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Comment Re:really... (Score 1) 622

I come from an LDS family, so I grew up with a set of traditions surrounding Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. There are numerous Mormon sects, each with their own traditions, and not all of them in agreement with the others. In the mainstream LDS group, people generally thought that Joseph had something called the "urim and thummim," which was a kind of loupe or spectacles that the prophet would gaze through in order to divine the writing on the gold plates. He would read along in this manner, dictating to his scribe. The urim and thummim is based in old Testament lore, and Joseph claimed to have found one of these divining objects along with the gold plates, an armor breastplate, and a sword, all buried together in the Cumorah hill.

Smith got through 116 pages of manuscript and then loaned these out to a friend so that the friend could show the work to some interested parties. These 116 pages were subsequently lost, at which time Joseph Smith said that a divine messenger came to retrieve the gold plates along with the urim and thummim. The story goes that, after some time passed, Joseph again found favor with God and was reinstated as translator, only this time without the aid of the urim and thummin. Instead, Smith used his seer stone.

Whether or not this is a reasonable explanation for a religious text, it is not inconsistent with the American frontier folk magic of the early nineteenth century. Growing up with these traditions, most Latter-Day Saints have no problem with them. Because many of them didn't know about the seer stone until very recently (the church published some photos, which you can probably find online), it is a challenge for them to believe that translation via seer-stone is a "reasonable explanation," as you say. It doesn't exactly square with the urim and thummim version of the story that they had originally. I'm sure this is all absurd nonsense to most outsiders, although the LDS church is maintaining its congregation and perhaps even growing it slightly, in spite of whatever perceived absurdity exists within its history. Mormons are by no means particularly stupid or credulous, and generally the church doesn't bank on its history when looking for converts.

Reasonable or not, I find Mormon history quite fascinating. Well, that is, up until these recent times in which we now find the largest sect of Mormonism little more than a gigantic corporate franchise. Speaking of America, Eric Hoffer once said that "what starts out here as a mass movement ends up as a racket, a cult, or a corporation." Indeed. Nevertheless, you'll find the Mormons to be an excellent lot in spite of their sappy, corporate church.

Comment Re:really... (Score 2) 622

The LDS claim is that their scripture was translated from an ancient record, written by men, found buried in a hill in rural New York by Joseph smith. Although not a part of the official history taught in Sunday school, Mormons now also affirm that Joseph Smith did not even look at the plates while translating them. Like the later "Abrahamic" papyrus, the plates seemed to be little more than a prop to provide, perhaps, some form of inspiration. In fact, Joseph Smith received his "translation" through a seer stone which he placed in his hat. He used that same stone to search for buried treasure, something it did not find very well.

Comment Re:really... (Score 1) 622

You're probably thinking about a book entitled "The Late War between the United States and Great Britain," by Gilbert J. Hunt. It's a little history of the war of 1812 written in the style of the King James bible. In terms of content, it isn't that similar to the Book of Mormon, but it contains many of the same features of style, including alleged "Hebraisms" that LDS apologists claim are proof of the Book of Mormon's ancient sourcing. When some authors in the early 19th century wished to summon a certain kind of authority, they would invoke a "biblical" style. This style helped them to muster the sense of holiness or truth that they wished to convey to the audience.

Comment Re: 23 down, 77 to go (Score 1) 866

Religion causes wars and suffering because it engenders certainty in people about what constitutes "good" and "bad" (laws, morals, whatever). Of course, there is no objective measure for good and bad, but deluded people think they have good reasons for their prejudices and begin to see others as idiots that should be treated like second class citizens.

Your comment is therefore deeply ironic. You've written yourself right into the class of people you hate and demonstrated Eric Hoffer's aphorism-- that although ours is a godless world, it is anything but irreligious.

Comment Re:Sigh.... (Score 1) 469

There are fairy glades aplenty in my neighborhood, though I have taken to procuring my wood from a local furniture maker. It dries unromantically in my garage.

Alas, I do not own a fancy CNC router and have learned to make my fiddles by hand, the old way. I will admit to employing a drill press and a band saw in a couple of steps during the process.

Comment Re:Sigh.... (Score 1) 469

Do you know what makes a "master" violin?

The stories one tells about it.

In terms of substantial difference between the sounds of the ancient violin made from wood cut in a fairy glade by the full moon, and the sounds of violins mass-produced on precision CNC routers and made from ordinary, stable, kiln-dried quarter-sawn spruce and maple (and sold for $100)... there really aren't any differences. Well, not until one discovers the stories behind each instrument. Since the experience of music is such a subjective one, it welcomes input from the most surprising sources. Music is a psychological experience and, lacking narratives, we often find little to distinguish similar sounds from each other.

I remember being shocked by Edward Herron-Allen's book, wherein an anecdote is related about how a certain audience, separated from the violinist by a sheet, could not distinguish between the genuine Strad and some other vagary. I mean, this other "violin" wasn't even a proper violin, as the story goes. Yet, without context, the two instruments blended into sameness. There was little of measurable qualitative difference between them, even if one of them was once submerged in volcanic ash and the other was not.

Making the violin, by hand, in the form that emerged in the mid sixteenth century from Brescia or Cremona, is a very difficult task. It takes a good deal of care and experience to get that form just right. There are plenty of bad ones made, but the actual bar that separates the bad from the good--in substantial, audible terms--is set much lower than you might expect.

The reason why people will still buy a $30,000 violin from a modern master maker (or very much more than that for a famous, old one) is because they have a gap in their minds that needs to be filled with the right story before they can properly channel their own creativity. To people who believe in the wonders of ice-age wood or the pedigree of a good, old fiddle, such an instrument will infuse its magic into them and enable them to create. It becomes a muse of sorts.

A hand-crafted instrument--especially an old one--is not just an instrument, it also acts as a talisman.

That's my opinion, anyway.

(Disclaimer: I am a violin maker)

Comment Re:Who Cares??? (Score 1) 593

Well, what are you going to replace it with? Advocates of what some call "scientism" think that science can replace value systems, like religion, when it comes to making decisions about how one should act. In the aftermath of 20th-century megalomania, Eric Hoffer called out the True Believer who, although godless, was nevertheless anything but irreligious.

Will there ever be evidence that anything at all is "good" or meaningful? There are self-styled rational people who want to help others live lives that are free of "delusion" and contribute to the "well-being" of humanity, as if those things were somehow valuable. Yet, when pressed on what exactly well-being consists of, or whether people ought to have it or not, or the point of humanity in the first place, I get the sort of make-believe these people are trying to save me from.

There is no meaning in the universe that isn't utterly make-believe. Our existence is an absurdity; nothing can be proved beyond its physical nature, and there is even a certain tenuousness about that. Perhaps the most dangerous and deluded people of all are the ones who think they are free from delusion because they haven't got religion.

Comment Re:Why? Simple ... (Score 1) 285

Yeah, I just finished playing through WC 1 again. I think you're right. The game seemed so great back in the day... it got old real quick this time around, though. I finally put it into cheat mode a little over half way through so that I could pretty much read through the cut-scenes and see how it ended. Not much of an ending. Oh well, those games are a bit of history, I guess. The kids got a kick out of the "pew-pew" laser sounds at least.

Science is what happens when preconception meets verification.