The Sunday Sermon- Margaret Heffernan: Dare to Disagree

It seems counterintuitive to welcome friends, business partners, and/or acquaintances who significantly differ from one’s own self ideologically, culturally, or methodologically. Who wants a squeaky wheel of dissent hanging around and being a distraction? Yet, by not allowing for interaction with those who are different, we risk falling into a state of intellectual atrophy, not only as individuals, but as a society.

Having relationships with those who are different or who disagree with us encourages conversation, re-evaluation, learning, and perhaps even changes of mind. Friction with those who rub against our own grain or who are simply not like us can produce wonderful effects if allowed and encouraged. Of course, both parties must desire genuine interaction and not just contentious banter or to “win” a debate. The key is a true and honest desire to understand, learn, share, revise, teach, and adapt for the better. The fruit produced by such a social virtue is good for individuals and good for the communities at large.

I am glad to know some people in life who, though we differ in many ways, are not xenophobic, crave deep discussions, AND actually find it refreshing to have a non-homogenized collective of people in their life. Such friends are rare roses among the thorns of the us/them masses.

For more information on Margaret Heffernan, visit this link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Heffernan

Have a great week! -Luke

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Bill Maher Show: Sam Harris vs Ben Affleck Debate- I’m with Sam on this one

Ideas should never be above criticism, particularly religious ones. Though I have great respect for Ben Affleck’s acting and humanitarian work, I have to go with Sam Harris on this debate. Islam not only leaves room for violence and oppression, its texts call for it. I am grateful that a great deal of the adherents to Islam, being around 1 billion in the world, have found a more nuanced way to view and practice their faith. Yet, many Muslims take the fundamental dictates of Islam regarding violence very seriously.

Affleck was impassioned in his challenge to Harris. Yet, his indignation, straw men, and non sequiturs added nothing to his argument.

There are several key points to consider about this issue:

1. Islam is not a “race,” rather, a religious ideology. Ideas are not above reproach or criticism. People deserve protection, rights, and respect. Ideas are made to be tested, discussed, debated, and even ridiculed. To quote Steven Brutus, “Anything that can’t be mocked is dangerous.” No idea, philosophy, or ideology should ever be off-limits from being battered like a pinata to see what ends up falling out, for better or for worse.

2. Islamic religious texts not only allow for violence against non-believers, but actually prescribe it. The portion of Muslims who put those admonitions into actual practice (or just agree with them) are not employing strained or fringe interpretations of those religious texts, but literal ones. For a list of such references, click the link: http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/cruelty/long.html

Not to single out Islam for possessing religious texts with a call to kill unbelievers, as there are plenty of similar verses in the Hebrew Bible & other religious texts. I am no fan of those either. But, it is Islam that is the matter of debate in the video above.

3. Any fundamental and violent faith text or system is an enemy of human progress. ANY text, religious or otherwise, that says, “Kill a person who does not agree with this,” is an abomination to humanity. Any or all texts deserve public condemnation. We should all support religious freedom and also the freedom NOT to be religious. But, that doesn’t include the right to harm, imprison, or kill others for not agreeing with you.

Fighting Vitriol and Hate with Vitriol and Hate Doesn’t Work…

Earlier today, I saw this video pop up in my Facebook feed. As I started to watch it, I asked myself, “Why does the lady holding the sign look SO familiar?” When the answer hit me, I yelled to my wife, “HEY! The lady who got hit with the slushie is the hateful lady I debated with at that huge garage sale event!” Yet, I was not happy that she had been doused in a frosty, frozen, convenience store beverage.

Here is the back story… A few months ago the, “Greater Indianapolis Garage Sale,” was taking place at the State Fair Grounds. Since I am a picker and ebay seller, I decided to head up one afternoon with my family to see what we could find. I had not more than walked into the large room with hundreds of booths before I saw a table in the middle of the room surrounded by three huge signs decrying gay marriage, threatening Hell to sinners, and explaining why Monster energy drinks were of the Devil. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, isn’t that special?” It was going to be a while before we got to that booth, but I committed to myself to suss out and confront this person’s ideology.

When we got to the both, the woman running it was holding up an empty can of Monster (I hope she did not buy it, rather found it so she did not have to put money in the Antichrist’s pocket) while pontificating to the person in front of her about why the Monster logo was really “666.” Spooky stuff.

So, I waited a few moments for her to finish and then started asking her questions. She, as very fundamentalist religious people go, was not really interested in my questions or dialogue, rather only the opportunity to “rebuke” me for something. I switched gears from dialogue to debate mode and off we went. Over the next 45+ minutes we drew quite a crowd as well as attention from people running booths nearby. I’ll admit, she had me on angst and volume. I relied on the Socratic Method and asking her to demonstrate the reliability of her epistemological base in order to change my mind toward her position. I sensed a great deal of internal trepidation in her anytime I tried to test her ideology with reason and logic. Her main ammunition was vitriolic charges about my supposed character and assertions that I would be tortured in an imaginary place for eternity after I died. The other unfortunate thing for her was, my knowledge of the Bible itself was superior to hers. So, I not only had to discuss with her on one level about ideology in general, but I also spent time correcting her on her own assertions based on the Bible. It was a bit tiring I must admit.

I knew there was only the slightest chance that I would get through to such a person on any level. Yet, it was important for me to try. The greatest encouragement was, two of my kids, my wife, and a crowd of people were listening to our conversation. They saw and heard, not only what we communicated, but how. I tested her ideas, she insulted me. I implored her to rise above her archaic dogma, she condemned me to hell fire. I did not go ad hominem, she arrogantly called me names. She insulted me to my kids, I told them she was a scared person and a bully. As we eventually concluded our parley at an obvious impasse and I walked off, several other people thanked me for trying to get through to her and for how I went about it. At the risk of hubris, I was actually very proud afterward of how I had handled myself.

Then today, when I saw the video of her, Christine Weick, being slushie assaulted, it really bummed me out. Here is why:
1. It is her right to stand on a public corner and spew her nonsense if she wants to. She did not deserve to be treated in the way that the other pedestrian treated her. The other woman should have presented her own case, called Christine out on her hatefulness, explained the error of it, and then left. The second woman had no right to dump a drink on Christine and she made an ass of herself.
2. Christine and many similar people who see the video will generalize the other woman’s behavior as, “how liberals are,” and it will only serve to justify their own behavior.
3. The only thing that any other passerby could have gotten from the whole exchange was something negative. There was nothing to use as a positive, teachable example from either person in the situation.
4. Last and most important… You cannot fight vitriol and hate with vitriol and hate.

Due to the road noise adjacent to the two women, I could not make out everything that was being said. Ultimately, you had two hateful people, on different sides of one particular issue, threatening each other that the God that they both happen to have on their own side would be tossing the other into Hell. I was emotionally sickened by each of them and their words toward one another.

So, if we cannot glean a lesson from positive example, we can learn one from the negative…

We MUST hold ourselves to a higher standard my fellow humans. We must refrain from personal attacks when debating with even the most hateful person. Many times, like schoolyard bullies, dogmatic bullies are actually very weak, scared, and trying to compensate for that. Even if we are not able to break through to such people, our behavior and tact can be a positive example for others. Only that will help all of humanity to grow and be freed from the chains of credulity, hatred, condemnation, and a lack of empathy toward others. It is of paramount importance that we stand up to such hateful people. BUT… we must do it the right way. Do not become them in an attempt to beat them. As my mom always told me, “Be careful that you do not become what you hate.”

-Luke

UPDATE! 11/9/2014- Here is a video of Weick that I randomly saw pop up on the front page of youtube today:

Your 2014 Narrative

“There is no longer any such thing as fiction or nonfiction; there’s only narrative.” -E. L. Doctorow

As human beings, we are social, pattern seeking creatures that crave a narrative. It is of the utmost importance to have an overall schema to assimilate all other events, people, and data into; a big “What?” and “Why?” Less a functional and sufficient narrative in life, a person will likely fall prey to a sort of contextual and social vertigo. Such things can cause a great feeling of distress in life.

It is an evil crime to rob one of his or her history, because that is where one’s narrative begins. Such things were done to millions of kidnapped Africans, in a few previous centuries, via the Atlantic slave trade. These Africans were taken from one narrative and injected into a harsh an unjust new one, with a different name and religion.

A narrative is so important to us, that if we don’t have one, we’ll welcome another person or group to dispense one for us. Many times, we find the solace of an established narrative and tradition in ancient religious books; sometimes, in a more recent dogma. A modern KKK member sees their self in a land run by oppressive Jews and infected with immoral black people. A traditional Buddhist would feel the need to be at peace and in harmony with his or her own inner self and the external world. Either narrative is as effective at giving one a sense of meaning, importance, and social context. But, I hope the vast majority of us can see that one narrative is ideologically superior and more beneficial to society, as well as to the individual.

One may feel a certain Nihilistic taint toward this idea of narrative. The question could be raised, “We all just die in the end and probably have little impact while alive, so why does it really matter?” I would answer that question in this fashion; if the only person your narrative mattered to was you and the only time it mattered was now, wouldn’t that be enough? As a parallel, if you, and only you, were in excruciating pain at this moment, would that not be important…if only to you? The same parallel could be made about intense pleasure. At the very least, aren’t “you” enough to matter?

All of that said, a proper narrative consists of three primary components: 1. Past-Where did you come from? 2. Present-Who are you now/what are you doing 3. Future-Where are you headed and who will you become? Of course, you don’t live in a vacuum. You are surrounded by family, friends, strangers, and enemies perhaps that help make up and add nuance to your narrative. For the moment, we’ll just focus on the individual…you.

One of the most exciting parts of this narrative is number 3; the future. This is the only component of your narrative that is not fixed. That is where 2014 comes in to play. What is your desire for this coming year? What do you want to do? Who would you like to become? You can make an impact on your own life and situation. I hope that you do not feel certain impotence toward yourself. If so, I hope you will realize that you have a great deal of power in your own life, situation, and mental state. Own it.

So, this is our assignment… Take a blank sheet of paper and pen or open up a new Word file. Write, “1. Where have I come from?” and leave ample space. Next write, “2. Who am I and what is my life now?” Leave some space. Last write, “3. What do I want to accomplish and who do I want to become in 2014?” Leave some more space. Spend a day ruminating on these questions deeply. Don’t trouble yourself with 2015, a decade from now, or eternity…just 2014. None of that will exist until 2014 has, so one thing at a time. Tomorrow, fill in the blanks. Then, spend the year moving forward in the narrative of your own choosing, empowered and purposed.