In a conversation with a professional colleague recently, I was discussing what might happen to ethics when sex with machines becomes common. That statement might seem a little bizarre out of context, so let me widen the net a bit. We were discussing the Bible and sexual ethics. This led to the question of how those who apply the Bible straight from antiquity might apply their beliefs to a world vastly different than first century Palestine. In biblical times, in other words, sexual options were limited and people didn’t understand the whole issue of human sperm and eggs, neither of which can be seen without a microscope. Applying their outlook directly to today is problematic, and so how do we apply a book without outdated views to a world vastly more complicated?
Someone recently paid me a small debt via PayPal. If sex is complicated, then let’s not even get started on Bitcoin or Apple Pay—for some of us money is money and even getting paid electronically is somewhat suspicious. I sometimes buy things online with PayPal. It goes straight onto one of my credit cards and then I write an old-fashioned check to pay for it. So I had to approach the altar of PayPal itself to figure out what it meant to have money in my account. What am I to do with it? Then I found the FAQ—TFIA (The Future Is Acronyms). One of the questions: “What is PayPal’s policy on transactions that involve sexually oriented goods and services?” Now, here’s a question of biblical proportions.
Paying for sexual “goods and services” goes all the way back to the book of Genesis when none other than the ancestor of David and later progeny did so. This is nothing new. But the question of ethics now looms extra large. For those who pay for such things, a new layer of complexity has apparently been added—can you pay with PayPal? My transaction had to do with tickets purchased for a concert online, where we wanted seats together so someone had to do the buying for everyone. What if the purchase had involved a somewhat more intimate setting? Who needs paper or plastic when a string of 16-digits, or even a username and password, will do? That’s to say nothing regarding the ethics of the transaction—this is, as it were, purely mechanical. What would Moses say? Surely this is a question of appropriate tips, for Tamar veiling herself by the side of the road had the moral high ground over her father-in-law who was simply looking for a good time. A staff and seal, however, were no less complicated that paying for goods and services online.
Posted in Bible, Genesis, Just for Fun, Popular Culture, Posts, Robotics
Tagged Genesis, biblical sexuality, morality, biblical ethics, PayPal, Judah and Tamar
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.” Strangely enough, the great physician (although we know nothing of his medical practice) Luke was writing about a place an ocean and a sea away from here. The place names of eastern Pennsylvania demonstrate the religious awareness of the early colonial Europeans who brought their Bibles and diseases to this nation. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was known more for being a house of steel than being a house of bread. It’s just down the road from the little town of Nazareth, made famous by The Band’s classic hit, “The Weight.” The road to Emmaus is nearby. And the major medical facility is, you guessed it, St. Luke’s.
The Band had an influence somewhat surprising for those who may have trouble recalling their nondescript name. “The Weight” is a story of a traveler coming to, of all places, Nazareth, Pennsylvania. So taken by the song was a Scottish band that they adopted the name Nazareth before informing us that “Love Hurts.” This is something the evangelist and purported doctor Luke presumably knew. If you go down from Nazareth even unto Bethlehem, you’ll find the steel city recast as the Christmas city. For those of us who grew up in the western part of the state, Pittsburgh was the real steel city anyway. When I was growing up, Pittsburgh was the 16th largest city in the country. It now sits at 65th, because, like Bethlehem it had trouble drawing people without the natural hardness that is Pennsylvania. There’s a parable in a city transforming from a heavy metal to a holiday. There’s no Pittsburgh in the Bible.
When Luke begins his Christmas narrative (think of this as one of those “Christmas in July,” or August things), quoted above, he ironically leaves Mary until the next verse. Joseph, whom later tradition will say had nothing to do with the conception anyway, still gets first billing. One wonders what might’ve been different had Mary led the way. It was much later, after the gruesome crucifixion account, that Emmaus came into the picture. Two unnamed disciples were walking along that road and didn’t recognize who Jesus was. Had they kept walking, I wonder if they might’ve ended up in Pittsburgh, for the biblical names soon give way to places like Kutztown and Fleetwood, the latter of which, I have to admit, I never got into. Had Mary taken a load off in Nazareth, this story would’ve been completely different. Thus saith The Band.
Posted in American Religion, Bible, Holidays, Memoirs, Posts, Religious Origins, Travel
Tagged Bethlehem, Bethlehem Steel, Gospel of Luke, Nazareth, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, The Band, The Weight
I’m trying to organize a home office. Gone are the days that this meant a stapler and mug full of pencils. The office is essentially a laptop since work is essentially virtual. Oh, there are days when I have to haul myself into New York City, but even making traditional print books is an exercise done largely online. The office is a place conducive to work. In the case of an editor, a room of books that can be used for reference. In our apartment we had bookshelves (mostly homemade) around the inside perimeter, covering all wall space that wasn’t claimed by more necessary furniture. We realized, as we were packing, that no free wall space reached to the floor. We didn’t plan it that way, but a reading life can be a complicated one. To write books you need to read books.
Our house has some built-in bookshelves. Not enough to hold our surviving books, but it’s a start. My office, however, is a spartan room. Over the weekend I unpacked my “work books.” That meant, for the most part, books about the Bible. I filled three large bookshelves then ran out of room. Not only was there that embarrassment, but there was the fact that a large number of “religion” books remained unshelved. You see, I was a religion editor for a few years before being more narrowly slotted into the Good Book. Some might say I should jettison these books since my career has moved on. Those who suggest such heresy don’t understand the career of a displaced professor at all. These books are still work books. Job descriptions aren’t as stable as they used to be.
The complaint is an old one, at least to my wife’s ears. In my mind I’m still a professor. I still write—strictly on my own time—and I still research. I do so without access to a university library so I have, over the past several years, made my own library. This office, now out of bookshelves, is that amateur academic library. My research has shifted from ancient Near Eastern studies (and that’s another whole discipline’s worth of books, some unfortunately washed away in the flood) to religion more broadly. Not only is that reflected on this blog, but also in my publications. The office isn’t done yet. There’s a desk and a chair. More importantly, there’s internet access. There are some shelves, but in coming days there will need to be more. Libraries are like minds; if they shrink they become less functional. All books, no matter how dry, began in someone’s imagination. That’s virtual reality.
Posted in Bible, Books, Higher Education, Just for Fun, Memoirs, Posts
Tagged Ancient Near East, Books, career, Higher Education, office space, online work, work from home