Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Convos with Dr. mike volume 1

These are a series of ongoing conversations i've had with "Dr. Mike", a fellow Dungeons and Dragons veteran who is also a PhD professor of philosophy at a State University. Some messages are missing, but the gaps can be filled in. I've really enjoyed the conversations, though I may delete this post if he doensn't like it being on the web.

In the first one my comments are in >>'s, whereas his comments have no markings.


>>>Btw, I like your adventures.<

Thanks. Authors always like appreciation. And fat royalty checks. :)

>>>You and I seem to see DM'ing in a similar light, and when I've borrowed liberally from your "Ventani Empire" setting, which is fairly straight forward,

I like to keep the background and setting in the classic style-fairly clear good/evil divide, the ancient empire that fell leaving behind lots of loot and terrible monsters, etc. but with an entire area completely unkown providing for unlimited adventuring potential.

Part of that is intentional-that way other DMs can use the material as needed, but add their own stuff. Part of it is just practical-who has time to build an entire world? :)

>>I also see you're a philosophy professor.<

Yup. Been one since 1993. It is challenging, rewarding and fun-and one of the closest things to being a professional DM (I get to make up my own philosophic world).

>>Neat. I'm a seminary student in New York.<

Also neat. Which seminary? Do you run into any conflict between religion>and D&D? I've never seen much merit in the claims that D&D is corrupting or satanistic-Harry Potter seems a greater threat. :)

>>Theology and Philosophy are quite different,<

True. Coincidentally I was just preparing notes on the relation between philosophy and religion. Thales is considered to be the first scientist/philsopher because he offered a non-religious explanation for events.

>>>but I find that their practitioners seem to have a mutual interest in "higher things" <

True-the motivation to find the truth and answer the big questions ties both together,

>>>(even if the philosopher claims to be atheist I still find that same passion in them).<

I've found that for many philosophers atheism is their religion-and that they cling to it with more dogma and less reason than many of the religious>folk they mock.

>> >Who does a professor find to play D&D with? Assign grad students?<

A mix of people-some students, some professionals. I tend to be constantly recruiting-people tend to graduate or take new jobs, thus leaving gaps in the party.

Take care,



Then I wrote back, he responded, and I wrote back again (you can get the gist of the exchanges since I posted pertinent parts of my response letter and his counter-response to this secondary response)

The lines without a > are me in this exchange

> >St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary.<

>>Cool name.

Kievian Prince who baptized the Rus(ian) peoples in the 900's.

> >If anything religion rewards a mindframe that can appreciate the abstract ->imagination, intuition, wisdom, and all of those aspects that aren't entirely material or provable through syllogisms.<

>>True. But many religious thinkers have been very rigorous in their logic.

I would say that I"m a fairly systematic thinker, but also I would say that many religious rigorists have a tendency to overlook the forest for the trees. Then again, I have little stomach for inconsistencies within the system.

Actually a funny thing - Christianity is essentially a religion of intention more than result. It's founder did the "right" thing (right defined as "God's Will") in spite of the fact that the result of doing things that way was going to be a painful death.

>>Interesting view-I've had various debates over the "intent vs result" thing. Do you accept divine command theory as the correct moral view?

Yes. Doing the Divine Will is the correct path in my view. However, I don'tthink that Will in Christianity is necessarily as explicite as we like to believe. I believe that Christianity is more of a foundation for discernment... a foundation upon which life's decisions can build a holy house, but it does not in and of itself answer all of our questions. The problem is that when you dogmatize a person rather than that person's method then you become a dead religion of living people rather than a living faith. Most biblical proof texts I find spurrious when dealing with complex problems.I basically believe that the Scriptures, both Testaments, give us guidelines that must be taken seriously, but that the precisions of what we decide are always based on working out the particulars of any given decision. "God's Will" must be done, but often takes a lot of discernment, preferably in community.

>I take it you have read Augustine's works?

Yes, although being Orthodox we stress the Greek Fathers more than the Latins. Augustine had much less affect on our theology, and indeed many Orthodox view Augustine as part of the problem that developed between thetwo theologies - namely his Latin rather than Greek Bible led to a poor understanding of Original Sin that has haunted Western Christianity Catholic and Protestant.

>One of my colleagues in religion argued that football fans have a religion-complete with rituals, idols, and world defining dogma. My guess is that football is widely embraced and more profitable than D&D, so people overlook the corrupting influence it has. I ran track an cross country, so I was convinced early on that the devil had his hand on the pigskin. :)

Couldn't say it better myself. Do you have a copy of your colleagues paper?

As for the science aspect etc... well..I have a fairly seperatist view on religious and scientific works, although there are a few ways where they enter the same realm. I'm a big fan of the masal, or 'Edifying Story' view of scripture: Treat scripture like an older parent telling you some stories to impart timeless truths, except the parent is God. Nevertheless, the word of God is literature.




>So how do you handle the Euthyphro problem? What does it mean for God to be>good if good is just what God commands? I'm asking not to be a smart-ass>philosopher, but because I'm interested in seeing what you think about>these>matters.

Our fate is intertwined with how we react to God. God is ultimately Good inthat he is faithful to his own promises. So, Covenant more than abstractmoral theology is what it means for God to be Good by his own command. In many ways Orthodoxy talks about God apophatically. Ultimately God is wholly Other. As for the Eutyphro idea that God being good by his own command being useless to worship - that comes from the Greek idea of a God that has notmade his Will to be worshipped known. Ultimately we worship God becausewe're told to. Pretty primitive huh? :) Greek religion assumed a God who wasso philosophical that it was almost worthlessly trapped in its own philosophical perfection. The authentic Christian proposition, in my reading of scripture at least, is more on the side that God has multiple sides and is known through his commandments and actions, not through dwellings on the GPB and other such sillyness.

>Then again, I have little stomach for inconsistencies within the>system.<

>>How so?

For example, the idea that God acted in history in the form of Jesus Christ is a trust. I have my reasons, but it is not in and of itself wholly rational, nor do I believe that it is meant to appeal to our rationality removed from other, perhaps even "irrational", but critical parts of humans.

On the other hand, once I've accepted that proposition through the scriptures, then I won't allow for a dissenting vote as to whether or not I mean it. In other words I can accept certain premises to form a systemoutside of logic, but once the system is agreed upon then it needs to be sound within itself.

>Kievian Prince who baptized the Rus(ian) peoples in the 900's.<

>>That must have been a challenging job. The Russians did turn out to be a very devout people-it is impressive how Christianity withstood and survived the "communist" phase.

I've heard something like 17 million died in Russia for religious reasons under Communism, the VAST majority Christians. Makes the Holocaust look like small potatoes. Notice that nobody ever bashes the left-wing gone nuts nearly as much as they do the right... communism rarely gets its due disdain to the same level as fascism, at least in any University setting that I've witnessed.

>. However, I don't think that Will in Christianity is necessarily as explicite as we like to believe.<

>>True. Some people seem to think that God has handed them a precise list of what He likes and dislikes. Its amazing how most people's lists match their own prejudices point for point...what are the odds of that? :)

You know, I can call myself a sinner in many regards, but I can honestly say that I don't think this is one of them. I'm naturally a pretty arrogant and judgemental sort of guy who believes only in the tangible and thinks that usually people get what they deserved. My religion forces me to act quite adifferent way, so I think at least for my own part the prejudices point doesn't work exactly. However, generally speaking I believe you to be correct.

>Most biblical proof texts I find spurrious when dealing with complex problems.<

>>True. People seem to forget that the bible was not compiled to answer every possible problem. I often wonder how many people actually know the true history of the texts.

None. That includes the best biblical scholars on the planet. Right now the best we have are educated guesses, and those differ dramatically amongst specialists.

>That is the problem-knowing what is, in fact, good. Have you ever read John>Locke's essay on Enthusiasm? I use it in my intro class because it provides>a>very good discussion of faith, reason and revelation. One of his best>points>is the fact that we feel very strongly about something and think we are>right>is not proof that it is right or a revelation from God.

I have read Locke, but not since University. I would imagine that as with most of the Enlightenment I reject much of it. For one thing Enlightenment thinkers tend to boil religion down into tangible parts and define "to know" far too tightly (read: intellectually). In fact, if we take epistomology seriously, it doesn't seem to me that we "know" a great deal, and we "know"even less of the more weighty matters in life. This is part of why I don't intuit that the higher things are necessarily philosophical or even accessed through the mind. On the other hand when Adam "knew" Eve it meant he had sex with her. So my proposition is that feeling and enthusiasm may have more bearing on the truth that Locke might want to propose, although there are other factors to be weighed.

I would say that scripture does give us guidelines for "testing the spirits" as John would say. Mark chapter 7 in particular seems to indicate virtues"of the spirit" and vices "of the flesh", as do the letters of Paul -consistently. Likewise, I think you can cross-reference these with the"spirit" of OT laws. So in conclusion to all that I would say that what we do is to make a decision that seems right, we pray for guidance, we live with it for a while, and then we discern over time whether it is producing the fruits of the spirit of the fruits of the flesh. I don't think it'ssupposed to be as precise as the rigors of Epistomological Knowing might demand.

>Interesting approach. I've been corrupted by some of the Latin thinkers, so I tend to blend >science and religion. Descartes just makes it worse...

Put those dirty Romans down. They're nothing but glorified Spaniards. Perhaps if we ever get the chance to meet I'll convince you not to blend the two - at least where The Bible and Biology are concerned. :)


to be continued.... when I have some time to edit

Monday, July 11, 2005

Jesus forgive me for the things I'm about to do?

Recently I've been made aware of one primary reason why I'm so slow to forgive people in the world around me. It strikes me that in one way this issue represents the Christian infusion into our culture, but the way it plays out is so poor.

I'm loath to forgive unless I know that the sin was committed without expectation of forgiveness. So often I hear people who's general worldview, especially when they're young, goes something like this: I want to be a complete tool right now and not think about tommorrw, besides, God will forgive me.

Often the sentiment is expressed with such damned certainty it's annoying. Does God actually forgive pre-meditated sin? It seems to me that there's a chasm of difference between someone who hopes that God will forgive them and someone who does not care that they sin because they expect God to forgive them.

Perhaps the expectation lies in not understanding the human dimension of forgiveness. Certainly being restored to God is key, but also what we bind and loose on earth is bound and loosed on heaven. That's the hard part people have with confession - it's so human! But it shouldn't come as a big surprise. After all we are told to be reconciled to God and to neighbor. Jews in fact view this as two very different things. Literally there was one method to be reconciled with God and another for the neighbor. While Christians link the two, the former is inextricably intertwined with the latter. I can't just keep sinning and offending my neighbor and not mending my ways, say a few prayers, and just assume that God and I are cool. The whole idea is that God wants his people to be forgiving of one another AS he is forgiving, not to go above their heads straight to the big guy to bypass the hard work of mending broken human fences.

I really do wonder how forgiveness works once a person knows they are leading an inappropriate lifestyle but refuses to correct their trajectory. Are we obligated to forgive those who demand forgiveness pre-emptively? Seems like a monkey wrench in the system for me. What conclusion must they come to before we can stop doubting their sincerity of action? How can we trust them that they're living in the spirit and occasionally faltering rather than living in the flesh and occasionally having an insight?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Perfect movies

I've seen two movies in the past three days which actually treat the profession of the priesthood with something resembling dignity and respect.

One of these movies, Black Robe, was absolutely perfect. Finally a historical movie that caputures the passion of the faith while accurately representing both the shortcomings of the faithful and their incredibly piety in times of greatest weakness. It truly shows missionary work at its best and worst... and throughout always at its most earthy and real. The plot revolves around a small band of Huron Indians in the 17th century taking a Jesuit priest to the Huron mission in Maine. The journey turns into a faith voyage both for the priest, the
Huron, and also his companion Daniel. This is one of the more moving films i've seen in ages.

The other film was a much more recent made-for-TV show starring Timothy Dalton called Possessed. Let me tell you, this is what the priesthood is supposed to be all about. No parish council, no bishops looking over your shoulder, no father such and such deciding that only ascetics can go to heaven... no. Just some devout priests, a possessed boy, 1v1. The climactic scene shows the three priests rolling out in full Latin regalia, a huge studded cross, incense circulating, candles wafting in the breeze, monks decked out all around.... music playing. Yeah, that's why people get into this business. Instead they get to argue about who gets what part in the biblically inaccurate Christmas pageant. But for one film and one film only we get to indulge and look at what our profession was supposed to look like.

Last dance in the Fort

Well a couple of weekends I caught up with Rani, an old girl friend of mine. We ended up enjoying each other's company so much after a couple years of no contact whatsoever that we drove up to Fayetteville after midnight to meet up with her sis and chill on dickson Street. 'Stina, her sis, had to be taught a lesson in who was still cool. two years out of Fayetteville fame I made them a bet that I'd be known by more folks than they would if we went bar to bar. The contest was one. 7-1 Ray daddy ^^ Hehe, but Rani and Stina will have the last laugh, especially when she's an MD here in a couple of years getting paid the big bucks while I'm either still in school awaiting inferior payment or in a parish dealing with people's spiritual issues. But that's besides the point. For now what's really important is that I'm still cooler in my own College town.

The Fort has been a rather nostalgic and sad place recently. Every place I see reminds me of something or other. Many things have closed or changed. One thing that had not was Dr. Berumen's house, where we all swam in the jungle surrounded pool with the waterfall, hot tubbed until we pruned (refusing to get out into the cold), played soccer in the oversized backyard, and basketball on the court - yes it has all of those things. Unfortunately the Berumen's are devoid of kids these days and have sold their place. Luckily mike came back into town, so Benny and Scott drove down for one last hoorah at the Berumen's pad. I brought over my little sisters and their sweet friend Abby. We all played soccer - Fort Smith Express alumni vs Expresses' up and coming stars. So fun. then we have them ride our shoulders and push each other off (we used to call them chicken fights, but I'm not sure if that's a universal term). Then we bombarded Scotty from the woods as he tried to sail on the raft from place to place. Next there was the jump into the pool and try to volley the beach ball at people's face (they have to keep their arms open and take it in the chops if you can manage to hit the beach ball that well while flying into the water), and lastly Mike and I did a series of 1-2-3 throw ins. Throwing Abby was just hilarious. She's in 8th grade and is a cheerleader because she's so freaking tiny that anyone can toss her. We sent all three of them flying into the pool time and again. Ahhh... what entertains 12 year old girls.

I was happy that the sisters got to come over for a night at the Berumen's. I felt that my friends and I had gotten to share a piece of who we were with them before it passed forever into history and memory. With the age difference between us they've always grown up with myself and my friends times as a tight knit group of chums being almost a thing of legend - something that we used to be. I think now they feel a little more bonded with the 17 year old called Finkle and his possee, if only for one passing night. At least they'll know that I also lived there, and that funny and fun loving people have passed their mostly youthful years in the Fort before them.

There was some sadness to it though. Throughout the night I couldn't help but think "this is it... this is really it." Our common pad was the last thing that kept my heart bound to a part of Fort Smith. Sure we were never there, but it was there. Just sitting there, still populated by Berumen's, waiting for us all to return for more carefree night swimming. Sounds dumb and trite, but I just kind of thought it'd always be there. Now that also is history. We will never again swim there, play sports there, throw another Halloween party upstairs, flirt with a cute girl, wage a Risk war with the controller of the Middle EAst getting the hookah, or paint warhammer miniatures downstairs until we all pass out on the concrete floor. My last look at the Berumen's was in the pool area... watching the little waterfall trickle slowly out of the plant forest, off the long rock, and into the shallow end.

That night I thought I heard gravel at my window. This was the old signal that Creed (my neighbor friend) would use when he wanted to get my attention late night - small pebbles against my upstairs screen. I didn't think it was possible that this would be him. I was in a different room (my sisters long since occupying my old room), and he didn't live there anymore except a couple of times a year when he visited. Still I checked. No Creed. No hide and go seek in the dark. Just Fort Smith. An old place that was home for nine years, but a place that hasnt been home for nearly that long.

Sorry for the nostalgia.