Friday, February 29, 2008

Everything I don't understand... (The Onion)

Wow, this soooooooo reminds of of someone I know...OK, probably many someones, but one in particular comes to mind...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Snow day randomness (2008 version)

So, it is another snow day. I shouldn't say “another”--we've had very little snow this year overall. Mostly freezing rain and crap like that. I was pleased that the library I work for decided to close last night rather than making staff wait til the morning to find out. Even better—my parents were supposed to come over tomorrow, and canceled. Don't get me wrong—I love my parents, but they're helping me paint, and I'm not in the mood to paint, really. So, I get a free weekend, more or less.

I always feel obliged to be productive during my down time—if I'm in lazy mode, I feel guilty. That's a bad habit. So blogging allows me to feel like I'm doing something useful without really doing anything all that useful.

Here has been my stream-of-activity-and-consciousness for today:

Woke up late
Fed indoor cats
Fed basement cats
Shoveled snow
Listened to James Blackshaw's “The Cloud of Unknowing.” Only like 1 song, really
Cleaned bathroom
Checked Facebook about 3,000 times
Checked MySpace about 3 times
Checked e-mail about 5 times
Made home fries
Made some Irish coffee (yes, I did wait til afternoon)
Shoveled more snow
Investigated the ATLA conference (will be in Ottowa in June of this year)
Pondered the fact that religious institutions are not really interested in having their parishioners “know God”. They want to control access to God, and make you fearful enough to obey. That backfires a lot.

Yes, this last thing seems rather incongruous with the rest. I assure you that this is how my mind works.
I have thought about this on and off all day for no good reason. Since it's on my mind, I'll tell you about it.

When I was finishing my Master's degree in Religion, I had to do a thesis. My thesis was a horror story—I spent 9 months writing it. I consulted with my advisor, who told me that it “looked great, and to keep going.” 4 days before the thesis deadline in April 1999, my advisor calls me from Harvard to tell me that she's read my thesis, and “wants me to start all over again.” “Urge to kill” is not a statement that begins to describe how I felt at that moment—9 months of work for nothing, and facing the prospect of not graduating. My advisor, who either has inflated confidence in me or is functioning on another planet, is sure that I can rewrite my entire thesis in a week. To make a long story short—the graduate office gave me another 5 weeks to rewrite the whole thing, which is now a personal account of growing up and getting involved in occult religions. When I read my thesis now, I am aggravated that this is the piece of writing that represents me. Sure, I've been told it's good. Kelly Bulkeley, the scholar who writes about dreams, thought it was excellent and that I should do something more with it. But I can't. I'm so traumatized by the circumstances under which it was written, that I can't look at it anymore. And being a somewhat private person, I don't like all that personal info about my childhood and teen years being out there in book form.

What brings all this up—I am reminded of the killer question asked during my oral thesis defense. My secondary advisor asked the question, “As Christian ministers, how do we keep people from becoming like you?”

The question was appalling on a number of levels. I do not think I reacted well to it. It implied that there was something inherently wrong with me, and that as ministers they should try to stop people from being like me. A more appropriate question would have been, “Why are people leaving Christian churches in droves, and why are so many drawn to occultism?” That is a fair question.

I am working on a book that explores this very question. In general, though, it has a lot to do with what Alan Watts said about the message sent to children when they come into this world. To paraphrase what he said—rather than saying “welcome to the world,” we say, “you're on probation.”

And it is true. Organized religion does more to make us afraid of the punishments of Hell or its equivalent. God is fearsome, and is watching our every move. God also has nothing to do with us—we are small and insignificant. At the same time, we are told, “God is merciful”--translated to mean that even though we are sinful pieces of sh*t, God is still magnanimous enough to forgive us, if we recognize what wretched creatures we are, and swear not to commit the same sin again.

The problem with this approach? Most folks believe that they are basically good, and trying to live a good life. If they believe that they can never attain that level of perfection and are doomed, then they will inevitably give up, or look for an alternative. I would be inclined to rebel against a God who is so harsh with me. It is no wonder that female deities and the Virgin Mary are so popular---the nurturing, always-forgiving image of the Mother is preferable to this temperamental male presence that could strike you down at any moment.

There is some truth in the rhetoric—it is better to be humble, to recognize that there is a system greater than you. However, that means trusting in God's love, and trusting that no matter what, you will land on your feet in the end. Most people have doubts about that. So, the seekers interested in knowledge will try to find out for themselves. They will either become atheists, recognizing the absurdity of the idea of an external Big Brother, or they will become occultists, seeking to find God on their own.

Yes, that is in fact what occultism is about. The idea that it is about “devil worship” is a misconception, though not entirely without reason. After all, Satanists are rebels against traditional religious authority, and they make no bones about that. But most serious occultists realize that Satanism is a dead end, and look to other hermetic practices, or to Eastern religions. The point is that occultists are very religious people looking for a connection with the Divine—without the Church or any other mainstream religious institution mediating that process. Is that dangerous? It can be, but if the person can get some good guidance, get a good teacher, they will be fine. Of course, good teachers are hard to come by in any religious milieu. Occultists often think it is worth the risk stepping outside of tradition to die trying to gain that Divine Union on their own.

Which leads us back to the Gnostic archons (see my previous post, “Library 2.0 boredom and Gnostic rantings”). What do you think?

The Onion: Cats, paper bags, and mid-East conflict

The Onion, being awesome as usual...

More religious-themed LOLcats and Kitty Pidgin

The Bible verses are unbelievable. Click on the pictures to make them bigger.

Humorous Pictures
Enter the ICHC online Poker Cats Contest!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Library 2.0 boredom, and Gnostic ramblings

I have to admit, I’m bored.

I spend my days working as a librarian. I mostly deal with cataloging, metadata, digital projects, and technology implementation. At least that’s what I do in theory. Anyone who has worked in this field can tell you that librarians hate to implement anything new. In the university milieu, that also translates to the IT department. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for all universities here, but certainly our IT department is what you might deem “over-cautious” about trying new things. The consequence of this is that I spend less time helping with technology implementation than you might think. I suppose there is a bonus to this. The last time I was involved with a full-scale implementation was in 2005, when I moved 37 libraries that were technically a consortium to a new library system that functioned in such a way that it assumed—get ready for this—that they were a consortium. They were appalled by the thought that they should do anything as a unit, so it made for some interesting times for me during the implementation process. There were days I wanted to fling either myself or some key person on one of my committees out of the nearest window. So, I should not complain about working in an environment that really makes very few technological demands of me on a day to day basis.

It’s not really work that bugs me, it’s my field. Librarians are so caught up in this whole “Web 2.0” thing, and in the “open source software” thing. Both are useful in their appropriate contexts. But I’m frankly bored sh**less with both of them. It’s like buying an appliance. I may find the appliance useful; heck, I might use it every day and recommend it to my friends. But I really don’t want to talk about it ad nauseam. People talk about this stuff like it’s great sex or a wild adventure. But it’s just another tool or set of tools. Big whoop.

The problem is that many folks leading institutions don’t know a whole lot about these things, but they’re obviously “hot” topics, so they view as go-getters anyone who has half a clue about any of it. The entire Computers in Libraries conference in Washington this year is dedicated to “social networking” and “open source”. Frankly, if you don’t have a clue about it by now you never will, so quit talking and either do something, or go away. And once you do something—great, beautiful, wonderful. I don’t want to talk about it or hear about it endlessly unless I’ve hired you to cure my insomnia. (I don’t have insomnia, so that’s not likely). But librarians do more talking than actual acting, and it’s likely that they will continue talking long after I’ve boycotted every library technology conference out there.

There are some projects that need to be talked about. Certainly any large-scale migrations need to be planned and discussed. However, having survived one large-scale migration, I think I would rather get some popcorn and watch the political infighting rather than participate in it. Willingly steering a large system migration is like throwing yourself into a tank full of sharks—you might come out alive, but you’ll probably be missing a limb or two. Even if all of your limbs are intact, your sanity probably won’t be. As I get older, I find I have less patience for the politics that go on in large groups. Watching the politics isn’t much fun anymore, either—I think would rather sit through another iteration of Kenneth Anger’s “Lucifer Rising.” At least that movie makes some sense.

Speaking of both Lucifer Rising and interesting conversation—I went out with two very good friends this weekend who have a great interest in/knowledge of, shall we say, “hermetical” things. We had an interesting discussion about Gnosticism. A statement was made that has given me a lot of food for thought—“Archons cannot be defeated, they can only be tricked.” Archons are servants of the Demiurge, that Being that functions as a Creator God, but jealously guards the secret to attaining actual unity with the Divine (which is beyond the Creator God in the Gnostic view). Anyone who moves towards the secret will be thwarted, and even if he or she gains some kind of enlightenment, the people around him/her are not likely to be similarly enlightened. As a result, society attempts to drag you away from that union. You can only play the game by speaking the same social language as everyone else. If you are too radical, you will be dismissed as a freak, a heretic, or a “devil worshipper”, and there will be attempts to discredit you. If you are too credible to be dismissed, you’ll be minimized as somehow being cute or humorous. Those attempts are usually successful enough to prevent any massive social change from occurring. And so we plod onwards, as clueless and self-limited as ever.

We also talked about the works of Philip K. Dick. Many of Dick’s novels and stories center on the theme of identity—we can’t really say for sure who we are. Phil Dick really writes about this in a mind-blowing way. The concept behind “Scanner Darkly” is probably enough said on that point, though it is only one example.

Dick personally believed that the Roman Empire never ended, and that he was living a parallel life; one life was as writer Philip K. Dick, the other as a persecuted Christian named Thomas around the time of the Acts of the Apostles. He believed both lives were happening concurrently. The ideas are all interesting; we don’t know enough about ourselves, about time, or about existence, to know if Dick was crazy, or if he was right. It makes me wish I had a mind for Physics, among other things. On the plus side—my discussions with my friends have allowed me to tie together errant strands of the fiction I’ve been working on, and a very nice break from talking about library stuff. Thanks guys!