Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Voluntary Book Burnings

July 3, 2019

I’m a huge fan of Ray Bradbury, and while I’m  not sure I would agree that his most famous work, Fahrenheit 451 is his best work (or at least my favorite), it is hugely influential culturally for good reason.  But his warning against autocratic suppression and elimination of undesirable literature and eventually all books assumes the idea that such policies will be implemented by a hostile governing authority under rule of law.

I agree with Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death that such warnings as Bradbury’s and George Orwell were good in inoculating us against fascism and communism, but powerless to prepare us for a reality where people  are primed primarily to amass unrelated trivia facts and focus on non-stop self-entertainment.  Rather, we should have also been pushed more  to consider the ramifications of another means of control, one of abdication of personal responsibility along the lines of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

So it is that books can be banned instead of burned.  Not as an official government policy but simply by merchants being pressured to not carry some books that some people  find offensive.  However when the merchant is Amazon, the impacts of such non-binding restrictions can be far more powerful than if individual brick and mortar bookshops were targeted and pressured.  And without most of the possible negative repercussions.  So it is that Amazon will quit selling certain books.  The nice thing is  that this has been noticed.  The scarier reality is that undoubtedly lots of decisions about what to carry or not carry are regularly made.

Online vendors (and traditional brick-and-mortar outfits) generally have the appearance of being objective.  They carry a variety of things they hope to sell, and selling is their primary motivation, we assume.  In reality, every person and therefore every organization is inclined towards what they are or aren’t willing to sell.  Objectivity is not completely possible, and factors beyond what the customer might want come into play.

You might want to think twice about what’s on your bookshelf and making sure that you save certain things.  They might not be available down the road.

Most of the News

May 29, 2019

I haven’t heard a lot about the knife attack in Japan this week.  But I’m pretty positive that the little I’ve heard about the attack hasn’t mentioned most of the students were waiting not just for an ordinary school bus, but a rather amazing thing in Japan, a bus to take them to a Catholic school.  While I don’t want to rush to the presumption that this was a hate crime directed against Christians, it remains an interesting piece of data at the very least.   I wonder if it will be investigated from this angle or not, and I wonder if it will be reported on if it is discovered that the attack was motivated specifically against Christians.

Speaking Out

May 28, 2019

Good to hear that there is growing willingness to speak out against the atrocity of legalized abortion on demand in our country.  Though for some folks not so inclined on the topic, the source of some of those words of outrage will be troubling – none other than Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  Justice Thomas rightly notes the troubling ideological roots of legalized abortion both in our country and in other parts of the world (like Nazi Germany), and notes the devastating effect  abortion has disproportionately on minority children, mothers, families, and communities.

If you want to know how someone could possibly not see the words of a highly educated African-American man as relevant to this topic, here’s an alternate perspective.

Note the headline, which aims to garner far broader empathy and sympathy not for abortion itself (though this is clearly presumed) but rather for birth control.  Rather than seeing this as an effort to preserve life – all life, as opposed to the far more selective range of life envisioned by Margaret Sanger – it is repositioned as a racist attack against black women.  The idea seems to be (and I pray that this isn’t actually what somebody says, though in this day and age that’s undoubtedly wishful thinking) that bringing up the disproportionate number of abortions by minorities is a means of making minorities racist against themselves.

While  some rather odd individuals might make this case, it’s not one I’ve ever heard in any pro-life discussion.  The idea is not that minority women hate their children, but rather that they are lured into aborting them by an ideology that denies the humanity of the unborn child (unless of course you’re excited to be having a baby, in which case, it magically is a human being!) and posits quick, secretive, and free abortions as the solution to communities where minority family and community life have been devastated over generations by many of the programs purporting to help them.

The argument links higher abortion rates to reduced access to contraception, and then goes on to paint the picture that ultimately, contraception is going to be threatened for all women, therefore women should get involved now to defend abortion and nip all this lunacy in the bud.

The reality is that I don’t think contraception will ever be in danger of being outlawed.  The largest Christian group to teach that contraception is sinful is the Roman Catholic church, and most of their own folks don’t agree with this teaching, and even if they did the Catholic Church has been so marginalized via scandalous behaviors that it has effectively lost any voice it might have once had towards larger moral issues.  Most non-Catholic Christian groups don’t have a problem with contraception, even if they oppose abortion.  And while I tend to think this is a rather poor bit of theology and Biblical exegesis, that’s not likely to change or catch on.

The reality remains that an unborn baby is a human being.  The law can’t change this, it can only ignore it.  Considering our divisive this issue has been literally since the Roe v. Wade verdict was handed down, I find it interesting how dismissive people can be of any theology or philosophy (or science) that finds it reprehensible.  I have hopes that Roe v. Wade will be overturned, but I have no illusions that this will be the end of the discussion by a long shot.  So long as pro-life positions are characterized as right-wing religious nut-jobs, and the clear science on the matter is ignored out of convenience, there will be no long-standing fix to this issue.  The next version of Roe v. Wade will already be in the queue before the ink is dried on any rescinding of the original.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to work and pray for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but it’s a good reminder that, at least for Christians, the more important work is relationship to the people around us – including those on the other side of the ideological fence.  The Holy Spirit changes hearts, and when hearts are changed, it matters far less what the laws on the books say.  If abortion remains legal, fewer people will avail themselves of it.

Walking the Walk

May 3, 2019

Many people  are upset about Facebook’s recent changes.  In addition to banning individuals it considers to be dangerous (and what exactly are the criteria for being labeled dangerous, and who gets to decide them and determine who meets the criteria?), Facebook will ban other users from linking to external sites (such as Infowars) it deems inappropriate.  Repeated attempts by a Facebook user to link to banned sites could or will result in that Facebook user being banned from Facebook as well.

You might think that this is all a good idea or not.  You may like Infowars or you might not.  At the end of the day this is a good reminder that Facebook is not a government entity or some other sort of entity that is required to do things the way we think it should.  It is a business with owners and a Board of Directors and investors.  They are convinced that implementing these sorts of policies will not hurt Facebook’s business.  If they thought it would, they probably wouldn’t do it.  For all the talk about community and connectivity, at the end of the day money talks.

So here’s what to do if you’re upset.  It’s what you should probably do if you’re not upset either, because while you may agree with banning these particular people and sites, one day you may find that other people and sites are banned that you don’t see as problematic.  Pendulums have this nasty habit of swinging back and forth.  Or  even if the pendulum doesn’t swing back, what kind of community and connectivity do you have if you only ever see and hear things that you agree with or that reflect one particular ideological direction?  Are you comfortable cutting everyone out of your life who doesn’t agree with your political or social or religious views?  Many people may be, but should you?

So, here’s what you do.

Go through all those Facebook friends.  Those who are actually friends and you actually keep in touch with, message them and request direct contact information.  E-mails or phone numbers or addresses.   Instagram or  other platform usernames (though these will be less useful  as inevitably, if Facebook succeeds, other platforms will follow suit).  Figure out how to stay in touch one on one without an inbetween entity.

And when you have all that data, then get rid of Facebook.  If you want to send a message, send it this way, but deleting your account.  If enough users were to do this, I’m sure Facebook would notice and perhaps even rethink its policies.  Facebook is a company focused on making money.  As such it is free to do what it wants or thinks is best in this regards within the limits of the law.  But consumers are free to respond to those changes and indicate if they approve of them or not.

Back in the 80’s Coca Cola decided it would change the recipe for Coca Cola to make it sweeter, more like Pepsi.  I and millions of other Coca Cola lovers objected, loudly.  We refused to buy the new product, and raised a pretty big stink about it.  Coca Cola eventually re-introduced the original recipe as Coca Cola Classic.  Companies can make mistakes just like people can.  Sometimes those mistakes can be moved past, other times they can’t.  The question is ultimately what are you going to do about it, personally?  Are you willing to quit using Facebook?  Sure, it will be inconvenient to some extent.  Are you willing to suffer a little for something you believe is right?

More importantly, are you willing to take a risk to find out if it really is inconvenient or painful to live without it?

 

 

 

Slow Moving Train Wreck

May 1, 2019

The Los Angeles Times reported today that for the first time since records have been kept, the county of Los Angeles experienced a growth rate of 0% last year, and California as a whole grew by the smallest amount since we’ve tracked these sorts of things.

The article duly noted a variety of potential causes for this slow in growth rate.

  • Fewer immigrants from Mexico and more from Asia.  Asian immigrants apparently on the whole are better educated than Mexican immigrants, and better-educated people tend to have fewer children.  Tuck this particular detail away in your memory for just a moment – we’ll come back to it.
  • Native-born Americans have been experiencing a decline in birth rates for years.
  • A lack of housing (affordable, of course) is another possible contribution to slower growth rates as people can’t afford to move here.  Or stay here.
  • Economic uncertainties over the past 20 years are also likely to blame as people are less able or inclined to have kids in rugged economic times.
  • Natural disasters such as the devastating wildfires of 2017 and 2018 contributed to a rearrangement of population in certain affected areas.
  • California lost roughly a million people between 2007-2016.  Six million people moved out of the state and only five million moved in.

What the article didn’t see fit to note is the popular idea – pushed for the last 50 years – that we are overpopulating the planet.  This idea – pushed in schools particularly – is likely to take psychological root in many people who then decide to have smaller families.  The longer you’re in school (the better educated you are, as per above), the more often you’re going to hear this over-population mantra and will likely feel greater pressure to respond to it by not having lots of (or any) kids.

However the article mentions in passing the completely devastating this false idea is and will continue to have on our society as fewer young people struggle to support a larger population of older people.  Is it any wonder that socialism and a restructuring of our economy is gaining popularity among younger generations?

Also not discussed in the article is the trend for people to wait longer before marrying.  I’d presume that there is a corresponding delay in having children, at least among people inclined to think that those two things are related.  And if you aren’t marrying until your very late 20’s or early 30’s, and need to get your economic ducks in a row before contemplating children, then it’s going to be getting more and more difficult (biologically) to get pregnant and carry to term.

And I wonder about possible links about delaying having children and whether people who have built enjoyable lives without children are having a harder time considering adding children to the equation and spoiling some of the fun.

No conjecture was offered as to why more people are leaving than coming to California, but many Californians will quickly offer some explanations – over-regulation, over-taxation, and a disconnect between the major population centers and the rest of the state.

Lots of factors to consider, both ones that the Times chose to talk about and a few it didn’t think to mention, but which likely have a real impact as well.

 

 

 

Jumping for Conclusions

April 23, 2019

Like many of you, I watched in sorrow as Notre Dame de Paris burned at the start of Holy Week.  And like many of you, I heard many news reports declaring that, even before people were able to investigate fully, the cause of the fire was accidental, related to an antiquated electrical system, perhaps.

News stories have left it at this, at best.  CNN has no new updates on the cause or investigation after almost a week.  The New York Times runs stories (like this) that presume an accident and leave no room for deeper exploration of the event.  But that’s not unreasonable, is it?  I mean, it must have just been an accident, right?  Even though it happened at the start of Holy Week – the holiest time of the Christian liturgical year?  I mean, you’d need additional evidence before you start hypothesizing that perhaps it wasn’t just an accident, right?

I didn’t hear about other attacks on churches in Paris in the same rough timeframe.  Here’s an article that deals with whether US media should bother to report on Christian sites being attacked in Europe (fortunately the article thinks that they should be reported on, but the reality is that they by and large are not reported on in the US.)But this article pointed out that Notre Dame was  not the only church having difficulties in the days leading up to or including Holy Week.  Like the Basilica of St. Denis.  Another article indicated that a recent arrival from Pakistan had been arrested in conjunction with some  of the vandalism, though the article did not mention the man’s religion.  And in the weeks that followed, as Christians around the world suffered violence and death, there has been a marked reluctance to identify causes.  The article’s title – Taquiyya – is reference to a Muslim doctrine that permits Muslims to lie about their religious adherence when necessary.  What about the arson at St. Sulpice in early March?  Didn’t hear about that either, and Newsweek apparently is only mentioning it because the priest there is cautioning against Notre Dame conspiracy theories.

Didn’t hear about these events?  Or about many other similar events?  How curious.  There’s a story here about it.  Here’s a story with an editorial insert to assure readers that they aren’t insinuating that Notre Dame was anything but an accident, despite all these other horrific acts of vandalism or sabotage to other Christian churches.  Articles such as this go out of their way to quote people – religious  people especially – who claim that Christian houses of worship are not being singled out for attack.  But this is exactly what seems to be happening, whether the media wants to acknowledge it or cover it or not. Christian news sites are far more willing to say the difficult reality – attacks on Christian churches are on the rise, and that those attacks with links to Islam are increasing dramatically.

If a mosque is attacked anywhere in the world, the outpouring of sympathy is monumental.  But if Christian churches are attacked and their adherents slaughtered, there is little mention at all.  Some sites are willing to show the unusual lengths that many prominent politicians in our country will go to not to acknowledge acts against  Christians, and not only to not question Islamic extremism, but use attacks on Christian churches as an opportunity to denounce Islamophobia.

Americans can enjoy or depend upon a basic NIMBY attitude (not in my back yard) to justify ignorance or disinterest.  But ignorance and disinterest are the necessary fertilizer to allow acts of violence to crop up and proliferate.  As many have pointed out, regardless of whether Notre Dame was an accident or not, as lamentable as the destruction to the building is more lamentable still is the atrophied state of Christianity in France, in Europe, and increasingly in the United States.  In many real senses the death of church buildings is a sign of the death of the faith itself in large numbers of the population.

I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories.  Nor do I think that Muslims are behind any and every attack on Christian sites or people.  Neither should we turn a blind eye – or have our eyes blinded due to lack of coverage or investigation – if there are real and credible threats.  And as a reminder to all those folks out there so aghast that our President might belittle or mistrust media and news outlets, it’s slanted or non-existent coverage of this kind that lead not just the President but many others to distrust our media and news outlets, suspecting them of partisan politics and skewed reporting to support it.  Be objective and let the chips fall where they may.  This used to be the ideal and goal of news outlets and journalists.  I don’t blame people for suspecting that this isn’t the goal any longer.

Rebuilding What?

April 18, 2019

Like many of you I watched in horror as the images and live-feeds of Notre Dame de Paris engulfed in flame flickered across my computer screen.  I’d last been there in 2016, and that was my third visit in my lifetime.  It’s an amazingly beautiful architectural achievement.  The crowds are lamentable but, since I’m part of them, it’s hardly reasonable to complain.  Each visit I stood in increasingly long lines to march up the steps to the twin towers.  Last time I snapped a Facebook photo of one of the rose windows that miraculously survived the recent conflagration.

Now it has been grievously damaged by the fire, and will require substantial rebuilding.  But the question becomes whether it should be rebuilt as it was, the reflection of nearly 1000 years of changes and additions?  Or should it be made into something new, something representative not of its past but rather today or the future.  A reflection not of Christianity and the God of the Bible, but rather some undefined representation of a now mostly undefined French or even European culture.

It may sound strange that people would want to reimagine a Christian house of worship – particularly one so famous – into something not a Christian house of worship.  But there are those who are promoting exactly such an idea, as this article describes.

There would indeed be a bitter irony if this beautiful place of worship was recreated into something atheistic or secular.  While numbers have undoubtedly dwindled in recent times, worship is still something that occurred in Notre Dame each day, the last service about an hour before the fire broke out.  But with houses of worship – even great cathedrals  – falling into disuse and subsequent disrepair as the European exodus from the Christian faith nears completion, it’s hardly surprising that many people see them as nuisances rather than useful places for continued Christian worship.

 

 

Living What We Believe

March 27, 2019

There’s a funny dichotomy at play in our culture today.  On the one hand, people  with alternative values and ideas about reality are expected not simply to believe these things but put them into practice to transform traditions and time-honored ways  of doing and thinking.  On the other hand, religious people (ie. Christians) and others who find value and meaning and purpose in tradition are told they can believe these things privately (for now) but are publicly castigated and punished if they attempt to live out their beliefs in the public sphere.

I love the headline on this article.  The Christian school is allegedly “denying education” to this young person, rather than simply denying them admittance to their particular school.  The sad thing is here at play are many actual members of the Catholic parish that runs the school, who think that the Roman Catholic teachings on sexuality are a “notion”  rather than a long-standing theological understanding of not only Christians but Jewish people before them.  The situation also highlights the importance of consistency, as making exceptions in one area can lead to the misunderstanding that exceptions are appropriate in all situations.

Sad But Not Surprised

March 13, 2019

So scandal has broken loose again.  The rich and famous have been found using their status and money to set their children up with admissions to top universities.  People have been paid to take tests.  Lies have been told.  Money has been paid.  And former starlets have been arrested.

Most of the people I’ve heard talking about this are shocked and outraged.  I can understand the outrage, but shock?  Really?  Are we that naive?  Or are we that convinced that our sinful human natures have been sufficiently remedied by our rule of law?  C’mon, people!  You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, and you should assume that somewhere, in some manner, money is talking and people are listening and systems are compromised.

This is how it’s always been.  Money buys influence.  The rich have access to myriad options that the rest of us don’t.  It’s not fair or right, it just is.  It can and should be illegal but people will still find ways around it.

This is not justifying the behavior and saying we shouldn’t care.  Sure, go ahead and care.  Allow justice to do its work when it gets the chance.  But don’t imagine it has solved the problem or eliminated the practice.  Some people got caught.  Others haven’t and won’t.

Nor is this another argument for redistributing the wealth.  Fiery politicians seem to think they can just take money away from rich people and end all of our problems that way.  This won’t work either.  Corruption conducts business in all sorts of currency, whether monetary or  related to prestige, influence, beauty, etc.  Once again the sinful human temptation won’t be erased, you just change what it looks like and how it plays itself. out.

It’s a shame.  It’s unfair.  But, despite the insistence of some folks, life isn’t fair.  Hasn’t been since Adam and Eve got booted from the garden for pilfering fruit.  It won’t be fair again until God restores it to that status.   In the meantime, be outraged, but don’t be surprised.

The Center Court View

February 19, 2019

As our society continues to spiral out of control in how to understand men and women in terms of gender and sexuality, ideological voices seek to codify new definitions and ways of doing things grounded not in reality but rather in wishful thinking.  In no area is this more apparent than the issue of transgenders participating in sports.

Ideologically, it’s attractive to say that men and women are no different physically, and therefore a man who identifies as a woman has no advantage when competing against actual females.  I remember an argument I had with a student of mine in an online college course over a decade ago.  I made some comment in regards to the physical strength differences between men and women and she took issue with this. Women are every bit as strong as men, she insisted.  I acknowledged that certain muscle groups in women might be stronger than equivalent muscle groups in men.  I acknowledged that women who train hard will be stronger than the average man who doesn’t train hard.  But that all other things being equal, men are still the stronger sex.  She wouldn’t have any of it.  To her, equality between men and women extended to physical equality, and no amount of studies or other data would convince her otherwise.

This sort of mindset is driving decisions to ban any sort of discrimination, including sports.  Males who identify as females are competing in female athletics and many are proving – not surprisingly – to be much stronger and faster than their actual female competitors.  I’ve  seen complaints about this in the mixed martial arts world, so it doesn’t surprise me that other actual athletes  – rather than politicians – would be criticizing it as well.

And they’re being criticized for saying out loud what anyone with an ounce of common sense or actual experience in physical contests between men and women could tell you: men are stronger.  A man may psychologically identify as a woman, but his body is still a man’s body despite whatever surgeries or hormone therapies he might undergo.  The irony is that those  who are speaking out against allowing transgender men to compete against actual women include not just conservative people  (like myself), but also people on the opposite end of the ideological and sexual spectrum.  People like Martina  Navratilova, an amazing tennis player who came out as gay almost 40 years ago.

She is being condemned by people who are driven by ideology rather than reality, who hope to reshape the world into what they would like it to be rather than what it actually is.  And in the meantime, actual real people are being hurt and deprived of the honors that are appropriate to them and their gender.

When I was a kid in the height of the Cold War, we used to make jokes about the Olympics and the athletes that came from Soviet bloc countries like East Germany.  We joked because of the stereotype that their athletes were so much bigger and stronger and powerful than many other countries, particularly the women’s teams because they often seemed suspiciously like men.  How surreal that what once was considered cheating is now being supported and legally mandated by some in the misplaced name of a misguided equality.