Friday, December 20, 2013

Case in point...

Here is what I find to be a good example of exactly what I meant in my post from earlier today. There has been this court case in Colorado involving a cake shop refusing to service a homosexual couple over religious reasons. This then begs the question of what other types of couples can be refused service over religious reasons? Interracial couples (considering that once was an issue)? Well...guess what? It would appear Dennis Prager doesn't think so because opposition to interracial marriage supposedly isn't a proper religious belief!
What if, for example, someone’s religious principles prohibited interracial marriages? Should that individual be allowed to deny services to an interracial wedding?

Of course not.

Here’s why that objection is irrelevant:

1. No religion practiced in America – indeed, no world religion – has ever banned interracial marriage. That some American Christians opposed interracial marriage is of no consequence. No one assumes that every position held by any member of a religion means that the religion holds that position.

But, as Ed Brayton points out:
Interracial marriage was banned in every state in this country at one point and always on religious grounds. Whether Prager thinks those religious grounds were legitimate or not or whether the Bible really supported that position is irrelevant; it was the overwhelming view of Christians in this country for at least a century and a half that interracial marriage was forbidden and that the law should enforce that religious view. Christian ideology has shifted, as it often does, but that does not make the reality of those past positions magically disappear.

This is largely what I was talking about when I spoke of culture and religion being intertwined. Once opposition to interracial marriage became culturally unpopular, religion changed! And 50 years from now, we'll likely see very little religious opposition to same-sex marriage. And there will likely be religious people claiming that no world religion ever banned same-sex marriage. In some ways, they would be correct! The bible does not oppose same-sex marriage. It just opposes guys having sex with each other. (Though, it would be strange to say, "Yeah, you can get married. That's cool. You're just not allowed to have sex.")

On that, I do have to address his somewhat correct, but yet incorrect, second point.
2. If opposition to same-sex marriage is not a legitimately held religious conviction, there is no such thing as a legitimately held religious position. Unlike opposition to interracial marriage, opposition to same-sex marriage has been the position of every religion in recorded history – as well as of every country and every American state until the 21st century.

I pretty much agree with that first sentence. That is another reason why I say one should just accept it if someone claims their belief is a religious belief. Otherwise, then we have to go about determining which religious belief is "legitimately held" and which is not. And how do we do that? This is where Prager's argument goes way wrong, and in a direction I don't think he intended. He appears to be implying that a religious conviction is legitimately held if it has been held by "every religion in recorded history." Well, I've got some bad news for Prager — the convictions that Jesus was/is the "Son of God" and/or the "Lord and Savior" are convictions that have not been held by "every religion in recorded history." Oops.

I would think this has to be his argument. If it isn't, then his first point is going to be very weak and opens up some other problems. For his first point to still stand, it would appear that his standard for a "legitimately held" belief would have to be based on popularity within the religion. Well, what do you do, then, about beliefs that are minority beliefs that grow to become more popular over time. One example of this would be anytime a new denomination, or even a branch, of Christianity develops. Protestantism would have been a new denomination at one point and would not have had many proponents. Today, it is no longer a denomination and is now a large branch of Christianity that includes many branches of its own and numerous denominations. So are general Protestant views now "legit" now that they are popular?

Or, in regards to the topic of same-sex marriage, are the beliefs of Christians who think this is acceptable not legitimate beliefs? And, once again, in 50 years when this likely becomes the majority belief, would such beliefs only then become legitimate?

That Prager shoots himself in the foot with his own argument just goes to show why trying to create rules for determining what is and what is not a "legitimately held" belief is a bad idea.

How do you determine if someone's beliefs are religious beliefs?

Updated on Jan 14 to remove some redundancy and lack of clarity.

Simple! If they say their beliefs are religious, then they are!

Oh, alright, the full answer is a bit more complicated...

This post comes from a conversation I was having with my mother about Phil Robertson (of Duck Dynasty) who has been suspended from the show due to homophobic remarks. In the conversation, I had (somehow — I don't remember the exact phrasing) referred to his beliefs as religious beliefs. She questioned if that was stretching it a bit far. In my mother's defense, perhaps she was unaware at the time that Robertson himself had said that they were. From the GQ article (page 2):
What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

But never mind my mother. Whatever her view, it did get me thinking about some of the silly defenses of religion that are out there. The main defense is to claim that beliefs like Robertson's aren't really religious, but rather that these people are using religion to justify their horrible beliefs. I can agree with this to a point. The point where I disagree is that this is the way religion often works. Even if there is a god or gods, it should be pretty obvious no religions were inspired (well, maybe bits and pieces, but certainly not the parts that are relevant to this discussion) fully by it or them and are largely, if not fully, made up by humans. So what do you think they are going to write into their religions??? If you answered "Their own beliefs," give yourself a prize! It's no surprise, then, to see modern day humans doing the same thing! (This often means interpreting what someone else wrote long ago to fit the modern age.)

And then the other part to that that may be worth mentioning is that these defenses often try to claim that religion is something good and positive. I almost saw this on Good Morning America's report Thursday, where the guest, Howard Bradman, said, "He used religion as a weapon rather than the tool it is meant to be." I can only assume he thinks it is meant to be a tool for good. Bullshit! Because religion is bullshit. And, therefore, it isn't "meant" to be anything. That's not to say it can't be used for good. The larger point in all of what I am saying is that religion is largely subjective! And when people defend religion, they are quite often defending those subjective parts, but the fact that they are defending them basically forces them to take a position of thinking them to be objective.

One last thing. I should point out that some of these defenders of religion may not be trying to defend religion but are doing it more by accident. There are some who may use similar arguments that have come to the conclusion that many of people's beliefs are cultural. They would then say Robertson's homophobia is cultural, but that he's using religion to defend his culture. So this is slightly different from the above, but it has the same flaw of failing to recognize that this is what religion tends to do. Culture influences religion and then religion turns right back around and influences culture! The two are too intertwined to be able to make a clear distinction. It is mainly for this that I say you should just take someone's word if they say their beliefs are religious. It is not to say that those beliefs are only religious, but to recognize that religion is playing a roll.

As an example of what is objective and what isn't, it is objective that the New Testament speaks a lot about a man named Jesus. But, as an example of what is more so subjective, was Jesus really a man??? There are some who think he was. Many think he was not just a man, but that he was God! Then, I think, there are even some out there (but this would be a very small minority group) that think he was really a space alien who disguised himself as a human. And, I can't forget, there are those who think Jesus was no more than a fictional character, a figment of the imagination. Now, realize that there is an objective truth as to what Jesus actually was. But we just don't have enough evidence to really determine what that truth is. Also, there are people who do try to reach their conclusions on what evidence there is — such people are trying to think more objectively about this. It is primarily the people who just read from the New Testament and come to their conclusions from that and that alone who I am talking about. Or, worse, the people who just accept what ever their church tells them. They're not thinking about this very objectively, therefore, I think it correct to label their beliefs as subjective.

Similarly, there is objective truth to what the authors of the various parts of the Bible actually meant. (For example, did they mean what they wrote literally or metaphorically?) But only those authors could ever fully know (we can certainly try to guess, but that's about it). And they are all dead. So we'll never know. So then anyone who says, "This is what this verse really means!" is full of themselves. (But don't let apologetics fool you! I would agree that someone could go and say, "This is what I think this verse means because..." and then they proceed to give their reasoning. These people are trying to objectively think about this. Apologetics can often look like it's doing the same thing. The problem I often have is the degree of certainty to which they claim they are correct in comparison to the reasoning they offer. It has always seemed to be that they are more certain of themselves than they should be.)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Affluenza, an update

I learned new information yesterday regarding the post I made that morning. First, I saw some clips of Anderson Cooper of CNN interviewing the psychologist (via TYT) who suggested that Texas teen needed therapy versus jail time. Apparently he largely blames the problem of "affluenza" on money. So, I need to make clear that I find that to largely be bullshit. I still agree with the idea that not having consequences for bad behavior will result in people failing to recognize what is bad behavior. But this can happen with anyone, not just people with lots of money. The main thing that I can see money really being useful for is for buying one's way out of bad consequences. Or, when the bad consequences are in the forms of fines, such consequences often affect a rich person much less than a poor person. A $100 fine for speeding, let's say, is going to impact a person making minimum wage much more than someone making millions in a year.

The other part of the news is that I hear surviving members of all (?) the victims' families are apparently suing the teen. I thought they might try suing the parents, but, as I said yesterday, apparently the judge didn't think the parents were to blame in the sentencing, so such a court battle would perhaps not be fruitful. I do wish them luck, though, for what it's worth. (No pun intended.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The problem is X; therefore, to fix the problem, do more of X!

A story that was big in the news late last week was that of a Texas teen who avoided jail time from having killed four people from having driven drunk. The outrage over the story had to do with the fact that the sentencing is putting this teen, who is also the child of very wealthy parents, in therapy at a private resort instead of in jail. At first, this didn't sound terribly horrible. I find that we have a problem in this country that our solution to bad behavior tends to be simply "jail time."

But, upon further thought, this sentencing is problematic based on who the perpetrator is and with the line of reasoning that was used by the defense. Essentially, it was argued that the teen had not learned proper behavior because he had not learned there are consequences for bad behavior. (This was referred to as "affluenza," which is not a professionally recognized term, from what I understand.) Now, I'm actually on board with that bit of reasoning as I've come to realize that we humans do form our moral compasses in part from recognizing consequences for behaviors. If someone grows up without consequences, they will indeed not have such recognition. This is in itself an argument for punishment so that this teen can finally learn about such consequences firsthand. If the claim is that the problem is a result of lack of punishment, then the solution is not and cannot be to continue this trend. The fix has to be at minimum a regular* punishment, if not even a harsher punishment.

Yet, a lack of punishment is what he got. So what is he going to learn from this? I fear not much. Especially when adding in that his therapy is going to be at a nice resort. How, then, is that therapy going to work? His therapy sessions are supposed to attempt to teach him that there are consequences for actions, but all he needs to do is look at his real-life situation to realize that the lessons he should be taught are not true. In other words, there is bound to be a contradiction between what his lessons say real-life is like and what he knows real-life to actually be like via personal experience. Personal experience is likely to win in this.

* I don't know if I can stress this enough. As I said, at first I was not so opposed to the sentencing because I don't think our current system delivers proper consequences for actions. Worst of all is that we don't seem to treat criminals as though they are humans. How, then, can we expect them to successfully merge back into society when their terms are over? The problem in this case is that since the problem is claimed to be a lack of punishment, anything less than what is normal for our current system is no good. I would like to see what is normal change, but this is a case that I have come to realize could not be used to change this system, nor will it be able to change the system since other teens won't be able to go to a resort for therapy.

On a side note, I saw some comments on a YouTube video reporting this story suggesting that the parents then be punished since the argument was that this teen didn't learn about consequences for actions due to how his parents raised him. It sounded like a good idea, though I had doubted police would even try that. Unfortunately, the article I linked above says that "The judge in the case, Jean Boyd, rejected the suggestion that the boy’s parents were ultimately responsible for his actions." So not only does this probably rule out any consequences for the parents, this makes this sentencing even worse than I had thought as of this weekend. If the parents are not to blame, then how can this teen have "affluenza"? Is the judge blaming money??? Recall that the problem of "affluenza" is due to a lack of proper consequences for actions. Certainly the parents have to have some responsibility for this! When children are growing up, parents often have to play the part of police, judge, and jury and impose consequences for bad behavior if the consequences don't manifest "naturally" (i.e, touching a hot stove will produce the consequence of a burn, so no parental intervention in that roll would be needed in such a case). After hearing this, I think this judge really needs to be reprimanded herself. Or, at minimum, some "therapy" in logical reasoning.