Good Ol’ Sensationalism

Nothing beats sensationalism, at least when you’re a reporter or news service. I saw this headline from the AP via Fox News today, “Christian Drifter May Have Killed Two Couples in Separate Beach Murders, Police Say.”

What’s that? A Christian is responsible for two double murders? Well, before you Sam Harris -lovin’, Richard Dawkins -readin’, Christopher Hitchens -followin’ folks get all excited about another Christian person behaving un-Christlike, you might want to actually read the story.

Apparently, in 1972 a couple was killed on a beach in Vancouver. The case went cold, but much more recently, 2004, another couple was killed in a similar manner in New Mexico. What ties these two cases together is Joseph Henry Burgess who died in a shootout with police on July 16,2009. From the AP report, Burgess was a nomad of sort that has wondered all over the Canada and the U.S. but spent the last decade or so “burglarizing cabins in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains”. Perhaps the AP left out some information about Burgess’s life that makes him not just a drifter, but a “Christian Drifter”, but as far as I can tell from their own report there is no evidence that he was a Christian at all.

What, precisely, does the AP say about Burgess’s Christianity? Well, I’ll reproduce it in its entirety,

Burgess eventually made it out to the U.S. West Coast, where he lived in a religious commune run by the Children of God and called himself Job, in reference to the biblical figure, [retired RMCP officer] Creally said. He reportedly was kicked out of the commune’s boarding hosue after his rifle made other residents uncomfortable.

In the words of Porky Pig, “that’s all folks!” Sometime after 1972, when the Vancouver couple was killed, Burgess joined a commune in New Mexico and referred to himself as Job. As far as the AP sees it, that’s enough to be a Christian. Now I know that most Americans are nominal Christians, but this is really pushing that line.

From this report we know so much more about Burgess and nothing at all about his being a Christian. (One need not be a Christian to live in a Christian commune. Heck, just because a commune says it’s Christian doesn’t mean it actually is.) There are all sorts of alternatives besides “Christian Drifter.” Why not “Draft-dodging Drifter”, “Canada-loving Drifter”, “Cookie-stealing Drifter”, or even “Weird-creepy-guy-Drifter”? (Okay, that last one is a bit much.) Why not? Because labelling this guy a Christian is going to attract more attention. It doesn’t matter that we have not a shred of evidence that this guy actually was a Christian. That, my friends, is sensationalism.

(For a much shorter take on the AP’s complete lack of integrity, see Mark Cuban’s Twitter post here.)

Advertisements

The Pro-Life Movement

Recently (May 31, 2009) a man shot and killed George Tiller in the midst of a church service. Tiller was one of the few doctors in America that performed partial birth abortions and he was also consistently in the center of the abortion debate. Because Tiller was such a high-profile person in the abortion services community, and he was shot dead in a church, there has been a lot of media attention paid to the event. This attention has revealed something very telling about the current pro-life movement – we are failing miserably.

Before justifying such a claim I want to state some of my background assumptions via a quick argument seeking to establish that both Tiller’s killing and abortions are immoral. I will then explain why I think the pro-life movement is failing. Finally, I will conclude by presenting the strategy that I think the pro-life movement should endorse and demonstrate what that strategy looks like in action by arguing for the truth of some of the premises in the following argument.

  1. Personhood begins at conception. That means from the earliest stage of pregnancy we are dealing with a human person and should treat him or her accordingly.
  2. The unjustified killing of a human person is morally wrong.
  3. Almost all abortions are instances of unjustifiably killing a human person.
  4. Therefore, almost all abortions are morally wrong.

Though this is slightly off topic, I should point out that according to the above argument the killing of George Tiller was morally wrong. I am perfectly content with such a view since I take all instances of vigilantism as being morally inappropriate. On my view, killing Tiller is not just morally wrong but also pragmatically wrong. If one wants to see abortion more highly restricted (or eliminated altogether), killing abortionists won’t help that matter. If anything, it makes it more unlikely.

With the above argument in mind, I want to describe why I think the pro-life movement is failing and what should be done to correct it. First, why it is failing. I take as a representative sample of media coverage a recent column on the BBC News website (Anti-abortion and violence in the US). In this column, author Nick Triggle notes what he takes to be the general tenor of the abortion debate in the US. First he notes that quite-popular President Obama “was heckled by anti-abortion activists over his decision earlier this year to lift restrictions on funding for abortion.” He then notes that such heckling and protests are quite common in the US and its commonplace is, at least, partly attributable to the “hundreds of religious stations across the country.” He continues, “the level of involvement of religious groups” is vastly different in the US than in the UK. Finally, and most tellingly, he says “With half the US population regular church-goers, everything from sexual abstinence and euthanasia campaigns to the abortion debate has been dominated by religious groups.”

Now I don’t have a problem with Triggle’s article. In fact, I think his analysis is spot on. What I do have a problem with is that the pro-life movement has allowed itself to be branded as a religious movement. If you go to any number of websites that have reported on Tiller’s killing and look at just a few of the comments you’ll see a frequent theme. You’ll see many pro-choice supporters accusing “pro-lifers” as being close-minded and trying to force their religious beliefs on the rest of America. Sadly, the responses by those same pro-lifers support such an idea.

But don’t get me wrong; I am proud that most people in the pro-life movement are Christians. That religious groups are the primary reason this is still an issue in America today is a good thing. That means we are still fighting for the oppressed and willing to defend the defenseless. However, we do not live in a world that accepts our authority as their authority. Religious groups cannot make a religious argument to convince the world that abortion is morally wrong. We must give them arguments with premises that they can accept on their own terms. We can’t allow the fact that the pro-life movement is dominated by “religious groups” to become a fact that the pro-life argument is a religious argument.

There is simply no need to give a religious argument for the immorality of abortion. Of course, these types of arguments are available, but they will only convince those that already accept that religion as true and authoritative. Most in America today do not (even many of those that refer to themselves as Christians) accept Christianity as true and authoritative. Here one might ask what type of argument should we give, if not a religious argument. What would a non-religious argument look like? Here is an example of one, very simple, argument that all religious and non-religious people can use to make the case for the life of the unborn.

  1. Either the unborn are human persons or not.
  2. If the unborn are not human persons, then no justification for an abortion is needed (just like we don’t need justifying reasons for removing tonsils).
  3. If the unborn are human persons, then the justification typically given for an abortion will never be morally adequate (just because an individual is too busy or too poor to take care of another human person does not mean that individual is justified in killing that human person).

This focuses the debate on the thing that matters most. Are the unborn human persons? I believe they are, but not even that belief depends upon a religious assumption. Why think the unborn are human persons? This can be boiled down to one general idea.

  • The location of a thing is never a morally salient feature of that thing.

If one should think of a newborn as a human person, then there is no good reason to not think of a pre-born as a human person. Frankly, it is absurd to think that a few inches determine the moral status of a person. To believe that the fetus is magically transformed from non-person to person by traveling down the birth canal is rationally unacceptable. The fetus just prior to birth is just as much a human as the infant just after birth. Its location is irrelevant.

Further, there are no good reasons to cut off personhood at some earlier point in the pregnancy either. Distinctions based upon trimester are purely arbitrary ways for people to refer to general stages of development. Almost everything that a person needs to develop into a grown human being is present from conception. The only additional things needed are external. They are 1) an appropriate environment and 2) to not be killed. But this is just as true for you and me as it is for the unborn. If you kill me, then I will obviously not continue grow as a human being. But even if you just remove me from an environment conducive to my continued growth (e.g. by stripping off my clothes and placing me outside during an Alaskan winter), then I too will die. That the unborn depends upon the appropriate environment to live does not mean it is not a human person. If you don’t kill me, then I will continue to grow as a human person grows. If you don’t kill the unborn, they will do the same.

Now of course much more can be said in favor of the pro-life position. This is intended to be a very rough and ready type of argument that, for our purposes, simply demonstrates how the pro-life movement should advance its cause. You should notice that nothing I have said against the morality of abortion has depended upon a religious argument. Not once did I appeal to the Bible or to church teaching. If the pro-life movement begins to advance these types of arguments, then we will have a much greater shot at convincing the general public that abortion is morally wrong. Even if that does not result in Roe being overturned (though I in fact think it could), it will prevent a great number of women from choosing to have an abortion. But as long as the pro-life movement relies upon religious arguments we will continue to be marginalized in the public sphere. Our arguments are compelling and their arguments are not. In order to progress the pro-life agenda we must use the compelling arguments and not ones that rely upon a religious text that a vast number of Americans don’t accept as authoritative.

If you’d like more resources for developing this type of argument I’ll make two recommendations. The first is Stand to Reason’s Bio Ethics page. At STR’s page you’ll find a wealth of good reasoning about the abortion issue (as well as many of today’s other pressing ethical issues). The second is Life Training Institute, which is run by Scott Klusendorf, a former member of Stand to Reason. (I’m indebted to Greg Koukl of STR and Klusendorf for the formulation of the above argument.) Klusendorf just published a book dealing with the abortion issue called, The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture (this links to the book’s website). You can get his book from that site or from Amazon at The Case for Life.

A Tale of Two Obama Endorsements

I recently read on an Economist blog that the Matthew 25 Network (www.matthew25.org) has decided to endorse Barack Obama. This group’s name is a nod to Matthew 25: 35-40. The portion of this passage on their website is “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink… ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for me.”

I was immediately interested in learning more about this organization because I thought it odd that a seemingly Christian group would be so proud to announce that they have decided to endorse someone with such a pro-abortion record. Their website states that their values are “promoting life with dignity, caring for the least of these, strengthening and supporting families, stewardship of God’s creation, working for peace and justice at home and abroad and promoting the common good.”

I guess it’s just not clear to me how Obama fits that profile, at least with his record on abortion. How exactly does supporting the legality of abortion promote life with dignity for the unborn? Wouldn’t an unborn child be “the least of these”? After searching around a bit more, the Matthew 25 Network was just launched as a Federal Political Action Committee (PAC). Contrary to appearance, this is not some Christian non-profit working on the behalf of some Christian cause. This is a political organization launched with the sole purpose of endorsing Obama.

Now there are plenty of other groups that have endorsed Obama (e.g. Hamas, Moveon.org). One of the groups I would like to draw attention to is NARAL Pro-Choice America (www.prochoiceamerica.org/elections/statements/obama.html). This organization, unlike Matthew 25 Network, has existed for some time and has an agenda besides just endorsing Obama. This group was founded in 1968 as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws. After those laws were indeed repealed, they changed their name to National Abortion Rights Action League, then to National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. And now they are NARAL Pro-Choice America.

What I find interesting is the reason why NARAL chose to endorse Obama. NARAL scores politicians on their pro-choice voting record and in 2005, 2006, and 2007 Obama scored a 100%. That means that in three years Obama has never voted against one of the leading abortion-rights group’s agenda. On their website they even have quotes from Obama that, to them, justify their decision to endorse him. (In one of his quotes he even brags that he’s scored a 100% with both NARAL and Planned Parenthood.)

So what is the point of comparing these two groups. The point is this. One group was formed as a PAC with the sole purpose of having a Christian-sounding group endorse Obama. They have no other agenda. The other group clearly has an agenda and has had it for a long time. This agenda is counter to Christianity at a variety of levels, but this group believes that Obama is the best person to further that agenda.

Does a group’s decision to endorse Obama mean he agrees with that group? Of course not, but it should make someone stop and think about why such a group would want Obama to be president. The fact that he’s never voted against their agenda should at least make Christians and non-Christian anti-abortionists stop and think about the ramifications of him becoming president. This is especially true since the appointment of another Supreme Court Justice is highly likely in the next term and several of the more recent high profile cases have been decided 5-4.

Cartoons & Socialized Health Care

14.jpg

I happened upon this cartoon the other day and I think it does a nice job of clearly showing the problem that we are in today. No, I don’t think not having universal health care is the problem. I do think that people are increasingly of the mind that it is the government’s job to take care of them. This never has, and never should be, the central role of our government. The proper role of the government is to set the framework in which we can live freely. It is to protect others from infringing our rights to do as we ought (not as we want) and that is it. (For an outstanding argument demonstrating this point, see F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.)
With that said, I would like to address a few of the depictions in this cartoon.

First, the roads. The majority of our roads are not federally funded. Most of them come from property taxes, sales taxes, and income taxes. And this is how it should be. The local governments are able to best decide what roads need to be built, repaired, and ignored. It is not the federal government’s role to do that for us. No one is advocating a local government ran health care system so the comparison to roads is really bad. But, if that’s what someone was advocating, and succeeded in getting it implemented (think Massachusetts), then make that clear. It’s a lot easier to move a state over than to move a country over.

Second, the army. Many don’t know this, but Milton Friedman (an economist) was one of the most influential people in getting the U.S. away from a conscription-based army and to a volunteer army. His reasoning was simple. If the military has to get people to choose to go into the military, the military will have to compete for their service. They have to offer better training, pay, etc. than the other options out there. The result, we have a much better trained and equipped military now than we ever did then. So, what does that have to do with health care?

Well, no one is forced to serve in the army. After we transitioned to a volunteer military, it has gotten better and more sophisticated. The military can’t just say “You have to join us”, instead they have to say “Here’s why you should join us.” Notice that if we switch to an Obama or Clinton-esque national health care, we are doing just the opposite. No longer do you get, “Here’s why you should join us” but instead you get “You have to join us.” So, the army example is bad for two reasons. First, the army is volunteer and national health care would not be. And second, when military service was mandated, there was no reason for the military to work to make it better. People had to join. Why think the health care industry would be any different?

Third, the postal service. By almost all accounts, our federal government ran mail service is a complete disaster. How many times can you remember their raising the cost of postage stamps? Why are they doing this? Because the USPS is losing money hand over fist and they’re trying to stop the bleeding. People thought the idea of FedEx, UPS, and DHL was absurd because the government already offered a mail service. But, the privatized system works so much better, and is cheaper for those that use it, that they are all extremely successful businesses. If the federal government is unable to deliver a package from point A to point B and keep costs down, what makes us think they can figure out a way to transplant a heart from person A to person B any better?

Fourth, the fire department. Once again this is a bad example because fire departments are not ran by the federal government, but local municipalities. Again, if you want a local ran health care system, say so. As far as I know, no one is seriously advocating such a system, and Obama and Clinton are definitely not doing so.

Now I know that this artist was probably doing this tongue-in-cheek, but I do think it highlights to a great deal how many people think about health care. It sounds so easy to just say the government should provide it and then stop thinking. But, it’s not that easy. Yes, they can provide our health care, but you have to figure out how we’re going to pay for it (the doctors, nurses, and staff are still going to get paid either way), who gets to decide if you get to have that life-improving but non life-threatening surgery, and how we can keep the program from becoming bloated with waste (which we still have yet to figure out how to do with Medicare and Medicaid).

Mike Huckabee’s Christmas Video

In the above video Mick Huckabee wishes everyone a Merry Christmas and reminds us to not forget that it is a celebration of Christ’s birth. Of course there have been people griping about its exclusive nature (he doesn’t address the beliefs of non-Christians) and one person, Bill Donahue, has even claimed that there is a subliminal attempt to convert people to Christ. This is absurd.

If you haven’t watched the video yet, please do it now. In the back you will see a white bookcase that forms a cross. Apparently, Donahue believes that this was intentional and infers that because of it, Huckabee is trying to advance the Christian cause. This could be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

Let’s say that it is a subliminal message. What would that message be? Well, since the video ends with Huckabee blocking out the “cross” I could only surmise that Huckabee is really trying to advance himself as more important than the cross. After all, it was there and then he blocked it out. If you’re willing to grant that Huckabee would try to convey hidden messages in his video, then you’ve got to be willing to go all the way with it. If the cross-shaped bookcase mattered as the “cross” appears, then why wouldn’t it matter as he blocked it out? Because Donahue knows Huckabee would never do that on purpose. Maybe, if all the post-moderns are right and you get to interpret things however you wish, Huckabee is crazy and really thinks he’s more important than the cross. There’s a better chance that Donahue is the one that’s crazy.

This is the sort of nonsense that we are about to get a whole load of as the political season comes into full bloom. Subliminal messages from a presidential hopeful-give me a break.

And just so you know, at this point I’m not backing Huckabee. Right now, my vote’s going to Romney. So this isn’t some attempt to defend “my guy.” This is an attempt to point out how ridiculous some people are when it comes to being politically correct.

Barry Bonds and Bad Arguments

Just in case you’ve been under a rock the last couple of years, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding Barry Bonds. He recently hit his 755th home run which ties him with Hank Aaron for the all time mark, and will soon hit 756. These last few weeks, listening to sports talk radio has been a virtual smorgasbord of bad reasoning. Since I’m about to start teaching a critical reasoning class in the fall, I thought I’d take a few minutes to highlight a few examples of bad reasoning that have been quite prevalent lately.

On ESPN Radio, I recently heard Amy Lawrence make an argument that went basically like this:

“Barry Bonds has never failed a steroids test. There is no proof that Bonds used steroids, so you can’t tell me that he did. In fact, if you say Bonds did use, then you’ve got to also say that everyone else used. We don’t have evidence that Alex Rodriguez didn’t use steroids so we can’t know that he didn’t.”

Now I don’t want to just sit here and bash on Lawrence because a lot of other people have made similar arguments, but this one is particularly bad because of the second argument about Rodriguez inserted at the end. Here’s why her argument is bad on a variety of levels.

  1. Lawrence assumes that the only type of evidence is scientific evidence. If I think you’ve cheated in some way, then, according to Lawrence, the only way I can prove it is if there is a scientific test I can administer that’ll come back with certain results. The problem with this should be obvious. We make judgments all the time without scientific evidence. A couple gets divorced because one has good reason to think the other is cheating. No scientific evidence needed. A parent grounds the oldest child for tormenting the younger one. No scientific evidence needed. In both cases, all that is rationally needed is good reasons to think the spouse is cheating or the older child is being a brat.

    Now, are there other types of evidence available that gives us good reason to think Barry Bonds cheated? Of course. First, just look at the guy. The old eye test does wonders. Men over 35 don’t magically grow larger heads. He doesn’t just have a more muscular body, his head has actually gotten bigger (and you just thought it was his ego). That’s part of what human growth hormone (HGH) does to you. Secondly, there’s a book, The Game of Shadows, that details his usage with transcripts from informants, patterns of usage, dosages, etc. that clearly indicate he was using. Of course, the authors could’ve made it all up, but I haven’t heard one word from someone contradicting the evidence they provide. Finally, and the most damning in my opinion, is the fact that he admitted to using steroids under oath. Even if he didn’t know “the cream” and “the clear” were steroids (both of which he admitted to using), that doesn’t mean he didn’t use them. (“I’m sorry officer, I didn’t know this grass I was smoking is marijuana” usually doesn’t work.) The question shouldn’t be if he was using steroids, it should be if he knew he was using steroids.

    All this doesn’t just apply to Lawrence, these are all mistakes many people make when discussing the Barry Bonds and steroids issue. Next we’ll see a less common mistake (less common because it’s much worse).

  2. Amy Lawrence suggests that if we say Bonds used steroids without “evidence,” then there’s no way to prevent someone from saying the same thing about Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod). This is a really bad argument because it boils down to nothing more than an argument from ignorance. The argument goes something like this:

    “We don’t know that A-Rod didn’t use steroids. Therefore, we can’t say that he didn’t.”

    In my critical reasoning class I teach the students that one way of refuting an argument is by logical analogy. Pretty much, you come up with a different argument that has the same structure that leads to an obviously wrong conclusion. So, let’s do that with Lawrence’s bad argument about A-Rod.

    “We don’t know that giant invisible martians don’t live on the moon and control everything we do. Therefore, we can’t say that giant invisible martians don’t live on the moon and control everything we do.”

    Same argument structure, crazy conclusion. So, we’ve seen that each part of her argument is flawed, but there’s another problem with the big picture.

  3. In arguing about Bonds, Lawrence sets up a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is an argument that tries to make a person choose 1 of 2 options when there is really more than those 2 options. Here’s how she committed this fallacy.

    Option 1: We don’t say Bonds used steroids.
    Option 2: We do say he used steroids & have to say the same thing about A-Rod.

    Lawrence leaves out the fact that we can say Bonds used steroids even though we don’t have a positive steroid test because we have other good reasons to say he did use them. The reasons we can say Bonds used steroids do not apply to A-Rod (doesn’t look abnormally large or have a growing head, but instead looks like a professional athlete would look given his workout regimen, there’s no detailed book giving other reasons to think he used, and he’s never admitted to unknowingly using in court).

So, thank you Amy Lawrence for providing me with many great examples of poor reasoning. After first hearing these really bad arguments I thought I’d just put in a CD whenever you fill in for someone, but now I think I’ll stay tuned in to see what other examples of poor reasoning you provide.

Why the Bible Doesn’t Matter (at least sometimes)

I’ve been listening to quite a bit of commentary following Tim Hardaway’s recent comments that he hates gay people. For those of you that haven’t heard, Hardaway was asked on a Miami area sports radio show what his thoughts were about having a teammate that is gay. He made some remarks that seemed a bit bigoted and when asked if he understood those were homophobic, bigoted remarks, he responded by saying “I hate gay people.” Much of the commentary I’ve heard on a local radio station has focused on how the Bible condemns homosexuality and even though the way Hardaway expressed his view is questionable, he is right in saying that homosexuality is wrong. Their basis for why homosexuality is wrong is that the Bible condemns it. Well, I want to argue that, in this situation, what the Bible has to say about homosexuality doesn’t matter.

First, it’s not at all clear that Hardaway based his comments on the Bible. In fact, I think it’s clear that his comments were not based on the Bible. So the biblical passages that refer to homosexuality don’t matter in this context because they were never appealed to in the first place.

Some may respond by saying that even if Hardaway didn’t appeal to the Bible in his comments, he could have made such an appeal. In fact, some have even said that he should have made an appeal to the relevant Biblical passages. This leads naturally to my second point. Even if Hardaway (or anyone for that matter) does have a case that the Bible condemns homosexuality he should not have appealed to that case. Why? Because what the Bible says about homosexuality is completely irrelevant when discussing the issue with people that don’t believe in the Bible. I understand that some may be bothered by this statement so let me explain a bit further.

When making a case for or against some issue, it is important to make that case with premises that all parties find agreeable. Please allow me to illustrate. Imagine you and a friend are playing in a field behind both your houses. You see a tree and decide to climb that tree. Tree climbing is a hobby you developed with your father and would now like to climb that tree. Your friend tells you, “Don’t climb that tree!” to which you ask “Why?” Now if your friend responds by saying “Well, my daddy said to not climb this tree, so you shouldn’t climb the tree” do you have any obligation to comply? Of course not. What reason do you have to comply with the commands given by an authority (her father) that you don’t recognize? Now if your instead friend replied by saying, “All the other children that have climbed this tree have fallen and hurt themselves very badly” then it might make sense to not climb that tree. Does the situation change if instead of a friend in the field with you it is a sibling and your sibling said “Don’t climb that tree because Dad said not to”? Yes that does change things and in a very important way. Why? Because now both people recognize the same person as a common authority.

So how does that apply to debating whether or not homosexuality is a good thing to practice? Well, if you say, “Don’t engage in homosexual activities because the Bible says it is a sin” but the person doesn’t believe in the Bible, then you are no different than the friend that expects you to obey her dad. Now if both parties agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and a guide to daily living, then it is perfectly acceptable to appeal to the Bible as your authority on the subject.

Does this mean that the Christian should remain silent about the potential or actual harms of homosexuality? Of course not. There are two things open for the Christian to do. One is to engage the other person about why he or she should accept the Bible as the standard for daily living. This would be like the friend in the example going on to say, “Well, my dad is a fireman and the last time someone got hurt climbing this tree all the firemen decided it was too dangerous for anyone to climb.” This would be an attempt to show why, in this case, you should accept the authority of her dad. The second thing you can do is make your case against homosexuality without referring to the Bible. Why do you think the Bible seems to prohibit homosexuality? (I use ‘seems’ because not everyone reading this will agree it does, but even those people would agree with what follows.) Well, certain behaviors prevent people from living the best life possible. That is true whether or not you believe in God or the Bible. If you show how those behaviors prevent the best life without appealing to the Bible, then whomever you are talking with cannot just say, “Well, I don’t believe in the Bible and so I have no reason to obey its commands.”

I do think such a case can be made. If you’re interested in some books that make a case against homosexuality (among other things) without appealing to Scripture, let me know. There are also some great books that will help you know why people should believe in the Bible’s trustworthiness and reliability. Those types of books may help you with your ability to convince those that don’t trust the Bible that they should.

American Idol: Today’s Jerry Springer

It wasn’t too long ago that the Jerry Springer Show was at the height of its success. I have only seen a few of the shows in their entirety, but without fail found each one revolting. The cause of my revulsion wasn’t so much the actions of the participants (before or during the actual show) or even their willingness to emotionally prostitute themselves in front of a national audience. The main cause of my revulsion was that there was such a large amount of individuals willing to support the show by watching on a regular basis. The more horrific the actions of the participants, the more the crowd (in the audience and at home) enjoyed it. If a man left his wife for another, the audience would be pretty excited; but if he left his wife for her brother, they would be ecstatic. The crowd loved it all the more when tears turned to rage. During its heyday, you would be hard pressed to find a Christian, much less thousands of them, openly talk about how much fun it is to watch the Jerry Springer Show. It’s probably true that more Christians watched the show than actually admitted it, but it’s telling that most saw it fit to deny that they even watched it. Unfortunately, that may no longer be the case today.

Tonight I became deeply saddened by the state of the Church. I realized that the American Idol auditions aren’t that different from the Jerry Springer Show, but scores of Christians see absolutely no problem with them. I’ve heard more than a few pastors mention from the pulpit that they love the show and are sure to TiVo it each week. I’ve heard countless Christians specifically say that they only watch it in the beginning to listen to all the really bad singers trying to make it on the show. Making fun and laughing at some of the people auditioning has become so popular in general that Fox often has ‘special’ shows midway through just to show more of these “awful performances.” I wish I could say the Church wasn’t part of that, but I know She is. I really don’t see how finding humor in the judges’ degrading comments is much different from finding humor in the Jerry Springer Show. A bad performance gets some chuckles, but a bad performance with biting comments from the judges seems to really get people rolling. How many times have you seen an American Idol contestant’s tears turn to rage? Have you noticed that is when the cameras seem most interested in following the person around? I know many won’t agree with this, but I just don’t see God being pleased with his Church when we not only support, but enjoy, this kind of entertainment.

To make my case more concrete, imagine with me that we went to the local high school to watch their open cheerleading tryouts (or to a local college to watch student-athletes try and walk-on to the football team). If the judges at that high school began to laugh in the faces of individuals trying out and berated them because of their effort, we would be appalled. Furthermore, if I began to laugh at the judges comments you would (or should) be even more appalled at my decidedly un-Christian attitude. I don’t see that being any different from what many Christians do during American Idol. Sure, some of the people are just trying to get on TV, but others are obviously not. One of the contests tonight (they called him Red) genuinely seems to have people in his life that thought he had a great singing voice. As Red began his audition he was rudely and shockingly awoken to the fact that he doesn’t have such a voice. Sadly, as the judges laughed in his face, a great number of the Church laughed right along with them. I truly believe the last thing that Christ’s Church should be doing is joining in on the public humiliation that people like Red faced these last couple of days.

Please understand that I’m not saying a Christian shouldn’t watch the show (it may be true that they in fact shouldn’t, but that’s not the point of this post). I am saying that I don’t think a Christian should enjoy watching others get humiliated in front of a national audience.

Just a few updates & some thoughts

We are officially getting a dog! We’re going to call him Aquinas (it’s been Orlando which is just a little soft for me) and he’s currently 8 months old. If everything goes as planned he’ll come home with us next weekend. Oh yeah, in case you’re wondering, he’s a Cardigan Welsh Corgi. Another exciting thing is that this week I had my advisory conference.

This is a meeting with what will likely be my dissertation committee (there could be one two members that get changed out, but that’s not very common) about my future courses and the scheduling of my general exam. It looks like this Spring I’ll take the last exam of my educational career. If that goes well and I pass the exam, I’ll be considered ABD (All But Dissertation). From there I’ll have 2 to 3 years of funding to write my dissertation and teach one class per semester. It’s still kind of weird to think that I’m this close to finishing the program. Wow.

————-

Have you ever wondered what happened to common, run-of-the-mill decency towards one another? I’m shocked at people that just don’t give a damn about anyone else. Think about it… Go to the grocery store parking lot and there are stray carts left all over the place, 20 ft from the cart return. How long do you think it’d take to walk that cart over? 20 seconds? 30? Drive through a construction zone and everyone thinks they have to drive in the soon-to-be-closed lane all the way until the cones force them over. Don’t they understand that if everyone just merged over as they had time that everyone would get through it faster? No, of course not because they’re to concerned that those 5 other people are going to get through the zone faster. When was the last time you’ve gone out to eat dinner and didn’t see someone (at your table or otherwise) interrupt a dinner to answer a phone call?Just an ounce of common decency would drastically change any of these situations. I’m almost certain that the cause of the lack of decency is an increase in self-centeredness. In this culture it’s terribly easy for us all to become more and more self-absorbed and forget that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Throughout the next couple of days, ask yourself how you may have allowed the me-centered culture to change your attitude toward others in a negative way.
Grace and peace,

The Da Vinci Code

It’s been awhile since I’ve last posted, but after finishing Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, I thought I’d come out of hibernation and give you some thoughts. So, here are my thoughts:

  1. The book is a good read, but the amount of copies it has sold is surprising (it’s not that good).
  2. The Church has a lot more to worry about than this book; let’s focus on people coming to Christ and not on some piece of fiction.
  3. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, then this book will really get you going (just remember that Harvard has no professor of symbology, no one does because it’s a made up profession).

Okay, in regards to 1. I think I know why it has sold so many books. People like controversy. That’s it, nothing more needs to be said (but will be said anyways). If Dan Brown concludes at the end of the book that the Church had it right all along and isn’t hiding the truth about Jesus and his family, then I’m certain it wouldn’t have sold as many books as it did. Heck, it probably wouldn’t even have gotten published because the writing just isn’t that good. In the future I plan to post about the writing itself, some of it just doesn’t make sense.As far as 2 goes, too many people in the Church today have gotten very worried and upset about this book. Guess what, people have been writing this type of stuff for awhile now, just this time it’s much better than before. If you’re curious about what makes people so upset, go to your local bookstore and read Chapter 55. This is the chapter that causes all the problems with many people in the Church and sets the stage for the rest of the book. Don’t worry, reading this before everything else won’t ruin it; you won’t understand some of the plot but the plot isn’t why I want you to read the chapter. It’s also the chapter that made the book much less interesting for me. It’s like when a movie takes such a terribly unrealistic turn that it’s hard to watch anymore, that’s what chapter 55 does for me. Some may be convinced that something like what happened in chapter 55 could happen; if that’s you, go buy Darrell Bock’s Breaking the Da Vinci Code or for something not related to Brown’s book, get J.P. Moreland and Michael Wilkins’s Jesus Under Fire. (The latter is a very good book, the former I haven’t read yet but Bock is one of the foremost New Testament scholars and is sure to be helpful).Finally, conspiracy theories will never go away. It’s why in grade school rumors get started about someone eating his boogers. It’s why in high school some guy is always accused of being gay (especially if he is in drama). There is an often insatiable desire for controversy and that’s exactly what conspiracy theories are supposed to cover up. Brown has written a book that fans the flames of controversy in people’s hearts, especially those that have something against the Church.Read the book so you can know what the heck is going on in our culture today (that’s why I read it). Don’t be afraid that your faith will be shattered or that you’ll lose trust in the New Testament. If that indeed happens, please let me know and I’d be glad to help out or at least locate some resources to answer your questions.Grace and peace,