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Saturday, October 24, 2015

We need to move away from our culture of opposition and into a culture of unity and honor

Over the last few weeks, I've read a number of articles and participated in a few debates about different topics ranging from issues like gun control to the social commentary of modern comic book heroes with a bunch in between.  But while the topics varied widely, there was one common element throughout all of them:  an opposition mindset.  What I mean by this is that in the ideas that were expressed in the articles I read or through the points someone was trying to make, they were either directly stated or implied to be were in complete opposition to some other idea being presented.  These ideas were mutually exclusive to whatever idea they were intending to rebut or counter.

For example, I was reading an article about how we should stop trying to tell women how not to get raped and instead focus on telling men not to rape women.  Another article had a mom admonishing the dad of the daughter her son was dating for "threatening" (I use this in quotes since assessing a threat is widely subjective) her son should he hurt his daughter, stating instead of "threatening", the dad should raise a daughter that knows how to take care of herself.

More general examples of this culture of opposition is "Science vs Religion", "Right vs Left", "Rich vs Poor", and "Whites vs Minorities" to name a few.  These type of opposition memes are quite common in today's culture.  Just look at the "news" channels and blogs these days.  Either explicit or implicit, they promote the construct of diametrically opposed ideas.  And I'm definitely not the first person to notice this as many have lamented how polarized our nation has become.  And how has it become like that? Through a culture of opposition.

But does it have to be that way?  Let's take the articles I mentioned earlier.  In the rape article, while no one will be opposed to the idea of coaching men not to rape, why shouldn't we continue to teach women how to proactively protect themselves from rape?  Why can't both happen?  It's not about blame.  It's about both parties doing what they can to prevent a horrific event.

To go off on a slight tangent, I call this the pedestrian paradigm.   When it comes to traffic law, the pedestrian has the right of way in all but the most extreme circumstances.  Thus, when a pedestrian walks onto a contested road, any intersecting motor vehicles must stop and let them by because, obviously, if the motor vehicle didn't have to stop, they'd probably kill the pedestrian.  A funny thing can happen because of this though.  Knowing that the cars are required to stop, some pedestrian deliberately walk out in front of a moving vehicle, fully expecting the car to stop for them.  And while this happens most of the time, their right of way is not really protecting them from getting run over.  What if someone isn't paying attention or their brakes give out?  The pedestrian still gets hit despite it being wrong for the car to do so.  So while the pedestrian has a lawful right to walk out in front of a car, they're not actually doing everything they can to prevent getting run over by the cars that aren't following the law.  So yeah, while the car was wrong to run them over, they're still ran over.  Yes it's possible for even a cautious pedestrian who did everything they could (aside from just not walking at all) to still get ran over, but that doesn't mean being cautious is worthless.

Anyway, back on track.  In the article about the mom wanting dads to raise their daughters right instead of "threatening" her son, I ask why can't there be both?  Why is there an assumption that a dad level setting with his daughter's date hasn't also taught his daughter how to protect herself?  

The answer: a culture of opposition.  I'll elaborate on the mom article a little.  The mom, being a little ruffled that her son's date's dad "threatened" her son, runs to the conclusion that the dad must think her son to be some hormone controlled degenerate that hasn't been told any better.  But, that's not true! She raised her son right! So it must be the dad's daughter that doesn't know any better!  Do you see the opposition manifest itself in that thought process?  The thought that perhaps the dad knows both kids could get into trouble nor the thought that the dad knows how boys can be even when they have a proper upbringing doesn't seem to cross this mom's mind.  Instead, polarizing opposition immediately springs up.

Let's look at another common example:  Science vs Religion.  How many times have you heard that you either believe in science or religion?   There seems to be this idea that the two are diametrically opposed.  This idea has sprung up because people, usually Christians or conservatives, have challenged some of the scientific "facts" that secular folk have taken for gospel.  This obviously means these people are "anti-science" even though the challenge is against the claims and not the science itself.  Though amusingly, the people that so viciously support these claims are just as, if not more, religious in their belief and intent than the Christians they're deriding.   But again, does it really have to be that way?  No!  Science is not some anti religion ideology.  It's simply an objective method for determining truth and fact by what we can observe.  In fact, many Christians use science on a daily basis and many early scientists were Christian!  So yes, religion and science can coexist, but the culture of opposition has sprung up to put Christians at odds with modern science, but that really isn't the case.

Or how about our political landscape?  Left wing and Right wing.  In many cases, one side cannot acknowledge a sound idea by the other side. You have sites dedicated to opposing everything the other side says or does.  Some might read this and believe I'm a centrist, but that isn't true.   I definitely believe the Right has far more correct than the Left.  But this doesn't mean I oppose leftist ideas simply because they sprang from the minds of leftists.  If the idea has merit, it's worth acknowledging and looking into.  For example, I support capitalism, the free markets, and the reduction of regulations to make it easier for people to go into business.  Yet, I don't support zero government regulation or intervention.  I feel the government's role in the economy is to keep it as free and fair as possible by preventing companies from intentionally corrupting or rigging the system.  If you had to sum it up, I'd say my approach is mostly right wing with enough government such that businesses have an entity to be accountable to if they try to cheat the system.  Which is how I think it should be.  But instead, because we live in a culture of opposition, we're left with hyper partisanship (which itself is used to discredit valid opposition to certain ideas) which would lead one to believe that all regulation is bad or that the other side fully advocates complete deregulation.  Politically, a good solution will not be completely one or the other, but our culture of opposition had made it so acknowledging merit of the "other side" is considered traitorous.

And this is a big problem.  A culture of opposition where solutions and ideas are presented in binary pairs is, for starters, a very immature way to look at things.  "If it's not this, then it's this" or "Not that, instead this" removes a fundamental piece of understand from the equation:  That it's possible to have simultaneous facets and thoughts that may compete with each other.  It takes away the possibility that someone can be both, or all, of something in varying degrees.  It reduces the complexity of humanity into oversimplified, never ending conflict.  Anyone take a guess where I think such a culture comes from?  That's right: Satan.  A culture where we dehumanize those we disagree with to an opposition talking point fits right into his plan because this kind of culture is stagnant and not going anywhere as it fights amongst itself like children.  This is exactly what he wants.

But, let's get one thing straight, this doesn't mean opposition in and of itself is necessarily.  We are told to resist the Devil and oppose evil.  And we can still oppose bad ideas or ideas we don't agree with.  But what we shouldn't do is treat the competing idea as a singular, mutually exclusive point.
That's when it becomes a problem. When the simplistic opposition described above is ingrained in our culture to the point where that's all we do when presented with confrontation. You could even say this culture of opposition is a distraction against the forces we should be opposing:  Satan and his evil.

What we need to do is move in to a culture of honor and unity.  Of true respect despite disagreement.  Of unity despite diversity in background, ethnic culture, and opinion.  A culture of unity doesn't mean there will never be disagreements.  It means that those disagreements are handled with respect and honor.   It's a culture that honors the person you may not completely know and then understand there's more to them than the opinion they expressed that you disagree with.  Easier said than done though, right?  Yes.  I often find myself caught in the culture of opposition's grasp, but I'm thankful I have a God to pull me out of it when I take the time to listen to Him.

And to me, the best way to do this is to simply serve God.  His honor is boundless.  He knows each and every one of us.  All of our facets.  All the knobs and dials that go into being us.  Servitude to Him can bring about the humility and love it takes to see everyone as the complex and awesome beings of light God has made us.  Turning to Him can turn our culture from one of opposition to one of unity and honor.

As long as we continue to allow ourselves to be mired in our culture of opposition, we'll always have the problems we're experiencing now.  Let's turn toward unity and honor.  Let's turn toward God.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The biggest takeaway I had from doing Back to the Future comparisons

Plenty of comparisons today between what the Back to the Future  2 thought the future would be like and how it actually is today.  Probably the biggest takeaway from these comparisons for me is examining how writers from 26 years ago tried to predict future trends based on what they currently knew at the time.

While we're actually quite close on many of the technological advancements, how they manifested were quite different.  For example, both movies have video chatting capabilities.  But instead of using the flat panel tv on the wall we use a compact lightweight mobile device.  What made the difference in this case?  In the late 80's cell phones hadn't quite taken off yet, so it's not surprise they didn't foresee the immense value in having portal, small and high quality technological devices.  Heck, the computers back then were relative behemoths as well.  Compact design just wasn't a variable at the time.

The most glaring of these mismatches is the predicted fashion.  The writers took the fashion and cultural trends of the day and just kind of "futurized" them.  They completely didn't predict the minimalist and simplistic modern look that started to develop about a decade and a half later.  And how could they? There's really no way for them to have known.

So my point is when it comes to eras where we have no accurately recorded data, such as the future or the distant past, how much stock can we put into the information about those times if we're making assumptions that certain parameters are constant when they very well might not be?

How long has there been doom and gloom about the earth starving, running out of water, the temperature reaching catastrophic levels, etc. when something that wasn't predicted or accounted for changed those predictions or when something we thought was constant really was not?

Some may take this post as "anti science", but it's actually rooted in sticking to science.  Science is simply an objective way to understand our world.  It helps give us an idea about things, but can also leave the answer as inconclusive, especially when data is too sparse or there's just too many variables to draw accurate conclusions.

What I am against, however, is the dishonesty when it comes to taking things we really can't scientifically say is certain and making them undisputable, not up for debate, "truth".  That's not science at all.  That's just manipulating scientific findings to fit into what one wants to believe instead of acknowledging that "The data might indicate this, but there's just too many variables to be certain."   These people want so hard for the data to back up what they already believe that they just can't accept that the data doesn't completely support it or may even point in the other direction.

And I'm kind of likening those people to the futuristic predictions that the back to the future writers made.  Of course, it was only for entertainment and there probably wasn't much in the way of a scientific method when coming up with these.  But still, they took contemporary conditions, assumed they would be constant, and extrapolated based off that.  Making assertions that rely upon the assumption that certain conditions are constant backward and forward in time is folly.  We end up looking about as silly as some of the back to the future predictions.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Our culture's science fiction, alien, supernatural, and even conspiracy fixation points to a yearning for God

Being one of those "geeky" types that enjoys reading sci fi and fantasy books as well as watching shows of the same nature, this past decade has been a bit of a pleasant development.   Traditionally, this type of entertainment hadn't really enjoyed the maintstream that much.  Sure, we had Star Wars and Star Trek, but before the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the early Harry Potter movies, there wasn't really much in the way of mainstream visibility to these genres.  Yet fast forward to 2015, and it's everywhere.  Star Wars fever is at an all time pitch with episode 7 right around the corner.  Some of the more popular TV shows and entities have permeated pop culture such that even one not immediately familiar with a show or movie could recognize something from that show or movie even if they don't know exactly what it is.  There's so many supernatural tv shows, both scripted and reality, that it's impossible to keep track of them all.  There's Harry Potter conventions that aren't just a handful of people dressing up in the park.  As Alec Hardison of Leverage rightfully exclaimed "It's the age of the geek, baby!".  Indeed.  

But, is this explosion of "geek culture" perhaps pointing to something larger?  Well, let's look at one point that science fiction, supernatural, fantasy, and even conspiracy theory type entertainment has in common.  In each of these, there's a thirst for "something more out there".  Many have said that this genre offers people an escape from the depressing reality of mundane life.  While maybe that's true for some just as others seek escape at the bottom of a liquor bottle, I don't believe it's accurate to say that as a culture many of us have decided to "escape" our crappy world by surrounding ourselves in fantasy.  Instead, I think the increasing popularity of this genre in our culture is an expression that we yearn for more.  We're looking for "more out there".  The supernatural reality ghost shows seek to find proof of dead spirits.  The conspiracy type shows seek to find hidden truth.  Science fiction and fantasy reaches outward toward the stars and our imaginations to find a certain quality of life that seemingly more desirable than our current boring life.  

And no show exemplifies this yearning more than Dr Who.  Why do people like Dr Who so much?  There's many things.  But at the base of it is the premise.  A nearly immortal being that can travel anywhere in space and  time.  That is the epitome of "looking for more".  The doctor can pretty much witness any event in history anywhere in the universe.  Just the very thought of that possibility gets me excited.  With a Tardis (the doctor's time travelling spaceship), the possibilities are endless!

As a culture we're looking for something more.  We're seeking more meaning to life.  We're seeking a fulfilling life that isn't the supposed boring mundane stuff we deal with day and day out.  

Yet, despite all this searching, the answer has been front of us all the entire time:  God.  The creator of the universe.  The owner of space and time.  The all powerful, limitless and immeasurable God.   Too often people focus on the restrictive nature of the Bible's teachings.  How it's always trying to tell you what not to do and how to live.  But that's not the whole picture.  Here we have a God that is the biggest, most important being in the universe.  He permeates creation.  He's everywhere.  He's the supernatural.  He's the future.  If there's anything real that actually fills the "more" category, it's Him.  

So why aren't more of us turning to God?  Well, for starters it's not easy.  The answer is simple, but the road is difficult.  Why isn't it easy?  Because it requires a couple things that run anathema to human nature: faith in an unseen God and setting aside our pursuit of personal desires to truly serve and seek Him.  Many treat God as a system administrator that is there to help get us out of a jam when we need it, but then go back to our own pursuits after He helps us out, putting Him out of our minds.  Unfortunately, this is not what true servitude to God is supposed to be.  Those who follow Christ have to truly to put Him first.  To put His will and what He wants above our own.  It's a very hard thing to do.

But let me tell you, the rewards for doing so can be phenomenal. I'll fully admit that I still struggle with putting Him first on a daily basis.  It's so easy to get sucked in to the allure that the science fiction / fantasy genre offers and seek fulfillment there.  I'm not saying this genre is bad by any means, but it's also important to recognize when an aspect of one's life is keeping you from seeking God.  And for me, I have substituted God with some story that is incredibly engrossing such that all I want to do is find out what happens.  And what I've discovered is at the end of the story, while entertaining, doesn't quite fulfill me.  

And yet, despite my shortcomings in seeking Him, when I do seek Him, He's blessed me tremendously.  The "boring" mundane life's worries became distant and small and I realize that I can be my own story of fulfillment.  The more I dedicate my life to pursue God, the more my life can become an amazing story all its own, filled with testimony and inspiration.  I've no illusions that it will be easy.  Heck, even in the stories I do read, how often does the story have smooth happy go lucky sailing?  Exactly.  Why should my servitude to God be any different, especially when there IS an enemy out there attempting to bring down His children?

So here's my challenge and/or advice to anyone that finds themselves wondering things like "What the heck am I doing with my life?" or find themselves constantly yearning and seeking for something more, give God a try.  Become an acolyte of Him.  Make Him what you seek.  I guarantee it'll be the best decision you've ever made.