Atheism Is Amoral, Therefore Atheists Are…

Yet more awesome on the “Atheists can’t have morals” front. Here is a post by Silence of Mind using a classical argument to explain why Atheists can’t claim any morality. Yes, it’s the argument from Hitler/Communism, for those too lazy to click or those already familiar with SOM’s arguing antics.

The argument presented.
1. Hitler and communist leaders were Atheists.
2. Hitler had a lot of people kill 6 million Jews, along with kicking off a war that killed millions more, and Stalin and Mao had a higher body count.
3. These people thought it was okay because Atheists don’t have morals.
4. Therefore, Atheists lack morality/are immoral/eat babies/stole my bike/talk in the movie theater during movies.

I added the ridicule in there because this argument really says nothing while implying some sort of moral superiority on the part of Christians. Indeed, even in the comments there were examples of people relating to the above reasoning to illustrate why Christianity has a superior morality.

Let’s be honest here.
No, I’m not talking about the classic “not all whatevers” rebuttal or even the whole “Atheists make up less of the prison population” rebuttal. What I’m getting at here is the complete lunacy of parading about examples of people at their worst in a sophomoric attempt to promote guilt by association. There’s no point to any of this except to try to make people feel bad about being an Atheist or to make Christians feel like less of jerks for treating people like dirt.

While I’m on this honesty kick, let me just get this out of the way. Yes SOM’s position is based in a valid kernel of truth. Atheism has no standard of morality; it is just a rejection of belief in deities. Because of that, atheism is amoral, that is, atheism itself doesn’t say anything about morality. However, any further conclusions based on that is stretching the fact too far. Simply because one belief of one person is silent on morality does not make that person’s entire belief structure amoral.

Let’s put this another way so I can be really super clear. Suppose someone believes that he or she doesn’t like ketchup. That belief contains no concepts of morality. Supposing that this person is immoral because of a belief in not liking a condiment is ludicrous. If you also recognize that it’s silly, congratulations, you’ve figured out why it’s silly to say Atheists are immoral. It involves a conclusion that doesn’t follow from its premises.

Another example of conclusions that don’t follow from their premises can be found here:


Hint: it involves catching the train.

On a related note, saying that Atheists are immoral means that Atheists act outside of moral confines. This is based off either a religious assumption or categorically ignoring an Atheist’s other beliefs. While some Christians might argue that rejecting God is in itself immoral, anything outside that belief doesn’t justify such a claim of Atheist immorality. And, well, even if a Christian believes that rejecting God is immoral, that Christian has to define what rejecting God is. So there, Christians are going to hit a bunch of fellow Christians with that broad brushstroke.

And the purpose of all of this is to take emotional hostages. Get people angry about being equated with Hitler’s Holocaust and Stalin’s Purges, and they’ll mouth off at the first opportunity. People in support of the infallibility of Christian morality will happily agree with and parrot such sentiments.

There is a bigger question here.
Why is there a need to engage in emotional hostage taking?

Christians, by their own beliefs, are going to Heaven as a reward for suffering through this life and doing right by God. They get an eternity of happy existence, while those that reject Jesus and God get an eternity of torment. Why isn’t that enough? Why must Christians show their love for God and their compassion for fellow human beings by erroneously concluding that all atheism is the kind that spawns evil despots and mass killings?

Ultimately, what justifies Christians to make someone’s life miserable before they go to Hell? This is being done for many reasons: love, duty, even morality. They’re all such lofty goals, all intended to get sinners’ butts into pews on Sunday. Shaming people and lying about them is okay if it is done to get them “saved.”

That would be fine, if that’s where the emotional hostage taking ended.

De-converts of Christianity know what I’m talking about.
Once in the pew, different emotional flagellation ensues. Christians are reminded that they’re worthless sinners, who despite that sin still got a deific “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Nobody can earn his or her salvation; everyone is doomed. Sure, the “blood of the Lamb” will transform you, but when you invariably fail, it’s your fault, not God’s.

This message, of constant worthlessness, gets reinforced every Sunday at the least. It’s not surprising, then, to see it seep out into other messages of conversion. In fact, it’s the message of conversion. We’re all worthless and only God can make it go away. Whether it’s direct or hidden in emotional pot-shots, it’s all good to save souls.

I think recognizing these false claims for what they are might help other people calm down when they see stuff like this. For people who make these arguments, their view literally is that of nobody being good enough on their own. Therefore, tripe saying atheism is responsible for holocausts and genocide should be expected from this point of view. Getting angry will only reinforce that person’s selective view that people are no bueno without God. So it makes it more imperative to recognize that these things are said out of institutional inadequacy rather than malice.

While it doesn’t excuse the dishonesty of such statements, I think it does provide insight as to why it’s frustrating to deal with statements of this nature. Sadly, sometimes insight is all we can get from people.

Writing this post has given me enough fodder for another post, but I’ll wait to publish that one tomorrow. I can only deal with so much negativity in one day.

One-Liner Wednesday: A Whole Lot of Nothing

This one-liner shall waste your time, for it makes no sense; after reading it there might be a little enmity between reader and author, breeding angst that slowly festers underneath the bosom of even the gentlest heart, growing ire of the kind that only one can have after reading so many letters and words and finding that the ending is as anti-climactic as five second coitus, bringing perturbing feelings to the fore while desperately attempting to pay attention to the spaces between the words and not the words themselves, willing disturbed thoughts out and using them to foster an imagination where the author is put on trial and convicted of the most heinous crimes possible for crafting a devious one-liner that obeys the letter of the rules, yet somehow, some way, manages to expend over a hundred words in reaching that one simple punctuation mark that ends the agony and the sentence.

Author’s Note: This is part of Linda G. Hill’s One-Liner Wednesday. Go check out the awesome one-liners and feel free to craft one of your own!

How Mississippi Might Expand Marriage Rights

Thankfully I still get feeds from Godless in Dixie on my WordPress reader. This beautiful gem by Neil Carter announced that in Mississippi, two couples are challenging the state’s anti-gay marriage ban in Federal Court. One of the couples isn’t married, but wants to get married in Mississippi. The other couple got married in Maine, and they want Mississippi to recognize the union.

Some background.
Earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) refused to hear cases in Federal circuits which overturned bans on same-sex marriage in various states. What this means is that these states cannot use these bans to deny access to marriage based on same-sex grounds. Following this denial to hear these cases, the 9th Circuit invalidated Nevada’s and Idaho’s statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. Importantly, the 9th Circuit claimed that a SCOTUS case from 2013 (U.S. v. Windsor, citation omitted) has put in place a heightened level of scrutiny for dealing with bans on same-sex marriage (read here for more info surrounding the 9th Circuit case, h/t to Captain Cassidy).

To try to put this in a less confusing way, the way things are working right now is that SCOTUS isn’t hearing cases overturning bans on same-sex marriages. Additionally, these circuits are overturning bans on same-sex marriage because they don’t satisfy SCOTUS’s test for validity (anybody with a law license reading this, please bear with me). With all of this in play, two couples are now going to try to expand marriage rights to Mississippi’s Federal circuit (the 5th circuit). If this circuit is as conservative as the 11th Circuit (the one I’m more familiar with), then there might be a ruling that conflicts with the other circuits.

And if that happens, the case will have to go to SCOTUS to clear up the issue.

What can reasonably be expected.
Unfortunately, my psychic powers won’t arrive until next week, so I can only intuit so much in the way of legal fortune telling. As I see it, the Mississippi case will be a great example of upholding the U.S. Constitutional provision requiring states to recognize rights acquired in other states. U.S. Const. Art. IV, ยง 4(1). This is because one of the couples already has a marriage license from another state. By not recognizing that couple’s rights, Mississippi could very well get the door open for SCOTUS to require all states to recognize each other’s marriage laws.

In short: Mississippi could unwittingly help force all states to at least recognize the valid marriages performed in other states.

That’s a big deal. While it goes short of requiring all states to grant same-sex marriage licenses, it would at least let all homosexual couples find a place to get married so they can enjoy those rights. Granted, it’s small comfort to couples wanting to get married in their hometown, but I think it would be a giant step in the right direction.

However, I also think that SCOTUS will clarify what it meant in Windsor, and that’s something that could potentially hurt the cause for equal marriage rights. At the time Windsor was decided, not much was said about the scrutiny it applied to same-sex couple discrimination. SCOTUS could narrow the scrutiny (the legal test for constitutional validity) to just same-sex couples. It could even go so far as to say that Federal laws can’t touch states rights to determine what marriage law is (which it alluded to in Windsor).

Happily, even in both scenarios, same-sex couples would still have the ability to get married somewhere and then have that marriage recognized in their home state. Although it wouldn’t be everything that both sides want, it would be enough to get equal rights to all.

One other slightly disconcerting thing.
Recently there’s been a string of arguments supporting heterosexual only marriages, stating that marriage is inextricably aligned with procreation. One such article even went so far as to state that, “…there is no such thing as same-sex marriage.” (Emphasis in original; for a response to that position, please read Oscar Rivera’s post here). The position of Idaho in the 9th Circuit case, supra, did not go as far, but it did try to claim some sort of relationship between marriage and procreation.

I’m bringing this up because there seems to be an effort by some to equate marriage with procreation. If marriage required procreation to be marriage, then states should also invalidate any marriages by which couples are infertile. Additionally, for those couples that are in committed relationships and do have children, they should automatically be provided marriage benefits and labeling. This doesn’t happen, though, and for good reason.

At its core, barring any person’s religious beliefs, marriage indicates certain rights, responsibilities, and obligations of people. It allows people to hold property in joint ownership without having to transfer title every time they purchase something for the household. Married couples have tax breaks and rights of survivorship without having to apply for them. There are also rights to determine medical care for spouses, and these only trigger with marriage. Fourthly, adopted children by married couples trigger duties for both parents to be responsible for those children.

In this light, then, the whole notion that marriage must be able to provide procreation within the relationship is an absurd attempt to define marriage in a way that excludes same-sex couples from enjoying these rights. At best, it simply ignores that marriage involves a committed relationship. At worst, it’s a disingenuous way to try to be bigoted without sounding bigoted.

At any rate, the argument won’t pass legal muster.
There are plenty of rules and legal concepts that can and do ferret out a state saying one thing while attempting to deprive citizens of their rights. While they don’t always work (segregation being the biggest example of something that should never have happened), eventually they do stop unfair treatment. These last parting shots against same-sex marriage rights are the last grasping at straws, and they eventually shall go unnoticed when all couples in the U.S. finally get to live the life with the marriage rights they want.

Popular Word Choices

Occasionally, I travel about the WordPress blogosphere looking for interesting new ideas to challenge how I think. Following a user who hit like on one of my posts, I found this wonderful post about people using so-called “reclaimed” racial slurs. As a white person in the U.S., I know that I should challenge my notions about how I think about race, racism, and discrimination. Failing to do so might result in the complacency which I’ll describe below.

What is exactly the problem here?
From my vantage, the problem is people using words derived from racial slurs used against black people (yes, that one that starts with the letter “n”). There has always been, at least when I remember, a great amount of debate centered around that word and derivations of that word since the early 90’s. Almost always, the debate has involved the musical genres of rap and hip-hop. At the outset, I’d like to say that despite many black people recommending I listen to rap and hip-hop, I don’t listen to the genre frequently because I don’t like the use of racial slurs, reclaimed or otherwise.

Those admissions aside, the problem has shifted since the 90’s. Now, as the post points out, suburban white kids are repeating stuff they hear in the hip-hop they listen to without thinking about it. As far as society is concerned, teenagers repeating what they hear without thinking is nothing new. Unfortunately, this now means that they’re repeating derivative racist language without thinking.

How should we, as a society, feel about this proliferation of weakened hate speech? There are some points for and against it.

Points in support.
Maybe there’s a silver lining that kids of different races not only are listening to hip-hop and rap now, but they’re also listening to black artists. When I was in high school, hip-hop didn’t get popular until Eminem started putting out songs. For those who know how rock got popular in the 50’s, you might notice a trend. Black music didn’t get popular with white people until white people started making it. With hip-hop and rap, I felt the wheel was just turning around again, and to indulge in the genre at the time would be endorsing a softer kind of racism. I wanted to like the music because of the music, not because of the skin tone of the person making it.

Fast forward, and now kids of different racial makeups are listening to black artists. There is no need for the veneer of having an acceptable white face on stage to make parents feel comfortable. Instead, kids can go enjoy the artists themselves. And the artists don’t have to censor themselves. Maybe there is a little progress here.

Another point for being okay with kids spouting off these words is that they are doing so not out of hate. By using them en masse, it changes the popular meaning of the word (like how the word “gay” has changed over the past 50 years). Eventually its use can become so foreign to its roots that it technically cannot even to be said to have been derived from the hateful word of origin. Rather, it is part of a new vocabulary that people of different races worked together to achieve.

Points against.
The biggest barrier to hearing slurs of that kind is that I know where they came from. I’ve heard them used in hate and anger against black people. I’ve heard them used casually by black people. I’ve heard them used in different contexts in between the extremes. Racial slurs were used to control people, to demean them as a group, and to reinforce social notions of white superiority. Since white people dictated the language we use today, white people got to make the labels.

Such misery that these words helped promote doesn’t deserved to get buried like the family secret. It’s a corpse that stinks so badly even the smell will come back to haunt everyone in the American house. That I’m blogging about it, and it’s a thing, is evidence enough that as a nation the U.S. still can’t move past racial problems 150 years after slavery ended. There are some deep-seated issues lingering with regards to race, and until those are addressed we can’t really hide anything, can we?

What I mean by this is that what if the word is simply getting used because other groups have that privilege? Although it is not getting used to hate others, the people using it might still otherwise promote racist institutions. One might see people who want to use the word in public in a hate-filled manner try to promote its use, for no other reason than to renew what the use the word originally intended. How does one even tell the difference?

Some conclusions from one white perspective.
I think the real issue underpinning the use of racial slurs in a non-hate context is whether this is a sign of progress on racial relations (i.e., speech that has no intention of demeaning racial groups) or it is a sign of racial privilege. The answer isn’t as forthcoming as I’d like it to be. However, I’d have to say I’m in the camp of not using it.

The original post I linked to contains a good justification for my position. As the author noted, the word is okay for black people to use without anyone really batting an eye. Have a non-black person utter that word, and it suddenly becomes a thing. If a word is truly benign, it shouldn’t matter who utters it. If that reclaimed racial slur is no longer an indicator of hate, then no one will think twice about its use.

Therefore, until that day when nobody cares or knows about what that word originally meant, I don’t think it should be used or that it even has a “polite” use. But it also means that if people want to make something good out of something awful, I should also avoid getting in the way. This conclusion seems somewhat meaningless to me. I wanted to be able to say definitively one way or the other what thoughts should be expressed. However, I’m left with realizing that some people are trying to do good things. Others might even be capable of forgetting social hatred. I do not know for sure, and I do not want to speak out against people who are earnestly trying to move our society past hatred.

So my real response should be to ask a bigger question than the one I started with: how do I promote an opposition to racism while respecting similar efforts of others?

Reasoning To or Reasoning From?

Seeing how much content on the Internet is devoted to people of different thoughts taking pot-shots at each other, I figure I’d actually try to describe why I reached an atheistic worldview. My focus is going to be on the reasons I have for this worldview, and it will be an attempt to explain in a different way why a lot of the arguments for and against God are irrelevant to different worldviews. Since that goal is quite ambitious, I also have a personal goal of explaining my thinking. That way, at least, I can take another look at it later.

After losing my faith, I decided to start at zero belief.
This was important to me, because there was still a side of me that wanted to clutch onto faith. It was familiar, but I also knew that if I just went with familiar I’d be in the same dark places later on. Moreover, I’d have the same paucity of tools to deal with those dark places. In law school, I’d learned a little on how to remove as much of my personal views from analyzing a situation (as reasonably possible), so I decided I’d put my Juris Doctorate to some use.

Taking nothing for granted, I decided I’d read the Bible as much as possible, take a look online for arguments for and against, and read what I could about the subject. After assessing the field of discussion on why a person should or should not believe in God, I tried isolating the evidence for and against into as simple bits as possible. The entire process took awhile, and eventually I reached a point where I could feel justified in reaching a conclusion.

In the for column, there are Bible verses, personal testimony, and apologetic arguments. Admittedly, the last camp was one I was least familiar with, and when I read the arguments all of them suffered from one failure in logic or another. Either there were hidden premises that never were explored, or there was outright faulty reasoning (logical fallacies and the like). So, I couldn’t take apologetic arguments as a credible source of justifying faith. This left me with Bible verses and personal testimonies.

Bible verses and personal testimonies share the same trait in that they rely on the experiences of those sharing the testimonies. In addition, Bible verses make very large claims without other sources of proof available to people today to back them up. Personal testimonies, on the other hand, range from people claiming to have experienced supernatural events to just feeling the presence of God. While I do not doubt that these people feel this way, I cannot give their experiences great weight because I do not share the same experiences. Putting it another way, personal testimonies rely on what the person experienced to back it up, and without that I do not have the same justification for faith.

This left me at a state of skepticism.
Because of the little weight I could give the previous evidence, I was not swayed to renew my faith. Unless I am able to find a way to change the weight of that evidence, using an impartial means, that conclusion will have to remain at the least at a state of not knowing. Accepting that I didn’t know was a huge deal for me. Until then, it was just a thought experiment. Now, it was becoming more real.

At this juncture, I felt confident enough to survey arguments against the existence of God. Taking them into account, and reading heated exchanges between Christians and Atheists, I found these arguments lacking as well. Eventually both sides could push each other to not knowing, and once there they’d just kind of stew. People making disparaging comments to each other made me question whether or not I even should try to think about my faith or lack thereof. If it was just going to get people physically agitated at me, why bother?

All this is said with the goal in mind to point out that I wasn’t happy with riding the fence. There was something going on amid the hurt feelings and mudslinging that I couldn’t put my finger on. The answer to my questions were found in the same reasoning that made it invalid for me to adopt the personal testimonies of others.

To put it bluntly: I must rely on my ordinary experiences to function, and my ordinary experiences can all be explained using natural phenomena.

For someone who had faith, and had a faith that relied on doubting himself, this is a very big deal, eventually justifying an atheistic outlook.
Essentially trusting the word of others required my faith to stem from doubting my ordinary experiences. And I came to realize that my doubts were unreasonable, not my experiences. This, of course, flies in the face of outlying philosophical concepts, but even those tend to conflict with ordinary perceptions of the world around me. What remained in me, then, is the knowledge that I can and should use my ordinary perception to justify my worldview. It is the best of what I have to offer myself and others, and therefore I should stick with that instead of hiding from it.

Coming from that vantage, then, I realized that there was no experience in my life that couldn’t be explained by natural phenomena. Additionally, relying on natural phenomena has yielded significant, documented benefits for humanity. And I realized that I can test my ordinary experiences through those of others. Taking these items into account, I concluded that there is no God. Finally, taking these items into account, it is reasonable to conclude there is no God. Note that I’m not saying that I’ve solved an existential mystery here. Also note that I’m not saying that my word is the final word on the entire matter.

All I am saying is that when one has experienced natural phenomena and no supernatural phenomena of disqualifying that view, then I have to go with that view of the natural. To do otherwise is to essentially ignore the world around me and pretend like all of what I am even capable of knowing is a lie.

Searching for Equilibrium

The past few days I’ve been wrestling with a particularly insistent depressive episode. I say it’s the same one because it ebbs and flows but it’s always there in some form or fashion. This isn’t like my normal depressed/suicidal urges. It’s a general feeling of anger/helplessness/sadness/rage at myself.

Yesterday, I tried talking about the upshot to having friends and other loved ones around. Today, I’m going to talk about how having people around also is a source of sustenance for my depressive demons that haunt me.

Unfortunately, people are triggers.
I can go a few hours without some sort of depressive episode and then a phone rings or a person says something and I go right back on the downward spiral. Other loved ones do things that prompt subconscious responses in me, most notably panic/fear varieties. My family is very indirect and loves pushing buttons. It’s how they operate. Unfortunately, they aren’t going to mend their ways to accommodate me.

They’ll do other stuff, and I’m grateful for all they’ve provided. However, what I need is stability and predictability in my life. People are agents of chaos (no matter what we’d like to believe), and one person trying to create order in life is sowing unpredictable seeds in others. To extend the metaphor, I’m fertile soil for those seeds to grow.

Saying this, though, makes me want to issue a quick disclaimer. It’s not my family that was the source of this most recent quagmire of irrational self-loathing. Friends can do the same thing without intending to do so. Some of my friends have depressive moods of their own (and possibly undiagnosed), and I try to be as accommodating as I can for them. Nonetheless, if I’m out of sorts and are subject to lashing out, it throws me farther away from center.

Nobody said this would be fair.
As terrible as this sounds, people have to take care of themselves. Support only can go so far. Every time I am reminded of this terrible truth, it puts another weight on the rocks tied around my neck. Tired of treading water, sometimes letting go seems sensible and humane. I want to believe that I can help people, but then my moods get thrown in my face and I’m left reeling and wondering why I even try.

All of this is frustrating too. Recently a friend lashed out at me, and I went through the gauntlet of emotions commensurate with that experience. I don’t know what normal people think of, but I range from doing nothing, to placating, to being snide, to being cold, to being hostile, to screaming. None of the options are acceptable. To be nice and placating is to excuse a behavior that causes me harm. To be hostile and returning what has been given to me just makes it painful for two people instead of one. Calmly discussing the whole thing also isn’t an option, because the only calm right now is one that is reserved right before the hurricane hits.

Instead of being able to figure out what I should do, or to manage my own feelings and be assertive like I should, I opted for just backing away. Withdrawing isn’t healthy either, because it just keeps me alone with my illness. There’s no way I’m going to find equilibrium in isolation. Now I’m brought back to the point of being mired in irrational thinking. I can’t be alone for fear my depression will worsen. I can’t be around people because they’re unpredictable and they can make the matter explosive. Where am I supposed to go?

Cynical Interlude: if I had an answer to that question, I wouldn’t be whining about it now.
It always feels like whining. Poor me. Other people have real problems. Mine are in my head, and therefore imaginary. My invisible demons are really monsters under the bed.

I should quit while I’m behind.

The above distracting thoughts never help either.
I want to leave this post with a happier thought than just, “Shit happens.” But I’m tired, and I need to rest. Perhaps later I will be able to find a positive way to deal with what I’m facing. Now, though, I must just try to find quiet and serenity. Maybe there, I can see what path to take out of the fog.

A Slow Day

Today is the first day where I’ve actually had to wrack my brain for something to blog about. Well, I’ve got plenty of posts percolating, but I’ve been struggling with a depressive episode since last night. Needless to say, I want to try and think about upbeat stuff, and so far…

Nothing.

I tried writing my book some more, and that didn’t go so well either. Writing an exciting action scene should be fun for me, but all I could do is stare at a blank page. Staying idle means I get to focus on awful things about myself, so I worked on a map for my Saturday Roll20 game. To make sure I wouldn’t finish, I created a grid 500×500 squares large and decided to create an entire port city.

After putting in a bridge and the water, that stopped drawing my attention. Now I’m back to the blog, and I’m writing this. I suppose I’m doing stream of consciousness then. In that spirit, I’m not going to edit this.

Tabletop RPG’s usually cheer me up.
Yeah, I’m a gamer. Not a video gamer so much anymore (though I still have a collection of old games I trot out and play from time to time). No, what I mean is that I like RPG’s of the kind that require people to roll dice and actually talk with words in order to play. Hanging out with old friends is a good thing, especially when there’s a common interest to be shared.

Some people look down on old-fashioned pencil and paper gaming. There’s plenty of MMORPG’s out there that let you run a character around a beautifully rendered world stealing, killing, and setting things on fire. Many of these online games encourage RP (that’s roleplaying, not necessarily of the bedroom variety), and they attract people who want to play the role of hero, villain, or comic relief.

But it’s not the same thing as being in the same place with other people, or at least hearing friendly voices I haven’t been able to hang out with in years. It helps me feel connected to people, and it reminds me that some people might actually miss me when I’m gone. This isn’t to say that statements don’t help, but that’s different than visiting with old and new friends.

I suppose it’s less of the game, then, and more the friendship.
Friends are awesome people. I try to have good ones. I learned long ago that friends will stick with you no matter what silly things you do or say. I also learned that friends don’t have to agree with you on everything to be a good friend.

That’s pretty freaking important. Surrounding myself with people who just smile and nod gets old quickly. Counting on people to tell me when I’m screwing up is critical to my outlook on life. And making connections with people is important to help keep my depressive thinking in check. Granted, it’s not a panacea, but I’ll take every little bit that helps.

Politicians Hiding In Pulpits

Today I saw two articles pop up in my reader about the ongoing legal battle between the City of Houston and a group of Christians (they can be found here and here. Both of these articles discuss Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s specific comments (and subsequent backtracking from) regarding a subpoena of five Houston ministers’ sermons. And both of these articles take a stance against requiring the ministers to hand over their sermons.

I’m going to respectfully disagree with this position.

What’s going on.
Depending upon where one gets one’s news, the facts are slightly different. For articles favoring the ministers, you can find two here and here. Two articles potentially taking a stance favoring the City can be found here and here. I’m getting my facts from all four.

This whole thing started with a proposed ordinance called the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) which made it illegal for private employers, businesses open to the public, and city facilities from discriminating against gay persons. HERO also allowed transgender persons to use bathrooms they identified with. The ordinance also had an exemption for religious institutions.

But, because the ordinance could allow men to go into women’s bathrooms and vice-versa, a petition in opposition to the ordinance was handed to the City. The goal was to challenge the ordinance on a ballot referendum, but the petition was rejected because the signatures were deemed invalid. As a result, a group of Christians sued the city. As part of any litigation, there is a discovery phase which allows both sides to ask for evidence to make their case. The City subpoenaed 5 ministers who were not involved with the litigation to hand over copies of sermons pertaining to HERO and the petition.

Initially the mayor was okay with this broad subpoena, but within a day there was an indication the City was going to narrow its scope. So, until that happens, ministers not involved with the litigation might still be asked to hand over copies of their sermons.

And the big deal is…
The author of “I Love You But You’re Going To Hell” (ILYBYGTH) correctly pointed out that the Mayor’s call for subpoenas is getting painted as her trying to oppress religious expression. At first blush, this might even seem accurate. Here’s an openly gay mayor using her office to subpoena people who aren’t even a part of the proceedings. Why would she do such a thing?

Well, sometimes innocent bystanders have evidence that can shed a light on what’s going on. Sometimes people who aren’t named parties to litigation are actually doing a lot to further one party’s position. In short: the ministers right now might not have anything to do with what’s going on, but they got named for a reason. And no, it’s not to bully them. It’s actually to show that they might have had a hand in getting people to sign a petition, which is a decidedly political act.

And according to the IRS, churches who claim tax exemptions can’t engage in political activities. It’s a fundamental “we’ll keep our hands off each other’s stuff” proposition.

Please note that I’m not saying that the ministers definitely had anything to do with this. And if they had nothing to do with the petition, they should seek legal counsel to figure out any remedies they might have at law. But if they used their pulpit to help use people’s fears as pawns to get signatures, they rightfully should get their names dragged through the mud.

That’s why it’s okay for the City to subpoena the ministers sermons and other communications advocating a political position.
Protecting ministers who advocate for political positions, candidates, or parties in effect would allow them to engage in political speech with impunity. It gives them an unfair advantage. They have a captive audience that is relying on them to get to Heaven. And if signing a petition gets them through the pearly gates, then they will get their pens out without a second thought.

Fundamentally, this entire situation calls to light how much advantage churches have in this country. They don’t pay taxes, and they are allowed exemptions to practice faith even when a law is passed affecting them. HERO wasn’t even going to affect them. They wouldn’t even need to change signs on their own bathrooms in their own churches. The only thing that would happen is that men who identify as women or women who identify as men would be able to use the bathroom they want.

In short, what is going on here is the exercise of privilege, and not a right. If there was a right for people to say things and not be held accountable for them, it would have been mentioned by now. All these ministers want is to say whatever they please in a sermon and not have any consequences for it. And I think it’s past time that if they want to sling mud into the political arena, they need be prepared for some to get thrown back.

No True Whatevers

Recently I got informed (again) that I never was a Christian/saved/born again/washed in the blood of the lamb. This is because the person in question didn’t find any evidence that I’d properly gone through the ritual of becoming a TRUE CHRISTIAN(TM). It’s a logical fallacy called the “No True Scotsman,” and it’s used in religious discussion to pretend that de-converted Christians were never really believers in the first place. The reasoning goes like this:

1. I was a Christian because I accepted Jesus as my Savior.
2. TRUE CHRISTIANS(TM) do something else to really be saved.
3. I didn’t mention that something else (Yes, I have to mention something specifically).
4. Therefore, I wasn’t a TRUE CHRISTIAN(TM).

This isn’t the only way this reasoning gets used.
My earlier post about labeling other Christians as having false beliefs also relies on this reasoning. While that post addresses more fully how the No True Scotsman argument gets used in that regard, I’d like to clarify my position here somewhat.

In this context, it separates the speaker from being sullied with the grime of others who share a specific label. This means that the speaker deserves more credibility, and can entertain a worldview that isn’t marred by the abuses and incorrect thoughts of others. It also gets around having to prove why the other group is wrong. As a shortcut to thinking, then, it’s pretty useful. Hence why I see it get used semi-frequently.

Why I’m spending a lot of energy on this.
Frequency isn’t the only reason why I’m specifically addressing this now. Like other bad arguments, it relies on the subjective judgment of the person making the decision rather than on evidence or even cogent reasoning. And I also spend energy on it because it’s one of the most hurtful things Christians have told me on the Internet. So now I’d like to focus on the personal aspect of No True Scotsman.

I get hit with the No True Scotsman (NTS) for any number of reasons. Some probably do it because to accept that I was a TRUE CHRISTIAN(TM) would mean that TRUE CHRISTIANS(TM) can leave the faith. This flies in the face of some Biblical verses on the subject. And if the Bible can be wrong about that, the Bible just might be wrong about other things. In a way, then, my renounced faith becomes more important than the current faith of the person.

Another possibility why NTS is used on de-converts like me is that if I can get denounced as a liar, anything else I say can get called into question. This is known as “witness bias,” and it’s used to diminish credibility. If I never really was a TRUE CHRISTIAN(TM), then I fibbed, and I’m a terrible person. Because of that, nothing else of what I say can be believed.

Yet another reason to use NTS is that it keeps other Christians in line and afraid. You might not really be a Christian, and if you don’t want to have your weak faith outed then you better double down on God. Don’t believe me? Captain Cassidy wrote this post about an article telling people to give up trying to marry non-Christians and new Christians because their faith might not be strong enough (original article can be found here).

That’s right. Non-Christians and new Christians are not worthy of marriage and loving, committed relationships. And this is all because they could be faking their respect for their loved one or their love for Jesus.

How does this even happen?
Recently Godless Cranium broke his posting drought with this article about religion as metaphor. A lot of Christian belief is expressed through metaphor and parable. This is thought of as conveying a thought more accurately than words alone – if my confirmation classes can be trusted that is. Remember: I never was a TRUE CHRISTIAN(TM) based on some fundagelical assertions of my faith and belief. My point, before I get too distracted, is that symbols and metaphor also allow for wiggle room with regards to meaning.

And there, in that gray area, is where the NTS argument hides.

Relying on emotional force and raw spite (and this is regardless of how it is intended), the argument seeks to bully those through the proponent’s will alone. It assumes that the proponent is in a better position to decide what is a TRUE CHRISTIAN(TM). It assumes that the proponent is right about the assessment. It assumes that the proponent doesn’t have an ulterior motive.

If the person is confronted, a Bible verse gets trotted out and that somehow is the final say on the matter. And any attempt to pursue the point drags the former believer into the mire of Biblical argument. It doesn’t matter that the proponent is declaring by personal assessment that an entire denomination of Christians are doing it wrong. That person is right, no matter what.

But you see, that’s the hidden implication of the NTS. All it does is out the user as someone who lives at the pinnacle of hubris. And if they’re wrong? Then the metaphor wasn’t completely understood.

If I used this reasoning against other people, it would devalue their experiences as human beings.
At its core level, NTS is used to dehumanize and distance. That’s why I try to make sure I don’t use it myself. Let’s take a look at the flip-side of the argument to see why.

I could say that any Christian who denounces my former faith is showing hatred. Hatred is against God’s teachings, and TRUE CHRISTIANS(TM) obey God’s teachings. Therefore, NO TRUE CHRISTIAN(TM) would use such an argument.

See how it ignores the thoughts and feelings of others? I could even widen it to say that anyone who disagrees with how my faith progressed wasn’t a TRUE CHRISTIAN(TM). Or I could twist it around to say that no one is a TRUE CHRISTIAN(TM). The possibilities are as endless as my dishonesty and ego allow.

Even more troublesome is that NTS is wholly unnecessary to a discussion on any subject. So what if someone claims to have been an Atheist but is now a Christian? What are their reasons for doing so? Are they valid? No? Okay then. Same thing with de-converted Christians. Don’t think they’re a Christian? Okay. What are they saying now? Is it valid? Okay then.

The paragraph above illustrates how pointless branding others’ thoughts is. So next time someone says something and you get the urge to say, No True Whatever, take a step back. It’s the idea that’s up for debate. Ideas don’t have feelings. So address them rather than making comments about the person themselves.