A Political Rant

To those that expect a debate, the below will come across as a certain “Gish Gallup.” I am sorry for that, I just had to get some pent up political aggression off my chest.

I’m trying really hard to understand the practical side of Libertarianism. Recently, a staunch Libertarian told me I did not understand Libertarianism SO HARD that he could not even explain it to me, which seems to me to constitute a failing on both sides, but I digress. I was looking for writing not on libertarian ideals (as useless to me in the practical world as Marx’s works) but on how Libertarianism would even work in the practical realm.

The problem is there is so much out there, and most of it of such low quality that I can barely stomach it.

Take, for example, this:


He uses phrases like “So obvious I shouldn’t have to explain,” and “the body of law could be removed at a stroke with ‘Do no harm.'” That is not practical, that is ideal; I understand what you want, I do not understand how it will *work*.

How about in the case of highways, as per another recent conversation I had. I will skip the path to “how highways go from government upkeep to private ownership, and where that money comes from,” because that is too complicate to even comprehend (though it is often boiled down to “It would just happen once the government is gone!” when speaking with most people). RoadCo A and RoadCo B both own several highways. RoadCo A owns the QEII from Edmonton to Calgary, and then decides to skip on the upkeep. The road is undriveable.

RoadCo B diligently keeps their roads in pristine condition… But getting from Edmonton to Calgary (Or Calgary to Edmonton) is now an additional 150km both ways. Is that the competition that makes the free market work?

Again to reference the above, the author wants “Peace Keepers” in place of current “Police.” And then, of course, assumes these Peace Keepers will all follow the ideal and never abuse their position? I fail to see the practical difference between the ideal police officer (To protect and to serve) and the ideal peace keeper (To keep the peace). Would someone explain to me how Peace Keepers could be trusted, *in the practical realm* in a way that does not describe *the ideal*? Because an ideal police officer is there to do just that; abuses of power be damned, law be damned, but if you change the law what reason do I have to believe that the change will translate wholesale into the practical realm?

The other issue of practicality is that, in this perfect system, the Peace Keepers are ideally required to keep their hands off of the situation until *harm has already been done*? Am I understanding that correctly?

I would like a practical, point by point answer, some day, from some individual, on the progression of a situation like this:

A man is drunk and belligerent. He is angry. He hasn’t thrown any punches, but seems about to.

The people around him can’t stop him; that would constitute harm to this person, and they become the agressor? Is that how this system works?

And the Peace Keepers watch, until a moment where something violent happens? Can they stop him when he breaks a bottle and now wields a weapon? He hasn’t harmed anyone yet.

And even if they try to stop him now, he has a weapon. He could cause serious harm, and the situation has escalated. Are the Peace Keepers supposed to still watch? At what point is *intent* factored in? If he intends to stab someone, he has still done no harm.

This is why so many Libertarians are called naive; the situation above is so many shades of gray that “Do no harm,” becomes either meaningless or left open to the wildly emotional humans making the decision. If you say “The Peace Keepers should step in before people are hurt,” then how are they different from Police?

If the Peace Keepers can’t step in until after someone is hurt, how do you justify the outcome to your own conscience? My own thoughts would say something to the effect of “This was completely preventable.”

The real world is far too complicated to boil down to “Do no harm.”

If “the ideal” were ever possible, we would certainly live in a libertarian communism… But the ideal is bullshit at the first wiff of practicality.

Correlation vs Causation (2015 edition, Part 4)

And now we conclude our rebuttal of this article, which is purportedly about what makes New Atheists stay up at night, sweating in fear of the Truth of Religion (I think).

The fourth section lasted several paragraphs before tripping over a line that shows a misunderstanding of general atheism by the author. I suppose this isn’t surprising, and his misunderstanding is slightly less militant than Phil Robertson’s (Duck Dynasty) who seems to think that Atheism is a path whose inevitable conclusion is killing and raping your family. 

I think the misunderstanding starts with the author’s assertion that “Above all, these unevangelical atheists accepted that religion is definitively human.” I think he takes that to be a validation, that humans are religious because … Reasons? The evolutionary psychology of Religion is an incredibly interesting field, and while we certainly cannot say with definitive conclusion what caused religion to spawn across time and distance as it has, we have very compelling theories as to why religion may be built into the human brain.

The issue I have, then, is that the author claims “Why should religion be universal in this way? For atheist missionaries this is a decidedly awkward question,” as though he knows the mind of the atheist.

I have not had questions about this very idea for a long time–I do not even recall the source from which I took a compelling answer. The odd thing is that the author seems to be so sure that religion is part of the human experience, yet ignores the fact that the staggering number of religions and superstitions seem to indicate a disparate beginning. Certainly this author writes from the standpoint of a Christian, but there are many hundreds or thousands of religions, most forgotten now, that predate even the earliest records of Judaism. Considering Adam and Eve are supposed to have regularly talked with God, starting only shortly after creation, it is odd that there would be religions older than such ideas.

Now, we have to consider geography in looking for religious roots and histories. I cannot say I am a historian, just a layperson who reads about this stuff frequently, but why should North American religions have so little in common with middle Eastern religions which again have so little in common with sub-Saharan religions?

The Creation narrative shoots itself in the foot, especially considering how recently all of humankind is supposed to have been in close geographical proximity (more recently than 4400 years ago, according to young earth creationists). But let’s give the author the benefit of a doubt and assume he does not subscribe to young earth views–I would still ask him why he would think religion is universal because of his particular God, and not because of any other mechanism? Certainly, evolution gives us a good reason for having many different religions (and a reason for having religions at all), but why should an all-knowing Creator-God spawn as many religions as there are peoples?

And I am not going to assert this question is awkward to you; my mother, a devout Catholic, answered that question for me in an instant and without hesitation. Her answer was not based in doctrine, but her answer was at least logically sound.

“Yet they never ask what evolutionary function this species-wide phenomenon serves.” I’ve answered this indirectly (and directly) during this series, but that statement is objectively false. Rallying around an idea larger than we are allows us to form strong tribal bonds. Even the ideas of theism (rather than just the idea of theism) even crafts rules almost hilarious transparent to scrutiny that would create group relationships. A Christian sect that preaches love and tolerance will gain members who wish to love and tolerate, and they will defend each other, give each other food and money. Charity, a core doctrine of the Church, gains additional members and gains members powerfully.

Pagan cults? Even fertility cults? They create a strong endorphin and dopamine reaction within its members, a simulation of love (or just ‘love’ as the case may be) between its members, again creating strong tribal bonds.

The idea of having a ruler chosen by a higher power, such as Egyptian Pharaohs, Roman Emperors, and Middle Ages Kings, gives the people following that leader a reason to swear fealty. Many who have sworn fealty to a single person will defend each other, defend the tribe, defend the border.

No, Mr Author, this is not a question I am afraid of. The evolutionary benefits of religion are far reaching and apparent.

“If religions are natural for humans and give value to their lives, why spend your life trying to persuade others to give them up?” If your version of giving value to a life is standing in opposition of rights for homosexuals, picketing abortion clinics that serve women who have been raped, kill doctors in the name of … Not killing? If those are the things that give meaning to your life, I think the idea of love and tolerance have flown over your head. If you think your religion of love and tolerance allows for racism, or hatred, then it is not a religion of love and tolerance.

Oh, I realize that not all Christians spew bigoted hatred, and that is why I don’t preach for the abolition of religion. That being said, I do have to admit that I do not have a clear idea of how we can make the world a better place in the context of religion. The Bible belt, with its latent racism, weird cult offshoots of your religion (Warren Jeffs still creeps me out something fierce)… There’s so much wrong with the world.

There are things wrong with Atheists, too — I won’t say there is something wrong with Atheism, because not believing in God is an incredibly wide net. Most atheists don’t believe in atheism, as many religious adherents tend to frame it–that is a uniquely religious view of atheism–we just don’t believe in God one way or another. While the metaphor isn’t perfect, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have each posited in their own way that “I don’t play tennis, therefore should I identify as ‘a-tennisist’?” Like non tennis players simply don’t think about tennis, many atheists simply do not think about God in any of His/Her/Their incarnations.

Obviously I do not fall under that umbrella; I think about it in that I am here writing. Many religious adherents have stated they believe atheists “hate” God, or some variation of that thought, but I don’t hate God–I just think the general conception of God has so many faults I cannot believe in Him or Her as He or She stands. Too many humans have given God too many different and wildly incongruous personality traits over too many years for me to believe that God is timeless and eternal and wholly separate from Earth. There are too many inconsistencies in the Bible, for all Kent and Eric Hovind have tried to convince me otherwise (even a cursory reading of only the most popular parts of the Bible can find several inconsistencies).

“More than anything else, our unbelievers seek relief from the panic that grips them when they realise their values are rejected by much of humankind.” No, Author — why must you ascribe thoughts to me that I have never had? I am not panicked any more than you are by the fact that there are people who do not believe as you believe–I just despair that there is so much sadness and inequality, I despair that there are those that are starving not because of a lack of food, but because of a lack of human decency. I despair that there are sweatshops in far too many countries, and that so many people so readily support them in the quest for a dollar. If there is a flaw in my vision of morality, please tell me and I will attempt to rectify. I do not believe my morality is flawed merely because a 9th century BC shepherd didn’t think of it first, nor because a 1st century Ascetic did not preach them on a mountain (though, to a degree, he did what with the Golden Rule and all).

What I want is not to press my ideals upon others–what I want is a dialogue whose goal is purely to identify how to improve the human condition, to improve happiness worldwide. I understand there are those who would want to stand by their prejudices and racism, but here is my rule of thumb in a nutshell (if you can find fault in my method, I will attempt to improve it):

Homosexuality, whose happiness does it damage? Strict religious devotees. Why does it damage their happiness? Because someone told them to.

Strict religious devotees, whose happiness do they damage? Homosexuals. Why does it damage their happiness? Because a 4th century book told those devotees to treat other humans as less than human (or at least as less than themselves).

Which seems more grounded in the ideals of the Golden Rule?

This is obviously a small scale application, but I do hope it paints a picture of how we could use a series of similar questions to create a morality that maximizes universal happiness.

Then again, maybe I am just a crazy optimist…

That wraps up the article. I think I have, through the last four parts of this series, tackled his most egregious statements he made as to my own personal beliefs. I think his article shows a closed mindedness, and being as made simple statements that a conversation with even a single atheist could have proven false, I feel as though the author is as set in his beliefs as he believes your everyday atheist is.

I realize I may have asked similarly vacuous questions in the past, I am young, I am no professional writer, and I started this blog largely to work through my own personal crises. Given the audience that John Gray (the author) is writing for, I would expect a higher level of journalistic integrity from him than I would hold myself to–and yet while well written from the standpoint of “Yes, I can read that easily,” it is poorly sourced and contains no small hints of biases and latent … Theicism?

I like that word. I am keeping it.

Anyway, I think the average atheist is far more reasonable and open to skepticism and doubt than the author believes. Certainly, I am open to free discussion and alteration of my ideas, and I certainly am not free from the doubt of what happens to me when I die, so maybe it is just that I am the wrong kind of atheist. *Shrug*

Correlation vs Causation (2015 edition, Part 2)

My continuing response to this article telling me what New Atheists fear.

My last piece of commentary on this article was related to the notion that the very things Christians accuse Atheists of, they, too, are guilty of. That is a double edged sword, I am happy to admit — a realistic self appraisal should note one’s own weaknesses. Often, atheists are equally in breach of what they accuse Christians of doing.

But that’s… That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Why can’t our moral breaches be “because we are human,” rather than “because of what we believe about what happens after we die”?

Of course, I’d like to expand that thought and leave the reader an exercise in the process. The Catholic Priests who have been accused (and those whose victims produced tangible proofs)–did they engage in latent homosexual pedophilia because they were Catholic? (Protestants, your vote may carry less weight here… Also, that was a joke.) Did Hitler kill the Jews because he was a Catholic? Even if you want to argue against his religiosity, he claimed religion as his motive, his basis — if you are going to hold Stalin as an example of “A man who outright said he did these things because he was Atheist,” you actually open the door for the Hitler counterpoint, because Hitler said in a speech regarding culling the Jewish population, “As a Christian, I Feel that My Lord and Savior was a Fighter” . Let’s look at the individuals is what I am saying here — no one would accuse Hitler or Stalin of being particularly sane or reasonable.

Perhaps it was a weakness of my Christianity that had me drift almost inexorably away from the Church, but I never understood the pervading thought that God need be at the center of all parts of your life. I think politics is where this shines both most brightly, and yet appears black as pitch.

People are easily sold when an idea is framed well — I think the Republican promise to terminate the Estate Tax during the 2012 election cycle is a particularly disturbing example. Mitt Romney was speaking to a group of people that ranged from fairly poor to upper middle class, and he exclaimed to great applause “Tax was already paid on that estate! The government shouldn’t take money for something already paid for!” What he did not mention is that the Estate Tax only comes into play for inheritance greater than $5.4 million, and that this change would affect literally zero of the people cheering for it, while presumably reducing the available tax revenue for critical services such as maintenance of highways, federal infrastructure spending, federal spending on health and education — all things so incredibly important, and already over burdened and over budget. This was a bit of an aside, but it just goes to show that things can be packaged and sold easily.

Where this gets particularly difficult is with cardinal sins. Many Christians are staunchly pro-life (the no exceptions type, such as in the case of rape or incest), so any politician can slide in a great deal of otherwise incredibly negative (or outright sinful) legislation under the very wide shadow created by their pro-life stance. I am not so ignorant as to say all religious people are single issue voters, but I know for a fact that many are — I have a family member who could hear “I will vote pro-life in every case!” And then vote for that person in every election, even if that was followed up with “And to do it, I will cut food aid for starving countries, cut spending on education, cut spending on healthcare (thus causing far more deaths than ‘abortion in the case of rape’ could possibly account for), and then kick a puppy!”

You may think I am being overly cynical, but I’ve spoken to this family member, using very similar language, and she stands by abortion as the definitive portion of the previous scenario.

In much the same way, Republicans have framed the political landscape to be “We are the party of Christ, look how pro-life we are! And look how much the democrats ignore the Bible!” The United States are still overwhelmingly Christian, and given various lawsuits that have been raised in various places in the States it can be inferred that “Separation of Church and State” only applies to non-Christian (read: heathen) religions in many cases. Note, please, the wording; I did not say all, and I did not say most, but definitely religion is enshrined in the current political landscape.

But under the shadow of Pro-Life, they have cut what they call “Entitlement” spending, because a single mother working three jobs and still needing food stamps can obviously be described using the exact same words as a 16 year old who gets a Porsche for her birthday instead of the Ferrari she asked for. The first is spending that protects those in need. The second is, much more clearly, “entitlement”. But that’s not the package all of this is being sold under.

This is a personal question, but I have always wondered (given the liberal use of “Entitlement spending” to describe things such as food stamps and universal healthcare) where the line can be drawn. Where do entitlement and charity cross? I mean, if the government gave money to Iraq, that is considered “Charity” and “Foreign Aid,” but where they give it to their own people it becomes “Entitlement”? Is that the line, people within the borders are worse? Why is it Charity when a Church sends missionaries to third world countries to improve infrastructure, but when a government does that same thing, it is considered a waste in so many cases? And a flagrant abuse of taxpayer dollars when done within the country’s borders?

Why did I go on that political rant? Because the author states: “It’s inconceivable that a professed unbeliever could become president of the United States.” I would say that statement is too passive; “It is inconceivable that anyone not professing a strong Christian doctrine could become president of the United States,” would be more accurate I think. But why?

If candidate A proposed the exact same legislation of candidate B, why should a belief in God tip the scales? If you say a belief in God gives you a stronger core morality, why have so many republicans who profess Christianity been caught in extramarital homosexual sex scandals? Or, to quote again the Catholic priests who are now convicted pedophiles, would one of them going into politics poll favorably? A pedophile versus an atheist?

Again I say, look to the actions of a man, and his words, not his private beliefs about an afterlife. As nearly as I can tell, my morals are very near to Christian values, yet I have no belief in an afterlife, and that discredits my place in public discourse in the United States. Why is that? I can’t say I understand it. And I haven’t even had a sex scandal yet!

The author calls into question the shifting moral zeitgeist, stating that atheists in the 19th and early 20th century believes some obviously illiberal things, therefore who’s to say that what we believe now won’t be irrelevant in 70 years more?

Here’s the thing, Christianity is (again) prey to the same foibles; slave owners used the Bible as justification. The Golden Rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, has been called timeless… But my own personal statement, “to bring more happiness into the world than I take out of it,” and to attempt to minimize any negative impact I may have on others in my life, can be expanded universally. If we all cared for each other as much as we professed to, the world would be an amazing place.

I am about to give you two statements. See if you can spot the difference:

“It’s probably just as well that the current generation of atheists seems to know so little of the longer history of atheist movements. When they assert that science can bridge fact and value, they overlook the many incompatible value-systems that have been defended in this way.”

“It’s probably just as well that the current generation of Christians seems to know so little of the longer history of Christian movements. When they assert that religion can bridge fact and value, they overlook the many incompatible value-systems that have been defended in this way.”

I’d like to think that point makes itself, but Christianity defended slavery, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition. Hitler framed the Holocaust using his own personal Catholic belief.

His own personal belief. Now here’s the fun question: How do you know your beliefs are the right ones? Hitler thought his were. They were evil. Stalin thought his were. They were evil.

So here’s an idea, you may find it crazy, but I came up with this idea, where we get people together, we don’t even ask what their religion is, and talk about how we can increase the happiness of the entire populace. And then see what happens! (Pro tip: half the people will be racist, the rest sexist. Because humans are generally pretty terrible. If you don’t fully believe me, allow the people to attend anonymously, see how they act when no one knows their name.)

“How could any increase in scientific knowledge validate values such as human equality and personal autonomy? The source of these values is not science. In fact, as the most widely-read atheist thinker of all time argued, these quintessential liberal values have their origins in monotheism.”

I, too, can make unfounded claims and then say “I have a source!” and then not tell you what that source is!

Mocking aside, altruism and reciprocal altruism has been observed in many species outside of the human race. Various primates and some birds (everyone needs to learn more about Crows!!!) have what appears to be a sense of justice, or at least a propensity to shame members who break certain rules that we would generally link to morality. If you are sticking with “God given morals,” I would ask “Why would God have given the same moral set to about half of a percent of species?”

I can explain group dynamics to a degree using science. Explain to me your side, and I will direct you (again) to various works of biologists. I am most familiar with the works of Dawkins, are are many–and I don’t mean The God Delusion, that is an offshoot. He is a professional biologist, and most of his published works are related directly to the science of biology, and too many people forget that. I seem to recall a saying that could explain it: “A man can raise sheep for 20 years, and be a shepherd… But if he speaks once against religion, he is now only an atheist.”

I’ve raised several questions, and summarized the first half of the top linked article exactly. I think that is a good place to end this part. Obviously, there’s more to come.

Passive Christianity, Part 1

There is an eternal war within Christianity, one that will never end so long as rich people want to stay rich, so long as the government exists, so long as Christianity exists. It is a war about the message of Jesus, a war with intelligent men and women on all sides, and a war I cannot fully comprehend.

Does Christianity teach socialism?

As those on my facebook are likely aware, I tripped upon Libertarian Christian Doctrine yesterday, and I simply don’t understand their reading of the Bible at a surface level. I am trying to remedy that by reading their primer. The very first thing they say, the starting point for their Christian foundations, is the war I just mentioned, whether or not Socialism was on Jesus’ radar.

To be fair, a very literal, very strict, very passive reading of Jesus’ words allows for this. Oh, you don’t think I should be using literal, strict, and passive to describe the same thing? Please allow me to justify myself.

The core of their argument rests upon whether Jesus preached mandatory or optional charity, and as all things on this topic, references Acts chapter 4 as a passage in the Bible that they consider to be misleading unless read with the correct frame of mind (as opposed to those who think God is not a God of confusion, of course). Acts 4 speaks of the early Christian Church charitably selling their possessions, a la Jonestown (negative connotations obviously intended), to support the group. They didn’t do this because they had to (as a function of a command, I suppose, as obviously they did this out of necessity), but because of the charitable spirit of Christianity.

I think the thing that people forget is that we use the term Charity far differently than they would back in the day. To them, the closest thing they could understand in our modern world to charity would likely have been a soup kitchen; aside from various religious sects, you didn’t just hand your money over to anyone and expect then that they would care for the people you wanted them to care for. At least, I have no historical knowledge of the “Save the Lepers” foundation around the turn of the first millennium, but that is obviously open to dispute by someone who knows of such a charity. The thing is, prior to Jesus, the Church was a form of government where God was merely analogous to President or Emperor, or your chosen title. God laid down laws, and while many may believe that the Ten Commandments are those laws, they have likely never read Leviticus or Deuteronomy. Those two books have laws so strict and so in violation of the idea of liberty that I can’t believe any Libertarian ever made it through them to the New Testament (if you are of the opinion that “I should be able to drink and drive if I want, and the consequences be upon my shoulders,” I wonder if you recall how strict Jewish Law was in how drinking was performed, or what they are allowed to dress in, or how sick people are to be “handled.”).

This brings us to the next battleground, whether the Old Testament law matters at all, whether we should be talking about it. Everyone seems to agree that the Ten Commandments apply, but Leviticus and Deuteronomy are traditionally (though not historically) attributed to the same man who wrote the Ten Commandments, the person of Moses. There is some argument over the meaning and context of Matthew 5:18, for example. What does that mean, “until all is accomplished”? Well, if you take it out of context, people obviously assume that means “Until Jesus rises to heaven,” and thus done is done, all is accomplished, and we don’t have to follow the Law! Huzzah! But wait, what’s that other part in the same verse?

“Until heaven and earth pass away”? That is harder to explain away, and it seems Jesus (and certainly James his Brother), both agreed that the Old Testament should be adhered to in every tenet. Well damn, this is awkward, right? And, can you believe it, this is a line during the Sermon on the Mount. Tough to ignore that kind of gravitas.

There is a retreat of sorts used by most people who are trying to argue The Law out modern discourse, in that St Paul wrote (Romans 7:1-6), in stark, almost perfect contrast to Jesus, that we are freed from the law (Galatians 3:13). Now, I would challenge a person to find where Jesus even so much as implied this sentiment? And why we take it as Gospel truth despite literally not appearing in the Gospels? And why Paul is allowed to create doctrine that has no previous basis? In word-for-word contrast to Jesus’ teaching that the Law is to be adhered to, even so much as the Pharisees, to exceed them in Righteousness, on pain of Hell? 

But this is where the intersection gets very interesting, and I could talk about this for days, for years. I can quote Jesus, and my general modern Christian opposition can quote Paul, and they are both incredibly potent quotes. The side you take depends on the baggage you bring to the table. Reading it and wanting to believe purely in the loving message of Jesus, one will obviously side with Paul. Those who are truly Christian fundamentalists should understand that the Early Christian Church practiced Jewish Tradition. These were Christians, in the earliest sense of the word, who had a schism with Jews, but still believed Jewish law was binding.

So long as the Bible is in conflict with itself, there is no end to the war, for both sides have the greatest soldier on their side, fighting the other side… The soldier of God’s word. What I want to know is how God’s word is considered a sharp, potent weapon when it cuts both ways so equally.

I’ve only gone two levels deep in this discussion, and I already have a blog length post going on here. I am going to read more into this Libertarian Christian movement, see if I can find anything more in alignment with my own interpretation of the Bible, and then post my thoughts for all both of my readers to ponder.

This is obviously not a conclusion, which means I can make a series to this effect. This should be fun! I will write more about it, because I need to lay a lot more ground work before I can write a proper conclusion, before I can touch all the points I’ve brought up with some sort of finality of explanation. I hope you don’t mind, especially since this basically means I won’t be having any one week breaks in the near future!

Anyway, see you next time.

No Option is Better Than CAPITALISM!

So broadband internet in the United States is going to be reclassified as a Title II utility. A high level overview of that is that the government will have some control over the speeds available and pricing models available to customers, as well as having a huge amount of say as to which markets broadband providers can enter into. This opens the door to government corruption, I will fairly admit this, but it closes the door on latent, active corporate corruption.

Anyway, some weeks ago (months, now?) I got into an argument with a libertarian and Google never forgets. Related to that, I use Google Now extensively; it is a service that delivers me information it thinks I will find useful. Because of my head first dive into libertarianism, it has been sending me libertarian news articles with stunning regularity since then (I can finally relate to a line by Weird Al “I only watched Wil and Grace one time, one day, wish I hadn’t because Tivo now thinks I’m gay.”). With the FCC voting yesterday on the Title II provisions, Libertarians are in a bit of an uproar about government overreach.

Specifically, this article was what Google Now decided was important to me–and being as I feel this article completely ignores vast swathes of the argument I thought I would write about it here.

The article compares Title II classification with a grocery store. Certainly, in grocery stores, having a position on an endcap or being placed at eye level are valuable, and the article argues that you can’t be “neutral” because someone gets to be on the end cap or at eye level. Surely, it is the greatest ill if the government is the one to choose, rather than that holy talisman “market forces.” I think this metaphor is terrible, but I am going to need to lay some groundwork before I can explain why.

Internet Service Providers have signed regional agreements promising certain levels of “broadband penetration” in the States (usually in the 90% and up range), for which subsidies are given to them from the government. The subsidies are for infrastructure investment allowing the ISP to meet this agreement, and is the incentive for this agreement to be signed.

Previous to recent legislation, “broadband” was defined in the United States at 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up–which really barely allows for streaming of Netflix these days. Tom Wheeler (a man is slowly gaining my trust) is the FCC chairman, and he has stated he will pass legislation defining Broadband as 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up. The ISPs have fought this tooth and nail, because they will have to *spend money* on infrastructure to meet their infrastructure agreements with the government. Here is where I have to put a BOLD NOTE that the libertarian will, I hope, read; for all the amount of Market Forces you are leaning on where it comes to ISP infrastructure, they are accepting government aid (often at the municipal, state, or even federal level) that is earmarked for infrastructure, and then not using it.

That isn’t capitalism, that is corporate greed… And the fact that Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon fought bitterly against Tom Wheeler redefining what “broadband” is, we can infer that they would continue to not invest in infrastructure if they were left to their own devices. The waters are about to get a bit muddy, but here’s the thing; no matter whose numbers you choose, ISPs are making a great deal of money. An article I was reading was saying that Comcast’s margins are razor thin, as though they were about to go bankrupt, despite the fact that they cleared a market value of $100 billion in 2012. A rebuttal to that argument claimed that they were making only a 4.5% net revenue–but think about that for a moment–that is over $4.5billion in profits that the executives can put in a pool and swim in. That is revenue after they have paid themselves lavish bonuses. That is revenue they have earned after outsourcing their customer service to the worst firms anyone has ever had the displeasure of phoning. It has become almost a sport to post recordings of gross negligence and outright lies on the part of Comcast support centers.

Edit: It has been pointed out that my understanding of business profit reporting is sorely lacking, and I accept that. I am not business analyst. That being said, clearer numbers can be found here for those with a mind to reading them.

Now, let’s work back, now that I’ve laid some ground work. Redefining “broadband” doesn’t even mean ISPs are in any way required to meet the higher standard of 25/3, it just means that on paper their high “broadband penetration” numbers will plummet precipitously, and they will have to invest some money into their infrastructure to bring them back up. A very potent example showing that the ISPs are sitting back on their profits to the dismay of their customers is the story of what has happened in Kansas City with Google Fiber. There was “competition” in Kansas City, before Google entered, in that Comast and Time Warner both had a large presence in the region. Their prices were ungodly, their speeds below the national average, and there seemed more collusion to profit than competition for consumers (which became blatantly obvious when Comcast and Time Warner petitioned to merge, which would have screwed the people of Kansas City royally). Then Google Fiber came in, some real outside competition, and things got spicy. I can’t go into detail, I am afraid if I traced every thread of the weave of this story, we’d never finish writing.

What I am saying here is traditional competition was not serving the consumers, market forces be damned. And if you call Google a “Newcomer” or “Internet startup”, I am going to have to ask you kindly to leave. The only company that could even afford to compete with the incumbent services is a $400 billion company that could afford to lay an entire city’s worth of infrastructure and not break a sweat (more accurately, they bought a massive amount of dark fiber, but that’s a story for another day). Do you think a new startup could compete with the incumbents? Lay infrastructure to bring real internet speeds to the people of Kansas City? No, Comcast and Time Warner were making money hand over fist by colluding to screw the customers. Is that how market forces work everywhere? I am not so naive as that, but the ISPs in the United States have traditionally been a terrible bunch, filing spurious lawsuits and backing anti-competition bills. I think in this arena forcing a change is important.

 Now let’s go back to our grocery store analogy. Imagine we’ve got a modest city of 5,000 who has one Wal Mart and one Whole Foods. Wal Mart carries the cheap groceries, Whole Foods the expensive, higher quality groceries. A small family shop opens up, but Wal Mart buys the full stock of the cheap groceries, Whole Foods the whole stock of the expensive groceries. The new startup can’t keep anything on their shelves, and they go out of stock. Whole Foods and Wal Mart, having killed the smaller grocery stores and not directly competing with each other (separate demographics for expensive and cheap groceries) increase the price on everything in their stores by $2.00. Your $.99 chocolate bar? $2.99 now. New Startups can’t enter the city because Wal Mart and Whole Foods like the little empire they have built, and like that people are forced to pay their higher prices because Market Forces allow it. There is no competition, despite both being grocery stores.

That is an accurate grocery store analogy to current ISP competition in the States.

Now, I have to make my own counter points. This certainly does open the door to government corruption, government overreach. The really funny way is all of the news I have been reading is paranoid that the government will do something markedly evil and anti-capitalism, but no one seems to know what that would be. The author of the top linked Libertarian complaint piece thinks that this means that the ISPs will again control everything, because lobbyists and government, and evil overlords. Well, you are right, there will always be lobbyists, but the fact that Comcast is staunchly opposed to this, so opposed in fact that they are suing the American Government to have the decision reversed, and the fact that they have the most lobbyists in Washington, should at least show that this isn’t what they want.

Is this a perfect solution? No, it isn’t. That being said, it protects consumers in one tangible way already; ISPs have been champing at the bit to create tiered packages (for lack of a better analogy, something akin to TV channel packages, though I am aware this is inaccurate), and this has headed them off. They had already extorted money out of Netflix for equal access to their environment. That is what Market Forces drove; they drove the owners of the infrastructure to treat competition like second class citizens, and I think it should count as a very deep conflict of interest for an ISP to host their own video streaming service in competition with another company, then charge that other company extra to even be allowed to offer their services. If that is what libertarians what, if that is what market forces demand, I think stepping in must be done. If the people can’t, the government can.

There may be problems with this approach in the future, maybe. Maybe. But right now, citizens in the United States have very few options. (That is a joke about how much “competition” there has been between colluding ISPs.) I am no anti-capitalist–if your product is legitimately better, or legitimately more affordable, I want the market to support you. If your product is inferior, causing you to blackmail your competitors so that you can even get a foothold, then capitalism has failed. It failed spectacularly. It failed horribly. It failed to provide the consumer anything useful.

Mr Mises guy, got spend some time with 4Mbps internet, download a few pieces of news, try to watch some streaming news sources, then come back and tell me the market is functioning perfectly.

Unless you are of the opinion that it is the personal responsibility of farmers or rural municipalities to build their own network infrastructure? Because right now their options are sit on a dick eating cake, or sitting on a cake eating dick — and that is not a choice that should be forced on anyone. And unless you can propose a better option (and keeping in mind the horrible failure that is the market forces with regards to available internet bandwidth…), stop standing in the way of people who have put forward a good option.

And before you attack what I just said as though it is a gaping hole in my armor, please do know that I always try to to make citations of people who have proposed a better option–I don’t just tear things down, I try to build something in their place. Not always my own idea, but from what I have read of so many articles lately, the general sentiment is “Government evil, corporations good, because capitalism is always right. Right? For those not clicking on that, it is an article counting the deaths that Nestle has caused in South Africa with their baby formula — but it’s ok! Obviously NESTLE DID NOTHING WRONG, because the people bought the formula on their own, something something CAPITALISM!

Sorry, but people who just blindly state “market forces are good,” and who completely ignore evidence to the contrary drive me CRAZY. AUGH!

Vote with Your Head or Vote with Your Heart

My Dad and I have never seen eye-to-eye in politics, but unlike many others we tend to be fairly good humored about it. Perhaps it is because I live in an area so staunchly conservative that the conservative candidate took more than 85% of the vote in my area, despite my weight (all of the weight that one vote holds) railing against it. In any case, I am certainly left leaning, and I often speak at great length to anyone who will listen (a shrinking number) about how great certain socialist policies have been to me, and how I would pay a huge sum to ensure they are continued for the next generation.

My father is a staunch conservative, and our political conversations often end (jokingly, I hope) with my calling him a Fascist and him calling me a Communist. He did have something to say, though, that has always stuck with me — and it never really sank in until now. He told me “When you are young, you vote with your heart. When you get older, you vote with your head.”

Perhaps he worded it more sternly; I have been called a “bleeding heart liberal” by more than one person on the conservative side of politics before, but the quote has always been swirling in my head. Today, I was reading something written by someone whose political views were staunchly against mine, and who thinks socialism is a dirty word, and was stopped dead by his saying free healthcare is not free.

This is not incorrect, as a rule, our taxes pay for it. I gave that point readily. My own reply was that while it may not have been financially free, budgeting for an extra $300/month in taxes was easier than budgeting for a surprise $1 million medical bill, and that paying a slightly higher tax bill to be freed from the stress of the possibility of that bill was a worthwhile expense any day. The writer did not reply directly, but another did, with the old adage that private is more efficient than public, and that we could have better (literally anything) if we got the government out of our business.

I told him to back up that claim with data, and stepped back.. Then wondered. Was I voting with my heart? So I started to look for some data. Maybe I have been spewing unfounded claims in the same way I have accused others of doing! I would feel a great shame if I could not back up my claims.

So I did a Google search for “Public sector versus private sector efficiency,” and found that the legwork had been done for me.

I found data. But one wasn’t enough. So I found more data. Data can be interpreted many ways, of course, so I also found some opinions by sources I hoped could speak with some authority. Then I found some more opinions, these ones a bit more neutral, but all agreeing that the public sector had a huge part to play in the semi-oiled machine that is the economic machine. I even found competing opinions, though even that opinion couldn’t argue with the objective data coming from Britain’s NHS–and the data showed that Britain scores more highly in terms of most health indicators. In fact, if you look at the larger picture, the US ranks abysmally, and its healthcare is largely private. Here, though. Have. Some. More. References.

I have focused mostly on health care, but that is because universal health care is something I feel incredibly strongly about.

Are the lines the shortest in socialized countries? No, of course they aren’t. I can go get health care whenever I need it without considering cost, as can almost anyone else in our beautiful country. So there are more people going to the hospital. I could go to the hospital for a headache that feels wrong, and find out I was having a brain aneurysm, and while it wouldn’t be my first thought even in a privatized world, the cost never has to be in Canada. In the United States, though, the cost of hospital beds is. A. Concern.

I hope I’ve made my point.

Given the number of references I’ve given for my side, can it really be said I am voting with my heart? Or am I using my head to look at data?

The Plank in your Own Eye

Yesterday, a tragedy struck France. It was certainly a tragedy of Stalinian proportions, but not in the way you’d think. While the twelve people of Charlie Habdo were murdered by extremists (whether Muslims or other), thousands died of other causes, cancer, and heart disease, and accidental causes. I realize my attempts at perspective may sound callous, but the disproportional response to terrorism has always bothered me. That being said, some people raise many valid points.

Matt Inman reposted an old comic of his in reply to the murders yesterday, an inflammatory comic poking fun of some of the more easily insulted tenets of many popular religion. The comic is titled “How to suck at your religion.”

I am not going to call it a sophisticated criticism, it is a webcomic by a comedian. I enjoy it, and it certainly raises some valid points, if crude. The point I want to make is that it is a comic about “How to suck at your religion,” not “Why your religion sucks.” That is a very important distinction, and one that many people have certainly failed to make. I slipped into a gopher hole on this one, and found that the gopher hole runs very deep. The first article I came across was this one, a harsh criticism of the comic, calling it blasphemous, unintelligent, unfunny drivel. Helpfully, it goes panel by panel through the comic, making it easier to digest and deconstruct.

The author of this post mentions that the priest in panel one is wearing a Roman collar, a fact that they claim means Matt Inman has taken a direct shot at the author’s religion. BAM! Harsh criticism leveled! But remember the distinction; it is about how to suck at your religion. I have met many judgmental Catholic adherents, and whether you agree that the Catholic religion accepts this or not, the point is this; judging others means you suck at your religion.

The second panel deals with Galileo, and claims that it is so misrepresented that it is not even worth addressing. The author links a Catholic Education source to defend the Catholic church; on the surface, this makes sense–but when dealing with history, I prefer cross-reference. Certainly, when you are dealing with verifiable historical data, it pays to go to several sources to iron out wrinkles.

In any case, I’ll go over some details that would render Mr Inman’s take on the affair at least partially accurate, somewhat falsifying the Catholic writer’s clearly closely held beliefs. In 1614, a letter written by Galileo was delivered to the Qualifiers, a pre-torture arm of the Inquisition. In 1615, several depositions were made to the Inquisition regarding this affair, Galileo’s Heliocentric view. On February 24, 1616, the Inquisition levied their first judgment of Galileo, saying: ”

On February 24 the Qualifiers delivered their unanimous report: “…the idea that the Sun is stationary is foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture…”; while the Earth’s movement “receives the same judgement in philosophy and … in regard to theological truth it is at least erroneous in faith.”

“On February 26, Galileo was called to Bellarmine’s residence and ordered, to abstain completely from teaching or defending this doctrine and opinion or from discussing it… to abandon completely.” -—The Inquisition’s injunction against Galileo, 1616.

So to say “The Church was totally on his side omg you guys, why get up in arms?” is to ignore a lot of the Galileo affair. The affair was far from over, though; Galileo was ordered to stand trial on suspicion of heresy in 1633, “for holding as true the false doctrine taught by some that the sun is the center of the world.”

Galileo was found guilty, and the sentence of the Inquisition, issued on 22 June 1633, was in three essential parts:
Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the center of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. He was required to “abjure, curse, and detest” those opinions.
He was sentenced to formal imprisonment at the pleasure of the Inquisition. On the following day this was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life.
His offending [book] Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was banned; and in an action not announced at the trial, publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any he might write in the future.

In 1758 the Catholic Church dropped the general prohibition of books advocating heliocentrism from the Index of Forbidden Books.

So you know what, you’re right! The Catholic Church was totally on Galileo’s side the whole time, and never stood in his way! I am glad Matt Inman got it so wrong that you didn’t have to explain yourself, because I can’t see where your explanation would contradict his comic–it would have gotten awkward had you explained yourself. That was a long rebuttal of panel 2, but I thought it was worth saying. As the very blogger I am rebutting said, “… for those who actually care enough about the facts to check them.” And I do. So I did.

The rebuttal of panel three, which addresses stem cell research, is the idea that life begins at conception. Certainly it does, that cannot be countered, but the idea that life begins at conception is to put an equal value on a blastocyst that one does on a fully conscious human being. To put it another way, which I’ve explained at greater length in the past, the blastocyst is incapable of suffering, while a human in need of stem cell therapeutics most certainly is. To minimize suffering, embryonic stem cells are a valuable source of potential. I will be addressing a second article later in this post that raises an alternate concern with embryonic stem cell research, but I am trying to group this in a point by point way, so we can wait until I get there.

Point four is what I often like to call the political gambit; while it is generally accepted that a child can be “A Catholic Child,” the idea of “A Republican Child” feels odd when rolling off the tongue. Generally, you’d say “That child’s parents vote republican.” This is a question of parenting ethics, and a deep well of research into child psychology has been performed to this end, one far more deep than I could ever hope to plumb. Generally speaking, a child will believe what they are told to believe. I think this is fairly clear when dealing with the issue of Santa Claus or Faeries; they will generally believe for a very long time, at least until they are told that it is false or find incontrovertible proof. Santa is certainly highly unlikely as a physical entity, that is easy to prove.

But how would a child become disillusioned with religion, as compared to Santa? God is often said to help those who help themselves, so a faithful person who has a very rough time is often said to be tried by God, or that God works in mysterious ways. Escape hatch opened.

What about prayer? Surely, we could test prayer! And we have, finding either that there is no discernible effect of intercessory prayer, or that there is a small effect that is traced to a placebo effect. Double blind studies tend to come out with “no discernible effect,” and that should be worrisome.

The evidence, in any case, does not point to a God that certainly exists. It doesn’t point to one that doesn’t exist, either, but that is largely because God functions exactly like Superman; when placed against a piece of evidence he hasn’t seen before, the writers will often attribute to him some power or property that works specifically and only to rebut that point. In any case, the jury is out; you can believe, or you can not believe. If you tell your children to believe, there is overwhelming data that states that most will. Some choose not to, but they are still the minority (a growing minority, mind you. Wonder why that is.).

Point five raised by this writer is a smoke bomb at best; it ignores the argument. They then say that “Of course, if the Resurrection is true, that claim is false.” The sentence rests squarely on the statement “if the resurrection is true,” with the assumption being that it is. Just two days ago I wrote about the historicity of the Bible at some length, and cited references; in any case, the Resurrection is just as much an article of faith as is the afterlife. No one has ever recorded what happens after we die (well, we die, scientifically, but you know what I mean), whether we have a soul, what makes a soul, what happens to our theoretical soul, etc. They then compare being agnostic towards the afterlife as comparable to being agnostic about the answer to 3×3. I will not take the easy way and say that this is self evident, that would be somewhat hypocritical of me. Here, have some of my legendary art as rebuttal of this point:


Show me a similar proof that there is an afterlife, then we can go deeper into this discussion.

Panel six is rebutted by stating that “I totally don’t have weird anxieties about sex, it is just that it can give you broken hearts, broken homes, rampant STDs, HIV/AIDS, unplanned pregnancies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1111!!1ii” You are right, it could. That is why safe sex is taught. Abstinence only education has been shown to fail almost universally to stop the very things you are afraid of. Your “totally not sexual anxieties” are standing in the way of real improvements in the areas of teen STD and teen pregnancy rates.

Point seven relies on the idea that “I believe my religion is the ultimate good, so it would be the ultimate evil for me to not share it,” and that is a belief you have. I am an ex-member of your Church, though, so I suppose that makes me some kind of evil. Certainly, I’ve been called similar.

I won’t lie, for point eight I am not really sure what the author is trying to prove. It completely dodges a debate and says Catholics don’t believe this thing. Again, it is important to remember that the title of the comic is “how to suck at your religion,” not “how your religion sucks.” If you don’t identify with panel 8, then maybe it isn’t about you — the thing I fear is that the author does identify with panel eight. Whatevs. We move along.

Point nine has been extensively studied, and polls show that many voters will vote strictly on, say, a pro-life stance. This is not purely religious, I will give you that; there are many people who are pro-life that are not religious, but the pro-life movement tends to be a vast majority of religious people (even if not based on explicitly religious convictions). Yes, I think it would be safe to say that some people certainly vote based on their religious beliefs; if you are not one of them, please refer to the title of the comic; maybe you don’t suck at your religion. Maybe.

Number ten calls Atheists who fear Muslims smug, and kind of implies a level of cowardice. If you feel bullied, Mr or Ms Catholic, perhaps you may remember that people were executed by the Inquisition as late as the 1860s. If you feel bullied, perhaps you should count the number of dead at the hands of the Crusades. If you think “That bullying was in the past, so it doesn’t matter,” then just wait until tomorrow, and the atheist who bullied you yesterday doesn’t matter.

There is a reason I chose “The Plank in your Own Eye” as the title for this post. For those who have not remembered the Gospels by rote, it is a reference to Matthew 7, where it says you must address your own faults before addressing those of others. Calling atheists bullies is… Well, being as the United States identifies as some 90% plus religious, I would think throwing around words like that should be done carefully. It might sound to some atheists like you are bullying them.

The author makes point eleven, citing a terrible irony, without ever feeling ironic. I would say I find that ironic, but I don’t; irony is defined by something not expected, and I was not surprised by this. Asking someone to be more tolerant as a humorist and satirist makes them “hurt, hinder, and condemn you.” You are right, the INJUSTICE OF IT ALL!

Point twelve implies that the Matt Inman is neither calm nor reasonable, but again, he is a humorist and satirist. If you wanted a respectful debate, I am afraid that The Oatmeal is no place to find it. Being as the atheist does believe that religion serves as somewhat a placebo (not believing in the afterlife, we see believing in the afterlife as a sort of wishful thinking), we are unfortunately immune to its effects. It isn’t even that we don’t want to take the placebo; I wish I could still believe. It is just that once you know a pill is sugar, the placebo effect is mostly gone. Without some major restructuring of my own beliefs, it will be very difficult for me to return to religion.

The other thing about a placebo is that if you believe it will work, it likely will work. Or at least, has a chance to work. The author’s view expressed near the end basically says “It isn’t a placebo because it is totally medicine, and I know that because I know that.” This is not meant to insult, it really isn’t, it is just meant to point out that the argument is unlikely to sway even the most casual atheist, and making it will not win any points in a debate, nor change the mind of anyone in open dialogue. This isn’t calling you down, just trying to open your mind to the point of the other side.

If God enriches your life, more power to you. I do not feel His embrace, I do not feel enriched by Him. To me, if I came back to religion, it would be in the belief that I have accepted the placebo back into my life. Just because you believe it is not a placebo does not change my own beliefs.

The final lines is perfect, because it is the line that makes it easiest to show that the author has missed the distinction between “how not to suck at your religion,” and “how your religion sucks”:

“The comic can mischaracterize and distort, but in the face of actual Catholicism, it’s silent. It has no coherent or compelling answer in response to the Catholic claim. Snark simply has no retort to truth.” – Shameless Popery

There are many Catholics who would think the comic is talking about them, and many who do not. I think there is something to that thought.

We move on to something that has been swirling in my head for a while, and it was brought about by this article. I do not want to demean Patheos, I often find their articles enlightening, even handed, and a joy to read. Even this article, while making some points I find objectionable, is at least enjoyable to read.

When I read his rebuttal to the argument of stem cells last night, it set such a fire in my mind that I could not sleep. I stayed awake, shuffling through my mind all of the points that I could write down to rebut what he says.

The Catholic stance is that adult stem cell research is the best thing that has come along in literally forever (God exists outside of time, therefore does not count in ‘forever’). He cites many good studies showing adult stem cell results as being wildly successful, and certainly they are. I would offer this statement on Brown University’s Biomedical research website to show that the Catholic line “Embryonic stem cells show no promise” can be easily rebutted with but five seconds of Google.

Even so, he is right; more has come from Adult Stem Cells, despite the statement by Brown saying Embryonic Stem Cells show broader promise. Why is that?

Well, in most of the United States (which is still politically and scientifically the most powerful nation on the Earth) embryonic stem cell research is discouraged or outright illegal. It has little investment, and research labs spend much less time on it. This obviously isn’t because it does not show promise (again, see Brown’s statement). It is because of the political pressure to not spend on it.

Denying funding to one field, and wildly encouraging another, waiting 15 years, then comparing them shows all the honesty of a parent who does the following.

Give child one 5 cents. Give child two five dollars. Tell them to go buy whatever they want.

Child one comes back with a single sour candy. Child two comes back with a bag full of candy. You reply thus: “Obviously child two is vastly superior in the world of business and financial management! Look at how good his results are!”

The above is not intended to be a straw man argument (when I use straw men intentionally, I do try to make mention of it). I can seriously not see the difference, and would ask any reader to point out any obvious flaw in my metaphor. Please do.

We move on to the Galileo affair, again. Many of the same points are made, though much better, with one glaring error. The author claims that the Inquisition dropped all charges–that is odd, as it seems to me that two guilty verdicts were delivered, 17 years separated.

While I do not agree with this author’s belief about passing religion on to your children, he makes a much better argument for it than did the author of the previous article. He is correct that he supernatural is indeed a part of human nature, but does not seem to make any point as to why his particular supernatural belief is more valid than any of the previous, which I believe is the point Inman wanted to make. In the age of rationalism we live in, though, more and more people have thrown off the shackles of the Supernatural as we are able to explain more and more of our universe without invoking the name of YWH, YVHV, God, Allah, Vishnu, Ba’al, or others. Perhaps there is a supernatural agent, but given the state of the world, I would not believe that it is the Christian God. This is my belief, of course, and you are welcome to disagree. I merely would like to point out that telling your children that your belief is the correct one and that others are wrong relies on a whole poop ton of other people who believe that same idea also being wrong.

The argument made against sexual anxieties by this author, in contrast, relies a great deal on a straw man–or at the very least, ignoring correlating and causal data. “The current (oh-so-secular) sexual culture…” he calls it, and then blames the STD rate upon it. I will agree; if teens abstained from sex, there would be fewer STDs, pregnancies, etc. But remember just above where you mentioned that supernatural belief is human nature? Well sex is human nature at its very core, and teens tend to be the most ill equipped to resist those urges. You can believe God because it is human nature, but teens should abstain from sex because… Question mark? Look, I would love it if teens would abstain from sex, I really would. I really, really would. Teens are stupid, and ill equipped to deal with the outcomes of sex. But they will keep having sex, no matter how much you try to stop them from doing it. So teach them safe sex, for God’s sake. (That was a pun. I stand by its use.)

Overall, I very much liked this author, but due to his ability to make a strong argument, I thought it worth taking the time to point out where I disagree with him. It was a wonderful piece, and I love the fairness and level-headedness on display here, and thank the author for writing it. My only fear is that because the author is so good at what he does, the parts I disagree with would go unchallenged by someone who is equally fair minded (Yes, I just stroked my own ego aggressively, but many atheists would just say “He is wrong,” and move along. They would use more colorful language. I do not believe that such language has any place in this discussion.). I wanted to rebut the points I disagree with, and acknowledge the good points.

I am truly sorry if that came across as condescending; I can see it in the words, and I apologize if that is the subtext you read. I respect your stance, I truly, truly do. Thank you for writing that article, even if it was three years ago and you will never read mine. But I do very much respect you.

To the first author, who also will never read this, I quote below the opening verses of Matthew 7, because I do not believe you have the theological legs to stand on that my second author did:

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Thanks for reading this long and winding article!

Something Something Communist!

You’ve seen this argument before, you’ve heard it, it is almost as far as being cliche, really.

“Hitler was Christian (or Catholic, your choice, really) and he killed Jews, therefore Christianity something something killing Jews is bad, m’kay?”

How about this one?

“Stalin was atheist and he killed lots of Russians, therefore atheist something something killing Russians is bad, m’kay?”

This isn’t a fair argument, for either side, but I understand where it comes from. While watching my favorite people in the whole world (Creation Today) they often speak about the “Atheist World View.” I know I’ve mentioned it before, but while watching some unrelated propaganda it occurred to me just how vehemently Christians will deny that Hitler was a Christian. It’s odd to me, because I am comfortable enough in my own belief system to be like “Yeah, Stalin was an atheist, not gonna deny it. But he was also an asshole.” (In my head, I use much stronger language to describe how despicable that man was.) In the same token, I would not find it in any way out of place if they said “Yeah, Hitler was Christian, but I don’t see why that matters. He was an evil man who was off his rocker.” (Again, language for the sake of keeping my PG-13 rating.)

It was only while thinking about the “Atheist World View” that it occurred to me why it is so important to so many people to deny that Hitler was a Christian, really. They form the foundation of their thought around the idea of Religion, and their interpretation of Religion, to the point where I am sure it actually does form the basis for every (or nearly every) decision they make. This is not to say all Christians do, but those that say “No, Hitler wasn’t Christian! HE WASN’T HE WASN’T HE WASN’T!!!!!! NYAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” Well, they probably do use religion as the baseline for all things.

But here’s the thing. Hitler did not use any mainstream interpretation of Christianity, so say it proudly, “Hitler called himself a Christian, but I think we can all agree he was batshit insane.” (Sorry about the language. I think I still qualify for PG-13).

Now we come to the “Stalin was atheist and that is why he was Communist,” or equal drivel. Look, again, we can all agree that Stalin was huge on anti-theism (certainly a word that needs its own category, outside of general atheism) and “Stalin Brand Communism: If you’ve got soup, you didn’t get it from us.”

To say “Atheist World View” to describe people who do not believe in God is, to take a page out of Hitchens, about as helpful as saying “I am an a-tennis-ist, because I don’t play tennis. And all of my decisions are guided by the fact that I don’t play tennis.”

No, I am afraid that is not how non-belief works. I am comfortable saying that some of what Stalin did was colored by his anti-theistic leanings, but non-belief does not color world views. Anti-belief, sure, whatever, you can have that one, but to take another quote, from Dawkins this time, “I am also an a-faerie-ist.” Being an a-faerie-ist has just as much sway and pull on my decisions as does my nontheism, in that it doesn’t. What colors my beliefs is empathy for others, my desire for happiness, and my desire that all people have an equal chance at happiness at some point in their lives.

So yes, Stalin was an atheist. But he was also batshit crazy (Do I get to say sh… I mean poo twice, and still get to be PG-13?). I think the fact that he was crazy had a lot more bearing on the Five Year Plan than did his atheism.

So to give a short recap, because I was rambling like a corpse come back from the dead (or was that shambling? Shit. Wait!!  Poo!!! I meant poo!!!).

Was Hitler Christian? In practice no, but given everything he wrote and said, history is very clear on the fact that Hitler himself thought he was Christian.

Does that matter? Nope. Because he was crazy, completely independent of religion.

Was Stalin atheist? Yup.

Does that matter? Nope. Because he was crazy, completely independent of atheism.

Is there a point to this article? I hope there is. I hope you realize you can be Christian, but also a bad person, just as easily as (I feel) I can be nontheist and also a good person. Two sides of the same coin, and all I ask is that we, on some level, understand each other.



For all of my reading, I don’t think I ever spent time looking in depth as to how it is that Christians (primarily in the United States, because CAPITALISM! MURICA!) manage to talk their way out of agreeing that Socialism is a core tenet of the ministry of Jesus. While I was researching my religio-political post last week, I found the answers, but I just passed over them without too much thought.

I argued pro-Socialism, of course, as you may remember if you read the post. While arguing pro-Socialism, however, I barely touched on the counter-argument, and I think that was a little unfair of me. To that end, I thought I would give the other side some time, and (as you should expect of me) I will propose some counter-arguments.

The primary source of the Christian counterpoints will be drawn from http://tifwe.org/resources/does-acts-2-5-teach-socialism/ which is a masterpiece of fallacious argument and outright denial, at least from my own personal reading of it. If you read the article and find you agree with what it has to say, please let me know in the comments section what causes you to agree.

Helpfully, the author has subtitled his article, so I can give an unusually clear response (I tend to meander, a little, and I do not regret it–but some have used this as a criticism, and I can say with honesty that I completely understand their point). On we march!

Section one of the article is as follows:

The early believers did not sell all their possessions. (Emphasis mine)

I think we are getting off on the wrong foot, here. I do not think there has ever been, in all of the history of the world, any government who has called for Socialism that has also called for the entire revocation of personal ownership rights. Even me, a rather staunch proponent of Socialism would never call for such an overstepping of personal bounds. Okay, so early Christians did not practice 100% communal ownership; that sounds like a (weak) counter-argument to Communism, but says nothing against Socialism. In fact, that they would sell any of their possessions to support each other sounds very Socialist by any working, practical definition.

Now let’s move on to a very aggressively worded sentence by our new friend;

But even if we, for the sake of argument, grant that all believers sold all their possessions and redistributed them among the community, does that prove socialism or communism is Biblical? No, there would have to be state-coerced taking of property and forced distribution of it.

I think this goes more to the core of the issue. The core of the issue here is that the Bible doesn’t support Socialism, in the author’s view, as he or she does not want to donate, and it is unfair for anyone to force him or her to do so. Well, I am glad we cleared that up, then. As my counter point, though, let’s say you want to abolish all taxation (as I’ve heard some propose) or reduce taxation (as I’ve heard many propose). In this ideal, Christian world, who pays for the roads? The schools? What happens if you cannot afford to send little Timmy out? What happens if you cannot afford lunches for little Timmy? Do you propose we all resort to a kind of charity-bartering system, where we go and ask our neighbors for help, instead of the Government? And what difference is there, then, between coerced sharing implemented by the Government and your requesting assistance from your neighbors or community? If they give money to you, what if there was someone who had greater need, but lived off of your block? What if none of his neighbors had a charitable spirit? What if he never found you, great giver that you are, and thus was left without help? These are the cases where the Government, with a wider scope and reach of charity, saves lives.

The second point made is that the early Christians’ sharing was totally voluntary. I think I covered this satisfactorily above, but he takes it up a notch by citing Marx’s Communist Manifesto (no matter who is citing this, it is likely to be in a negative light, and this is certainly no exception). He cites no specific quotation, but does summarize it (albeit with a political slant) fairly well; Marx found the idea of private ownership at least part of the overall problem. He then goes on to say, though, “The Bible does not mention the state at all,” therefore no Socialism, duh!

His third point is thus; the form of Socialism was not a permanent practice, but a temporary measure. It was a measure that requested charity for as long as it was needed. Well! I can see how you make that point, it makes perfect sense! Why, we don’t need charity today at all, so I guess you are right; let’s not give. Here, again, he mentions the words “state coercion”, as though they are some sort of talisman that will keep the pinkos at bay! The author goes on to state that we don’t see any recurrence of this type of giving (specifically citing Acts, chapters 2-4) anywhere else in the New Testament, so we don’t need to keep following it. Again, Q.E.D., we don’t need to Socialism (yes, I made it a verb. Fight me.).

Again, he states that socialism requires the complete abolition of private property, as though throwing around a fear-bomb (Socialism is a dirty word!). He goes on “There was a concern for equitable distribution of goods to the poor,” which is why I generally am happy to pay my share to the Government and ask them to deal with the distribution of these funds. I care about my socialistically (I made up a word. Deal with it.) provided services more than you can know. I care about the roads, the educational subsidies, the universal health care; I know I have had to lean on unemployment, and it wasn’t because I was lazy, it was because I was having major difficulty finding a job in my field. I give to these things, because I know that thanks to them I will likely never have to go without food or medical care, and this knowledge, this safety, it is important to me.

Point four is merely stating “The Bible doesn’t say ‘You have to be a socialist,’ and I don’t want to be a socialist, therefore I am not a socialist and the Bible supports me.

I think I’ve covered that point well enough, and I think my paraphrasing of point four covers how I feel, if you have any questions.

Point five, I think, was just thrown in there to remind you that the author holds a PhD. I am afraid that while my grasp of English is generally considered fairly strong, I would never have crafted the following sentence, and that is why this guy is a PhD.

Point five reads thus; Interpreting narrative by didactic passages is a wise principle of hermeneutics. Well there you go, if you weren’t convinced Socialism is wrong so far, I’ll bet your mind just did a total 180, am I right?! He does have the decency to clarify, thankfully, with the following sentences. Basically, it comes down to his idea that you can’t make a universal command out of a limited first century practice. I would tend to agree, but I am afraid that Socialism, while not made a command in the Bible, is a recurring theme of Jesus’ ministry. He does not command it (Jesus made stunningly few statements that would be considered Commandments), though he does in many places make clear that he definitely likes the idea of shared wealth and supporting the poor.

That covers the bases. I think I have made my point, but I would like to level a challenge to the modern believer.

If you are standing before God on Judgment day, and He asks the following: “Why did you preach the rendering unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and universal charity, but stand against those very same ideals when they were practiced by the government of your nation?”

Would you feel comfortable answering with the following?

“Jesus didn’t say I HAD to practice charity, and I didn’t want to give that money, even though it was used to feed the poor, heal the sick and the lame, even though it provided education those who could not learn otherwise, and housing for the homeless, even though these are the exact things Jesus said we should support, he didn’t say we HAD to support them. So I stood against it.”

Flagrant Cognitive Dissonance

Alternate title: Fragrant Cognitive Dissonance (because it stinks, you see. I am very funny.).

As I’ve discussed previously, cognitive dissonance is holding two opinions at the same time that are directly contrary to each other. As this blog has taken a decidedly religious slant, I always like to use the example of Matthew 5:17-18 vs Galatians 3:13. For my readers who are unfamiliar with Mosaic Law, it concerns things such as stoning people who try to tempt you away from God, bans on the wearing clothing of mixed fabrics, bans on the use of pig skin (perhaps not as relevant any more as I doubt footballs are made with the actual skin of a pig), as well as considerations one has to make in the owning of slaves, and the required daily and monthly sacrifices. Perhaps you can see, then, why it is odd that in the New Testament you are commanded both to follow the Law and not follow the Law, as it would play a fairly significant part in your day-to-day life if you were following it.

That is an obvious, literal issue with cognitive dissonance in the Bible — but now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s focus on something even more relevant to my general audience, political-religious cognitive dissonance. “Wow, religion and politics in a single post?! I’ll bet you have a TON of friends.” Ignore my social life for a moment, this is more important than that!

I am a Canadian (you might have noticed the .ca in your address bar), but I will use American politics as my baseline (I am, arguably, more familiar with American politics than I am with local politics in any case. I know the general stance of the parties, I know which party I will vote for in future elections [barring a major party-line shift], and I know that in my riding my vote matters very little because we do not use a popular vote system, and that is stupid. That is a rant for another day, though.).

The Republican party is touted as the party that uses “Biblical values,” and I have even heard them called (albeit by a poorly written protest poster) “The party Jesus would vote for.” They are the PERFECT real world example of the party that gets single-issue-votes. Their stance on abortion, primarily.

I will admit, abortion is pretty clear-cut; thou shalt not kill (except you can totally stone non-believers. And witches. And people you think are witches. And people who look like they could be witches. Et cetera), but to take that as your primary political stance is an egregious breach of one’s duty to weigh political policy on the whole. Their stance is that of small government, reducing taxes, and reducing social platforms. They stand in staunch resistance of the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) which, over the course of its time applied in law, could lead indirectly to saving millions of lives.

Why would Republicans stand against Obamacare, and yet gain the vote of the Bible Belt electorate? Cognitive dissonance. You actually don’t have to be a Biblical Literalist for this to apply to you, oddly enough; I know many people who know 4 of the 10 commandments, go to Church twice per year (Easter and Christmas, of course), and couldn’t name the four gospels, yet would vote Republican solely based on “Pro-Life” alone. How prevalent is abortion? Well, that numbers varies wildly, but it seems to be somewhere around 2% of pregnancies in the United States are ended by induced abortion. That is a very high number, but not nearly so high as the number of people dying of otherwise preventable conditions (people who could be helped by the affordable care act). This is a case of failing to weight the scales fairly; being pro-life is easy, as you can simply quantify the number of lives saved (and, despite my previous rants on the subject, this post is not about abortion). The Affordable Care Act, however, indirectly saves lives, and the ability to quantify the number of lives saved by this Act is difficult to quantify. How does one weight the scales? I would argue, for the sake of being fair, that one could use the Bible, but maybe that is just me being crazy (again).

I have read this presented by many conservative Christian media outlets, and it always confused me. If you are Religious and could help me out here, help me to understand this part, I would be forever grateful. It is oft said of the Bible (by various groups, but certainly not all groups) that it stands against Socialism.

Socialism, by the way, is basically the idea that wealth should be shared amongst the people, and that the poor should be assisted (such as by a social safety net). Do you see it yet? The dissonance? Even the dissonance within the Bible, and for the people? The requirement for the proper distribution of weight on the scales? Yes? Then you can skip the next bit (You can skip all the way to the line of stars, but I think you may appreciate this next bit nonetheless), but if not let’s dive into that concept a bit.

The first, and most obvious, is the reduction of taxation on the rich that is advocated by the Republican party and its wealthy donors. It is said twice in the Bible that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom (ie Heaven) (Mark 10:25, Matthew 19:24), so what do the rich defend their greed with? Let’s start by cherry picking some verses, and we can move on from there; 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says that should a man not work, neither should he eat. Social Safety nets, therefore, are the work of the devil! Those lazy freeloaders, say you! Even God speaks against them! To me, this is a very unfair weighting of the scales; social safety nets are not there to allow people to take and give nothing back; they are there to help the unfortunate back onto their feet. They are there to help the person whose job was liquidated during the recession find work. They are there to help those with no skills learn. I would argue the other side of the scale would weigh ten times against this with just a single verse in 1 Timothy (6:10); For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith. Forgive me, but I would say that part is fairly clear cut.

“Ah,” you reply, “But the scale is offset by 1 Corinthians 8:13!” I see you are a veteran picker of cherries, friend! Verse 13 does weight the other side, for it says “I mean not that other men be eased and ye burdened!” Then again, what about verse 14 OF THAT EXACT CHAPTER? Does it not weight the side of socialism? For it says “now at this time your abundance be a supply for their want, that their abundance may be a supply for your want, that there may be equality.” Verse 15 continues “He that had gathered much had no excess; and he that had gathered little lacked for nothing.”

That sounds pretty socialist to me, but I’ve already admitted to being the crazy one. Galatians 6:2 offers something of a direct order to socialism; bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. How about Luke 3:11? He that hath two coats, let him give one to he that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” I could quote the Bible for days, friends! Come at me, opponents of charity! Come at me, opponents of socialism! STAND AND DELIVER!

How about something that speaks DIRECTLY to the Affordable Care Act? Jesus healed the sick across the land, for free; but maybe that is too anecdotal for you. Perhaps this is more explicit? Go read all of Matthew chapter 25. It’s cool, I’ll wait. Take your time. If you come out of that thinking Jesus would not want you to support universal health care, I cannot help you, friend, for your destiny is that of the Pit, where there shall be fire and the gnashing of teeth.

I leave the scale tipped against the Republican political platform, in favor of the Christian platform. A very small number of verses that could (and only when taken out of context) be interpreted as standing against socialism, weighted against innumerable verses standing for socialism. Even with regards to paying the tax, Christians are tasked with rendering unto Caesar. Perhaps you are attached to your money, but the government uses your money for the public good, for the roads, the schools, the hospitals, the police, the fire fighters. This is in fulfillment of the biblical teachings an hundredfold.


Woah. Things got weird there. I started to actually *think* in translated English for a few minutes. Welcome back, all readers!

Allow me to summarize what you skipped, if indeed you skipped; I just used the Bible to fight against the Bible. I think I won, but you are free to use your own scoring system. I am not here to force my ideas onto you; I am here to create a conversation. I know I am one of a million voices repeating the same dry message, but for some reason you are here reading it, so I’ll assume you find it at least a little bit interesting.

The point is this; you may vote Republican (or conservative, or Tory, the name is different everywhere) because they are “Pro-Life”, without considering the fact that the BULK (yes, I would argue that bulk is the proper word here) of their policies stand in stark opposition to the Bible, and would (I argue) lead to far more deaths than would those preached by more left leaning parties (Americans, I am sorry, but you really don’t even have the option to vote for a party that follows Biblical teaching; neither of them is even CLOSE). Canada has a wider array of parties that are closer to the Bible, if you absolutely INSIST on using that as your criteria, but I would argue that you should form your own set of values and vote based on those.

Why would I argue that?

I would argue that you should form your own moral framework because the Bible so often disagrees with itself that forming political opinions based STRICTLY upon its tenets is a game that cannot be won. I would say the only winning move is not to play (because I love quoting geek history), but that is not close to the truth; the only winning move is to change the rules of the game.

That’s my political-religious rant. I won’t even tell you who to vote for, I just want you to vote for the right reasons.

Thanks again for reading!