Christian victimization and freedom

You may have heard about a bill that passed recently in Indiana. It’s called The Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It enumerates that a person’s religious freedom shall not be “substantially burdened.” The immediate problem is that what constitutes substantial burden is never defined.

But there’s another, broader problem with this law, and it’s all in the name. “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” As if somehow Christians weren’t free to practice their religion before. This branding, this idea, fits perfectly with a common thread throughout the Christian narrative: victimhood.

You hear it all the time. “The war on Christmas.” Evolution being taught in school. Mean atheist bullies like Richard Dawkins. Wouldn’t you know it, Christianity is always under attack! Poor Christians.

But is this representation really true? No. Just look at the facts. 78% of Americans identify as Christian. Moreover, 73% of Americans believe that God created the world in 6 days or that he directly guided human evolution. These aren’t small numbers or a simple majority. This is an overwhelming part of the population. And Christianity is firmly entrenched in the political system. In fact, 92% of congress is Christian.

So obviously, Christianity isn’t going anywhere, and Christian freedom is hardly in danger of being diminished, given that the whole system is populated by Christians. You can’t turn around anywhere in this country without seeing the Christian influence. So what’s really going on here?

It’s all marketing. That’s it. It’s an image, an idea crafted specifically for mass consumption. The overall goal here is to provide justification for forcing Christian beliefs onto everyone in this country. Because ultimately, it isn’t about giving people more freedom, it’s about taking it away and replacing it with the Christian agenda.

And that’s what this bill in Indiana is really symptomatic of. This bill would justify the denial of goods and services to people who didn’t agree with Christians. That’s not freedom, that’s called discrimination.

There’s a very long list of similar attempts to legislate Christianity in this country, with a lot of recent attempts and victories. There’s the Hobby Lobby ruling. There’s the fact that atheists are outright barred from holding public office in 7 states. There are numerous laws against abortion and proposed constituinal amendments banning same sex marriage. There’s even a lawmaker in Arizona who proposed that church services should be mandatory for all citizens.

None of these laws are about freedom. These laws are all about control. They deny people rights while forcing them to adopt or adhere to Christian values. The only freedom that these laws grant is the freedom for Christians to openly discriminate against and persecute those who don’t agree with them.


The dangers of magical thinking

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Oh, Ken Ham. You are truly a treasure for atheists and scientists. Every time Ham opens his mouth, something that highlights how ignorant and illogical the YEC movement really is comes out. So what did Ham say this time? Well, one of his latest blog posts over at AiG is Should You Fear an Asteroid Apocalypse? His answer is no, of course not, because the world will only end when Jesus says it will. And I’m not kidding about that.

To Ham, everything that happens in the universe isn’t governed by natural laws–it’s governed by God. I bet you didn’t know that asteroids don’t follow the laws of gravity and motion. Nope, they’re all individually controlled 24/7 by God, as if Jesus has each asteroid in the universe on a marionette string. Duh. Besides, Ham argues, you shouldn’t be preoccupied with asteroids hitting the earth–not when Jesus is coming for your immortal soul!

Except that’s total bullshit. We know it’s bullshit. Anyone with an internet connection and Google earth can clearly, plainly SEE that it’s bullshit. Exhibit A, ladies and gentlemen:

Vredefort crater in South Africa
Vredefort crater in South Africa
Acraman crater
Acraman crater
Woodleigh crater, Australia
Woodleigh crater, Australia

And these aren’t just tiny holes. Woodleigh and Acraman are 75 and 56 miles across respectively, and Vredefort has a radius of 118 miles. Imagine if something like that hit New York City. Or the ocean just off the coast–the resulting tidal wave would be massive. Of course, Ken Ham probably thinks Jesus dug those holes just for shits and giggles, probably while he was burying all of those dinosaur fossils. Or that God created them just to test man’s faith. And that’s the problem with the Ken Hams of the world: magical thinking blinds them to what’s right in front of their faces. It takes a deep, deeeeep ignorance, an almost infantile level frankly, to see something like this…


…and then turn around and say, “Asteroids? Nothing to see here, folks! Can’t happen! Back to church with you all!”

Of course, believing that an invisible man in the sky has a divine force field that protects the earth from asteroids is only part of the problem. The other part of the problem is that “immortal soul” mumbo jumbo. See, Ham and his ilk are more concerned with their future than the present. Specifically, they only care about what happens to their soul when they die. Considering that polls indicate most Christians believe they’re living in the end times, I think it’s fair to say that this isn’t just Ham and handful of loons. Of course, throughout history people have been convinced that it’s the end of days, and yet here we all are still.

But if you believe that there’s an afterlife, there’s room to justify ignoring the problems of the present. Because ultimately, what happens in this paltry 80 years while you’re alive will be nothing compared to the bliss that is heaven. In light of a belief in heaven, I’m honestly surprised that Ham and his YEC followers aren’t rooting for the asteroids–they’d certainly get to heaven faster.

All of this, everything begat by magical thinking, means that climate change gets denied or ignored. Asteroids, which were and are real threats, get ignored. Overfishing and polluting the oceans? Mass extinctions? Absolutely none of those things matter where your immortal soul is concerned…especially if you think the rapture is going to happen within your lifetime.

I know that there are Christians who view the bible as a call to be good stewards of the earth, and to them I say raise your voice. But even then, it may not matter, because the Ken Hams of the world vote, and they put people like Ted Cruz in charge of the Committee for Science and Competitiveness.

It leads to politicians who refuse to even entertain the idea of climate change, because they think that God promised he’d never flood the earth again so a warming of the planet would be impossible. It causes people to deny and cast out evolution, without which our understanding of medicine (that these same wackos benefit from) would suffer.

I can’t stop people from believing whatever nonsense they want. But I can try to stop it from being legislated and from affecting my life. If you want to spend your existence with your head buried in the sand, that’s your business and your right. But if your magical thinking in any way marginalizes my freedom or safety, then I’ll fight you until my lasy dying breath with every piece of logic and evidence at my disposal.


Breaking the chains of debt


Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I’m not a fan of consumerism and I view capitalism with a dubious eye. I’ve blogged quite a bit about the philosophical pitfalls of consumerism and capitalism and how distracting they can be. But now I’d like to talk a little bit about the practical ramifications of wanton consumerism and capitalism–you know, the kind that politicians and businesses and the media promote. Namely, I’m talking about debt.

Did you know that the average American is $225,238 in debt? That’s quite a shocking number. But it really isn’t surprising. Think of all of the things that people go into debt for:

  • Education
  • Homes
  • Cars
  • Medical bills
  • Credit cards

It’s a wonder that the figure is “just” a quarter of a million dollars. To add something else to this conversation, consider the following information from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:


Look at that for a moment. The average household debt was extremely close to $0 just 60ish years ago. And it only started to really take off during the 80’s. You know, when Mr. “Deficits don’t matter” was commander-in-chief. But I digress; this isn’t a post about politics. This is about the consequences of debt.

So what are they? Well, let’s talk about retirement. That’s the goal, isn’t? To sock away enough money to live out your twilight years in comfort? Well you can postpone that, maybe even indefinitely, if you’re up to you eyeballs in debt. You’ll be paying it off for the rest of your life, which means living on a fixed income isn’t even a possibility.

It also means, quite literally, that you don’t own anything–the bank technically owns it all. They can repossess your stuff if you fall behind in payments. And let’s face it, it’s quite possible to do so with that much debt. Haven’t we all seen those daytime TV commercials with guys in suits and cowboy hats talking about how they’ll fight to reduce your debt and consolidate all your monthly payments? Yeah, turns out that debt is a big business, probably because there’s so freaking much of it. That’s what lead to the 2008 financial crisis: Wall Street let Americans go elbows deep into debt buying houses they knew they couldn’t afford because they could bundle it all together and make money off the debt. Great for them, not so great for the rest of us.

Of course, there’s always bankruptcy. Seems simple, right? Just declare bankruptcy and it all goes away!


Well, unfortunately, there are consequences to declaring bankruptcy. Your credit score is totally ruined. Say goodbye to being a homeowner. Your assets can be seized. And to top it all off, you’re still obligated to pay certain debts (student loans never go away, for instance). So while it is an option, you still feel the sting of debt, so to speak.

But I understand why people go into so much debt. It’s the American way, isn’t it? A big house with two cars and 2.4 children. A college degree is the only way to get a good job, and state schools might as well be community colleges (and community college is for losers, duh). Everyone wants to own the latest, shiniest toy, and heaven help you if your neighbor gets a newer and shinier one.

Isn’t that what good ol’ W told us all after 9/11? That if we all wanted to be good Americans we’d go to the mall? Buy stuff or the terrorists win! Yeah, that whole rhetoric. That’s an extreme example of an underlying philosophy that’s been the basis for our society and culture for the past 30 years.

The truly tragic part is that it’s all made up. It’s wholly untrue. Owning a pickup truck doesn’t make you a good American. Buying the biggest house doesn’t make you an American. Your college degree doesn’t make you an American. The reality of the American dream for most people is a lifetime spent in servitude to banks to pay off stuff they didn’t even need in the first place.

That bears repeating: you do not need the crap they say you need to be happy or patriotic

That college degree you paid $80,000 for? It doesn’t guarantee a good job, let alone any job. And you probably didn’t need to spend that much for it. You probably could have started at a community college and finished at a state school. Because guess what? The math they teach is the exact same math they teach at Dartmouth! The only difference is the price.

Or don’t even go to college at all. A four year degree isn’t he only path to financial success for people. Trade schools, apprenticeships, and vocational schools are all viable paths that lead to well-paying skilled trades that don’t come with the price tag of a four year university degree. And if you don’t believe me, think about this post the next time you write a check to your plumber.

Similarly, a family of four does not need to live in a 6 bedroom, 7 bathroom house. Why pay for more than you need? That seems like a no-brainer to me. Money not spent on your house is money that stays in your pocket is money for retirement or vacations or whatever. Plus, a house is not the same thing as a home. Think about that in relation to debt.

I guess what I’m getting at is that the average American is pretty bad at saving money. The majority of Americans have less than $500 in their savings account. And yes, there are a myriad of economic and social issues that relate to that figure, not just debt. But debt is a tempting way to be like everyone else, or to live the way you think you ought to (that is, the way other people tell you that you need to live).

Of course, they key to avoid or managing debt and living a life that isn’t owned by a soulless bank is to live below your means, not beyond them.

But that’s not very American.

Biblical authority, Christianity, and a conversation with God.

I peruse the blogs over in the religious section occasionally. I find it entertaining and in rare instances somewhat enlightening. This evening there was certainly a trend in the blogging, and it basically boils down to this: Christianity shouldn’t change so that it might become more socially relevant or attractive to the liberal masses. This blog and this blog are two great examples of the alleged problem of trying to modernize religion or make it relevant for the 21st century. Ultimately, so the argument goes, you’re fundamentally changing what the religion is at its core if you allow things like accepting homosexuals or evolution or cosmology. You’re diminishing biblical authority and that, in effect, is blasphemy.

I find this idea very interesting and perplexing, because ultimately it seems to value process over substance. This school of thought seems to assert, most likely unknowingly, that the most important part of Christianity is the ritual involved. More specifically, that acceptance of biblical authority is an all-or-nothing measure of how “real” a Christian one is.

But let’s perform a thought experiment. Let’s imagine a man, and let’s call him John. John identifies as a Christian. John loves God and accepts Christ as his personal lord and savior. And John worships God every Sunday at church. John isn’t perfect–nobody is–but he leads a “good” life: he gives to charity, volunteers to help his fellow man in his free time, he’s even gone with members of his his church to help build more churches in third world countries. John waited until he was married to have sex, and was married to the same woman his entire life. But John also helped to integrate gays into his church and community, and even supported gay marriage. Now let’s suppose that after a long life, John dies and he stands before God. Imagine the following conversation:

God: “John, you accepted me in your heart, you worshiped me faithfully, and you did my work on earth. But I must condemn you because of your support of homosexuals. Why did you do that, John?”

John: “Did Jesus not teach us to love thy neighbor? Well, Bob and Rick were my neighbors, and therefore I loved them like the rest of my fellow man.”

God: “But they were committing blasphemy against the church.”

John: “It is not my right to judge, but yours.”

God: “What about all of that stuff I put in the bible about ‘men not laying with men as they would with women’? They offend the bible and me!”

John: “When Jesus gave the sermon on the mount, did he not teach us to turn the other cheek? To love even our enemies?”

The dialogue could go on. And you could replace the homosexuals with evolution, the big bang theory, abortion, or anything else expressly forbidden by the bible. Imagine you are God. What would you say to John’s retorts?

One moment the bible is full of wrath and vengeance and the blood of the lamb, and the next moment it’s full of peace and love and not throwing stones. Which parts do you think God would have you embrace? Do you think that owning slaves and stoning people who work on Sunday are as equally important as loving thy neighbor and turning the other cheek? Aren’t those conflicting principles, though?

If people are going to make anything all or nothing in Christianity, let it be the parts about loving your fellow man, turning the other cheek, the tale of the good Samaritan, letting he who is without sin cast the first stone. If you spend your time denigrating, judging, and oppressing certain groups of people, I’d say you’ve missed the most important parts of the bible.


Why Mars One should be Lunar One


There’s been a lot of talk lately about Mars One, the non-profit company that aims to establish a permanent human presence on Mars by 2024. They recently announced that they have narrowed down the thousands of people who applied for the one-way trip and a chance to make history down to 100 “lucky” people. I say “lucky” because there’s a host of challenges that will make survival for these people very difficult, if not improbable. But we’ll get to that later.

Look, I get the temptation to jump to Mars. Human beings have been fascinated by Mars for quite awhile. But ultimately, going to Mars just isn’t practical right now. It’s not that I think trying to establish a permanent colony somewhere else in the solar system doesn’t have its merits. On the contrary, I think it does. I do think, however, that there is a much better place to start and it’s right in our cosmic backyard, so to speak: the moon.

Lunar colonies have been talked about for quite some time, both in popular fiction and real life (anyone remember the 2012 presidential election cycle when Newt Gingrich promised to but a colony on the moon?). And the technology exists. We could put people on the moon just like we put them on the ISS. So why is the moon a better choice than Mars?

1) It’s cheaper.

The trip to Mars will take roughly six months. That length of time complicates things in space. It means you have to pack 6 months of food, your oxygen source must last for six months, you need six months of fuel–all of that will cost a substantial amount of money, in upfront costs, engineering (more supplies = bigger spacecraft = more raw materials needed) and in terms of launching it (ounces matter when you’re calculating fuel consumption to escape earth’s gravity).

In contrast, it takes a mere three days to get to the moon. So, just from the financial perspective, you’d need about 1/60th the fuel, the food, etc for the trip there. That’s a lot of money saved.

2) It’s also safer.

Again, six months is a very long time. Compared to three days, it’s an eternity wherein something could break down or be damaged. And then you’re up the creek without a water recycler or an oxygen scrubber.

Let’s talk about time again. Let’s say that Mars One succeeded in putting a group of humans on the red planet. But then let’s say something happens, something unforeseen. Part of the food crop is lost. The living modules for the crew are compromised by a rock slide or weather. Some vital component breaks down. You get the drift. Well you’re six months out, buddy. That’s a long time to wait for help. Maybe you won’t be able to survive long enough to hold out for help.

Now contrast that with what might happen on a lunar colony. Something breaks down or is damaged beyond repair, and rather than being a death sentence it’s an inconvenience because help is only three days away. You could easily ration food or even go without it for three days. A MacGyvered solution might hold up for three days, whereas expecting a chewing gum and paperclip fix to hold up for six months is expecting nothing short of a miracle.

The bottom line is that a colony on the moon would have a vital lifeline to earth that would be missing from the Mars colony.

3) There’s an economic reason to go to the moon.

The moon is more than a lump of rock. There’s helium-3 up there, which would be used as fuel for a fusion reactor or engine. There are tons of rare-earth elements up there with loads of industrial applications. There are raw materials on the moon that we could use down here on the earth, and that would provide a tantalizing ROI for a lunar colony. Which is important, because any such endeavor would need funding. And if people can make money from the moon, they’ll probably be much more likely to give large sums of money to the cause.

4) It’s only the beginning.

The moon is a worthier ambition for another reason: it’s a great launching pad. With 1/6 the gravity of earth, it would be much easier and cheaper to build and launch of a spacecraft from the moon. And we already know there are fuel sources up there for whatever craft we build and launch up there. The moon would be an excellent gateway to the rest of the solar system.

Look, ultimately I think that people will go to Mars–eventually. Our curiosity will get the best of us if no better economic or scientific impetus comes along. The problem is technology, but only in a specific sense. The technology to live on the planet is readily available, I believe. It could be done with our current level of understanding and engineering. Of course having time to refine and improve that engineering and understanding wouldn’t hurt.

No, the problem with trying to colonize Mars is speed.

The technology doesn’t exist to make travel to and from Mars feasible or practical, and as long as any colony would effectively be isolated and cut off from earth or a lunar colony, I think that’s a recipe for disaster. It means that every problem and challenge, even seemingly minor or trivial ones, suddenly become critical and life threatening. And I think that those circumstances jeopardize the feasibility and ethics of any operation there.

Time to give up the PJs

If you’re an adult, I think it’s officially time to abandon the idea of wearing pajamas in public. It’s not too much effort to put on some goddamn pants. Show the world you care at least a little bit. Here’s a convenient hierarchy in case you’re confused:

Jeans/Slacks: Hello! I’m a productive member of society!

Yoga pants: Hello! I’m a girl who forgot to do laundry!

Sweat pants: Hello! I’m a man who forgot to do laundry!

Pajamas: Meh. Fuck it. I give up.