Sunday, September 16, 2012

How to Stump an Evangelist

So here's a little thing I came up with  to best handle the occasional street evangelist who is trying to share the good news.

Before we start, I would like to point one thing out: most people I have come encountered that have tried to convert me to Christianity have done so in a very respectful manner. Furthermore, when you put yourself in their shoes for a moment and realise that they are deeply convinced that you are in eternal danger, understand that what they are doing is actually a very reasonable thing to do from their perspective; even humanitarian, in a sense. If I was absolutely convinced of such things, I would hope that I would care enough to act and help everyone who is in "danger" - I think it speaks well of their character. That being said, a certain amount of respectful confrontation is likely to be instructive.The reality of what they believe is something that they have to grapple with. After all nothing, especially not beliefs, religion or God is beyond criticism.

So without further adieu, I give you a fictional conversation between me and a Proselytizer:

Proselytizer: Excuse me sir, have you ever thought about what will happen after you die?

Me: A little bit, but I try not to get caught up in it too much.

Proselytizer: Well, let me ask you this. If you were to die today, do you know where you would go?

Me: Probably nowhere - is this really a reasonable way to start a conversation with a stranger?

Proselytizer: I'm so sorry, but we just wanted to tell you about a way that you can know where you are going. A way that you can be saved and go to heaven. 

Me: Look, I knew this was coming and I do appreciate the intention behind it, but it is just too late for me. I have sinned too much. 

Proselytizer: No, that's not possible. Why according to John 3:16, all you have to do is believe that Jesus died for your sins and you will gain eternal life. 

Me: Well, I know that - but you see a few years back I realised something. I was having a conversation about the bible a few years back, and I realised that according to Christian tradition it is the Holy spirit that both convicts us of our sins (John 15:8) and moves through us to minister to non-believers. After all it was the pouring out of the holy spirit over the apostles that led to the success of their ministry - you see Jesus saying that in Acts 1:5-8, also in Luke 1:15, you see John the Baptist possessing the Holy Spirit and because of that, many come to God. 

Proselytizer: That's true.

Me: Yea, so the point is that the Holy Spirit has some capability to bring about conversion, to give people the power to save. But at the same time he can convict us? How is that fair? He is capable of saving us, but then he condemns us once he fails to do so? Anyway, I couldn't get around that thought and yes, I think it is an immoral vile thing for an all powerful and omniscient being to do. 

Proselytizer: Umm... I don't think that is necessarily the best way to think of it.

Me: Perhaps, but that doesn't matter. Because in that conversation and many others since then I have made this point. I have argued that the Holy Spirit is either incapable or evil - I have spoken against the Holy Spirit often. 

Proselytizer: Well, maybe if you came to our church and we could have a talk with Pastor Brighton, we could sort all this out. I think you'll find that there are other ways to think about this. 

Me: But that's not the point, it doesn't matter. Let me see that bible for a second... Ok, here it is. Matthew 12:31 "Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men." See, it's too late for me. These words were unequivocally said by Jesus himself: I am unforgivable. So really, I do appreciate your time and concern - but there is just nothing to be done...

I find that most people are rather shocked when I take that angle. Especially the younger crowd. This is entirely based on limited personal experience, but it seems that older Christians are much more likely to hold fast to the more unpalatable aspects of Christianity. Younger people, not so much so. They are more inclined to believe that Christianity is nothing more than a collection of happy, beautiful and moral teachings and everyone has access to a very simple route to eternal bliss. Very few have truly confronted the notion that most of the people they encounter on the street are going to suffer in Hell for eternity. Very few have truly grasped the notion that according to their beliefs, countless foreign peoples not fortunate enough to be born to a Christian culture are doomed to Hell. 

I think that is something one should ponder, especially if they are trying to convert others into it. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Muhammad Movie Trailer Madness

As you may have heard, another bit of Western satire has irked Muslims the world round. Lots of people are absolutely inflamed over the disrespect to the prophet Mohammad and of course the various pundits are either supportive of the free speech exercised by the film-maker or horrified at this rather oafish display of cultural insensitivity.

Before we go any further, it might be a good idea to actually watch it:

I'll admit that I go into this with a couple of assumptions under my belt. First, I am firmly behind the free speech rights of whoever created this video - whatever it contains, no matter how vulgar, it is permissible. It is permissible because of my second assumption, which is that freedom of speech is only truly exercised when the speech is controversial. This is the value of the whole concept: to protect the ideological fringe from the desires of the majority or the powerful.  Sometimes you will agree with ts fringe and sometimes you will not, but if you ever find yourself with controversial ideas, you should hope that society on average doesn't look to their personal values to decide whether they will allow you to pipe up. This is the primary reason as to why we can not make a habit of caving to international outrage  over cartoons, movies or books.

Another thing to keep in mind is that we are actually fairly agnostic, so to speak, about which religions are ridiculed on YouTube. Take for instance the channel called ebolaworld, which. Has a regular series titled "Unbelievably Messed-Up Bible Stories." The series uses many of the same techniques to ridicule bible stories such as Job, Noah's Ark, Jacob and Esau and so on. In both the recent Mohammad video and those put out by ebolaworld, various important religious figures are portrayed as oafish, deviantly sexual and violent in an attempt to ridicule the religious beliefs many hold dear. I suggest that religious people the world round trust in their God's to handle the personal offense as he or she sees fit.

Perhaps the most amusing aspect of the whole issue, however, is how the video gives such an easy free pass to Joshua, the viciously militant Judeo-Christian leader of the Israelites. Watch for it, right in the middle of the video dedicated to ridiculing the deplorable actions of Muhammad the warlord, they have the gall to justify Joshua's pillaging of Palestine and murdering and or rape of thousands of women and children as acceptable because God warned them for 450 years and didn't ask them to convert to Judaism. To any reasonable person, that is no excuse. I consider both prophets to be equivalent.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Falling with Style

This is a bit of a lighthearted departure from the usual fare on this here blog, but I just had to post this out of sheer amazement. Compelled, really. For good or for ill, sometimes I am just blown away by what human beings can accomplish - its always nice to recognize the good as well.

This is called tracking. It is the same basic aerodynamic principles used on those massive ski jumps you see on TV, except you launch from a cliff with a parachute (base jumping). The control, skill and audacity required to pull this off is mind boggling. He is essentially wearing nothing more than a reinforced rain jacket that inflates a bit, no camera tricks.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fair Trade Cocaine and Other Responsible Choices

The notion of voting with your dollars is becoming more and more present in the minds of the US's hyperconsumer society - which is good, all things considered. At least we are trying to be conscientious, though in the deafening din of the Internet I always seem to come across this report or that report that casts various degrees of doubt on the functional outcome of our good samaratan checkout antics.

Is fair trade coffee beneficial to the society writ large, or does it just benefit those few farms with the resources to navigate the convolution of inspections and standards mandated by whatever Western organization has taken it upon itself to decide these things. How much of my red paint surcharge actually ends up as medication for AIDS victims after all the overhad has been taken out? If my bicycle is made of carbon neutral bamboo and I always make it a point to drink my overpriced Dave Matthews Band concert beer from biodegradable plastic cups, can I just try and remain unaware of exactly how much energy it takes to manufacture and transport these single-use fads.

I think the tone in my phrasing of these questions hints at my perspective, though I do genuinely applaud people for caring. If nothing else, it indicates a slight societal trend towards the acceptance of inconvenience and expense in the name of positive long term outcomes. Something that is sorely needed if we are ever going to solve any problem more significant than this months unemployment numbers or the high gas prices over Labor Day weekend.

What I want to talk about is the next step. How can we improve on this model?

It's simple, we must be consistent. We have a tendency to hold to certain consequential pleasures with vigor while strive to placate our conscience with minor tokens of benevolence. I see it all the time and in most cases it is benign and understandable. In fact I have no doubt that any examination of my li would turn up many such inconsistencies, but I do take higher moral ground on one issue and one issue only: Illegal drugs.

I live in a fairly liberal college town and I am a firm believer in the notion that anything can be enjoyed responsibly. In fact, I am unequivocally for the decriminalization of all drug use and furthermore the legalization of most. The cyclic and discriminatory nature of our punitive system for  the handling of addicts is far too self evident for me to spend much time on.

But In the interest of being as direct as possible after, admittedly, a good bit of meandering around the subject - I would just like to say that nothing pisses me off more than the hypocrisy of well to do college students and young professionals who go to great lengths to ensure that there clothes are ethically sourced, that their coffee purchase supports a family and perhaps they even feel a tinge of guilt when they contemplate the factory conditions in Shenzhen, but then they go home and think little of funding a bloody drug war with their minor drug habit. 

I'm not even going to link any examples here. Do a Google search. Start simply with the search terms "cartel" and "executions." Maybe learn a thing or two. Take just a moment of your day to honestly contemplate what it must be like to live in Mexico, to try to raise a family there, perhaps even to try and be prosperous.

Come back and tell me how ethical a consumer you really are. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Second Ammendment 2.0

As someone who grew up overseas, the notion that gun ownership is a right extended to the American people in order to keep the government in check horrifies me - at least in these modern times. However in the same breath that I express my horror, I can freely admit that such attitudes towards gun ownership are in all likelihood exactly the same notions that the founding fathers had in mind when they drafted the amendments. I suppose I can even agree that gun ownership among the general population as a deterrent against abuse of power by the government was a reasonable approach. 

I humbly posit that a lot has changed since then.

Perhaps the most glaringly obvious and insurmountable difference is the imbalance of fire-power we see today. Go ahead, start your uprising against unwanted taxation and see how long your high-capacity ammo magazines, semi-automatic rifles and youtube combat training stands up against an assault by the masterfully trained career warriors that will roll up in acronym laden black armoured trucks, equipped with years of experience and the best armour and weaponry money can buy. And if somehow you are still free after that experience, then please, tell me how you plan to take on the most expensive fighting force ever devised by man. 

You see in these modern times we have a whole myriad of terms for this sort of Second Amendment rights use. We typically use terms such as hostage crises, siege, rampage and so on. Designating gun ownership as a legitimate and protected means of ensuring safety from the government gives legitimacy to anyone who disagrees with the government and wants to do something violent about it. If the right to bear arms is necessary for the security of a free State, than anyone who believes that their free State is being threatened and starts to fight for his free country is technically acting in accordance with the Bill of Rights.

Of course you might say that lone players represent the fringe and not the well regulated militia envisioned by the Founding Fathers. However at what point does a violent fringe group with a vendetta against the Government become a well regulated militia with a noble mission to protect freedom? The ambiguity sounds messy.

It is this ambiguity that creates the environment that brought us the likes of Randy Weaver, David Koresh, Timothy McVeigh and all those other historical boogiemen. They all lie somewhere along the continuum between lone, murderous madman and member of a legitimate militia uprising against the government.

And lets face it, in the history of this country not one person who has ever taken up arms against the government has been successful. Not one has been labeled by mainstream society as anything other than a psychopath. This, however, is the eventual result of operating politically by 18th century moral standards pertaining to might and violence.

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are in impressive documents, but they are by no means comprehensive. They had the limited scope inherent to their time and therefore we can expect them to have considerable deficiencies when brought up against 21st century circumstances and problems.

Nor could they have possibly anticipated the 21st century's resources and solutions.

Take the Internet, for instance. It has only existed prominently for the past 20 years or so and in just that historical blink of an eye, it has managed to become ubiquitous and influential beyond even the wildest notions of any past futurist. No longer can secrets be easily kept and no longer can an individual be so easily silenced. If you are looking for a means for you, as an individual, to best affect the inertia of your government - to preserve your free State - then look no further. Think of the case studies of the Arab Spring. Think of all the Youtube videos uploaded that have caused public outrage and then change. Think of all the words written by ordinary citizens and have then gone on to find an audience of National scale.

Yes, these instances are rare and you are not guaranteed to be effective, but it does happen - and on a whole it is quite common. Much more common than successful armed uprisings, at least. So why is the NRA so powerful? Why do we still care so much about the Second Amendment. Why do we not see with clarity what our most valuable asset really is. At the very least the unprecedented equality of influence made possible by the Internet should be guarded with equal vehemence, hopefully more.

Perhaps, then, a superior wording would be:

Unobstructed access to the market of ideas, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and freely use the Internet, shall not be infringed.