The Church of the Random Word Generator

Here’s why I take exception to the implication that any multi-language translation of an ancient text is the exact and perfect word of its author: Have you ever used Google Translate? Seriously, most old texts that are still studied today have been through so many idioms that the very idea that they bear even a passing resemblance to the original intent is laughable, at best. And even if you go to the original documents, in some notable cases, they were written 40 years or more after the events in question took place. Could you accurately describe something that happened 40 years ago? I couldn’t.

In addition, ancient scripts were written in the context of the times, and now we’re attempting to interpret these messages through our modern lens. That’s like dropping a modern teenager into the year 1530 and expecting that kid to fit right in. Whatever, as they say. Good luck with that.

Now, you also have to realize that many of the texts that came down to us came without spaces between words, or even vowels and punctuation, and you can see where the finished version that we currently rely on is a little sketchy in terms of accuracy and original intent. So maybe those words were separated rather, um, randomly.

I’m not bashing your religion. I’m just saying that rigidity is not the way to go. Add common sense into the mix. Throw in a dash of critical thinking. Remember that historical context is everything. Then you can be as spiritual as you want. Amen.

But thinking about all those translations and all the loss of integrity that has crept in over the years as various people added, deleted, and changed things, has made me think of my old friend, the Random Word Generator. What if religious texts got so altered over time that the words seemed random, and we were forced to interpret that mess?

I decided to do a little thought experiment. I pulled up a fairly standard version of The Lord’s Prayer (which is the only religious thing I know by heart), and I determined that it was 71 words long. Then I asked the Random Word Generator to spit out 71 words. Whoa, Nelly. That makes for one strange religion.

For added fun, I broke up our random words as if they were the Lord’s Prayer, giving it the same word count in the stanzas, and the same punctuation as this English version, and wound up with this:

The Lord’s Prayer (as per the Random Word Generator)

Record Pause, bronze stuff pottery shoot,

route drown attitude Photocopy,

compose write hallway,

curriculum bold cultivate racism,

worm harass death rotate staff crown protest.

Ice campaign elect snack adult conservation strict.

Roll traffic self inside license,

age convince limit crosswalk

witch wrong jump master.

Charm building treat electron mirror winner,

glare recession gold competence wrestle.

Eat concentration grain hurt bang,

wing ensure miracle, pool hen train,

Museum victory carry pity. President.

If I tried hard enough, I’m sure I could find some great advice in there. It might even alter the way I live my life. There does seem to be a certain level of violence implied as well. (That’s something that most world religions can’t seem to avoid.) It also shows hints of politics, a little bit of economic socialism, and it has me thinking that maybe children shouldn’t be able to get drivers’ licenses at the tender age of sixteen.

Hmm…

Heiroglyphics

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“Are you incapable of complexity?”

I read a fascinating book recently, Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder. It’s about, among other things, Dr. Paul Farmer and his amazing work in Haiti to help stem the tide of Tuberculosis. As you can imagine, as a man of science it could sometimes be hard for him to be able to allow for local customs and superstitions.

At one point, while he was wrestling with the concept that people can maintain two disparate philosophies simultaneously, a very wise woman said to him, “Are you incapable of complexity?” That’s really profound. I totally get it.

There are people in this world who struggle with the thought that there could be shades of gray. Everything has to be wrong or right. Black or white. True or False. These are the type of people who think that if you believe in the theory of evolution, then you cannot be the least bit spiritual. You HAVE to be a full-blown, unwavering atheist.

These people never understand me at all. I am completely capable of accommodating science and spirituality. Granted, I don’t rigidly adhere to all things that were written thousands of years ago before science really took a foothold. But I’ve seen too many unexplainable and awe-inspiring things to believe that science can answer every single question. I believe that the universe is too beautiful to simply be defined by mathematical equations. And I believe that the fact that we are such complex creatures that we are able to come up with and adhere to the scientific method is pretty darned amazing in and of itself.

I think the wisest, most admirable people are the ones who are open minded. They are the ones who can believe in proof and yet still have faith. They are willing to concede that not everything is known, but they’re capable of questioning and exploring and learning. They can be flexible. They do not hide in a comfort zone. They embrace a diversity of thought. Yup. That’s my tribe.

Acyrlic-Paintings
Okay, so this has very little to do with the subject at hand. I just found it on Amazon.com art, and I liked it. See how complex I can be?

The Dead Letter Office

How’s this for bureaucracy? Yesterday my late boyfriend received a letter from an agency informing him that his case was closed because he was deceased. I’ll just let you absorb that for a second.

When I opened the letter my first thought was, “I wonder if they’re expecting a response.” So what follows is the reply in question.

To Whom it May Concern:

Thank you for your letter of April 29th, informing me that I am deceased. I must compliment you on your effort to contact me. That shows a distinct level of spiritual initiative that I’ve found sorely lacking in the average bureaucrat in the past. Attempting to pierce the veil between your world and mine is not for sissies.

It is pure dumb luck that your letter happened to find me at home and in the mood to respond. Here lately I’ve been traveling quite a bit and finding it extremely difficult to concentrate on the petty drama of humanity. I seem to have much bigger fish to fry, as it were. It’s amazing how death can expand your worldview. You should try it.

While I must admit that letters from your office have been a source of irritation for me in the past, given my current circumstances I can only work myself up to a level of wry amusement. I noticed you did not require documentation of my change in circumstances for once, and I greatly appreciate that. Compliance was never my strong suit as you well know, and it beggars the imagination how you would penalize my lack thereof at this particular point.

You have definitely provided me with service above and beyond the call of duty. Without your missive I might well have wandered around for all eternity wondering why no one was answering me when I attempted to talk to them. For example, I’ve been trying to complain to my girlfriend that she keeps losing the garlic press. How’s a body supposed to make scampi? I ask you! But now that I know why she’s ignoring my rants I can go into the light.

Wishing you increased logic and independent thought, and a big old shout out from the heavenly host,

Charles Guerra

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[Image credit: Akeel Ahmed at faltuz.com]

Smoke Signals

The thing I hate most about my living situation is that I can’t get a freakin’ cell phone signal inside my house. If I need to make a long distance call (my land line doesn’t have long distance), I have to walk out to the street. This is not fun during a downpour or an emergency.

If I fall and can’t get up and can’t get to my laptop to fire off an e-mail or an instant message, I’m screwed. That’s ironic. We are at an age when technology should be making us ever more powerful, but in some situations it makes us increasingly helpless. For as long as homo sapiens have roamed the earth, we’ve been coming up with ways to communicate, hundreds of ways, in fact, but for the most part, these methods have been lost to us. Think about it. Can you personally communicate by any of these methods with any manner of ease?

  • Semaphore
  • Ham Radio
  • CB Radio
  • Sign language
  • Esperanto
  • Smoke Signals
  • Cryptography
  • Skywriting
  • Oral history
  • Troubadour
  • Telegram
  • Morse Code
  • Signal mirrors
  • Drum Signals
  • Hieroglyphs
  • Yodeling
  • Petroglyphs
  • Pictographs
  • Earth Figures
  • Carrier Pigeon
  • Marathon runners
  • Graffiti
  • Signal Fires
  • Pony Express
  • Coded Spirituals
  • Messages in a Bottle
  • Satellite Phone
  • Maori Hakka
  • Interpretive Dance

It’s kind of embarrassing. With all these options at our disposal, why am I sitting here in my house, cursing my luck for not being able to get a cell phone signal? My ancestors would laugh at me.

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Hypocrisy 2.0

I’ve been caught up in a debate this week about hypocrites. It is my stance that just because someone is hypocritical does not mean you should necessarily discount their message and by association, every other thing that comes out of their mouth.

For example, if someone speaks out about animal rights and yet wears leather, does that mean that their animal rights message is wrong? Or If Al Gore’s carbon footprint is larger than it should be, does that mean that global climate change doesn’t exist? I know a scary number of people who believe this.

My opinion is that painting people and their opinions in either black or white, with absolutely no shades of grey, is actually rather simplistic and, frankly, childish. Black and white thinking limits your sources of knowledge and wisdom to a ridiculous degree. If only non-hypocrites should be entertained, then no one on this planet will be able to teach you anything or even render an opinion. After all, even Gandhi cheated on his wife. Does that mean we discount his philosophy of non-violence? Then who would Martin Luther King have modeled himself after? Ben Franklin treated his wife and son like crap, but he’s still my hero, and I still love the wit and wisdom of Poor Richard’s Almanac.

We’re all human. We all have flaws. But I also believe we all have things to teach, even if our only lesson happens to be, “Don’t be like me.”

The reason people of the past seemed so perfect to their contemporaries was that they weren’t speeding merrily along the information highway at the time. Nowadays it’s much easier to find the skeletons in people’s closets. In fact, many people delight in doing so. My theory is that because our skeletons are no longer hidden, and because some people seem hell-bent on discounting others entirely based on those very skeletons, we often feel as if we’re adrift without a moral compass or spiritual direction. I find this depressing.

Instead of discounting a message based on the messenger, or even worse, spending an inordinate amount of time trying to discredit the messenger, perhaps it would be wiser to focus our energy on the message, and form our opinions based on what we, the message receivers, discover. Then maybe life wouldn’t feel so out of our control.

Judging people as a whole should be reserved for elections and court cases. Life’s just too freakin’ short to do otherwise.