Second Life, Avatars, and the Real Life

There was a lull in our work. We were awaiting some new religious commission or discovery - perhaps something we could enter in the next Judge First, Ask Questions Later religious conference, that august assemblage to which we last year submitted two worthy entries but this year have come up with zilch. To kill time, we broke out the Acquire game, a personal favorite of mine, even though Monopoly and Life are better known. All the regulars were there: Wheatandweeds, Weedsandwheat, Pearlsenswine, and Fishenchips. Our former science officer Tom Tombaugh was also there, more full of himself than usual, flush with success from his latest scientific breakthrough. I have to hand it to him; it really was brilliant. Since Aristotle's time, scientists have wondered why, when ducks are flying in 'V' formation, one arm will be longer than the other. In a blinding flash of insight, Tombaugh hypothesized that it was because there were more ducks on the longer arm! Of course, fellow scientists laughed their sides off, as they had done with Semmelweis, but careful measurements verified Tombaugh’s hypothesis! I would not be surprised if this advances his reputation considerably among the scientific community, which was unimpressed with his last, rather ‘pedestrian’ research on sock-eating shoes.

So all of us were moving our little pieces around, wheeling and dealing with play money, when in walks Tom Whitepebble - the same Whitepebble who made an everloven fortune in the courtesy newspaper delivery business. We invited him to play, but he declined. Games like this are made for losers, he maintains, who can’t make it in the real world, so they strut around pretending to be millionaires in the board game world! Naturally, we were all indignant, but also a little hurt, for what he said was basically true. None of us have made our financial mark in the world, and, come to think of it, I can’t recall Bill Gates ever playing Monopoly.

I recalled this experience upon when I came across a Wall St Journal article about a fellow who spends all his time playing Second Life. Second Life, as many readers will know better than I, is an online game in which you, represented by your “avatar,”  interact with other players who are represented by their avatars. There are hundreds of thousands of players, I’m told, and together they make up an online world, which can become more interesting to them than the real world. You can do everything in Second Life that you can in the real world, and a lot more, since you are unrestrained by such factors as family responsibilities, financial hardship, health or age infirmities, physical distance, or social inhibition.

The character featured in the article is almost sixty years old. He discovered Second Life while recuperating from surgery. He plays it virtually every waking moment, as long as fourteen hours a day, the Journal reported, pausing only for bathroom breaks! His avatar is a twenty-something muscular hunk, a fond remnant of his actual sixty year old self. He develops shopping malls and creates designer clothes. (in real life he works at a help desk) He’s idolized by all his employees, sort of like Michael Scott, I guess, and when he logs on after a long absence, his workers all welcome him back and earnestly inquire as to his health. (I haven’t yet figured out why anyone would play Second Life and be an employee rather than a king.) He has an online wife, a pretty avatar he met some time ago. They set up house, they work together, shop together, do everything a married couple might be expected to do…yeah, everything! In real life, he’s never met the woman, and has no intention of doing so. In Second Life, they are inseparable.

Now, this fellow has a wife in the real world, and she’s not happy! “Leave this loser,” her kids urge her. (It’s the second marriage for both of them) But she sticks with her man, if he can really be called hers. He is a good fellow, she maintains, who has been sucked into an online addiction. Someday he will wake to find he has squandered his whole life in a make-believe world! She brings him breakfast while he’s tapping away at the keyboard. Hours later she returns. “You didn’t touch your breakfast,” she says. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t notice it.” (Mrs. Sheepandgoats would dump my breakfast over my head at that point.)

Imagine. An online world so engrossing that people prefer it to the real world! Next to Second Life, Acquire and Monopoly are mere….well….board games.

Yet without too great a leap in creative thinking, one may view this life as if it were a second life, which would relegate the online Second Life to Third Life. For the Bible makes clear that this life is not the “real” life. Sickness and death are not part of God’s purpose for humankind; everlasting life is. An earth brought close to ruin by human activity is likewise not His purpose; a paradise earth, much like Eden (which literally means garden, or paradise) is. Neither is happiness marred by evil and suffering part of His purpose, but instead unsullied life under Kingdom rule. We limp along as best we can in this system of things. Some find success and overcome obstacles better than others, but in the end there’s little difference between us. A mere few decades finds us all senile and in diapers, en route to the grave. That’s why Paul encouraged Timothy to….“give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment; to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.        1 Tim 6:17-19

There is some basis, therefore, in viewing this life as a Second Life, and your real self as an avatar! And perhaps some advantage. The joys of this life one can experience fully, if our WSJ character is any guide. But the hardships that this life throws at you, things not always within your power to fix, you may be better able to handle with an “aw hell, it’s just an avatar” attitude! Like any board game or online game, this life comes to an end. You may have hotels on every square or you may go directly to jail - do not pass Go, but the game does end for all. The real life, however, does not. Jehovah’s Witnesses live as happily as they are able to in this life. But it’s the real life that they look forward to.

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Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Start Your Own Religion!

At the Whitepebble Religious Institute, awed students hang on every word dropping from the lips of esteemed and pious instructors like Tom Weedsandwheat, Tom Loavesenfish, and even Tom Pearlsandswine. These guys make the religion game look so easy that students begin to imagine they can do it too. Of course, they can't, so when the inevitable handful of pupils timidly approach an instructor to ask how to start their very own religion or at least a sect, or if need be, even a cult, our responsible staff always discourages it. It's not as easy as it looks.

Sure, the perceived perks readily present themselves. As founder of a religion, you can assume any title you want. Make one up. The longer the better. Moreover, replacing the second or third syllable of your name with the 'ou' sound (pronounced 'ow'), accenting that syllable,  then appending an "ism" generally makes for a respectable and pious-sounding name. Not always, of course. Thomousism sounds downright ridiculous, but that is only because of the rodent, a contingency that will not present itself for most substitutions. Girl names, especially the trendy ones ending in "i," fare especially well. Let's face it, "girl" religions are hot today; the founders generally ask, not so much if  they can do better than guys, but how can they do worse? All the same, as a purely practical measure, we do not recommend starting one's own religion.

The trouble is, having started a religion, you have to go and find disciples. Now, you may think that you can find cool ones, but hard experience shows that the cool ones are already taken, and you will get stuck with pinheads and oddballs. Of course, they are disciples and so you have to teach them stuff, but, as pinheads and oddballs, you will find they are absolutely impervious to knowledge, much as are fenceposts, and they will consume every minute of your time. Plus, they continually embarrass you by loudly pronouncing judgement on everyone in sight. You also have to take them on field trips...not merely to the zoo or the fish hatchery, but to mountaintops and desert plains, preferably during extreme weather. How are you going to keep any semblance of a social life with all that running around? True, as a religious organization, all that mountain climbing gear is tax deductible, but the challenge of documentation is formidable. And to top it all, if they really get nutty and start to do things like, say.. commit mass suicide so as to hitch a ride on an incoming comet, the government comes in with tanks and flamethrowers and destroys you, your compound, your disciples, and takes away your tax exemption! Decidely, it is not worth it.

The Whitepebble Institute has always assumed such stern counsel has had it's effect on our students. But we don't know it for sure. They're  our students, for crying our loud, not our kids. You can't follow them around everywhere. Recently, though, we've been scratching our heads with regard to a certain former pupil.

It turns out that the next Judge First, Ask Questions Later religious conference is to be held in Krukordistan, a wretched little country if ever there was one. Organizers, however, were offered a good price. So we at the Institute bought a travel book in order to become familiar with the place, and we came across this remarkable paragraph under the heading Religions of Krukordistan. It seems the fourth most populous faith in the country is "Kathouism."

The guidebook describes the group as "relatively recent in appearance. Most scholars fix the date of origin within the past 100 years, but the really smart ones give a time period much shorter....say, just a few years. A very strange religion, its members, mostly cool, though there are some oddballs and pinheads, are forever trekking through deserts and climbing mountains in rotten weather. (the weather in Krukordirstan is always rotten...doubtless that is why the faith has caught on here so quickly.) It's founder, a young woman with a braid, (which her disciples are constantly pulling, much to her exasperation) absolutely insists on being addressed by her full self-assumed title: Most Laudable Audible Very Litigious Double Dutch Duchess of the Sky! Her only formal training appears to be from some half-baked religious institute in the USA, and she is known to keep several irons in the fire in case she may someday tire of religion."

Kathi used to sit in the back row, quietly. Sometimes she would sleep. Sometimes she'd fuss with her hair. Nobody ever dreamed she was paying the slightest bit of attention.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me               No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Tombaugh Quits: A Blow for Science

The Whitepebble Religious Institute sadly announces the departure of Tom Tombaugh, it’s most prominent (and only) staff scientist, whose most notable credentials consisted of a claimed relationship to Clyde Tombaugh, founder of the disgraced wannabe planet Pluto. His resignation leaves the institute top-heavy with religious nuts.

It was top-heavy before. That’s why it was common knowledge that Tombaugh felt increasingly out of place among the pious ones. Did they even speak the same language? Tombaugh would sit in the lunchroom and long for intelligent discussion on some learned matter of science, for example, how boisterous belching or earth-splitting flatulence evolved over the eons, since our ancestors who didn‘t carry on in that way failed to scare away predators, and got eaten, but his lunchmates would attribute it all to Adam and Eve and our fall into sin! Or he’d tell us the latest scientific research, like how scientists succeeded in placing a person in a state of suspended animation by gradually lowering body temperature five degrees per hour, all the while carefully monitoring vital signs in real time hyperstasis homeovention….and kept him in such a state for almost 25 years…. and, amazingly, that man still did not lose his government civil service job….and these holy characters would nod at each other knowingly and quote some scripture about laziness, maybe this one from Prov 26:14.….A door keeps turning upon its pivot, and the lazy one upon his couch….. or they’d utter some pious intonation about how sloth is a sure sign we’re in the last days!

So he’s gone. The prestige Tombaugh leant the Institute cannot be overstated. Three years ago he presented groundbreaking research on the socially embarrassing phenomenon of sock-eating shoes, for which he was awarded the No Bell prize. Ignorant ones have long supposed this self-esteem deflator (the socks, not the prize) to be caused by defective socks sliding deeper into the shoe with every successive step, but Tombaugh proved scientifically that such was not the case!  Using scientific methodology far too complex to be revealed here before you, mere dunces who are thoroughly unqualified to understand it, Tombaugh established the prime determinant was the viscosity of the individual foot, some persons and professions being naturally more slippery than others.

The No Bell scientific competition, though inspired by it’s better known homonym, has procedural rules more akin to TV’s old The Gong Show. The contestant presents his research before the judges, and if he doesn’t get “gonged,” well….he has won the prize. Our boy didn’t get gonged, and he’s been crowing about it ever since.

The Institute’s religious members urged Tombaugh to start his presentation with “Everybody knows that….” but Tombaugh would have none of it. He insisted on using the scientific method. Normally, we wouldn’t care, except we knew his financial resources and so we knew that the study groups and control groups would all be various permutations of us! Yes, we would be the guinea pigs and it would be a major pain trying to research God with this character sneaking up behind to apply double blindfolds, seemingly at random, as far as we could tell, and placebos. Nor were our fears unfounded. In hindsight, it seems beyond dispute that, when we showed up at the Judge First, Ask Questions Later religious convention wearing mismatched socks and sneakers, somehow deemed essential for his stupid research, the judges were so distracted that they completely overlooked our very worthy discoveries, namely, the Gospel of Howard and the Acts of the Pioneers. Some other clown, since recruited by the Institute, captured top billing for research on the exothermic nature of hell, research that has been embroiled in plagiarism controversy ever since.

On second thought, we’re all glad he’s gone.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me                   No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


William Paley and the Watchmaker Analogy

Just as the apostle Paul dodged the ruling Sanhedrin by exploiting internal bickering, transforming that august group into a free-for-all catfight, so Tom Weedsandwheat scored an important victory in his ongoing dispute with the ruling committee of the Judge First - Ask Questions Later religious conference. That committee has put Weedsandwheat’s grand prize for his groundbreaking research paper on the exothermic nature of hell under review, while they examine the ugly charge of plagiarism. You may recall that the losers were murmuring even when the prize was initially given to Weedsandwheat. In spite of Weedandwheat’s earnest and repeated entreaties to that prestigious body that they should “get a life,” the controversy has not abated; rather, it has intensified.

Now when Paul took note that the one part was of Sadducees but the other of Pharisees, he proceeded to cry out in the Sanhedrin: “Men, brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. Over the hope of resurrection of the dead I am being judged.”  Because he said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the multitude was split.  For Sadducees say there is neither resurrection nor angel nor spirit, but the Pharisees publicly declare them all.  So there broke out a loud screaming, and some of the scribes of the party of the Pharisees rose and began contending fiercely, saying: “We find nothing wrong in this man; but if a spirit or an angel spoke to him,—.”  Now when the dissension grew great, the military commander became afraid that Paul would be pulled to pieces by them, and he commanded the force of soldiers to go down and snatch him from their midst and bring him into the soldiers’ quarters.        Acts 23:6-10

The clever Weedsandwheat adapted a page from Acts 23 into his own drama with the Judge First committee. At the hearing, his situation was looking increasingly bleak, since the committee was unimpressed with his explanation of his blatant plagiarism being, in reality, commendable recycling. Displaying remarkable agility, he abruptly changed tactics and cried out that he was merely following the course laid down two centuries ago by William Paley. Of course, this brought the hearing to a standstill, for William Paley is a most highly regarded figure. He is the originator of the watchmaker analogy.

Watchtower publications, and probably creationist publications, sometimes make use of the watchmaker analogy in refuting evolutionist claims. If you were to stumble across a precise watch, so the analogy goes, with it’s intricate internal mechanisms for keeping time, you would never under any circumstances conclude that it had just come about on it’s own. Instead, you would deduce from the product that there must have been a designer, and an ingenious one at that, even though that designer is nowhere to be seen. Readers may imagine that The Watchtower just dreamed up that illustration, but in fact, the watchmaker analogy is as old as ….um….time. It is credited to William Paley for his 1802 publication Natural Theology.

Paley authored his tome as the evolutionist view was rapidly gaining ground among the avant garde religious intelligentsia. He “took them on” with some success, due, not so much to his originality, but to his formidable reasoning ability. His book is still regarded as a substantial bulwark to those in the “God” camp.

Shortly after publication, however, Paley was accused of plagiarism, just like Weedsandwheat. The watchmaker analogy was not his, it was charged, but had been used by many prior writers. Yet, it is precisely in this fact that Paley’s (and Weedsandwheat’s) salvation lies! To wit, the analogy was no longer the intellectual property of any one person! Obviously, it was at one time, but in Paley’s day it was so familiar and so commonly employed, that it could be incorporated in a book without attribution, which, in any case, would be difficult to trace. Paley’s contribution was not so much in originating ideas as in organizing them.

This is precisely the essence of Weedsandwheat’s argument over why he should be given a free pass regarding his exothermic nature of hell research. Since that research has bounced around on the internet for years and is familiar to every online nerd out there, why shouldn’t he appropriate it for his own use? Besides, he cleaned it up for submission to the conference, the original version being of dubious moral merit.

Of course, the rest of the Whitepebble Religious Institute is standing behind their guy. His grand prize brings prestige for the entire Institute. Besides, there’s not much else in the pipeline. Tom Pearlsandswine for years has been immersed in research attempting to prove the Trinity, but that project is not going too well.

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The theme of [P D Q Bach’s musical score] for band instruments and piano bears a certain kind of resemblance to the theme of [Beethoven’s] eroica symphony variations. The name of the certain type of remembrance that it bears is “identity.”      Professor Peter Schickele

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me               No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Is Hell Exothermic or Endothermic?

In the aftermath of the Judge First - Ask Questions Later religious conference recently concluded in Martha’s Vineyard, Tom Whitepebble was so miffed that his organization did not win first prize that he neglected to report just who was the punk who did win. Subsequent fact-finding uncovered an amazing coincidence.

It was Tom Weedsandwheat, long-lost brother of eminent Whitepebble staffer, Tom Wheatandweeds!

This discovery helped take the edge off Whitepebble’s discontent, since it was kinda like keeping the prize in the family. As reported, Weedsandwheat’s paper decisively settled the issue of whether hell was endothermic or exothermic.

The paper, in part is reproduced here:

First, we postulate that if souls exist, then they must have some mass. If they do, then a mole of souls can also have a mass. So, at what rate are souls moving into hell and at what rate are souls leaving? I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.

As for souls entering hell, lets look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and all souls go to hell.

With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially.

Now, we look at the rate of change in volume in hell. Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the ratio of the mass of souls and volume needs to stay constant.

So, if hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter hell, then the temperature and pressure in hell will increase until all hell breaks loose.

Of course, if hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in hell, than the temperature and pressure will drop until hell freezes over.

It is important to note that, thus far, no new ground has been broken. Many researchers have taken the question to this point. But thereafter they were stymied. There seemed no way to choose between the two equally plausible alternatives.

Weedsandwheat’s breakthrough, which so wowed the judges, came from realizing that the answer could not be found by theology alone.  In a blinding flash of insight, he realized that an entirely separate field had to be examined, specifically, his own lovelife!

He reflected upon the fact that, ever since he began employment at his thinktank, he has been pestering a pretty, young co-worker to go on a date with him, only to have that co-worker reply that “it will be a cold day in hell before I go out with you.” Since, after several years, she has still not gone out with him, it became clear to Weedsandwheat that a cold day in hell was not in the cards, thereby ruling out one alternative to this great puzzle.

By process of elimination, it stands to reason that hell can only get hotter and hotter, hence, hell is exothermic!

It must be reported, though it detracts from the joy of the festive conference, that some of the sorehead and loser delegates were heard grumbling over Weedsandwheat winning the award. Hadn’t they heard this research somewhere before? Wasn’t this, in fact, blatant plagiarism?

Weedsandwheat held his ground. Plagiarism was an ugly word, he pointed out, carrying connotations of theft. He preferred to think of his work as recycling, which carries admirable connotations of saving the planet.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me                No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


At the Judge First - Ask Questions Later conference

Since the Whitepebble Research Institute derives a full 40% of its income from religious commissions, it behooves them to keep abreast of all recent developments in the field. Venues in which one may encounter rising talents, new ideas, and the latest research papers are therefore most desirable. One such avenue is the Judge First - Ask Questions Later religious conference, held annually in diverse locations. It is, for sure, a must-attend event.

True, Tom Sheepandgoats, the Whitepebble representative has not attended for years, ever since they awarded top prize to that schlocky rhyme about walking with Jesus, in which two footsteps are seen in the sand, that of the life-traveler and Jesus. But in some places there is just one set of footprints, and so the life-traveler accuses Jesus of leaving him….always during tough periods of his life…..but Jesus answers that, no, I did not abandon you…..during those times I carried you.

Not a dry eye or nose could be seen among the blubbering judges, but Whitepebble vowed in disgust not to return, since it seemed to him that the judges were turning the power of the gospel into so much sentimental slop.

This year, however, cash prizes were offered for original papers….always a sufficient motivation for Whitepebble to reexamine his principles. Moreover, with, not one, but two worthy entries….the Gospel of Howard, and Acts of the Pioneers……chances of snagging some of that dough seemed good.

This year’s conference was held at Martha’s Vineyard,IMG_0322
 at the
  Campground tabernacle,
between sessions of other events. IMG_0309
Delegates arrived in style from
far and wide. Unfortunately, the attached photograph turned out to be not conference delegates, as was initially reported, but merely local residents, who were nonetheless thrilled to host such a prestigious event in their hometown or ought to have been. IMG_0327Martha, at left, herself met us all at the gate to lay down the law:Aunt bea no carousing, no womanizing, no dancing, no card playing, no coveting, no bearing false witness. No using informal pronouns….thees and thous will do nicely.

It was a truly thrilling event. Competition for top prize in pure theology was intense. In the end, the winner ventured outside the traditional realm of theology, into chemistry, to prove a point that theology alone has never been able to answer definitively. By ingenious reasoning, it was proved that hell is not endothermic, as had long been supposed, but exothermic……that is, it absorbs heat over time, rather than shedding it. Whitepebble Institute's two entries both received honorable mention, so Whitepebble wasn’t too sore. Moreover, he was so impressed with the new research on hell that he abandoned his characteristic frugality and was heard to vow…..we have to get that kid on our staff…I don’t care what it costs, as long as it’s not too much!

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me           No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash