"I now know thee, thou clear spirit, and I now know that thy right worship is defiance. Of thy fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee.” Captain Ahab




The link between Paradise Lost and YA post-apocalyptic fiction

Posted on March 6th, by Derek Murphy in Book Reviews, Books, Modern Culture. No Comments

I’m working on a paper for an Apocalypse conference in Romania the details are fuzzy, but I wanted to make some notes to come back to later.

In short, the majority of contemporary post-apocalyptic YA novels are about Revolution. Unlike classic dystopian fiction like 1984 or even the more modern Never Let Me Go show a reality that can’t be escaped from. Resistance is really futile, if not only because systems of bio-power have nullified any possibility of Real Freedom.

For decades theorists have been commenting on the total inability (and yet the desperate need) to seek out freedom in order to get to a real, true act – one not simply a chain of causal reaction from within the power structure/system.

Foucault concluded revolution is necessary – even if impossible – only in the act of resistance and rebellion is there the possibility of Truth. Deleuze and Guattari talk about “deterritorialization”; Badiou talks about “courage” and “fidelity to the Truth Event.”

Of course we could go back earlier, when theorists were actually still talking about real, political revolution. Camus’ The Rebel or Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and many more had the seeds of these theories already.

Things seem to come together in Slavoj Zizek, who’s … Read More »


Utopia: Is Mass Sterilization the Answer to OverPopulation?

Posted on February 19th, by Derek Murphy in Modern Culture. 10 comments

I’m watching Utopia, Season One Episode 5. A small band of unlikely heroes are chasing down a conspiracy. They have one of the badguys tied up to a chair and are asking him questions about a dubious new super-vaccine called Janus, created along with a flu-epidemic panic. The gang thinks the bad guys are trying to eliminate a certain race.

Not so.

“We are now past 7 billion on this planet. When I was born it was a little over two. Food prices are rising, oil is ending, when our resources end in 20 years, given everything we know of our species, do you really think we’re going to just, share? Janus affects 90 to 90% of the human population, leaving only one in 20 fertile. We predict the population will plateau at 500 million in just over 100 years. By then, normal breeding rates should resume, but on a planet that will feel… empty.”

“You’re fucking insane.”

“You accuse us of being genocidal. Not acting is genocidal. 1/3 of the world’s farmland is now useless due to soil deprivation, and we keep producing more mouths to feed. What’s your solution to that, energy efficient light bulbs? Not to do something is to condemn … Read More »


“Werewolf: The Beast Among Us”: a new Western Romance Stereotyping Eastern Europeans as Gypsies, Peasants, Drunkards and Idiots

Posted on November 25th, by Derek Murphy in Modern Culture. 2 comments

On location in Romania and Transylvania last year outside Bucharest, Universal Studios shot “Werewolf: The Beast Among Us”. As paranormal fantasy playing off the trendy vampire/werewolf motifs that have their roots in Eastern Europe, this might have seemed like a natural move. And yet, the economic motivations and cultural implications of the movie make a statement that shouldn’t be overlooked.

A brief summary

At the beginning of the film, everybody is scared. The Gypsies hover on the outside of town, paranoid of strangers, careful with their secrets. The townsfolk are a superstitious mob, prone to violence and racial prejudice (they are quick to pounce on the Gypsies as the source of the killings). They offer a reward to anybody who can kill the beast, and almost give it away to someone who brings in a wolf with antlers stuck on its head.

And then, just when all hope is lost, the hunters show up. Unlike the other characters, who mostly have thick accents, the hunters speak proper American (although the evil character speaks British English). The hero has a traditional country cowboy drawl.

It’s Hildalgo-esque: American cowboys traveling the world winning prizes for being awesome.

As things unfold we learn that the only decent towny … Read More »


What kind of people are atheists? Behind the scenes at an atheist conference

Posted on November 21st, by Derek Murphy in Atheism, Modern Culture. No Comments

I got up early the second day of the conference, took a coffee and a pastry from the hotel lobby, and headed to the convention hall in Springfield Missouri. There was a large crowd outside today. I smiled, eager to meet new friends – until I realized they were Christian protesters.

Skepticon describes itself as the “Largest Free Conference on Skepticism” in the nation, and it has been a well-known atheist convention for several years.

I’d flown in the day before and driven down from Kansas City, passing through pleasant countryside, old white houses, and lots of bible colleges.

As someone with a background in theology and comparative literature, my writing and art focuses on religious themes without actually being reverent; in fact my playful paintings and research into historical religious literature and mystery cult traditions inevitably comes across as blasphemous.

It’s difficult to share my work with theists, who get uncomfortable, and so I’ve begun to make connections with atheists communities. But this was my first time actually participating in an atheist event. As somewhat of an outsider, I surveyed the gathering with the detached eye of a social scientist.

From the protesters outside, you would think atheists were dangerous, or evil, or violent, … Read More »


Satan is Good, God is Bad: our shifting moral compass and why atheists are throwing the Devil under the bus

Posted on November 12th, by Derek Murphy in Atheism, Modern Culture. 11 comments

I went to Skepticon 5 expecting a group of heretics that would get a kick out of my inversed reading of Milton’s Paradise Lost, which claims that Satan is the hero of the story (which was actually the mainstream reading before it became the “mistaken reading”, and is now coming into vogue again by top Milton scholars).

I was surprised to find that Satan makes atheists uncomfortable. Atheists already have a huge image/perception problem, with the religious proclamations that people can’t be good without God and that therefore all atheists are “evil.” Christians already think of atheists as nearly synonymous with Satanists; hence atheists have an uncomfortable relationship with Satanists and don’t want to be associated with the Devil.

Even more so than the term “Atheist”, “Satanist” has an immediately powerful negative connotations. And on the one hand, I definitely think that those people who wish to create a secular political and social force big enough to stand up to religious groups that are trying to make their faith-based beliefs govern the private lives of the rest of us, need to think about how they are perceived because it does impact the message being shared.

But there is still a very good reason … Read More »


$50 Blasphemous Halloween Costume Contest for Atheists and Heretics: What are you Wearing?

Posted on October 23rd, by Derek Murphy in Modern Culture. 3 comments

Halloween is for everybody, but it seems like atheists and non-religious people would particularly enjoy dressing up as devils, monsters and witches (role-modelling their true heroes on the only socially acceptable day for it). It’s also an opportunity, depending on your level of daring, to make a funny, obnoxious or controversial irreligious statement with a loud costume choice. But what are you going to wear?

I searched for Atheist Halloween ideas for awhile but couldn’t find much – I’d like to develop this post into something longer with lots of pictures, so I’m sponsoring a Halloween Costume Contest: $50 to best costume idea. Just send me a picture of you in your costume.

Here are some ideas to get started (I’m sure you can come up with better ideas).

1) Biblical Characters

It’s pretty easy to dress up as Biblical characters. You can be Moses, Jesus or God. Or you can choose someone more interesting, like Jeremiah (eating shit because God told him so) or Jonah (with an enormous whale around you.) It would be fun to be King David, carrying Goliath’s head around, maybe escorted by a Harem, or Salome with the head of John the Baptist (a couple’s costume?), or Lot with … Read More »


Is Kevin Costner an Atheist? The Religious Implications of the History Channel’s “Hatfields and McCoys”

Posted on October 23rd, by Derek Murphy in Modern Culture. No Comments

Is Kevin Costner an Atheist? This thought crossed my mind a few times while watching the History Channel’s 3 part special “Hatfields and McCoys”.

While based on a historical family feud, a few key themes in the plot and dialogue seemed specifically focused on the relationship between violence and religion. So what exactly does the mini-series have to say about religious belief? Let’s find out.

Kevin Costner plays Anse Hatfield, opposite Bill Paxton who plays Randall McCoy.

The crucial break between the two men, who had been friends, comes when Hatfield decides to quit the battlefield and become a deserter during the civil war. The battle lines are drawn between familiar sources of conflict between the religious and irreligious: Hatfield represents freedom, business, progress, expansion. He makes his own rational choices, forges the land with his will power and hard work. He’s the entrepreneur.

McCoy symbolizes duty, devotion to God. He stays to fight the war till the final end, coming home a much changed man. Interestingly, the law is on McCoy’s side – a relative lawyer is stereotypically cast as a sneaky, evil, pasty son of a bitch (who tries to cheat Hatfield out of his property).

Although both families have jerks and idiots … Read More »