One thing is for sure: this is a confusing topic. There are remarkably contradictory studies quoted by equally passionate people, and there is a lot of dishonest reporting that distorts the facts (which is why both sides quote the same studies in some cases). I found more than one case where an article linking to a study totally misrepresented the study.
I will do my best to offer relevant facts, a variety of perspectives on how those facts are interpreted, and a summary of some issues that make the pursuit of truth and justice difficult but not impossible. I am not an expert. I'm just a guy wanting to find the truth.
Being People Of Truth In A False World
I am really discouraged about the content and style of our cultural conversation. The internet has made us more shallow, more bombastic, more sheltered than ever before. We hide behind informational walls. We attack with our avatars in ways we never would if we had to actually talk to real people face to face. We have learned that the sound bite, the click bait title, and the bomb thrower gets the fame. We reject serious news in favor of titillating fake news that promises an emotional orgy of either self-affirmation or gleeful demonization of the "other."
There is no easy fix. We are sowing ignorance, bias and lies, and we are reaping the consequences. The solution - if it's not too late - is sowing knowledge, objectivity, and truth, and doing so with wisdom, patience, boldness and kindness. In the service of this goal, I offer the following ways to pursue the creation of a culture committed to truth.
All The News That's Fit To Print
"That's fake news!" has become an increasingly standard response to anything from a news source someone doesn't like, or to any story that challenges that narrative one wants to be true. What was once a label for a very particular kind of underhanded representation of "news" has become the label for even mainstream media outlets that make mistakes or have bias, as well as any story that suggests we might be wrong in our perspective.
It's an effective way to dodge, but it's a terrible way to engage with reality. I, for one, don't want to give up on the pursuit of truth, even if it is surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.*
So let's chat.
Beyonce's Inadvertent Pro-Life Baby Bump
Who knew Beyonce would turn her fans pro-life? It’s almost as if they suddenly recognized unborn babies for what they are – babies. If Beyonce were to miscarry, she and her fans would not mourn the loss of clumps of tissue. They would mourn the loss of her children. If Beyonce were attacked and she miscarried, I suspect the news reports would be full of language that talked about her babies, not her fetuses, being killed, and rightly so. Twenty-nine states would prosecute the attacker for murder.
Refugees, Immigrants, and Islam: In Search Of Truth And Justice
After reading all the debate about the immigration/refugee issue, I decided to do some of my own research. The result? I found out how complex this subject is. My intent is to provide a good foundation on which to begin building an informed opinion. It's certainly not the final word, but hopefully it's a good start.
NGOs, Abortion, and Federal Money: The Truth About The Mexico City Policy
The Mexico City policy (so named because it was announced at the United Nations International Conference on Population in Mexico City) has been implemented or suspended on strict partisan lines since the Reagan administration. All Republican Presidents implement it; all Democratic ones suspend it. The fact that President Trump has reimplemented it should surprise no one. However, now that it's getting either wildly applauded or criticized, it's worth looking at the reality of the policy.
Why I Am Pro-life
"Being pro-life" could potentially cover a lot of issues (capital punishment, euthanasia, etc). There is also a discussion to be had about the importance of protecting and honoring all born life. However, that's too much for one blog post. I am going to focus on abortion, a 'life' issue that is front and center in our culture, especially as we approach a day during which hundreds of thousand will March For Life.
I am going to give four different arguments for this position. The first two arguments draw from Judeo-Christian history; the others will offer arguments that can be made apart from a belief in the veracity of the Bible.
Getting What We Deserve
I wrote last week that Ariana did not deserve what that fan said. By that, I meant was that no one ought to be objectified or dehumanized no matter what they say or do. That is what Ariana said she experienced; in that sense, I empathize with her anger and hurt.
But if I am to take the Cambridge Dictionary definition seriously, I must acknowledge that Mac Miller and Ariana Grande appear to have been “given something because of their actions or qualities”; particularly, their remarkably crude lyrics and highly sexualized public persona invited a mirroring response – which is precisely what they got. Their actions got a reaction. I’m not glad it happened; I’m just not surprised. Nobody should be.
Ideas have consequences. If we don’t like what we are reaping as individuals or as a culture, maybe it’s time we all personally and corporately challenge each other to sow something else.
The Hit Ariana Didn't Want - Or Deserve
What do we expect will happen when fans are fed a steady diet of this kind of language and outlook on people and sex? The artists I quoted - and there are plenty more - have decided that this is acceptable public discourse. I’m not sure why they (or us) are shocked when their fans echo the words of their heroes. And at some point, the ideas that fill people will spill out of them through their words and deeds. I assume this obnoxious fan is confused: he listened to his musical hero describe women and sex a particular way; he joined in the ‘locker room banter’ when he finally met the guy. What could be the harm in that?
Well, plenty, obviously. It’s a terrible way to view and talk about people – and it doesn’t matter if it is sung as entertainment or said to someone’s face. It's a dehumanizing and demeaning way to view and talk about people. The more I’ve thought about this, the more it just makes me sad.
National Geographic's Gender Revolution
Recently, National Geographic made headlines by putting a transgender child on the cover. The response has been mixed to put it mildly, ranging from praise for furthering human rights to criticism for promoting child abuse. In light of that discussion, I thought it worth noting several things about the transgender question that ought to be part of the discussion.
Comet Ping Pong, Pizzagate, And The Pursuit Of Truth
Based on what I have seen so far, I don't believe that the most disturbing Pizzagate accusations are warranted. Unlike the stories to which I linked at the beginning of this article, no one has been arrested; no witnesses have come forward; there are no known investigations taking place. The DC police have referred to it as a "fictitious online conspiracy theory." Megan Kelley devoted almost 10 minutes to debunking the conspiracy. There is nothing beyond speculation at this point, and frankly, too much of that speculation stretches credulity.
What This Election Revealed About The Church
Christians, let’s be honest: We weren’t ready for this election. We weren't ready for the moral quandary forced on us by both the issues and the candidates. In the next four years we have some serious soul-searching to do about a lot of things. However, I would like to focus on two that directly influence the life of the church.
Vote Your Conscience: A (hopefully) Helpful Guide For The 2016 Election
This is the kind of election where the oft repeated mandate to ‘vote your conscience’ carries more truth – and weight – than perhaps ever before. In the interest of providing a way to think through this choice, I have written a series of posts that cover various ethical theories that can be applied as one prepares for this year's election. I am convinced that no one ethical theory does justice to the complexity of our world; nonetheless, I hope the process of viewing life through different ethical lenses will bring increasing clarity.
Planned Parenthood And The Lives That Don't Matter
In response to the latest police shootings, Planned Parenthood posted the following response in an attempt to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement: "You deserve to parent your child without fear that he or she will be hurt or killed. Freedom from violence is reproductive justice." I agree with Planned Parenthood's statement. I would have phrased it differently (can we include what kids deserve?), but I embrace the general sentiment. Of course black lives matter; of course we want a world where parents don't have to worry about children experiencing violence or being killed. This is why I am also angry at the hypocrisy of this claim and heart-broken at the reality it supports.
“When it comes to the creation of a ‘moral climate’, is there a proper difference to be made between disagreeing, criticizing, discriminating, oppressing, dehumanizing, and killing, or is this all one thing on a continuum?”
Post-Orlando Question #2: How Do We Know When Individuals Truly Represent Groups?
"Is there a way to make a proper distinction between what is inherent in or necessarily follows from the beliefs and actions of a group vs. what particular individuals or sects do?"
Post-Orlando Question #1:Was Omar Mateen Created By The Conservative Religious Right?
Is it fair to attribute the actions of Omar Mateen to a climate of hate created by the Conservative Religious Right? Is there a way to make a proper distinction between what is inherent in or necessarily follows from the beliefs and actions of a group vs. what particular individuals or sects do?When it comes to the creation of a ‘moral climate,’ is there a proper distinction to be made between disagreeing, criticizing, discriminating, oppressing, dehumanizing, and violently attacking, or do these all simply occupy different places on the same continuum of hate?
Graduation Slogans To Ignore - Or At Least Reconsider
Graduates, this is the time of your life when a lot of motivational slogans are thrown your way. “Reach for the Stars! You Can Be Anything You Want To Be! Believe You Can Fly!” Today I want to challenge five of the many slogans you have heard or will hear, not because they are always entirely wrong, but because they are almost never entirely right.
Michigan's Proposal For Students With Gender Dysphoria: Is It The Best Solution?
Let me be clear: what I’m about to say is not a commentary on the need to treat those who identify as transgendered with dignity. This is about public policy guidelines that seek to weigh everyone’s rights and promote the common good of all parties involved. I don’t believe this proposed policy does either. I will be highlighting several quotes that stood out to me and offering my concerns about the rationality and impact of this policy.
North Carolina's 'Bathroom Law' And The Tension of Comfort And Safety
Laws such as the one in North Carolina protect gender-exclusive spaces that honor the privacy and safety of women and children. That strikes me as a good thing. It needs to matter in this discussion. To dismiss or ignore these concerns is to refuse to acknowledge the truth about the complexity of this issue.
NARAL, Doritos, And The "Tactic Of Humanizing Fetuses"
Did Doritos fall into the trap of a deceptive anti-choice tactic? Or did they offer a commercial that taps into the biological, scientific and philosophical reality that the fetus is an unborn human being that is living, moving and reacting inside his or her mother? To whatever degree Doritos intentionally or unintentionally pointed toward the unavoidable conclusion of the humanity of the unborn, I applaud them. However, NARAL got it wrong. Doritos isn't "humanizing the fetus." They are just reminding us that it's been human all along
Find Your Magic: How Axe Measures A Man
As much as I enjoy the overall creativity on display, it’s the socially conscious ads that reveal the most. This year, Colgate and Axe used the platform to make a statement about something they assume the audience takes seriously – or at least should. They don't just want us to buy a product; they want us to buy into a worldview.
Some Answers For "Questions Christians Have For Other Christians"
I suspect there will be plenty of posts responding to the latest Buzzfeed project from Christians who are challenging other Christians to step up their game. "I'm Christian But I'm Not…" certainly sparked a lot of conversation; "Questions Christians Have For Other Christians" looks to do the same. I'd hate to see these questions be reduced to rhetorical status, so... let's do this!
Are Pro-Lifers Hypocrites?
An abortion routine from Reginald Hunter, a comedian, has been making the rounds lately on social media lately. He's asking a relevant question: are pro-lifers hypocrites if they think it is sometimes okay to take human life? However, his flawed argument fails to do justice to the issue.
Six Flawed Claims in Buzzfeed's "I’m Christian But I’m Not…”
Plenty has been written about Buzzfeed's viral video featuring a number of people who address all the ways they believe Christians have been unfairly stereotyped. As much as I appreciate the spirit behind their attempt, I'm not thrilled with the attempt itself. First, the fact that Christ is not mentioned in a discussion is a significant oversight. Second, though there are some decent observations (you can read the whole text here), there are also a number of claims that reveal a fair amount of confusion about what it means to be a follower of the person and teaching of Jesus.
The Best Stories: " Some of the most important truths are conveyed to us through fictional stories. Look at the parables Jesus used: a man was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho; a woman with ten silver coins lost one; a rich man stole a poor man's lamb. None of them were 'true' in the sense that they actually happened to a particular person, yet the were all true in a way that transcended the story itself. A story that begins "once upon a time" does not always mean falsehood is about to follow; in it's best form, it presents true embedded in a timeless kind of story - if we take the time to find it."
It's Not Just Entertainment: "As the Traverse City Film Festival approaches, anyone going to downtown Traverse City will inevitably see one or twenty posters with this year’s slogan: “One Great Movie Can Change You.” I completely agree. This is not a new insight, of course. People have recognized the power of entertainment for thousands of years. However, the slogan has encouraged me to revisit how the arts and entertainment both reflect and shape us."
Originality, Freedom and Form: "Every discipline has its fundamentals. Chemistry is built on the periodic table; football greatness stands on blocking and tackling. Painting rests on the foundation of color, line and perspective. Musicians build upon the scales and chord progressions. Writers don’t write novels; they craft sentences. If you want to create art for the glory of God, master the fundamentals of your medium and allow your creativity to build upon that foundation."
Worldviews in Entertainment: Starting the Conversation: This past week, I had the opportunity to engage with middle and high school students on the topic of entertainment. In the course of four 2 ½ hour sessions, we talked about some popular YA fiction and watched four movies: Maleficent; Captain America: Winter Soldier; The Amazing Spiderman, and Ender’s Game. (Most of them had read or seen Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Guardians of the Galaxy and Divergent, I was looking for something that was new to them and wasn't about sparkly vampires).
In order to explore the worldviews, we used the following template of questions for a discussion at the end of each movie.
Scientific Mythologies - "James A. Herrick's Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs offers a fascinating look at the interplay between fiction and reality. Sci-fi literature has had far more of an impact on scientific research than one might expect. Rather than being a purely logical endeavor, science is sometimes fueled by- and often distorted by - what scientists want to be true. As a result, scientists sometimes embrace cherished ideas in ways that are remarkably at odds with their claim to be dispassionately pursuing hard, cold facts."
Guard Your Heart: Usher, Nicki Minaj and Honey Nut Cheerios - "It's an odd culture in which we live: we get message after message about genuinely healthy lifestyle choices: don't smoke, don't drink too much, eat local and unprocessed, drive carefully, eat the food pyramid (or circle or whatever is popular now), don't run yourself into the ground with stress. In spite of what we might feel like ingesting or doing, it's obvious some choices are better than others, not just for ourselves but often for those around us (think of the ripple of effects of alcoholism or obesity). So why don't we as a culture send the same message about sexual choices?"
Finding the Hallow in Halloween - "The power of Christ is nothing if not redemptive. Why not use this holiday - as we do with other days or holidays of ignoble origins or increasingly secular expressions - as an opportunity to engage your neighbors and point them toward a God who gives us a reason to truly celebrate? Christians are not called to retreat from our culture. Even imaginations cloaked in darkness can be baptized with the light of truth."
Rebellion, Freedom, and Art - "If one wishes to deface a wall with graffiti or some other outrageous markings, the wall must be there to be defaced… If one wishes to scale a barbed-wire fence marked "no trespassing" and wave his arms and say, "Look at me," there must be a fence to scale. If one wants to sneer at conventional rules of behavior, there must actually be rules that govern how most people act…"
Pixar and Personhood - "I recently read an interesting article over at Discover Magazine called "The Hidden Message in Pixars' Films." The author makes an interesting case that Pixar's movies are changing the way the next generation thinks about what it means to be a person - or even what it means to be human."
MemeThink 202: Hobby Lobby Edition - "MemeThink 101 offered a perspective on the frustrating trend of using memes to talk about serious cultural issues, in particular same-sex marriage. This follow-up post will address the recent Hobby Lobby ruling as seen from the perspective of the MemeThink."
Life in the Lyrics: Follow Your Arrow - "Is “Well, they followed their arrow!” really the best we have to offer in response to situations like this? I’m not suggesting Ms. Musgraves is advocating these things in any sense of the word. I’m just looking at the incomplete worldview in the song. “The straight and narrow was just a little too straight” will not defend the perpetrators in court or heal the damage done to the victims who bear the brunt of someone else's selfish trip around the sun. Whoever shot their brutal arrows at these unfortunate victims ought to walk toward their mangled target with contrition and humility, preparing themselves for the social, civil or legal consequences while praying that the victims can find healing and hope."
Bumper Sticker Logic #2 - " I get so tired of phrases like "Always be yourself," as well as its more aesthetic cousin “You’re beautiful just the way you are!” When used properly, these sentiments can bolster the self-image of someone who has been wrongly shamed by reminding them they have a value that transcends opinions and circumstances. That's when it's used properly. In general, I hear versions of it mindlessly parroted by the self-indulgent "don't judge me" crowd."
Bumper Sticker Logic - " While driving through town today, I pulled up behind a car sporting the following bumper sticker: "My sh**** attitude is none of your f****** business." Except there were no asterisks, and now it was my business. In fact, it was the business of everybody who pulled up behind that particular car. It immediately became my business because it's the kind of publicly displayed message that makes my 12-year-old look away with embarrassment as he reads it, and makes me hope my 6-year-old in the back seat doesn't use that sentence to work on his phonics."
The Dogma-Free Society - "But let's be honest: the Dogma-Free Society is dogmatic. There is established opinion in this group (all religions and faiths are ludicrous); there are voices that atheists and Free Thinkers cite as if they are definitive authorities (Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer, and the late Christopher Hitchens come to mind); there is a code of tenants (endorse science, rationality, skepticism and a non-religious view of life).There is no dogma free society. I doubt there can be - or should be. There is no reason to pretend otherwise. Any group that shares “common interests, beliefs, and profession” has to share, well, beliefs."
MemeThink 101 - "It seems clear that the battle to think carefully and reasonably is being lost. Oh, don't worry - I'm not here to gripe! Rather than bemoan the loss of our ability to think with clarity and depth, we should embrace the new way of forming opinions quickly and painlessly: MemeThink!"
Logic and the Art of Reason Rallies - "As I write this, the Reason Rally is in full swing unless the weather has hindered their plans. As the rally has raised the bar pretty high by claiming what appears to be exclusive rights to reasonableness, I have been looking for thoughts from their leading lights that display valid thinking based on truthful premises. I must admit, I am having a hard time with the material available."
Hitting Us At Our Weakest - "I suppose I shouldn't be, but I am continually amazed by the conclusions our society reaches about human life."
Slouching Towards Project X - "When people lose sight of the boundary markers inside of which a civilization flourishes, we are in trouble. Not only will the community suffer, but - if we are not careful - we will most likely abdicate the power of imposed restraint to others because we could not restrain ourselves. I don't think censorship will be forced on us by moral crusaders; I think it will be necessitated by unrestrained, self-expressive, free speech exhibitionists who cry "Freedom!" while destroying societal stability."
Lapsing Into Chaos - "I've been catching up on a lot of teen literature and entertainment lately, and while all three elements are often present, the most consistent of these three shifts involves religion. In looking at Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, the Graceling Realm, The Wolves of Mercy Falls, Divergent, and the Avengers movie, I see no presence of religious rituals except in Divergent. It's not as if YA literature and film is unusual. Even some of the most popular adult shows (such as Men of A Certain Age or Lee Child's series of books starring Jack Reacher) tend to confirm the shift on all three points. Gehlen noted at one point: "A society consisting of foreground only, with every issue a matter of individual choice, couldn’t sustain itself for any length of time; it would lapse into chaos….”
I hope that he was not prescient. I fear that he was."
FROM THE WALKING DEAD AND PHILOSOPHY:
- "How Do You Solve A Problem Like A Zombie?": "How important to our humanity are the immaterial aspects of our nature - our consciousness, our mind, our thoughts, ideas, and emotions?"
- "Much Undead Ado About Nothing":"The Walking Dead and Philosophy opened with two essays arguing that the consideration of philosophical zombies (P-Zombies) - theoretical beings identical to human beings but lacking consciousness, qualia, or sentience - mitigates against a purely materialistic view of the world.
- "Leviathins and Zombies: Social Contracts and The Walking Dead": "The Walkers are humans stripped of what political theorists call a 'social contract,' an agreement between the rulers and the ruled. The humans who remain have a choice: head off into the woods and make do with whomever they can find, or head for the nearest city and attempt to recreate some form of government."
- "Absurd Heroism: Camus and the Real Walking Dead": "Which is worse, I wonder – a world in which human are wiped out, or one in which human have always roamed an earth devoid of meaning, hope, morality and truth?"
- "Deconstructing Humans": "How far up the scale of capacity can one be and still not obtain the privileges and status of personhood?"
- "Desperate Human Beings": "'Nothing is more frightening than desperate human beings.' That is frightening, true. What frightens me more are human beings who, with great articulation and artful rhetoric, try to convince us that killing children is defensible because select, elite thinkers have decided on behalf others how much suffering is acceptable, which human lives are defensible, and to what degree we should harden our hearts for the sake of a nebulous and ever changing greater good."
- Dying to Be Entertained: "In the opening section, Brian McDonald (“The Final Word On Entertainment”) and Anne Torkelson (“Somewhere Between Hair Ribbons and Rainbows”) look at the power of the arts to shape both individuals and cultures."
- What if the Odds are Against You? - "What role does luck play in the world? More importantly, if luck is a force to be reckoned with, what does that do to the notion of choice and the possibility of meaningful moral actions?"
- Darwin and the Hunger Games - "The Hunger Games themselves seem to epitomize Darwin’s concept of how the evolutionary process works: competition, adaptation, survivability, and a little bit of luck. The Games manage to involve three of evolution’s famous Four F’s: fighting, fleeing, feeding, and, uh reproducing. It’s pretty basic, really. Survival of the fittest as entertainment.
- The Problem of Peeta - "Consider Katniss's dilemma. Peeta returns from the torture of the Capitol a different man than she knew previously. In a physical sense, he is clearly still himself. In terms of character, attitude, and beliefs, he is quite different. So is Katniss reaching out to the Peeta she knew or is she creating a relationship with someone new? It may sound like an odd question, but consider some scenarios Mr. Michaud offers to help us think through this identity crisis."
- The Hunger Games and Just War Theory - " In “Starting Fires Can Get You Burned: The Just War Tradition and the Rebellion Against the Capitol," Louis Melancon looks at the Rebellion through the lens of Just War Theory. As with my previous posts, I hope to accurately portray the writer's position while adding some comments of my own.