, 1996, the world lost a man who saw its incredible beauty and recognized how infinitesimally small we are on it and in the grand scheme of the cosmos: Carl Sagan. Sagan was an inspirational figure whose efforts to educate are still felt strongly, especially in the medium of television that he utilized so perfectly. His studies and insights also continue to be prevalent in his many books, as well as the lessons reiterated by his students who teach us today as he did decades ago.

Carl Sagan was born on November 9, 1954 in Brooklyn, New York to a Russian immigrant father and a native New Yorker mother. He and his sister, Carol, were raised Jewish, but not with a great emphasis on religious practice and teaching placed upon them. His parents not only allowed him to question everything, but encouraged it, something that he stated aligned perfectly with the scientific method and his quest for knowledge.

Sagan was smart from the start, thanks in large part because of his many interests in many subjects, such as astronomy, biology, and chemistry to name a few awesome ones. He frequently read about the wonders of the natural sciences, and visited the world-class museums that New York had (and still has) to learn as much as he could. It paid off for him as he attended college early, studying at the University of Chicago when he was 16. There he encountered some of the preeminent scientists and teachers of the era, including geneticist Hermann Joseph Muller and chemist Harold Urey (remember the latter). Sagan’s dissertation was done under the tutelage of Gerard Kuiper, for whom the Kuiper Belt (where Pluto and two other dwarf planets live) is named. From Chicago, Sagan went on to the University of California at Berkeley in 1959.

Sagan became an assistant professor at Harvard University at 1963 after his peers in academic astronomy were impressed with his work, specifically his Science article regarding Venus’ atmosphere. However, even after years of teaching at the university and working at the nearby Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Sagan was not granted tenured status. In fact, numerous members in the academic community voiced their concerns with Sagan’s wide window of study as opposed to the traditional finer focus on a specific pursuit of study. The strongest voice against him, and the greatest dagger to his tenure hopes, came from a former advisor at the University of Chicago, that’s right, Harold Urey. Urey was a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and had worked on the Manhattan Project, so he had authority in the scientific community. He argued against Sagan becoming a full-time professor, and Harvard listened.

Sagan was understandably disappointed, but where one Ivy League door closes, another gets to say “Suck it, Harvard!” today as a reward for not being overly concerned with the comprehensive interests of its professors at the time. Sagan had actually had an offer from astronomer Thomas Gold and Cornell University to come to teach prior to this decision from Harvard. The outcome of that decision made it easy for him to take his talents to Ithaca. He became an associate professor in 1968, and just two years later a full professor. His educational efforts were not confined to the classroom though, as in addition to continued research in astronomy and other fields, Sagan worked with NASA to prepare the Apollo astronauts for their lunar missions and to develop robotics. Sagan is also the man responsible for the creation and inclusion of information regarding humans and the Earth placed on some deep space probes sent out in the 1970s and 1980s. The first of these is the Pioneer Plaque which was attached to Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 launched in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The plaque depicts a naked human man and woman and an illustration of our solar system and other items used to indicate the origin of the spacecrafts in the event that they are found by intelligent extraterrestrial life. An explanation of the illustrations can be found here.

carl-sagan

The two Voyager probes launched in 1977 contain an updated plaque, called the Voyager Golden Record. Like the Pioneer Plaque, the Golden Record was attached to the spacecraft with information pertaining to humans and the Earth.

Sagan was all about finding other forms of intelligent life and making contact with them. He encouraged search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, projects and co-founded the Planetary Society in 1980 with SETI initiatives in mind. In 1985 he published the novel Contact about making first contact with intelligent alien life. The book was made into a movie of the  same name that was released in 1997, a year after Sagan’s death. The story is representative of many of Sagan’s ideals, especially where the relationship and often duel between scientific fact and religious faith are concerned. Contact provides intelligent insight into the relationship of government and science as well. All of these are themes that exist in other popular science stories like Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life that was recently released as movie called Arrival, which has many similarities to ContactInterstellar does as well, including Kip Thorne’s input regarding wormholes and Matthew McConaughey being all right, all right, all right.

Sagan had other (non-fiction) books and many published papers and reports, but undeniably his greatest impact was through his television program Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. With Cosmos, Sagan took his grand encompassing interest in the big picture out of the classroom and into our homes. The show was superbly received and is one of the most watched series ever to air on PBS. Sagan was successful at inspiring everyday people into asking “Why?” and helped to make scientific ventures popular. Two of Sagan’s most notable students at Cornell would go on to have similar success with similar programming on TV. From 1993-1998, Bill Nye was the titular science guy in his show aimed at teaching children the basics of science. Nye was a senior at Cornell when he took Sagan’s underclassman course for easier credits, but he has stated that the class was a critical building point in his life that helped him to realize his potential and shape his life. Neil deGrasse Tyson did not attend Cornell and take Sagan’s class as Nye did, but he was a student of life of Carl Sagan’s and kept close ties to him from his teenage years. Tyson has hosted the StarTalk podcast (and later show) since 2009, and in 2014 he made another Cosmos series called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. In the opening episode, Tyson explains how he first came to know Carl Sagan. Tyson had sent an application to Cornell, and the admissions office had forwarded it to Sagan. Sagan then wrote a letter to Tyson inviting him for a visit. Tyson was impressed to say the least with Sagan’s knowledge, but mostly his character. Of his mentor and friend he said, “I already knew I wanted to become a scientist. But that afternoon, I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become.”

Cosmos was good for Sagan as well, as his co-writer, Ann Druyan, would within a year become his wife. Druyan was Sagan’s third wife, but she and he remained happily married until his death. Near the end of his life, Sagan suffered from a myelodysplastic syndrome, a cancer in which the blood cells in bone marrow does not develop properly. It often leads to leukemia. He was able to keep it at bay with bone marrow transplants from his sister, however he developed pneumonia which took his life on December 20, 1996.

Carl Sagan was exceptional at presenting simple and complex information alike in an easy and enjoyable way to the public. Whether or not you are young or old, or as wild about science as Carl was when he was younger or not, then you can learn and love what Sagan has to share in his show and books. He had many famous musings in his beautifully poetic presentations, but the most renowned is his “Pale Blue Dot” speech given at Cornell, in which he ponders on the whole of human existence while observing a picture of Earth taken by Voyager I from about 6 billion kilometers away. This may be the most important speech I have ever heard or read. It summarizes the actions of our species so perfectly and presents us with a spectacularly humbling realization that we are so, so small in this enormous universe. However, this makes us and our planet so incredibly special and grants us the wonderfully privilege to make our world the best it can be. I hope that it moves and inspires you as it does me.

Thanks for reading and watching. If you have any questions, comments, or requests for future topics, then please email me at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Orbit back here next week for some more out of this world fun.

Science shed lights on the unknown,

Alex

Hoosier Homophobia: The Latest Chapter in the Book of Intolerance

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

So reads the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the principles upon which my country is built that transcend the paper they were written on over 200 years ago. Like most American citizens, I have a tremendous respect for the wisdom of the words that comprise our country’s core values even if they are a little archaic by today’s standards, leading to constant debates about what precisely the well-respected founding fathers meant. Regardless, we all know that this country was founded upon freedom, and this most important right of life is equally due to everyone and cannot be inhibited by the government. At least that’s how it’s supposed to go…

This past week the state that is the western neighbor of mine made the news for more than the excitement for this weekend’s upcoming men’s basketball Final Four. Indiana governor Mike Pence signed into effect a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) law called Indiana SB 101 and has pretty much only caught hell for it since. While supporters claim it is only set up to uphold religious freedom and rights, it has been fiercely criticized for being an attack on the rights of the LGBT and sometimes Q community (that’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and occasionally also Questioning).

According to Governor Pence, Indiana, like other states before it, is not directly taking away freedoms from homosexual individuals but granting them to anyone whose religious practices are infringed upon by the government. Unfortunately, whether Pence and Indiana’s lawmakers intended it or not, this kind of law is the ammunition for religious and conservative groups who want to prevent gay marriage from becoming legal across the country. The original Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a federal law put in place back in 1993 to prevent religious freedom from being burdened by laws put forth by the government. While it applies to all practicing religions that are recognized by the United States, it came about primarily in reaction to the mistreatment of Native Americans and their reserved land. The RFRA protected places and culture – specifically the use of peyote in Oregon –  considered sacred by Native Americans. The federal RFRA was unanimously passed by the House of Representatives and only had three senators oppose it in the Senate. It was signed into effect on November 16, 1993 by President Bill Clinton. You know, that guy who’s wife is super angry at the Indiana RFRA. So what’s the difference between the two?

The easiest answer is that the federal RFRA is a federal law and the Indiana SB 101 RFRA is a state law, and not the first state RFRA. It was determined by the US Supreme Court in 1997 that the federal RFRA cannot overrule a state decision in accordance with the state’s own laws. That started when a pastor wanted to build a new church in Texas but the demolition of the old church building was shut down because it was recognized as a historic landmark. He appealed to the federal RFRA, but Congress felt it couldn’t interfere lest it overreach its enforcement power in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment (Due Process; Equal Protection). Thus, each state can draft its own RFRA as it sees fit and that’s what Indiana, like others before it, has done.

Comparatively, here is a map of each state’s legal stance on same-sex marriage.

So what the fuck does Indiana’s new law say that has brought on all this backlash? That’s a good question, reader! If you think this post is less entertaining than usual then read the actual text of the legislation, then rest assured that I don’t write in such a way and that you’ll find a song at the end of this. Essentially, SB 101 grants citizens and corporations the right to have less restrictions from the government to practice their religious customs. Sounds okay until you consider how certain people and organizations will abuse the openness of the law to turn away others who violate their religious customs, specifically members of the LGBT(Q) community for being LGBT or Q. So businesses can be like the surly bartender in the Mos Eisley Cantina (actually named Chalmun’s Cantina) and say, “We don’t serve their kind here.”

In reaction to this new legislation, some national and international business have decided to cease doing business in Indiana. This shunning is not good for Indiana economically, and it is ironic that a law which permits businesses in the state to refuse service to others is causing them to be refused service.

I agree that Indiana SB 101 is “ill-conceived legislation at best” as was said by James Danko, the president of Butler University, which is located in the state capital of Indianapolis. He also stated, “No matter your opinion of the law, it is hard to argue with the fact it has done significant damage to our state.” It may please a part of the population who are more firmly rooted in the various traditions of their faiths that forbid same-sex union, but it certainly is not sitting pretty with the growing majority of people in the United States. In addition to the economic issues Indiana is now experiencing, they have taken a massive hit in public relations which is problematic because there aren’t too many people flocking to Indiana over the likes of its Midwestern neighbors, let alone places like New York and California. I’m not saying that Indiana doesn’t have anything to offer for people from outside the state; Indianapolis alone is blooming metropolis, although it is kind of an urban oasis in a predominantly agricultural state (I feel your pain Indiana), but there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, and you can always grab a timeshare in Muncie like Jerry/Larry/Terry Gergich. Nevertheless, Indiana is not pulling in enough visitors to be able to afford to turn away those who don’t fear whichever desired God enough.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc., wrote an article that appears in today’s Washington Post Opinion page in which he expresses his similar disappointment in such laws and condemns them as discriminatory. I believe that his conclusion is true and very much summarizes how I feel on this issue, so I’m going to shamelessly steal it since it’s more resounding than whatever I could say considering I don’t sell iPads:

“This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings. Opposing discrimination takes courage. With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous.”

Here, here! Let’s celebrate the equality we all deserve and that is protected for us here in America under the First and all following amendments.

I have an amendment of my own to make to a previous post that I will eventually expand into a Round 2, yet I think this just can’t until I publish that. My last post of last year was a list of songs I feel everyone should listen to to gain perspective and lead a better life, It may have been encyclopedic, but it was certainly not comprehensive, and for that I apologize to many whom I hope to make it up to with the future sequel post, especially Adam Scott Aukerman and the lovable lads from Liverpool they love to talk to us. Here I offer a preview with the lead-off song of the someday soon-ish list of more must-hear songs: “One” by U2, a gentle yet powerful ballad of looking beyond disagreement and embracing our differences to live more harmoniously. Bono may have written it about the band’s near break-up, but they and their fans have since applied it to many situations that threaten social justice for all, and it definitely works in the context of this latest bout of intolerance.

Thanks for reading! Remember to keep an open mind regarding others and be nice to them no matter how you feel about their sexual orientation or religious beliefs. No matter who you are, you’re always welcome here and I hope you come back next week to read another post!

Thanks to teachers of America, the authors of the 1st Amendment, and all MSTies coast-to-coast,

Alex