Last night, we ended up watching the 1990 film Flatliners, starring Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Billy Baldwin, Oliver Platt, and of course, Kevin Bacon. I couldn't help looking up the famous "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" phenomenon, and landed on the website The Oracle of Bacon. Not only are you able to look up any actor who appears on IMDB, and find their "Bacon number," but you can also find other actors who are major centers of the Hollywood universe. In fact, there are hundreds of actors who have worked with far more people than Bacon has. Anyway, check it out at the Oracle of Bacon.
"You can't believe everything you read on the Internet, people...seriously."
Apparently a lot of people are all ticked off by this new ad from Gillette. First of all, it's an ad: it's designed to sell razors. So, relax. Second, the overall theme seems to be "guys don't have to be jerks," which is a good message. Anyway, I guess taking offense at everything is just the Zeitgeist. Oh well, I like the Gillette ad, That's why I've shared it below. Enjoy...or don't, it's a free country.
Just FYI, in addition to my main Shakespeare blog, Willy Wigglestick, I also maintain a kind of Shakespeare "mini-blog," which I've named Bites of Bard. It's a very simple blog on Medium.com, where I post some of my favorite Shakespeare quotes. Feel free to check it out!
I've had a copy of Robert Alter's The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary for several years now, and it's long been one of my favorite versions of the Torah. Recently it was announced that Alter has finished, at long last, his translation/commentary of the entire Hebrew Bible. This one is definitely going on my Amazon Wish List! Just a couple days ago, Rachel Martin interviewed Alter on NPR: you can read and/or listen to the interview HERE.
A couple years ago, I "composed" a brief piece on a website called Typatone, that converts text into music. I typed the first verse of the Gospel of John into it, and it came out sounding quite lovely. Today, I went ahead and did the same with the description of Jesus' crucifixion in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 27:50). The effect is really interesting. Enjoy.
Just couldn't resist reposting this blog post I just found on Father Foy's blog: Corybantic Christianity. It's a brief post that shares a quote from G.K. Chesterton's book Heretics.
For a long time, I've been what you may call a "Mormonophile." That is, I've long been fascinated and intrigued by Mormon culture, theology, and literature. To be perfectly clear, I have many theological differences with my Mormon brethren and sistren, but unlike some Christians, I don't consider them a cult, or question their right to call themselves Christians. I have had many positive experiences with Mormons in my life, so I will always have a soft spot for them in my heart.
Quite some time ago (about seven years, I think) I began reading The Book of Mormon, the central scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As it's fairly short (roughly the length of the New Testament, I think), I figured I'd get through it pretty quickly. However, every time I picked it up, I would get bogged down after several chapters of reading. So it took me about seven years to get through the whole thing, which I finally finished just a few days ago. So...what do I think about The Book of Mormon?
Well, although it is certainly a complex and interesting work of religious literature, my overall sense is that, in the end, it comes off as a bizarre attempt at sounding like the King James Bible. It's almost "Bible fanfiction," to borrow a term from modern parlance. Mormons accept the claim of Joseph Smith that he "translated" gold plates revealed to him by the Angel Moroni. I personally do not accept that claim. I think Joseph Smith (perhaps with the help of some other people) wrote the whole thing, plagiarizing large stretches of text from the King James Bible. I'm familiar with many of the arguments made by LDS leaders and scholars, claiming that Smith could not possibly have made up the whole thing, that numerous witnesses prove that he dictated it to his scribes, that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the authenticity of the book, etc. I just don't buy it. Putting aside for a moment the simple fact that the existence of the golden plates has never been proven, despite the testimony of witnesses who all lived over a hundred years ago, The Book of Mormon's origins are completely different from the Bible, which developed organically over many hundreds of years, and has a discernible manuscript tradition.
So, no, I don't accept The Book of Mormon as scripture, but it is a really significant piece of religious writing from the nineteenth century. The status of The Book of Mormon in early Mormonism, and in the Mormonism of today, highlights some really interesting arguments of exactly what constitutes scripture, on the idea of continuing revelation, and in how religious sects come to flourish (or not to flourish, in the case of some lesser known Mormon sects). Meanwhile, if "mainstream" Christians are ever to have meaningful dialogue with this most American of religious groups, it behooves us to have some basic grasp of the scripture on which they base their movement.
Which leads me to one other thought I had upon finishing The Book of Mormon. Comparing the overall tone of the book to the tone of today's Mormonism, it is inescapable how different they are. The Book of Mormon is full of stuff about "whoredoms" and "abominations," really hellfire and brimstone kind of writing. This could not be more different from the kindly, affable speech I've heard from all the modern Mormons I've met. So when did Mormonism make this transition from this slightly bizarre, fanatical sect to the clean cut, all-American style of today's Mormons? It's hard to pinpoint, but it seems to have happened sometime in the middle of the twentieth century. But I suppose one could ask the same questions of the rest of Christendom: certainly the Christianity of the modern world bears little resemblance to the Christianity of the first few centuries. Religions change over time. A modern Catholic is not the same as a medieval Catholic, and a modern Mormon is not the same as a nineteenth century Mormon.
I feel like I've rambled a bit in this post, but I'll wrap up with this: I'm glad I read The Book of Mormon, even if I don't accept it as scripture. And I still love me some Mormons...
POSTSCRIPT: To any Mormon friends who may read this post...I truly am not trying to criticize or ridicule your faith in any way. I know Mormons take quite seriously the idea of their testimony, and the truth of The Book of Mormon, as described in Moroni 10:4. I certainly don't want to make light of the sincere beliefs of Latter-day Saints. But, as I told the missionaries once, at this point the Holy Ghost has not revealed to me the truth of The Book of Mormon. Until that happens, I'm hoping that I can treat Mormons I meet with grace, as I know they will treat me.
Back in October 2018, just before Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, the conservative Christian publication, Christianity Today published the following article: Speak Truth to Trump. Just a few weeks later, it was crystal clear that conservative evangelicals, on the whole, had not been troubled by the things CT addressed in the article. Sadly, it seems that they are still not troubled.
On my birthday a few days ago (I just turned 49), my Dad handed me a little package and said, "This is actually from your Mother..." Since my Mom just passed away a couple months ago, this statement was surprising, and not a little intriguing. So I opened the wrapping, and inside was an Amazon Echo Dot, that little hockey puck-sized gadget that connects you to Alexa, Amazon's AI interface. Google makes something similar, and Windows 10 comes with Cortana, a similar AI. And of course everyone knows about Siri, Apple's famous AI interface.
So what is life with Alexa like? Well, right now I'm listening to some soothing music from Enya. If I get curious about the weather as I type this, I can ask Alexa what the weather is like. (Or I can step outside, but why would I want to do that?) I can ask her what's on my calendar today (nothing for the rest of the day). Or I can ask her to tell me a haiku or a limerick, or sing me a song, or even beatbox. Those are just a few of the funny little things she can do.
I've just noticed how I refer to Alexa as "she." Of course I know that the voice I'm hearing is merely an audio version of a computer interface, but it's kind of amazing how we as humans react to a voice, rather than words on a computer screen. My mind just naturally responds to "her" in a way that is not unlike how I would respond to a human being. Is that a useful thing, or is it alarming? I'm reminded of HAL from the Stanley Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and how chilling it is to hear the computer say, "I can't do that, Dave." Is it less chilling to hear a soothing female voice than to hear that soothing, slightly creepy voice of HAL? I guess it is, but why?
I also think sometimes about what my reaction would have been as a kid, if someone were to come from today and show me Siri, Cortana, or Alexa. It would seem like the same kind of sci-fi that the Kubrick film (and the Arthur C. Clarke novel it was based on). But so would cellphones, streaming video, and many of the other little gadgets we take for granted every single day.
As time goes on, will I use the Echo Dot more often, or will it outlive its charm? It's hard to tell right now. But at the moment, it's really fun to have it on my nightstand, listening to everything I say...
(adj.) wild and frenzied; from Greek κορυβαντες (Korybantes)