Friday, July 27, 2007

An Unanswerable Question?

This one has me stumped, I'll admit.

I was taking an online survey the other evening, and one of the first questions, if not the first, was :

    CITY. Which of the following cities do you live nearest to? (Check one only)

So far, so good. There was a drop-down menu with a fairly long list of choices--Amarillo, Baltimore, Kansas City, Nashville, New York, and on and on.

And there, at the bottom of the lengthy list (right after Wilkes-Barre), was the stumper:

    None of the Above

Well, clearly, that can't be right. One of those cities must be nearest to me. Even if the list had consisted solely of cities on, say, the African continent, one of them would have had to be nearest to my domicile, no?

I mean, if the question is, Do you live nearer to the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean, the answer cannot be "neither." You do live nearer to one than the other. (I suppose it's mathematically possible to live on a spot that is precisely equidistant to both shores...but even so the odds are greater that you would be at least a couple of inches closer to one or the other.) And don't tell me that you actually live closer to the Indian Ocean: That wasn't the question! The question was which of these particular oceans do you live closer to.

Ditto for the list of cities. I don't live very close to Las Vegas, but that wasn't the question--the question was which one of these cities do I live nearest to...and clearly there is an answer. (In my case it happens to be Kansas City; your actual mileage will vary.)

Which makes me wonder where the people who wrote the survey live.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

So It's Said

Here's another batch of quotations; all of them this time from the excellent A Word A Day:

My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. -Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)

The greatest tragedy in mankind's entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion. -Arthur C Clarke, science fiction writer (1917- )

A society that gets rid of all its troublemakers goes downhill. -Robert A. Heinlein, science-fiction author (1907-1988)

You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you. -John Wooden, sports coach (1910- )

For in reason, all government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery. -Jonathan Swift, satirist (1667-1745)

Strike an average between what a woman thinks of her husband a month before she marries him and what she thinks of him a year afterward, and you will have the truth about him. -H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to its young? -Paul Sweeney

There's so much pollution in the air now that if it weren't for our lungs there'd be no place to put it all. -Robert Orben, magician (1927- )

The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been. -Madeleine L'Engle, writer (1918- )

There are two things to aim at in life; first to get what you want, and after that to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second. -Logan Pearsall Smith, essayist (1865-1946)

When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stone-cutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it would split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before together. -Jacob A. Riis, journalist and social reformer (1849-1914)

If the truth doesn't save us, what does that say about us? -Lois McMaster Bujold, writer (1949- )

An open mind is a prerequisite to an open heart. -Robert M. Sapolsky, neuroscientist and author (1957- )

Be careful how you interpret the world: it *is* like that. -Erich Heller, essayist (1911-1990)

When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stone-cutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it would split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before together. -Jacob A. Riis, journalist and social reformer (1849-1914)

Never eat more than you can lift. -Miss Piggy, a character in the cartoon The Muppet Show

Nothing produces such odd results as trying to get even. -Franklin P. Jones

Let your capital be simplicity and contentment. -Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being. -May Sarton, poet and novelist (1912-1995)

I don't trust a man who uses the word evil eighteen times in ten minutes. If you're half evil, nothing soothes you more than to think the person you are opposed to is totally evil. -Norman Mailer, author (1923- )

If an animal does something, we call it instinct; if we do the same thing for the same reason, we call it intelligence. -Will Cuppy, journalist (1884-1949)

We have in fact, two kinds of morality, side by side: one which we preach, but do not practice, and another which we practice, but seldom preach. -Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, author, Nobel laureate (1872-1970)

Language is the archives of history. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

News Flash: Pope Likes Catholic Church Best

My friend John, one of my far-flung correspondents (who, like most of far-flungs, will often read these rambles and occasionally comment on same, but never here on the blog), thinks it strange that I have not commented on Pope Benedict's astonishing claim that he thinks the Catholic Church is the One True Faith (actually, it's a document prepared by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is only one of the things the Mainstream Media got wrong, or got lazy about).

Maybe it is. Strange, I mean. But I guess I commented on it so much in individual correspondence with the far-flungs, as well as in real-time conversation with several acquaintances and co-workers of the non-Catholic persuasion (attentive readers will note that I work for a Lutheran organization, in which capacity it turns out that I have become a Defender of the Faith as well as a Denouncer of Catholic Myths, not unlike the Roaming Gnome) that if feels like I've dealt with The Issue, such as it may be. But John made me feel remiss in my self-appointed duty to inform, entertain, and illuminate, and so I will toss in another $0.02 worth here.

Incidentally, the infamous document, with the catchy title "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" is online here: Caution: It's a real page-turner, so don't start it at bedtime if you have to get up early the next day.

By and large, I am puzzled by the hew and cry over this document. As near as I can tell--not being a theologian, and that's an important point to make if only because the document is obviously written by theologians for other theologians, which right out of the box makes it problematic in terms of the Mainstream Media's ability to get the story straight--the document does little but re-state a position from which, to my knowledge, the Catholic Church has never deviated, viz., only the Catholic Church (more accurately, the Catholic faith) is "complete" in terms of what Christ wants in his church.

In the fifty years to which I can speak, that has always been the mantra. Other churches (and for simplicity's sake we'll call them churches and not worry about the document's claim that bunches of them are not "real" churches at all) possess in greater or lesser extents some of the Minimum Daily Adult Requirement, but, like Total, only the Catholic faith contains 'em all.

Which is where we get the One True Faith monicker that I throw around in semi-sarcastic fashion. When I was a kid, OTF was invoked in all seriousness; and of course plenty of people still feel that way.

The pope being one of them.

You find this shocking?

Now, feel free to disagree with the pope all you like. I often do. Lots of people do. I don't have any issue with people disagreeing with the Vatican. What I have issue with is the umbrage that so many people seem to be taking. Indeed, more than a few of them strike me as the sort of people who lie in wait for something to come along and offend them.

I am reminded here of several Protestant acquaintances who, over the years, have expressed varying degrees of dismay because they are not "allowed" to receive Communion in the Catholic Church. Their attitude, invariably, is that their church "welcomes" everyone to "the table," so mine should too. Setting aside the fiction that all Protestant churches as so "welcoming"*, it has struck me that the majority of these folks wouldn't be caught dead in a Catholic church in the first place, let alone lined up for Communion, so it's complaining for the sake of complaining.

Put another way: My church teaches that there are seven sacraments; most other Christian churches ignore that and teach that there are two. My church teaches that only men may be ordained; many (though certainly not all) Protestant denominations ignore that, too. My church teaches that salvation come from the combination of God's grace and our own actions; most Protestant churches ignore that teaching, and indeed insist that their view--"grace alone"--represents a "more mature" theology.

And so--given that they don't view the pope as the leader of the Christian faith; given that they freely ignore many of the teachings of the OTF; given that they aren't shy about insisting that their points of view are, for want of a better term, "right"...what they heck to do they care what the pope (that is, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) is saying?

Again, a great deal of it sounds like complaining for the sake of complaining.

Interestingly, just the day before "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" hit the fan, I was at lunch with some of my Lutheran pals when my ears picked up something from the other end of the table. One of my companions was saying something about how difficult life must have been for Martin Luther and the other reformers, to which another added, "And being right wouldn't have made it any better."

Well, there you have it. They think their religion is right; I think mine is right; you think yours is right. And so on. So what's the brouhaha? Well, geez, the Vatican actually came out and said they think theirs is right. In public and everything. How rude!

Get real. To those who claim that this strikes a blow somehow against "ecumenism": If you're really interested in dialogue, then you must acknowledge that by definition you don't have dialogue if people are avoiding talking about certain subjects--like, you know, our differences. To those who pretend that their feelings have been hurt by the pope: Grow up. I've spent a large portion of the past 50 years being assured by "good Christians" that I am not a "real" Christian because I'm a member of the Catholic Church. Who cares? To those who will insist that "my church doesn't go around pretending it has all the answers": Balderdash. They all do. That's why they exist. The only difference is in whether they choose to come out and say so, or to speak indirectly and obliquely in minced words.

Here are some sources for additional reading:

"Document Released By Pope Stirs Catholic Controversy" by Father Jonathan Morris at Fox News.

"The Pope's Got A Point" by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz in The Jewish Press.

"Dobson Offers Insight on 2008 Republican Hopefuls" By Dan Gilgoff. I throw this in for malicious fun--it's one "Christian," James Dobson, asserting that another "Christian," probable GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson, isn't actually a "Christian" at all! I include this in the spirit of clean-up-your-own-yard-before-you-complain-about-the-neighbors'.

* One of my co-workers, an ELCA Lutheran pastor, tells of the time he and his sons were traveling and were refused communion at a Missouri Synod Lutheran church because they were strangers to the pastor. Some churches do seem to "welcome all" to communion, but I think their number is smaller than those that do not. But that is just one of several inconvenient truths that are ignored in order to reserve all the vilification for the Catholic Church.