Why I Hate Easter

I know I've been lax in updating this blog. To those few of you with the wisdom and taste to actually read the crap I write, I apologize. I guess I just needed the proper inspiration to snap myself out of the ennui that led to a case of recreational writer's block. And that inspiration has arrived in the form of Easter.

I hate Easter. I hate all religious holidays. Well, I hate most holidays, but Easter especially. Oh, and if you haven't guessed by now, I'm not a Christian. I'm not anything in that realm. I don't really care if you're religious or not, but keep it to yourself. I only become hostile toward religion when someone tries to convert me, or I hear about indigenous peoples being converted, or I hear someone make a stupid decision and say the outcome is "God's will," etc. Seriously, keep it to yourself.

Today is one of those days that other people's religious beliefs affect my life. Today, I was unable to meet friends at the restaurant of our choice. I was unable to buy some much needed supplies from Target. I was unable to go to the gym. Why? Because people feel the need to celebrate an event that never happened. And let's just say for the sake of argument that Jesus really did rise from the dead and ascend into Heaven. Why would Christian's celebrate that? I mean, he basically left his followers stuck on a shit planet with the vague promise to return someday. A promise that he has failed to keep. Because it's impossible.

Now, I know that my complaints are extremely minor. But it just serves as a reminder that a true secularist still has religious ideology thrust upon him/her, especially here in the Bible Belt. I guess it also hits close to home because I remember the blue laws in Texas. For those of you that are unfamiliar, blue laws prohibited anything that was considered a nonessential item from being sold on Sundays. I remember going into the grocery store (one of the few things open on Sundays), and seeing the toy aisle roped off. What a blow to a bright-eyed and optimistic child.

Oh, and what the hell does the resurrection of Jesus have to do with a creepy rabbit with a penchant for hiding the ovum of barnyard fowls? I just don't get that part at all.  But, like so many other Bible-related things, logic is obviously not a factor here.


So it Goes...

Four years ago today, the light known as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was extinguished.  But like a dead star, his light still radiates.  I guess the fact that I'm taking time to write this after being on blogging hiatus for so long goes to show that Vonnegut was, and remains, my favorite author of all time.

I was first exposed to Vonnegut back in about '99 when I was in the navy.  We had reached that point of the deployment when everyone started swapping books.  My best friend gave me his copy of Slaughterhouse-Five.  If I remember properly, I read the book in just over a day.  I thought it was pretty good, but when I tried to read another book, Vonnegut's words were stuck in my head.  I read it a second time.

Oddly enough, it was about five years later before I read another Vonnegut book.  I was a junior in college and had recently changed my major to anthropology.  When I heard that Vonnegut was awarded his MA in anthropology based on the strength of Cat's Cradle, I had to read it.  I've been in love with his works ever since.

I'm currently on a mission to read everything the man has ever written.  So far, I've got 21 of his books under my belt.  It's not his character development that piques my interest.  It's not always his message, either.  What draws me in about Vonnegut's writing is the feeling that you're not so much reading as you're being told a story by a kindly uncle - the one you would dearly hope to see at those awkward family gatherings in the winter.  He didn't feel the need to talk down to his readers by using difficult language.  He just wanted to tell you a story.

Once upon a time, Vonnegut would have been considered a great philosopher.  He was a social critic in the tradition of Socrates.  He didn't go around exposing people's ignorance through endless questioning, but both had been accused of corrupting the youth.  He preached a sort of benevolence that we all should try a little harder to achieve.  He hoped for a idyllic world that he knew was beyond reach, but that didn't stop him from reaching for it anyway.

Vonnegut was also one of the few literary greats to be born of scientific DNA.  He had been educated in chemistry and anthropology.  He rubbed elbows with scientists and engineers during his time as a PR man for General Electric.  Even his brother Bernard was a scientist of note.  In Palm Sunday, he remarked that good writers weren't to be found in English departments, but in chemistry, zoology, anthropology, and physics departments.  "That's where the writers are most likely to be," he said. 

As I like to think Vonnegut had, I've been suffering from a bit of writer's block.  The words aren't coming as easily as I'd like.  So, instead of continuing this poorly-worded soliloquy, I leave you with this:

You are missed, Kurt.


Karl Pilkington: Idiot or Philosopher?

Last week, I was told of a travel show put on by Ricky Gervais called An Idiot Abroad.  The premise of this show involves Gervais's dim-witted friend Karl Pilkington traveling the globe to see the New Seven Wonders of the World (including the Great Pyramids instead of the Colosseum).  Along the way, Karl must navigate local cultures and customs much to his chagrin and Gervais's delight.

The very title of the show sort of sums it all up.  Karl has been labeled an idiot.  Stephen Merchant describes Karl as a "typical small Englander" who doesn't care much for travel.  Gervais and Merchant put Karl through all manner of awful experiences that most budget travelers are all too familiar with.  He stays in awful hotels and hostels, is kept awake by street noise and party-goers, is forced to eat foods that are he considers absolutely disgusting, etc., etc.  Believe me, if you've ever traveled as a backpacker, you've probably experienced most of what he goes through.

However, the most interesting thing about the show wasn't the Wonders or the cultures.  It was Karl himself.  Despite the constant complaining and cringing, I was amazed at the humorous, yet oddly poignant observations this so-called simpleton made.  In Mexico on Easter Sunday, Karl was witness to the Burning of Judas festival.  He asks his guide what this has to do with Easter, since he doesn't see Jesus or chocolate eggs anywhere.  The guide is stymied for a second and has to formulate an answer, which tells me that he hasn't really thought much about it himself.  After thinking for a few seconds, the guide explains that the burning objects are a proxy for Judas Iscariot, and that the festival is symbolic revenge for betraying Jesus.

Now, here's where I begin to view Karl as less of an idiot and more of a Socratic philosopher.  By his line of uncomplicated questioning, Karl made his local guide think about the festival and explain it.  I'm inclined to believe that Karl has forced a deeper understanding of the festival upon the guide, even though he himself admitted to knowing nothing about it.  I was also beginning to view Karl as a hell of an amateur anthropologist.  I mean, I went to school for six years to learn how to ask this sort of simple question, and he's doing it naturally.  Now, as unintentional as this may have been, is this the work of a proper idiot?

I did some Internet searching and I found another documentary starring Karl titled, Karl Pilkington - Satisfied Fool.  This production follows Karl around as he takes a Mensa IQ test and talks to "intelligent" people as he tries to decide if he would be happier if he were more intelligent.  At the end of the show, we're informed that his IQ score was 83 (the national average in the UK & US is 100).  This show is not amusing, but it is enlightening.  Despite Karl's lack of education and his apparently low IQ score, the way in which he handled the deeper question of the show reinforced my perception of him as a philosopher, albeit a simple one.  At the end of the show, Karl wonders if he would still be himself if he were smarter.  That question alone shows both wisdom and character.

And wouldn't his simplicity make him a more pure philosopher than an ivory tower intellectual?  Most philosophy students will read what others have thought, and then use that knowledge as a framework for their own thoughts.  But Karl is unfettered by the legacy of those who came before.  And the fact that his mind seems to work in a wholly different way means that he may potentially be a very influential thinker.  But will anyone understand him well enough to filter through the crackpot ideas to get at the intellectual gold?  Or am I overthinking this myself?  In the meantime, I present this for your consideration: