November 13, 2018

Bringing Some Reason to Our Political Discourse

women talking
Due to recent events, there has been a great deal of hand-wringing from both the mainstream news media and from ordinary people about the state of our political discourse. The U.S. seems to be increasingly polarized and hopelessly divided. Whether it is accurate or not, it seems that things are getting worse. We elected a president who regularly appears to be throwing fuel on the fire. We have rejected civility and are quicker than ever to demonize those who hold political views with which we disagree. We have increasingly incorporated military metaphors into our political discourse, and our political opponents have become our enemies. Can we turn this around? Is there a more reasonable path, and if so, how might we find it?

I think we can, but it has to begin with us. We cannot wait for our elected officials to solve this problem. It is much bigger than them, and it seems to benefit them in ways that will make them less inclined to lead. If we do not like what we see around us, we're going to need to start by making some changes in our own lives. Some of these are probably obvious (e.g., reduce our exposure to outrage media, make more of an effort to obtain information from reputable sources, treat others with respect regardless of their political views), but some are much less so. In any case, I think it is time for those of us who would like to see our culture take a couple of steps toward being more reasonable to try to contribute something here.

November 12, 2018

You Seem Angry

angry face
For some of us, hearing someone say, "You seem angry" prompts an immediate defensive response. "You're damn right, I'm angry!" And then we go on to try to convince whoever said that we seem angry that our anger is justified or even that they are wrong not to be as angry as we are. I'd like to suggest an alternative. The next time someone tells you that you seem angry, whether it occurs in a face-to-face interaction or in response to something you've said online, pause for a moment and don't say anything. Give yourself a moment to reflect. Are you feeling angry at that moment? Have you been feeling angry recently? If so, do you know why?

Now for the hard part. Do you think you come across in an angry manner more than you'd like to? This is where it can be helpful to ask someone you trust to give you their honest impressions of you. And if you don't have someone like that handy, you might ask those who told you that you seem angry what led them to say that. Of course, this will work better if you do in from a place of curiosity than defensiveness. What was it about what you said or how you said it that led this person to comment that you seemed angry?

November 11, 2018

How Does Pascal's Wager Lead One To Christianity?

Blaise Pascal first explained his wager in Pen...
Blaise Pascal first explained his wager in Pensées (1669) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many Christians like Pascal's Wager and are quick to pull it out when debating atheists. In popularity, it seems to be right up there with appeals to design and just a bit behind whatever sone would like to call creaming, "Then why are there still monkeys?" at the top of one's lungs. While reading a post at Spanish Inquisitor, I found myself wondering what Pascal's odd bit of philosophical gambling has to do with Christianity.

The wager has undeniable relevance to theism in general, as it seems intended as an effort to convince nonbelievers to give god belief a try. But how is it an argument for Christianity? Even if one argues that the "god" to which Pascal refers is one of the gods in which Christians claim to believe, it is not clear that this must be the case. If one follows the idea of the wager, I see nothing that would lead one to Christianity as opposed to Islam or some other religion.

November 10, 2018

Atheist-Theist Dialogue: One Obstacle

flamingos talking
Is it possible for atheists and theists to have a meaningful dialogue? I don't mean just to talk to one another - I think we all know that is possible. I'm thinking more about being able to have meaningful discussions about religion that can sometimes change minds. Forget for a second whether such a dialogue would be beneficial or even desirable and consider whether it is possible. If so, what might it look like?

As atheism becomes more common, this question will be asked more frequently by both atheists and religious believers. Assuming we decide that it makes sense to try to talk to one another, how do we do it? What kinds of things are likely to get in our way when we do it? Whatever the obstacles are, how can we prevent them from getting in our way or overcome them when they do get in our way?

I see many potential obstacles that make atheist-theist dialogue difficult, but I'd like to mention one big one here. I pick this one because I think it is probably the most significant. I also pick it because I suspect that most of the other obstacles I can think of could easily be subsumed under it. And finally, I pick it because I am not at all sure what it would take to overcome it.

November 9, 2018

Getting Fired for What You Wear

ball and chain
A man in Mississippi who worked as an EMT was fired by his employer after a photograph of him voting while wearing a t-shirt described as "wildly racist" went viral on social media (link to story and photo of the t-shirt here). Pretty bad, wasn't it? I wish I could say that the image on that shirt is uncommon around here, but I can't. It is hard to imagine an African American seeing this image and then receiving treatment from the person wearing the shirt could have much confidence in the quality of care being delivered. That's a problem.

From the viewpoint of the employer, getting rid of this guy seems like an obvious decision. Once the photo went viral, it is hard to imagine how it wouldn't adversely impact his ability to do his job, the reputation of his employer, and so on. Of course, he didn't wear the shirt to work, and it is not his fault that the photo went viral. The responsibility for that lies with the person who photographed and shared his image, presumably without his knowledge or consent, and the outraged mob who spread it.