In addition to fiction, I also write philosophical and theological essays. I write my essays for myself, after all, I can't really know what I think until I put it in words.
If there's nothing more to a wedding than cake, where's that leave love?
Written December 2008
I'm not sure marriage should mean what it seems to mean. In redefining marriage, will we lose unconditional love? If so, that's a feature, not a bug! It's ironic that what has become the icon of love and commitment in our culture -- marriage -- also has built-in the absolute corruption of the participants.
Your body is little more than a messy virtual-reality machine, and you're a captive audience with no options and no hopes for upgrades -- yet.
Written September 2008
Getting punched in the arm hurts, but does your arm actually feel it? Do your eyes see, or do you see? Your body may be as much a part of who you are as a suit of clothes, if less replaceable. But the time is coming when it will be as easy to change bodies as it is to change shirts. They say the clothes make the man, but even without clothes you're still you. Is your body any more necessary than a shirt?
The Bible encourages you to sell your daughter into slavery, and calls shrimp cocktails an abomination unto God!
Written May 2008
But that's the old testament, and we usually give it a pass, and then hurry to talk about how the new testament is different. Well, what does the new testament have to say about morality? Renowned and well-traveled monk Thomas Merton gives an excellent and well-read overview. In Mystics and Zen Masters, we see how historical Christian paragons act in accordance with the word of Christ, which leads to a moral examination of Christ's own words.
From gods to kings, and from little sisters to big brothers, we've been manipulating each other from day one. Don't be at a disadvantage: knowledge is the surest defense!
Written March 2008
Novel strategies and counter-strategies spring up like weeds: slogans, logos, and consumer reports. All intended to manipulate how you behave, but sometimes the oldest methods are the best -- and it's amazing how few people know even the basics. Find them outlined in this crash course of manipulation, complete with examples! This is a companion piece to the God and Scientific Method essays.
How do we know stuff? Judging a reliable source can be tricky, and you don't want to be tripped up when reality collides with what you've been told.
Written December 2007
People love to explain things. Ask a gambler about luck, or google "conspiracy theories" and you'll be buried in explanations -- and some may be true! So, how do we tell a good explanation from a bad one? One way, maybe the only way, is to test them. This is a companion piece to the God and Persuasion essays.
Is it reasonable to believe in any god? Are there good arguments for belief in god?
Written December 2007
For that matter, what is a good argument? There are a lot of gods out there, and a lot of believers. You may find it useful to know a few landmarks in the discussion of different views. Just getting an idea of the landscape can be a big help in navigating the terrain. This is a companion piece to the Scientific Method and Persuasion essays.
Suffering! Bleh, who likes to suffer? Well, some people might...
Written April 2006
There's a lot of suffering in Crime and Punishment, and sometimes it seems like suffering is a necessary part of connecting with other people. That leads to a pitfall, though, where self-sacrifice is mistaken as virtuous by itself, and examining why this happens helps us better undertand what it is to be human at all.
Musical analysis gives rockin' insight into the cultural zeitgeist
Written February 2006
Creation and Destruction have waged war across all our history, and music has been but one battlefield. From the flawless perfection of Mozart to the indescribable chaos of Schoenberg, a new movement in this grand contest has begun, one which speaks of the possibility of harmony.
Plato decried rhetoric as being a tool that the worst man would use to make himself preferable to the best. Looking at modern advertising, I think Plato may have been on to something.
Written May 2005
Nothing happens in our society but with the efforts of motivated people. Motivation is the first cause of any war, love, invention, sale, or genocide. Motivation -- and how to get it -- is what rhetoric is all about.
Zeno's Paradox works better as a social commentary than a scientific conundrum.
Written April 2005
Zeno's Paradox points out that before you can walk to the door, you have to walk halfway to the door. And before you can do that, you must reach another halfway mark. Follow this logic to its end (it has none) and it becomes apparent you can never reach the door. Something similar happens when you realize that every day you wake up a new person. An infinite expanse of possibilities stretches out before you. This golden opportunity arrives every dawn -- and that's the problem. With infinite opportunity always one night away, where's the harm in spending tonight in drunken revelry? There's always tomorrow...
Altruism -- self sacrifice for the other -- is often seen as the highest point of virtue and morality, while self-interest is viewed as the lowest point of greed and meanness.
Written December 2004
Altruism with no self-interest involved is pathetic, and not something to strive for. Without self-interest, it's hard to describe any act as being morally good. In fact, evolutionary theory and contemporary research demonstrates that naked self-interest is the quickest path to true cooperation and helping others to prosper. The moral value of an action ought to be judged by its results, not its superficial motivations.
Pinning down exactly what it is to be conscious is as difficult as capturing the elusive scent of a fresh-baked cherry pie.
Written May 2004
What makes a human being a human being is their consciousness, which is incidental to their body. After all, if some culinary wizard baked a cherry pie out of nothing but tofu and chemicals, and yet it was indistinguishable from a real cherry pie in every measurable way, we'd be right to say the creation had captured the essence of a cherry pie. Are people all that different from pie?
To make it in this world, it's important to learn that liars infest every corner of it, but who wants to teach our children such a hard fact?
Written May 2003
Our culture has developed an ingenius method for teaching children the cold truth that the world is full of liars who will deceive anyone for their own pleasure. So ingenious -- and ruthless -- is this method, it's a wonder it isn't more effective at producing skeptics.
Pavlov got dogs to salivate at the ring of bell, but that's nothing. With the same stimulus, the Salvation Army gets human beings to open their wallets.
Written December 2002
Guilt is such a pervasive element of our society that it almost seems like people will go out of their way to experience the feeling. Truly, there's no charitable act that cannot be turned into a guilt-ridden imposition.