Reading Religiously (Or, My Ever-Growing Book Queue)

My wife Claire and I were recently invited to dinner at the home of our friends Josh and Emily. It was our first time truly getting together one-on-one with this couple, and it was a very delightful experience. Like Claire and myself, Josh and Emily are devoted Christians. It was a lack of decision I believe I’ll always regret, but it wasn’t until after college when I truly took up the torch of Christianity full-time. I professed the faith, but I never really stopped myself and thought critically about why I believed it. During my college days, Josh was a part of a friend circle I was blessedly a part of, and I suppose I’ll go on written record now and say that I picked up on a lot of the actions and words that this friend circle expressed. I have to give some credit to this circle in regards to who I am today, even though I will admit I was a bit of a slow learner! In college I was, what I can probably describe myself as, a recovering relativist. If it wasn’t for the help and wisdom of the friends I had along with the woman who would eventually become my wife, I may have made that transition quite a bit slower – if, frighteningly enough, at all.

Now that there’s some background information given, let’s jump back to the present, shall we?

The discussion we had at the dinner table that night went to one of my favorite topics – books. As in, what were we reading, what were we learning, etc. Josh brandished an amusing book he found at a thrift shop, and talked about one he read on football injuries (his contemplation on the topic can be read at his blog). Emily talked about the nonfiction works she was studying about healthy eating (a subject I’m slowly gaining interest in, but admit that I’m very careful about what I read because of the abundant amount of legitimate sources out there that seem to contradict each other more than not in terms of studies), and she also writes about that interest on her own blog as well. Mostly, we talked nonfiction. In short reflection, I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a fiction novel – probably over a year ago. I guess there comes a point where one starts craving answers more than dreaming up fantastical scenarios… I think some people would call this “growing up” or “getting older.” Maybe I’ve just done too much fantasizing in the past and now I’m playing catch-up. Regardless, I don’t mind it at all!

Between Claire and I, I’ve been the one going through the Christian apologetics books in a frenzy of sorts, although Claire has indeed begun reading two of the best ones I have. So we told Josh and Emily that we were reading those kinds of books. They asked for some recommendations, claiming that one hadn’t gotten their attention in a while. I begun writing the two of them a book recommendation list, but as I noticed it was getting lengthy and detailed, I figured why not just post it to my blog so more people can get the recommendations? So here I am, with a book list, containing those that I have read, and those that are in my queue waiting to be devoured.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

There really isn’t much I can say about Mere Christianity that hasn’t been said already, so I’ll just say this much: click the link above, buy the book. Mere Christianity is just one gem in this collection. Lewis is a master wordsmith/reasoner and his writing is guaranteed to change your life.

Tactics by Greg Koukl

I already wrote earlier in this blog briefly about how this book really changed not only my discussion skills, but my outlook on Christianity as a whole. Yes, you can in fact talk about your convictions and reason your faith with individuals without resorting to louder tones and utter frustration. Koukl has quite a few tactics that he teaches in this work, and you’ll be sure to come away from the reading armed with many ways to “place the stone in someone’s shoe.”

Unsilenced: How to Voice the Gospel by James Boccardo

This book is a great companion to Tactics, and I use Unsilenced interchangeably with it in the youth class I teach at my church. Unsilenced is also a book about how to conduct yourself when voicing the Gospel, but stress is placed on getting past the usual objections to get to what you really want to talk to them about – Jesus. A short but fulfilling read, Boccardo lists many personal examples of his own tactics being put to use – usually resulting in a positive conclusion.

Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

After reading Tactics I found Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason ministry. As I began to subscribe to every newsletter, podcast, and RSS feed of their website, I came across one of their teachers – J. Warner Wallace. Described as an “angry” atheist for over 35 years, Wallace came to Christ by following the evidence, using his skills learned over the years as a homicide detective to discover the truth about Christianity. Cold Case Christianity is about the journey that Wallace took to come to Christ, but as he tells his story, he shows his readers how to use the methods of a detective to find the truths of the scriptures. Great for Christians and skeptics alike, Wallace also has two websites which he updates on a regular basis: PleaseConvinceMe.com and ColdCaseChristianity.com. I can’t recommend this book and these two websites enough.

When God Goes to Starbucks by Paul Copan

A friend of mine turned me on to Copan’s works, and this title was one of the few that my local public library had from him in stock. Copan does a great job of taking select topics and dissecting them in a very precise Christian angle, utilizing scripture to discuss controversial topics or skeptical claims about various aspects of Christianity. In Starbucks, Copan discusses topics like, “Are people born gay?”; “Aren’t the Bible’s holy wars just like Islamic Jihad?”; and “Can someone do whatever they want just as long as they don’t hurt anyone?” Copan’s answers are very down to earth and true to the Word. This, along with Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (also written by Copan) are two titles that you definitely want on your shelf for reference. Answers are a wonderful thing to stockpile!

Love the Least (A Lot) by Michael Spielman

I’ll start off by saying this book is free for electronic reading devices. Yes, free. You really have no excuse to not read it. I own a print and Kindle version of this book because it has come in handy during discussions so much. Written by the president of Abort73.com, a website that gives you the most comprehensive, engaging and accessible abortion education that you can find online. Essentially divided into two sections (secular and Christian-centric), you’ll find plenty of answers regarding the horrors of abortion in this work.

Words to the Beloved by Lee Lewis

A devotional written by someone who holds a Masters of Arts in Religion? You know scripture will be used accurately and respectfully with that author’s background! Lewis has been serving as the pulpit minister for quite some time at my church, and with certainty I’m able to give you, reader, assurance that this devotional will definitely be worth your time. A collection of writings from his blog, Lewis fills a lengthy volume of encouragement and education for the “Beloved.”

Unfortunately my list of books that I haven’t read is growing quite rapidly, so I won’t be able to give a short blurb about the following works (even though I’ve read bits and pieces of some of them). Do know I have heard many good things about these titles, and look forward to reading them in full.

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek
The Case For Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture by Scott Klusendorf
Common Ground Without Compromise by Stephen Wagner
True For You But Not For Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith by Paul Copan
Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest
by Edward T. Welch
What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?: Answers to the Big Questions of Life by Edward T. Welch
Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection by Edward T. Welch
Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence by Preston Sprinkle
Thriving: Trusting God for Life to the Fullest by Nancy Grisham
Letters From a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions About Christianity by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd
Who is Jesus… Really? A Dialogue on God, Man, and Grace by Josh McDowell
Unplanned by Abby Johnson

To wrap up the list here, I’d like to submit to you a more relaxed book called The Complete Book of Questions: 1001 Conversation Starters for Any Occasion. Compiled by Garry Poole, this book isn’t necessarily a cover-to-cover read, but instead provides questions to ignite your own conversations. Some of them are simple and fun, especially at the beginning. However, as the book goes on, the questions get deeper and more intricate, prompting what could be very healthy discussions or providing much-needed reflection. Claire and I actually went through some of the more “fun” ones on a hike one day, and had a blast. I sense lots of opportunities within groups as well with using this book. Definitely get the Kindle version, as then you’ll have a portable copy of it you can carry anywhere, especially on your phone or tablet.

One last note before I close… As I was grabbing links for this list, I noticed that quite a few of the books were heavily discounted, especially for digital/Kindle copies. Even saw one or two freebies in there as well. Grab the deals while you can!

I’ve done enough recommending here, so the ball is in your court, readers! What books would you recommend to myself or anyone else looking for a good non-fiction study or mind exercise? Have you read any of the books I listed above, and if so, how did you like them?

Tactical Deployment (#1) – A Good Definition

Last summer was a very significant season for me as far as the evolution of my own character goes. While professing a Christian belief for quite some time, it wasn’t until after a few significant self-realizations that I began to seek out answers to questions that attempted to challenge the Christian-minded individual. In the summer of 2013, two books completely blew me away and changed my world, especially with how I viewed discussing Christian convictions. The first book, Mere Christianity, is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the modern Christian apologetical movement, and being written by an ex-atheist, the book has been blamed for many conversions to Christ – and rightly so. I took the book fairly slowly, because of the amount of information in it (every chapter felt like an overabundant Thanksgiving feast), and the fact that I was forced to meditate on each topic that Lewis wrote about, along with re-reading portions of select chapters before moving on. After reading the last page, I was set on finding similar books dealing in apologetics, especially those from present-day free-thinking Christian individuals.

After placing a couple of titles from Amazon into my online cart, I found that I was short a few dollars for free shipping. On a whim, I ordered Tactics by Gregory Koukl. His name was unfamiliar to me at the time, but the book sounded intriguing. Taken from Amazon.com’s summary blurb:

In a world increasingly indifferent to Christian truth, followers of Christ need to be equipped to communicate with those who do not speak their language or accept their source of authority. Gregory Koukl demonstrates how to get in the driver’s seat, keeping any conversation moving with thoughtful, artful diplomacy. You’ll learn how to maneuver comfortably and graciously through the minefields, stop challengers in their tracks, turn the tables and—most importantly—get people thinking about Jesus. Soon, your conversations will look more like diplomacy than D-Day.

I knew that I was in need of a book like this, and the reviews were solid as well, so I took the chance, and hey, I got my free shipping out of it at least! What I didn’t know was that this book, together with Mere Christianity, would shape my views more than any other work has done before. Well, save for the Bible, which is what the two previous books deal with, of course! Never before had an impulse buy worked so many wonders.

To give some background, for a long while I had the knowledge that a Christian should have, but I didn’t have the necessary wisdom nor the appropriate character to discuss the truth about the Gospel and what the Bible actually teaches with deniers, skeptics, and unbelievers alike. I had a few friends that were either professed agnostics or atheists, and even some who had become what I call a “denier” – that is, someone who grew up with select Biblical knowledge forced upon them by either family members or private religious schools, and who are currently rebelling against their previous tutelage, yet still holding on to select Christian beliefs that they can fit into their secular lifestyle. I have had quite a few conversations with these friends in the past – some fruitful, some barren – but there was one constant throughout all of them: I never felt 100% comfortable with sharing my faith, nor did I feel like I had the necessary answers that were needed. It wasn’t that I believed the answers never existed – quite the opposite – it was just that I lacked the reasoning to get to that point, and I hardly felt like I connected with the acquaintances that I spoke with. I feel I can share a whole separate post on how I got to the point where I’m at right now with this, which is a complete 180 spin from where I was just a year ago, but that’s not what this post is about.

Since last summer, I’ve been running the conversational techniques I’ve learned from Koukl’s works, along with other Tactics reasoners like Brett Kunkle, J. Warner Wallace, Frank Turek, and Alan Shlemon, through the paces. I’ll just go on the record here and say that they’ve been working absolute wonders, especially in the realm of face-to-face, one-on-one conversations. However, a few nights ago I attempted to use the techniques in what I hoped to be an online discussion, and was met with some interesting resistance. In the following paragraphs, I will be deconstructing this conversation, taking a step back and critiquing not only the persons I was speaking with, but also my own comments that I posted to keep the conversation running. One thing I want to mention is that by no means do I believe I’m nailing these tactics 100% – I’m still somewhat a newbie in the Ambassadors for Christ collective, and I know that only with practice and prayerful meditation will I be able to raise my success ratio; hence, the main reason for critiquing this conversation after it has cooled. My prayer is that those who read this post are able to learn not only how to expose the holes in the “logic” presented in this example, but to also learn from what mistakes I made and are able to dodge those for themselves in the future.

[To see screencapped images of this online conversation in order to gain context, please click on the links found within the paragraphs below.]

The conversation began when an acquaintance of mine on Facebook (yes, Facebook – you may know where this is going already!) shared an image that, as you can see here, didn’t quite feel like it was firing on all cylinders, so to speak. We will get into why later on, but for now, look at it and come to your own conclusions before going forward with this post.

On first glance, I took this as a great first step into a discussion about morality. The “good person” argument is frequently used in our culture, and it’s something that Christians need to be able to address properly to those that think being “good” is, well, good enough. But first, in order to explain this, we need to find where the person who spouts this kind of statement really believes, if they believe anything for certain. Instead of doing what the rest of the Facebook world does when they find something they disagree with, offering their own counter-statement, the Ambassador needs to be willing to listen and gain more insight into the person’s character. We do this by asking questions, which is the first tactic Koukl teaches. He calls this the Columbo tactic, named after the famous TV detective who was known for asking his suspects plenty of questions – questions that may not seem all that important at the moment, but after a series of them, it leads Columbo in solving all of his cases by the episode’s end. Effective, yet when questioned, the suspects first feel reassured during the initial questioning, but soon become increasingly irritated with Columbo’s questions. Keep that in mind as we continue on with this conversation.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: Here is the question that I asked. In beginning the conversation, my intent behind this opening question was to see if my acquaintance (let’s give him the name of Garth), the reposter of the image, could give me a clear definition of “good,” since the original illustrator of the image wasn’t exactly clear or without bias on what “good” really was.

What happened next was fairly interesting. My acquaintance didn’t answer, but one of his friends did. To the Ambassador, this opens up an even broader range of effectiveness – Ambassadors need to comprehend that we will never know who is reading or listening in on the conversation you’re having, making it all the more important to keep your reasoning sound and your character in check. The first reply from (let’s go ahead and give him the name of Wayne, as identities save for my own will be blurred out for privacy) Wayne stated that going to church and praying doesn’t make a person “good.” That I can completely agree with! However, his follow-up statement was even broader than the image’s statement: “Doing good things makes one a good person,” and that people who do good things tend to be a good person. Not only does this not even begin to answer the original question I posed about what defines “good,” but a key word in this statement poses a loophole in Wayne’s reasoning: tend.

Tend, defined as “regularly or frequently behave in a particular way or have a certain characteristic,” isn’t exactly the right word to use for defining something else. Tend, by definition, doesn’t mean something is a particular way 100% of the time – just regularly or frequently. I kept this in mind as I posed my next question. In order to know something is “good,” there needs to be something to judge the “goodness” by, right? A standard, if you will – and I wanted to know from Wayne where he believed the standard came from.

Before Wayne could answer, however, it was Garth’s turn to come up to the plate. To Garth’s credit, in his statement, he poses the objection I had with the image above, and points out the bias in which the image had. Garth realizes that, “…she appears to have come from a Christian faith…” and goes on to state what Christians shouldn’t do. Again, something I agree with – no, a true Christian should not do the things this character did in the image. However, my question to this is, why did the church have a cross? Why did it show the girl in a pew praying with a cross in the background? This betrays the illustrator’s intentions, clearly displaying a bias against Christianity - not portraying simply a religious individual doing all of the activities. No, this person had to be a Christian. Coming from an artistic and non-biased standpoint, how hard would it have been to take the cross off of the building, and have the character raising her arms up in the air, eyes closed, with a group of other individuals doing the same thing? All religions seem to participate in a meditating or prayer manner like the example I gave at some point, so why not be fair to all religions in the cartoon instead of singling out Christianity?

Because that would be too difficult. Instead, the artist committed to illustrating one of the biggest Straw Man fallacy statements that those against religious beliefs usually make. For those that are new to the term, the Straw Man fallacy is when an opposing viewpoint builds up something with loaded, usually negative, qualities, and then attempts to knock it down – hence, the “straw.” Essentially, it is a misinterpretation of the opponent’s position, which is something that the illustrator seemed to throw himself upon willingly. As I stated earlier, no true Christian would believe that the qualities displayed by this character in the cartoon were true Christian qualities. Garth continued on with this fallacy, as he writes, “its not something against Christianity but those that tote a bible and fail to follow through.” Since Christians are the ones that “tote” Bibles, I would reason that it is, in fact, a jab at Christianity and not religion as a whole – a hidden objective made by the original illustrator, but also betrayed by Garth’s statement. We will return to the Straw Man point momentarily.

Wayne was back up to the plate by this time. A Christian with basic knowledge about their faith would be able to see the holes riddled through the statement he made to follow up Garth’s, but the one thing I decided to latch onto was the “cultural” or “societal” differences in what defines “good.” At this point, I really wanted to know what Wayne’s definition of “good” was, because from what he began to describe seemed to be from a relativistic standpoint. The empty statement about being “kind” and “nice” was what made people “good” didn’t do “good” justice enough. On a side note, I found it entertaining that the examples Wayne used for being universally bad were “gossiping” and “bullying,” not something like, I don’t know, murder or theft.

Which I brought up in my next reply. With Wayne stating that some things were universal, he (unknowingly) made the claim that there is, in fact, a standard, which is one of the main things that I wanted to bring up in the conversation. To emphasize this, I offered the example I did above about murder and theft, and a universal standard. But in order to zero-in on what they truly believed, and in order to expose the hole in their collective logic, I knew I had to call upon Columbo once more, offering the question: “How many times do you have to break the law to be considered guilty?”

There’s really only one answer for this, and this should lead you into the proper train of thought to come to the conclusion of what people truly are – and we will get to that in a moment. However, this is where the conversation takes the inevitable ugly turn. Remember what I posted about earlier about Columbo’s suspects getting irritated by his questioning (which usually happened when they began to feel their protection being stripped away)? Guess what? It happened.

It was interesting to see from Wayne (the first poster in the last image) how he managed to backtrack and say that he hadn’t made any “hard or fast” definitions – he was right. In fact, he hadn’t made any definitions at all, completely dodging the question I posed! With the double-whammy, he also gives away that he knows that I’m leading the conversation at this point towards a conclusion, but before waiting for the train to get to that destination, he decides to jump off, still keeping to his original statements, and claiming ignorance on what my statements were “getting at.” Patience was clearly not a virtue any longer, and with the following reply from Garth, neither was respect. Garth also fails to see where the series of questions I’ve posed are headed, and also jumps off of the train – not without metaphorically tripping over himself beforehand, offering a backhanded insult instead of a reasonable reply. At this point, if there is any audience, they have seen that Garth is without merit at this point. Why? In these kinds of conversations (or debates, as those uncomfortable with respectful, reasonable conversation tend to call them), the first one to resort to this kind of verbal behavior is the first one to “lose” said argument, or debate. Unfortunately, what was quite a respectable conversation, especially by Facebook’s usual standards, had just taken a critical blow.

To offer up some background freely, this wasn’t the first rodeo I have had with Garth, on or off of Facebook. I will state, however, that in the past it was who had turned the conversation ugly with my own frustration. I have said things that I have regretted more than once, and without getting into too much detail, I wanted to learn from my mistakes. Character is one of the most important features that Christian Ambassadors have – without that, we’re just like the rest of the noise. Much like our acquaintance, Garth, has succumbed to once more.

I am not sure what Garth meant by “raising [rising]” above “it,” but I knew one thing – Garth had lost my respect, and therefore, I certainly wasn’t going to give dogs what was sacred, or cast pearls before the swine. I have witnessed my knowledge and wisdom given out trampled, and I have been turned on and tore to pieces. If there is one thing that I have learned from the conversational techniques I have studied, it is that a Garth loses the right to take part in a conversation once he has thrown dirt. Before, I used to try and press my advantage, trying to prove whatever it was that I was saying was true was in fact true, or trying to prove myself. The fact is, the advantage has already been given to you once something like this has happened in a conversation, and you’re on the bad end of an acquaintance’s choice of language. Knowing this, I turned my attention to Wayne, who hadn’t yet followed Garth’s example.

Since I had an inkling the conversation was undoubtedly coming to a disrespectful close, I began to make my final statements. If Wayne genuinely wanted to know where I was going with my statements, I would give it to him. However, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot of reason behind a follow-up reply, if there was one.

So I made my statement. It was long, yet concise. However, I fear that I let a bit of my frustration leak into my words, albeit not in a disrespectful manner, but loud enough that someone looking for negativity would have been able to catch it. The first comment I made was my statement to Garth’s reply that, in essence, I would not be speaking to Garth for the rest of the conversation that followed. I also pointed out the hypocrisy that could be seen between Wayne’s comments about bullying being “universally bad” and what had just happened to me from Garth. The question is, should I have said anything in regards to this? Looking back on it, probably not. The statement from Garth spoke loud enough, and I didn’t really need to prove any sort of hypocrisy behind it – anyone looking at the comment objectively could see that. The lack of reason and respect was something I wanted to point out, especially since we were talking about what makes good “good,” but I probably shouldn’t have said anything in reply to Garth, and have just let the silence speak for itself. Again, I don’t believe I said anything equally disrespective, but I don’t believe I added anything to the conversation by letting my frustration out, even just that little bit. What really irks me is that I knew a statement like that would be coming from Garth, as it has many, many times before, yet I still played it out objectively, as if an audience didn’t know the personal history that Garth and I shared. Regardless, let’s move on.

Wayne made a couple of statements that I, in fact, agreed with, to a certain extent. In order to make progress on the conversation, an Ambassador needs to be able to establish common ground with the person they’re talking to, especially when they don’t know them personally. By telling them openly and honestly that you agree with them (and yes, there will be things that even Christians can agree with atheists on!), it should and usually will progress the conversation in a manner that proves to be much more fruitful than if no common ground was established at all. I’ve had plenty of conversations go without any common ground being had, and I’ve seen the power of “common ground” work wonders – I’m definitely subscribed to it. However, when establishing common ground, you can’t compromise the position you hold which you believe is true. Finding common ground with someone on one point does not mean you agree with them on their overall point or on all of their points. In my conversation with Wayne, I made sure to let him know what I agreed with him on, yet asking him to establish his overall position more clearly.

However, it had gotten to the point now where Wayne had grown impatient with me, asking me to “make my statement.” I obliged him of this, but not without telling him that I was upset that I wasn’t allowed the courtesy to understand where Wayne was coming from more accurately. I was quite disappointed and afraid at this point, because without knowing exactly where Wayne, in this instance, was coming from, I was running the risk of building up a Straw Man, which we discussed earlier.

Was I a little snippy with my remarks? Looking at them objectively right now, I probably was. I let my frustration creep out a bit more than I should have, even though everything I said was very honest, and in my opinion, not insulting or intellectually vulgar (as odd as that description is). What I should have done was not have given Wayne nor Garth my time to properly address them after they posted their last comments, especially since I had a strong feeling about where this conversation would end.

However, I had the end game in mind. I was still thinking of those that may be reading this conversational thread – those that may have genuinely wanted to hear what I was “getting at.” In any group atmosphere, you will almost always have a silent attentive person that you may not think is paying attention to what’s going on or what’s being said, but they turn out to be the most attentive one of all. I pushed forward, whether it was the right decision or not, because of the potential for my words to affect someone’s life in a meaningful way. I ran the risk…

…and I took the fall. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say “fall…” Again, I must stress that I knew where this was going to go, but while Wayne shifted blame onto me for where the conversation went (instead of simply answering the questions I had asked earlier), he said a few things that were quite interesting. One of them was exactly what I had wished to get out of the conversation, and at least one of them betrayed Wayne’s initial aspirations about what he wanted out of this “conversation.”

Wayne makes the claim that I used “tricks” to direct the discussion. This is the first time that someone has called this kind of maneuvering as “tricks” to me, personally. I have heard the term “tricks” being used before when someone has lost their way in a debate, but only when they’ve obviously lost a significant amount of ground. It is quite apparent that Wayne knew something was up in this conversation, and wasn’t quite comfortable in dealing with it. Instead of seeing where the train went, he made the decision to jump off, and then in this admission, essentially waved as the train thundered on. Ambassadors, the conversational tactics you use may be considered “tricky” by critics, but there are differences between tricks and simply trying to get to know a person better so one may avoid hiccups like what happened in this example. Was I directing the conversation we were having? Apparently so – Wayne admits to it, also essentially admitting there was no other structure to be had but what I was giving. Was he comfortable with it? Certainly not, judging from his words. Why this is, I do not know, taking this statement at its value alone. I don’t know if Wayne has ever entered into a conversation with a stranger where the stranger attempted to actually get to know his position better than he was initially giving. I don’t know if it was his own discomfort with his lack of knowledge (or should I say, more accurately, his relativistic standpoint) on the topic. Regardless, it clearly rubbed him the wrong way.

To go along with this, Wayne also admits to going into this conversation with the mindset of someone being right and someone being wrong. This has been the unwritten Facebook creed for many a year, now – conversational manner never flourishes properly in the social networking world. In the realm of selfish pedestal creation, everyone seems to try and put themselves up on a higher level than even the people they call “friends.” Conversation? Nope, let the biased one-sided images/memes speak for themselves, and anyone who finds error or disagrees with them be damned (what’s even more amusing about this is that it usually comes from the side of those that profess their “tolerance” for everyone – funny, that).

However, it was his last statement which stood out to me: “You made some decent points, especially concerning intent behind actions.” Ambassadors, this is what you want to hear. As Ambassadors for Christ, you don’t want to necessarily “plant the seed,” as many Christians will tell you to do. No, defending the faith doesn’t mean winning someone to Christ. If we can successfully place a “stone in their shoe,” as Greg Koukl states so well, then each time they take a step in the direction they go, they’ll feel the discomfort of that stone. The point I made about intent behind actions was my stone. Did I know what words of mine would be the metaphorical stone? I had no idea. However, this goal of mine was set, and I’m happy that Wayne, although sounding very frustrated, decided to give me this bit of information. My only hope and prayer now is that he seeks to follow that trail on his own time and come to the only sensible conclusion that can be had about this topic.

What about Garth, you may ask? Well, Garth wasn’t done just yet. Regardless of if I was speaking to him again or not, he decided he had more to say – this time about, surprisingly enough, the Straw Man fallacy. I won’t spend much time on Garth’s reply here because it simply doesn’t deserve the deconstruction. I just found it very amusing that someone who professes to know about the Straw Man fallacy and thinks it is “bad” also thought it important enough that he share an image that exemplified the fallacy in such a basic manner!

I posted one last comment, which essentially addressed some of Wayne’s flawed objections to the last statement I typed. But it was my last paragraph that was the main intent of my final statement. After reading my comments, I was realizing I had let a bit of my frustration through, and admitted to that – something that neither Wayne nor Garth had done. I politely asked Wayne what exactly was it about my behavior that he thought was off-putting. To give him credit, Wayne kept his pseudo-promise and did not pick up the thread any further – most likely thinking my last statement to him was yet another “trick,” even though my last paragraph wasn’t even about the main subject of the thread (more of a “Comment Card,” in which he could have critiqued me all he wanted). I was genuinely interested in where I may have gone wrong with my words to him, but his silence on the matter actually told me more than was necessary.

There will always be the person that wants to get the last word, and this person was, as per the norm, Garth. Acknowledging that I deciphered the manner of his aggressive words, Garth “apologizes,” stating that he was sorry that I found his comments insulting, not that it actually was insulting, or that he was sorry he even said them. Fortunately, I can sense when a word or series of words is meant to be insulting (usually very obvious, especially from my personal past histories with Garth) without actually being personally insulted. Since I knew something of that caliber was eventually going to come from Garth, as they had come many times before, my own defenses were already built up to it. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing I can’t exactly stand by and let happen, it’s hypocrisy, and I found Garth’s statements fairly hypocritical, especially regarding the image that he posted. In his last sentence, Garth also brandishes his ego one last time before departing from the conversation – also something that I am used to, and fortunately was able to let slide. A year ago, I probably may have called him out on this behavior on his public wall in this thread, which wouldn’t have been a great thing for either of us, honestly.

The conversation subsided after that point. There were a couple of follow up replies – both from people who wielded quotes they found from a Google search and copy+pasted (with the formatting giving it away), but honestly, anyone can read quotes from other writers. When I’m engaged with someone, I want to know what *they* think, not what someone else thinks verbatim.

One last thing that I would like to state: I never once came to this conversation from a blatantly “Christian” angle. Not once did I mention Christ, or God, or religion (especially Christianity) – I went into this conversation purely from a non-religious standpoint. Now, was my goal to eventually move it to a religious discussion? Yes, it was, and that’s where the proper usage of tactics will lead you, but I knew it wouldn’t help my cause if I came in frantically waving the Christian “flag,” so to speak. I wanted to leave that aspect out of it, and solely focus on the topic at hand, which was “what is ‘good.’” Sure, both Wayne and Garth attempted to throw Christianity on the table, but that would have been ad hominem. It’s very important to be concise with these discussions, cutting out the fat that inevitably builds up as one progresses.

If you’ve read up until this point, I sincerely congratulate you. I have a few more Tactical Deployments in mind that I would love to write about – these about face-to-face encounters! However, I wanted to start with this one for a few reasons. One, because of Wayne and Garth’s easy-to-decipher statements, and two, I discovered something in this conversation. I am not sure if the Columbo tactic can work in an internet forum atmosphere, where people are allowed time to think up of ways to dodge the questions the Ambassador delivers. Questions work best in a face-to-face atmosphere, which I will detail at a later date. That being said, I believe this may have been the last time that I participate in an online thread discussion, especially on the Facebook wall of an acquaintance which I know has had a history of being bullish to his own acquaintances. Now here, on my blog? That’s a different story – my house, my rules. But as far as social network pages or threads go, that aren’t confined to a respectful group atmosphere (which actually do exist on Facebook!), I believe this was my grand exit. And to be very, very honest, I don’t believe I will miss it.

I am, however, interested in what you, reader, have to say about either my performance (especially that) or the performances given from Wayne and Garth, and if you can find other hiccups in their statements that I may have missed. I only ask that this be an example of what to do and what not to do when having conversations like this (and this goes for both sides!). Until then, I hope your party time is excellent!

God bless.

Duck, Duck, Goose

I suppose everyone that has a fair connection to the internet knows about the Phil Robertson case going on right now between himself, his family, and A&E, who produces their hit show, Duck Dynasty. Before I begin on the topic at hand, I want to set a few statements first so I can get those out of the way and move to the meat of this post.

— I’ve never watched an episode of Duck Dynasty and more than likely never will, willingly. Reality shows just aren’t my thing, no matter the quality of the people the show features. To each their own in the realm of entertainment.

— Do I believe A&E was in the right? Yes and no. Why yes? Freedom runs both ways. If they choose not to support what someone on their payroll said (outside of filming, in this case), that’s their charge. However, I also say no, because I do not believe that the terms are equal. If a homosexual that worked for them got interviewed in a magazine and actually did bash Christians thoroughly (which the Christian in question, Robertson, did not do in his interview) then I do believe that person wouldn’t get the boot. Recent history has backed that belief of mine up quite well. It sounds like a funny point, but if Robertson suddenly converted to Islam, then I think there’d be a healthy amount of intrigue if he said the same things and got away with it. But that happens all the time in the media, and yes, the terms are usually not in favor for spouting Christian ideals/beliefs/thoughts in the media. So if A&E wants to do this, all I have to ask for is consistency. Freedom is consistency.

— Do I believe what Robertson said was okay, or within his rights to even say in the first place? Well, it was an interview, he was asked a question. Should he just say nothing? That’s not what they pay people to do for interviews. If we want any sense of honesty in the media we have to allow people to say what’s on their mind instead of keeping it in – that’s how we come to know who people are, and where they stand. If you don’t agree with what he said, that’s fine – move on with your life and continue to not support Robertson, and seek their entertainment on a different channel. But that doesn’t mean he should clamp down just because an organization doesn’t care for what he said. If we all did that, how on earth would our society progress? I read an interesting and timely article this week on LibertarianChristians.com discussing discrimination in the workplace. The author, Laurence Vance, concluded,

“To ban discrimination is to ban freedom of thought and freedom of association, not aggression or violence. In a free society, everyone has the right to think whatever he wants to think about everyone else and to choose to associate or not associate with anyone on the basis of those thoughts. That includes employers and business owners. His opinions may be erroneous; his opinions may be illogical; his opinions may be irrational; his opinions may be based on stereotypes, prejudice, bigotry, or racism — but he is entitled to them. In a free society it couldn’t be any other way.”

There’s a lot of truth to that. In our “free” society, however, I hesitate to say that people are seriously searching for any kind of truth. It’s much easier to act offended and have action taken against someone else for what they said.

I remember coming home from elementary school, distressed about some kid or kids making fun of me, and my mother drilled the following familiar phrase into my head: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Now all of us know that words do hurt, but the truth is, they only hurt as much as you let them. Instead of the word “will,” the phrase may be more accurate in saying “words should never hurt me.” I can’t count how many times I’ve seen motivational posters or memes online posted by someone with homosexual beliefs, that states something along the lines of “Love yourself, it doesn’t matter what others think, you’re perfect the way you are regardless of what others say,” etc. So when something like this news story breaks, and I see the “offended” party rising up against whomever it was that stated the quote (in this case, homosexuals), it confuses me. If someone is “perfect” regardless of what others say, and it doesn’t matter what they say, then why are they pitching a fit over it? Something isn’t consistent here, and I’m led to believe that something else is speaking out louder to them then they’d like to admit. Words themselves should never hurt, but maybe it’s the truth that does.

Which brings me to my main point.

Something like what happened between A&E and Phil Robertson was primed to happen for years now. Countless news stories have broken regarding the persecution of Christian thought; persecution especially from the LGBT community, which seems to be hell-bent on bullying those who don’t conform to their uprooted belief structure. It has gotten to the point where the LGBT community reminds me more of a larger scale Westboro Baptist Church than a community with any sort of reason behind their belief structures. Westboro sues anyone that they troll into action against them, and the LGBT community seems to be following suit. Both are, of course, just two organizations to blame for the degradation of Christendom. In light of this, there is one danger that is even worse – a “true” Christian without little-to-no knowledge of what the scriptures actually state, and what Jesus’ teachings really were.

Now this may seem like a jump, but so many people have talked about things I mentioned previously that I figured the danger had to lay elsewhere. And last night up until now, I witnessed my theory being brought to life.

Ah, good ol’ Facebook. This is where we always get fuel for the fires, right? I really don’t expect much from Facebook “discussions” or “conversations” anymore, which on a personal level is dismaying to me, because I can formulate my thoughts better through writing than vocally, even though I am working hard to be better at the latter. But today was no different, as I witnessed many different “status updates” being tossed into the mix with half-cocked thoughts and any sort of reasoning simply didn’t seem to exist. But what worried me most was seeing Christians stating variations of the following:

“It makes me mad when celebs start judging people while hiding behind the Bible.”

“Start getting involved in their lives before you judge them.”

“Isn’t that what Jesus would have done? Help them instead of judging? Jesus never judged.”

“People should just do what scripture says and leave the judging for God.”

Basically, the word of the day is “judging.” Which is something that, let’s be real here, everybody does. Anyone who partakes in exercising rational thought judges. People assess what they witness in the world based on their beliefs, and then follow up with making decisions based on their assessments. This is the definition of judging.

But that’s not how the word is defined in today’s culture. If someone says, for example, “It’s wrong to judge,” they’re usually trying to stop the conversation. Which is very odd, considering when I witnessed these comments, they were on statuses posted with an invite to discuss. If someone says “You shouldn’t judge,” isn’t that a judgment in itself? It’s someone assessing that your behavior of “judging” is wrong. The statement is self-refuting, and they end up being guilty of the thing that they accused someone else of doing.

So, now that we have the stale statements out of the way, the question is, did Jesus actually judge others? There is no doubt that Jesus helped others, but it seems to me that people are comfortable stating that Jesus never “judged.” As long as we’re throwing facts out there, here’s another one to digest:

Jesus judged. Plenty.

And here’s where Christians and skeptics alike will throw out the famous “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” scripture, found in Matthew 7:1. Here’s the kicker – this verse is almost always taken out of context in the masses. Don’t get me wrong – there’s definitely something that Jesus is saying about judging, and definitely saying that there’s something wrong with it. But it’s not what most people think. In order to accurately determine the meaning of this verse, you can’t read the verse. One should never read a Bible verse. Always, always read the surrounding verses if you want to get an accurate meaning of the single verse. I find it interesting that people tend to do this the most with scripture, but never any other books that they read. It wouldn’t make sense to crack open “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and quote a character out of context there, would it? The audience wouldn’t understand the reference or the purpose of why it was stated in the first place. So in this case, when we look at Matthew 7 in its entirety, we find that Jesus is actually doing something that most Christians believe He has forbidden.

In verse 6, we have the also-famous piece of scripture, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine…” In verse 15, he calls out false prophets, and verse 23, we see one of the scariest pieces of scripture, where Jesus says He will say to some, “‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” What we have here is one of the harshest moral judgments seen in scripture, and this makes it clear that Jesus is going after a certain kind of judging at the beginning of Ch. 7.

When Jesus says “Do not judge,” He isn’t saying that we shouldn’t assess moral behavior. In this statement of His, He’s speaking against hypocritical and self-righteous statements. We see this in the log example (“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”). This isn’t Jesus saying that it’s never right to judge, but that it’s wrong to judge when we exhibit the same characteristics as the person we’re judging. This is Jesus explaining how to judge rightly, warning His audience against launching criticism and condemnation on others without willing to examine their own behavior – in this example, when religious leaders were vehemently condemning others all the while justifying their own sin. Our culture that values “tolerance” so highly loves to use this part of the Sermon on the Mount, but they completely, well, misjudge what Jesus is speaking of on the whole.

What people miss is that although hypocritical judgments are condemned, we, as Christians, are commanded to make two different kind of judgments – judicial (ie, passing a sentence), and factual assessments, as mentioned previously. And again, I must reiterate – this kind of judging, this assessment, is something that everyone does. This is what we have to do in order to even survive.

So what about the rest of the red letters? What else did Jesus say on the matter? Let’s take a look at some examples.

— When Jesus teaches at the feast, in John 7:24 He states, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

— At the beginning of Jesus’ Gospel in John 3, it begins with judgment, shown in verse 19: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” The message begins with the bad news, with Jesus pointing out the reality of our sin and the subsequent punishment. But it ends with the good news, as in Romans 8, it is written, “…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” stressing that the just judgment is removed from us because of His mercy and forgiveness.

Now that we have given a brief but thorough look (and my hope is that the selected scripture linked in the above text have been read in their entirety, not just singling out a verse), we have to be prepared for what Phil Robertson and many others before him have gone through. What do you do when someone tells you that you shouldn’t judge?

This is a question that needs to be answered, as our latest example of A&E shows, people are going to be playing “Duck Duck Goose” until someone finally cracks, and the chase begins – as it seems to have commenced with the whole Duck Dynasty deal. It could be just one person, it could be an organization, but the moral relativist mindset is very much ingrained in our culture, and we need to learn how to deal with it. How do we respond, especially as Christians, to others telling us we’re being judgmental or “You shouldn’t judge!”?

“Why?”

It’s one word. Quite simple. They placed the burden on themselves to state why we shouldn’t judge, so they need to back themselves up. And they will usually answer in at least one of the following statements:

“Judging others is wrong!”

“Because you shouldn’t force your morals on others!”

“Because it’s wrong to judge!”

At this point, the jig is up. If what they say is true, that judging others is wrong, then why are they judging you? Why are they partaking in the very thing they’re condemning you for? It’s because we can’t help judging – everyone does it. Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason mentions a verbal tactic which one can use to follow this up:

“What’s interesting about your reason is that it is itself a judgment. But that’s okay because we all make assessments of what we think is right and wrong. So, if we’re agreed that making judgments is okay, let’s continue talking about [fill in the blank]…”

The tone is key, here. Usually the person calling the Christian judgmental is already irate about the topic, so level-headedness and building common ground is necessary to continue a healthy discussion.

Everybody judges. We’re wired to do so. But like everything, there’s a certain way to do it. This is what Jesus preached on the Mount – not to shy away from judging on the whole. This may make some people uncomfortable, but in my studies, the truths in the Bible are usually anything but comfortable. Being too comfortable, or shying away from potential conflict, not only does a disservice to society, but a grave disservice to our spiritual life.

These situations like what happened to Robertson will continue to happen. And it could even happen to you tomorrow. So, one last question remains – will you judge righteously when that time comes?

Last call for new beginnings

I’m going to attempt to revamp and rework how I’m going to do my blog once again, because I desperately need to get back into writing. Freeformed, structurally opinionated, mind cleansing writing. I’ve been writing over at inRacingNews for quite some time now recapping the iRacing.com Sprint Car Series, but I’ve been pulled back to the commentary side of things, and not the thoroughly researched and structured writing. It’s what I went to school for, it’s what I crave to do. I will still write for iRN, but I’m feeling a desperate need to divide my time, and a lot of topics have popped up in my mind as of late that I need to start writing about myself. A lot has happened since last I wrote here, which was in, let’s see…

April.

APRIL.

And that was just two paragraphs.

Much has changed in my life in the past year, and plenty just since April. I’ve met new folks, rekindled old friendships, and have released others into the wild where they longed to belong. I have changed. I’ve shed quite a few characteristics and molded new ones, as anyone should do, in a positive manner. I’ve learned to adapt. I’ve learned to react. I’ve learned how to be intolerant of evil. I’ve learned to stand up for reason.

And hopefully, I will learn how to get into this “writing regularly” deal once again. Because if I don’t, if I go months on end without updating this place, I’m calling it quits for good with blogging. I can’t delude myself into thinking that I have time and interest in doing this if I don’t even log into my personal WordPress account to jot down a few thoughts. So here I go, once again, rebooting this place. Wish me well, and pray for me – let’s hope this lasts.

I’ve got lots to tell.

To be continued…

Thought for consumption

It’s interesting to hear people talk about the “good ol’ days” where the majority of citizens were consistently happy and there weren’t widespread instances of school shootings/acts of terror, significant death tolls outside of war, negative public schooling atmospheres (bullying, etc.), health outside of drugs/pills, and similar commentary. Yet when some “backwards” politician (usually Republican in title) tries to reinforce or make a law that would have gone over fine in said “good ol’ days,” society is apparently falling back into a state of turmoil because we’re going back to mindsets of past centuries.

I’m not making specific commentary on one law or lawmaker or another. Just the hypocritical statements people tend to make instead of stopping to genuinely think and study matters at hand. There *is* correlation to some of this.

The Right of Humanity

Did some stat collecting today (because morality is insignificant in North America) after seeing the following: The US Census Bureau reported that the African American population “grew at a slower rate than most other major race and ethnic groups in the country,” even with a 12% increase between ’00 and ’10. Delving deeper into this, I find that the CDC reports that during the 1970′s, roughly 24% of all U.S. abortions were performed on black women. The percentage (of course) rose to 30% in the 1980′s, 34% in the 1990′s and 36% in the 2000′s. That means that about 31% of all U.S. abortions since 1973 have been performed on African American women.

And then we have the estimate published in January 2013 that there have been 55.7 million abortions in the United States since ’73. With that in mind, we can deduce that approximately 17 million of the aborted babies were black. From 1973 to 2012, abortion reduced the black population by 30%, and that doesn’t even factor in all the children that would have been born to those aborted a generation ago. 30% is a fairly significant percentage, especially when speaking in terms of population decrease.

It’s not hard to imagine a KKK extremist salivating at these stats.

On March 19th of this year, the Chinese government released another factoid – there have been 336 million abortions of unborn children, many of them forcibly, during slightly more than four decades. 336 million abortions surpass the current United States population of about 315 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Let me rephrase that in case you missed it – there have been more deaths of unborn children in China in the past 40 years than there are people in the United States. Now everybody loves to get on China for forcing their “one-child” policy for more than 30 years, so I’d love to know the differences between the abortions we have here in the US to those that China has. Let’s be honest here – what’s worse in these terms – the government forcing you to have an abortion, or actually having the mindset to agree to it? If the majority thinks what China is doing is wrong, then why are we following suit in our own country?

To put things into context, from the US Holocaust Museum’s website, “In 1933, approximately 9.5 million Jews lived in Europe, comprising 1.7% of the total European population. This number represented more than 60 percent of the world’s Jewish population at that time, estimated at 15.3 million.” The common number you hear when researching how many Jewish people died in the Holocaust is around 6 million – about 2/3 of the Jewish population in Europe. If one uses the worldwide stat, more than half survived. However, you have to factor in the fact that the Nazi regiment didn’t just kill Jewish people, but many other members of different religions or social groups. The number only goes higher after that, but with this in mind, how is abortion NOT genocide?

Genocide: noun – The deliberate killing of a large group of people, esp. those of a particular ethnic group or nation.

And then, you have to think. What about future generations? If someone had killed your parents, before you were born, not only would you not exist, but your siblings wouldn’t exist. If you have children, they wouldn’t exist. If you have made a difference in the life of someone else close to you, that wouldn’t have happened, and who knows where they would be now, if anywhere. How many innovations have we missed out on because of this massacre? How many positive human influences have we never gotten the chance to meet? Being murdered early on costs much more than being murdered later. Those “embryos,” those “fetuses,” as they are derisively given the title of, lose more of their future than anyone that has already entered the world.

People are (seemingly) up in arms in North Dakota right now after they passed a ban on abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy. This doesn’t eradicate abortion outright in the state, no, but it’s a step in the right direction. However, some women are furious, stating the government is “attacking” them, taking their choices away, and stating the government has no regard for the people that they serve. But let’s back up for a second; isn’t this exactly what the opposing women are doing to the child that is growing inside them? Unborn children are the most vulnerable of our population because they can’t speak for themselves, and they can’t write to the government, or vote on issues, or even share a Facebook picture to prove to everyone they believe they have a grasp on whatever statement the picture is for or against. I’m pretty sure, though, that given the chance to do just that, they’d probably want to take it later on in life. The government isn’t “attacking” anyone – the only people doing that are the ones having abortion procedures done on them, because not only does it kill the infant, but severe physical and psychological damage occurs to the women who had the abortion, many more times than not (I shudder to think of the mindset of those that don’t have psychological ramifications). I’ll let you go do the research on that one, because it’s pretty startling/interesting, and I think I’ve given enough facts here. Some things you just have to see for yourself, as bad as they are. All I have to say is, it’s interesting (and quite disheartening) to see and hear “feminists” say they’re pro-choice when the “choices” are to cause severe damage to themselves/their gender or to give birth to a child, the latter being a natural process of nature.

When are we, as a people, actually going to focus and take action on serious issues, or at least be consistent with our views? Abortion exists because a deep and accurate understanding of abortion does not. I see all of these red equals boxes on social media networks, and next to nothing for supporting the unborn. If you want to use the current “red herring” focus on rights for homosexuals in the country for comparison, how does this not have to do with the unborn, especially since one of the leading arguments you hear from the GLBT community is that they were born the way they are? I wonder if they also understand that they’re also included in the overall genocide of humanity. If we need new leaders to come up through the ranks and make a stand for a certain belief, maybe we should stop killing them before they have a chance. If you’re a supporter of human rights, then you need to be consistent and support all humans first.

Human rights do not begin once a person reaches an age of accepted understanding. To be quite honest, we wouldn’t even be needing to deal with the topic of abortion in the United States if most people were pro-chance instead of pro-choice. Equal rights to life is far, far more important than equal rights for marriage. Without life, marriage wouldn’t even be in the picture. When even abortion-advocating law experts generally admit that Roe vs. Wade is an extremely confusing and indefensible ruling, between 3,300 – 4,400 helpless human beings have been and are being killed each day in the US for the past 40 years. The daily death toll exceeds 9/11 thousands of times over, and well, we all remember how sorrowful the nation was on that day. Mike Spielman, writer of Love the Least (A Lot), hit it on the head with this passage in his book:

The reason that so many people take offense at comparing abortion to past crimes against humanity is the same reason that the white establishment was scandalized when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. compared the abuse of black Americans to the Holocaust. It is easy to condemn crimes that are far away or happened long ago; it is much harder to condemn them when they sit right in your backyard. Abortion supporters are infuriated at the notion that abortion is comparable to the Holocaust because they incessantly argue that the unborn aren’t people. This is exactly the same argument that is always made to justify crimes against humanity: They’re not really people. The language that Hitler used to dehumanize European Jews is much the same language that is used today to dehumanize children in the womb. If we can’t compare atrocities past to atrocities present, then the term “never again” loses all meaning.

I have had people ask me in years past, while they’re in the process of marginalizing and dehumanizing the unborn, “Has the fetus actually done anything except be like a parasite to the mother?” I wish I was making that statement up, but I have heard this quote and very similar ones like it many times over. But years ago, the difference was, I didn’t have firsthand experience with knowing – or, at least, the memory of knowing – and the skill to properly voice my thoughts about it. Last year that changed, as I was blessed to have known and shared in the experience of someone who brought much happiness to people – more joy than some people I’ve known for years have accomplished in their lifetime. She did this in just two months, and not once was I able to hold her, “see” her, or look her in the eyes and thank her for what she did in the short time that she existed.

For those out in internetland, please, enlighten me. Please tell me exactly how marginalized members of a certain community are, even when they’re not dying in the thousands each and every day. Please tell me exactly why the unborn are “sub-human” and don’t deserve the rights that we who have exited our mothers’ womb deserve. Because not ever will I be able to erase my own experience with an unborn human. I see the aftermath of the existence of just one all around me, every single day.

I cannot fathom how our lives would be different if we gave everyone a chance.

The Solution Is In Us

As everyone who lives in the United States of America knows, two days ago was Election Day. Unlike the uber-commercialized holidays such as Christmas and Easter, the most commercialized holiday of all comes around only once every 4 years. During the months leading up to this holiday, we Americans are bombarded with messages from various candidates pleading for your “all-important” vote, in much the same manner as a high school student would for a prom court nomination. However, according to the majority of U.S. citizens, a vote for or against issues or candidates in the political coliseum actually matters.

In my experience, albeit only 26 years of it, I’ve found quite the opposite. In the past few years, I have seen multiple cases of instances where the majority vote “by the people” was overturned. Similar to antics seen on public school playgrounds, this juvenile and treacherous behavior that has been recorded time and time again in American politics led to my complete faithlessness in the system that America finds it easy to brand as “democracy.”

If you know me, or find that following me on Facebook/Twitter isn’t actually a waste of your time, you may be aware that I chose not to cast a ballot in the 2012 election that took place yesterday. I’ve had many conversations with both open-minded individuals and those that couldn’t wrap their own reasoning around my thoughts. All of these helped to not only reinforce my own beliefs, but it also helped me to understand where others were coming from (those who could reason without cloning others’ remarks and successfully back themselves up with legitimate hard information). In that respect, I thank those who took time to discuss the topic of voting with reason and respect without resorting to name-calling. However, I feel that I’m guilty of holding out on something – I never really told them about how I lost respect for the political standard.

It was over a year ago when this event happened to me. On March 8th, 2011, the Missouri Senate gave approval to SB 113, which effectively nullified everything that Proposition B, the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act,” stood for. In November of 2010, close to 1 million of Missouri’s citizens voted to pass Prop B, which was quite the majority. Jane Cunningham, a republican senator from Chesterfield, MO, made note of the fact that Prop B was passed by a larger majority than many of the senators had been elected by. If you don’t live in Missouri or remember what this proposition required, the following is a list of what commercial puppy producers were ordered to provide:

  • daily access to nutritious food
  • continuous access to drinkable water
  • veterinary care for sickness/injury
  • safe housing
  • adequate space
  • room to exercise

All of the above are necessary for any living being to live a healthy life; not just a dog’s life. However, a very small number of “suits” decided that it would be too costly to implement the rules, and therefore declared an emergency act to make changes to the proposition, becoming effective immediately and bypassing another popular vote on the matter. These changes included the removal of detailed criminal penalties along with the removal of size restrictions on breeding operations.

When questioned about the Prop B votes actually counting for something, Missouri’s governor, Jay Nixon (D), had this much to say on the matter:

“What I tell them is, but for the action of the public, there wouldn’t have been the force that was necessary to coalesce people to make these changes. Their votes did matter.”

Oh, I’m sure they did. The report on “Missouri’s Dirty Dozen,” a title for the worst puppy mills in Missouri, proclaimed their findings:

“…sick or dying puppies who had not been treated by a veterinarian; dogs and puppies found shivering in the cold in 28 degrees, dogs with oozing, open lesions and injuries that had not been treated by a vet; puppies with their feet falling through wire cage floors; and dogs so emaciated that their bones were clearly visible through their skin.”

Yes, I’m sure that those dogs were saved since Gov. Nixon’s cronies overturned the proposition to rid the state of this horror. If the vote of the people actually mattered, then you wouldn’t need suits making “emergency” bills that weren’t even up for discussion with the populace. (For more information on the subject, read this article.)

I had seen other examples of this kind of work before (and unfortunately after), but like most things in life, it always becomes more clearer when it hits home. And here it was, right in my backyard. The day that information was passed on to the public was the day I lost faith in the “system.” It was the day that the shroud was lifted from the ugly face of politics for me, and I was changed henceforth. If something this corrupt could happen to poor helpless animals, then it could happen to anyone or anything, anytime. I knew right then and there that it was time to back out of partaking in this game for good. My words were truly not worth a cent to any elected official. And if that’s the case, why bother speaking to them through polls that they will willfully ignore? They will spend millions on petty things like refurbishing parking garages but they won’t pass a proposition to save the lives of animals because it’s “too expensive?”

All my life I have always been the person to root for the underdog. I will support someone or something regardless of how small a voice they have if what they’re saying rings true. I believe everyone deserves a chance to be heard and respected, especially if they are in dire need of assistance. To see fellow human beings act this way towards puppies, I couldn’t then and still can’t figure out where the most evil resided – in the dens of the demons who put these animals through the Hell they were born into, or the succubi and incubi that open their treasure chests filled with gold, only to find that they can’t depart with just a fraction of it.

But then I remember. These are the same people who refuse to acknowledge the rights (sometimes even the existence) of a newly-formed human being inside their mother. These are the same people that would be willing to end the lives of the unborn if it meant more votes for them in the next election. Maybe they figure if those that they ignore can’t speak up against them, then their decisions can go unchecked?

On Tuesday, the sun rose. But it wasn’t like any other day. It was Election Day. To millions of Americans, it was time to go out and “be heard.” It was time to make a difference – rock that vote, so they say. Being in the small minority, I didn’t subscribe to any of this. I did not register to vote. I had no intention of voting for men that had no intention of caring about what the populace had to say, nor did I want to encourage the folly that is the bi-partisan monopoly. I had long since grown tired of hearing these man (and women) jabber on about what their opposing candidate had done wrong in their job. I had grown weary of falling into a depression of sorts when reading about each candidate and how they had no rock to stand on, but didn’t seem to care.

But mostly, I had become fed up with the dissent between American citizens who thought it was civil to ostracize their fellow man based on what professional liar they shared thoughts with; citizens who would rather scream and argue with each other about gay rights when the rights of the unborn go largely ignored; citizens who openly rebel against the older population because they think they know better; citizens who revel each other based on what political bumper sticker, sign, or meme they showcase. Is this what we humans have really evolved into? Is this what America strives for – the pinnacle of selfishness?

You’re probably asking what I did instead of voting. “Even Chrysler let all their employees have the day off to vote,” you say, “clearly it was an important day!” You’re right on one thing – it was an important day. Just like every single day of one’s life should be. In lieu of going to cast my vote for absurdity, I instead went out to make a difference.

Enter Clementine.

Clementine hadn’t met me before, and I hadn’t met her. We were complete strangers. I had seen her picture and had read short bio online that her caregiver had written for her, and had decided it was well worth the time to seek her out. She didn’t want much, really, yet at the same time, it was everything we all need to survive -

  • to be free from hunger or thirst
  • to be cared for when sick or hurt
  • to have a roof over one’s head
  • to have appropriate space to call our own
  • to have room to play

Given that this was the “home” that she was born into, anything that I could give her would be better than the world she first knew.

Her mother is seen pictured on the right, tied to the tree.

It wasn’t a puppy mill, but it was just as bad. In more outlying areas (not exclusive to Missouri), the unchecked mass breeding of domestic animals, especially hunting dogs, is acceptable. Leaving them under something that can’t even be called living quarters is also quite alright with the general populace. With Clementine, she was just one of about six that were rescued from this place. Luckily, her siblings were finding homes to go to as well, and Clem was one of the last of her litter to be rescued. The mother, however, is still reported to be at the same place as she is seen pictured in the above photo. It saddens and disgusts me so completely that it is legal in Missouri for this dog’s owners to abuse this dog in this manner (as well as many others) but it is a 5-15 year prison sentence if one decides to rescue this animal from the Hell in which it lives. It makes you think. And believe me, I thought a lot about it. At this point, I’m trying to make myself feel better by saying I couldn’t take care of both Clementine and her mother if I was in prison, but it just doesn’t sit well still, knowing that she’s still out there in the cold.

Named “Clementine” after a character in the popular video game “The Walking Dead,” who was a girl that was rescued by the main character after the zombie apocalypse had claimed her family. Appropriate? I think so.

They always say that dogs pick their owners – not the other way around. Although that’s what the scum were doing at the farmland where the woman found Clementine and her family, it’s unnatural for that to happen. When I first locked eyes with Clem, held her, and then felt her tail wag, succumbing to the licks from her tiny tongue that came soon after, well, what can I say? It’s like she already knew me. It was a look of recognition. It’s a feeling that stays with you the rest of your life. I won’t lie when I said I had somewhat personal reasons to get a new dog. I knew that my other dog, Helo (also a Beagle), was longing for a new pack mate, as I saw him become depressed whenever any dog he was playing with left our house to go back to their respective homes. That being the main reason, I did have others, but they aren’t necessary to write about here. I felt driven to seek out Clem, especially at a time such as this.

The past couple of months have been a roller coaster for me, personally. I’ve been through a lot, and my wife (who is most certainly my better half) has been through a lot. We’ve had our fair share of ups and downs. When they are up, they were really, really up. However, the downs were the worst I believe I’ve ever had. Experiencing a loss such as the one that she and I had was an experience that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I’ve had a lot of things just in the past couple of months change me, and I don’t really think I’m the same person as I was when the summer started. I don’t feel content with thinking about the trivial anymore, although I understand that no two people define subjects as “trivial” in the same way. I can’t quite put it into words, fellow readers, but maybe Clementine is the mark of the new me. I rescued Helo in much the same manner as Clementine, but my wife and I knew that we really wanted a dog in our family, and Helo is, was, and always will be the best and most welcome choice of a new dog that we could ever ask for. To be quite honest, we really didn’t need another dog in our lives. Believe me when I say that sometimes Helo can be more than enough to handle, as he sometimes has a personality that can be bigger than life.

However, it isn’t about what we need in life. What we need to do is look after and care for one another, whether they can speak our language, or they’re not able to speak at all. We always comfort ourselves with thoughts such as “what’s best for me,” “what can make me happy,” or “how can I improve myself,” yet we hardly ask what’s best for someone else. Maybe that’s the true American way – gratuitous selfishness. I hope and pray that I’m not the only person who thinks that selfishness what we as a country need to change about ourselves and focus on instead of imagining that one person in the White House can magically fix everything for us. How many people can grasp the fact that if we really want to see this country change, if we really want to see corruption in our government disappear, if we really want people to be civil and express humanity to one another once more, then we need to change ourselves? I know the donkeys and elephants love to do this, but blaming each other for wrongdoings or failures doesn’t accomplish anything. We need to be the change we wish to see, and that can’t get accomplished by getting in a quarrel with someone over taxes or by debating how a woman’s body reacts to rape.

The last thing I want to do with this blog entry is to make you, my fellow readers, feel a sense of inferiority. Yes, I chose not to vote, and yes, I did something that I considered more important than participating in what I believe to be a train derailment that gets worse with each course correction one makes. But that doesn’t mean that you have to feel that way. If you truly believe that your vote mattered, and feel content with helping out society by voting, more power to you. I, however, cannot feel that way any longer, and hopefully by explaining myself in this post made my stance on the issue understandable. No, not everyone has the ability to rescue an animal, but that doesn’t mean that one can’t treat a homeless person on the street to a meal instead of waiting for the government to make a magical cure-all for the poor. That doesn’t mean that one can’t design a thoughtful and peaceful protest instead of wishing one could punch people of a differing opinion through a computer screen. Who knows – maybe I’ll be blessed enough to talk someone out of having an abortion. Maybe you, fellow reader, will be blessed enough to steer someone away from darkness. Whether that happens or not, the first step is to acknowledge the love that Jesus exhibited for us before and after He died on the cross, and aspire to show that love to others instead of being spiteful. I do challenge you, dear readers, that if you do vote, take action for or against what you believe in outside of the polling station. That’s where the real change will happen. That is where hope truly resides – in us, not the US.

The person whom I adopted Clementine from (and Helo, interestingly enough) tried to steer me into a political discussion by asking me if I had voted that day. I said that I hadn’t yet, without revealing that I had no intention of going out to vote (I’m becoming an expert of sorts at picking battles). Apparently the person took that as her invitation to endorse Claire McCaskill. “That puppy you have there, she’s a McCaskill pup!” and so on and so forth. While anyone with a sane mind can acknowledge that the puppy knows absolutely nothing about our political system nor cares about it, there is one thing that dogs can pick up on 100% of the time: love. In return, they exhibit it tenfold.

I wish humanity could follow suit.