Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Open Letter To Christians 100 Years From Now

Dear Christians of 2114,

In the 1860's American Christians claimed that slavery was the natural order of things and used passages from the Bible to justify the horror of owning other human beings. They also justified their cruelty by claiming "these savages need us to give them Jesus and the only way we can do that is by owning them and teaching them."  This onus to save the savages from themselves is a social idea once referred to as "The White Man's Burden." One hundred years later, when slavery was roundly rejected by the secular morality of the world, American Christians claimed it was them who led the fight for liberation of slaves, most notably Reformed Calvinist, John Brown.

In the 1960's American Christians bitterly opposed interracial marriage. If you're not sure what that is (because in 2114 this may not actually be a concept you're familiar with), that means that God staunchly opposed, a white person and a black person marrying. They called this an abomination in God's sight. They used passages from the Bible to justify this attitude and actively protested in front of courthouses to keep interracial marriage illegal.

In the early 2000's American Christians staunchly opposed same-sex marriage. I realize in the world you live in, same-sex marriage is only illegal in the most backwards countries, but believe it or not American Christians fought bitterly to keep same-sex marriage illegal in America. I'm sure this is difficult to believe because I am certain Christians in 2114 proudly proclaim that it was Christians who fought for the equality of same-sex oriented people.  This is not true.

Another difficult to believe proposition to accept is that as of 2014, American Christians staunchly opposed evolution being taught in schools and demonized Charles Darwin. Again, I get that this is difficult to believe because our understanding of evolution has enabled us to save millions of lives through vaccinations, developing species of wheat that is resistant to heat and disease, and staying ahead of rapidly evolving bacterium and viruses. Again, I realize in the world you live in only the most backwards of countries, if any, reject evolution. And I am sure that Christians uplift Charles Darwin as a hero, a Christian who discovered the most profound discovery in all of natural science. But in the day and age I live in, Christians think he's a monster and they use the Bible to justify this belief.

I say all of this not to demonize the Christians of 2014. I honestly believe they are good people who genuinely think what they are doing is the correct course of action. It's difficult for anyone to live outside the scope of their time and culture. Christians in 2014 simply did not understand that believers 50, or 100 years prior to them were capable of such ignorance. Just as I am sure you, in 2114 are having trouble believing that Christians in 2014 opposed same-sex marriage and evolution.

We are all susceptible to biases, groupthink, herd mentality, and tribalism. Please understand this is not an attacking letter. It's a cautionary letter.  All of us are capable of doing horrible things based on a continuum of compromise. If we accept one incorrect proposition, it could lead us to accepting another slightly worse incorrect proposition, so on and so forth until the dominoes topple over. The best way we can avoid this is to gaze into history and see the mistakes our group has made in the past and more importantly take ownership of them, and learn from them.  I urge you to please take a strong look at 2014 and see the mistakes your fellow Christians made then. Then ask yourself, "is there anything my church is vehemently opposing in 2114 that we use the bible to justify, claiming this is an abomination in God's sight?" If so, please consider whether or not it is actually an abomination through the lens of historical precedent.

Monday, September 29, 2014

10 Things Christians and Atheists Need to Know about Each Other

5 Things Atheists Need to Know about Christians

1. "My beliefs are sincere and inseparable from my identity."

Atheists may find this notion incredulous, but there are some people which it is impossible to separate their beliefs from their identity. Most atheists and skeptics are able to change their beliefs with newer, better available evidence without any emotional attachment. Other people cannot do this. Especially with beliefs as profound as a loving, creator, God who protects them, provides for them etc.  Atheists should be mindful that when discussing religious claims with believers, you're not just proposing what they believe could be in error, but it is possible that you're suggesting their entirety of what makes them a person is a lie. Tread lightly, and respectfully.

2. "The loud, outspoken minority does not speak for all of us."

The overwhelming majority of Christians are quiet, peaceful, loving, and have a heart of gold. Unfortunately, the ones who say the most hateful things, do the most hateful things, and have the most aggressive, outrageous behavior are the ones that end up on television or in print media or accosting individuals on the Internet. They do not speak for, or represent the entire group. Atheists should be mindful that most Christians do not condone the actions of the outrageous minority so it is unfair to blame them or hold them accountable for the actions of others. Instead of casting blame, speak with each Christian patiently and lovingly and you may find that what they believe may surprise you.

3. "I am not crazy, or delusional, or dishonest."

Most believers have beliefs that are grounded in rationality. Skeptics will find this statement absurd, of course, but allow me to explain. A person can hold a belief that the world is flat, and it could be a rationally-held belief.  If that person had no other access to information otherwise and had always been taught that the world was flat, that is a rationally-held belief. Wrong, but rationally held.
In the same manner, most believers are deeply-rooted in a Christian culture. Everyone they know, and love, and trust is a sincere believer and hold beliefs in God with the most profound, utmost, and sincere conviction. They attribute every blessing in their lives to God's provision. Every cured illness, every unexpected good fortune, every beautiful sunset, every act of kindness, all attributed to God's grace.  For someone who grows up in the midst of that, a belief in a loving, creator God is a rationally-held belief. They have no reason to believe otherwise.  In fact, it would be unusual for them to believe otherwise.
A productive conversation with Christians would be better suited focusing on why you, as the skeptic, have trouble believing the same things that they do.

4. "I do not hate people that I disagree with."

Getting back to sincerity for a second, Christians do not hate non-Christians. Christians want what they believe is honestly the best possible outcome for everyone. Christians view non-Christians as sick, in need of healing. While this may be an insulting proposition to the non-believer, remember that Christians also recognize that Christians are sick too, and also in need of healing. Christians believe they have the most wonderful, profound, amazing cure and they simply want everyone else to have access to it too. Sometimes believers will proclaim, loudly, what they think you need, not out of a sense of hate, but out of a sense of desperately wanting you to experience the same joy, hope, and awe that they do.

5. "There are legitimate injustices in the world, praying before a football game is not one of them."

One of the things that believers grow tired of is the seemingly endless march of frivolous, crybaby lawsuits against things that, ultimately are not that big of a deal. That's not to say Christians don't recognize there are legitimate injustices perpetuated by believers around the world. I have yet to talk to a Christian who is happy that Christians in Uganda are burning albino children they believe to be witches, or executing gay people in several countries. These are legitimate injustices that need to be fixed.
Saying a prayer before a high school football game, or a lawsuit to remove a 10 commandments poster from a classroom makes every believer roll their eyes, and for good reason. Part of the problem is that we live in a litigious society in America. Everyone sues for everything, it's the new American way. Every lawsuit that atheists bring forward is fighting an uphill battle because of the perception of society about litigation. What ends up happening is when there is an actual, legitimate case of injustice litigation is appropriate, but unfortunately its effectiveness is minimized.
In other words, when there is a need for actual litigation because of injustice or discrimination that lawsuit becomes the boy who cried wolf.
No believer is so daft that they don't understand that discrimination and injustice exists against non-believers. But because of the endless march of lawsuits, the legitimate ones are forever relegated to the trash bin.

5 Things Christians Need to Know About Atheists

1. "I don't hate your god, I don't KNOW your god exists, and I don't have a hardened heart."

Atheists do not hate God (or Allah, or Buddha, or Zeus, or Thor, or Woten, or Ahura Mazda, or Brahama, or Shiva, or Apollo, or any of the other 5,000+ gods worshiped on Earth today.) You can talk to any atheist and they will be happy to explain to you why they find the God you believe in as an immoral God, but they don't hate something that they do not believe exists.
Likewise, many Christians often tell atheists, "you KNOW god exists, you just have hate/hardened heart/pride/sinfulness etc.  This is absolutely the wrong approach and frankly one of the most arrogant, insulting things you can say to someone. In effect you are telling them, "I know what you are thinking better than you do." This may be a little hard to understand, but just easily as you find it to believe in God, some people find it just as easy to not believe in God. Don't presume to tell people what they REALLY think or REALLY believe. Instead talk to them, and allow them to tell you what they believe and why and then do something radical, assume that they're being truthful!

2. "The loud, outspoken minority does not speak for all of us."

The overwhelming majority of atheists are quiet, peaceful, loving, and have a heart of gold. Unfortunately, the ones who say the most hateful things, do the most hateful things, and have the most aggressive, outrageous behavior are the ones that end up on television or in print media or accosting individuals on the Internet. They do not speak for, or represent the entire group. Christians should be mindful that most atheists do not condone the actions of the outrageous minority so it is unfair to blame them or hold them accountable for the actions of others. Instead of casting blame, speak with each atheist patiently and lovingly and you may find that what they believe may surprise you.

3. "Prayer was never removed from American schools."

This is one trope atheists get tired of hearing from believers. The Supreme Court never removed prayer from schools. In fact, the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld a student's right to pray in schools, form religious groups and clubs, etc. In 1962, the Supreme Court banned faculty-led prayers, and mandatory religious activities in public schools. That means a school official cannot lead the student body in prayer, nor can a student lead the student body in prayer over a loud speaker, etc.
Voluntary religious activities are welcome. Prayer is welcome.
And this makes sense. If you are Protestant, would you feel comfortable that a Catholic principal is leading your child in prayer to a dead saint? If you are Mormon, would you feel comfortable that the school's Protestant principal prays for the health of false prophets like Billy Graham? What if the principal believes in the prosperity gospel? What if the administrator leading the prayer prays for the President? What if the principal is Jewish and does not believe in Jesus' divinity? Hopefully you understand the problem. Teaching theology to children in public school is not ok. A student's decision to pray on their own is perfectly ok.

4. "Atheists don't want to destroy your beliefs."

Atheists don't want to destroy your beliefs, or the church. In fact, most American atheists are perfectly willing to lay down their lives to protect your freedom to believe. What atheists want is for your beliefs to stop causing harm, stop bypassing laws and enjoying special rights. Atheists want your beliefs to stop unfairly suppressing the rights of others. From their perspective, false beliefs can and often does, cause real, actual harm. It's not your beliefs that atheists find offensive, it's the harm and suppression of rights that occur as a result of your beliefs that non-believers get so upset about.

5. "You are not being persecuted. There is no war on Christmas."

Non-believers find the American Christian's persecution complex to be massive. And rightfully so. Almost no American Christian has any idea what persecution looks like. That being said, Christians are the most persecuted religion worldwide (no surprise there as they are also the largest religion). There are Christians which experience unspeakable horrors at the hands of other religious fanatics and in some cases non-believers.  This does not extend, by proxy, to American Christians.
In the United States, the easiest way to get elected to office is to demonstrate the strength of your belief in God. Meanwhile, it's illegal for atheists to even run for public office in 7 states*.  How would you feel if the government passed a law that disallowed Christians from running for political office in one state? How about 7 states? Would that feel like persecution?
American churches receive about 140 billion dollars in tax breaks from the U.S. Government. Christians have hundreds of thousands of radio shows, television programs, entire cable channels devoted to Christianity, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, special-interest groups, etc. You are not being persecuted.  As a matter of fact, there is nowhere in the world where Christianity enjoys such privilege, power, and influence as in the United States.
When you are asked to abide by the same rules that everyone else must abide by, that's not persecution. When you are asked to allow others to have the same rights and privileges that you enjoy, that's not persecution. When you are asked to abide by the 1st amendment and not do things like spend public tax dollars to erect religious displays on government property, that's not persecution.
Also this may come as a surprise, but most atheists enjoy Christmas. And yes, refer to it as a Christmas not "the holidays."  Atheists say "Merry Christmas" and love opening presents and giving presents on Christmas. Most atheists have Christmas trees. Saying "Happy Holidays" is not an atheist campaign to remove Christ from Christmas. Most don't care, but some do (see point #2). "Happy Holidays" is an attempt to be all-inclusive and be welcoming of all belief systems that enjoy and celebrate holidays in and around the month of December (Jews, Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, and Pagans all celebrate holidays in December).

*There are laws on the books that disallow atheists from running for political office in Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. However, in the spirit of fairness, none of these states would actually enforce these laws in the 21st century. That being said, if you are a Christian can you name one openly atheist politician in the last 25 years? Just one? Now, name 10 Christian politicians currently running for or holding political office. You are not being persecuted. 

**BONUS: Evolution is not atheism.

I decided to throw this in at the last minute because it is one that gets on my nerves. Evolution is not atheism. And atheism is not evolution. More Christians accept evolution than atheists (Approximately 750 million Christians accept evolution according to the Pew Research Center. Only about 700 million atheists exist worldwide).  Also, not all atheists accept evolution (Google Raelians).  There are Christians that believe in evolution, there are Muslims that believe in evolution, there are Jews that believe in evolution, there are Hindus that believe in evolution. Only 11% of American churches reject evolution. Dr. Francis Collins is the former head of the human genome project and a devout, evangelical Christian. He is quoted as saying, "even if no fossils existed, the genome record alone confirms common ancestry."  Evolution is not a religion. People of all faiths, and no faiths, accept evolution.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NFL's Zero-Tolerance Policy is a Fumble

I'm sure everyone has seen the video by now of former NFL Running back, Ray Rice, knocking out his then fiancee (now wife) in an elevator. As if that was not bad enough (and it was), the NFL's bumbling handling of that situation has to go down as one of the most inane things I have ever seen.

First they gave Rice a paltry 2-game suspension. Unconscionable.

Then after the video of the incident surfaced, it put to rest all of the silly notions that she somehow deserved it or was provoking him and people got to see how devastatingly brutal the punch was that knocked her out cold.  The public outrage was palpable. So in typical knee-jerk fashion, the NFL caves to public pressure and suspends him permanently. Another mistake, in my opinion, but outside the scope of this blog.

Then came, what I believe, to be their most egregious error so far; the Zero-Tolerance Policy against domestic violence. One instance of domestic violence, and you're out for good.

A really terrible idea.

First and foremost, victims of domestic violence are under a lot of pressure to keep their mouths shut. Having their spouse arrested could tear their families apart, ruin them financially, put children in harm's way, force the abusers to lose their jobs, ruin the family's reputation, etc.  Being victimized by domestic violence is complicated.  There are a lot of social factors at play.

Enter the zero-tolerance policy. For all of the reasons victims have to keep quiet, as stated in the previous paragraph, plus now the risk of losing millions and millions of dollars.  If you go to the police after being abused, it's over. All of your money is gone. Your house is gone. Multi-millions of dollars per year, gone. All because the NFL has thrown a knee-jerk reaction policy at the problem instead of addressing the actual problem.

This zero-tolerance policy will not deter domestic violence by NFL players. It will only discourage victims from speaking up about it because they now stand to lose everything.

A more appropriate approach would not be so punitive, but instead constructive. Multiple game suspensions is appropriate. Professional athletes are competitors. They train year-round for games, and so disallowing them to participate does get their attention.  Disallow them to participate in any team activities and practices during the course of their suspension.  Players should be required to complete abuse counseling and also volunteer time at a rape crisis center and/or battered women's shelter.

Suspending someone from NFL competition for life does not, in any sense, address the problem. Ray Rice is a scumbag. But now he's a scumbag without a job. If the NFL cared about these abusers at all, and more importantly, their victims a solution to actually correct the problem would be advisable.