Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Las Vegas Carnage

WHY, Lord, Why??

It is really sad that a single individual could go on for about 10 minutes shooting and killing innocent people.  Right now, every major news agency on the planet has story after story about the Las Vegas shooting which - at this time, has claimed the lives of 59 people and injured 527 others at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.  Unfortunately, the Harvest Festival will have this event etched into it's soul forever.

I've read a number of stories and of course comments from the public.  ISIL has claimed that Stephen Paddock, the shooter, was a recent convert to Islam.  As of my writing, no official statement from Las Vegas or federal authorities have confirmed this claim, at least I am not aware of such confirmation.

By now, we all know that Paddock was financially solid, even wealthy.  In trying to answer the "why" people have speculated that he lost a great deal of money gambling. Yet, by all indicators, he seemed to be stable enough to handle the loss of large amounts of money.  It is claimed that he became well off financially through real estate. If that is true, then Paddock knew how to deal with the ups and downs, and winning and losing that accompany such financial transactions.

Of course, many many people, both well known and private individuals, have spoke about the political and social challenges of gun control, violence in video games and on television, in the entertainment business, and the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution.  The topic always comes up when this type of evil occurs. Pundits with many different opinions insensitively shout out their respective messages with the obvious yet irrelevant mantras that separate the weapons from the murderers or decry or laud the merits or demerits of the 2nd Amendment. Read through the comments of any article on the Las Vegas shooting and you will see such comments from people all over the map.  Even the noted atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins mockingly, sarcastically, and with great insensitivity blames gun control and the US 2nd Amendment for this tragedy.

Aside from the condolences, the mourning, and tears, many are wondering WHY, desperately wanting to know the motives behind Stephen Paddock's rampage.  This is the real question and the question I initially stated.  We think that knowing the answer would help - and for some, it might aid in the grieving process.  We may collectively think that if we know the answer, we can do more to prevent this from happening again.  Sadly, history screams against such results.  If knowing the right thing to do would prevent evil, terror, violence, abuse, greed, selfishness, war, human trafficking, child-abuse, domestic violence, and a thousand other social ills, mankind should have already conquered such problems.  But we have not.  Reality is painful and my prayer is that the people of God do not grow cold, bitter, cynical, and negative because of such reality.

I am convinced that we may never know WHY.  In fact, even if we find out some of the reasons Paddock did what he did, it will still not really answer the question.  Spiritually speaking, the values, beliefs, ideals, and guiding principles that direct a person's soul can only be understood by God. (Which is why God is the only one that can ultimately judge and condemn).  Many times, we ourselves may not even fully understand why we do what we do!  Most of what we do is inconsequential, but when our actions and behaviors begin to radically negatively impact the lives of other, those consequences can be terrible, as they were in the case of the Las Vegas shooting from this past Sunday, October 1, 2017.

I am also convinced that the real problems we have as individuals and collectively in our social, societal and national alignments - the real problems are spiritual in nature.  It's interesting to me that an atheist like Dawkins would comment on indiscriminate death.  From an atheist perspective, what gives mankind the right to survive over any other species? ...but I digress.  When our values, beliefs and spiritual practices are based in TRUTH, dealing with such tragedy becomes bearable.  Of course, the real question then is not WHY but what is the TRUTH?

The question of Why may not be answered but the heart and soul of real people can be comforted by the support and love of others.  I hope and pray that each victim's family and close friends are surrounded by supportive, loving and caring people that can aid in the healing and moving-on in life from this terrible, terrible act.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sex and Violence

Please don't condemn my beliefs and practices. in other words, "don't judge me".  This is the moral battle cry in our American society and it is spreading all over the world.

I just met a young man at a retail outlet, maybe 25 or 30 years old, where we engaged in a very lively discussion about life, work, marriage, race, sex and community.  (I often have deep conversations with strangers!) He hopes to be successful in the photography and video editing business and he understands deeply the power of effective marketing because he seems to easily grasp human nature.  He explained to me that when a YouTube video channel is all about sex and violence, then it is no longer shocking or engaging.  However, when you strategically include sex and violence, then you build a brand that is powerfully engaging.  This is somewhat an over simplification of part of our discussion, but it was definitely a part our almost 30 minute conversation.

Now, as a Christian, I really don't want to fill my mind and heart with sex and violence, stragegically placed or not.  For me, sexual and violent content - especially gratuitously placed, doesn't do anything to help me grow as a husband, father, man of God, neighbor, employee or anything else.  However, the gentleman I met has great potential to be very successful in his dream, including the strategic use of sex and violence in his future photographs and videos.  Why do we differ? My moral compass is determined by my best attempt at understanding the teachings of Jesus and the apostles but his moral compass seems to be the same as the average american: based on a sense of perceived/felt right and wrong, unconsciously derived from a loosely agreed to standards by the population.

For most people, the standard for right and wrong seem to be based on a statistically normal set of beliefs and values. Ideas and words that would be considered positive that reflect this unconscious standard are progressive, enlightened, flexible, humanistic, humanitarian, tolerant, understanding, broad-minded, receptive, unbiased, unbigoted, unprejudiced and of course open-minded. Values or traits such as intelligent, advanced, reasonable and even rational fit into this standard.

Some Christian theology and the practices can be considered intolerant, bigoted, arrogant, and generally the opposite of these ideas.  For example, to believe that one should resist and not fulfill certain desires could be considered bad or wrong. As a specific example, the theology of salvation - called soteriology - may teach that there really is a literal spiritual realm which includes Heaven and Hell, angels and demons, and other unseen forces.  In addition, Christian theology may also teach that after we physically die, our spiritual essence or our conscious spirit end up in heaven or hell for all of eternity.  This is an undesirable idea for most so many my avoid discussing it in order to help others avoid discussing the undesirable possibility of dying and ending up in Hell.  This belief (theology) and resulting practice would be wrong in an American value system as described above - allowed, but wrong.  The allowed belief is understandably not warmly embraced.  After all, who wants to be told that "unless you repent, you too will perish [ultimately in hell]" (Luke 13:3,5).  I know I don't.

Like my new friend, most people accept the idea of determining right and wrong based on popular opinion.  Thus, we will defend another's right to create and view violent and overly sexulaized images, videos, music, poetry, etc.  For many, it's good to even practice certain behavior as long as it's consensual and no one gets physically or emotionally hurt.  The HBO fantasy series, Game of Thrones, apparently has been accused of having such content, but the show is watched by between 8 and 10 million fans. One of the "right and good" message based on the normalized value system is this:  If you don't like it, don't watch it.

Restricting ones behavior, for example, by avoiding profanity, sex outside of marriage, marriage between an unrelated man and woman is not very popular nor is it easy. Leaning to stop lying and stealing, ensuring that we honestly pay taxes, obey the speed limit or even put in a full eight-hours of work for a full eight-hours of pay is not always embraced by individual people, including my new friend.   Our basic cultural values seem to be something like this: As long as another person is not overtly hurt, anything goes!  However, what is the real cost of living like this?

I know that I have been deceived and enticed by my own undisciplined desire to watch television shows and movies that are filled with sexual and violent content.   The fact is, even as adults, we are actually influenced by what we read, watch, listen to and otherwise experience.  The tantalizing images and topics that include strategic or overt depictions of sex and violence negatively influenced my ability to actually be strategic and disciplined in areas that really count - my marriage and family, my ability to help others, my faith, my business and professional skills and my personal financial and economic growth.  There are always exceptions, but the vast majority of people will not reach the top of any field or profession by flooding their minds with sex, violence, profanity, lying, cheating, greed, selfish desires, lust for power, lust for pleasure and the like.

Using income as an example, of the 125 million or so families in the United States (using 2016 cesus numbers), the average household income is about $52,000 annually.  However, the top 10% earn about $300,000 annually.  However, even more extreme is net worth - the top 5% have a net worth of about 2 million, while the average is a bout $300,000. The fact is, the top 5% or 1% of wealth builders do NOT watch television, do not listen to the news, and do not lie, cheat or steal.  Generally the wealthy get wealthy and stay wealthy by avoiding the tantalizing images and influences that are primarily based on greed, pleasure and power.  Thus they live below their means, drive an older but late model car, stay married to the same person, and live in a typical plane-jane suburban home - nothing fancy.  (Check out the Book, The Millionaire Next Door).

The sad truth is that overtly sexualized content coupled with violence and other tantalizing things simply does not work.  Moderation and self-control must be practiced, as it is written, "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise," (Eph 5:15).

Personally, I know I have a very long way to go and getting rid of the images and replacing it with what is godly.  I must learn to be a disciplined person, exercising self-control in the various areas of my life including what I eat, how I take care of my self, my family, and my responsibilities, and what I watch and listen to.  Knowing the principles and the things that should be done doesn't make anyone able to actually do them.  It is difficult, otherwise, everyone would do them. So then, starting with yourself (as I must start with myself), don't let the lies of the movies, the music, the television, and the natural selfish desires for pleasure, riches and power and the tantalizing allure of overtly sexualized and violent entertainment as well as the news media deceive you.  What goes in our minds and hearts is what will come out.  Don't be ignorant but be wise.  This is definitely one of my life goals.  I hope my new friend will also figure this out before he is successful and making and publishing still photos and images along with well-edited video (assuming he will become successful) because adding more of the strategically placed sex and violence based material doesn't help anyone in the long run.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ignorant Truth

I recently listened to Heather MacDonald video on the Black Lives Matter movement entitled, "Does The Truth Matter?". You can look this up easy enough.

She quotes a number of statistics about crime and the murder rate in cities and the disproportionate amount of blacks that get killed and are arrested because they commit a disproportionate number crime.

She clearly believes what she's saying. But she completely misses the socio-economic and most importantly, historical issues behind the numbers she so easily quotes. In her own lifetime, blacks have been subjected to a disproportionately smaller number of opportunities. This includes jobs, education, finances, business relationships, acceptance, and many other non-opportunities.
It is true, that any person; black, white, Hispanic, aboriginal, Chinese or whatever - can achieve almost anything in the United States of America. That is true today and I definitely believe it. However, there is a real psychological barrier for many blacks and a real unconscious psychological advantage for many whites which our American historical legacy of what was predominantly chattel slavery, has left in this great country.

I do not think any amount of activism is the ultimate solution. In fact I'm not sure what the solution is outside of the return of Christ! At least not a solution that's based on this world. However, as a Christian, I am convinced that the solution is somehow connected to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Christ a black man should be willing to look at another black man who is about to commit a crime or even kill him, and take the risk to reach into that man's soul to potentially turn him around. In Christ a white man should be willing to enter into the inner city that is predominately black, to teach about the love of Christ.  In Christ, a black man should be willing to reach across racial lines to dies to his own ethnic comfort zone to touch the soul of a white man on his terms.  In Christ, a white person should be willing to teach another white person how to die to themselves to see the world from a black or other ethnicities perspective.  In Christ, we should all take into our heart the principle echoed in 1 Corinthians 6:7; as opposed to fighting - especially in a court in front of non Christians, "why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated?" These ideas echo God's truth from an eternal perspective regardless of the ethnicity the Christian happens to be.  (The fact is, even from my atheistic friends, there is no such think - biologically speaking on the DNA level- of race!) Any Christian who understands the gospel will be willing to die to serve and help another human being no matter how hostile that other human being may be.
So, my white brothers and sisters in Christ - you may not get it, but you need to TRY to reach across the lines to embrace the spirit of the Black Lives Matter message.  If you are from the United States of  America, then accept the fact that you - like me - are a fallen human being. Our issues are different.  As Christians, you MUST accept mine - no excuses; and I must accept yours.  When we resist or get defensive, nothing godly is accomplished.  We must die to ourselves and take up our cross daily.  We must become more and more like Christ.  We can celebrate our diversity and our culture - be it white or black american, or any other cultural heritage we bring with our diverse families, but ultimately, we must honor the Lord with our very lives.  I'm not sure if Heather MacDonald is a Christian, but even if she isn't, the historical fact of chattel slavery in this country will take centuries to un-do.  I think we are on the path, but I have to say - the election of Donald Trump sure has revitalized the discussion, for good or for ill.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Donald Trumps America


Back in November, right after Donald Trump won the election, I learned of a very disturbing situation. A Latina classmate of my daughter was in line at a Dunkin' Donuts to buy coffee when a white and a black guy standing right behind her started to talk out loud about why Trump’s win was necessary. They loudly expressed why the wall was needed and they condescendingly asked the young lady directly if she was illegal, explaining why she needed to be shipped out of the USA! This high school student was in tears all day over this incident.  My daughter, Gina, the school counselor, and many others tried to bring her comfort.

This country is divided and Christians must rise up so that the words of Jesus Christ will not be ignored by black and white people like the two men described above.  Why are we divided?  BECAUSE we are fallen, sinful people.  David Jeremiah, a well-known evangelical leader, reluctantly promoted Trump (I was at the Verizon Center at his Stand Up Tour when he said it) because of the potential supreme court nominee that could help promote traditional marriage and the life of the unborn.  Unfortunately, David Jeremiah is blinded and deceived by Satan (Sorry David – I do think you’re a godly an and you mean well, just like Peter meant well in Matt 16:22) because his hope is in this world or in this country (Matt 16:23) and not ultimately in Jesus Christ.  What we need is not laws that promote Christianity.  What we need are Christians who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, even if it means we suffer in our own country!  The goal is not to make America Great again nor make the environment favorable to a Christian world-view and value system.  No, instead, the goal is to be faithful to God. Period!  I know I’m not there myself, but I am clear about what the goal should be.

Consider this: If there were more devout disciples of Jesus Christ, and one of them was also in the line with this young woman, they could have protected the young lady and called the two men to repent and develop rightful godly character.  This is what Jesus would have done.  He touched the leaper in front of crowds of people who would surely be shocked (Matt 8:1-4).  He caused the older men to walk away from condemning a woman caught in adultery and then called her to develop godly character (John 8:2-11*).  He healed the child and the servant of foreigners – a Canaanite and Roman Centurion (Matt 15:21-28 and Matt 8:5-13).  As Christians, we must do the same, dying to ourselves and representing the TRUTH regardless of the consequences to our own lives.  We must stand against the devil’s schemes which includes standing against those that preach and teach division, hatred, and godlessness.  We must hate what is evil (adultery, three marriages – two to eye-candy beauty pageant models, prejudice, not giving to Caesar what is Caesar's – i.e. not paying taxes, impatience, arrogance and over-confidence, pride, violence, greed and more) and cling to what is good! (Rom 12:9).

For my brothers and sisters in Christ who voted for Donald Trump, please understand this – you voted for an overtly sinful and ungodly man (Mrs. Clinton isn't as overt, but she too does not stand for the things of God).  Maybe President Trump will change – I pray he does.  But also understand the power of symbolism and image and icons. Like Jesus said, we simply need to be wise and shrewd (Read Luke 16:8 and the entire chapter of Luke 16).  The American presidency, among many, many other things, is highly symbolic.  When Obama spoke as a citizen about affirming gay marriage, the imagery and power of the icon had great impact.  Unless Trump changes, his new role will also have powerful iconic impact, from building walls to pre-judging Muslims!

Don’t you get it?  “What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15). You see, a specific world-view and value system was completely infused in Mr. Trumps campaign for the presidency from the very beginning–it was not hidden.  Think about what that value system and world-view entailed.  First it was firmly planted in terra-firma, that is – in this world and what you get out of it.  Secondly, it was nationalistic – all about the United States of America and had NOTHING to do with anything or anyone else.  Thirdly, it was based on worldly power (I’m spending my own money, I’m not a puppet to anyone, I make deals….)  It was not based on characteristics such as love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, selflessness, grace, integrity, honesty, generosity, and the like.  And Trumps value system and worldview was definitely not based on anything eternal.

Maybe you voted for Trump, not thinking about young ladies like my daughter’s classmate.  Maybe you voted against Hillary Clinton because she too is ungodly and was untrustworthy, exemplified by the email scandal among other things.  She at least admitted the private email server was stupid and that she wouldn’t do it again.  I’m not saying her worldview and value system was aligned with the Apostle Paul or Barnabas or Luke the doctor who wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.  If you were, however, voting for the lesser of two evils, and you voted for Trump, you made a misjudgment.  The icon imagery for Mrs. Clinton is very different.  Stick with your cheating husband – a message of grace and forgiveness (stupidity to some and/or opportunistic to others, but the imagery at least paves a way for forgiveness).    She apologized when caught regarding the email scandal (was it sincere - Only God knows).  Consider the message that women can accomplish great things, including becoming President.  And –at least publically – she accepts all people, regardless of ethnicity, heritage, background, creed.  And of course, her value system includes the two big ungodly practices of abortion and gay marriage (Note that at this time, I currently see these two things in the scriptures as ungodly. To those who differ with me, pleas know that love and support does not equal agreement), but guess what – so does President Trump.  In fact, both of these practices are already here and as Christians we simply do not have to participate.  However, as Christians we do need to love people - agape love.  In fact, even if forced to “cater” to a gay marriage as a baker of wedding cakes or to provide a venue for weddings, I can still say “NO” even if it meant that I must go to jail!  The point is: be a Christian first – a disciple of Jesus Christ, and not an American or Canadian or Chinese or Britt or Nigerian or Trinidadian or Mexican or Inuit or Navaho or Iraqi or Egyptian or Burmese, any other ethnicity or nationality on God’s green earth!  We can celebrate such diversity but as it is written, "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil 3:20).

I hope and pray that Trump will grow into the job and actually develop the character of a man who – at least on the outside – considers and acts on what is sacred in the eyes of many.  This is needed in order to be the head of state for the United States of America; to wield the power of life and death over thousands, especially as commander and Chief of the most powerful military force on the planet; to represent a very diverse population; and to protect the country with the largest economy and 6th largest in GDP per capita. I hope and pray Mr. Trump will wake up and say to himself, “I must rise to this task” and develop the character that is expected and needed for this job.  Otherwise, more young women, families and people will be hurt – and not just from overt prejudice in conversation held on purpose in earshot to hurt feelings, but physically, financially and spiritually hurt because the worldview, value system and iconic power that Donald Trump currently brandishes will encourage, inspire and embolden more overt behavior similar to that of the two men (one black and one white) standing behind an innocent child who happens to be Latina.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Rise and Fall of Christianity

About three weeks ago I had a meeting with one of the officially recognized campus Chaplain's at the University of Maryland College Park where we caught-up with each, discussed some official business, and shared a little about the current state of Christianity.  In the United States, churches are generally getting smaller - especially the more traditional main-line Christian churches.  There was a major Pew Research report on religion release last year documenting the decline of religion and specifically Christianity.  (Interestingly, in the data, there is no growth nor decline in Churches of Christ - but this includes both the historically a-capella congregations and the independent Christian church (instrumental Churches of Christ).  I add this because if you don't know me, you may not know that this is my current Christian heritage - but this really has nothing to do with my topic!)

This trend generally means that the United States is becoming more and more secular.  There are currently small but well organized groups or organizations that promote pure secularism.  One such group held an event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on June 4th called the Reasons Rally. This event is a celebration of the attendees "...secular, atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinking, and nonreligious identities" and to show their "power at the voting box to bring good sense back to government". Thus, it was, in essence, a political statement.

However, most people in the United States still believe in some type of supernatural or metaphysical reality - much to the chagrin of men like Dr. Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine, who wrote a very interesting book a number of years ago entitled, "Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time".  And for the record, in my assessment, this book is an excellent tool for learning how to debunk the wild and crazy claims of dangerous religions, non-orthodox religious movements, and faith-based practices and beliefs that should probably be avoided... but back to the point.

I have mixed feelings about this trend.  On the one hand, I am concerned that lot's of people no longer want to consider the ultimate truth when it comes to faith and religion.  Starting with a purely secular and naturalistic framework for reality eliminates the the possibility of the existence of an undetectable realm - the realm of angels, demons and of course, God.  If such a spiritual realm really does exists (which of course, I am convinced it does) then we can not use our scientific tools to detect or measure it except for when something from that ream interact's in our 3-dimensional universe of time and space.  This MUST be true, a given, by definition if the spiritual realm is real.

The implications are tremendous.  History speaks out against a world without a transcendent antecedent for societies ethical and moral standards.  Even if this spiritual foundation for defining good and evil is based on myth, it will provide guidance on defining good and evil within that culture.  Of course, my purely naturalistic friends embrace this fact as evidence that there is no God and mankind's religions are simply evolved myth and superstitions that are left overs from our prehistoric ancestors that aided in natural selection.  The problem with this conclusion is it ignores or even worse, prevents the honest analysis of historical claims of any of the modern religious systems embraced by very large numbers of people on earth.  Even so, as Americans we may continue to jettison the moral and ethical foundation that philosophically permitted the belief in God, we will build a society that removes reasonable restrictions on behavior.  The impact could be devastating to society if taken to it's logical extreme.

Yet, if the broader society does embrace pure naturalism and secularism and those that believe in God are marginalized intellectually and academically, then it will require authentic faith to hold on to the faith.  If it's not considered wholesome or good to be a devout Christian that take certain ideas as absolutely right and wrong, factoring in the brokenness of life and creation, then you really have to have courage to be a Christian or to hold on to any other faith.  Yet, it seems that Christianity in the United States is the faith system most challenged; this makes perfectly good sense because some form of Christianity has been the predominate faith system of Americans since the formation of the republic.  The principles of freedom and of checks-and-balances embedded in Deceleration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights all protest against the abuse of the minority.  (Regarding this point, I would hope that the hypocrisy of the many of the founders occasionally kept them up at night in sleepless torture - especially since I am an African American!). Thus, it is possible, as this trend continues, that it won't be "The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition" of 1440 torturing heretics and forcing Jews and Muslims to convert or leave Spain! Instead, it will be atheistic and secular leaders calling Christians to abandon their faith or be ostracized.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist so I don't foresee such a dystopian society that would torture and completely marginalize believers. As I said, history cries out against the success of such a society. Instead, I have great hope.  In fact, one of the primary tenants of Christianity, is that we are made in the image of God, and thus values such as compassion, mercy, grace, love, empathy and many other principles that feed into the secular side of social justice will always be present.  How else, as the scriptures plainly state, would men be "without excuse" for rejecting the truth? Creation and existence itself, the existential realities of a functional, healthy, growing, peaceful culture and society is powerful evidence for a theistic stance.  Such values are not some deterministic result of natural selection, embedded in our DNA to aid in helping society to thrive.

So, as the trends continue, I am confident that cool heads in both religious and secular circles will continue to guide cultures and societies.  We must continue to debate, discuss and permit differences of life-styles, values, beliefs and practices.  As it is written, "No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval." (1 Cor 11:19).  Differences help us decide how to believe and how to live our lives.  The purity of the faith must ultimately be filtered by God from within the believer based on indelible truths that come from God.  Thus, there is no need to worry about these trends if, indeed, God is ultimately in control.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Reason Rally 2016

I missed a very interesting event in Washington DC last weekend called, “The Reason Rally 2016”.  It was downtown and I really wanted to go, but life, teenagers, and other responsibilities prevented me from attending.  Unfortunately, Richard Dawkins could not attend either, due to his heath.  But he did send a video.  You can see it on YouTube – look up G8NGf3L7foM on YouTube.  The transcript can be found at the Patheos web site.

According to Dawkins, we all have, wired into our DNA, "The God Temptation”.    Dawkins is clear saying, "the temptation [to believe in a divine creator] is overwhelming".  He says that if you say "God did it" regarding any aspect of creation or life, that would be "sheer intellectual cowardice."  He says you have to exercise great discipline to not fall into this temptation.  He explains that, "you have to smack yourself and say, 'No' However largely [your] senses and [your] instincts are screaming 'miracle,' it really isn’t."  He sees the invoking of a designer as a temptation that should be avoided.  He says we are avoiding – because of this “the temptation to evade, by invoking a designer - the responsibility to explain”.  Furthermore, he states that “the God temptation is an evasion of responsibility because it invokes the very kind of thing it’s supposed to be explaining.”.

This position is an obvious logical fallacy in that it declares or accepts the absolute non-existence of God as a proven fact. But non-existence logically cannot be proven.  The idea that the burden of proof is on the theist from a logical perspective is not only more honest, but logically sound and I wish he would have at least started with such a premise.

As a theist myself – the Christian verity – I accept the logical requirement that the burden of proof for existence is on the theist.  I also accept the evidence I have for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity.  The evidence is just as sound as what lawyers argue in court.  To be fair, many court cases allow the innocent to pay for crimes they didn't commit and the guilty to go free; thus, I could be wrong.  However, I happened to be convinced by the evidence that support theism and Christianity specifically.

Thus, it is NOT a "God Temptation" that drives me to believe but the evidence. My faith is solidly based in the historical claims of Judaism and Christianity as well as some of the very things Dawkins admits.  He says, “The fact that you exist should brim you over with astonishment”.  It does!  He says that we are “machines of ineffable complexity”.  This too is evidence.  He speaks of the fine-tuning of many physical, chemical and universal constants, and hints at the theistic evolutionary idea that these constants allowed, “eyes and peacocks, humans and brains” to come into existence.  I am NOT a theistic evolutionist, but his statement actually exposes his belief in the miracle of evolution by natural selection.  You see, Dawkins is convinced that these fundamental constants of nature DID, in the fullness of time, create “the eyes and peacocks, humans and brains”.

I am also a theistic skeptic – that is, the normative play of space, time, and the physical universe as ordered by a divine creator does not require nor regularly display legitimate miracles – the breaking of the entropic laws of nature. When the supernatural intersects with our realm, it is rare and totally initiated by entities in the other realm.  Yet, Dawkins miracle does go against the entropic stream, giving extreme creative power to gravity.  You see, according to pure naturalism, the universe sprang into existence in a few pico-seconds (The Big Bang), and gravity, over billions of years, created massive stars that created the elements via nuclear fusion, that delivered and ejected these heaver elements into space through repeated super nova’s, allowing gravity to continue to work and form planets and moons, yellow main-sequence stars (like ours) to be are born, including earth and you and I.  I question the amount of time needed to achieve such complexity as we currently observe.

Dawkins uses a large part of his speech to mock theology, theologians and God.  Yet, his mocking is nonsensical because by definition, It would be impossible for us to comprehend or detect a being that is outside of space and time using any scientific instruments we could create no matter how sophisticated.  Such a being is, by definition, outside of our physical universe; it/he/she exist beyond the event horizon of black holes; is able to create general relatively, special relativity, the Higgs Boson and dark matter. Dawkins mocking admits that “[God] cannot be, if He’s even minimally to meet His job description, is ‘all-simple.’”, and I agree!  God indeed is exceeding complex in order to create “the nuclear force 1039 times stronger than gravity…” or “…calculate with similar exactitude the requisite values of half a dozen critical numbers — the fundamental constants of physics”.

To accept that such a being is beyond our ability to measure or comprehend is not “evading the responsibility to explain”.  It is actually admitting our limitations – that we are restricted to our own realm, our own sphere of influence and limited to the universe in which we live with all of its beauty, wonder, amazement and complexity.  We should be able - with solid scientific and intellectual discipline and rigor, to conquer the universe, including creating synthetic life, achieving interstellar space travel, developing exceedingly excellent health care and creating powerful robotic and computing tools and technologies that make life better.  Appropriately invoking the divine is not “evading the responsibility to explain”.  Instead, it is appropriate humility, something Dawkins seems to not have.

I know my atheist and non-believing friends see the “non-authentic Christian” argument as a cop-out.  However, if the “God Temptation” has any validity in sociological, anthropological, or psychological studies – and I think it does – then pseudo-science, conspiracy theorist, and false-religious fervor all fall into the same genetic predisposition.   Michael Shermer’s book, “Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time” humorously, sadly, but accurately describes this trait, played out in the daily lives of so many.  Dawkins mocks this trait in humanity explaining how people default to being “Christian” or “Muslim” simply based on demography. He calls it “a temptation to laziness when we define our allegiances” simply based on where we were born, and speaks of “religiosity” as “a form of obstinate backwardness”.  In general, I agree - we really need to use our intellect, not just our emotions when determining truth.

In fact and in conclusion, I’m glad such events as the Reason Rally occur, so that thinking people can review for themselves the evidence as well as the existential implications of an idea.  The reason someone should ultimately believe or not believe is because the evidence of the claims of the faith system is assessed to be true or false.  Feelings are a good indicator to begin research but ultimately the truthfulness of something should be the primary basis for whatever position we hold when it comes to atheism, theism, a faith system and a world view.  This is why I am a Christian - the evidence points to the truthfulness of the entire system of faith from Adam to Jesus and the early church as described in the writing's of Apostles and earliest Christians.  Christianity both (1) has a historical and foundation that can be validated as well as any other historical claims; and (2) existentially accurately reflects our behavior and the emotional, psychological and social elements that hold society together and fit reasonably in a coherent livable framework that, if taken to it's logical extreme, actually fits reality as we experience it.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Discerning Grey - Transgender Bathrooms

Many people are comfortable with absolute and specific answers to life's questions and situations.  We
want to KNOW the answer such as, "exactly what date and time is something due", or "how much will it cost", and "what are the rules for this scholarship or to enter this program". And then there is the big question: what is exactly is the right thing to do?  It's this type of question that causes the biggest problems.

What is exactly the right thing to do?  In other words, what is the morally correct position to hold and/or act on?  In our society (I am an American even though I spelled "grey" like they do in Great Britain), we wrestle with this type of question with many different topics.  End of life and other medical issues, religious values and beliefs, and definitely gender and sexuality related issues as with the current focus on bathrooms!

I have not spoken with any of my gay, gay-affirming or transgender friends on the topic.  In writing this, I am encouraging myself to do so next week.  However, the talking heads and the general press is not silent on the issue.  I have read through HB2, "Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act." from North Carolina, sponsored by state representatives Stam, Bishop, Howard, and Steinburg.  My only disagreement is their definition of "biological sex".  They tie this too closely to what is written on the persons birth certificate.  However, a person may have had sex reassignment surgery or was born with a birth defect such that the genitalia was ambiguous or malformed and the doctor got it wrong. This is rare (genital abnormalities occur in about 1 in 4,500 births and ambiguous genitalia caused by congenital adrenal hyperplasia is only 1 in 18,000) but should have been taken into account by HB2.  They seem to take other things into account.  Also, the focus seems to be K - 12 education, although it impacts all public facilities.

The real issue for those that opposed the law is simple - can a male student use the female restroom at a K - 12 school whenever they feel like it?  Those that support gender based bathrooms would probably agree with those that oppose and say NO. The difference is how you define words like "male", "female" and gender identity, regardless of the person having a penis or vagina.  Thus, the binary nature of human sexual biology and our related drives, passions, hopes and dreams are blurred (aside from the birth defects I referenced above) and a person can be fluid. That is, one day identify as female and dress in traditional woman's clothing and the next day identify as male dress in traditional men's clothing.  I'm sure this oversimplifies a very complex and individual issue, but as one transgender male (i.e they still have a vagina but have had hormone treatments and thus look like a man and dress in traditional male clothing) has said, "I wear men's clothing, though I do have a closet full of five-inch high heels that I absolutely love and will never get rid of.".  This person seems to want/need the freedom to be fluid and identify with both male and female.  I guess they see themselves as what some native tribes call "two-spirited".

The fact is, this is a grey issue -  it is NOT as black and white as we would hope or presume.  How do lawmakers discern such complex issues?  Are they experienced enough, wise enough, and engaged enough to approach such problems with appropriate care for real people without compromising their own convictions?  I would be classified by many as socially conservative, which spring from my faith as a Christian.  I strongly believe based on theological principles (which in themselves are not overtly complex but do require some knowledge) that we generally do not have the freedom to act/dress/function based on certain internal sexual inclinations, desires, emotions or feelings.  Yet, life (and theology) is not always black and white - there is a lot of grey and one must be careful before building hard and fast boundaries.  From a Christian perspective, we want to avoid becoming legalistic and as the old adage goes, "In essential unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love".

The legitimate fear that most non-LBGT/non-transgender people have is again, the idea of a man with a penis using a woman's bathroom, especially in a K-12 environment, and doing something evil. It could be a mild as voyeurism (when I was a kid, a guy climbed up in the stall next to me and watched me take a bowl-movement. I didn't notice until I was done! It was very uncomfortable) or as harsh as forced sexual activity.  Of course, such things can take place now (as I mentioned in my previous parenthetical phrase).  However, things get complicated when we promote gender as something as fluid and celebrate the freedom of people being whatever gender their very intense and very real feelings, emotions, and passions tell them they are.

Where is the moderate position?  Where is the healthy position that takes into account both the complexities, difficulties and struggles of the transgender person and the real concerns and discomforts of others?  I don't know.  The most complex situation is in public shower rooms as in a gym or swimming pool, and thus a high-school locker room. Such situations are indeed difficult to discern even now. If a transgender man walks into a woman's room simply because they still have a vagina but they REALLY DO LOOK, DRESS, ACT, AND SOUND like a man, what will the women in that restroom think and feel?

As I said, I don't know the answers. If I had a business where people worked and they obviously would have to use the bathroom, I would probably have one or three bathrooms. Would this address the issue? I don't know? Would this cost me more?  If I had three bathrooms it would, but because I'm not smart enough to discern this "grey" issue with perfect wisdom, then this is probably the best I can do.