May 31, 2007

Waiter Rant

I was given a link to Waiter Rant by a friend a year ago. My friend advised me that “since you like stories, I’m sure you will enjoy this blog.” As with many other things, my friend was quite right.

Waiter Rant is the blog of a waiter at a high-class restaurant in New York. He writes about amusing, infuriating, touching, and insane events in his life as a waiter. I believe his blog started off as a way to blow off steam at the incredible discourtesy he often has to endure in his profession. Waiter (his real name and the real name of the place he works at are closely-kept secrets) is a superb writer; he’s received a book offer and is currently about half-way through turning some of the experiences he’s written about into a book.

He’s acquired a very large fan base; each post typically has more than 100 comments on it, and many of his fans vociferously defend him against anyone who dares criticize his writing style. I suppose acquiring rabid fans is one price of success—it’s certainly one I’ve never had to deal with. :D

Waiter can write some amazingly touching things as well as describe some hysterical gaffes. He began his career studying at seminary, and many of his musings touch on what faith he has left and the relationship of the sacred to real life. I’m not sure he classifies as a Christian any longer, but if he doesn’t, he fits into an ever-increasing number of people I admire and respect who don’t share my beliefs. My discovery of people like Waiter is what I referred to earlier that caused the breakup of my certainty of the world and who is right and who is wrong.

There are a lot of good stories here: read and enjoy them. I certainly have. Cynic—I’m sure you’ll appreciate this one.

Posted by Leatherwood at 05:39 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

May 30, 2007

A Short, Brilliant Quote

Last post for a while for me, I think. :) In my reading of Laurence Vance’s work, I ran across a brilliant quote in his article “Christianity and the War”:

Lew Rockwell, president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, has brilliantly summarized what is wrong with modern conservatism:

The problem with American conservatism is that it hates the left more than the state, loves the past more than liberty, feels a greater attachment to nationalism than to the idea of self-determination, believes brute force is the answer to all social problems, and thinks it is better to impose truth rather than risk losing one soul to heresy. It has never understood the idea of freedom as a self-ordering principle of society. It has never seen the state as the enemy of what conservatives purport to favor. It has always looked to presidential power as the saving grace of what is right and true about America.

That first phrase, “[American conservatism] hates the left more than the state” was especially powerful, I think. I do fear that we conservative evangelicals are letting our hatred of the left blind us to our own faults and the dangers of our own politics. If the Anti-Christ should rise in America, I fear it could possibly be with our backing in support of his program to crush the godless, immoral Left.

Another telling phrase, “[American conservatism] thinks it is better to impose truth than risk losing one’s soul to heresy.” He’s spot on.

As for believing that brute force is the answer to all social problems, I think that’s a ridiculous exaggeration, and I don’t see that we have “always looked to presidential power as the saving grace of what is right and true about America.” Also, I think it would be better to say “It has never trusted the idea of freedom as a self-ordering principle of society” than “understood.”

A little later in his article, Vance writes: “To their everlasting shame, I suspect that it is evangelical Christians who will support Bush until the bitter end—no matter how many more U.S. soldiers are killed, no matter long the war continues, no matter how many more billions of dollars are wasted, and no matter what outrages the president commits against the Constitution, the rule of law, and Christianity itself.” I think he may be right, though I’m not yet convinced it is to our everlasting shame. I can find a great deal of sympathy in my mind for the idea of standing loyal to the end, though that seems strange. I can at least see some humor in standing firm to spite the Left.

Posted by Leatherwood at 12:15 AM
This post has been classified as "Musings"

May 29, 2007

My Feelings about War

As I noted in a comment on my last post, it began as an attempt to put words to my thoughts and feelings on war. You see, the politics that I was reading today were those of Laurence Vance, a “a freelance writer and an adjunct instructor in accounting at Pensacola Junior College in Pensacola, FL.” to quote the blurb at the end of each of his articles. I added him to the new “Thought-Provoking Sites” section of my blog, because his views (and many of those on seemed well argued and because they challenged my own and gave me food for thought. Lots of it.

Mr. Vance hates the current war in Iraq with a passion, and government with all the holy fire of a zealous libertarian. From one of his recent articles, he stated that

The adoration that many of these Christians have toward President Bush is unholy. The association of many of these Christians with the Republican Party is unholy. The alliance between evangelical Christianity and the military is unholy. The idolatry that many of these Christians manifest toward the state is unholy. But what continues to amaze me the most is the unholy desire on the part of many of these Christians to legitimize killing in war.

And he goes on to make his case regarding the traditional interpretation of the 6th commandment as forbidding murder, not killing per se. Obviously, his previous statement gets into a lot of issues, some of which would be very interesting for me to write about (perhaps I will), since I am one of those Christians he refers to, but the one that I’m most interested in right now is the idea that Christianity necessitates pacifism. Granted, this is not a traditional idea unless you’re Quaker or Amish, but it has been around for quite a while, and I’ve read some very compelling cases for pacifism. My intention in this post isn’t to debate the issue; I’m more interested at this point in understanding my reaction to this idea.

Quite frankly, I have an visceral attachment to war. And realizing this surprised me. I love reading about war, studying weapons, tactics, strategies, battles. Some of my favorite heroes are warriors (Aragorn and Honor Harrington spring immediately to mind), and almost all of my heroes killed somebody.

I’m instinctively wary of the ideology of pacifism; anything that discourages boys from pointing guns at one another or slaying dragons is deeply suspicious in my point of view. Foolish me, I have a romantic view of war at heart, though I know that it is terrible, nasty, boring most of the time, horrible the rest of the time, sticky and dirty; something at the core of me holds on stubbornly to the idea that there can be glory in it, too. I don’t understand it yet. I trust it, and I’m pretty sure it’s right, but I don’t understand it.

Romantic war is glorious: good pitted against evil, desperate charges, valiant last stands, noble death, courage, honor ... it’s all there. But real war is so very different ... in real wars you’re never the lily-white good guy fighting the totally-evil bad guy. And innocents always get hurt. Real war is about accidentally killing kids and farmers and women. Or not even so accidentally: viewing killing them as a “necessary evil.” Real war is about destroying the enemy by any means necessary, and protecting yourself from the same by any means necessary. And “any means” can easily stretch to horrors unimaginable in saner moments. Oh yes, we have codes of conduct that we more or less try to follow. But there’s a constant fraying of them, and despite even your best efforts (and often you give only a token effort), you get dirty. I know all this secondhand, though books and my imagination. And those tools never give a full portrayal of reality ever, and in war less often than usual, I think.

Someone may say that it takes more courage not to fight; to be willing to suffer and be beat on and “turn the other cheek.” There’s truth in that, but I would ask such a person to remember that there are at least three kinds of people who refuse to fight: the wimp, the coward, and the saint. Only one of those kinds is admirable.

Ruthless justice is out of vogue. Even in the movies where the hero deigns to fight, it’s quite fashionable for him to spare the life of the chief bad guy (who generally attempts some foolish last gesture and gets himself killed, satisfying the audience’s desire for mercy and justice: the hero mercifully makes his gesture, the villain treacherously cheats and is justly slain). Being something of a contrarian, I rather approve of ruthless justice, and my more vicious side darkly approves of proposals to “kill ‘em all.” I really do have a dark, vicious side: it usually comes to the fore when watching movies or reading books when the side of goodness has taken a pounding and I’m still recovering from the loss. When the “bad guys” begin to take their own fair share of the casualties, I have been known to snarl gleefully at them, exulting in their death and destruction. There is a fierce, cruel, ecstatic joy that sweeps over me and delights in the death and destruction being visited on the enemy. I imagine it’s a common thing, though I think I show it more freely than most.

In my saner moments, I’m more than a little disturbed by the revelation of my darker self. But while it makes me uneasy and I know that much of that exultation is evil, I feel that there’s good in it, too. And it’s a good that our culture rarely openly celebrates (though the profusion of action movies shows that it is certainly widely felt). But I think that, at the heart of it, there’s something good in it. To be quite blunt, I think God shares it. That’s a shocking idea to most, but I’m convinced that most people’s opinion of God is entirely too nice. Most people’s idea of God wouldn’t hurt a fly unless it was absolutely necessary, and then He would certainly apologize to the fly and weep copiously afterwards. God wouldn’t hurt anyone, now would he?

Of course, the specter of the Old Testament rises in some people’s minds, but I’m fairly certain that most people don’t think about it much. Those thoughts are filed under “unpleasant things I don’t quite understand about the Bible” and forgotten. Perhaps a few take refuge in the comforting thought that we live in a new age or dispensation. Others take comfort in arguing that those parts of the Old Testament are lies. Of course, there’s Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament, but most people don’t know about them. And I’m sure there’s a horde of liberal theologians willing to declare that account apocryphal and invalid if it should ever become an issue. There’s also Revelation ... but that’s all prophetic mumbo-jumbo.

A pastor I listened to once asked, “Why should you fear God?” He paused for a long moment and then answered his question: “‘Cause he can kill you.” Not a pleasant thought for a grace-loving, judgment-shunning comfy church.

I hasten to mention that the opposite problem exists too, and is just as (probably more) serious. It’s not uncommon among conservatives to have an image of God as angry, vengeful Judge who is watching and grading their each and every move. For them, they know exactly why they should fear God: it’s why they should love God that’s a little harder. Oh, they know the reasons why they should love God, but can’t really bring themselves to love Him. John makes an extremely good point in writing

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

1 John 4:18 (ESV)

No-one who is afraid of God’s punishment can come to God wholeheartedly. They are always wary of a heavenly fist coming down to smack them. They cringe every time He reaches out to embrace them. Fear God, yes! But for the love of God, remember that your sins are forgiven and that you are accepted, I beg you!

I’m still thinking about my stance on war. I’m really struggling with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: taken at their face value, I really don’t like them. But I really don’t want to explain away the passage and be wrong. And I’m just not sure about it yet.

I am certain of this: as long as evil exists, there will be war. There must be war. There ought to be war. But the manner in which this war is fought is “not against flesh and blood.” Where does that leave our “flesh and blood” wars? I’m just not sure yet.

Posted by Leatherwood at 11:56 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings"

Notes from the Confused on Seeking Truth

I’ve been reading politics again. A vice, really, and one my wife detests, because every time I read politics I come away upset and stay that way for hours as I think and snarl through the implications of what I have read. My own political beliefs are mostly what I was taught through A Beka: strongly pro-Republican, very strongly anti-liberal, pro-US, pro-Israel ... etc. Rather common, actually, at least among people brought up in or converted to a conservative evangelical worldview.

My political thinking is ... confused. Very confused. Mostly because I’m no longer as certain of my basic political beliefs as I was ... as I’m supposed to be. I’m not really sure what’s what anymore, who’s right or who’s wrong. It happened because I read things that upset me: read leftist writers who wrote things I at least partially agreed with, or couldn’t refute. Even more confusing, I read rightist people who disagreed with me. I kept running into “good people” who believed differently from me. Strongly. There were supposed to be three kinds of people: the good, the bad, and the deluded. And I was supposed to be able to tell the difference!

Granted, I could classify all the people who disagree with me as “evil” or “deluded.” It’s quite a temptation, to tell the truth. Evil people must be fought, deluded people persuaded or ignored. That’s what I tried to do. But part of the code of fighting people (or persuading them) is to first give them a chance to defend themselves in their own words. I made the fatal mistake of listening. And now I sit on the sidelines of the great wars, arguing (mostly with myself) about which side I’m supposed to be on, which turns on the question of which side is right.

I have at least made up my mind on the most critical of questions—whether it’s possible to be right about anything. (At least, my mind is currently made up and I don’t foresee it changing ... I’m pretty sure of that decision :) ) And there I agree wholeheartedly with my traditional training: yes, at least one side can be right. Even my training never claimed to be perfect, or to have the whole truth. It may have acted like it, but it didn’t claim it. Truth exists, or there is nothing whatsoever worth talking about and no-one (not even oneself) to talk with and no means of talking. And since there seems to be a great deal to talk about and a great many people to talk with, I throw my suspicion on the side of the “truth exists,” adding the caveat that I’m not certain that truth can be certainly known: meaning I’m not sure if a person can ever be sure he or she is right about anything. I’m still thinking on that one, and I’m edging toward a belief that valid certainty is impossible for most things. Like politics.

So I believe that somebody is at least partially right about something: I just have to find out who and what that is. Actually, I think most people are mostly right about most things. If they weren’t, then most of the things they advised or did wouldn’t mostly work. Working is no guarantee of truth, but I think it’s a guarantee of some truth. Things work (or seem to work) for real reasons, and the reasons for which people think that they work might be related.

On another occasion where I mused about the nature of truths, I offered a few guidelines. It seems a good way to end this post: in light of the above musings, that I am confused about truth, but certain that it exists (though uncertain about whether I can be certain I know it), I (try to) use the following two principles as “guides” in my search for truth: beware of elites, and beware of beliefs that make little or no provision for a “noble enemy.”

Beware of elites: this is coming from an elitist; someone who certainly used to be very elitist and almost certainly still is. I don’t trust elites because they are:

  • sure that they’re right
  • smug in their superior understanding of the world
  • condescending to the “great unwashed” that don’t share their exalted wisdom

I don’t like elitism because it goes hand it hand with arrogance, and I especially don’t like either in myself. And I’ve found and find it over and over, try to dig it out, and immediately feel proud of my humility and strength of character. It seems strange: you could call it “the temptation of truth”: knowing (or thinking you know) something seems to immediately invite pride in knowing it.

That’s not to say that elites can’t be right: they usually are, to a large degree. That’s why they’re elites! :) But be suspicious of their being right, because in accepting the truth they’ve discovered, you run the risk of becoming one of them and losing truths they disapprove of.

Beware of codes that make no provision for the “noble enemy”: I say this because it was my discovery of the “noble enemy”—people who were good, decent people who disagreed with me that prompted my current uncertainty. Whatever truth I eventually come to accept had better have a solid place to explain this phenomenon, and a suitable place for them to occupy, or I won’t accept it.

I guess that’s my problem—I struggle with disagreeing with “good people.” It’s not supposed to happen! All the good people are supposed to agree with me about all the important stuff! But they don’t!!

At the moment, the lack of a provision for a “noble enemy” is one of my chief points of conflict with the liberal left. I know that there are good people on the Christian evangelical right; heavens, I was raised with them. Until I find a belief that has a home for them, beyond the “evil, Bible-thumping witch-hunters” box or the “stupid, deluded, mindless sheep” box, I’ll keep looking. I’m as determined to keep a place of honor for the noble people who taught me as I am to find a place of honor for the noble enemies I’ve encountered.

Yet a third principle has occurred to me (doubtless there are others, but this one I want to mention). I guess the reason it didn’t immediately jump out at me is that it was a principle I started off with, not one I acquired along the way. And that principle is this: I am convinced of the existence of evil (and good, but not too many people seem to dispute me on that one) and of enemies. This cannot all end in hugs and kisses and everyone agreeing to get along: there are some evil ideas and evil practices and evil thoughts and people who serve and delight in evil, and they must be fought (hopefully, ultimately destroyed). I won’t accept a code without evil; the world just doesn’t make sense without it. Granted, the world may not make sense, but if it doesn’t, then it and everything in it doesn’t matter (That which does not make sense does not matter? I may need to think about that. Can sense add up to nonsense?), and if that’s the case, this document being, to a large extent, concerned about the world, why are you reading this?

Posted by Leatherwood at 06:45 PM
This post has been classified as ""

May 27, 2007


For nearly a month now, I’ve been playing Morrowind at almost every available minute. I just finished it for the first time a couple of days ago. I’ve never before encountered a game that scale: if you started your character walking from one end of the continent of Vvardelfell where the action takes place, I imagine it could take a literal hour before he wound up on the far side. It has dozens of cities, dungeons, hundreds of little “holes in the wall”, and probably thousands of individual people to talk to. As I said, I’ve never played a video game so big before.

Nor one as ethically nebulous. One of the key ingredients of the game is “enchanted” items, which you can find and (much more importantly) create for yourself, using a spell. There are probably 50 different varieties of spells and a near-infinite variety of ones of varying strength, duration, and area of effect. For example, I created an enchanted belt that allowed me to “Levitate” or fly continuously, which I used to get over cliffs and up to high ledges. I created another enchanted belt (which I used most of the time once I’d made it) which continuously renewed my fatigue, making me able to run and fight continuously without growing tired. I created an enchanted shield to make me stronger, so I could carry more stuff. I created an enchanted ring to make me invisible, so I could travel the land in peace and not be attacked by every minor monster wandering around. Another one to make me able to walk on water. Another one to make me able to breathe water, allowing me to stay underwater indefinitely. And a few dozen others. I hope you get the idea of how useful these items can be ... and how intoxicating it could be to be able to make your own.

The most ethically interesting issue with these enchanted items is the source of the enchantment—captured souls. You cast a spell called “Soultrap” (of course, I had a ring for this :) ) on a target monster (I don’t believe it’s possible to capture the souls of people, but I didn’t try much). If the monster is killed during the duration of the spell (not usually a problem), the monster’s soul is captured in a gem you carry. This gem can be used in combination with something else (a belt, ring, robe, sword, etc.) to create an enchanted item. In the world of the game, you are imprisoning the soul of a creature in a gem (where it will most likely go insane, as one of the books on the subject you can read in the game describes), where it will reside and do your bidding for all eternity (unless, I suppose, the item is destroyed; I’m not clear as to whether it’s possible to disenchant an item). An interesting ethical issue.

Of course, there are more interesting things. You can “summon” monsters from “Oblivion” (sort of a nebulous heaven/hell spiritual world beyond the mortal plane) to do your bidding (or, if you’re cold-blooded enough, you can summon them up with the intention of killing them for their souls). There’s the usual mix of “spells” that allow you to blast your enemies with fire, frost, electricity, or poison. Or you can harm them directly by magic, possibly stealing their life-force and using it to heal yourself. Lots of things. Did I mention the rampant grave-robbing one can engage in, plundering old tombs guarded by skeletons and wraiths for the treasures inside?

The game wraps up with a confrontation with “the devil” and a temptation to use a legendary artifact to become a god oneself or to destroy it to save the world. As I said, lots of interesting stuff.

The game was a lot of fun. There was so much to do! I had to keep a separate list of the tasks for various people I was engaged in; at any one time, I knew of ten to twenty quests, ranging from hunting down outlaws, finding lost husbands, freeing slaves, assassinating people, protecting people ... lots of things. Some were good, a lot were indifferent, a few were bad. I don’t think that I was forced to do anything particularly ethically evil in order to finish the main quest, but I did assassinate around a dozen people in the course of another series of quests. And a few things were ethically repugnant enough that I didn’t touch them—tracking down escaped slaves, for instance (though I had a short, sharp way with slavers when I met them).

All this to bring up my own wrestling with a question that’s become more and more relevant to the Western world in the past twenty years: how much is too much? On one level, none of my deeds, heroic or infamous, were really “real”—I was manipulating a computer. My imagination brought the game to life ... but not quite. Not even close, really. But more than enough to give me pause ... particularly right now, as I’ve put it down into words for this entry. My wife and I talked about it, wrestling with the issues. For her, the killer point was the soul-stealing. Once she heard of that, she was dead set against the game. Which is why, having finished it, I will not buy it, but will rather return it to the friend who lent it to me. As for me ... I don’t know. It’s a sticky issue. But, in retrospect, I’m inclined to believe that I went too far, that this game was over the line of what I ought to engage in. It’s a pity—to the best of my knowledge, there’s not another game like it. It’s not as if there’s another game I could play that’s just as good without any of the queasy stuff in it. I dunno.

Posted by Leatherwood at 02:39 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings"
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