Friday, September 27, 2013

Truth is Truth (no matter who speaks it)

In a sense, I hate to have to mention Westboro Baptist. I'm sure everyone has heard of them, often making nonsensical correlations so they can "protest" the very existence of homosexuals by blaming the phenomenon on everyone from grieving military families to the Foo Fighters. Fortunately, their targeting of the military has energized many of my more conservative friends to join my more liberal friends in rare bipartisanship. In the interest of full disclosure (did my saying "full disclosure" just make me pro-gay?), I don't think there would be such agreement if they merely targeted actual homosexuals - they might even be praised, as some have praised Mr. Putin recently, but perhaps that is another post.

Mentions of Westboro have been down as of late, as there is nothing new here, and that's fine by me. Yet, a couple of weeks ago, they appeared again in USA Today with news of a small tiff with...Vince Gill (are they starting to go the B-list, Celebrity Apprentice route)? The most shocking part of this recent endeavor was that there was no gay-bashing; they were after him for his affair, divorce, and remarriage (to former star of Christian radio Amy Grant). But as much as I do not support WB in their rhetoric (against homosexuals or heterosexuals), I must give them credit: where so many people of faith I know are more than willing to explain the evils of homosexuality, the damage it does to our otherwise pious nation, and the perils of even casual tolerance, I almost never hear the same about heterosexual infidelity.

I've never been a fan of Mr. Gill, either. Yes, at the risk of outing myself as judgmental, I considered the Grant affair scandalous (on both parts), and still do, but the truth is that Vince could be completely celibate and I still probably wouldn't be a fan. I'm not into country music, and the little I can tolerate is on the rockabilly side as opposed to the whiny, saccharine ballads for which Mr. Gill is known. I do credit him for responding to WB protesters claiming (rightly) that the Bible condemns divorce and remarriage under his circumstances by saying, "You know what else [Jesus] said? He said a lot of stuff about forgiveness, about grace. You guys don't have any of that."

And so I find myself unable to fully agree with the actions of either party here, nor able to write off either as completely wrong. The better question here, however, is not who is right (about what) and who is wrong, but if such confrontations are even necessary. There are a great many things that I believe are wrong, but I can't imagine having any motivation to picket individuals for their transgressions. At the same time, I openly acknowledge that I too fall short (often), but can't imagine why anyone would want to take to the streets over them. Why is it that some people feel the need to respond to a group of people with hostility, even if they can identify sin? Does such a confrontation aid either party?

Yes, truth is truth, no matter who speaks it. Yet, knowing something to be true does not always require a proclamation. Even when spoken, something true can be stated in an incorrect (or even merely inefficient) fashion, and it appears the delivery often causes more issues than the validity of the statement.

Hey, it's true...figs are certainly not portrayed all that positively.  Maybe a boycott is in order?

Now I throw it out for you: what are the criteria for necessary statement of truth? Equal and consistent treatment? Likely danger? Possibility of acceptance/correction? Mere statement of personal principle (and if so, how often)? Obviously, everyone believes their own position to be superior (or why have it?), but is silence always approval? If so, I can't imagine a peaceful quiet anywhere.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In The Beginning...

From terrorist attacks to more typical schoolyard bullying, we live in an age of ideological imperialism. In culture, we get messages left and right that in order to be cool, one must buy this or that, or listen to this or that. In politics, we've seen the rise of smaller groups planting their flag into the larger one to claim it, which recently caused several Republicans in particular to be dismissed as "RINO" (Republicans in Name Only) when they fail to agree on a specific remedy to perceived social ills. The American public has been told more than once (from both the right and the left) that opposition to a policy or military campaign is "unamerican". Sadly, Christianity is no different, as I've been informed more than once that I was not Christian (or somehow less of one) because I did not agree with a certain viewpoint.

This is nothing new in the history of religion; nearly every system of belief has been fractured into smaller ones that all claim to be more true than the others, and often this conflict boils into actual violence between religious sects. For my part, I consider diversity of thought to be a strength - but to foster this diversity there must be some level of freedom, of tolerance. I see no such freedom apparent in the age-old debate about the origins of the Earth. Let us consider this example: creatures described in the Bible are literally dinosaurs.

I've seen tests of this kind before, prevalent in private/home school scenarios. I'm not sure it's productive for a group that identifies with Christianity to encourage smarting off to parents (not to mention easily backfiring, for who can say there was ever an Eden: "...were you there?"). That aside, I have nothing against "New Earth Creationists", and while I disagree with some things associated with the label, I believe they have a right to their opinion. I've seen fairly harsh criticisms of NEC from the OEC camp as well, but where these may paint New Earthers as misguided, naive, or even willingly ignorant, I have yet to see any of them claim that their view is the only acceptable view of Scripture, or suggest that New Earthers are somehow less Christian.

The lead Conquistador in this NE endeavor to claim the whole of Christianity appears to be Ken Ham of group "Answers In Genesis". His language in defense of the exam did not escape me: "...we teach children the history of the universe from the Bible, with special emphasis on teaching dinosaurs from a biblical perspective..." and later, saying that parents should have known that children "would be taught biblical Christianity". Hear that, CS Lewis? Ken's perspective is the only true, biblical Christianity. Enjoy Hell.

Another apparent schoolyard bully is Mr. Ray Comfort. When someone asked him recently, "can someone be a Christian and believe in evolution?" he replied:
"A theistic evolutionist has to make up a false god to keep his belief in evolution. He is what the Bible calls an idolater. Jesus said, "In the beginning God made them male and female." A professing Christian who believes in evolution thinks Jesus was lying. He is like someone who says, "I'm an atheist, but I believe in God."
I would have responded to him myself, but I was beaten to the punch by a Mr. Tyler Francke, who runs his own blog more focused on this specific issue, God of Evolution. His witty reply surely deserves an award of some kind:
A theistic water cyclist has to make up a false god to keep his belief in the water cycle. He is what the Bible calls an idolater. Jesus said that God "sends rain on the just and unjust." A professing Christian who believes in the water cycle thinks that Jesus was lying....

...any Christian knows that the water cycle — atheistic scientists’ attempt to explain atmospheric conditions without God — is just as unbiblical as evolution. The Bible is clear and consistent: Precipitation comes from God alone, not some messy, unguided process of “evaporation” and “condensation.” See Deuteronomy 28:12, Job 38:22-30 and Psalm 147:8 if your faith needs a booster shot.

Yes, a tad snarky, but completely spot on. I know a number of Christians who have made comments like "God made us with a purpose", but I would like to think that they know, on a literal, physical level, that we owe our existence to the process of sexual reproduction. Have not glaciers created lakes and caves? If one can accept that "God made us" in a different sense and accept the science behind it, why is it that people insist everyone of faith must reject this on the macro level?

As stated in my orientation post "Declaration", it is not my intent to debate here, at least not NE v OE (or even evolution without divine intervention). What I will argue (apparently for eternity) is that belief in God, or in intelligent design, does not require that one buy into a specific interpretation. One might say my primary position is that I (and others) may have a position other than your sanctioned position. Is there really such consequence to the interpretation of the word "day" that one group must potentially turn away people otherwise interested in faith simply because they refuse to sign off on a superfluous addendum?

At the heart of these sorts of claims tends to be the concept of literal interpretation, that Scripture must mean exactly what it says. However, I can't help but point out that such means are not consistently applied. Women speak inside the walls of my church, although a literal interpretation of the New Testament would prohibit it. Jesus himself almost pulled a facepalm when he was asked, "How can I be born again, am I to enter my mother's womb?" I see nothing "unbiblical" about interpreting certain verses to allow for scientific knowledge. And of course, religious authorities have not had the greatest track record.

...and one must assume St. B believed the latter.

I've heard people use Romans 3:4 in situations where one's beliefs do not seem to match up with general consensus, which is, in my opinion, extremely pompous. *Right now, one reader in three is thinking, "Did Mike Brooks just say something else was pompous?"* The issue, from my perspective, is not a dichotomy. I do not believe that faith requires rejection of science, nor that a good scientist must be an atheist. The conflict seems to start when a human extrapolates information (from religion or science) beyond what is known to arrive at a desired conclusion. What if, St. Bellarmine, your religion is true, and science is true? Why are your explanations that science is wrong, or God - could it not be that you are the one in error?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Kansas Loses; America Gets Its Racist On

This past Friday evening, I drove down to the Indianapolis International Airport after work to pick up my mother, who had been visiting my sister in San Diego for a week or so. She had texted me before I left work that she had made it to Dallas and was about to board her flight there, so all was as expected. I left work a tad early to make sure I was there by her 6:35 arrival time, but received a message from her as I was sitting still on 465 that her flight had been delayed, and she was just leaving Dallas about 90 minutes behind schedule. Not really having a plan, I decided to just continue to the airport and wait there.

After walking around the perimeter for a bit, I settled in one of the modern-styled, plastic chairs and pulled out my phone. Fortunately, the airport allowed a complimentary wi-fi connection of decent speed, and I had some time, so I began to cycle through my usual surf list: CNN, BBC, Facebook, e-mail, and WANE or INC for more local information. It was on one of these latter two that I saw a story that within an hour, Ann Coulter and Todd Starnes would be speaking at the Grand Wayne Center (I was a little surprised that the same article indicated there were still tickets available). Of course, I've never been a fan of Ms. Coulter; I find it odd that someone can call herself a "Christian first and a mean-spirited, bigoted conservative second", and I oppose calling people "retard" or "faggot". But, I digress; I can simply say I was aware of who she was - the second name I had never heard. In the consequent Google search I learned that he was host of "Fox News & Commentary" (which begs the question, as their tagline is "We report, you decide", why it's not just News, without the Commentary?...again, I digress). That was about the end of my allotted wi-fi time, and just as well, as Mum was arriving shortly according to the flat screen update. I got us some grub on the way back, and enjoyed a decent weekend.

While it wasn't on my radar for the weekend, I learned Monday morning that Miss New York won the Miss America Pageant. In itself, this information was of little concern, even with the winner Nina Davuluri being the first with a familial heritage from India. It was the flood of ignorant tweets and re-tweets that caught my attention, and reaffirmed my belief that we've not progressed as much as we like to think we have, as the American public (Click here to relive my dismay). I was somewhat comforted by reminding myself that anyone can sign up for Twitter and say just about anything, and that these people were not media figures or necessarily even people who were being taken seriously. But just as I was about to dismiss the ignorance with a shake of my noggin, I noticed a name that looked familiar: a Todd Starnes.

Yes, apparently his personal favorite did not place in the final five (much less emerge as Miss America), and so he decided to join in the racist chorus. She doesn't represent American values, the process was rigged, must secretly be a Muslim...sound familiar?

If history is any indicator, they'll be saying it for years to come.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


When in the Course of online events, it becomes necessary for one person to not entirely dissolve bands which have connected him with Facebook, and yet to assume among the powers of the Internets a separate and equal station to which the Ubiquitousness of Google Plus and adequate connectivity entitles him, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that he should declare the causes which impel him to the separation. - Thomas Jefferson*
As in any new endeavor, it may be wise to present an opening statement. While I have no doubt that there will be strong opinions shared here (by myself and by others), please consider my posts as defensive rather than offensive. In other words, I am not attempting to change minds by posting my thoughts here. Each person will agree sometimes and disagree other times, and I am quite comfortable with that. I have wasted a lot of time in the past engaged in fruitless polemics - philosophical, political, and theological - and see no need to do so here. As one of my personal heroes in American story (abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison) once said, "With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost." (Other excellent WLG quotes here.)

This does not mean that I do not welcome critical responses, as I expect a few with about everything I post. However, I hope to elevate the discussion here above the typical facebook banter, so please consider the following if engaging in debate:
  • No "No True Scotsman" arguments will be tolerated. Not only is it weak and overused, but it is inherently demeaning. We may have differing opinions, but it does not make me (or you) an inferior member of any geographic, religious, gender, or political group. Likewise, ad hominem attacks should be avoided.
  • While empassioned language is understandable, please understand there is a difference between conviction/moral outrage and alarmism.  Primarily, this difference is whether the focus of the outrage is real or merely theoretical. William Lloyd Garrison spoke harshly about the very real and widespread issue of race-based slavery. While I see such arguments all the time on facebook, there is no need to argue for the construction of missiles made to take out spacecraft originating outside of our solar system - without first proving the existence of said alien technology.
  • Correct grammar and spelling are greatly appreciated (capitalized words followed by superfluous exclamation points is a personal pet peeve).  While I am not morally opposed to "swear" words (which are determined by a culture and may vary), please refrain from their use as a concession to those here who may be offended by it. 
  • Lastly, if you think you're stating anything that may be questioned, please provide a link to document your source. This source should not be merely another blog or special-interest group site. If it's by a group no one's ever heard of, you might want to look for another source. You might even want to check it against Snopes.

Thank you for your continued patience. I am still learning (it's been years since I've used HTML), and once I have all of the technical stuff out of the way I look forward to more thoughtful posts than this list of rules and gripes. Excelsior!

* No, not really.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Your Patience is Appreciated.

Unlike the second Death Star, I am afraid this blogging station is not yet fully operational. I hope to have this corrected by this weekend.