Saturday, November 26, 2011

An Open Letter to the Faithful and Faithless

To all those who believe in God, and those without a faith at all,

Today, I read something online that gave me chills; you might have seen it too, if you were looking. A woman, a  paralysed cyclist, revealed she can now walk after thirteen years. One of her team mates used the word "miracle", and the Internet exploded into a two-sided debate. On one side, the Christians who believed her recovery - previously thought impossible until an accident in a race - to be a miracle and proclaimed that. On the other side, the atheists who provided the majority of the comments. Many claimed the woman's paralyses had been fake, many more began to throw insults at Christians in general - not just those who were commenting, but any person who believes in God.

Let's get some facts straight here: I am Irish, I am Catholic, I believe in God, and I accept the Bible as true. I also love science, accept the truth of evolution and I attempt to understand the gist of quantum theory in as much as it is possible without studying it in any detail. This is not a contradiction of terms.

The atheists who commented, not all atheists, are small minded bullies. They do not justify their words with scientific proof; they only wish to insults anyone with an ounce of faith in their life. One commenter said, and I paraphrase here, that anyone with a brain knows there is no God. Another said to let go of the "sky daddy" and "come back to reality." Another referred to people with faith as cretins.

Is this how society functions today? Is this really how discussions takes place and people communicate? It is not. This is the form of insult that exists only on the Internet, behind anonymous comments. These people do not pay the consequences of insulting someone. They may not even realise how much they might have insulted someone by what they said. Perhaps they did, and they are all the worse for it. Whether they believe in God or not, there are certain standards of ethics we all must adhere to, certain social standards that ought to be followed, if only to make sure we don't cause yet more harm to ourselves and this planet.

There have been religious wars before. This is a fact, we must accept it. But we live in a rational age. Christians Churches are coming together in dialogue, they reach out to people of other faiths - not to convert, but to talk - and they have put aside their differences for the good of their own beliefs and the strength of their own faiths. So why do the atheists in question and those like them start an online war of their own? Are we the fools for talking about faith, for using the language of the article? Are we the ones launching an attack? We're not out to convert, but to express our faith.

I will accept, maybe there were some who commented replying in as equally an insulting manner from a Christian perspective. This is also wrong. This is how people get hurt, and were this to happen on a larger scale the world would face a crisis.

Here are the facts about people: we are free to make our own choices; we are free to voice our own opinions; we are free to have a religion and equally free not to have a religion; our choices and our opinions, our faith or lack thereof, make us neither greater nor worse than those around us. We respect the pope because of his position and insight into religious affairs, just as we respected Steve Jobs and Dennis Ritchie because of their contributions to computers and technology.

Mindless insults pass back and forth, but the majority of the insults come from those who think that by not believing in God they have a right to insult anyone who does. While I hate to disappoint however many of you there might be, let me make this clear: you have no right to insinuate you are smarter than anyone else because of your own beliefs.

We'll make certain things clear, shall we? Evolution: it happened, it is still happening. Charles Darwin wrote about it. It didn't make him an atheist. What made him an atheist, what began to sway his belief in God, was the death of his daughter. Read Origin of Species before you make any remarks about my faith or the faith of other Christians, and pay particular attention to the closing paragraph. They are not the words of a man who does not believe God exists.

The creation accounts in Genesis: they are true. Does this contradict evolution? Absolutely not. The Bible is not a scientific document. While the Church at one stage may have insisted on the literal interpretation of the Bible, this isn't where she stands now. Of all the genres contained in the Bible, science is not one of them. We respect that, we acknowledge that, we move on.

The truth of Genesis lies in its meaning, not what the facts that might be interpreted out of it - the Earth was not made in 7 days and Adam and Eve were not created as described. The truth of Genesis's creation stories is that God created the world, that God gave us life and that God's creation is good. This does not mean we did not evolve.

We are smart enough to understand our origins. While some people refuse to accept science, this is not true of a majority of people in the world who believe a God exists. No one has the right to insult us on the grounds of that belief, not when we accept the same science as you do.

As to the specifics of what has been said? Let it first be said that God is not the "sky daddy". My image of God, the image of God accepted by the Church, is not that of an old man with a long white beard sitting in the clouds. That image of God creates God in our image, when we believe we were created in His. We will forget that image.

Think instead of the symbol of Christianity. Even the atheists among us know this one: the cross. Who died on the cross? Jesus Christ. Whether you believe he was the Son of God or not, he existed. There are historical documents aside from the Bible that show this.

From a Christian perspective, Christ is God. The Holy Trinity helps us to understand this; it's a message of love, and while it can get complicated, I shall sum it up as I was told. The Trinity consists of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; one to love, one to be loved and one that is love itself. This is why we ought not to fight back on the same grounds as the atheists who insult us.

This Trinity shows Christians that Jesus was God on Earth. He died for us on the cross. This is where the question of "Where was God when...?" is answered, and why the omnipotent God, the all knowing God and the good God exists as we believe: He is there with all those who suffer. It is not for God to rid the world of suffering, not now.

I will accept, this is not a proof for God; I merely stand by the belief in God and rebuke the arguments against Him. No one has the right to say God does not exist simply because they do not believe in Him or because science has shown us so much of the universe. No one.

The reason we have no proof for God is because He is a mystery. For the very same reason, we enter dialogue with the other religions of this world: to understand our own faith better. Just because we believe Jesus is the full being of truth does not mean we understand that truth. The Holy Spirit is not under our control, and so people can understand the world in ways we did not think of before. An openness to new discovery is precisely why the Church hasn't been abandoned by everyone, why I haven't turned my back on what I believe. There is meaning to be found where I have not looked.

It is not in the insults of the arrogant and the attention seeking, the conformist cowards who bully others from the safety of their own homes. Bullying is not okay. Religious persecution is not okay. If you nobody accepted these ideals then the Jewish people would have been eradicated during World War Two and thousands of children would be left to fend for themselves in schools across the world, picked on for being different to the bullies.

It is not okay to pick on people. It is not okay to call them cretins, to mock their beliefs or to belittle them. You don't have to accept what they say as being true. No one will make you. You need only accept that they think about things differently than you do, and let it rest. Or, do what someone with brains would do who still wants to respond: discuss their statement, don't just dismiss them as a person.

The woman who can walk? Her injuries are healed. Is this a miracle? I don't know. I would like to think it is, but that doesn't mean God has chosen to grace her with something other people don't deserve. This simply means she was given something back she once had. We are not to question why, as Christians. We cannot understand God. 

And if you don't accept it was a miracle, we will go for the scientific answer: her second injury may have undone some of the previous damage to her spine. While I wish her all the best in life, two spinal injuries, even if they appear to be healed, will come back to affect her in years to come. For now, though, her spine has twisted back in just the right way that she has feeling in her legs again.

Let us not make a mockery out of this blessing, religious or otherwise. Let us not dismiss how great this must be for her by darkening the situation with arguments that may well insult her too.

Let us not argue over who is right or wrong when there is literally no way of knowing, and let us keep the insults out of the equation. No one deserves the abuse that has been shared today and repeatedly in the past. There is more to this faith than certain atheists give it credit for, just as there are more to atheists than the ignorant fools who insults on dismissing other people openly. I know people, not just friends, who don't believe in God, and the key to us getting along is that we never insist the other person is wrong or stupid. Let us at least do that.

A believer in God and science.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Middle Class Poverty

First thing's first: when I refer to "poverty" in this post, I'm really just talking about not having any money in my bank account. I know there are people in much worse situations. This is relative poverty. With that said...

I've been tracking my poverty since the Christmas hours in work were given out. It's fair to say I'm going to be poor with the presents I have to get and the various social gatherings I'm expected at (one a week for three weeks in a row). While I'm not complaining that I have plans (for once), I'd like to at least be able to say I have money afterwards. I don't think it's going to be a possibility.

It's one of those times when I really wish I had more hours in work. While I like working only weekends, the 1-5 shifts I get on Saturdays (yes, a whole four hours...) really don't do it when it comes to saving money. I have the same sort of expenses every week. I have to spend around ten euro a week just getting to college - not a massive amount in and of itself, but it adds up every week. On top of that, I have my own particular buying habits... I've been buying comics a lot, lately, but I'm cutting down on the number I get now. Aside from not really enjoying some of the stories, I can't afford fifteen euro a week every week.

Anyway, in order to actually track how little money I would have, I've had to write how much I'll be getting each week and write in the costs for the days involved. It will work a lot better if I can plan it more expansively, but I don't really know how much certain things will cost. The way things have worked out, I've had to spread out the buying of presents over a number of weeks. I literally cannot afford to buy them all in one go, like some people. It also doesn't help that I don't know what I'm getting some people yet, either.

I write about this, of course, because it's an insight into what I can only determine as being a first world problem. I very much doubt that people in poorer countries worry about the extras at this time of the year. For them, it's more about survival.

For me, survival means having the money to go out with friends, to get something for my parents and brothers at Christmas, to maintain the same sort of life I led before the holiday season came in. I'm glad we don't exchange presents in college, or I'd be in trouble. (Read as: they wouldn't get anything...)

Every year I tell myself it will be different, but then something new and shiny comes along and steals my money. Though, in my defence, the main thing that cost me a lot of money this year was my trip to Taizé, which I had to go on for college. (I didn't have to do the module, but in choosing it I had to pay up.) I paid for this trip myself (what was left of the cost, after the college subsidy) and that pretty much drained my bank account. Suffice to say it hasn't yet forgiven me.

There are things I could do to try get more money, obviously, but they're mainly based on chance and a lot of hard work. I could have tried to get some freelance writing work, but that goes on the assumption that (a) I get the job, (b) that I'm good enough, (c) that I had an idea in the first place and (d) that I wouldn't be overwhelmed with college work at any particular time. I could have set up ad-based material on my website but that wouldn't pay off quickly, and it would have required a lot of work in itself.

Long story short, I'm going to be repeatedly poor until my pay-days over the next month, I might have been able to do something about it, and this is very much a first world problem related to a middle-class student with a weekend job, living at home. Also, poverty sucks.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

After a few days...

So, I started NaNoWriMo. It was originally my intent to pull out of the competition, but Bliss got the better of me. I'm now over 7000 words into the novel (added onto what I wrote during the summer - only a slight cheat in picking the same novel!) and, thankfully, less than 13K behind what I should be on. I have time to write this weekend, since I don't have anything I need to do any of my college work, and I have a rough plan. More importantly, I know where the novel is going outside of this rough plan, which has been ignored for the most part up to this point anyway.

The novel has taken on greater depths since I started writing it. For a start, the characters are a little more believable, there are more of them (the original plan called for four characters; I now have seven main characters) and they have more interesting stories behind them. Braddock is trying not to follow in his father's footsteps, while also trying to make himself known in the scientific world; Lyo is trying to start a family after leaving her own behind to marry Braddock; Alastair is trying to prove himself as a scientist in a city that praises Braddock's family; Michelle is trying to continue the research of her late parents into solar and nuclear energy; Andy is trying to prove himself to his community; Bliss is trying to find her place in whatever world she ends up in; and the Mother Muse is trying to give the world her greatest gifts, through a warped sense of delivery.

Add to that the ecological and ethical issues that various characters face, the struggle of faith in the world, and the impending desecration of a world without love, and you've got Bliss. I was proud of my ability to actually plot the novel, initially; the first plan was based on the singles of Muse played in order. That has, obviously, changed, since most of the elements of that plan no longer make sense: Lyo wasn't part of it then, and she's important now. That's what I'm more proud of: actually altering my novel to write something worth reading, something more creative than the novelization of twenty four singles.

I have a lot of work ahead of me, though. As much as I love the novel, it will require a lot of perseverance to actually write 50K in 20 days. 30 is difficult enough! However, I think I've already beaten my fail of a 2010 attempt, so that's a plus.

Building on my Camp NaNoWriMo experience is definitely the only way I'm going to get this done. I have to take advantage of the fact that I get into college about two hours before lectures, bring my laptop in every day with my charger and my plan that I will ignore, and block out all sound with music for at least an hour. Every day I have Drama or a workshop, I have to stay behind in college, anyway. At lunch time, I will go to the library and get my assignments done. There are only three for the main modules left, so that won't be too bad.

The real problem is this teaching programme we have to do in college. That'll take up a lot of time, I think. Especially since I can't find anything about the assignment we're expected to do. No deadline date, no details on what we're actually supposed to do, nothing.

Can I scream? I think I'm going to scream. Or drink tea.

Anyway, back to the novel. After a few days, I'm well under way to getting this done. If I'd started at the right time, I wouldn't be in any trouble. With So much to write before I'm even caught up, I have to write an average of 2250 words per day to finish on time. Otherwise, at the rate NaNoWriMo think I'm writing (as in, if I'm writing from day 1), I'll finish in January.

That feature is always fun for me. The more I write, the closer than date gets. It makes it look like I'm doing a lot more work when an hour of writing knocks off a month of time it should take for me to finish.

Anyway, my plan is to just keep on writing. I want to finish, mostly because I wanted to finish the book before Christmas anyway, and partially because I want to get the five free copies CreateSpace are offering to winners. I love incentive, I really do.

I'll still be writing my pep talks - Week 3 is the week people hate their novels and feel like giving up - but I'll have to focus a lot more time on writing fiction. If I can catch up, I'll also have to write a short story for something in college. There's a day of NaNo gone out the window! I might write it on my way to Croagh Patrick on Wednesday.

Only a few hours before I can get back to writing Bliss. It's going to seem like such a long time...

PS You can track my progress here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Workload Overload

Nobody ever said college would be so much work. I have to write two essays for Thursday. That's not really too bad. I mean, I've done the research for one (and the other is about a film), but I have to do other projects for college. Still, not too bad. Except we're going to get more work.

No, the real problem is that I want to do NaNoWriMo. Really want to.

This is a problem because, to start, I have to wait until my essays are out of the way. So, Thursday night, or on Friday. That gives me twenty days. Nineteen if you take away the day I'm going to Croagh Patrick next week. I'll have a teaching programme coming up soon, too. That'll delay me a lot. And I have to write a short story for a book in college, while also running the magazine.

But I really, really want to give it a shot.

Am I crazy? I mean, I'll be pushed to the limit every day. I'll have to write every single morning in college and every single night, and I'll need to get about a 1500 words done per session. That's possible, but exhausting. This is also probably the last time I'll get to do NaNoWriMo until I graduate, unless I can get most of my thesis work out of way early next year.


I'll probably still give it a shot. I've wanted to finish the book, and I wanted to do NaNoWriMo before I realised I wouldn't be around for five days. I just don't want to let that get in the way. With Drama, I'm going to be stuck in the college for a couple of hours each audition day before auditions even begin, so I'll need to do something to fill the time, and working all the time on college work will just drive me insane.

So, all of this is why I am going to be facing a workload overload. I don't know whether this will cause me any serious problems. I know I can stop writing if I have to, because the college work comes first, but I don't think anything is guaranteed when it comes to NaNo.

Madness it is then. I'm going to do it, until I finish or I reach the point where it really is too much work to attempt anymore.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

An Experience of Taizé

I won't be writing a whole four-day journal of my trip to Taizé, but I can at the very least give you a brief overview of it. It started in the airport, with thirteen of us meeting at half four in the morning on Wednesday. Tired, groggy and a little bit cranky but excited, we made our way through Terminal 2 towards tea and breakfast. Shortly thereafter, we were on a plane to Geneva.

Yes, we had to go to Switzerland to get to Taizé. This confused us for a while - not as much as getting lost in the airport confused two of us when we got there, mind you - but it soon became clear that the two hour bus journey to Taizé was still an acceptable mode of transport. By the end of the trip, it was a blessing - the Germans have to, today, take a bus home; it will take them about sixteen hours.

We stopped for lunch along the way, which really helped, considering we were too late for lunch in Taizé. If you don't know, by the way, it's a tiny little village in central France where about 100 Brothers live in simplicity, visited by thousands of people every week for prayer and work. There were only about 500 people there when we arrived, since the busiest period of the year had passed.

Our rooms held six people each: six students per room and the lecturer in a room with other people. It was literally a case of there being enough room for a single square shelf, three bunk-beds and space to walk to each bed in relative comfort. Of course, knowing we would need pillows would have helped. Pillows, knives, forks, wellies... okay, the list goes on a bit.

The daily routine was actually okay. I expected a lot worse, to be honest. We had prayer three times a day, which consisted of singing a lot of songs, mostly in languages we didn't understand, and a reading by a Brother. Following morning and afternoon prayer, there were meals. Supper was before evening prayer, but after a workshop.

Between ten and twelve, we worked. For some, it was easy - very quickly cleaning the bathrooms or making signs - and for others it was a little more strenuous - raking up ten bags' worth of leaves or putting tent floors into storage, piled ten foot high and weighing more than we would have liked. But it was fine. Except for the rain and the German splashing us with muddy water.

At three, there was a Bible study meeting. It wasn't fun, to be honest. We've already studied the Gospel of Matthew in college, and we arrived half-way through the week, so we were in a group by ourselves. Still, it was fine. We survived it.

When we weren't praying or at work or at a workshop or Bible group, we were free to do as we wished. This consisted of going to see Brother Roger's grave (the founder of Taizé, killed in August 2005 during evening prayer), visiting the Source (a very lovely lake), going to the Crypte (where there was an altar for mass), going to the two shops (one where we could buy hot drinks and chocolate, one where we could buy books and postcards and, in one case, a dozen pieces of pottery) or just resting in the dormitories. There was also a lot of music played by The Moceans, who found a lot of excited German and Swedish teenagers to adopt as fans.

Work and the hot drink shop gave us a chance to talk to new people. I got to meet a lovely American girl, Cristina, who's travelling around Europe at the moment. We're meeting up when she gets to Dublin, for milkshakes, or possibly something a little warmer. Dublin's a little colder than Taizé... There was also a friendly Canadian called Tom, who I didn't get to say goodbye to. Thankfully Cristina agreed to give him one of my business cards, so maybe we can keep in touch when he gets back home (he's going to be in France for another four weeks, though!).

Then there was the Germans. They were only outnumbered by the Swedes in Taizé, but they were a lot easier to talk to (mainly because they had befriended Cristina already and had become fans of The Moceans). So, we got to talk to a lot of them. I don't know half their names, but there's always the chance I might get an email from them, or they might add me on Facebook. I'd like that. Aside from the sign made for the band, the Germans also supplied another great memory: Haribo. They love them. Michael, Laura and Dorithia were hilarious when they got to eat them. They also sang at (yes, at) Cristina and I in German. That was hilarious! I love the Germans!

So, yes, it was a fun trip. We're all exhausted, and we had a highly emotional Friday evening prayer, but we got home safely. Now we just have to write a whole project about it. That'll be fun, too, right?