Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Moment

Today, while washing my hands, just for fun I laid my thumb and forefinger together and drew them apart until just my fingertips were touching. The film thus encircled by my thumbs and fingers fascinated me for over a full minute. Which is quite a long time, if you were to contemplate simply standing there with the water running.

I marveled at it. So much chaos! So much swirling, turbulent complexity! So unpredictable, so unrepeatable, so unique and strange. And yet a moment of beauty. I saw bands and hurricanes of color, fuchsia and teal; oxblood and goldenrod; cobalt and argent and emerald.

I mused over how such transcendent complexity emerged from such simple elements: The interaction of water and detergent, whose properties are so simple and even naturally occurring. The movement of liquids confined in two dimensions. The wavelengths of light captured from the fluorescent tubes overhead. Even as I watched, even as I held my hands at a slight angle to catch the light, I saw order emerging, after a fashion. The swirling colors differentiated, organizing themselves into bands which, though storms and vortexes troubled their borders, were nevertheless distinct. Near my thumbs, chartreuse and ruby currents danced around each other. Above them, an almost-crimson in a shade I'd never seen and didn't know existed. Above that a deep blue, and above that, a triangle of straw-colored light nestled under my forefingers.

Reluctantly, I slowly opened my fingertips. I watched the film pull on the foam that held its rim, sliding the tiny bubbles aside until they parted. And then it was gone, as though it had never been. It never needed to have been there in the first place. Its unique beauty would never be captured or seen again, and no part of it remains except the memory of a moment.

Any further implication is left as an exercise for the reader.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Dialogue

Skeptical Rationalist: So, you're a Christian?
John Doe:That's right. I believe that Jesus died for our sins.
SR: Well, that's interesting. Let me ask you this. Do you believe in heaven?
JD: Of course!
SR: How about hell?
JD: Well, I don't know. Some people say that hell is separation from god, or it's just you cease to exist. We don't know.
SR: Well, it's in the book, the everlasting fire, all that. I mean, is Hitler just "separated from God?"
JD: All right, I suppose.
SR: Hold that thought. If somebody offered to let you be on a jury for a murderer who's obviously guilty. Enough that the trial is going to be pretty short. Do you think you would, if the per diem didn't put you in hardship?
JD: Okay.
SR: And you'd send him to jail if that's what the truth was.
JD: Yeah.
SR: And he deserves that.
JD: At least that much.
SR: So, going back to Hitler, if he'd lived to stand trial for his crimes, he'd deserve to go to jail or be executed, right? And you'd be okay with it.
JD: Yes.
SR: At any rate, he died before he was captured, so let's assume Hitler's in hell, right?
JD: Sure. He started a war that killed millions, and tried to exterminate any people that weren't part of his master race.
SR: What was the death toll overall...Let's say fifty million deaths can be laid at his feet.
JD: I guess. Hell is hell, right?
SR: Well, answer me this: how many trillion years will Adolf Hitler be tortured for each single death?
JD: Forever is forever...
SR: Exactly. After a thousand thousand trillion years, after every star has burnt out, he still won't have paid for one percent of the first death on his conscience. No matter what, he will never be finished paying for his crimes, right?
JD: There'll never be a time ever when he won't have killed all those people.
SR: At least he'll have Anne Frank to keep him company. She was a Jew, right, so she's in hell.
JD: Well, no, the Jews were God's chosen people.
SR: But if you look at the Bible, that was a limited time offer. Once Jesus came, he said "no man comes to the father except through me."
JD: Well, it's really up to God, I guess.
SR: Maybe. Let me ask you another question.
JD: Okay.
SR: Do you remember that plane from New York that crashed on the Hudson River after takeoff? The pilot brought it down on its belly, and all the passengers and crew were saved?
JD: Yeah, that was a miracle!
SR: Perhaps. But the pilot was a hero, right?
JD: Sure.
SR: You ever think you would buy him a drink for that, if you ran into him and knew who he was?
JD: I might.
SR: He'd deserve it, right?
JD: Yeah, I suppose he does.
SR: Great. Now, stay with me here: I'm not a Christian. I don't believe in God, I don't believe that Jesus died for my sins. That's pretty bad, right?
JD: Well, I certainly hope that you let Jesus into your heart some day.
SR: But if I died right now, I'd go to hell, right?
JD: Well, that's up to God. It's not my place to say.
SR: But according to what the book says.
JD: Yeah, I mean, if you died today, you'd go to hell. We're all sinners, I just have Jesus to forgive me.
SR: So I hear. All right, do you see that pair of pliers there? Go ahead and pick those up.
JD: Why?
SR: Well, I want you to use them to grab hold of my fingernail, tear it back, and then pull it out by the root.
JD: No way! You're crazy!
SR: What, you don't want to?
JD: No!
SR: But I deserve it, right?
JD: Why?
SR: Because if I died right now, that would be the least of my tortures. I'd be thrown into the lake of fire just for starters.
JD: Yeah, but that doesn't mean you deserve it now!
SR: I could be dead five minutes from now. What would I have done in the meantime?
JD: But it's God's choice whether you do or not! It's not up to me what happens to you!
SR: But you'd send a mass murderer to jail. You'd hand the death penalty to Adolf Hitler. And you're okay with rewarding courage and virtue if you got the chance and it didn't inconvenience you.
JD: Yeah, why not?
SR: So, back to the pliers then. On the count of three...
JD: No!
SR: What's different? I'm a sinful person, according to your book. It says any man who is angry, has committed murder in his heart. Any man who looks on a woman with desire, has committed adultery in his heart. For my many sins, I deserve to be tortured forever, and I'm just saying to give me a bit of what I've got coming to me. Don't I deserve it?
JD: It's not my place to say!
SR: Do I deserve to have my fingernails pulled out, my skin peeled off, my flesh burned?
JD: Just stop! You're talking about what happens when you sin against God. He's the judge!
SR: Oh, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s already done. You see, he already knows everything I’ve ever done or ever will do, and whoever does not believe stands condemned already: John three-eighteen. Unless you don’t think I deserve to have my fingernails ripped out. Unless you don’t think I deserve exactly the same hell that Hitler and Anne Frank have. You might want to think about it.