August 18, 2018

Secular Hashtag Activism

Lots of HashI've written about hashtag activism here before. While I am generally skeptical that it has a lasting impact in many cases, I acknowledge that it can be a cost-effective way to raise awareness about various issues. If one's hashtag takes off, more people are likely to think about the topic it reflects that would otherwise be the case. At a time when much of our mainstream news media and clickbait-oriented Internet media seem to jump at the opportunity to report on popular hashtags, it can be a way to bring attention to important issues that would otherwise be neglected.

Some hashtags end up being unnecessarily divisive and do not provide a clear expression of any sort of cogent agenda. Upon encountering such a hashtag, the meaning may be unclear and people aren't initially sure what to make of it. When they seek information, they find wildly conflicting content and bitter disagreement. It is difficult to imagine this being terribly helpful to anyone's agenda; however, I suppose that would depend on what the goals of the hashtag campaign are. Maybe there are cases where even that is beneficial.

August 17, 2018

Allegations of Catholic Abuse in Pennsylvania

Photo via Good Free Photos
When I encounter a story about sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in a reputable news source, I usually tweet a link to the story with hashtags like #catholic and #abuse. I do this to bring the story to the attention of more people. The sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy needs to stop, as do the systemic efforts to conceal these crimes by the Church hierarchy. It is great to hear representatives of the Church talk about "zero tolerance" policies each time another scandal surfaces, but I would much rather see some evidence that these policies were being implemented.

While I often tweet links to such stories, I rarely write about them here. I think that's mostly because of how they affect me. When I encounter one of these stories, I quickly become emotionally overwhelmed. I feel nauseous and angry to the point that I can't think clearly. I find myself unable to sleep, usually due to intense nightmares that wake me up several times throughout the night. I feel so bad for the children and their families. I feel powerless to do anything about what they went through and uncertain about what I could do that might help prevent others from going through it in the future. This mix of emotions seems to short-circuit my ability to reason and leaves me feeling exhausted and depressed. I don't know how to be rational when it comes to this stuff.

August 16, 2018

How Would We Know If Ghosts Exist?

Fantasma de la curvaCan Halloween please get here already? This will be the third post about ghosts I've written in the past few weeks (the first was Do Ghosts Have To Be Supernatural? and the second was Do Ghosts Require the Christian God?). I'm all keyed up for Halloween (and Jesusween) now. Anyway, I wrote something in one of the recent posts (or maybe it was in response to a comment on one of them) about how anyone truly interested in pursuing the possibility that ghosts are real needs a decent theory upon which to base a scientific investigation. I thought I'd try to unpack what I meant a bit in this post.

When you watch one of the many ghost hunting shows you can easily find on cable TV these days, you see lots of sophisticated-looking equipment. Those using it claim it can help them demonstrate the existence of ghosts. But what theory of ghosts is being tested? It is not at all clear to me why the equipment selected is ghost-relevant. Why, for example, would an instrument capable of detecting magnetic fields tell us anything useful about ghosts? Why should ghosts generate magnetic fields? Why would infrared or thermal imaging cameras be helpful in allowing us to detect ghosts? The list of questions goes on and on. Without a clear theory of ghosts, we don't have a clue how to detect them or why any of the so-called detection methods that are supposed to impress us should be effective.

August 14, 2018

Is Anybody Still Interested in Pundits Discussing Whether Trump is Racist?

Omarosa Manigault
By Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0]
I said something positive about CNN recently, so I figured I better share my disgust with what they've been up to lately so that nobody thinks I've gone crazy or something. Following President Trump's tweets about this bizarre Omarosa person (who until very recently only appears to have had a first name), CNN decided to play their greatest hits. They convened panel after panel filled with assorted pundits to discuss the vital subject of whether President Trump is a racist. Every time I have flipped over to CNN, this is what I saw. Who is asking for this? Does anybody still have any interest in this?

I have a difficult time imagining that anybody, regardless of their political persuasion, does not already have an opinion on the question of whether Trump is racist. These pundits aren't changing any minds. I have an even more difficult time believing that anybody cares. I don't mean that nobody cares that he may or may not be a racist; that's not the case. I mean that nobody cares what these pundits think because this is not a new subject on which people are seeking information.

Those who are convinced that Trump is a racist don't need any more convincing. Those who are convinced that Trump is not a racist don't need any more convincing. This sort of coverage isn't changing any minds, and it doesn't seem to be informing anyone of anything. It looks an awful lot like someone is trying to fill time. It looks like what might be called a slow news day.

Evangelicals in Space

Link Hogthrob & Dr. Strangepork Pigs in Space Puppets
Photo by Ayleen Dority [CC BY 2.0]
You know those articles you come across online that make you think "there's no way this is serious" or "the author has to be joking here" but a small part of you isn't completely sure? Is the author serious, or is this satire? And just because the author is not at all serious doesn't necessarily mean that somebody won't read it as if he or she was entirely serious.

When it comes to subjects like religion or politics (or even better, the interface between religion and politics), it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell. One problem is that just because what is expressed in an article seems like it has to be a joke doesn't necessarily mean that the person who wrote it wasn't serious. Another problem is that even if it was a joke, somebody is bound to take it seriously.

This post by Mark Silk from Religion News Service falls into this category for me. It seems to be predicting that Christian evangelism will become an important part of Trump's Space Force. It has to be a joke, right? Yes, I think it does. It is a clever slam on the Religious Liberty Task Force created by Jeff Sessions. And yet, I can't help thinking that some evangelical Christians might take this seriously and think it sounds like a good idea. Perhaps an evangelical Christian like Mike Pence would do so. Honestly, I cannot say that I find the possibility of something like what Silk describes here being implemented at some point. I find that to be an extremely sad commentary on the influence of evangelical Christianity in U.S. politics.