Monday I made a visit to Forest Grove Community School, where the 5th & 6th grade students are using The Mighty Quinn for their block of study on realistic fiction. I spent two class periods with them, first with the 6th graders and then the 5th graders. I read a brief TMQ excerpt as an example of revealing character via dialog, did a Q & A session, and met individually with students to hear their writing samples and banter about story ideas. The kids were delightful, and one of the best school groups I’ve ever visited.
I got a kick out of observing the students’ interactions (from the back of the class, before the teacher introduced me. (Yep, I was lurking). What a difference a year makes. The 6th graders were obviously conscious of how they might “look” to their peers when asking a question or offering a comment. Their Q & A concerns focused on their struggles with their own writing assignments. The 5th graders were energetic, unbounded and out there – one boy shrieked with delight and threw me a high five when I was introduced as the author of the book they’d been reading aloud in class. The 5th graders’ Q & A session was dominated by personal (to me), what’s it like to be a writer queries. One student even asked about my royalties, and was thrilled when I complimented him for knowing the term. Several students stayed after class, missing part of their recess, to gather around me. They gushed about how unbelievable it was that they had met a REAL PUBLISHED AUTHOR ® – a sentiment I find embarrassing/annoying when expressed by adults, but from those students, it was sweet beyond words. FGCS 5th and 6th graders, this Pretty Purple Toe Award is for you.
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BELLY LAUGH OF THE WEEK
Tuesday: in my car, waiting for the left turn signal. The car in front of me had one of those stick figure family decals in the rear window, which, in general, I find annoying and rarely give a second glance to. But something about this one caught my attention.
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BELLY CREEP OUT OF THE WEEK
Wednesday: Back in the damn car again, performing what used to be an almost daily chore that has evolved into a rare errand: sending a manuscript via snail mail. The nearest mailbox where I might still make the pickup time  was a couple of miles away, by a Bi-Mart store. As I pulled into the Bi-Mart parking lot a woman pushing a shopping cart with an infant seat in it crossed in front of me. Heading for the store, she walked slowly and laboriously and looked neither left nor right. She just crossed the lane of traffic.
I was ~ ten feet away from her, in no danger of hitting her as I was going quite slowly, but I was annoyed by her negligent pedestrian-ship. FFS lady, maybe you don’t care about your own life but what about the baby? Further annoying me was the fact that it was 27º outside, and I could see the infant’s bare legs sticking out from the bottom of the child seat. As my car rolled closer I could see that the woman had a vacant, slack-jawed expression on her face, one that might be explained by a mental or physical disability, and the “baby” in the baby seat was actually a (very realistic-looking) baby doll.
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“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
(Einstein’s letter of 3-24-54 to a correspondent who’d asked Einstein to clarify his religious views.
(“Albert Einstein: The Human Side.”)
One of the great games in the culture wars is claiming the good and smart for your team and pushing the monsters away. Picture Christian and atheist captains in a sandlot choosing basketball teams. “Einstein, we get Einstein!” say the atheists. “No way, he used the word God!… “Oh you WISH!” ….
Albert Einstein is the three-point shooter everybody wants to draft.
(from Dale McGowan ‘s blog post, “Owning Einstein.”)
A link I posted on my Facebook page – to Hemant Mehta’s blog post about Ron Reagan Jr. taping a PSA for an atheist organization – got me sucked into one of those discussions. A FB friend apparently took issue with the younger Reagan’s statements about reason being “the hallmark of the human species.”
FB Friend: Who says that believing in God makes one unreasonable? That is a rather objectionable statement. Most of history’s great thinkers believed in God. I believe in God and I believe im (sic) a reasonable person. You don’t believe? No prob. Its (sic) not my job to force my faith down your throat. We can get along without faith being an issue…
RP: “Most of history’s great thinkers believed in God.” Now, that is a statement of faith, not fact. 😉
FBF: Einstein believed, Newton believed, Galileo believed, Devinci (sic) did as well. its not a matter of just having faith…
MH also followed the link in my post. He read the Reagan post in its entirety, and thus was confused by FBF’s reaction. “Why did he (FBF commenter) assume the article said religious people are unreasonable, when it didn’t?” he mused.
But, no. That’s too easy. And besides, the commenter is no troll. Rather, he is a friend from high school days, and a very nice guy. So, I posted the Einstein quote that opened this section, and said I’d deal with this more extensively in this blog post. Here we are. More extensively, ho! 
Although they (of course) are not here now to speak for themselves, I’ve little doubt that many if not most of what we might call the “great thinkers” of the past were religious…at least, in their public personas. People had to make some sort of public religious profession; there were no other options.  What choice did people have, to believe or express opinions to the contrary?
Giordano Bruno was just one of many great thinkers who were tortured and murdered for expressing opinions and/or doing research that the religious/political authorities (often one in the same, in that most unholy of alliances) found threatening or blasphemous. You need not have a writer’s imagination to posit what would have happened to Galileo if he’d expressed doubts as to the existence of the Jehovah deity, when for merely making scientific (not religious) statements – backed with, hey, evidence! – he was called to Rome and tried for heresy. Galileo, well aware of the fate of Bruno and others before him, was given a “tour” of the church’s dungeons, and shown the instruments of torture that would be used on him if he did not recant his support for Copernicus’ theory . Even after he recanted the truth  Galileo was confined to his home under house arrest, where he died seven years later, not having been allowed to leave or to receive visitors.
Albert Einstein tried to fit his complex ideas into terms that might interest the lay (as in, non-science literate) population. The mis-location of Einstein to the Religious Believers’ Great Thinkers Team mostly stems from two of his public figurative comments:
(1) his public statement, reported by United Press in April 25, 1929: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the orderly harmony in being, not in God who deals with the facts and actions of men,” and
(2) his famously misinterpreted metaphor regarding nature conforming to mathematical law: “God does not play dice with the Universe.”
But in his private/personal and other correspondences, Einstein lamented the misuse of his public statements to infer religious belief on his part. He made his opinion about such matters quite clear, as in the opening quote and many others, three of which I’ll cite here.
“The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.” 
“The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.” 
“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems.” 
Ultimately, the numbers on anybody’s “teams” are irrelevant. The criteria for evaluating the truth of statements – even those phrased as “beliefs” – is not all that complicated. Which leads me to a brief  incursion into what seems to be a minefield for many people: the difference between facts and beliefs.
I hold many, many beliefs about many, many subjects. I believe that Meryl Streep is a great actor and that Tom Cruise is not, that Oregon Pinot Noirs are superior to California Merlots, that is more enjoyable to watch a high school varsity volleyball game than any professional golf tournament, that corn snakes make better pets than mice, that cedar-planked salmon is a tastier entrée than fried razor clams, that MH looks better with a full beard than with just a moustache, and that Elvis, Lady Gaga and the Virgin Mary do not make cameo appearances in the spots on someone’s flour tortilla.
Beliefs can be preferential, like those I listed. A preferential belief expresses your opinions about interesting but ultimately inconsequential matters. But beliefs can also express factual or cognitive claims, which call for evaluations of the truth of the propositions or assumptions behind the claims. For example, if you assert that you “believe in God,” you are also making the assumption that the god you refer to exists.
If you express a cognitive belief but make no effort to justify it, you’re merely telling me your feelings or expressing your opinion. It may be true that you believe you are the greatest fastball pitcher since Sandy Koufax. However entertaining that claim may be to your slow-pitch softball league teammates, your belief by itself has no factual value.
There is nothing admirable about a belief just because you hold it, and cognitive beliefs are not immune to criticism. Cloaking beliefs in the robe of “god” or “religion” doesn’t excuse those ideas from examination. “Believing” (aka “having faith in”) something doesn’t make an irrational claim suddenly rational, nor does it protect your belief from the test of evidence and reason – from the kind of the evaluation a thoughtful, intelligent person would normally apply to any statement of any kind, be it political, cultural, emotional….
If you want your beliefs to be taken seriously by others, you need to communicate them as something other than personal statements about what you “have faith in.” Beliefs become objective when backed up by explanations and evidence that can be analyzed. If you don’t want your beliefs to be subjected to this kind of scrutiny, then you should keep them to yourself.
I for one wouldn’t go around claiming too many of the “great thinkers” of centuries past for my team. Great minds who seemed ahead of their time in their niches of music, art, literature, philosophy and/or science may also have thought that the earth was flat, that enslaved peoples were “naturally” inferior to their enslavers, that diseases were caused by evil spirits and ill humors, etc. Even great thinkers are commonly bound by the ignorance and superstitions – and subject to the cultural and political pressures – of their times.
Down from the soapbox and up to the feel good FB posts. Truly, those are what I should be posting at this most festive time of year – a sampling of flatus classifications:
Backseater: an odiferous fart that occurs in automobiles, it is usually not very loud and can be concealed by traffic noise.
Cherry bomb: A loud, high-pitched, squeaker fart.
The Rambling Phaduka: One of the most loud and lengthy of farts, it goes on for at least 15 seconds, often leaving the farter unable to speak, as if he’s had the wind knocked out of him.
The Skillsaw: sounds like an electric skill saw ripping through a piece of plywood. It has been known to cause people to back away in terror and confusion.
TGIAF: the thank goodness I’m alone fart. You look around after producing it and say, thank goodness I’m alone. Then you get out of there, fast.
And may the farting animals compilation video hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
 I didn’t, and ended up driving to the main Post Office.
 Even the option to choose this flavor of Christianity or that flavor of Islam could get you murdered, plundered or banished, depending on which group was in charge.
 (From Einstein’s letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, dated Jan. 3, 1954, cited in The Guardian, “Childish superstition: Einstein’s letter makes view of religion relatively clear,” by James Randerson, May 13, 2008).
 No really…considering the subject.