To stab the giant in the eye (RIP Robin Williams)

 

despairthegiant

Facing the giant, Despair; original work

“Yeah, well, I’ve got a dream too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. The kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And, well, I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And it kind of makes us like a family.”

– Kermit the Frog, The Muppet Movie

I can’t help but think that Robin Williams was a big fan of Jim Henson, creator of Kermit and the rest of the Muppets. Given that Williams appeared numerous times on Sesame Street, this has to be the case. I grew up on the Muppet Movie, and to this day, “The Rainbow Connection” tugs at all my heartstrings. While I never liked Robin Williams as much as I did the Muppets, in reflecting on Williams’ work, I see that same spirit. And now Williams joins Henson and so many other entertainers who died just trying to accomplish that very simple task of singing and dancing and making people happy. For that reason, the loss of Robin Williams feels a lot like the loss of part of my family, because he made it his life goal to make people like me happy.

With all the injustice and death in the world right now, it doesn’t feel like any of us deserve happiness. It also seems silly to mourn this one man none of us really even knew in the first place over the thousands upon thousands dying in Iraq, Gaza, and elsewhere. But what makes something like Williams’ death so poignant is that he challenged us all to find joy in a world that contains atrocities like Iraq and Gaza. He asked us to confront despair and death with a brazen smile. Against the odds, it all felt a little absurd, and honestly that was always what unsettled me about Williams’ work: why was he trying so hard to make people smile? What was with how he tried so hard to find simple-minded joy even in the face of death?

In retrospect, knowing that Williams fought and lost a lifelong battle with depression, I understand. This was his struggle, to smile and laugh and tell jokes. But he lost. If even such a man should give in to depression, should we abandon the hope he taught us to seek?

I continue to believe in Williams. I still hold on to hope. Let me tell you a little story: the Norse people said that at the end of time, the gods would knowingly ride to their deaths. The giant Surtr would rise up from the south to destroy the world. During the Ragnarok, the god Freyr would ram an elk horn deep into the giant’s eye, but the giant would swing his burning sword and kill Freyr.

This is Williams’ story. He faced the giant Despair with the utmost courage. With his smiles, his jokes, and his unabashed joy, Williams drove a horn deep into the eye of the giant only to be slain in the process. He could not kill it, but he would be damned if he did nothing to resist!

And this is how we should remember Robin Williams: a man of incredible bravery who fought to the last against an insurmountable foe — a man who tried to make people happy in a world that so often tempts us to give up hope. And maybe we can’t fix the world. Maybe death and misery will never leave us. I don’t care. Let us all cling to the hope of a better world even to the point of death, because that makes us better people.

Let us mourn for a life lost, but let us honor him by never giving up on joy. Let us keep singing, dancing, and making people happy — each in our own small ways, just as Williams taught us.

And to Williams, thank you so much for your life. We will miss you. Goodbye.

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Progressives, Paradigms, and Problem People

“If only everyone thought like me!” said pretty much everyone, ever. Unfortunately, such is not the case. And when it comes to important ideas, we often wish that the problem people — those who stubbornly refuse to change their views — would either just go away or, even better, have a sudden change of heart. Hopefully, I have something of a solution.

For a long time, I was one of the problem people to the various liberals I had befriended through Facebook. We had long conversations about different topics, and while most of those conversations didn’t go very far, they were at the very least informative, and I have to credit their graciousness in putting up with me as formative in my eventual change of opinion (which I outlined in my last post).

But as much as it might accomplish in the long run, I hardly think subjecting conservatives to religious abuse at the hands of a manipulative pastor (the tipping point for me) is a very good strategy for convincing more people to be religious liberals. Fortunately, I think there is a good solution. It obviously won’t work 100% of the time, but it may be quite more effective than just general arguing. The answer? Paradigms!

Photograph of Thomas Kuhn punching Rush Limbaugh/Jerry Falwell in the face.

Photograph of Thomas Kuhn punching Rush Limbaugh/Jerry Falwell in the face.

Philosopher Thomas Kuhn wrote about paradigms in his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. To give a very crude summary, a paradigm is a general way of thinking about a subject which goes relatively unchallenged for a long period of time until people start discovering boundary cases where the general way of thinking has to make up all sorts of excuses as to why the paradigm is still any good at explaining those cases — the worse the excuses, the more likely it is people abandon the paradigm. Poor excuses push the paradigm into a crisis, which results in a paradigm shift.

But why should this apply only to science? What happened to me, for example, was that I had to deal with mounting evidence that my beliefs did not lead to the results I would have expected. The religion which claims “you will know them by your love” did not seem very loving, especially when I found the knife in my back at the end. This was the boundary case which I couldn’t explain, and it wasn’t enough just to make excuses. I had to undergo a total paradigm shift.

Manufactured pop music has to deal with the boundary case of why it is not this awesome.

By contrast, I remember a conversation long ago, when I was still something of an inerrantist, in which some people had tried to convince me that there were at least two separate stories of how David met King Saul in the Bible. Indeed, there are (1 and 2), but the problem is that it’s really easy to make excuses. “Oh, well Saul was a king, so he probably met a million people and just forgot who David was.” This and similar excuses are really easy to employ against minor inconveniences to the paradigm.

My solution, then, is to focus on the major problems with the problem you may be criticising. Fundamentalists already do this to would-be religious moderates who want to have their cake and eat it too on the intersection of LGBT issues and Scripture. The so-called “clobber verses” are very difficult to overcome on Biblical grounds, and honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to believe both in LGBT equality and Biblical inerrancy — pick one.

Fundamentalists seem to understand paradigms in an intuitive sense, and they are smart to take the approach they do, even if they support the wrong ideas. It is indeed a bit silly to suppose a startling new revelation in interpretation will suddenly change both the Bible and Christian history. Both/and approaches to LGBT equality and inerrancy frankly fail to make a strong case. Fundamentalists press their points where it hurts argumentatively, not just argue about every little thing that might be wrong. Hence, everyone gets really tired of the clobber verses, but honestly, it’s the best argument the fundamentalists have.

Social progressives, then, should focus on very clear counterexamples to the fundamentalist paradigm. My favorite example right now is Romans 1, which provides a supposed account of how same-sex attraction occurs. That passage is demonstrably wrong, and thus it has proven itself to be a very difficult problem for many of the fundamentalists to whom I’ve mentioned this. There are usually excuses about why psychology is bunk (and to be honest, as a nascent science, psychology does sometimes have issues), but the problem is even more insurmountable for the fundamentalist paradigm when one leaves out the moral judgments of psychology about same-sex attraction and focuses strictly on the attraction’s origin, which is very well-documented and directly contradictory to the Biblical account.

Photograph of Thomas Kuhn making excuses for his behavior.

Photograph of Thomas Kuhn making excuses for his behavior.

My point is to focus on things which stretch the paradigm the hardest. There are lots of ways in which fundamentalists are wrong, but many of the legitimate arguments against fundamentalism also have very strong excuses. “It’s not loving,” for example, has the tough-love counter, which is true in enough other cases to feel legitimate when countering pro-LGBT arguments. In fact, this is the primary reason why I think sharing the stories of LGBT persons will be particularly ineffective in convincing fundamentalists to change their positions, because the tough-love objection is so strong in excusing abusive behavior. Granted, that is not always the case, and stories sometimes really are convincing, but

So while I’ve noticed the progressive blogosphere tending toward sharing people’s stories, which is good, I think it is important to recognize that there really are intellectual issues at play here, too, and we need a holistic approach which stretches the fundamentalist paradigm to its limits and forces them to create enormous excuses. Additionally, we need to make people aware of their behavior so as to lower the number of excuses necessary before someone abandons a paradigm. If we keep repeating arguments which have easy excuses, then our objections will fade into obscurity and generally fail to convince, even if they are legitimate arguments.

Unfortunately, though, one of the problems (or perhaps just “sad implications”) with paradigms is that perhaps there are no arguments or experiences powerful enough to shake the incumbent paradigm out of someone’s mind. Even among scientists, whom you would presume to be eminently reasonable, sometimes the death of a particular idea coincides very directly with the literal death of those supporting it. But let’s do what we can to minimize the number of “problem people” by focusing our efforts on our most convincing arguments in order to push people into a whole bunch of individual crises of belief that require a total paradigm shift to solve.

I certainly do not have the exhaustive list of the most persuasive techniques, though. Let me ask this: if you, the reader, ever changed your mind on a major issue related to fundamentalism, please let me know in the comments below what eventually convinced you to change your mind. What was it you found most powerful? What did people try that you found ineffective? Or, if you are still fundamentalist in your beliefs (against LGBT rights, feminism, historical infallibility; pro-Biblical infallibility, religiously exclusivist), what do you find unconvincing about progressives’ arguments? I look forward to hearing your feedback.

All “photographs” copyright 2014 by me, Chris Attaway. But seriously, you could do better than copy these images…
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Then they came for me…

It would be great if I could share a self-congratulatory tale about how I overcame the bonds of prejudice (against gays, women) with great moral courage and fortitude. Unfortunately, my tale reads something closer to the famous poem by Martin Niemöller:

"Martin Niemöller (1952)" by J.D. Noske / Anefo - Nationaal Archief. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Martin Niemöller (1952)” by J.D. Noske / Anefo – Nationaal Archief. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

For as much as I trumpet about gay rights and so forth, I have not always been this way. In fact, I recall very specifically telling my gay cousin as well as a gay Facebook acquaintance some very hurtful things. Looking back, I’m not sure how either of them tolerated me in the slightest. I wasn’t saying anything like Westboro would say, but in my ignorance, I did my best to subvert hard evidence in order to maintain my position of agreeing with what I thought the Bible said.

By 2011, I had reversed my position on evolution from my days as a Creationist of sorts. I was also in something of a Libertarian mindset, so if I remember right, I had already decided that gay marriage should be legal. Still, I was morally against gay marriage; it was not my business, but if you asked me privately, I would still offer you excuses for why it was wrong. I’ll avoid reciting any of those excuses so no one has flashbacks to hurtful conversations.

And, of course, my church at that time mostly agreed with me on this issue — not so much on evolution or how to treat the Old Testament. But I was naive, and I didn’t understand how exclusionary cultures worked. My church was an Acts 29 church, and there was some talk about “open hand” and “closed hand” issues. The “open hand” issues were ones on which we could agree to disagree between the laity and the leadership. The “closed hand” issues were not up for discussion; if you were to disagree, perhaps you should look elsewhere for a church.

I thought I was safely inside the “open hand” since I had discussed whether I would be welcome at the church whenever I first joined. But as my participation and influence in the church grew, I became a problem. It also grew evident that my belief in evolution may actually have had implications for those “closed hand” issues, what with my metaphorical/mythological interpretations of the Old Testament. I remember my ex-fiancee growing absolutely livid that I didn’t think Ruth or Boaz actually existed, and of course my church was no help to me and branded me as “dangerous” for my beliefs.

And so, as the story goes, the church all but kicked me out, eventually, and then the pastor tried to put a knife in my back as I left, “warning” other pastors about me. (In a delightful fit of irony, this actually directly resulted in the church’s demise through no action of my own, but the details of that are somewhat private.) As a result, I still have a hard time going to church — Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome, as some are calling it — even when I enjoy the service and the people.

What strikes me, though, is that not only had this church, which had planted itself in the heart of the gay community in Houston, alienated me, it had also alienated the entire culture around it, and it had done so deliberately. Almost all of us drove in from elsewhere. I lived fairly close with a 15-20 minute drive, but even the pastor had nearly twice the driving distance. Everyone came so far just to preach a message hostile to its surroundings. With misguided intentions about evangelism and “mission,” which seems to be church-speak for cultural imperialism, we all drove in to be a “light in the darkness.”

Now we didn’t talk about LGBT issues often, if at all, but if you were to ask the pastor, he would tell you unequivocally that it was a sin. He might have tried to be nice about it, but this much is lipstick on a pig. And whereas in a suburban church, LGBT issues might be the furthest thing from your mind outside a select few times when something happens in the news to rile the conservatives, at this church, it hovered over us like a fog.

So my eventual betrayal reads like another verse before the end of the poem.

Then they came for the gays, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not gay.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Not a single person from the church stuck up for me when I had to depart. When I warned others of what the pastor had done, they were all with him. Everyone either abandoned me or tacitly accepted the pastors’ actions. And while I certainly don’t blame myself for what happened, I realize now that the way in which they abandoned me was how I had abandoned the LGBT community: with silence and self-justification through dogma.

They say experience is a dear teacher — but only fools learn from none other. I was the fool, here, and I should have refused to participate in yet another exclusionary system. It took having my entire world shaken from its foundations to wake me up to the reality of my exclusionary and harmful beliefs.

I share this to warn others who would be like me. What would happen if you changed your opinion about a key issue? You say that would never happen, but then you learn something, and it does, so unless you plan on living in a hole or never learning anything, you can bet it will happen. Would the people who now call you friend abandon you? It has happened to me and to countless people like me.

Sure, you could trade up to another exclusionary church that accepts whatever new beliefs you have, but isn’t that missing the point? Find people who encourage you to learn and to thrive as a human being, not who want you to be just like them. Don’t wait until it’s too late, until they have come for you, to realize that what is going on around you is not okay. Don’t be like me.

Posted in Christian Culture Issues, Ethics | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

What We Stand to Lose: Why Social Progressives Need Philosophy

philosophyIt might sound old and boring, but we need philosophy now more than ever

It’s great that gay marriage, feminism, and similar social causes are gaining ground — if not in the law, at least in our culture, and that means a lot. I am pretty sure that, recent setbacks aside, we will overcome the biggest legal hurdles related to these issues within a generation or two. There will be a great deal more work to do after that, just as there still is with racism, but there is certainly reason to celebrate. Unless there is a huge upset in the near future, things seem to be heading in the right direction. The world is changing.

I’m concerned about the transition, though; I don’t want us carrying a bunch of unnecessary baggage into the brave new world we hope to create. It’s one thing to be open-minded and another thing to be entirely uncritical of nice-sounding ideas, but the latter is often what seems to be happening with many would-be allies of progressive causes. Whatever profound-ish phrases or thoughts happen to strike our fancy tend to circulate around the Internet before becoming near dogma.

Take, for example, the immensely-popular Facebook page The Mind Unleashed, which regularly publishes New Age-y advice. I have no doubt that the owners of that page are social progressives, but honestly, most of the page’s thoughts are nonsense that sounds nice. For example, “The strongest drug that exists for a human is another human being,” published on the page on July 23rd. Sure, humans can help each other, but you know what? Antibiotics are going to help you more than a friend will when you have an infection. Chemotherapy and surgery will save your life when you have cancer, not a supportive spouse. People are great, but with as much anti-science, anti-medicine nonsense circulating these days, the last thing we need is more bullshit sentiment about drugs.

If that sounds reactionary and overly-literal, consider that the page also claims to have found “The Mother Of All Antioxidants“– gluthione — which is a dubious claim unsupported by any medical research. It is curious that the claims of the article linked by the page are so much greater than those of the WebMD page. Wait, it isn’t curious: Facebook is a marketing platform, and companies stand to make money off of misguided people with good intentions. WebMD, on the other hand, is strictly informative. The Mind Unleashed, however, likely makes a killing on ads and click-through.

The Mind Unleashed is but one among many sources of nice-sounding BS. Oprah and Dr. Oz have their fair share of influence, and while they may have done some good for socially progressive causes, they also tend to promote pseudoscience and bad reasoning. Then there’s the Food Babe, whose overblown claims about GMOs and health are wholly unscientific yet tremendously popular. It comes as no surprise to me that while researching her, I discovered she was voted Dr. Oz’s “Healthiest Facebook Page.” I cringe in disgust.

On the Christian progressive front, I find that things like the Carnival de Resistancewhich this year embedded itself at the popular Wild Goose Festival, embody a pseudo-spiritual rehashing of these same tired tropes of caring for the earth = being against scientific tampering with plants, taking up Monsanto conspiracy theories, and so forth (short note: as a Christian progressive, I don’t much care for the linked article, but it’s the only place I’ve seen document the more questionable activities of WGF). Never mind you that we wouldn’t know the earth was in trouble but for science, and never mind you that the only real way out of the mess we’re in is with more science.

Who can save us now?

The cure for many of these ills is philosophy. Thanks to the Internet, people consume a massive amount of information on a daily basis. And because no one can know everything, all of us regularly encounter information which extends waaay beyond our levels of expertise. Accountants, retail clerks, and doctors alike read articles and see informative photos making claims about medicine, geology, nutrition, economics, and so forth. The problem is real: how the hell do we sift through all this information?

The Internet Age requires us to formulate new virtues. In particular, we need to know what expertise looks like and how it behaves.

1. Who is an expert? How do we know he/she is an expert?

Lots of so-called experts, like Food Babe and Dr. Oz, are not experts at all. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there are no experts — or at least there is no one who is an expert on their own. No expert exists in a vacuum. Real experts like scientists, philosophers, historians, and so forth may have individual expertise, but none of them are wielding their expertise except when they are discussing ideas that have gone through peer review or perhaps informally discussed their work with a variety of other experts. It’s not just, like, their opinion, man. Food Babe and Dr. Oz are not experts, because they say stuff that no one has actually tried to test.

2. What is a sound conclusion?

The actual answer to this is complicated, but there are some pragmatic steps you can take to defend against bad reasoning. In short, demand evidence. And bear in mind that procuring good evidence takes some expertise in statistics and sampling. People may try to trick you with anecdotes or pander to your pre-existing beliefs, such as how Food Babe preys on fear of authority and how fundamentalists try to capitalize on feelings of piety and cultural superiority, but you have to be better than that. It takes practice, but we all need to get into the habit of identifying the claims made in articles and on webpages in order to check whether those claims have any support. Much like Wikipedia, we need to slap a mental “[citation needed]” sticker on all kinds of content that we face every day.

New virtues for a new era

The dawn of the Internet surely provides new challenges, and we need to adjust our societal virtues in order to survive. I’m glad that increased communication has broken down many of the walls preventing social justice, but we may just end up ushering in new kinds of insanity if we do not proceed carefully. The advice I have given here just barely touches on what we will need to survive in the information age, but it is a good start, and I hope we as a society manage to adapt to our new technology before it confuses us beyond repair.

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In Which I Boldly Proclaim My Ambition!

badreligion

I’ve always had a lot of serious issues with motivation. I had a good thing going for a while before several traumatic events knocked me back down — I’ve covered those elsewhere and I don’t feel like rehashing them. The more I contemplate my issues, though, the more I can trace them back to feeling like I don’t have a place in this world — not that I believe that with my head, but I can’t get the head and heart to agree on this.

There is a long list of probable influences: the intellectual disconnect between me and my peers growing up, social awkwardness throughout grade school, the lack of meaningful challenges in school compared to the intellectual challenges of video games (no, seriously), and perhaps most importantly the deeply-engrained feeling that desire is bad. I am just realizing this last point, but I realize it’s so terribly true when I examine myself. And if I had to point a finger, I point it at the corrupted sense of self I garnered from my life growing up in conservative Christian circles.

No matter what I did, I was told that it was “filthy rags” before God. At the same time, my parents constantly told me how smart I was. And I was smart — not every kid figures out algebra at 5 or the sum of an arithmetic series at 10. In fact, the other guy who figured out the same thing at the same time, Carl Friedrich Gauss, actually invented the formula. Incidentally, we both figured it out when our teachers, presumably wanting a break, told us to add up the numbers of the days of the year, 1 to 365. This is not to brag; I just mean to illustrate the point that I am not the usual case. My performance since then has held this pattern.

But when you tell a smart kid like me that his works are filthy rags, you do a tremendous amount of damage. I had perhaps better than many of my peers a profound sense of the immensity and perfection of what I called God, and to compare myself against that enormously high standard was soul-crushing. When you told me that my works were filthy rags, it wasn’t just a “church answer” that I didn’t really believe. I internalized that and made it a part of me. Worse, I managed to get my hands on the book of Ecclesiastes, and suddenly life really did seem pointless. What can a man do even with my talents? “Everything is vanity.”

By the time I grew to adulthood, ambition arrived stillborn. I was on the path I was supposed to take, going through the motions and trying to care, but I couldn’t do it. I simply couldn’t. I failed out of my first attempt at college to the tune of “Vanity, vanity, everything is vanity.” These words haunted me like a wraith hovering over my every endeavor. “Your works are filthy rags!” “You are nothing without God.” “You are totally depraved.” These ideas cut my legs out from underneath me before I could even begin the race.

It was a false savior who killed me. It was a death-god who revels in the destruction of his children, who tells them they are nothing and that their endeavors are nothing and that their dreams and desires are nothing. To want is depraved. Empty yourself of emotion and embrace the death-god’s will. Where some who embrace this only ended up conflating their own will with God’s will — and thus being able to function in society, albeit in a deranged manner — I had no will at all. I emptied myself of desire, and nothing came flooding back to take its place.

friedrich-nietzsche-1It was Nietzsche who saved me and who is saving me. He opened my eyes to the dead god and its sepulchers. He challenged me to desire power and to create a new world which sees desire as a good thing. Unintentionally, he dispelled the old myths and reintroduced me to Jesus. And this Jesus subverted man’s attempts at playing favorites by declaring that humanity itself, not just this or that culture or tribe, had value.

I’m making a decision to change my life. To want. To want and to realize that it’s okay to want. I want to be an influential writer. I want to make the world a better place. I want to dispel unhealthy beliefs and replace them with ideas that promote human flourishing and virtue. I want to be an excellent husband. I want to be a good man. I want friends. I want a fulfilling career. I want to stop sedating myself with temporary pleasures and do something worthwhile. I want to be me at my best.

I want to move my blog to my own website. I want to start a MineCraft YouTube series about philosophy. I want to write for journals and news sites. I want to write a book. I want to write another book after that. I want to start an inter-belief foundation where the Christian, the atheist, the Muslim, the Jew, the Hindu, and whomever can come together over common values.

Even now, writing this, I feel the dead hands trying to clasp around ankles and pull me back down into deadness. My heart groans under the weight of my ambition. But I will be damned if I let a thing like the guilt of a dead god weigh me down! I desire strength! Wisdom! Power! I desire to do good and to see others rise up beside me!

I cast off the lies which chain me and begin my life anew.

Posted in Christian Culture Issues, Existentialism | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

In which I repeatedly smash my face on my desk concerning Hobby Lobby, SCOTUS & the RFRA

Commence face-desking: lathuardfvg lkj asdflxcv ,knsdfkhjdsgkjsdfyh nkjnvxbcvkbnd

Sigh.

I begrudgingly admit that I think the SCOTUS decision yesterday was correct. I say that with no small amount of irritation. SCOTUS properly interpreted the laws, particularly the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The problem here is that the provisions cited in the RFRA are broad beyond any reasonable measure. While the majority opinion would like to pretend that the decision does not apply broadly, the fact is that it very well does, and I echo the sentiments of Justice Ginsburg that the court has now “ventured into a minefield.”

Here is the gist of the complaint by Hobby Lobby, copied from the Supreme Court decision:

In these cases, the owners of three closely held for-profit corporations have sincere Christian beliefs that life begins at conception and that it would violate their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs or devices that operate after that point. [emphasis mine]

The absurdity of this argument is not readily apparent with the complaint stated as such, but allow me to rephrase the statement by generalizing the bolded segments:

In these cases, the owners of three closely held for-profit corporations have sincere religious beliefs and that it would violate their religion to facilitate activity contrary to those religious beliefs.

I hope this restatement is fair, but please correct me otherwise. The absurdity should be more apparent. A significant number of religious people have religious objections to a variety of medical treatments, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses’ objections to such things as blood transfusions. While I have never heard of a Jehovah’s Witness refusing to pay for medical coverage of blood transfusions, this is a proper use of substitution; it is a sincerely-held religious belief, and coverage of blood transfusions would violate their religion.

This was, thankfully, something that the justices considered rather explicitly, yet in considering it, they descend further into absurdity. The decision states the following:

This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.

They clarify later that the distinction here is that in cases where the government can provide a service which is less restrictive of personal religious beliefs, they must. In this case, the government can foot the bill for these procedures. Well, then, why can’t the government foot the bill for vaccinations? For blood transfusions? Surely that would be less restrictive. Justice Ginsburg notes this in her dissent:

Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)? According to counsel for Hobby Lobby, “each one of these cases … would have to be evaluated on its own … apply[ing] the compelling interest-least restrictive alternative test.” Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.

It is a clear inconsistency: upholding religious beliefs about the sanctity of life in one case, while failing to provide less restrictive means of upholding religious beliefs in others, is entirely arbitrary and a textbook case of special pleading. I would surmise that many of the mines in this proverbial minefield will explode in coming years, with the RFRA either becoming so universally applicable as to render the government powerless against religion or the RFRA either being dramatically revised or thrown out.

So there you have it: this liberal agrees with the court but calls it on its inconsistencies in not applying this elsewhere. Any failure to find a less restrictive method of preserving religious beliefs is simply a failure of creativity. The problem here is not the court but the law (seems the writers at Slate agree with me). We should overturn or revise the RFRA.

Posted in Ethics, Sexuality, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

A Short Commentary on Shootings and Gun Control

There have been way too many shootings this week, and naturally/necessarily, gun control comes up. I’m not big on guns. I don’t care for them, personally; however, in the light of all these shootings, we could make a knee-jerk reaction, and I would like to say “hold on” before we do something that won’t actually help as much as we would like.

The studies I’m finding (like this) suggest that while restricting guns decreases gun violence, it increases other forms of violence. Obviously, if you have fewer guns lying around, fewer people will be shooting other people or themselves, but you can’t just consider gun violence. You have to consider the whole picture. Of course, I would welcome studies indicating the contrary, as I have only just begun researching the topic.

The problem we are facing — and one which DEMANDS legislation — is how to keep guns away from people who are dangerous. That means sensible restrictions on gun purchase, ownership, and storage. That also means we need to fund an oversight program. The current programs we have in place clearly aren’t sufficient. That might mean we have to raise taxes slightly to fund a new approach, but if it improves the quality of life in our nation, we should do it.

So what I urge both gun owners and gun control advocates to do is to come together and realize that while banning weapons may be questionably effective, we can agree on one thing: we do not want guns in the hands of people who intend them for murder or similar violence. We need to stop partisan bickering and try to find an actual solution.

I know this post isn’t particularly philosophical/theological, but I felt obliged to weigh in. There is likely going to be a slew of rhetoric from both sides of the debate in coming days, and I wanted to do my part and try to present something of a balanced perspective.

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