Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Problem With Right-wing Thought

Earlier this week, the above photo / meme appeared on my Facebook wall. It was posted by a lady in my church whom I know to be quite conservative. Because of the importance that the right gives to abortion, any meme that illustrates why abortion is wrong is considered "red meat" that goes to the very root of the conservative mentality. Never mind the faulty comparison, which is this: One of those is a species that faces a real and urgent possibility of extinction. The other is a species that is well overpopulated and wreaking havoc on our planet's ability to sustain itself. Do conservatives not understand what extinction is? It means that once a species dies off, that's it. They are gone forever. There is no bringing them back. They live on in photographs and biology books and museums. They do not live on in the environment.

To a conservative mind, though, man is the dominant species on the planet and it's by design. God gave humans that "right" of dominion and whatever we do has no consequence, because that's just the way things are set up. Also to a conservative, abortion under any circumstances is a great evil, often raised to the level of "the Holocaust", because a doctor and a woman wishing to terminate a pregnancy is depriving the fetus the right to be born. I believe this is rooted in fear-based thinking and the belief that life begins at conception. It strikes fear into the hearts of conservatives because they think, "What if my mom had aborted me? I wouldn't exist!" That is a fearful thought.

Eight years ago, when I retook a Biology course that I had failed in college and needed to complete in order to receive my Bachelor's Degree, I was struck by the chapters about the eco-system. In the animal kingdom, as every hunter knows, when an animal species gets too populated, predators increase as well as disease. Nature has a balancing effect to keep things from getting out of control and causing havoc. While this applies throughout the animal kingdom (and plant kingdom), the reason why humans have been able to transcend that is due to our sheer ability to manipulate our environment and live in large populations over a small area. Our ability to eradicate disease and increase the survivability rate of women giving birth, along with better diet and sanitation meant that the human population was able to explode into billions upon billions of people.

The problem with our species goes well beyond just sheer numbers. Its our rate of consumption and what that is doing to our environment. When I studied political science in college, I often heard professors cite some study that indicated that if every human being on earth lived the typical American lifestyle, we would require FOUR planet earths to sustain that kind of consumption. Think about how much we throw away in just our grocery shopping packaging materials each month! Imagine if 7 billion people did this every day!

Instead of obsessing over abortion, I wish evangelicals and conservatives would focus on the truly perplexing issues that face the entire planet today. We're talking about our own survival as a species and the sustainability of the planet. When anti-abortion folks want to save lives of the unborn, do they know what the impact will be on the future? I'm not sure how many pregnancies are terminated each year, but imagine if that number was 10 million each year. Or a hundred million in a decade. How many hamburgers would each of those ten or a hundred million eat in a lifetime? How many cows does that make? How many gallons of water does that take (to grow the grains to feed the cattle)? Each human life has a huge impact on our environment and if we cannot find a way to sustain a future for millions of unborn, what is that going to mean for our own future? We either have to make huge sacrifices in our consumption rates (which no one seems willing to do) or we continue to progress towards the guaranteed catastrophe of a planet reeling from the crop failures caused by hotter and dryer summers, which increase the price of food, which means more people are going to have violent clashes over. Considering how overweight many fellow Americans are, the over consumption of food is going to really hit our country hard.

An interesting development this past summer on our border illustrated the problem of conservative thought. I read so many nasty and mean and untrue comments about the young children from Latin American who made the dangerous trek to the American border in search of a better life. Conservatives were livid and accused them of being possible ISIS terrorists or of carrying disease or of becoming future Democratic voters who will turn Texas into a blue state. I did not hear much compassion from the right. If they are unwilling to take care of the already living children who are in need of food, shelter, clothing, and medical care, then why the hell do they care about the unborn?!? This represents the ultimate failure of conservative thought, which is that if someone wants or needs something, then it means that a person who has something will have to lose it to the person who has nothing. Well...what the heck do you think is going to happen if we keep adding millions upon millions of unwanted children in a time of growing scarcity and sustainability problems?!? It will mean more people in poverty and dire circumstances, hungry, tired, sick, diseased, ill-clothed, uneducated, constantly needing the basics of life.

So, if you are an anti-abortion person, I beg you to consider the issue in the context of over-population, climate change, sustainability, quality of life, crime, food shortages, water shortages, and really ask yourself...what are you willing to sacrifice in your life to ensure that these unborn millions upon millions of children who are not wanted by their mothers is able to get a decent chance in life? If you didn't care about the Latin American kids on the border this past summer, then why do you really care about unborn fetuses? Is it because abortion represents an existential fear you have? If you care about abortion, then make living children your cause to champion. Take care of the kids today who have little to nothing and don't worry about what some woman decides about her pregnancy. It's none of your business. It's the living we should focus on.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Faulty Premise of the film "God's Not Dead"

It has been ages since I posted on my blog. Life and lack of a personal computer were the biggest hindrance. I miss blogging, though. I've missed out on so many worthy news items and movies to write about. Hopefully, I can fall back into a regular writing routine, since I have now achieved "stability" in that I have moved into a home of my own in July. No more dealing with roommates with questionable personal values or overbearing resident landlady who only wanted the extra income a renter brought in, but not actually liking that someone is in her home. I can definitely understand that, being somewhat "territorial" myself. But when you live with people or allow people to live in your space, some accommodation is required. You can't be dictatorial. Or you can, if you want to drive people away.

Anyhow, this post is about a movie I saw last Saturday, called "God's Not Dead". I knew before deciding to rent it that it was an evangelical Christian film, but curiosity got the better of me because the premise was intriguing, if not outright ridiculous. The movie is about an evangelical Christian college freshman who has to take a philosophy course as part of the liberal arts requirement for his pre-law degree. On the first day of class, his philosophy professor announces to the class that in order to study philosophy, all the students have to accept the Nietzschean premise that "God is dead". He did not want anyone to argue from the standpoint that the supernatural is real. In fact, on his chalkboard is a list of philosophers like Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and others. He asks the class what they all have in common. Since I took a political philosophy class in college, I knew from the missing notables like Socrates, Plato, Aquinas, and others that his list of philosophers were likely all atheists (though Sigmund Freud was Jewish). Sure enough, that's exactly what the professor indicated to his class. In an outrageous scene that screamed incredulity, he required for the first graded assignment that all of his students write on a piece of paper: "God is dead" and sign their names and pass it to him. All of the students do so without hesitation...except for the lone evangelical Christian student, who views doing this as a sign of betrayal to the God he worships. So, he refuses, much to the professor's surprise.

The professor then offers an alternative, which is to allow 20 minutes of three classes (one per week) for the evangelical student to argue his belief that God is not dead, in front of the entire class. The student and professor negotiate who will judge if he made his case. The professor wanted to be the final judge, but the student won the argument when he said that the professor wouldn't be able to be objective. So, the verdict would be rendered by the rest of the class.

This assignment creates problems for the student's relationship with his controlling girlfriend, who has planned their entire college career and graduate school career for the both of them. From her perspective, he can't win an argument against a university professor and doing so will harm his grade and jeopardize their law school plans. However, he views this opportunity as a chance to prove his worth to God. A pastor of a church (one of the minor characters with a subplot) quotes a Bible verse to the student about how denying God will mean that God will deny you in the afterlife. The take home message of the film is supposed to be that God requires Christians to defend God. However, from a logical perspective, why would an all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the entire universe require an imperfect human being to "defend" God from the beliefs / statements of another imperfect human being? This is one of the "flaws" of religion, as it is seen as a license to proselytize and judge others who disagree.

As the film progresses, we see that the professor is not just an atheist, but a classic textbook example of a narcissist. He makes a personal threat to the evangelical student in the hallway after class that making him look bad in front of the class will have repercussions in regards to his law school dreams. He belittles his wife in front of dinner party guests. He is truly made out to be a monster and as we later learn, he became an atheist when he was 12 years old and pleaded with God to spare his cancer-stricken mother from death. When that didn't happen, he turned his back on God and as the student was able to eventually coax out of him, it's not so much that he doesn't believe God exists as he hates God for not saving his mother from cancer. This is a fallacy that many evangelical Christians seem to believe. I have talked to many atheists and known many over the years and from my understanding, people who are atheists are very smart individuals and have a strictly rational / scientific mind. They require absolute evidence that anything supernatural exists before they will believe anything. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just the way they are wired. Of course, many of the atheists I've known did grow up in fundamentalist / conservative evangelical or authoritarian religions. It's like they swung in the opposite extreme, possibly owing their insistence on scientific-backed evidence to protect them from the outrageous claims made by many religions (for example, in Mormon theology, the idea that the founder, Joseph Smith, discovered golden plates written by an ancient peoples about the real history of the Americas, in which the actual golden plates are not with us to prove Smith's claims). In other words, most atheists don't hate God because they simply do not believe that God exists. To say that atheists hate God is the equivalent of saying that a person hates the flying spaghetti monster. It's a ridiculous claim. Yet, that is what this film tries to convey.

Some other characters in the film are there to reinforce the evangelical Christian view of the world that the point of existence is to accept Jesus as a personal Lord and Savior or else end up in hell for all eternity. They have a young Muslim woman who keeps a secret from her family that she actually got baptized as a Christian (according to Islam, converting away from that religion can result in authorized death being imposed by believers). There's also a Chinese exchange student who grew up in an atheist country but was so taken by the evangelical Christian student's arguments against their atheist professor that he wholeheartedly decides to become a Christian, too, much to his father's (back in China) baffling dismay. Dean Cain plays an alpha male businessman who is all image and materialism and when he learns on an important anniversary dinner that his girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer, he complains about her timing and dumps her. At the urging of his Christian sister, he visits their mother who is suffering from dementia and asks her why she, in all her kindness, was afflicted with that disease, while he was a jerk to everyone and enjoyed a good life. In a moment of coherence, surprising him, his mother replies that Satan sometimes allows people to experience the good life so that they will never turn to God. Yowsa! There's also a cameo by one of the Duck Dynasty guys, promoting church / conservative Christian evangelicalism. Ug.

The characters have surprising interconnection, which you will discover as you watch the film (if you care to watch the film). Eventually, it culminates in a Newsboys concert. One of the atheist characters has what is known as a "death bed conversation" which is ridiculous propaganda and reinforces the evangelical Christian message of the film.

It amazes me that evangelical Christians believe that atheist university professors are a problem that evangelical students need to be made aware of. From what I know about university professors, I don't think any philosophy professor would impose his or beliefs on students. They wouldn't promote atheism in their classes. It's an evangelical Christian delusion to assume that just because questions get asked in Philosophy class that Biblical literalists can't explain or answer to satisfaction, doesn't mean that atheism is being promoted or required of students.

However, if I was in a class where a professor made a demand that one either turn in a paper stating that "God is dead" or else lecture to the class trying to prove the existence of God, I would take that challenge. However, my reasons for why I believe God exists is far different answer than what evangelical Christians come up with. For me, it is through near death experiences, synchronistic experiences, and universal ideas that all religions / spiritual beliefs share, that point to the reality that we live in a spiritually directed universe.

This movie only served to remind me how different my views are from the evangelical Christians. So, while the film strives to pit an atheist professor against the evangelical Christians, I personally believe both sides have flawed arguments.

What I liked about the film were the acting, the music, and a couple of ideas. For one, the professor is a classic example of "narcissistic personality disorder". For another, a pastor told a woman who was in love with an atheist that she had "Cinderella Syndrome" which her attraction to a man simply because of his physical attractiveness even though they had little in common had more to do with her need to feel validated. Apparently, it is very validating for a person when someone really attractive falls in love with you.

The film was interesting to watch and once again be reminded how much my views have evolved far away from the evangelical Christian view that I was "brainwashed" with as a teenager through a military base's youth program. I'm glad that my personal views are more universal in scope and that the God I honor and recognize is intelligent and powerful enough not to need imperfect humans to "defend God's honor" against the ignorance of other imperfect humans. My personal spiritual view is that the ultimate meaning of existence in human form is "to know thyself." Interesting, in the film, the atheist philosophy professor quotes that very line "to know thyself" to his wife during his dinner party. That comes from Socrates and Plato. It is the sign at the oracle at Delphi. Interesting that this movie would have a God hating atheist quote a spiritual concept as what Socrates believed: that we are spiritual beings having a sojourn on earth and the ultimate goal is to learn all about ourselves and what we are capable of. I love good and unintentional irony like that!