My freshman year of college, I naively enrolled myself in an existential philosophy course and thus sentenced myself to a semester of watching pretentious show-offs engage in a pissing contest all over the red carpeted lecture hall. There were a number of books I was exposed to when I was 17-20 years old that I have revisited lately because I just didn't get them the first time. Some of the literary material shoved down the throat of high school students and college undergrads, while technically deemed "appropriate" based on length, grammatical structure and so forth, has subject matter that can't be truly understood by one who has lived only under parents' care.

Take Dostoevsky, for example. One of the assignments I had that year was to read "The Grand Inquisitor," one of the chapters in The Brothers Karamazov. Maybe I was disadvantaged by my bootlegged approach to obtaining the required reading materials. I smuggled a copy of the book, with a whopping 50 pages of interpretation and pitiful 10 of actual text, out of the bookstore to the library copy machine, then promptly snuck it back to its original spot on the shelf. Even if I had stolen the lengthy preface and editor's notes, I wouldn't have read a word of them. Not worth the $.25 in copies and possible seconds added to the total completion time of this petty theft. Having no one else's opinion on this work to plagiarize, while an obvious advantage if one's goal is actual mastery of the material, at the University level quickly proved to be a liability. Where did the other students, many of whom looked to be about 40, get such a unified understanding of such an ambiguous parable? Did they all get together an an AARP meeting and compare notes?

After downloading and re-reading "The Grand Inquisitor" earlier this week, I couldn't help but think of poor, old Bill Maher and Religulous, his latest contribution to a growing body of "man-on-the-street" documentaries that have somehow escaped a straight to DVD release. As a former Catholic myself, I can't completely begrudge Maher his obvious bias against organized religion as foolish. The only thing I'm skeptical of is that Maher seems to be preaching a sort of snarky, faux-humorous nihilism, and proclaiming it as freeing. The belief in nothing is better than belief in anything? Blindly doing the proverbial jump into the sea with the other lemmings isn't any kind of answer, that isn't belief anyway, is it?

At least when Dostoevsky examined the possibility of a god-less universe (in his version, humanity declines the second coming on matters of convenience) he had the balls to march right up to the darkness of mankind and not stop until he saw the whites of its eyes. He wasn't looking to snag that coveted second-guest spot on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

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