Thursday, January 26, 2017

ISSA This Semester

Like a hibernating bear, ISSA is biding its time and waiting for the right moment to awaken and bring secular student activities back to campus. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Touched by His Noodliness

    Not long ago, I decided to try a small experiment. By then, I had enjoyed the euphoric, sometimes paranoid effects of marijuana on occasion. But this time, I would take things a step further that I had in the past: I decided to smoke as much weed as I possibly could, just to see how it affected me. I also decided to put my thoughts and feelings to paper if possible, because everyone knows the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.
When I sat down on the balcony, bowl in hand, I was a staunch atheist. However, the night went on. With more and more crushed plant matter burning to ashes, I began to feel incredibly connected to… something. It felt like I was being held lovingly close by… Jesus? Yahweh? Cthulhu? His Holy Noodliness? I’ll never know, but I was soon compelled to spring from my chair and write down the epiphanies swirling through my brain. By the end of the night, I had produced the following religious text, scrawling the words into one of my school notebooks. Like most religious texts, it requires some interpretation, contains a few inconsistencies, and was made possible through the generous support of some seriously bomb-ass drugs. I solemnly swear that I was only under the influence of weed and nothing else. All spelling and grammatical errors are original.

“This is really important.
There is a god
The god.

“Humanism becomes universal
Sciece advances for an infinite amount of time
Eventually learns everything there is to know about the universe.
And somehow…
Some way…..
It all came back to god?
Like god was the very last thing we found in the end.
I didn’t even smoke no weed
This is just my damation [damnation] of eternal amazement given to all who doubt His word.
When we have a perfect knowledge of the all there is to know it will all point to god in the end.

“I was just entranced by the holy spirit.
I swear to gosh
I’m so, so sorry god.
With a capital “G” I’m so sorry.
I <3 god="" span="" u="">
Ur my hero

    I believe in God now. I got more high than I ever have beforre and got my highest possible high. I understand how god works. This is more knowledge than I thought was possible. Once humans know everything, they will know as much as God. And they will finally know God is real at the end when all we doubters are condemned into hell worse than flames. A hell of eternal [amazement]
I love God.
I love you too Ryan. Ur cool, K?
God. Is. Real.
Eternal amazement has periods of insane dissonence that will make all your skin fall off.

I can never tell Ryan’s secret. I will actually fall apart if I do. Like  meat from meat. I know Ryan’s upset when he says “shit.” I like God. God is Dope. Jesus is Dope Jr. I have to get up to set MY ALARM SO I CAN HELP THE WHOLE world get closer to everything so they can know God faster while taking less time. More people might believe in god to save them from eternal amazement. I have to let god let me out just to give this new sacred text away to humanity.
Let me go to work and serve you in leading humanity in your direction. Your perfect plan will be clear. This is my COMPLETE RECANT. I’m avoiding the subject of my dad to avoid it WAY past BELEIVING in God. I MUST REALLY have issues. Have to get up. Have to sleep. Must sacrifice for guranteed trip to eternal amazement. God, please let me out. Make this one extention from me be in your perfect nature. To teach other to love you. Time to go!”

So…. yeah…. Let me break this down….

Basically, the idea I had was that humanity would eventually outgrow religion, and humanistic principles would become universal. The human race would pursue knowledge of the universe for centuries, maybe even millennia, and eventually achieve a perfect understanding of physics, astronomy, the laws of nature etc. But what if, somehow, the very last piece of the puzzle was “God” in some form or another? What if our understanding of the natural world was still so feeble even after the 21st century that we couldn’t see that the existence of a higher power really did make sense, even if all the current and historical arguments for one failed? What if, after hundreds or thousands of years of de-facto atheism, we suddenly discovered that “God” not only existed, but that the seemingly ludicrous idea that all of history was somehow part of a perfect plan also made sense? Imagine the pure shock that moment would bring.
    Now, what if the discovery of God, only possible by reaching the end of scientific inquiry, triggered some rapture-like event? What if I and all those centuries of doubters were forever condemned to the very same level of shock that they felt or would have felt when they found out God was real? This is what I at least half thought I was experiencing when I wrote these words, due to the extreme euphoria of my ultra-high state. This perpetual state of shock and awe was God’s punishment for doubting or denying his existence, but it was also a kind of heaven. There are much worse feelings that one could experience for all eternity. My God is a merciful God.
    The letter that makes up part of this sacred text is to my roommate Ryan, who I often discuss philosophy and humanism with. I honestly don’t remember what I meant by Ryan’s “secret.” Based on all the fantastic thinking I was doing, I may have been under the false impression that he was secretly gay, and would have felt terrible if I accidently outed him. I can confirm this impression was false. The mentions of falling apart “meat from meat” and skin falling off reference the recurring, momentary sensation that I was melting or that I would suddenly fall to dismembered pieces on the floor, much like a house of cards.
    The closing paragraph or two came after I realized that it was about 2 AM and that I had work to do. I work in a lab that studies insects. As the knowledge gained from this would ultimately be part of humanity’s perfect knowledge of everything there was to know, I saw it as my duty to go to work in the morning and help us to reach this point more quickly. I was a humble servant to God and inquiry. I had a life to devote to literally helping the human race get closer to God. My life finally had meaning.

May the love of His Holy Noodliness be with you always.


Ed. note: ISSA does not condone the consumption of illicit drugs.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Animals and Objects on Trial (Note to Self: Time Traveling is a No-Go)

Throughout history, drawing a clear line between "state" and "religion" has proved difficult, partly because most societies conflate the two but also because belief systems, like judicial schools of thought, require some consensus as to what is morally correct or permissible and what is not. 

In modern courts of law, generally we only judge people and the contexts in which their behavior occurs. A nuanced practice would go beyond simplistic "legal vs. illegal" thinking to truly enact justice. 

But what if, in some cases, we deferred to "God" or sought to try nonhuman animals or something supernatural in court? What if when dogs bit neighbors, the dog would be held accountable and expected to attend obedience school or suffer some kind of tangible rehabilitation-esque sentence? It might seem odd to us, because in such situations today the owners are typically the ones held liable (though sometimes pets are euthanized even if they were forced or trained into being aggressive), but trials akin to this occurred fairly frequently in the past. 

"Legal theorist Paul Berman strikingly illuminates the way trials, like theatre, air differing points of view and create empathy for the other, and illustrates examples of the community value of performed trials. Consider the following: A swarm of rats is accused of eating the community's crops of barley. When the rats do not appear at a formal trial in response to a summons, their lawyer successfully argues that they need time to gather and make the long trip to the courthouse—and that, although eager to appear, they have not been afforded adequate protection from the feline dangers of their journey. One might expect to find such fables in Aesop, but, in fact, these proceedings are neither fiction nor anomalies, but an example of countless documented accounts of carefully conducted trials of animals in Europe, mostly in the Middle Ages, but some as late as the nineteenth century. Perhaps even more surprisingly, inanimate objects (statues or pillars) that fell upon and killed humans were put on trial in ancient Greece. A special court of the Acropolis, called the Prytaneion, was dedicated to trying three kinds of cases: where the murderer was unknown or unfindable (for example, Oedipus); where death was caused by an inanimate object (excluding those understood to be acts of God, such as lightning bolts); and, finally, where a human was killed by an animal (296)" (Winner, 2005). 

For the Greeks and Europeans of these ages, this was entirely rational (well, for most of them, at least - we can not generalize each populace, as there are records of dissent and blasphemy). Giving agency to anything nonhuman was not uncommon. We call it animism, the attribution of a soul (or a similar concept) to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena - an aspect of humanity specific to no individual culture. Which is not to say that anyone or anything on trial would be treated like a person. According to Winner, "These trials did not function to adjudicate disputes, nor did they potentially dissuade rats or pillars from future crimes. However, these courtrooms provided a place for conflicting beliefs to be 'acted out.'" 

Theistic beliefs especially were a crucial element in these trials. It was important for communities to determine what was an act of the Lord and what was not, and given that the Christian deity was known as having a vengeance-hungry appetite, understanding the difference between ecosystem and super-system was essential. If people did feel threatened, as if they were in the wrong somehow, supplication and divine conflict resolution would be necessary. 

Winner elaborates, "In a particularly 'strange' and vivid example of such debates, Berman points to a trial of weevils, accused of infesting vineyards in Saint Julian, France in 1545. The prosecution and defense argued such questions as: Was the infestation a sign from God, which should be answered by prayer and religious ritual? Had the animals been granted the right to the vine leaves by God, as documented in Genesis, chapter 1, verse 30—'to every thing that creepeth upon the earth . . . I have given every green herb for meat'? What was the relative position of animals and humans in the universe? Did humans or only God have the right to judge and punish animals? Were animals subject to human or divine law? Fascinatingly, as the weevil trial continued over a long period of time without resolution, the townspeople apparently took the law into their own hands. They 'negotiated' a contract with the insects, granting them use of a tract of land of their own, with some provisions in case the townspeople needed to retreat to the land, for example, in times of war" (
Theatre Topics 15.2 2005, 149-169; Democratic Acts: Theatre of Public Trials). 

From a text accessible through Internet Archive. 

And yet surprisingly at the same time, some living creatures were not afforded due process. While we have as a Western society appropriated Samhain into Halloween, we tend to forget the origins of witch and black cat imagery which remain staples as party decorations as well as costumes. Many animal shelters across the country tend to limit adoption during that week of October for solid black and white cats in fear of mistreatment. The evidence thus far is anecdotal and some organizations do not believe in restricting adoption dates as a precaution, but studies are emerging to suggest that black cats are less frequently adopted and more likely to be euthanized (although I'd like to see that cross-analyzed with cats who have disabilities). A current lingering hypothesis holds that black cats are adopted less because they do not photograph well although that claim is unsubstantiated. 

Regardless, as a species they have had a complicated evolution, both physically and sociologically, to say the least. They were loved for their companionship and hunting abilities and then, abruptly, not so much. "With such a wealth of negative associations, it is not surprising that cats became the objects of widespread persecution throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and the early modern period. On feast days, as a symbolic means of driving out the Devil, cats, especially black ones, were captured and tortured, tossed onto bonfires, set alight and chased through the streets, impaled on spits and roasted alive, burned at the stake, plunged into boiling water, whipped to death, and hurled from the tops of tall buildings; and all, it seems, in an atmosphere of extreme festive merriment. Anyone encountering a stray cat, particularly at night, also felt obligated to try and kill or maim it in the belief that it was probably a witch in disguise (Howey, 1930; Dale-Green, 1067; Darnton, 1984). By associating cats with the Devil and misfortune, the medieval Church...provided the superstitious masses of Europe with a sort of universal scapegoat..." (Turner, The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behavior, 189; 2000). 

Cat-throwing is still a celebration in Belgium during Kattenstoat, where stuffed kitties are tossed from towers to crowds below. It is alleged that this particular public display may not be rooted in anti-witch policies the church initiated, but it does beg the question: how did some nonhuman animals become a means through which God wreaked havoc whereas felines became the enemy, the ultimate Satanic incarnate? Centuries prior across the world, they were worshiped, kept as pets, hunted for their pelts, and cherished as farm hands ... all to be burned and traumatized how many years later in France and elsewhere over possibly having something to maybe do with witches?

And now, they are the second most common and beloved North American pet. I find it troubling to reconcile this with the present-day. Cats were not destroying crops or infringing upon territory (though they do in large numbers threaten wildlife populations). They were and are too small to morbidly wound a person, and sources from the Middle Ages fail to indicate poverty as a predictor of violence and consumption. As companions as well as foes, cats navigated Europe during a time of severe civil unrest and illness primarily due to poor sanitation, urbanization, and how diseases spread.

Could it be that for emotional closure, people needed the comfort of blame? What was it about cats in particular that led to merciless attacks? Was it entirely arbitrary, based on the eerie nature of their eyes at night? Why did religious figures of the time encourage animal trials and later the mutilation of cats? Perhaps we'll never know exactly why. Perhaps panic is the only explanation available. Perhaps humanity is more fragile than we think.