Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Debate Tip #2: Be Kind of Like Jesus

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
    if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you. NIV Proverbs 25:21-22

Theological debates inherently render defensive postures.  Walls come up.  Ears shut down.

By engaging in a debate, in many ways you are asking your opposition to put on full display their most cherished and private beliefs.  Furthermore, you're prodding them to defend those beliefs.

Not very many people desire the truth more than they desire being right, although many people are deceived that true and right are one and the same.

So you've got your opposition in a vulnerable position, and they will naturally coil up like an armadillo to protect themselves.  Your goal should be to get them to relax their guard as much as possible, because that is your best chance of making an impact.

Sure, there are circumstances where haughty rebukes actually do work to motivate people, but they tend to be very limited to situations where there is an inherent structure of respect, like a parent and child, coach and athlete, teacher and student, etc.  You probably don't have that kind of relationship with your opponent.  Instead, you're probably just some dude, or dudette, on the internet to them.  Without that foundational structure of respect, brash language will only give them all the more reason to completely dismiss anything you say.

So be like Jesus!  OK, not the real Jesus that we find in the Gospels, but that romanticized version of Jesus who many Christians worship today.  You know, the one who is meek and humble, yet firm.  Be kind.  Be considerate.  Try to lovingly correct them.  Imagine you were having this conversation in front of your grandmother, or even with your grandmother, if you have to.  The bottom line is that you need to show respect, and be nice!

After the debate is over, they will think about you and what you said.  If you've been a jerk, made personal attacks instead of sticking to the subject matter, called them or their beliefs by offensive names, chances are they aren't going to really reconsider what you've said.  But if you are nice to them, and you show them (even undeserved) respect, you just may be heaping hot coals on their minds.  Because, if nothing else, they will be forced to wonder why someone so nice and reasonable has so many "misunderstandings", or is in collusion with Satan, or is destined for Hell.

That juxtaposition of a nice person inheriting an eternally negative afterlife is not going to be a comfortable thing for them to ponder...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Handbook for Mankind - Index

This is an index for my posts covering Handbook for Mankind by Buddhadasa BhikkhuHandbook for Mankind explains the core principles of Buddhism in a simple and straightforward manner, so it's great for people looking for an overview of what Buddhism is really about, at least according to Buddhadasa.  These posts will sum up Buddhadasa's words chapter-by-chapter, and then discuss my perspective on the teaching.  :-)

I'll be posting on this book at a rate of roughly every other week.  The links below will be made as the posts go up.

My Intro to Buddhism

I have no desire to be a Buddhist.

You may not know it yet, but that statement is probably pretty funny in Buddhist circles.  At least, it is to me.  ;-)

My best friend, Wasam, is from Thailand.  In fact, he's more of a brother-from-another-mother than a friend.  We hit it off together shortly after meeting, and the relationship has flourished ever since.  There's no way to describe it, other than that we just clicked into place.  Funny how some relationships are like that.  Anyway...

Wasam was brought up in a Buddhist culture. You may think you know what that means, but you probably don't, because it's about as meaningful as saying that someone was raised in a Christian culture.  Christian culture?  Do you mean Catholic?  Protestant?  Evangelical?  Fundamental?  Amish?  You get the point.

As Buddhism spread East from India, a slightly different version was born in each village it came to.  Sometimes, the customs of the other religions were wrapped up into it, kind of like how Easter and Christmas celebrations got co-opted into Christianity from its pagan counterparts.  And so, the Buddhism seen in much of the word today resembles its true origins just about as much as the Christianity of today resembles its origins.

Wasam and I have had several discussions through the years regarding religion and Buddhism.  Though I knew next to nothing about Buddhism (and still don't know much!), both he and his parents thought that I had more of an Eastern philosophy, a Buddhist philosophy, than what most Americans have.  Maybe that's why we clicked so well.  But I still didn't really understand what they meant until Wasam brought me an English copy of a book from his favorite teacher, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu.

It turns out that Wasam isn't the only one who appreciated Buddhadasa's work, as he was listed as a "great international personality" by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  Buddhadasa was so honored for spending a considerable amount of effort in working to bridge gaps between faiths, often through explaining Buddhist principles through the holy books of other faiths.

The book is titled Handbook for Mankind, and I have since found a free online copy if anyone is interested in checking it out.  Buddhadasa is known for being a bit of a fundamentalist and a simplifier, but in good senses of those words.  Finding the Buddhism of his time lacking, he went back to the original scriptures to discern what he believed to be the core teachings, while casting away errant traditions, customs, and rituals.  This book reflects those core teachings.

Plus, mainly early on, but also sprinkled throughout the book, you will hilariously (to me anyway) find several random comments which would seem just as appropriate coming from a Christian fundamentalist speaking of the current state of Christianity.  To some extent, a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist.  ;-)  But don't let that scare you off from reading if you are interested.  It's far from being the mainstay of the content.

For those familiar with Buddhism,  while Buddhadasa was a Theravada monk, his teachings lean significantly towards the Mahayana traditions, and often resembles the Zen subdivision.

I'll be blogging a roughly chapter-by-chapter look at this book, because, while I don't think that Buddhism is the one true religion, similar to almost all religions and good literature, there are principles within which can help you live a happier life and be a better person in the process.  I hope you'll join me.  :-)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Debate Tip #1: Expect to Lose

You will lose 99.99999% of all casual theology debates.  By "lose", I mean that you are not going to convince anyone to give up their faith based on your argument, at least not at that moment.

You may be right, and you may have even been able to get your opposition to admit that you have a valid point, but don't expect them to suddenly see their house of cards faith crash down right before their eyes.  Simply put, long-held beliefs don't work like that, at least not usually.  Let me illustrate through a non-faith related example:

I remember an engineering issue I had become familiar with; a certain component broke earlier than its expected lifetime.  I had considered the possible causes, and developed a theory of what the failure mechanism was.  About two years later, I had a chance to actually see the mechanism of failure in action, but there was one problem:
It didn't fail in accordance with my theory!

It took about two days for me to fully come to terms with the fact that I was wrong.  In the meantime, my mind worked to provide all kinds of alternate explanations of how my original theory was still true, but, in the end, I had to face facts.

The engineering example above is a pretty simple scenario.  I had nothing more invested in my wrong theory than my own ego.  Yet there was still a futile struggle in my mind to reject what I had learned.

Compare that to all of the complexity of religion, where there is considerable investment of finances, effort, and hope, and it should not be surprising that you will not find any converts at a debate!

The best you can hope for is to plant a seed of discomfort in your opponent's mind... a discomfort which is enough for them to consider what you've said beyond time of the debate.  Then, kind of like in Jesus' seed sowing parable (Matthew 13:1-9, Mark 4:1-9, Luke 8:4-8), if that seed lands in fertile soil, in a mind which wants to know more than wants to believe, your loss may yet yield a victory in time.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Your Value to God

For the source of this information, Leviticus 27:1-8, and take a look at my post on the chapter, where you'll find that women are worth less than men and that God approved of human sacrifice. :-)

Oh, and the meme is slightly inaccurate. God holds no value for children under one month old. Always the practical one, God wanted to be sure that the children were viable before assigning a value. ;-)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

2013 Which Bible Book Is the Most Popular?

As many of my readers know, on my other blog I have written and posted chapter-by-chapter summaries of the books of the Bible, up to the Gospel of John so far (plus Romans).  The geeky-cool thing about this is that I get page view stats (hits) for each of these posts, allowing me to get a feel for just how popular certain Bible books are.  I posted a previous article in February 2012 with the stats collected at that point along with possible conclusions from that data, and it was pretty interesting!  But a year and a half has passed, so it's time to take another look at the data as of now:

So, the 2013 winner of "Most Popular Old Testament Book" is Genesis!  No surprise there, right?  If you are going to start reading the Bible, you start with the first book.

What else can we gleam from the data?

Well, the huge drop of page views after Genesis possibly suggests:
  •  People loose resolve and interest in reading the Bible pretty quickly
  • Or people get demotivated from reading the Bible based on the content
  • Or people determine that summaries probably aren't the way to go, and so they go to reading the actual Bible
  • Or my summaries are poor quality, and people quickly seek out more reputable sources!  :-)
There appears to be a small, but significant uptick in views of the later minor prophets, like Micah and Zachariah.  However, that uptick is probably an illusion.  At the last data capture in 2012, I had relatively recently added those minor prophet summaries.  In fact, all of the books were added sequentially, with some lags greater than others between publishing. So from 2012 to now in 2013 is the first time block when all of the Old Testament summaries have been equally available.

It's interesting to see Exodus on basically equal footing with Leviticus, whereas before Leviticus had twice the popularity.  Exodus has the miracle-saturated redemption of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, while Leviticus is primarily just laws and commands.  I suspect Leviticus hits are driven by skeptics seeking ridiculousness and conservatives Christians trying to reign in liberal Christians, while the hits in Exodus represent more of enchantment with the myth.

I also find it interesting that the "wisdom" books of Job and Ecclesiastes both experienced a significant drop in hits.  Depending on how you look at these books, they present God, and life in general, in quite a different perspective than what most Christian pastors would have you believe.

However, the most important and revealing trend in the data is the upticks we see in the major prophets of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.  Even some minor prophets like Hosea, Amos, and Micah in particular, show an increase in interest.  While I would like to suppose that this means more people are seeking out the truth and context of these prophesies for themselves, my gut tells me something different...

Each of those books has a common theme; they're often cited for reference when discussing God's final Judgement Day and subsequent restoration.  In fact, the little book of Micah, with its disproportionate number of hits, actually contains the phrase "last days" suggesting the end of an era.  So I suspect that this uptick in prophetic interest just indicates an increasing intensity in "the End is nigh" paranoia.

It should be interesting to see if this trend continues in another year and a half.

I will leave you with the hit could for the four Gospels.  Note that Matthew has been posted the longest, and John only recently got published, so the skew in the data is at least somewhat, if not mostly, due to its length of availability.  Cheers!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Back from Zion

Hello whirled!  Part of the reason for my absence from this blog, besides wrapping up my other one, was vacation.  My wife and I celebrated our anniversary in Zion National Park, and had an excellent time doing so.  :-)

Zion is filled with awe-inspiring geological formations, and these landmarks are usually blessed with some kind of theologically inspired name.  Go figure, right?  "Zion"... the name of the prophesied restored Jerusalem/Israel, has other Biblical names?  How shocking!  ;-p

There is the Great White Throne, the Altar of Sacrifice, and Angel's Landing, to name a few.  The photo you see here is of the Court of the Patriarchs, where, from left to right, the whitish peaks are named after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

On the right, the reddish, orangish mount in front of the white peak is named Mount Moroni; Moroni being a Nephite prophet who was the one that allegedly gave the Golden Plates to Joseph Smith.  What do you expect?  That is Mormon country out there in southern Utah!

Anyway, here's a heads-up for various series I'll be posting on going forward:
  • Debate tips and strategies
  • More Holy Mackerel! comics
  • Buddhism, from the perspective of my Thai friend's favorite teacher
  • Continuation of the History of the Devil series.
So I've got some big ambitions, but, honestly I'll probably be lucky to get up to posting once a week.  I've got a lot of other projects in the works right now, which have nothing to do with religion.  :-)