Thoughts on Connecticut (and the gun control debate)

Yesterday on Facebook I posted a question in response to the shooting: What chain of events transpires in a person’s mind that concludes with “And then I will execute an entire classroom of kindergartners?”  Let’s take a look at just a few things that someone would have to believe in order to come to that conclusion (and I trust the reader to forgive me for leaving any out):

  • Life is of no worth.  Specifically, certain individual lives that are within reach.
  • My life is of no more worth than theirs.
  • The world is such that it does not matter whether or not these lives continue or not.
  • Life is not fair.  If life will not be fair to me, I will not be fair to it.
  • There must not be anything after death–if there is such a thing as cosmic-scale justice, and such an act were to violate it, and that death would not erase that injustice, it is not worth risking such an injustice.
  • Heaven and hell cannot be real (and thus no God to govern the present or the future).

It seems to me that at least all of these things must be believed before such an act can happen.  At each and every step, certain beliefs about the world and humanity have to be denied and suppressed.

So to my fellow Christians, I would simply ask: live and talk and think in ways that show that life matters, that all specific lives matter, that material life–the substance of our being–matters, and that there is a Judge who will ‘set the world to rights’ one day.   Are we as Christians walking and talking the walk and talk that conveys that the above list is actually false?  Do everyday people we pass on the street come to that conclusion after meeting us?  I’d say most of us do, but it’s worth thinking about more.

But there’s another debate in all of this, that inevitably follows: shouldn’t we do something about the guns?

At the very outset, it appears to me that there is one key principle that an awful lot of people seem to ignore: that regardless of stance, both sides of the debate seek the same moral good: that no shootings like this ever occur again.    That’s the high moral good that should be the guiding principle in these discussions, but it seems to be left out an awful lot.

I don’t think it’s necessary or helpful to complain about people immediately making their case for or against gun control right after events like this happen.  First, it’s a very natural response, almost a reflex, of people on the outside who are observing the whole thing from a distance.  Second, people naturally can’t stand a problem they can’t fix, and, well, this is a big problem that can’t be easily fixed (and so it drives us nuts).  Third, everyone on the argument spectrum naturally sees events like this through their worldview ‘filter,’ so it easily fits into a given spot in a particular overall argument.  So I don’t begrudge anyone what they believe about much of anything, even if it does seem overly soon–because of reason #1, that it is really hard to avoid doing.  And we’ll eventually draw worldview-level conclusions about the event anyway, whether or not we say them right off the bat.  It seems to be just looking for offense to be offended at an argument when we’re all distant observers (unless, of course, it happens close to home, then we really do have bigger things to worry about).  It’s still people seeking a particular good, and I have little reason to be upset with that.

That said, I do have a few thoughts about the gun control debate.

The presence and absence of guns doesn’t really seem to matter much.  Countries like Japan are touted for having extremely few guns and hardly any gun crime, and countries like Switzerland are touted for having tons and tons of guns and no gun crime.  This tells me that it’s not the guns, it’s possibly culture, or more probably worldview-related.

Gun-free zones are probably a bad idea.  It sounds good, to have zones where guns ought not be, but that is premised on the idea that every single person will obey that law at all times regardless of mental state.  Thus far, we have had an abundance of mass shootings in gun-free zones: schools, a church, a movie theater, and a mall.  Hospitals are about the only places that don’t need guns, and even then just about every guard carries one.

In each of these recent (and past) shootings, the question arises: Could one more gun have limited or stopped this tragedy?  And that answer is almost always yes.  And that should tell us something about both guns and people who use guns.

Thomas Sowell makes a great point in his books about the difference between solutions and trade-offs.  Solutions rarely ever turn out to be solutions, but trade-offs recognize and mitigate risk.  Banning guns is not the solution it is promised to be; the trade-off of more citizens legally owning guns and having the training to wield them is a more optimal solution in a world of uncertainty.

The media has a hand in this.  They’ve already been criticized for how they handled this shooting and others (Jared Loughner of non-tea-party fame), and the Aurora shooting, also of non-tea-party fame, and this time they identified the wrong person, and have generally been invading the privacy and solace of a grieving town for news consumption.  But gun crimes are big, dramatic events that get lots and lots of airtime and hand-wringing and kvetching of all kinds.  Yet guns kill relatively few people every year compared to things with very high death rates like cars, but nobody makes that big a deal about it, which tells me that the publicity generated by a shooting may be a significant motivator in these shootings: the world will see me, and see the mark I made on the world.  I reckon if gun crime were treated no differently than any other cause of death, or other causes of death with greater rates were treated like gun crime, it would be a vastly different picture.  But there’s a narrative to uphold, so gun crime gets lots of attention.  And yet another inconsistency: Ten people were shot last night in Chicago alone, four of them teenagers, yet did that make the news?  No.  Chicago is notorious for its absurdly high levels of gun crime and murders.  So not all gun crime is even regarded as worthy of equal attention by the media.  Why is this so?

Each and every event makes me consider getting a conceal/carry permit.

On that note: at heart in the gun control debate is a view of humanity itself: an optimistic view, that says that with enough influence and education, events like this won’t occur; and a tragic view, that says that mankind is flawed to some extent and that events like this, however rare, are inevitable, and therefore individuals must be on guard to use force, even deadly force, to protect lives.

It is not simply enough to say to those who argue for proliferation of conceal/carry licenses or abolition of most gun-free zones that “it’s absurd” or “it’s irrational” or whatever else you might well think it is.  Show how it is so.  I trust you’ll understand if I can’t just take your word for it.  But be warned: you will have to show that there is no meaningful difference between lawful gun ownership and use and unlawful gun ownership and use.  And that may be a bridge too far.

Conversely, those who argue for conceal/carry expansion, take the time to recognize that those you disagree with seek the same moral good as you, and be willing and able to show that an argument, no matter how well-meaning, cannot account for the extent of the evil that all people are capable of (as well as arguing that that difference is also critical to the debate) and that it is a higher moral good for individuals to be able to defend others lawfully and forcefully, in equal measure.

As I write this, I’m seeing reports on Twitter of a mall shooting in California.  Which brings me back to my previous statement: there might come a time when we cannot wait ‘until another day’ to have this debate.  So…regardless of what side you’re on, you’d better be on your game when this debate breaks out big time.  Because one of these days we won’t have another day to wait.  May the best argument and worldview win.

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Why I’m a Brony, or, Aristotle’s Revenge

Seems like a strange thing to blog on, yes?  Well, it is.  But it’s worth it.  In celebration of the premiere of Season Three this Saturday, it seems right.

So…My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  A kid’s show.  A kid’s show that managed to attract an unforseen fanbase of which I call myself a member.

“Why do you like a show made for little girls?”

Sure, it was made for little girls.  But the intended audience happens to be irrelevant to why I like it.  I don’t like it because it is a kid’s show, I like a show that happens to be a kid’s show.

I like it for several different reasons.  Here are the top ones.

It’s clever.

The creators of this show took what has been a show for kids, that appealed only to kids, and shifted the goal of each episode to make it a show for kids that appeals to nearly everyone.  This is the fourth generation of the show, and a comparison of the episodes of the past and shows from Friendship is Magic show that difference.

The art style is neat.

The show is animated with Flash, and has a unique art style that works very well for the show and world that was created for the reboot.  It has its own benefits and challenges, which differ from the old hand-drawn shows, but without it we would not have the endearing Derpy Hooves (more on her later).

It’s good clean fun.

It’s completely guiltless: like being able to eat an entire pie with no adverse side effects.

Aristotle would have been a brony.

I think so, and here’s why: Friendship is Magic is ethics in disguise.  Instead of being just a show about ponies, the show uses the characters to teach a lesson about friendship, but which is almost always rooted in good ethics.  It’s no longer about ponies just doing things: it’s about ponies doing things that exemplify what friendship looks like, and it looks an awful lot like good, old-fashioned ethics.  It becomes a sort of new Aesop’s Fables (up to and including a tortoise winning a race).  Which I then get to discuss with my nieces and nephews if they watch any episodes.

Each of the ‘Mane Six’ characters each exemplifies a given virtue.  Applejack is honest, Fluttershy is kind, Pinkie Pie is joyous, Rainbow Dash is loyal, Rarity is generous, but the main character Twilight Sparkle is on a mission to learn about these attributes of friendship and to learn as much as she can about them.  And each of them has a ‘cutie mark’ that shows what their given virtue is.

But the more I watch the show, I’ve come to the conclusion that of the mane six, their cutie marks are emblematic of what saves them.  In a few cases, this is dramatic: Fluttershy is saved from being turned into a pancake by butterflies, right before she discovers her love of nature; AJ’s farm saves her from a life she found much different than what she expected; Pinkie Pie is saved from an joyless vacuum by her discovery of what brings joy; and so on.  This is not often the case with other ponies, most of whom have random cutie marks.

Derpy Hooves.  

As mentioned earlier, this poor pony would not have existed had it not been for an animation error which flipped one of her eyes upside down, which gave her a very funny expression.  She immediately became a fan favorite, and the animators even worked her into later episodes (one of which she features very prominently).  This poor pony is a complete klutz, but this does not stop her from trying to help as much as possible–and almost always with disastrous results.  But if she were to exemplify a virtue, she would surely exemplify magnanimity.  She is selfless, and always tries to help with a cheerful attitude, even while the world crashes down around her as a result.  You can’t help but love this little pony.  She’s downright adorable, and I hope we see more of her in the future.

The other things I like:

The music.  Daniel Ingraham is a gifted composer, and the show’s music is enjoyable as a result.

Pop culture references: while usually subtle, they are a nod to the show’s other audience.

Things I don’t like: 

There are a few things I don’t like about the show.  But they are few:

The show has a skewed idea of ‘the supernatural.’  Twilight dismisses a particular book because it has the word “supernatural” in the title, and describes the supernatural as things like ghosts or zombies and such.  Which is not exactly accurate.

Pinkie Pie gives Twilight a world of trouble in one episode because her intuition refuses to fit squarely into Twilight’s sense of explaining things through science.  Eventually she just gives up trying to figure it out.

Some of the fans.  Yes, some of the fans: because a subset of the teen/adult fans have taken the show and interpreted the characters through their own ideas, and the result is quite a few supposedly lesbian characters, up to and including Rainbow Dash.  But this ignores that it is a kid’s show; and it also seems an unnecessary imposition upon the character design the show has cultivated.  It also seems to ignore the show’s focus on what friendship looks like.

In closing:

By all means, give the show a try, but I recommend starting with Episode 3 of Season One; I found the pilot to be a bad indication of what the individual episodes were like.

On fundamentalism and abortion

More often than not, I come across material to blog about on things I see posted to Facebook.  It might be on the passive side, but every now and then something shows up on the radar that is worth commenting on.  And such was the case with a blog post that another person was asked to comment on, and after being badgered to answer it here, I decided I might as well.

The piece is called “How I Lost Faith in the “Pro-Life Movement,” by Libby Anne, of the “Love, Joy, Feminism” blog at Patheos.  And what a piece it is.

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“So you still think homosexuality is sinful?”

 

 

So this little flowchart showed up a day or two ago at Theologyweb, and it’s been making the rounds lately as the latest ordnance in the culture wars.  The question is posed: 

Oy.  Where to begin.

Let’s begin by addressing the “No” option.  Unfortunately, whoever made this didn’t just poison the well by drawing a line between “You oppose redefining marriage” and “Civilized society,” he or she backed the dump truck o’ poison up to the well and unloaded the whole thing.  It is plenty possible to be civil, and an upstanding member of society, while standing on either side of the issue.

Moving on.  I have to give props to the person who made it for asking “Why?” immediately after the ‘yes’ response is given…but it goes downhill quickly after that.  I will address his responses in chronological Biblical order.

“Because God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!  That was when the earth wasn’t populated.  There are now 6.79 billion people.  Breeding clearly isn’t an issue any more!”

And thus, chronologically, we’re off to the races.  This response does ignore the actual definition of marriage given in Genesis 2:24:  “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  This thought is crucial at every further objection given, so we will be returning to it often.

Oh, one more thing.  I dare you to ask any abortionist on the planet if “breeding isn’t an issue.

“Because the Bible clearly defines marriage as one-man-one-woman!  Wrong.  The Bible also defines marriage as one-man-many-women, one man many wives and many concubines, a rapist and his victim, and conquering soldier and female prisoner of war.”

Immediately a bait and switch has been used: these are not definitions of marriage, but they are descriptions of marriages that take place within the OT and later under the influence of the Mosaic Law.  So from the outset I disagree with the terming of those particular marriages (and even marriage laws) as defining in any sense.

But there is another issue lurking just under the surface–a modern provincialism with which the text is approached.  Thankfully all of these issues have already been addressed by a friend of mine here.

Of particular note are the last two items included: without referent to the text and without further explanation, this constitutes an argument from outrage, that spurious tactic that relies upon emotion instead of reason–as though there were no reasons for this arrangement to actually be so.

“Because the Old Testament Says So!  The OT also says it’s sinful to eat shellfish, to wear clothes woven with different fabrics, and to eat pork.  Should we still live by OT laws?”

Aside from being a simple red herring (Well what about X, Y, Z, XX, YY, ZZ, …), it’s a great example of what happens when you ignore and/or dismiss the concept of purity and how it functioned in both the OT and NT.  In each case, the Hebrews were forbidden these things because they were to be set apart from the nations they would be living among.  That also applied to the laws surrounding sexual ethics as demonstrated in Genesis and given in the Mosaic Law.  Of note is the phrasing that reveals that the purity categories have been fudged for this flowchart: the sexual sins are called “an abomination” while the other things–shellfish, pork, and clothes with mixed fibers–are not.  They are forbidden, but not called sinful (and this is the argument most Jews use today when asked if they think non-Jews eating pork is sinful.  The text clarifies:

““Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean” (Leviticus 18:24)

But there’s something else I’m wondering.  Why did the makers of the flowchart stop at homosexual acts?  Idolatry and child sacrifice is also termed ‘an abomination,’ but–and this is the point–it is absurd to point to other purity laws and say “Well what about these?”

“Because Jesus said so!  Not true.  Jesus never uttered a word about same-sex relationships.”  

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”  He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,  and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”  (Matthew 19:3-6)

Now where have we heard that one before?  Oh yeah, Genesis 2.  The definition of marriage.  It is thus an argument from silence, and a false argument from silence, to suggest that Jesus did not say anything about same-sex relationships.  He didn’t have to: because he affirmed the original, positive, definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.  Just because he did not say anything negative about it does not mean that his positive affirmation of man-woman marriage do not apply to the issue.

“Because the NT says so!  The original language of the NT actually refers to male prostitution, molestation, or promiscuity, not committed same-sex relationships.  Paul may have spoken against homosexuality, but he also said that women should be silent and never assume authority over a man.”

Actually this is wrong: and at best it is a schizophrenic response to Paul.  This seems awfully scatter-shot, to try to explain it away and then immediately bite the bullet and point to other things he said with the goal of (once again) dismissing it out of hand.

Twice Paul uses the term arsenokoitēs to denote those who practice homosexuality, and is best translated as ‘male coitus.’     The passage that the graph is probably referring to is Romans 1, but this word is not used there, which further weakens the claim about ‘the text’ (the phrase used in Romans is ‘unseemliness’ as opposed to the natural order of male/female intercourse).

Which means the business about “committed relationships” is a strawman argument that doesn’t answer what Paul wrote elsewhere about the sinfulness of homosexual activity.

Now on to the other backhanded response to Paul: that said that women should be silent and that they should never have authority over men.  Once again, that dreaded provincialism rears its ugly hipster head.

For one, the passage on women being silent is in the passage about orderly worship, and as indicated elsewhere, be dealing with disruptive activities.

The other passage, about authority, actually backfires: as indicated by the things taught by some very particular women within the Ephesian community–and by extension, the fledgling Ephesian church–they had a bit of a struggle with the local cult of Artemis.  Miller’s work on that as well seems to disarm the passage as another club with which to bludgeon Paul (and any who would reference him).

“Because it just disgusts me, dangit!  Props for being honest.  However, a whole population of people shouldn’t have their families discriminated against just because you think gay sex is icky.  Grow up!

Well if this isn’t interesting: only here is honesty brought up, as though this were the only honest reason, and all the rest is a smokescreen.  And it’s a lousy ‘reason’ for considering homosexual acts sinful or basing a law on.

And, in conclusion,

Have fun living in your sexist, chauvanistic, judgemental(sic), xenophobic lifestyle choice.  The rest of culture will advance forward without you.

Cue Bill Cosby: Riiiiiiiiiiight.

Sexism: Perhaps, if one held to the view of women that the maker of this flowchart actually thinks Paul (and Christians) use.  That would also make someone a honking flaming fundamentalist as well.

Chauvinism: Not quite sure what this has to do with the debate at hand other than to indicate another character flaw of those who oppose redefining marriage.  Someone might well be chauvinistic, but does it mean that their argument on redefining marriage, or the sinfulness of homosexual acts, is therefore wrong?

“Judgemental:”  First, it’s ‘judgmental.’  Second, this entire flowchart is about as judgmental as it can possibly get towards people who oppose the author.  When the two conclusions given are that one is either horrible or enlightened, the pot is calling the kettle black.  The question, for the thousandth time, is not whether or not judging is wrong: the question is whether or not we are making right judgments.

“Xenophobic:” Because nothing quite says “I’m afraid of ‘the other'” like a flowchart that dismisses out of hand any reason for a given position other than hatred or ignorance.

“Lifestyle choice:”  This is perhaps the most ironic thing of all.  For starters, the Calvinists would certainly want a word with the maker of the flowchart; second, why can’t religious orientation be considered genetic as well?  Why not?  Or, why not “love the sinner, but hate the sin?”

As for ‘advancing forward,’ well, I wouldn’t call this progress.

Perhaps it is because there was only so much room, but the maker of the chart left out any other possible reasons for 1) the legitimacy of calling homosexual acts sinful, or 2) the matter of legally redefining marriage.  As such, it failed spectacularly to actually address the arguments being made, and completely ignored philosophical and sociological arguments.  But in trying to make a particularly religious claim to answering the question of the sinfulness of homosexual acts, it managed to either try to distract, to appeal to anachronistic, provincial emotion, and to ignore the Greek word that was used.  So if this thing shows up in your news feed, don’t be alarmed: it’s a mess–an ignorant, fallacious mess.

How not to argue ethics

Every now and then, but more frequently than I’d like, something like this pops up on the internet or on Facebook:

If you don’t believe in things like smoking pot or gay marriage (or abortion, or other activist campaign), just remember that you don’t have to engage in those activities if you don’t want to.

As though that were the entirety of the argument.

It’s not.  Here’s why.

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The Boy Scouts, Freedom, and Morality

Yesterday morning, a petition bearing 275,000 signatures on a petition protesting the removal of an openly homosexual den leader from a Cub Scout Pack was delivered to the BSA’s annual meeting.

These signatures were delivered by none other than Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout of some notoriety, who recently (last year, I think?) gave an impassioned and interesting speech to the Iowa legislature on the issue of same-sex marriage and civil unions, and argued that he was living proof that SSM would be, and indeed was, beneficial to society.

I came across two different articles at two very different websites about the delivery of the petitions, and they both quoted Wahls differently, and their highlights were probably intentional.  Continue reading