Doom – Josh 2014 Megawad

The original Doom is a classic. I’ve played it almost since it came out in 1993, and it shows no signs of aging.

But Doom would have gotten boring a long time ago if not for custom maps and content. Even as a kid, I had more fun making levels than I did playing the game. At the time, I used a DOS base editor called, imaginatively, the “Doom Editor Utilities (DEU)”.

There are much better tools today, and a couple of years ago I decided to learn them and try again at the art of Doom level creation. It really is an art form, and not one that I’ve mastered. There are many considerations when making levels that are interesting, challenging, but rewarding.

Despite my lack of mastery, I created a handful of levels and put them into a “megawad” (which is literally just the term for a collection of levels). In the spirit of creativity that the creators of DEU engaged in, I named it Josh 2014. Enjoy.

Josh 2014 (24 downloads)


Can There Be a Truly Secular Government?

Can there be a truly secular government? It all depends on what we mean by the term secular, of course. The word comes from Latin saeculum, the span of time after which no one alive at present will still be living. Eventually, the church used it as a way of referring to worldly power, and this seems to have stuck. To be secular is to be distinguished from the church. On this older view, secular government is any that is not run by a clergyman. Clearly, these governments exist and have existed for millennia.

But this isn’t what most people mean by the phrase “secular government”. Usually, the idea is a government free from overt religious influence. It is this definition to which my question refers. This other conception of secular government includes the original definition but expands upon it.

The Wall

Lets look at the United States as a means to answering the question, since the United States and its constitution represent a major development in the modern notion of secular government. It has the quintessential “secular government”. I also live there.

The first amendment to the United States constitution reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The common understanding of this amendment is that it provides for a wall of separation between religion and government. But this notion of a wall originated not with the constitution, but with a letter by Thomas Jefferson.

As Daniel Dreisbach writes:

Jefferson was inaugurated the third President of the United States on March 4, 1801, following one of the most bitterly contested elections in history. His religion, or the alleged lack thereof, was a critical issue in the campaign. His Federalist Party foes vilified him as an infidel and atheist.

One pocket of support for the Jeffersonian Republicans in Federalist New England existed among the Baptists.

The Baptists had written the President a “fan” letter … chastizing those who had criticized him “as an enemy of religion[,] Law & good order because he will not, dares not assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.”

In a carefully crafted reply, Jefferson endorsed the persecuted Baptists’ aspirations for religious liberty:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.””

Although today Jefferson’s Danbury letter is thought of as a principled statement on the prudential and constitutional relationship between church and state, it was in fact a political statement written to reassure pious Baptist constituents that Jefferson was indeed a friend of religion…

Jefferson, as president, clearly did not intend to mean what is often said of him.

Jefferson endorsed the use of federal funds to build churches and to support Christian missionaries working among the Indians.

The rest of the article is fascinating and highly recommended. But this is enough to make the point. The “wall of separation”, often used as though it has both constitutional power and refers to the modern notion of secular government, is a myth. We must also keep in mind that many of the states which ratified the constitution had their own state denominations. Clearly, the founders didn’t build a wall.

So what does the first amendment really mean?

A Christian Nation

Joseph Story was a supreme court justice in the 19th century. He was nominated for the role by James Madison, a man hailed as the “Father of the Constitution”. Joseph Story was both a scholar and someone with personal access to the authors of the constitution. Who better to author comprehensive commentaries on the document and its amendments?

His commentaries, not known by many today, paint an entirely different picture of the first amendment than we commonly see it today:

The real object of the [first] amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity [atheism], by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age.

In other words, when reading the first amendment we should see the word denomination in the place of religion. It would give us a more accurate understanding.

This makes a lot of sense. The constitution is a document heavily influenced by the Christian religion, a fact we simply can’t get away from. The presumptions it makes about the value of human life, the fact we have something called rights (a topic I plan to study soon and write some articles about), and the sorts of rights we have all stem from Christianity. The concept of religious liberty is also a Christian idea.

Given all of this, the first amendment’s context becomes clear. It isn’t designed to provide for a pluralistic, relativistic society. Instead, it protects Christians from being pressured to join other denominations so that the Christianity in the hallway (to borrow CS Lewis’ metaphor) can be a unifying foundation for the entire nation.

Our House Divided

Can there be a truly secular government? Not in the modern sense, and the founders knew it.

Every law, every guiding principle of jurisprudence, every court ruling, every decision by a representative, judge, or executive is done on the basis of a worldview. Everyone has one. The alternative to politicians acting in accordance with their consciences is to have them act against what they believe is right, something I think we should all be concerned with should we ever see it.

This is not a simplistic view. A judge may act against his own intuitions when rendering a verdict because he wants to remain faithful to the law. But this isn’t an act of the judge violating his own worldview, because his worldview is the thing which holds the law higher than his own opinion.

What’s needed is a unifying force. Something which will keep everyone on the same page. It can’t be a constitution, because constitutions can be ignored. They’re just pieces of paper. It can’t be a sentiment, because sentiments change. It can’t be an army, because armies can’t change minds; they often can’t even change outward actions. It can’t be law, because while laws may cause behavior, they themselves are caused by something else.

A truly secular government, in the modern sense, is one which is free of overt religious influence. But everyone has a religion; everyone has a worldview. Everyone has beliefs about the world, about human nature, about the nature of the whole universe. These beliefs constitute his religion, and these beliefs are not private. There isn’t anyone alive who could participate in a truly secular government; he’d bring too much “baggage”. And if he decided to leave the baggage behind, he’d have nothing to base his decisions on.

The unifying force in America is Christianity. It always has been. When you understand the historical context into which America was born, you can see it clear as day. The founding documents are full of Christian assumptions. The guiding principles are Christian in character.

Religious liberty, protecting the weak and innocent, valuing life, learning of objective beauty, truth, and virtue; all of these things were based on the same Christian worldview that our constitution was. Is it any wonder, as we have drifted into aimless pluralism that all of these things have been lost along with the force of the constitution?

Without this force, we lose our national soul. I suspect it is already lost. We have nothing on which we can all agree as Americans, because our very fundamental assumptions about the world are completely divided.

Caesar III – Super Easy Map

I’ve been meaning to put some content in the “gaming” category of the site for a while, and since I have limited time this evening, it seems like a great chance to start.

Caesar III is a great city-building game. One of my favorite games of all time, in fact. And despite the fact I understand it well and have no problems playing it, I decided to create a map that is so incredibly easy to play that there’s no challenge whatsoever.

It’s mostly a sandbox with the most defensible position you can imagine, in case you want to irritate Caesar until he sends army after army at you to give yourself a challenge.

Caesar III - Super Easy Map (12 downloads)


Elysium – Five Gods Worth of Fun In Every Play

The millions of people who lived in Greece from the archaic age until the Roman occupation probably never imagined that someday, in the great and terrible distant future of 2017, their culture would be remembered in the form of a card-drafting strategic deathmatch. Probably.

But if – through an oracle perhaps – they had somehow known this and been able to see Elysium, I’m sure the daily struggles of the common farmers, craftsman, women, and children would have been borne with all the more vigor and hope. Or not. As Elysium makes clear, average citizens are negative victory points. It’s all about the heroes.

What Comes in the Box?

I love good box inserts. I’m geeky enough to have made my own when I don’t like the one supplied. This one is incredible. It actually looks like a temple! With cards and pillars in the basement!

fantastic box insert that actually evokes the theme of the game, that’s what! Oh, and game pieces. A lot of them. You get coins, victory point counters, prestige counters, cards, cardboard player boards, a game “board” made up of multiple pieces, various other counters and tokens, and pillars. Small and colorful wooden pillars. Just like the ancient Greeks used.

Set the pieces out in front of a full complement of four players, and watch as everyone mistakenly grabs four pillars of the same color only to be informed soon after by you, the wise owner and mentor of the game’s rules, that they’ve made a horrible error.

Everyone in the game gets four pillars, one each of red, blue, green, and yellow. These are used to take turns, as well as add a lot of strategic depth to those turns. Everyone also gets a board to keep track of their victory point tokens, coins, and other tokens as necessary. The board also acts as a way to separate each player’s domain from his Elysium. More on that later.

The eight decks of cards. All of the cards have the same citizen on their back. Otherwise, shuffling would be kind of a waste of time.

There are eight decks of cards in the game, one each for Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, Hades, Hermes, Hephaestus, Ares, and Apollo, keeper of that oracle I mentioned at the start. Each Greek god has a different personality, and their decks reflect that. Before the game starts, you’ll pick five gods, grab their decks, and shuffle them all together. This is the source of some amazing replay value. The back of each card is a citizen. These are like jokers with strings attached. We’ll discuss their jokes and strings soon.

How Do you Play?

A sample player area. The domain is above, the Elysium below, and the stress in the middle, in the form of colorful pillars.

The game is divided up into five epochs. Over the course of an epoch, players will acquire cards and “quests”, which are also cards but are made of cardboard and determine turn order. To acquire something, a player makes sure he has the pillars which match the colors of the card or quest he wants and then discards a pillar of any color to grab the prize, putting any cards in his domain. This is where a lot of the game’s strategy comes into play, because you want to think ahead about which colors you’ll want to keep around and which you can sacrifice. You’ll need to pay attention to the moves that other players make, too, because if they leave you without any options, bad things might happen.

Everyone is required to grab a quest on one of their four turns. If you can’t grab a quest, then your last turn is forfeit, and you get a broken quest that places you in last for turn order while providing you with mediocre benefits. Quests provide lots of money, lots of chances to score points, and affect turn order so it’s good to avoid this.

Essentially a market where you get stuff you want now in exchange for reduced opportunities. A lot like partying in college.

On the other hand, if you manage to claim a quest but can’t choose any of the cards available on your turn, you get a citizen, which is simply the next card on the draw pile never flipped face-up.

All of the cards in the game have special abilities that can be used at different times. Some can be used continuously through the game, some once per game when you choose, some the moment you acquire them, and others once per epoch.

Once everyone has used up their four pillars, players have a chance to move cards to their Elysium in the writing of legends phase of the epoch. Essentially, while your various heroes, monsters, and other cards do cool stuff, the real goal is to be remembered forever. As everyone knows, the only way to be remembered forever is to end up in a set or a straight of cards in an Elysium. So naturally, that’s what you have to do in the game.

You’ll take your cards from the domain and, if you pay coins equal to the number on the card and have a quest or cards that enable you, place it into your Elysium. At this point, the true nature of the game is revealed and you discover all of the rules are really the most complicated way imaginable to build sets and straights in Rummy. You either play cards of the same god (color) with different number values – called a family set – or you play cards of the same number but different gods (colors) – called a number set. You score extra points if you are the first to complete a family set, or if you have the longest number set. Every set and straight of cards also earns you points at the end of the game. In fact, most of your points will come from the cards in your Elysium. The catch is that cards moved to your Elysium no longer provide any abilities. For one-time use cards you’ve already blown through, this isn’t a hard choice. For cards that provide benefits the whole game, choosing when to move them to your Elysium is a stressful ordeal.

Sometimes, you don’t get the chance to grab cards you really need to complete a family or number set. The game provides you with a second chance at glory with citizens, those cards you obtain usually by failing to obtain something better (although there are other ways). Citizens can be moved to your Elysium at the cost of the card they are going to replace in a set, so long as the set they will join already has at least two cards in it. The problem is that each citizen, being a boring normal person, takes two of your victory points away at the end of the game. Use them sparingly and strategically, and this won’t be a big deal.

Once everyone moves the number of cards they want (and can) to their Elysium, the Epoch ends. After five epochs, the game is over, and you score points.

Who is This Game For?

Elysium is not a simple game. It isn’t a complicated game. But it is a thought-provoking, sometimes mind-melting experience. I don’t recommend playing it late at night, but I highly recommend playing it.

My wife and have played a variety of board games together. Often, games work better with larger numbers of players and have optional rules for two and while we enjoy them, it’s clear the experience might be enhanced by other people joining in. Elysium, however, seemed to be excellent for two players. With more, I imagine there is a bit more chaos (which I’m fine with), but we enjoyed the decisions and freedom with just the two of us.

The card lookup. I tried reading it and my eyes refused to work. I suggest using it as intended instead of as reading material.

For people who want something a bit heavier than Dominion but love the card drafting, for people who want the customization and build-up of 7 Wonders but want more long-term planning, and for people who like Magic: The Gathering but want something more manageable, this is a great choice. It’s right in the middle in terms of complexity – most of which comes from decision-making and not arcane rules. The cards have a lot of symbolism on them, but they also have full descriptions of what they do. Any ambiguity is removed by a book listing every card and more detailed explanations, which I’ve only needed to use once in a corner case.

To be honest, I didn’t think I’d like this game. It was popular last year, but from the description and reviews I had seen, I was not impressed. But I absolutely love it and can’t wait to play it again. I’m glad I was wrong. There is a lot of depth here without the analysis paralysis that accompanies so many games like it – at least in the far too limited experience I’ve had with it. I only wish they’d print an expansion.

You can pick up a copy of Elysium here.

Misconception Monday – What is Hypocrisy?

I’m restarting a project I had begun years ago: to have themed posts on certain days of the week. Monday, beginning as it does with the same letter as “misconception”, will be dedicated frequently to dealing with instances the same. This week’s target is the modern erroneous perception of hypocrisy.

For a modern post-Christian who believes in moral relativity, there are still two moral absolutes (however contradictory this is): consent and hypocrisy. Anything consented to is moral, and anyone who is a hypocrite is immoral. While I’ll save an analysis of the utter weakness of basing a moral framework on consent, this post is concerned with the definition of hypocrisy that is used in this context.

Hypocrisy is often described as the act of failing to live up to your own standard, or failing at a standard you think applies to others. Neither of these is correct.

In fact, hypocrisy might be the most misused word in the English language. It doesn’t mean having a moral standard which you fail to meet. It doesn’t mean believing something differently now than you believed in the past. It doesn’t mean believing people should be held accountable for something even if you have been guilty of it, too.

Hypocrisy means pretending to be one thing when you are really something else (from Greek hupokrisis, which has to do with acting a theatrical part)*. That’s it. This is the meaning used in the Christian Bible as well.

People are quick to call anyone with a moral standard a “hypocrite” and then express all sorts of moral outrage, not realizing that in doing so, they are actually the ones guilty of hypocrisy (by pretending to be moral superiors while denying morality). The people they are outraged by are guilty only of failing to live up to a standard. But any standard worth having is beyond our grasp. If it was better to live up to any standard than to fail at living up to a good one, we all ought to adopt standards that are impossible to fail. Doing so would do no good, but would tempt all kinds of evil.

* I’ve heard it argued that the origin of a word has no influence over the meaning of a word. This is nonsense and is like saying the origin of an automobile has no influence over its current use. The original meaning of a word and its context does not tell us everything about the word as it is used today, but it tells us a great deal. It also tells us what the word meant to the people who established our cultural traditions regarding its meaning. “Person”, for instance, was originally used to refer to the masks worn by actors (“persona”), and was adopted as an aid in explaining the Trinity. “Personhood”, then, gets its moral power from the relation to God that humans have, being made in His image. This causes bizarre contradictions for modern people who don’t believe in God.

Something similar happens for “rights”, which only have moral weight when the term is used in a way foreign to the demands of activists today.

But both of these are topics for two more misconception Mondays.