The Pillars of the Earth

I wasn't too impressed with this TV/movie version of the Ken Follett book--not that I've read it. It deals with the many years of making a (fictitious) magnifcient cathedral during England's tumultuous "anarchy" times in the 12th century. I like that it integrated the history of England, its relationship to religion (both corrupt and holy), and details of the elaborateness of construction for that time; however, I just wasn't too moved by it as a whole. Perhaps I would feel differently if I read it, except that I, like many of the time period discussed, am illiterate.

Finding Elim - Dave Nelson

This is a cute, self publish comic of single panel gags featuring a good natured pastor, his wild granddaughter, and the troublemaking young Timmy. While this might not be the greatest comic ever, I fail to see how it isn't as good as many of the family friendly comics in newspaper syndication today. I would actually encourage Nelson to think about expanding occasionally to 3-4 panels as his characters are all clear in their archetypes but don't have true depth. This is not a bad thing; many authors couldn't get an archetype across if their life depended on it and since Nelson has such an easy time of it, he should think about adding to it. 

They Just Don't Get It

Click to enlarge.

We (the human species) worked out a long time ago how best to get by in the world. And the theory is tantalizingly simple. It's the practice that's a bitch.

We can quibble over who really said what (and when), but all the major religions and schools of ethical thought (and many of the minor ones) have come to a similar conclusion about the best way to live. Unfortunately, most of them didn't stop at the Golden Rule, but instead tacked on a lot of other junk about diet, fashion, and hygiene; because, let's face it, it's so much easier to dress correctly than it is to be empathetic to another human being.

There are some who have suggested that the propensity to think of others helped to spur human evolution. And there's certainly a case to be made that those who practice kindness were more likely to survive (and thus pass on that trait). It's an interesting hypothesis, but it seems a bit of a stretch to me, since we are one of the few species who kill and abuse our own kind. Animals (at least within their own species) don't really seem to have a need for the golden rule. In any case, humans probably did recognize early on that constant retaliation rarely solved anything in the long run.

Of course, there is certainly room for debate as to whether being "good to others" really is a rational strategy. And in our current geo-political climate, we're not likely to agree anytime soon. But interestingly enough, even game theory suggests that the best way to "get along" is to lead with kindness and then respond in direct proportion to how the other "player" reacts. Of course this strategy can still lead to a spiral of violence, for which game theory suggests that a re-set can be advantageous. That is, try leading with kindness again. You can sometimes catch your opponent off guard.*

For those you you who may not know, my depiction of Mohammed in shadow is not intended as a slight. Orthodox Muslims consider it sacrilegious to display images of the prophet Mohammed. (Hey, it's no crazier than that thing you believe.) And it seems to me if I’m going to be admonishing people about the golden rule, I should probably “do unto others…” myself.

* Game Theory is useful to understand even for everyday (non-game) interactions. For an excellent and reader-friendly book on the subject, check out Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life by Len Fisher.

Me of Little Faith

Black, Lewis. Me of Little Faith. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

Lewis Black takes us on a journey of the religious experiences (or lack thereof) that he's had in his life, and along the way he winds up poking fun at some of the more familiar belief systems.

Faith is an amusing diversion, but it's never laugh-out-loud funny. Like many comedians, Black's sense of humor doesn't translate well from stage to page. Without his trademark yelling, stammering, wild gesticulations, and flop sweat, the jokes are only okay. And while tackling religious subjects is bound to offend somebody, I found most of the pot-shots to be well-worn territory. And he completely steered clear of the real landmines, which was disappointing, as I was looking forward to Black taking on the difficult issues.

Black's theory that laughter and humor prove that there is something greater than ourselves is poignant, if not especially convincing. And perhaps that is the biggest issue I had with Faith: I kept wanting it to be a deep discussion about religion or at least a really funny one.  Instead it only manages to be more fun than going to church.

Extra special praise and thanks to Mark for the giftee!