A What Kind of Museum?

“Well now, don’t that just beat the band!” I could hear my father’s voice uttering this midwesternism as I learned of a museum in Iceland, The Icelandic Phallological Museum. Yes, it exhibits phalluses. This museum claims to be the “only museum in the world to contain a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammals found in a single country.”

That expression was one my father used when learning of something amazing, outrageous or ridiculous upon reading about it in a newspaper or magazine. A friend of mine had alerted me to an article in “Slate,” the online news publication, titled “The Penises of the Icelandic Handball Team.” It is about a sculpture exhibited at this museum, fifteen sculpted metal phalluses, of different lengths (heights), each leaning at a slightly different angle from the vertical, encased in a plexiglass case. It is positioned under a large photograph of the manly 2008 handball team. I guess my dad’s expression is about as good a rejoinder as any, other than “WTF?” Which, under the circumstances, would be an unintended pun.

Anyone who has read more than one of my essays knows I am not a prude. So I am not really grossed out. And I guess I shouldn’t be surprised either — well OK, I’m moderately surprised. The human race appears to have no end of “treats” in store for us. You have only to be moderately alert on any given day to learn something amazing. But, I have to admit, this is slightly more surprising than some things that have come to my attention recently. Continue reading

Why Religion?

It is with no small amount of hubris that I even consider writing about this topic.  After all, sages, scholars and saints through the ages have grappled with the issue, as have many armchair theologians, thinkers, seekers and skeptics.

I’ve been thinking a bit more about it lately after listening, recently, to a presentation by a theologian from a well-regarded theology school, and after seeing the dramatic adaptation of The Screwtape Letters, based on the novel by CS Lewis.  My writing on this topic is an attempt to clarify my own thoughts on the matter, not to impart scholarly wisdom.

I am currently reading a novel in which the main character, a 40ish, modern English woman, is at odds with her parents who are born-again Christians.  She is unwed and pregnant and her parents are appalled that the child will grow up without a father and without God.  She herself thinks “I shall tell it God is a made up fairy tale like Snow While, only nastier.”  This could be the opinion of many modern skeptics; in the face of more and more recent scientific discoveries, they have turned away from religion and God, feeling that this erstwhile explanation, this fiction is not relevant to them in today’s modern world.  Even many ministers, rabbis and priests are skeptical, yet they compassionately serve believers and SBNRs (spiritual but not religious) alike, while they mentally re-assess their own beliefs.  

So what purpose does religion serve in this time where more and more people around the globe are living “perfectly good” lives without it?  There might be as many answers as there are “church goers.”  A statistically valid survey would surely capture a wide range of responses, from “I’m just not sure” to “it’s a good way to meet people.”  I myself have landed (much like an alien being at first) in a congregation of liberal thinkers, a great many of whom are non-believers and skeptics.  Some call themselves seekers or questioners.  I enjoy the intellectual stimulation that presents in this group, where we discuss the works of Richard Dawkins, recent advances in stem cell research and DNA technology, the newly discovered “god particle,” space exploration, super novae, alongside popular fiction, art, travel, drama, photography, social justice issues, politics, Wicca, and the contributions of historians.  There is something for anyone who is intellectually curious, or at least more enlightened than a dirt clod.  I learn about people like Erwin Chemerinsky, Gustavo Arellano, Dr. Phillip Clayton, Richard Dawkins, Forrest Church, various scholars and writers, current and past.  I’m developing an interest in politics, though my perspectives are no doubt totally unique, and I don’t necessarily feel obligated to agree with anyone else.  My intellectual landscape has been widened substantially and my brain cells exercised — maybe this will help keep Alzheimer’s at bay.  My social life has expanded.  And yes, I’ve developed a spirituality that is wholly my own, and still morphing.  And yes, it has been worth getting up “early” on Sunday morning to be there by 10:00 a.m.  Continue reading