March 18, 2019

Back In My Day, These Damn Kids Stayed Off My Lawn

old man's eye

Members of every generation have a favorite pass time in common: criticizing the generation that follows them. Regardless of when "today" is, the youth of today are always screwed up. "Back in my day..." is where we find the correct way to do everything, and "these damn kids" need to do things like we did. They also need to get the hell off my lawn! Some of this is undoubtedly driven by arrogance and inaccurate stereotypes, but I think much of it simply reflects the older generation's distaste for change and difficulty remembering how they were viewed by the previous generation when they were young.

Social values change over time. Depending on your point of view, you may regard this as progress, evidence of moral decay, or something in between. For many atheists, trends toward secularism are likely to be an encouraging sign of progress. I think most of us would agree that the fact that young people today are far less interested in organized religion is a step in the right direction. For many fundamentalist Christians, these same trends probably reflect a frightening disintegration of our culture. That might explain why so many of them are motivated to slow it down or reverse it.

March 17, 2019

Preventing Radicalization

ground zero

I wrote an early version of this post in 2016, roughly two months before the senseless mass murder in Orlando. I did not write it in response to any specific incident, as I feared it would apply to many incidents. I updated and expanded the post in 2019 shortly after the mass murder in New Zealand because the subject remains relevant.

If a country were to have a small minority population within its borders (e.g., an ethnic and/or religious minority, a political minority) with some potential for radicalization and a history of violence, it would seem that preventing radicalization among members of this group would be a worthy goal. Consider a country such as France with their Muslim immigrant population. The vast majority of French Muslims are not radicalized and pose no more threat to French national security than anyone else. At the same time, it might make sense that the French people would have an interest in preventing radicalization among members of this group.

March 16, 2019

Tear Down That Cross

World War I Memorial, Bladensburg, Maryland 002
Ben Jacobson (Kranar Drogin) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

I don't think anybody expects the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against the Bladensburg cross in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association. Everybody seems confident that the plaintiffs are going to lose, so much so that the focus has been on dissecting the various implications of how they will lose and what the court's eventual decision will mean for the separation of church and state in the future. I suppose that makes sense. If I was the betting type, I'd certainly be reluctant to put my money on the plaintiffs in this case.

Still, that does not mean I find the likely outcome any less frustrating. It seems obvious that the sensible outcome here is for the court to have the cross removed. Sectarian religious symbols do not belong on public land, and there is no doubt that this is a sectarian religious symbol. Allowing this explicitly Christian symbol to remain on public land amounts to government promotion of the Christian religion. As the federal appeals court in Richmond already recognized, this is unconstitutional. The court should rule for the plaintiffs.

March 15, 2019

Compromising on Immigration

Statue of liberty 828665 640

Immigration is one of those subjects where I I think I'd like to see some genuine compromise from our political leaders. Some of the ideas I've heard from liberals are good ones, and some of the ideas I've heard from conservatives are good ones. It also sounds like there are at least some points of agreement between liberals and conservatives (e.g., both say they want to see improvements to border security). It seems like it should be possible to implement the policies on which the two parties can agree.

At the same time, I have to admit that I have little idea what most conservatives want when it comes to immigration. I hear what some of them say they want, but it is not always clear to be whether they really want what they say or are using it more as a negotiating tactic. It is also not always clear how much support some of these ideas have from other conservatives. The same is true when it comes to liberals. I hear what some say they want, but I am not always convinced that it is what they want or whether other liberals agree with them. This should not be too surprising since there is more than enough diversity among both conservatives and liberals that some are going to disagree with whatever others say they want. This situation makes it difficult to anticipate what a good compromise might look like if there isn't really such a thing as a conservative position (or a liberal position) on immigration but several of each.

March 14, 2019

On the Nature of Truth

For many Christians, it appears that "truth" ultimately boils down to whatever they believe. Reality is irrelevant because they are confident in their beliefs. They have faith. They are confident that what is written in their bible is true because they believe it is the word of some sort of god. They do not have evidence, but they have persuaded themselves that the need no evidence because they have faith. For these Christians, their beliefs are true because they have faith that their beliefs are true. After all, their beliefs seem true.

The problem is that there is only one truth, and it is the one that reflects reality. Either there was a historical Jesus or there was not. Sure, there could have been a historical Jesus that bore little resemblance to the Jesus character described in the bible some Christians consider holy, but that would still be a historical Jesus of some sort. And if there was a historical Jesus, he either returned from the dead or he did not.

Does Donald Trump know more about ISIS than all the generals? There is only one correct answer, and it is the one which reflects reality. That is, truth is a measure of how well something corresponds with objective reality. We can ask how many people attended Trump's inauguration, and there is only one correct answer. The correct answer would be the number of people who were there that day. Unlike most of the questions about Jesus, questions like this are far easier to test. The relevant point here is that we test them against reality.