Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cincy's Gorilla Video and Kneejerks

So now we're all talking about a gorilla.

A 400-pound, 17-year-old Western lowland silverback named Harambe, who was shot to death Saturday in his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.  Harambe was killed by zoo officials, ostensibly to prevent him from mauling a 4-year-old boy who'd somehow gotten into the gorilla exhibit.

Animal rights activists are furious that zoo officials shot and killed an endangered Western lowland silverback.  It's bad enough that we enslave poor, helpless animals in zoos, and then we deprive them of their very right to live!

After all, any decently-trained gorilla handler should have recognized, apparently, that Harambe was not displaying violent behavior towards the diminutive human.  Gorillas of Harambe's lineage usually stand up and beat their chest - just like in the movies - to display their intent to attack.  Meanwhile, video of the ape with the child shows Harambe exhibiting a protective posture towards the little boy, combined with curiosity, and perhaps even some affection, when Harambe briefly appears to gently hold the boy's hand.

It's that video of the ten minutes leading up to Harambe's killing that's been seen around the world, thanks to social media.  And not only has it gotten animal rights activists in an uproar, plenty of ordinary people are vociferously blaming the child's parents - an unmarried black couple with three other children - for being neglectful.  After all, if it wasn't parental negligence, how else did their toddler manage to get through the exhibit's barriers?  Barriers which, reports say, exceed standard regulations for such an enclosure.

Today, social media is bristling with vitriol, armchair quarterbacking, bickering, and general sensationalism over the event from Saturday.  You see, yesterday was a national holiday here in America, allowing the story to gather steam across the globe.  Now that America's workers are back on the job today, however, Harambe is now truly getting his proverbial 15 minutes of fame.  Which just goes to show you how much social media our country's workers generate on a work day.

Misleading message: 
Standing for Harambe's life...?
Even a pro-life group jumped on the Facebook bandwagon today, with a slick graphic of a silverback and the hashtag #standforLIFE.

Their advertising copy is quick to capitalize on the controversy, even if it's not Harambe's life they're championing:

"The widespread national conversation surrounding this topic brings us back to the underlying question of whether or not we value human life in all circumstances. The bottom line is this: no animal life is greater than that of a human's."

Which is true, of course.  When faced with the immediate choice of protecting human life or allowing an untamed animal to act out their instincts, zoo officials correctly opted for the moral course of action.

Yet was that the question here?

Was the little boy in imminent danger?

Animal rights activists say no, he was not.  They've produced several experts for the media who say that while the gorilla certainly had the capacity to easily kill the child, in those ten minutes documented by the cell phone video, Harambe did not appear eager to kill.  Granted, those must have been an agonizing ten minutes for the people watching the scenario unfold, and Harambe did himself no favors by violently jerking and swinging the boy through the water at one point.  But all that proves is that Harambe is no PR expert.  It doesn't prove that the little boy's life was in imminent danger.

Why didn't the zookeepers recognize that Harambe was not being aggressive towards the four-year-old?  Because it was a Saturday, and all the experts had the day off?  Couldn't one of Harambe's handlers gotten onto a rope and swung down to try and scoop away the little boy?

Shucks - between the gorilla and the boy, wasn't anybody concerned that whomever fired the gun might not be as good a sharpshooter as they turned out to be?  I'm surprised the anti-gun crowd isn't throwing itself into the fray.

Tranquilizer darts had been considered, but zoo officials at the scene worried that they might take too long to work.  And frankly, if Harambe wasn't agitated enough before he got shot, having a painful needle sticking in his backside likely could have really riled him up, genuinely imperiling the boy.

All this isn't to say that everything should have been done to protect Harambe.  The right-to-life folks are being a bit opportunistic with their take on this story, but they are correct:  better to be safe than sorry.

Which means the parents have a whole lotta 'splainin' to do, as Ricky Ricardo would say.  It probably took their son at least a few minutes to get through the enclosure's barricades; they didn't take their eyes off of him "for a moment."  Some media outlets are salaciously referencing the father's criminal past, but those are cheap shots, since we have no idea what correlation a rap sheet has on trying to corral a rambunctious son.

The police say they are investigating the parents to see if child welfare laws were broken.  So let's just leave it at that.

In fact, let's just leave the whole thing to the people of Cincinnati.  This is not the international sensation we have blown it into.  Yes, there's a video of the kid with the gorilla, and it's pretty weird to watch.  But at some point, we're gonna have to learn to live with the instant video-ization of our lives.

Not so we become jaded to things, or calloused, or indifferent.  But we need to remember that incidents happen all the time in which ordinary people are faced with extraordinary things.  Just because something is documented on a video doesn't mean that those of us who watch the video will know the entire context of the event documented by the video.

Yes, it looks pretty obvious that the Western lowland silverback could have pulverized that little boy.  And it's easy to presume that the only way a little boy could have gotten into Harambe's habitat was largely the result of inattentive supervision.

Yet sometimes, the rest of us need to simply move on.  Especially the folks who are excoriating the professionalism of zoo officials in Cincinnati.  And the folks who have never met this little boy or his family.  And especially the folks who feel the need to so vulgarly express their opinions with foul and threatening language.  Too many people harbor a false sense of immunity when they participate in social media narratives, failing to forget that we say as much about ourselves as we do the people and things about which we're writing.

As it is, at this point at least, the story of Harambe is one of several likely mistakes on the part of several humans; starting obviously with the little boy, then probably his parents, then possibly Cincinnati's zookeepers.  But what international importance does this story have?  This is not unilateral proof that all zoos should be banned.  It's not unilateral proof that this little boy's parents should be arrested for anything.  It's great click-bait, but little else.

Indeed, some stories may make for compelling video, but contain little widespread significance beyond the video's content.  As a society, we need to start learning how to recognize the difference between a video that impacts us, in Cincinnati and beyond, and videos that are far narrower in their scope.

Anybody can reflexively knee-jerk.  But keep doing it, and see how quickly you fall apart.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Don't Blame the Bible

If you believe any part of the Bible, why?

Is it because you've been brought up in a country that has historically featured Christianity as its de-facto religion?  And you can easily recognize the more popular Biblical stories and characters that have helped shape your country's traditions?

Is it because you live in a part of the United States where it's easier to agree that the Bible is an honorable holy book, rather than come out and disavow it and its Author publicly?

Or is it because you have become convinced, through mechanisms you can't entirely grasp, that it is indeed the true and authoritative Word of almighty God?

(For the record, I count myself in the third group.)

Okay, now:  If you believe any part of the Bible, are there parts you don't believe?  And if so, why?

Is it because some of the Bible makes sense, and parts of it don't, so there's little point in believing what you don't understand?

Is it because some of the Bible sounds nice and affirming, while other parts of it sound harsh and unattractive?

Or is it because you place a considerable value on culture, society, science, or other human constructs to the point where you defer to those constructs in instances where the Bible seems unclear, or smacks of fuddy-duddy anti-intellectualism?

In the essay I wrote this week about theological liberalism within the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), I described how many long-time churches in that denomination are leaving because trendy Presbyterianism has relegated the Bible to a historical moral suggestion list, rather than the holy Word of God.

And in the essay I wrote this week about sports, I mentioned the upheaval at Baylor University - a Baptist institution - following an investigation into alleged suppression of sexual crimes perpetrated by members of the school's winning football team.  At first, sports experts doubted the school would touch Baylor's celebrated football coach, but to everyone's surprise, they did; firing Art Briles, and risking disarray in their lucrative football enterprise.

So, what caused Baylor to make their decision to put ethics over football?  It must have been something more than lawsuits, which can be settled with money, which the football program under Briles' continued leadership would undoubtedly have been able to generate.

Our traditional Judeo-Christian legal system isn't the only one in the world to criminalize sexual assault, but to have the capacity to identify right from wrong in the first place needs the baseline of something greater than keeping cops and robbers (I mean lawyers) occupied.  Being able to create social taboos, or even instigating economic repercussions against a perpetrator of something bad, requires that we can identify behavior we value, and behavior we don't.

There's something that comes before morality, that serves as its foundation.  There has to be a basic truth someplace, right?

Has the Bible existed as long as it has merely by chance, or military might, or religious bullying, or social reluctance to find something better?

(BTW, religious bullying existed in Jesus Christ's day, and it was directed against Him.)

If to you, the Bible is merely a holy book that has managed to stand the test of time pretty well, is that a good enough reason to entrust it with the outlines of Western civilization's moral code?

How would you be able to know what there is to believe about the Bible, and what not to believe about the Bible?  How would you know which of its stories are true, and which are simply fables?

You could look at the lives and actions of other people who say they believe the Bible, but everybody is a hypocrite to some degree, aren't they?  You could evaluate the Bible's teachings against science, but science is built upon both facts and... theories.  You could study how ancient cultures and present-day cultures collapse or flourish based upon their adherence to Biblical teaching, but Jesus Christ didn't die on the cross to save cultures; He died and rose again to save individual people.

The question of whether the Bible is authoritative enough to believe isn't a question of philosophy, or history, or convenience.  It's a question of how you're going to live your life, and base your view of life.  What you believe - and the things in which you believe - are incredibly important.

I believe the Bible.  Do you?  Either the Bible is trustworthy in every respect, or it is not.  Right?  But who gets to decide whether the Bible is trustworthy?  God, or you, or me?

If it's you, or me, consider this:  In our presumed sophistication, we may feel entitled to re-conceptualize certain Biblical teachings in light of progressive ideologies or scientific advances.  Or we can rationalize that, at this point in human civilization, we no longer need quaint stories and superhero-type characters to dictate how we should live.  The Bible may be historic literature, but it is not sacrosanct.

Yet would your ambivalence - or even hostility - towards the Bible be sufficient reason to deny other people the right to practice the Bible's teachings?

For example, can everybody have a different opinion yet everybody still be correct?  Consider the festering bitterness between anti-Semites, the Black Lives Matter movement, and Jews at none other than Oberlin College, one of the most liberal schools on the planet.  There, political correctness is a circular argument run amok, to farcical extremes, yet fellow liberals are committed to fighting themselves over it.  Why?  Because they can't accept that relativism doesn't work.  If everybody is entitled to be correct, then who is correct?  And what does being correct mean?  Without an ultimate standard, who knows?

Then there's our more common argument over civil rights.  People popularly attempt to distill civil rights down to oppressed people groups, such as blacks or gays.  It's especially convenient to point out how so many Christian southerners advocated for slavery.  Does the fact that many professing Bible-believers used to own slaves mean that owning people is Biblical?  And is that a good reason to scoff at attempts by modern-day Christians to co-opt Biblical teachings against homosexuality against the push for gay marriage?

The thing about slavery is that while it is mentioned in the Bible, and is even used as a metaphor for faith, God never actually teaches that the ownership of human beings is a good thing.  Slavery is a concept present in the Bible, but that doesn't make slavery a Biblical concept. 

In some cultures, someone who is indebted to another may "sell" themselves to that person and work to pay off their debt.  Other times, even in the Bible, a victorious warring army will claim a defeated people group to be their slaves.  But a proper understanding of historical accounts of the Israelites during the Biblical narrative, placed in the context of New Testament grace after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, does not render an endorsement of slavery. 

Many Christians may (and will) behave badly, and act on some pretty bad theology, but don't blame the Bible for such sinful behavior.

Meanwhile, the Bible remains pretty specific about sexual sins, running from adultery within and without marriage, and to whether it's heterosexually, or homosexually.  And even with animals.  And what was wrong when the Bible was written remains wrong today, whether heterosexual adultery is less taboo than homosexuality or not.  It's not up to society to decide which sins are more worse than others, even though we make those determinations all the time, usually on the basis of how commonplace a particular sin happens to be.  We usually write our legal codes based on what a society wants to punish more, but if the sin of heterosexual adultery was also against federal law, a whole lot of folks would be up a creek.

It seems that it's easier to base one's opinions about the veracity and validity of the Bible mostly on how people who claim to believe it behave.  But it's a mistake to judge a book like the Bible by the behavior of its readers.  After all, it's the Bible that teaches that we're all sinners, and we all fall short of God's glory and expectations.  It's God Himself who says we will never measure up, we will never be able to do everything right, and we will constantly be wilting in the face of temptation.  That's the whole point of Christ's coming to be our salvation.  We need to have a Savior.  The Bible is the story of Christ.  God isn't primarily concerned with rules and regulations, or what the Bible calls the "law."  The law exists to show us why we need Christ, and the grace that His life provides.

That's not to say that we can do anything we want.  Nor does it mean that we're all correct, and everything's relative.  After all, grace means somebody's wrong.  If everybody was right all the time, grace wouldn't exist.  So how do we know what is wrong?

I believe the Bible tells us.

If you don't, then you must believe something else tells us.  So, what is it?

Is it your own intuition?  Some other religious system, like Islam, or right-wing American patriotism, or capitalism?

Remember, a lot of folks try to poke holes through the Bible, but all they end up doing is pointing out how imperfect humans are.  The Bible itself isn't what's imperfect, or untrustworthy.

But it can be inconvenient, or unpopular.

So, whose fault is that?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Eyes that Don't See: Irony in the PCUSA

Sometimes, success can be measured by failure.

This time, success can be found by considering an article exploring the membership free-fall afflicting America's largest Presbyterian denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA).  Just in the past four years, 463 local congregations have disassociated themselves from the PCUSA, representing a loss of about 21% of its membership.

Considering the fact that many Presbyterian churches are long-time, prominent fixtures in their communities, troubles in the PCUSA often become fodder for the secular media, not just chatty church-goers.  Many of the disassociating congregations have been forced to endure a rigorous, expensive legal process to salvage their buildings and property from the clutches of the increasingly desperate denomination.  It has not been pretty.

Why are so many congregations leaving their venerable denomination?  It's a mixture of things, starting with many Presbyterians becoming weary and resentful over the PCUSA's ownership claims on buildings and property local congregants have funded, often over decades and through generations.  And considering how valuable some of these church buildings are - Highland Park Presbyterian's exquisite campus in Dallas, for example, is worth an estimated $70 million - that represents a lot of money parishioners have invested in their local churches, often under an assumption that control over the facility rests with the congregation, not the denomination.

More importantly, however, has been the PCUSA's official stance on a variety of controversial social, moral, and religious issues - a stance that has been trending liberal for decades now.  Advocates of change within the denomination like to preach inclusivity and charity, while traditionalists try to champion scripture, not culture, as the barometer by which Presbyterianism should be run.  Intra-church wars have been waged over female pastors, gay elders, and gay marriage, with the denomination officially adopting liberal positions on each issue.

In a way, the PCUSA's distress resembles a microcosm of what has gone on in Amercian society as a whole.  But it hasn't worked out well for either the denomination, or our country.

You see, the broader conflict within the PCUSA is far more tragic than property rights and women pastors.  Increasingly, it stems from the willingness of many Presbyterians to diminish the role of scripture, the authority of God, and the historic interpretation of Christian doctrine when it comes to crafting a theological template to evaluate controversial issues.

In other words, just as relativism has become a popular byword in our culture at large, liberal Presbyterians have enthusiastically shunned the traditional metrics by which Christians have traditionally made decisions.  This means that controversies such as gay marriage have nothing but nuanced opinion or moralist emotions upon which church practices are now anchored.  Meanwhile, the relevance of the "house built on sand" in Christ's (formerly, apparently) famous parable gets marginalized for the sake of trendy intellectualized theology.

So, what does all of this have to do with success?  Because obviously, the PCUSA has not been experiencing success with their new formula.

Granted, regardless of denomination, experts widely expect that church membership will continue to at least plateau, if not deflate, as fewer and fewer Americans express interest in church attendance.  Then too, what's happening within Presbyterianism is more a rearranging of deck chairs, instead of the construction of an additional vessel.  Indeed, church growth experts sputter at the notion, but most church membership swings these days do not involve mass conversions of the unsaved as much as they do widespread church-hopping among adherents of our religious subculture.

Nevertheless, the critical failure of the PCUSA with regards to its inability to remain viable, even while while preaching cultural relevance, is stunning.  Conventional wisdom would say that mirroring one's culture should be the salvation for a denomination, but that's obviously not working.  And advocates of the new order within the PCUSA even seem to recognize the key problem.  But then again, even though they can identify the problem, they can't see it.

In a recent article exploring the denomination's decline, a PCUSA pastor is quoted as explaining his church's disconnect with today's young adults.  He can recognize that a curious irony exists over why the PCUSA, an openly liberal denomination, can't attract them, even though most modern youngsters actually share the PCUSA's liberal worldview.

“There’s nothing new here (in the PCUSA)," the Rev. James Wellman said.  "When the Presbyterian Church comes out for gay rights, they go, ‘What took them so long?’  It doesn’t show leadership.  It just shows a reflection of the culture.”

A reflection of the culture.

Actually, isn't that what the many Presbyterians leaving their denomination have been saying as well?  Only it's not a compliment.  Church should not be a reflection of the culture, should it?  Sadly, Wellman himself can put his finger on the problem, but he doesn't see it as the problem.

Success is being able and willing to leave the culture behind.  Whether it's as a denomination, a local congregation, or individual Christ-followers.  Frankly, it's encouraging to see that many Presbyterian congregations have people who can see the fallacy of culture.  There is more to life than whether women should be pastors, or gays should marry.  There is Christ.  There is His Word.  There is His wisdom, and grace, and truth.  These are eternal.  But no culture or mortal intellectualizing is eternal.

I've said before that Christ calls us to be salt and light, not Splenda and reflective tape.  The problem with the PCUSA likely is that, in their drive for cultural sophistication, they'd be more offended at being associated with a cancer-risk sweetener than being accused of not serving Christ.

At least, not the way He wants us to.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Day for Big Sports News in DFW

Here in the Fort Worth - Dallas area today, sports dominated our news.

And even though I'm not a sports nut, it's actually kinda refreshing to be able to fuss about things a lot less bizarre than transgendered bathrooms and Donald Trump.

Tonight in Arlington's city hall, our council will be discussing a brand-new proposal to build an enclosed stadium for our local Major League Baseball franchise, the Texas Rangers.  Their current stadium here, branded Globe Life Park, only opened in 1994.  It features a nostalgic retro design that hearkens back to the arches and brick of baseball's golden age, with a 4-story office building tucked into the outfield.

Alas, it's an open-air stadium, which means that during the heat of a typical Texas summer, watching a game can be much less than an enjoyable experience.  So the team's owners think they've gotten city officials on-board with a plan to develop a new facility with a retractable roof.

At a cost of $1 billion.  Of which they want the city to pay half.

Competing with the Texas Rangers ballpark story today is the unofficial news that Baylor University's famed president, Ken Starr, has been fired after widespread dissatisfaction with how the university handled accusations of sexual misconduct by members of the elite Baptist school's football team.  And here in Texas, at least, football is king; far bigger than baseball in terms of the adulation and money fans are willing to throw at it.

Then there came word that our shiny home of the Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium, is out of contention for hosting a Super Bowl until at least 2022.  AT&T Stadium is also located in Arlington, just down the street from Globe Life Park, and it hosted a disastrous Super Bowl back in 2011.  North Texas had been socked by a freak ice storm and cold snap that left this region paralyzed during the entire week leading up to Super Bowl Sunday.  Then there was a nasty snafu over some extra seats just before the game began, triggering a lawsuit that dragged on for years.  A lot of people blamed the notoriously egotistical owner of the Cowboys, Jerry Jones, for trying to rig all-time attendance records for his inaugural Super Bowl, but the National Football League was likely just as complicit - if not more so - in the overselling of seating for its big game.

At any rate, Super Bowl XLV was a bitter black eye for many civic boosters here when so much went wrong while they were trying to deliver a stellar celebration of such a public event.  Politicians around these parts are still smarting over that.

Indeed, we Texans love to brag about the mild winters we usually enjoy, with relatively balmy sunshine and temperate temperatures, at least when compared with Up North.  No, this isn't Florida, and it can get mighty frigid in January and February, but a week's worth of ice is exceptionally rare for us.

It's those mild winters that eventually turn into brutal summers that have a lot of fans cheering the news of air-conditioning during Texas Rangers games.  But $1 billion?  With taxpayers paying half?  I imagine Arlington's city hall tonight is going to be hopping with a lot of agitated people.

Back in the early 1990's, when the city approached taxpayers about paying for part of the proposed ballpark, fans were eager to keep the team in town.  And frankly, the stadium, although kitschy, has proven to be a world-class venue with a timeless design, especially considering how so many newer stadiums have mimicked it.

Then Jerry Jones asked taxpayers to pay for part of his humongous football palace, and popular sentiment was a bit less enthusiastic.  The first baseball stadium vote was 66% in favor of raising taxes to help fund it; the Cowboys stadium vote was 55%.  What will it be for this newest baseball stadium vote?

Many unanswered questions are popping up all over the place, mostly because the city has kept its planning under wraps, and news of the proposal came only last Friday.  For example, why can't the current stadium be fitted with a retractable roof?  What will happen to the well-built and attractive stadium when its newest iteration opens?  Should we keep building new stadiums just because teams and taxpayers say so?  Why can't sports teams fund their own stadiums?  Are the Rangers' owners simply playing the city, gaming our inescapable heat as a pressure tactic to wring big bucks out of sports-silly taxpayers?

Sports backers love to argue that new stadiums generate economic development, but at least in terms of wooing new businesses and real estate investments, Arlington's two professional sports houses prove that claim wrong.  No new development has been built around the Rangers' home since it opened in 1994.  And no new development has been built around the Cowboys' stadium since it opened in 2009.

Actually, a new Chase bank opened across the street, but considering how ubiquitous branch banks have become, that's not saying much.

And with the Cowboys' stadium, taxpayers were asked to contribute $300,000.  It's been reported that Jerry Jones and his family coughed up several hundred thousand dollars of their own money to help complete the project, something most sports franchise owners manage to avoid doing.  So why should the Rangers' ownership expect taxpayers to shell out more than what Jerry expected from us?  In an unusual twist for him, Jerry Jones is starting to look magnanimous compared with the wealthy guys who own the Rangers.

Unless some spectacular, unforeseen, totally cataclysmic event takes place, it's practically certain that taxpayers will vote to help fund the construction of this new ballpark here in Arlington for the Texas Rangers.  After all, the Boys of Summer have been in town since the team moved here from Washington DC in 1972, and helped put nondescript Arlington on the big league map.  Meanwhile, Dallas has made no attempts at hiding its burning desire to have the Rangers play in Big D's resurgent downtown, so many Arlington residents likely would rather pay more just to keep the team away from Dallas, even if it doesn't make much economic sense.

It's kinda like firing the president of a major university when football players have been accused of sexual misconduct.  Rumor has it that the teams' celebrated coach, however, likely won't lose his job - at least, not yet.*  Ironically, I imagine that Baylor's boosters would have screamed to high Heaven if Starr had micromanaged the school's football program at a deep enough level that could have exposed him to the goings-on of the football team's private sexual encounters.  But like I said, football is king around these parts, so sacrificial lambs need to be offered every now and again when, as people concede all too farcically, "boys will be boys."

Or maybe, we need to start saying, "boys will be boys... or girls... or whatever."

What - too soon?


Update 5/27/16:  Rumor was wrong.  Baylor did indeed fire its ultra-successful coach, Art Briles.  It also removed Starr as president, but left him with the ceremonial title of chancellor.  In addition, there remains a chance that other personnel changes will be forthcoming.
Update  5/24/16:  This evening, Arlington's city council did indeed vote unanimously to put a public vote for the stadium tax on November's ballot.  Sorry, Dallas...

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Transgenderism Q&A

Just to make sure my comments on transgenderism are taken correctly, here's a some of a broader Q-and-A session I've had with some friends regarding the subject and my stance:

Their Question:  Are you aware that America's medical community recognizes transgender identity as a valid concept?  The condition is called gender dysphoria, formerly called gender identity disorder.  It is recognized by the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association.  It is a psychological phenomenon studied and recognized to be valid by scientific experts. 

My Answer:  From what I've read on the subject, gender dysphoria is indeed a condition recognized by these (admittedly liberal) groups, but the CAUSE of gender dysphoria is believed to be heavily influenced by parental behavior and other factors in the upbringing of children that encourage the condition.  From what I understand, the jury is still out on whether gender dysphoria is generated all on its own, biologically, apart from external influencing factors.  We Westerners have developed a bad habit of taking incomplete science and constructing social change on it.  Meanwhile, the people who have a genuine chromosomal disorder continue to be misunderstood.

Q:  Some studies have found brain differences in transgender people, some studies have found links to prenatal hormonal issues, some studies have found environmental influences.  The point is it's real and it's complicated and liberals did not make it up.  How can you deny it?

A:   I'm not denying that the condition exists.  What I'm questioning is the reason a person may have the condition.  There are those anecdotal stories about parents who intentionally raise daughters as sons.  There are anecdotal stories about children raised to be one gender who flip themselves back in adulthood.  There are some more robust scientific studies that indicate biology plays a factor in more cases than previous thought.  However, what all of this means is that gender identity is not a flippant thought.  People don't decide daily to identify as one gender or another.   There is a process to such self-identity, and if you're serious about it, you have doctors certifying that the quest is being undertaken.  The policies against which many conservatives are reacting are policies that treat gender dysphoria flippantly, to the point where, this week on FOX, a woman left a Ross store after a man dressed as a man refused to leave the ladies dressing room, saying he was self-identifying as a woman that day.  That's goofy, and frankly, it's an insult to people who legitimately struggle with the condition (regardless of what caused it).  I don't understand why it's suddenly blown up into some big issue, when (if the experts are correct) gender dysphoria has been around for centuries.

Q:  What is your biblical basis for your conclusion that transgenderism is a consequence of the fall of man?

A:  "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.'Mark 10:6

Q:  You're really stretching that verse in Mark.  How about the verse that tells us to get the beam out of my own eye before I try to get the speck out of yours?

A:  I'm not sure what there is TO stretch in that verse.  The verse about the beam in the eye isn't about not being discerning; it's about being discerning to realize that nobody is perfect, not even yourself, so you should not lord it over others by making them think you're superior in your "righteousness.'"  In a way, that links with the current popularity of socking it to religion with transgender issue. I admit (as I regularly blog) that in a sense, churchy folk have been asking for this blowback for some time with our self-righteous swaggering in the public square.

Q:  My understanding of transgenderism is that a person identifies as the opposite gender of the physical traits he or she has.  So they remain male or female, but their physical and inner selves differ.  How does your Bible verse relate to that?

Yours is a popular, politicized iteration of the term that originally was used to describe people with legitimate biological issues regarding their chromosomes and reproductive organs.  These days, transgenderism has come to include people who perceive a differentiation between their emotions and their anatomy, AS IF EMOTIONS ARE A LEGITIMATE MEASURE OF GENDER.  For years, people like Gloria Steinem told us traditional gender roles based on emotion were invalid.  Now they're valid?  To the extent we sloppily apply gender roles based on preferences for certain asexual things (such as sports, the arts, etc.) Steinem was right.  However, what gives us the right to now decide that we can decide for ourselves what gender (or no gender) we perceive ourselves to be regardless of our anatomy?

Q:  When you research, you see there is lots of evidence that supports biological causes of transgender identify (brain differences, hormonal differences).  It's not just "emotional".  What about this evidence?

A:  Few "thinking" evangelicals dispute that there are very rare examples of gender dysphoria.   I do not dispute that it exists.  But for people who genuinely have the condition, which bathroom they use is the least of their concerns.  This is a hyper-politicized tempest in a teapot sparked by people who now see this as an ideal time in history to take revenge on decades of religious pomposity.

Q:  Why don't you want to protect the civil rights of transgendered people, like you would the civil rights of black people?

Recently, a huge, conservative, historic Presbyterian church in Jackson MS issued an official apology for their sad legacy of institutionalized racism.   I applaud such contrition because God is not a respecter of persons.  But God did make people intending them to be of a specific gender.  We can't pick and choose what to believe about God, like early members at this Mississippi church did about black people.  And we can't pick and choose what we want to believe about God when it comes to gender.  Some people may say that, then, God must make mistakes in cases of genuine gender dysphoria.  I would say that genuine gender dysphoria is not a mistake; it's as much a result of the Fall of Man as cancer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Does Your Opinion Mean Anything?

The basics.

Oftentimes, getting back to them is harder than we think.

Consider, for example, the basics of how we develop an opinion about something.  Sometimes, an opinion can be entirely unsubstantiated and hollow, but it doesn't really matter.  Other times, however, our opinions need to be grounded in something other than merely our ability to articulate them.  If we want our opinion to mean anything, we need to appreciate the basics for constructing a rational thought.

So, what are the basics for constructing a rational thought?  Well, without getting too philosophical and technical, can't we agree that rational thought needs to be capable of withstanding at least an equally weighty counterpoint?  For our opinion to carry more weight than others, then, it should be based on something more robust than our own personal hopes and perspective.  Otherwise, why should anybody else pay any attention to us?

What it is that keeps us from simply babbling?  It's building a viewpoint on something more substantial than ourselves, or even a shared opinion among like-minded selves.  The basics for how we develop an opinion require that our opinion incorporates as much truth as we can understand about the topic at hand.

If you don't agree with that, then you're not going to agree with anything else I have to say.  And it probably means that you consider truth to be a relative concept.  Which, frankly, makes no sense, because for you to believe that truth exists in the idea that "truth is a relative concept" is a dead-end oxymoron.

You may not want to believe some things that are true, but that doesn't make those truths false.

Getting too heavy for you?  Then consider this practical illustration of my point from an exchange I've had on social media this week.  It involves a Facebook post from ChristianPost.com and a link to an article about the current transgender debate entitled What Jonathan Merritt Gets Wrong About Christians and the Transgender Debate.

Here was my original comment:  For all you intolerant writers who disparrage Brown's viewpoint, consider that he does NOT say trans-genderism doesn't exist! You've gotta actually read his article before you react with vitriol: "In short, we are simply not convinced that there is clear scientific evidence for transgender identification, OTHER THAN cases such as intersex individuals or those with biological or chromosomal abnormalities."

Now, here are the responses to my comment:
  • Reply from Ralph:  Brown gets to reap as he's sown, just like everyone else, Mr Laitinen. And so he shall.
  • Reply from Swanson:  There's no point in reading it. Anyone familiar with “Dr.” Brown knows that he has an extremely unhealthy and delusional obsession with anyone who is not a white, christian, cisgender, heterosexual person.
  • Reply from Parks:  Gee, Swanson, he's got a PhD and you just have a masters. (Didn't you just challenge me on the issue of my education?) So what do you have, a Masters Of Hypocrisy?
  • Reply from Ralph:  PhDs in "Near Eastern Languages" is hardly qualifying in terms of speaking on matters of biology, science or genetics. So your apples to oranges comparison FAILS, Parks.
  • Reply from Kirk:  He doesn't have a PhD in psychology or any medical or scientific field. He doesn't have an MD. He doesn't have a qualified opinion.
  • Reply from Cothran:  Parks hes got a phd in near eastern languages. Nothing in psych, medical, biology, or even religion. My opinion is just as valid as his
  • Reply from Swanson:  Parks, a PhD in "Near Eastern Languages" disqualifies him from commenting on medical, biological or psychological issues as much as your lack of education disqualifies you. There's also the issue of Brown's well-known drug addiction. My higher education in Medical Sciences informs that drug addiction can eventually lead to profound changes in neurons and synapses and irreversible neuron necrosis, with the potential of severely and permanently compromising regions of the brain responsible for judgment, decision-making, learning and memory. In other words, sit down, clowns. Both of you.
  • Reply from Adcock:   You [me, the Opinionated Layman] would be the intolerant writer. Refusing to tolerate your oppression is just good policy. Maybe you should learn to spell disparage before you use it in a sentence

Now, a couple of things:  First, if I was going to be snarky, my reply to Adcock would be, "Okay, I'll see your correction of my misspelling and raise you an ungrammatical sentence, since your last one ends without any punctuation."

After all, which is worse, in terms of grammatical errors?  My misspelling of "disparage," or Adcock's omission of punctuation at the end of his last sentence?  Who decides which is worse?  Or are they both fairly equal in terms of their ability to obstruct the flow of thought and information contained in each reply?

They're both fairly equal mistakes, right?  Because neither one confuses the reader about their respective author's train of thought.  And we accept such mistakes as the price we pay for sloppy typing in social media, my use of a word that is commonly misspelled (probably because it's not commonly used), and Adcock's socially-common practice of sending a social media text message with a minimal amount of punctuation.

Still too technical?  Well, sorry, but sometimes getting to the basics requires that we get a little technical.  And that takes a little bit of time, and some patience.  And the willingness to admit that we're not always right.

In terms of the broader perspective of transgenderism, however, can't we still apply the basics of legitimate opinionizing in crafting a solid reason for countering Adcock's point?  He accused me of being intolerant, and he tried to reason that refusing to tolerate my oppression is good public policy.

Which means he's believes that his opinion has more validity than mine.  But does it?

Let's ignore the fact that Adcock and the other people who replied to my comment really didn't address what I actually wrote.  They presumed that I'm entirely anti-transgendered people, when in fact, I was pointing out that transgenderism does exist, but not nearly to the extent social liberals say it does, and it's not an emotional condition, but a biological one.

But let's presume that these folks are "haters," and they think I'm a "hater," too, since that fits easily into their narrative of conservatives now being on the wrong side of popular public opinion.

What makes popular public opinion valid?  The fact that it's popular?  Popularity isn't truth.  We can't vote to make something true.  We can't vote that the grass is purple.  Living in a democracy, we like to think that "might equals right," but that's a fallacy, whether you're conservative or liberal.

Some things are wrong, and some things are right, and no amount of social engineering can change that.  Think about it:  have fundamentalist evangelicals engineered the "right" of heterosexual marriage?  No.  Governments around the world - even non-Christian ones - have recognized since the dawn of time that heterosexual marriage is the only way to propagate a civilization.  Homosexuality exists, but its existence doesn't make it a valid corollary to heterosexuality, whether you think homosexuality is a sin or not.

You mean I'm dragging the Bible into this?  Well, yes and no.  If you know your anthropology, you'll know that cultures that have never been exposed to the Bible have made heterosexual marriage their standard.  That is truth.  That is logic.  You don't have to have a Harvard PhD. to see the rationale.  Truth is.  Opinion is sometimes truth.  And sometimes not.

Which brings me to a second point, and that's regarding the bickering above regarding the merits of a PhD and a Masters degree.  Which is more valid?  Which is more important?

Well, consider that computer pioneers Bill Gates and Michael Dell don't have a college degree.  And their opinions don't mean much?  Steve Jobs never finished his degree.  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg doesn't have a college degree either.  Shall I continue?

What matters isn't the degree, but the ability of a person to base the things they think, say, and believe on truth.  Which means truth is basic to deciding whether my opinion is worth more than the opinion of people like the folks who responded to my Facebook post.

Of course, the warning for evangelicals like me who are wary of blowing the transgenderism issue completely out of proportion is that if we're going to claim the baseline of truth for our viewpoints, we need to remember to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Do you see the hostility in the replies to my post?

Hey evangelicals:  Let's not sound like those angry, unloving folks.  You see how their miserable attitude helps to undermine their position?

That's a truth we need to remember, too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Acceptable Homelessness?

Dallas has an image problem.

Actually, having an image problem is a persistent state of affairs for Big D, the city both enamored with and embarrassed by the shallow celebrity its namesake television show lavished upon it.  On the one hand, people around the world recognize its big wealth and big ego, but the city's identity remains surprisingly elusive.

Fort Worth is Cowtown.  Austin is technology.  Houston is oil.  San Antonio is the Riverwalk.  Meanwhile, Dallas is pretty much the place where Kennedy got shot.  And the birthplace of legendary retailer Neiman-Marcus.

The Kennedy thing?  At least he was the leader of the free world, and his wife a bona-fide celebrity.  Neiman-Marcus?  Ain't no way to spin that badly, is there?

At least the city is booming. 

Like a lot of major urban centers across the United States, central-city Dallas has recently been riding an impressive wave of redevelopment.  Outmoded office towers are being retrofitted for sleek apartments.  Aging neighborhoods once considered undesirable - as suburbanization dominated economic development trends - are now bristling with McMansions, while imported luxury SUVs prowl potholed streets.  New mid-rise office buildings are sprouting like weeds just north of downtown, once again making the construction crane Dallas' official bird.

Sure, Big D may only have a handful of old-fashioned corporate headquarters left, but it's attracted a lot of boutique firms in law, finance, and the creative arts.  And these boutiquey-type companies employ lots of trendy hipsters and Millennials; people for whom suburbia represents the epitome of stodgy conventionalism.

Along with this resurgence in Dallas - at least, its more affluent parts closer-in to the city's white-hot "Uptown" district - has come rising real estate values and rental rates.  Rickety old houses are being torn down for low-rise, high-price post-Modernist apartment complexes, and dicey neighborhood bodegas are being supplanted by ubiquitous Starbucks outposts and chic taco restaurants.

Then suddenly, the city officially discovered that it has a homeless problem, after 300 people set up camp underneath a towering freeway viaduct ringing downtown's eastern flanks.

Image; don't you know.

Unofficially, of course, Dallas has had a homeless problem for years.  I remember going to the Dallas Public Library to do research during my college days and coming home smelling of urine - since that's what the entire library building reeked of.  Homeless people camped all over that library back in the 1980's, and city employees had pretty much given up trying to kick them out.

In Dallas' defense, there's probably not a major city in the entire Western Hemisphere that doesn't have a homeless problem.  And in terms of the severity of the problem, Dallas isn't the worst.  But when the city's current mayor - a Democrat - ordered the tent city cleared out from under the freeway downtown, it was big news here.  Not only had two homeless people died during separate confrontations in tent city, but nobody could agree on a solution.

Although government social service agencies, churches, local non-profits, and sympathetic citizens all tried to help each and every homeless person find someplace else to go, it was an exercise in futility.  And everybody seemed to know it would be.

For one thing, most folks who lose their job or face other economic hardships can rely on family and friends to stay off the streets.  Even those folks who do end up homeless due to economic hardships tend to make do with the help of shelters and transitional programs for only as long as absolutely necessary.  But the people who end up living underneath a freeway for months and years on end... we call them "homeless," but there's more to it than the term implies.

The homeless - not just in Dallas - have an identity problem, too.

Many of them have severe emotional issues.  Many have problems with their temperament.  Many have developed addictions to alcohol and other drugs.  Some are certifiably insane.

Most of them have burned through family connections over years of self-destructive behavior, or have intentionally spurned the overtures from family members who want to help, or come from woefully dysfunctional families.  Many have a warped view of personal independence and self-reliance, vilifying our "normal" civilization as too encumbered by rules and restrictions.

We look at news coverage of the homeless and figure there must be a shelter for them where they can go, but many of those shelters are run on shoe-string budgets.  Even the well-funded shelters struggle with maintaining cleanliness and order while serving a population that, for whatever reason, tends to de-value cleanliness and order - or maybe has never been expected to exercise personal deportment, until now.

If anything, most shelters merely serve as an enormous incentive for the rest of us to not ever need to stay in them ourselves.

Now that Dallas' most recent tent city has been taken apart, and its former occupants forced away, new encampments are reportedly sprouting up under other freeways.  And it's not like anybody involved in the cleanup predicted that eradicating one tent city would force its inhabitants off the streets and into mainstream society.

Indeed, if anything, this renewed recognition of Dallas' homeless problem has simply aroused more frustration than anything else.  Frustration on the part of the mayor, city staff and agencies, non-profits, taxpayers, and even the homeless themselves.

A writer for the hipster mag Dallas Observer is shrugging his shoulders and twisting the mayor's words about the tent city's "acceptability" as a solution to homelessness.  Whereas the mayor said Dallas' recent tent city was unacceptable, writer Jim Schultze wonders if we should resign ourselves to calling wherever the homeless set up their new accommodations as "acceptable."  After all, as a society, we don't seem anxious to create a better solution.

And in terms of our society's overwhelming ambivalence regarding addressing the many facets of homelessness, Schultze is correct.  Sure, lots of people will give used clothing to charities during cold weather months.  A transitional homeless ministry run by friends of mine here in Dallas issues calls for blankets every winter, and kind-hearted souls usually respond quite generously. 

We see vagrants begging by the side of the road, and some people will think they're helping by giving a couple of bucks.  In fact, one Dallas mayor, when she outlawed panhandling, was met with vociferous opposition from people who actually believed roadside begging is an effective way to combat homelessness.

(For the record, panhandling mostly serves to help beggars finance their alcohol or drug habit.  Enabling detrimental behavior is not sustainable assistance.)

To combat homelessness effectively, sustainable assistance is what's needed.  Yet for many conservatives, at least, the idea of long-term assistance roils the blood.  In the right-wing pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps worldview, depending on others for the rest of one's lifetime is about as abhorrent a thought as suburbia is to Millennial hipsters.

Nevertheless, aren't we dealing with a population that has proven themselves to be either unwilling or unable to care for themselves?  If the option is to simply let them fade away in fetid squalor like any tent city anywhere on our planet, what does that say not just about the homeless, but the rest of us who let them continue on that way?

As a person with chronic clinical depression myself, I am woefully aware of what the specter of institutionalization feels like.  For a homeless person, who may already be staging a lifestyle of "rage against the machine," being locked up in a mental ward (which is where previous generations of Americans put their non-conformists) would almost certainly be a far worse scenario than what they face even tonight.  Yet living under a freeway can't be the civilized solution.

So what is the solution?  Well, obviously, nothing is going to fix homelessness overnight.  But since we know what causes homelessness, we should know how to address it.  The question of solutions involves willpower - not just from the homeless, but from the rest of us, too.

It will cost some money, and it will require some significant social changes.

For example, we've got to de-glamorize our drug culture, which involves everything from alcohol to illegal narcotics.

We've got to re-prioritize the family unit as the basic building block of our society, which includes doing a better job of fighting sexual abuse, child abuse, elder abuse, and institutionalized poverty.

And we've got to address the needs of our mentally ill.  More of us need to understand what it is, and be more sympathetic to the ways it affects people.  We need more robust outpatient programs that enable families to participate in the care of their loved ones who are mentally and emotionally unstable.

Personally, I can't see how inpatient programs are beneficial to the mentally ill, when a lot of their dysfunction occurs either as a result of or a fear of interpersonal relationships, from employment to marriage to parenting.  We need to help integrate the mentally ill into our society, instead of perpetuating systems - such as our current crisis with homelessness - that marginalize the mentally ill to the sidelines of life.

It may be that there is a point at which some form of homelessness can be acceptable.

But none of us are there yet, are we?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Shouldn't We All Be Justice-Involved?

Can we keep up?

The politically correct police are working overtime these days.  Not only have public bathrooms suddenly become political war zones, but a hip new phrase has quietly been introduced into our judgment-free lexicon:

"Justice-Involved Individuals."

It's a pretty flexible term, which can range from "justice-involved youth" to "justice-involved veterans" to "justice-involved services."  There are "justice-involved women" but, oddly enough, no "justice-involved men."

Seems a bit biased to me, but whatever.

Now, "justice-involved" isn't the new term for cops or judges.  Well, not directly, anyway (unless you live in Chicago)!  In case you haven't figured it out yet, "justice-involved" is the new PC term for "criminal."  It's a broad catch-phrase for anybody who's been arrested, whose case has been adjudicated, who's ever served time in any type of prison, regardless of their age, offense, yadda-yadda-yadda.  If you've ever been involved in a punitive way with our criminal justice system, you're now "justice-involved."


On the one hand, it makes sense.  In terms of using terminology that accurately describes something, if you've ever been involved in a punitive way with our criminal justice system, then yes; you've been "justice-involved."  You've been involved with our criminal justice system.

And yes, there is a somewhat logical reason for the desire to develop this new euphemism.  As you're probably aware, people who have been punitively involved in our criminal justice system generally have a much harder time finding employment and securing education after they've been to prison.  Just about every job for which we apply these days requires a criminal background check.  Schools require them, and many applications for loans or other significant transactions may ask about your involvement with our criminal justice system.  For those people who have committed a crime and have served - or are serving - their "debt to society," constantly being denied because of something illegal in their past can create a never-ending cycle of poverty, misery, poor education, and even recidivism.

It's not wrong of us to try and help such people get back on their feet again.  After all, if they can't get an education or a job to support themselves, how else except through crime can they survive?

But seriously:  "justice-involved?"  Why is it necessary to soften the impact of having a criminal background?  Having a record is serious business, even if those of us without one should be willing to give those who do the benefit of the doubt if they've served their time.  Think about it:  A lot of people have broken laws.  But people with a criminal background are those who got caught.

Besides, can the impact of such a stigma be softened simply by forcing a new term upon it?  Granted, "used cars" are now "pre-owned," but generally speaking, in the consumer's mind, they realize that somebody selling a used car as pre-owned is simply trying to inflate the price.  It's disingenuous.  It's lipstick on a pig.  It's butter on stale bread.  It's silly.

So is having a criminal history silly?  No.  But we could change "criminal background" to "XYZ Imputed," and the effect will be the same:  We'll simply know that the person we're talking about has a record.  As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

In fact, by trying to make things sound innocuous with a terminology change, couldn't our skepticism and suspicions be raised a notch?  "Oh, they're using that new term," an employer thinks to themself, "so maybe what they did was really worse than what I'd initially imagine."

"Hmm... they're trying to make me think that 'justice-involved' is less serious than 'criminal.'  I wonder why?"

"You say this SUV is 'pre-owned' instead of merely 'used?'  You think I was born under a rock?"

Yes, there is a stigma about having a criminal history that is hard to overcome.  But just changing the name won't change the stigma.  Instead of advocating for a name change to the terminology by which we recognize somebody's criminal background, how about advocating for changes to those things in our society that tend to result in *gasp* a criminal record in the first place?

On the one hand, our PC police are trying to negate the reality of criminality.  But on the other hand, maybe we should be pleased that at least the PC police recognize our criminal justice system is based on a fairly robust semblance of "justice."  Otherwise, they wouldn't be trying to foist "justice-involved" on us. (Take that; left-wingers who scoff about our justice system being rigged.)

Meanwhile, beyond all of this, a deeper truth exists.  If you really want to be accurate, we should all be "involved" with justice, right?  Involved with doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

Leave it to the PC police to inadvertently drag criminality into an otherwise noble aspiration.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Reply to Trans-Gen Dear Colleague Letter

Date:  May 13, 2016

To:  US Department of Justice (DOJ), US Department of Education (ED)
Washington, DC

Re:  "Dear Colleague" Letter of "Significant Guidance" for Transgenderism in Schools

Thank you for your timely provision of guidance for your dear school district colleagues agonizing over bathrooms used by people of a specific gender.  I'm pleased to see that our federal government actually can respond quickly to instances of confusion and discord.  One wishes such promptness could also be evidenced in the federal government's cooperation with investigations regarding Hillary Clinton's e-mails, for example.  Yet perhaps this bathroom guidance represents sufficient magnanimity on your part so we can (continue to) overlook the grievous lapses in judgment and ethics that appear to have taken place during the former Secretary of State's tenure.

I take particular pleasure in knowing that you so eagerly safeguard the civil rights of an extremely minuscule percentage of America's schoolchildren, even to the detriment of most other schoolchildren, their teachers, and their parents.  Indeed, civil rights are so important that protecting them for one cohort of individuals at the expense of the civil rights of others has become a hallmark of progressive liberalism.  How gratifying it is to know that our government prioritizes theories in social re-engineering that represent the trajectory of civilization's future.  After all, our children are our future, aren't they?  Even if they can't determine the gender to which they identify (a skill that used to be a prerequisite before entering kindergarten, but which now can remain ambiguous on into college and beyond).

It's comforting to know that our government is willing to defy logic in this area and argue for a precedence in bathroom usage that manages to both twist racial equality into a brave new sexual context, and establish a robust new environment for the fertile exploitation of sexual privacy while humanoids traditionally classified as biologically female are simply trying to eliminate their bodily waste.  Nobody can fault our dear colleagues in government for not being ambitious!

Perhaps only our super-smart government could make the leap between the protection of civil rights for everyone regardless of skin color and the protection of people who profess gender confusion.  Ordinarily, skin color is no basis whatsoever for prejudice, but in our new lexicon of biased tolerance, gender confusion is a basis for privilege, since non-gender-confused people will still be expected to use the same old bathrooms they always have.

Maybe that's why our schools have been threatened not with overt legal retributions from you, but with a letter of guidance, just like North Korea's Dear Leader Kim Jong-un conducts among his subjects.  How gracious of you, kind and masterful leaders, to advise your dear colleagues with such care, instead of lording your superior intelligence and gyrations of logic over us.

After all, you'll understand those of us who still can't draw the correlation between the evils of racism and the disallowing of biologically-equipped men from using the women's restroom.  I'm aware that the social castration of the male species has become fairly advanced in our culture, but the elimination of the one male body part that seems to inflict the most apprehension and crimes against women has yet to become uniform across the United States.  I'm sure you can see how, until all American men have that organ completely removed, many women will still be severely uncomfortable with allowing them to share the same bathroom - the one facility where disrobing in public is considered relatively normative behavior.  Silly women who still value virtue in our modern era!  But yet you force us to comply, and we thank you.

Speaking of normative behavior, I must also commend you for your eagerness to dispel any myths about the normative behaviors our society has so foolishly ascribed to the respective genders.  For years, liberals among us have been trying to tell us that gender roles have nothing to do with emotions or even preferred hobbies.  Now that we're learning from you about how emotions actually play a key role in whether we feel like a man or a woman, we risk returning to severe stereotypes that only a few decades ago dominated our society, but how brave of our government to so boldly throw caution to the wind.  No longer will men and women be men and women because of their body parts!  We can be free to choose - even on an hourly basis, if we so desire - based on our mood, or our affinity for sports or poetry or other subjective considerations.

Choice is indeed paramount.  Even if we're forced to choose something that has already been decided for us in our biological makeup.  And even if people who experiment with gender reassignment tend to have higher suicide rates than the general population.  Any normal person would suspect that higher suicide rate would stem from the individual's profound confusion over what society is telling them about gender identity, rather than anxiety over being denied the use of a particular bathroom.

Leave it to our wise government to reason that allowing people to use the public bathroom of their emotional choice, rather than respecting silly metrics like biology and anatomy, may lower that suicide rate.

Indeed, all of this will come at the expense of actually taking personal responsibility for our individual identity.  Following your beneficent guidance will force many of us to fit the gender other people think we should be, based on whether we do or don't like football or the opera.  But that's a price the rest of us will have to pay, isn't it?  How selfish of us to impose our desires and feelings on others. 

And to think the use of a public bathroom would lead us to this state of forced bliss.

What would we do without our dear colleagues and your guidance?

Non-Thinking Non-Gender-Specific Humanoid

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Two Baptists Spar Over Trump

Two Southern Baptist preachers.

One says, "being faithful to the wife of one's youth is succeeding in real life."

The other says stuff like that is a negative thing to say in relation to Donald Trump, who is twice-divorced.

One of these Southern Baptist preachers, Russell Moore, is no fan of Donald Trump.  But the other Southern Baptist preacher, Robert Jeffress, is.

Same denomination, same theology, same prestigious "Dr." in front of their names.  But two different viewpoints on the presumptive Republican presidential candidate.

So who is right?

Earlier this week, Trump blasted Moore as being a "nasty guy with no heart."  Trump apparently feels justified in saying something so acerbic about Moore because, well, Moore is such a huge embarrassment for evangelicals.

After all, Moore once cautioned evangelicals that "winning at politics while losing the Gospel is not a win."

Then there's this doozie of hateful rhetoric from Moore:  "Evangelicals can love a golden calf, as long as Aaron promises to make Mexico pay for it."

Ouch!  That one really hits below the billionaire's belt, doesn't it?  Talk about nasty.  And this past weekend, Moore dished out more of this "no-heart" slander on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Referencing both Trump and Hillary Clinton, Moore bemoaned "conservatives who were saying in the previous Clinton era that character matters... who now are not willing to say anything when we have this sort of reality television moral sewage coming through all over our culture."

Trump and Hillary are "reality television moral sewage"?

Apparently not to Jeffress, who pastors Dallas' legendary First Baptist Church.  From what I've heard, it used to be a pretty conservative congregation.  But now...?

"Moore had been launching vitriolic attacks not only against Donald Trump's policies, but also personal attacks against [his] character," Jeffress complained today, affirming Trump's need to defend his moral persona against Moore's incendiary provocations.

"When you keep poking the bear don't be surprised when the bear takes a bite out of you."

So I'm guessing Jeffress isn't going to preach any more against ISIS, or liberal left-wing Democrats, or sinners in general.  Isn't that what he's saying, when he says Moore provoked Trump by pointing out the errors of Trump's attitude, message, lifestyle, and worldview?  

Okay, so maybe Jeffress isn't about to give up his own high-paying and high-profile pulpit.  He's achieved widespread notoriety in Texas for his own provocative claims against people who lead lifestyles he believes are immoral.  Maybe he's just saying that if a preacher is gonna dish it out, he's gonna have to take it like a man when they dish it right back to ya.

Um, as if the problems Moore has pointed out in Trump's character and platform (what policy platform we've been able to deduce from his hollow platitudes) really don't matter.  Is Jeffress affirming that character really doesn't matter?

Hmm...  All the stuff I'm presuming Jeffress preaches from his celebrity pulpit about how Christ-honoring his congregants should be really doesn't matter, at least when we're talking about being president of the United States.

I've said before that I don't agree with Moore on everything he says, and for which he advocates.  And while I probably wouldn't have used the term "reality television moral sewage" in connection with Hillary or Trump on a liberal news analysis program, if Trump was running as a Democrat, wouldn't Jeffress and his allies be cheering Moore for his riveting description of the conundrum facing faith-based voters?

But Trump - nobody can deny he's clever - is running as a Republican.  And Jeffress, along with many evangelicals, care more for the political party than the candidate.  They believe that raw allegiance to the organization means more than personal responsibility.  They believe that personal moral character is expendable as long as the organization is seen as winning the top prize.

I'm not a Southern Baptist, and maybe you're not, either.  But if you were going to listen to a Southern Baptist preacher, and you wanted that preacher to be a God-honoring, Biblically authentic person, to which guy would you listen?

The guy who is willing to warn people about reality television moral sewage, or the guy who's ambivalent about it?

"When you keep poking the bear," Jeffress coyly warned, "don't be surprised when the bear takes a bite out of you."

Jeffress probably realizes that his is a Biblical analogy.  But he should also remember that his analogy in reference to God - and God's tolerance for being mocked - is even more real.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Your Body Wants its Missing Fat

Losing weight is hard enough.

Keeping it off is even harder.  And a new study involving a popular reality TV show may reveal why.

Your own body fights your attempts at keeping your weight down!

A six-year scientific project examined the ability of "Biggest Loser" contestants from the show's eighth season to keep off the pounds they lost.  A fan of the show, Dr. Kevin Hall, happens to be a metabolism scientist at the National Institutes of Health, and he approached the show's producers about following the contestants to see what would happen as their bodies responded to significant weight loss.

Hall figured the success of contestants to keep the weight off would depend largely on the traditional metrics we've been taught for years about weight loss:  You know; exercise, balanced diet, yadda yadda yadda...

Instead, Hall discovered that metabolism controls more than science has ever realized.  As a person loses weight, their metabolism will slow down automatically, but when the desired new weight is reached, and a person relaxes their weight-loss regimen, their metabolism often will not return to "normal."  Instead, not only does metabolism stagnate, it continues to slow even further, making weight stability a battle, let alone any efforts to lose more weight.

That's why keeping off lost weight is so difficult!  Have you ever lost a significant amount of weight - even ten pounds is significant - only to regain it?  Plus add a few more pounds as the months go by?  Well, this is likely the reason why.

On the plus side, at least all of the frustrations about not being able to maintain your discipline about exercise and diet can be alleviated!  Keeping lost weight off isn't simply mind over matter.  It's not about commitment to the cause, or weakness in the face of temptation.  It's not all about willpower.

In many people, according to this scientific study by a real doctor at a prestigious medical organization, the reason you can't keep off the weight is biological.

Your body has a mechanism at work whose purpose is to restore what weight was removed.

Weird, huh?  And yet, somewhat comforting.  At least, to a point.

Then you begin to get frustrated all over again:  Well, isn't there anything I can do to win the battle of the bulge?!

Sure there is.  Bariatric surgery can work.  You can increase the time and exertion levels you spend exercising.  You can slice even more bad stuff out of your diet.  Indeed, absolutely no cheating is allowed!  But even then, doctors say that you'll probably always feel hungry.

Doesn't sound very encouraging, does it? 

Obviously, it's best to start early and prevent the weight from adding up in the first place.  But none of us can go back five, ten, or thirty years to correct our poor eating and exercise habits, if indeed diet and exercise were the only reasons people gain weight to begin with.

And to a certain extent, it seems like some perverse trick on God's part, since as our Creator, He obviously is the One who designed our bodies to try and self-fatten themselves after we've lost weight.  Why would He plan out something so apparently counter-productive like that?

Perhaps He did it to help Christians who were being starved for their faith, such as the early believers at the hands of the Romans, or even people who were being starved in Nazi concentration camps?  Slower metabolism would help the body automatically adapt - at least somewhat - when nutrition was being intentionally denied.

Then again, maybe plumper bodies really are more beautiful than skinner physiques, as some cultures claim.  Or maybe gluttony really is more physically dangerous than many of us consider it to be, since our abuse of food isn't as correctable or reversible as we've been led to believe. 

At least this study provides further proof that obesity isn't a sin, although glutton is.

Only two of the contestants studied have been successful at maintaining their new lower weight; one has gained "only" a few pounds, and the other has managed to lose a few more, but she says it's been a royal struggle to do so.  And these are people who were equipped by the show with all sorts of weight loss and weight maintenance strategies, trainers, nutrition experts, and equipment for the task.  Imagine the daunting prospects for success facing the rest of us!

The basic take-away here is that, like many other things in life we'd like to correct, it's best not to start those processes that eventually produce unwanted results.

Because while it is possible to lose weight, your body doesn't make it easy at all to keep it off.

Your metabolism won't even let you splurge on your favorite comfort foods for consolation.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Don't Endorse the Evil of Two Lessers

It's time for America's evangelical voters to put up or shut up.

I've resisted the groundswell of #NeverTrump up until now, but today Trump provided the straw to break that camel's back.  He tipped the needle over the line.  He nudged the cart over the precipice.

Up until now, Trump has been "the lesser of two evils" for holdout evangelicals exasperated about choosing between him and Hillary.  Up until now, the plethora of conventional warnings from theologians and moralists about how spiritually and emotionally unfit Trump is for the presidency have carried little weight with the legions of religious conservatives who insist that political incorrectness is all Washington needs these days.

Up until now, Trump has been the celebrated schoolyard bully of this election season, dropping vulgar innuendos about the only Republican female contender, and snarking away on Twitter with juvenile jabs at other contestants who, one by one, have pulled out of the ugly race.  He taunts and belittles others while unabashedly boasting about the greatness he plans for America - even though he hasn't provided any detailed plans for achieving that greatness.  In any other election, his public package of empty promises, sound-bite insults, and incessant vanity would be considered bad politics, but this year, his followers cheerfully describe Trump and his schtick as refreshing.

It's the bully-fication of America, I guess, thanks to years of pugnacious right-wing talk shows, the dumbing-down of American history by the religious right, and thinly-veiled anger and confusion over the economic stagnation that casts a pall over a sprawling cross-section of voters.  Traditional conservatives remain adamant that America's One Percenters, despite their extreme wealth, really don't manipulate their assets to the detriment of the rest of us.  Meanwhile, ironically, this manipulation by the One Percenters has helped Trump attract an unprecedented amount of support from labor unions and other traditional Democrats; "liberals" tantalized by a so-called Republican who says he's fed up with all of the corporate cost-cutting, down-sizing, and offshoring of jobs that have eroded our standard of living.

Somehow, having an egomaniacal developer who leveraged his father's rental apartment business in one of the world's most expensive real estate markets into a multi-billion-dollar company represents America's last great hope of greatness.  Even though he's never run for any public office in his life.

And yeah, maybe it just might work, having a political neophyte win the White House without having to solicit campaign funds from a plethora of donors looking for taxpayer-funded handouts.  But what happens when that political neophyte holds anybody who doesn't embrace him in as much contempt as Trump does?

He calls people who don't want to vote for him "losers."  He delights in calling people "wacko," including Ted Cruz and Glenn Beck.  He's called Carl Rove a "failed Jeb Bushy."  He described Lindsey Graham as "one of the dumbest human beings."  And voters are drinking it up as entertainment.

Indeed, immature voters may giggle and guffaw at such petty insults, yet isn't that what the impotent, scared kids on the playground do when a bully is swaggering about, shooting off his mouth?

And when it comes to Trump's infamous insults, this isn't even the tip of the iceberg.  The New York Times is keeping a running tab of them - hundreds of them, regarding at least 210 people, places, and things - just from Trump's Twitter account.

Trump has made a name for himself of demeaning the names of so many people he doesn't particularly like.  And that's a good temperament for a president?

Add that to Trumps' mocking of a handicapped reporter.  How about his lusting after his own daughter?  How about his affairs... or is sexual infidelity so provincial now?  How about his multiple bankruptcies, or is he entitled to break a few eggs while making his omelette?

How about his weak flip-flop on abortion?  Or his ambivalence about freedom of religion?

He's still better than Hillary, even after all that?

Up until now, for many conservatives, he has been.

Then today, after the Baptist theologian Russell Moore refused to back down from his personal #NeverTrump stance, the Donald unleashed on one of the most popular and prominent evangelicals of our day:

"Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for.  A nasty guy with no heart!"

Now, I don't agree with Moore on everything, but I'm not sure anybody (except Trump) can point to anything Moore says or does that makes him a "truly terrible representative" for us evangelicals.  Moore is almost certainly not "a nasty guy" by any stretch of the imagination.  And it's downright goofy to say he has "no heart."

If Trump is entitled to his opinion, isn't Moore entitled to his?  So doesn't Trump's belittling of Moore in such a fashion say more negative things about the presidential candidate than it does the Baptist advocate?

It also raises a deeply troubling question:  For evangelicals to say that Trump is the "lesser of two evils," is this the type of president you'd want interacting with leaders within our evangelical sub-culture?  Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders - none of them have said anything even remotely as negative about any leading evangelical figure as Trump did today.

Sure, liberals in the public eye may think all sorts of nasty stuff about Moore and other prominent evangelicals.  But they usually think twice before publicizing those private opinions.  And that's because there's a greater power in thoughts that are publicized.  It's one thing for a public figure to think negative things about somebody else, or even discretely share them within a tight group of close friends.  But to unleash such negative things for the entire world to consume - especially as consistently as Trump does regarding his opponents - should be deeply troubling to the rest of us.  Such careless open vitriol bespeaks not only Trump's political incorrectness, it more than suggests a temperament of hostility, narcissism, and immaturity that would disqualify anybody else from virtually any leadership post in any organization... except the United States presidency?

Um... No.  Today Trump erased any benefit of the doubt regarding his being the lesser of two evils.

If you consider yourself an evangelical, and you've been willing to vote for Donald Trump, today is your day of reckoning.  I don't think I'm making too big a deal out of this, since, as I've been saying for months, it's virtually impossible to embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ and Donald Trump.

No, we're not electing a pastor.  This election is about the presidency of the United States.  And yes, Hillary has a lot of unseemly baggage that makes her a distinctly dubious choice as the leader of the "free" world.

But if you think people are wrong to vote for Hillary, then you should also understand why it's wrong to vote for Trump.

As the saying goes, there's such a thing as "the evil of two lessers."  If two candidates are wrong for the job, don't choose either of them.

It's not who you don't vote for that matters.

Update 5/10/16:  Anne Graham Lotz claims she's voting for Trump because "he can change."  With all due respect to Lotz and her family pedigree, "he can change" is not a Biblical reason to vote for anybody.  Hillary can change, according to that logic, so why not vote for her?  Anybody can change, right?  Shucks, as far as banking on somebody to change, Trump could change into something even worse than what he is now.