Tag Archives: Debate

Celebrate Anyway

I’ve come to understand that some Christians do not celebrate Christmas because it has some traditionally pagan aspects, and because it has become too secular and too commercialized. I do not deny either of these facts. In fact, there are things about the modern, mainly Western take on Christmas that thoroughly annoy me. However, there are reasons that I feel Christmas should be celebrated anyway. At its core, the purpose of Christmas is to commemorate the birth of Christ, and to acknowledge and enforce the hope we have for his second coming. Strip everything else away, and it is nothing more or less than that.

Christianity entered Europe in the first few centuries A.D. They wanted to convert Pagans to their religion, but they were also interested in their traditions and culture. I have heard the argument that this is dangerous. Prying too deeply into non-Christian ideas might lead one to believe in those ideas. However, what one believes in is ultimately a choice. There are many aspects to faith. Though it would be easier if it did not, it usually requires some form of evidence for its truth, but this evidence almost always comes after an initial willingness to believe in the first place. It needs to be relational, meaning that ideas and emotions and even messages go both ways between us and God. Most importantly, it needs to be intentional. There will always be conflicting ideas in the world, and yes, it is possible to be tempted to question one’s own faith. It is the choice to stay steadfast that makes it real, and makes it stronger. Studying other religions and ideas is not dangerous as long as one is capable of discerning what is fact and what is fiction.

However, there is a difference between studying other religions and incorporating some of those ideas into one’s own practices. Admittedly, this can be dangerous, and I think, has honestly become detrimental over time. Though it is still celebrated by Christians, Christmas has become a largely secular holiday. There are several reasons for this. While some traditions were adopted with good intentions, over time, they morphed into new ideas entirely. Saint Nicholas, who was a real, historical person, and a saint in the Catholic Church, eventually became known only as Santa Clause to many people. He is nothing more than a magical dude who hangs out with elves and brings presents to kids once per year. I do personally believe that this particular aspect of the modern rendition of Christmas is a problem because it takes the focus away from Christ and puts it on this character who, for kids, is generally more fun.

Music causes similar problems, at least for me. Many so-called Christmas songs are only about the secular aspects of Christmas–giving gifts, partying, etc. This is a very personal issue for me. Music and faith are very closely entwined in my mind, and I dislike songs that claim to be about Christmas, but have nothing spiritual about them. To be honest, it’s also just a matter of preference. The majority of them are musically annoying, and lyrically stupid, and I can’t help being a snobby art critic. However, this issue, and the issue of Santa Clause are personal issues for me. If I had kids I simply would not play secular holiday music or introduce the concept of Santa Clause. I would still get a tree, give gifts and eat too much food.

You might ask why things like the Christmas tree or the practice of giving gifts are not problematic. I do not see these as problematic because they are passive. They can be and symbolize whatever you want them to. In contrast, music actively introduces and perpetuates ideas, as do stories and fictional characters. A Christmas tree can symbolize life–the life that Christ promises to us. The lights and colorful decorations can symbolize hope and joy in an otherwise dark and cold time of year. The list goes on. Jesus received gifts at his birth, so why shouldn’t we give gifts to each other? Jesus loves us, and God is within all of us. Inventing your own symbolism for old ideas and concepts is absolutely permissible, and is exactly what the early Church did with Pagan ideas. For example, they celebrated a festival commemorating the birth of the New Sun, which we recognize as the Winter Solstice. The early Christians took this idea and used it to commemorate the birth of Christ. This made it understandable and relatable to their early converts.

Lastly, I would like to say that I do not condone the exploitation of a religious tradition for commercial gain, nor do I think it’s something that is worth getting totally stressed out about. I do not appreciate the trivialization by Western culture in general of something that is so beautiful and meaningful. However, I do not condemn the people who do these things. What they do is their business. Furthermore, I find that condemning people for what they believe is right, or at least permissible, is not productive. It only creates divisions and perpetuates the same problems. Take the Starbucks cups for example. Every year a handful of bored, militant atheists get worked up because Starbucks puts snowflakes on their cups, which simply is not a religious symbol. This year, Starbucks didn’t want to deal with it, so they made their cups plain red, which pissed off a bunch of bored, militant Christians. The most productive thing for Starbucks to do would be whatever they very well please. The snowflakes are kind of festive and fun, so if they want to, they should put them on the cups. They’re not going to go bankrupt because a few people with too much time on their hands are annoyed with them.

It literally does not matter what Starbucks puts on their cups, so Christians should have simply ignored the issue. There are certain things we simply cannot compromise about, but this is not one of them. We can be friends with a-religious peeps and Atheists, and Agnostics, and Muslims and Buddhists and people of any other religion while still not believing in or adhering to their faiths and practices. In fact, I argue that it is our duty as Christians to lead by example, and show people what it’s like to know Jesus. We can’t do that if we’re constantly fighting about trivialities. To bring this back to my original point, I would like to say that I don’t think there is one right way to celebrate Christmas, but I do think it should be celebrated because of its true purpose. Its pagan and secular aspects are not things that we need to necessarily be worried about. As I said, some things are problematic for me, so I personally ignore them. If they are not problematic for you, go ahead and enjoy.

For whatever reason there seems to be a sentiment around this time that tends to lead people to good thoughts and nice actions, whether they are religious or not. That alone is a good thing, and most likely ultimately stems from the original purpose of Christmas, whether people know it or not. There tends to be an increase in charitable donations. People tend to be more generous and more patient. Friends and family who often don’t see each other for months get together and enjoy each other’s company. People can stop and relax for a while. None of this is spiritual, but it’s all healthy and good for society in general. If you couple the warm and fuzzy feelings with a spiritual purpose, they can become permanent–not unbreakable, but more clearly defined, and purposeful far after Christmas is over. Christmas symbolizes a beginning, but what it began is still in progress, and we are a part of it. We need to remember that beginning, in part, to keep in mind where we’re going.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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Why I Am Against Extensive Gun Control

A few summers ago, my dad, little brother, godfather and I took turns shooting at a pineapple with an assault rifle on my godfather’s property. It was completely pointless, hilarious, and innocent. It was also the first time I had ever shot a gun. We were very safe about it. My godfather owns a lot of guns and has plenty of experience from hunting or going to the shooting range. To make a long story short, we decimated the pineapple and then put the gun away.

I have to assume that most peoples’ stories with guns are in a similar vain: it’s just fun. Do I deny that these are dangerous weapons? Of course not, but I firmly believe that it’s your intentions that matter far more than what a weapon is capable of. Why does my godfather have assault weapons? He just likes to collect them and occasionally do pointless, hilarious, innocent things with them.

Many believe that if we had more gun control, or if civilians were not allowed to own guns at all, we’d have a safer society. This, at least from my estimation, is just not the case. If civilians were not allowed to own guns, the criminals would still find ways of getting them and the rest of us would be completely at their mercy. Last night there were gun shots and a bomb threat at my friend’s college in D.C. He and his girlfriend were evacuated from their apartment building across from campus and taken to a safe place. It seems like this kind of news is almost constant these days. My dad takes the train into Boston every day for work, and he carries a knife with him, but what if something really dangerous happened at North Station? What if something happens when I go see Star Wars with my friends? Whether we like it or not, these are dangerous times, and I personally would feel safer if more reasonable people had weapons.

Admittedly, I’m biased. I’ve lived very much on one side of the argument, and I’ve seen how guns can be used safely and reasonably… although blowing up pineapples isn’t exactly reasonable. I think it’s also a matter of knowing yourself. Though I am against more gun control, I don’t think I should have a gun. I’m clumsy, and I don’t trust myself enough to know what to do in a dangerous situation. If you asked me if I tend to have a “fight” or “flight” or “freeze” impulse, I think I have a “fight” impulse, and I know that can be dangerous. That being said, I still would feel safer if I had some way of defending myself and others.

The sheer amount of mass shootings and death and bad news lately is staggering and really discouraging. Perhaps my stance on gun control is partially in response to all of this. I want nothing more than peace on Earth. I want everyone to love each other. I am an idealist. Maybe I’ve become cynical, but I’ve begun to believe that you can just wish and pray evil away. There is a part of me that is a fighter, and though I don’t want to have to, I am willing to fight evil. It has to be fought. I will fight it with words because that’s what I can do, but I think the people who can do more should be allowed to. At heart I’m a pacifist. I will never start a fight, but if it’s a fight worth having, I will finish it.

To some this will sound violent and scary, and you could probably use my words as an argument for gun control. To be fair I’ve heard ridiculous, super conservative people say things that sound similar, but I’m not them. I believe in people, and I believe in freedom. At my core, I’m a Christian, and I believe in peace. In a perfect world there would be no guns. We could get rid of them, and I’d be okay with that. Put them in a box, and send them to the bottom of the ocean. We have much more constructive things to do with our time. To me it’s a matter of allowing a lesser evil to fight a far greater, far scarier one. I don’t believe that guns are necessarily a good, safe thing to own. They are simply a necessary evil that might keep our people a little bit safer for the time being.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

We Should Be Nice

My friend asked me to help her with a research paper. The topic is whether or not the U.S. should welcome Syrian refugees into our borders. I told her that I don’t know a lot of the details, and honestly, I don’t know the extent of the dangers that this could cause. All I know is that I am 200% for helping these people. All I can give right now is a moralistic argument, but here it is.

A lot of people in this country don’t want to let refugees into our borders for one reason: they’re scared. They are afraid that potential terrorists are hiding among the people who honestly just need a safe place to go. One argument I have repeatedly heard in favor of admitting the refugees is that their situation appears very similar to that of the Jews during World War 2. The counter argument is that it is actually a very different situation because the Jews were a clearly defined, and clearly innocent group of people. It would be absurd to expect any of them to do anything violent and troublesome. However, I think many who are opposed to bringing in any refugees forget that the majority of these people really are innocent. We can’t lock the doors to all of them just because some of them might be bad. We must help the innocent and needy. We need a proper and effective screening process that is also efficient so that we can get these people into a stable situation as soon as possible.

While there is and always will be a threat of terrorists sneaking in among the refugees, we have to remember that it really isn’t all that difficult for ISIS to influence American citizens to do their work for them. They target isolated and marginalized people who are seeking an outlet to express their frustration. Many isolated people simply want to belong to something, and if they are convinced that they are important to a holy war, and that they will be greatly rewarded, they may and have been led to do horrible, violent things. These could be French, English, or American citizens who feel that they belong nowhere else and that they can succeed at nothing else. ISIS recruits these people through commonly used social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and through other less known outlets as well. They have people who are very technologically savvy and can communicate and transfer funds and information across the globe without being detected via the dark web (a closed system that avoids using sites that are detectable by search engines–for more information on the dark web, go here: Dark Web). So while there is a danger of radicalized Syrians coming into our country, there is always a danger of ISIS radicalizing our own people.

Lastly, the U.S. has seen a lot of violent crimes perpetrated by American citizens. Young American people who are frustrated with life go into schools and movie theaters what seems like several times a year sometimes, and kill as many people as they can. While we don’t know their motives, we have to realize that this is a result of isolation. People who have healthy relationships, stable home lives, and a network of support to help with any mental health problems they may have, don’t do these things. It is the people who are neglected and ignored who end up resorting to violence. In this situation, we can all take some of the blame. Our citizens simply don’t want to deal with these people because we’re too busy or because we don’t want to get into an uncomfortable situation, our government doesn’t help because they don’t have enough money, or because they don’t know how, and our religious institutions, Christian, Muslim, or whatever else, don’t get involved because of the complicated theological and existential implications, and because their leaders are inadequately trained to deal with these kinds of issues. Refusing to accept refugees is not going to stop violent crime in this country.

The ultimate solution to our problem is to be careful, but also to be loving. We can increase productivity and the overall happiness of our people, including those we help from other countries, by developing a more inclusive, more caring society. Ultimately what will solve our problem is a change within ourselves. We need to be willing to do two things: get over our fear, and sacrifice a little of our time. We can be kind and loving while still being practical, but we need to be intentional about it. We need to make conscious choices about how we act toward every other person. I’ve had this conversation with my dad over and over: if we could just show our enemies how prosperous our nation is and how happy our people are overall, we might change their minds about us. Our country was built by immigrants and refugees. By not helping our Syrian friends, we are proving our enemies right about us.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!I

Be Careful

It seems to me lately that social media, or at least Facebook, is getting more negative. I don’t have a lot of Facebook friends–just my chums and extended family, and a couple of our neighbors, which in total, amounts to 100/150 people. A lot of those people rarely use it or don’t use it at all any more, which reduces the number to somewhere between 20 and 30 people. I still use it quite a bit to keep in touch and for networking or organizational purposes. Often it is fun. People post silly personality tests or interesting articles, and I like that stuff. There are certain types of posts that just drive me insane, though.

  1. Passive aggressive: These posts are directed at no one in particular, and yet they are obviously meant for someone. They are usually some kind of attack by people who will not confront their problems by talking to people directly. Instead, they clutter up everyone’s news feed with meaningless banter that is just confusing and annoying. Either break off your relationship with that person, or talk to them privately. Don’t expect me to pity you if I don’t even know what you’re talking about.
  2. Self pitying posts: These all say essentially the same thing, that being, “If you move on from your difficult past, it will make you stronger.” While that’s technically a good message, it gets posted a lot, and says to me that the people who are posting this really aren’t moving on. Furthermore, posting this doesn’t accomplish anything. You’re posting it because you’re dwelling on your past. Learn to forgive. Learn to appreciate the little things. Allow yourself to hope. Everyone has difficulties and regrets, and I get that it’s easier for some people to move on for whatever reason, but posting this stuff on Facebook accomplishes nothing.
  3. Guilt trip: Someone posts a picture of a kid with cancer and says something along the lines of, “If you don’t ‘share’ this, you’re a heartless jerk.” That doesn’t make me want to share the post, and often makes me scroll past it without doing anything. There are similar posts that say, “Hey, do me a favor and pray for this kid.” Those are nice. That’s not a guilt trip, and that actually makes me want to pray for the kid. In fact, sometimes if I see something like that I’ll just stop what I’m doing and pray right then and there so I don’t forget. Maybe the intention really is good, but telling me I’m a jerk if I don’t share your post does not make me want to share your post.
  4. Straight-up mean: These usually come in the form of comments. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a perfectly innocent post about even a vaguely religious or political topic, and people start ripping each others’ throats out. It happens a lot with controversial issues, but sometimes it happens with completely amoral, apolitical, areligious stuff. People will post something about a cool art piece, and it’ll start an all-out war. This wouldn’t happen if people were talking in person, so it shouldn’t happen on Facebook. Debate is fine. Being a jerk is not.

Social media is a tool. Yes, it is also a form of entertainment, but it can be used for constructive or destructive purposes, just like movies, books, or other forms of entertainment. However, because it is interactive, it is particularly powerful. It can be used to bring people together and lift people up, but it can also be used to gang up on the vulnerable and cause a lot of damage. We are constantly using it, and therefore, we are constantly exposed to whatever messages are being spread. Humans are social animals, which makes social media addicting because it allows us to be more social. I’ve quit cold turkey a couple of times, and I can go several days without checking it, but I freely admit I’m probably a little addicted. It’s useful, but it’s dangerous in that way, and I just think that people should be more careful about what they post.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Truth Is A Paradox

I think it has become culturally unacceptable to say that one particular philosophy or belief system is true. It’s hard when you, in fact, believe in absolute truth. Even believing in absolute truth, to some people, is offensive. Some people construe disagreement as imposition (i.e they feel that you are trying to impose your beliefs on them). Then there are the people who feel they absolutely have to impose their truth on everyone at all costs.

We all have our truths, and each of us believes that our truth is absolute truth. Truth is paradoxical because it is both fluid and rigid. People who once believed something can eventually come to believe drastically different things are necessarily true. Some people go through their entire lives without feeling like anything is necessarily true. Some truths change with history. Even when we feel strongly about our truth, our perspective can change, and often does.

It’s hard to know what to do when, on the one hand, we feel that it’s important to talk about our truth, and on the other hand, we don’t want to offend anyone. It’s hard to accept that, no matter what I do, someone will be offended. Even on a less drastic level, it’s hard to express how important my truth is when people simply don’t believe the same things I do. How am I supposed to explain how important it is to you unless you already know what I’m talking about? If you don’t believe my truth, you’ll never understand why it’s important. I can’t tell you that my truth is the most important because you believe your truth (or freedom to have no truth) is the most important.

The most important thing is to be respectful and creative. There is a difference between imposing your truth and teaching your truth. There are people who are searching, and they will seek you out. It’s also important to give your perspective when it is not represented, but only if it, as well as the views of everyone else, will be respectfully considered. If you cannot or will not allow your truth to be questioned, then stay away from places where different truths are allowed to coexist and at times, do battle.

I believe in one absolute truth. I would love nothing more than for you to believe in my truth, too, but if you don’t that’s okay. I still want to be your friend. I will still talk philosophy with you. I will still talk truth with you. I will still beat you at old video games.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Making Sense Of Things

It took me a very long time to understand how one is supposed to love and fear God, when actually, it’s not all that complicated. There are a lot of passages in the Bible where, in the same sentence, the speaker will say one ought to fear the Lord and, oh by the way, he loves you. On the surface that sounds contradictory, but what I think it means is that God is exceptionally powerful, and his power, understandably, should be feared and respected. There are a lot of verses that instruct the reader not to be afraid of dangers in the world. We are loved by the most powerful being in the universe.

Before I continue, I want to address some objections. The ones I can think of off the top of my head are as follows:

1) If God loves us (all of humanity), then why is there so much suffering in the world? If God is so powerful, why doesn’t he just fix everything?

2) If God truly loves everyone, then why does the Bible, as well as many followers of the Christian faith say that a large portion of the world’s population is going to Hell where they will be tortured for eternity?

These are two questions I encounter a lot, and they are questions that have bothered me for a long time. I don’t think I will ever find answers that will completely satisfy me, let alone anyone else, but I wanted to share the conclusions I have come to over the past several years.

1) God has a plan. It’s a good plan, and God intends to redeem humanity: to make the world a better place where there will be no more suffering. For whatever reason, it’s taking a long time, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. It just means that it has to take this long.

2) The fact of the matter is, I know close to nothing about the afterlife. I am certainly not an authority on the issue. I have come to a couple disjointed conclusions, based on research and personal experience, which are as follows:

I: No one is predestined for Heaven or Hell. I should preface this by saying that my understanding of Heaven is being in the full presence of God, while Hell is complete separation. In God’s presence is love and joy and peace, while outside of it is some sort of emptiness and danger. I believe that, in this life, we are stuck somewhere in the middle. That being said, It’s a choice where we end up.

II: Jesus died and rose from the dead so that all of humanity could be redeemed. God doesn’t want anyone to be left outside. Historical and linguistic evidence suggests that while some might go to Hell, it won’t be forever. When the Kingdom comes, even the worst, most immoral people who rejected God their entire lives will be returned to him. In fact, there is reason to believe that Hell is a place of reformation. This is evidenced by the development of the idea of Purgatory.

III: It isn’t the duty of any Christian to condemn people. It’s our duty to teach love and salvation. For one thing, it’s more effective, and for another, it’s closer to the Truth.

Another objection I can think of is: If salvation is universal, then why bother being Christian?

Salvation isn’t about booking a room in eternity. It’s about making the world a better place. Most of what Jesus told people to do was relevant to here and now. It was about taking care of the poor, making peace among enemies, and respecting people because they are worth a lot to God. It’s a way of life: not strictly an escape from death.

I just wanted to get this out there.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Why Should We Care?

Something we talk about a lot at school is 1) what is beautiful and 2), why do we/should we care? I’ve recently decided, as mentioned in a few previous posts, that there is good in everything. Something good can be found in every event, situation, person, place and object in this world. Of course, goodness and beauty aren’t exactly the same thing, but I do think that beauty is inherently good. I would also like to clarify that horrible disasters, for example, are not good in themselves. They do, however, tend to bring out the good in people. Sometimes, it’s impossible to see good in things, but it is there. God has a plan, and his plan is insanely complicated and confusing and indiscernible, but it is inherently good.

There is a line in “You Do All Things Well” by Tenth Avenue North that says, “You work in beauty, even out of ugly things.” God uses people and things in completely unexpected ways to change the world and do miracles. It is partly the unexpectedness of these miracles that is beautiful. Whenever we see something that is beautiful, we can identify it as being so. However, there are things that one might not immediately label as beautiful, but some people still call them that.

I do not think however, that Beauty is so subjective. I do believe in absolutes. I have trouble identifying them, but they do exist, and it is best to adhere to them if possible. When I Googled “beauty in the Bible,” I found a whole slew of verses talking about how we should worship the Lord for his greatness and beauty, but that earthly beauty is dubious at best. There are so many commercials on TV featuring women with fake foreign accents flopping around, acting “sexy,” with bright lipstick and shiny hair. The word “sexy” triggers alarms in my head. For me, “sexy” is synonymous with “superficial,” and “superfluous.” These women, to me, are not beautiful.

Something that really freaks me out is when women who are 50 try to look 30. It’s just not “natural” to me. I get that some women do it because of insecurity issues or what have you, but it’s still kind of freaky. I suppose it’s a little judgmental of me to think this way, but I’ve always thought that one should look their age, as well as act their age. I’m not trying to bash women who are into looking pretty, and if it honestly makes them feel good about themselves, awesome. Good for them.

The point is to talk about what is beautiful. I believe that we are given examples of beauty on Earth so that we can understand God’s beauty, to a small degree. We mostly find beauty in visual art (paintings, sculpture, etc), music, and stories. Many times we call emotional sentiments beautiful. Beauty, therefore, seems to be understood primarily as an emotional response to stimuli of a certain kind. Some people, scientists in particular, call things like mathematics “beautiful,” perhaps because it gives them an understanding of something they would not have known before. In a sense, art does the same thing in a different way. We often understand love, for example, in terms of metaphors. Without these metaphors, we would only understand it as an abstract, and somewhat removed emotion.

If beauty is an emotional response, then is it an important one, or is it superfluous? Is it generally harmful or helpful to individuals or society as a whole? Why should we care about art or bother to nurture our sense of beauty? I tend to think that beauty is an important emotion to nurture. If we think about jealousy for example, we find that it can often be a motivator for positive action. I am jealous of the way my friend sings, so I strive to be a better singer. Although rather indefinable, beauty is also a positive motivator. If we can’t find it, we create it. It also seems to be a catalyst for other, stronger emotions and actions such as love, joy, or empathy.

My brother has been assigned “Hamlet” for the second time in high school, and he is thoroughly displeased. I love “Hamlet” because of the beautiful language and deeper issues within the play. Sam hates the idea of looking for deeper meanings, artistic devices, or analyzing the emotional states of characters and relating them to real life; English class type stuff. He argues that it is pointless and unproductive and says that the United States should sacrifice a generation of Children and only teach math and science in schools because our country would be so much farther along in terms of solving problems.

It’s true. We would be much farther along in those fields if a generation was sacrificed. However, would this generation understand love? would they even be able to relate to one another? Would they be able to work together to solve problems? It’s possible to a degree if part of the curriculum involved classes on cooperation, but the whole idea just sounds very stark and lonely. What would our culture be like? What would people do in their free time? If everyone was working in scientific innovation, there would be no one writing books or making movies or composing music. These are the things that people talk about and enjoy together. This scenario sounds extreme, but entertainment media is a huge part of our culture, and in terms of curing diseases or figuring out how the Big Bang happened, it is pointless.

We learn about literature and art in schools so that those of us who enjoy it can create more, quality art. At least that’s my take on it. What about religion? Would religion be banned from this society of math and science? Perhaps not if the purpose of excluding art is to solve problems more efficiently, since religious groups are often concerned with helping others and solving problems. Then again, religion and science sometimes tend to be in contention, so it might be a precarious friendship. Lastly, art and beauty often bridge gaps between cultures and create empathy between people who may not otherwise be prepared to accept each other.

Obviously, I’m very biased, but I just can’t imagine a world without art and beauty since my life revolves around it. One last question I would like to pose is, does it really matter what happened before the Big Bang? As interesting as they may be, I feel that some scientific “innovations” are just as unhelpful as our favorite movies. It’s all relative, and we all like to have our fun.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!