Sunday, August 28, 2011

Let's be honest about Todd McFarlane

I recently did a purge of my comics collection. I do this once every few years, as a 25+ year collection can get rather unwieldy if you don't lighten the load every so often. What was significant about it this time is that I got rid of some comics that at one time, I would have never expected to part with them. That's right, I got rid of a lot of comics drawn by Todd McFarlane.

If you don't know who McFarlane is, he's the guy who created Spawn and runs a huge media/toy company. He got his start as a comics artist, working on books like Detective Comics, The Incredible Hulk and eventually the title where he really made his mark: The Amazing Spider-Man. He was later given his own Spider-Man book that he would both write and draw, only to leave about a year and a half later to found Image Comics and to write/draw the aforementioned Spawn.

What can I say? I was a fan. I didn't just buy his comics, but I also had several T-shirts, a poster, a set of pins, and even a bumper sticker that featured his Spidey art. I remember being impressed with the first time I saw his work, which was his first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man - #298. I then picked up as much of his work as I could find, including trade paperbacks of his older work. I followed him on the new title, and even continued to read Spawn after he passed off the pencils to artist Greg Capullo. Eventually that came to an end as the series pretty much had no forward momentum, as writing was never McFarlane's strong suit (something I would have always admitted, even if I might have downplayed just how bad it was).

Anyway, when I started to look through some of those issues of Spider-Man (the title he both wrote and drew) I was really turned off by it. It was all just very messy-looking with completely uninspired panel layouts and really poorly drawn anatomy. Sure, sometimes there would be a "cool" looking image here and there, but that's more the kind of thing that would work for a poster or a pin-up book. There wasn't any momentum from one panel to the next. When I looked at Spawn, it was even worse. It looked like somebody puked on the page and then used some neat Adobe Photoshop affects to fix it up.

I started to wonder how I could have been so wrong about an artist. After all, I've been a long-time fan of artists that I still consider to be pretty good like: Alan Davis, Mike Mignola, John Romita Jr., Mark Bagley, and Jim Lee. Why couldn't I see how cruddy this stuff really was?

And that's the thing - you still get people talking about what a talented artist McFarlane is. Most everybody admits that he can't write to save his life, and even back in those days (middle school through my college years) I would readily admit that writing was never his strong suit. Still, you'd never hear the kind of complaining about his art like you would with his fellow Image artist, Rob Liefeld. (I guess when a guy like Liefeld exists, almost anything you do will look good in comparison.)

My only regret about selling those comics off is that I should have scanned them first so I could show some examples of how lousy the artwork could be. You'd have things like rand0m close-ups, lumpy anatomy, a character's lone leg sticking out to indicate he just kicked somebody, inconsistent features on characters, etc.

Why would I have such a blind eye to this guy's lack of talent? Did I just get caught up in the hype machine? I suppose that's possible, as I even had some Rob Liefeld comics there for a time. (Those left my collection the first time I decided to purge some comics though.) I bought many of the Image titles, although I only got the ones that were done by the original members, and most of them I only bought for a few issues until quickly losing interest.

Here's the thing: I still kept those issues of The Amazing Spider-Man. When I looked back on those, I finally started to get it. His early work was dynamic, and while things like his anatomy wasn't perfect, there was still some solid storytelling going on with each page. There's a fluidity from one panel to the next. Sure, there are some awkward bits, but you can find that with even greats like Jack Kirby. I especially remember why I was so excited about this new artist when I first saw his work. For the past few years on the title, the art was rather bland and nondescript. Finally there was a guy who was breathing some life into the character, and the wonky way he drew Spider-Man made the character brought a lot of fun to the character that had been absent since Ron Frenz had left the title a few years before.

While I would say that his art visibly declines on the title, I can still say that I like his work there, especially considering that he had a competent writer in David Michelinie (whose work would also decline some time afterward on the title). The main thing that I realize is that the man IS talented. He has a hell of a lot of potential, and the appeal to his artwork was that it really reached out and grabbed the reader.

So what went wrong? I think he's just a lazy artist. Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling him lazy in general. I'm just saying that for whatever reason, he wasn't willing to put the work in to his comic book art. I think the fact that he stopped drawing his Spawn comic so early on is a testament to that - that, and the fact that he preferred to pursue other interests. If Todd McFarlane had taken the time to hone his craft a little and spend the proper time on storytelling and anatomy, he'd probably be one of the all-time greats, as opposed to one of the all-time hyped.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Comics Roundup for 8/24/11

Captain America and Bucky #621 - To think that I was a bit concerned that Ed Brubaker was going to be sharing the writing chores with Marc Andreyko, a writer with whom I'm not familiar. I'm certainly not worried now, as this was another solid installment in the Bucky - Year One storyline. I'm really interested in what's going to happen to this title once this five-part arc is done.

Kick-Ass 2 #3 - I like the comics, but ultimately I didn't think that it translated very well into a movie. With this sequel, I think that even more now. This is some violent stuff, but still darkly comical. I just don't know how they could pull that off in a movie, and if they toned it down, then what would the point be of that?

Batman: The Dark Knight #5 - I was a bit disappointed with this issue. Everything got wrapped up far too abruptly. I'm wondering if it had something to do with the reboot, where they wanted to wrap everything up before that. Perhaps it was that and a combination of David Finch's deadline issues as well. Well, I liked this just enough to give the new series a chance despite this weak ending, so I'll stick with it for a few more issues at least. (Just watched CBR's interview with David Finch. Looks like he's collaborating with writer Paul Jenkins for the relaunch. Okay, I'm looking forward to that.)

Wolverine #14 - If you kill a lot of people, there's got to be some consequences. Wolverine's killed a lot of people, and even in a comic book world, it's nice to see that he has to deal with those consequences. Once again, Jason Aaron does a good job of wrapping up one story arc while setting things up for the next one. I've seen Wolverine get screwed over pretty badly before, but this story is really taking the cake, and it will be hard to top it for future writers.

Batman: Incorporated #8 - Even though this has probably been my favorite current Bat-book (or is that Detective Comics?) I was a bit disappointed with this one. It's one of those "This is happening in a virtual reality" stories, and I can never really get into those. Anyway, I'm disappointed that this book isn't scheduled for the relaunch, even though there are supposedly going to be a couple of special issues that will wrap some stuff up that Grant Morrison started. Does this mean that he won't have a regular bat-book after the relaunch? I'd hate to think so.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

One year of daddyhood

As I type this, my son, Logan, is taking his afternoon nap. I figured I'd take a few moments to write about the little guy, since today is his first birthday. (No, we don't have big plans for him today. He had a big birthday party last Saturday where a mix of friends and family came to wish him a happy one.)

This, of course, means that it's been a full year since I've been a father. Obviously this has made a few changes in my life, the most obvious is that I haven't been writing in my blog nearly as much. I didn't participate in the annual rituals of October's Blog-a-Day or November's Haiku-a-Day. I also haven't done a whole heck of a lot of writing in general, even though I have some ideas percolating in my mind.

I had figured that I would be writing somewhat regularly on the trials and travails of being a new father, but that didn't seem to happen. Probably the biggest reason is that it really hasn't seemed all that hard. Sure, anybody who needs that much attention can wear a fella out, but he's been pretty easy. He started sleeping through the night when he was less than two weeks old, and he wasn't a colicky baby. For the most part, he's a happy little fella, and when he is upset, a diaper change and/or some food will do the trick.

I probably also didn't write too much because it would have felt pretty banal. Don't get me wrong; I get a big hoot out of it every time he does something cute, but I don't feel compelled to write a blog entry about it. Let's face it, everybody thinks their child is more interesting than everybody else does. Also, even if he was more difficult, who the hell wants to read about some guy bitching like he's the first person who's ever been a dad?

Anyway, I figure I'm not being too self-indulgent if I just write a little something on his birthday.

Overall, I think that being a dad suits me. Part of it has to do with the fact that Kirsti is such a wonderful mom. She understands when I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and is glad to take over for me, and I think it's safe to say that she can count on me for the same thing. Still, I like taking him places, and it's been a lot of fun bringing him on my weekly Wednesday comic book store trip. (The girl who works there LOVES him and instantly snatches him from me so she can play with him while I shop.) I also have had a lot of fun taking him to the park with our dog, Freyja, and pushing him on the swings.

When my wife was pregnant, a lot of people were asking me if I planned on taking a lot of time off from work. I felt bad that my answer was no, but as a teacher, I can't really take a lot of time off without there being a serious disruption in my lesson plans. Sure, I can take a day off here and there if needed (which I had to do when he got sick) but you can't always count on subs to cover the material the way you want them to, and the longer period of time with subs you have, the less likely things will go the way you want them to go.

But I have a tendency to guilt-trip myself like crazy, and I worried that maybe I was somehow not doing right by my kid. Eventually I realized that as a teacher, I do have a lot more time off than most people. Shoot, I realized that I'd have more time to spend with my son than my dad had to spend with me, and I certainly don't feel like he was absent in my life.

So, I tried to make the most of it while I got to spend time with him these last few months. Kirsti worked summer school (which we no longer have in our district due to budget cuts) so I spent the first half of the summer taking care of him until she got back. (Not that I just handed him over to her when she got home, but you know what I mean.) Going back to work on the 29th is going to be a lot tougher for me this year than previous years, but I just have to make the most of the weekends and other holiday breaks.

Of course, I'm trying my best to be a good father, and I'm trying to take a "moderation in everything" approach, which is probably an apt description of how my wife handles being a mom as well. I originally thought that I should keep him completely away from TV's corrupting influences for as long as I can, but I've come to realize that a half hour of Nick Jr. in the morning while I get myself ready isn't going to kill him. I also like reading to him, but if he's getting impatient on a certain day and doesn't want to sit through it as long as he usually does, I just let it go in order to keep it a positive experience for him. I also don't feel wracked with guilt if he has hot dogs (well, a small part of one hot dog) for dinner one night, as he usually eats healthy food with plenty of fruits and vegetables. (He loves Romanesco broccoli for some reason - go figure, but I'm not going to question it, as I imagine it's really good for him.)

The other thing that Kirsti and I are trying not to do is make a big deal out of it every time he hurts himself. I know parents who flip out every time they see their kid take a fall. I've noticed that with some of these kids, they start crying really loud AFTER their parents make a fuss, which makes me think that it's more of an attention-getting thing than anything else. Basically my rule of thumb is that if he falls and gets back up without making a big deal out of it, then I'm not going to either. If he falls and then starts to cry, I let him know that I'm there for him by picking him up and letting him cry it out.

Hopefully we're taking the right approach with him. I guess I'll find out depending on how much therapy he needs when he's an adult.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Comics Roundup for 8/27/11

Daredevil #2 - While this didn't impress me as much as the first issue, it was good enough to keep me wanting more, especially because of the artwork of Paolo Rivera. Captain America makes an appearance, and the confrontation is left unresolved as the main storyline takes over by the second half. I hope that's not the last we've seen of Cap, as there seems to be some potential for drama considering that DD has a lot of atoning to do.

Captain America #2 - Just like DD #2, this one wasn't quite as cool as the first issue, but it's still pretty good. In this case, it's the artwork of Steve McNiven that pulls it along. It looks like we're going into some kind of trippy dream world for the newt issue. I'm rarely a fan of those types of stories, but hopefully we can see something new and interesting happen with this one.

Avengers #16 - Go figure that a Fear Itself crossover issue would be the one to finally have Steve Rogers deal with the death of Bucky Barnes. (Or is he dead? I'm not the only one who's skeptical.) Basically it doesn't do much to further the overall plot of the crossover, but we at least get to see a reaction on the part of Steve as he goes after The Red Skull, only to be led into a trap. (Obviously he can't stop her, as that will have to be dealt with in Fear Itself).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Comics Roundup 8/10/11

Detective Comics #881 - Scott Snyder wraps up his run on the title with a satisfactory ending. This storyline, involving the son of Commissioner Gordon as a villain, has had some of the creepiest moments that I've seen in a comic in a long time. Snyder did a great job with Dick Grayson as Batman; I hope he can continue with some solid storytelling using Bruce Wayne in the relaunch of the regular Batman series.

Hellboy: The Fury #3 (of 3) - I really have to stop reading spoilers, as I pretty much knew how this was going to end. The only disappointment? The next arc: "Hellboy in Hell" isn't coming out until 2012. Bummer. Anyway, despite knowing how it would all turn out, this was another solid installment in a long-running story that seems to keep on getting better and better.

War of the Green Lanterns: Aftermath #2 (of 2) - I guess I'll find out after the relaunch if this series contributed enough for it to be worth getting. There were some interesting revelations for sure, like how the Guardians actually tried to get the green ring off Sinestro but to no avail. There certainly will be a lot of interesting things to deal with when everything starts up again in September.

The Amazing Spider-Man #667 - The "Spider-Island" story starts here, and I guess it's about as compelling as a story about lots of other people with Spidey's powers can be. There were definitely some interesting character bits when his girlfriend revealed that she had powers. Also, it's nice to see Mary Jane still in the series, and her crack about clones was pretty funny.

The New Avengers #15 - Okay, I guess I kinda think that Squirrel Girl is a pretty cool character. This issue focuses on her in the whole "Fear Itself" saga, and it's a pretty good tie-in. Basically, she's the nanny to the child of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, but it seems like she can actually kick a lot of ass as well. Shoot, I'd like to be able to control an army of squirrels.

Fear Itself #5 (of 7) - The good thing about this crossover is that it's probably one of the more accessible ones to come along in some time. The bad thing is that it just doesn't feel very original or necessary. I guess Marvel set the bar too high starting with Civil War, as pretty much every major event after that built on the one that came before. This one is entertaining enough, but it will probably be forgotten shortly after it's over.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #3 - Holy crap, but I love this series. I've liked every other Criminal series, some more than others, but this one is easily my favorite, and I'm willing to say that even though I haven't seen the ending. Definitely some interesting plot twists in this one, and the cliffhanger's pretty good too.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

No, YOU Shut Up! - What is Good, Baby Don't Hurt Me

This is part 2 of my response to part 2 of Justin's response to my response to his question. Just read this if you want to read the full post to which I am responding.
Yet, you have not accounted for why it would be good for humanity to survive. You assume we ought to.
Well, that's a separate question though, isn't it? I could go into many reasons why I think it should . The most basic reason is that as a human, it's hardwired into my DNA to make my species want to continue on beyond me. Any species that didn't develop that basic instinct must not have gotten very far. I could give other reasons, of course. I mean, without us, who the hell is going to make beer, for instance? And who's gonna drink it? Think about it!
This assumption is not arrived at by way of reason.
I didn't really have to strain my brain all that hard to come up with the reason above. Keep reading for more reasoning.
The brick mill owner who enslaves his workers has every reason to do so in light of the profits cheap labor helps him bring in. He does not offend reason by enslaving people.. his end is profit and cheap labor simply makes sense.
This is why religion makes me sad. Do you really want to stand by that statement? You can't think of how reason could make him see the error of his ways? Again, I could elaborate, but let me just give a couple reasons why slavery is bad. If we live in a world where slavery is tolerable, then who's to say that you won't one day be a slave? Also, look at the long-term impacts of slavery just in this country alone - a price which we all pay for in some way (some much, much more than others though, of course). I mean, think of all the brilliant African Americans who could have gone on to create and invent all sorts of things to help our society, but they never even got a chance to get an education as a result of the grip of slavery that lingered long after it was legally abolished.

If this brick mill owner were to tell me that he doesn't offend reason, then I'd say that his reasoning is incredibly short-sighted and based more on selfishness than reason.

It's funny that you would mention slavery though. Ever read the works of Frederick Douglass? He claimed that the worst slavemasters were the ones who were religious. In other words, I do not accept your assertion that the error of slavery can't be deduced through reason alone, and I think that if one were to take a broad view of the issue, religious faith has a pretty poor track record of leading people to discovering the evils of slavery.
People ought not be valued only for their utility. The life of a child ought not be compromised for the sake of profit. Reason does not tell me this; I assume it. And without that assumption, I can reason myself to just about anything.
I agree that people can reason themselves into just about anything if they start with the conclusion and then work their way backward. I disagree that you can't use reasons to conclude these things, and I find it both false and distressing to think that we need to believe things in which there is no evidence (have faith) in order to figure it out.
You pointed out a handful of the atrocities humanity has perpetrated upon itself in your post. All of these things are tragic for the very reason that they are a departure from basic value.
Of course, but what made them depart from basic value? Because their faith told them that they'd have rewards after they die if they do - even though there wasn't any evidence for that. That was my point of bringing them up, and this point does nothing to contradict what my point was - that faith so easily motivates evil. If those people did not believe that their evil deeds would grant them rewards in the afterlife, then what other reason would they have for doing them?
You are suggesting that, regardless of it’s strategic impact, something about using flying planes into populated areas is bad. Yet you’ve not given me a foundational reason to think so.
I used the kamikazes because by that point, they didn't have much actual hope in winning the war, so it was only a good strategy in the sense that it only created terror and cost more lives. I suppose a kamikaze attack could be a good thing if you're fighting for a good cause and it could actually lead to victory. You know, like that drunk dude in Independence Day.

But here's the thing, and I apologize if I'm bringing a lot of baggage from debates/conversations I've had with other Christians. Even if you're right, and I haven't given you a "foundational reason" you're still nowhere near having one yourself beyond simply asserting that you do. I mean, I could say that atheism is better because it provides us laser guns for the inevitable alien invasion, but until I start showing you some laser guns and evidence of the oncoming alien invasion, it's a pretty moot point, isn't it?
Alongside the travesties you cited, consider some even greater and more pervasive atrocities propagated by the species we ought to preserve…What makes such a species worth preserving?
Because that's hardly the whole picture of what we've done and what we're capable of accomplishing. We've also gone to the moon, ya know. I think that any species that can do that can do so much more, and all too often, faith is what stands in the way of us living up to our true potential. (See the long history of faith's battles against scientific discovery.)
After years and years of war between cylons (created by humanity) and humanity, the cylon asks if humanity has ever asked itself why it deserved to survive… poignantly, the commander does not have an answer.
I applied for that Captain of a Spaceship position, but I couldn't get in because of politics. I would have had an answer for them.
But you didn’t figure it out. “I should help blind women” is not a conclusion you came to after years of study and careful consideration of societal norms and/or cost-benefit analysis.
Aren't you turning the idea of reason into something unnecessarily convoluted? Yesterday I decided to have a big breakfast because I knew that I wouldn't have lunch until much later than usual. I didn't sit around the house drawing up charts and graphs in order to reach this conclusion - and I didn't need years of study to reason that it was good to help a blind woman.
“whatever is helpful for the greatest number of people is what’s good.” I honestly don’t understand this and could use an example of where or how you see this played out. It sounds like the kind of thing that could spell trouble for minority groups like the elderly, who make up only about 8% of the earth’s population and take a great deal of money, time and energy to care for. Can you please elaborate?
It could only be trouble for groups like the elderly if you don't take into account the fact that we're all going to be old some day if we live long enough. As for minority groups, you'd have to ignore the fact that they are part of our society and what effects them ultimately effects all of us in the long run. Will there be situations where some people might be hurt in order to benefit the group? Unfortunately, the answer to this is yes, but I'd wager that you'd be willing to let an old man die if it saved the lives of a thousand other people.

Still, I'd rather use reasoning to make those tough choices than wait for some god to tell me what's what - or better put, some PERSON to tell me what the god said is what.

Monday, August 8, 2011

No, YOU Shut Up! - Universal Good, Part Deux

Just some quick comments on Justin's latest response, which can be found here.
In fact, even your qualification that, for some people religion is only “as bad as a mosquito bite” while for others it is as bad as nuclear warfare still implies that it is always bad and does nothing to detract from the universal nature of your initial critique. I’m not forcing universality on you, just pointing it out in your own language.
I don't know if you checked out the discussion on my response about this, but it's worth reading. I stated in the beginning that I was uncomfortable with such a blanket statement that "faith is bad" as it allows for little sense of nuance. Allow me to amend my statement then: "Faith is at best, not needed and at worst, downright bad." Again, this is just the way I see it.
Yet, in either case, even though I know I would be maximizing my effectiveness by making such changes, I choose not to as a matter of convenience; I don’t want to… I don’t care enough… and reason cannot tell me why I should care.
Really? You cannot think of a reason why you should care? I don't mean to just sound flippant here, but I want to make sure that this is what you are actually saying before I go into...well, REASONS why you should care. As in, reasons that aren't given to me by a deity.
To say that people use something for ill purpose is to say something of people rather than the thing being used...Do we blame a general theories of economic or do we consider instead the motives and ill practices of those in the ranks of such companies?
Here's one crucial difference though: Nobody is claiming that economic practices are handed down by a supernatural being whose will is not to be questioned. As for blaming the economic theories, well, maybe that's not such a bad idea either. Perhaps they should be amended and rethought.
In other words, we do “bad” things and then look for ways to justify our behavior. If it isn’t religion, it’s economics or something else.
Very true. But still, with faith your justification comes from a source that too many people refuse to question. For instance, think of the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church. Are there atheist pedophiles? I would imagine so. However, what are you more likely to hear: "I can't believe he'd hurt a child! He's an atheist!" or "I can't believe he hurt a child! He's a man of God!" In other words, undue automatic respect and reverence is given to things that don't deserve it - and that's a direct result of not just religion, but faith.
But you grossly oversimplify “faith” here. I’d like to write a great deal more about this in future conversations but for the time being...
I look forward to it, but I'll grant your point even before reading your response. "Faith makes people stop asking questions" is a poorly worded statement. Let me try a new one out: "Faith often provides answers where instead you should be asking questions."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Comics Roundup for 8/3/11

Slow week. Here's what I got:

Flashpoint #4 (of 5) - After re-reading the previous three issues, I think I figured out why I like this series more than the average crossover. The thing that makes the story compelling is because instead of trying to focus on an entire universe of characters, it's primarily about The Flash, with Batman playing an important supporting role. Anyway, this was another solid installment, but I wonder how they're going to be able to wrap it all up and set the stage for the huge DC reboot by next issue.

Wolverine #13 - This issue wasn't quite as good as the last few issues have been, as there doesn't seem to be as much forward momentum to this installment as there has been with the preceding ones. Supposedly it all gets wrapped up next issue (or it just leads to an even bigger story) so I'm looking forward to that.

The Amazing Spider-Man #666 - Dan Slott sure packs a lot of story into a single issue, and that's a good thing. However, I'm not too sure how jazzed I am about this Spider Island storyline. So, people all over New York are getting Spider-Man's powers? Meh. I don't see why this turns into a big crossover. I am a bit curious about the return of The Jackal and Kaine though.

Flashpoint - Batman: Knight of Vengeance - Either I read the last issue wrong, or I remembered it wrong, but it looks like in this new continuity, it was Bruce Wayne who died. As a result, his father becomes Batman and his mother becomes The Joker. Interesting, although I'm glad that this continuity will vanish by the end of this crossover, as I sure as heck wouldn't want that to be a permanent change. The one good thing this does though is add to the motivation of the Thomas Wayne Batman over in the main Flashpoint title.

Monday, August 1, 2011

No, YOU Shut Up! - Universal Good

For those of you just tuning in, check out the introduction to this conversation that I'm having with Justin McRoberts. He submitted his first question, and here is my response. I'm going to break it up a little because I don't accept the assertion that's inherent in his question.

You’ve stated that religious faith is bad for people.

Yes, although even I'm uncomfortable with such a blanket statement, as it allows little room for nuance. For some it's as bad as a mosquito bite. For others, it's as bad as an atomic bomb.

This implies some kind of good; a universal good, at that.

No it doesn't.

Whew. Well, that was easy. I guess it's my turn to ask a question now...

Nah, okay, let me elaborate. All it implies is that I have an opinion as to what's good and what's not. This is something that I have in common with the vast majority of people in the world. The big difference with me and people of faith is that I don't justify what I think is good by stating that my opinion is based on the directions left to me by an omniscient, omnipotent, invisible mystical creature. So yes, it implies a good, but the "universal" part is a bit of a leap.

Can you describe the “good” religious faith is an obstacle to?

First, I have to define "good", I suppose. "Good" is what's beneficial to us as a species. We're a cooperative species, so whatever is helpful for the greatest number of people is what's good. We don't need an invisible being to tell us that killing, lying, and stealing is bad. In fact, I think it's kind of sad and cynical to think that we do.

Faith might motivate people to do good, but I would assert that there are motivations based solely on reason that could still provide that motivation. For instance, I once helped a blind lady get to where she was going. I could have ignored her when she asked for help and nobody would have known about what a jerk-move I just pulled. Why did I help her though? Because I want to live in a world where we help one another, as one day I might need help. The only way I can have any direct control over that is by doing what I would want others to do if the situation were reversed. Nobody and no deity needs to tell me that. I can figure it out for myself.

While faith is not needed to do good, it is too easily used to justify bad. Do I really need to lay out the examples of where this has happened? You have everything from the Crusades to Japanese Kamikaze pilots to September 11th. Can you have evil deeds without faith? Absolutely. But the problem with faith is that it actively encourages followers to not question. It encourages them to accept things based solely on authority, and it's the authority of those who claim to speak for the divine.

In other words, faith gives people reason for doing bad things. Nonbelievers are stuck with their own rationales for the bad things they do. And let's face it, saying "You should do this because the ultimate force in the universe said you should!" is much more compelling than "You should do this because I personally think it's a good idea." Even atheistic regimes like Stalinist Russia and North Korea had to borrow the trappings of religious thought in order to turn their leaders into divine authority figures.

Also, faith is the enemy of reason. "Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding." Guess who said that? No, not Richard Dawkins. Martin Luther, that's who. Reason is what provides us everything that enabled us to survive, from our ability to hunt and gather to agriculture to fire to vaccines. Reason will get us out of the messes that we're in today - from global warming to figuring out how to get food to starving people.

Faith made it a controversy when somebody dared to say that the Earth went around the sun. Faith sets us behind the rest of the civilized world when people can't accept the basic biological principle that we evolved from other species the same as any other animal. Faith makes people stop asking questions. Instead of trying to figure out the complexities of our universe, too many of the faithful are happy simply believing that "God did it."

Is it a universal good; can it be applied to all people?

No, I do not think that there is a "universal good". There are some things that are almost universally considered good. You'd be hard-pressed to find a society nowadays that condones killing, theft, and lying. However, even with those there are exceptions to which most reasonable people would agree. (It's okay to kill somebody who's trying to kill you; it's okay to steal food that would get thrown away in order to feed yourself; it's okay to lie to an abusive husband about the whereabouts of his wife.) Every situation must be considered, and we're not always going to get agreement. All I can give you is my view on what's good for each situation. This is based on what my parents taught me, the society in which I live, and what I have reasoned out for myself.

And here's the thing - I'm going to assert that this is true for you and every person of faith that exists. It's not like Christians have been following the same moral code consistently since the death of Jesus. They once didn't have a problem with slavery. Now they can find all sorts of reasons why their faith supposedly condemns it. What changed? After 1800 years, did they find that elusive Bible passage where God clearly laid it all out that slavery is, and always has been, wrong? No, they changed with the times.

I've had Christians ask me this question, or variations on it before. Usually it leads to something along the lines of: "You can't explain where good comes from; therefore, Jeebus." The bottom line for me is this: until people of faith can even demonstrate that there IS a "universal good" this question is ultimately irrelevant when it comes to determining whether such a being exists or not. Because even if my answer is completely illogical, it still doesn't bring us any closer to proving that a deity exists. And even if one does, that does not automatically make him what anybody would consider to be good.

So I guess this leads ME to some questions: Do YOU think that there's a "universal good"? If so, how do you know what it is? If there is one, then why is there so much disagreement as to what's good and what isn't - even amongst people of the same religion? If it's impossible to know for sure the mind of a being who decides what's good and what isn't, then how is that different from us having to figure it out the same as if there wasn't such a being?

Here's a link to Justin's blog where you'll find his eventual response.

No, YOU Shut Up! - Introduction

For some time now, an old high school chum of mine, Justin McRoberts (see photo to the right), and I have been discussing having a debate between our two blogs. I figured that this was a good idea because 1) I like debating, and 2) as a fairly successful recording artist, his blog no doubt gets more hits than mine – this will surely draw more traffic to my ramblings.

There was much discussion as to what we were going to debate. Originally, it was going to be a series called: “Who’s better? Grover Cleveland or Calvin Coolidge?” Then we changed it to: “Best band ever: The Troggs or Bananarama?” Ultimately, we decided on: “Butter: Many uses or just a few?”

Then Justin pointed out something to me. See, he believes in this thing he likes to call a “Gawd”. To be more specific, he believes in one called “DA JEEBUS.” (Other Gawds include "Juice", "Al Ahhhhh", and "Ganesha".) Apparently this “DA JEEBUS” was some crazy harry hippy who said a lot of stuff about some things and then got stuck in a tree or something. “Interesting,” I said to him. “Tell me more about this guy.” When he finished telling me the story, I told him that his story was stupid and he was a stupid person for saying it. “Nuh uh” he said, and then we proceeded to the most brutal, bloody, painful bout of fisticuffs in the history of pugilism.

Afterwards, we decided to debate this “DA JEEBUS” who happens to actually be called “Jesus” and was the “Christ”. The bottom line is this: he believes it; I don’t. I think that believing it is bad for people. No, not bad like shooting up black tar heroin five times a day, but maybe bad like shooting up regular heroin once a day.

In all seriousness, this will be a debate on religion. I’m an atheist, and he’s a Christian. I’m looking forward to this because I think that Justin is actually a thoughtful guy, and I’d be lying to you if I said that I thought the same thing about all Christians (or even most of them – sorry, just being honest, but then again I think people in general aren’t very thoughtful). This isn’t going to head into ridiculous territory like whether evolution happened or not , and I don’t expect him to say things like “Hitler was an atheist; therefore, you are like Hitler!” In other words, he’s not some young-Earth creationist, and he isn’t some homophobic “God hates fags!” schmuck either. In fact, he has some unconventional ideas about his religion, so I have to be on my guard to not assume that he believes the usual stuff that I hear from Christians. Plus, with most of the stuff he devotes himself to (charitable works and all that) I’d have to be a real jerk to find fault with it. Anyway, I just think that he could do all of that good stuff without the supernatural inspiration is all.

To start this off, we agreed that we’d try to stick with one topic at a time where one of us asks a question and then the other responds. He already got the ball rolling with this post here. Hopefully I can get around to writing my response within the next day or two.

Oh, and I should probably note that Justin suggested that we refer to this as a "conversation" rather than a debate. I think that this is a good idea, but I know his real reason for suggesting this. He's chicken.

One last thing - I also plan on posting at Alexandria, so you might find even more interesting commentary/comments there.