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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

fifi History 6: Everybody Should Love Each Other and Live in Peace and Harmony

NOTE: Citing my notoriously faulty memory and my tendency toward “mendacious untruth” (not my words), various fifi alumni and supporters have graciously added corrections and additions where necessary throughout this series. If there are no corrections in the article below, that must indicate that my recollections are without error.

Sensing the Approach of Nightfall,
fifi Places All Cards on the Table

hes_annette008

Turn! Turn! Turn!

After completing “Captain Kangaroo,” I got married, and so did Eric. In 1990, my son Max was born. Eric joined the military. Eric and I seemed to be drifting apart as our adult lives took shape. It was becoming more and more difficult to find time for collaboration on our silly little fifi project. In fact, after the completion of “Captain Kangaroo,” there was at least a year-long stretch during which we didn’t speak to each other at all. He moved, I moved, and we lost track of each other.

Sometime in 1990 or 1991, Eric wrote to me from Germany, where he was currently stationed. He had purchased a beautiful new guitar, he said. He had some great ideas for a new album, he said. As it happened, I had some ideas of my own. Tentatively, via hand-written letters (this was 1990; nobody had a personal computer yet) we began work on our final album.

Of course, each album we recorded had to be chosen from the list of albums we had already cited on the “Does its Duty” greatest-hits album. We chose “Everybody Should Love Each Other and Live in Peace and Harmony,” which meant that we would have to re-record “African Disequilibrium.” Since this was to be, by mutual agreement, our final album, we knew we would need to include the long-awaited Part I of “Evil Dairy Products.” We quickly decided that the rest of the album would be our “concept album.” After tossing around some not-very-interesting ideas for this proposed concept album, I pulled out a box that I had been saving for five years. This box was packed with scraps of smudged and wrinkled notebook paper, each sheet covered with the sophomoric abstract poetry we had written in high school. We read those aloud to each other, laughed ourselves sick, and picked out the “best” stanzas as the lyrics for our concept album.

Our grandiose vision necessitated additional musicians, so Eric recruited long-time friend and fifi supporter Dan Carnahan, making fifi a power trio, just like Triumph. “I’m young, I’m wild, and I’m FREE!”

In search of a new studio, closer to home and sympathetic to our unique “vision,” I walked into London Studio, right on “The Ave” in Seattle’s University District. The studio manager, Clark (“The Branimal”) Branum, seemed like a cool guy with a sense of humor… PLUS the studio was downstairs from a music store. According to Clark, we could use any equipment or instrument in the store, as long as we were recording after hours and didn’t break anything! This turned out to be completely untrue, but it sure sounded good at the time, so I scheduled a meeting with Clark to outline our recording plans.

When I came in for my meeting with Clark, I brought with me my “Recording Notebook,” which contained all of the lyrics, chord changes, hand-drawn drum patterns, lists of sound effects that were required for each song, amateurish sketches, lists of songs to use as production references, etcetera.

“This song will be a recreation of the F.A.R.T.S. concert performance at Mountlake Terrace High School, with audience members shrieking in pain as the lunch tables collapse, and the principal will be screaming through a bullhorn in the background!” I informed Clark, excitedly.

“This song starts with a radio dramatization of the Evil Dairy Products’ spaceflight and crash-landing on Earth and in the middle there’s a battle scene with laser sounds and explosions, while Captain Gouda announces their plans to mate with Earth women!” I continued, rapidly flipping through the pages of my notebook.

After a few minutes of this, Clark stopped me. “This all sounds great, Jason, but we’re not really set up to do that kind of elaborate, uh… pre-production work here. I’m gonna hook you up with a guy I know…”

Digital Pre-Production with Jay Kenney: 11/91-5/92

Thus began six months of pre-production work with Jay Kenney, in his Wallingford home. Every other week, or whenever I could afford it, I went to Jay Kenney’s house and followed him downstairs, to the back corner of his dark basement, behind the Hammond organ and Leslie tower, through a fringe curtain, to the Kenney Pre-Production Facility. I brought stacks of sound effect CDs and LPs, hand tools, easily-breakable pieces of wood, squeaky camera tripods, cassettes of fifi’s previous albums, various percussion instruments, and anything else that might help us to create the elaborate backing tracks and multitudinous sound effects we needed for the album. I programmed most of the drum tracks on a crummy old Yamaha drum machine which luckily had MIDI out capability. Once we had transferred my drum tracks into Jay’s computer, we would substitute more “professional” drum sounds, and Jay would fix any mistakes arising from my complete ignorance of music theory.

“Why is this snare on the 3?” he would ask, calmly, and I had no answer. Without comment, he would turn back to his computer screen and set about shifting the entire song one beat to the right. Or whatever. Half the time, I didn’t know exactly what he was doing. I just kept saying “no” until it sounded right, at which point I would say “oh holy shit that’s perfect!” and we would move on to the next item in my notebook.

Not only did Jay help me create and record all of the backing tracks and sound effects; he gradually became a co-writer and de facto fourth member of fifi.

“It should go like ‘DUH-duh-duh-DUH-duh-duh’ and then the church bell rings on the last iteration, and underneath that should be a military marching band snare drum like ‘ba-da-rrrap-bap-ba-da-rrrap-bap'” I would say, and Jay would do exactly that.

In May 1992, Jay and I had done all we could do in his basement. Jay off-loaded all of the digital info onto eighty (yes: EIGHTY) floppy discs, which we carefully numbered, boxed, and drove over to London Studios. While Clark monitored the process at $25 per hour, Jay loaded the floppies one by one into the studio computer, and then we played the audio out of the studio computer, in real time, and recorded it to half-inch analog tape.

Pre-Production was complete.

Well, almost. Of course, somehow the most current version of one of the songs had been lost in the transfer, which meant a return to Jay’s studio, another evening of work, and another transfer session at London. But, yeah, Pre-Production was essentially complete.

Analog Recording in London Studios with Clark Branum: 7/92-11/92

Sometime during the analog recording process, Eric and I realized that, inexplicably, this album was turning out to be really… you know: “good.” (Or at least “good” within the context of albums by fifi.) For the first time, we weren’t cutting corners or settling for “good enough” – we were actually producing the kind of album we had always envisioned. It began to dawn on us that our songs were actually funnier when they sounded more professional, when we weren’t relying simply on the cheap laughs of inept musicianship and production.

Unfortunately, this insight and newfound pride prompted us to completely toss out the work we had done on a couple songs and start from scratch. It was as if we had a child; a child that we had always loved, while also assuming that the child was mildly retarded. One day, we realized that – far from being a lovable idiot – our child might actually be a gifted sculptor (or whatever: you get the idea). Suddenly, we wanted to give that child every opportunity to shine. We deeply regretted our past inattention, vowing to become better parents.

All of which cost a lot of money, and longer hours in the studio, and only served to deepen the resentment in my little family:

Jen: No really, I did try for as long as I could to be supportive. I thought it would probably run its course, like a bad virus, and leave me with a shiny clean, new husband person, rid of his creative demons, and who would not address himself as a woman (Annette) or borrow any more of my lingerie. I was wrong.

Gamely trying to make it “fun” I joined on a few studio sessions… let me tell you – horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. The routine was this:

Get into a huge dither for days in advance, gathering tapes, lyrics, etc. Just panicking over nothing, as far as I can recall.
Get to studio, be mildly excited to be “doing something” with fifi.
Be bored for 17 hours while Eric and Jason laugh themselves silly over rotted dairy products or something.
Be pissed at all the girls who thought Jason was cute, smart, or amusing.
Beg to go home and Stop. The. fifi. Madness.

Not to be a stick in the mud, but shoot. We had a baby, we had a serious religion that I barely understood and was trying my best to believe in, and I was not yet 22. I wanted some attention from this “husband” of mine, and it was a dark day when I realized… his heart was forever to be shared with the sickly pink spectre of a poodle with blood coursing down its fangs… fifi. The bane of my marriage. The bane of my attempts to grow up. The evil temptress of my young husband’s soul.

You know what? The hell with fifi.

(insert awkward silence here)

Besides prompting us to shitcan some of our sub-par work, this dawning belief that we had an obligation to produce the BEST FIFI ALBUM EVER also led us to add more and more flavoring to the stew: I tried my hand at turntable “scratching.” Eric learned to play mandolin. We played the sound of a toy cellphone through an electric guitar pickup. We even convinced some members of the Mountlake Terrace High School Glee Club to come in and sing harmony parts.

Summer turned to Fall, and then to Winter, and the recording continued. Then Clark got in a dispute with London Studios management, and we were without a studio again. Which was actually fine, because I had gotten into a dispute with my own employers, and I now found myself out of work, living with my parents-in-law. Also, Eric was in Germany (or Panama; now I can’t remember).

Analog Recording and Mixing in Audio Logic Studios with Clark Branum and Jay Kenney: 11/92-5/93

Eventually, the situation righted itself; Clark and Jay went into business together and opened their own studio in North Seattle, named Audio Logic. I had completely lost contact with Eric, so I finished the album as my finances allowed. As Summer approached, we completed the analog mixing of “Everybody…”

Digital Mastering in 55th St Studio with Clark Branum and Guy Staley: Late 1993

But, alas… each of the separate “movements” of our epic “concept album” had been mixed separately. For the whole thing to work as envisioned, those movements had to cross-fade into each other. This necessitated a $350 night of “digital mastering” at 55th St. Studios, just off Broadway in North Seattle.

“So, did you bring the DAT for the final mix?” asked Guy, as we sat down to work.

Arrgh. A quick trip to Tower Records resolved that problem, and we continued.

When I stumbled, bleary-eyed, out of 55th St. Studios early the following morning, the album was complete. Total cost to yours truly: $4000.

Stations of the Cross

Above, I’ve given an overview of the production of fifi’s “Everybody Should Love Each Other and Live in Peace and Harmony.” Reading the above, however, may give you a distorted perspective, since I’ve intentionally skipped over a whole laundry list of bizarre occurrences and seemingly insurmountable roadblocks that plagued the project. Looking back through my notes from the time, I am quite honestly amazed; the fact that you can even listen to this album today is either a straight-up case of divine intervention, or else a staggering testament to dumb tenacity. Take your pick, though I’m leaning toward #2.

If you get an unhealthy charge out of other people’s misfortune, here’s an abbreviated list of some of the events that would have crushed the dreams of lesser men:

  • Eric was in the military, stationed in Germany, with no idea when he might return to Washington. Just when it looked like he might be coming home, Gulf War I flared up, and he was detained.
  • Although Eric was overseas, he had left his guitar at home. During his absence, Eric’s brother’s delinquent friends stole Eric’s guitar, bass, and amp… and pawned them for drug money.
  • Things began to look up when Eric bought himself a beautiful new guitar and amp in Germany. Upon his return to the States, however, he realized that the amp would only work in Europe. He finally got someone on the military base to replace the Germanic transformer with a good, old-fashioned Made-In-The-USA model, which solved the problem, as long as you could ignore the constant buzzing and occasional squealing sounds.
  • I got fired for “insubordination.” Around the same time, my car broke down. We ran up enormous credit card debt that took years to pay down. Jen and Max and I ended up living with Jen’s parents.
  • I developed a double hernia and had to undergo an operation, followed by the most painful week I have ever experienced in my life.
  • On the first day that I felt I might actually recover from the nightmarish hernia episode, I fell out of a tree and broke my back.
  • After returning to the States, Eric was living an hour away from me, in Tacoma. This not only limited the times we could write or practice together, but when Eric’s car inevitably died, it meant that Eric was stuck in Tacoma, unable to come to the studio, for several months.
  • Between paying for his car repair and other expenses, Eric was unable to pay his phone bill, which meant that I was not able to contact him for months at a time.
  • Dan’s phone was also shut off, so I couldn’t contact him, either. That didn’t matter so much, though, after…
  • Dan got thrown in jail.
  • Dan got evicted, thus completing the phone shut off/thrown in jail/evicted trifecta.
  • Eventually, Dan found a place to live, but had to pawn his only good guitar to pay his still-outstanding phone bill.
  • Eric’s wife was afflicted with a mystery ailment, forcing her to quit her job and confining her to bed for weeks at a time. Between the decreased income and the astronomical medical bills, Eric’s ability to contribute to our studio bill was understandably diminished.
  • I got a great new job… and then got fired again.
  • Eric, um… disappeared. I found out later that he had been posted to Panama, but he had not contacted me or left a forwarding address, so I’m like, um, Eric? WTF?
  • While Eric was posted to Panama, his wife moved to Alaska and divorced him.
  • Eric’s parents separated.
  • Just when it seemed that the cosmic tally of Eric’s bad luck could not possibly tolerate one more entry… Eric was involved in a horrible car accident in Panama, which left him with a totaled car, chronic back pain, and occasional seizures.

There was more, but those are the highlights.

Everybody Should Love Each Other and Live in Peace and Harmony: A Listening Guide

Evil Dairy Products, Part I – Almost certainly the most accomplished thing fifi ever recorded. The music at the beginning was dictated by me, then arranged and performed by Jay Kenney. During the opening “radio dramatization,” you can hear me and Creery and Jen, plus the voices of several friends who will no longer speak to me, offering further proof of Christopher Hitchens’ dictum that “Religion Poisons Everything.” The sound of the spaceship crashing is actually the sound of a semi truck crashing from “Terminator 2.” Much of the dialog during the battle scene was based on a scene from “The Mysterians” (if you have not seen it, do so immediately). My favorite line in the song, “Smell our stinky madness,” was courtesy of long-suffering fifi widow Jen. Eric’s guitar in this song is so good, it’s hard to believe that this is the same guy who played on “Sorry ‘Bout That.” I had to do the vocal track in two separate takes; I couldn’t switch between the two “voices” without coughing. This is one of the very few fifi songs on which I’m not embarrassed of my vocals. Every time I listen to this song, I’m flabbergasted that we pulled it off.

African Disequilibrium – I’ve already offered my apologia for this song, so I won’t do that again. I like this version of the song very much. We put an extraordinary amount of effort into all the background animal sounds; listen for the cow. While the primary drum tracks are all programmed, you can also hear some appropriate percussion that I added, and two nice samples from African field recordings that you will hear layered in at the end; they didn’t really match the timing of the other drum tracks, so we had to “play” the samples in time with the main tracks. We spent a lot of time on this song, and I think it sounds swell.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Movement 1 (The Complete, Total, Absolute, Utter Obliteration and Destruction of Everything That Is, Was, or Ever Will Be, or Ever Won’t Be, Either) – Over the spooky wind effects, you will hear sampled excerpts from earlier fifi recordings and, as a bonus, Eric speaking in German. He’s saying something like: “I am the scary pink dog” etc. The part where Eric and Dan begin singing “Up in the mountains, there is no sound…” always makes me laugh. Sublime.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Movement 2 (Woman) – The drum pattern and ambient synth sound were loosely inspired by David Sylvian’s “Backwaters” and Peter Gabriel’s “Birdy” soundtrack. The disembodied voice speaking in tongues (“Korah basandah boto botonday sateeyah”) is Robert Tilton. Pretty cool how the last snare hit kicks off Movement 3, don’t you think? That’s the digital mastering work of Guy Staley, right there.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Movement 3 (Stanley the Cat’s Colonic Phantasm) – Eric had come into possession of an electric mandolin, so we wrote a song to feature it. London Studios had some congas and one of those “vibra-slap” things which I desperately wanted to play, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to throw in all of that. This is one of the songs that we “rebooted” when we realized that it had the potential to be one of the best songs on the album. Clark Branum played the rhythm and lead guitar in the last two minutes of the song. I’m particularly happy with my percussion on this song, and Clark’s solo, and Eric’s vocals. The final backwards effect is another taste of the Staley magic.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Movement 4 (To Cudgel [One’s Brains]) – On this song, you can hear Tamara Zagurski, Traci Sheehan, and Danny Higdon, of the Mountlake Terrace High School Glee Club, gamely providing the backup vocals. I had a long-standing unrequited crush on Tamara. Sigh. Plus, she did a fantastic job on our stupid songs, and acted like she was having fun. Thanks for that, Tamara. On this song, you can also hear my lame attempts at turntablism. At approximately 1:20 into the song, there is a spot for Eric’s guitar solo, but he doesn’t appear, so we call him at home, and he plays his solo over the phone. In reality, of course, Eric’s guitar solo is simply played in the studio, but his vocals are actually recorded over the phone, calling the studio from the music store upstairs.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Movement 5 (And Now… Annette’s Anti-Anathematizational Analysis) – This song is intended to be an exaggerated recreation of the disastrous F.A.R.T.S. Benefit Concert at Mountlake Terrace. To this end, we brought our 20 closest friends into the studio to record several tracks of crowd noise, which we layered on top of some crowd sounds from a sound effects CD. Historically interesting note: As the song opens, He’s shouts “I’m Not Neil Diamond!” – a song that we played at the F.A.R.T.S. concert, but never recorded. Eric plays He’s, as well as Jerry Karnofski, the MLT principal. Throughout the song, you can hear “Jerry” chastising various honor roll members and football players for their anarchic behavior. Listen closely, and you can hear automatic weapons fire in the audience. Jay provides the faux sitar sounds and other keyboards, and Clark did an excellent job of making me sound as much as possible like Robert Plant. When the tables begin to collapse, that’s the sound of me breaking kindling and throwing 2x4s on the cement floor in Jay’s basement. “Thanks for all the toys – they’re gonna make some starving kids really happy!”

The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Movement 6 (Blind Man in a Revolving Door) – The background department store ambiance is from a sound effects CD, and the sound of the revolving door is from a squeaky camera tripod. Eric’s final wail of despair always makes me laugh. “Fire Sale in the Prosthetic Limbs department!”

The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Movement 7 (Slumbering Somnolence While Sleeping) – The delicate guitar in this song was written and played by Dan Carnahan. The melancholy fake cello is Jay. The storm sounds and thunder are from my sound effects CD (inspired by “The Song is Over”). The final “rain does seep” harmony is Jen (nice job, pal). One of my top ten favorite fifi songs.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Movement 8 (Cozy Malevolence; “Distended” Geese) – More of the “Department Store Ambiance” track from the sound effects CD, plus a Muzak track from the Capitol “Production Music” set.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Movement 9 (Soliloquy for Two People) – Does anyone else remember that “They call these cookies ‘squirrels’?” commercial? No? Just Eric and me?

The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Movement 10 (Bob Barker’s Infamous Cannibalistic Rodential Veterinarianism) – Another one of the songs that we started, then dumped and re-started, because it deserved better than our initial amateurish attempt. One of my favorite fifi tracks. The audio samples are all from a series of stereo test records I bought at stores in the University District. The “Stereophonic Sound Spectacular!” sample was later used by the trip-hop group Hooverphonic; they even named an album “Stereophonic Sound Spectacular.” Jay provided the propulsive phased synth sound, I wrote the drum track and played the socket wrench, and Eric provided the multiple guitar tracks and the “Zooropa”-inspired vocals. During the “Track the Groove” chorus, you can hear a toy cell phone held against the pickups of Eric’s guitar. Hard to believe this is the same fifi that recorded “Death Poodle.”

The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Movement 11 (An Important Message from He’s) – In my opinion, this and EDP Part I have the most excellent guitar work of the entire fifi oeuvre. This song is almost entirely the creation of Eric and Dan. I especially like the reverse reverb, which leads me to the following digression:

Linguists divide the mechanisms by which cultures develop a written language into two broad categories: Blueprint Copying and Idea Diffusion. In the case of Blueprint Copying, members of one culture receive the building blocks of a written language directly from a more linguistically-advanced culture. In the case of Idea Diffusion, the recipient culture may be aware of the fact that surrounding cultures possess written languages – may even recognize the advantages of a written language – but nobody has yet handed over a goddamn dictionary or anything useful like that, so the recipient culture is eventually forced to invent a written language of their own, from scratch.

The reverse reverb effect here is an excellent example of Idea Diffusion: This is an effect we had heard on other artists’ albums, and we were definitely aware of how fucking METAL that effect was… but we had no direct information on how to recreate it, so we had to make something up.

After much trial and error, we hit upon the following: record the guitar track, play the recorded track backward while adding a reverb effect to the output, record the result to a separate track, and then play the whole mess forward again. Which may not have been the same way Judas Priest did it, but our Mickey Mouse method sounded so perfect coming over the studio monitors that we laughed until tears streamed down our faces.

The “…and after death, the judgment” sample is from a Jerry Falwell LP I picked up in a thrift store. Dan is singing/growling the lead vocals, and Eric is doubling the vocals in the background. A perfect example of one of our songs being funnier because it almost sounds… you know, professional.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Movement 12 (O Heed the Exhortations of fifi, the Prescient Pooch) – The opening is inspired by the beginning of Supertramp’s “Even in the Quietest Moments.” Eric is playing the sweet lead guitar, and Dan is providing the gnarly rhythm guitar; an improvised addition that kicks the song up a notch. Jay is playing the (fake) flute, triumphant (fake) brass section, and other keyboards. Members of the much-lauded Mountlake Terrace High School Glee Club are providing the harmony vocals. On the original recording, Eric said “Come on, now!” one stanza later. When Clark and I were mixing, we both felt that this should come just before the introduction of the triumphant horns, as if Eric was summoning them into existence. Clark sampled that vocal outburst, placed it one stanza earlier, erased the original, and all was well.

VIDEO

  1. “Sorry ‘Bout That” Documentary, Part 6A
  2. “Sorry ‘Bout That” Documentary, Part 6B

AUDIO

To download any of the songs individually, just right-click on the desired track in the playlist above and select “Save link as…”

To download the entire set (including the fifi-approved, cross-faded album version of TSoOHC) in a .zip file, click here.

LYRICS

In case you’re interested (and also because Robin says she can’t understand what the hell we’re singing), the lyrics for this album can be found here.

Proceed to the next chapter in the spellbinding fifi saga.

336 Comments

  1. Hey Robert ~ sincere thanks for the thoughtful comment. I will make two brief responses, and leave it at that.

    The (ever-evolving) theory of evolution has nothing to say about the origin of life. If you think this is a “fly in the ointment,” then I would respond that you do not understand evolution. Please read “Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne. Every point raised in your JW “Evolution Book” is answered there, lucidly and thoroughly.

    Blades of grass and foliage returning in the spring are explained perfectly by well-documented natural processes. I say, if you insist on positing a supreme being as the prime mover for these (entirely natural and not remotely mysterious) processes, you are the one required to provide proof.

    In any case, thanks for stating the opposing view so thoughtfully and respectfully. Your nuanced reply was uncommon and refreshing.

  2. My name is Robert, and I am unashamed to tell you all that I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have been so since I was baptized in 1975, less than three weeks before my 18th birthday. So that’s, what? … 36+ years now. Prior to that I had been schooled in Mormonism since the age of four or five, though I never fully accepted or even believed its teachings.

    I have not read every post in this exchange, but I have read–with interest–probably 25% or more, enough to get the gist of things and the various contributors’ points of view. It is reminiscent of many such wrangling debates I have been involved in over the decades, especially those on the Internet. By the way, some of the posts here are quite well-thought out, well-researched and well-written! Bravo!

    I typically avoid these debates, and my desire is to avoid this one. Such debates are exhausting and quickly devolve into endless loops of one’s trying to untangle someone else’s misrepresentation of what that one thought he or she had clearly stated. For these reasons I am not seeking to debate anyone here and do not intend to reply. But if you would, please kindly permit me to weigh in with my opinion, my point of view, and I will disappear as quickly as I came.

    “Oh, sure, Robert, you just want to drop a bomb and leave. How brave of you!” No. Please refer to the first two sentences of the previous paragraph, especially the second one.

    On the welcome page at Robin’s Web site there is a photograph of a hand-written sign tacked up on a telephone pole (what the ancient Greeks might call a “stauros” if it has no cross members) and that sign says: “Think that you might be wrong.” That is very good–no, excellent–advice! Please be assured: I question myself every day of my life as to whether I might be wrong. Seriously, I do, on the big things and on the little things. If one closes oneself to the possibility that he or she may be wrong, then I submit that one is an arrogant fool and will more than likely end up on the arrogant fool ash heap of history, from which the smoke ascends day and night forever.

    That said, I fully understand the unwillingness a person may have in believing there is an all-powerful Creator. If a person is pondering the possibility and looks toward religion for satisfying answers, he or she is bludgeoned immediately and mercilessly with such a dizzying array of conflicting interpretations, each purporting to be the only correct one, well, how could anyone blame that person for wanting to run away screaming? Couple that with all the unspeakable atrocities committed in the name of God throughout history, and the idea that there is no God becomes more appealing. Then, like water seeking the path of least resistance, some come to the conclusion that it is pointless to try to prove the “unprovable,” so why even bother? “We are here,” they reason, “and that is all we know for sure. Therefore, it is all I will accept.”

    They are not without company, and they are not without comforters. The biblical Higher Criticism movement, which gained popularity beginning in mid 18th century Europe, laid the groundwork for people to accept the Theory of Evolution a hundred years later. Suddenly there were tools available to the educated class with which they could begin to tear down this “antiquated notion” that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It was chic. It was vogue. And it stuck.

    At this point it would be perilously easy to slip into one of those interminable debates about carbon dating, potassium-argon dating, the fossil record, etc., ad nauseum. “Been there, done that” so many times, I refuse to go down that painful and fruitless path again. But each time I did, I purposely and actively considered that I might be wrong about special creation, and each time I could lay my head down at night satisfied that I did not share ancestors with apes and that my ancestor, Adam, was directly created in the image of God.

    There are flies in the ointment of Evolution theory, the most significant of which is the origin of life itself. ‘Nuff said about that.

    I see proof of God’s existence in every blade of grass. I find assurance of Jehovah’s promise of the resurrection every Spring when I see the emergence of fresh, new foliage sprouting forth from every tree. As glorious as that is, it will pale in comparison to the realization of welcoming billions back from the grave!

    Yes, there have been times in the past when Jehovah commanded the extermination of entire populations of cities. It seems unthinkable to us that a so-called “God of love” could do such a thing. If you think such actions recorded in the Bible are proof that God does not exist, think that you might be wrong. Consider that if the Creator does exist, it stands to reason that our perspective would be vastly different from his. So do not make the mistake of projecting our limited view onto God. Rather try putting yourself in his place, seeing things from his perspective.

    Start with the biblical teaching that we are all dead to God already anyway, due to our imperfection, and that it is only by his forbearance that we were allowed to come into existence in the first place. Enter Jehovah’s purpose to redeem humankind through the nation of his choosing and the nations round about, many of whom, steeped in worship of demon gods, child sacrifice and disgusting sex worship, stood in opposition to that nation, Israel. Then consider that, as Jehovah explained to Moses, he would make his name known. “I am that I am,” or more accurately, “I shall prove to be what I shall prove to be,” meaning: “I will become whatever it is necessary for me to become in order to fulfill my promises and my purpose.” That is the expanded meaning of his very name itself, Jehovah, or Yahweh, which in ancient Hebrew is the causative form, imperfect state, of the verb hawah’ (become). In making themselves enemies of God’s chosen nation, those nations made themselves enemies of God. Taking into account the above-mentioned circumstances, Jehovah, in backing and protecting his people, fulfilling the promise he made to Abraham, became to those nations a god of war. As Creator, he exercised his prerogative to disallow the continued existence of his enemies. He has the right to do so, and in so doing he provided a warning example to all future generations of what will be the ultimate outcome for those who choose to oppose him. Note that people who would otherwise have been killed with the rest, but who went out of their way to make peace with Israel, were spared, e.g. Rahab and the Gibeonites.

    I consider every day whether I might be wrong. My conclusion thus far is that it takes a great deal more faith to believe life accidentally sprang from nothing than it does to believe that life, in all its great diversity, exists as a result of intelligent design. As stated, I do understand the opposing point of view; however I must respectfully disagree with it.

    Thanks for allowing me to express my opinion. I will take my leave now.

  3. Very clever, but a bit glib. I think if you actually read the conversation, you would see that the points of contention were 1) whether religion is a healthy/useful cultural phenomenon/way of looking at the world (sounds like your answer would be “nope”), and 2) whether there is any convincing evidence for the claims made by religion (which, for the purposes of this discussion, can be read as “Christianity”).

    No points, but thanks for playing!

  4. “RELIGION: GOOD OR EVIL?” DEBATE

    Good/evil are concepts that religions taught us. It would be stupid to try to characterize religions with these concepts, because it would implicitly mean that we accept the scheme with which religions brainwashed us.

    FAIL.

  5. Sweet post Matt – just wanted you to know it was appreciated 🙂 You Rock!

  6. I wish I were a better writer – please know that I could be looking in the mirror and saying all those things directly to myself (and really that is how I am thinking) – I hate the use of you/your because it sounds so pointed – It’s not meant to be!
    much love to you all!!

  7. Jason,

    Thank you for the forum, and for your input, energy, and thoughts. In direct response to the points above (where you use my name specifically):
    I don’t believe I have ever “complained” that atheists are “too negative”. I wonder why you included me in that statement by name…
    From my own personal experience, I am also well aware that I will find answers; I already know a number of them . I’m quite strong-minded, strong-willed, and intelligent and I have been in (and out) of this Christian camp for 26 years now, and in that time I have always been open to engage in the tough questions (and in forums such as this one) with believers and non-believers alike. I am well aware that I could find an answer to each and every one of my questions (and yours) in just about any flavor and color I might prefer. Although I may be coming from a different conclusion than you and than John, you shouldn’t think I am any less a skeptic.
    You can be confident that I am consistently looking for a deeper truth, and I’m not one to ever fully trust any one person’s answer about anything (we are all colored by our own experiences). While for the sake of relationship, I may be agreeable, I have never allowed anyone to tell me what to think. I think you probably know me well enough to see the truth in that.

    For my sum up I would say to each of you, as dangerous as you might feel religion – or lack of religion, may be. I say the real danger is in judging one another without truly understanding one another. I would encourage you all to ask more questions and make fewer judgments. I think when we are open to learning, questioning all our preconceptions, we get closer to truth (which may not be the same as answers). There should be no fear in questioning what we think we know and even what we know we know. I believe the truth should be able to stand in the face of ALL OUR experiences.
    Don’t let your ego stand in the way of learning.

  8. So…here’s the point I was going to make…

    **chirp chirp**

    Uh? Hello? Anyone here?

    (tumbleweed blows across main street – a dog barks in the distance)

    Actually I was going to return on Monday with my final comments. I spent WAY TOO MUCH time running my last comments through my head, banging myself upside the head by trying to sound “glib” – coming up with Jason’s arguments, John’s arguments, etc. Rattling this here and there.

    Since I was a minor player in this exchange here’s my last comment(s).

    1. As for the Bible, I think I said early on that I gave no real stock to the “Old Testament” and looked upon the “New Testament” for more truth.

    2. As for being a Christian, I do believe in the Jesus Christ that said that the two greatest commandments are to “Love God” and “Love your Neighbor.” There’s nothing in those two commandments that talk about marginalizing others, killing, protesting funerals of AIDS victims, popping out kids by the dozens, etc.

    3. For the point of “cafeteria Christians” that Jason used…I spent the weekend with a priest and his wife. The same man who married Miriam and myself. Friends since I was 17 years of age. Good, honest, people struggling like we all struggle. I went to a beautiful church yesterday, stained glass windows, old people clinging to a hope of an eternal life, children confused and curious as to what mom has dragged them to, crippled people possibly hoping for a miracle or, at the very least, hoping for hope. Religion poison everything? I don’t know. Unitentionally enabling a sick and destructive system? Honestly…I didn’t see it. I witnessed people in a community trying to connect with something beyond themselves.

    4. John asked about my relationship with God. It’s simply a desire to seek that which I can’t see or feel but sense is there. Connecting through a church, a community and through acts and rituals that enhance that connection to the “other.”

    5. Though the initial comment was “Religion Poison’s Everything” and then turned into “Does God Exist?” – I still say that we should be truly judged on what we believe and how we show that belief in the world and to our fellow man and woman and member of the LGBTQ community.

    6. I strongly encourage all of us who participated in this “banter” to work towards the vision(s) that we feel will bring more peace, unity, love, compassion to this broken world. Whether it’s Jason’s book “Ex-Witness to the Truth” (feel free to use that title), John producing “Weird” Al Yankovic’s song “Hawkins is Just All Right With Me” (sung to the tune of “Jesus is Just All Right With Me”), Cami and Jason and I making that documentary we want to make (seriously) or Korin and Jamie and Eric and Keith doing whatever they’re doing…we all have a vision as to the future and we all have an obligation to see if we can make that vision happen…or come to the conclusion to see if it’s really plausible.

    7. Lastly…As much as we might not feel it, or see it, I do honestly think that this world is sloooooooowly changing for the better (Prop 8 not withstanding). I do honestly think that people ARE becoming more tolerant of those we don’t understand, more loving of those we fear, more hopefull for those who don’t have hope. The world IS brighter, the glass IS half full and more positive change IS coming.

    Thank you Jason, and everyone else who participated.

    Matt….out.

    (saloon doors slowly creak shut and footsteps and spur jangles fade into the distance)

    Roll credits.

  9. As my “closing argument,” I submit the following video, which addresses the crux of the debate (for me, anyway) over the existence of god:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T69TOuqaqXI

    When I say “I don’t believe in your god” or even (when I’m feeling more cantankerous) “I am an atheist”… I am simply saying that the available evidence has not convinced me. I am not saying “there could not possibly be a god” nor am I making a case for a wider system of belief.

    To the end, it appeared that this point was lost on the Christians in this thread – witness Jamie’s repeated insistence that atheists are making “absolute” claims, etc.

    I have learned much during the course of this conversation. If the Christians take away one nugget, I would hope that it is this: To say I am an atheist merely means that I have seen no convincing evidence for the existence of god, therefore I don’t believe in him. It does NOT mean: “There absolutely cannot possibly be a god,” nor does it imply any wider “system of belief” or set of moral guidelines.

    To Korin and others who complain that atheists are “too negative” – would you have said the same to those fighting for civil rights, who pointed out the long history of racial oppression in our country? Try to understand that, to the non-theist, it appears that the history of religion is a history of oppression, violence and mental slavery; that is why I keep pointing out the negative. And I will continue to do so. As I said before, you’ve got millions of Christians like yourselves, all pointing out the glorious positive side of your faith and religion. Don’t begrudge the few voices who push you to acknowledge the rest of the story.

    Korin – you said you would follow up, do some research on the more unpleasant things found in the Bible. From personal experience, I can guarantee you that you WILL find answers to those questions. There is no shortage of apologists, eager to explain away those scriptures. I would ask you, though, to look a bit deeper. Don’t simply be satisfied that answers exist; ask yourself honestly whether those answers are good enough.

    Thanks again, everyone.

  10. James,
    I didn’t see your post between my last two so I just wanted to acknowledge comments in 325.
    I agree, it is so difficult to get a persons tone from writing. a face to face discussion would have probably cleared up a number of these misunderstandings. Thanks for engaging in this debate. I found it really interesting and everybody made some excellent points. Hopefully there are no hard feelings all around. Perhaps some post of Jason’s will cover another topic that engages all of us again.
    Like you am looking forward to any responses from those who have been keeping quiet lately.

  11. okay, really and truly last thing.
    Stand up for what you believe in is fine. but make sure it is worth believing and don’t ever refuse to re-examine those beliefs.
    To believe something despite strong evidence to the contrary is really what we have been arguing about. Belief is what gave us crusades and Stalin’s purges. It was gave us war in the middle east.
    Rather than belief rely on evidence and be flexible.
    Strongly believing in something that isn’t true is harmful.
    Believing blacks are inferior to whites repugnant. Believing jews are subhuman is repugnant. Believing your wife (or husband) deserved a punch in the face because they mouthed off is repugnant.
    Don’t Just Believe. wow, just wow.
    I will check this space for a few more days. If anyone has something they want to address to me directly Jason has my email address.

  12. John,

    Thank you for your points, your time and your committment. I have said and could continue to say the same things about many of the things you’ve responded with (“this is already wayyy longer than I wanted and I haven’t even summed up yet but I felt the points I made earlier were either ignored, misrepresented or framed in a manner that made them easy to dismiss.”)

    With as much as we’ve covered, not all questions were answered by everyone. And I do mean everyone. I did make an honest attempt to answer direct questions that seemed to be pointed to me and that had strong merit or warranted a response. I’m quite certain there were questions I didn’t/couldn’t get to or simply didn’t answer out of sheer volume of what we’ve covered. I would at least hope that you would agree I didn’t take the easy way out and answered questions in a way that you would hope I would. Not say things like “I don’t know, That’s just what I believe, everything is open to interpretation.” No. I took a stand and presented my case. While you don’t have to agree with any, most or some of what I said, hopefully you’ll give me props for having conviction and using something to back up what I believe and not just say “that’s what I’ve been taught or how I was raised to believe.”

    Everyone in here missed questions. Everyone at some point glossed over stuff or simply just dismissed the other’s argument occasionally. I felt I used valid points and wasn’t missing the point, as you stated above. If I answered off base out of misunderstanding your question or intent of the question, my apologies. I just went back up and reread your census argument and realized you weren’t saying there were no census’ ever taken, which was how I framed the response and based my answer. We all did it, but I would hope no one did it intentionally. I know I didn’t.

    This will be my last post. I’m not a last word kind of guy. I don’t feel the need to be or to have to get the last word in. I’ve enjoyed this very much. Trust me at my word when I say I have no hard feeling, John. This would have been more fun and interesting had we been in the same room together with laptops and WiFi so we could have actually heard the tone of voice from each other and understook when someone was mad or upset. I think that’s called a think tank…. It didn’t happen often for me as sometimes Jason would say things like “take a deep breath”. I was never in need of one except for one time and that was early on after several times being misquoted and attributed things I did not say or imply. The last “John Episode” didn’t have me upset, I simply used caps to show my response and make it easier to see what I was saying.

    I look forward to reading the last few entries. Hopefully, Matt will survive his weekend in Neverland (E.WA) and chime in with some final thoughts. Eric as well. Funny, we didn’t hear much from Joel except early on and I thought he’d be vocal. Maybe he took the approach I suggested I’d take near the end of all this if I didn’t believe. I’ll have to call him and find out. Wife, kids, family, work…. maybe he had much more important things to tend to. Or Comcast disconnected his cable/internet.

    God Bless you all.

    James

  13. Oh, I forgot.
    “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof” that seems to be self explanatory but if you could google it to be sure.
    If I say I can read french you might just believe me or you might ask for a demonstration. but if I claim I have achieved cold fusion you would do well to ask me for the parameters of the experiment and try to have them it replicated.
    “You can’t prove a negative” The person making the positive assertion has the burden of proof. You can’t prove I can read french because I might not do it in front of you or I may have memorized certain passages. It is up to me to prove to you that I can read french by demonstrating it well controlled and repeatable experiments. (same with cold fusion)
    Now, I Am Done.
    john

  14. To Sum Up:
    As explained I love a good debate but this one seems to have run its course. We weren’t making any real progress any more. I wish Matt could have been around for the end but perhaps we will check in and submit some final thoughts. I would love to hear them from both Matt and Eric before we shutter this thing up and I stop obsessively checking it

    An exercise like this helps sharpen critical thinking skills and can reveal errors in logic and judgement and hopefully get people to think more critically about what they believe to be true.

    Here are a few books and ideas that I would like to recommend.
    Carl Sagan: Demon Haunted World. Just a great book about critical thinking and how important it is.
    Michael Shermer: Why People Believe Weird Things. another interesting read on how and why we think what we think.
    Michael Shermer: “Denying History” This book is about Holocaust deniers but it goes deeper than that and into how people manipulate history and evidence and why they do it.
    Randel Helms: “The Gospel Fictions” and “Who Wrote The Gospels”
    Tim Callahan: “Secret Origins Of The Bible”
    Robert Parks: Voodoo Science. More critical thinking.

    I would also recommend the magazine Skeptic. (slightly less so Skeptical Inquirer. It is good but if you can only pick one)

    Here are a few links.
    http://www.theskepticsguide.org/resources/logicalfallacies.aspx
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_razor

    okay, that is enough. I could go on and on.
    It was great to reconnect with Jason and more briefly Matt and Eric and I thought everyone was very interesting and made good points and I enjoyed the discussion with all of you.
    Take care
    Kung Fu Grip
    John

  15. And Lastly, as discussed much, much earlier it is rigid ideology, dogmatic beliefs and intolerance, I am including political, cultural and religious prejudice in this, that are humanities greatest failings. I think an interesting argument would be whether people commit atrocities like the ones Jamie describes because of or in spite of their religious or political beliefs? I think that a strong argument could be made that atrocities committed in the name of religion were made largely because they could be rationalized as the will of god and they could back those arguments up by pointing to passages in their sacred texts. It is pretty tough to resist divine authority.
    Whereas something like communist purges in both Russia and China were undertaken despite the political beliefs they professed. Both regimes were dictatorships that were interested in power both politically and economically not in actually creating a workers utopia where everyone was equal. (an argument for another time I suppose).
    This is why I am so willing to argue and debate and discuss religion or politics and culture with people. I strongly feel that any ideology, religious or political, that isn’t logical, testable and evident based lets people start down a path to irrational and harmful decisions. Whether that be homeopathic medicine and new age quackery, burning witches and jews or the unrealistic and unworkable “One works according to his abilities and gets according to his needs” (Proudhon)
    comparing sheer numbers of atrocities can be a bit misleading since there wasn’t the population density and tools of destruction that we have now. Although I will admit that many places were slaughters are occurring now can be accomplished the old fashioned way.
    Atheism might be defined as a “belief system” by some (and is) but certainly not a moral code. A lack of belief in god as a belief? okay, whatever. Personally, I am not an atheist and the “belief system” argument is why I never use the term to describe myself. I use skeptic if I use anything or occasionally non-theist. I will explain why in the sum up.

    this is already wayyy longer than I wanted and I haven’t even summed up yet but I felt the points I made earlier were either ignored, misrepresented or framed in a manner that made them easy to dismiss.
    So the next post will be my sum up. Really.

  16. Well, this has been interesting. It does seem to have run it’s course and this is probably a good place to stop.
    I will just go over a few of the last arguments sum up. While no one will read it I hate to leave things unfinished.
    Jamie: RE 302.
    Thanks for the citation. I traded my bible in a long time ago so I couldn’t look it up.( just discovered the google for bible passages! so kewl) I wasn’t sure from what you wrote if you assumed they fled or if they had actually fled.
    Gospel of James. I indicated it was from the Apocrypha which, as we all know, means that it was left out of the bible. I even said I can see why it was left out of the bible although I didn’t site scholarship just the plausibility of it. However, Since the main people posting on this blog have read the bible I thought it was safe to assume that they know why things are part of the Apocrypha and not the bible. (unless they are conspiracy loons). I was just pointing out that the gospel of James was the earliest record of the “slaughter of the innocents” outside of Matthew and it isn’t mentioned in other Gospels. So, the earliest source outside of Matthew wasn’t credible enough to be in the bible itself. You and I dislike the gospel of james for the same reason you just misunderstood how I was using it.
    You say it sounds like I am grasping at straws but you got my argument completely backwards.
    Jamie, your responses are more like retorts and non sequiturs.
    I didn’t equate modern day politics and taxes to ancient practices. You are arguing the wrong point. If you actually read what i wrote you may notice that while I did use the seattle to boston as an example of practicality (which was really just a matter of distance. i can drive to boston in a few days. joseph and mary could have walked 60 miles in a few days) you completely ignore the real point of the argument. The real point of the argument is that there is no record of that census taking place. There are records of a census but it occurs after herod’s death and it wasn’t conducted in the manner described in Matthew. We have records of how these things were conducted. You dismiss out of hand that they would if there was a census that they would have the judean’s conduct it since rome did not administer there directly. Also you say joseph and mary only had to travel 60 or 70 miles. What about everyone else the census would have affected? by myopically fixating on the two people the story follows you have complete missed the realities of what a census that required everyone. Everyone. Every One. to return to the land of their origin to be counted. It is not practical or plausible.
    It is a work of fiction that is used to have the nativity take place in bethlehem. I hate having to type the whole thing twice and wish I could be more succinct but you have glossed over or ignored the most salient points of the argument.
    It isn’t surprising that jesus fulfilled over 300 distinct and separate prophecy. That is exactly what the writers of the gospels were doing. creating a version of jesus’s life that conformed to OT prophecy and to confirm and persuade that he was the messiah. You are right about us not debating prophecy but for the wrong reasons, tha OT prophecy doesn’t matter to me. It does matter to me because people use the bible and its teachings for some very wrong headed and unpleasant things. It is also pointless because it is clear you are never going to change your mind no matter how much evidence to the contrary exists.
    RE 304. again (and again) you miss the point. I noted a lot of man killing. How many slaughters were going on in post? I was talking about the killing of women because while it could be argued that the men were killed in battle (or slaughtered by angels but since this is probably an allegory, unless you really think angels slaughtered a city and woman got turned into a pillar of salt) while the woman were treated like cattle or property. Gang raped, or if you prefer “known” to death or sacrificed. So, you misunderstood or willfully ignored what I wrote. It is apparent we both have bents. I find human sacrifice and rape abhorrent and it seems you like to project the very attributes you display onto those you are arguing with.
    I try to be as open minded as I can. If you can find a convincing argument for a person letting their daughter be raped or sacrificed like a goat I could be convinced. But it would have to be pretty compelling. I mean really, really compelling.
    and just to show you that there are no hard feelings and that I do try to be open minded I googled Genesis 2:18-23 and I agree. the interpratation they have at the website doesn’t seem to agree with what the KJV says. While I won’t dismiss everything on this website because of it I would certainly double check any time I used it as a reference and it makes me skeptical of the other interprataions. It might prove helpful when discussing the the topic of the treatment of women in the bible to use the site to quickly locate passages in the bible regarding it’s stance on women and then either check the bible itself or a reputable website, if like me, you don’t have a copy of the bible.
    AND that is how an open minded skeptic does it.

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