10 Questions about Me

Cashel

Medieval Irish cathedral
Rock of Cashel | 2017

1. I’m taking an online class with you. Should I call you Mr. or Mrs.?

Though it has zero bearing on the course, I identify as male.

2. What do you teach?

I’ve been teaching at the college level since 2008. I was a graduate instructor
at Florida State for 4 years, where I taught
Multicultural Film, Modern Humanities,
and
World Religions (see: RateMyProfessor). I was also an assistant for courses
on the 
Holocaust and Islamic Culture. I joined the faculty of TJC in 2012,
where I’ve continued to teach
World Religions and also teach Philosophy,
Honors Philosophy, and Ethics.

In preparation for this, I’ve taken the following graduate-level courses...

3. As a philosophy professor, can you tell me — what is the meaning of life?

Your great task, as an individual, is to develop that answer for yourself. We cannot look to others to know why we are here or what we're supposed to do with our lives. As the philosopher Sartre said, we are doomed to be free. As my student, I hope that your time with me is a positive experience and that it will encourage you to use your gifts to help others.

4. As a religion scholar, can you tell me why there isn’t peace in the Middle East?

The best I can give in a short answer is this: there’s enough knowledge of modern values in the Middle East, just not enough collective political will to make it happen. No one wants to look soft, so moderate voices (who are generally the most reasonable ones) are usually the first to be stifled. Plus, groups like Al–Qaeda and the self–proclaimed Islamic State seem to only be growing in power. That said, it is the duty of every human being to respect all life and to fight for the cause of peace. My own recommendation is to intellectually, culturally, and socially empower the moderates in places like Egypt, Iran, and Palestine. We do a disservice to those voices seeking for justice and democracy when we paint whole populations with the same broad brush. Justice, justice you shall seek!

5. Why did you become a philosophy professor?

A combination of luck and hard work put me into contact with a remarkable, laid back, brilliant professor from Western Canada named Bruce Janz. The things he said, the questions he posed, and the way he looked at the world impressed upon me the notion that a life spent in the cause of practical wisdom would be a rich life indeed. I am greatly indebted to this mentor. He enabled me to live the examined life and to help many others do the same. He is my intellectual father–figure, and I couldn’t be more grateful to him.

6. What books on philosophy and religion would you recommend?

• If you’re taking one of my courses, these are the required books.
• However, if you’ve already passed my course, here’s a list of recommended books to read after our intro class.
• Lastly, I've also put together something of a philosophical canon of books for those interested in even deeper study.


7. What do you do when you’re not in the classroom?

Other than keeping up with religious services and my Reddit habit, I enjoy writing and painting. My favorite artists include Caravaggio, Chagall, Reubens, Rothko, and J. M. Turner. Current authors I love include: Kate Atkinson (novelist), Billy Collins (poet), Bradley Burston (essayist), and Cornel West (philosopher). As for past authors, Rumi (poet), Michel de Montaigne (essayist), Ernest Hemingway (novelist), and Michel Foucault (philosopher) are indispensable. These are some of my chief inspirations.

Above: Arches National Park, Utah
Below: Lake Superior, Upper Michigan

Most of my friends and all of my collegues are academically inclined, so I spend a lot of time in deep discussion with them. I tend to do a lot of public speaking engagements about religion and philosophy, which keep me busy. When friends come over, I often make them try out a new receipe. On the more active side of things, my wife and I love to travel! We’ve been to Australia, the Middle East, Europe, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and throughout the Caribbean. Our favorite city in North America is Montréal. I also make it to Upper Michigan at least once a year to visit my closest friend. The area is perfect for hunting and fishing, and has become a second home for me.

8. What shows do you watch?

Podcasts: When I drive 5 hours roundtrip to PhD classes at UT Dallas, I listen to these.
BBC World Service, GPS, HIdden Brain, History of Philosophy-WAG, Rabbi SacksRevisionist HistoryStuff You Should Know, Science Vs, and Up First

TV series: I like smart stuff with a clever lead.
Black Mirror, BSG, Doctor Who (10th Doctor), Fauda, Frasier, Futurama, Game of Thrones, Lost, Seinfeld, Sherlock, Star Trek, and Twilight Zone


9. Why aren’t you on Facebook?

There are many reasons I don’t share my life with Facebook©. Here’s a few...

• Facebook presents a harmful, edited, inaccurate picture of the people you know.
• It bears 
a scientifically proven, causal link to depression and low self-esteem.
• With 150+ “Facebook friends,” how many would help you in a crisis? 
Less than 4.
• Facebook is a hardship on your actual friends, and a 
leading factor in most divorce cases now.

I have friends. Real friends whom I count on and count on me. I simply don’t need Facebook.


10. And, just to round things out, here are my responses to James Lipton’s famous questionaire
from Inside the Actor’s Studio. Try it! It’s a great way to get to know someone.

• What is your favorite word? Hineini. (It’s from the Torah. It means “Here I am [for you].”)

• What is your least favorite word? Just. (As in “just do as I say” or “that’s just how it is.” Reasons matter.)

• What turns you on creatively? An inspiring film, like the work of the WachowskisDarren Aronofsky, or Terence Malick.

• What turns you off? Avarice. (Greedy social climbers always turn my stomach.)

• What is your favorite curse word? Verkakte. (It’s a Yiddish expression.)

• What sound or noise do you love? Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1. (My first dance with my wife, 15 years ago.)

• What sound or noise do you hate? A violent mob, chanting in hate.

• What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I’d love to be a filmmaker.

• What profession would you not like to do? Anywhere where tin gods rule and the struggle is unfulfilling — big box stores, fast food, etc.

• If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? That all the world’s pain and suffering was worth it.