Sunday, March 6, 2011

Poverty =/= worthless

I grew up conservative.

I still consider myself to be a conservative. Possibly feminist, as (and isn't this bizzare) my research on spinning as a hobby has lead me to draw several conclusions reguarding the evolution and value of "woman's work" in history (note: still have not researched this hobby as an economic thing. Just as a "how to do it", which indicates to me that there is something to this idea). I don't think that it's the government's job to take care of people. I think that it's the individual's job to take care of people, and that human beings, collectively, have abdicated their responsability to the agency least capable of humane care.

But when I say that I "grew up" conservative, I say that this was the only "right" system of thought in my family, as Christianity was the only "right" religion. As a child and teen, I did not believe in God because I believe in God. I believed because I was rewarded with affection and the approval of my parents when I parroted back to them the things they wanted to hear. As a teen I was fully on the "homosexuality is wrong" bandwagon because, oh my god, did my parents smile at me when I handed this response back. I remember once telling several friends of mine that I wouldn't want to work with GLBT material, NOT because I did not actually want to, but because I did not want to dissapoint my family. When they reacted as one might naturally expect ...

...I realized that this was not actually something I really cared about. I cared because I got approval from my family for saying it, and not because I actually believed it was wrong. This forced me to examine a lot of things, a process that is still ongoing. I did not drop my Christianity, for example, but other than the real basics, it doesn't have a lot to do with the doctrines I was taught as a child anymore. And for the record, I now firmly believe that you can be a Christian and be gay. It's between you and God and Romans 14, and as I've never been faced with that particular issue (I'm about as straight as a ruler) I'm not qualified to say what God feels on the subject.

I bring this up because I had a moment with my family this afternoon where the differences between us yawned like the grand canyon. My brother, one of his friends and I were all sitting outside, and my brother noticed a man digging through my apartment complex's dumpster. He said, in a tone of disgust usually reserved for small, slimy objects, "I don't have a lot of patience with poverty."

This made me blink. My brother is a viking. He has the hair, the build, the attitude. He spends most of his time wandering around with a stick in his hand because we are no longer allowed to carry swords, damn it. And he's the kind of person who would sooner commit suppuku than allow a kitten to sit outside in the cold. So I said, with all the wisdom of a big sister to a younger brother, "Huh?"

"Oh, I don't hate the poor. They're the people who are trying to work out of it. But I dislike poverty. They expect you to support them and stuff."

And then I think I said something racially insensative about african poverty, but I was pretty pissed off and trying very hard not to strangle him with a few feet of unspun roving.

First of all, nothing said the man going through the dumpster was poor. My dad was the breadwinner of the family, and he made pretty good money when we were growing up. We never needed clothes, or food, or government assistance to keep our house. Because we did foster kids, we were actually able to provide a home for other people's kids. But my mother was and still is a skillful dumpster diver. She could look at a sofa sitting out on a curb and judge exactly how much more time the thing might have. She could gage the best time to arrive at a particular bin, in order to discover the best objects for salvage. The best bench we ever had was a sofa frame she rescued and sweet-talked Dad into adding slats to. She did this not because we needed money (though in the twilight years of our family, this was actually true) but because she enjoyed it. She hated to see a perfectly good object go to waste when she knew she could do something with it.

So maybe the dude in the dumpster saw something he could use. Maybe he lost his glasses or a credit card, or maybe his wife or kid or roommate threw out his W2 and he's desperately digging through the garbage in the hopes that he can still find his specific bag and get it back.

But maybe it is true. Maybe he was poor. If he is, so am I, because we both live in the same apartment complex and I have, as of late, found myself choosing between eating and paying rent and electricity. The only reason my sofa is not a dumpster find is because the kind person who gave it to me asked me if I needed it before she threw it out. I wouldn't qualify for government assistance because I don't have a kid and I make too much money as a grocery store baker. And I checked this. My father has offered to buy me a car and I have turned him down each time because I know I could not manage the gas and insurance on top of my rent, electricity and food. The internet is a lugsury I really can't afford, and paying for Audible is a decadance I can only justify by not having enough time to read anymore due to my awful job.

My brother neither has to pay rent, nor utilities. I do not want to draw any conclusions about his personal spending habits, but I do know he has never had to support himself financially.Both of us have been very sheltered by our parents. I think he believes we were poor, as he was fourteen when our family imploded (there were several weeks of ramen noodle soup and frozen corn there, near the end, and we got evicted from a couple of houses) but we weren't. He may believe the same thing now, as my Dad is often broke, but they're not, either.

I think I am almost qualified to say this, loud and proud, so I'm going to: people don't go on public assistance because they don't want to work. People go on public assistance because they need help, and nobody else is offering. And if the number of people on welfare and food stamps is overwhelming, it's because a lot of people are desperate, and not because a lot of people don't want to work.

I remember one afternoon near Christmas, when my father had given me about a hundred fifty dollars to buy my own Christmas presents. I had no idea what I wanted. Books, maybe. Or else computer stuff. I needed caffiene, so my mother and I went to the grocery store, and when we got to the check out there was a little woman (I can't say girl because she was older than me, but there was this child-like quality to her I remember) who was crying because her Lone-star card (aka food stamps) was short and she didn't have enough to cover her groceries.

And I did not think "lazy ass. Get a job" when I saw this. I thought about the many times growing up that the same thing happened to me and mom, though not with food stamps. My dad, as I said, made a lot of money, but he believed that when he ran out, he always had his check book. As a result, there were many times when the grocery store refused our checks and we had to go home empty handed. I still have that kind of reaction when I get to a check out counter, this kind of stomach-drop, oh fuck, count my money kind of tensing up. I saw this woman standing there with what was probably her Christmas dinner, and maybe a couple of extra things for her kids--because given the hoops you have to jump through to get on food stamps, she probably had kids--and I remembered the many times I stood next to my parents while the same thing happened to us, sans the government assistance part. I remembered thinking, what are we going to do? when this happened. I remember thinking what are we going to do? when I watched my family implode, and we didn't have enough money for food because ... well, because. I still don't know where it all went. I remember living in that hell hole of a relative's house for four years because we couldn't afford to live on our own. I remembered cutting myself because with the emotional abuse in there, it was not safe to cry. I remembered how Mom tried to help me, but there wasn't much she could do because we had nowhere to go. I remembered Dad handing me money, just giving me a hundred fifty dollars and then walking off, and I remembered a time not too many years before when that would have been an awful lot of money to just hand somebody, and we could have used it for food or rent or car payments or something else that would have allowed my family to survive another few months, or else gotten us out of that relative's house before it broke me.

So I bought that woman her groceries. Because I remembered how much I used to want someone to do that for me.

Selfishness is never okay, and calling judgement on someone else is never okay. Poverty is not something people fall into because they don't want to work. It's something that hits them. Every day. It's in how hungry they feel, their bad house, their poor neighborhood. Maybe they anesthesize this pain with alcohol or drugs and wind up finding just another place for poverty to hit, the itch for drink or for a needle when they can't afford to buy food. I got to taste this a little bit, once, and I didn't like it. I can't imagine this going on for years. I don't like where I'm at, and I make too much money to qualify for food stamps or public assistance. I can't imagine what life is like for people who can. How desperate they would be.

I can imagine what life might be like, if the people who had extra money bought someone's groceries instead of another television set. If instead of buying a new car for Christmas when they have a year old one that's just fine, they went to a social worker and offered to spend that money on another family, or on a foster kid that needed it. If we lived within our means, and then took what was left over and gave somebody else who needed it a leg up. Extra month's rent. Extra groceries. Extra time. 

I don't think the government will ever be able to take care of people. It's too big and by necessity, too impersonal. But I do believe that as long as we ignore other people and assume that you're poor because you want to be, the government will have to. If you don't want programs like welfare and food stamps, then buy someone else their groceries and help someone else pay their medical bills. You can do a far better job than the government can, and if you're ever hit in the face by poverty, that's what you'll want someone to do for you.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go work in my horrible job.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

WTF Christian ramblings AHOY!!!

(Yeah. If you're a non-religious type I recommend putting on a hard hat. I don't usually let the Christian drive but today I want to.)

    Can God make a rock he can’t lift?

    The answer from the Christian perspective (given the flavor in which I was raised) is of course, yes. Which immediately makes your brain throw cogs. It’s a kind of double negative. Can God, who can do everything and in whom all things may be done, make something that he cannot then do anything with? I remember having a debate with an atheist (this was the ‘net and the kid was a troll, but it technically counts as a debate with an atheist) where they brought up this question, and that wasn’t the last time, either. It seems to be a proof of the inherent idiotcy of belief in an omnipotent being of infinite power, the rock that can’t be lifted. If it is infinite, it should be able to make the rock, but also, if it is infinite, it ought to be able to lift it.  A chicken-or-the-egg kind of question, intended to make the recipient realize their belief system is not true due to the failure of logic.

    Well, there’s a lot of assumptions one has to make about God before the question both disproves His existence (and/or nature) and becomes anything other than utter nonsense, and when asked in the spirit of “Then how can God exist?” every one of these assumptions are made. I have sorted them into three major points:

    -That the perception of a celestial or higher being are identical to the perceptions of a human, and that the infinite is, therefore, like a human only bigger.
    -That the limitations of such a being would be imposed by something outside of itself
    -That God has never done anything of the sort before.

    We’ll start with the first one. And I will probably give a physicist conniption fits, so please forgive me if I completely mangle hyperspacial theory. There’s a thought exercise intended to help a layperson understand what a fourth-dimensional square would look like. Take the surface of a table or a piece of paper, and imagine that there is an entire civilization living in it. Not the whole table or the whole piece of paper, but the mathematical two dimensional plane of its surface. It has leingth, and it has width. If you want to think of it in terms of direction, it has forward, back, right and left. It has no up or down. Any creature living in this two dimensional world would not only not have access to up, it would have no concept of the direction up. If you were to insert a cube into Flatland and drop it all the way through, a Flatlander would only see a single, unchanging square. If you dropped a pyramid, it would see a slowly shrinking square. To a Flatlander a pyramid is a square that shrinks. Because we have access to the third dimension—not merely perception of it but the ability to move in it and manipulate objects in it—we understand what a pyramid is, and by the same measure, cannot fully undersand what it is to not understand, to not know what up is.

    It stands to reason, then, that if there are other dimensions, and I believe time is more or less our limited perception of the fourth dimension—it occurred to me that if you were to pick up Flatland and move it through the third dimension, the Flatlanders would probably perceive something changing in their world, but would be unable to identify it past its two dimensional effects—that we cannot see what their nature is. If a Flatlander can see all of a square but not all of a cube, then we can see all of a cube but perhaps not all of a tesseract, the fourth dimensional cube. We can unfold a model of a tesseract into three dimensional terms, just as a cube can be unfolded into its component squares and become a two dimensional shape, but we can’t perceive what that tesseract would really look like because we cannot perceive the fourth dimension’s directions, just as the Flatlander has no concept of up. Perhaps things we identify in life, like light and gravity and time, perhaps even sin, are in reality extradimensional movements or actions that we can only identify by their effects on our three dimensional world.

    For example, if I were to insert a cube into Flatland and move it up and down, but never so far up or so far down as to make it actually leave Flatland, by a Flatlander’s perspective it wouldn’t be moving. And if I were then to have a physical presence in Flatland—say a plane of my body where it intersects with Flatland—it would probably look as if there were a cube that I were unable to shift right or left. If I were to have a shape with infinite height, but a perfectly square profile, it would be a square I could never properly remove from Flatland, and from the Flatlander’s perspective, something immobile. So if God were to create a rock, fixed in three dimensions, movable yet infinite in a fourth, fifth, sixth or some other dimension as yet undiscovered and undiscribed, it would fit the literal definition of our immovable rock, by our perspective.

    But perhaps you want a rock that can’t be moved by any definition, even God’s, which brings us to the second assumption people make when they ask that question: that any such limit must come from an outside source. That it may not and cannot not be self-imposed. And this is where the question breaks down into total nonsense and we need to examine not the nature of God or what is possible, but the nature of the infinite and of limitations.

    First, let’s assume that the rock is a physical thing, that God is infinite (otherwise the question is again, nonsense) that what we’re talking about is physical streingth, and that God has no self-imposed limitations on what he may or may not do. Thus, he could lift infinitely more material than there is in all of creation. Thus the rock would have to be infinitely more than infinite, and unless you can divide by zero, this is where logic breaks down.

    Let me put it this way. You have a mathematically infinite line, and are told that at the end of it, there is another line and you are to find it. This line has no end. You cannot have two simultaneous unlimited infinities. There is no way to get to the end of the first line in order to find the second. This second line might as well not exist. It is part of the infinite. It is part of that first line. The only way for two mathematically infinite lines to exist is side by side, paralelle to each other.

    To put it another way, by saying that this is a line, a one dimensional construct, we have put limitations on it and have given something else, the second line, a place to exist. If we were talking about two infinite planes, we’d have the same problem until we moved into the third dimension and put the two planes paralelle to each other. If it is infinite in the third dimension, we have to move up into the fourth dimension, and then keep going until we find the dimension in which our object (now indescribable in human terms) finally has a limitation. You may have one infinite thing in a defined space, but you cannot have two. They will swallow each other up and become one thing again. The only way for two things to exist is to put limitations on them, and then place them so that they interact within the confines of their limits. You could almost say that individual objects, or even individuals themselves, can only exist so long as there are limitations to protect them.

    But God, as we have established, is infinite, and that includes in all aspects and dimensions. An infinite rock would swallowed up, or else He would be swallowed up by the rock, if this is not too heretical a thing to think. If the creation of the rock insists on an infinite series of infintes there really is no point to it because it wouldn’t exist at all. God and the Rock would swallow up each other. There has to be a limit for the rock to exist as a rock.

    Which means that to create the rock that can’t be moved, God must first put a limit, not on the rock, but upon God. And that’s when the rock that can’t be moved becomes a possibility.

    Suppose that God says to himself, “I shall only be able to move this much of creation. And so I shall create a rock that is this much more than this much of creation, and I shall put it here, and it shall then not be moved.” and so he makes the rock.

    This supposes a purely physical limitation. Suppose instead that God says, “I shall make a rock no bigger than a grain of sand and I shall place it on a beach, and once it is there I may not and cannot move it again.” And so he makes the rock, a rock that a child could move, or a wave, but a rock that God cannot move because he said he cannot move it. It is a limitation of will.

    Which brings us to the third assumption: That God has never done such a thing before.

    Remember what I said about the infinite line. Suppose that there was a finite line—a line with ends—somewhere in that infinite line. Could you find it? There’s only one dimension and while there may be two lines, one has no end. How could you find the other one without first moving both into the second dimension? Suppose Flatland were swallowed by an infinite plane? Would the Flatlanders still exist? Wouldn’t you have to move them into the third dimension, where they are limited, before you could separate the flatlanders from the plane?

     In God we have an infinite Presence, infinite Substance, infinite Power and infinite Being. How could anything exist within that eternity without becoming a part of it? In our modern world a fetus, encompassed by its mother, is considered part of the mother, like a limb or a heart, and is only its own person when removed from the womb and forced to breathe and survive on its own. The only individual for whom existence does not require limitations is God, because He is the Infinite. For the rest of us, we need limitations, not only of ourselves but also of God himself. Otherwise we are a part of God, attached by some umbilical of twisting eternity, encased in a womb that continues forever, and this is not what God wants.

    Let’s play out a scenario of Creation, how it might be if the Infinite were to say, I am lonely. Oh, think of that for just a moment. One of the rules of love is that you may only feel it yourself, truly, when it is felt for someone else. Love requires an object. Demands it. It is not a sensation like sweetness or happiness, but an action, and you need something to do it to. And the Eternal, the Indivisable, the forever God, Infinite Love says to himself, I am lonely. And perhaps He decides to make something equal to Himself and divides, and the Trinity is born. But you can’t sort the eternally present from the eternally present, and while there might be three personages somewhere, there is still only one God there. Creation still has not happened.

    And then God says, “For there to be a true Object, there must first be a place where I am not. So then, let there be a place where I am not.” And a thing which has never before been has been created. Not by a twisting or a sharing or a shaping, but by a limitation. Here is a place where the Eternal ends, and where something else may be. And all else, the cosmos, earth, mankind, grows out of this first moment, when the Eternal created a place where the Eternal would end.

    Another aspect of the Rock which Can’t be Moved is its uniqueness. In all the cosmos there are rocks aplenty, but here is a new thing, a special thing. A rock that God can’t move. And I would think that God would like to look at this rock and visit it, because it is unique among all the rocks. And if he were to remove his self-imposed limitations, sure, he could move the rock and prove his eternal power by doing so, but he would also be unmaking the rock, robbing it of its special qualities and also, robbing himself of this wonderful, special thing. It’s not the Rock that Can’t be Moved anymore. It’s merely a rock, and there are rocks aplenty in cosmos.

    God limits himself and creates a place where he is not. And then he puts things into it, and I don’t pretend to understand angelology and demonology and the kinds of creatures that God might make for His joy and pleasure, but eventually one of them was Man, and in Man he decided to do a special thing and say, “Let us make Man in Our own image.” Well, God did not precisely mean identical copies of the Eternal, because that would turn everything into sameness, into Godness, and this is something God does not want, because he isn’t making more of himself. He wants things like, similar, but not same as. So he meant something else, and I and a lot of other people believe that the thing he made in Man that was like but not same as was Free Will. For Free Will to exist, God again has to say, “Here is a place where I am not.” Here is a place where His will is not, so that our will might exist.

    This might need to exist to give unconditional love a chance to truly be unconditional. As long as the loved object remains agreeable, love is not truly unconditional. It’s never had to prove it’s nature. It’s never been measured. But if there is a chance the loved object may become undesirable, then there is a chance that the love itself might prove unconditional. And of all the aspects of God that may or may not be limited by His will, His love has never been restricted.

    But for this to happen there must be a will that God, in all his might and power, cannot shift. God, who must by his very nature enter true relationships only with his inferior, wants objects that can also love in return, that can adore and worship and return to Him that which He feels for them… but this love is meaningless without the choice not to love. Without the choice, the love is bland, boring, unspirited, like oatmeal without even salt to taste. With it, though, it becomes a drama. A play. A story worth reading. It is the chance of loss, the danger of losing, the threat of irrevocable severing, that gives any story its heart and savor. When we choose to love God, having the option to choose not to, it is a thing worth having, a thing unique in all Cosmos. Love given to the Eternal by the free will of the giving soul.

    And the price of this great thing? The pain and suffering, the horrors and agonies, the very insipid nature of humanity. War, rape, genocide. We are guilty of it all, because it is by our choice that we do it, and the concequences of those actions rightly fall on our heads…but there is meat to the argument that it is God’s choice to give us choice, that he is at fault for creating a world where suffering is possible.

    He could choose to take that free will away from us, make us all behave and do the things that are right and good not because we choose to do them but because they are right and good. Take away the road, in other words, lay down railroad tracks and tie us into them forever. But to do so would be to remove our specialness. There are creatures in Cosmos aplenty who can do good, angels to sing praises, seraphim to worship. But it is we, lowly mortals, who may choose to do so, and who also may choose not to. We alone, by His will, may choose to be beautiful or ugly, which makes our beauty all the greater and our ugliness all the more terrible. It is we who may rise to Heaven or fall to Hell, and magnify the rise or fall by its triumph or tragety. It is we who may be wooed and won or lost, depending not only on what God wills but by what we will as well. The submission and surrender of one child is greater than that of all the angels in all of Cosmos, because it is the submission of choice and of will, freely received and freely given, something that no other creature can say. We are the Bride of Christ not merely because God chose us to be so, but because we could have said No, and by our natures had to be won rather than taken.

    In essence, We are the answer to the question. We are the Rock Which Can’t be Moved.