Jesus Christ and the Fig Tree

This post concerns a curious bible story, found in the book of Mark:

Mark 11:12-14

12The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

Mark 11:20-25

20In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

22“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Christians tend to look at this story as a lesson in faith.  While verse 24 is quoted often as an example to live up to in faith, I think there is another way to read this story.  It is a retelling of the original downfall of mankind according to Genesis.  The key fact that makes it so is that the fig tree wasn’t in season, something the story points out explicitly.   Jesus cursed it for not bearing fruit when it supposed to have no fruit.  There was no way the fig tree could have behaved any differently.

This parallels nicely the story of man’s downfall in Genesis.  God created Adam and Eve and told them not to eat of the tree of knowledge.  But without the knowledge the tree provided, how were they to know that was wrong to disobey?  How would they know that it was wrong to indulge curiosity?  Their ignorance secured in their creation, they acted in the manner that they were created.  God was not pleased, and he cursed them.

Christians read the story of the downfall as a lesson in disobedience, but I must disagree.  The actions of god in this case are mirrored by the actions of jesus: a curse on his creation for the way he created them!

Summer Road Trip

Yesterday I learned the importance of having paper maps instead of only electron maps that depend on cellular networks to download data.

Two days ago, my sister and I attended an event that some of my musical colleagues consider heretical (in a kind sense, I think).  What was this event?  The Drums of Summer, in Broken Arrow, OK. It’s part of the Drum Corps International (or DCI) summer tour.  It’s a competition for drum and bugle corps comprised mostly of college students.  Put another way, it’s hardcore marching band.

It was amazing.

This was the first time I’ve ever seen a DCI World Class-level corp, and I was not disappointed. The music, sound, technique, and showmanship made this one of the most entertaining musical events I’ve ever attended.  Imagine a human kaleidoscope that creates it’s own music and is executed with pin point precision both visually and musically, and you will begin to approach the drum corp experience.  I’m already looking forward to the next time I can attend one of these events.

The trip down to Broken Arrow was pretty much without incident.  The roads were clear, and we made excellent time, Oklahoma’s insane way of showing road construction signs aside.  The trip back, however, proved much more trying.

It started with a trip to Goodyear in Broken Arrow, and three new tires on my car.  A few hours (and a few hundred dollars later), and we were finally ready to leave.  I wasn’t very familiar with the area, and followed the signs, only to discover I had entered a turnpike with no immediate exits, going south, when I was supposed to go north.  Getting off at the first available exit, I was over 50 miles away from where I was supposed to be.  This set the theme for the trip back.

There was an unbelievable amount of problems I encountered as I neared Warrensburg, MO, where I was going to drop off my sister.  The first route I chose took me out of cell phone range where I discovered the highway was completely closed.  I had no choice buck to back track several miles and head north.  This route nearly had the same thing happen, as the state highway ended abruptly.  Luckily, the road continued, however, and I was able to find a connection to another state highway.

Once we got into Warrensburg, I had visions of a quick trip through town.  It’s not very big, and I thought there would be no issues.  But it was not to be.  A fatal vehicle accident earlier in the day blocked off the road, forcing me to return to the high way and find another route.  Once I finally got back on track, a funeral procession pulled out in front of me, holding us up again.  After the funeral procession, we came to an intersection that had a traffic light that had been plowed over, stopping traffic again.  Finally, I routed us around all that, and made it to our destination.  Total added time: nearly three hours.  When I finally arrived back home to my apartment, I felt very relieved.

Some might say that this series of unfortunate events was retribution by Apollo for my musical heresy.  Since I like to play up the Odyssey-esque journey back home, this explanation is not without appeal.  Over-all though, it was a great trip, and I’m very happy I went.

When Science Meets Anti-Science

As the war between PZ and the folks at the Intersection heats up again, I can’t help but throw my own voice into the cacophony.  The argument is age-old and tries to answer the question: “Why are people so gosh darn ignorant?”  On one side, the answer is because they cling to superstition and ritual.  On the other side, it’s because scientists aren’t good enough educators.  To be fair, the previous two sentences were gross over-simplifications of the respective positions.

To a certain extent, both sides are correct, but it’s not a debate I’m really interested in.  As an educator, the reach of my influence is greater than the common person, but not that great, and I’m personally satisfied with what I’m doing.  I can’t do anything about the rest.

The question I have seems to be the one that the accomodationalists (that is, the people who think scientists should focus only on the science) have yet to answer.  What should be done about those people who are not merely ignorant, but ignorant and proud of it, and actively work against known truth.

I don’t have a problem with people believing evolution is wrong and the earth is only 6000 years old, until those beliefs start influencing public policy.  How should those demonstrably harmful beliefs be handled then?

I don’t have a problem with people taking homeopathic medicine and other alternative medical treatments, but how should those beliefs be treated when they’re foisted upon children and others who are unable to protect themselves?

How should the psychic who preys on the weak and hurt be treated?

How should the faith healers who use honest belief as instrument for personal profit be treated?

The popularization of science is not going to make the young-earth creationist change their mind.  When they come to the schools and attempt to gut science curriculum, what should be done?

Education will work in the long term.  We see it working already.  But it will take decades before we get the kind of literacy society really needs.  What are we supposed to do in the meantime?  Sit silently and hope we don’t destroy ourselves out of ignorance?  What can we do right now beyond education?

These are the questions I’d like answered by the accomodationalists.

My Underpowered Superpower

I’m always conducting little experiments with people just to see what happens if I do certain things.  A few months ago, I tried something called my Underpowered Superpower.  The premise for these superpowers is that they’re super, but just barely.  One example is the man who can fly, but only walking speed, one centimeter above the ground.  Or the man whose touch changes things exactly one degree – a “lukewarm man” if you will.

My Underpowered Superpower was simple: I could tell the future, but in a very limited sense.  I could tell if someone would choose a circle, a square or a triangle ahead of time.  For three or four weeks, I told people about this super power and demonstrated it for them.  I’ve had a variety of responses.

First the data.  Out of 13 demonstrations, all were accepted as something silly.  Over all, they didn’t understand what was happening, and spent most of their time confused.  8 people demanded that I immediately do the trick again, which unfortunately was impossible.  I explained that my power is also limited in that it only works once in a given situation.  There were two people who weren’t fooled by it at all, and gave possibilities for how it was done (I admit nothing!).

Okay, I should modify that to say that only two people pointed out exactly how I did it immediately following my performance.  Upon reflection, it’s likely many others knew, but didn’t say anything for whatever reason.  For the rest: yes, my secret is out.  I don’t really possess any super powers.  It’s nothing more than a trick I developed while reading a biography of Harry Houdini.*  Reading the biography got me interested in magic again, and I started thinking about some possibilities for performing Mentalism tricks, and I came up with a really simple forcing mechanism that I wanted to try.  The underpowered superpowers thing seemed to be a perfect opportunity.

The problem is that I really need to work on my delivery.  I stumbled around a lot in the dialogue I had prepared ahead of time.  I thought I would try playing it by ear a little bit, but this did not turn out well.  It’s one thing that really added to the confusion, beyond normal levels.  So it’s back to the drawing board, and to help me out, I ordered a few books, and a separate trick that I’m looking forward to learning.

Overall, I think this particular experiment was a success.  I found out a little about myself, had fun, and confused people in the process.  I will have to do it again sometime.

*The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero (Amazon) – I highly recommend this book!