A Confederacy of Dunces, or Robert E. Leave Me Alone

Photo: Flickr user jypsygen

I’ll just say this out front as a disclaimer: I live in Texas, but I was born and raised a dirty Yankee. It’s entirely possible that there are fundamental aspects to Southern culture that I don’t fully understand since I wasn’t brought up here.

That said, I can’t imagine why there would ever be statues of Confederate figures still up in The Year of Our Lord 2017. The city of Dallas recently removed a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park that bears his name, and the resulting backlash was full of more knee-jerk ignorance and hypocrisy than I’ve seen in quite some time. Let’s see what the people have to say about it!

Snowflakes,want to change history😡😡Dallas ,wake up!Spend$$ on education, hurricane victims…Something that matters…This is stupid😡😡😡

It’s not the Dallas that is changing history. Glorifying a traitor to America as if he were a war hero would be changing history!

What’s happened to standing up and defending and preserving history. The statues represent a time in this country of war, independence, rights yo freedom, where some received their Sir names from the slave owners yes.

We have surpassed that time in this country. We should all stand together not apart. That dream that MLK talked about was coming together were all are equal, standing together as brothers and sisters.

Sad, sad, state of affairs.

Can’t link the profile picture, but this is a white lady invoking Martin Luther King to defend a man who fought to keep slaves.

It’s a travesty. Ask people why it wasn’t offensive until recently! It’s merely a political tool by the Dallas mayor to garner more votes!

Of course, the mayor of Dallas thinks this massively unpopular endeavor will somehow gain him votes (for an election that is two years away).

Now tomorrow I expect the City of Dallas to be cured of all racist beings and Love, Love Love. I think it is pure insanity. 81+ years and now it bothers some folks whom were not even alive then. . How a statue is going to make the races get along is beyond me.I suppose a statue of Hitler in it’s place would be acceptable. Tomorrow it will be Obama and MLK statues under fire. 🤔

This may looking like a run-of-the-mill Godwinning, but Bob actually brings up a pretty good point. I’m German, so what if I wanted to put up a statue of Hitler in honor of my German culture? Would Bob have my back?

 I also think that this wouldn’t even be happening if the media didn’t put BLM, AntiFa and the statues in the spotlight. America has never been more divided in my lifetime, and much of that division is caused by the media for advertising money and ratings.

Oh yes, it’s anti-fascists who put the spotlight on Confederate statues, not the Nazis who rallied around one and ended up killing a lady.

And now I have heartburn. I’d be willing to bet that, on any other issue, many of these people would be stereotypical flag-fellating, military-worshipping über-patriots, and yet they remain fixated on a traitor who oversaw the killing of American soldiers. Maybe I’m better off not understanding.

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Meta-Question: Why a Book?

Photo: John Snyder

Every discussion we might ever have about Christianity comes back to the Bible. It is the ultimate source of Christian doctrine, and as such Christians cling to it tenaciously. We can, and do, argue endlessly about interpreting the Bible literally or metaphorically, about it’s historical accuracy, and about it’s original authorship, but there’s a bigger question here that overshadows all of these.

Why would a God, with the most important message of all time, with the power to communicate it any way he choose, choose to transmit this message via the printed word? A book is relatively slow to transmit, easy to cherry-pick and misinterpret, and every translation into another language runs the risk of losing the nuance of the original. A book may appear to be “just another magic book” when compared to the Quran, the Vedas, the Agamas, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Avesta, the Book of Mormon, Dianetics, the Tao Te Ching, and on and on.

This is God we’re talking about here! If he wants to set himself apart from all the impostor gods out there, he should do something no other god could do! He could appear to everyone, personally, under no uncertain terms – speaking to them directly in their own language, so clearly that his message could not be misunderstood. I’ve heard it argued that it would be a violation of free will for God to appear in person, because how could you not choose God once you’ve basked in his glory?

Well, a skeptic could easily remain hard-hearted and dismiss the appearance as a dream or hallucination. Furthermore, we know Lucifer and his rebel angels were once in God’s presence, and yet they still chose to turn against him. God’s personal appearance would do no more to take away our free will than Jesus appearing to his disciples took away their free will.

Instead, we’re left with just another magic book. How are we to ascribe divine qualities to a message presented in the most human of methods?

God Doesn’t Just Hate Gays Anymore!

Photo: Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council and signatory to the Nashville Statement (credit: Gage Skidmore)

Recently, a group of Christian leaders put forward what they call the Nashville Statement, a document which seeks to counteract the “secular spirit of our age” regarding LGBT acceptance and reinforce “God’s good design for his creatures.” It appears that, in an era where transgender issues are joining gay rights as a topic of public and political debate, the signatories felt it necessary to clarify that “Yes, the church hates exactly who you think it hates.” However, starting from the very preamble, the statement is a mish-mash of weasel words and faulty logic.

Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female.

If God is the architect of sex, I’m sure he could have come up with a way to make sexual activity or pleasure only possible between a man and a woman. That would be indicative of some “grand design.” Otherwise, we’d have to question why God would make the prostate a pleasure center when it certainly doesn’t need to be.

The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.

Unsurprisingly, this statement will not elucidate how the LGBT community “ruins” human life. Maybe it’s the hurricanes? The statement will, however, be full of “It makes baby Jesus cry!”-style nonsense. It’s probably for the best, as otherwise someone will have to tell the happy gay couples I know that they’re actually evil masterminds!

We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom.

Freedom, in this case meaning self-denial, destructive repression, and rigid conformity to exactly two roles. This will be a theme.

Article 1

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.

Christians consistently forget that infertility and menopause are things.

We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made
before God.

But it can be both! You can have marriage as a civil contract and marriage as a sparkly magical God-contract, and the sparkly one can be whatever the hell you want.

Article 2

WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.

Once again, freedom is following a very specific set of rules. I wonder what the overlap is between abstinence-only Christians and libertarians?

WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

Once again, if marriage is sparkly God-magic, he could have designed it such that sexual urges didn’t kick in until you put a ring on it.

Article 3

WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.
WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

Men and women are equal, but we still won’t let broads preach.

Article 4

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.
WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

In all my churchgoing years, I’ve never heard anyone claim the second point. Is that a thing now? I’m so out of the loop.

Articles 5 & 6

WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.
WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.

Here’s where we start getting into skeevy pee-pee/hoo-ha talk. If you’re going to posit some integral relationship between one’s physical genitals and one’s gender identity, you need to put up or shut up, not just twist some Jesus quote to fit your ideas.

What is so sacred about the way someone was born? When presented with a man blind from birth, did Jesus tell him, “I won’t fix your eyes, but that shouldn’t keep you from following me anyway”? How far should we run with this logic? If your were born with brown hair, is it a sin to dye it blond? Have any of the signatories ever had braces, or had a cleft palate fixed? I’m sure all the men have been circumcised, at the very least.

Article 7

WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.
WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

This is just cartoonishly self-contradictory. “You can be whoever you are, as long as it’s heterosexual and cisgendered.”

Article 8

WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.
WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.

And again, “It’s cool if you’re gay, as long as you don’t do any of that gay stuff.”

Article 10

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

The Bible only speaks of gender in binary terms, but this is not by itself indicate that these are the only two options. In Galatians 3:28, Paul notes that, in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek…there is neither male nor female…” By comparing Jew and Greek, is Paul saying that there are no Chinese? No Native Americans?

The creation account of Genesis says God created mankind “male and female.” It also posits a firmament and a self-illuminating moon, both of which we now know to be outdated models of reality. If the gender issue is in reality non-binary, all this means is that the Bible is not a science textbook!

The last few articles are basically an altar call, which is ironic since statements like this push more and more people away from the church every year. I do slightly appreciate that these leaders are not ignoring what little the Bible does say about homosexuality (as liberal, LGBT-friendly churches must). However, given that Jesus himself has nothing at all to say about gays or trans people and a ton to say about money, hypocrisy, and so on, I wish they would be half as outspoken on these issues.

White Man’s “Burden”

Photo credit: Brian Stansberry

I spent some time this week trying to figure out what white supremacists actually want. I still don’t know. Their “problems” seem to be the illusory specters of paranoid schizophrenics, and their “solutions” are naïve and untenable at best, genocidal at worst. As best I can tell, the “war on whites” is analogous to the “war on Christmas”: members of a historical majority can’t abide the notion that members of the minority are acknowledged as existing and treated as equals.

The prejudice against whites must be really fucking subtle. Maybe that’s how insidious it is, that you can go an entire lifetime without knowing how oppressed you are. Okay, I guess if your idea of prejudice is “Non-white people live here, and we pay them for work now,” then sure, you’re going to see that everywhere. However, you may want to get some perspective from someone who’s idea of prejudice is “I don’t know if I can talk to that cop without getting shot.”

The alt-right crows about “white heritage” and “white culture,” but speaking in my official capacity as a white man, I don’t know what “white culture” is! At most, I thought it was brunch and Friends reruns, but apparently there’s more to it than that? The challenge for the alt-right is trying to define white culture in ways that are not simply opposition to other cultures. If you describe yourself as “pro-white” and you hold up Robert E. Lee as your prototypical example, it sure as hell looks like you’re fighting for a white culture defined by enslaving black culture.

Alt-right demagogue/punch target Richard Spencer presents the movement’s ideas in a more palatable fashion, at the cost of being maudlin and childishly idealistic. He describes America as “a country of frontiersman… a country of the cowboy” as if policy decisions should be driven by mythos. He’s oddly concerned about James Bond as some sort of Caucasian ideal, to the point where he can’t bear the notion of Bond being portrayed by a black man. However, he doesn’t support the violent expulsion of non-whites, oh no! He merely wants to convince them that maybe we should see other people:

He hopes America’s nonwhites can be made to agree that returning to the lands of their ancestors would be best for everyone: “It’s like presenting to an African that this hasn’t worked out,” he says. “We haven’t made each other happier. We are going to have to take part in this paradigmatic shift together.”

I want to take Spencer at his word here, but I can’t believe he sincerely believes this is a plausible solution. Does he expect a fourth-generation African-American to relocate to a whole other continent just so white Americans can breathe easier? If Spencer loves European culture so much, why doesn’t he move to Europe? Oh wait, they won’t have him.

This is the danger of a world where education is not valued and facts take a back seat to feelings. Spencer’s ideas are explicitly not based on data, and while there may be token fringe scientists that he can trot out for credibility, his movement is based more on appeals to emotion than to logic.

Spencer believes that Hispanics and African Americans have lower average IQs than whites and are more genetically predisposed to commit crimes, ideas that are not accepted by the vast majority of scientists. When pressed about what really sets whites apart, he waxes decidedly unscientific: “I think there is something within the European soul that we haven’t been able to measure yet and maybe we never will,” he says, “and that is a Faustian drive or spirit—a drive to explore, a drive to dominate, a drive to live one’s life dangerously…a drive to explore outer space and the universe. I think there is something within us that we possess and that only we possess.”

In other words, “I don’t have data or empirical evidence to support my claims, but what I do have is a strong gut feeling that I’m right!” As if the Polynesians never sailed the Pacific, as if the Mongol Empire never spanned the whole of Asia, as if no other culture has ever taken a damn risk!

Spencer also misapplies the term “Faustian”, which more appropriately applies to a deal with the devil. This is a sign that Spencer desperately wants to sound smart but can’t back it up, and it also points to Spencer’s emphasis on appearance over substance. It’s the same as his obsession with suits and James Bond. Maybe this is why he values what’s on the outside of a person, why he’d rather have a country of Justin Biebers than Neil DeGrasse Tysons.

Oddly, the alt-right’s alignment with President Trump is the very definition of Faustian. That orange-haired devil has brought the movement to the forefront of the American consciousness, and their fame has already cost them jobs, education, web hosting, payment accounts, meeting venues — and the same sort of statues the Charlottesville protest was ostensibly meant to protect. Keep up the good work, team!

Trump: Leading From His Behind

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

I could never, ever claim to be an expert on politics or social issues. I would never describe myself as “woke,” mostly because I hate the term “woke.” However, the recent tragedy in Charlottesville provided a new opportunity for our president and his followers to fail on even the most basic levels of competency and human empathy.

This should not have been a hard week for the Trump administration. Any decent president, regardless of their true feelings or original narrative, would have stepped up immediately after this tragedy and said, “Fuck Nazis.” Nothing brings people together like a common enemy! Even the younger Bush, whose presidency now I yearn for in moments of weakness, bumbled into high approval ratings after 9/11. Yet our current president found it necessary to prevaricate, then double down, acting like a previously-unknown “alt-left” was equally responsible for the murderous rampage in Charlottesville.

Who’s the “alt-left” in Trump’s mind? As far as I can tell, the “alt-left” are the guys who attack Nazis, who have historically been known as the good guys! To put it in terms Trump would understand: Was Indiana Jones “alt-left”? Was Captain America “alt-left”? Was even Daffy Duck “alt-left”?

What would Trump have said during World War II? “What about the ‘Allies’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘Nazis,’ do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact they came charging with guns in hands, shooting guns, do they have any problem? I think they do.”

This isn’t even hard! Just say “Nazis are bad!” and don’t hedge on it. What are they going to do, vote Democrat? They’d sooner let their daughter date a Jew! Hell, you don’t even need the Nazis in your party! You’ve still got all the racists, all the fascists, all the xenophobes – really, anyone who’s looking at this mess and thinking, “I may hate Hispanics and think all blacks are criminals, but at least I’m not a god-damn Nazi!

Prophecy Breakdown: The Virgin Shall Conceive

As I started inching away from Christianity and began to examine my faith from a more objective distance, I started noticing inconsistencies that were so obvious that I couldn’t believe they’d never occurred to me before. One of the biggest issues concerned messianic prophecies, a key tool of the apologist’s arsenal. I was taught that the odds of Jesus fulfilling so many specific predictions was so astronomically small, he must have come from God himself!

However, the issue isn’t as cut-and-dry as the apologists would have you believe. It only takes minimal scrutiny of prophecies quoted by the gospels to notice that they don’t apply to Jesus at all! One of the most damning examples comes from Isaiah 7:14, quoted by Matthew, and by extension every Christmas pageant ever written:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

So the big question is: what is the context here? Who is the Lord giving a sign, and what is the sign meant to confirm? Let’s start from the beginning of chapter 7:

In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. (v. 1)

Judah is under attack, and its inhabitants, even up to King Ahaz himself, are quaking with fear (v. 2). So God sends Isaiah to Ahaz to deliver reassurance that this attack will not succeed:

Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. (v.4)

It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. (v. 7)

Not only does God send Ahaz a message through Isaiah, he tells Ahaz he can ask for any sign he wants as confirmation (v. 11). Ahaz is hesitant, but apparently God has a sign at the ready that he just has to dole out, even if it’s not requested. This is the sign in verse 14, the one attributed to Jesus in the Christmas narrative.

The problem is that this child is clearly not a future Messiah. The succeeding verses make it clear that his life will be contemporary to Ahaz and the kings that have beset him:

For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. (v. 16-17)

Where does it mention a coming Messiah? Where does it speak of the savior of all mankind? There’s no reason to think that Isaiah 7:14 is speaking about Jesus, and every reason to think the verse was manipulated and reinterpreted to fit a new situation it was never meant to predict.

 

Book Review: Is God Just a Human Invention?

As a member of our local Atheist Christian Book Club, I’ve had the opportunity to delve back into the world of Christian apologetics, an area I haven’t touched since high school. It’s interesting to see what new ideas are out there, as well as what hasn’t changed in the last 15 years. Most recently, our group reviewed Is God Just a Human Invention? by Sean McDowell (son of well-known apologist Josh) and Jonathan Morrow. I was hoping that the breadth of topics covered by this book would yield some interesting new thoughts to consider, but I left feeling disappointed. McDowell and Morrow express little in the way of original thoughts, and when they do veer off the approved apologetic script, the results are unconvincing and best and downright shameful at worst.

I sometimes wonder why new apologetics books are published if they’re just going to repeat the same arguments ad infinitum. The very first chapter claims that theism is making a roaring comeback on college campuses, once bastions of godlessness, bolstered by “new insights and evidence” that have “brought new vitality to theism.” So what are these brand-new, earth-shattering ideas that have academia in such a tizzy? The cosmological argument! The argument from design! The argument from morality! Have the authors never read another apologetics text? Hell, the cosmological argument is at least a thousand years old! “The New Atheists can only ignore these arguments for so long,” they say. Well, the New Atheists haven’t been ignoring them, but even they were, there have been rebuttals of these arguments around for as long as believers have been repeating them. Perhaps, unlike McDowell and Morrow, they’re hesitant to tread the same well-worn paths.

Many of McDowell and Morrow’s arguments simply don’t work, or even make the opposite case. In a chapter about Christianity’s reputation for sexual repression, the authors assert, in Italics even, that “God is pro-sex!” The rest of the chapter details that God is specifically pro-heterosexual sex within the confines of marriage, which pretty much confirms the argument they think they’re debunking. Chapter 2 posits that the human brain is prone to error and unreliable, while Chapter 3 mocks atheists who would deny a miracle that happened in front of them. If our brains are so easily deceived, why would we not be skeptical of a seemingly impossible occurrence?

The most painful part of the book is watching McDowell and Morrow argue themselves in knots trying to rationalize biblical atrocities. In a chapter defending biblical slavery (!) McDowell and Morrow make the absurd claim that “God can’t just eradicate slavery all at once and still retain human freedom.” In other words, we cannot outlaw an institution that oppresses human beings because that would be oppressive to human beings? This isn’t the only conundrum. In a chapter about genocide in the Old Testament, the authors point to the Canaanite ritual of child sacrifice as justification for God’s command that Israel’s warriors “not leave alive anything that breathes“, which presumably would include children. Strangely, the authors don’t even touch on the slaughter of the Amalekites, where Saul is lambasted for not killing literally everything and everyone. Plus, there’s that whole worldwide flood thing. As a former Christian, I can sympathize with the authors, as it is indeed difficult to reconcile the barbaric God of the Old Testament with the New Testament’s God of love.

That said, McDowell and Morrow lose my sympathy when their arguments become disingenuous and insulting. When they hold up serial killer Ted Bundy as the inevitable result of atheistic immorality, or they quote “atheistic philosopher Frederick Nietzsche (who was carefully read by Hitler)” it becomes clear they are more interested in poisoning the well then having an authentic discussion. Perhaps more disturbing, in the previously-mentioned chapter on sexual repression, the authors have the audacity to claim that date rape – date rape – is no big deal outside of Christian morality. They paraphrase Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse in wondering why atheists would ever care about rape on college campuses:

When people go on dates, the frequently find themselves participating in many activities they don’t particularly want to do. Why is it a crisis, she asks, to get forced into sex, but not a crisis to get forced into eating Chinese food when you really wanted Mexican? Why aren’t there “basketball game date crisis centers” for students to visit after being dragged to a basketball game they didn’t want to attend?

How can anyone make these comparisons with a straight face? Have McDowell and Morrow never met a rape victim? Do they lack such a concept of a woman’s bodily autonomy, or even a basic human empathy, that the only thing keeping them from a libidinous rape parade is a WWJD bracelet? Or do they call the police in tears every time they get dragged to brunch with their wives’ friends, because that’s just like rape?

The authors do provide one passage worth special emphasis, as it sums up apologetics, intelligent design, and the whole of Christian ignorance in a single paragraph. McDowell and Morrow spend a chapter discussing the fine-tuning argument, and along the way they chastise science and its pesky desire to know stuff:

Can scientists only accept explanations that have further explanations? The problem with this objection is that it is always possible to ask for a further explanation. There comes a point, however, when scientists must deny the request for further explanation and accept the progress they have made. If the universe looks designed, why not accept design as the most plausible explanation, even if we can’t explain the Designer?

Oh, science! Hasn’t the time come to rest on your laurels? After all, we’ve already learned that the sun orbits the Earth, diseases are caused by imbalances of the humours, and everything around us is made from exactly five elements. Take a break – you’ve earned it!

The ultimate flaw in Is God Just a Human Invention? is its very thesis. McDowell and Morrow go specifically after the “New Atheists,” presumably because they think all atheists get their marching orders from the dastardly Four Horsemen. In reality, Dawkins doesn’t speak for all atheists. Neither do Hitchens, Dennett, or Harris. This isn’t to say that atheists are immune from dogma or demagoguery, but I would hope that anyone who is skeptical enough to become an atheist would also be discerning enough to understand that no one person or book has all the answers.