December 13, 2017

Alabama Looks Good Today

Doug Jones Trees
Doug Jones for Senate [CC BY-SA 4.0]
It was great to see that Doug Jones upset Roy Moore in Alabama's special Senate election. It seems like a rare bit of good news amidst all the bad. In some ways, it might even reaffirm the notion that basic human decency can sometimes triumph over tribalism.

There will be plenty of opportunities for those who are so inclined to attempt to extract lessons from this election. As for me, I just want to note that the outcome of this special election makes the state of Alabama look good.

Maybe this will strike some as an odd thing to say, but I think we can agree that a Moore victory would have harmed the state's image. It would have reinforced many negative stereotypes about the state and the majority of those who live there. Fortunately, Alabama voters decided to go a different route. By rejecting Moore and electing a Democrat, something the state has not done in roughly 25 years, deep red Alabama showed us that they were able overcome tribalism. I think this makes Alabama look good.

Obsessed with Heritage

family tree
It is not difficult to understand why some people are interested in learning about their family history. While I won't pretend that this is something I've ever had much interest in, I have known a few people who got into the idea of trying to trace their history back as far as they could. For most, it was little more than a temporary hobby. It was something they enjoyed but not the sort of thing that altered their lives in any appreciable way.

I have been seeing a lot of television commercials recently for DNA ancestry services. You know, the sort of thing where you send them a DNA sample, they test it and provide you with a report about your ancestry. From what I can tell, "ancestry" in this context primarily refers to one's ethnic makeup and the regions of the world from which their ancestors most likely originated.

Here's what the most prolific advertiser ( says on their website:
Your AncestryDNA results include information about your ethnicity across 150 regions and identifies potential relatives through DNA matching to others who have taken the AncestryDNA test. Your results are a great starting point for more family history research, and it can also be a way to dig even deeper into the research you've already done.

December 12, 2017

Alabama Votes

Alabama in United States
By TUBS [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
As Alabama voters go to the polls today, it is tempting to speculate about whether they will do (what I believe is) the right thing. In 2016, we learned - or at least we should have learned - that polls can be very wrong. That said, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Roy Moore is ahead in all of the polls I have seen. While that does not mean he will necessarily win, it seems reasonable to conclude that his chances of winning are decent. If this happens, many on the left will undoubtedly take to social media to insist that Alabama voters endorsed pedophilia. I wrote previously about what the continued support for Moore tells us about tribalism, but we can see something similar from many of Moore's opponents.

For the average Republican voter in Alabama, this election is not about supporting pedophilia. I find it unlikely that most of these voters are having an internal dialogue about how electing a Democrat would be far worse than electing a pedophile. This is one of the left's many unfortunate tribalistic narratives. So what is the average Republican voter in Alabama doing? Clearly, some do not believe the allegations against Moore. They've decided it is all "fake news" and not the sort of thing that will deter them from voting for someone they have long supported. I imagine more are doing the same thing most of us do when faced with a candidate we don't like. They are trying to figure out whether they can vote for Moore, support a write-in alternative, or stay home. I do not expect more than a few to vote for Doug Jones any more than I'd expect a Democratic voter who did not like the Democratic candidate to vote for the Republican.

Time for Churches to Support Mandatory Reporting

Duntroon Anglican Church 003
By Mattinbgn (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I've made it fairly clear that I'm not a fan of outrage. I believe that the sort of chronic undifferentiated outrage we encounter on social media these days probably does more harm than good. Still, I'd never argue that selective outrage serves no purpose. I'd also never claim that there aren't plenty of things worth getting outraged about.

The sexual abuse of children by clergy and the well-documented efforts of church hierarchy to conceal these crimes and protect known perpetrators are some of the things that should provoke outrage. Of course, what I'd really like to see is evidence that this outrage is leading to meaningful change to prevent such abuse from happening. But so far, this appears to be elusive. In fact, church leadership often seems to be an obstacle.

According to the National Secular Society, "Survivors and campaigners have accused the Archbishop of Canterbury of being 'evasive' and failing to offer 'clear leadership' over child abuse." Again and again, we have seen evidence of church leadership circling the wagons to protect known abusers. And when such evidence comes to light and church officials have the opportunity to do something about it (e.g., mandatory reporting), we see them fail.

December 9, 2017

"Happy Holidays" - Deal With It

christmas tree
christmas tree (Photo credit: fsse8info)
An earlier version of this post was written in 2006. It was updated and revised in 2017.

The phrase "happy holidays" seems to enrage many conservative Christians and represents the heart of the war on Christmas. When an individual says "happy holidays" to such a Christian instead of "merry Christmas," the Christian is supposed to assume that this is code for "I am an atheist, and I detest your Christmas." Never mind that many prominent atheists celebrate Christmas.

Even worse is when a company sets a policy encouraging their employees to say "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas." This is worse because it is supposed to reflect an organized conspiracy of misguided political correctness and hostility toward Christianity. Thus, "happy holidays" has come to symbolize efforts to "take the Christ out of Christmas" to many gullible Christians.

If we cut through the right-wing efforts to inflame their easily provoked base to bilk them out of a few dollars, we can examine what is really happening here and learn something valuable about the conservative Christian mind. Our starting point is to ask what might lead an ordinary person to say "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas." Perhaps the person simply wants to wish someone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year in the most efficient manner. "Happy holidays" accomplishes this quite well. However, there could be other reasons for doing so.