Thursday, June 21, 2012

You Are The Media

YOU are the media.
Blame yourself.

The higher the technology becomes, the more everybody becomes the media. People at V-Tech complained about over-extensive media coverage of their plight. And that is because Cho himself WAS media. He used media-producing devices to get his message out there. As did whoever filmed the classroom using their cel phone. That person is also the media. Our world is changing. Anyone can have a blog or a vlog. Anyone can upload stuff to Youtube.

We are the media.
And we are biased.

People rant and rave about how Fox news is so Right-wing. People rant and rave about CNN and MSNBC. They rant and rave on blogs. They rant and rave in songs that are later published on CDs. They rant and rave in front of their little webcams and post their rantings and ravings on Youtube. Um, hello!? These networks are biased because they are catering to viewers who are equally biased! You’re just a small version of whichever giant’s viewpoint you espouse!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Please Stop Evangelizing Children

A couple of months ago I sat with my wife in a Christian gathering and listened to the testimony of a couple who had recently been to Latin America with a Christian mission.

One of this group's main goals is to minister (provide physical relief) to children in poor and underdeveloped parts of the world, but the main point of their ministry is to bring children into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

The woman in this meeting spoke of the "5-15 Window" - the age at which most Christians become Christians. Once they get past this window, according to her, the likelihood of their salvation becomes increasingly small.

I wonder why that is?

Had you asked me ten years ago, I might have pointed out that Jesus said one must have faith like a child in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps I would have gone on to say that as one grows older, they get increasingly set in their ways - you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Now I think it's mostly because kids are gullible.

From my experience as a father, I am pretty certain that my kids are willing to believe anything I (or others) tell them. Especially if I use my serious tone...

The other day we were watching some dinosaur clip on YouTube and the younger boy asked me if Triceratops was real. I think he was wondering whether it was like a lion or like a dragon in the existence department. At that point, I could have told him anything, and he'd have believed me. At this point I am a trusted source of knowledge.

My kids also see other adults as trusted sources of knowledge.

The other day, my eldest told me he believed in God.

I said, "Okay. How come?"

"Because they told me that he was real in Sunday School."

They can tell him anything, and he'd believe them.

I, the Sunday School teachers, and the folks over at that Christian evangelism organization realize that kids are malleable. They're gullible in ways that adults aren't. And that is why you hear slogans like "Get 'em while they're young."

Does anyone see the problem here?

Say you're presented with an option:

Your child will be approached by members of X Philosophy—be it a religion, cult, political party, or ideology—giving her seven reasons to be a member of their group. Would you rather this happen when she's eight or when she's twenty-eight?

I know I'd prefer twenty-eight. Hopefully, during the next twenty years, I will have taught her how to think critically and deeply so that she can carefully and logically evaluate the claims being presented to her.

And it doesn't matter to me which philosophy X is. I don't want my child joining a philosophy before she can understand what it means to join a philosophy!

I don't want atheists telling my kids why God cannot exist. I don't want Christians telling my kids they need to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior now, or risk eternal hell-fire. I'd rather they be adults who know how to think so that they can carefully and critically evaluate these claims—as opposed to children who will willingly disbelieve in Triceratops because you tell them he's fake. (I didn't tell him this, by the way!)

I can think of no good reason to proselytize any child into any religion, regardless of whether or not that religion is true. Children are so gullible; how can you even regard this as a real conversion!? To me, the claims of religion are nuanced and require serious thinking before any of them are to be accepted. They require the type of thought and contemplation that children are just not yet capable of.

If you disagree with me, ask yourself how comfortable you would be if you knew your kids were being actively proselytized by members of a different religion/ideology.

Christianity's founder himself, Jesus of Nazareth—tell me, what were the ages of those he called to follow him? Any children in the bunch? Fishers of what now?

All this to say: I think proselytizing children is a bad idea.

An addition a few days later:

I just watched a very interesting interview about the Good News Club in America that reminded me of my feelings regarding child evangelism. It's long, but... watch it instead of your two TV shows tonight.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why I Hated Madagascar 3

A month or two ago, we bought a trio of blu-rays from Dreamworks. Upon bringing them home, we realized each had a coupon for $8 off a kid's ticket for Madagascar 3, and since we have three kids, yay! We were hanging out with a good friends from out of town who have a couple little hooligans of their own, so we decided to go see the movie together on Saturday.

We arrived at the mall with plenty of time to do a bit of shopping before hand. We congregated at the entrance to the theatre at 2:45 (the movie was supposed to start at 3:30), but the doors were closed and there was a sign saying they'd open at 3:00. Fine. Let's hang out for fifteen minutes longer, no problem. We put our kids in the hurricane simulator. We chatted. We waited.

The doors opened, and we made our way in. We found out we couldn't use our printed-out coupons at the little automatic kiosks. Also, the box office was closed (apparently our theatre is under-staffed). No problem. We'll just stand in line and get our tickets at the snack bar, like everybody else. Our friends got their tickets at the kiosks and said they'd save us some seats. At this point, it was about 3:05.

Well, we waited in line. There were three of them, and of course we picked the one that was being attended by a staff member in training. Or else he was just really methodical. I don't know. At any rate, our line was moving very slowly. Our kids were getting restless. I was getting restless. But you know what, that's okay. I'm glad they have staff members in training, or at some point that would run out of staff, am I right?

After about fifteen minutes in line - at about the point we realized we'd probably not get into the theatre in time, my wife nudged me and whispered, "These people are trying to cut in line."

I looked, and there was a small group of people standing right next to us. A lady with two kids that looked like hers and one more kid who didn't. They were staring straight ahead, and the youngest kid was standing almost directly behind my wife in line. It appeared he was trying to look like he belonged in our group.

But I like giving people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they were just standing in an odd place. I asked my wife how she knew, and she said that this little family had been doing the same thing to the people in front of us, and that she had heard one of them telling the kid that "the line is back there," which had been followed by the small family moving to stand beside us.


I looked at the kid. He looked at me and quickly looked elsewhere. Some people tell me I'm intimidating.

I stood there and thought about these people for the next five minutes while the line moved a few feet and our movie started without us. The kid and his family slowly began to wedge themselves between us and the people behind us.

I turned to them and, gesturing with my face, asked them, "Do you know these guys?"

"Nope. I think they're trying to cut in front of us."

"Yeah. I think you're right."

I thought a bit longer.

But then I put my face close to the kid's and asked him if he was trying to cut in line. He said, "Well that's my mom right there." Classic. Reminds me of the purse incident from my childhood. Pretty sure I should tell that story some time.

I said, "That's not what I asked. I asked if you're trying to cut in line."

He didn't say anything.

"Would you like it if you'd been standing in line for 20 minutes and some guy tried to cut in front of you?"

He shook his head.

"Then be a good guy and go to the back of the line, please. Because I wouldn't like it, either."

The kid moved to stand on the other side of his mother. I heard him whispering to her. She said something in an offended tone; I caught the word "jerk." I imagine she was referring to me. The family stayed right next to us, albeit not as close as before, for a few more minutes. We inched closer to the till.

Presently they moved to stand a few feet up, looking to try cutting in front of the people a group or two up.

I asked the people ahead of us, "Do you know these guys?"

"Nope. I think they're trying to cut in front of us."


So there we all stood, letting ourselves be taken advantage of.

Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer. I walked up behind the matriarch of the family, tapped her on the shoulder and said, "Ma'am, do you have a good reason to be here?"

Because I still wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she had a good reason to be cutting in line! I couldn't think of any good reason to cut in line at a movie theatre, but hey. I'm not the most creative guy in the world.

She stuttered a bit and looked around. Classic.

It looked like I was about to win the day, when a large woman standing in line in front of the group in front of us said, "I'm letting her go ahead of me."

I turned to her. "Why?"

"Well because I'm waiting for my husband to come because he's buying our tickets."

"So you're letting these people cut in front of you?"


"Do you know them?"

She looked nervous. I repeated the question.

"I do now."

I was appalled. Temporarily speechless.

"You can't do that!" I finally said.

"Yes I can," she retorted, finally finding her courage. "This is my place in line, and it is my prerogative if I want to let someone cut in front of me. She's not the first person I've let do this."

My voice grew loud enough for the all the people around me to hear what I was saying.

"Absolutely not! It is absolutely not your prerogative to let people cut in front of you! If you were the only person in line, then it would be your prerogative to let everyone and their dog walk all over you, but you are not the only person in line! There are close to 40 other people who have been waiting in line for their movie tickets, movies they're missing now because you've been letting people barge in front of you! You are not the only person here, and what you are doing affects everyone else!!!"

She looked ashamed of herself. She said, "I suppose your right, when you put it like that."

But it was too late. The cutting family was purchasing their tickets and their large quantities of food and drink. I contemplated confronting them as they left and demanding that they hand their tickets over to me, to give to the next people in line. My wife told me that would be illegal, but that cutting in line was not, in fact, illegal.

I fumed out loud for a bit. The families in front and behind thanked me for doing what I did. Of course, no one else in that line had my back while I was trying to stop the cutters. They just watched.

I suppose this is one of the few times I think I'd rather live in the States. I can't imagine Americans watching blithely while a petty injustice like this took place.

So finally we got to the front and tried purchasing our tickets with the coupons. By this time our movie had already been running a full ten minutes. The kid at the till had never seen this type of coupon before and had no idea what to do. He went and got his manager. The manager processed a coupon and then said I owed him 25 cents. Apparently they couldn't just run it all through and charge me two adult tickets plus 75 cents for the kids. This looked like it was going to take a while, as we had no cash and so I was going to have to run my credit card through the machine three times for a quarter and then once for 18 bucks.

Despondent and grumpy, I said, "Screw it, I'll just pay for the full amount of the remaining kids' tickets and ours." So I did.

Tickets in hand, we left the line and got to the place where they rip your ticket up. Then I realized I only had four tickets in hand. Looking at the receipt, I realized that I had indeed only paid for four tickets. I almost felt like crying.

I told the guy, "I've only been given four tickets."

"That's okay," he said, and let us through.

So went into the theatre. Our friends waved at us. We sat down and watched the movie. I couldn't really enjoy it.

I can only recall really chuckling at one point in the movie:

Julien and his two sidekicks have just entered a train car that looks like it has a monster in it - spooky music is playing, and you hear a small child singing; a classic movie trope. Then the camera pans down and you see it is only Julien's smaller side kick humming happily to himself.

But that's about it. Everyone else thought the movie was awesome, so that's cool.

Later on, driving home, I asked my wife if I'd embarrassed her. She nodded in the affirmative.

"I'm sorry. I don't like embarrassing you. But at the moment, I'm actually struggling with guilt - guilt that I didn't do more to stop those people from taking advantage of all the people in the line."

She understood. And she said that she was only embarrassed because she hates public confrontation, and not because I did anything particularly embarrassing.

The moral of this story, in my mind, is that our society mostly works. Our species is awesome. We have a successful society because we are capable of empathy. We can imagine what it is like to stand in line for 45 minutes and how little we would appreciate people cutting in front of us, and so WE DON'T DO IT! This mother suppressed her empathy gland, I guess. She was teaching her kids that other people don't matter.

But thankfully, she only represented a tiny percentage of all the people crowding that theatre lobby.

Perhaps that is why, when this mother had finished purchasing her stuff and was walking toward the theatre, I called after her kids, as a parting shot:

"Hey kids! Don't be like your mom!"

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Conversations Between a Christian and a Skeptic, Episode II

Why don't you believe in God?
I have no reason to.
Here's a reason: He loves you.
Well that's a nonsensical reason!
How so?
You tell me I should believe in God because he loves me. But if I'm to believe you when you tell me he loves me, I must first believe that he exists, and I have no reason to.

This conversation actually happened with a specific person. Please don't take it as representative of the views of all Christians and Skeptics.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Conversations Between a Christian and a Skeptic, Episode I

Prelude: Do you have any idea why God would be hiding from me? Why I have not found him, despite sincerely desiring to?

Seek the Lord and you will find him.
Well, I sought the Lord for quite some time and never found him. Either he doesn’t exist (which is the sneaking suspicion I finally came to), or he doesn’t want to be found.
Of course he wants to be found. Or, more accurately, he wants to find you.
Then let him find me. Here I am.
Where did you look?
Excuse me?
You said you looked for God for a while. Where did you look, when you were looking for him?
All the usual places. Nature. Scripture. The lives of people who profess belief in God. You know, the places he’s supposed to be.
And you didn’t find him in any of those places?
Nope. I used to think it was easy to see him in nature. When I was a child, thunder was God muttering. Rain was him crying. The moon was his thumbnail. As I grew older, I came to understand these to be natural phenomena, but I still believed that the existence of God best explained their existence; the stars on a winter's night were Nature singing its Creator's praises. As I continued to study, I came to understand that natural phenomena came about naturally. There is not a single instance where a natural phenomenon has turned out to have had a super natural cause. It’s either a documented natural cause, or remained unexplained.
And Scripture?
The God I believed in was completely good. There was no darkness or evil in him, and so when I found things in Scripture that went against the morality I ascribed to deity, I was at a cognitive dissonance. For many years I was successful in suppressing this dissonance, but over time I forced myself to think about it. And I did not like what I found.
The God of Scripture knows all things, and yet claims to be good. And yet he allows things to happen (and sometimes causes things to happen) that are very, very evil. And if any human had the power to stop these things and didn’t, they would be considered evil as well.
What do you mean?
Say I saw a woman getting raped. What do you think my moral obligation would be?
Where did that moral obligation come from in the first place?
Don’t change the subject. We can talk about that another time. What’s my moral obligation?
To stop it.
Exactly right. Why should I expect any less from a being who is supposed to exceed my own morality?
But the difference between you and God is that you are a finite being. God is infinite. He knows past, present, and future.
So you’re saying that if I knew the future, it might be okay, nay, even moral, for me to stand by and watch? If I knew that this woman would go on to found a women’s help line that would be a force for good in the lives of millions of women and even put a stop to millions of rapes, that this knowledge would grant me the moral authority to stand by and watch her get raped?
God doesn’t enjoy it!
I don’t care! If I were the woman, and a stranger stood by while I was violated, I wouldn’t care whether he enjoyed it or not. I don’t care if the stranger knows the good or bad that will come of this event. The fact is, he is standing by while my body is violently penetrated against my will! He does nothing while I am robbed of dignity and self-respect! What does that make the stranger!?
You know, as sad as a situation like that is, we all deserve worse. We all deserve Hell.
Do we deserve to get raped?

Your silence brings me to the third place I looked for God. People of faith. What matters is not their religion, their affiliation; the church they went to or the prayers they uttered.
 I figured, if God wants to be found, surely one of them has it right, and I should therefore see him at work in someone’s life. Especially if I’m looking for him.
What about me?
Sorry, buddy. Besides your "orthodoxy", I see no praxis that sets you apart from people with different orthodoxies.
Did you never feel God tugging at your heart?
Oh, sure I did. It’s what the Mormons call the “burning in the bosom.” You’re not suggesting they’re the ones who’ve actually found God, are you?
See, I cannot trust my own emotions to tell me if I’ve found God. I’ve had plenty of emotional experiences. At the time, I thought they were God. But it becomes so hard to sort out which are God and which are just me, feeling emotional. An encounter with God must be more than that.
What would it take to convince you?
I don’t know. I’ll let the good God I don’t believe exists handle that one.