Faith like fission, and other shorts
Some interesting, if flawed, analogies.
Faith like fission
(this and the next one inspired by a conversation with Rachel Davies)
Many things are dangerous. The ineffable mystery of the cosmos is one. Uranium is another. We have many ways of making dangerous things useful. Logic is one. Well-timed explosives are another. If we use explosives/logic to maneuver enough uranium/mystery into a small enough area/entity, it will provide an excellent power source/idea of God. If we do it wrong, it will explode. It sometimes seems that Christianity is like fusion. We know how to make it go thermonuclear, but keeping it cold is difficult.
Clothes like cars
A dress’s hemline, like a vehicle’s speed, can vary greatly on a case by case basis. We drive faster seeking utility; we hem higher seeking, what, beauty? Traditionalists like to imply that there’s a hemline limit, and if you go above it, you should be ticketed, or at least called bad names. But even traditionalists tend to treat the speed limit as a guideline, not a hard-and-fast rule. The point isn’t to conform to arbitrary guidelines, but to avoid causing collisions. When speeds increase, we compensate by keeping our vehicles farther apart. But it can never help for half the cars to act like it’s the other half’s job to prevent crashes. (Don’t try to guess which gender is the first half.)
Artifacts like animals
(this and the next one inspired by Miguel Tamen’s book What Art Is Like)
Things that we make, like things that we discover to be alive, are more than just stuff lying around for us to use. Artifacts/animals can act without being acted upon, though they cannot even exist without being pro/created. Art/humanity is a subset of a larger category, but a subset with a special moral and ontological status, and a subset that it’s hard to give criteria for, first, because it’s not clear what is being singled out–why is a sculpture/Homo sapiens art/human and a chair/Pan troglodytes not?–and second, because sometimes we use “art”/”human” not like the word “green,” but like the word “good”. We tend to fear the idea of artificial intelligence, but it might bother us less if we thought of droids not as artificial animals, but as human art.
Works of art like dead people
Works of art, like dead people, makes us want to talk but cannot talk back. We feel that we are friends with them, but all we have are memories and decaying matter. These memories and matter feel as if they have ethical significance, but it’s not clear what that significance could be. When we finish a book/someone dies, we think about them constantly, and then gradually less and less, but we feel it would be wrong to stop completely, that if we do, we never really “got” the book/”cared about” the person. We often feel obliged to talk about them, and even have ceremonies dedicated to such talking, but we’re never really sure what to say. Still, some things, we’re sure, are the wrong things to say.