Big Thought

Philosophy, Uncategorized

I firmly believe that most all human problems are attributed to one flaw: our unwillingness to think when it’s inconvenient. We all have the capacity to think. It’s just that it takes effort most of the time and it seems like a task to think beyond what we experience.

Investment failures, prejudicial bias, political partisanship, relationship problems, they can all be traced back to a refusal to review, to think.

Not thinking makes life easy. We don’t have to see others’ points of view or try to comprehend something unpleasant. Life is simple when we can take something that we don’t want to deal with and put it in a closet and shut the door.

Being a black-and-white thinker is effortless. Despite all of our attempts to make our mind a canvas with one dimension, it goes against nature. The world is like a gem, with facets all around that refract light into different colors from different angles. To understand all of those differences, you need to be willing to look at them.

When we sit in our own personal corners and watch the world from that perspective, we stop growing. This is when we become “set in our ways.” We don’t want to learn new ways of doing things. We don’t want to make the effort to comprehend someone else’s point of view. We don’t want to understand different cultures. We don’t want to know why some abstract painting is art. We want people to do things our way. We want people to speak our language. That’s when things get dangerous. When we stop progressing, we draw lines in the sand and would rather fight than think about an alternative.

Lack of thinking generates a world of calamity. It creates enemies, starts wars and sets us all on the path of disaster.

There are those who will say “there are times when you must act and not think.” This is true, especially in times of a response to violence or the specter of violence. But our action can be the appropriate reaction when we think about how we’ll react before we are forced to confront a situation and make a hasty decision.

Be a thinker. Everything starts with a thought, an idea. Reason, choice, action, worship, epiphany and emotion— they are all products of thought. What goes on in your mind eventually matriculates to your actions. What you think influences what you do and what you do is who you are. Every bad deed and every good deed you’ve done started in your mind first before it became an action.

Be a thinker. No matter how disturbing or difficult the situation, thinking may not find you the answer, but it will get you closer.

Be a thinker. People may deride you because you seem unwilling to settle on one view. They’ll call you a lazy dreamer, pretentious and say your head’s in the clouds. They’ll say you think too much and don’t do. It isn’t true. Just because you take your time acting doesn’t mean you don’t take action; it means you know when to act.

At the end of the day, this is all about understanding both yourself and your world. It’s important to understand and to apply thinking to everything you experience because it spawns new ideas and new approaches to old problems. Understanding leads to generating better solutions both for you and your world.

Living with one view is not thinking. Living with a single stance stymies understanding. That stagnancy causes your mind to atrophy and you end up being only what the world will allow.

Think about it.

(originally posted on Medium.com)

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Slavery, Bacon, Gays and Jesus

Philosophy, Religion

chain

One of the things that has always bothered me about the Bible is the flexibility of the social codes. So many Christians are willing to tout the infallibility of the text and yet claim some of the more unsavory aspects are no longer applicable.

Jesus didn’t have a problem with slavery. (More often than not, the Bible referred to them as “servants” but really, they were slaves.) He never condemned it. He never advocated that a person’s life is their own. In fact, he actually healed a man’s dying servant. He was willing to save the slave’s life but not give them freedom. The Bible is riddled with rules that delineate the relationship between master and slave.

There were many times during the days of American slavery where owners would use the Bible as justification for their owning slaves.

But today, we have a moral repulsion to slavery. It’s even an established right in America that you can’t be owned by anyone.

Then there’s divorce. Jesus was pretty clear on this one.

“Now I say this to you: anyone who divorces his wife — I am not speaking of an illicit marriage — and marries another, is guilty of adultery.'” (Matthew 19:9)

Sooooo, either there are a sea of adulterers out there (half of all marriages) or we’re not having a whole lot of proper marriages.

I’m willing to bet that a lot of divorced Christians don’t consider themselves adulterers. I can’t stop myself form typing out that Evangelicals have the highest divorce rate among Christians.

Many times I hear the arguments from fellow Christians that Jesus preached during a different time in history, when slavery was allowed and divorce was frowned upon. They say that the times have changed since He walked the Earth.

This applies to the entire Bible of course. Polygamy, slavery, stonings— they were legal, encouraged even. Divorce, eating pork, women serving food while on their periods—they were forbidden. Yet so many Christians want to use the Bible to justify their positions to castigate homosexuality, hate Muslims, legislate morality among others.

Homosexuality is a personal favorite. Just like eating pork and divorce, it is condemned in the Bible. Why is it that views on divorce, premarital sex and ham have relaxed but not on being gay?

Bottom line: if values change from one era to another, then we can’t cherry pick elements out of the Bible that we want to apply and others that we don’t. Buffet-style morality based on the Bible isn’t based on the Bible at all.

When you do that, you’re selections aren’t Bible-based— they’re really the mores that WE want to see enforced. If you really believe in God or Jesus Christ, then you would already know that people don’t have the authority to play Solomon with the Good Book.

Let’s just admit that Christians are using the Bible and its text as a front for their own personal fears and hatred of things they don’t like. When they say that the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, they’re really saying that THEY personally think homosexuality is wrong and that they have the authority to deem it so.

Well, we are not God or Jesus.

But we are divorcees, gays, bacon lovers, sinners and most importantly, free.

Language Theory

Philosophy

theory

About two weeks ago an article came out about seven terms that drive scientists crazy when they’re misused by the public.

Theory. Hypothesis. Model. Skeptic. Significant. Nature v. Nurture. Natural. They seem very simple. We all know the basic definitions.

The problem is scientists have specific connotations they use for the specific terms when it comes to their respective fields. Lay people use them improperly, at least when referring to science and research, according to the scientists.

The article made a lot of sense. Scientists are peeved that terms they assign proper usage is being twisted by those who aren’t scientists. People like to enlist them in arguments twhen they want to pontificate on a subject that includes a scientific element, say climate change.

The most interesting tidbit of the article is the absolutely stupid comments listed below it on Yahoo. The ire? Well apparently people don’t like being told that they’re probably using a word wrong. It illustrates a major problem with the public— no one really wants to go through the effort to think about what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.

I work in communications and I see every day the follies that unfold because people don’t know how to convey simple ideas to each other properly with proper usage. Why is it that terms are used mistakenly over and over again? Because people are too lazy to consider the terms of their language and how it affects their interaction.

The commenters pissed off that scientists have the nerve to point out the definition of scientific principles proves the point of the story: people are ignorant and they don’t realize that they’re ignorant.

The saddest part is they don’t care either.

New Hope CCLXVI

Philosophy, Uncategorized

hat

For the first time in 2,000 years, the Roman Catholic Church has a pope born in the New World.

He’s doing things differently too. Francis, the Jesuit, opts for less opulence when it comes to the pomp that surrounds the pontiff. His muted demeanor is a symbol for what the church should be doing right now, operating with a little humility. After several years of the pedophile priest scandals, it’s time to make amends and show the flock that their leadership is worthy.

And yet, a month into his new vocation, some aren’t happy with Francis because he’s not kissing the asses of particular factions which Benedict courted.

I was born and raised a Catholic and I had always been proud of my religious heritage. This is mostly because I was brought up in an area with a lot of heavy evangelical influence. Since the pedophile accusations and allegations of the coverup came to the surface, I don’t find myself kneeling in the church very often. I sure as hell haven’t been to confession.

I’m angry at the upper echelon of Catholic management because instead of trying to hide the pederasts and their scandals, they should have hung them out to dry and turned them into the police.

Why didn’t they do that? My theory is money. They knew once it got out that they had a problem, there would be lawsuits, losses and settlements. They didn’t care about having predators preying on the flock, they were concerned most with their finances.

That is obscene. If this is a religion and espouses beliefs and rituals done in the name of a God, then how could they live with themselves knowing children are being victimized?

I’m also angry with fellow Catholics for their passiveness in dealing with the problem. If they really wanted to stop the problem, they should have hit the church where it counts the most— the pocketbook. One Sunday without tithes from every Catholic in this world and Rome would have had a course correction in their legal strategy.

Pope John Paul II (on the path to sainthood) and Pope Benedict dealt poorly with this and willfully ignored sidestepped the problem. Now there’s a new man in a white cap. There’s a lot of hope that he can solve these problems.

But what are people concerned with now? He washed two women’s feet at a recent ceremony and that angered traditionalists.

So we’re more concerned about a pope washing women’s feet and not priests fondling children?

I’m so relieved we have our priorities straight.

Godspeed Frank.

Someone to Hate

Philosophy, Politics

equal sign

Blacks. Communists. Jews. Catholics. Liberals. Muslims. Mexicans. The Post Office. Queers. Republicans. Terrorists. The DMV line.

It seems that we always have to have someone, some race, some religion, SOMETHING to hate. I am 33 years old and I still, as of yet, don’t understand the emotion. No matter what’s going in this world, we have this undying urge to point some entity out and hate it.

It doesn’t matter what this thing has really done to us. It doesn’t matter why we must focus on it. We know only that we have to zero in on something with a searing eye and make sure that it knows we don’t like it.

Today the Supreme Court heard arguments about gay marriage and why it should be a constitutional right. A decision is expected in June. There’s a sense that the court might throw out the case on procedural grounds rather than actually address the issue.

There are those who point to the Bible or the Koran or some religious-based study on kids adopted by gays, to say that homosexuals cannot get married. Somehow, they believe, that two men marrying each other will affect all of us and will rip the social fabric that keeps society together. Maybe they think it will help the terrorists.

If society stays bundled together only because gays can’t marry, then there’s something completely wrong with society.

I often find those who cling to tradition and religion to oppose something, are also the type of people who think that if something is icky, it’s wrong. You’ll notice a lot of things that people find gross end up being deviant behavior.

It takes a long time for that deviant perception to wear off and for society to accept what’s different. It took 300 years for African-Americans to go from slaves to being able to eat at the same lunch counter as whites. It took more than 100 years for women to be able to vote.

With 80 percent of people younger than 30 approving of gay marriage, it’s only a matter of time before homosexuals will be able to take to the altar.

But it’s the motivation behind the opposition that bothers me so much. If we really believe in this all-loving God, whether he’s Yaweh or Allah, how loving can He condemn two people for loving each other? I don’t think it matters what St. Paul said or what’s written in the Koran. A book is holy only because people make it holy. And it is people who wrote those books.

Any all-loving God would look down on a loving couple and smile. He’d rejoice that two people found each other and would want to dedicate their lives to each other.

More importantly, how could this all-loving God be happy with followers who are constantly looking for someone to deny? If we really believe in a God who’s all about love and tolerance and forgiveness, then I think He would be looking for, and cherishing, those who also are loving, forgiving and tolerant.

I don’t believe that God wants us to constantly find differences and decry them. God does not want us to hate.

But we do.

Rich Jesus

Philosophy

Dollar sign

Ole’ Jesus said one of the quickest ways to get rejected from heaven is by being rich. The text is pretty clear. Odds of a camel sashaying through a needle are better than an affluent CEO moseying through paradise.

This is one of the greatest hypocrisies in American life. If you ask any “God-fearing” American they’ll tell you about how much God favors our great nation. But so much about America is also the brass ring. We’re all about being the next Capitalist King.

It can’t be both. Sorry. If we want to be rich, fine. But if you’re a Christian fundamentalist, accepting the Bible literally, then you have to consider the consequences for lusting after the dollar.

I’ve read it before where some argue Jesus was a capitalist because he told the parable of the servants who were trusted with their master’s riches. When the master returned, he punished the one servant who didn’t invest and grow his money while he rewarded the two who did.

Nope. Not a capitalist endorsement. It’s a parable for using talents that God bestows on someone. (Notice how the parable didn’t include a servant who lost money when he tried to invest it.)

The more frightening facet of the camel comparison is determining exactly who is rich. How do we define that? Jesus didn’t craft his message around the federal poverty level.

Aren’t we rich? The vast majority of Americans go home every night in a warm house with a variety of meats in freezers, funds in their 401(k)s and nice, gas-powered vehicles to get to work every day. We can get just about any type of fresh food on demand no matter how good or bad the weather affects the crops. We actually spend money and effort to make sure we have different color shoes to match the rest of our clothes. Even the poorest in America can watch DVDs and get ahold of all types of entertainment.

Yet if someone isn’t in the “1 percent” they don’t consider themselves rich. Sorry again. We are rich. Jesus never expected his teachings to apply country by country. He preached to the world. Compared to other nations on this planet, America IS the 1 percent. The lowest of the low can still get food, water, shelter and even cell phones. Our poor have options.

In third world countries, the poor can’t run down to Wal-Mart and get ahold of some new shoes, an iPad or a fresh packet of USDA-inspected beef.

We are rich. If we believe in Christ as a savior, then we should all be worried.

So we either need to reconsider how literal we take Christ’s teachings or we need to shed our riches and start wearing rags.

Which is it?

Rightly Uncertain

Uncategorized

monkey

When you’re uncertain, you’re not necessarily wrong.

Nate Silver recently wrote about how sometimes when experts try to nail down data with too much specificity, they can often overlook the general consensus. If they pursued a more general picture of their subject and accounted for the uncertainty, they can get a better image of what they’re looking for.

He used the example of earthquakes and flooding. Scientists try to predict earthquakes to the day. They are always wrong and when they are, people let their guard down, which is dangerous. The same goes for flood preparation. Providing a projection too specific causes the public to make plans around the projection. If it’s off and they’re not prepared, it could mean disaster.

In journalism, approximate ambiguity is more accurate than an incorrect specific. For instance, a cop tells a reporter that witnesses saw a green Ford Taurus leaving a murder scene during the night. They weren’t sure because it was dark. But the reporter prints the cop’s words. Turns out the car was actually dark blue and it was actually a Chevrolet Malibu.

The reporter got it wrong. Not intentionally though.

In lieu of the specifics, he/she could have reported that witnesses spotted a dark-colored sedan leaving the scene.

See? More accurate.

One thing I learned while a journalist was that police sketches are made with generalities. Artists try not to include too many details from victims and witnesses because, like our green Taurus, they can get it wrong. If a witness describes a waxed mustache, the artist might only draw a regular mustache.

Why do they do it? Because issuing a more general, “cleaner” image opens up the minds of the public viewing the mug. If there’s too many incorrect details on the face, (like if that waxed mustache was actually a Fu ManChu) a person who knows the perp would walk away from the drawing thinking the friend who resembled the suspect doesn’t exactly match.

The witness might spend more time considering whether their troubled friend is the suspect if the drawing contained a regular mustache.

The theory can be applied to other fields.

It’s dangerous when we try to be too specific when it comes to estimations. Miss the mark and everyone feels a false sense of security.

If we admit to our uncertainty,  we can be confident in our decisions to act. Cutting a wider path expands our vision.

A bigger view improves our odds at finding the answer.

Perpetual Myth

Philosophy

There’s the parable of the ham: a young girl watches her mother clip the edge off a ham before placing it into a pan to cook in the stove. Curious why her mother would cut off a perfectly good piece of ham she asks, “why did you do that mom?” The mom responds, “I don’t know, it’s just the way my mother did it.” Still curious, the girl calls her grandmother and asks her the same question. The grandmother said, “I don’t know, it’s the way my mother did it.” As luck would have it, the young girl’s great-grandmother was still alive. When she called her great-grandmother at the nursing home and asked why she clipped her ham, the great-grandmother said “I cut it so it would fit in my small pan.”

It’s funny how mindlessly things can pass from one generation to the next without question. This is never more evident than when it comes to myths and old wives tales.

The cold weather causes colds. Swimming with a full belly can make someone drown. Cracking knuckles will lead to arthritis.

What is it about myths that they cling like a static-charged sock to a cashmere sweater?

Personally, I think they’re there to fill in gaps of knowledge for things we don’t entirely understand. I also think they’re constructs that we develop because we feel they’re simple logical conclusions: when the cold weather comes around, more people get sick. Ergo, cold weather causes people to get colds.

Ok, I see the logic. But cold weather actually causes sickness because people tend to spend more time indoors, around each other in larger groups. This makes it easier for viruses to spread. Thus more sick people.

But yet people insist that it’s actually the cold air outside that makes people sick. This is the same faulty logic that has also concluded that vaccines cause autism. Despite the fact no study has proven this and dozens of studies have refuted it, people still believe it’s true.

Why do we hang on to these ideas though? As usual, I believe it’s because propagating myths doesn’t require us to think too much about the truth. A bridge has already been built for us, why look for another bridge or build another bridge altogether?

I’m not perfect. I know there are times where I fall in line with the myth system.

Part of the problem is these myths become so ingrained that they become social mores, even when people know they’re not true. No matter how preposterous, if you don’t fall in line with these long-held beliefs, you’re outcast. If you let your child run out into the windy, cool weather with wet hair and no jacket, you’re considered a bad parent.

What would it take to break the cycle? I don’t know.

We could start with questioning what we hold to be true, even if it’s something that everyone believes to be true. We can also stop ostracizing people who ask those questions, even when we think it’s weird that they’re asking.

Flu Blues

Philosophy

virus

 

Dear Evolution,

I really wanted to thank you for demonstrating that you are in fact the method by which life progresses both to the benefit and detriment of mankind. I’ve always felt a close connection to you what with all the time I spent in biology and philosophy courses discussing your fundamentals established by Charles Darwin.

While we can always argue that God kicked you in to gear or that you came along and began yourself, you no doubt have expressed that you are definitely in charge when it comes to biological laws.

There are those who doubt you. After all, you challenge the very basic notion of God’s role in life and its ever-changing nature.

But you demonstrate your might on a regular basis, most notably in life’s smaller forms including bacteria and viruses.

Just three weeks ago I received a shot for influenza in hopes of staving off a possible infection. I have a 4-month-old baby and was doing my best to preserve her still pristine immune system.

I was assured that the particular inoculation I received was engineered to combat the particular strain of influenza passing around these days.

Just yesterday, after dealing with a bout of chills and sore muscles, a nurse jammed a swab up my nose to test for the flu. Results came back— Type A.

The doctor told me that the flu shot this year has been quite effective, although I was the second patient that day to report getting the flue after getting the vaccine.

Thanks for nothing Evolution. This is what I get for defending you.

 

Yours,

John

 

Jesus Christ, Philosopher

Philosophy

cross

As is obvious to anyone who pays attention to current events, we have too many “religious” people in this world using their beliefs as justification to slaughter and/or other heinous acts.

This is not a new problem of course, it’s been going on long before Abraham, Noah, Christ, the pagans and Mohammed.

There’s this classic posit in philosophy: Does God say something is right because it is right? Or is something right because God says it is right? Essentially is there morality independent of a spiritual foundation or is God just making up the rules as he goes along?

Me? I opt for the former. Saying that something is right because God says it is right denies God’s omniscience.

The posit illustrates a great problem in human belief systems. Instead of trying to comprehend the wisdom behind a diety’s words, too many people often point to it for moral authority rather. They should be trying to personify their beliefs.

I think the answer is that justifying someone’s actions by simply invoking a religious figure requires little to no thinking. It also, in away, pushes the blame on a Higher Power. People will commit heinous acts and then say they do it because of God.

Maybe we should consider that our actions are our responsibility and not God’s. Maybe God, or Christ, or Mohammed, merely point the way.

One of the most powerful things that Christ teaches is that the thoughts behind our actions are just as important as the actions themselves. If you kill someone, you are not only guilty of killing them; you are also guilty of the hatred which fueled the killing.

Why can’t we just go along with Christ’s teachings because those teachings are the right thing to do? Why do we go along with it because Christ says it is right? Are we so blind that we can’t see the truth in his philosophy? When we fall back on well that’s what  I do because Christ says so, I don’t believe we’re getting the point.

That’s a problem because then the religion attracts those who would exploit it for power and repulses those who need it.