Yes, Justin Aichele, the Definition of Marriage Does Change.

I know that many Christians still have their undies in a twist over the fact that our Supreme Court finally got around to acknowledging that same-sex marriage is legitimate and a constitutional right, but I thought I’d heard the last of the few Christians who showed up here to try and challenge me on the issue. 

But I was wrong. Well, sort of. Justin Aichele just couldn’t seem to leave well enough alone, and he started cyber stalking me this last Wednesday (August 4th, 2021) on Twitter over his continuing and misguided quest to force people to live according to his beliefs rather than their own. I first discussed the issue with Justin almost 10 years ago on this blog post, but he butt-in on a Twitter thread I was engaged in to claim that the hateful “Christian” baker in Colorado who refused to make a cake for a gay couple was vindicated because “the Christian should never be forced to participate in immoral or objectionable activities.” I’ve heard Justin pontificate on this before. It’s nothing new, but I still wanted to address it. Read on.

Umm, that is not how the Supreme Court’s ruling played out. They never said anything close to Justin’s claim. More importantly, if making wedding cakes is “being forced to participate in immoral activities,” (as Justin claims) then maybe the wedding cake maker shouldn’t be a wedding cake maker. I mean, and this is hilarious, he wasn’t asked to do anything other than make a wedding cake, which is THE ONE JOB his business existed for. That’s stupid enough on its own, but the hashtag “#MarriageIsHeterosexual” is simply more than I can laugh at. Everything Justin said in this tweet was wrong.

Which of course garnered an “Actually” from Justin. 

Justin can only see the issue through his religious dogma. Forget everyone else’s definitions and legal expressions of marriage, Justin’s not cool with it, so they must be wrong. He’s told me before that everyone should be subjected to his religious beliefs. No really, he actually thinks that.

Okay, whatever. Nothing exceptionally unique about this from religious fundamentalists, but then Justin really steps in it by saying that same-sex marriage ignores the Bible, history and creation. I’ve dealt with his “Bible” argument here, and in my tweet (below), but the “history and creation” thing represents a new front in Justin’s already-lost war. 

Same-sex expression in committed relationships is found in history, from yesterday to ancient times. No, it’s not as prevalent as heterosexual arrangements, but that is a meaningless data point. Believing that quantity is akin to normality steps in a logical fallacy. Nevertheless, if you’re like Justin, who categorically refuses to acknowledge same-sex marriage as “marriage,” then of course you’re never going to find it in history. Either way, his “history” claim is a fail. Strike 1.

The “creation” is an even bigger fail, for while the vast majority of sexual species on the planet are heterosexual, they are not the only observed actors or evidence. Same-sex coupling is found among many species, including birds, invertebrates, amphibians, and of course, primates. And here’s the kicker, even if it were only found in the primates called “humans,” that would not, in and of itself, require that we view it as an aberration or abnormal. It’s a minority of the population, but so what? In either case, Justin is just flat out wrong about same-sex partnerships (we don’t call it “marriage” with other animals anyway). We see it frequently enough in “creation” to accept that it is indeed a natural part of the order of life on Earth.

Justin’s quixotic quest to bring ALL of creation to bear witness about marriage is equally problematic. I have to point out again that “marriage” is simply not what we’d call pairings or matings in the rest of the animal kingdom. Yes, a few species mate for life, but even then, there is a problem: it ain’t “marriage.”

There are even some species of amphibians who can actually change sexes in certain situations. And before anyone tries to argue that these animals only did this to procreate, they should know that not all of the transgender frogs I have in mind did that. Producing offspring has never been the mark of what sex a person (or other animal) is or isn’t.

I digress, but the problems don’t stop there. There are many species that produce asexually, and even among the sexual organisms that reproduce, the VAST majority are not monogamous. I wonder if Justin wants that fact to inform his “creation” argument too. Oops.

Furthermore, many species’ “pairing” behaviors are violent, rape-like events that are anything but consensual. This is especially true among insect species, and don’t even get me started on things like the Praying Mantis or Black Widow, which eat their mates after they sex it up. If we want to create some norms for “marriage,” it just doesn’t help to turn to any part of the natural order beyond humanity itself. That’s another fail for Justin. Strike 2.

So back to my response to Justin and the Bible: 

Spoiler alert: The Bible never endorses a singular way for sexual creatures (like humans) to live as sexual creatures. Let’s see… In the Old Testament we have polygamy and incest. But wait, there’s more! In Judges (and multiple other places) we also have “holy” men of God murdering rival husbands and absconding with their newly widowed wives in chattel (slave) marriages. And in the New Testament we have both traditional marriages and perpetual singleness (celibacy) highlighted as worthy options. One would indeed be right to point out that there are no models of same-sex marriage in the Bible, but this misses the point that marriage, by biblical standards themselves, has NEVER been only about monogamous, consenting adults of “legal” age or of sound mind. Which is to say that definitions and parameters of marriage absolutely change from time to time, both in and outside the Bible.

So what is Justin to do? Oh, I know! Let’s act like pointing out what the Bible says is “reading it wrong” (if it doesn’t reinforce my unbiblical beliefs)!  

At this point, I have to admit that people can indeed misinterpret biblical texts. It happens all the time. We might rightly even accuse Justin of doing the same thing here and there. But here’s the problem: It’s not just Justin’s belief that I’m doing it wrong, it’s also his complete dodge of the issue I am raising, which is that the definition of “biblical marriage” has never been a static thing. It changes. Full stop.

But Justin can’t bring himself to acknowledge any of that. All he can do is fixate on one verse in the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis 2.24) which reads in the New International Version (NIV) as, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Justin tacks on what he believes Jesus thinks about marriage in his tweet, but this doesn’t cut it by a mile.

The Genesis verse itself requires readers to look at the larger context. I mean verse 24 starts with “THAT is why such and such… .” Wait, WHAT is why such and such? 

Here’s what comes before the verse Justin alluded to:

20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man. 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Well that clears things right up, doesn’t it? Naming animals: cows, birds, Tasmanian Devils… but no servant for the Bro, so let’s gin up a different kind of creature for the pony show. Woman. Awesome. Yay!

Would you like a side of misogyny with that patriarchal creation myth? Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself there. Ok, got it out of my system (for the moment). Let’s move on.

On a more serious note, we’re going to set aside all the textual criticism issues and provenance problems related to this Genesis text (most likely written during the Babylonian captivity -6th century B.C.-), as well as its obvious allegorical intent and explanatory power for a bronze-age worldview. All of those are fun topics and further reduce Justin’s argument, but we don’t even need to go there to get it done. 

Based on this verse Justin claims that marriage is “clearly defined” as heterosexual. There’s a huge problem with that assertion because this passage is descriptive, not “definitive.” It literally serves as a descriptive story about how the first woman allegedly came into being and how the local male seemed to like her. Then the narrator (whomever that was) chimes in with, “This is why a man leaves his parents and sexes it up with his wife” (slightly paraphrased). A fundamentalist will likely protest that it is Adam himself who says this, but that simply cannot be the case since Adam isn’t supposed to have any parents. Somebody later on, likely much later on, wrote up this story and stuck it into the Hebrew Scriptures. But like I said, we have to let those issues go unexplored here.

Genesis 2 is nevertheless describing many things, a human relationship among them. Never does it say that this is the definitive way things must work, nor that this is the one and only way things can work to be holy. It is Justin who is reading both of those into the text, but even then he does so inconsistently. It creates many ridiculous problems if we stick with his insistence that this passage is definitive. 

For example, if this is the only way things can work (or be holy), then all women must be taken from a man’s rib in every instance. Oops. Similarly, it must also be the case that no man can leave his parents’ house for any other reason than marriage and sex. That’s the only option if this passage is definitive. I wonder if that’s why Justin first left his parents. Maybe he will tell us. Also, what of certain circumstances where a son gets married but cannot “leave” his parents’ house? Is this out of bounds too? It must be if the passage is definitive.

And what about women? What are the definitive options they have as the passive objects of this text? Can they not leave their parents’ home until a Bro claims them? And what of a person who only has one parent, or none? Are they exempt? Are they outside the “definitive” biblical model? If so, that rules out Adam himself! Oops again. 

No, Justin, making this passage definitive is simply the wrong interpretation. It does not work. Try as you might, this passage simply does not define all marriages for all people everywhere. It is but one example. One description.

If I know Justin, he will surely be tempted to move the goalposts and say that I’m reading it all wrong again because this passage is “clearly” only definitive when it speaks about wives (and husbands). This is a highly dubious, “just-so” type of defense to make, and we would be right to ask Justin, “What is it in this text that leads you to such a conclusion?” I’ll leave answering that up to Justin, but I feel pretty confident issuing a spoiler alert: Justin’s interpretation has nothing to do with this text, and everything to do with his personal feelings and fears about same-sex marriage.

His other option, which undoubtedly he will not resist, is to simply ignore his gaff with Genesis 2 and start verse bombing me with other Bible passages he thinks will prove his case. I’ve been down that road many times as well. It doesn’t work. Nowhere does the Bible prohibit same-sex marriages. Nowhere. And if he argues that we can only do things the Bible specifically permits… well, that’s not going to go the way he wants it to either.

But back to Genesis. The passage Justin quoted for us simply is not definitive. At all. It mentions one model (among diverse possibilities) for: a woman’s existence, leaving home, getting married, sexing it up. Never does it ever imply this is the only way things must or can happen. Strike 3.

Of course Justin is free to continue believing that the definition of marriage has never changed, but he simply does not know what he is talking about. Appealing to history won’t help him. Creation does not help him. And the Bible itself proves him wrong. Fail. Fail. And fail.

Sorry, Justin, the definition of marriage does change. Maybe you should stop being so concerned about other folks’ marriages and focus on your own.

-Corbin

Posted in My Core Beliefs | Leave a comment

Abortion is not a Legitimate Reason to Vote Republican

Abortion. A practice that respects a woman’s right to choose to give birth or not. If there is an issue that most Conservative Christians unite behind when it comes to voting, it’s difficult to find one more motivating than this. Unfortunately, most Christians are on the wrong side of this one.

I hear it all the time: “I am a one-issue voter (and that issue is abortion).” “I vote for Republicans because I am a Christian, and I believe abortion is murder.” “I am Pro-Life, therefore I must vote Republican.” And on and on. It’s stupid and ridiculous, but the Republican party couldn’t be happier with the arrangement. They love it, especially when it means they get a free-pass on all kinds of other evils and the categorically unChristian decisions, policies, and maneuvers that categorize most of the remainder of the Republican party. 

I am sure that Conservative ears burn at my assessment. I don’t particularly care, but I will point out that if you aren’t concerned about eliminating the death penalty, protecting the environment, creating and enforcing common-sense gun control measures, addressing systematic racism and police brutality, or mindful of treating immigrants well, and caring for disadvantaged children, and their families (especially single mothers) beyond the second a baby is born, then you aren’t really “pro-life” at all. You’re just anti-choice and for forcing women to have babies against their will (you know, *small* government, right?). The bottom line is that you simply cannot be pro-life for the un-born if you don’t give a crap about the already-born and the life support system (Earth) that sustains them. Anybody can deceive themselves and others by calling themselves whatever they like, but the hypocrisy of the official Pro-Life crowd is simply astounding. If you want an authentically pro-life political platform (and hence, one that is more Christian), then Team Democrat is your best option in the United States. 

I can hear the protest, and we’ll get to abortion in just a moment, but the Democratic party does an exponentially better job at advancing life in each and every one of the categories mentioned above. Progressives are concerned about all of these things and actively working to address them. And just so we’re clear, Jesus was a Liberal “leftist” in his own day. The sum of the biblical narrative also bucks against the conservatism of its cultural and historical settings. He was pushing in new directions, putting up a bigger, more equitable, more loving tent for everyone, just like Progressives today. I have addressed some of these issues before, most notably in this blog post I penned before the 2012 presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The names have changed, but the party platform hasn’t. If you are concerned about the things Jesus was/is concerned about, then the Democratic party comes closer than anything else in the American political sphere. 

I’ve also written about abortion here, but I have evolved even further on the issue and now see abortion as the most “Christian” thing people can do in all, yes ALL, circumstances when abortion is being considered. You may think that’s insane, especially if you are a self-described Christian who’s been programmed by your church to think abortion is pure evil. So how can I say that? It’s remarkably simple if one actually believes in Christian dogma on the so-called “age of accountability” for children and / or that children who die before they reach this age (and choose Christ) automatically go to Heaven. It’s pretty basic free-will stuff. Even though there is no biblical evidence for it as far as I know, Christians widely believe that God is perfect justice and that it would therefore be unjust (by definition) for God to condemn a child to Hell before that child even knew what evil was or who Jesus was. I actually agree with them on this point. To do otherwise would seem to make God an insufferably evil asshole, which is not well received in the churches I have visited (unless they’re Calvinists -Ug-). But most Christians I know of tend to believe that 12 years old is the approximate “age of accountability” or the point at which kids can authentically understand the sin/salvation, Hell/Heaven, and the “Jesus saves” dogma. I think there’s some flexibility here and that it’s not a number etched in stone, but word to the wise if you’re 12-years old…  you better watch yourself.

And of course I understand that not all Christians believe this. Roman Catholics in particular are very concerned that babies will burn in torment forever if they are not baptized as soon as possible after birth. God is great, eh? As I understand it, most of this goes back to St. Augustine and his novel understanding of what “original sin” meant. Be that as it may, I am here to grind an axe against Protestantism, evangelical Protestantism in particular, because those are the skeletons in my own closet. Most of those folks teach that children get a one-way ticket to Heaven if they meet death before the age of accountability or before they understand the Christian paradigm. Most of these Christians are the same ones who let Republicans play them for fools every election.

So enter abortion. It doesn’t matter what any of us happen to believe about the official “child” or “baby” status of a zygote, embryo, or fetus in the womb. The fact is that by most evangelical Christians’ own dogma, all babies and young children get a non-stop, direct flight to the heavenly realms upon their deaths. That’s right, abortion means Heaven. 

There are worse things that could happen to an individual, like, oh I don’t know, having one’s mother be forced to have you against her will and having a parent or parents who don’t want you, can’t provide for you, and only see you as another inconvenience. Maybe abuse, neglect, and general lack of investment in you as a human would qualify as being worse than a one-way ticket to Heaven? And that’s just this life. Do we really believe that these unwanted children are going to have devoted, loving Christians as forced parents who will tenderly indoctrinate them with the right beliefs and actions to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior? If not that, do we think that they will ALL be converted later on in life? In a word, no. 

It’s undeniable that by Christians wanting to force women to have kids against their will, these well intentioned (but gullible) believers are actually giving millions of children a pretty good shot at Hell rather than an express lift to Heaven. Sounds really good, right? The fact is that abortion, as horrid as it may seem to certain people, is not only the humane thing to do in most cases, it is also a way to get more people into Heaven if you believe in that sort of thing. Christians are helping Hell, both on Earth and in the hereafter, when they seek to force women to be mothers against their will. 

There’s two other things mentioned above that need just a little more attention as they pertain to Christians being perpetually conned by Republicans into voting for them or thinking that they are “pro-life.” The first regards healthcare and food, shelter, and education of children after they are born. The record proves that Republicans are ALWAYS trying to roll back or do away with these things and the programs that make them more accessible, especially as they pertain to poor families and people of color. They love babies so much that they just can’t help themselves to neglect them after they are born. “Those lazy, degenerate, welfare queens are just trying to game the system!” It is utter hypocrisy.

Then there is all the other evil that well-meaning Pro-Life Christians let in the door with their vote for Republicans. Like I said before, pick a topic: gun right(s), environmentalism, education, immigration, the death penalty, affordable healthcare, etc. Republicans are on the side of evil, abuse, death, and worshipping money (“the economy”) on every level, every time. They have sided against Jesus and against life, not with them. If Christian voters actually cared about children, you would think that maybe they’d be a little smarter about it, be more consistent with what they claim to believe, and vote against Republicans rather than for them. 

We may be waiting awhile given how common it is for evangelicals to be utterly brainwashed by their leaders into fearing “The Left,” mainstream media, and Demon-crats in general. It’s very sad. I cannot stand the evangelical tendency to incorporate militaristic language into their faith and songs (“Onward Christian Soldiers!”), but the fact is that they have been conned into thinking they are fighting cultural “battles” for Jesus. The reality is that they’re losing the “war” by demonstrating their gullibility and hypocrisy, thereby turning off millions of people who might otherwise be interested in the biblical Jesus who truly cares about life in all its aspects. My prayer for these people is that they would indeed become one-issue voters, and that this “one-issue” would be to take Jesus seriously.

For a change.

-Corbin

Posted in My Core Beliefs | 3 Comments

Deconstructing a Typical Gunutter Argument

I frequently talk about gun violence in a variety of places. I also repeatedly attract #gunutters who want to shut me down. They never succeed. Of course sometimes I excuse myself from the conversation when an opponent proves to be incapable of sustaining a rational, intelligent, or cordial dialog, but I count that as a loss for them, not me.

At any rate, it is common knowledge that the state government in Virginia, under the leadership of Governor Ralph Northam, was handed to the Democrats in the autumn of 2019. One of the issues these elected candidates pledged to so something about is the issue of our out-of-control gun violence. They delivered in January of 2020 with seven bills that focused on gun safety including improving background checks and a red-flag law that temporarily removes guns from those prone to violence, especially domestic violence. Bravo, Virginia. And thank you.

But this blog entry is devoted to a sort of yay-guns argument and criticism that gunutters inevitably respond with when any type of meaningful action to reduce firearm violence is taken. I only mention the situation in Virginia because it proved to provide the crucible for the comments (below) that I found and responded to on Twitter.

First, we have Governor Northam himself, properly cheering an agenda item that he has felt responsible to address and promote, namely, doing something about gun violence:

SS 1

Then, as always, a yay-guns troll emerged:

Screen Shot 2020-01-31 at 12.21.53 PMThis Tweeter, Scott Jackson @sjbr549, provides a classic example of a straw-man fallacy, or the informal logic miscue that attempts to assign and rebut an argument that was never made by the opposition in the first place. Neither Governor Northam nor the Virginia state legislature has mandated that its citizens hand in all their guns. This meme is nothing more than an effort to change the subject and get the gunutters all riled up and laugh at the allegedly unstable government. Ha ha.

Another Tweeter mentioned out that Scott totally missed the point (which is more or less true), at which point the feature Twitter user I want to highlight jumped in, “John Crenshaw Sometimes Jack Pierce” @nostalgicragehq:

SS 3

@nostalgicragehq John Crenshaw provides a link to the 1970 Kent State Massacre Wikiepdia entry.  His argument here seems to be that the 1970 Kent State University shootings of unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard during a mass protest proves that we cannot trust government agents with guns. So I thought it only fair to respond to @nostalgicragehq:

SS4

Four students were killed (and nine more seriously injured) at the Kent State Massacre. If John’s argument is that this people-with-guns body count is too high (and I agree), and that since it was done at the hands of government officials (also true), then we cannot trust government actors with guns (somewhat doubtful).

But ok, fair enough. I don’t think that one serious mistake by the government means that we can never trust the gov’t any more than one act of amazing altruism and benevolence means that we can always trust a government, but I understand the sentiment. The problem is that it’s just not that simple.

But more to the point, if we can’t trust folks with guns because 4 innocent college students were killed, then it’s only fair to say that more than 30,000 citizens dead from non-military gun violence EVERY SINGLE YEAR for the last 20+ years must also be taken into account. The reality is that the USA has lost more of its citizens to domestic gun violence than ALL of our service men and women in ALL of our wars COMBINED since the founding of our nation (and including the Revolutionary War). But of course these facts don’t fit John’s narrative, so rather than acknowledge the logic problem he painted himself into a corner with, @nostalgicragehq fired back with this:

SS5

Here’s where John plods into utterly predictable gunutter la-la land. Rather than dealing with the fact that his argument just got owned and exposed, John misses the point and tries to change the subject. He claims that I am doubling the gun-related murder rate. Unfortunately for John, I never mentioned gun-murders. I mentioned the more than 30,000 U.S. citizens who die (let alone all those who are seriously injured) at the end of a gun’s barrel. And I didn’t double it. In fact, as I alluded to, the number is actually higher than the 30,000 I mentioned. Fail #1

Similarly, it is typical for the yay-guns crowd to pretend that somehow suicide by gun doesn’t count as gun violence and/or that somehow we should trust suicidal people with guns. It’s mind boggling. Fail #2 and #3, and that’s just @nostalgicragehq’s first sentence.

Then he moves to another classic gunutter “argument” that more than 30,000 dead people from gun violence in a country of over 300 million just isn’t that big of a deal. This is patently stupid prima facie, but it also totally undercuts @nostalgicragehq’s original argument about the 4 dead students at Kent State in 1970. John apparently wants us to believe that 30,000+ dead is insignificant, but that 4 dead is proof of something. Fail #4 for @nostalgicragehq.

He tries to further change the subject with his third sentence about homicides with a rifle. Once again this is an adventure in completely missing the point. Like other gunutters, he desperately wants to shift the subject away from his failed argument and towards any number of other red-herrings that he thinks he knows something about. But to stay on-point myself, I didn’t mention murders or rifles, just tens of thousands of folks who are gunned down by people with guns. John fail #5.

I thought it fair to tell @nostalgicragehq that he completely missed the point, hoping that just maybe he would take time to reflect on the poor argument he tried to push. As usual, getting a gunutter to reflect thoughtfully proved to be more difficult than it should’ve been:

SS6

Continuing to completely miss the point, John doubles down on his failures and also tries to tack on some insults. He claims that I am ignorant and/or mistaken about how many of our citizens die from gun violence each year, but I am citing well established fact. His further efforts at insulting me, pondering if I am merely inept or lying, is only that much more embarrassing. He simply has no idea what he’s talking about, but like other gunutters, he’d rather try to insult his betters than learn anything. So predictable.

In summary, let’s review a few of the typical gunutter strategies:

1) They love to make use of the straw-man fallacy by attacking an argument that their opponent never made.

2) They never acknowledge that their arguments are failures.

3) They will purposefully ignore (or unwittingly miss) their opposition’s points.

4) They will desperately try to change the subject and/or throw red-herrings in the way.

5) They will inevitably try to cover their ignorance and failed arguments by insulting their opposition.

There are other argumentative failures that people will stumble into, but @nostalgicragehq hit all of the above highlights in just three tweets. I’m tempted to say it’s impressive, but it’s not. It is sad.

 

Postlude

There are some who will say that calling gun owners “gunutters” is condescending, as is the tone of some of my blog posts on guns. This is a partial truth. I am condescending to idiots who cannot think for themselves and whose best efforts rarely transcend mere name calling.

But YOU are calling people names with ‘gunutter!’ my critics will retort. Yes, that is true, but this is not all gun owners. I know some reasonably intelligent people who own guns, store them properly -unloaded- (every time), don’t let anyone “play” with them, advocate for reasonable gun laws, have zero problem with limiting things like silencers, high-capacity magazines, etc. and who would peaceably give up their guns if the law asked them to do so. These folks are NOT gunutters. They are RESPONSIBLE gun owners. We need more of them, not less, and I would never try to insult them. No, the gunutters are those who think that more than 30,000 dead people per year from gun violence are insignificant. They’re the ones who oppose any and all reasonable efforts to mitigate gun violence, or any and all efforts to limit the types of guns and ammunitions available for them. These are the folks who try and tell us that guns make us all safer or are a “God-given right,” or that gun control means that the government is about to engage in genocide against their citizens. These are the voices that call for civil war or think that they and their band of basement bubbas could successfully take on the United States Armed Forces, and that the majority of Americans would support these Quixotic delusions. But most often, The Gunutter is represented by the lonely, angry guy on Twitter who constructs poor arguments, swallows propaganda with nary a thought, tries to insult folks, and does it all while generally making a fool of himself without ever even realizing that he’s done exactly that. It is truly a testament to the power of the gun industry, its lobbyists, and gullible American citizens who can’t (or won’t) engage in some critical thinking.

Meanwhile the gun-related blood in the streets continues to flow.

Make America Great Again.

Posted in Guns, Politics | Leave a comment

Stand-Your-Ground Laws, the NRA and GOP (vs. Jesus)

I’ve been reading through Facebook comments people have made regarding the recent, Florida “stand your ground” killing. As per the usual, people either recognize that something is deeply wrong with the situation or they say that the murdered person had it coming. I deeply appreciate those who are offended by this violence and have found certain commenters’ efforts at defending the killer to be appalling. As a vocal critic of our nation’s insane gun-culture, I agree with those voices. Stand-Your-Ground killings are absolutely astounding and disgusting. And they should be, especially if you like to call yourself a Christian.

I thought about leaving additional comments here or there on the various social-media threads, but I have no interest in debating pro-gunners who I do not know and have no relationship with. Because, you know, Facebook. But since I mostly write to myself on the blog (and the occasional like-minded soul in a troubled world), I thought I’d turn it into a blog post.

The issue (and insanity) of the Florida killing is the Stand-Your-Ground law, which means that regardless of where you are, as long as you can legally be there, you are authorized to use deadly force in a fight. ANY fight as long as you feel threatened, even if no physical contact has happened. This means that if someone even yells at you or “acts” menacing, you are protected by law to use deadly force. You can literally pick a fight with someone, and if they fight back, you can shoot and kill them under the guise of self-defense without legal repercussions. We’ve seen this before in Florida, perhaps most notoriously with Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager who was confronted and killed in his own neighborhood by a gun-toting neighbor.

Until the Republican Party / GOP and the NRA developed and started pushing Stand-Your-Ground laws, there were two common law precedents covering situations like this. Thank God, most states still operate with these precedents (for now), but the first of these is usually known as the “castle doctrine” which protects folks like homeowners who use deadly force against intruders. You, as the homeowner, have a legal right to be in your property, and thus no obligation to retreat, whereas the intruder does not have any right to be there and is therefore subject to any force the rightful occupant uses. Rightful claims under this common law also include defense of self and others when no other safe option is available.

Prima facie, this almost sounds just like Stand-Your-Ground laws, but here is the difference: under common law, outside of the so-called castle doctrine, you also have an “obligation to retreat” if you can do so safely. So if someone screams at you and shoves you, you are legally obligated to walk away if you can do so safely. In this system, deadly force can ONLY be used as a last resort when ALL other options have been exhausted. Not so with Stand-Your-Ground laws, which eliminate the obligation to retreat. Perhaps you’ve seen the NRA bumper stickers “Stand and Fight.” This is code and advocacy of Stand-Your-Ground laws. Obviously I think that is a mistake, which will inevitably lead to more gun violence and killings. The recent Florida thing pretty much proves the point. I know it goes against our testosterone-fueled rage at being disrespected or threatened, and it certainly cuts against the human propensity and thirst for revenge, but it is nevertheless our obligation as civilized humans and Christians (where applicable) to simply get over ourselves and walk away.

If you’ve ever read much of anything else on my blog, then you know my general disposition towards Republican dogma and what I consider to be our nation’s fetish with guns, violent gun culture, and misapplication of the 2nd Amendment. I take full ownership of that branding, but what I’ve written above is simply not political spin on my part. The fact is that the GOP and the NRA have been (and still are) consistent pushers of Stand-Your-Ground laws in multiple states. They are responsible for the law’s passage in Florida and other states, especially red-states, and they are trying to push it in as many places as possible.

If you’ve come to suspect anything I’ve written, I invite you to do some research. If you find reasonably objective sources and avoid the propaganda mills from either side of the spectrum, I am confident that what I’ve said above will be affirmed. I am equally persuaded that everything below this sentence is accurate, but I also understand that what comes below could be considered political “spin” by some. I believe in full-disclosure, so there it is, but I think that what follows is still reliably accurate and verifiable at points.

It seems to me that the GOP (writ large) is so willing to promote and vote for Stand-Your-Ground laws, especially in red states, because there is a LOT of money to be distributed by the NRA and their gun industry backers to sympathetic politicians. Similarly, gun-right and gun culture are linchpin issues for millions of conservative voters (just as is abortion), so if GOP candidates can manipulate your emotions and whip up the base against the fear of criminals, gangbangers, immigrants, and liberals (who supposedly want to come and take their guns away), then these politicians can lock-in their re-election bids. If you’ve not heard about it, the NRA always publishes a score-card to its members on who to vote for, and getting an A-grade requires full-on support of NRA agenda items like Stand-Your-Ground laws, legalization of silencers, bump-stocks, and other murderous “tools.” It’s an easy thing to go for if all you care about is money and staying in power rather than the safety of your citizens.

If you are deeply troubled by the Florida killing, it seems that you and I are both aligned in our disbelief and taking offense at the situation. I just wanted to take the time to point out why Stand-Your-Ground (and Republican support) is so problematic as much as I wanted encourage people to speak out against it and vote against the NRA and ANY political candidate who pushes for adopting/strengthening such misguided laws. These laws and other NRA agenda items are not good for people or our nation, and most importantly, they do not align with the cause of Christ, particularly when it comes to things like “turning the cheek” and loving our enemies and neighbors as ourselves. If you actually believe what Jesus said, then it is your responsibility to resist the NRA agenda and violence provoking Stand-Your-Ground laws. There is no other, non-hypocritical option.

Thanks for reading me.

-Corbiniu-1

Posted in Guns, Politics | 2 Comments

Stop Calling Jesus a Socialist (Unless You’re Into Things Like Reality)

Socialism gets slapped with a pretty bad reputation in conservative circles, and that’s putting it nicely. Most of us have seen people rant and rave about it and post skewed memes on social media here and there. To be fair, if we only consider a definition of socialism that limits it to the worst and most extreme examples (vis à vis communism), then its negative reputation is probably deserved. Untitled 3 symbpls.jpeg.jpegI wouldn’t exactly hold China or the former Soviet Union up as examples for us to emulate. Nevertheless, the United States and its application of capitalism deserves criticism too. Whether we are able to admit it or not, capitalism has major problems, especially if you aren’t in the top 10% of our nation’s wealthiest individuals, and all the more so if you aren’t in the top 1%. Be that as it may, it wouldn’t be fair to throw out the worst examples of socialism and then press a case against the worst examples of capitalism. The reality is that both capitalism and socialism have embarrassing and praiseworthy examples that ought to be avoided and embraced at different points. But as much fun as it would be to explore the details, nuances, and anecdotal virtues of each economic model, the purpose here is to advance socialism as the model which best reflects the biblical ethic of an entire community looking after a society’s most vulnerable people.

The underlying principle of socialism is that the whole community is responsible for making sure that the marginalized (e.g., the poor, the disenfranchised, the sick, disabled, elderly, widow, immigrant, child and orphan) are cared for, not merely on a subsistence level, but on a level that anyone else would want for themselves and members of their immediate family. Is there any support for this type of arrangement in the Bible? Yes. Lots of it.

In the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures, from the major prophets through the minors and to the end of the texts, it is when the Jews continually neglect their society’s most vulnerable members and focus only on building fortunes, power, and prestige of the privileged that God momentarily gives up on them and lets the Assyrians and then the Babylonians destroy Israel and Judah.

The Old Testament also commands that debts be cancelled and that property and lands be returned to their original owners after a specified number of years so that people get both a fresh start and the resources to engage in a successful livelihood once again. In our day, that would be like telling Monsanto that they had a good run taking over family farms, but now they had to give them all back, or saying to Texas that it was time to return the southern half of the state back to its rightful owners (the Mexicans), or to the rest of the Western hemisphere that it finally had to make things right with the Native Americans. And if we refuse, that’s fine, God won’t force us, but there will be consequences. Specifically, we’ll be kicked out of the land ourselves. In an oversimplification, that’s pretty much what happened in the Holy Land in the second half of the Old Testament.

Then we get to the Jesus days in the gospels. And Jesus don’t play nice with the selfish big-deals of his day either, namely, those with wealth and prestige. He has a lot of very critical things to say to (and about) the “haves,” especially regarding how they treat their wealth and the “have-nots.” One of the more shocking moments in the New Testament is when Jesus loses his temper in the Temple courts after he sees entrepreneurs capitalizing on a vulnerable constituency (price gouging poor folks who didn’t have the means to bring their own temple sacrifices/offerings). If you don’t know the story, Jesus kicks over their tables and in no uncertain terms tells them to get the F out of the Temple. Occupy that! It’s beautiful.

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Jesus also commands that his people love their neighbors as themselves, and he doesn’t make any exceptions based on how much money or resources anyone does or does not possess. Jesus also seemed to think that everyone should have free access to food and healthcare as he fed and healed everyone who came to him. No insurance or proof of citizenship required.

After the hippy-dippy liberal Jesus and the gospels we get to the New Testament book of Acts, which chronicles the formation of the church after Jesus’ resurrected departure. In verses 4.32-35 of that book we get an unmistakeable endorsement of an economic model identical to socialism. Seriously, listen to what it says:

Acts 4.32-35Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (NRSV).

This scarcely requires additional commentary, and if readers were to continue with their Bible reading, they would discover an alarming end to this endorsement of socialism which includes a story of two Christians who decided to keep some resources to themselves while trying to persuade everyone else that they had given all. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well for them.

Of course I get it that my blog post’s title is an eyebrow raiser. Any Bible interpreter worth her salt should bristle at drafting Jesus to a contemporary economic or political platform. I also understand that for Christians, it is our ideologies and systems that should be conformed to the mind of Christ rather than pressing him into service of ours. Nevertheless, it’s imperative to ask which of our contemporary options best reflect biblical values, particularly when it comes to honoring the most vulnerable and disadvantaged or “least of these,” in the words of Jesus. It’s pretty obvious to me that the strongest case can be made not for capitalism, but for socialism, especially if it’s a less extreme and more nuanced brand like the one that Bernie Sanders advocates for.

I mention Bernie Sanders because what inspired this blog entry in the first place was a conservative article I came across attempting a take-down of him and progressive Christians’ understanding that Sanders’ socialism reflects a New Testament ethic. I’ll spend more time on the anti-Sanders article as an addendum in the comments section, but let me reiterate my present argument and line of reasoning for the claim that Jesus and the entire Bible best aligns with socialism over and against capitalism:

In view of the entire Bible (Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament), it is more accurate to say that God esteems societies which show compassion to their most vulnerable and powerless members rather than those which do not. In terms of socialism vs. capitalism we should ask which type of government and economic model honors God the most: one which mandates that even its wealthiest, most hard-hearted, and selfish members make significant contributions to care for the least of their society, or one that simply rewards misers for being misers and asks nothing of them concerning the plight of the least of their fellow creatures? Christian Scripture and reason tell anyone willing to set aside their biases that socialism comes much closer to a biblical ethic and the person of Jesus than does its rival.

I am certain that critical voices have more than a few criticisms of my argument, so for those willing to go further, I’ve included some of the common objections I have heard (along with my rebuttals). These are culled from real conversations I’ve had with conservative Christians.

Happy reading.

-Corbin

Responding to Objections:

Objection 1: “Acts 4:32-37 is not an example of a political governmental system. It is individual members of a church acting voluntarily. The giving featured in this passage was out of changed hearts, not governmental edict.”

Rebuttal: The question is about which of our contemporary options best reflects a biblical ethic. It would be odd for Christians to argue that an economic model reflecting a biblical ethic should be rejected just because a government has adopted it, especially when that government is itself an extension of the peoples’ will.

 

Objection 2: Socialism violates New Testament calls for believers to give cheerfully without coercion. Instead, socialism forces people to give thereby impinging on their ability to determine what, how, and when to give.

Rebuttal: The Bible asks people to give cheerfully, but it does not imply that being grumpy releases them from the obligation to give. To suggest otherwise is a misunderstanding of Scripture.

Furthermore, participating in a socialistic economy and mandating that a portion of taxes and resources support the poor and disadvantaged does not alter nor impinge upon a Christian’s call to give freely or cheerfully at all. The fact is that giving voluntarily and sending a portion of taxes to assistance programs are not mutually exclusive endeavors. Liberty is not sacrificed, and generosity is not eliminated. If a Christian’s voluntary and cheerful giving evaporates just because some of their tax dollars go to the disadvantaged, then the problem is with that Christian, not the system they participate in.

 

Objection 3: Where does God tell his followers to advocate for specific forms of government? iu-3.jpeg

Rebuttal: I wish conservative types would remember this objection every time they try to tell us that the United States is a “Christian nation.” Nevertheless, its question implies an argument from silence. We might as well ask: Where does God tell his people that they should not advocate for specific forms of government? It strains credibility to imagine that Christians claiming to value the marginalized should not want their government to reflect their values on some level, even if theocracy is not in view.

 

Objection 4: Socialism requires that Christians transfer the moral dependency of faith onto government. There aren’t any biblical examples of this.

Rebuttal: Of course there aren’t any biblical examples of people transferring moral dependency to the government. The objection is a misunderstanding of socialism. Socialism does not require that a Christian (or anyone else) becomes morally dependent on the government, either for giving or for receiving.

 

Objection 5: Due to corruption, there is still unequal wealth in socialist economies. It just so happens that the ones with the wealth are likely to be those in power or those in favor with people in power.

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Rebuttal: Socialism, especially that which is promoted by Bernie Sanders, does not mandate “equal wealth.” It requires that the wealthy and the society as a whole take responsibility for the marginalized and vulnerable.

If this objection were actually concerned about corruption, slavery, and wealth being married to power, then the same complaint ought to be levied against capitalism, which arguably makes the wealth-power-corruption combination much more egregious, especially considering the supreme court case that allows unlimited and anonymous dark money to flow into political campaigns (Citizens United).

 

Objection 6: Socialism leads to the “haves” being bitter and eventually deciding that hard work isn’t worth it. 

Rebuttal: It strains credibility to believe that a couple in the top 10% of earners in our nation (making $240k per year or more) would decide that it’s not “worth it,” and choose instead to become welfare recipients.Ignoring the fact that most people on welfare don’t have the ability to make the opposite choice, even these top earners will benefit from the socialist program Medicare when they hit a certain age.

It should also be pointed out that IRS brackets only tax the portion of income at certain levels which exceed minimum amounts. If that makes your head spin, what that meant in 2016 is that a couple in a 35% tax bracket only pays 35% in taxes on the amount they make over $413,351. So if they make 413,352 dollars in one year, the only money subject to a 35% tax rate is $1, and it would still be in their best interests to make that lonely extra dollar because it would add $0.65 to their bottom line. In that sense, it’s in this couple’s best interests to keep making more and more money until a maximal tax rate exceeds 49.9% (which we don’t even have in the USA).

 

Objection 7: Socialism leads to the “have nots” becoming entitled and spoiled and thinking that they shouldn’t have to work at all. 

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Rebuttal: Claiming that all disadvantaged people will become “spoiled” fails to connect with reality, namely, that most people who are able to work and improve their situations do exactly that when they have the opportunity. Focusing on the extreme “welfare kings” steps into a logical fallacy known informally as the hasty generalization, which tries to convince people that since some individuals fit this description, everyone else must as well. They don’t, thus the argument fails.

This objection further implies that all social assistance programs should be ended just because a minority of people abuse the system. I wonder if these same objectors would argue that capitalism should be ended becauseof its worst abusers. I suspect not, and that raises a consistency issue which in itself raises concerns about conservative Christians’ priorities.

 

Objection 8: Where does Jesus say, when you see a person in need, find someone in government to help them? It is the Christian’s job to serve the needy, not the government’s, and capitalism itself has allowed Christians infinitely more resources to help the needy than they would have under socialism.

Rebuttal: This is almost a valid point when it comes to Christians’ orders to serve the needy (cheerfully or otherwise), but the objection fails to apprehend the unmet needs of our reality. If everyone’s needs were already being met, then the government simply wouldn’t have anything to do. Unfortunately, the vast needs and inequality created in our present economic system are greater than the individual Christian or church can address, especially when not everyone is giving of their resources (in the church or external to it).  Yes, capitalism allows for civically-minded individuals to take up the plight of the disadvantaged with more resources, but it also releases selfish types from bearing any responsibility whatsoever. The problems of this are manifest in our world today. Similarly, using this argument to promote capitalism fails to take into account problems created by capitalism. It makes zero sense for capitalism to get any credit at all for solving the very problems it created, especially when the problems exponentially outweigh its sporadic and anecdotal solutions. This would be like the fossil fuel industry patting themselves on the back and claiming that they were “environmentalists” because they helped finance the clean-up of a massive oil spill. Fail.

By contrast, the advantage of socialism is that it works to address needs more effectively by mandating that the entire society (both private individuals and corporations), is responsible for its most vulnerable people. Nobody gets to check-out on this responsibility. I would think that Christians who actually care about the poor being served would be glad to have others (even the government) join their mission to serve.

The better question to address this objection is: “Do you really think that if no individuals are helping a person in need, then Jesus would recommend that the government ought to ignore them too, and that Christians should vote against any  efforts to do otherwise?Is that really what so-called “Christians” ought to want? It strains credibility. Again, the Bible is clear that God favors societies that look after their most vulnerable neighbors.

 

Objection 9: Socialism forces people to surrender goods and services and undermines the most basic right to liberty and self determination.

Rebuttal: This objection confuses socialism with its worst and more extreme version, communism. The type of socialism advocated by Bernie Sanders does not involve anything like confiscating peoples’ good and services. Constructing a caricature of socialism and trying to refute that instead of the actual thing being considered is an informal logical fallacy by definition. This is commonly referred to as a straw-man argument, and it renders this objection irrelevant.

The same can be said of the objection that socialism “undermines the most basic right to liberty and self determination.” Not only is this false, its exact opposite is true. Socialism enables the most vulnerable members of society to be free from fear of losing their housing, having enough to eat, worrying about medical needs or having to choose between their children and their jobs. Because people are not enslaved by these basic needs, they are better equipped to pursue liberty and self-determination under socialism.

 

Objection 10: When does God call believers to force people who don’t share their faith to act like believers? 

Rebuttal: Democratic socialism (a la Bernie Sanders) should not be confused with theocracy or the forcing of non-believers to live according to Christianity. The only thing left for this objection to focus on is the socialist mandate that resources (taxes) be collected from everyone, even the unwilling, in order to provide assistance to a society’s most vulnerable people. It has to be pointed out, however, that while care for the have-nots is included within “Christian” values, it is not a uniquely Christian value any more than are laws against murder. Nobody argues that banning murder is forcing Christian morality on the government or its people. This is not to say that murder and charity are moral equivalents, but rather that they have something in common, namely, that they are God-honoring and marks of good governance that Christians (and everyone else of good will) ought to want regardless of what religious views they or others hold. It is a human value that everyone should encourage their government to pursue.

Again, no sane person laments that Christians are imposing their religious doctrines on the government when that authority outlaws murder or makes efforts to alleviate hunger, homelessness, and lack of education and medical care. No beneficiary of these laws and services shouts out, “Curse those Christians forcing their values on me!” Unfortunately, the opposite is not true. When conservative capitalist Christians fail to meet the needs of their fellow humans and simultaneously push an agenda that refuses to let the government help, they are rightly seen as hypocrites, and they bring disgrace to the very values they claim to profess.

Speaking of hypocrisy, an inconsistency came to light in a recent discussion on Facebook regarding this topic. As indicated in the objection above, some Christians believe that other Christians’ voting for Bernie Sanders (on the basis of his socialism) are wrong for trying to force the value of caring for the disadvantaged on non-Christians. As I’ve already pointed out, the imperative to serve the poor is not unique to Christianity, but the issue with consistency here is that these same voices are quick to claim that it is important to vote according to their so-called “Christian” values when it comes to opposing same-sex marriage and abortion. Using their version of faith as an excuse to deny gay people equal rights and force women to have children against their will seems perfectly acceptable, but as soon as it comes to requiring a society to take corporate responsibility for its already-born vulnerable and disadvantaged neighbors, they suddenly change their minds and declare such faith-based governance to be inappropriate. There is only one word for this: Hypocrisy.

Final Thoughts:

I cannot help but wonder that conservative Christians go to great lengths to denounce socialism because, perhaps subconsciously, they know it calls out their duplicity for what it is. Whether they can allow themselves to acknowledge it or not, I’d like to think that the most reflective conservative Christians are intelligent enough to know their fealty to political and economic power at the expense of others cuts against the entire trajectory of the Bible, from Moses through major and minor prophets, right on through the gospels to the end of Revelation. Nowhere does Jesus or the Bible esteem an economic system anything like capitalism.

The same can be said of the Bible’s assessment of good governments. Nowhere does it esteem military and business interests or reinforce our modern notions about personal liberties or rugged individualism. Nowhere in the Bible are these things prioritized over and against the health, vitality, and basic human rights of its people and their neighbors, especially those who are not wealthy, nor powerful, nor natural born Israelites. No, without equivocation the economic systems the Bible does advocate are quite similar to what we would call “socialism” in our own linguistic parlance. There are a plethora of Scriptures that make this case, but one need not look any further than the previously referenced Acts 4.32-35 to see the clearest example. Conservative evangelical Christian types might not like socialism, but that has more to do with their political and economic dogma than it does with Jesus and the Bible.

Thanks for reading me,

-C. Lambeth

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Special thanks to J. Black for providing the Bernie Sanders .gif video.

Posted in Politics, Questions for Christians, Theology | 21 Comments

Trump and Obama are Not Equal Opposites

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It’s an unmistakeable trend in conservative political commentary to assert that Trump is merely the answer to Obama. Some of these folks simply hated Obama and couldn’t get rid of him, and now they like to say it’s progressives’ time to suffer the same. Unfortunately, claiming that the Obama era was just as sufferable for conservatives as is the Trump era for progressives indicates a mind-baffling disconnection from reality. One may not have liked Obama’s policies, but policy alone is not the problem here. Trump and Obama are not equal and opposite political forces. No. The unending corruption-quagmire that is @realDonaldTrump is not limited to policy differences. It is preeminently a character issue and rejection and re-labeling of reality as “fake news.” It is utter contempt for truth, honesty, integrity, transparency and humility. It is plain, self-serving corruption. It is a willingness to say anything and then cheat the very people who so easily believed his words and voted for him. No. In order for him to be a worthy and equally potent “answer” to Obama, Trump would have to be intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable, honest, and have at least a modicum of integrity irrespective of political differences. In that sense, Obama and Trump are not equal political opposites. At all. Of course a person can believe that former President Obama is of a similar deplorable intelligence and character as Trump, but making such claims requires more than simplistic accusations and feelings. It requires evidence of equal weight and quantity, and it is incumbent upon political conservatives to support their claims if they want critical thinkers to take them seriously. I don’t think conservatives  can (or that most would even dare to try), but of course I remain committed to following the best evidence wherever it leads.

Unfortunately, Trump is not the source of the rot in present American politics. He is a symptom. Trump merely (and successfully) tapped into an issue that has been brewing in the United States.  People who voted for Trump are the source of this problem, especially those who still uncritically support him and construct mindless arguments to excuse him. The problem is an ongoing willingness of any voter to give Trump a pass on his behavior, language, and character. People who have happily sacrificed truth and justice when it doesn’t suit their purposes and desires are the problem. People who fail to think critically about narratives which play into their fears, prejudices, greed, and political loyalties are the problem. People whose entire defense of Trump consists of pivoting towards Hillary, or Obama, or Al Gore, or Nancy Pelosi, or liberals… these people are the problem.

If we, both as a nation and as individuals, actually want to become “great,” it absolutely requires a renewed, serious, and unlimited commitment to truth, integrity, and accountability for ourselves and our President (as well as all offices and branches of power that govern us). It requires that we take responsibility for our own poor choices, gullibility, and prejudices, and that we work hard to correct them. It requires that we recognize and reject the fallacy of false equivalency or the belief that opposing viewpoints are equally valid, even if one side is objectively true and the other is not. It is past time for us, both collectively and as individuals, to decide that we are going to grow up, take responsibility for the problems WE have created (or at least enabled), call them out, and fix them.

Given the current state of affairs, willful ignorance, and electoral tribalism, I have almost no hope that we will be able to do that. Ultimately, I can only take responsibility for my own behavior (and I will continue to do just that to the best of my ability), but I hope that others will join me in a rejection of political insanity and delusion. At present (and at voting time), that requires a rejection of Donald Trump and any other candidate of any party who preys on our willingness to trash reality, truth, and integrity for political power. Trump is merely a symptom of the problem that is us. We must do better.

-CL

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Posted in My Core Beliefs | 3 Comments

I Wasn’t Just Wrong About @RealDonaldTrump. I Was Wrong About America.

What is something that you thought you knew, but turned out to be completely wrong about? This is one of the many glorious segments featured on my new, favorite podcast, Make Me Smart, featuring the hosts from APM’s Marketplace radio broadcast, Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood. On the February 7th edition of their new show, the hosts posed this question to Gloria Calderon Kellet, the co-creator of the rebooted series on Netflix, “One Day at a Time.”

For her answer to the question, Kellet described an experience related to her failed presidential election party wherein she and her friends gathered to witness what they believed would be the election the first woman President. As we all know, Hillary Clinton did not win, and Kellet says that her and her friends’ election-night bewilderment was a symptom of the problem of living and breathing in what she described as an “echo chamber” that merely reflected her own Progressive political beliefs back at her. She “knew” Clinton would win, and yet was shockingly wrong in this “knowledge.” We might also describe this metaphorically as being in a bubble wherein she only heard, saw, and read exactly what she wanted to, which, in this case, led her to “know” something that was completely wrong. Because the vast majority of her friends and social media contacts are forward-leaning when it comes to politics, Kellet said that she came to think and feel what everyone else in her circle was thinking and feeling. As a byproduct, she also began to presume that this held true for the majority of the electorate. It didn’t. In retrospect, Kellet realized that she had become profoundly unaware of what was happening in other parts of the country, especially in so-called Trump Territory. Her takeaway was that she, as well as the rest of her fellow citizens (Democratic and Republican), need to make efforts at rising out of their own echo-chambers to take a close look at what is happening elsewhere, as well as at what different-minded people are thinking.

Of course Ms. Kellet is right. We ought not surround ourselves with proverbial Yes-Men who only show and tell exactly what we want to see and hear. We absolutely need to be in authentic and polite conversations with those who have different perspectives and worldviews. We must practice active listening with others rather than merely waiting for our turn to speak, and perhaps most importantly, we must be able to say, “I understand,” before we can ever begin to say, “I disagree.”  I try to embody this as best as I can (at least in my better moments). Sadly, this is not the standard in our nut-ball political culture. Not even close. I don’t need to go into details with anyone who has spent anytime at all on the web or dared to read any of the entries in any given “comments” section. If you’re reading this blog entry  chances are good that you already know something serious is amiss with our ability to listen and effectively engage in civil discourse.

Be that as it may, I only partially agree with Ms. Kellet’s assessment. Of course we need to do better at hearing the opposition when it comes to things like religion and politics (especially when politics IS our religion), but it was neither my own political echo-chamber nor my ignorance of the Trump contingency that led to my bewilderment on the eve of the 2016 presidential election. Of course I had underestimated the shear volume of Trump’s supporters, but the horror I experienced that night was not because I had blocked out the insanity of Fox News, surrounded myself with Progressives, or had dared to put confidence in the website predictions from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com. Of course each of these moves reinforced my convictions that Clinton would win, but they were not the source of those convictions themselves. Nor was it my belief that Liberal political values are generally better aligned with my followership and understanding of Jesus and that progressive politics generally has the weight of justice and care for “the least of these” behind it. Again, these things helped reinforce my belief that Clinton would win, but they were not the source of that conviction.

No. The true source of my belief regarding the outcome of the election had almost nothing to do with my political leanings but rather my faith in humanity itself. I was so convinced that people, if they were paying any attention at all, would recognize who and what Donald Trump actually was, and that they would intuitively know that he was unfit to lead a high school girl’s basketball team, much less usurp the role of Commander in Chief. I dared to make the mistake of believing that it’s not how much money one has or what a person can build or buy or say that counts, but rather the content of one’s character and their commitment to the truth. Time after time after time, @RealDonaldTrump revealed himself to have unspeakably horrible character and a zealous willingness to engage in pathological lying whenever it suited his purposes. He would literally say anything, out of both sides of his mouth (pending the respective audiences), and then not even bother trying to conceal his duplicity. He proved to be a racist, a sexist, and a cheat who preyed upon anyone and everyone who gave him opportunity. He would insult and demonize anyone, including his political rivals, immigrants, women, the disabled, and especially any judges, investigative reporters, and journalists who dared to call Trump’s lies and generally horrible behavior into question. In light of all this (and more), I thought to myself, “There is no way anyone who values truth, character, and integrity could ever vote for Trump.” I believed that whatever else we might’ve been tempted to say about Hillary’s questionable use of a private email server, there was simply no comparison between that gaff, which she ultimately took ownership of, and Trump’s never-ending onslaught of excrement, deceit, and general moral turpitude. In short, I thought I knew that most Americans, regardless of their respective affiliations, were people who valued integrity and honesty, and certainly that they valued these more than a political candidate who would flagrantly spurn them. Oh how mistaken I was.

The lasting and unsettling sting I continue to feel in the post Trump-election is not just because I was wrong about who I believed would win the Office of the President, but because I was wrong about America. I have lost a lot of faith in my fellow Americans, at least around 50 Million of them, and all the more so when a majority of these folks would likely call themselves “Christians,” people who at the very least are supposed to be defined by their commitments to truth and love of their neighbors. So my hope has taken a major hit as well. Christian or not, when honesty, integrity, and accountability no longer matter, we are in very, very deep trouble, regardless of who happens to be in the White House.

Thanks for reading me,

-Corbin

Posted in Politics | 4 Comments

Is @realDonaldTrump Even Qualified to Be President?

2016, by far, has been the most troubling and challenging election cycle I’ve experienced. I originally harbored a certain amount of glee that the Republicans didn’t just fill their clown-car with, well… clowns, but that they ultimately decided to let Donald Trump drive. He even had the clown-hair. It was rich indeed, although not in the way Trump likes to bandy about. However, as the election has dragged on, my amusement has transitioned to bewilderment as to why Trump continues to gain popularity with certain demographics, Christians in particular. Yes, there are always a few morons who will support just about anything, but we’re talking about close to half of eligible voters in our nation. It’s not a lunatic fringe. Neither is it mere idiocy that’s driving these tens of millions of Trump voters. I don’t understand them, but it is a categorical mistake to assume that all these people are just idiots. As Trump himself likes to say, “There is something going on here.” I just have no idea what’s driving it. I am tempted to say “fear” or “basic gullibility,” but I recognize that neither of these are significant improvements over “idiocy.” So I’ve interacted with a few acquaintances to see why they support Trump, and inevitably two things come up: Trump’s alleged business acumen, and Hillary Clinton.

It’s the same thing on radio and TV: “Trump’s a great businessman, and Hillary Clinton blah, blah, blah.” Yes, there are also the odd policy proposals that resonate with some people, like Trump’s promised wall-building, refusal to act on climate change, and banning Muslims etc., but as I’ve listened to Trump speak, and seen a series of interviews with his surrogates and spokespeople, none of them are able to say anything substantive about how Trump will accomplish any of his plans, how they might be at odds with the U.S. Constitution, or why Trump’s own business dealings and foreign operations are plainly at odds with his rhetoric. Trump and his folks cannot even answer any questions about his own words or behavior without desperately trying to pivot towards Hillary Clinton. I just keep asking myself, “Who finds this guy even remotely credible?”

But I’ve been drinking the liberal Kool-Aid (and I like it), and it’s clear that millions of people, for whatever reason, find Trump to be a credible candidate, so instead of focusing on all the peripheral garbage that clings to Trump like stank on crap or his complete inability to describe how he will try to accomplish his stated purposes, the focus here is on his number one claim to credibility as a candidate for the Office of President, namely, that he’s a business person. And on that front, there are three questions that deserve the attention of anyone who believes that Trump is qualified to be President because of his experience in business. If you’re a Trump supporter, and you haven’t decided to ignore those who challenge you (nicely done!), then consider this your invitation to answer some questions. Clearly you are no moron, and you may even help me gain some insight into your voting for Trump. And if you haven’t made up your mind yet, these questions are just as relevant for your consideration:

1) Is being just a business person a sufficient qualification for someone to be President?

The primary force driving business is to turn a profit. Oftentimes, that purpose is served by making all other priorities secondary (including what might otherwise be best for its employees, the environment, and broader social contexts).  In contrast, the primary role of government is not to turn a profit (or even sell anything at all) but rather to protect and serve its people (ALL its people).*

Of course there are businesses built on merging core values with profitability. The outdoor company, Patagonia and their profitable passion for producing quality gear in environmentally sustainable ways comes to mind. I’m not suggesting that all business leaders and their enterprises are slaves to money or that they sacrifice all decency to worship at the shrine of gold, but that brings us back to Trump. His businesses don’t appear to have merged any higher values at all into his pursuit of money. In fact, it’s a pretty easy case to make that at least one of Trump’s primary business endeavors (casinos) are not even morally neutral, but rather socially questionable at best. The same can be said of Trump’s other business schemes, especially his fraudulent “University.” Trump’s businesses don’t seem to serve any purpose at all beyond making money, and that is a curious thing to make as the core “qualification” for anyone looking to engage in government service, much less the Office of President. In fact, the slavish pursuit of money at the expense of everything else is completely antithetical to the purpose and mission of good governance. It seems to me that Trump fails pretty hard by this measure.

For the sake of comparison, it’s worth mentioning that previous party candidates who ran on a business background (like Mitt Romney most recently) also had strong, relevant experience in publicly held offices. I’m no fan of Romney, but at least he was the former governor of Massachusetts. He also seems to have decent character and general values, but not Trump. Trump has never been elected to ANY public office. He doesn’t even run a publicly traded company that would otherwise be accountable to a constituency of shareholders. He has zero experience working with anyone he can’t boss around or fire.

It seems to me that if just being a business person was a sufficient qualification to run for President, then we would literally have tens of millions of qualified candidates, and that is a pretty big overstatement. Unlike Trump, even if a businessman were exceptionally honest and trustworthy, and had a spotless record of impressive profitability (and no bankruptcies), welcomed transparency and open tax-returns, had a history of paying all his bills, treating his employees and subcontractors well, supporting domestic businesses rather than relying on overseas operations and taking advantage of undocumented workers, it STILL would not mean that this experience made him qualified to be our nation’s chief diplomat, or our military’s Commander in Chief, or that he would know how to work with people he needed but could not dismiss (you know, like Senators and Supreme Court Justices, etc.).

In addition to failing in all the ways the ideal businessperson would succeed, Trump has never held elected office, knows virtually nothing about foreign affairs, domestic policy, or even the basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution or how the Office of the President works. Trump has never served in the military, never had to take orders, and has never had to work with anyone he couldn’t fire or at least manipulate or cheat out of their paycheck if he didn’t like them. And now, just because he claims to have made a lot of money, we’re supposed to take him seriously for the highest and singularly most powerful publicly elected office in the land? We’re really supposed to grant him access to our nuclear launch codes, count on him to be our chief diplomat on the world stage and put him in charge of signing legislation that impacts all U.S. citizens (the 99% who aren’t billionaires like he claims to be)? Are we really going to expect him to be able to work with the other branches of government (whom he can neither hire nor fire) to compromise and get things done? This strains a lot of credibility, and I think Trump supporters and any undecideds need to take this question very seriously. Merely being in business does not qualify one to be President.

2) Does Donald Trump run his businesses in a way that we would want applied to our government?

Pursuit of money is one of the core differences between a CEO of a private, for-profit business enterprises and the Office of the President. There is not a simple transition to one office from the other, but what about serving and protecting people? Does Trump have a record of serving and protecting people within his business operations and personal dealings? That might not seem to be a fair since Trump has never held public office and does not run a business for any purpose other than making money, but the question is absolutely relevant.

I don’t have any special insight here, but it’s enough to consider what we already know about how Trump conducts himself. He has made use of racist and sexist epithets throughout his career, most of which have surfaced during his recent presidential bid. One of the oldest ones to surface was a lawsuit that Trump settled in 1975. It was brought against him by the Department of Justice for his refusal to rent apartments to people of color in New York City. When Hillary Clinton pointed this out in a recent debate, Trump bragged that he settled the suit without having to admit any wrongdoing. Is this the kind of person we want at the helm: a racist cheat who refuses to admit wrongdoing even when caught red-handed? And the 1975 case is not the only example. Trump has been caught in lie after lie this election cycle, and he almost never apologizes. The closest we got was in the aftermath of his bragging about sexual assault on the Access Hollywood tape, in which he ultimately said he was “sorry if someone was offended” by his behavior, which is itself an underhanded move that puts the blame on someone’s reaction to his sexual misconduct rather than the conduct itself.

Additional issues indicative of billionaire-Trump’s quality are his proud remarks about gaming the system to pay zero dollars in federal income tax (how much did you pay last year?), his accusing a federal judge of bias against him for no other reason than that the judge had Mexican-American parents, his categorical denial of climate change while simultaneously preparing his golf courses for rising sea levels, Trump’s bragging that he was able to capitalize on one of the United States worst financial meltdowns in history even as millions of our citizens lost their homes, and his hypocritical sales pitches to supporters about bringing American jobs back home even as he has dozens of enterprises (including manufacturing jobs) abroad. And then we have the fraudulent “Trump University,” his systemic abuse and non-payment of contractors, investors, and debt holders. Trump also refuses transparency on his finances and has consistently made false excuses as to why he won’t release his tax returns.

I could go on about Trump’s character, how he runs his affairs, and how he treats people, but I think any moderately intelligent person can get the idea. Simply put, in addition to Trump’s lack of qualifications to lead a nation based on his status as a businessman, his character and approach to how he deals with people and runs his business is equally concerning. It seems to me that the last thing we want for our nation is to let it be run like Trump’s runs his business.

3. Is Donald Trump even good at business? 

I’ve already suggested that merely being a business person is an insufficient qualification for the presidency. I have also made a quick case that character and business ethics matter, and that Trump has a sordid and alarming history on both counts. But for the people who still aren’t quite sure, I think it’s relevant to ask if Trump is even very good at business. This is the weakest of my three questions since it is fairy obvious that Trump is a billionaire even by relatively conservative measures. It is widely speculated that he doesn’t have as many billions as he claims, but even if it’s just 1 billion, that is the equivalent of 1000 million dollars, and that is more money than 99% of the rest of us will ever have. So yeah, that pretty much means that Trump has done okay for himself and is not a fair representative of the average American citizen.

Even so, it begs to be asked, if he is such an awesome businessman, why has Trump had to declare bankruptcy no less than four times? Once is bad enough, but four? There are always extenuating circumstances for bankruptcies, but at the very least it shows that Trump is not the financial wizard that he wants everyone to believe he is.

And perhaps the even bigger question to ask regards why Trump won’t release his tax returns. There are two main reasons he might not want to, the first of which is that it may reveal a serious conflict of interests for his presidency. Odd ties to Russian subsidiaries or scandalous, poll-hurting dealings in so-called “sin” industries like pornography or arms sales are theoretical (although admittedly unlikely) possibilities. Alternatively, and this is largely speculated to be the most probable, disclosing his tax returns might reveal that Trump is not as great at business as he wants his followers to believe. This could be a real problem for Trump since he has indeed built his entire candidacy on his alleged business wits. After all, that is precisely why I put together this blog post. If Trump kind of sucks at business, and business is his only claim to legitimacy, then what’s left of his credibility?

I think it likely that Trump is no more a genius as a businessman than he is as a political outsider. Yes, he still has assets worth at least a billion dollars and probably more, and that is certainly not nothing, but assets are not the same as liquidity. No need for a deep financial discussion, but to explain the difference, let’s say you live in a $200,000 house that you own outright (paid off -good for you-). You are also a stellar budget master and have managed to save $10,000 in your savings account. Assuming no other debts or income, you technically have a net worth of $210,000, but only $10,000 of that is what is referred to as “liquid,” or money that is easily accessed. So, for example, you are worth $210k, but you couldn’t go out and pay cash for something like a $125,000 Porsche GT2 unless you first sold your house (which takes a lot of time and may create other problems for your situation).

Your house is a financial asset, but it is not liquid, and that brings us back to Trump. Trump may well be worth several billion on paper in assets, but it is also quite possible that he is cash-poor and doesn’t actually make that much money or have many liquid assets from year to year. This would be fairly devastating to the image that Trump desperately needs his followers to buy into. That Trump basically admits that he has figured out a legal way to pay no federal income tax is an additional piece of the puzzle that provides a clue into Trump’s questionable finances. He’s probably just not that good at business.

If you’re still with me, what do you think?

1. Is just being just a business person sufficient qualification for Donald Trump to be President?

2. Does Donald Trump run his businesses in a way that we would want applied to our government?

3. Is Donald Trump even good at business?

I’ve spilt a lot of ink and used what would have otherwise been a glorious pre-election Monday afternoon, but in addition to all of the insanity and frustration that this election cycle has brought us, my three questions regarding Trump’s candidacy have been burning in my head and now they are out there for everyone who follows my glorious and keenly insightful blog to consider and perhaps respond to. So, to all 3.5 of you who’ve made it this far… thank you.

Sincerely,

-Corbin

Posted in Politics | 3 Comments

When Gun Facts Aren’t

We have a problem with gun violence. Believe it or not, just about everyone agrees on that point. The disagreement (putting it politely) concerns what ought to be done about it. There are numerous iterations and nuances between them, but there are two basic viewpoints that dominate the landscape on gun violence. The first of these argues that if the combination of guns and people are a problem, then it is easier to control the inanimate portion of that equation (guns) than it is the sentient creatures (people) who are prone to reach for them. For its part, the opposition reasons that if gun violence is an issue, then the most sensible thing to do is get more guns into the hands of more people. I wish I could say that the problem with one of these proposed “solutions” is obvious and that most reflective people would favor one over the other. Sadly, that is not the case. In fact, along with marriage equality, climate change, and abortion, this is a topic that generates embarrassing quantities of vitriol, emotive verbal dumps, and accusations (my glorious blog entry excluded -of course-).

The 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution makes conversations and efforts at progress all the more daunting. I won’t dissect the nuances of this amendment’s language or what, precisely, the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote it in after the Constitution had been adopted. Despite the fact that our United States has become quite different than theirs, there is no doubt that U.S. citizens presently have the right to possess guns. The U.S. Constitution is an inherently alterable document, and I hope it will someday be amended to repeal this Yosemite-Sam holdover from yestercentury, but I am not making any predictions or holding my breath. #Repeal2A

In addition to the public’s ongoing demonstration that it doesn’t responsibly handle the right to bear arms (33,636 gun-deaths in 2014), we have also proved that we lack the moral and political will to address gun violence in meaningful ways. Yes, I know that most legal gun owners don’t murder folks with those firearms, but that in no way negates the slaughter that is wreaked on our citizenry every single year. That the equivalent of a small town population is gunned down every single year is alarming, and for the sake of comparison, we should consider how quickly other deadly products are pulled from shelves and banned after a truly microscopic number of people are hurt or killed. Yet even in the wake of horrible mass shootings, we dig-in our heels and double down on our commitment to guns rather than using the political process (or other means) to reduce gun-related death and injury. Technically speaking, I suppose I am part of the deadlock. I am not about to load up on “tactical supplies” under the guise of defending my family any more than my gun-clutching counterparts are willing to give an inch on reasonable #gunsense legislation.

It is a sad stalemate of sorts, but because of the 2nd Amendment, it is clear that gun-rights activists effectively have the upper hand, at least in the past and present. My hope for the future is different, however. Because of the data available, my perspective on guns and gun violence has dramatically changed, and I hope that others’ will change as well. I just don’t know how realistic that hope is.

The Truth Will Save Us?

I am often tempted to think that facts and reason are the keys to making progress against gun violence. If people understood how much damage guns do to our people, our economy and society at large, and if they understood how infrequently guns were actually “needed” or used for legitimate self-defense, then surely they would be willing to do something about the problem of mixing guns and humans, right? This is obviously a mistake on my part. Conversations on gun violence are rarely governed by legitimate information and logic. And depending on who you ask, who funds their research, and what decade you have in focus, claims of defensive gun use ranges from 1,600 per year to more than 3.5 million. I find the larger numbers to be completely unreliable if not outright fabricated, but the fact is that nobody seems to really know. I find the most credible source to be this Violence Policy Center .pdf that posits just slightly less than 60,000 cases of defensive gun use per year (2013-115): Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use  But as the researchers will tell you, not even all of these so-called defensive gun uses are legal or appropriate, and they often are contingent upon less than reliable self-reporting. After all, there is a big difference between defending one’s castle & family and pulling a gun on someone who said mean things to you.

Just as is the case with other politically charged and emotional topics, I don’t think truth and rationality will save us. We are emotional creatures, sometimes dominated by our feelings, and our choices are often dictated by those emotions rather than facts and reason. I am often told by pro-gun types that their 2nd Amendment right doesn’t end where my feelings begin (as if that is some sort of rebuttal to what I am actually saying), when the reality is that their own feelings have gotten the better of them, and they respond by trying to get me to defend an argument I didn’t make in the first place (classic strawman fallacy). I’ve never said that rights should be beholden to my feelings. They shouldn’t. But I digress, it seems that our nature is to latch-on to any factoid or tidbit of information that reinforces the conclusions we have already leapt to with our emotions and feelings, even if those so-called “facts” aren’t.

When it comes to gun violence, control, and the 2nd Amendment in particular, neither of the respective sides are immune from leading with their emotions or launching whatever faux-facts they can as “evidence” for their perspective. In a discussion on another blog, a commenter who was aware of this danger responded that he did not care about any of the facts I supplied in making a case for gun control because he knew that data could be skewed to support any perspective. Ironically, he then began offering his own “facts” in an effort to make other points. Clearly it wasn’t facts that he didn’t trust, it was information that he didn’t like that he did not trust. This showcases our tendency to lead with emotions, but it also points out the trouble we face with the rising tide of poorly interpreted information, faux-facts, exaggerated internet memes and generally bad logic when it comes to gun violence (and our uncritical acceptance of that which reinforces our pre-existing opinions).

Real Facts. False Conclusions.

Even real data can be presented in a just-so fashion to mislead people. A perfect example is provided by the Conservative provocateur, Bill Whittle, and his video series, “Firewall: Number One with a Bullet.” In his episode, The Truth About Guns, Whittle describes how the United States has more guns in public hands than any other nation on the planet, more than 90 per 100 people. He then begins a disingenuous monologue about how, if guns are so bad, and we have so many of them, then the USA must have the most murders in the world too, right? That’s what the Liberals want us to believe, so it must be true, Whittle claims. But no! The United States is number 91 on the world stage of murders per capita. Take that, Libtards! USA! USA! USA! The conclusion Whittle wants uncritical viewers to draw is that more guns = more safety.

Did you catch that? The USA is #91 in the world for murders, and we do have the most guns per capita of any nation on earth (almost more than twice as many as our next closest gun-toting nation), therefore guns = good, and gun-control = bad. I don’t dispute the facts Whittle used in his premises (#91 in murder, #1 in guns). It is the way he used them that is shady and led to a questionable conclusion (guns = good). If you aren’t tracking with me yet, ask yourself this: “Is a non-gun related murder (like stabbing) relevant to a discussion on gun violence?” And if it isn’t relevant, why is Mr. Whittle including it to make his point instead of murders related only to guns?

Unfortunately for Whittle and his gullible fans, he is working with a faulty comparison, something to the effect of measuring apples to, I don’t know, golf balls. To do a legitimate comparison, we would not measure gun ownership in relation to violence in general, but in relation to gun-violence in particular. Gun-related deaths might be an even better place to start, and by that metric, the pro gun-crowd argument is in trouble. The USA is not #91, but #13 in gun-related deaths in the world. If guns made us safer (as Whittle wants us to conclude), then shouldn’t the USA be the safest nation in the world? We aren’t. Not by a long shot (pun apology). Is there any doubt concerning why Whittle didn’t bother sharing this information with the audience?

If we are going to discuss the “truth about guns,” shouldn’t we limit the conversation to gun issues? If we are going to host a video series called “Number One with a Bullet,” then shouldn’t we, I don’t know, maybe keep bullets in focus? Apparently not, if you’re Bill Whittle and want to mislead people on the issue of gun violence. The really sad part is that the video has more than 4.6 million views on You Tube, and its Facebook promo from Cold Dead Hands tells viewers to “Watch this video…  and allow yourself to be enlightened.” The stupidity and misplaced confidence is astounding.

Faux-Facts

Whittle’s video is just one example of using real facts to promote false claims and mislead people, but at least he started with reality. The same cannot be said of another pro-gun website that purports to highlight “gun facts.” Indeed, that is the name of the website, and I have often been referred to it. Yet even a modicum of digging reveals that the “gun facts” listed on the opening page are, well… not facts. The website consistently makes revisions to its listed “facts” and often writes in new qualifications for them, but when I looked at the site a few months ago, I decided to explore the first four “facts” listed, and you can see them below.

1: Guns prevent an estimated 2.5 million crimes a year or 6,849 every day. 5 

2: Property crime rates are dropping (especially burglaries). As the legal handgun supply in America rises the property crime rate drops. 6

3: Every day 400,000 life-threatening violent crimes are prevented using firearms.

4: 60% of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they knew the victim was armed. 40% of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they thought the victim might be armed. 7

These samples are from: http://www.gunfacts.info/gun-control-myths/crime-and-guns/ (The related footnotes can be found there as well).

But when we take a closer look…

“Fact” #1 references a discredited paper from the pro-gun advocate, Gary Kleck, who leapt to an inductive conclusion on defensive gun uses after surveying a woefully small sample-set and presuming that it held true for the entire population. Kleck didn’t even bother to verify any of the respondents’ claims or match them with available, real-world evidence. He claims between 1 million and 2.5 million annual instances of defensive gun use (that’s right, he allows himself a margin of error of one and a half million), but in 2014, the verified number of such uses was just shy of 1600. Even if we doubled that number to allow for the possibility of unreported instances, it still means that the pro-gun crowd has multiplied the number by a factor of more than 781 to come up with their claim. “Fact” #1 isn’t, and interested readers can find a fuller criticism of Kleck’s study here.

“Fact” #2 Fails to make a causal relationship between handgun supply in the USA and “property crime rates.” Never mind the fact that most property crimes (like shoplifting) do not require a gun to commit or stop, this faux-fact wants gullible readers to jump to the conclusion that handguns reduce property crime even as it provides zero evidence about the involvement of guns in either committing or defending against property crime. In short, “fact” #2 is useless (at best), and designed to deceive (at worst).

“Fact” #3 Is at odds with “fact” #1. Which is it? Do guns prevent 6,849 crimes every day, or is it 400,000 per day? We just went from 2.5 million annual instances of defensive gun use in “fact” #1 to 146 million in “fact” #3. Not only is this wildly inconsistent and flatly unbelievable, this faux-fact doesn’t even bother to cite a source. And just like “fact” #1, it fails to correspond with verified defensive gun uses.

“Fact” #4 referenced a 30-year old study that only considered the input from a select group of inmates in a handful of prisons and merely assumed that it applies to all criminals today. I hope reasonable people can see the problem with this sort of inductive logic leap. And if that is not enough, consider that by the linked website’s reckoning, “60% of criminals avoid crime when they know their intended victims have guns.” Sounds like an impressive case for guns, right? Unfortunately, the inclusion of all criminals is like saying that a drug-dealer wouldn’t sell cocaine to his usual clientele if he knew they were carrying or that a tax-evader wouldn’t have dodged his due if he knew IRS agents carried weapons. “Fact” #4 is ridiculous.  Sometimes “gun facts” aren’t.

Correlation ≠ Causation

A final issue that regularly surfaces in arguments over guns and control is confusing correlation with causation. For example, while it is true that every person who has ever eaten peas has ultimately died (correlation), it is not true to say that peas were the source of death (causation). That is an obvious example, but it gets trickier when we make it about guns, especially since both sides of the aisle are guilty of making this mistake. For instance, I recently chased some clickbait provocatively titled, “The Gun Violence Chart that DESTROYS Liberal Gun Control Arguments.” How could I resist?! You can see the handy chart right here (special thanks to Alex Toth of Colorado for showing me this moronic meme):This Gun Violence Chart DESTROYS Liberal Gun Control Arguments

 

As it turns out, the numerical claims are more or less true, gun murders have decreased since their highpoint in 1993, and the number of guns in the population has risen. However, this chart’s lines (and its claims) significantly misrepresent the situation, not just because points from A to B were anything but straight lines, but also because it presumes that increasing gun numbers were the cause of decreasing crime rates. The two are roughly correlated in the sense that they both changed over the 22-year period from 1993 to 2015, but this does not prove that one caused the other. The chart’s claim and credibility is further reduced when we consider that most of the crime reduction happened from 1993 to 2001, but that most of the increase in guns (68% of the estimated 118 million added since 1993) happened between 2001 and 2015. Even more interesting is that crime dropped most abruptly as the crack cocaine market was routed in the 1990s and at the same time as the Assault Weapon Ban was in effect (1994-2004). So, if we wanted to construct a gun violence chart of our own that would “destroy” pro-gun arguments, all we would have to do is draw some straight lines between 1993 figures and those of 2001 that showed the steep decline in gun homicides along with the even steeper decline in gun sales, assault weapons in particular. In fact, the two may have had a direct relationship on one another, but these figures alone prove nothing more than correlation. Claims to causality reach beyond the data listed here, and that is a regular logic leap found in gun discussions.

Playing Detective and Overcoming the Tendency to be Sheeple

From purposefully misrepresenting real information and fabricating faux-facts, to confusing correlation with causation, clearly there are poor arguments on different sides of the gun issue. Most of us intuitively know there is something wrong with a lot of the rhetoric we hear, even if the errors aren’t immediately obvious. So I hope this blog entry has helped inspire us to be better at looking beneath the surface of the panoply of soundbites, manipulated charts, and ridiculous internet memes that we encounter every day. If we allow ourselves to be misled, we will be. And when we fail to be critical thinkers, we fail ourselves.

Thanks for reading me,

-CL

For those willing to look, one of the more balanced assessments of arguments over gun control I have come across can be found here, at FactCheck.org (and they are far less biased than I am).  -CL

 

Interested readers may also find this takedown of Bill Whittle’s bogus state-of-the-union nuttiness interesting: The “Best” 7 Minutes on Gun Control EVER! 

Bill Whittle  Aaron Betz  Tony King  Misael Gonzales  Desmond Daigle

Posted in Guns, Other Topics, Politics | 10 Comments

If We Were All Just Christians, then Gun Violence Would…

…still be a problem.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know that we’ve had yet another mass shooting at a school. On October 1, 2015 a man who legally purchased all his guns went on a murder spree with them at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Nine people were killed before the previously “law abiding” gun owner shot himself in the head. You can read about the gun-murder spree in this NYTimes article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/02/us/oregon-shooting-umpqua-community-college.html?_r=0

In the days that followed this latest mass shooting, the 291st in 2015 (so far), I have witnessed (once again) more than a few of my fellow Christians take up and parrot the usual NRA propaganda. You know, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and “If we really want to protect our families, then we need MORE guns everywhere, not less,” and “This is really about mental illness, not guns,” etc. If anyone is interested in some sample rebuttals to these bogus soundbites, this blog entry might be of some use: If You Give A Man an Assault Rifle.

But in a slightly new twist (new to me, at least), many conservative Christians have decided that mental illness is no longer the best tool used to steer discussions on gun violence away from guns. Mental illness still gets blamed a lot (since blaming guns is off limits), but the new culprit we are apparently supposed to focus on is sin, or the churchy term that Christians use interchangeably with evil in motion. Guns are not the problem we are told. Mental illness is not (really) the problem either. It’s sin, and if we can just get everyone to become a Christian, then sin will be defeated and gun violence will no longer be an issue. We don’t need restricted access to guns; we just need us some Jesus.

Okay. Let me just say that on philosophical grounds, I agree with the notion that evil is a real problem, and the root of all the other manifestations of “sin” we see in our world. As a Christian myself, I think the Bible is on to something when it describes the state of humanity that has turned away from love and care for our neighbors and enemies (and environment). I also agree, at least in theory, that if everyone always followed Jesus and his “greatest commands” that we love God and our neighbors as ourselves, then yes, gun violence would go extinct.

But how often are told that it is Liberal la-la land to think that gun regulations and bans work because “If we outlaw guns, then only outlaws will have guns”? Apparently we can’t expect everyone to be a law-abiding citizen (that’s just unrealistic), but we can expect everyone to become a Christian, and that is supposed to be the answer? Can we not see the inconsistency in assuming that every one can become a Christian, but that these ubiquitous Jesus people will nevertheless not be law-abiding citizens? This is an internal inconsistency problem that some fellow believers have bought into. And that is about the nicest thing I can say about it.

This logic also fails to consider the present reality that Christians are not known in Western Civilization for their peace and love, either amongst themselves or their non-Christian neighbors. Claims to Christian “peace” and “love” are particularly suspect if you happen to be gay, black, brown, Native American or a woman. The indisputable fact is that being a “Christian” has never been a very good guaranty against violence, genocide, or systemic oppression. In fact, many times throughout the history of the West (as well as today), Christianity has been used as the pretext for these heinous evils. That is a pretty big fail.

I agree that “sin” is a real problem, but how can Christians honestly address the messed-up state of humanity without focusing on the means that we use to perpetuate evil? With reference to the out of control gun violence that our nation witnesses on a daily basis, how can we Christians claim to fight evil while concurrently refusing to fight the means by which it is expressed in deadly and oft-repeated fashion? It makes no sense at all. It is hypocritical. It is revolting, and it is anything but “following” Jesus, who, by the way, didn’t make bland statements about evil in general, but took very specific actions to shut it down and to rescue those who were targeted by it. Can we not follow his example? What does it say about us if we want to make spineless blandishments about sin while refusing to even admit that guns themselves are part of the problem that sin makes use of? Whatever it is, it is not good.

If that is not depressing enough, I recently posted a much shorter invective against Christian hypocrisy on gun violence on my Facebook page. I have included it below, as well as one of the comments left there by a Christian I previously believed was my friend. The response he left was ultimately deleted from Facebook (but presented in its original, unedited form below), because I tend not to put up with name calling in mixed company. But what is particularly saddening is that he actually defends genocide and is so upset at my calling out Christian hypocrisy that he claims I am following the Antichrist, Satan, that I’ve lost my mind, and that *I* am helping usher in “anialtion” [sic] and “genecide” [sic]. That’s right. Because I spoke against gun violence and Christian hypocrisy, I must be worshipping Satan and fomenting some sort of coming genocide. Face. Palm.

I am not often left speechless, but this insanity did the trick. At least until now, that is. With apologies to Hinduism, apparently unfettered access to guns is such a sacred cow in some conservative Christian circles that these folks would rather assign me a place in hell than consider that maybe, just *maybe* the claim that “guns make us safer” happens to be the opposite of reality and needs to be addressed in meaningful ways.

For your viewing displeasure, below is my original Facebook post followed by the response offered by my apparently not-friend.

 

Corbin says: “When some of my fellow Christians say that gun violence is really just an extension of sin, and it would not be a problem if everyone just became a Christian, I just have to ask about things, like, you know, the Crusades, witchunts, and the various Inquisitions of our sordid Christian/Western history. Oh, and let’s not forget the systemic genocide Christians foisted against Native Americans or why some contemporary Christians load up on guns and ammo for “defense,” or why there is a freaking assault rifle company emblazoning their killing “tools” with Christian imagery and Bible verses. And by the way, how is that Make-Everyone-A-Christian project coming? If we Christians blame sin for violence, gun violence in particular, without talking about serious and lasting gun restrictions or plausible means for limiting gun violence, then we are full of it. And the world knows it.

Jesse D. Armstrong replies: Actually you paint that picture, the world doesn’t know it. Your God… if you claim the God of Christian’s, led his people to drive entire people groups from their lands… corrupt and wicked people who probably were “loving” to their children but who did not know or acknowledge him as Creator. When Christ comes again he will bring a sword for war and destruction…. judgement upon a Godless people. You may not like it but armed men still protect what is God’s today. I personally have two guns which have never killed anyone but that might if anyone threatened my family. These days… as in the days of the U.S. independence, O/C Government and foreign teligion are enemy #1. I say this only because of the antichrist mentality that they are under… which you also seem to be under. You are hell net on a way that is not Christ like. You preach rightly that God forgives but miss entirely that within the relationship purchased by Christ’s violent death men must repent or be even further temoved from the Creator than they first were. God serfs men to trust in his love then to surrender their lives to him… their desires and their wills. I have never used a weapon but I have stood up to homosexuales men trying to rape my boys on the streets of Nica… I have stopped a mmen from beating their wives by force… and by God’s power I will do these things again. The issue is that men no longer want to hear about Jesus because it requires their whole life, but you don’t know that Jesus it seems. Tell men about their sin and about freedom from it. Your gun issue is a smoke screen which Satan is using to accomplish an even greater anialtion yet to come… and you are there promoting this genecide. Your mind is lost Corbin.

Well gee whiz. I hope Jesse will forgive me if I am not persuaded.

Thanks for reading me.

-Corbin

Commenters: Jim Killebrew , Jesse Saxon

Posted in Guns, Politics | Tagged , , | 23 Comments