Salvation Through Greed: The Moral Bankruptcy of Pascal’s Wager

“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”
— Colossians 3:23-24, King James Version

Someone once said to me, while in the midst of a debate as to the authenticity of an all-powerful, all-knowing, thoroughly benevolent god, that belief in God should be a general attitude. I’m going to paraphrase this person, but here’s the gist of what he said:

“If God doesn’t exist and you believe, then whatever — no harm, no foul. But if God does exist and you don’t believe, then damnation is in your future. Logically, you must believe, whether God exists or not, because you have more to lose through disbelief than you do with belief.”

For someone who may have faith in the existence of a deity, this train of thought does have merit. I mean, it makes sense, actually. To look at someone’s belief in God in the form of a comparison between reward and torment, logically one must choose the path that yields the highest reward with the least consequence. I get it.

But, unfortunately for this person, Pascal’s Wager — a game theory argument in Christian apologetics — highlights a very disturbing aspect of faith.

Before diving into the deep end of the moral ambiguity of this argument, here’s some background.

Blaise Pascal was a 17th Century philosopher who essentially posited that humans bet with their lives when it comes to their determination of whether or not God exists. In a nutshell, here’s the argument.

  1. God does or does not exist.
  2. Humans bet themselves on whether or not God exists or does not exist.
  3. Belief in God brings eternal salvation, whereas disbelief in God brings eternal suffering.
  4. If one believes in God, and God does exist, one’s future is of eternal salvation; but if God does not exist, then there is no consequence of disbelief.
  5. If one does not believe in God, and God does exist, one’s future is eternal suffering; but if God does not exist, then there is no consequence of disbelief.
  6. If God does not exist, then regardless of belief or disbelief, there is no consequence, but…
  7. … If God does exist, then there is consequence. To not believe is torment and to believe is salvation.
  8. Logically, regardless of God’s existence, to believe is the only possible outcome with no-risk and high-reward.

Essentially, Pascal’s Wager is a risk vs. reward scenario, and to me, this is the problem with Pascal’s Wager.

When it comes to the belief in a deity, and all that comes with it, someone is putting their basis of morality and their understanding of existence into a framework that essentially highlights personal avarice; someone simply believes in a supernatural, pseudoscientific entity because the risk is too great to not believe.

How delightfully flawed.

The efficacy of Pascal’s Wager is further complicated by the fact that for it to work, there has to be a “One True God.” Polytheism cannot be taken into account and when it comes to the existence of any kind of higher power, if we were to assume a supernatural power exists, the only (even remotely) logical definition is that there is more than one god. The Problem of Evil highlights this perfectly (“how can an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God exist when there is so much suffering and evil in the world?”). This is why Pascal’s Wager appears to have little to do with actually raising a legitimate philosophical argument for those who do not believe to believe, but more to do with reassuring those that already believe — those constrained by the view that there exists their God or no God.

Throughout history there have been hundreds of cultures that have worshiped thousands of gods and no one culture and no one god has any more logical certainty than any other. Basically, if Pascal’s Wager is applied and no “One True God” can be effectively established, then the probability of someone worshiping the wrong god is a mathematical certainty. In worshiping the wrong god, that person is damned regardless of their belief.

Perhaps the biggest failure of Pascal’s Wager, at least as far as Christian apologetics is concerned, is that even if it were a sound argument, it would still be a disincentive for an unbiased party to worship the Judeo-Christian God specifically. To worship the Judeo-Christian God, by definition, is to reject outright the existence of any other past god, current god, or future god, due to the intolerance presented in the First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Since there is absolutely no evidence that legitimizes the Judeo-Christian God more so than any other god, it makes more sense logically for the theist-to-be to direct their worship toward a less intolerant god.

Pascal’s Wager being a lynchpin for Christian apologetics appears little more than a case of cognitive dissonance engendered by Christian privilege. It appears to work, and is commonly invoked, because Christianity is the world’s alpha dog religion.

This is especially true in the United States. If a Muslim, for example, were to invoke something similar to make the case that everyone should believe in Allah, the Muslim would be socially crucified for it. However, I can sit in a bar and have someone throw Pascal’s Wager in my face to justify the existence of the Judeo-Christian God and a group of people at the table next to us cheered him on.

But that’s beside the point.

Effectively, Pascal’s Wager does very little for the actual justification of God, but highlights a disturbing moral fallacy — lynchpinning a set of moral guidelines and a viewpoint toward existence on whether or not there’s a reward in it for you. Christianity, as the collection of God’s own words, imposes a moral code. One cannot be a Christian without adopting it (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21). Since to believe in the Judeo-Christian God is to accept the morality and ethics that God lays down — to do otherwise is the forfeiture of salvation — than your accepted ethics, your perception of right and wrong, is also pinned on a notion of risk vs. reward.

Essentially, in choosing to believe in the Judeo-Christian God because there’s salvation in it for you, is to state that everything you believe and everything you are is hinged on eternal salvation. You follow your moral code because of the reward you will receive by doing so.

To paraphrase Matthew McConaughey’s Rustin Cohle from Season 1 of True Detective:

“If the only thing keeping someone decent is the expectation of a divine reward, that person is a piece of shit.”

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America’s Disturbing Issue With Recognizing Terrorism

American media is still searching for answers following the June 17 slaughter of nine people at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. While some outlets of American media are still hesitant to state Dylann Storm Roof’s actions were racial in nature, others are trying to determine what I feel is a more important detail to this incident:

Did Dylann Storm Roof commit an act of terrorism?

As a national colloquialism, we have loaded the word “terrorism” to be an ethnic term. An act of terrorism can only be purveyed by someone with brown skin wearing a turban. The word “terrorism” cannot be enacted unless the words “Muslim” or “Islamic” or “jihad” are in close proximity. Our obsession with terrorism’s Islamic associations has contributed to blinding us when we stare into the eyes of homegrown terrorists.

Dzokhar Tsarnaev, a Muslim immigrant via Kyrgystan who helped bomb the Boston Marathon in 2013, was labeled a terrorist in the United States. Eric Robert Rudolph, the man who orchestrated the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996, was not.

Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, Muslim’s from Arizona who opened fire on a “Draw Mohammed” event orchestrated by Pamela Gellar in Garland, Texas, were labeled terrorists. Jerad and Amanda Miller, members of the “Patriot movement” who murdered three in Las Vegas before being killed in a standoff with police, were not.

The last American-born citizen to be accused of terrorism was Timothy McVeigh, and as an interesting point of comparison, the socio-political movement in which Timothy McVeigh was part, the “Patriot movement,” is one of the loudest factions of Americans who pervert the actual meaning of the word “terrorism” into a tightly-defined synonym exclusive to jihad.

Every person listed above is a terrorist, yet there exists blatant and disturbing inconsistency when labeling them as such.

The United States has a real problem when it comes to classifying something as an act of terrorism and while I can sit here and blame 9/11 for that (and the events of 9/11 do seem to color our perception of what “terrorism” is) the misuse of the word “terrorism” can be found further back in American history. The old adage “your freedom fighter is my terrorist,” and vice-versa, is a very real and influential detriment on interpretations of what could be considered an act of terrorism.

To the British, the American Revolution was an act of terrorism. It is a part of history we in America celebrate. Likewise, to us, 9/11 is an act of terrorism. To many Islamic extremists, the act was heroic.

Determining whether an act is terrorism or its antithesis is solely influenced by personal biases, and unfortunately, this is where we fail in labeling things for what they are. Couple this with the fact American culture is self-centered and nationalistic — even more egregiously within some subsets of American culture — our failures in logically dissecting an act to determine its authenticity as an act of terrorism has overwhelming social consequences.

For example, when a violent act is carried out by a Muslim in this country, large portions of us rally behind the idea that a.) all Muslims in the United States need to denounce the faith and the actions of those who perverted the faith, b.) the act is of a terrorist nature, and c.) Islam needs to be kept even further under the thumb of American scrutiny. These ideas, routinely endorsed by people like Pamela Gellar and Florida pastor Terry Jones, as well as many members of Congress, infuse fresh blood in the hostilities many Americans have against Muslims.

Conversely, when a violent act is carried out by a Christian in this country, large portions of us rally behind the idea that a.) Christians in the United States need not denounce their faith, but merely the actions of someone who “lost touch with God,” b.) the act is not of a terrorist nature, and c.) Christianity still will be openly practiced and an imperative part of American culture.

When it comes to religion, many of us feel that Christianity cannot be tied to terrorism, but Islam is, even when people like religiously-motivated Scott Philip Roeder kills a doctor who provides abortion services, or when groups like The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord are tied to the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Has anyone called Jim Jones a terrorist yet? David Koresh? Robert Doggart? To our collective viewpoint, are these men not terrorists?

What about Manifest Destiny and, well, European colonization of the United States at the onset? Are the men who founded and expanded our nation terrorists? After all, the founding of America and its westward expansion was religiously-motivated and deliberate in its murder of indigenous peoples, ultimately prompting bloody conflict with the indigenous peoples and war with Mexico.

That sounds an awful lot like like the aftermath of 9/11 to me.

Ultimately, the men above are terrorists, but culturally, we are color-blind when it comes to labeling them as such. We shouldn’t be.

There isn’t undeserving harm in calling out our own brands of terrorism. There is, however, undeserving harm in refusing to call a spade a spade. Our inability to rationally view terrorism engenders more terrorism, in the form of racially and religiously-motivated violence. It’s like the cause and the symptom are indistinguishable from each other. They are the same thing.

Dylann Storm Roof committed and act of terrorism and is a terrorist. It is that simple to say and is undoubtedly accurate.

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Why Does the Right Believe in the “War on Cops?”

Last Friday, about twenty minutes from where I live, a pool party became the landing zone for the next chapter of America’s never-ending discussion of police procedure. I’m sure most by now know what happened, so I’m not going to rehash all of the details that ultimately led to McKinney PD Cpl. Eric Casebolt resigning his position. This isn’t about that. This isn’t even about the topic of police brutality or a criticism of police officers.

This is about us and how we, the American populous, are impeding the change necessary to make sure police officers are held accountable for their actions. This is about our inability to constructively have this conversation and how our inability to constructively have this conversation will continue to allow police officers who abuse their authority chances to hide behind their shield and their unions, freeing them of any accountability.

This is not about Eric Casebolt assaulting a 14-year-old girl. This is about how we enabled him to do so.

When Mike Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri last summer, the awareness of police violence exploded. We’d known about it. We’d talked about it. But this event triggered the social justice equivalent of Chernobyl. All of a sudden, there were so many faces, so many epitaphs, so many lives stricken from existence because of questionable police procedure. We knew of them, but were now forced to face them. Mike Brown’s smile joined the likeness of Victor White, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, John Crawford, and the hundreds of other black men and women tragically removed from our world because of trigger-fingered police. This attention mobilized two camps, one dedicated to police reform, while the other dedicated itself to keeping the public from “waging war on cops.”

Despite the latter’s vehement assertions, there is no war on cops. This is merely a talking point that has become popular on certain sides of the debate; the same sides who think restricting the possession of certain firearms is the government trying to take their guns away, the same sides who have convinced themselves that illegal immigrants are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, national security threat to the United States, and the same sides who believe that disrespecting the American flag during a protest is an affront to the armed forces of the United States.

An us vs. them philosophy, lending credence to the idea that we, the American public, are indeed polarized.

The idea that there may be a “war on cops” is beyond wrong, it is absurd, but I think I understand where it comes from. Fear. I genuinely think it may stem from fear.

These groups of people, who I will henceforth refer to as “Group A” for simplicity’s sake, are generally fearful people. They are afraid of ISIS, just as they were afraid of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and because of that fear, Group A wants to arm the American border and essentially remove the concept of immigration from the American landscape. Group A is afraid of being left vulnerable if there were an attack, either from outside or from the inside, so they mobilize, stockpiling every military-grade weapon they get their hands on. Group A are such tried and true nationalists — their love of country unparalleled — that any affront to national symbols is considered treasonous and as such, worthy of condemnation, or if they can get away with it, social damnation.

Group A is the definition of paranoia and it’s that paranoia, I think, that drives them to pedestal institutions that provide them with comfort and protection, not the least of which would be police officers. Much like Group A’s reception toward the military, a police officer is unable to do anything wrong. If the cop shoots someone, that person had it coming. If that cop becomes violent toward people during an investigation, those people had it coming. Essentially, the mindset becomes, don’t disrespect the cop and do as they say. If you are without guilt, they will realize that.

Group A also puts a lot of faith into a system that is easily corruptible and has, on many occasions, proven to be corrupted.

Group A’s world would come undone if they were unable to trust the institutions that keep them safe. Paranoia is like a cheap adhesive in this regard. If the position of law enforcement in Group A’s eyes falls apart, if police can actually do wrong, then the entire fabric of their lives begins to unravel. How could someone who swore to uphold the law so blatantly break it? This inquiry would drive them mad. It would be the same as how could a soldier, tasked with upholding the Constitution of the United States, do something so blatantly in defiance of it?

This is why Group A refuses to acknowledge that prisoners of the War on Terrorism are not deserving of the human rights violations they endure.

Our inability to even entertain this idea is getting in the way of the nation coming to a consensus about police reform. This is the sin of the side pushing for change. There is an obvious capacity for abuse (something the Ferguson Police Department undoubtedly showed), and I’m sure those who believe there to be a “war on cops” understand that as well, but because the idea of police reform threatens the immaculate view of law enforcement in their eyes, Group A will reject the notion every time. Every rejection will get louder, to the point where it evolves into the talking point we have seen laid out in conservative publications over the last year. In their eyes, it is not just a “war on cops,” it’s a war on their mental stability and their perception of safety in the face of all the horror that goes on the world.

I can understand that. Can anyone else?

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Gov. Abbott is Watching the United States Military: A Rant

There are times when I wish I had the ability to get inside someone’s head. You know, read minds and all that jazz. There are dozens of people I would be interested in knowing what thoughts bounced between their pruned brain matter when they made certain decisions. For example, what was evangelical pastor Ted Haggard thinking when he paid a gay male prostitute to shame-fist him into a meth coma (thanks Jamie Kilstein!)? What was Hilary Duff thinking that prompted her to sign up for Tinder as a means to meet dudes? I’m also very interested in how Glenn Beck’s and Alex Jones’ brains operate, since honestly, I view these men as two of the most intellectually-deficient guys on talk radio (Rush goes without saying).

If I had the power to read minds… I would definitely be curious as to why rookie Texas Governor Greg Abbott decided to send the Texas State Guard to observe the United States military conducting training exercises as part of Jade Helm 15, a seven-state wide military counterinsurgency training operation. It’s really not anything out of the ordinary, save for its size.

From what I understand, Texas’ bastion of backwoods paranoia seems to think that the presence of the U.S. military in the southwestern part of the state has less to do with training exercises and more to do with the implementation of “martial law” within the state. In a nutshell, these buffoons seem to think President Obama is looking to invade Texas, which is hilarious, considering that Texas has been in possession of the United States since 1845, save for a few years in the 1860’s when racist-ass Texas followed the racist leader and joined The Great Southern Temper Tantrum. Never mind that Texas is home to over two dozen U.S. military bases, which would have been part of the batshit equation if the state’s psychosis had actually thought about their outlandish claim before they grabbed their pitchforks, torches, and half-full jugs of moonshine. But, lo and behold, Governor Abbott, presumably with a cowboy hat on and an AR-15 in his hand, deployed the Texas State Guard to make sure the following did not happen:

“There can be no doubt that the internal events at Walmart holds the key to the endgame of Jade Helm operations. Jade Helm and Walmart are inextricably linked and the existing evidence suggests one of two possible endgame probabilities for Jade Helm. 1.) Converted Walmart stores will be processing centers for FEMA camp political prisoners. 2.) Some Walmarts will be used as supply and staging centers for an internal conflict within the United States.”
Conservative radio host Dave Hodges

Apparently, a United States military training exercise in the southwestern part of the country is enough of an endeavor to prompt conservatives around the nation to grab their tinfoil hats and channel their inner mid-90’s Mel Gibson. While they do all of that, and in some instances mobilize, as this Facebook group is propagating, I will be sitting here and rubbing my temples, as the stupidity of the southern conservative mother-brain has hit an all-time high.

I have never understood the need for people to be so freaked out by the government. While I’m not here saying that the government is not an enterprise without its flaws and its own questionable personalities striving for questionable outcomes (both right and left), I have never read anything, seen anything, heard anything, or been exposed in some shape, form, or fashion to anything that legitimately suggested the federal government is looking to install “martial law” or commence “hostile takeovers” of any state or any municipality within this nation’s borders, despite seemingly-endless exposure to all of the deranged jargon and outright lunatic propaganda pushed by Infowars, Breitbart, Fox News, WorldDailyNews, and the king’s ransom of other conservative publications that persuade a largely-inept and growing portion of the public who have stopped using their fucking brains.

I hate to break it to you, Texas far-right conservative voter base, President Obama is not going to take over Texas, he’s not going to install martial law, and he’s not a Muslim immigrant Marxist Communist dictator pushing the “gay agenda” so he can persecute Christians. You have been grossly misinformed by people exploiting your idiocy to push their own agendas. So, thank you for convincing our common sense-deficient governor to waste my tax dollars and yours for the purpose of deploying a bunch of third-string state “soldiers” to keep tabs on the United States military, as both he and yourself lack the ability to understand reason.

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Freddie Gray’s Death has been Ruled a Homicide.

I’ll leave the commentary to Baltimore State’s attorney Marilyn J. Mosby. She’s already said it better than probably could.

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Additional Musings Regarding Our Social Response to the Events in Baltimore

I originally composed the following as a Facebook status on 29 April 2015.

I’m not going to sit here and defend the actions of the rioters in Baltimore, but I will say that I have some understanding as to why the riots have taken place. Baltimore has been a powder-keg for a long time, a once-beautiful, thriving city (“Charm City”) whose identity and prosperity has been bled out for decades through poverty, gentrification, drugs, violence, police misconduct, and municipal negligence. The people in Baltimore are vexed, cold, and hungry, and the controversial death of Freddie Gray while in police custody once again pushed the inner-city over the edge.

To make matters worse, media coverage has focused solely on those rioting in the streets, not the men and women who have engaged in nonviolent, peaceful protest. The media refer to these men and women as “thugs” and chide them for their actions, yet there was nary a condemning quip following the 2014 World Series, when Giants fans engaging in “revelry” (as the San Francisco Chronicle put it) burned couches and vandalized businesses (which resulted in 40 arrests and 2 shootings) or when fans celebrating The Ohio State University’s 2015 National Championship set 90 fires and tore down a goalpost. Apparently, as far as the media is concerned, a “riot” only takes place when a citizenry mobilizes in protest and frustration toward what they consider civil inequity. Though, it’s not as if the media seems to actually care about these injustices, as evident by Geraldo Rivera’s trip to Baltimore where he was called out by one of the citizens for Fox News’ lack of reporting on Baltimore’s economic woes and by Wolf Blitzer, who finds it “hard to believe this is going on in a major American city” and he “never anticipated seeing this in a city like Baltimore” and he doesn’t “remember seeing anything like this in the United States of America in a long time,” even though he was in Ferguson, Missouri a few months ago covering the maelstrom taking place following Mike Brown’s death.

So, we, as surveyors of the bedlam (a lot of us nowhere near it), sit at our computer screens and iPhones and tablets, shaking our fingers like mothers scolding their children — “violence doesn’t solve anything” — and talking among ourselves about how the purveyors of chaos in Baltimore should be ashamed of themselves, or how they are “fucking [period] stupid [period],” or we post redneck memes making light of the situation by stating “if a black cop shoots a white kid… I’m looting the hell out of Bass Pro.” Historically, violence has solved a lot, especially in the United States. As unfortunate as it is, the truth is the truth. Our revolution was not solely diplomatic — tens of thousands died for a cause many of us champion devoid of any form of criticism. Slavery was not abolished before 850,000 lost their lives in a civil war the institution assisted in causing. As a personal observation, I do not feel that Martin Luther King, Jr. and his philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience tilted civil rights for African-Americans on its own, as I firmly believe Malcolm X’s militant approach was necessary to achieve the goal.

Furthermore, despite our impressionable eyes glued to television screens and partisan click-bait, race riots in the United States occur with regularity. Ferguson in 2014. St. Petersburg in 1996. Los Angeles in 1992. Miami in 1980. Augusta in 1970. DC, Chicago, and Baltimore in 1968. Detroit in 1967. Watts in 1965. Men and women burning cars and looting businesses and getting in the face of police is nothing new, so it’s appalling and confounding that we, as a brazen populous observing reactions and aftermaths to problems of which we have no part, have the audacity to sit comfortably and criticize a population’s reaction to their own decades-long suffering. How impudent of us. How about, instead of rolling our eyes, clicking our tongues, shrugging, and making arrogant, condescending commentary about the riots, we have an actual conversation about the systemic and historical disenfranchisement African-American communities have faced in this country, instead of only paying attention to these parts of urban America when someone decides to torch a CVS.

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Musings on the Events in Baltimore

“We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us.”
— Malcolm X

All eyes are on Baltimore, Maryland in the wake of the controversial death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man from West Baltimore who died of spinal injuries while in police custody. Like in Ferguson, Missouri last year, violence is erupting in the streets, businesses are being looted and burned to the ground, and the hostilities between the citizenry and law enforcement are becoming more and more tense every hour. Maryland governor Larry Hogan has declared a state of emergency and deployed the National Guard. There is a mandatory 10 p.m. curfew. Kids are missing school because of the violence.

We’ve seen this before, and chances are, we’ll see it again.

The story is buzzing on, and was pushed into the public consciousness by, social media, much like the events in Ferguson were while the nation was busy mourning Robin Williams. Countless tweets, complete with the hashtags #BaltimoreRiots, #FreddieGray, (the returning) #BlackLivesMatter, and others, either condemn the rioting outright, apprehensively support it, or in the case of some, undermine the situation with casual racism.

I get it, though. I do not appreciate the usage of violence to make a point, but I get it.

Unfortunately, because of how quickly assumptions are made (hell, my wife made this assumption as well), I’m not saying I understand the plight of black men and women in this nation. I am a white man, born into a society that privileged me because of my Caucasian ethnicity. I don’t know what it’s like to be black in the United States. What I mean when I say “I get it” is that I understand why rioting is the mode of expression being conducted in Baltimore. The city, like many others, has had an issue with police brutality so stunning that it’s surprising no one saw it.

Beyond Freddie Gray’s questionable death at the hands of law enforcement earlier this month, the city has paid out $5.7 million to victims of brutality at the hands of Baltimore police from 2011 to 2014. One notable case is that of Venus Green, a retired teacher with a host of credentials who spent her retirement as a foster parent. In July 2009, Mrs. Green’s grandson, Tallie, was shot and wounded at a convenient store. However, a white Baltimore police officer became hostile, insisting Tallie was shot at Mrs. Green’s home — “You know you were shot inside that house. We ain’t going to help you because you’re lying.” — a claim Mrs. Green refuted. When the officer wanted to go into the basement, Mrs. Green refused to allow it, out of fear that Tallie’s dogs may attack the officer. The officer shoved Mrs. Green against the wall — “Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other black bitches I have locked up” — then proceeded to manhandle her through her dining room and place her in handcuffs. It wasn’t until another officer demanded the handcuffs be removed that they were.

Mrs. Venus Green was 87 years old at the time of the incident and suffered a broken shoulder during the incident, along with emotional distress. She was awarded $95,000 in an out-of-court settlement with the City of Baltimore. Consider that paltry sum compared to the $5.7 million the city has shelled out to victims over the last four years — one-sixtieth of the total.

It’s true that most cities and municipalities have instances when police overstep and commit heinous acts against members of the public. I’m pretty sure we can all agree on that. It’s also true that a disproportionate amount of those heinous acts are committed with African-Americans and Hispanics as the victims. While that is more heavily debated, the facts do not lie. It is true. Police departments around the country exist in a web of institutionalized racism. That, too, is debated, but again, the facts do not lie. So, I get it Baltimore, you’re pissed off. I am too.

While nonviolence is definitely the preferred choice, I do not believe it to be the only choice. I also believe that violence, because of its attention grabbing nature, can prove to be somewhat beneficial to those who are being oppressed. Hell, history makes that belief perfectly clear. This damn nation was established through violence, not peace and diplomacy. Would the colonists have achieved their independence from an oppressive king had it not been through violent provocation? I doubt it. Would slavery have been abolished without violent confrontation? I doubt it. Would the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th Century been as productive without Malcolm X to provide balance to Martin Luther King, Jr.? I doubt it. These are but three of numerous examples of how violence, essentially, contributed to solving problems in the United States. More recently, the violence in Ferguson, Missouri kept the eyes of the public glued on the town and are at least partially responsible for a Department of Justice probe into the precinct which, despite exonerating Michael Brown’s killer Darren Wilson, found systematic abuses of power and institutionalized racism within the department, and further, opened our mouths so we can have a discussion about police brutality and the use of deadly force. While the conversation has been polarizing and has incited anger among the citizenry, it’s a conversation I have always felt was necessary to have, and I do believe that part of the reason we are having that conversation is because of rioting.

Very few issues, if any, are so simple as to break them into two schools of thought. Even similar situations have a uniqueness upon themselves — while the events in Baltimore mirror the events in Ferguson (both in cause and in response), they are different environments with a different citizenry, a different police department, and in some ways, even a different response.

So, Baltimore, I apprehensively support your rioting. I don’t like it, but I can see why its happening. The system has failed you. I understand. I believe it is unreasonable to expect you to be nonviolent when your oppressor is not expected to be nonviolent.

“I think what motivates people is not great hate, but great love for other people.”
— Huey Newton

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Extreme Flag Preservation is Silly.

There really isn’t much I could say that the following media doesn’t say for me.


This is Michelle Manhart, and she loves the American flag.

Michelle Manhart is all about the Flag Code and the preservation of a treasured American symbol.


Michelle Manhart takes the Flag Code so seriously, that she herself would never act in opposition to it.


Definitely not her. Michelle Manhart is a conservative hero!

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Commentary on Abstract Morality (A Response to Phil Robertson’s Recent Atheism Commentary)

It’s not a common practice for me to directly respond to individual people for things they say or things they believe. For the most part, I merely provide commentary on collective ideologies. There have only been a few instances when I have actually lobbied a response toward a particular figure. However, comments made by Phil Robertson at the Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast, a Christian event, in Florida last Friday have just pushed me to a point where I felt response was necessary. Of course, it could be argued that my response has been coming for a while, considering the man is no stranger to making inflammatory comments for reasons I can only assume are a.) sincerely held beliefs, or b.) coached talking points by organizations that support his particular brand of batshit Fundamentalist rhetoric, or c.) a combination of both. After all, in the world of Phil Robertson, STD’s are the hippie’s revenge, “convert or kill” should be the nation’s Islamic State strategy, liberals are worshipers of Satan and are worse than Hitler and Stalin (at the same breakfast), and allowing LGBT Americans to marry and have sex with each other will “morph out” to bestiality and “sleeping around” (not like the latter doesn’t already happen).

Given that the above audio is on YouTube, and because Phil Robertson is judging you through the Internet in the above media, I’m going to transcribe, as best I can, what he said.

… you just buy enough healthcare insurance, that’ll keep you out of the ground. I don’t think so… save you money… You’ve got a six-foot hole waiting on you if you have all the healthcare you can buy. You say, “is it going to keep me out of the ground?” No sir. It’s a problem, and you know something, you can’t solve it.

Just like you can’t see your sin problem. Oh, I-I mean, I-I-don’t know, this conscience thing. I mean, we just dreamed it up! There’s no right, there’s no wrong. There’s no good, there’s no evil. I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. (low audience chuckles). Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them. And they take his wife and they decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, “isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it, dude?” Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, “wouldn’t it be something if this was something wrong with this? But, you’re the one who says there’s no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong. So, we’re just having fun! We’re sick in the head! Have a nice day.”

If it happened to them, they probably would say, “something about this just ain’t right…”

I can see that Phil Robertson is attempting to make a point that he views atheism to be an immoral practice, much in the same way he views liberalism to be a Fascist practice and homosexuality to be a sinful practice. However, there are definitely more productive ways to make that point. Firstly, Phil Robertson could actually listen to what atheism is and how atheists actually think, instead of rushing to explicit, asinine assumptions regarding the moral value of atheistic thought. I don’t personally know a single atheist who would commit the acts Robertson described above, much less use atheism as a means to justify them. Furthermore, I don’t know of a single atheist who knows of a single atheist who would commit the acts Robertson described above, much less use atheism as a means to justify them.

It’s remarkably bothersome that atrocious rhetoric, like Robertson’s, exists and even more bothersome that vile assertions akin to Robertson’s are considered to be a legitimate talking point in the debate between religiosity and atheism. But, as I feel it is necessary to point out, there does exist a moral code that justifies actions similar to the ones Robertson has described… in the Holy Bible.

Numbers 31:7-18 (KJV):

And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.

And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.

And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.

10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.

11 And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.

12 And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.

13 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.

14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.

15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?

16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.

17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

God commanded this, and utilizing Christian logic, if God commands it, then it is good. Now, that seems, to me, an example of abstract morality. We know violence, and rape, and murder to be morally unjust, but if Christianity is the purveyor of morals, if God is morality absolute, as Phil Robertson implies, then wouldn’t a commandment by God to slaughter a group of people like the Midianites and keep the virgin women “for themselves” be, in essence, moral? I mean, according to nearly every single Christian I have ever engaged in this topic, God is absolute when it comes to morality. So, how could a moral being demand his subjects commit an immoral act? Unless, morality is abstract.

“There’s no right, there’s no wrong. There’s no good, there’s no evil.”

The above comment is Phil Robertson’s representation of abstract morality, which I actually agree with, even though he and I exercise difference in its context. Consider morality, defined as beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior. In American society, we have laws enacted for moral principles: we cannot arbitrarily kill someone, rape someone, steal from someone, commit fraud, endanger the public, etc. Our laws define our societal moral philosophy, and while there is overlap between these laws and Biblical laws (such as the abolition of murder, via the Ten Commandments), that does not necessarily imply that these laws are Biblical in nature. As proof of that, adultery is a Mosaic law, via the Ten Commandments. The Mosaic infraction of adultery does not carry criminal sentencing in the United States (or most other countries, for that matter), but is punishable by death in the Bible. Homosexuality is not criminalized in the United States (as well as most of the world), but in the Bible, someone who engages in sexual conduct with a person of the same sex can be put to death. Culturally, we have established distinction between Mosaic laws and modern laws, despite overlap existing. This overlap exists merely because the law is a good idea and further upholds our social construct around individual sovereignty.

But outside of the context of American law, and really outside of the context of established law itself, let us consider actions as an indicator of abstract morality, wherein we’re going to turn to everyone’s favorite example of why atheism is bad (despite the example’s explicit references to his own theism): Adolph Hitler. Please keep in mind, as I know some will not, that I am not condoning Hitler’s actions. I find them abominable, disgusting, bankrupt, reprehensible, vile, putrid, and horrific. However, this is my interpretation, which so happens to be a shared one. Consider Hitler’s motivation for what he did. Hitler rose to power because he was upset with the state of German affairs following World War I. Hitler’s motivation for his actions was a love of country. He was acting patriotically, a concept we in America routinely consider to be a good thing, which further states patriotism to be positive morally. Hitler genuinely believed, as did millions, that his actions were for the good will of his people, and ultimately were what was best for the world, indicating that Hitler acted benevolently. Benevolence is the desire to do good to others and Hitler aspired to strengthen his nation, inspire his people, correct what he and millions of other Germans considered to be a wrong levied upon them (the embarrassment and financial collapse Germans endured following their defeat in World War I), and do what he thought was best for them. He did it in a shockingly misguided and consequential way, but he had no evil intent. So, if someone acts malevolently (by virtue of opinion by those not the actor) from a place of benevolence (by virtue of the opinion of the actor), does that not establish moral ambiguity in the action? How can an act be both benevolent and malevolent? Are these not contradictory? If they are contradictory, then morality is an abstract concept, meaning it has no clear-cut answer and is solely subjective.

I feel that I must reiterate that I detest Hitler’s actions, just to make sure that is perfectly understood. But, back to Phil Robertson, man who claims atheism has no moral value.

With Phil Robertson’s defense against atheism being a guideline for morality, then his statement is hypocritical, at best. There are a lot of morally bankrupt things in the Bible and a large portion of them — such as the slaughter, rape, and pillage of the Midianites by the Israelites, under command of Moses — are sanctioned and perpetrated by God. With that being said, I find it impossible to view Christianity in a moral lens. Acts like the example Robertson used to speak in defiance of atheism have been perpetrated by Christians, like they’ve also been perpetrated by atheists, Muslims, Jews, Pagans, etc. It does nothing for a position to bolster a position with deceit, aside from hurt the position to varying degrees. In Robertson’s case, his Christian-defense of morality being bankrupt within atheism is hindered by describing an act that has, historically and modernly, been perpetrated by someone who proclaims themselves theist in some way, much like how arguments made against atheism on the basis of violence are hindered by people like Scott Philip Roeder and Eric Robert Rudolph. As acts Robertson himself would consider morally bankrupt have been committed by people associated with a philosophy Robertson considers to be the moral standard, Robertson’s assertion of Christianity being the moral authority is an erroneous statement.

I suppose that’s fitting, considering Phil Robertson is seemingly always only an opening of the mouth away from making another erroneous statement.

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Where Do My Morals Come From?

“Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”
— Christopher Hitchens

As an atheist, I am asked several different adaptations of the same general question: “Where do [my] morals come from?” I am now at a point where I chuckle — and if the setting permits it, light a cigarette — take a deep breath, then explain how morality is not a concept to which Christianity, or any other religion, can claim exclusivity. Morality can be determined merely by the application of common-sense and empathy, stemming primarily from regards to necessary dynamics intrinsic to a society composed of multitudes of people who need to live harmoniously among one another. For example, I believe murder is wrong because I do not see any value in taking someone’s life. Murdering someone does not positively affect anything in my life. I believe rape is wrong because I do not see any value in violating or traumatizing a woman for the sake of temporary sexual satisfaction. Raping someone does not positively affect anything in my life. I believe theft is wrong because I do not see any value in willfully and dishonestly acquiring something in which another person invested their time or money. Theft does not positively affect anything in my life. On the other side of this assessment, acts such those previously mentioned — murder, rape, and theft — and a slew of others, carry negative impacts, such as imprisonment, and in some cases, state-sanctioned murder. These deterrents definitely contribute to my assertion of what is and is not morally justified. But, I do not take anything at face value, not even morality or law. My assertions are my own, crafted from internal assessment, weighing the positives to the negatives, so to speak. I believe very much that there a very few issues and circumstances that are inherently black or white. There are plenty of shades of gray in between.

But, this isn’t to say that I am completely lawfully-oriented myself. There are laws which I find to have little-to-no positive value and other laws that I find to have purely negative value. For example, I believe that provisions in state constitutions that prohibit anyone other than a heterosexual man and a heterosexual woman from engaging in matrimonial affairs is morally bankrupt. Furthermore, I strongly detest the rhetoric given by those who support such laws in support of such laws. From my experience, I have heard nothing to legally justify marriage discrimination, merely religious conservative rhetoric, which brings this thought to its most heinous point. I find it socially, and morally, reprehensible to allow religious philosophy to determine the efficacy of laws in an environment that is not entirely composed of men and women who unanimously and completely share that religious philosophy, especially when the law is bigoted and potentially in violation of the civil rights of sovereign American citizens. I do not see any positive value in drug prohibition, not only because of the prohibition of mind-altering substances themselves or the completely backward way in which the prohibition is inconsistent, but also in the precedents that have been set because of the prohibition: a disproportionate non-white inmate population (despite consistent rates of usage among whites and non-whites), mandatory minimum sentencing, and, in what may be the worst effect of drug prohibition, the privatization of the American penal system, where privately-operated prisons enter deals with the states in which they are located that operate with an economic bottom line, and minimum occupancy rates. To me, this is socially, and morally, abominable, especially the latter example, which contributes heavily the prior examples.

The aforementioned issues are only the tip of the iceberg. I have thoughts regarding a wide variety of issues, but I don’t think either you or I have the time to go through all of them right now.

My concept of what is moral and just merely stems from assessing issues without influence. These thoughts are my own, even if they coincide with thoughts others have had before me, have currently, and will have after me. Yet, I am a man without God, who further believes that God is merely an associative concept humans from thousands of years ago created to help them better understand why certain things happen. But to go more in-depth into my lack of belief reveals another obelisk, beyond terrestrial concepts of social justice and morality. I find absolutely no positive value in believing in a God.

That can of worms may be further assessed at another time.

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