Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hubris and Awe

Imagine an alien world;

A planet somewhere else in space.  A planet where evolution is a reality (if you don't believe in that here).

A planet where life springs into being thanks to a collection of raw chemicals and just the right conditions, and billions of years to sort itself out.

The life springs up, eventually spreads across the entire planet and begins changing, evolving into new creatures and new plants and eventually into a species that is intelligent enough to ask questions like "why?"

Now, because life evolved on the planet, that life adapted to the climate of that planet.  Whether the planet was warmer than ours or colder than ours, drier than ours or wetter than ours, whether it has an acidic atmosphere, a caustic atmosphere, or perhaps no atmosphere at all - all of that is irrelevant.  Why? Because life still evolved, and that life is perfectly adapted to that environment, whatever the environment may be.

And it looks around at, what would to us certainly look like an "alien world," and it sees a world that it has adapted perfectly to.  The world looks perfect for it.  It is perfectly content with the environment of the world.

And it asks the question, "why?"

"Why am I here?"  "Why is this world so perfect?" "Where did I come from?"

and because its science hasn't caught up, it doesn't have good answers to those questions.  Instead, it looks around at the planet and sees how perfectly adapted it is to the planet and it thinks, "This planet is perfectly adapted to me."

And therein lies its first mistake.

And seeing how perfectly adapted the planet is to it, it starts to answer the other questions.  Because of course, if the planet is so perfect for this creature, then it stands to reason that the planet was *made* for the creature... that is, that some external force specifically crafted the entire planet and its ecosystem for that intelligent creature... and therefore, there might be a god, and that god is clearly benevolent because it gave the creature such a beautiful and wonderful planet, full of abundant life and all the various things the creature needs to live.

And so the creature crafts a religion...

And it looks around the universe and it sees no evidence of other creatures, no planets on which other life exists, and it thinks, "how lucky I am to have a planet that just happens to exist in the habitable zone of its star; clearly, that's not just chance.  This is further evidence of a divine creator."

Rather than realizing that the only reason it is able to draw such conclusions is because it sprang forth from the process of evolution, a process that only occurs on planets that have the right mixture of chemicals and temperatures and so on, and that therefore creatures capable of asking such questions will naturally occur on such planets.

If it's not immediately obvious, this is exactly what we do when we look around our planet and think that it is crafted for us.  When I hear arguments like that of Tom Harrison this morning on his newest ad talking about how wonderful it is that we just "happen" to have a planet that is perfect, so clearly this is evidence of a creator, this is what I think about - no, it's not that we just "happen" to have all of these things, it's that a creature capable of asking such questions can ONLY occur on a planet with all of these things.  None of this is evidence of divinity.

This leads me into the story of my adventure to see the Solar Eclipse last month...



My trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons was full of some of the most awe-inspiring and beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.  Among them – giant waterfalls framed by cliffs that looked almost fake in how profoundly brilliant their red and golden hues shined in the sun, and the stark contrast they gave to the white water crushing and crashing down between them, roaring so loudly that even from a mile away it nearly drowned the combined voices of the hundreds of tourists overflowing the overlooks and craning to see and get the best pictures; rapids that suddenly appeared beside the road, whipping and tumbling over a thousand jumbled messes of rocks and downed trees, battering against narrow cliff walls amidst tight turns; pools of pungent sulfuric acid bubbling and steaming up from the ground, carrying with them minerals of a thousand different colors that all turned stark white when they dried and killed everything in their path, so they created an unbelievably dead and desolate landscape while they still flowed and burped up from below the ground, the only kind of life in the area, and painted it with vibrant reds and blues and golds and greens; there were of course the geysers, belching out sulfuric gasses nearly constantly for thousands of years, and sometimes spraying hundreds of gallons of boiling water hundreds of feet into the air; there were still, serene lakes before impossibly jagged and steely mountains, grey, green, and purple, rocks jutting out in all directions; there were Moose and Buffalo that stood regally as the kings and queens of large, open grasslands, completely unconcerned by the threat of wolves, cougars, and overly zealous picture-takers.  

And then there was the eclipse.  It both literally and figuratively overshadowed all of the other amazing sights.  There’s a lot of build-up to the eclipse – the expectations set by news stations and people who’ve seen it before, and the internal anxiety of seeing it first-hand and watching it slowly approach.  For over an hour, I sat there impatiently waiting totality, periodically looking up and seeing the moon slowly crawl across the sun, until the light from the sun was a crescent, and then a sliver, and then a bright speck.  Meanwhile, the world is getting slowly darker, and the temperature is dropping.  As totality got close, my shadow became fuzzy; as it became imminent, I could see waves of light and dark on the ground.

And then the light from the sun disappeared, and I could see nothing through my eclipse glasses, so I took them off.

Never before have I been that completely floored by a natural sight.  When the Sun is covered by the Moon completely, it turns into a ring of stunningly brilliant silver light.  The Sun’s corona is visible, shooting out from the Sun in hundreds of millions of miles in either direction, appearing like wispy strands of gossamer silk that spread outward or loop back in on themselves.  There are also bright specks of red along the surface of the ring, million-mile-long flares of fusion fire that appear as mere flecks of red along the ring.  The stars come out, and even Mercury becomes visible.

The description does not do it justice.  People who see a total eclipse often describe it as life-changing, especially in the immediate aftermath of it.  At our viewing post, the reactions ranged from stunned silence to non-stop peals of joy and amazement, with one young woman in tears and unable to stop herself from talking and screaming about how beautiful it was. 

In my younger days, such sights were clear signs of God’s grace and beauty, and how much He loved us to provide such beauty for us.  When someone I spoke with mentioned the same viewpoint after the eclipse, I was suddenly shocked to realize this was no longer the approach I took.  Now, I see the science behind it all – why the Sun appears as the way it does, why strong acids bubble up from below the ground, why rivers carve out such amazing channels, and why, as creatures who evolved in a world of such things, we think all of these things had to be created just for us rather than realizing we were created just for the universe.

That was the takeaway of a gentleman I talked to shortly after, who was still in awe of it and said that he couldn’t understand how people could see such a sight and not believe in God.  I smiled and agreed, knowing full well how they could.

That isn’t to say I didn’t witness God’s presence and God’s power, I just didn’t see it directly in the eclipse, as amazing as it was.

Instead, I got to thinking about why the eclipse is significant.  On the entire planet, only people in a narrow swath of land got to experience totality, but people outside of that path had their own unique experiences – a sun that was partly covered but never reached totality, leaving perhaps just a small sliver of sunlight, or a large crescent – or, perhaps they never saw anything different at all.  Witnessing totality was entirely dependent upon the individual human beings who sought it out.
But every second of every day, there’s totality somewhere.  Seldom on Earth, but beyond the Earth, there are points where the Earth, the Moon, Venus, and every other planet block out the sunlight and an observer in that exact spot could see the sun blocked and witness its corona alone, brilliant amidst the stars.

The significance of this is entirely predicated upon the human perspective.  It is important and unique only because it offers us a chance to witness something common amongst the stars, but uncommon for us here.  It is important only because we witness it, and it is our subjective experience that makes it important.

This also makes it important because we can see how it affects others; that is, knowing that it is important for humans, I paid attention to other humans.  I spent much of the eclipse itself, and the days before and after, carefully observing humanity.

And what I saw was intriguing and profound.  The emotions that the eclipse brought out – the feeling of galactic insignificance, the awe, and the happiness that it triggered in the hearts of all who observed it was exciting to see.  Whether it was the girl who we met from Yucaipa, California, who was fairly excited beforehand but when she saw totality she started laughing and shouting about how unbelievable it was while tears streamed down her face; her boyfriend, who talked about trying to figure out how to get to Antarctica for the next one; the man who raced like mad to get ahead of a rainstorm just to find a tiny window of clear sky through which he and his family could watch, and who was just ecstatic that they had made it, that he had been able to provide that opportunity for them; the aforementioned man who was moved by a spirit of worship for God as he watched through a telescope; or the hundreds and hundreds of people I encountered in passing who were simply nice. 
And there was plenty of opportunity for the whole thing to unravel.  The traffic after the eclipse was some of the worst I’ve ever seen.  The line of cars waiting to get into the city of Jackson was over 5 miles long, and not moving at all.  Getting into and out of Yellowstone required similar lines.  The streets of Jackson were crowded well beyond capacity, as were the viewing platforms of both national parks, leaving no legal places to park.  Despite all of this, people stayed nice, they kept smiling and talking to anyone and everyone who would share the time, and they waved people in ahead of them in their long line of traffic, whenever another car approached. 

It was as though witnessing such an event brought everyone together.  Everyone wanted to talk about it, even while walking around awesome natural wonders in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone – they not only wanted to share their own experiences, they wanted to hear the stories of others who had experienced it.  Like people talking about 9/11 or any number of natural disasters and catastrophes, it made people need each other again, made people realize that they were not alone, that they were all in this world together.

That is where I saw God in all of this – in the love that people experienced for one another, however brief.  I’ve seen it again in our response to the hurricane, though it is much easier to embrace and appreciate in the face of something as beautiful as the eclipse.  Such love is truly awesome to behold, and I hope we can find many more eclipses and many fewer hurricanes in which to see it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

False Advertising

As mentioned in a previous post, if we want to change the knee-jerk reaction of many in the state to always vote Republican because it's the party of Jesus, we need to spend a lot more time explaining how the Democrats are the party of Jesus.  Like it or not, Christianity is a major player (if not THE major player) in state politics, and you can't win elections here without cozying up to it.

The big elephant in the room is and likely always will be abortion.  For some, no matter how you spin it, how you show how liberal policies more closely align to the message of Jesus, etc., they will never be able to vote for us based on that issue alone.  I've spent a lot of time in this blog talking about abortion, so I'm not going to address it at the moment, other than to say that any time your political opponent tries to drag you into an argument about abortion, you have to walk away.  It's not a winnable argument.

That said, there are lots of winnable arguments.

I mentioned before that I'd like to see billboards quoting the Bible posted around town.  This would be a great way to change hearts and minds.  Why?

Because reading the Bible turns you into a liberal.

As we already know, there's a tendency that the more educated you are, the more liberal you are.  This seems logical - liberal means "open to change" at its heart, and we tend to embrace new ideas more strongly when those ideas are backed by sound reasoning and research.  The more you accept the scientific method as a rationale for understanding the world, the more you'll accept its findings, and accept that change is necessary to model society around those findings.

The same seems to hold true for the frequency with which you read the Bible.  The more you study it, the more you understand how various arguments in the Bible feed into one another, and the more likely you are to catch the deeper meanings that the Bible itself says it has.  For instance, the scholars of Jesus' time - the Pharisees and Sadducees - were highly legalistic and, for their time, conservative.  Jesus spent a very large part of His time trying to reeducate people about Biblical legalism and about focusing on the deeper point to the Bible - namely, its focus on love of God and love of neighbor - rather than the minutia of the law. 

For many Christians, however, the only time they interact with God's Word is in Church or in a Bible Study group - places where their thoughts on various topics are led by spiritual leaders rather than by the Holy Spirit.  Though they're taught in church to read their Bibles, life happens.  Life happens to all of us, so this should come as no surprise.  It's difficult to spend time in deep personal study of the Bible when things are exploding all around you.
 
So we need to advertise.  Gentle advertisements, divorced from any obvious political bent, can make people ask questions that they might be uncomfortable answering.  In the presence of a political agenda, those questions get answered in politically-aligned ways - if a liberal sees that an advertisement came from a conservative thinktank, for instance, the liberal might automatically assume that the opposite belief from the one advertised is the correct one.  However, divorcing the political agenda from such advertising forces people to confront their own thoughts, rather than jumping into an echo chamber... and this can yield some surprising personal revelations.

Are you on board yet with this idea of advertising a liberal religious agenda?  If not, message me so I can talk more about it to address your specific concerns.  I'll proceed in this post as if the answer is "yes," however.

So, what kinds of advertisements should help?  My thoughts are to do simple black-and-white billboards of the style popularized several years back, attributing quotes to God.  They would post simple quotes from the Bible:

"The mouth speaks what the heart is full of." - Jesus
"The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt." - God
"Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same." - John the Baptist
"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." - Paul

More to come...

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Who's on First

Imagine a tyrannical corporate CEO, someone who wants more money for himself no matter the cost.  It would be pretty easy to imagine someone like this embracing the concept of Libertarianism save for its one saving grace - that people are free to spend their money with other people.  That is, if they don't like what the corporate tyrant is doing, they can simply shop somewhere else. 

(That assumes, of course, that the tyrant isn't one of many tyrants all doing the same thing, or that the tyrant hasn't formed a monopoly on a vital service or good).

Integral to fighting that tyrant and preventing him from abusing his power, then, is people actually learning about what he is doing, and that relies desperately on the free trade of information - that is, that:
  1. People are able to discover what is happening
  2. People are able to communicate that discovery widely
It's for that reason that our founding fathers created the First Amendment, which, among other things, guarantees both freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  It is notably our press that is able to make discoveries and communicate those discoveries to people, but when the press fails (as it so often does), people themselves are able to communicate - whistle-blowers within organizations can tell those outside, people can organize boycotts against companies they take issue with, and so on.

Such a tyrant would, necessarily, need to attack the First Amendment in order to expand his power. 

We've been seeing that happen from both the right and the left, lately, and in some very insidious ways.

First, we have the advent of "fake news."  Though we have long been aware that news sources were not always reliable, in the age of Facebook their power has risen exponentially.  On both sides of the aisle, they rouse the fervor of their readers by publishing stories that have a morsel of truth, but they couch that truth in a bed of lies and half-truths, all of which sound reasonable enough to the person reading.  They take advantage of the human tendency to accept things which confirm our beliefs, known as "confirmation bias."  When we are presented with some argument that sounds plausible, we don't tend to investigate it further, because we already know that it's right (even when it's not).

Fake news is a war against the First Amendment, however, for two reasons: First, because when we encounter fake news from the other side, we have a tendency to want to outlaw it, recognizing it as lies and seeking ways to protect ourselves from the fallout of fake news (namely, rising anger from the opposition and new arguments to deconstruct and prove false); Second, because fake news distracts us from real news.  It provides an echo chamber that reinforces lies and blocks out facts.  On our opposition side, it presents us with those arguments that we have to now deconstruct before we can start dealing with facts. 

But we also have a war on the First Amendment from people getting upset with how people use the first amendment - and again, this is not one-sided.

For liberals, the most clear example are the cries to outlaw the burning of the American Flag.  Though burning the flag is tasteless to most of us, we must accept that the flag is, at its heart, a symbol, and burning the flag is also a symbol - a symbol sometimes of hatred against America and an embrace of what we might consider "anti-American values," yes, but a symbol sometimes of disgust with certain things that America has become.  America in many ways embraces lies and half-truths, promotes and values those views, makes policy decisions based on them.  Let us not forget that for most of America's history, America embraced the belief that black people were sub-human, that they were not as capable as white people at understanding math, literature, and science, that they were good only for their muscles.  This was a lie, but America based huge legal structures such as slavery on it.  Many of those structures still exist today.  The flag not only stands for the America that offers hope and love and opportunity for those who have had none, for the "American Dream," but also for those racist structures that it built so many of those dreams upon. Burning the flag for many is a protest against that version of America, and someone can still hold great love for the country while protesting those structures. 

That said, there are other, less toxic examples.  Taking a knee during the national anthem, for instance, is seen by conservatives as disrespect for the flag, and through it disrespect to those who have died for the nation, even though taking a knee during the anthem was designed specifically to show respect for those who have died while still disrespecting the national institutions of racism that are being protested.  Again, though, you can only learn that information if you can accept news from outside of your echo chamber.

For conservatives, though, there are also clear examples.  For instance, when Loretta Lynch started looking into whether climate-denying scientists could be charged with fraud.  Conservatives say this is an attack on their freedom of speech - and they wouldn't be wrong (provided she had actually charged them with fraud, which she didn't). 

As much as we sometimes hate it, the freedom of speech and freedom of the press are often used by our political enemies to extreme effect - but it is their right.  The more we fight against it directly, the more we chip away at our own rights and protections against tyranny.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Taking Back Oklahoma

Election day was pretty lousy for those of us on the political left in Oklahoma.  While nationally Democrats picked up a few seats in the senate, mitigating the potential damage of a Trump presidency (we only need one dissenting vote in the Senate from the Republicans to block any nominations/confirmations), here in Oklahoma we lost several seats in both the House and the Senate, and lost some elections where the Democratic candidates had raised significant war chests and had a huge amount of ground support - candidates like John Waldron.

The problem is as it has been for the last several election cycles - Republican support in the state is at an all-time high entirely due to religion.  People associate Christianity with the Republican Party, and literally believe that it's a sin to vote Democrat.  When you really believe, or are even given pause to consider, that your immortal soul will burn for eternity in Hell if you vote for a single candidate with a D next to their name, you really have no choice in the matter.

If Democrats want to win in 2018 or 2020, that perception has got to change.

Democrats have for too long tried to win the war purely on ideological terms.  We tend to go overly analytical on all issues, and don't stop to consider how people feel about said issues.  Of course abortion should be legal, because women are human beings and human beings deserve body autonomy.  But your "body autonomy" argument falls flat to someone who thinks that an unborn fetus was put in a woman's womb directly by God.  You cannot hope to challenge such an argument with science.

To that end, I'm going to work on publishing articles now on religious justifications for various stances; however, we need to start now on the work of advertising the religious power of our positions.  We need to take out billboards with black backgrounds and white letters attributing statements to "-God" and make them say things like,

"Love your neighbor as yourself."
"The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt."
"Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
    but whoever is kind to the needy honors God."
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Victories We Can Get

Last night's election of Trump is a horrible tragedy.  His threats - to nominate conservative Supreme Court justices who would overturn gay marriage, to round up illegal immigrants, to force Muslims to wear identification - should be taken as very real threats to minorities, as well as to American freedom and democracy. 

That said, it is not quite the victory he thinks it is.

I don't think it's fair to call all of his supporters "racists" - at least, not in the form of the word they probably imagine.  Racism comes in varying degrees along a spectrum, and at one end are members of the KKK and the Nazi party.  Many in the US see this section of the spectrum as "racism" and everything else "not racism," but those of us dedicated to fighting against racism of all forms see it everywhere across the entire spectrum.  Still, by calling people "racists" or by saying that their rhetoric is racist, we unintentionally label them as being equal in kind to the KKK - which they aren't.  They're clearly better than that. Let's call everyone in the middle of this spectrum "racish" - that is, sort of racist, but not so violently racist.

When you're racish, you don't question whether things you say are racist, unintentionally or not.  You may make racist jokes, and you think they're funny, and all the while wink and nod and say, "but of course not all people of that race are like that" - even though the joke is only funny if some part of you really does believe that.  Because you don't consider yourself racist, you also don't think that racism is a problem in America, and you don't sit down with members of minority communities to ask them if racism is still impacting their lives - because of course it isn't, it's not a part of your America, in your mind.

This, I would say, is the reality for the vast majority of white Americans.  More than likely, the vast majority of people who voted for Trump last night fall into this category.

This is all to say - they didn't vote for him BECAUSE he's a racist, or because of his racist rhetoric; rather, they ignored his racist rhetoric because it didn't fit their definition of racism, which of course doesn't exist in America.

The same parallel can be made for sexism.  His supporters are sexish, not sexist, and they ignore his sexist comments because they don't fit their definition of sexism, which of course doesn't exist in America.

So, what else did they vote for him for?

Most, it seems, voted for him because he's anti-establishment.  That is, he is a political outsider, someone who doesn't follow the normal rules of politics. 

Hillary, conversely, represents everything the establishment has to offer.  She is part of a political dynasty and wielded complex political forces like a hammer to smash Bernie in the primaries and to repeatedly bash Trump during the general.  Many people, even on the left, noted that electing her felt more like a coronation than an election.

Now, many of us tried to fight back against that idea that being part of the establishment is somehow bad, but even for us it was half-hearted.  Yes, having political experience is a great thing.  We need to have a president we can trust not to turn an ally to an enemy or accidentally start WW3; however, we also hate it when people get elected to office over and over again, when it feels like the entire process gets stuck in a quagmire because everyone in Washington has lost their idealism and is simply churning on the same old worn-out talking points.  We note that everyone in office has a vested interest in simply staying in power, not with rocking the boat and doing meaningful things.

This is why Trump supporters often use the hashtag, #DrainTheSwamp.  It refers to getting corruption and establishment politics out of Washington.  For some reason, they think Trump is the person best suited to accomplishing this.  And they think this will happen even though they elected the very same Congresspeople and Senators that had just been in office.

This anti-establishment fight is one we on the left can get behind, too.  We need to remind Republican voters in 2 years that the swamp they seek to drain is the very one they elected again.  We need to use their hashtag against them.  You want to upend the establishment?  Do it everywhere.  Do it in your state.  Do it in your county.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Christian Case against 776

On Facebook, I'm seeing a lot of arguments that are similar to the following:
or

This kind of sentiment seems to be the basis for Oklahoma State Question 776 - a law that, in effect, says that nothing can be considered cruel and unusual punishment when it comes to the death penalty.  This is designed to protect Oklahoma when it executes an inmate using a bad combination of drugs, a combination that could cause the inmate to writhe in agony for 40+ minutes, as in the case of Clayton Lockett.  (Side note: The Atlantic has a marvelous write-up on that execution.)

I've written about Lockett's execution previously, so I'll skip any talk about the case or the concept of execution, and jump right into this idea of suffering as it pertains to the Bible. 

Many people quote the Torah:
 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

“Whoever sheds human blood,
    by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
    has God made mankind. (Genesis 9:5-6)
(That passage always invokes the Boondock Saints police station scene for me)
Or:
But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Exodus 21:23-25)
As if to say that God is on the side of visiting punishment like-for-like upon those who have committed crimes, without remembering the words of Christ, who took this passage from Exodus and turned it on its head:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
(Matthew 5:38-45)
Jesus was all about forgiving those who committed harm, as He proved when He was executed.  Here he is, on the cross, and he prays:
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Earlier, when Judas leads men to arrest him, and Peter cuts off one of the men's ears, he tells us that he is perfectly capable of seeking retribution:
Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52-53)
But Jesus is not alone in these sentiments.  Paul echoes them:
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)
And here, Paul is quoting Proverbs 25 (for the last part) and Deuteronomy for the first part:
"It is mine to avenge; I will repay.
    In due time their foot will slip;
their day of disaster is near
    and their doom rushes upon them." (Deuteronomy 32:35)
Vengeance belongs to God alone, should He desire to take it; we, however, are called upon to love our enemies, and we know of love from Paul that it is first "patient" and second "kind."

As for me, I do not believe in the death penalty excepting where an inmate might ask for it (it might be kind if an inmate is suffering in prison); but that said, it is far more kind to execute someone through non-painful means, even if that means we have to be patient and wait for a better drug cocktail to become available.  Love demands we do these things for even those who have committed ghastly murders.

The alternative is that we become just as violent and horrible as those who we seek to execute.  We become Pontius Pilate rather than Christ crucified.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The New Republican Arguments for Trump

This is a decidedly NSFW article, as you might imagine...

Since tapes were released of Trump saying he likes to grab women "by the pussy", major Republicans have been fleeing the sinking ship of Trump left and right.  Many of the everyday people who support Trump, however, have been doubling down on their support, as we would expect.  Here, then, are some of their biggest arguments:

This is a Tu Quoque fallacy, which is Latin roughly for "You too."  Imagine using this defense against someone when you've been accused of murder.  "Did you kill Mr. Soandso?" The prosecution asks, and you say, "Well sure, but you killed a man once, too!"  See how ridiculous it is?  In this case, you're both wrong.  If I had said anything vulgar about someone, I was in the wrong as well.  That doesn't justify Trump's statements, it merely shows that I am an equal offender if I made such statements, too.

This argument pops up in lots of different ways.  For instance, one go-to for many Trump supporters - and, indeed, for Trump himself during the debate - is that Hillary Clinton's husband is worse.  This comes from two distinct groups - three women accusing Bill Clinton of wrongdoing, and one woman who is generally universally acknowledged to have had an affair with him.  We'll come back to the former group in a moment, but the latter group brings up some interesting arguments. 

I cannot bring up the exact text now, because Facebook removed it, but one person complained that Clinton had sodomized an intern with a cigar.  While Clinton has not acknowledged this, and there is no physical evidence supporting the claim, the intern in question was Monica Lewinsky, who claims that her relationship with Bill Clinton was entirely consensual.  That means, if he did sodomize her with a cigar, that was her choice to participate.  (A note: the Starr report refers to Clinton inserting the cigar into Lewinsky's vagina, which is not "sodomy" by most definitions.)

As for the other three women, they are Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, and Kathleen Willey.  All three allege that Clinton made unwanted sexual advanced on them - Jones that he exposed himself to her, Willey that he groped her, and Broaddrick that he raped her.  In all three cases, there was not enough evidence to go to trial for criminal misconduct, though Clinton did settle a lawsuit with Jones. 

These three issues are major, and we shouldn't be quick to dismiss them.  But, with that said, at this point they are allegations, not confirmed attacks.  If we accept allegations as true, then we have to do that for both Clinton and Trump - and Trump has his own share of rape allegations.  In such a case, we cannot say either one is better or worse, but rather that they're both horrible people.

To me, the point that swings the balance is the fact that, again, these are allegations, and have not been proven in court yet.  Given that, we can't say Clinton or Trump are worse on the allegations alone; therefore, we have to go to other sources.  For only one of the two people do we audio where he brags about molesting women. 

"But this was ten years ago," some Trump reporters will say, "and he has become a Christian since then.  That means he is forgiven, and we need to forgive him, too."

A person's religion is a deeply personal thing - what a person claims to believe cannot be examined with a microscope.  As such, we only have Dr. James Dobson's words that Trump has accepted Christ - words he later recanted - and similarly we have both Bill and Hillary's claims to Christianity.  By any measure, if we must forgive Trump, we must also forgive both Bill and Hillary for any perceived wrongdoing.

For most Evangelicals, there is a belief that sin can only be forgiven if:
  1. The sinner is a Christian (apparently a checkmark for all three people);
  2. The sinner seeks forgiveness; and
  3. The sinner turns from his or her sin.
That's important because Trumpeters will argue that Hillary has never asked for forgiveness for Benghazi, nor has Bill sought forgiveness for his alleged attacks on women.  Hillary has shown remorse for Benghazi, calling it her "biggest regret" and taking responsibility for it, but that isn't good enough for many people.  As for Bill, it's impossible to apologize for something you never did - and since he maintains his innocence, any apology would be an admission of guilt that could open him to severe criminal liability. 

But let's talk about step 3 of that - the sinner must turn from his or her sin.  This means not trying to deflect blame, as Trump immediately did, and it means ending the sin that started this - a fundamental disrespect of women.  A person cannot love another person and hold such disrespect in their hearts that they would joke about sexually assaulting said person.  Trump shows in more recent quotes that he is still the same person.

At the same time as the comments of groping came out, we were offered audio of Trump saying that he goes backstage during the Miss America pageant specifically to try to catch the young women and teenage girls nude.  And then there are all of his other comments about women, especially those that he tweeted at 3am on the night of the first debate, long after his supposed conversion to Christianity.

"Yes," the Trumpeter might say, "but Trump is a baby Christian.  Give him time to fix these things."

You're absolutely right.  But a baby Christian is never put in a position of power over other Christians!  A baby Christian is someone the author of Hebrews describes as follows:
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  (Hebrews 5:12-14, NIV)
 Indeed, when we elect elders in the church, this is how we are taught to do so:
an elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.  Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.  He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:6-9)
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.  (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.  He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.  They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.  They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. (1st Timothy 3:1-10)
These descriptions do not sound at all like Trump.  With the exception of the obvious focus on gender, they sound marginally more like Hillary (she has long been the wife of only one husband, and has shown herself not to be quick-tempered or unfaithful, is temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, gentle, able to teach, and not quarrelsome).

So electing a "baby Christian" who hasn't mastered these things is not only setting the country up for failure, it's setting that Christian up for failure.  The job of the president is a big job that is very taxing on a person.  A man or woman should already have a strong moral compass before taking on the job, and it's clear that Trump is not there yet.  Maybe he will be, some day, but not if we elect him now.