We don't agree about everything and that's OK. What we do agree on is the need to carry on the discussion in a civil way.

Before you contribute to a discussion, familiarize yourself with logical fallacies. Ad hominem attacks will not be tolerated.

The goal here is for civil conversation so be nice; no profanity. Anyone who calls another person an idiot will be banned.

Lastly remember, when someone disagrees with your views it does not mean they like you less as a person. If you can't handle being disagreed with then go away.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A suicide website

"So, I hope nobody will read this site and be motivated into committing suicide. This site is not here to justify it and it’s not here for that reason. Besides, how many people are like me in this world? Maybe two if I’m looking in a mirror."

I'm not sure how I feel about his, nor do I have anything to say. I just felt compelled to register it.

This man decided, after much contemplation, to take his life on his 60th birthday and rather than leaving a suicide note, he left a large website behind. 

It's not my place to decide how anyone should live or die. I know I'll be haunted by his legacy for sometime.

What do you think?

* His site was originally hosted by Yahoo who took it down for violating the TOS - but the group Anonymous has mirrored it here:

Monday, July 8, 2013

Be an activist, not a slacktivist!

I used to work as a fundraiser for the March of Dimes. It was hard work, it was very hard to convince people to part with their money, even for research that could save the lives of babies. Getting people to walk in an event was easy; everyone was happy to walk for babies. Let me make this clear: your act of walking saved no babies. The walk is a celebration of thanks for everyone who raised money to support the mission. So, please, if you haven't donated or raised money, stay home. Don't show up to a walk (or any other similar event) and think you're supporting a cause! And furthermore - DONATE MONEY. Don't just change your Facebook profile photo or update your status.

I am sick and tired of the Facebook status updates that are “in support” of something. The next person who updates their status in support of something, I will punch in the face (okay, maybe not really).

Why such vitriol, such hatred for raising awareness for something as horrible as cancer or child abuse you ask with your doe-eyes open wide in disbelief.  Because the people who mindlessly post these updates are helping absolutely no one.  In fact, they may be doing more harm than good.

If you’re ready to throw rotten tomatoes at me for raining on your good feeling rainbows, honestly answer these questions.

1)      How does your status update help anyone? Why would that cartoon character stop anyone from beating a child?

Say for example you are posting it to show your support for war veterans, or to demonstrate that you’re always there for a friend in need. How have you helped? Did you donate money? Did you actually lend a helping hand to a friend in need? No. Up to this point all you’ve done is update your status, the same activity you do 5 times a day. Let me reiterate that – you have provided zero actual help. If my house is on fire, a real friend would be at my house pulling out my valuables alongside me, not putting something banal on Facebook like: “If you’re reading this you can rest assured I’ll always be there for you when things catch on fire. Please copy this if you agree.” Actions speak louder than words.

2)      Regarding the particularly infuriating breast cancer campaign – how does the top secret nature of the status updates raise awareness?  And why does keeping it a secret from all men seem helpful?

Instead of making men aware of the devastating effects this disease has on the women in their lives and in rare occasions on men themselves, we’ll just make sexual innuendo and get their attention for NO DAMN REASON. There’s not even a link to click through to the American Cancer Society’s website to make a donation. If you like sexual innuendo, a better use of your status update would be: “Like looking at boobies? Breast cancer makes ‘em ugly. Click here to donate to keep boobies pretty.” <— Hey look, all the fun of an inappropriate joke along with something helpful.

3)      Gut check – how many times have you copy and pasted some helpful “in support of” status update and not done anything else?

You feel like you have done your part, you’ve contributed to the cause and are ready to move on. The reality is, you haven’t donated money, you haven’t encouraged your friends to donate money, and you haven’t even raised awareness about how horrible the something you’re supporting is. This really happens and it’s why it frustrates me most of all. It’s called slackitivism – something that feels good but has no real effect at all.

I know your fingers are twitching to leave me hateful comments about how it’s all a fun way to show your support for something very serious. I get it — it’s fun and we all want to feel like we’re a part of something. You’re generating lots of great PR with these status updates, right?

Think of it in off-line terms. If you were hanging around with some friends and randomly said “hey, you know what guys and gals? I am patently against child abuse” would you feel like you’ve helped prevent child abuse? It amounts to the same thing.

You’re just copying and pasting and in the real world helping someone is never that easy.

If you are among the people who do donate and or volunteer, or did help your friend pull her belongings out of a burning house, please use the extra real estate in your status update to share how your friends can be as helpful as you. If not, you’re just missing the point of “raising awareness.”

Real world example: This blog post highlights how incredibly hurtful the latest version of the breast cancer game can be. Again, if you want to help a cause DO SOMETHING. Your games are not helping anyone, and as you can clearly see this incarnation is particularly insensitive to women who are unable to conceive by pretending to be pregnant.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"You're an idiot" and other divisive things we say.

I'm guilty of it myself - some talking head says something pretty ludicrous, my  mouth opens up and out comes something like "what an idiot!" Thankfully, my parents raised me with the mantra "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" so these outbursts are (mostly) limited to yelling at the television.

Unfortunately this seems to be contrary to how things work in the online world. I won't waste your time and mine bemoaning the loss of online civility - all you have to do is read any comments on any news article with even the most passing mention of taxes, religion, or bad drivers.

What I will bemoan today is how rude we are to our political/religious foes when they change their minds. "He was for it before he was against it!" Why is changing your mind a bad thing? ESPECIALLY when the change of opinion is a really good thing?!

Case in-point; several of the most Conservative figure heads have recently acknowledged that fighting same-sex marriage is contrary to the Republican position of less government interference.

(Lest you jump to conclusions too soon -- they are not saying they approve of same-sex marriage, they still think it's icky and immoral.)

  • Bill O'Reilly said: "The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals. ... We're Americans, we just want to be treated like everybody else. That's a compelling argument, and to deny that you've got to have a very strong argument on the other side. And the other side hasn't been able to do anything but thump the Bible." 
  • Glen Beck said: "We have been so foolish. It is not about gays. It's not about homosexuals. It's about freedom. And the reason why they've won is because they've made it about freedom ... And so the argument has been, 'Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?' And by saying, 'Well, because it always is.' What's happened? You've lost. And by doing so, by not turning into it soon enough, what's happened is you've been painted into a corner of a bigot. That's why they've won. Because the principle of it is right ... the principle is easy to understand."
  • Rick Perry said: "We cannot condemn certain lifestyles while turning a blind eye to sins that, in God's eyes, are just as grievous. We must love all ... welcome all...and be a model for Christ."
  • Rush Limbaugh even said: And I think they [gay marriage opponents] are just worried about the survivability of the country. And to which the opponents say, "Well, the country's changing and you better get with it and understand it because this genie's not getting put back in the bottle." And I think that's right. I don't care what this court does with this particular ruling, Proposition 8. I think the inertia is clearly moving in the direction that there is going to be gay marriage at some point nationwide.

But rather than just being grateful that they've been able to work through some of their long-held prejudices and catch up with the times, the media has lambasted them while reporting on their change. Headlines range from things like; "Hell Freezes Over as Glenn Beck Backs Marriage Equality," "When even the looniest Republican politician is signaling that he’s going to support gay marriage, we've clearly passed the tipping point."

My complaint is this - if you're going to make the claim that you are the rational one, you are the voice of reason, you are open and affirming of all, then don't fall to this level of pettiness. These types of responses are why it is so hard for someone in the public eye to change their minds. They're going to get a lot of grief from the co-religionists or party members. Lets us just be thankful they've come to our side and offer them a little support. When opposing sides can at last agree on such polarizing issues, that is the time to embrace the other, to work together, to try to heal some of the incredible division tearing our country apart.

We'll never see eye-to-eye on everything. Let's embrace over things we can embrace over and start engaging in meaningful dialogue to find solutions to other very contentious issues, not resort to childlike name calling.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Are we built to discriminate?

This photo meme is going around the interwebs lately. I love the message, it's beautiful and inspiring. But at the same time, it denies the very basics of human nature. We are not born blank slates. Human beings are largely shaped by evolutionary psychological adaptions that are encoded in our genes.

Our ancestors survived the very dangerous world of the past by forming groups, largely family groups. This grouping allowed them to protect themselves from other tribes who might try to steal their food or kill them. It helped them instantly identify a person of another tribe who might be a danger. Sure, we don't need to do that anymore, but we don't need an appendix anymore either and it's still in our bodies, just waiting to burst.

In this study a group of white children, whose parents never discussed race with their children (preferring to assume the "blank slate" theory will lead to children who don't even see race) watched some multicultural videos. Later the majority of these white kids answered "how many white people are mean?" with "almost none." And they answered "how many black people are mean?" with "some" or "a lot."

We have evolved to prefer being with people like us. This applies to everything - we prefer to hang out with people who share our interests, who have the same political and religious beliefs we do and, yes, people who look like us.

Prejudice is natural; but natural does not mean good. We do thousands of unnatural things every day, and they make our lives so much better. Parents, family, society has a responsibility to the children to teach them that is is OK to notice differences in other people, but teach them that the differences are what makes us interesting.

Overcoming prejudice is the mark of an evolved, sophisticated person. Perpetuating prejudice is ancient tribalism and the sign of a scared person.

For more information about the reasons the "blank state" theory don't hold up, check out this book: 
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians.

Can any article about some Christian doing something stupid be complete without this quote from Ghandi? "I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. They are not like your Christ."

Today this quote is making its appearance on every online article covering the story of the Lutheran pastor who apologized for taking part in an interfaith service for the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.

I’ve read four or five different articles on this topic, and each time someone comments “I like your Christ, but I do not like you Christians.”

Look, I share the sentiment here. I love the teachings of Jesus, I hate the way they have been misconstrued by masses of “pew potatoes” the world over. But we can’t criticize all of Christianity based on the actions of a few lunatics who get attention.

Just because one very conservative division of Lutheranism believes that participating in an interfaith event is the same thing as affirming that all religions equally lead to God (and heaven) doesn’t mean they all do.

Many Christians do believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to know God and get to heaven. Other Christians believe that Jesus showed us one way to know God, but other ways will also get you there in the end. Some Christians even believe that Jesus is another isha-devata (a favorite deity to worship).

The Westboro Baptist Church is no more representative of Christianity than the Unitarian Universalists are. Despite what some really outspoken fundamentalist would have us believe, there is not, nor has there ever been one universally agreed upon bedrock called “Christianity.” The various, sects and denominations are as varied as humanity itself.

There. I’ve done my good deed in defending this thing called Christianity.

I was outraged by this story, but I know it is not the view of every Christian. I hope that even those who believe Jesus is the only way to know God or get to heaven would see the value of interfaith dialogue and ceremonies like this where we can all come together as a human race joined in our sufferings, and not worry about the stupid divisions we’ve created.

But to Christians that believe Jesus is “the way, the truth and life” and that no one “comes to the father” but through Jesus I have this to say:

This quote comes from the Gospel of John, which is unlike the other three gospels in nearly every way. It is a very gnostic book. It is highly unlikely that anything recorded in John are records of actual events.

Despite what we have been led to believe, the disciples did not follow Jesus around worshiping him as God. They followed him around as a teacher, as a leader, as someone to strive to be like. They had no idea he was God. Go re-read the gospels with fresh eyes. I’ll wait.

Did you see that? Even when Jesus hints at things like the fact that he’ll be raised in three days, the disciples had no idea what the heck that meant. If everyone who knew Jesus knew he was the incarnation of God it wouldn’t have taken some 100 years to develop the theology that taught that Jesus was both God and man. Philosophers hammered at that idea for ages, it’s not spelled out as clearly as you now think.

You can feel certain about the truth of your faith because you live in an echo chamber where people who think just like you pat you on the back for thinking just like them, and then when you pray you get warm, tingly feelings. That’s not a firm foundation for rejecting the possibility that every non-Christian on the planet will roast in eternal hell fire, or even to assume that they’d be so much happier if they could just worship your God. They live in their own echo chambers and get their own warm tingly feelings.

When Jesus told his disciples to evangelize to the whole word, I don’t think he meant to do so by insulting them. The best way to convince non-Christians that Christianity is a good thing is by embodying the principles the faith espouses. Love, kindness, charity, patience. Love your neighbor, be kind to strangers, help foreigners. The best way to convince non-Christians that Ghandi was right and that Christians are nothing like Jesus is to scold each other for participating in interfaith events, by smugly declaring that you have the whole truth and nothing but the truth with no room for any misunderstanding.