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New site, and update

As you may have noticed, I’ve been drawing a lot of comics lately. I’ve become disenchanted with the impact of straight-up writing, and decided to try my hand at combining some words with some images and see how that goes. If I may say so, it seems to be going pretty well so far– although some attempts have been a bit rough, there does appear to be a wavering upward trajectory.

On the day of the election, I created some characters in my head to play out the sort of conversations I saw around me, or those I wanted to see around me. If you create a continuing cast of characters in a comic, and you post that comic on the web, I believe it’s called a “webcomic.” So I created a webcomic, apparently.

As you may also have noticed, the comics that belong to that series have vanished from this particular page. That’s because they’ve moved to a new page called Giant If, their new home. I plan to continue drawing comics for this series as long as they occur to me, which might well be for the next four years. Check it out if you feel so inclined.

Making the new site also encouraged me to do something I’ve not done before, which is creating a Patreon. I started this blog in 2010 and have written for it since then without any sort of external funding from ads or anywhere else, and decided that maybe it’s worth a try.*

Patreon lets you choose to let people pledge a certain amount of money per month, or a certain amount of money per thing you produce (in my case, comics).  Both have a cap, so you can for example decide to pledge $1 per comic with a cap of $10 per month, or whatever.  I think that’s a pretty handy way to both a) require someone to produce something before you make any payment for it, and yet b) prevent yourself accidentally paying a larger amount than you expected if your donee suddenly starts producing at a higher rate than you’d expected.

I also put a link to my Amazon wishlist on there, because what the hell.

That does not mean that Cheap Signals is coming to an end, btw. You’ll see that I haven’t (yet) removed or relocated the comics I’ve been making that aren’t part of the Giant If series. That’s because I’m not sure where they really belong– do I want to make this blog solely about writing, and that one solely about comics (of all kinds)?  I don’t currently know, and advice would be welcome. But right now I plan to continue to do writing, at the very least, right here.

This blog, she is not dead. I’m still making stuff– I can’t not.

*There’s also a donation button on this page, if you’re interested in becoming the first person to use it.

Happy Father’s Day

This year’s Father’s Day card:

(How I made it below the jump)

I like to draw animals in clothes, and I found myself with a lot of patterned paper on hand, so of course I did what any person would do in such a situation– I made a father’s day card featuring animals* in clothes made of patterned paper. With wallpaper.

I have two older brothers, who were born in the early 70’s, and I was born in the late 70’s, so I decided that it would be fun to depict everybody in 70’s style semi-formal clothes. I remember a particular photo of us with our dad when I was very young, and everybody was wearing variations on brown and orange. My dad is about 6’4″, so he stood in the middle with his three much shorter children standing around him like Ewoks. Given the constraints of proportion here I wasn’t able to replicate that height difference, but I tried to capture our respective personalities at the time in the faces of the dog family.

First I drew the heads with their necks and collars (if applicable), cut them out, and placed them on the “wallpaper” to get an idea of where they would need to go. 

Then I cut out the respective outfits– just the general shapes. The pattern for Daughter’s dress was the most difficult to choose. I knew I wanted 70’s browns and golds for the mens’ suits.
I changed my mind about the pattern for Daughter’s dress. Did some Googling for “70’s mens suit” and “70’s womens’ dress” and added the styling. 
Hands. The brothers needed hands.
And ties– they couldn’t go without a nice wide tie each, could they? 
The final product. Unfortunately there was no way to get the entire thing on the card using the photo card uploader/editor on the Walgreens web site, but I got most of it. 

*Corgis. If it wasn’t clear, my feelings aren’t hurt.

Odds and ends– blog redesign/freeze peaches for sale

So, two things to mention here.

First, hey look! New blog design. I’ve been wanting to change it for quite some time to something more clean and minimalist, and am pretty happy with how things are now. Though I do talk about personal issues from time to time, this isn’t Livejournal and I wanted to veer away from that “diary” appearance where the set dressing can distract from the performance. Please let me know if there are problems with the font style (although I really like Calibri and would hate to change) or size in terms of readability.

Second, I have finally placed freeze peach pendants for sale on my Etsy store. In fact, they’re currently the only thing for sale on that store– I’m hoping to add new items in the next month or two. At Skepticon 7 in November people really seemed to like them, which made me resolve to go back home and make more. But December was fraught with holidays and travel and financial issues, as always, so it took a while longer than expected to get my stuff together. But now it is– kinda. Anyway, we’ll see how they sell and if they’re popular enough I’ll make more batches. Here’s what they look like:

They’re all made individually, so each one is unique– the peaches face different directions, sometimes there are small bubbles, etc. But each comes in a one inch “ice” cube of cured epoxy resin, with a cadmium/nickel bail on the back attached to a 17″ black rubber cord with a molded clasp. That’s a length I like– not too long and not too short– but you can swap it out of course for something else if you’re so inclined. This is so that if you’re just dying to wear your freeze peach the instant it arrives, you can. Hope you like.

Letter to the editor

Justice system ignored facts  I don’t know whether to feel saddened or enraged from reading about the man choked to death on a New York City street. The sources indicate this type of restraint by law enforcement officers was banned 20 years ago, yet a Staten Island grand jury saw no problem with the outcome of the officer’s action (Dec. 4 Eagle).  Quite a few years ago, I was hired to be the summer school librarian at an alternative high school in Wichita. An African-American student came in frequently to finish up his homework, so we began to share stories. One day he revealed that the glasses he wore were just plain glass. He said he wore them so he would look less threatening. On more than one occasion when he entered an elevator, a woman would get off rather than share the space with him. He hoped the glasses would render him less aggressive-looking.  I have never forgotten his story. Evidently, after all these years, we haven’t made much progress in seeing past a person’s color. I see myself as a problem solver, but I cannot come up with a solution to the problem of a justice system that can ignore facts with such a degree of capriciousness.  SUZANNE KOCH
 WICHITA

Suzanne Koch is my mom. Did I mention that my mom is amazing?

Happy Father’s Day

This year’s Father’s Day card: Gorilla dad.

 I say “This year’s,” like I do it every year. Actually this is the first year– the first time— I’ve designed a greeting card. But I really like how it turned out, even though it lost some detail by the time I uploaded it to the Walgreens site and had it made into a card. It was fun to do and felt very personal, so I’d like to do it more often.

The saga of learning a new craft

Update: I’m now selling freeze peaches at my Etsy store: https://www.etsy.com/shop/Rillion

I haven’t been writing much lately, I know. That’s due to a lot of factors, but one of them is something I have the opportunity to now write about and show you.

I’ve been learning how to make things with epoxy resin. Epoxy resin is the conclusion I reached after doing a lot of thinking about how to depict concepts as physical objects, objects that you can wear– also called “jewelry.” I’m a big fan of “Surly” Amy Roth and her Surlyramics, and have a couple myself. She makes a variety of jewelry, mostly necklace pendants, which depict skeptical, atheist, and scientific messages in ceramics. They’re really popular because they’re aesthetically nice-looking, affordable, and people love to have ways to promote beliefs they find important aside from slapping them on a t-shirt.

There’s a theory I have about tattoos. There are three major components which a good, successful tattoo needs to have:

  • Placement
  • Artistry
  • Meaning

If it’s lacking in any of these, it will suffer. A really nicely implemented, meaningful tattoo will suffer if it’s in the wrong place. A well-placed and meaningful tattoo will suffer if it’s ugly. A well-placed, beautiful tattoo will seem pointless if it has absolutely no meaning to the person wearing it– or worse, a meaning they later reject.

With jewelry it’s a little different, because the stakes are so much lower. There’s much less of an investment to putting something around your neck for a day as opposed to etching it on your skin forever. But these factors are still important to varying degrees with different people, and the “meaning” aspect can refer to the actual message the jewelry is sending in addition to the normal factors of who gave it to you, the occasion on which it was given/purchased, its age, etc., none of which will be immediately obvious to the people who see it. So why not try to make jewelry which is visibly meaningful?

That was the sort of mental path I was following while thinking about how to create a freeze peach.

I’m not entirely sure who came up with the concept of “freeze peach” as a mockery of the misinterpretation of free speech,  but I think it might have been Stephanie Zvan. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it might help to read a post I wrote about it or this one by Adam Lee.

Basically, “freeze peach” is not mocking the idea of free speech, but rather the invocation of the concept by people with a fuzzy (har) understanding of what it means. People who complain that Phil Robertson being suspended (for about 30 seconds, as it turned out) from Duck Dynasty was a violation of his freedom of speech. People who think sexual harassment policies at conventions, private venues, violate freedom of speech. People who think that if you as an individual don’t feel the urge to pay attention to what the have to say and take action to avoid seeing it, such as blocking them on Facebook or Twitter– that that’s you somehow failing to respect their freedom of speech.

It’s important to make the distinction between “freeze peach” and actual free speech because there are very real opponents of free speech out there, people who think that government entities are justified in preventing certain kinds of expression, and they should not be confused with some jackass yelling about free speech when he gets banned from an internet forum.

John Scalzi has also had some great things to say about the misconstrual of free speech.

So I was thinking…what would be the best way to make a block of ice that isn’t a block of ice? After a lot of research (aka reading everything I could find online about it), I determined that epoxy resin would be the way to go. Making things with epoxy resin involves careful measurement, patience, and a lot of wax paper (resin peels off it, whereas it might not peel off your kitchen table– at least not in a way you’d like) and hand-washing (yes, even if you wear latex gloves…which you should).

With the brand of resin I use, it involves carefully mixing the resin with an equal amount of hardener (a 1:1 ratio) which serves as the catalyst for the curing process, which takes about 24 hours. Your chief enemies of this process are cold and bubbles, the former of which can cause the latter. So I began pouring a bowl of hot water, placing the bottles of both resin and hardener in it, and letting them sit there for a little bit before beginning to measure and mix them. And then, when bubbles would inevitably still occasionally show up in something I was making, popping and/or chasing them out of the mold with a toothpick.

The mold? Oh yeah, the mold. Molds can be plastic or silicone, and I have both, but plastic is more difficult because you can’t push something out of it nearly as easily. I’ve made two bangle bracelets so far using a plastic mold, and on both occasions I actually sat down on the floor and pushed with my foot to try and get the thing out of there. With silicone it’s easy for the same reason that making ice using speciality silicone ice trays is sometimes difficult– it’s so pliable. Pliable enough to make water slosh out when you put the thing in the freezer, but hard resin objects pop out when you push on the back of the mold.

So if a freeze peach is a peach in an ice cube, you should be able to use a regular ice tray to make them, right? Well, not really. See, regular ice trays, even if they’re silicone, tend to make pretty large blocks of ice, and they’re not generally cubes. So I ended up ordering a cube-shaped silicone mold off Etsy, along with a drop-shaped mold for my other project, dragon drops.

Yeah, a cheesy pun. But I like cheesy puns, and I love dragons, and I thought it would be fun to make little dragons which sit inside hardened clear drops of resin. And it has been fun– frustrating, challenging, and fun. See, you have to figure out what to make the dragons out of. I decided on clay, but what kind of clay?  I don’t have a kiln, and I don’t want to bake clay in an oven, so what to use? I tried air-dry clay, but it was too light– the first freeze peach I made floated to the top of the mold when the resin was poured in. Oops.

So I switched to modeling clay, which is awesome and affordable and comes in so many colors. Only clay eyes look strange, so I need to find some sort of plastic shiny eye to use. Now I have a small box full of different kinds of eyes, but the one I settled on for dragon drops is 6mm (tiny), yellow, and round. And each one has eyelids. Eyelids are so important!

And the mold for the dragon drops is shallow, so they have to be flat dragons, which is its own level of difficulty.  In most cases the dragon hasn’t been flat enough to not disturb the surface of the resin when I pour it in, so the eye and sometimes the thigh of the dragon protrude a tiny bit. I’m currently trying to decide if that’s okay.

And I have other ideas. Oh, so many ideas.

But now it’s time for pictures. I’ll share a few here, and the rest are viewable on my Instagram account.

First attempt at a dragon drop, using a plastic mold. I can’t even say how difficult it was a poke a hole in it and get the jump ring in there. 
A more evolved dragon drop, with plastic eye, sitting in the mold waiting for resin. 
Fat dragon drop. Yes, he’s cute (I think) but he protrudes too much from the surface and looks generally squashed. 
I read online guides which say you can and should make holes in your resin pendants by drilling. I was not successful at this. 
Two problems, mainly. 1) No hole I drilled, regardless of location, would easily accept a jump ring. 2) In order to drill a pendant you have to put it in a vise. Even with leather padding, tightening the vise enough to hold the pendant firmly ended up squishing it (you can see the clay protruding from the surface of this freeze peach. Not supposed to happen). 
I found a silicone tray which would make specialty tiny ice cubes, one inch square. I made a tray of freeze peaches. When they cured they formed a hardened brick, which I then was able to snap apart and peel out the individual peaches. The color runs a bit in some of them, creating a peach colored “wave” inside the cube. 
The freeze peaches from the ice tray. They have a semi-translucent “frost” on all sides except the front which apparently is an effect of the tray. 
A size comparison of a freeze peach made from the single silicone mold I have (one peach every 24 hours, if I make one that often) and a frosty freeze peach from the silicone tray (which can make 15 freeze peaches every 24 hours). 
I ended up getting silver-colored metal alloy bails to attach the freeze peaches to a necklace instead. Here’s one of the frosty freeze peaches on a 17″ rubber cord around my neck. 
Dragon drops. Also using the same kind of bail and the same rubber cord. I got some silicone molding putty and I’m making some new molds today so that I can produce these faster. I’m happy with these, but need to practice so I can get them consistently the same size and depth, although it’s neat that they’re all different and have their own character.

In case you’re wondering….
Do I have an Etsy store? Yes.
Am I selling anything on it? Not just yet. I’m not quite ready. Hopefully soon.

Further adventures in learning to draw using layers — Blackbeard

Blackbeard is based on this image, apparently an entrant in a contest to be a card in Brain Vessel’s Kickstarter project to make a deck of Seven Seas Playing Cards. I saw it on Justin Robert Young’s Facebook page and had to draw it.

And so #Inktober draws to a close

…Whew!

That was fun. And work. And fun.

I did a single ink-on-paper drawing every day for the month of Ink– I mean, October– for Inktober.

I had about an hour each day in which to do my drawing, which means on a few occasions I posted something with which I wasn’t completely happy. But hey, that’s part of the point– to create something without (much) fear, and just put it out there. In my case, by taking a photo using the Camera Plus app and posted it to Twitter and Facebook. Some examples below.

The entire month’s can be seen here: http://campl.us/user/GretchenKoch

#Inktober

According to Mr. Jake Parker.com, Inktober is:

Thirty-one days, thirty-one ink drawings.
 Are you ready?!
INKtober rules:
 1) Make a drawing in ink (you can do a pencil under-drawing if you want).
 2) Post it on tumblr (or Instagram, twitter, facebook, flickr, Pinterest or just pin it on your wall.)
 3) Hashtag it with #inktober
 4) Repeat (you can do it daily, like me, or go the half-marathon route and post every other day, or just do the 5K and post once a week. What ever you decide, just be consistent with it. INKtober is about growing and improving and forming positive habits, so the more you’re consistent the better.)
 That’s it!

Here are my drawings for the first five days, which I’ve been posting, and will continue to post, on my Facebook account and Twitter feed:

I am not a cockroach– what materialism is, and isn’t

Several years ago, I bounded out of a faculty building on a university campus and, in a thoughtful and optimistic mood, joined a couple of lecturers in the pub across the street. After we’d settled on benches in the garden out back, I mentioned that in the course of my studies, I seemed to be becoming a materialist. The reaction was immediate and memorable: “A Marxist, you mean?”

Not memorable, mind you, because unusual or unexpected. I had, after all, been studying political philosophy that semester, and this was the United Kingdom– and my interlocutors were British and Austrian, respectively. What else could I possibly mean? After all, Marx was a continuation of a long line of becoming more and more about…well, the material. German philosophy in the 19th and 20th centuries has in large part been about coming down from the ideological rafters and starting to deal with mundane, real, ordinary life. Realism in reaction to idealism. Imagine that scene from Mary Poppins in which they visited a friend of hers stuck on the ceiling because he laughed so much, and eventually everyone started laughing along and floated up there with him, while Mary stood on the floor beneath them impatiently waiting for them to come down. Those people floating around, drinking tea? Hegelians. Mary Poppins on the floor (at least, at that specific moment)? Young Hegelians, which sounds like progeny but is actually more reactionary. Estranged progeny. Marx was one of them. He was impatient with philosophers pretending that philosophy could be about things that don’t really matter– or to be more charitable, things that don’t really matter in daily, practical existence, such as making a living and feeding yourself and your kids. While Hegel waxed on about the für sich (for itself) and the an sich (for us), Marx took from that a lesson to figure out what it means to exist for yourself as opposed to for someone else, and translated it into a matter of property, and who is control of property. That’s Marxist materialism.

That was not really what I meant. But it’s connected.

What I meant was that, in the course of studying religion and culture, I for some reason got it into my head that I ought to learn more about the mind and how it produces…well, anything, including culture, to begin with. And with that thought, in rapid succession I read a long list of books which included the following:

  • Consilience, by E.O. Wilson
  • Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, by Daniel Dennett
  • The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker
  • How the Mind Works, by Steven Pinker
  • Consciousness: An Introduction, by Susan Blackmore (if you have not read this, and are interested in the science and philosophy of consciousness and the theories of principle thinkers on such…do)
  • The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore
  • Consciousness Explained, by Daniel Dennett
  • Freedom Evolves, by Daniel Dennett
(This was pre-Breaking the Spell. This was pre-, for that matter, a lot of the popular literature on the cognitive science of religion, which became a thing in 1993 but didn’t really catch fire until about ten years later)

When you think about that, it’s really no wonder my MA thesis was a mess. It was a struggle between social constructivism– “continental philosophy”– as I was being taught, and a much more…well, naturey approach which I’d undergone basically on my own. Now, I hasten to pull up a bit here and note that the constructivist perspectives I was hearing about in the classroom (“post modernist” would be the indelicate term) were not useless. Far from it. I learned how important perspective is– that it must always be taken into account, and that manifold factors shape one’s perspective without any requirement of awareness or acknowledgement on the part of the speaker. I learned what it means to have privilege, and to lack it, and that claims of objectivity must never be taken for granted. That differences are as important as generalities. That it’s important, critical, to understand where people with other views are coming from– but that you don’t “win” against them by knowing it; you can’t psychoanalyze someone into submission. Anthropology, sociology, psychology…studies of human thought and behavior can’t begin and end with what people say about their own motivations for doing things. You need a heterophenomenological approach, which acknowledges that experience but doesn’t take it as authoritative. And knowing someone’s motivation may not confirm or refute what he or she is saying, but it can tell you a hell of a lot about why they’re saying it.

Knowing all of this augmented, rather than detracted from, my understanding that we are simply organisms making our way in the world, in our environment (both natural and social). I started to see culture as more of an extended phenotype than an independent causal force. My thesis was, in retrospect, a rather weak project and a terribly ambitious one at the same time– I was trying to sell cognitive science to scholars of religion. Make what seemed obvious to me– that you need to understand the brain in order to understand belief and behavior, including religious belief and behavior– seem even palatable, much less relevant.

Admittedly, I didn’t do the best job. At least, it didn’t appear to be very convincing. When it became clear that my PhD was going to be more along those lines, a meeting was held and it was determined that I’d need to go elsewhere. Why not to Denmark, where this university is starting a brand new program for the cognitive science of religion?

Yes. 

Anyway, getting back to materialism. I’m writing this in the first place in reaction to an “open letter to atheists”  posted on Answers in Genesis, which repeats every last misconception and outright falsehood about what it’s like to be an atheist– and therefore a materialist (which doesn’t actually follow, but oh well)– there is. To wit:

Do you feel conflicted about the fact that atheism has no basis in morality (i.e., no absolute right and wrong; no good, no bad?) If someone stabs you in the back, treats you like nothing, steals from you, or lies to you, it doesn’t ultimately matter in an atheistic worldview where everything and everyone are just chemical reactions doing what chemicals do. And further, knowing that you are essentially no different from a cockroach in an atheistic worldview (since people are just animals) must be disheartening. Are you tired of the fact that atheism (which is based in materialism, a popular worldview today) has no basis for logic and reasoning? Is it tough trying to get up every day thinking that truth, which is immaterial, really doesn’t exist?

Okay, yes, there is a version of materialism which entails that nothing but physical objects exist. That’s why I now prefer not to call myself a materialist– or a material girl, for that matter (diamonds have never been my best friend, or even a close acquaintance, really). I much prefer the term naturalist (which should not be confused with naturist. No nudism in this instance). It means, basically, that the natural world is what we have. That science has it right, and we should consider things to be real only if they have an objectively demonstrable existence. Which means, yes, that supernatural factors should not be taken into account. Metaphysical naturalism pairs well with secular humanism, the ethical philosophy that as humans we have to rely on our own resources and abilities to make existence better. To flourish, to reach our full potential, to do what my former adviser called “becoming divine.” But by that, she did not mean we should literally become gods ourselves. She was talking about enabling fulfillment, becoming the best, most satisfying version of yourself. We might have disagreed on several things, including terminology such as this, but not on the concept itself. To hear the author of this “letter to atheists,” you’d think such a pursuit would be worthless without a belief in God.

Actually, the author is mistaken about a lot of things, and it makes my head spin to try and articulate exactly how many. Perhaps most ironically, the fact that not only is atheism not based in materialism (since not being convinced of something doesn’t need to be “based” in any particular philosophy) but there are plenty of non-materialist atheists out there. Believers in the supernatural are certainly the stars of the mind/body dualism debate, but they certainly aren’t the only players. The most obvious part of this portrayal of  “atheists are materialists, which is a crap philosophy” is the inability to imagine that there can be any meaning in life without a belief in God, which I don’t think most atheists acknowledge the strength of. That is some powerful conviction, even with the similarly powerful fear of eternal hellfire which frequently accompanies it. What the author of the above letter, Bodie Hodge, is doing is conflating naturalism– the belief that objective reality is all we have– with the naturalistic fallacy, which says that the way things are is the way things should be. This is a common mistake, perhaps the most common mistake made regarding any view of life which appears too reductionistic for the person critiquing it: You think this is all there is. That must mean that’s all you want it to be. Well, of course not, replies the naturalist. If I point out that we’ve got a newly built house and several cans of paint, that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to having a painted house. I’m simply refusing to believe that the house will be or has already been painted by magical elves. If we want that house to be painted, we’d better get out the brushes and roll up our shirt sleeves.

Similarly, the criticism that “everything and everyone are just chemicals doing what chemicals do” is only really a criticism if you fail to recognize that what chemicals do is freaking amazing. Complaining that what we do and are is chemicals is like complaining that the Sistine Chapel is made of bricks, only worse because a chemical is far more versatile than a brick (and bricks are pretty darn versatile). “Greedy reductionism” is Daniel Dennett’s term for when you explain how something works by describing the interactions of its components (reductionism), but in the process of doing so, you leave some things out. You fail to take into account the true complexity of what you’re explaining, and end up doing the equivalent of describing how to bake a cake without mentioning that it requires some heat, a move which is legitimately invalid. Anti-reductionism, by contrast, is a refusal to see something in terms of its components in the first place. Opponents of evolutionary theory, and of what I’m going to stick with calling naturalism, often seem to have a hard time with the concept of emergent properties. Or at least, the concept of us being emergent properties. It’s okay for a lot of cars to equal traffic, but not for the activity of a load of chemicals to equal consciousness. Dennett was famously quoted as saying that we have a soul, but it’s made of lots of tiny robots. Religious anti-reductionists don’t like the robots. They don’t like the idea of unthinking things combining to form a thinking thing, at least not without the outside help– the outside design– of some grander, elevated thinking thing who had this all planned out from the beginning. Whenever that was.

“Knowing that you are essentially no different from a cockroach in an atheistic worldview…” Religious anti-reductionists have a problem with essentialism, too. And by that I mean, they seem to be addicted to it. They are too fond of it. Things have properties, and those properties are immutable, and there’s no room for one thing to turn into another thing– the very notion is ridiculous. Gender essentialism is the belief that men have to be one thing and women another, and never the twain shall meet– except to have sex and make babies, of course. That’s common enough in religion, but the “atheists are just the same as cockroaches according to atheists” thing is saying that unless we consider humanity to be separate from the rest of existence as distinguished by our relationship with God (aka possession of a soul), then we might as well be cockroaches. Hodge assumes the conclusion of atheists by his own standards– we reject what he thinks distinguishes us from vermin, therefore we must perceive ourselves as vermin. And wow, that must suck for us, huh? That must be why when you enter a room and turn on the lights, all of the atheists scatter for the dark space under the stove or the fridge.

But strangely…no, we’re not. We’re living our lives as human beings, thinking thoughts, doing work, relating to others, practicing empathy and creating works of art and caring for family and occasionally taking a road trip or seeing Avatar in 3D or making a podcast about video games. No demonstrable diminished joie de vivre; no elevated angst; no visible heightened incidences of people being told to get off of lawns or general curmudgeonliness (well, I can’t exactly speak to that– I’ve been a curmudgeon since age 20 or so). Hodge is simply mistaken about the consequences of non-belief, apparently because he cannot comprehend what it’s like not to believe. It’s like the god-of-the-gaps wrapped up in an argument from incredulity– “I can’t fathom what it’s like to not have, much less not need, this thing I find so important. So I can’t help but conclude that people who lack it are missing something important, and must suffer from the lacking.”

That– assuming someone’s conclusion through the lens of your own philosophy– is part of prejudice, or more basically it’s a form of ignorance which gives birth to prejudice. It seems to be most easily overcome by not just actually getting to know members of the group you’re prejudiced against and seeing that they have no existential gaps in their lives which need to be filled, but also by coming to realize that the choice you made (more or less voluntarily, depending), was in fact a choice. There were/are others, equally legitimate. Comparative religion courses are valuable in part because they encourage this realization– they nudge a student to take note of the fact that if he or she had been born somewhere else, his/her beliefs about the order and creator of the universe might well be radically different. It’s fine to stop there– this is the foundation of inter-faith exchange, after all– but some of us go on to conclude that if all faith-based perspectives are equally valid, then they are all equally invalid, and that maybe it would be better to go about life on the assumption that they are. This is a conclusion I reached in my junior year of college as a religious studies major, as part of a program at Texas Christian University which I recall the local Campus Crusade for Christ called an “atheist training camp.” Not hardly– it simply wasn’t/isn’t a seminary.

Is it tough trying to get up every day thinking that truth, which is immaterial, really doesn’t exist?

No, because I have no trouble distinguishing between the legitimacy of beliefs and the reality of physical objects. I’m perfectly aware that the fact that modus ponens can’t be found anywhere in the universe using a GPS or any other tracking device makes it no less real. You will not catch me stepping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet without a parachute on the conviction that truth is relative, and therefore doesn’t matter. But you also won’t catch me declaring that gravity (which is not material, but is physical) or modus ponens (which is neither) created the universe, and therefore should be worshiped. One thing a naturalistic worldview does cut down on is relentlessly anthropomorphizing things.

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