Secular Humanism and Morality

July 1, 2022

So let me continue looking at Richard Carrier’s summary post of his critique of Justin Brierley.  This time, we’ll have a little look at morality, and ultimately at a specific way in which Carrier claims Christianity fails and secular humanism succeeds.  So let’s start with this quote:

Which does require adopting a rational, evidence-based idea of what it even means to be a good person. For example, “moral perfection” won’t be on that list. And Christianity does real human psychological harm for preaching that it should be. As likewise it does by causing you to hate yourself for things that aren’t even wrong, but simply for being genuinely who you are (sexual; gay; doubtful; hedonistic; ambitious; self-respecting; self-capable; iconoclastic; nonconforming; nonmonogamous; almost everyone has something about themselves it targets, usually several). It even promotes societal hatred on those same axes.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but let me start by noting that Carrier attacks Christianity for condemning people for being who they genuinely are.  And yet he said this just above:

The only way to fix the problem of having been a bad person is to become a good person. Period.

So while Carrier above prefaces his comment with “aren’t even wrong”, given the context it’s pretty reasonable to think that one of the reasons we shouldn’t consider those things wrong is because they are what those people are and you shouldn’t try to force people to be something that they aren’t.  And yet, someone who is a bad person will at least believe that the things that make them a bad person are also things that are genuinely who they are, and so could fire back that it would cause real psychological harm to try to force them to be someone they aren’t.  And so that preface actually becomes pretty important, because it would make it clear — even if Carrier himself likely isn’t aware of it and most atheists who make those arguments certainly aren’t aware of it — that they are in fact determining that those things aren’t or shouldn’t be considered morally wrong and then they argue that you can’t force people to change things that are genuinely part of themselves.  However, for anything that they do consider morally wrong then it’s perfectly fine to demand that they change those things no matter how much those people think those things are, indeed, genuinely who they are and no matter how much psychological harm it would do to them to change it.  Thus, they accept the Christian view that a bad person must change who they are to become a good person no matter how much they believe those bad traits are who they are and no matter how much psychological damage it might do.  The argument, then, is over what traits should be considered immoral and which shouldn’t.

This is a common move among, at least, the modern atheists and secular humanists, and it’s important to understand it.  In so many of these discussions, even when my own moral views didn’t align with those of the opponents to the secular humanists, I would roll my eyes at their arguments because I noted that their arguments only worked because of that underlying assumption that the things that they were talking about weren’t immoral, and so the insistence that the punishments or restrictions weren’t valid was only justified by their specific moral view, which I didn’t usually buy either.  While they condemned Christians for trying to deny people love or a sex life as if doing that, in and of itself, was not to be allowed, when in reality it was only that they didn’t consider, say, homosexuality immoral while the Christians did that allowed them to argue that it wasn’t reasonable to restrict them.  When it came to incels and pedophiles, they were usually more than willing to say that in order to be moral persons they should give up hopes at love or sex, usually in the most insulting tones (especially for the former) implying that they were weak, babies or whiners for not simply accepting that as their lot in life.  Shunning people, harassing people, and doing pretty much any specific thing that they claimed Christians were so mean and nasty for doing are things that they would justify if they thought that the moral right was on their side, even up to the “Punch a Nazi” meme threatening violence towards people they considered to be simply saying immoral things, while condemning any Christian violence in the name of morality.  While I, again, don’t agree with all the judgements or methods, I bring this up so that people will avoid falling into the trap of trying to argue for how to justify such things and being met only with indignation that anyone could defend those actions, while getting distracted away from the real question:  why is it that those things shouldn’t be considered immoral?  The real justification for condemning the actions or punishments is indeed that the secular humanist thinks that they aren’t morally wrong and so aren’t something you can punish someone for or demand they change, and so it’s a fool’s game to keep trying to argue that those responses are justified by the severity of the crime.  They don’t think it a crime, so the focus needs to remain on whether or not it’s a moral sin, not on what we should do once we agree whether it is or it isn’t.

The second question is whether “moral perfection” should be on the list of what it means to be a good person.  Sure, I suppose any reasonable moral system is going to have to accept that we are all human and so will make mistakes, but surely the overall goal of any morality worthy of the name is to indeed become morally perfect:  to never do anything immoral because we’ve internalized what is moral so well that we can’t even seriously consider doing anything immoral.  To say so strongly that “moral perfection” won’t be on the list pretty much makes it what Dennett called a deepity.  If Carrier means that a good person shouldn’t strive for moral perfection, then that would be interesting philosophically, but also seems obviously false.  But if he merely means that as imperfect humans we have to accept that we might fail to be moral at times and have to be prepared to atone for that, then that’s trivially true … and, to make matters worse for Carrier, is also a truth that Christianity accepts, as in pretty much all of the major Christian denominations we are labeled as sinners and need forgiveness from God in some way to enter heaven.  So either his rational, evidence-based morality is wrong on this issue, or it doesn’t distinguish itself from Christianity.  Either way, it’s not really a good start.

And he might need the out of claiming that we don’t need to be morally perfect, because looking at his list it isn’t clear that some of the things on it are, in fact, things that a good person should or even could have and remain a good person.  For example, why is ambition a good thing or something that should be retained?  Ambition usually isn’t a desire for self-improvement, but is a desire to attain something, usually a position of power or wealth, and that’s certainly how Christians mean it when they deride it.  Why is that good?  Why shouldn’t someone prefer a world where they get placed right where they should be given their abilities without having to in any way strive for any kind of higher position themselves?  Why shouldn’t someone improve themselves for the sake of improvement and then if that improvement makes them more capable and so gives them a “higher” position, then so be it, and if it doesn’t, so be it as well?  It’s not at all clear that the sort of ambition that Christianity opposes is either inherently a part of someone or is something that a good person should keep, and Carrier blithely states that it is with no justification.

Which only holds all the more for hedonism.  Yes, never wanting any pleasures is probably overkill, but those people who are hedonistic, in general, see pleasure as a virtue and an end in itself, not as the indifferent that it should be.  As such, it will always be a temptation for them to put receiving pleasure ahead of treating others well, and potentially ahead of being moral as well.  Thus, as good person shouldn’t be hedonistic in any real sense, because they shouldn’t place that much value on pleasure.  And yet Carrier, again, blithely says that it’s both something that is genuinely who a person is and something that isn’t wrong or bad, despite the fact that a hedonism worthy of the name, when it comes to morality, probably is bad and is something that a moral person should at least  be very careful to constrain, if not eliminate entirely.

Which, then, raises the question of whether Christianity really demands that people change these things that are genuinely part of them in order to be moral.  And it turns out that it doesn’t.  As noted above, we are all sinners, and as such we all have temptations.  Given who we are and our personalities, we will have different temptations and things that get in the way of our being and acting as good people.  An ambitious person will be willing to step on and over people to get their higher position, but someone who lacks ambition won’t put themselves forward for a position even when it would be best for everyone involved when they do.  A hedonistic person will sacrifice others for their own pleasures, but someone who is not hedonistic may deny pleasures to others on the basis that those things aren’t important (an issue that I feel at least some of the Greek Stoics had).  Christianity and Stoicism are in line in believing that it would be better if we could eliminate our temptations, but accepting that we are going to have them and that the key is not to give in to and trust those temptations.  So an ambitious person doesn’t actually have to change to not be ambitious, as long as they tightly constrain their ambitions to those that it isn’t immoral to achieve.  And a hedonistic person can still enjoy and seek out pleasure as long as they constrain that hedonism only to those pleasures they can attain morally.  If one does that, then under Christianity they are doing good enough and are moral enough.  So Carrier’s statement isn’t even true of Christianity.

Carrier then moves on to giving another piece of “evidence” that Christianity has failed:

The same problem is evinced by Christians’ failure to resolve crucial “denominational” disputes; which range well beyond theological or organizational trivia, into serious matters of deep moral and societal concern (another problem Brierley avoids). The Christian worldview provides no way whatever to resolve such disputes. You can’t phone God. And everyone’s intuition is declared to be an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When Secular Humanists have disputes, they are either resolvable with evidence and logic, or else the disputants admit that they lack sufficient evidence and logic to hold one position against another with any relevant confidence. Disputes may still remain because one side or another abandons evidence and reason; but that problem plagues Christianity as well, and in fact any other worldview. So that “people sometimes won’t listen to reason” is not a peculiar defect of any worldview. It can only be overcome by preaching a more sincere and total commitment to reliable epistemologies; of which Christianity has none.

So the argument is that Christianity can’t settle disputes over morality while secular humanism, purportedly, can do so.  The issue is that given the history of the modern secular humanist movement that’s clearly not true … and Carrier knows that it’s not true.  After all, Carrier himself was forced to split from his fellow atheists at Freethought Blogs over a dispute over sexual mores, and he clearly didn’t think that they were correct about that given that he sued them for defamation over it.  They also split with Ophelia Benson over trans issues.   There was a fight over whether they could allow conservative atheists into the atheist movement writ large due to differences in morality.  And then there was the whole thing with the Deep Rifts and Atheism+ and so on and so forth.  Every single time there has been a dispute of any significance in modern secular humanism it hasn’t been resolved in any way reasonably and rationally.  It has instead caused the groups to angrily splinter and devolve into insult slinging matches.  Given that, how can they claim that secular humanism is united in a way that Christianity is not?

The thing is, the modern secular humanist movement was never based on reason, arguments or philosophy.  In fact, many of them derided philosophy and worked hard to ignore it, as evidenced by P.Z. Myers’ “Courtier’s Argument”.  No, what united them was a set of beliefs about what is and in particular about what isn’t immoral that they all happened to share, and in general a set of beliefs about what isn’t immoral that clashed with what religions said was immoral and so was in large part a cause of their rejection of religion.  So they got together and formed a new and modern “secular humanism”, but didn’t have anything beyond those shared basic principles and ideas.  As I noted when reading A.C. Grayling’s book on the topic, secular humanism in general simply gave a list of principles but without any real philosophical justification backing them, and so anyone who didn’t agree with them couldn’t adopt it because there was no argument behind it to justify them.  So the ones who called themselves secular humanists were the ones who happened to accept those principles, but when new situations came up that weren’t covered disputes would arise, but they wouldn’t be able to appeal to those principles to resolve those disputes, and there wasn’t any philosophical justification behind it to appeal to.  Thus, they were forced to argue it out like they did when they opposed religious people, which meant insults and indignation, mostly.  Which, of course, didn’t work since they didn’t like such tactics being leveled at them.  Which, then, led to the divisions in the movement, divisions that have never healed and continue to occur to this day.

It is amazing that Carrier, who insists on empirical evidence, is ignoring the evidence of the actual history of the modern movement.  Especially since he was directly involved in such disputes.  That probably doesn’t say much for his or the secular humanist epistemology.

Thoughts on “Pet Sematary”

June 30, 2022

So, now I return to that four pack of Stephen King movies that I put off talking about until I got through the “Carrie” movies with “Pet Sematary”.

The plot is that a family moves to a somewhat rural house beside a busy highway that a lot of transport trucks drive rather quickly down, and because of that their neighbour — Herman Munster, as it turns out — shows them the local “Pet Sematary” just down the path from their house, where the pets and even strays that were killed on that highway are buried.  Soon after, while everyone except the husband is away their cat gets outside at night and is killed, and so the neighbour talks to him about another burial ground far deeper into the woods that doesn’t just bury animals, but also revives them.  The husband makes the trip and revives the cat, but the cat acts a lot meaner and smells badly and so something isn’t quite right with it.  At any rate, eventually the young toddler gets away from the family and gets hit by a truck, which devastates the family.  When the family is away, and despite being warned that he should never try it, the husband tries to bring the child back from the dead and succeeds … but the child is a horribly evil and murderous creature — and is hinted at being possessed — and starts to kill everyone.  Spurred on by a ghost that appeared earlier in the movie, the wife comes back to try to help but is rather unceremoniously killed off by the child.  The husband kills the child, and then comes to believe that the issue was that the child was dead for too long and so takes his recently deceased wife to the same place to revive her, at which point she also returns and kills him, at which point the movie ends.

There isn’t that much plot in the movie, and so it feels like it’s stretched out a bit.  However, for all of that there isn’t really enough exposition to explain what is going on or how it all works.  The husband, for example, seems totally convinced about his conclusions about the other cemetery that revives people, including that time matters, but in-movie we aren’t given any reason to think that he would know any of that or would come to that conclusion, especially in the case of his wife.  That being said, we can forgive the movie for that last one, at least, because he’s clearly emotionally distraught and it’s reasonable to think that he’d be grasping at straws and trying to rationalize his move, so it doesn’t really have to make sense.

The wife’s subplot, however, cannot be so easily forgiven.  Since she’s guided back home by a supernatural entity that claims to be trying to help and works to get her there at that time, that she’s killed off so perfunctorily doesn’t work.  What we’d expect to happen is that either she’d return, try to help, but ultimately fail — the spirit actually says that it could only get her there and that she might not succeed but it needed her to take the chance — or else to reveal that the spirit was actually trying to deceive her and only wanted to get her back there to die.  As it stands, she comes back to die so that she can be revived and kill the husband, which would be a bad enough move on its own but is even worse when such a big deal is made out of the possibility that she could stop everything and essentially stop a great evil.  With such a set-up, the movie really doesn’t deliver on that at all.

Beyond that, though, there isn’t much to say about the movie, which might be the thing that most damns it.  It’s not particularly interesting and doesn’t have a really interesting plot, and as I noted seems to be trying to stretch the plot it does have to fit into a movie-length feature.  Given that, I don’t hate it and maybe could watch it again, but don’t think I’ll be watching it again any time soon.

Thoughts on “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”

June 29, 2022

The next Shakespeare play that I read was “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”.  Another comedy, this one features, well, two gentlemen from Verona, Valentine and Proteus.  Valentine is heading off to the city for some adventure and politicking, but Proteus can’t go because he’s wooing Julia.  At first, she doesn’t care for him, but ultimately does come to love him after the advice of her servant.  However, Proteus ends up being sent to the city anyway through so machinations, and once there finds out that despite his mocking Proteus for falling in love, Valentine has fallen in love with Silvia, but her father has promised her to someone else.  Proteus then falls in love with Silvia as well and rats out Valentine who was trying to elope with her, which gets Valentine exiled from the city, and he falls in with some outlaws.  Proteus’ attempts to woo Silvia get him nowhere, and she eventually arranges to run off to find Valentine.  Julia, distraught from not hearing from Proteus, dresses as a man and goes to the city and finds out that Proteus is wooing Sylvia.  Sylvia and her escort happen to get captured by the very outlaws that Valentine leads, and Proteus and company arrive to save her at right about that time.  They get everything straightened out, and Valentine is set to marry Sylvia and Proteus is set to marry Julia, which is where the play ends.

I suppose the ultimate comment on how much I liked this comedy is that before writing this post I made sure that I looked to see if this play was really supposed to be a comedy.  The plot isn’t really conducive to humour, at least not for me.  I don’t find a friend trying to betray his friend so that he can woo a woman while forgetting about the woman he has already wooed and won particularly funny, and this is only made worse by the fact that at the end we are supposed to, I think, be happy for Julia that she manages to win him back.  I’m just not really interested in laughing at someone that unsympathetic, especially since neither he nor Valentine nor Sylvia nor Julia are really comic characters.  I’d make any one of them the straight person in any comedy, and the play focuses on them and has them play off of each other and other, more minor characters, none of which are all that comic characters either.  So we don’t have normal characters playing off and getting frustrated by the oddities and idiocies of the people around them, or of the plot, and so it really comes across as a more straight plot with some comedy scenes and lines thrown in to make it a comedy.

That being said, Shakespeare’s gift for banter and dialogue is still on display here, but what I noticed in this play is that the only difference between his banter in the early comedies and his banter in the early tragedies is that he uses more puns in the comedies.  Otherwise, the cadence and structure of the banter seems to be pretty much identical.  You would think that I’d appreciate that given that in general I like puns, but the dialogue doesn’t really seem to settle on being either the mean-spirited punning banter of two rivals or the fun-spirited punning banter of people legitimately misunderstanding each other, and the cases where it does the former only make the overall play seem less comic than it could have been.  As such, the play pretty much aligns with my impressions of his first comedy, “The Comedy of Errors”:  well-written, but I don’t find it funny.

Next up is “Love’s Labour’s Lost”, so we’ll see what my impressions of that are after I read it.

Thoughts on “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

June 28, 2022

This is the last movie in the 5-pack of science fiction movies that I picked up and watched a while back and am now trying to finish writing about so that I can move on to other things.   I’ll comment a bit on the pack itself at the end of this post.

The basic premise here is that after a nearby battle destroyed a planet an interstellar spy named Valerian and his companion/love interest Lauraline are sent to retrieve some stones that are key to a ritual that the natives of that planet have.  They, of course, meet a lot of interference in that mission, but eventually do manage to get it back to their superiors … only to have it stolen again by the aliens, setting off a mission to retrieve them.  Along the way, they discover that their superior was responsible for that disaster and should never have fired when he did, and so have to fight against his robotic soldiers to bring that alien race back to the galaxy.

The sad thing about this movie is that it could have made for an excellent light sci-fi spy romp.  The action is pretty good and it definitely puts a priority on making the action fun and using the plot as an excuse to get into the action.  The only downside to that is that the movie sometimes takes detours into exploring the world of the future when it really should be getting to the action parts.  This isn’t a problem at the beginning of the movie, but towards the end after Lauraline is captured by brutal thug-like aliens the movie detours into sending Valerian to some kind of entertainment broker which involves a lot of talking and discussion and a musical number, all so that he can get his hands on some kind of disguise device — and an alien to use it — for his plan.  For something so minor, it goes on for far too long when he had no idea what they were going to do with Lauraline and when the clock was ticking on the mission.  But while that sequence hurts the ending there, that’s a relatively minor — but noticeable — offense for a space spy romp.

So what, then, really hurts the movie?  The fact that neither of the main characters look like spies in the James Bond mold and yet the movie treats them as if they are supposed to be thought of that way.  Valerian is not at all any kind of suave, debonair, exceptionally sexy spy, and Lauraline — played by model Cara Delevigne — isn’t that sort of sexy spy either.  And that’s okay, because it’s been noted that what you want for a spy are people that are more nondescript and aren’t memorable and don’t stand out, and so if the movie was playing with that it would be interesting.  However, Valerian is noted for having a lot of women on his record, which is the reason that Lauraline doesn’t want to marry him, and the movie constantly has people talk about how beautiful Lauraline is, which she uses to get her way at times.  Except they aren’t attractive enough to pull that off, and so the movie treating them as if they are really takes me out of the movie.  If they had either picked leads that better fit the sexy spy model or else had run with plainer spies subverting the expected tropes the movie would have worked so much better.

As it is, the movie is kinda fun, and so fits into the category of movies that I might want to watch again at some point but won’t rewatch any time soon.  There’s just not enough in the movie to make it interesting to watch again, and it doesn’t quite work as a simple, light, space spy action movie.

So, out of the five movies, I think the best one is Dredd, for whatever that’s worth.  Then probably comes Looper, Valerian, Snowpiercer and Hotel Artemis.  For the most part, what I’d say is that unlike some of the other packs all of these movies have good production values, and yet all of them are sufficiently flawed to get me to not want to rewatch them any time soon.  Thus, the whole pack goes into my box of movies to maybe rewatch at some point in the future.

I step outside of packs for my next sci-fi movie, which is “The Fifth Element”.  Whenever I get around to writing about it, of course.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Summary

June 27, 2022

So, the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup last night — and immediately dented it — in six games, preventing the three-peat for the Tampa Bay Lightning.  I had predicted that Colorado’s goaltending would be an issue, but it didn’t turn out that way, and some weak moments by Tampa Bay’s goaltending likely was the difference in the series.  That left my final record for these playoffs at 8 – 7, which is better that .500 and so was at least a moderate success.  However, since Colorado was the team with home ice advantage and pulled it off, it left home ice advantage at 9 – 6, which meant that I would have been better off picking all the home ice advantage teams than actually trying to choose what teams would win.  At any rate, that’s it for hockey for this year, and so it’s pretty much baseball for me until curling starts up again in the fall.

Trying Out a New Gaming Schedule

June 27, 2022

So I have been griping for ages now — and specifically pretty recently — about how I never really get time to play video games, and I’ve tried a number of ways of scheduling them in an attempt to get to play them, usually to no avail.  On the few occasions that the schedule has worked — in 2020 the shifting schedules due to the pandemic allowed me to finally play Saint’s Row the Third and IV — circumstances have caused me to change the schedule or I ended up getting busier and so not finding the time to play them.  Most recently, I set aside a couple of time slots to play in the hopes that I could continue that when I return to working from work most of the week but ended up having the schedule on its own not give me enough time to get into Dragon Age:  Origins again and getting used to its mechanics, not really be good for any kind of RPG where I’d have to remember what I had done the week before — which eliminated the Wizardry and Gold Box games unless I wanted to do my own mapping, which I definitely don’t — and where the second day of that kept getting interrupted because I didn’t realize how long the other stuff on that day would actually take.

So, as is my wont, I started thinking about it.  In fact, I actually put into my schedule a specific time to figure all of that out.  But, of course, I thought about it at other times as well, and so came up with a rough plan before that time.  The basic constraints were that I’d have about 4 – 6 hours to play on two consecutive days, and then I wouldn’t be playing again for the rest of the week until those days came around again.  So I needed a game that I could at least make some good progress in playing for 4 – 6 hours, and ideally in playing for 2 – 3 hours, but that I could easily pick up again after a week without having to spend too much time figuring out what I had done the past week and what I had wanted to do the next week, without having to take notes on that, which would make it feel more like work than like fun.  So that left out a lot of RPGs, as noted above.  Arguably, the KotOR games would work, maybe the Dragon Age games (except Inquisition, which is just too long for that), maybe the Personas (which are pretty linear), maybe the Fallouts, but RPGs in general were going to be difficult to pull off and would take too long for me to finish to really work with them.  The last thing I wanted was to try this new schedule out and fail because I didn’t finish anything and so didn’t feel like I was making progress.

However, I also have a long list of games that probably would fit well into this model.  The first category of games for this is adventure games.  I picked up a lot of them from Good Old Games that I haven’t gotten around to playing, and some of the shorter ones could be finished in a 2 – 3 hour block — I did the Sam & Max games that way — but even the ones that can’t be finished in that time block or even a 4 – 6 hour block wouldn’t be a problem since I’m a fairly impatient adventure gamer and so rely on walkthroughs pretty much as soon as I get stuck so it would be pretty easy for me to simply pick up from the spot in the walkthrough where I stopped the next week before.  Or, at least, that’s my theory.

Another category that could work are strategy games.  Some of them, obviously, wouldn’t work, as they would involve a long, unbroken campaign that would take longer than those time blocks but would require me to take too much time the next week to remember what I was trying to do.  But some of them would be made up of smaller campaigns where you could fit one or more of them into that time block and then would be able to pick the next one up the next week.  And some of them, especially ones where I was playing against myself, would be simple enough or provide enough feedback to allow me to pick up where I left off even after a week.  Or, again, that’s the theory.

The final category is more a collection of games that I want to play but bridges genres, which is a collection of Star Wars games that I keep meaning to get back to.  The game that I’d most like to play — Rebellion — obviously wouldn’t work because it would require too much thought to remember all the things I was doing the previous week, and it also tends to cause me to lose track of time which is not at all good when I need to quit at a specific time.  But a game like Galactic Battlegrounds is built on a number of small scenarios that I could play one or two in that time block and then pick up the next one the next week, and there are a number of those games that are either linear or split up into scenarios and so it wouldn’t be too difficult to find a place to stop for the day that I could start from the next week.  Again, that’s the theory.

So that’s what I’m going to try.  I’m going to split the two days between adventure games and strategy/Star Wars games, and so play adventure games on one day and strategy/Star Wars games on the other.  While this means that I may not finish an adventure game in one day when I could if I played two days, it also allows me more variety in what I’m playing.  Of course, it also allows me to be flexible so if I really want to play something on both days I can do that without losing much.  I think I’ll start by playing the Amiga version of the old Space Crusade game which I have through an emulator, where my plan will be to work through all the scenarios until I’ve won all of them.  Since I always play on my own, I will have all three Space Marine groups to work with, so that should help, and I think I actually did that once in the past.  For adventure games, I’m going to play Starship Titanic.  I have the audiobook of it and liked it, and did like the small part of the game that I actually played, and have it from GOG, so I’m going to try to work through it, likely heavily relying on a walkthrough.

I’m going to dump my full list of games that I want to work through at the end of the post.  Again, I don’t expect to get through all of them, but the point is to give me a lot of options so I can find the ones that work and most interest me.

Star Wars:

Star Wars Battlefront

X-Wing/Tie Fighter/X-Wing Alliance series (probably won’t run on my system)

Star Wars Rogue Squadron

Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds

Star Wars Rebel Assault 1+2

Star Wars Shadows of the Empire

Star Wars Empire at War

Star Wars Dark Forces + Jedi Knight

Strategy:

Incubation

Space Crusade

Defender of the Crown

Civilization

Sim City

Disciples 2

Majesty

Call to Power 2

Tropicos

Age of Wonders

Pirates!

Heroes of Might and Magic

Alpha Centauri

Ghost Master

Port Royale 2

Master of Orion 2

Dungeon Keeper

Afterlife

Risk

Axis and Allies

Birth of the Federation

Blood Bowl

Star Trek Armada 1 and 2

Emperor of the Fading Suns

Syndicate

Syndicate Wars

Sunrider Mask of Arcadius

Real Politiks

Victoria

Beholder

Colonization

Covert Action

Adventure:

Sanitarium

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

Escape from Monkey Island

Elvira

Dracula: Love Kills

Starship Titanic

Lure of the Temptress

Flight of the Amazon Queen

Dark Fall: Ghost Vigil

Her Story

Space Quest

Leisure Suit Larry

Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude

Blade Runner

Renowned Explorers

Red Shirt

The Guest

The Dame Was Loaded

Heart of China

Quest for Glory

Dragon’s Lair

Maniac Mansion

Eric the Unready

Spellcasting 2 + 3

Rise of the Dragon

Gabriel Knight

Phantasmagoria

Zork

Spycraft

Planetfall

Conquests of the Longbow/Conquests of Camelot

The Dagger of Amon Ra

The Colonel’s Bequest

Bloodnet

Rex Nebular and the Cosic Gender Bender

Layers of Fear

Dreamfall

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary

Star Trek: Judgement Rites

Atonement

June 24, 2022

So after devoting the last two weeks to what I mused about myself over the past little while, it’s time for me return to talking about things that other people were thinking about, which today means returning to some stuff Richard Carrier said.  He’d been reviewing a book by Justin Brierley and made a summary post about it here, which I want to talk a bit about since he, as is the norm for him, makes some general statements that I think it worth trying to address.  Since he’s put a lot into that post, I will do something that’s rare for me and split it out into at least two if not more posts, with the first one being about atonement and following on from this paragraph:

In my general summary I noted that Christianity has no coherent notion of atonement. Which is why Brierley avoids the subject. Yet this incoherence is fundamental to it as a worldview. Jesus cannot die for your sins. That is literally a moral impossibility (see Ken Pulliam, “The Absurdity of the Atonement” in The End of Christianity). On any honest, logical, evidence-based analysis, forgiveness can only be received from the wronged (and you never have any right to receive it), and atonement can only be achieved by righting what you did wrong (insofar as you can), and sincerely committing to never doing it again.

Let me challenge this by listing at least three ways where someone can do something for someone else’s sins that relates to people being forgiven:

1) As an important part of things like this is making restitution, it is possible that the person who did the wrong thing simply can’t actually make restitution for their wrong, whether they honestly desire forgiveness or not.  In such a situation, someone might step in and make restitution for them, without in any way demanding that the other person pay them back or do them a favour to do that.  So, for example, paying a huge fine or fixing something that was broken might be ways that someone would pay for someone else’s sin in the hopes that relieving them of that debt that they could never repay will allow everyone to move forward, but knowing that the only reason they need to do that for them is because the person will never be able to do that or anything of comparable worth for anyone, even the person who took on their burden.

2) If the person who committed the offense isn’t willing to admit to that, someone might appeal to the wronged person on their behalf, noting that if the person is given time they will come around and imploring them to forgive them even though that person isn’t ready to repent yet.  Usually, this will be done in order to get them to remove or get removed some restrictions or consequences that the person who committed the offense is facing, and in particular asking for those to be removed because they feel that if those restrictions or consequences are left in place the person will never be able to become the sort of person to feel remorse for their actions or want to make restitution for them.

3) A person may take on the burdens or make restitution for someone who committed the offense who doesn’t agree or admit to it or is in some way trying to dodge responsibility or making restitution as an example to them in the hopes that it will make them better.  They make sure that the restitution is paid and make sure the person who committed the offense knows it in the hopes that their example will convince them to take responsibility and make restitution in the future, in short in an attempt to prod the person into becoming the right sort of person that they could argue that they are capable of becoming in the second one.

Now, 1) and 3) are clearly cases where the person actually pays for the other person’s offense, while the 2) is pleading for forgiveness to at least some extent from the person who was harmed.  And none of these are some sort of strange or esoteric notions of that sort of paying for someone else’s offense, as everyone can immediately grasp it and have probably seen cases of this on TV and even in real-life.  So these are examples where we can in a significant sense say that someone else is paying or atoning or asking for forgiveness on behalf of someone else, and in fact in most cases can even do it even if that person themselves doesn’t feel that they have done anything wrong and so are required to make restitution or need forgiveness.  So the only question left is if Jesus’ sacrifice can be fit into one or more of these models.

And it turns out that it can fit into all three.  It is already noted that no one human could make an appropriate sacrifice to make up for Original Sin, but Jesus, as the Son of God made human, could.  Thus, Jesus repays and make restitution for that sin because we, as individual or even as collective humans, can’t.  But it’s also true that Jesus is appealing to God and interceding with Him so that God will open the gates of Heaven and make it so that we don’t need to simply die but can be reunited with God in Heaven, and so Jesus’ sacrifice is also to remove those consequences from us so that we can learn to become the sort of person who can enter into Heaven, and so become better people.  And finally, Jesus acts as an exemplar, showing us that we can indeed face the horrific consequences of suffering and death for a cause and to help and redeem others by doing that for us to remove those consequences.  And while some atheists snark about how Jesus was raised from the dead in three days and so essentially sacrificed a weekend for us, that belittles the suffering He went through and is the promise that Jesus makes for us as well, meaning that He sacrifices as much as He is asking us to sacrifice.  So Jesus’ sacrifice fits all three of the cases above:  Jesus repays it for us because we can’t and does not ask for a commensurate sacrifice to pay us back, appeals to the Father on our behalf to at least open up the possibility of Heaven for us, and uses Himself as an example to show us how we can make sacrifices for the sake of others and to do the right thing.

So rather than the notion being incoherent, it not only seems coherent but seems to be one that is readily understood by most people.  I haven’t read the source Carrier cites — I have a list of one last big hurrah order from Amazon before returning to wandering out to the shops again and that book is on it — but from what I’ve generally read I don’t think there are as many problems with the idea as a lot of atheists claim.  But I’m always open to people firing off posts and comments and links telling me how it is.  I’m just suspicious that they won’t work any better than the ones I’ve already addressed.

Thoughts on “Carrie(2002)”

June 23, 2022

I actually think I would have enjoyed this movie a bit more if I hadn’t watched it so close to watching the 1976 version, because both of them are trying to adapt the same work and seem to be trying to follow it fairly closely, at least in its big events.  What this means, then, is that there are a lot of similar or even downright identical scenes in the 2002 version as there were in the 1976 version, and so it seems repetitive.  There’s another reason why that’s a problem, but I’ll talk about that at the end.

At any rate, this version really seems like it was made as a TV movie or miniseries, mostly because it seems to stop the action at specific times and specific ways that suggest that we were about to be sent to commercial, in the normal way of building to some kind of crescendo or mystery or twist so that we will want to come back after the commercial break, even if what is revealed afterwards isn’t all that interesting.  Movies often have hard cuts like you see when watching a DVD of a TV show, but in general they don’t try to build to any kind of “interesting” plot point before doing that and in general don’t do it at regular intervals.  Being a TV movie, it’s also a bit longer than the original movie was, coming in at just over two hours, which gives it more time to do things, which in my view is usually an advantage.

However, what this movie does is use that time to graft on a framing device (which might have been in the original work, for all I know).  The framing device is that Sue Snell — the girl who set Carrie up with her own boyfriend as a date to the prom — and some others are being questioned by a police detective about the events that night, which is then used to depict the events leading up to it and what actually happened.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to set up those events all that well and aren’t that relevant to anything except, perhaps, to the very end, which could have been done without appealing to the framing device at all.  Even worse, Sue comes across as far more arrogant than she does in the entire rest of the movie, which makes it look like she has something to hide even though she doesn’t and seems like character derailment given, again, how she acts in the rest of the movie.  It was pretty jarring given that she rarely talked back to any authority figures in the story but is challenging the detective here.

Actually, it does turn out that she has something to hide.  The movie tries to hint that her secret is around her trying to set Carrie up, but as in the first movie that didn’t happen.  However, this movie differs from the first movie in that it has Carrie survive the night, which is the secret that Sue is hiding.  She then arranges to get Carrie on a bus to I think Florida.  There are a couple of problems with how this was done, however.  First, the movie gives us no reason for Sue to actually do this, especially after her boyfriend was killed at the prom.  It’s easy to believe that she wanted to get Carrie to come out of her shell without having a real explanation for that, but it’s a lot harder to believe that she was willing to hide someone who killed a lot of people and trashed the town with her supernatural powers, including possibly almost killing her.  So we needed a reason why she’d do that, and the movie never established that.  The second issue is that while Sue is driving Carrie to the bus station Carrie starts having hallucinations of her tormentors and manages to clamp down on them towards the end, but this sets her up as someone who is extremely dangerous and is probably going to lose it again, at which point we aren’t going to feel happy that Carrie is going away and aren’t going to think Sue particularly smart for helping her get away, but the structure of the scene is such that we don’t really seem to be expected to condemn her at the end either, so it seems like a pointless scene to add drama that it never relies on.

Carrie herself is mostly portrayed as some kind of disturbed person, but in a strange way.  She’s far more destructive, since as already mentioned she trashes the entire town just walking back to her house from the prom.  However, at the prom instead of portraying her as being delusional and seeing people laughing at her when they weren’t the movie instead seems to have her completely going away, and all that happens afterwards — even to the point where she runs water into the tub to clean herself up — is just her running on automatic or perhaps being possessed by some other personality.  Once she cleans herself up, she seems to snap out of it and has no idea what happened, so it really does seem like her consciousness was submerged when she went into shock.  So to what extent she was at all in control of her actions is definitely open to debate.

Commenter Tom noted on my post on the 1976 version that King himself seemed unsympathetic towards Carrie and towards Sue, and so in that sense this version is closer to what he thought than the 1976 version was.  However, this movie also clearly shows that Sue didn’t have any hidden motives for helping Carrie and that Carrie herself isn’t just a sociopath lashing out in anger, so it doesn’t line up that much with what King purportedly thought.

I will give the movie credit for spending more time focusing on Carrie and letting us get to know her instead of focusing on the villains.  However, most of those scenes are indeed ones that the 1976 version had as well, so it’s not that much of an improvement.  The movie also makes the female antagonist more sympathetic and less willing to humiliate Carrie, at the cost of making her boyfriend a complete and utter psychopath which adds nothing to the movie and ruins the overall tragedy of the movie where a nasty prank causes all that destruction and death despite it not being intended to garner such a reaction, and so where normal, everyday bullying and revenge has unexpectedly tragic consequences.

So, then, what do I think of the three movies in this pack?  Out of all of them, and despite its flaws, I think I’d be more likely to rewatch “The Rage” than any of the other three.  It was a bit mediocre, but as a full movie I think it worked the best.  I think that out of all of them the best crafted movie — for all of its extraneously long scenes — is the 1976 version, which is what makes the 2002 version pale in comparison to it.  I’m just not that interested in rewatching that movie.  And given what I’ve seen and heard, I suspect that the 2002 version is the closest to the original work, even as it likely has differences that might grate on people.  So, where is this pack going to end up?  That’s a bit of a trick question, because I have some Stephen King works that I would definitely rewatch — “Rose Red”, for example — and since there’s room for movies in the closet where I keep the movies I want to rewatch I think, for now, that I want to keep all the King stuff together there.  We’ll see what happens when it gets full.

Next up, I will finish another four pack of King movies and then move on to newer stuff.

Thoughts on “The Comedy of Errors”

June 22, 2022

So after going through a series of related dramas, I get to the first comedy.  Now, I wasn’t certain how I’d feel about the comedies.  I seem to recall somewhat enjoying “The Taming of the Shrew”, but my most memorable exposure to that one came from watching a somewhat modernized performance of it which added some elements that would make it more palatable to a more modern audience (granted, that performance was almost forty years ago, so “modern” has to be relative here).  And this concern ties into my first and overarching comment on the play:  I didn’t find it funny.

The main plot here is a somewhat classic twin story.  A family is split up by a shipwreck while the twin boys are infants, with the mother and one son ending up in one city and the father and other son ending up in another.  The play opens with the father coming to the other city searching for his other son but getting condemned to death because merchants from his city are not allowed in the other city and have to pay a huge fine or else be put to death if they are caught there.  At about the same time, that son himself goes into the city to do some business with his servant and is mistaken for the other son, and at this point hilarity is supposed to ensue.

The first issue I had with this, I think, is that it relies very heavily not just on the sons being twins, but on their servants being twins as well so that the sons and other people would not just mistake the sons for each other but also their servants for each other.  This is, of course, contrived, but in general in comedies we will forgive a bit of contrivance if it’s funny.  However, the problem I had with it is that I didn’t realize that the servants were twins and that there were two different servants, and so the discussions they had with their masters were more confusing than funny, especially since I didn’t get at first that people were confusing the servants for each other as well.  Thus, most of their lines seemed far more like insolence or stupidity than actual confusion, which didn’t actually endear the servants to me.

The second issue is that for most of the play I didn’t get that the sons were twins either.  Once I figured that out, I started enjoying the play more, but I didn’t figure it out from the text itself, but from reading the names and noting that one of them seemed to change.  Soon after, the play revealed that, but it was a bit too late for my enjoyment and I can’t imagine that a general audience would have noted it, or if it was made obvious it would have been revealed too early and the audience would have thought the others stupid for not getting it.  Ultimately, then, for me the big issue is that the big plot element that was supposed to make the comedy work wasn’t revealed early enough for me.  That being said, I didn’t really find the play any funnier once that was made clear.  I just enjoyed it more because it started to make more sense.

Shakespeare has a gift for banter in his dialogue, and that carries on here.  The back-and-forth between the characters really does seem to flow well and is pretty entertaining to follow.  Again, the big issue for me was that while I found the banter entertaining, I didn’t find it particularly funny, at least in part because often it’s banter between a servant and a master and however that works out it sounds like someone is being stupid or being mean, and I’m not that fond of that sort of humour.  Thus, I found it entertaining once I figured out what was going on, but didn’t find it particularly funny.

The next play up is “Two Gentlemen From Verona”, another comedy.  Let’s see if that one can get a laugh out of me.

Thoughts on “Snowpiercer”

June 21, 2022

It’s time to get back to talking about science fiction, so let me try to finish off that five-pack of movies that I started a while ago and then kept getting too busy to write about (I’ve watched all of them at this point).

This time it’s “Snowpiercer”.  The main plot here is that an attempt to correct global warming accidentally causes a huge Ice Age — so bad that people can’t be outside, even bundled up, for more than minutes at a time — and all that’s left of humanity is seemingly in a train that keeps running around and around the world — or maybe just a continent — without ever stopping.  This was the brainchild of an eccentric billionaire who really, really loved trains and it conveniently because humanity’s last hope.  We start at the back of the train with the “poorest” people, who live in cramped quarters and are fed some kind of protein bars by armed guards, and every so often they come and take one of the kids away.  This section has decided to take the train and take an opportunity to free the guy who designed the security for the train, bribing him with some kind of drug to help them get to the front of train, fighting their way through the sections as they do so.

The movie stars Chris Evans, who is the leader of the group and likely their best fighter, who claims to be doing this on the basis of principles but has a guilty secret that drives him on.  So, basically, he’s a darker Captain America, and Evans does about as good a job with this character as he did with good ol’ Cap.  It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie can’t really provide a strong basis for that kind of character.

As they proceed through the sections, the movie stops to show us the lives of the people in the sections, most of which are odd and discordant with our expectations, a fact that is most highlighted with the billionaire’s aide who is downright goofy at times.  So we see a school where they talk about a rather biased view of history and some areas for the wealthy and so on and so forth, but they also have to stop every so often to have a battle with the billionaire’s army of guards to further the revolution plot.  I really think it would have been better if they had simply picked one plot and ran with it.  They could have made a good movie out of them only having automated systems for delivering food and deciding that they wanted to know what was going on, and so deciding to explore the train and coming across various different social groups and even seeming societies that are all separated from each other, getting to the front of the train only to discover that the billionaire is dead and everything is running on automatic, and they can’t even be certain that they need to stay on the train anymore.  Or else they could have gone with the revolution and made everything seriously despotic without the extra goofiness, as the luxury compartments and the billionaire’s compartment worked pretty well to set that sort of thing up.  Instead, the seriousness and fighting clashed with the goofiness of the aide and some of the compartments and meant that we had an inconsistent tone that, at least, dragged me out of the movie a bit.

It doesn’t help that the ending is pretty stupid.  The security specialist and his daughter believe that things are warming up enough to survive outside the train, and so have a plan to blow one of the hatches open and give it a try.  While Evans’ character is talking to the billionaire, they manage to do just that.  This completely derails the train and kills pretty much everyone in the front section, and since it tosses some of the cars off into ravines from what we see there’s a pretty good chance that it’s killed everyone else, too.  So we have the daughter and a young boy who was taken from the rear compartment at the beginning of the movie, and they go outside and survive, and then see a polar bear, and the movie ends there seemingly with an idea that there’s hope.  Putting aside that if things were that cold the polar bears probably would have died off as well, as would most of their prey, this doesn’t seem like a very hopeful ending.  After all, most if not all of the other humans are dead and so we might well only have a young teenage girl and a young boy left, facing a polar bear that is actually likely to see them as potential food and so might simply end up eating them and ending it all entirely.  Even if it’s warm enough for them to not immediately freeze, they’re pretty likely to die in short order, so how is this a hopeful ending?  If you’re going to go with that sort of ending at least have Evans’ character feel the need to stop the train and let everyone out and force them to fend for themselves in this brave old/new world so that there’s enough people left alive to restore civilization instead of leaving only two that we know of who won’t last long.

The discordant tone and dumb ending mean that this isn’t a movie that I’m likely to watch again, despite my liking Evans’ performance.  I really wish it had known what it was trying for and made a more logical plot and ending than we got.