Don’t Re-Church Us

Should young ex-Protestants go back to church?

Save the Mainline
Ross Douthat
April 15, 2017

Response from Aurelius

aurelius

“A large share of well-educated liberal America is post-Protestant…For the sake of their country, their culture and their very selves, liberal post-Protestants should find a mainline congregation and [start] attending every week.”

Not gonna happen for me. I respectfully decline.

My experience aligns with the premise that well-educated liberal America is post-Protestant, and the author links to supporting data as well. However, I don’t agree with the self-labeled implausible proposal that follows. The author is intending to provoke strong responses by lobbing a series of implausible proposals in his NYT column, such as “Trump Needs a Brain” and “Break up the Liberal City”. Akin to “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift, the real intention is to highlight real problems and promote real discussion on real solutions. So, let’s discuss.

“Liberal Protestantism without the Protestantism tends to gradually shed the liberalism as well, transforming into an illiberal cult of victimologies that burns heretics with vigor.”

Liberalism without Protestantism does not devolve into chaos. The 2017 college campus scene is an embarrassment to free speech, but Protestantism cannot reel this in. That’s a bizarre suggestion. Nor can Protestantism alter the apparent flippancy of liberal ideals. gjskkI believe this claim stems from Douthat’s flawed belief that liberalism is inherently unprincipled. Maybe it’s because liberals like to protest, and lately it’s often unclear what the unifying message of a particular protest is. I can agree with that, but just like the hypocrisy and sin of Christians do not nullify Christ, politically correct young liberals do not nullify liberalism. Furthermore, this assertion has a sub-claim that the alternative is principled. Today’s Republican party looks extremely different than a few years ago. Trump is not a principled man by any means. A phenomenon for sure, but terribly inconsistent in his stances. Republicans are not the unwaveringly principled party.

“Do it for your friends and neighbors, town and cities: Thriving congregations have spillover effects that even anti-Trump marches can’t match.”

I completely agree with Douthat’s supported point that institutions are needed to organize principles and build and sustain a sense of community. My biggest loss for me after becoming an atheist was leaving behind an omnipresent community. It’s lonely to leave the church. But, re-entering church is not the answer. Grassroots movements and political activism are how we should organize liberalism. The Democratic party has a tough job this next year before the 2018 midterm elections. Inserting religion is unnecessary bundling. While on that topic, I strongly believe that the bundling of Christianity with Republicanism and conservatism, while the status quo, is counterproductive and invites tremendous unnecessary divisiveness. Why is the Republican platform so accommodating to evangelical America? Why are Democrats not receptive to anti-abortion rights advocates?

“Do it for your family: Church is good for health and happiness, it’s a better place to meet a mate than Tinder, and even its most modernized form is still an ark of memory, a link between the living and the dead. I understand that there’s the minor problem of actual belief. But honestly, dear liberals, many of you do believe in the kind of open Gospel that a lot of mainline churches preach.”

There exist secular “churches” to satisfy this exact need of community and organizing liberal principles. They’re not nearly as popular as the religious variant, but I would suggest ex-Protestants go to a secular church such as Sunday Assembly over a denomination they’ve already rejected, probably for good reason. Get the benefits of going to church without the baggage of belief.

But maybe, the author assumes, most who slowly fade away wouldn’t be strongly opposed to re-entering those communities. Statistics aren’t in his favor here. A 2016 Pew study found that well over half of the previously-churched left because they do not believe or they dislike organized religion. Less than one third consider themselves on the fence or inactive believers, and it’s really only this latter category, about 10%, who are open to the notion of church.

“Finally, a brief word to the really hardened atheists: Oh, come on. Sure, all that beauty and ecstasy and astonishing mathematical order is because we’re part of a multiverse or a simulation or something; that’s the ticket. Sure, consciousness and free will are illusions, but human rights and gender identities are totally real. Sure, your flying spaghetti monster joke makes you a lot smarter than Aquinas, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King. Sure.”

Atheists have a bad stigma in this country, and it’s arguments like Douthat’s that perpetuate that perception. His argument here is pathetically straw manned. Yes, I’m sure the stereotypical neckbeard atheist with the FSM bumper sticker does exist, but that outdated meme is as uncommon as the Christians portrayed in the documentary Jesus Camp. What do his atheist friends think of that characterization? It describes exactly zero atheists that I know.

Finally, I counter that if you left Protestantism for good reason, then remind yourself of those reasons. Maybe even write the down. Seek out a secular church if you are wanting something similar but without the baggage of belief. Become politically active if you’re tired of incongruence in your party. But don’t proclaim Take Me To Church unless you are ready to re-explore your belief in Christ.

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Reactions to Donald Trump’s Election

How do you feel about the election of Donald Trump?

On November 8, 2016, in a historic election, Donald J. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in a close and divisive election. We here at ConvergingMatters felt moved to comment on the election results, and we wanted to gather a variety of additional viewpoints as well. Each viewpoint will stand alone without cross responses.

antipas2Like a number of Americans, I’ve been in a continual state of shock over the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.  It often seemed like he combined the worst of Americans into one persona and ran for President unabashedly. His blatant materialism, sexism, racism, xenophobia, arrogance, and more ran from amusing to unbelievable to terrifying. I have rarely been confident that he even believes in the value of democracy.

His unrepentant behavior and attitudes are diametrically opposed to the Bible.

I fear for what he has done to my community of faith. I do not see any evidence that he is a Christian, and in fact I see plenty that he is not. His unrepentant behavior and attitudes are diametrically opposed to the Bible. Yet, exit polls showed that 81% of white evangelical voters chose him. It’s remarkable that out of 5 candidates, two were vaguely spiritual (Johnson and Stein), one was essentially a “none” (Trump), one was a Mormon (McMullin), and one was a Methodist (Clinton). And so many Christians united behind Trump!

No single political party has a lock on Biblical positions. However, the white evangelical church has come to believe that to be a Christian is to be a Republican. They have concluded this on the basis of a few singular social issues while overlooking a wide range of other issues. I would go so far as to say that each party has a roughly equal proportion of “Biblical” values as non-Biblical values. If such a statement surprises you, ask yourself whether care for immigrants, the environment, and outrageous generosity toward the poor are Biblical values.

It goes deeper. When we as a church are willing to overlook an awful lot in favor of a few policies, we’ve lost something. We say “Yeah he’s a narcissistic proto-dictator with profound moral failures, but at least he’s pro-life!” Can you imagine a young woman using the same logic for a man? “Yeah he abuses me, but he’s great in bed!” “Yeah he cheats on me a lot, but it’s just because he’s so smart and funny!” We’d tell her to get out of that relationship immediately!

We have become so segregated from the world, and even from Christian brothers and sisters of other ethnicities.

I understand that Hillary Clinton is a deeply unpopular candidate with moral issues of her own. I share the concerns and do not even come close to agreeing with her on all the issues. I’d like to see a future where Christians are not heavily lopsided toward either party, but instead judge each candidate based on the quality of their character, experience, campaign, and stance on a variety of issues that are important to each person individually.

After the election, I saw an outpouring of emotion online from friends around the country who are different from me. I heard LGBTQ people, people of color, even women who had undergone abortions publicly expressing deep fears and pains over what was happening. I fear that the white evangelical church was deaf to those pains. We have become so segregated from the world, and even from Christian brothers and sisters of other ethnicities, that we think a Supreme Court nominee is all that matters. For a year, Trump has been saying that he was going to reclaim an America that had slipped away. That America no longer exists, and I don’t believe it should, because it wasn’t an America where all people were created in the image of God.

 – Antipas

 


Candide Image.jpegTrump was never my first choice. I found him arrogant, repugnant, and immature. I thought he was a wrecking ball, incapable of complex and nuanced policy positions. No campaign in history was run the way his was, and I thought presidential politics could be ruined forever if he won. But then I started listening.

I have never identified as conservative. In my younger days I was a strictly non-violent self-proclaimed socialist. I played punk rock and fought “the man.” I couldn’t support Bush’s interventionist war-profiteering. I felt answering death and destruction with more death and destruction was short-sighted, and could never align with my religious convictions.

As much as the millennial generation is maligned, they don’t want handouts, they want opportunities.

Today a libertarian lens colors my views. If you poll people around my age without using party labels, I’m not alone. They want to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community, they want to help provide for the marginalized in our society, but they also want the dignity and fulfillment that comes with working a good job. As much as the millennial generation is maligned, they don’t want handouts, they want opportunities.

Recognizing our country is not ready to elect a Libertarian, I began to envision how each presidency would function. Trump, a former Democrat, will enter the office with the most libertarian policies of any president since the 1940s, many of which will be difficult to pass with a republican congress. But he built these policies because he heard a voice. This voice, that also fed Bernie’s campaign, came from average Americans. They never recovered from the great recession, they sent their loved ones to fight in near-constant war, and they felt the economy was rigged against them.

That voice saw Clinton as more of the same, and she saw them as the enemy. She called them deplorable, basement-dwellers, uneducated, racist, misogynist, and worse. She lamented them for voting “against their interests,” which may be the most condescending thing a politician can say to an electorate.

Where I felt Trump was a threat to decency, I felt Clinton was a threat to peaceful democracy.

But my reservations about Clinton were not her words. I dug through Wikileaks. I saw illegal coordination between the campaign and PACs. I saw the suppression of Bernie Sanders. I saw conversations with journalists in media allowing her campaign to cultivate their message. That’s propaganda. I saw that her state department foment violent uprisings in the Middle East, funding the generation of groups like ISIS, leading to the death and displacement of generations. I saw in 2009 she was against gay marriage, I saw her call inner-city black men “super predators.” I listened, in two separate nationally televised events, as she insouciantly called for taking military action against Russia for allegedly hacking the DNC emails. Provoking a nation to war that has the nuclear capacity to destroy the planet is reckless, at best.

I would have preferred a more polished and less obscene candidate to carry that voice’s message. I hurt for those in pain from this result. But where I felt Trump was a threat to decency, I felt Clinton was a threat to peaceful democracy. Today, I am relieved America made that difficult choice.

 – Candide

 


Thank you very much to our contributing authors:

  • Antipas – 31, male, white, Evangelical Christian, loves gardening
  • Aurelius – 30, male, white, atheist, liberal, solves math puzzles for fun
  • Candide – 30, male, white, Methodist, libertarian, has a Weimaraner named Daphne
  • Timotheos – 50, male, white, Evangelical Christian, VP with a European specialty foods company

Note: We are well aware that all four voices are white males. We are actively pursuing additional voices and plan a followup post in the coming days.

aureliusI was among the majority of Americans convinced Trump would never become president of the United States. Religiously following 538’s forecast showed me that Trump oscillated between a 10% and occasionally 50% chance of winning, stabilizing around 25%. I liked those odds. They’re the same odds as flipping heads twice in a row, which was unlikely enough for me to be comfortable with my and my family’s future. Now those two heads have landed and I’m in shock. Not because of the odds, which really weren’t that unlikely. I’m in disbelief in how we elected a man who brags about sexual assault, demeans women, may or may not want to ban an entire religion, and who feels like he has to call foul and sue anyone that disagrees with him or gets in his way. Half of the country just voted for this man.

The chief alternative was a career politician, a woman, who had high praise from both Democrats and Republicans who have worked with her. But, she has been battling scandals since entering the public light 25 years ago. Her main criticism leading up to the election was how she mismanaged her emails while Secretary of State. The FBI investigated her thoroughly, which didn’t result in any charges. Meanwhile, Trump managed to continually say and do things that would immediately obliterate any other candidate’s chances. Ignorant, sexist, racist, offensive remarks, met with simultaneous cheers, blind eyes, and disbelief.

The first president my kids will remember is this awful excuse for a man who cares more about the perceived size of his hands than preserving the fundamental religious freedom of our country.

Yet, the American people believed Trump when he said that she was the crooked one, she was the incompetent one, she didn’t have the right temperament. The facts reveal that the opposite is true. I was with her, and I’m proud to have voted for her. Now the first president my kids will remember is this awful excuse for a man who cares more about the perceived size of his hands than preserving the fundamental religious freedom of our country.

This man. This stain on human history. Yes, he will now be in our history books. We wrote him in.

He has promised to “Make America Great Again.” I sincerely hope that he and the other branches of government do so responsibly. The dark campaign he ran is inconsistent with my view of the country. I hope his campaign rhetoric was an attempt to court the previously uncourted, not a foreshadowing of the next 4-8 years. I think we are pretty great right now, and we should continue making progress. Continue to lower the unemployment rate by getting people to work at good-paying jobs, educate people without saddling them with debt, provide health services without burdening people with outrageous hospital bills, intervene in foreign affairs only when human rights or national security are at stake, allow for responsible and legal immigration, and in doing so continue to diversify our country, drive innovation, and grow our economy. As stewards we must take care of the world we have inherited and are creating.

Together we can make our country greater and be proud of what we leave our kids and grandkids.

I saw a bumper sticker a few months ago that has stuck with me. It simply said, Humankind. Be both. Together we can make our country greater and be proud of what we leave our kids and grandkids.

– Aurelius

 


TimotheosAs a kid growing up in the swampy marshlands of New Orleans I was always amazed at how the ships on the other side of the Mississippi river levee appeared to float above me when I peered out of my bedroom window. Of course, anyone with a basic knowledge of geology relative to this city knows that most of it is below sea level and protected only by an elaborate system of pumps and levees that keep “draining the bowl” so to speak. It’s been said that New Orleans is “the inevitable city on the impossible site” and by all geologic standards it should not exist. Still, since the late 1600’s when it was founded this city has defied logic and thrived as a metropolis that is home to 1.1 million people. New Orleans existing, along with many other occurrences and events throughout human history, clearly show that miracles do happen. It shows there are many things that human logic, intellect, science, etc. can’t explain. Such is the case, in my opinion and many others, of a Donald J. Trump presidency.

He listened to the American people and understood with complete clarity.

How did such a man with no political experience, no huge pool of donor money, no real fans on either side of the political aisle or in the media pull off such an impossible and historic upset? It’s really simple. He listened to the American people and understood with complete clarity their plight of being misunderstood, disdained, forgotten and put down by the elite politicians that supposedly represented them. Like Trump, I am a businessman and in business to be successful you have to listen more than you speak. Without taking the time to listen you can’t form a coherent strategy that will produce a solution which tries to benefit all parties involved. The success of Donald Trump’s candidacy from the moment he entered the race emanated from his ability to do this very well. Additionally, you don’t accidentally form a successful brand and multi-billion-dollar company like the Trump Organization by being a bombastic, hard-headed leader that doesn’t listen to their customers and the support staff around you. Instead, you know how to keenly listen, resist giving into emotion or hype, stay focused while pragmatically evaluating next steps and action plans that deliver results.

For me Trump’s strategic thinking skills as a very successful businessman resonated and the fact that he was NOT an elitist, good ole’ boy politician singing the same old song and dance as they do appeal to me. It seemed everyone hated this guy on both sides of the political aisle along with everyone in the media, other countries and anyone else who had an opinion of him. This, of course, made him even more desirable to me as a Presidential candidate and apparently many others. I found it quite refreshing that finally there was someone running for President that was not emboldened to special interest, lobbyist or corporate America. Despite saying some foolish and ignorant things there was no doubt that Donald Trump was sincere in his desire to do as his campaign slogan said, “Make America Great Again”. The political establishment was at least smart enough to recognize the threat he posed, but could do nothing to stop it while he plowed through victory after victory in the primaries overcoming 16 established, capable contenders en route to gaining the improbable Republican nomination. It was at this point that the biased, left leaning media turned their full frontal assault on him while basically ignoring the many irregularities and corruption of the Clinton campaign. If they ever wanted a great sound bite, Clinton would have given it to them, but for whatever reason they were fixated on derailing and destroying the character and candidacy of Donald Trump. Wiki leaks and other credible sources, admissions of carelessness by James Comey of Secretary Clinton’s use of classified information on personal servers proved this was the case, but the media still shrugged it off. Those that didn’t shrug it off were average “Joes” that Washington, pop culture and media elites wrote off, disdained and dismissed. They silently went about their day, ignoring poll takers and generally not letting anyone know of their choice for President for fear they would be labeled homophobes, racists, ignorant or some other derogatory name. They ignored the polls so much that not one poll was even close to predicting the inevitable outcome. On the morning of November 9, everyone was shocked and dismayed but those of us that voted for him and Donald Trump himself were not surprised. Like Donald Trump we listened and rode a wave of Populist fervor to the voting booths where we cast our votes ushering in one of the most unlikely, underdog candidates to ever become President of the United States.

– Timotheos

 

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Gun Violence

What Should Be Done About All The Gun Violence?

antipas2

The volume of gun violence in this country is, by any measure, staggering. As a Christian, (although I’d like to think it’s not exclusive to Christianity) I place a high value on human life. Although the statistics are overwhelming, that each person lost is a life with a story, family, and friends is crushing. It’s easy to focus on the terrorist attacks and the seemingly random mass casualty events in public spaces, but we ought not to distinguish them so dismissively from drug-related violence, gang fights, and domestic disputes. A life is a life.

I’m no expert on gun control. Yet, it seems that any reasonable person would see that our current system is nonsensical. As I write this, it’s possible for a person on a terror watch list to buy a gun. A person can fail a background check and still buy a gun if the background check takes longer than 3 days. Guns can be sold privately without any sort of background check or required process.

These sorts of glaring holes in the system are absurd to rational thought. Simply requiring a license for a gun could help close these gaps and does not violate anyone’s rights – we have to register our cars annually and get a government permit just to replace a hot water heater. A NY Times editorial points out the absurdity of being so cautious about abridging the rights of people buying guns while calling for a blanket ban on Muslim immigration.  You don’t roll out a tank to crush an ant hill while your house is on fire.

Again, I’m not an expert, but I fail to understand why we wouldn’t at least make it difficult to get a gun. This is an incredibly dangerous weapon we’re talking about. The other side argues that it isn’t the gun that kills people, but the wielder. This is of course true, and clearly anyone who has a strong desire to commit a crime is going to commit it. Our violent culture kills people at an alarming rate and we’ve got to speak up about the violence too.

Yet, even those who argue that our culture is violent aren’t willing to do much about it. We avoid talking about the neighborhoods where violence is a way of life. We won’t have a serious discussion about violence in media, despite a virtually proven link to desensitization and potential aggression. But we still aggressively ban Kinder Eggs because they are potentially dangerous.

If we’re going to talk about gun control, let’s talk about it in a rational way, not with charged preconceived notions. Such as how our media make us misunderstand guns. We see an actor take somebody down with a single shot, when even trained police officers miss 70 to 82 percent of their shots. That misunderstanding makes us think that even in a crowded place, having armed do-gooders makes us safer.

This is no easy issue to deal with. Nobody is seriously suggesting taking away everyone’s guns, or banning violent video games – neither suggestion is rational. We’ve got to have conversations about due process and the transparency of the terror watch list. But doing absolutely nothing, which we’ve been doing for years, is not rational either.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

You bring up several good points. The “good guy with a gun” fallacy is rampant among gun advocates. The NRA’s executive VP, Wayne LaPierre, declared after the Sandy Hook shooting, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Making it harder to get a gun seems intuitive. Unfortunately, the gun lobby is powerful and the public is unsupportive of most gun control measures. Our country needs a mindset shift, and increased mass shootings don’t seem to be jarring the public. In fact, even though the public overwhelmingly supports increased background checks, we are now more opposed to stricter gun control laws in general than previous decades where mass shootings were less frequent. What will convince us to actually make a productive change?

I’m one of the irrational guys you mention in your last paragraph that thinks we shouldn’t own guns. It’s a losing battle, I know, but any measure short of drastic will only at most dampen the gun violence. We need to reverse the trend. Australia enacted a gun buyback program once firearms were made illegal, buying back over 700,000 guns. The U.S. currently has somewhere around 300,000,000 guns. That’s an absurd number of guns. A buyback program probably wouldn’t scale to that size, but we should do the studies to find out what’s feasible.

Having a gun in the home increases the likelihood of suicide, homicide, and accidental death. Our gun-obsessed culture needs to change.

aurelius

There is a major problem in the U.S. with gun violence. While there are some countries in the world with significantly more gun deaths, the U.S. is high on the list. It’s important to establish this fact first. We have a problem that needs to be addressed.

Several news stories this past month claimed that there have been on average more than one mass shooting per day in 2015. This is true if we define mass shootings as four or more people wounded in a related gun incident. As others reported, the way the public generally defines mass shootings as four or more people killed, not just wounded, brings the count down to four in 2015. I don’t care to nit pick the definition of a mass shooting. One a year is too many. We are numbed to mass shootings. Each time one hits the news, gun control advocates repeat, “We need to make it harder to own guns,” while gun rights advocates repeat, “We need to arm and protect ourselves from incidents like this.” At least both sides agree that something needs to be done, but they talk past each other because productive debate on gun control is hindered by culture bundling.

As stated in the New York Times piece above based on an FBI study, “the more narrowly defined mass shootings have grown more frequent, and overwhelmingly involve legally obtained firearms.” Even with strict gun laws and background checks, people are legally obtaining firearms in order to commit atrocities. My proposition is that we should simply not be able to own firearms unless we need them to defend against predators such as wolves and mountain lions or for strict hunting-for-food purposes. The UK has these types of prohibitive gun ownership laws, and while mass shootings still occur, they are significantly less frequent. Australia has even stricter gun laws prompted by a horrific mass shooting, and they now have fewer than 10% the number of gun deaths per capita as the U.S.

We have many laws that protect us from being harmed by others – speed limits, airport screenings, customs, environmental regulations – but we hold on to our right to own firearms because it is deeply ingrained in our culture and written into our constitution. It is a huge part of what defines us. When we now have active shooter training at elementary schools, we need to redefine ourselves and rethink what’s best for our society.

Our second amendment grants us the right to bear arms for the purposes of establishing a well regulated militia. We now have a police force and state/national guards that serve this purpose. Citizens with semi-automatic weapons are also no match for a government that owns multitudes of tanks, F-16s, and drones.

Since this is a serious topic, I’ll end with a 16-minute stand up bit from Jim Jefferies discussing America’s gun culture. Our ownership and obsession with guns is causing more harm than good. We need to entirely rethink our gun culture.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

First of all, that’s a hilarious video of Jim Jefferies, but he does make some very good points. You’ve got a very well-researched post here. I’m particularly interested in the argument that the right to bear arms is no longer really a relevant right since we have police and military to protect us from outsiders and we aren’t going to win a war against our own government anymore.

Really, I think the point that Jefferies makes is a strong one: really the reason we want guns is that we just like them. They’re macho, they’re cool, they make us feel tough. I went shooting at a gun range with a friend once and I couldn’t resist making a tough guy face with the handgun for a photo. It’s just like driving really fast on the highway. Do we really need to get to our destination 30 seconds earlier or do we just enjoy it?

You’re also absolutely right about the “culture bundling”. That’s a new term for me, but it’s spot on, and of course one of the reasons why you and I, my friend, started this site. Irrational debates are fun, as the article points out, but I think we’ve lost the ability for meaningful dialogue when we need it. This is one of those instances.

I won’t go as far as you to say that all guns need to be banned and bought back. I’m a fan of reasoned steps, and it could be that we ought eventually to end up with no guns, but I think it’s better to take things one steady step at a time to measure the impact and ensure we aren’t making unintended consequences. This is a bit of my political philosophy, but in general I don’t think it’s always a bad thing if governments move slowly.

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Christians vs. The World

What is the deal with the “Culture Wars”?

antipas2

Christians often have a confrontational relationship with the culture around them. Some characterize this as Christians being “anti everything” and others just get annoyed by their insistence on things like traditional marriage, abortion, cultural Christian artifacts, and so forth.  People rightfully ask why it is that Christians seem to be so angry all the time.

There’s a great older book called Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr that details the different ways that Christians can interact with culture. You can be against culture, absorbed in culture, above culture, in paradox with it (we have a secular life and a spiritual life that continually intersect and diverge), or you can view Christ and the Christian as the transformer of culture. It’s very common for Christians to take one of the first two stances – at war with it, or just making Christian copies of things and consuming them. Some set themselves aloof with the third option and sort of ignore the world around them, but the author of the book has a respect for the paradox view and encourages the transformer view.

God created people as cultivators of a garden and I think that analogy can have value today.  You can’t cultivate a garden by being angry at it, or by embracing the weeds, or by viewing the soil as beneath you and unworthy of attention.   You’ve got to take what’s there and work to make it better, caring for it constantly and bringing great things out.

Does this approach minimize the bad things in the world and just accept them?  Not at all.  I think it’s disingenuous to our own faith to deny that there are things wrong with the world.  If the Bible is clear about a certain subject, then Christians ought to be similarly clear.  But this doesn’t mean you have to be confrontational about it.  You can believe, as I do, that abortion is wrong, and not picket in front of abortion clinics and criticize people who have had abortions.  You can maintain both your convictions and your love for others.  For example, you could quit yelling about making abortion illegal and start encouraging women to make different decisions.

There’s a lot of yelling in the world today.  Our semi-anonymous culture of internet communication and mass media makes it easy.  Solomon is wise when he says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  There’s a time for harsh words, and there’s a time for gentleness.  When Christians are known for their harsh words rather than for their love, they’ve missed the point.  There is no Christian nation, our USA not even being close, and much of the culture wars come about because Christians think that the USA is one.  We have to accept that and be glad for it.

If it’s not a Christian nation, then we can feel free to hold our own beliefs strong and not seek to impose them on the world around us, as if a non-Christian would want to live by Christian beliefs.  We can embrace the world, weeds and all, and take an attitude of seeking to leave this world better than we found it through loving cultivation.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

Nice perspective. We tackled this prompt in markedly different ways. In those five responses to culture, I see many of today’s Christians taking a combination of the first and third approach: against and above culture, which is why many Christians come off as angry or culturally divisive. The person that I think best exemplifies the transformative approach is Mother Teresa. She viewed the world around her as a garden begging for love and compassion and therefore devoted her life to loving and helping others.

I agree with you that there is too much yelling in the world today. In my view, yelling, protesting, and picketing rarely produce the desired outcome. On the contrary, quiet fortitude can wake people up, just as Rosa Parks exemplified. We all probably know someone with this type of character. The loud voices of the room become noise after a while, but when the quiet person speaks, everyone listens.

I wish more Christians in the U.S. would share your perspective of accepting and even being glad that the country is not a Christian nation and not try to impose Christian beliefs onto others. Imposing your beliefs on others only perpetuates already-divided camps and comes off as foolish to those who believe otherwise, more eloquently stated by one of my favorite British actors, Stephen Fry, on one of my favorite TV shows, QI. “The myth of the Jewish people having manna dropped on their heads, that doesn’t actually matter… That’s like a Greek myth or any other myth. It’s when it gets to telling people how to behave is where we do draw the line.”

We can all agree on your last point. Let’s leave this world better than how we found it.

aurelius

If you live in the U.S. or keep up with U.S. news you are likely aware of the political atmosphere’s close connection with religious differences. Christian vs. non-Christian. Right-wing fundamentalist Christian vs. moderate Christian. Tea Party vs. moderate Republican. These divides played a huge role in this summer’s same-sex marriage ruling and they are a significant influence in many other cultural and moral issues.

“Culture war” only makes sense within the context of a single group with conflicting cultures, such as a non-homogeneous country. It’s important to note that every country has some unique culture war but in this post we are talking about the U.S. culture wars. The U.S. culture wars are predominantly religious, primarily between Christian and Other.

To understand the current culture wars requires an understanding of their influences and beginnings. I had to educate myself here, so here’s a recap. The culture wars became increasingly religious in the 80s and 90s even through today but they have more secular beginnings in the 60s. Early issues were civil rights, feminism, minority representation, and war vs. peace. Major issues then became abortion, homosexuality, religious discrimination, and again war vs. peace. Today’s media serve to propagate instead of mitigate the culture wars, with Fox News on one side and MSNBC and CNN in the opposing corner.

So, what can we do about the culture wars? How do they benefit and harm society?

The benefit of the culture wars is they can unite a large group of people into action based on beliefs they strongly support. It challenges people to examine their own beliefs to determine which they stand for and how strongly. Having to pick a side also promotes competition, and competition has many proven benefits and is one of the most natural human endeavors.

The major harm in culture wars is the creation and sustainment of the Us vs. Them mentality. We are all the same species and should embrace our humanity and endeavor to improve our collective existence, not highlight our differences. Even though we will naturally associate with one side based on our beliefs and upbringing, allying ourselves with one side makes it easy to dismiss the other side. We must resist the urge to be dismissive and divisive.

With the holiday season now here, instead of bickering with our loved ones, what if each week or two each of us read an opinion piece from the other side or tried to carry a conversation with someone with sharply different beliefs with the sole intent of respecting an opinion contrary to our own and understanding its premise? It’s not a farfetched idea, but we don’t take the time to do it. It would require just a small effort but the ripples would be long lasting. That is the primary intent of this blog because my coauthor and I believe in the power of respectful discourse. It is not hard to do and I can attest that it is remarkably refreshing to have your opinion respected by someone who disagrees with you while you are being enlightened by genuinely listening to their perspective. It’s a beautiful thing that we should all strive for. We don’t have to be divided.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

You’re right that this issue strikes at the heart of why we started the blog, so of course we’re going to have the same mind on it. There have been times that I have really enjoyed reading some academically-minded Tea Party literature, because sometimes once you get past the vitriol you find some logical arguments. I may find that I disagree with a premise, or think the argument leaves something out, but understanding the argument is key to understanding why I hold my own position.

The same is true of any issue, whether it’s homosexual marriage, allowing refugees and asylum-seekers into the country, or even something silly like red Starbucks cups. Our world would have a lot less yelling if, before anyone brought out their argument, they listened to and understood the logic from the other side. Your suggestion of carrying on conversations with those who disagree is a great one, and I hope more people do it.

Finally, thank you for pointing out the positive aspects of the “culture wars”. I glossed over these, but you make a great point. I may not like the angry and bitter conflicts that Christians sometimes pick, but this energy can also be harnessed for good – mobilizing to action, for example. I also know that I have rarely understood my own position so well as when I was forced to defend it against an onslaught. Let’s go out and manage the culture wars positively!

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What Is Success In Life?

What is success in life?

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Success is an esoteric subject that could be looked at in all sorts of different ways.  When someone is described as a “successful person,” however, there’s a very definite picture that tends to appear in our minds.  This is culturally learned.  In America we naturally picture a wealthy businessman, with a great family and a nice house.  Why can’t success be defined differently?  If you’ve read or seen Les Misérables, you know the benevolent bishop who opens up the story by saving Valjean’s life.  He excelled at giving everything away, and I’d call him successful.

The Bible talks about success.  Proverbs 16:3 says “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”  I love this, because it requires submitting to God and doing it for Him, and then God will make His plans yours.  It’s subtly not saying “God will bless your plans,” but implying that God’s plans will be blessed through you.  God will give you success – not yours, but His.  Joshua 1:8 talks about meditating on God’s word so that Joshua will be prosperous and successful.  When the Bible talks about prospering, it tends to be more of a holistic wellbeing, not only financial.  A commission was given to Joshua, and through trusting God he would achieve it.

I’d call success the achieving of God’s call on our lives.  This can relate to any number of separate vocations.  I’ve got a vocation as a husband, as an employee, as a friend, and so on.  At any given moment, I can be succeeding or failing in each.  I’m succeeding if I’m accomplishing what God is looking for me to do.  If God wants me to gently correct and teach a friend, but instead I only encourage them, I’m failing.  If I’m called to encourage a friend, but I try to teach them instead, I’m failing.

How then do we know what to do?  We get close to God and listen to him – not just occasionally, or even daily, but moment by moment.  This isn’t some kind of weird constant praying or something, it’s just a general posture of leaning on God for direction.  In the moment, we’ll know what we’re supposed to do, and success will come if we follow the direction.

Taking the long view then, what is success in life?  It’s the same thing, but applied over the course of life.  If we’re called to be a fabulous businessman, then success is being the best businessman possible.  If we’re called to invent something world-changing after a lifetime of research and trials, then success is finally inventing it late in life.  If we’re called to be an incredible father, then success is raising awesome children.  And yes, if we’re called to be a faithful custodian, success is doing the best job cleaning each night.  Success is finding whatever we are called to do, both in the short-term and long-term, and getting there with the Lord’s help.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

I wouldn’t define success as the achieving of God’s call on our lives because without religion that definition is arbitrary, but we both define success in large part by working hard and treating others well in whatever area makes sense for us. One struggle I had in writing my response was distinguishing achievement from effort. While success by itself requires accomplishment, I think success in life is about effort.

When you talk about God wanting to correct vs encourage behavior, I would interpret that as you upholding a moral standard. If you uphold the standard, either by correcting or encouraging, you are succeeding. For example, if my coworker says privately to me, “Truthfully, she was only hired because she has boobs,” I’m forced into an awkward situation. Most moral standards would concur in rebuking this behavior. If I uphold my moral standard and call him out, I’m succeeding, but if I reluctantly laugh or say nothing, I’m failing. In that situation, which unfortunately actually happened, I failed by merely going quiet and walking away, and I hate that I did that. However, when he said something similar in a different setting later on, I spoke out against that behavior and reported the incident to HR.

My problem with leaning on God to provide this direction and calling is when no direction is provided. How can you be sure that direction is God’s? For me, it came down to a gut instinct with a sprinkle of social pressure. Just be the best person you can be in whatever situation you find yourself. Work hard, be kind to others, and devote yourself to something beyond your own ambition, something that will make the world just a little bit better.

aurelius

As a new father, I try actively to praise my son’s effort, not his results. I will be disappointed if my son is lazy, but I genuinely don’t care if he follows in my family’s footsteps of becoming an engineer or academic, as long as he tries hard, is kind to others, and is satisfied with how well he’s tried and how well he’s treated others, not with where it’s gotten him. That’s what we want for our kids and the next generation – do your best, be kind, and be happy.

So much of what we in our culture consider success in life is nothing more than luck. A corporate executive is seen as significantly more successful than a hotel janitor, but this perception of success is wrong. Success is working hard regardless of the gained achievement. The executive likely had a lot of parental support, financially and otherwise, to get her a top-tier education and the network along the way to position herself at the base of that corporate ladder with no way but up. Sure, she worked hard, but circumstances could have been different. The hotel janitor had to work through high school to support her family, so she had little or no extracurriculars and her learning suffered. Her parents are both working full time making barely above minimum wage struggling to support their four kids in a land where they were told opportunity was boundless. She can’t afford university, and her community college classes are a struggle because she is still working full time now trying to support a family of her own. The cycle continues. There are exceptions, but social mobility is a huge barrier to what we often call success. Toby Morris’ On a Plate illustrates this misconception poignantly.

Hopefully most in the developed world have a sense of success in life larger than material status and social positioning. When I was a Christian I measured my success with how well I thought I exemplified a Christ-centered life, how my relationship was with God and how I helped others in their spiritual journeys. I still measure my success in part by how I help others through their lives and spiritual journeys, just not with a Christian focus. I love teaching and try to incorporate that into my life, judging my own success in part by how well I am using that skill I have been given and am passionate about.

Mostly these days I measure my success by how good of a husband and father I am. At the end of the day, it’s the little decisions that add up. Did I turn around to kiss my son on the forehead before leaving for work or did I go on my way once I realized I’d forgotten because I was already late? Did I call my wife during my lunch break because I knew she was having a rough morning and I thought I should check in, or did I forgo that because I had a lot on my plate that day? When my coworker seemed a little more down than usual, did I ask how he was doing and offer an ear if needed or did I quietly hope everything was alright? How we treat others is ultimately how I think we should measure success.

My favorite excerpt about success is from Ralph Waldo Emerson in a poem entitled Success.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

I like how you call to mind themes from Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book, Outliers.  It’s a great read about what the makings of “success” are, and you’re absolutely right that it’s largely due to situations outside of the person’s control.  Taking this same theme and applying it to what you’re saying about a broader definition of success, you could say that success is doing the best with the hand you’re dealt.  I like this view a lot, because it doesn’t try to change one’s situation too much, just make the most of it.

We’ve said some pretty similar things, which I like.  How we treat others.  Whether or not we work hard.  Pulling the definition of success away from results is a great move – can you be successful even in failing to accomplish a goal?  Yes, and sometimes life works like this, but sometimes it doesn’t.  There are times that hard work doesn’t matter without achieving some sort of goal, and we have to keep this in mind.  Sometimes we hear people talk about “succeeding at the wrong thing” and so we have to have the goal clear.

My only concern with your line of reasoning is that I believe it’s imperative to have a standard by which to measure actions.  How do we know that it’s important to show love to one’s family, to care for a coworker, to be industrious, and to help guide others?  I can draw such moral imperatives from my religion, but you draw them from your life goals and a strong moral compass.  Without an absolute like religion, it’s important to make sure that such a moral compass isn’t lost.

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Justification of Torture

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report in early Dec. 2014 indicating excessive torture and cover-ups by the CIA after 9/11. Plenty of information has been made public, including the 20 key findings of the report.

Is the CIA Torture Justified?

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I’ll just come right out and answer simply: NO.  I’ve got two major issues with torture in general.

Firstly, the moral issue.  I do not believe that torture is ever justified because I do not believe that the ends justify the means.  This is what I heard over and over in the news.  Most did not seek to discredit the reports of torture, they sought to claim that the torture yielded valuable information that led to military victories against terrorism.   First, I’m not sure that the idea of a “military victory against terrorism” isn’t a prime example of winning the battle and losing the war.  Second, this line of reasoning is very troubling.

Ethicists, literary authors, religious leaders, and more have debated the question of whether the ends justify the means for ages.  Proponents often go immediately to the extreme: “What if you could save a million people by killing one?”  However, there’s an inherent fallacy in making an argument from an extreme example – it assumes that somewhere there’s a line at which point it changes from right to wrong.  This is a dangerous way to go about thinking.

Ethicists say that this question divides people into deontologists (the morality of an action depends on its qualities) and consequentialists (the morality of an action depends on its outcomes).  Most people, in practice, slide back and forth between the two at will, never worrying about whether their resulting beliefs are incompatible.  However, just like people’s philosophical frameworks, the ends and means are a jumbled up mess.  There’s no clear distinction where means become ends, and whether or not the ends aren’t just more means on the way to more ends.  Without falling into a philosophy discussion, I’ll extricate myself here by saying that I believe this jumbled-up mess and the incompatibility of deontology and consequentialism makes it impossible for me to regularly allow for the ends to justify the means.

My second issue with torture is a Biblical one.  One of Jesus’ most famous sayings was to love your enemies.  The apostle Paul elaborated to quote Solomon who said that repaying good for evil was like heaping burning coals on your enemy’s head. Radical as this teaching may be, I actually subscribe to it.  I do believe that overcoming evil with good is not only possible, but that it may be the best way of resolving conflicts.  It’s a common literary theme for the good guy to become evil in his fight against evil, and Jesus was clearly interested in preserving his followers on the right side of righteousness.  While “love your enemies” doesn’t preclude the idea of justice for evil, it does make it pretty hard to defend torturing your enemy.

In a broader sense of the Biblical idea, I think that a decent understanding of Scripture shows that all mankind has a certain brotherhood.  We are all of different families and different faiths, but the Bible never teaches that those who believe differently are our enemies.  A more appropriate analogy would be to say that if this is a war, those who believe differently are the prisoners of war to be fought for, not fought against.  Taking this idea beyond the question of religious belief, if we could think of our enemies more as prisoners to be rescued than as the enemy themselves, our wars would look a lot different.  And, to touch on that earlier tangent again, I’m not sure that our “war on terror” wouldn’t resolve itself a lot quicker if we stopped making our enemies hate us so much.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

Straight to the point. Nice response. We both fall into the roughly 25% of the U.S. population that believe torture or harsh interrogation techniques are never justified. What we label these techniques: torture, harsh interrogation, or enhanced interrogation, matters. We both label these as torture perhaps because we disagree with their use. I think we would share a similar viewpoint with the 18-20% who think torture is rarely justified. However, I would love to hear from the 50-55% of the U.S. population who think these techniques are sometimes or often justified, even given that research shows that harsher techniques positively correlate with faulty information. To support Antipas’ point about overcoming evil with good, the Costanzo research study I linked supported the idea that, “strategically useful information is best obtained from prisoners who are treated humanely.”

You mention that you disagree with “the ends justify the means.” I do too, and I’ll just share a bit about that phrase’s origin to expand on the deontologists vs consequentialists topic. The idea, not the direct quote, is a common theme in Machiavelli’s The Prince. There are many historians and philosophers that believe this work is a satire, as it was written as political advice to the ruling Medici family while Machiavelli was imprisoned by them. In his other works he is a supporter of free republics, not monarchies.

Although I am hyper goal-oriented, the ends cannot always justify the means because the ends cannot reliably be foreseen.

aurelius

The five-year Senate investigation resulted in a 6,700-page report, 525 of which have been publicly released. Without much searching you can find highlights, key findings, shocking findings, public responses, and endless media coverage. The report and response fell on sharp political lines with all six Republicans on the committee not participating in the investigation and instead they issued a 167-page dissent. One prominent Republican that supported the report’s findings is John McCain, who stated that the interrogation techniques used by the CIA as documented in the report “damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.” McCain has first-hand experience with torture while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over five years. President Obama and other Democrats issued similar statements. The current and former CIA directors issued countering responses, with the current director, John Brennan, stating, “It is our considered view that the detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided information that was useful and was used in the ultimate operation to go against Bin Laden.” Michael Hayden, a former CIA director, stated more to the point, “I think the conclusions they drew were analytically offensive and almost street-like in their simplistic language and conclusions.”

Like many contemporary American issues, politics muddies up the real concerns. Neither side denied that enhanced interrogation techniques were used on many terrorist detainees. Whether or not these produced actionable intelligence, shouldn’t their use be concerning? As a society, where do we draw the line between enhanced interrogation and torture?

I argue that much of what the CIA classified as enhanced interrogation techniques is in fact torture and should not be practiced by the U.S. regardless of the circumstances. Waterboarding, one of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, has its roots in an earlier form used during the 16th century Spanish Inquisition where it was designed as mild torture with its name bearing its intention, tortura del agua. Since then it has been repeatedly classified as torture and was even outlawed by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. If even some of the Senate’s report is true, many techniques used against detainees were far worse than waterboarding.

Even though mild torture or enhanced interrogation may be ethically wrong, it may be valuable if it prevents harm to a greater number of people. To me, that would be a gray area. However, it doesn’t. The techniques are not effective. The severity and length of torture correlate strongly with the likelihood of false confessions. Furthermore, as noted in the previously-cited research paper, perceived torture techniques “generate hatred and desire for vengeance against the perpetrators, radicalizing even ordinary people with no strong political views.” The CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques may have ended, but they damaged the reputation of the U.S. and created enemies where none previously existed. Torture is not justified. We must do better.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

It’s great to see that we are agreeing on this point.  I particularly like how you point out that harsh interrogation correlates with false confessions and wrong information.  I hadn’t come across this information, but it doesn’t surprise me.  It points out that there is a difference between stern and forceful interrogation that delivers results, and torture which probably doesn’t.

I think that it might be worthwhile to reconsider what kind of “information” is valuable these days.  What do we need from prisoners?  Names?  Take out as many of the enemy as you like, as long as the ideology lives on more will spring up.  Locations?  Satellite and spy imaging is developing more and more almost daily, and it’s not too far away that we could have a daily-updated photo of every part of the earth’s surface.  Plans?  Easy to lie about under pressure, and easy for the bad guys to change when they are compromised.

No, your final point is, I think, the most significant.  If enhanced interrogation radicalized our enemies against us, and damaged our reputation to create more enemies, then any actionable intelligence created by the torture was worthless compared to the harm done.  This is where I have major issues with the foreign policies of both major US parties – if we continue to drive other nations around the world to dislike us, we are only injuring our own future selves.  We don’t have to be friends with everyone, but we can’t keep making enemies.

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A Closed Mind

When is a Closed Mind Appropriate?

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It’s hard to describe things in absolutes like “never.”  Should we ever have a closed mind?  Yeah, of course – I have a closed mind about my wife.  She is the only one for me, and I would never consider another nor compare her to another.  I see no problem with this.

But I think we’re talking here more about things like beliefs and values.  And on that, I think that there is some relevance to my above point.  Sometimes, when we’re talking about a belief that is unprovable or an opinion, it might be most helpful to make a commitment and stick to it.  Our culture is not good at commitment in general, and some things are better committed to.  I believe that nobody is beyond hope, and that’s a commitment that is worth sticking to.  I also believe that Bud Light is a terrible beer, and I’m sticking to it.

What about other beliefs?  I believe that we normalize things that are so core to us, and so proven to us, that they become part of who we are.  We have a closed mind regarding them.  My Christianity is so core to my identity, and to me so highly proven, that it’s become part of who I am.  I can’t imagine what kind of evidence would ever, for me, disprove my Christian belief.  And again, I think there’s an intrinsic value in the kind of commitment that leads to that closed mind.  Without it, we can be wishy-washy.  If a person has a wide open mind about their most core beliefs, they must not be all that important to them after all.

I believe that we all have things that we have closed minds about.  We all have some sort of authority that we assent to, whether it’s a religious book, human reason, or scientific evidence.  These authorities, by definition, create a closed mind.  A scientist is closed to anything that ignores the evidence.  A humanist is closed to anything that is irrational.  A religious person is closed to anything that contradicts the religious book.  I’m not ready to say that this is wrong, only that we need to be careful about how many things we let into this category.

There are, of course, many things that we need to have open minds about.  A new experience, a new acquaintance, or a family member.  We ought to have an open mind about our current situations.  I like my job and my home, but I ought to have an open mind that I could also like a different job and a different home.  We also ought to have an open mind about many of our beliefs.  I believe that supply-side economics increases economic inequality, but I am willing to be proven wrong. I focused most of my post on things about which I think it’s good to have a closed mind.  Don’t read that to mean that we ought to have a closed mind about most things.  In fact, I think we ought to have an open mind about most things.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

We approached this question differently, which is great. In matters that are unprovable, we cannot use the scientific method and there is therefore merit in sticking to what we believe to be true, our opinion. I also think there is merit in remaining agnostic depending on the matter. I can’t prove there is no God, but I see no reason to commit to him not existing or commit to him existing. That is, there’s no evidence or experience to compel me to believe, and on the contrary the current ideas of God do not match anything I find to be true. Others feel the exact opposite and that’s ok. If an idea of God were to arise that were supported in my viewpoint, I could be swayed. In that way, I haven’t committed to atheism. When it comes to my wife, I’m committed. I am not open to other possibilities unless a rare situation developed such as unfaithfulness, abuse, or neglect. I’ve heard older couples say that what got them through so many decades together was not primarily enduring love but unwavering commitment.

I like your approach here, and it brings up the subject of values. We should not easily, or perhaps ever, waver in our values. I will always uphold some core values I’ve taken to heart: honesty, reason, love, commitment, education, justice, compassion, and persistence. My mind is closed to violating these values. Other values of mine tend to fluctuate in importance based on life stages, such as ambition, loyalty, obedience, punctuality, boldness, and self-reliance.

aurelius

Whenever possible I like to approach matters scientifically. From that perspective, closed minds are detrimental. They hinder progress by introducing biases that skew the truth. For instance, if I have nothing indicating to me how our world came to be, I could use the best science of our day to arrive at a universe 13.8 billion years old, expanding, and begun with a Big Bang. Countless findings support these conclusions. It doesn’t mean these are irrefutable, but they are heavily supported and extremely likely. On the other hand, if I have a closed approach to answering this question by adhering to 2000+ year-old religious writings, I could arrive at a 6000-year old Earth created the same calendar week as the universe. This is inconsistent with what science shows, so science must be wrong in this case, causing distrust of corroborated science and hindering further discovery because we already know the answer. A closed mind is harmful to science

Ibn al-Haytham created the scientific method in the 11th century during the Golden Age of Islam. He was interested in finding truth, inviting scholars and obtaining texts from all over the world. In this pursuit he developed and taught the principle to not trust ancient writings at face value but instead to question and critically examine the writings from many perspectives. Submit only to arguments and experiments that hold water, not to oration or unverifiable texts. Further, suspect and question your own ideas to avoid prejudice and careless thought. Truth will then follow (see Cosmos S1E5 for a brief history of al-Haytham’s scientific achievements). In other words, question what you and others take for granted and perform experiments and critical analyses to reveal the truth.

After repeated evidence supports a hypothesis it becomes a scientific theory. At this point it is reasonable to more or less close your mind to the other options, but even trusting in the scientific method can backfire. The cause of peptic ulcer disease (PUD) was up in the air until the 1950s when a single study found that bacteria was not present in biopsies of the stomach, leaving the hyperacidity theory as the only remaining cause. Two Australian scientists kept an open mind, and decades later postulated that PUD might be caused by the bacterium H. pylori since antibiotics seemed to consistently treat PUD patients. Their findings were repeatedly rejected until Marshall, one of the scientists, dangerously consumed the bacteria in a dramatic effort to show that antibiotics cure the symptoms. They received funding, published their findings, and 20 years later were awarded a Nobel Prize. The closed mindedness of this area after the 1950s study delayed this discovery and subsequent treatment of the disease.

Closed minds are generally bad for science, so, how do we keep an open mind?

Derren Brown, a British illusionist and psychological manipulator, states, “Being open minded doesn’t just mean believing everything because you’d like it to be true. Being truly open minded means being prepared to change your beliefs based on the evidence or the lack of evidence.”

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

Great thoughts, Aurelius.  Your researched approach is admirable and I really appreciate your example of PUD.  I agree that a closed mind seems to be bad in general for science.  We tend to close our minds once we accept something as proven.  The key question, however, is what do we accept as proof?  Even science is getting divided in recent years because of the question of what is accepted as proof.  There is a growing body of “pseudo-science”, such as anti-vaccinators, organic and non-GMO proponents, essential oil vendors, and so forth, who are changing the scene quite a bit.  I’m no expert on any of these debates, but in them you have people who are mingling science with other values and ideas and coming up with answers that are being hotly debated.  Even if science totally disproves that there is any health benefit to eating organic foods, will Whole Foods go out of business?  Nope.  What we accept as proof is the key question.

I think that we are converged on the matter of values and commitment.  I, however, have different values.  Whereas you accept the scientific method and evidence as proof, and that is one of your highest values, I value something higher than both.  That leads me to have a different worldview and different things I will accept as proof, because I have different aims – rather than knowledge, sometimes my aim is spirituality or theology.

Higher Education for Everyone

Is higher education for everyone?

This prompt is a follow-on to the post on the value of higher education.

antipas2In my previous response, I wanted to separate the idea of “higher education” from the image of formal schooling, arguing that one does not necessarily have to go to college to get a higher education if they have a posture as a life-long learner and the critical thinking skills to teach themselves and learn from others. That being argued, I will now turn to a further response to my colleague’s response, where I wondered if we were merely engaging in an upper-middle class debate.

Here in the States, formal schooling beyond high school is often impossible due to the financial constraints. As my co-writer Aurelius made clear, the cost of college is both unreasonable and unsustainable. Government programs provide need-based financial aid, but as the overall cost continues to rise, even that becomes unsustainable. Fortunately, in a capitalist market like this one, the price ought to find some sort of equilibrium because, as you pointed out, lower-cost service delivery models will enter the market because of the potential for massive profits. This increased competition, when businesses realize that most people are barely using their college degrees at work anyways, will encourage more people to use low-cost online programs.

Regardless of the definite cost of college, the opportunity cost is still great. People who go to college defer their potential earnings for at least 3 years, something that sometimes neither they nor their families can afford. Lower-income families need the earnings immediately and can’t wait. Around the world, in impoverished areas, this hidden cost often makes even going the full first 12 years of formal education impossible. I have met people who were my age and starting high school because they could never do it before then, and teenagers who were in 1st and 2nd grade because their distractions from school were so great.

In this type of world, is higher education (formal schooling) for everyone? Well, it would seem that it’s not simply because it’s not realistic. On the other hand, although I argue in my former post that higher education goes far beyond formal schooling, it still seems apparent that a certain level of formal education is beyond beneficial to the point of being nearly necessary. A plumber with only an 8th grade education may become a great plumber, but he may be trapped in a one-track life with few options beyond crawling under people’s sinks until he’s in his mid-70s. And, can he balance his family’s budget, encourage his kids to read books he has never heard of, or be an informed voter?

I believe that society has an obligation to all people to provide them with a meaningful, practical, critical-thinking, and broadening education in their first 12 years of required formal schooling. I believe that society ought to find ways of ensuring that all people can attain these 12 years. Our society is falling pretty short in both of these areas right now, but I believe we can and should improve. If we can do those things, higher education will not be necessary for all people, because those with only a high school diploma will be able to have a good quality of life.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

I really like your approach to this discussion. The bigger picture boils down to opportunity cost, which you do a great job explaining. Those below the middle of the middle class often cannot defer earnings for the time it takes to complete a degree, a point I failed to mention.

While it was possible as recently as 2-3 decades ago to work through college and graduate debt free, that is now a long shot at best. Since 1980, tuition has risen dramatically faster than inflation while minimum wage has stayed flat, under $8/hour in 2012 dollars. My grandfather worked in the summers to pay for college. Today, a summer job will pay for roughly half a semester. Part-time work during semesters does not add enough to make up for the difference. It’s just not doable anymore.

As you say, we will reach an equilibrium as we are destined to do under our capitalistic framework. However, we don’t see signs of slowing, which is worrisome. Regardless of what happens to higher education, I agree with you that it is a society’s obligation to provide 12 years of quality education to all of its citizens. I’d like to see higher education affordable for all as well.

Your last paragraph could be a stirring political speech. Are you sure you don’t want to enter politics? A political life sounds awful, but I’d vote for you after that speech.

aurelius

Higher education is not for everyone, but it is valuable for most people in developed nations, particularly the U.S, most European countries, and many Asian countries. While in a preceding post I argued for the generally high value of higher education, not all higher education is created equal. I can see four primary situations when higher education is not worth it.

Some degrees are not adequately employable or they offer the same or only little more than what a high school diploma grants. Students should know ahead of time what their career options are with certain degrees. Somehow career options aren’t common knowledge, but once they are then it’s simply the student’s risk to pursue a degree that is hard to employ. Some universities as well, typically for-profit universities, similarly will not grant graduates increased opportunities even though they will be in tremendous debt for years or even decades. I would highly discourage pursuing a higher education from a university with a poor reputation.

In addition to a low-value degree or a disreputable university, the third situation would be if the high school graduate would simply be better off bypassing higher education. For instance, some individuals know before graduating high school that they would like to pursue a career in the military immediately upon graduating. While college graduates can enter the military as an officer, there are many positions in the military that do not require a higher education, and there are military programs that will even pay for the individual to obtain a university degree during or after service depending on the job function. Besides the military, higher education is not necessarily a good fit for those wanting to go into their family business or become a trade worker. There are other training and certification routes available for those paths that are shorter and cheaper than a traditional higher education.

Higher education is also not a good fit for those that don’t excel academically, which is by some measures the majority of high school graduates. If you don’t do well in high school, there’s a good chance you won’t finish college within 4-6 years if you go straight into college, leaving you burdened with debt and no degree. If you want or need a college degree, however, start off at community college to build your study habits before enrolling in a degree program. Minimize risk in order to maximize returns. Otherwise, pursue alternative training and certification routes as mentioned above. This will give an employability and opportunity edge over high school graduates with no such skills.

So, no, higher education is not for everyone. But, if you are in a developed nation and have the opportunity, you should strongly consider it. With a valued degree from a reputable university, your career options will flourish, and the university experience is valuable in many other ways as detailed in the previous post.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

You’re spot on.  While some have the leisure to take undergraduate degree programs that lead nowhere just for their own sake, most do not.  What’s happening here, a point we’re dancing around, is the continuum that exists between an esoteric “higher education” that encourages human development and the very practical training directly for employment.  Finding this balance is hard and rarely achieved.

For example, there is some debate among seminaries in the training of pastors.  Many seminaries require their graduates to be reasonably proficient in Greek and Hebrew.  This has almost no practical use for pastors, as almost none of them will ever refer back to it.  Nearly any pastor can find nearly anything they need from the original Biblical languages in books that other people have written.

Thus, we find a balancing point that everyone needs to draw for themselves.  When I was in college, I had the leisure to take a variety of classes for pure interest while also graduating with a valuable business degree.  Other people may need to focus in and only take the bare essentials of what they need, spending most of their time in job fairs and interviews.  Still others may skip it altogether, going to a technical college.  Our primary & secondary education systems ought to help people draw this balance themselves.

And one last note – if I actually thought that people would vote for me with my straightforward, no-BS, and often “radical” viewpoints, I’d be more than happy to enter politics!  Unfortunately, I would be enough of a realist to know that even if I got elected, my colleagues would probably hate my style.

Origins of the World

How did our world come to be?

antipas2There is a great deal of debate, even between Christians, over this issue of the origins of the world. Some maintain that if you don’t have a literal reading of Genesis 1-3, the whole of the Bible falls apart. Others maintain that Genesis 1-3 has been disproven by science and therefore we need to cling to science while still maintaining our faith. These people have all sorts of theories, from the account being mere fiction or poetry to re-reading terms like “day” to mean long ages.

We need not cling to the dogmatism that reading Genesis 1-3 figuratively destroys the whole framework of the Bible. There are plenty of Biblical passages that Christians read figuratively, because they were intended to be. I don’t believe that anyone, much less me, has a complete, non-contradictory, and accurate doctrine. We all get plenty of things wrong, and most of them don’t destroy the whole framework of the Bible (some do, however!). However, we also need not completely acquiesce to current scientific models.

I am very spiritual in my approach to the Bible. When Joshua records that the sun stood still, or Isaiah records that the sun moved backwards, or for that matter when Jesus heals a man, I see no reason to disagree with any of them. To me, God is God and He is all-powerful. If I didn’t believe so, I wouldn’t be a Christian. In the same way, when Moses writes that God created all that there is in six days, I see no reason to disagree. Some say the words are figurative, but most honest Biblical scholarship simply can’t agree. The writer certainly appears to believe that he is recording history.

How can this, then, be reconciled with scientific understandings? I subscribe to a view held by some that God created all that exists with age, with a history. Some argue that this makes God out to be a trickster or liar, but I don’t see how. God is, in some ways, a storyteller, and many storytellers understand backstories to their stories. Some, like J.R.R. Tolkien, were kind enough to write things like the collection we now call the Silmarillion, but others like George Lucas leave us to speculate. I believe that God wrote a history and left the signs there for us to discover in our own time.

I phrase it like this. Was Adam created as a one-day old fetus? Of course not. Was the earth devoid of trees, instead full only of tiny seedlings? Surely not. Did Adam have a belly-button, and did the trees have existing rings? Yes! Everything that exists was created with an age, a history that never actually happened. Not only were unimaginable numbers of stars created, but light was created already between them and us.

I believe this to be the most logically consistent understanding of the creation account in Genesis that also accepts the story as a literal divinely-inspired account. Not only did God create all that exists, he also created unbelievably complex scientific and physical processes and created the entire backstory. I think it makes Him more amazing, like a designer who leaves little secrets for admirers to discover later.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

While a Christian I used to subscribe to a reasoning similar to yours. God may have created everything with a built-in age. For all we know, given his omnipotence, he could have created the universe on 01 Jan 2014 with all the signs and memories we believed to have existed beforehand. That is how, I reasoned, radiocarbon dating can show rocks to be tens of thousands of years old and we can see stars that by accurate scientific measures are billions of light-years away. Now that I’m not a Christian, those arguments seem to me no more than a farfetched justification of an extremely unlikely story.

Then, I started believing that evolution was sound and that the Genesis account must be figurative. That way, science isn’t lying to us. Why would god have created the earth just 6,000 years ago but leave tremendous evidence screaming for an earlier beginning? Why does evolution pass so many scientific tests if that’s not how things really are? For better or worse, carrying this reasoning further led me away from god entirely. A personal god like the Christian God made no sense to me because prayers went unanswered.

I’m straying a little from the point here, but to me the bible is just a book written by humans that carries some good wisdom and principles among many outdated practices. It’s worth reading to better understand politics, modern Christians, and history. However, considering the extreme beliefs of Christianity, I’m surprised it’s not a fringe religion.

aureliusThe universe as we know it began roughly 13.8 billion years ago with a rapid expansion following what is commonly known as the Big Bang. We know this because we can measure today precisely how quickly the universe is expanding based on the measured distance between galaxies that we have been observing since the 1920s. Tracing this expansion process backwards results in a hot dense beginning, which we currently don’t know much about, but there have been some recent breakthroughs.

Some progress in understanding these origins was made earlier this year through research in the cosmic microwave background, a signal that can still be measured today and is believed to have originated fractions of a second after the universe’s initial expansion. The findings seem to further confirm the expansion or inflation theory that has circulated for a few decades. In this overview lecture, Stephen Hawking discusses that space and time are not constant or even separate, but better explained by Einstein’s Theories of Relativity and, more recently, quantum theory. The General Theory of Relativity helps answer the question, “What happened before the Big Bang?” With time and space defined as relative constructs combined as spacetime, scientific evidence points to nothing happening before the event. Time itself began with the Big Bang. It doesn’t make sense to me, but that’s where the evidence leads at the moment. Further, quantum theory helps explain what happened at the moment of the Big Bang since Einstein’s theories do not work on that scale.

Our solar system, and consequently Earth, formed roughly 4.6 billion years ago. To keep this concise, there were gravitational clusters, accretion, and a slew of volcanic activity that gradually formed Earth. Heavy bombardment in this initial era could have seeded life on Earth and could have possibly wiped out then reinvigorated life multiple times over. We don’t know, but eventually life began.

Life in our world was made possible by a miracle of chemistry resulting in organic compounds that increased in complexity through the process of evolution. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, four of the most abundant elements in the universe, can form organic molecules under conditions similar to early Earth, as was first discovered in the mid 20th century. That’s a leading theory on how life came to be if not seeded from an impact.

As a final note, I realize this question can prompt drastically different answers depending on one’s worldview and that my viewpoint is the minority in the U.S. Even while a Christian I believed in evolution. It’s a beautiful theory that explains so much of biology and is not necessarily counter to religion as many today suggest. Dawkins is vocally anti-creation and anti-religion, but he makes some good points about biological evolution in his books. For a Christian viewpoint encompassing evolution, see Francis Collins’ The Language of God. While some sources are cited above, the four main sources I used are Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, and Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth and The God Delusion. The first two detail cosmic evolution from world-renowned astrophysicists while the second two focus on biological evolution particularly when countered with a creation worldview. Crash Course, my favorite YouTube channel, now has a series on this topic.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

It’s pretty incredible to me how much the scientific community has been able to learn about our universe and our history.  They really embody what it means to stand on the shoulders of others to see further.  Learning from each other and building upon the discoveries of each other, they have really put together a remarkable understanding.  I have a great deal of respect for their processes and what they have uncovered.

It’s a bit frivolous for Christians to argue with this scientific understanding.  I’ve seen my fair share of them, and I think they’re all pretty goofy.  How it is that average people think they can outsmart these generations of scientists with an argument they read on the Internet is beyond me.  The methods and understandings that you’ve outlined above are pretty sound, and I think they tell a great tale of our history.  I’m sure there’s a great deal left to learn as well.

I stand by my belief that God wrote this history for us, and that it neither makes God nor science into liars.  Whether or not it “actually happened” is beside the point – it’s not like anyone witnessed it anyways.  It should not affect the scientific process’ ability to use the understanding whether it “actually happened” or God created it in our history.  For the process, it’s just as valid either way.

Take Me To Church

Hozier – Take Me To Church

A Response to a Noteworthy Song

[Verse 1]
My lover’s got humour
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner
If the Heavens ever did speak
She’s the last true mouthpiece

Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week
‘We were born sick,’ you heard them say it
My church offers no absolutes
She tells me ‘worship in the bedroom’
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you

I was born sick, but I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen

[Chorus x2]
Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

[Verse 2]
If I’m a pagan of the good times
My lover’s the sunlight

To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice
To drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That’s a fine looking high horse
What you got in the stable
?
We’ve a lot of starving faithful
That looks tasty
That looks plenty
This is hungry work

[Chorus x2]
Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife
Offer me my deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

[Bridge]
No masters or kings when the ritual begins
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am human
Only then I am clean

Amen. Amen. Amen

[Chorus x2]
Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

We are trying something new here, responding to a noteworthy song. There is no prompt. Just the song, video, and lyrics.

antipas2I hadn’t heard this song before Aurelius pointed it out to me (yes, I live under a musical bridge). It’s hard to tell exactly what the song is about on the surface. It’s interesting, because the first time I listened to the song I didn’t watch the video, only read the lyrics. I couldn’t tell what it was about. Watching the video made it clear that it’s about homosexuality.

In the video about the song, he says it has to do with institutions that work against people’s humanity. That’s an interesting statement, because it takes as a given a certain definition of humanity. Elsewhere he seems like he’s focusing on sexuality as a very natural element of humanity, of course meaning to say that homosexuality is thoroughly natural. Moreover, I still have some confusion about the message. For example, is his lover and his Goddess one and the same? Hozier has written some very poetic lyrics, which I’ll applaud him for – thank you for not writing meaningless babble or another banal love song.

Anyways, I am both sympathetic toward his song and a bit critical. I am, of course, sympathetic toward the plight of homosexuals who feel persecuted and judged by Christians, or anyone. Nobody deserves to be mistreated and bullied. Everyone is a human being and deserves respect.  The Church, and Christians, have been very guilty of this over the years, and not just toward homosexuals.  For this, I’m ashamed.

However, I also feel like he (and others) can fall into the trap of stereotyping, which is the same thing they tend to be critical of the church for. For example, in his “story behind” video, he talks about how it’s been a very bad year and few hundred years for the Church. This is a bit one-sided. Of course the Church is guilty of plenty, but then again the negative news makes headlines more than the positive news. It’s rarely reported how many of the doctors in west Africa fighting Ebola are Christians doing it because they feel compelled by their faith to serve on the front lines of a dangerous fight. A small article appeared in the Dallas newspaper recently talking about what a remarkable work a local church had done during the Ebola situation there, welcoming and loving the family of the man who died. It’s been a bad year for the Church if you read the negative headlines. I think it’s sad that all the good that the Church does often gets ignored and overlooked.

As for the issue of homosexual rights, we’ll deal with this more in-depth in a future post, but I’ll go back to my earlier statement: nobody deserves the bullying that the video portrays, regardless of who they are. You treat people with respect, whether they are your friends, your enemies, or a hardened criminal. A big part of my moral compass consists of approaching people as people separate from their actions, so even if I disagree with someone’s actions (such as a homosexual couple), they are still deserving of my brotherly respect.  I reserve the right to disagree with their lifestyle choice while still valuing them and honoring their rights.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

I had the same confusion you did about the song’s meaning and had to watch the music video and interviews with the author to better understand it. Some lines are still lost to me, e.g., “No masters or kings when the ritual begins…”

Good on NBC for reporting about Samaritan’s Purse’s response to and efforts in the Ebola outbreak. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most mainstream media often shy away from religious topics in an unachievable effort to appear unbiased, and that’s a shame because there are a lot of newsworthy religious topics to report. The media tend to focus on negative events, which Jimmy Fallon humorously counters with his series, I’ve Got Good News and Good News.

To your last paragraph, I don’t think people can be wholly separated from their actions as you suggest, although I think this could easily spawn another prompt. Most actions are primarily driven by intentional thought, but there are some actions that are more driven by our instinct or personality. An alcoholic’s thoughts sometimes cannot drive him to the correct action of not drinking excessively. Alcoholism is a disease that is hereditary in part (also environmental and psychological), similar to our current understanding of homosexuality in that way. Fortunately, alcoholism can be treated with a moderate success rate, but the treatment can be drastic, involving rehab and detox programs. You cannot say the same about homosexuality. It is not treatable even with drastic treatment programs as I reference in my response. Today’s science shows that it is a part of who that person is just as my heterosexuality is part of who I am. I cannot choose to be gay or be treated into becoming gay.

Regarding sin, we won’t be able to converge on that point. Sin is a religious construct, but I do have a moral compass that differentiates right and wrong and contains a whole lot of gray area. With it, I see absolutely no problem with homosexuality. It’s not natural to me, but I have no doubt it is natural to others. For some context, a century ago American Christians argued that women voting was biblically wrong, and before that the bible was used to justify slavery. Times have changed, and they’re changing again.

aureliusThis song is incredible. I first heard it on the radio and found it musically intriguing. The singer is clearly passionate and the instruments are unobtrusive yet powerful. After listening to the lyrics I grew from liking to loving the song. I’m admittedly a sucker for deep lyrical songs, and this is now one of my favorites. I’ll start this response with thoughts from the artist then draw some conclusions.

From the Artist: There are a lot of interpretations available, many valid, but I prefer interviews with the artist. Hozier told New York magazine that the song is about sex and humanity, a “tongue-in-cheek attack at organizations that… would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation – that it is sinful, or that it offends God. The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love… choosing to worship and love something that is tangible and real. But it’s not an attack on faith.” The video is a specific example of this message, painfully portraying the state-allowed homophobic attacks in Russia. In the same interview, Hozier discusses his inspiration to write the song. “You grow up and recognize that in any educated secular society, there’s no excuse for ignorance. You have to recognize in yourself, and challenge yourself, that if you see racism or homophobia or misogyny in a secular society, as a member of that society, you should challenge it. You owe it to the betterment of society.”

Implications: Those who attend church have probably heard the saying, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” which sounds sweet but forces faithful people to feel ashamed and lesser. Macklemore addresses this cultural discrimination of homosexuality in his song Same Love. The first verse of Hozier’s piece juxtaposes two figures. The female lover of the female narrator is introduced as “my lover,” a love that is real but shamed by the second figure, the church, introduced as “my church,” denying entry into Heaven because of homosexual sin. Homosexuals attending church often feel this way, but there are many homosexual Christians that have found accepting churches and communities. We need more of those communities.

Fear-based church is losing popularity as the public loses its belief in hell. Some church leaders are intentionally trying to rebrand hell. I’m not sure what will come of it, but the relevance here is that Hozier is calling out those who would shame others for their sexuality, not just the church, but the church is a big culprit here, oftentimes subtly but sometimes harshly. This is not love. Even saying homosexuals are inherently sinful but accepted in our communities is not love. Love is instead not differentiating or treating homosexuals any different than heterosexuals, believing the years of evidence that sexuality cannot be altered. There is still a lot of research to be done to determine how sexuality is determined and the public is still at odds on whether homosexuality is innate or acquired. Treating homosexuals different in any way does no good. In fact, as Hozier illustrates, it harms.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

Like I mentioned on the other side, there’s a line that needs to be walked.  I do agree with Hozier saying that if you see racism, homophobia, or misogyny in society, it’s the right thing to do to stand against it.  I don’t need a religious argument to know that I’m against those things.  People are people, and whether homosexuality is innate or acquired (I tend to think it could be either, depending on the person), it’s still not something to discriminate against.

However, I’m concerned about where you say that “love the sinner, hate the sin” is not real love.  Or that calling homosexuality a sin while welcoming them in church is not love.  That’s concerning to me, as a Christian, because it doesn’t even give us a chance.  Our set of beliefs, and the book we believe to be God-breathed, is unambiguous about homosexuality being a sin.  If we’re not allowed to love people without loving everything they do, then it’s impossible for a sincere Christian to be a member of society.

Furthermore, why can’t real love condemn the actions of a person?  If a husband cheats on a wife, and she loves him and forgives him and he works to restore himself, was it not real love on her part, even though she surely hated his actions?  If a child steals something at the grocery store, isn’t the parent’s love even more true if the parent condemns the action and makes the child return the shoplifted goods?  If I believe that homosexuality is a sin before God, why can’t I still love that person?  If love is a self-sacrificial desire for the best for another, I’d argue that it’d actually be less loving to overlook an action that you believe to be wrong.

In the end, I’d be disingenuous to my religion not to believe that homosexuality is a sin.  But this isn’t a finger-pointing exercise.  The Bible is clear that that all people are sinners, and equally separated from God.  The Bible is judgmental toward things that I’m plenty guilty of, such as looking lustfully at a woman (says I’m an adulterer), hating someone (says I’m a murderer), and gluttony (says poverty is coming).  Rather than finger-pointing at one particular sin, can’t we be clear that there are a variety of sins, of which we are all rather guilty?  It’s a shame that homosexuality has gotten such attention, at the expense of other things I believe are wrong.