Monday, March 31, 2008

Re-examining Pascal's Wager

My Dear Reader,

Some time ago, this French philosopher Blaise Pascal decided that was more beneficial to believe and act as if God existed than to do the opposite. The idea is called Pascal's Wager, and according to Pascal, you might as well pretend that God exists because it's safer to pretend that God exists, act accordingly, and find out that death is the end than to disbelieve in God and risk the consequences if you're wrong. I think that Pascal's wager is very logical, but not very fulfilling. I mean, why would someone want to believe in something because it's safer than disbelieving it?

I've been thinking a little about Pascal's Wager recently, and I almost think that if the only reason I had to believe was the fear of being wrong, I'd risk the consequences. I mean, a lifetime of living Christian values isn't really worth it unless there's a reason behind it, right? Now, in that case, the only viable option would be to change my views to Atheism, and I've never really considered that before. I mean, my honest opinion of Atheism is that it generally is a running away from something than running towards truth, but when I really look at it, I don't think that I could really believe in God by default, and I have to respect the courage people have to have in order to stand alone like that.

I suppose that I am pretty lucky, then, because I have enough religious experience to know, and I mean know, that God exists. Though it's largely discounted by those who are opposed to believing, religious experience is thought by very prominent religious philosophers to be too universal to ignore. I won't go into too much detail at this point about what has happened to me because of the risk of making light of sacred things, but let me tell you plainly that when I pray, I can feel God listen. I've seen things that can only be described as miracles, and I know better than to doubt His existence. I couldn't be more sure that God lives if He came down from the heavens and took me by the hand. It took a long time and a lot of searching, but I suppose that you could say that I found my answer.

Knowing who I am, though, I also know that I can not comfortably believe in something without a really good reason. Maybe it's the rebellious part of me, or maybe it's because of the many people I've known in the past who turned out to be less that truthful, but I just can't do that. So I suppose that with all things considered, if I hadn't had the religious experience, I'd be forced to say that the whole idea of religion seems preposterous. I mean, your average run-of-the-mill Christian theology is crazy enough, with people coming back from the dead and water turning to wine, but when you add The Book of Mormon, it's really fantastic. Still, I have had the experience, and I can't turn my back on that. Not ever. I'd just have to much to lose, you know?

Those who know me know that when it comes to my religion, I'm pretty passionate. In fact, I've been known to talk on and on about the subject until someone had the sense to stop me. At the age of twenty-two, I can say that my affection for the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the closest I've ever come to falling in love, and I really mean that. There is so much good in it, and it has done so much to change me, that I know I owe everything I am to my belief in God and Jesus Christ, and I am not ashamed to admit it. But the more I study the theology of others, the more I wonder if people around me, the ones who don't believe the same way I do, think that maybe I'm playing the same kind of game that Pascal suggests. Or, perhaps, they think that I'm under a variety of other influences that anti-Christians like to theorize about from time to time. I guess that if you didn't have religious experience, it would be incredibly logical. I know, however, what and who I am, and I know that a life of baseless belief is an empty one. I also know that real faith, which is backed up by a kind of proof that is too exquisite to describe, is the key to real, true fulfillment. I just hope that I don't tire my friends too much when I try to spread the word.

Regards, best wishes, and faith,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Missing Paradise

My Dear Reader,

As any educated person in this world should know, the Book of Mormon is essentially a story about a group of people who left Jerusalem right before the fall of Jerusalem and made their way to the Americas. The narrative covers around a thousand years of history from these people, not to mention the history of an older civilization that these people came upon later. Interestingly enough, there are about three hundred years out of this thousand that go virtually unrecorded, and there's no real indication of why the stories during this time period were left out. What's more interesting is the fact that these three hundred years occur in the Fourth Book of Nephi, which describes the time just after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when the teachings of Christ instructed and inspired an entire nation to create a perfect society akin to the city of Enoch. Why, when civilization was at its peak, were the stories left out?

I've heard a lot of speculation on the subject, and in my experience, the majority of my peers seem to think that it's because there were no stories to tell. I guess their theory is that when poverty, hunger, sin, and corruption are eliminated, nothing really happens that's worth talking about. I refuse to accept this explanation, mainly because of its very frightening implications. If this society's story was silenced because it was boring, than perfection equals boredom. If perfection equals boredom, we're going to have a really hard time in the next life.

When I was a child, I was really afraid of the afterlife. I wasn't really afraid of death, though I knew it would probably be very painful; people who truly believe in an afterlife have more things to worry about. I was afraid because I didn't exactly have a very clear idea of what was going to happen after I died. I mean, I know that the good are supposed to go to a paradise, but what is that? An eternity of playing video games? What happens when we get sick of Philadelphia cream cheese? To the eight-year-old me, it seemed like boredom was inevitable, and an eternity of boredom seemed very, very, frightening. It makes you wonder why we bother being good at all.

The same kind of idea is the premise behind the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Death Wish."* (I know, I know, I referenced Star Trek twice in two weeks. Sorry.) The story involves a member of an omnipotent race called the Q who wants to be euthanized because he feels that he has experienced all that life has to offer. Because he has existed since the beginning of time, he claims that there is nothing left for him to experience or know. In a sense, he says that he's suffering from the same kind of boredom that I feared as a child, which must be the same boredom that supposedly existed in Fourth Nephi.

Okay, first of all, I just can't believe that the good and loving God of the Universe would really make things like that. When you become suicidal, it stops being paradise, and that's not much of a reward for a long life of righteousness. If anything, I would think that the Devil would be more behind this vision of boredom than anybody, since he's been trying for ages to make us believe that sin is exciting, and people are falling for it by the millions. Second of all, I happen to know that there are plenty of good stories that are about good people who try to do the right thing. Take Anne of Green Gables, for example. You won't find any villains there, just a bunch of good, well-rounded characters who live their lives as normally as possible. Sure, there are no explosions, but they manage all right. Thirdly, I honestly don't believe that being good (or even being perfect) means being the same, which is what I think this whole idea stems from: a fear of being the same. God created individuals for a purpose, and there are a great deal of choices out there that aren't good versus evil. We don't have to wear the same outfit or like the same kind of movies because we're human beings, not mindless drones. I suppose that I don't exactly understand how it's going to work after we die, but I know that the perfect equals boring argument is a fallacy, because it makes absolutely no sense when you believe that paradise is supposed to be a paradise.

In fact, my guess is that those stories were left out because we as a people don't get how a paradise works. After all, we've had The Bible for millennia and we haven't gotten anywhere near that city of Enoch, even though we've had the blue prints staring us in the face the entire time. Heavenly Father knew that we'd never get there until the Second Coming of Christ; John makes that very clear. In fact, it's going to get pretty ugly before then. And considering that God knew that we would never be put in a paradise in this life, it would make sense that He would ask His prophets to write about things that we would have to deal with, like poverty, hunger, sin, and corruption. In a sense, I think that those three hundred years were skimmed over because they were irrelevant, not because they were boring. I guess we're just not ready to learn about what happened in detail.

I hope that one day soon we will be.

Regards, best wishes, and paradise,

-Cecily Jane

* By the way, it's a good episode about ethics and morality. You should rent it some time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Vote for Crusher!

My Dear Reader,

Are you sick of the way that healthcare is run today? Don't you hate it when you have some problem or other and the doctor doesn't know what's wrong with you? While we live in a country that has the most advanced medicinal practices in the world, I think that you, Gentle Reader, would agree with me that it's just not good enough. Now, you might think that I'm going to go into some big long debate over how to fix the system through funding or socialism or something, but I'm not. Instead of arguing over what I think might work, I'll just give you one simple, easy solution that will solve everything. You see, there's one person who could revolutionize healthcare forever, someone who can solve all of our health-related problems, and that person is Star Trek: The Next Generation's own Dr. Beverly Crusher. If you vote for her for president, all of our problems will be solved!

Okay, so I know that she's a fictional character, but have you ever seen her at work? She's simply amazing. If you're ever on the Enterprise and something happens, Dr. Crusher's got you covered. Is a creepy ambassador using you as a psychic waste dump? Dr. Crusher can break the link. Do you need to deliver a space-born life form after your ship accidentally killed the mother? Dr. Crusher knows what to do. Are you suffering from polywater intoxication? Dr. Crusher can cure you while she's intoxicated herself! There's just no limit to this woman's potential.

I know what you're thinking, Gentle Reader: why haven't I considered all of the other doctors that Starfleet has come up with? Why choose Beverly Crusher? Well, I'm sure that all of the other candidates are great guys, but they've all got one thing against them: they are men. As the only female Chief Medical Officer on a Star Trek series, she can finally give Americans what they're looking for: a female president. Besides having two X chromosomes, Dr. Crusher possesses other skills, such as unlimited selflessness. Unlike Dr. Bashir or The Doctor, Dr. Crusher is more worried about her patients than she is about her social status among the crew. And unlike Dr. Phlox or Dr. McCoy, Dr. Crusher is up-to-date on the science of the now and has distinct leadership qualities. Have you ever seen Bones captain the Enterprise? While The Doctor would be hitting on you, Dr. Crusher would be looking for the cure to your disease. While Dr. Bashir is trying to hide the fact that he is genetically enhanced, Dr. Crusher is curing people. And while Dr. Phlox is feeding his Pyrithian bat, Dr. Crusher is curing diseases that haven't been invented yet.

Now, I know what you're thinking this time: why should you vote for a presidential candidate who rocks on a medicinal level only? Couldn't we put her as Surgeon General or something and have a Starfleet captain in the White House instead? Well, you're right. Janeway would be pretty amazing as a president. But Dr. Crusher's skills aren't only limited to gender and medicine. She also does covert ops, dances better than Data, and broke a curse that had plagued her family for generations. Obviously, this is a woman with many hats, a woman you should elect president.

If somebody that awesome were given the most powerful position on the planet, don't you think that she could cure every problem that ever existed? I definitely do. At the rate she has already established on television, Dr. Crusher would probably cure AIDS, Alzheimer's, cancer, and the flu in her first month of office. Once she has found a cure to every disease known to humanity, she can go to work making sure that our healthcare system at large is up to Starfleet specs. Imagine all of the time that would be saved from filling out papers once all medical records are easily available through a central computer! And what if instead of some doctor poking and prodding you to hazard a guess at what is wrong, he or she can know in seconds by scanning you with a nifty tricorder. If you need to be treated, they can just zap you with some high-tech gadget instead of making you go through surgery and junk.

Most of all, Dr. Crusher has the professional ethics to make sure that doctors are in it for you and not for their pockets. Did you see what she did when Dr. Toby Russel tried to use her own patients as research subjects? Wouldn't it be the best thing ever if every doctor in America were held under the same standards? Heck, wouldn't it be awesome if every bureaucrat/government official were held under the same standards?

So vote for Dr. Beverly Crusher for president in 2008. Change.

All kidding aside though, I can't help but envy Dr. Crusher's patients whenever I watch TNG. They've just got it so easy in the future! And I actually would vote for her if she was real and running.

Regards, best wishes, and candidates,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dislocated

My Dear Reader,

For some reason unexplainable by science, my right shoulder has gotten the impression that it needs to rebel against the proletariat, which just happens to be the rest of my body. In other words, it's kind of like the grandmother on My Big Fat Greek Wedding: every once in a while, it launches a futile attempt to escape. My shoulder started getting the idea to revolt sometime during my senior year of high school. There I was one day, going along my merry way, completely unaware that my shoulder had been producing anarchist manifestos when crack! it came out. And it was not fun. In order for you to understand exactly what I was going through, Gentle Reader, imagine how you would feel if you were walking down the street, when suddenly, your arm fell off. What are you supposed to do when your arm falls off? Are you supposed to pick up the severed arm and try to put it back on? How are you supposed to do that when it hurts that bad? What if it won't come back on? Where are the people who are supposed to help you? What are you going to do with only one arm? Isn't someone supposed to be helping you? How are you supposed to pick up your arm when you hurt so much? What if other things start falling off? Is it safe for you to leave the house? You are never going to graduate.

So imagine being hurt, and in panic, and having something be horribly wrong with you that you desperately need to fix, all at the same time. And imagine that happening to you once a year or so for about six years, and you'll get my predicament. You see, when your shoulder dislocates once, the ligaments or muscles or tendons or something get stretched out, so you're more likely to pop your shoulder out again. When it happened, my Madre told me that I would probably have to go into surgery to tighten up my shoulder so it wouldn't happen again. Which is why I never went to a doctor about it. I was able to get my shoulder in on my own, and I didn't want to risk having some guy cut me open and poke around inside.

Of course, here's the thing: when you don't go to the doctor about certain things, people tend to think that you just made it up. When I was in high school, there was this one girl-who-shall-not-be-named who tried to convince me that I was delusional.* Here's another thing: when you dislocate your shoulder, you know that you dislocated your shoulder. When something comes out of its socket, you can tell. But for some reason, we need doctors to legitimize our suffering. In the back of my mind, I always knew that I would have to go to the doctor eventually, but I still put it off. Even after my shoulder came out time after time.

The strangest things would cause my shoulder to come out. Once, I was vacuuming. Another time, I was hitting the snooze button on my alarm clock, and before that, PetiteSoeur bumped up against me. Twice, I was sleeping. You know, you can learn a lot about a roommate by what she does when you wake up screaming. My first roommate told me that I was being a baby and to let her get some sleep. The second one asked me if I was okay, and then took the steps necessary to make me more okay. Still, I didn't want to see a doctor. I knew how to get the shoulder in quickly, and I wasn't in much pain. Besides, I'm a college student who doesn't have the time or funds to be sick.

When I dislocated my shoulder last Thursday for the second time in two weeks, I knew that the jig was up: I had to see a doctor this time. I was at work when it happened, pulling a large rubber mat off of a rack. The funny thing was that I didn't do it for me, I did it because I knew that if I didn't have a doctor's note, I'd probably fail the two P.E. classes I'm taking. The ones that I have to pass to graduate. So I went into the doctor, and you know what? The doctor believed me. She didn't even second guess me at all. And then she told me exactly what my Madre had told me before: surgery was probably imminent. And this time, I really can't get out of it.

Having my shoulder dislocate doesn't bother me that much, but surgery does. I can't even give blood without freaking out, so my guess is that I'll probably have to have them knock me out while I'm still in the waiting room. I have two consolations when it comes to this surgery: the first being that I might be able to put off my surgery until after graduation, and the second being that once it's over, I can go anywhere I want without worrying about exploding. And I think that might be worth it.

Regards, best wishes, and the best of health,

-Cecily Jane

P.S. I've decided to take Kelly's advice and use my two dollars to treat someone to a dollar movie. It should be pretty magical.

*This same person also got in an argument with me over just about everything, so I shouldn't have been surprised. She once argued with me and a friend over whether it was cold, really cold, or really-really cold outside, which turned into an argument over whether we should argue about how cold it was. She's one of those people who will never stop arguing until you agree with her, and I kind of avoided her from then on.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

At the Front Desk

My Dear Reader,

When I walked into work last week, something happened that I never thought would happen before. I got in there, and a good friend of mine, who is also kind-of-my-boss, told me that I was wanted at the front desk. We were both puzzled. You see, I work in the cafeteria, and they don't ever ask to see us. In fact, they don't really let us food-types around the front desk, because the front desk is in the front lobby, and the front lobby is where important people could be walking in at any minute. So we wear nice things when we go to the front desk, like slacks, which means that we have to use "well" instead of "good" and stuff like that. Well, since I don't wear slacks on a day-to-day basis, I was not quite sure how to proceed, but I was assured by the resident adult-adults that it would be okay for me to go in my jeans and t-shirt. So I did. You just don't keep the front desk waiting when they want to see you, right? I mean, they're in front of everything.

The thing was, I had no idea what they wanted me for. I wondered if maybe I was in trouble, and I had unwittingly done some horrible deed, and that the only thing left for me to do was be personally dismissed by The Head of the Place (i.e. the MTC Mission President). But then I realized that I actually know him a little, and he's a nice guy, and if there was some sort of problem, it would generally be handled by telling the Cafeteria Boss, who would then discipline me. It's professional, efficient, and involves as many people as possible. That's how America does things.

Of course, if I happened to be in a romantic comedy, the laws of physics would dictate that there would be very expensive flowers waiting for me at that desk from some mysterious and incredibly handsome stranger. So I let myself hope for a second or two that my life had suddenly and inexplicably turned into one of those movies, and that Colin Firth was going to show up at any moment.* You see, it had to be a romantic comedy because Boys don't buy flowers for Cecily. Boys either stalk Cecily or break up with said Cecily before Boy and Cecily are actually dating. That's just the way that nature works. And then I thought that maybe Madre and Padre sent me the flowers, because they tend to do that from time to time. And then I remembered that the last time they sent me flowers, I was angry because they weren't from a Boy (was a Freshman, okay?). So you see, Gentle Reader, by sheer, unflinching logic I was able to rule out that possibility.

So by the time I got to the desk, though I was thoroughly confused, I decided to hope for the best possible outcome, which would be flowers from Madre and Padre. When I got to the desk, however, a woman came out from her office and did something that made me slightly more confused. She handed me two dollars.

"No one claimed these," she said, "they're all yours now, if you'll just sign for them here."

I stood there for a while, trying to think of reasons why I shouldn't sign for the two dollars. I mean, besides the fact that I had no idea why they were suddenly being presented to me, there couldn't be anything wrong with accepting the money, right? I told myself that there wasn't, signed some document, and walked away two dollars richer.

Then it occurred to me: I probably turned the money into the lost and found (which is housed at the front desk) a couple of months ago and forgotten about it. And they must have some policy that they give the money to the person who turned it in after X mount of days. All in all, that's pretty darn awesome. I mean, it's not flowers, but it's two more dollars than I had before. When you're a college student, two dollars can mean an infinite amount of good things. It could turn into anything from a jar of pickles to a night at the movies. And all of a sudden, my world went from a world where I'm just a young student/cafeteria worker into a world with endless possibilities. I mean, if I can be randomly given two unexpected dollars, what else could go right?

So I guess that it probably sounds silly, but I kind of think that those two dollars are meant for something special. I use "special," of course, in the broadest sense; to me the dollar theater is a magical place fill of wonder and enchantment. But I really think that I should spend the money in a way that will use them best. So I've decided to ask you, Gentle Reader, to suggest something that I can do with the money. Post your idea in the form of a comment, and I'll pick the best one and actually do it. That way, I guess that you and I can share the joy of the two dollars together, for a moment. Joy is the kind of thing that you need to spread as far as you can. I'll report later what kind of adventure the two dollars takes me on, but for now, I'd like to wish that you can also have an unexpected awesome thing happen to you.

Regards, best wishes, and wads of cash,

-Cecily Jane

* By the way, Colin Firth was just an example of a person who tends to show up frequently in romantic comedies, and not some kind of celebrity crush. I don't really have those. And he's kind of my Madre's age. I don't allow myself to be attracted to people who are old enough to have spawned me.