Monthly Archives: August 2004

Cloud of Probability

Christians believe in right and wrong, and that God determines which is which. If you are at variance with what God says, you are wrong. I have no problem with this thinking. Murder? Wrong. (Exodus 20:13) Stealing? Wrong. (Exodus 20:15) Lusting? Wrong. (Matthew 5:27-28

However, this attention to the existence of right and wrong seems to cause many Christians to think that there is a single morally correct (i.e., right) answer to every question; even to questions that the Bible doesn’t directly address.

For instance, to choose two “Christian morality” issues that have been in the news this year: does God want to be mentioned in the American Pledge of Allegiance, and does He want His commandments displayed on the walls of American courthouses?

In an attempt to try to solve this problem of having no direct answer from the Bible, some Christians have grabbed onto the idea of asking WWJD — What Would Jesus Do? This is a good attempt. If the Bible doesn’t directly address a situation, then let’s try to imagine what Jesus might have done in this situation. This question is worth while in that it gets us thinking: if God hasn’t given me a rule for what to do here, what do I think He might want me to do?

The problem, of course, is that we may come up with as many different ideas for what Jesus might have done as we have people trying to imagine them. Further, a better phrasing of the question might be WWJWMTD: What Would Jesus Want Me To Do? But this wouldn’t look nearly as nice on a bracelet. (I’ve also seen WTFWJD — by far the funniest collision of pop culture from within and without the church that I’ve seen in a while.)

In these cases where there is no clear teaching on what God says about an issue — that is, where variance from God’s will is impossible to determine — then variance from the opinions of others in the church seems to take its place as the test for right and wrong. That is, when Christians start asking the question “What would Jesus do,” they seem to start looking for an answer in what other Christians are doing. The positions of Christian church people on many political and moral issues are very cohesive. This is why the news media can report the “fundamentalist Christian reaction” to stories about same-sex marriage or taking the words “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Whole wings of the Christian church resonate together, claiming the rightness of a particular side of each issue.

What if, instead of taking the average of what everyone thinks God’s will is, we imagined a system like that in quantum physics where particles exist at each location in a cloud of probability? In quantum physics, the particle can most confidently be claimed to likely exist at the center of the cloud of probability. The further from the center you get, the less likely it is that the particle is there. But it could be…there is a recognized probability that it might be.

So we can experiment with a notion of quantum morality: every moral choice exists in a cloud of probability that it’s what God would want us to do. For lots of things, what God wants from us can be found right at the center of that cloud. For other moral choices, however, we must recognize at least the possibility that God’s will exists to the left or right of the location we’ve pinpointed as being the center of moral goodness.

This systen doesn’t tell us who’s right when it comes to determining God’s will; in fact it’s designed not to tell us who’s right, but who’s probably right. And, of course, being probably right is exactly the same as being possibly wrong. I think that American Christian culture would benefit from a substantial realization of possible wrongness. I don’t want Christians to wander around in the dark, I just want them to admit that things outside of their flashlight beam do still exist.

God Will Be With You Shortly

From an interesting blog entry by Matthew Sturges:

God will be with you shortly; please remain on the earth. Your life is important to us!

Sleep Like a Baby

While laying in bed tonight not sleeping I began to wonder about the phrase “Sleep like a baby.” I have a baby and, watching her sleep, it’s obvious why someone would come up with the phrase “sleep like a baby” to describe pure, untroubled, peaceful sleep. But why does a baby sleep so well? Why is a sleeping baby such a good example of serenity? I think it’s because they don’t have much to think about.

The thoughts that trouble us in waking life also have their sleep-time equivalents. My baby doesn’t have anything to think about by day: she’s still busy learning to deal with the immediate objects of her perception. If she’s not seeing a ball right now then she’s not thinking about a ball.

My two year old, however, has a more complex understanding of the world. She can not only identify objects in her environment but also map representations she sees on television to objects in her real life. Action seen on television is recalled and mulled over later. She sees Shrek yelling at Donkey and knows that this must be a moment of tension in the movie because she relates it to times when daddy has yelled at her. Later, when she dreams of Shrek, she dreams about him yelling at donkey, and then she dreams about him yelling at her, and then she dreams about daddy yelling at her, and then she wakes up inconsolable because she’s convinced daddy’s mad at her.

I have bad dreams for the same reason as my two year old: my mind rehearses and personalized the jagged edges of the day trying to make some sense of them. But I take the problem one step further: I don’t wait for sleep to replay and search for meaning; I begin as soon as I have a moment to think. I begin and then I can’t fall asleep.

What Kind of Sin?

Saying my name with different pronunciations and inflections while writing the previous entry made me think of this for some reason:

What kind of sin? JAY-sin. (Pronounced pretty much exactly as my name in pronounced: JAY-sen.)

Or how about this as an intro for my next pulpit announcement at church:

And now, you’re favorite kind of sin: JAY-sin!

Okay, About the Name

So I have some explaining to do about the origins of the name “jasonfreude.” Let’s start with the German word schadenfreude. Schadenfreude means the enjoyment one feels at the troubles of others. That sounds like a perfect description of most weblogs, right? No one wants to read about what a good day everyone else is having: we want to read about everyone else’s problems. We read these things because we enjoy reading about the struggles of others. Maybe we read them because we enjoy the heroic and insightful ways that the authors deal with their problems, but no one’s going to stick around to read James Lileks or Steven Den Beste when they’re listing all the pretty flowers currently blooming in their gardens.

So anyway, if I’m going to write a weblog that’s only going to be interesting when I talk about my troubles, why not say so in the domain name? But to be original and coin a term, why not include my name in it as well?

I learned the word schadenfreude from an English teacher in high school. It turns out that she pronounced the word wrong. She said SCHAY-den-froy-duh with a long ‘a’ sound instead of the more German and therefor more correct SCHAH-den-froy-duh with a European ‘a’: soft and short.

So I thought: JAY-sen, SCHAY-den; those are pretty similar sounding words. Why not use jasonfreude as the domain name for my weblog? So I did. And then I learned that I had been pronouncing schadenfreude wrong and that JAH-sen-froy-duh sounds nothing like my name.

Having Company

i’ve gone thru weeks of depression and feeling my faith slip further and further away.

tonight I prayed with a group of men who still believe and who esteemed our Father as truly a wonderful Friend and Lord. And I felt restored.

Could it be that my problem was simply one of location? Or rather, of situation? i was hanging out there on my own with no one to encourage me; no one to look to as an example; no one to lean on. when I became weak and began to lean there was no one to lean against: I fell all the way to the ground.

I need to find some friends to pray with. I apparently am no good without the encouragement.

Obscurity vs. Anonymity

I search on the internet all the time, and sometimes I’m searching for people. People I used to work with, friends from college, old high school buddies: I probably don’t go a week without searching for someone in one of those categories. I also regularly search for the phone numbers of local carry-out restaurants or neighbors I only know by first name and house number.

In fact, I searched for an old acquaintance today. One former coworker emailed me asking if I had any current contact info for another former coworker. “Why would I need that?” I thought, “I have a current version of the internet!”

So I searched for my former coworker. And why not? It’s not like she’s going to know about it. I won’t have to explain myself. One of the most enticing things about the privacy of Internet searches is that they go beyond anonymity and into obscurity. “Nobody knows who I am” is replaced by “nobody knows that I’m here.” I can be curious about someone without making them curious about me because they have no way of knowing that I’ve been asking questions.

Today someone searching for me totally missed the point, though: she called my house and talked to my wife.

Now, this person wasn’t searching for me me, but for someone named Jason with a similar last name to mine. Still, it was obvious that this person was randomly searching for the right Jason. “Is this Jason so-and-so? Do you live near some particular landmark? Do you remember Brenda?”

No, no, and no.

But it seems weird to me that someone would use the telephone as a search tool. Ever heard of Google? Anywho? Classmates? (If I provided links to those websites, dear reader, I would be insulting your intelligence.)

And the really strange part is how my knowing about this search has made me feel. All kinds of people may search for me on the internet for all kinds of reasons, but these searches are completely obscure and I don’t know about them and I don’t care. But the fact that some searcher went from obscurity to anonymity makes the search feel a little more like intrusion. Anonymity, at times, makes one more powerful and more frightening than identity.

Dogfish Head: Midas Touch Golden Elixir


I buy beer once a week, on Wednesdays, because that’s 10% off day at my Booze-Mart of choice. This week my favorite person—-my wife—-offered to go buy my beer for me. (Back off boys: she’s taken, and I know how to kick in the balls.) She returned with two beers: one of my favorites and one that I’d never tried before. The favorite: Shiner Hefeweizen. The new one: Dogfish Head: Midas Touch Golden Elixir. Hey, go try it.

To my cousin Brian: I know you live in a pisswater state where you have to buy all your beer from the government by the case, but go buy it. I’ll pay you for the other 23 if you don’t like it. Try try try.

The Trouble With People Like You

Yesterday I had my first dentist appointment in eight years. I only went in for a checkup—-none of my teeth were hurting—-but I expected that I’d have a cavity or two after all of that time away.

I didn’t have any cavities!

This was a source of joy for me and consternation for my dentist. He told me, “The trouble with people like you—or with teeth like yours—is that you don’t need to brush or floss much to keep from getting cavities.” Do you see how he immediately lumped me into a category? Now I’m a dental scoff-law!

Apparently lack of cavities isn’t the same thing as lack of dental problems. He told me that one day my teeth would pay for my neglecting to see a dentist regularly. So you too, be warned!