Why I’m More Happy Than Sad Thinking About Robin Williams Today

robin williams (My favorite picture of Mr. Williams)

In complete transparency, I must admit, I had not specifically thought of Robin Williams in some time prior to last night. I came home after taking my teenage sons out to a late dinner and jumped on Facebook to see all the posts about Mr. Williams’ death and suspected suicide. There are so many fake celebrity death stories that I do not believe them at first anymore as a general rule. I wait until I see the story on several credible news outlets before accepting any celebrity’s death as having actually happened. Morgan Freeman has died too many times for me to do otherwise.

So, when I saw that Robin had really died and apparently committed suicide, I was very saddened about the news and remain so at this moment. I then started considering when the last time I had thought about him was. I concluded that it was a little over a month ago when I watched, “The Final Cut,” with my family. That is one of my favorites out of his many films. I suppose if I had to pic a “Top 5” in order, they would be: 1. Dead Poets Society 2. One Hour Photo 3. The Final Cut 4. World’s Greatest Dad 5. (Damn, this is a hard one because there are twenty movies that rival for this spot as I force myself to choose) Awakenings.

When I consider Robin’s death today, I take no thought for being perceived as on any bandwagon for talking about him just because he died. It is only human for us to consider the lives of people after they have died more than when they were alive. The sudden punctuation at the end of their life’s sentence provokes us to thoughts of the brevity of life and the utter value of what we leave behind as our legacy. We then reflect on the now deceased person’s legacy as well and their impact on us.

I will only speak of his death in brief. The word at the moment is that he committed suicide due to a life-long battle with alcoholism and depression. Whether he took his own life is his business. Since I have not suffered the grip of depression in my own life personally, I cannot speak on depression with any authority and would only be talking out of my ass. I have no personal experience to offer. I am grateful for that and say it with humility. I have deep empathy for my friends who deal with depression and hope to be of some service to them. Had I dealt with the difficulties Robin had, I would likely not have dealt with them as well as he did nor for as long. I may well have given into the despair and killed myself way before the age of 63 for all I know. If he did in fact take his life, I regret that being the case and wish it would not have been. Though, my wishes do no actual good in retrograde. For any readers dealing with depression presently, I can only say that you are inherently valuable and please seek help from those who love you or capable professionals who care. If you need to talk to someone and are in the U.S., PLEASE call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

That said, my present sadness over Robin’s death is overshadowed by an overwhelming joy and personal thankfulness when contemplating his life. Not only was he an amazing, rare, capable, insightful, and staggeringly talented actor, a man who gave his whole self to his art, a man who cheered up our service men and women abroad, a husband to several women, and father to several children; he had a specific and direct impact on me personally.

I am a poet and a writer. From the time I was a child, I wrote. When I was in high school, I had one teacher who I felt “got me.” He was my literature teacher, Mr. Wilson. As part of our literature class one semester, Mr. Wilson had us all watch, “Dead Poets Society,” over several class periods. I was hypnotized by the story and the characters. Robin Williams’ character as the amazing teacher spoke right to me as though he was in the room before my own school desk. The challenges, insights, and inspiration of Robin’s character in that movie, an extension of his own self, impacted me in an irreversible way as a teenager and young writer. The ripples of that impact are still rolling through me in untold ways. They are part of who I am as a writer and a human today and cannot be understated.

Robin Williams made more people laugh, cry, and think deeply than I can ever hope to in my lifetime I believe. Yet, his path was his and mine is mine. I can only stand in awe of who he was and the incredibly vast and deep body of work he left behind. That is why I am infinitely more happy than sad today when contemplating him. Whether he died yesterday or twenty years from now, like every other human being, death was imminent for him. But, what he did with his life across the years was not destiny. Robin lived in an effectual way and left it all on the table. He chose to open a vain and bleed for us via the amazing characters he played over the decades. He left us in tears of laughter through his unique stand-up comedy. He did not just write a verse with his life, he wrote volumes. I happily behold them, thank Robin for his impact on me and this world, while admiring him as much as I could any actor, comedian, or artist. If he did take his life, I do not condemn him for it. He dealt with struggles that I have not. I cherish him for how he lived his life up to that point. I hope myself to write a verse worth reading with my own life and will take the weighty question of teacher, John Keating, in, “Dead Poets Society,” to heart… “What will your verse be?”

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The Last Internet Challenge You Will Ever Need

Fire Challenge Gone Wrong

Fire Challenge Gone Wrong

From the tame “Chubby Bunny” challenge to the uber-dangerous new “Fire Challenge,” social networking sites are teeming with “Internet Challenges.” What is an “Internet Challenge” you may ask? Well, it is basically just a dare, but instead of being done for a payoff of street cred with real friends you know personally, it is for internet cred with complete strangers. You are supposed to accept the challenge, video yourself doing it, and then post the video online.

I remember dares when I was a little kid… A buddy daring me to talk to the girl I had a crush on or jumping a really high and sketchy ramp assembled by friends at the trailer park on my BMX bike. Hell, sometimes we’d even jump over each other.  There were regular dares, “double-dog” dares, and so on. Yet, for the most part, I wasn’t into dares, dishing out peer pressure, or giving into it. I carried that trend even more so into adulthood. What I want to do, I do. What I don’t want to do, I don’t do. You won’t bully, manipulate, or peer pressure me into doing some shit I don’t want to do.

So, when I now behold the trendy spectacle that has become known as the “Internet Challenge,” I stand amazed at the nincompoopery of it all. The first one that I ever noticed a couple years ago on Youtube was the Cinnamon Challenge. There isn’t much to it. Basically, you just eat a huge spoonful of cinnamon and try to swallow it. The result? Hacking, watering eyes, a nose dripping with snot, and instant regret apparently. See the video link below for a compilation of people doing the challenge.

One reason I stopped doing dares at a pretty young age was, once you start, you just can’t stop. If you gain your fame among peers for doing dares, the dares will never cease. Not only that, but they tend to increase in ridiculousness (and danger) as they go. Such has been the case with the Internet Challenge phenomenon as well. The Cinnamon Challenge became The Ghost Pepper Challenge, The Flour Slap became The Knock Out Game, The Ice Bath Challenge became the Fire Challenge, so on and so on.

Let us park there just for a moment… “The Fire Challenge.” This challenge is a simple, yet staggeringly moronic one. Basically, you dump flammable liquid on yourself and then set it ablaze. Yes, you set yourself on fire. As much as I’d like to rename it the, “Darwin Award Challenge,” or, “The Proof That I’m Incredibly Stupid Challenge,” that would only serve to confuse such an obvious title for the challenge. There is really only one downside to doing this challenge. That is, you end up on fire. If that isn’t enough to dissuade you from doing such a challenge, likely, no other reason I can provide will.  See the following video for a good example of this nonsensical challenge. (language warning)

There have been many news stories done on these Fire Challenges gone wrong recently. In my opinion, since you end up on fire, they are all gone wrong. One of the most interesting things to me about many of these videos is, the participants seem really surprised the the fire is hot once lighting the flammable liquid. PEOPLE! It’s fire! Of course it is going to be hot! That is one of the primary reasons that you typically avoid catching on fire when it is under your power to do so. The sad thing is, this new challenge won’t be the last of them. Once the enamor and prestige of setting one’s self on fire has worn off, inventors of Internet Challenges (whoever they may be) will come up with something even more dangerous and stupid. I could presuppose some insane ideas, but I won’t for fear that someone would be crazy enough to try it.

That said, I would like to reveal the last Internet Challenge you will ever need to do, ironic though it may be. I call it, “The Ignoring Internet Challenges and Social Media Peer Pressure Forever Challenge.” This is how you do it… After committing to participate in my perpetual challenge, any time you see a new challenge pop up online, you totally ignore it. You say to yourself, “Self, this new challenge was probably invented by a moron with nothing worthwhile to do but come up with stupid challenges. I will not allow the foolish whims of a nameless stranger nor the potential praise of others on social media to manipulate me into doing something dumb.” That is it! So, please share my new, “The Ignoring Internet Challenges and Social Media Peer Pressure Forever Challenge,” and make the world a better, hopefully less nitwit filled place! If you would like to post a video of yourself doing my challenge, basically just record yourself doing anything but an Internet Challenge: eating cereal for breakfast, reading a book, watching TV, drawing a unicorn… whatever. 🙂 -Luke

 

Are Atheists “Irrational”? Deconstructing Brad Stine’s Comedic Arguments

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            I noticed over the last week that several Facebook friends had shared a particular video clip of Christian comedian, Brad Stine. I then saw it popping up on other social media sites as well. So, as a lover of stand-up comedy, I decided to check the video out. Stine, who calls himself, “God’s Comic,” is a proud, Conservative Christian. I was not put off by the title, “Atheists are Irrational,” even though I am an atheist. I was interested to hear what all the hoopla was about and I clicked the link to the clip. Please watch the video yourself prior to reading the rest of my blog for proper context:

            It was interesting that a video which is nearly five years old is just now “blowing up.” I presume it must have been recently shared on some key social media sites and Interweb momentum just took over from there.

            Let me first say that I 100% support the 1st Amendment rights of all Americans for freedom of speech and religion, even when I disagree with them. I also value spirited discourse and debate on issues of religious ideology. I was a Christian minister for over fifteen years and I also very much “get” American Christianity. Now, as an atheist, that personal experience helps me to understand where believers are coming from.

            So, as I listened to Brad Stine’s amusing (to his audience) comedic rant, I was not surprised at all with his assertions, though I was underwhelmed by his arguments. I think if his arguments would have been stronger and more concise, I could have enjoyed the comedy more. But, as it was, his weak arguments were too distracting for me to embrace the comedic elements of his performance.

            I would like to frame up his primary arguments and provide some non-theistic answers to them. Being that his arguments were a bit “loose around the edges,” I have shaped them up a bit for the sake of deconstruction. That was a slight task as the arguments being made were poorly constructed, comedic elements aside.

-Argument #1: Premises- A. Atheists are upset/offended that their “little stinking ‘niche market’ isn’t being stinking represented.” (I guess he means in America in general or maybe in the Pledge of Allegiance specifically). B. Atheists want, “Under God,” taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance because God offends them. C. Atheists do not even believe God is real.  Conclusion: Since Atheists don’t believe god is real, it is irrational that they should be offended by said God and His name being in the Pledge. He actually frames his conclusion in the form of a question: “DUDE! You’re an atheist! You don’t even believe God is real! How can He offend you?!”

            So far at premise A. goes, that is just a subjective and anecdotal assertion that Stine is making with no evidence presented. I would not, of course, expect him to present statistical evidence for his assertion during a stand-up comedy routine. But I will say, I don’t know many atheists (actually none personally) that want the government blowing a trumpet for atheism like many believers do for Theism. If the federal government put forth a vote to see if people wanted, “There is no god,” on our legal tender, I would vote against it. It is the government’s job to guarantee freedom of, and freedom from religion, not to push a particular religious ideology. Individuals should be able to share their beliefs publicly all they want, unless dangerously disturbing the peace or maliciously infringing on the rights of another. That is not the job of government though.

            Onto premise B… As an atheist, it is not the phrase, “Under God,” that offends me; it is that the government compels it to be said in the official Pledge of Allegiance. I would be very surprised if Mr. Stine actually knew at the time he wrote that “bit” that the phrase, “Under God,” was not even in the Pledge until the 1950s when American politicians felt the need to batten the hatches of our ideology against the Red Scare of Communism at that time. From 1892 to 1954, the Pledge was fine without, “Under God,” in it. Now many believers think if the phrase was removed, the Nation would fall apart. This is nonsense.

            Also, for a Christian, the “God” being spoken of in that phrase always has an equal sign to Jesus, Yahweh, or the Triune Godhead depending on the denominational doctrines the individual holds to be true. They know “God” isn’t talking about Allah, Zeus, Vishnu, etc. in the Pledge. We all comprehend that because Christians are the mark majority of Americans, the “God” in the Pledge implicitly means the Christian God. I not only see that as an infringement upon my religious rights, it is also an infringement on the rights of Americans who believe in “another” god. I assert that the Pledge is perfectly complete without any proclamations about invisible, supernatural beings that may or may not exist. It isn’t a matter of needing my “niche” market asserted. It is a matter of religious liberties being protected for ALL of us.

            Premise C spills directly into the concluding question; “How can He offend you?” Well, “He” doesn’t offend me. I do not make a knowledge claim that there is no god hiding somewhere in the universe. I assert that there is not currently enough evidence to persuade me that any god exists. That said, there are many things about the portrayal of the Judeo/Christian Deity that can be offensive. Still, that is not the issue at hand. The issue is the fact that the government pushes a particular ideology that supports theism specifically in the Pledge, on our currency, and in a multiplicity of other ways.

            I find it ironic that Stine uses another mythological creature, the unicorn (which is mentioned in the Bible in multiple passages), to compare his god to for the sake of mocking atheists. But, Stine is missing the point by a mile. As he smirks with self-satisfaction in the video, he does not realize that the average American atheist has heard similar arguments ad nauseam.  My favorite is, “Hey! You don’t believe in Santa, but I don’t see you running around talking against him!” (sigh) The thing is, atheists don’t have the majority of Americans trying to use the government’s authority to push a belief in Santa, tell us we’ll be tortured forever in an imaginary place for not believing in Santa, and try to force legislation that pushes doctrines that Santa taught. No one prevents two loving adults from marrying based on what Santa said. I also know that though Stine is mocking atheists for being “freaked out” by “God” being in the Pledge, if “Allah” was in the Pledge, he would see the situation much differently.

            It isn’t a matter of whether we believe in your (or Stine’s) particular god or not. The issue is that many Christians in America expect the government, State and Federal, to trumpet their particular beliefs to the rest of us. That is unconstitutional.

            To sum up that whole segment of the routine, Stine asks, “Who is more irrational… the guy that believes in a God he doesn’t see or a guy who is offended by a god he doesn’t believe in?!” Well Mr. Stine, you must not recognize that part two of that question is based on a straw man assertion. We are offended by the people ASSERTING the god we don’t believe in who have an expectation that we should shut up while they attempt to manipulate the religious dialogue in our Nation by using the government as a missionary organization. We aren’t offended in some direct way by a being that we reckon to be imaginary.

            The definition of “irrational” is: “not logical or reasonable.” So, it would be irrational in my thinking to assert a definitive belief in a specific being that is invisible and for which there is not sound evidence for. It IS rational to be put off by said person’s attempts to trample my religious freedom via the government.

Argument #2: Premises- A. Christians believe life has meaning and purpose, as well as believe in the ideas of love, honor, nobility, and courage. B. None of those ideas are “in matter and molecules.” (Whatever that means… He must not realize that his body and brain are made up of matter and molecules) C. These ideas could not come from humans or have evolved since evolution “says” that “whatever happens to survive is all that matters… Right and wrong doesn’t exist. Culture just creates it as it goes.” Conclusion: “You’ve got to be kidding me. You see God in his handy work. How can you not see that?” Also, there is the implicit conclusion that the evolutionary process is not sufficient to allow the development of the aforementioned social virtues.

            Well Mr. Stine, if you assume that atheists find no meaning or purpose in life, you must have never had an honest and open conversation with an atheist. I can honestly say that I find more purpose in this terrestrial life now than I did as a believer. This world actually IS my “home.” I’m not just “passing through.” Though I will surely die, it is the only home I’ll ever have. Not only that, it is the only home my progeny will have. So, I want to leave it better than I found it. Trying to make the world a better place is not just, “Polishing the brass on the Titanic,” like I have heard many preachers say. I am not looking for Jesus to come bail us out with the rapture. I don’t believe that I’m seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. I am right here. My family, my friends, and even strangers give my life immense purpose. Nature is beautiful, music is numinous, poetry is moving, philosophy is challenging, science is encouraging, and the universe is awe inspiring. Love is a mystery, joy is a cherished commodity, and a feeling kinship with, and duty to my fellow humans is tacit… no god required.

            Evolution via natural selection is an established, scientific fact. If after reading that you immediately reply, “NO! Evolution is just a ‘THEORY!’ Duh!” then I suggest you study what a “theory” is in science because you don’t know what you are talking about.

            Evolution DEMANDS cooperative populations. We would not even exist currently as a human species had we not developed and possessed inherent values such as fairness, altruism, compassion, etc. Even our near-kinsmen in the animal kingdom possess such qualities. If that assertion is offensive to you, I suggest that you read up on relevant studies and data.

            The fact that Brad Stine has an impoverished conception of evolution and humanity sans theism merely undermines the credibility of his poor arguments and weak assertions. Yet, I fully support his right to make them. He probably is a very funny comedian in general. I just do not support his “right” to have the government of the United States of America as part of Christendom.

            Skipping ahead passed Stine’s appeal to authority via an Anthony Flew anecdote, Stine concludes by telling the audience:

            “You’ve got to be prepared folks…Prepared to battle for our Country’s standards of morality… But I say that there’s a whole bunch of people like us…who aren’t going away… and want our Country back… and we’ll fight for it!”

            When Stine says, “our Country’s standards of morality,” what he means is HIS standards of morality via his interpretations of the Bible. Sorry Brad, it is not the government’s job to hammer free citizens with your pet standards. But, you are right; there are a whole bunch of people like you, the majority of America in fact. Yet, the numbers of non-theists are rapidly increasing. Check the Pew and Barna research data if you doubt that. You should hope that if and when we are the majority, we do not use the government to bully you like you do us now. I have no desire to and do not personally know any non-theists that do. I support your rights and always will. I just will not stand silent or idle in the shadow of a pseudo-theocratic oligarchy that is our Nation’s current government.

            So far as the cry that believers “want their country back,” I must call a persecution complex like I see it. Unless one is in the closet, there is not a single atheist in Congress. There are some states that will not even allow an atheist to run for an elected position. The majority of news journalists are theists of some persuasion. When I turn the TV on, approximately 1/3 of the stations are Christian stations. Not just “theistic,” but SPECIFICALLY Christian. In most towns and cities in America, a good pitcher could stand next to any church and hit the next one with a baseball. In my own small town, Google shows about twenty-five churches within a two mile radius from my house. There is not a single free-thinker’s meet-up in the same town. Christians own it. Yet, many preachers here proclaim Christians are being persecuted in America from their pulpits, whipping their congregants into a worried frenzy. Our weekly town meetings are opened with prayers by Christian ministers. That is the case for most towns in the United States.

            Christians, (I speak only to believers to which the following applies) you have had the “microphone” in our culture so long that many of you think being disagreed with is “persecution.” There is so much confirmation bias supporting your beliefs in this Nation that you feel beat up when a person tells you that they think you are wrong. When you do not always get your way, you assert that you are being bullied or persecuted. If your child always expected to get his or her way, you would rebuke them. Yet, as a Christian in America, you whine when you don’t always get yours and have to share this great Nation with all the other “kids on the playground.”  Well, that is just life my friend. Most Atheists in America get more push-back than you can ever imagine in daily life, peer groups, at work, and in their families. This being the Easter season, we are inundated on social media with admonitions about Jesus, sin, repentance, and that we are going to go to hell if we reject said doctrines. We do not consider this persecution, rather just normal life and rarely even refute the assertions directly.

            We develop a thick skin and know most of your arguments better than you do due to being hit with them so often. Yet, we do not want our “niche” ideology forced on you via the government. We just want equal representation along with every other American and we won’t shut up just because you want us to or threaten us. They call us “New Atheists” because of that. The only difference between the “Old Atheists” you didn’t have a problem with and us is that we will not be pushed around or silenced. You are just going to have to get used to the idea that the Christian dictatorship in America will soon be over. But, do not to worry my fellow Americans. For the most part, we non-theists are also humanists who  will treat you as we would like to be treated. See, we don’t disagree with everything Jesus said…

            For some related atheist humor, I suggest the video below by DarkMatter2525 on youtube: