Adaptive Pressure in Action

Even from under my rock, I've been hearing the news regarding the Pope's recent announcement that it may be time for the Catholic Church to abandon its long-held prohibition of condoms. From what I understand, his reasoning has more to do with preventing the spread of disease than with allowing his flock to better plan their parenthood, but fortuitously in this case the two purposes go hand in hand.

I'd like to sincerely extend warm congratulations to the Pope not only for taking a generally progressive humanitarian step, but also for making a very wise move in terms of ensuring the health of the religious institution — or, more aptly, the religious system — of which he is the head.


What No One Has Asked Before

Obviously I've been a bit delinquent in posting regularly. While having a job (for the time being, Heaven help me) does have something to do with it, I'm not interested in making excuses, and no doubt you're not interested in reading them. (Or maybe you are. Maybe I should start posting my personal log entries instead of intellectually stimulating content. Maybe I should start using Facebook and Twitter so you can follow all the irrelevant minutiae of my everyday goings-on. Maybe I should set up an all-hours webcam in my room, or attach it to my forehead. Or maybe not.)

However, I will say that one reason I've not been posting regularly is that I'm a little short of ideas I'd like to write about. I do keep a list of possible topics to discuss here, but for the most part they call for the sort of involved, laborious academic bludgeoning to which you've been repeatedly subjected in the several series of multiple-post-dissertations below. In a word, I'd like to have some lighter subject matter.

To that end, consider this post an invitation: I'd like to know what you, dear reader, would like me to write about. All suggestions are welcome, and indeed, even ultimately impertinent topics may lead to viable ideas.

So please, leave a comment and let me know what you'd like subjected to my inescapable scrutiny and analysis.


The War on Spam

Dear Readers,

As I've mentioned before, this otherwise relatively unvisited site has been suffering from frequent spam comments containing links to what appear to be Chinese dating sites. Because this blog's settings require users to complete a captcha to leave comments, I can only assume these spurious comments are being produced (with aggravating regularity) by human users who occupy themselves in this fashion.

In any case, it has become thoroughly tiresome to log in and delete each of these spam comments individually after they've been left. As such, I've implemented comment moderation to prevent any more spam from being posted in the first place. This will allow me to dismiss fake comments before they appear on my posts. Unfortunately this also means legitimate comments will not appear until I've had opportunity to review them.

Rest assured that I will use this moderation only to weed out spam, and that any and all real comments, whatever their substance or lack thereof, will be allowed as early as possible. I sincerely hope this effort to eliminate troublesome spam will not discourage you from leaving whatever comments you might like.

That is, if anybody ever reads any of this...


Contra Googlism

Recently it came to my attention that a cult has formed around worship of the popular and beloved search engine, Google. Specifically, I've examined nine 'proofs' that Google is a god, put forth by the so-called Church of Google. As a nit-picky religion scholar, I'd like to proceed to challenge each of these arguments in turn.


Killing For Religion

Today's topic sprung to mind from a dinner table conversation last week. Somehow I found myself mentioning William James' notion of "spiritual judgment" — that one should assess religion in terms of how it benefits or harms its adherents, rather than on the basis of its historical or psychological origins (in his terms, by the fruits rather than the roots). In addition to James' criterion, I offered Rappaport's idea of adaptive health, suggesting that religious behavior should be further considered in terms of its effects on the total health of the people who practice and encounter it. This met with the example of fundamentalist Islamic terrorists: is it not (at least hypothetically) their view that killing the people they kill — say exploitative American capitalists — is adaptively healthy?

I didn't have sufficient opportunity to pursue this question at the time, as the conversation soon moved on to other topics. However, I also found myself somewhat uncertain, for while my initial response to the terrorist question is certainly that their killings are not adaptive, nevertheless I can all too easily imagine circumstances in which I would readily grant that taking a life would be adaptively healthy indeed.


Card Cosmology, Part IV: A Church of Cards

Throughout our discussions of the playing card cosmology, I have hinted at the possibility of a whole religion based upon that cosmology. Today, with reference to the much-beloved definition of religion provided by Roy Rappaport, we will speculate on the substance and character of such a hypothetical Church of Cards.


Card Cosmology, Part III: Solitaire

In our previous post, we catalogued salient highlights of the playing card cosmological idea system and some of its accretions. Today, in similar fashion, we shall consider Solitaire, the game which largely informs the cosmology.

This exploration shall be organized according to three types of 'cosmological Solitaire' games: Apotropaic, Divinatory, and a third type which we will call Holy Solitaire.


Brief Hiatus

Dear readers,

With the end of my time in Portland approaching, I find my mind a bit too disorderly to put to work writing analytical discourse this week. I'll be heading north, back home to Bainbridge Island, next Tuesday. If I have any wits left upon my arrival, our next post — on cosmological Solitaire — may be delivered next week. However, please don't be dismayed or upset if another week should pass before we get back on track.

In the meantime, as always, I'll be keeping an eye on the comments, and welcome discussion of our investigations to date.


Card Cosmology, Part II

At last, as promised in our previous post, herein we will catalogue some of the details of the card cosmology which I have made up or, alternatively, which has been revealed to me over the past three years.


May Day

Dear readers,

Due to its length, and some difficulty with Blogger's autosave functionality, our next post has, obviously, been somewhat delayed. With any luck, it should be finished by the usual time this week.

Meanwhile, though the weather in Portland continues to be fickle, a happy Spring to all.


Card Cosmology, Part I

During my year abroad in Taiwan diligently studying Chinese and building Gundam models, I had a good deal of free time on my hands. That Summer I had taken an interest in Poker and other card games, and even developed a game of my own called The Duel. Taking my favorite deck with me to Taiwan, I spent many of the quiet hours of the day learning how to shuffle properly and playing my favorite card game, Solitaire.


Spurious Comments

Dear readers,

For some time now, while there has been generally a dearth of comments on my humble posts here, someone out in the vast of the net has taken it upon themselves to comment with notable regularity on each week's new article. This person or these persons, posting under Chinese usernames, have been leaving frivolous comments containing hardly hidden links to Chinese porn sites. Needless to say, I have deleted each such comment as soon as they've come to my attention, and I shall continue to do so as long as these trolls persist. Nevertheless, should you encounter any comments of this kind before my swift hand removes them, be hereby advised of their nature.

I very much hope that users with actual input will continue to feel free to leave their comments here. More than simply an outlet for my raving lunacy, it is my wish that this little project provide food for thought and foster discussion.


What If...?

Finding myself not in much of a scholarly but rather a speculative mood today, I thought to present to you, my dear reader, an idle question which has passed more than once through my mind of late: what if the Norse gods had become prevalent in Europe, rather than Christianity?


An Interesting Aside: Caprica

In a previous post, we discussed my take on one of my favorite shows, Battlestar Galactica, outlining the notion that the story is told in two conflicting genres of narrative discourse, each of which at least implies a corresponding genre of religious discourse. Subsequently we also discussed possible implications of that conflict of genres of discourse. Today, I wish to return to that discussion, this time with the spotlight on Battlestar's new prequel series, Caprica.

Naturally, spoilers follow. If you don't want Caprica spoiled, do not read on.


Leaving Home

Apologies for the delay of this post. Much has been weighing on my mind of late.

As my fellow Reedies are probably aware, a complement of Tibetan monks have been on campus this week constructing one of their remarkable sand mandalas. Apparently they've visited Reed once in the past, before I was a student. They also came to Bainbridge Island once while I was living there, and built their mandala in the public library. Unfortunately I didn't witness it at that time either.


201 Toolkit: Wayne Proodfoot

One of the least favored authors from the Religion 201 syllabus among my classmates was Wayne Proudfoot, whose Religious Experience takes a somewhat cynically empirical view of religion and the experiences people attribute to religious causes. Sometimes an empiricist myself, I have found Proodfoot useful since my first encounter with his book, and often invoke his central argument in my own analyses.


Do The Dead Check Facebook?

Speculating on the condition of the deceased seems always to have been within religions' purview, and as such thanatology often has a place among scholars of religion. Over the last several months, I have experienced three deaths: that of a dear friend in November, that of my grandfather in December, and that of a schoolmate with whom I was acquainted just last week. Reflecting on these experiences and observing the behavior of others prompted me to raise a question which a friend actually came up with some time ago.


Battlestarry-Eyed: Mixed Messages

Last post we identified the issue causing me grief in wrapping my mind around Battlestar Galactica: a conflict or dissonance between the narrative genres of science fiction and myth, and a clash between their associated religious genres of discourse, atheism and supernaturalism respectively. At first I intended merely to point out this discord and remark upon the difficulty it presents to an audience. However, in the course of writing last week's remarks it occurred to me the conflicting genres of discourse may have some implications worth fleshing out here.

What is the meaning of a story split between these two genres of religious and narrative discourse? Moreover, what is the significance of the stalemate those two genres ultimately reach? Or is it really a stalemate at all?


What The Frak, Indeed

In my very first post I alluded to Battlestar Galactica as a possible topic for discussion here. I've been listening to the recently released soundtrack to Razor and The Plan, and with that putting Battlestar on my mind, the day has come to talk about my favorite TV show.

Unlike our long series of posts on Magic: The Gathering, our discussion of Battlestar Galactica will be something of a one-off, as it turns out I really only have one central point I'd like to make about the series. Accordingly, I'm not going to start out with an attempt to re-cap or summarize the show's four seasons, and must assume some familiarity on the part of my readers. If you don't want to risk having the show spoiled, don't read on.

I'll say again: spoiler warning. Ye have been warned.


Video Games and Religion: A Fivefold Inquiry

I've mentioned before that I started this blog to pursue some of my incidental academic interests in the wake of a course at Reed College on religion and media studies, in which I wrote a final paper on religion and video games. This week, I give you that paper and the annotated bibliography which accompanied it. In future posts we may examine some of the theory mentioned here more closely, and bring it to bear on video games of interest.

This paper was originally written in the Spring of 2007.


Magic Cards as Icons

To wrap up our series of posts on Magic: The Gathering, we'll change gears and consider one perhaps less substantive but nevertheless fascinating aspect of the game which occasionally has some overlap with religious imagery. Magic cards' art is for many players and collectors an important attraction, and sometimes the primary attraction to the game. Indeed, when I first encountered Magic in elementary school, I never had any idea how to play, but collected the cards for their art.


MTG as Ritual, Part II: Player as Planeswalker

Last week, we found that while still just a card game, Magic: The Gathering fits Rappaport's definition of ritual, which we established by checking the game's characteristics against the definition step by step. In order to cement an understanding of why Magic not only happens to fit a definition of ritual, but really works like ritual, we will today consider the issue from a different angle: the player's perspective.


MTG as Ritual, Part I

Armed with a definition of ritual from our previous post, let us examine Magic: The Gathering in light of that definition, and see how the card game fits the bill. Recall Rappaport's definition of ritual:

"I take the term 'ritual' to denote the performance of more or less invariant sequences of formal acts and utterances not entirely encoded by the performers." (Roy Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, 24. Italics his.)


201 Toolkit: Roy Rappaport on Ritual

Once again we'll turn to Roy Rappaport's Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, this time to examine the idea of ritual. It should come as no surprise that such a term is much-discussed, and definitions abound, offered by ranks of scholars in various disciplines. In the course of studying religion, I necessarily encountered several of these, and ultimately found Rappaport's superior. Of course, as I've mentioned before, I'm particularly fond of Rappaport. While I maintain he's my favorite theorist because his lens proved the most useful all around, nevertheless I'll admit my bias in his favor.

In any case, when I speak of ritual, it is with his definition in mind, a definition which he gives on page 24: "I take the term 'ritual' to denote the performance of more or less invariant sequences of formal acts and utterances not entirely encoded by the performers." (Italics his.)


Mana Matters, Part II: Five Color Cosmology

As noted in our initial post on Magic, mana exists in five colors (red, green, white, blue, black) produced by the five types of basic lands (mountain, forest, plains, island, swamp). Each of these colors possesses a distinct set of characteristics, and in terms of gameplay, spells using certain colors of mana tend to have access to particular sorts of effects which other colors generally may not.


Mana Matters, Part I: This Land

In our previous post on Magic: The Gathering, we noted the naturalistic concept of mana which underlies both the premise and mechanics of the game. Today, we will begin examining this particular facet of Magic, with an eye for the religious implications of this fundamental concept of the game.


Long Horizon

We will return to a regular posting schedule in the near future. In the meantime, best wishes for the new year to all.