Sunday, January 29, 2012

(Gay) Star Wars!

Check out this article about Tony Perkins (of Family Research Council) urging fundamentalist to speak out against (virtual) same-sex relationships in a yet-to-be-released portion of a Star Wars MMORPG.

I guess he figures that it is much safer for a guy to pretend to be a girl to engage in a non-consummated, non-graphic, virtual relationship with their son than for a gay guy to just be himself...  Long live fantasy!  :-)

Too bad that Tony doesn't recognize that the real risk is exposing his son to pale-faced super-geeks who live their whole lives online!

Wait a minute.  I live in a glass house.  Maybe I shouldn't be hurling these rocks... ;-)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Evil Free Will Paradox

Evil and Will
Why is there so much "evil" in the world?  Depending on the flavor of Christianity, the answer is because of Satan, because of man, or some mix thereof.  At the root of that evil, regardless of the source, is a choice, a decision of Free Will.

So, when we ask why does God allow all of this evil in the world, the answer comes back that this evil is the natural consequence of Free Will, beings choosing to act against the will of God.  The answer continues; this Free Will is necessary so that those who are saved for all eternity will not robotically love God, but rather will choose to love God with all of the depth and sincerity that we would find in the best human loves, or even greater.  In order for this to occur, people also need to be able to utterly reject the will of God and to commit acts on the opposite end of that spectrum as well.  Maybe so.  Maybe not.

Now is about the time in the argument when many skeptics examine the themes of fate and predestination in the Bible, exploring the Salvation of the Elect, but let's dig a little deeper into the philosophical argument instead of that well trodden, and controversial, path.

What Is It?
First, let's look at what Free Will is.  Clearly it is not the ability to choose to do anything, as you or I can't choose to fly like a bird, but no Christian would argue that that denies Free Will.  You can't choose to be the president of the United States of America if you were born in Luxembourg, but, again, that's not a cancellation of Free Will, just a law.  So Free Will can be said to be the ability within yourself to select from the options which are truly available to you, and those options can be, and are, limited.

(Some modern research is questioning whether or not the options are truly available to select or if the outcome is selected for you by chemical and other factors, but we'll set that aside for now.)

In most Christian theology, Free Will must include the option to love God or reject God, and part of that rejection of God is inextricably tied to the ability to work many kinds of evils to mankind.  Is it really inextricable?  Is evil really a necessary byproduct of the Free Will in this equation?

God's Way
God has Free Will.  No Christian could possibly argue to the contrary.  Yet God is restricted in His Free Will, even more than we are.  Really?  In some very important ways, yes.  Consider that God can't lie (Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18), and even more significantly, God can't do evil (Job 34:10)!  Furthermore, no Christian can argue against the depth or sincerity of God's love (1 John 4:9).

So God has Free Will, and has true love, but doing evil is not even an option for Him.  God, Himself, is a model which proves that evil is not a necessary byproduct for Free Will to work.

But wait!  What about that all-important choice?  Could someone with God's type of Free Will still choose to reject God?  That answer appears to be yes.  Consider Deuteronomy 9:4, where God chose to favor the Israelites despite their non-deserving nature:
It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” NIV
Again, consider how God chose to favor Jacob over Esau according to Romans 9:11-13
Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” NIV
If God is free to choose to favor one person or group of people over another, then the flip side of that decision is that He chose not to favor another.  In other words, God chose to give His love in one case and not in another.

So if we operated with God-like Free Will, we would be prevented from working evils on each other, yet we would be capable of love, and it would be our choice who we love, and the depth and sincerity of that love.

Evil Paradox
Evil is not a necessary byproduct of Free Will, at least if you can trust what the Bible says about God.  That creates an HUGE problem.

Why?  Well, then, evil is not necessary.  If evil is not necessary, then all of our suffering as the consequence of evils is meaningless and pointless.  If this suffering is optional, then God is not good or loving, because no good God would intentionally make His beloved creations suffer for no reason.

This position is reinforced by the concept of Salvation, because at that time, the Elect will arise to a life where they can't do any evils or even the smallest sins.  All it would take is to lift that restriction on sin, to allow for a choice of not to love God, and you have a valid selection process which would work on Earth without the need for all of this unsavory evil.  Now how God could fairly treat those who chose not to love Him is a matter for further debate.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

About Those Job Creators...

If we truly have a class of "job creators," why are they not creating jobs to solve the country's unemployment problem and weak economy?  How can anyone listen to the rhetoric the Republican candidates are spouting out about protecting and favoring the "job creators" without realizing the great irony that they are effectively saying that it is government (through policy) which is the real job creator, not these elusive "job creators" who are sitting on their hands right now?

I don't know.  Just a thought...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

When Christians Attack!

In the news today was this story about a high-school aged girl by the name of Jessica Ahlquist who was being verbally and digitally abused and threatened via social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.  Why?  Well, she happens to be an atheist who spoke out against a prayer banner which decorated a wall at her school, and, with the help of the ACLU, received a ruling which forced the school to remove the banner.

Clearly asking themselves "What would Jesus do?," Christians reacted to Jessica with messages like:
How does it feel to be the most hated person in RI right now? Your a puke and a disgrace to the human race.

shes not human shes garbage

I think everyone should just fight this girl

F**k Jessica alquist I'll drop anchor on her face

Let's all jump that girl who did the banner

But for real somebody should jump this girl

I want to punch the girl in the face

I hope there's lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist f**k

jessica alquist is gonna get punched in the face
Also clearly, these Christians, like most Christians I've ever known, live their lives regardless of the teachings of Jesus.  That may be what makes this story all the more important.

Christians are not really different.  I didn't suddenly turn into a different person when I started to have doubts, or when I finally reached the threshold of where I called myself an atheist.  Sure, philosophically and religiously I was different, but the passions of hate and love which dwell within the human psyche remained unscathed.  I was still human, just as Christians are.  So at a certain level, we must realize that this abhorrent anger being displayed by these Christians is something all of us can identify with and could feel under the right (or wrong) circumstances.

So, why did they react this way?  The answer to the question transcends faith, extending to all fields of human belief, having implications for everything from politics to science.  "Science, really?" you ask.  Yes, even there, as it is not always the sterile, truth-is-all-that-matters environment that it should be.

I'm not a psychologist, but I play one on the internet.  So here is my take on the lessons to be learned:
  1. When deeply held beliefs come under question from outsiders, feelings of anger can erupt.  No shocker there, right?  Yet this isn't 100% clear until you consider the next point:
  2. Deeply held beliefs are often extended by symbolism into physical objects.  Jessica's quest to remove the prayer banner was not at all a literal questioning of Christian belief, yet because of the symbolism involved in the prayer banner, people react as though it was a literal attack on their beliefs.  Interestingly enough, their reaction illustrates that the prayer banner is practically an idol for some Christians, at least in the sense of the word "idol" which Christians have completely bastardized; real idols were objects which received prayer and sacrifice, but the modern Christian use of the term is pretty much anything which is of great importance other than God.
  3. When you do not have a strong foundation for your strongly held beliefs, anger is more likely to erupt when they are questioned.  As I quipped above, these particular Christians did not seem to know much about the teachings of Jesus.  They seem to believe based on emotions.  So when their beliefs are questioned, they don't have the comfort of simply knowing that it is true.  Therefore they feel the need to suppress those who question their beliefs.
  4. When society as a whole is changing their beliefs, and that trend is against your own beliefs, sensations of being threatened are heightened.  In truth, most of these people who reacted will not be affected one tiny blip by the removal of that banner.  They could go on living Christian lives (or at least what they think is a Christian life) without any problem.  However, the removal of the banner is just one more encroachment of the wave of atheism which has been coming on for decades now, and, in our times, with greater speed than ever as information sharing makes doubts and Biblical issues very easy to explore for the curious.  This connects with the next point:
  5. When you use inflammatory language, you get inflammatory results.  Sensing the encroachment of atheism, several prominent pastors which I have heard on the radio, and probably others just form their local pulpit, project this cultural change as a war.  Onward Christian soldier.  The problem is that war is inherently violent.  Even if these pastors are just using the phrase symbolically, the images of violent confrontation still leap into mind and excite the emotions.  After all, There have been a scarce few conflicts in human history where one side marches out to the battle field just to "turn the other cheek."
This is a sad, sad story, but it is one that will play out time and time again in the future until we learn mutual respect and honestly make truth and justice the foundation of all of our relationships.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What Slippery Slope?

"That, my friend, is a cow."

"What are you talking about?"

"That animal, right there, is a cow!"

"Wait, you mean that little animal right there?"


"OK, um, why exactly do you think it's a cow?"

"Well, it's all white, like many cows are.  It's got a pair of eyes, a body, a head, and a tail, which are all common cow features.  And it makes noise, like cows do."

"Yeah, cows do make noise, but they don't normally stretch their wings and quack like ducks."

"Now that you mention it, it is kind of a quacking noise, isn't it?  But it's still a cow.  I know it."

Sometimes, and rarely it seems, debates will occur where one side must concede that they themselves had a major misconception about a particular point.  I'm not talking about a little flub, something misspoken, or the use of something out of context.  I'm talking about one of the big ones; a point which should require someone to readjust their entire belief structure, if not cancel it out completely.  I'm talking about an idea which, upon further contemplation, leads to that cliché slippery slope on which change is inevitable.

What I've found over the years and across disciplines is that there are very few slippery slopes.  They are infinitely more rare than even debate concessions themselves.  There is a funny thing that happens in your mind when you are passionate about something enough to debate it, at least to any extent more than casual.  You build, and you build, and you build your knowledge up to a mighty mountain, ready to defend your vantage point from a lofty position.

But most of us don't build these perches with smoothly sloping inclines.  We're smarter than that.  We build terraced slopes.  So when we have to concede a critical point, instead of tumbling and sliding down to rock bottom, we just hop down to the next lowest level and think "big deal, I'm still way up on my mountain of knowledge; safe and secure."  And often times thereafter we seek for other information to rebuild that lost layer, or go even higher.

In some ways this is good, if not essential, to our survival; especially in our present age.  Every day in our times we can encounter more information than people 5000 years ago would have seen in a year, or maybe even in their entire lives.  This information brew is filled with intoxicating tidbits which support, refute, or append to our world view; and we have the difficulty of trying to sort out the truth without getting inebriated.  The information alone is more than enough to handle, but throw in our own minds "spiking the punch" with 140 proof Confirmation Bias and it becomes a miracle if we can speak the truth without slurring our words.

It's not easy.  It isn't.  So we shouldn't be surprised that people cling to ideas which we ourselves have deemed as wrong.  And we shouldn't be surprised that when we do manage to score a major point in an argument that the other person is only slightly humbled but is still standing as firmly as ever on the next terrace of their belief.

I understand this, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating!  :-p

For a related but different perspective, check out Sabio Lantz's excellent post on "Busting Beliefs."

Friday, January 6, 2012

You Deserve to Die!

You.  Me.  Everyone.  All of us sin and fall short of the Glory of God, and the wages of sin is death.  The next time you go to a funeral, from a Biblical perspective, you could walk around telling people how the deceased deserved to die, but I wouldn't recommend it.  And when you read the Bible, and find the countless passages where God slays, destroys, and annihilates people, or directs others to do so in His name, you are to think:

"Thank you God!  Thank you for killing them.  They deserved it."

But don't we all deserve the same treatment, from that perspective?

My longtime friend and Christian sparring partner, Ollie Wallflower, and I were in a recent debate regarding whether or not God caused a worldwide famine to enslave the Jews in Egypt.  One of the collateral points I discussed was how, through this famine, God caused the suffering and death of an untold number of people worldwide, especially those who were without practical means to get to Egypt.  In defense, he said this of his perception of my viewpoint:

"In your view, people are, generally speaking, innocent and undeserving of punishment. *That* is an irreconcilable difference of opinion [between us], and one that will cause you to look unfavorable upon nearly chapter of the Bible. Which is, of course, what you've done on [The Wise Fool] blog."

I've run into Mr. Wallflower's thoughts here before from the mouths and the typing fingers of other Christians defending God's mass killings.  They assume, and perhaps sometimes correctly, that the doubter/objector presumes everyone is innocent, or mostly good, such that there could never be justification for God to paint His wrath in such broad strokes.  Such a position is not without merit, but it is not necessarily Biblically based, and, thus, folds like origami in the mind of the Christian.  Contrary to the thoughts of Mr. Wallflower, I try to avoid positions like that at all cost precisely because they are easily circumnavigated.

The Bible is my perspective.  To quote Shakespeare's Hamlet:

"For 'tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard, an't shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon."

What the heck does that mean?  Well, my sport is to use God's Self-ascribed characteristics to prove the incongruous, non sequitur nature of the Bible.  That is what I've done on The Wise Fool blog, but apparently I haven't done that well enough, as Mr. Wallflower missed this perspective.  Let's see if I can do a little better, right here, for this issue of God-directed slaughter:

  • God has perfect justice.
  • God has perfect mercy.
  • God has perfect love.
  • Everyone sins.
  • Sin is repaid by death.

Based on the Givens:
  • The first time any person sins, or perhaps the first time a person sins after they reach the age of culpability, God is entitled to kill that person.
  • It is a question of when they will sin, not if they will sin.
  • Ergo, at any given time, God is entitled to kill nearly everybody on the face of the planet.
  • If death is the payment for sin, then justice demands death.
  • However, mercy and love promote betterment and preservation, which is contrary to the justice of death.
  • There is no clear resolution to this conflict of mercy and justice, but love, spread to everyone, would suggest that the really bad people would be killed off early for the betterment and preservation of the others.
  • If everyone deserves death at the moment they sin, then every moment they live beyond that point is a gift of mercy.
  • With perfect justice and perfect mercy, there must be a perfection to the distribution of mercy, because otherwise it would be unjust.
  • Ergo, all similar sinners should have a similar life expectancy.
  • From the above conclusions, the worst sinners should always die young, while those who live relatively sin-free should expect to live relatively long.
  • On the other hand, if mercy or justice, or both, were unequally distributed with regard to merit, then God would appear arbitrary and capricious, and therefore justice and mercy would be imperfect.
  • Nobody can die before they sin, because otherwise justice is imperfect.
Reality Check:  I haven't even begun to speak about a disaster caused by God yet, and, already, the implications of perfections of justice, mercy, and love are proving to be problematic when you look what happens on earth.  People die with no sense of cause regarding sin.  Some wicked people live long.  Some good people die young.  Some kids die before they are old enough to even conceptualize sin.  This is already pretty good proof that the God of the Bible does not exist, at least not a God with the aforementioned attributes.  Arbitrary, capricious behavior is far from what we would consider perfect in any sense.  However, God does say in Exodus 33:19 "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," which pretty much tells you God is going to help out who He wants to help, not necessarily who deserves the help, and thus solidly refutes the principles of perfect justice and perfect mercy right there.

Enter Calamity:
Let's go with everyone's favorite God-cause disaster: The Flood of Noah.  The Flood is covered in Genesis 6-7, for reference.

Imagine, if you will, one thousand dice.  Just regular, six-sided dice.  The "one" represents the state (with regard to sin) in which you were born.  If you are a true Catholic, it sucks to be you, because you inherited sin, so God has license to kill you from the moment of birth.  For Protestants, or anyone else with better sense, "one" represents a sinless state.  The "two" represents when you commit your first sin.  Additional increments on the dice represent degrees of wickedness, so to speak.  So a "six" is someone who kicks puppies, makes burn sacrifices of his own children, and your children, defrauds your grandparents out of their life savings, and actively plots out and participates in genocide; you know, the scum of the earth.

Time to roll the dice...  Wow!  What a racket!

Now that the dice have settled down before you, you are gazing on one thousand souls, representing the much larger population of the earth at the time of the flood.  You've got innocent "ones" in the midst of sinners, including a fairly good distribution of the worst of the worst, and everything in between.  What a surprise!  And they will be surprised, too, when that wave of destruction of the Flood comes their way.

Take the dice and roll them again.  This time, the rolled numbers correspond to ages.  "Ones" are five years old and under.  "Twos" are six to ten years old.  Continue on in increments of five years to where "sixes" represent people above the age of twenty five, because, hey, this is several thousand years before Christ, and the life expectancy was not very high back then.

Undoubtedly, some of the "sixes" from the first roll remained "sixes" on the second roll.  These lucky bastards were as despicable as any one you'd never want to meet, and yet they lived long lives up until the Flood.  And some of the "ones" and "twos" from the first roll, well, surely they made it up to a relatively long lifespan on the second roll too.  However, others got a low roll again, being mere youths at the time when they got to experience what breathing water felt like.

Evaluation:  Just like in the Reality Check up above, based on age and status, what we see is a whole bunch arbitrary justice, only this time it is doled out on an epic scale.  God shed His mercy on some truly despicable people for a relatively long time, and, on the hand, stomped out thousands of budding lives before they had a chance to bloom.  God is also killing people who have never sinned, an act that He has no right to do so if constrained to justice.  You could also call it capricious, given that many prior generations existed, with all of their evils, which eventually gave birth to the people living at the time of the Flood.

These are the Bible-based issues I have with the Biblical, God-caused, epic exterminations of peoples.  It's not that I think everybody is innocent, or that nobody deserved punishment, although clearly a subset of those kind of people would be victims of God's wrath as well.  It's that these Acts of God make a mockery of justice and mercy, and love for that matter.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Connoisseurs of Christ

Temptingly rich and layered, with complex mocha, plum and wild berry fruit that’s spicy and aromatic. Full-bodied, gaining depth and turning ever more elegant and detailed, with tannins that give this traction.
There is an interesting phenomenon in the human psyche where perceived complexity creates an artificially high valuation of something, such as wine.  The description above is for a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon which, on sale(!), is selling for about $120.

A bottle of wine yield four glasses, so that places it at $30 a glass!  That same money could get you thirty dollar-menu burgers.  OK, that may be a bit of a disgusting thought, but how about for that same money you could get rolls with butter, a tasty slab of sirloin, grilled vegetables, a baked potato, a slice of cheesecake for dessert, and a tip for the server.  Well, depending on where you go, maybe you can't get the dessert, but, still, you can get a lot of food; food which takes about 10-20 times the effort to get to the table than it did to get that fermented grape juice into a bottle.

Now if you offer this wine to someone who has a less "sophisticated" palate, someone who likes wine but prefers other beverages, you'd be lucky to get $10 a glass, and they would probably be hard-pressed to tell you that it tasted like "mocha, plum and wild berry fruit," but instead they would probably just say that they like it or they don't like it.  Offer it to someone who abstains from alcohol, and they would not pay a dime; and if they tasted it, at best, they could probably identify it as wine.

This phenomenon is far from being limited to wine.  I think that, for some people, it also extends into the field of faith.  I wonder if it is the perceived complexities, symbolism, and nuances within the Bible, such as typology, which keeps the intellectually and/or contemplatively gifted people seduced by the faith.

If you read into the story a significant meaning or connection beyond what is there at face value, you become like the classic wine snob, where your mind is tricked into placing a higher value on it than it really deserves.  That perceived complexity grants the text an authority; becoming the proof of a higher power at work.  You become a connoisseur of the Scriptures, teasing out the flavors which lay hidden from the masses, or savoring those essences revealed by some experts before you like a consumer reflecting back on the professional taster's description of a wine as they take a sip.

But at the end of the day, a glass of wine is just a glass of wine, and the words of Scripture are like the words of other authors; full of the affectation and contrived meanings which they experienced or wanted to project.  That's not to say that either wine or Scripture is without value, but, rather, we should let them be as they are, and take them in with a realistic perspective.

So, is this just an illusion in my mind, or have you, too, met connoisseurs of Christ in your journey?  Do you think theirs is really a deeper faith, or have they introduced a complexity which honestly is not there?