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To Heaven and Back: A Biblical Perspective on Near-Death Experiences

(Context: Currently in my philosophy class we are studying near-death experiences as it relates to consciousness, death, dying, and finding meaning in life.  Since I wrote about this particularly interesting topic for my high school thesis, I found it pertinent to contribute to this timeless discussion by posting it here. Enjoy!)

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“Saved by the bell.” Where did that term originate? Was it the stylish story of high school friends in the 1990’s or the boxing term for a fighter’s luck before being obliterated in the ring? The term “saved by the bell” actually originated in the 17th and 18th centuries. Upon burial, bells were placed along the inside of the coffin for the deceased to ring if they revived. It is not uncommon to find throughout history influences of dead people resuscitating during their own funeral; however, it was a strange thing for one to ascend to heaven, or descend into hell, out of the body and return, speaking of majestic glory or eternal inferno.

In one such instance, in 1834, a captain and his crew coasted along the calm, open ocean. The sun beamed down upon the sailors and the sail was let down from the baby blue sky. An ordinary day it was until the captain fell “gravely ill.” After several days of bedridden illness, the boatmen retrieved a doctor, who upon examination said, “There is no use. He’s a dead man.” John Clute, captain of the canal ship, was pronounced dead, yet he apparently heard every word thereafter. Although the captain seemed to breathe his last, a peculiar thing happened. The crewmembers and fellow boatmen proceeded with a traditional burial at sea, dressing the body in formal attire and laying him in a wooden coffin. Before burying the captain at sea, the pallbearers heard a rustle under the lid and a loud groan from the “deceased” captain. Stunned in disbelief, the men set down the coffin. Opening the casket, the crewmembers found an angry, coughing man writhing in distress, “Get me out of here! Are you mad?” Boatmen helped the captain out of the casket while the captain proceeded to speak of his heavenly visions. “It then seemed to me,” he later said, “I died and heaven was opened and then I saw more human beings soaring through one another so happy.”

Whether one is “saved by the bell,” temporarily comatose, or resuscitated on a hospital table, individuals worldwide experience extraordinary things whenever they are on the threshold of death. The true account of the captain holds no more validity than any other near-death experience (NDE). As for Clute, captain of the canal ship, he went on to say, “I did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ…nor do I yet.” Therefore, should the faithful find assurance in extra-biblical revelation, or should believers hold fast to the Word of God, which has stood the test of time for thousands of years?

With the continuous authorship and production of near-death and out of body experiences (OBE), such things must be viewed in accordance with God’s Word. The first argument covers Old and New Testament (NT) experience compared to that of NDE’s while the second argument discusses resurrection and mysticism and the relation between necromancy and genuine revelation, leaving the third and final point to analyze the philosophical and Scriptural inconsistency with the NDE’s. The presentation is not to defend the Bible or its consistencies, for the Word of God shall defend itself, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.”

Before moving too far, some words must be defined. Conditional Immortality, the doctrinal name for psychopannychia, is defined as “soul sleep,” the resting state of one’s soul, or spirit, between heaven and hell until the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, which “set the captives free” (Isa. 61:1; 1 Pet. 3:18-20). Eschatology is “the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” (e.g. Revelation). Gnosticism “taught that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity…and that Christ was an emissary of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric knowledge (gnosis) of whom enabled the redemption of the human spirit.” Mysticism is “the belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, esp. when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies,” among these includes Gnosticism. Necromancy is “the supposed practice of communicating with the dead, esp. in order to predict the future.”

Due to time and purpose, it is necessary to set limitations for the belief one can ascend to heaven upon death and return via resurrection. This analysis will not address revelatory experience within the visitation. Neither will the theology of eschatology, especially that of Revelation, be deeply researched. Conditional Immortality is of little relevance; therefore, it will not be discussed, and since the subject of conditional immortality will not be addressed, neither will the idea of ghosts, present or past, take precedence. Lastly, people worldwide have NDE’s; however, in this analysis, the matter of hell will be briefly mentioned since heaven is a more popular discussion point.

In Gary Smith’s Heaven in the American Imagination, “Accounts of out-of-body encounters with the spiritual world have a long history. Most notably, Swedish philosopher and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) wrote twenty-five books about his trips to heaven and hell” (Smith, 2011, pp.194-195). Even before Swedenborg, visions and beliefs of heaven long superseded the 17th century. For example, Plato, successor of Socrates, believed in what is now called a “platonic” view of heaven (i.e. the things of earth reflect the things of heaven on a much smaller scale). In the early church, many Christians used Plato’s analogies as reference to how born-again believers ought to so reflect Christ (Benson, 2012). In the Middle Ages, Dante Alighieri wrote The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, epics depicting heaven, hell, and the middle ground where believers were to be purged of their sins until reconciliation. Contextually, Dante comprised The Divine Comedy with the intention to create a political and ecclesiastical schism (i.e. separation of church and state); however, lost in time, many regarded Dante’s poems to be authentic, but his visualization of heaven, hell, and purgatory are far from biblically accurate (Easton, n.d.).

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In recent years, coming out of the Hippie Age of the 1960’s, the ‘70’s offered resurgence of old ideas and eisegetical theology.

…public fascination with the subject exploded after the 1975 publication of physician Raymond Moody’s Life After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon–Survival of Body Death and cardiologist Maurice Rawling’s Beyond Death’s Door, both of which featured dozens of accounts of near-death experiences (2011, pp.194-195).

Less than twenty years later, in 1992, author Betty Eadie published Embraced by the Light, “a simple laywoman’s personal account of her own near-death experience, replete with powerful religious overtones, narrated like a Christian testimony” (MacArthur, 1996, pp.31-32). “Embraced by the Light is strongly influenced by Mormon and New Age precepts,” which leads to the relation between the Bible and mysticism (1996).

Now, the first argument will compare Old and NT experiences to that of modern-day NDE’s and OBE’s. Whenever an Old Testament (OT) prophet had a vision of heaven, the primary focal point was the glory of God, not the unnecessary specificity of minor details. Only three prophets in the OT caught a glimpse of heaven—Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Micah. Isaiah describes his vision in Isaiah 6, saying,

…I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple…And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

In the first chapter of Ezekiel (1:26,27,28b), Ezekiel says, “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” In 2 Chronicles 18:18, “…Micaiah said, ‘Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left.” Compare the experiences in the OT with modern-day experiences of the glory of God. Scripture shows holiness, awe, and fear, while new “experiences” reveal passive amazement and fearless gazing. Notice, none of the prophets were neither dead nor physically in heaven. Each received a vision, consciously understanding their surroundings and carefully explaining their account.

Additionally, OT prophets usually received a vision from God concerning the future of the nation of Israel. The vision carried a weight of commission (Isa. 6; Jer. 1) or apocalypse. However, Daniel had multiple apocalyptic visions concerning the glory of God, containing many parallels to John’s Book of Revelation. Furthermore, many authors today do not invoke apocalyptic terminology, but some dare to put prophecy to the test. The Blaze news published an article titled “Beyond Science: Doctor Says She Visited Heaven During a Near-Death Experience — and What She Learned Haunted Her for Years” (Hallowell, 2015). In 1999, Dr. Mary Neal had a NDE in which she ascended to heaven and conversed with angels who escorted her to and fro. While in heaven, the “spirits” foretold of the death of her son ten years in advance. “Ten years later in 2009, she said she learned on the very day that she completed her memoir, ‘To Heaven and Back,’ that her son had died in an automobile accident, according to the Huffington Post” (2015). In an interview with mystic and New Age television host Oprah Winfrey, she explained her eagerness to rationalize her experience and understand the spirits’ prophecy; nevertheless, she believes the incident has brought her “closer to Jesus” (2015). Was this prophecy genuine, or was it mystical fortunetelling? The third argument of this analysis will address that issue.

Like the OT, the NT recordings of heaven are Christ-centered and focus on the glory of God. David Brainerd writes, “My heaven is to please God, and glorify him, and give all to him, and to be wholly devoted to his glory” (Brainerd & Edwards, 1749). Furthermore, “When discussing the glories of heaven, the Puritans were thoroughly christocentric…Further, enjoyment of heaven typically focused on the glories of Christ’s person” (Beeke & Jones, 2012, pp.821). Such a mindset can be found in circumstantial revelation, which occurs in certain situations whenever an individual receives a vision of heaven on their “deathbed” (e.g. Stephen: Acts 7:54-60). As noted by Eusebius Pamphilius, during the first few centuries, while the known world was under Roman rule, on several occasions Christians had been known to catch a glimpse of heavenly glory before their imminent death (Schaff, 2005).

Moreover, visions of heaven also occur via apocalyptic revelation. Apostles Paul and John are the only two people in the NT, except for Stephen whose divine revelation was circumstantial, to see heaven, and each situation—like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Micah—was prophetic, not a NDE or OBE. Every experience with God in the Bible is fixated on the glory and majesty of God with fear and trembling.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows…and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter (2 Cor. 12:2,4).

This verse raises another question: If Paul, later identifying himself as the man who was “caught up to the third heaven,” does not know if he was literally in heaven or simply seeing a vision, how do the modern-day authors of such books, describing their personal visits, know they were, “beyond a shadow of doubt,” in heaven? This leads to the next question, What is heaven like?

According to the Bible, heaven is 1) a place of completion (Phil. 1:16), 2) a place of rest (Heb. 4:1-13), and 3) a place of joyful worship (Rev. 4-5). First, in heaven, sanctification will be concluded by the glorification of the saint’s soul, and the struggle against sin shall meet its end. The sheep shall be separated from the goats (Matt. 25) and the saints who toiled so long to see the Bridegroom (Song.) shall be “transformed into the same image [of Christ] from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). The continual focus throughout the NT and throughout the ages has been the glory of God and his providence to deliver Christians from sin eternally. Christians rejoiced God would deliver them from evil via martyrdom.

Secondly, concerning heaven as a place of rest, in Hebrews 11:8-10 Abraham obeyed God’s call to leave Heron and set out to the Land of Canaan,

By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

In other words, the physical Promised Land of the OT was a symbol of the spiritual Promised Land to come. God liberated the children of Israel from captivity in Egypt bringing them to the Land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:7-8). “And he [God] said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’ ” (Ex. 33:14), and again, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). In other words, reiterating the words of the Puritans, heaven is a place of rest because Christ is there; however, according to NDE’s and OBE’s, “Heaven is ‘the ultimate playground, created purely for our enjoyment’ ” (DeStefano, 2003).

Lastly, heaven is a place of joyful worship. Worship is not an ecstatic experience but a form of living. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1), and again, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:23-24). Furthermore, “Heaven is a world of love” (Sermon Fifteen…, 1989) and joy but the emotions of such things are not to be glorified, “You are justified by faith, not by feelings, you are saved by what Christ felt for you, not by what you feel, and the root and basis of salvation is the cross” (Spurgeon, 1861). While much commentary is given to the idea of worship and rest in many NDE books, none of the explanations concur with the Bible.

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Some try to refute those who question the authenticity of NDE’s and OBE’s by saying the OT laws are fulfilled through Christ Jesus and are made “obsolete” by his death and resurrection; thus making the usage of the OT invalid since Christians are not indebted to the Law (Gal. 2:16; 3:10; Rom. 8:1). However, with this eisegetical interpretation of the text, one walks away with a flawed understanding of Paul’s intention in Galatians 3, for in the following verses he explains that the grace of God is not nullified. In Romans 6:1-2, Paul clearly explains such motives, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Paul is reiterating the words of Peter, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:16).

The second refutation argues, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Lk. 1:37; Lk. 18:27). While saying nothing is impossible with God, which addresses God’s omnipotence and inability to lie (Heb. 6:17-18; Titus 1:1-3), one must also take into account the attributes of God, among which God is immutable, unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:18; Jas. 1:17). Therefore, God cannot create a logical fallacy (i.e. a rock too big for him to carry or a round square). In other words, since God is unchanging, whenever his word suggests none has ascended to heaven “except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (Jn. 3:13) as well as, “Who has seen God and lived?” (Jn. 1:18; 6:46; Ex. 19 [ref. Heb. 12:18-29]), he is indeed telling the truth. Later Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9).

The third refutation begs the question, How did the boy in Heaven is for Real know his father, mother, and church were praying for him, know his grandfather while never meeting him, and know his sister that died in his mother’s miscarriage? One must bring into account the context of the situation. Pastor Burpo asked leading questions such as, “Hey Colton, I bet you asked if you could have a sword, didn’t you?” (Burpo, 2010). Colton would casually respond saying, “Yes,” or “No,” then scurry off to play. The issue is not retaining false memories—which all humans are guilty of—but in fact the issue is the lack of investigation and relying on misinterpreted “childlike faith,” which will be addressed in the inconsistency argument hereafter.

The second point compares resurrection and mysticism to that of the heavenly experiences. Resurrection in the OT serves as affirmation and evidence of the unnecessary flamboyant account of a material-focused heaven (Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6; Isa. 26:19; Hos. 13:14; Dan. 12:2-3). In 1 Kings 17:19-23, Elijah raises a widow’s son from the dead, and in Hebrews 11:17-19, Abraham believed God was able to raise Isaac from the dead, in accordance with God’s promise, after sacrificing him. However, some people (e.g. Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho) theorize Jonah, while in the belly of the fish, actually died and was resurrected (Jon. 2:2 [ref. Matt. 12:38-40]). Nevertheless, the OT is a “shadow of…things to come” (Col. 2:16-19; Heb. 10:1). Additionally, resurrection in the NT serves as evidential fulfillment, an affirmation, of the OT as well as further affirmation concerning the continued “heavenly” epidemic (Geisler & Turek, 2004).

However, though resurrection in the NT continued, the imagery and physical aspect of resurrection pointed primarily to the glory of God, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (Jn. 11:25). God is gradually revealing his mystery to mankind, through Jesus Christ. Theologian Christopher Love (as cited in Beeke & Jones, 2012, pp.829) said, “(2) First Corinthians 15:35-36 speaks of seed being sown and dying to bring forth life, which implies that the mortal body must die and see corruption in the grave before being raised up as a glorified body.” According to the Puritans, once a believer dies, his spirit immediately ascends to heaven to finally rest in the presence of God. If that theory is valid, the question arises, how did Lazarus and many others before him come back to life if they were supposedly in the presence of God? Thus the argument of “…‘soul sleep’ (psychopannychy)…The Westminster Confession of Faith likewise says that the souls of men ‘neither die, nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence’ (32.1)” (2012, pp.821). Until the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, Sheol (also known as Hades) was a temporary sleeping place (Is. 61:1; 1 Pet. 3:18-20; Ps. 68:18; Eph. 4:8). After Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, only two places exist: heaven and hell. Notwithstanding, one must die in order to ascend to heaven or descend to hell, for there is no return (Heb. 9:27). In Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus tells of a poor man, Lazarus, who dies and goes to paradise, also known as Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man dies and goes to Hades. Being in torment, the rich man asked Abraham if he may receive one drop of water to cool his tongue, but Abraham responded that he is 1) unable because of “a great chasm” separating the living from the dead and 2) while both were alive the rich man received rewards and luxury while Lazarus received nothing. The rich man asked Abraham if he or Lazarus could rise from the dead to warn his five brothers. Abraham responded, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16: 27-31). In other words, it is impossible for one to go to heaven and return without dying as well as dying, going to heaven, or hell, and returning.

Next, mysticism has close ties with the NDE philosophy, which includes the fancies of the occult and necromancy. In the OT, God explicitly speaks against necromancy and other abominable works (Deut. 18:14). In 1 Samuel 28, Israel was to be invaded by the neighboring Philistines. King Saul was fearful of the oncoming destruction, so he inquired of a medium to bring up the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel to foretell of what would occur. After the medium brought up the spirit of Samuel, the prophet Samuel warned Saul that the Lord would allow Saul’s defeat and ultimately, his death. Years later, the nation of Israel would worship Baal and offer their children as sacrifices to Moloch (1 Kings 18; 2 Kings 23:10). On the issue of mysticism compared to the heavenly philosophy, John Piper says,

God’s beef with necromancy is that it belittles the sufficiency of his communication. Why would you inquire of the dead to find out what you want to know instead of inquiring of me…I have told you what you need to know…And, therefore, I think the prohibition of séances and necromancy applies to this kind of thing and people ought to stop writing those books (Taylor, 2014).

Contextually, Piper’s reference to “those books” referred specifically to Heaven is for Real and its attempt to appeal to hyper-spiritual people who desire to communicate with “the other side” of eternity without Christ.

The NT is filled with exorcisms and idolatry, similar to that of the OT (Matt. 17:18; Lk. 9:42). In Acts 16:16-18, a demon possessed girl told fortunes, bringing much monetary gain to her “owners.” Paul, being annoyed by the ordeal, cast the demon out of the girl in the name of Jesus Christ, and the girl was healed “that very hour.” Three chapters later, in Acts 19:13,15,16, “some…itinerant Jewish exorcists” attempted to cast out demons in the name of Jesus,

But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man…leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Though this passage is not a NDE or OBE, it addresses the idea of meddling with necromancy for the sake of spiritual curiosity, or simply to appear spiritual (Matt. 6:2,5,16). In other words, reiterating John Piper’s commentary (2014), to communicate with the dead (i.e. the individuals, while in their state of unconsciousness, speaking to spirits, whether they be demonic or imaginary) is not only an abomination, but it is not edifying to the body of Christ, which is the purpose of the church (Heb. 3:13).

Some may insist the OBE of resurrection is just not recorded; however, the Gnostics, a heretical cult who believed to have esoteric knowledge, tried to fill in gaps in the Bible (e.g. Jesus’s unknown childhood) that were never there, claiming to have extra knowledge (Bergman & Higgins, n.d.). The writers of the NT did not reference such events because they were trivial and did not pertain to the bigger issue at hand, which is the glory of God. Secondly, the refutation asks, “Didn’t Enoch and Elijah go to heaven without seeing corruption?” God did take them up, physically; however, they did not return to elaborate “ecstatic” mysteries of their journey (Tillich, 1951, pp.111-115). This argument abuts to “nothing is impossible with God” argument. Lastly, the third refutation resorts to experience. Many believe an experience is unique due to personal or familial experience; however, believing one’s NDE or OBE based on relative terms is not sufficient for authenticity.

The third argument addresses the philosophical and Scriptural inconsistencies within the near-death and OBE’s. As previously stated, only four OT prophets and two apostles plus one martyred disciple are recorded to have caught a glimpse of heaven, and their commentary reflects glory, fear, holiness, or all three combined. In Proverbs 30:4, the writer asks a rhetorical question, “Who has ascended to heaven and come down?” Jesus answers this question in John 3:13 saying, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Also, John 1:18, John 6:46, and 1 John 4:12 states, “No one has seen God and lived.” Later, Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9); thus “…making himself equal with God” (Jn. 5:18; Phil. 2:5-9). Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” In other words, Jesus is the final revelation (Rev. 22:18-19). By saying one can go to heaven and come back, one is essentially equating the experience to John’s vision in Revelation, indirectly attempting to add to the canon of Scripture (2 Jn. 9).

Nevertheless, what if the people, such as Colton Burpo, Don Piper, Dr. Neal, or Betty Eadie, did in fact see something? Galatians 1:8 says, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Paul is saying that it is indeed possible for an individual to have an angelic vision, but if contradicts God’s Word and causes confusion, it is not of God (1 Cor. 14:33). Also, 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 says, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…” In other words, Paul does not negate the experience of individuals; however, he dismisses that experience’s authenticity if it does not adhere to Scripture. Therefore, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1).

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In Chapter Fifteen of The Theology of Thomas Aquinas, Leget explains Aquinas’s eschatology concerning heaven and hell. Aquinas believes in heaven, hell, and purgatory but spends much of his time describing heaven. In Aquinas’s commentary, he believes man continues to inhabit his fleshly body in the afterlife. Nevertheless, even with Aquinas’s bodily theory in place, one can neither crossover from one eternal state to the other. In other words, according to Thomas Aquinas, if man is made holy in heaven, should not upon return from heaven, that individual remain holy? Otherwise, there remains an open debate for heaven containing mutability and flaw-filled characteristics (2005).

On January 30, 1862, Charles Spurgeon gave a sermon “on the occasion of the Hartley Colliery disaster in which some 200 miners were killed,” using Job 14:14, which says, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” Spurgeon poses the question:

What would any of us who fear God think, if we were once in heaven? Would not the very suggestion of return, though it were to the most faithful spouse and best-beloved children, be a cruelty? What, bring again to battle the victor who wears the crown? (Crosby, 2005).

Evidently, in Spurgeon’s church, there must have been concern of people wishing their loved ones from the dead; however, the sermon was issued as a comfort to the families of the deceased, yet held no punches.

Additionally, as of early 2015, Alex Malarkey’s The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, has been removed from Tyndale House Publisher’s shelves recently due to the author’s recantation of the incident. In 2004, Malarkey was involved in an automobile accident. After the accident, Malarkey was paralyzed and remained in a coma. After waking from the coma, the young boy described his “visitation” to heaven. Now at sixteen years old, Malarkey is recanting his story saying, “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible” (Hallowell, 2015). After this book’s release, other books related to heavenly visitation have come under close scrutiny and evaluation.

Concerning faith, in the movie Heaven is for Real, believers are encouraged to think like children (Burpo, 2010, pp.74), misinterpreting “childlike faith” (Matt. 18:2-4; Mk. 10:3-15) and discounting 1 Corinthians 13:11, which says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” “Ironically, late in the movie [Heaven is for Real] Todd [Burpo] says in a sermon: ‘I see it, so I believe it. And what we believe affects what we see’” (Johnson, 2014). Like the misinterpretation of “childlike faith,” Pastor Burpo contradicts himself, yet again, to justify his position. Romans 8:24-25 says, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience,” while Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Later Pastor Burpo says, “Why not? We all see heaven every day, in a baby, in a parent’s love” (2014). Pastor Burpo’s comment leads to two problems, either 1) he believes Colton’s experience was metaphorical, not literal or 2) Colton’s experience was literal, making heaven in the here and now.

Lastly, “[r]oughly 5 percent of the general population and 10 percent of cardiac-arrest victims report near-death experiences” (Ghose, 2013), and “[m]ore than 8 million Americans have had a near-death experience” (Wolchover, 2012); however, their experiences are not consistent. Mary Eadie claims to have been “taken through a dark tunnel before finally crossing over into the intense white light of heaven” (MacArthur, 2013), Don Piper claims to walk up to the gates to be greeted by past friends and family (Piper & Murphy, 2004), Dr. Neal is greeted by spirits and escorted around heaven until her return (Hallowell, 2015), and Colton walks through the doors of the church to find angels singing to him (Wallace, 2014), while countless others describe a vast open plain with tall, green grass and a baby blue sky or, if they are unfortunate, describe sorrow, pain, and torment in hell with eternal flames and horrendous demons (Weise, 2006).

The first refutation alludes to inconsistencies as evidences. In I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were written from different viewpoints, meaning each account was slightly different in caliber yet did not nullify the account but instead verified it, adding eyewitness testimony (Geisler & Turek, 2004). However, contextually, the inconsistencies found in each account with this “heaven” philosophy contradict rather than support, which leads ones to ask the question, Aren’t the descriptions in Revelation similar to that of each heavenly account? Who is to say their experience has no correlation with previous knowledge, or forethought, of Revelation? John, as well as Paul and Daniel, saw amazing things; however, neither had a near-death experience but instead they each had a vision. Neither claimed to casually speak with Jesus, neither expounded upon the colors of heaven without mentioning the glory of God, and neither said they were literally in heaven. Every biblical account of heaven—seven in total—is christocentric.

The last refutation (made by the people who had these experiences) claims that God returns people to tell of the mystery of the afterlife. According to Paul, Christ is the greatest mystery revealed; that is all that matters (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3, 6:19). If one must come back to reiterate what Jesus and the apostles already said, they neither did an adequate or sufficient job.

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In conclusion, near-death experiences as well as out of body experiences are not found anywhere in Scripture, nor does their resurrection experience bear any philosophical or Scriptural authority. What is better, for a man to see Christ in all his glory, seated at the right hand of God, and return in despair and agony over his inability to remain with his first love (Rev. 2:4), or wait patiently for years persevering after holiness in faith and one day pass on to find all his toiling was worthwhile, hearing his Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21,23)? It was almost too much for Paul and John whenever they caught a glimpse of glory. That is why Paul said, “…to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Charles Spurgeon best summed up this entire issue (MacArthur, 2013):

It’s a little heaven below, to imagine sweet things. But never think that imagination can picture heaven….“It hath not entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him….” Your imaginary heaven you will find by-and-by to be all a mistake; though you may have piled up fine castles, you will find them to be castles in the air, and they will vanish like thin clouds before the gale. For imagination cannot make a heaven. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered the heart of man to conceive [it].”

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

(Full disclosure: The name derives from Queen’s 1975 hit song “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  However, the title was initially used in a Big Think video, “Are We Living in a Massive Computer Program? Or a Simulation?” But it was just too clever to pass up.  To them full credit is due.)

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Computers and simulations cannot understand emotions. With the correct programming, artificial intelligence (AI) can detect emotions, suffering, pain, and so on.  But as a created thing in and of itself, without upgrades, without debuggings, without properly secured systems in place, it is victim to deterioration and entropy.  Now, one may posit that entropy is universal; all are subject to decay.  However, as noted by Joscha Bach, Cognitive Scientist at Harvard Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, though we are a type of program, similar to computers (i.e. designed), while computers forget and are subject to permanent, irreversible data deletion, life doesn’t forget.  We forget life, but it never forgets us.  This is why history is, as many say, doomed to repeat itself. The only simulating originates from humans.

Furthermore, many suggest humans wouldn’t create, or spawn, other forms of simulations on planets with the likeness of humans due to pain and suffering.  Though it wouldn’t be real, we wouldn’t want to subject another species to any kind of apocalyptic demise simply for the pleasure of invention and creation (i.e. playing God).  This is the primary motive for the ultimate disbelief in a Creator.  However, if we are a simulation (and we aren’t), how do we know the difference between right and wrong, good and bad.  This could be programmed, but programming posits a Programmer.  And that would be inconvenient.

Even more, the innate desire to create is unique.  Mathematician and economist Eric Weinstein notes that AI can self-replicate (spawn), but only with the direct command of a computer scientist.  Eventually, he says, AI may one day figure out how to outsmart the programmers.  He continues by saying dumb computer systems already control humans, like social media.  Humans are glued to their phones and tablets because of the reward-based systems.  Earlier this year on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper interviewed several persons involved in the Silicon Valley experiment–programming humans. Notifications are designed to train humans to spend X amount of time staring at a screen.  For example, though a certain amount of persons (i.e. followers and friends) may have liked or favorited retweeted a particular post, it doesn’t notify the user until a relatively substantial amount of traffic has passed through the page, enticing the user to post more, read more, like more, etc.  This is called “brain hacking.”

Now reverting back to the argument that AI may one day take over the world (e.g. Skynet, Ultron), this isn’t counter to humanity’s self-destructive past.  We have always been inventing, innovating, and re-purposing old tools, ideas, and weapons to defeat our enemies over dirt rights, ideologies, religion, colonialism, etc. only to find we are just as capable as them of committing history-altering, world-ending atrocities.  In our attempt to create peace, we, in the end, destroy ourselves (Jer. 6:14, 8:11; Ez. 13:10).

In a TED talk entitled “You are a Simulation & Physics Can Prove It,” renowned physicist and Nobel laureate George Smoot set out to reveal the evidences of a simulated universe.  He starts by defining solipsism: “the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist.”  It’s sort of like René Descartes’s “I think, therefore I am” proposition, which is a little more complicated.  But I digress.

First, like religion, this idea, solipsism, is non-falsifiable.  However, we can come pretty close to peeling back the layers of nature to understand how the universe as we know it functions.  Starting with the Anthropic Principle, it states,

“the cosmological principle that theories of the universe are constrained by the necessity to allow human existence.”

As explained by the fictional character Dr. Sheldon Cooper in the CBS comedy show The Big Bang Theory,

“The Anthropic Principle states that if we wish to explain why our universe exists the way it does, the answer is that it must have qualities that allow intelligent creatures to arise who are capable of asking the question.”

The Strong Anthropic Principle argues the universe was fine-tuned specifically and solely for the existence of humans while the Weak Anthropic Principle argues we are just lucky to be here, which is open to the multiverse argument as so eloquently demonstrated in the Marvel Comics.

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Smoot continues with the Simulation Argument, saying that one of these must be true:

  1. “Human civilization is unlikely to reach a level of technological maturity capable of producing simulated realities, or such simulations are physically impossible to construct.
  2. A comparable civilization reaching a technological status will likely not produce significant number of simulated realities…for…ethical considerations of holding entities captive in simulated realities.
  3. Any entities with our general set of experiences are almost certainly living in a simulation.”

He posits “Simulacrum by Humans,” meaning, simulations already exist in video games, movies, virtual reality, and other lucrative indulgences.  He proceeds that the vastness of the universe and all its galaxies and suns and planets, habitable and uninhabitable, are too great to not contain simulations and other life forms.

He continues to postulate that by 2045 humans will be uploading their minds (i.e. consciences) to computers to solidify their existence forever.  In other words, artificial reality.

Furthermore, Smoot demonstrates with a series of pictures, diagrams, and optical illusions that just because we see something, that doesn’t make it real (e.g. mirages).  He then concludes his talk by demonstrating contradictions within physics (e.g. general relativity and quantum mechanics), yet we still trust in these as reliable tools for determining reality since they both describe and explain unknowns within the universe.

During a Q&A session at the annual Code Conference held in Ranchos Palos Verdes, California last year, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk addressed the question, Are we living in a simulation?  He confidently stated that there is a “one in billions” chance we are living in reality.

According to Musk, advancement and innovation are proofs of this illusion.  People once thought the earth was flat.  People once thought the earth was at the center of the universe.  In less than one hundred years, due to the industrial revolution and mass migration, we went from horse and buggy to flying airplanes to landing on the moon.

Additionally, video games as a whole have advanced exponentially.  Moreover, computer scientists and cyber architects are not only ruling social networks as the wealthiest people on the face of the earth but are also providing key components to fighting wars.  Today, no war is fought without thousands of hackers keeping the US secure from foreign powers wishing to self-destruct our nuclear facilities, wipe out the power grid, remotely poison water supplies, and so on.

“The strongest argument for us being in a simulation…is the following: 40 years ago, we had pong, two rectangles and a dot.  That is what games were. Now 40 years later we have photorealistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year.  And soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality, if you assume any rate of improvement at all, the games will become indistinguishable from reality.”

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Overall, the idea of a simulated universe posits a Creator.  Who or what could this be?  According to Anthropic Principle, if we can’t question anything, we don’t exist (ref. René Descartes).  Therefore, we would live in a simulation since the Creator, or Programmer, didn’t see it befitting to create a people with the intellectual capacity to ask deep philosophical questions.  But what if the Programmer programmed us to think critically and evaluate circumstances, ideas, and processes?  Many, like Smoot, think one wouldn’t create a simulated universe since it would replicate humanity’s propensity toward depravity and inevitable suffering.  Therefore, they are assuming people are inherently bad and can recognize the need for reform.  And since we need reform, it posits an initial Causer (as aforementioned in a previous post), or Programmer.  And the Programmer knows the needs of the program in the same way a parent cares for their child.  So in reality, games are a microcosm of an accentuated reality.  Simulations are meant to replicate or point toward something greater.  They are meant to instill an appreciation for “the forms” (as described in a previous post).  Therefore, if one were to say that we live in a simulation, they wouldn’t be wrong; however, if that is a substitution, an excuse for amoral living or refusing to observe and appreciate the forethought of the Creator, who created us in His image (Gen. 1:27), then they are deceiving themselves (Jas. 1:22) and the truth is not in them (1 Jn. 2:22) for they have duly shown their value (Rom. 1).

Strangely, scientists can conclude there are most likely other sentient and intelligent beings and simulations of life without definitive proof but can whimsically and disdainfully conclude that an all-powerful Creator—an initial Programmer if you will—cannot exist, despite its non-falsifiability?  In their polemic—their impassioned attack—against solipsism, they can conclude that humans and even aliens are alone.  By striving to prove we are not alone, they only seclude themselves more in hopes to shroud themselves from the ever-knocking Savior at the door of the heart (Gen. 3:10; Matt. 7:7).

Freewill, Determinism, Distraction, and God

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Stemming from the previous post, bondage is an inescapable perpetuity.  We are grounded—literally and figuratively—by laws.  The Laws of Physics dictate motion in the universe in the same way humans function under an innate moral code reinforced by society, family, and conscience.  Maybe I have misspoken.  Laws are not the source of deeper knowledge but are the interpretation/description of what is.  This is why God said, “I am.”  He cannot be compared to something, or someone, else.  There is none other like him (Isa. 46:9).  This is why Ravi Zacharias, on many occasions, has said,

“When you say there is evil, aren’t you admitting there is good? When you accept the existence of goodness, you must affirm a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. But when you admit to a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver.”

Moreover, since God is the progenitor of all things and, as Thomas Aquinas calls him, “the uncaused cause,” he is not a prisoner.  Neil deGrasse Tyson states,

“You have the illusion of freewill, but in fact, that illusion comes about because you don’t know the future.  Because you are a prisoner of the present, forever locked in transition, between the past and the future.”

For millennia, determinism has stumped philosophers and scientists alike.  The mathematical implications behind pre-determinism are astounding.  According to Michio Kaku, free will is an illusion.  It is a figment of the imagination.  Mathematically, all events are pre-determined and ordained.  This, in his mind, proves the ultimate mathematician, God, as not an excuse but as an inevitable answer to the free will equation.  Order precedes, dictates, and succeeds all.

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(These are just a few verses supporting predestination and determinism: Jn. 17:24; Rom. 8:29-30, 11:2; Acts 2:23, 4:28; Eph. 1:4-5, 11; 1 Pet. 1:2, 20; Rev. 13:8.)

Philosophically, the idea of determinism doesn’t mean that we don’t make decisions.  On the contrary, it is contingent upon making decisions!  But it says we couldn’t have made any other decision due to the universal effects and the external factors and events surrounding us and raining on our libertarian parade.  This is represented in both Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the Butterfly Effect.

First, relativity, scientifically speaking, affects everything.  For example, the way gravitational forces interact among planets, solar systems, galaxies, black holes, etc. affect our lives every day.  During my first semester as a college freshman, in Astronomy class, we discussed the gravitational effects between the planet Neptune and our sitting position in the classroom.  That’s amazing!  We, however so minutely, have a gravitational force relative to the position of Neptune, Jupiter, and even the moon!

The Butterfly Effect magnifies this to another degree.  Once thought to be the origination of storms and weather patterns, it is now used as a reference for initial causes and events.  For example, in the 1970s, MIT Professor of Meteorology Edward Lorenz, in an attempt to reaffirm Newton’s “idea of a wholly predictable universe,” published a work entitled “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?”  However, in his experiments, he discovered the world, from our vantage point, is unpredictable; not because it is but because the task is insurmountably tedious.  Nevertheless, this doesn’t negate the fact that various factors can culminate into a particular event.  In other words, our perspective and ability to calculate anything and everything is limited, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  And regardless of whether we solve the problem or not, the very idea of such possibility determined us to want to solve this mystery.

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Likewise, distraction is an illusion of autonomy.  In reality, distraction is the effect of an initial cause.  It is our attempt to rebel.  But actually, without that cause (i.e. work, studying, projects, etc.), there would be nothing to distract from.  Therefore, by succumbing to work or our primal urges to “distract” ourselves, the initial cause wins.

Many theorize distractions are caused by technology.  In his article “A New Theory of Distraction,” Joshua Rothman, believes this is impossible since

“[distraction] is even older…in 1874, Nietzsche wrote that ‘haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself’; in the seventeenth century, Pascal said that ‘all men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.’”

As mentioned in a previous post, Michael Stevens with Vsauce conducted a social experiment with multiple persons pressing a button that would emit a mildly painful shock; after isolating each person from the group, to create some sort of mental stimulus—out of boredom—the person, knowing the button would cause pain, pushes the button.  The innate sense of external stimuli and the desire to distract from reality, a present situation, or truth isn’t just evolutionary, it’s spiritual.

Many try to quell their inner pain by appealing to a higher deity or, as many intellectuals do today, appeal to themselves rather than, in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, a totalitarian, thought-managing, North Korean celestial who impedes upon the free will of the people by begging like a petty child for prayers, obedience, sacrifice, and supplication.  They acknowledge right and wrong in determining the alleged injustice from heaven while refusing to point the origins of justice, right, and wrong.  Therein lies the problem of suffering.

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In his book “Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message,” Ravi Zacharias writes that great secular thinkers, philosophers begin their list of woes against the fairy tale God by noting the atrocities and horrors saying, “These are immoral, therefore there is no God.”  The naturalist–the amoralist–posits that evil doesn’t exist while denouncing immoral actions, some of which are committed in the name of religion.  For example, the aforementioned Professor Dawkins writes,

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no other good.  Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.  DNA neither knows nor cares.  DNA just is.  And we dance to its music.”

Dawkins follows this clever quip by stating he knowshe cares, and religion is…ironically, evil?  This doesn’t make sense.  He solves the moral riddle by postulating the problem is…(wait for it)…viruses.  Ravi Zacharias then notes that, according to Dawkins, the Nazis were simply sick with viruses.  Their ingenious medical advancements by experimenting on babies and gassing and cremating men, women, and children because of their heritage were simply the result of a glitch in the DNA program.  But what if they just dance differently?

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Could this mean philosophizing about morality is a symptom of a viral contagion? This means no one could ask questions.  Questions are essential to education, science, reason, and basic living.  His very profession would be rendered moot.  By equating this line of reason to a computer, database, or networking algorithm of some sort, one is claiming neither good nor evil exist.  Therefore, nihilism and hedonism would be the logical end.  As it is said of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the man went insane thinking about eternity.  He reached the logical end, noting that if there is no morality, no moral lawgiver, and no purpose for humanity, what is restraining us from ultimate depravity?  Let us eat, drink, and be merry (Lk. 12:19).  Therefore, in my opinion, Nietzsche’s insanity was the only rational response to the nihilistic perspective standing against to the mighty hand of God.

(Please be expecting another related post soon.)

Reparations in America

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Since President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a long, hard fought battle over the rights and restoration of slaves has hung over the heads of the American public. Now, with a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips and with a readiness to act against prejudice and for the equality of all people, it is imperative we try to understand the history of reparations and, if implemented, how it could affect our day-to-day lives. By using contractualism, virtue theory, and Scripture, I will attempt to prove offering reparations specifically to African-Americans is morally permissible.

First and foremost, in order to understand the argument, one must define these two terms. According to Southwood (2009), contractualism argues the wrong action is licensed only by rejectable principles. However, since contractualism comes short philosophically, virtue theory is the optimal substitute to morally justify reparations for African-Americans. According to Hursthouse (1991), virtue theory argues, “An action is right iff it is what a virtuous agent would do in the circumstances.” Nevertheless, these two arguments are sufficient to prove the case for reparations.

For further clarification, Boxill defines restitution as “restoration of something lost or stolen to its proper owner” (2010). However, remunerating exact payment for something done isn’t ideal. For example, A steals B’s bike. B returns the bike = restitution. B returns the bike + additional expenses for lost wages = reparations. According to Robert Nozick (1974), “Something fully compensates a person for a loss iff it makes him no worse off than he would otherwise have been.” In other words, compensation = whatever it takes to satisfy the recipient.

Multiple proposals have been considered to solve this colossal dilemma.  One of the earliest included the displacement of slaves from the North American continent to avoid unnecessary integration and polluted genetics (Boxill 2010).  Proposed by President Thomas Jefferson, who described blacks as animals in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1781), and the American Colonization Society, the resettlement of the “negroes” would suffice, thus removing the tumor residing in the affluent chrysalis that would become an industrial, political, and military superpower in the years to come (Boxill 2010).  This eventually culminated in the creation of the Republic of Liberia, with its capital—Monrovia—named after slave-displacement proponent President James Monroe.  Furthermore, President Lincoln urged compensated emancipation” for the slaveholders’ lost wages and the eventual deportation of slaves to the aforementioned settlement.

In response, a virtuous agent wouldn’t accept such an egregious effort to stymie educational and business progress on the grounds of polluted genetics and animalistic behavior. A virtuous agent wouldn’t commit the wrong action (e.g. deportation) to simply appease the Confederates.  Rather, to create a more cohesive Union, it would behoove the people to work together to find a common solution to this unfortunate circumstance.

Now, in his article “Reparations,” J. Douglas Allen-Taylor (2009) begins his argument for reparations by documenting the federal government’s original intentions to establish reparations for African-Americans via tracts of land. Near the end of the Civil War, U.S. General William Sherman ordered that each “negro” family in Georgia and South Carolina were to receive “not more than forty acres” as recompense. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens likewise proposed “forty acres and a mule” for all freedmen to become “independent yeomen farmers” plus an addendum to the Freedmen’s Bureau Act that would secure this promise legally (Allen-Taylor 2009). However, with Lincoln’s assassination and President Andrew Johnson’s attempt to pacify the Confederates, Reconstruction failed miserably, thus ending the duly deserved land distribution guaranteed to freed slaves. For another hundred years, the federal government failed to protect their civil rights, thus creating a new era of de facto slavery.

To begin, one might object noting the reallocation of funds could expand the welfare state, further enslaving minority groups to the state rather than promulgating independence. However, in these circumstances, it would behoove the federal government to restore to the African-American community the dues it deserves on the grounds of precedence and mutual agreement. This would not only ease the conscience of the American public but also fulfill a long overdue promise.

Though this post strictly pertains to African-Americans, we mustn’t ignore other nations’ actions and efforts to repair and restore various schisms.  For example, Germany offered reparations to the newly established State of Israel after the atrocities committed against the Jews during World War II. Furthermore, in our own history, the United States reimbursed Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II. Other countries have offered formal apologies in lieu of monetary compensation.

On the grounds of precedence, a virtuous agent would encourage governments that have promised reparations or some type of allowance to follow through their promises for the sake of integrity and honesty.  However, calculating the amount of monetary compensation due is tedious.

Examining “The Economics of Reparations,” Darity and Frank (2003) both posit that precedence dictates the United States follow through their original plans to compensate African-Americans. However, the timing and the exact cost are only speculative. Cash reimbursement is an option, but objectors note that would do more harm than good. The authors agree, writing,

“We find that reparations payments that either mandate or provide incentives for blacks to spend on goods and services produced by nonblacks will raise the relative incomes of nonblacks…result[ing] in an absolute decline in black income” (Darity & Frank 2003).

If the federal government were to offer cash reparations after the emancipation of the slaves, “the 40-year period 1929-1969 alone runs between $500 billion and $1.6 trillion in 1983 dollars” (Darity & Frank 2003). Therefore, since cash compensation would exacerbate current financial need, a virtuous agent would reasonably reject this proposal on the basis of moral and long-term principle.

Furthermore, the harm argument posits that slavery “initiated an unbroken chain of harms” that have caused vast disparities between whites and African-Americans (Boxill 2010). Objectors of the harm argument opine that without slavery, African-Americans wouldn’t exist. However, a virtuous agent would find this argument devoid of empathy, reflecting the “slavery civilized African-Americans” argument (Coates 2014). This is not only unfitting and inappropriate but also repulsive. Slavery is not morally justified despite possible future benefits.

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Conversely, the inheritance argument posits that present day African-Americans “inherited the rights to reparations” their ancestors never acquired (Boxill 2010). However, one might object saying the original slaveholders are deceased, and since historical records are untenable, descendants of slaves cannot attain the inheritance. Boxill retorts, “any responsibility for the legacy of slavery that persists today must be attributed to post Civil War governments” (2010). Though there isn’t a consensus behind this statement, others such as John Locke proposes, “When people die their rights to their property are normally passed on to their heirs” (Boxill 2010).

Following this line of thought, it is only logical that African-Americans should receive the due reparation promised to their progenitors. Therefore, a virtuous agent would, in these circumstances, concede, foregoing the antebellum inheritance argument for the postbellum reparation. With the passage of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments, the federal government pledged an oath to protect and uphold the moral principles they had failed to recognize for so long. Therefore, recognizing the inheritance model as a link in the “unbroken chain of harms,” it is incumbent upon the federal government to restore the postbellum reparations impeded by Jim Crow on the grounds of honesty and a restoration to the social contract guaranteed by the Constitution.

Furthermore, Laura Shin (2015) notes the numerous disparities afflicting minority families. She delineates the perpetual problems inlying these groups, stating that minority families are unable to withstand the economic shocks during volatile times. This wealth disparity can be traced back to redlining in the 1930s and the prejudice against blacks applying for mortgages (Coates 2014). The effects of such nefarious policies are prevalent today within the segregated, quarantine-like ghettos and projects near every major city. She attaches the educational disparities with the homeownership disparities by noting, “residential segregation keeps [minority] families in school districts with low-quality, under-resourced schools, which can then influence students’ preparedness for college” (Shin 2015). This resurfaces Boxill’s aforementioned harm and inheritance arguments, both of which agree an “unbroken chain of harms” persists to this day.

Though these observations aren’t particularly arguments for or against reparations, it is important to note the prolific effects of slavery and postbellum treatment toward the freedmen. Rather than cash compensation or land delegation, a virtuous agent would infer it would be more conducive to provide equal opportunity and incentive to raise all persons to greater heights and expectations. One might object, noting possible partiality and ensuing resentment. However, by moving forward and improving “education, training, and economic development” for all, it is indeed possible for the American public to move past the continual conjuring up of old sins, scarring our consciences and perpetuating cycles of hatred and prejudice (ABC News, 2017).

Moreover, some propose reparations as a type of retribution. In support of this claim, Locke believes that reparations repair the “damage that crime…causes” (Boxill 2010). For example, A punches B. B retaliates, justifiably, against the wrong action in the name of self-preservation (i.e. contractualism). Therefore, this type of retribution is justifiable. However, a virtuous agent would object to retributive justice, citing due process.

In the court of law, the criminal justice system isn’t meant to avenge or deter so much as it is meant to protect society from violent and unruly persons. Therefore, since the United States accrued wealth and strength by the forced and involuntary servitude of black slaves and, after emancipating the slaves, elected officials ignoring the illegal scourge (i.e. Jim Crow) inflicted upon the freedmen, after examining all the aforementioned data and exhaustive content elucidating the present day effects within the African-American community, in accordance with virtue theory and the reasonably justifiable means for reparations, it would behoove the federal government, to 1) formally apologize to the American people for the wrongs it has committed, 2) acknowledge history and proceed to remove all Confederate monuments from public places, and 3) return stolen land originally purchased, inherited, or by some other legal means, acquired by African-Americans during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era.

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Lastly, Deuteronomy 15:12-15 says,

“If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you [or sells himself], he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.’”

Usually, those who berate the Bible as an archaic work of primitive, illiterate, sub-intellectuals with nil understanding of science and philosophy, who have a skewed, misconstrued (and frankly, narrow and sometimes bigoted) understanding or view of the Bible are its biggest critics.  Take, for example, Charles Dawkins. The Oxford Professor of Zoology minimizes clergymen of their limited understanding of science while raising his…even though he doesn’t specialize in theology.  Regardless, he and many of his cohorts say the Bible supports slavery even though it doesn’t, quoting cherry-picked passages all the while denouncing others who do so.

“If a man is found stealing one of his brothers of the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deut. 24:7).

(These are “impious actions” noted by Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.)

Throughout the Book of Deuteronomy, the Lord commands via the Golden Rule to remember their enslavement in Egypt under the Rule of Pharaoh.  Therefore, the people of Israel are to welcome strangers in accordance with the first and second greatest commandments (Matt. 22:36-40; Deut. 6:5).  But the imagery of slavery is much deeper than the surface of the skin or the treatment of others.

(For the sake of time and brevity, I will end here.  But please be expecting a future post pertaining to the interwoven philosophy of slavery, determinism, free will, distraction, and punishment.)

In conclusion, I have provided substantial evidence and coherent judgment using contractualism, virtue theory, and a few biblical references to prove offering reparations to African-Americans is morally permissible. By implementing these long overdue policies and promises, hopefully a healing between majority and minority groups will transpire.

(For other references, please see On earth, as it is in Heaven.)

John Calvin on Civil Government

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(Note: This is a brief compilation of Calvin’s last chapter in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.  I do not endorse or ascribe to all of his beliefs.  However, it is important to note Calvin’s influence in Reformed theology.)

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, in Chapter XX on “Civil Government,” Calvin makes the statement, “Let no man be disturbed that I now commit to civil government the duty of rightly establishing religion, which I seem above to put outside of human decision.”  He continues,

“For when I approve of a civil administration that aims to prevent the true religion which is continual in God’s law from being openly and with public sacrilege violated and defiled with impunity, I do not here, any more than before, allow men to make laws according to their own decision concerning religion and the worship of God.”

Calvin also notes that “their [the disciples] ministry is not like kingdoms, in which one is pre-eminent above the rest.”  He encourages mutual submission among Christians as well as to the king or ruler, who is expressly ordained by God, regardless of “The coercive nature of the magistry.”  Concerning the proper form(s) of government, Calvin states,

“The fall from kingdom to tyranny is easy; but it is not much more difficult to fall from the rule of the best men to the faction of a few; yet it is easiest of all to fall from popular rule to sedition…For if the three forms of government which the philosophies discuss be considered in themselves, I will not deny that aristocracy, or a system compounded of aristocracy and democracy, far excels all others…Therefore…if one asserts himself unfairly, there may be a number of censors and masters to restrain his willfulness.”

He then notes God’s ordination of aristocratic/democratic-style judges over the people until “he should bring forward the image of Christ in David.”  Moreover, the structure of the institutions varies based on the culture and circumstances: “For as elements cohere only in unequal proportion, so countries are best held together according to their own particular inequality” (i.e. diversity).  Nevertheless, we, as servants and heirs and ambassadors in and for Christ, are to obey and remain “compliant…to whomever he sets over the places we live.”

Of anarchy, Calvin writes, “the Sacred History places anarchies among things evil: because there is no king in Israel, each men did as he pleased (Judg. 21:25).”  He continues saying, “For during the reign of Nerva it was not without reason said: it is indeed bad to live under a prince with whom nothing is permitted; but much worse under one by whom everything is allowed.”

Calvin’s pro-war stance isn’t unbridled or fueled by an eager Old-Testament-ish type of perversion to conjure up young men (and, perhaps, women) to fight in a new emergent crusade.  Rather, it is founded upon the notion that magistrates, ordained or elected, should and, if they consciously serve under the banner of Christ, must defend their subjects.  Calvin notes “that an express declaration of this matter is not to be sought in the writings of the apostles; for the purpose is not to fashion a civil government, but to the spiritual kingdom of Christ.”

Of taxes, Calvin concedes “that tributes and taxes are the lawful revenues of princes, which they may chiefly use to meet the public expenses of their office.”  “But,” Calvin continues, “he does so in such a way that princes themselves will in turn remember their revenues are not so much for their private chests as the treasuries of the entire people (Rom. 13:6).”  However, “to impose them upon  the common folk without cause is tyrannical extortion.”

Calvin attempts to distinguish moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws.  He sums up the entirety of the laws under the “precepts of love.”  He draws this effectual command from Matthew 22:34-40:

“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”

Basically, Calvin echoes the Apostle Paul—“For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23)—while trumping faithful actions, intents, and purposes with Christ-like love (1 Cor. 13:13).  While Jewish law and tradition “show[ed] the truth of those things which then have foreshadowed in figures,” though Calvin permits “every nation is left free to make such laws as it foresees to be profitable for itself,” if they do not proceed from Christ-like love (e.g. “honor to thieves…promiscuous intercourse,” etc.), “they are abhorrent not only to all justice, but also to humanity and gentleness.”  Though Calvin explicitly denounces any government who calls evil good and good evil (Isa. 5:20), he does not advocate for Mosaic theocracy—or any theocracy for that matter.  He justifies this veering away from this crude and archaic system by 1) understanding that God’s love is not only “engraved upon the minds of men”—that is, natural—but also transcendent and 2) Christ’s fulfillment in the cross as the official initiation of the New Covenant and will aforementioned in the Old Testament (Heb. 8, 9:16-18; Jer. 31).

Echoing Solomon (Prov. 25:8-9) and the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 6:1-11), he writes,

“…where hearts are filled wit malice, corrupted by envy, inflamed with wrath, breathing revenge, finally so inflamed with desire for contention, that love is somewhat impaired in them, the court action of even the most just cause cannot but be impious.”

Concerning court hearings and litigations, Calvin notes the magistrates, judges, and officers as “ministers of God for our God” (Rom. 13:4) while maintaining the courts’ credibility even under the authority of an unjust ruler.  He appeals to Paul’s arguments before Caesar, his appellation and Roman citizenship, and his legal cooperation.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

As Paul stood before Caesar, I can’t help but imagine his thoughts.  He stands before Caesar as Christ stood before the Sanhedrin.  Because Christ was silent before the shearers (Isa. 53:7), we may boldly proclaim that which “angels long to look” (1 Pet. 1:12) and approach with confidence the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16) as redeemed heirs (Rom. 8:17), ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20), friends (Jas. 2:23), and sons of God (Rom. 8:14, 9:26; Gal. 3:26).

Calvin notes the utmost respect, “deference,” one should have toward their ruler since they are a representative of God.  Though some in the congregation “regard magistrates only as a kind of necessary evil,” he raises the standard by using the Apostle Peter’s words—“honor the king”—as well as the Apostle Paul’s and Solomon’s, both holding high esteem for the magistrates.

Furthermore, he bids Christians to refrain from political involvement so the our witness may not be tainted.  We are to “not raise a tumult…put their hands to the task.”  However, he doesn’t negate voting, as it is allowed in more civilized societies.

However, he is not ignorant of the depravity of man affecting common peoples as well as rulers.  He continues, “But we have so far been describing a magistrate who truly is what he is called, that is, a father of his country…and…shepherd of his people, guardian of peace, protector of righteousness, and avenger of innocence.”  Though Calvin condemns tyrants and their salacious and greedy endeavors, he implores Christians to revere him in the same manner one would revere the greatest of kings.  This is not to approve of wrongdoing but rather to show the love of Christ that many more would be saved.  Moreover, he concludes, in accordance with the Scriptures, that “a wicked king is the Lord’s wrath upon the earth (Job 34:30…Hos. 13:1; Isa. 3:4, 10:5; Deut. 28:29).”

Pointing to King Nebuchadnezzar, though he was indeed an “abominable and cruel tyrant,” the Lord called him “my servant” (Jer. 27:5-8, 17).  Likewise, David, while evading the traps and devices of King Saul, said, “My soul has spared you; and I have said, ‘I shall not put forth my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 24:11).

Calvin submits that those subjected to princes displaying avarice or wanton behavior should, with humility, continue to minister to the Lord, which is to minister to the authority of God.  For vengeance is not ours.  God will restore all things in the end and the evil princes shall be “crushed” before the face of God.

God reigns over both rebellion and the institution of government.  Calvin alludes to Moses and the Judges—all of which were used under the direction of the Lord to liberate the people of Israel.  Furthermore, he also uses foreign armies to do his bidding.

In the same manner, Calvin commends the restraints put upon kings, emperors, and other sorts of rulers by extolling the persons enforcing law as well as the law’s just nature and impartiality.  Those who refuse to oppose “the fierce licentiousness of kings” are disobeying God by not caring for the common good, or welfare, of the people.

In the conclusion of his exhaustive voluminous expositions, Calvin writes,

“The Lord, therefore, is the King of kings, who, when he has opened his sacred mouth, must alone be heard, before all and above all men; next to him we are subject to those men who are in authority over us, but only in him.  If they command anything again him, let it go unesteemed.”

Following in the footsteps of Daniel, it is not offensive to a ruler’s ordination and God-given authority to disobey an “…impious edict.  For the king has exceeded his limits, and had not only been a wrongdoer against men, but, in lifting up his horns against God, had himself abrogated his power.”

(For further reference, see Fun with Anarchism, Against Anarchism, Is civil disobedience biblical?, or any of our previous posts.)

Unity in Diversity: A Trinitarian Perspective

(Note: The following video was streamed live on 21 April 2017 between Dr. James White, affirming the doctrine of the Trinity, and Bro. Joe Ventilacion, attempting to defend Unitarianism.  This is a brief logical response to the video attached.  I will leave the biblical expertise and exegesis to Dr. White.)

To provide some context, Dr. White affirms the centuries-old and biblically-established doctrine of the Trinity, which encompasses the divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Bro. Ventilacion believes Christ is a created being, exalted on high to appease the wrath of God.

If a mere creature can accomplish what God has wrought—namely the aspect of holiness and divine perfection—then it would suffice to say that God’s standard is not that much higher than ours.  And if God would so choose to ordain a mere creature as sufficient to bear the sins of the world, then God would be showing partiality and would not be all-powerful.  And if he is not all-powerful (i.e. omnipotent), then he is not God.  He would be a sheer pulsing energy floating about the cosmos.  If Christ is created, then the Old Testament is a lie and we are still dead in our sins.

Concerning the Gospel, if God is not all-powerful and Christ is a created being, needing external help, he is indebted to us.  The following is from a previous post:

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  Tim Keller explains the concept of grace as a more powerful alternative to works-salvation.  If we work up to God, he is, in some shape form, indebted to us, for he is not sufficient to fully reach the heart of man.  We must have, in some way, reached him first.  However, through grace, one is fully and joyfully obliged to obedience—not for the sake of attaining salvation, but because “he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).

There is a vast chasm separating heaven and earth.  We build futile bridges, never to reach the other side, only falling into the abyss as we attempt to reach God by our own merit.  The divinity of Christ is imperative, it is central, to the redemption of mankind.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

Without the full divinity and full humanity of Christ indwelling the Son, there is no redemption of mankind.  (For more on this issue, refer to “What about Eve?“)

All are three beings in communion with one another creating the plural singularity that is God.  This is complex and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Therefore, we shouldn’t assume to wholly understand this mystery since our ways are not His ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts (Isa. 55:8).  This is not a hierarchical system.  Jesus did not count it equality with God a thing to be grasped (Phil. 2:6).  As I understand it, the Father is the actor, Christ is the action, and the Spirit is by and how these actions come to fruition.  All three were present at the creation of the universe, which came from nothing (Jn. 17:24; Jn. 1:1-3, 14-18).  The Spirit of God hovered over the waters and spoke the word of God, which is Christ, saying “let us make man in our own image” (Gen. 1:1-2, 26-27).  I believe the Father ordered the commencement of creation, Christ is the bodily incarnation of Him, and the Spirit is the raw power—ruwach—of God (Acts 5:3-5).

Sin is a rebellious act against our Creator—intentional or unintentional.  It includes the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  It is what God is not.  God is holy and unblemished.  Not only is he merely perfect, he is set apart.  He is unlike humanity.  He is pure love (1 Jn. 4:8, 16).  And his love is not an intensified version of humanity’s empathy, passion, or compassion.  His love is entirely and wholly unselfish.  This love is present within the communion of the Trinity.  The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, the Father loves the Spirit, the Spirit loves the Father and the Son, and so on for eternity.  Our love is tainted, leaving our good deeds as filthy rags before God (Isa. 64:6).  Therefore, since love is selfless (i.e. an action), a Unitarian God cannot love another being or object (1 Jn. 3:18).  Unitarianism inherently rejects the community (i.e. the church) since God is a holy communion between the three divine persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Since we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and God is tri-personal, it is indicative that we are meant for fellowship (Heb. 10:25; Prov. 18:1).  Moreover, his creation of humankind would fulfill his loneliness, meaning we were necessary for God’s satisfaction.  However, that is not so (Rom. 9; 2 Cor. 12:9).

If Unitarianism accepts the notion of an impersonal God who doesn’t understand the concept of love, then he is mutable (i.e. he changes).  And if he changes, then he is not only schizophrenic but also a liar (Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6).  If he is schizophrenic, he is susceptible to something higher than he is.  And since we, as mere creatures, are capable of accomplishing that which is supposedly divine (I’m speaking facetiously as a Unitarian), we can usurp the throne of God (Isa. 14:12-15) and reign forever in his stead, thus negating all justice, peace, harmony, and truth that has ever, currently does, or ever will exist.  This would be chaos (1 Cor. 14:33).  Moreover, this wouldn’t be just chaos, it would be hell.

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(For further reference and in-depth discussion, see “Heaven: A World of Love” by Jonathan Edwards and “Communion with the Triune God” by John Owen.)

Stairway to Heaven

HUD Secretary Donovan Unveils Hurricane Sandy Recovery Report In Brooklyn

I know this is late but I wanted to briefly share a few thoughts on 60 Minutes‘ exclusive interview this past Sunday with billionaire philanthropist, media mogul, and former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg.  The interview comprised of exquisite estates, lavish expenditure, and top-tier access to foreign dignitaries.  As a man from humble beginnings (I’m being facetious), the former stock broker visionary turned his dreams into reality, surging ahead of his opponents by recognizing the dire need for computers and advanced technology on Wall Street.  This genius strategy places his companies in the nearly perfect locus for information dissemination.  Though with all this fortune at his fingertips, he understands he cannot take it with him.

In a sit down with Steve Kroft, he explains his ambitions for a more peaceful world.  His fortune can almost buy anything.  Dear friends of his such as the Koch Brothers and George Soros partner with Bloomberg to pave ways for innovation and new avenues for medical advancements.  Mr. Bloomberg, at one point, reminisces on all the good he has done saying,

“I like what I see when I look in the mirror…We’ve spent one billion trying to convince people to not smoke. It’s been phenomenally successful. We’ve probably saved millions of lives. There aren’t many people that have done that. So, you know, when I get to heaven, I’m not sure I’m gonna stand for an interview. I’m going right in.”

The two chuckle and the interview ends.  How sad.

Even as the 8th richest man in the world, with all the wealth he could possibly desire, he still doesn’t understand the concept of life and death.  Why should he? He’s led a good life.  He’s presided over the reconstruction of NYC after 9/11.  He’s banned large soda drinks. (Yes, that actually happened).  And he’s aided in the effort with his large corporate buddies to fight cancer and other terminal illnesses.  Yet, all his fortune will be squandered—moreover, meaningless—apart from the saving work of Christ.

When I was in 7th grade, my former church took a trip to Israel.  My family decided to join the wide-eyed Americans gawking at the so-called “Holy Land.”  I enjoyed the trip.  But one of the most interesting attractions was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine.  The cathedral was huge.  As a relic and memorial for not only the birth of Christ but also the Three Magi, the experience was unparalleled.  However, though the architecture was ornate, the entrance to “the birthplace of Christ” was the most intriguing.  The entrance was small and steep.  An uncomfortably crouched doorway following the narrow steps.  One had to literally bow upon entrance.  That is when the tour guide said the entrance is known as “the eye of a needle.”  He then alluded to Mark 10:25, which says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  Eureka! For years I had been taught by well-meaning pastors that this “needle” Jesus referred to was a sewing needle.  However, Jesus’s claim is more profound.

site_1433_0001-750-0-201206291916451 Peter 5:5 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  It easier for a dumb animal to bow before his Maker than for a charitable billionaire to understand the concept of grace, sin, and humility.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  Tim Keller explains the concept of grace as a more powerful alternative to works-salvation.  If we work up to God, he is, in some shape form, indebted to us, for he is not sufficient to fully reach the heart of man.  We must have, in some way, reached him first.  However, the opposite is true.  Since we are unable to attain holiness due to the vast chasm separating God and depraved humanity, we are forever building futile bridges that only result in death. But through grace one is fully and joyfully able to enjoy Christ simply because “he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).  Therefore, we may partake in his goodness.  The Apostle Paul writes,

“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’  Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:2-5).

So, no man regardless of wealth or social status is exempt from the judgment.  Because he is fair and impartial, we are equal in the eyes of God.  However, we must bow the knee and enter through the needle, humbling ourselves before the throne of Christ, rejoicing in his goodness.  Then, we will be truly rich.

Time to Kill

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(Warning: The following post may be offensive to some due to the nature of the topic.  This includes few profanities, brief sexual reference, and podcast spoilers.)

The podcast takes place in Woodstock, Alabama.  Though sharing names with the famous—and for some, infamous—summer concert of 1969, these two towns are worlds apart.  This Woodstock bears the nickname Sh*t Town (a.k.a. S-Town).  Brian Reed, a reporter from This American Life (producers of the widely acclaimed Serial), investigates an alleged murder in the child-molester capital of the world, as noted by the story’s peculiar protagonist John B. McLemore, redneck intellectual with a staggering vocabulary and unfortunate daily bout with chronic depression.  His hatred for the town wears on him.  He takes a younger man by the name of Tyler under his wing to mentor and guide, sharing advice of what not to do in this rotten town.

John contacts Reed and urges him to make this trek to the deep, deep woods of Alabama to investigate this seemingly covered up homicide—a conspiracy so deep, he speculates the police maybe, just maybe, have something to with it.  Though Reed is busy reporting the ills of police departments around the country, he is intrigued and gives in.  After months (actually, I believe an entire year) of emailing and talking over the phone, this rambling gentleman—and should I say, genius—and the uncertain Yankee meet.  Throughout the duration of the podcast, it turns out the murder actually never occurred.  The kid never died.  John—infatuated with climate change and fossil fuels becoming more scarce than ever, politicians pulling the wool over the unknowing sheeple’s eyes, railing against hypocritical preachers who say one thing and live another, and overtly pessimistic about the planet’s demise—is strangely calm.  Yet he doesn’t find closure.

Meanwhile, the reporter develops a close relationship with John and his surrogate child, Tyler, who has a family of own.  Tyler helps to feed and clothe “Momma,” John’s elderly mother.  John’s family is Tyler’s and Tyler’s is John’s.  John is lonely.  He continues, with all profanities and swearing under the sun, to berate himself with insults for not leaving “this town” sooner.  He hordes clocks and tools and copious amounts of gold.  Everyone in the county knows John is rich.  He touts his wealth pridefully but not maliciously.  It’s simply a fact.  He entrusts his knowledge to those around him…and he knows they’ll never leave.  Though with all this wealth and knowledge, living in a dilapidated house with an elderly mother with dementia is tiring.  Eventually, after an evening spent with Tyler drinking and building a swing set, John kills himself.

As it turns out, John was quite the skilled chemist and horologist (i.e. the study of time) and clock master.  His strange eccentricities entailed gold-plating coins with potassium cyanide, repairing centuries-old clocks without a manual, and constructing mazes and sundials all about his 100-plus acre property.  John drank potassium cyanide, ending his misery.  It almost seems as if even in his death he was presenting a metaphor.  The gold plates are surface-quality.  They aren’t refined.  Rather, they are facile and only for gazing upon.  Likewise, the town is masquerading the ills of perversion, corruption, and suboptimal education with church and quasi-Southern charm.  To John, life is mostly sh*t.  It’s all rainbows and roses for the fortunate, but for Woodstock, it’s hopeless.  Though the podcast began with the investigation of a murder and illicit activity, John’s body would now be the means to expose such vanity.

Though meticulous as anyone could be, he never left a will.  He had every intention of gifting his entire estate to Tyler and his brother, Jacob—both of whom embodied the town with all its racist, uneducated, and perverted quirks.  With John out of the picture, long lost cousins arrive to collect.  Now a heated legal debate arises between Tyler, the cousins, and the law.  Brian Reed is no longer investigating a murder.  He’s on a treasure hunt.

To spare the details (and for the sake of time), no on ever finds the gold.  Tyler trespasses onto John’s property on a weekly basis, but eventually, the cousins file charges and a warrant is issued for his arrest.  Now, Tyler is faced with the fact that he may spend the foreseeable future in a cell separated from his wife and children, only to find the gold has most likely been gifted away.  The only gold left on the property coats the antique clocks in John’s house and shed.  The house is sold and “Momma” will most likely spend her dying days in a nursing home withering away alone.  Nevertheless, Reed is intrigued and seeks to know more about John’s early life.

Reed contacts extended family and friends to gain a greater understanding of the bewildered genius.  He manages to contact an old friend by the name of Olan.  Olan explains the deep, dark despair tormenting John.  The two were involved in an intimate yet arms-distant homosexual relationship for years.  Olan explained John’s out-of-the-closet experience as well as his, detailing his first homosexual encounters as euphoric.  However, neither could openly display their affection towards other men since…well, it’s Alabama.  Moreover, it’s Sh*t Town, Alabama.  John’s bout with depression preceded his homosexual encounters and desire for a romantic relationship; however, it intensified whenever he started to lash out at friends, isolating himself and leaving himself locked in a shed repairing clocks for hours on end.  But what caused this?

When interviewing old friends and colleagues, they reveal a different John—a more tolerable and, frankly, sane John.  Things changed about ten years before he died.  Reed asks one of John’s former college professors, Bill, about his encounters.  He digs out an intricately carved, homemade, gold-plated sundial with a floral design.  It is his prized possession.  John cared.  Eventually, Reed finds fellow clock-enthusiasts who describe John’s fascination with fire-gilding.  Fire-gilding is the process of boiling mercury and melted gold in a pot and painting the finished product onto the desired piece—for John, clocks.  This process is extremely dangerous.  The toxins and carcinogens wafting into his lungs can cause severe brain damage, leading to a debilitation in one’s mental faculties.  This disease is known as Mad Hatter’s disease.

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One of John’s friends from, I believe, Massachusetts recalled observing John fire-gilding at one point.  He knew the effects were hazardous, but he was willing to risk the exposure for once to observe this strenuous yet fascinating process.  With no mask or respiration shield for protection, John proceeded to mix the boiling mercury and gold in his unventilated shed.  The friend came away chest burning and coughing profusely.  He told Reed that John had been doing this dozens of times every year for decades.  The signs were starting to mount up.

Reed relayed to listeners the physical effects of mercury poisoning: enlarged brain, congestion of the lungs, and spontaneous vomiting.  Furthermore, the psychological effects are frightening: depression, suicidal thoughts, feelings of worthlessness, inability to feel pleasure, lack of self-control (i.e. impulsivity), reclusiveness, and paranoia.  John displayed virtually every symptom.  Reed contacted a medical professional to verify these effects.  He not only verified the list but said it would be easier to list the symptoms John did not display.  Though the autopsy did not find any mercury in the blood, it does not discriminate against the fact John had been ingesting these toxic fumes for years.  So, it is safe to say without any additional, unmentioned evidence that John was a victim of mercury poisoning, which led to his ultimate demise.  These series of unfortunate events aren’t foreign in a world filled with suffering and pain.  As an atheist, John knew not where his hope could be found, nor did he care.  This sad story of a precocious man living a life that was—and I regrettably say—wasted with trivial goals and minuscule oddities is too common.  We hear of great minds who bring their lives to an end after a life of misery and torment (e.g. Ernest Hemingway, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, etc.).

“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile'” (1 Cor. 3:19).

“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19).

I cannot help, as I write, to remember to sweet lyrics of the old hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” by Edward Mote (1797-1874).

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.”

Though we, as Christians, fall short daily or, perhaps, may battle bouts of depression, we can rest assure in the saving work of Christ, for “when I am weak, he is strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

At the beginning and end of each podcast, the song “A Rose for Emily” solemnly introduces the listeners to the melancholic life of John B. McLemore and his compatriots in S-Town, Alabama.  The song is rather fitting.  Here is an excerpt from The Zombies’s rendition of “A Rose for Emily,” the story of a reclusive girl who finds love to only have it taken from her:

“Emily, can’t you see
There’s nothing you can do?
There’s loving everywhere
But none for you.

Her roses are fading now.
She keeps her pride somehow.
That’s all she has protecting her from pain.

And as the years go by,
She will grow old and die.
The roses in her garden fade away,
Not one left for her grave,
Not a rose for Emily.”

In closing, similarly, John grows roses in the gardens around his house.  Emily and John both died alone.  Their roses grew old with them, and when their lives passed from here to eternity, the roses died as well taking their memories with them to be forgotten forever.  I’ll end with 1 Peter 1:24 (ESV):

“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

What about Eve?

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We always talk about Adam. Adam beget so and so, and the son of Adam beget so and so, and so and so beget so and so; so on and so forth. However, whatever happened to Eve?

“Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45 ESV).

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).

So, if Christ is the last Adam, then who is the last Eve (so to speak)? Answer: we are.

Eve ate the fruit first. She sinned first. However, the man, in covenant with his wife, took the responsibility upon himself and partook in the suffering to come, thus solidifying the demise of humanity. However, the reverse is true. We, the bride of Christ, sinned first. However, Christ, the head of the church, in covenant with his spiritual wife, took the responsibility upon himself and partook in the suffering to come, thus solidifying the salvation of humanity.

This is represented in Genesis 15. Basically, in the passage, God makes a covenant with Abraham, at the time Abram, and divides the sacrifices into halves. The Lord causes Abram to fall into a deep sleep like he did with Adam. Then the Lord moves a smoking fire pot and flaming torch between the pieces signifying the repercussions if either breaks the covenant. However, since Abram is asleep, he cannot partake in the suffering the Lord has beheld. Therefore, God shows He will suffer the consequences for the people’s actions, thus sacrificing himself for the sake of the covenant and the glory of his name.

On the cross, the second Adam suffered for his Eve, and on that cross, Christ suffered for the actions of the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, no one can say we “got the wrong end of the stick.” In each scenario, God suffers for us that we may live.

He is very good indeed.

On earth, as it is in Heaven

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In his Theory of Forms, Plato notes it is imperative that we, as thinking creatures, philosophize, so to speak, and ponder upon the “forms” of structures and ideas within society.  This can bring about proper reform in an attempt to reach for the intangible, the spiritual, the supernatural, and, more times than not, the impossible: utopia.

If I understand correctly, “the forms,” as Plato calls it, is not the ideal form of a social, economic, political, militaristic, or *what have you* paradigm.  Though we may (and will) strive for the ideal form, it is impossible, for it isn’t the same.  Moreover, it’s unachievable since that which we aim toward, metaphysically speaking, is intangible, ethereal, and, as a Christian would posit, godly.  The Apostle Peter, recalling Leviticus 11:44, writes, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16).  This commandment is impossible.  And, without Christ, burdensome.  However, “his commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn. 5:3), for he has taken all our iniquity upon himself that we may be holy in him—not that we may strive and achieve but that we may fix our eyes upon the resurrected Son of God and glorify his name, for he has justified the unjustifiable, he has saved the undeserving, he has found the lost, and he has redeemed the irredeemable.

Two examples come to mind.  The first is time travel.  The second is godliness.  Bear with me.

As an amateur science geek attempting to explain astrophysics, let me introduce you to Neil deGrasse Tyson.  When explaining time travel, Tyson states that one is ever shifting from the past into the future.  We are trapped in this four-dimensional prison never to escape.  So, every time we attempt to enter the past or relive a moment, we are, unfortunately, only creating a greater distance between that occurrence and the present.  The only place we can cherish and “relive” a moment, to the best of our ability, is in our memory bank—the form.

Now, concerning godliness and Christian living, holiness, which differs from perfection, is the sky.  We are attempting to reach the sky yet can never attain a grasp of the vastness of the atmosphere.  We see the blue color and the rainbows and the sunset spray but can never grasp it.  In other words, every time we try to undo our mistakes, the deeper the hole we dig for ourselves.  Us tangible, physical creatures are trying to attain a standard set apart from this universe.

Does that make sense?

However, what did God mean when “[he] saw that it [the earth] was good” (Gen. 1:10).  How is it possible that that which is tangible is made to the exact specifications of the intangible, the eternal?  The writer of Hebrews says,

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Heb. 11:3).

In other words, not only has God expressly revealed himself sufficiently for all to see but that which was made from nothing—ex nihilo—is the only possible way to create perfect forms, since that which is made here on earth is a replication of other earthly or imagined things.

God made.  Moreover, God spoke.  And that word which was from the beginning, which made everything, was itself life.  And that word, that original form, is Christ (Jn. 1).

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When referring to the bowls and the cups and the sacrifices and the objects in and around the Temple in Jerusalem,  the writer of Hebrews states,

“They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain’” (8:5).

The Bible uses all sorts of examples, anthropomorphisms (i.e. personification), parables, and symbols to convey an important message.  The entire Old Testament is a physical example of a better covenant to come:

“And he [Jesus] said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk. 24:24-27).

The Apostle Paul writes,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:18-20).

So, first, that which is imagined, first formed in the mind (i.e. that original idea or form: the perfect and unparalleled understanding of a truth), cannot be replicated by human hands.  Secondly, like time, the Christian-life cannot be advanced (or reversed) by mere willpower or physical exertion.  Thirdly, God doesn’t make mistakes.  The creation of the world was good.  But our attempt to make it better ruined the batch.  And lastly, Christ is the fulfillment, the perfect form, of the desirable good.  He is the restoration of the good creation.  He isn’t described as good but is itself the very incarnation of Yahweh.  Therefore, none have excuse since that which is invisible has been made visible for all to see (Col. 1:15-20).

His will be done.

Summary: “No god but God” (Reza Aslan)

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According to Reza Aslan, author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, there are two primary factions, or denominations, within Islam: Sunni, or orthodox, and Shi’ite. Similar to to Christianity’s Catholic and Orthodox churches, excluding the Protestants, both believe they are the true succeeding leaders of Islam after the order of the Prophet Muhammad. Due to a split in agreement over the successors of the Prophet, these two factions warred over the religious and political authority governing the region, including wherever the faith spread. A rife severely fractured many within the community who believed Ali, the cousin of the Prophet, was the rightful successor.

The third successor, Uthman ibn Affan (after Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab)—a member of the Quraysh family, who had ruled as “Keeper of the Keys” for the ka’ba in Mecca and violently opposed the peaceful egalitarian message of the Prophet Muhammad, oppressed the Prophet’s family while raising an army to proselytize the surrounding tribes and nations—who headed the collection and canonization of the Quran and hadith, was assassinated by rebelling forces. Mu’awiyah, the leader of the rebelling forces, declared himself Caliph after Uthman by authority, ordination, and command of Allah, ultimately regrouping the center of Islamic power and prestige in Damascus, Syria. Eventually the descendants of Muhammad, Husayn and Hassan, attempted to join forces with those at Kufa but were intercepted by the Caliph’s military at Karbala and mercilessly butchered. Soon after the massacre, a self-acclaimed group entitled “The Penitents”, mourned, lamented the Prophet’s family, self-atoning for their sins by praising the martyrdom of Husayn.

“Every year, during the first ten days of the month of Muharram and culminating on the tenth day, or Ashura, the Shi’ah commemorate Husayn’s martyrdom through lamentation assemblies…in which participants either beat their breasts in a rhythmic, almost mantric act of contrition, or flog their backs with whips made of chains, all the while shouting out the names of Hassan and Husayn, until the streets are stained with their blood. Despite appearances, the Shi’ite self-flagellation ceremonies have little in common with similar practices one finds in certain Christian monastic orders. This is not flagellation as a solitary act of pious self-mortification…It is not pain, but the voluntary shedding of blood and tears for Husayn that brings salvation” (183).

This religious group, more seemingly devout and stalwart than the Pentecostal-like Kharijites, became the founders of Shi’itism, named after the Shi’ah Ali. These people, like the pseudo-Christian gnostics during the formation of the early church, believed themselves to have esoteric, ethereal knowledge about the Quran’s “implicit” message. The leadership soon became muddled and another faction, known as the Zaydis, split from the primary Shi’ite family.

Eventually, in order to capture a transcendental Brahman-like oneness with Allah, the Sufis, another Muslim sect, attempted to revive the meditative practices of the Prophet during the time of the revelation.  These practices extended far and wide.  The Sufis, the “monks” (if you will) of the Muslim world, reached for ecstasy and joy within themselves, believing Allah would reveal himself through inner turmoil and peace.

“Some Sufis use the art of calligraphy as a form of dhikr (“the remembrance of God”), while in the Caucasus, where Sufism inherited many of the shamanistic practices of the ancient Indo-Europeans, dhirk tends to focus not so much on recitation or meditation, but rather on physical pain as a means to shock the disciple into a state of ecstasy. The Rifa’i Order in Macedonia, for example, is famous for its public acts of self-mutilation, in which disciples pierce themselves with spikes while in a trancelike state. In certain parts of Morocco, there are Sufis who practice dhikr through great feats of strength and stamina meant to separate them from the false reality of the material world” (Aslan, 222).

If I understand correctly, with regard to Reza Aslan’s account of the rise of radicalism, the Taliban is rooted in the more recent extremist sect of Sufism.  Aslan writes of the persecuted Sufi minority saying,

“…Wali Allah strove in his books and lectures to strip Sufism of its ‘foreign’ influences (e.g. Neoplatonism, Persian mysticism, Hindu Vedantism) in order to restore it to what he considered to be an older, unadulterated form of Islamic mysticism, one inextricably bound to Sufi orthodoxy” (223).

Moreover, (Wali) Allah’s “puritan” movements eventually led to an awakening in the Middle East and India, giving way for the Pan-Islamism/Pan-Arabism, anti-colonial rebels ravaging Mesopotamian culture and heritage by segregating peoples rather than allowing alliance and prosperity (238).  However the Pan-Islamism, “the supernationalist theory of Muslim unity under a single Caliph” (244), which contributed to the creation of the Ottoman Empire, movement collapsed under the weight of the West.  Nevertheless a resurgence of ideas stemming from this movement gained traction under the leadership of Sayyid Qutb, “the father of Islamic radicalism” (243), and the banner of Islamism (244).  Qutb’s goal was to oust all secular forms of governance and restore the Middle East (and eventually the world) under the authority of God, reverting to (in his eyes) Muhammad’s original blueprint for a peaceful society in Medina.

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In the eighteenth century, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, desiring to implement Wali Allah’s radical Sufism, ravaged the Hijaz with the protection of the fearful Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Saud (246).  Fearing the Wahhabis, as they are known, and their radical theology, Ibn Saud agreed to “‘perform jihad against the unbelievers [non-Wahhabi Muslims],” thus securing the reign of al-Wahhab (248).  Tearing across the Arabian peninsula, al-Wahhab eventually made his way to the heart of Arabia toppling artifacts and the tombs and memories of the Prophet and his companions, attempting to rid the peninsula of materialism.  Securing the locus of power in the region, with al-Wahhab granting Ibn Saud political power, the newly formed polity signed the Anglo-Treaty in 1915.  Continuing the works of his father, heir Abd al-Aziz accepted military supplies and reinforcements from the British to fight the Ottomans.  After World War I, with al-Aziz seated at the pinnacle of power, the Hijaz was renamed “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” (249).

Fast forward to 1979, Saudi Arabia, now inundated with wealth from the discovery of oil, a more materialistic/Westernized kingdom, in collaboration with the United States, in an attempt to rid the land of “holy warriors” plaguing the country for decades, sent the mujahadin to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets (252).  The United States propagating the equating so-called liberty-loving rebels, as President Reagan put it, with “America’s founding fathers,” suffers alongside Saudi Arabia from the solidarity and wherewithal of the rebels’ unification into “a new kind go transnational militant movement in the Islamic world called Jihadism (252).  This Jihadism rooted itself in the dogma of the aforementioned Kharijites labeling themselves as “the People of Heaven” with everyone else as “the People of hell” (253).  Fighting against the alleged corruption of the Saudi government inviting the American military into Middle Eastern conflict (i.e. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait), two men—Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri—forged an alliance to create al-Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden (© AP file)

Western imperialism drastically altered the course of history for many of the once-sovereign nation states.  For example, the Brits and Russians thwarted democratic upheaval in Iran during 1905-1911 and, likewise, in 1953, the United States covertly put an end to Iran’s democratic revolution (260).  However, in 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini eventually subverted the Shah of Iran, putting an end to his despotic control to establish a free and independent Islamic republic (258).  However, though the constitution drafted and passed established a parliamentary government, it afforded the Ayatollah with supreme authority.  This new régime was anything but democratic.  He had the sole authority to “appoint the head of the judiciary, to be commander in chief of the army, to dismiss the president, and to veto all laws created by the parliament” (258).  Eventually, after the Ayatollah’s death in the late 1980s, a new revolution arose to restore the original purpose and intent of the first two reformations.  Now, the Tehran Spring of the 1990s seemed to gain traction; however the efforts of the people was quelled by the Revolutionary Guard and power restored to the heads of state (259).  Moreover, with the profuse corruption within Iranian government, overt the efforts of the people have, seemingly, died.  Yet, like the two revolutions before, it is unlikely the people will go gently into that good night (Thomas, 1951).

To the east, the countries of India and Pakistan are rivaling and wrestling over Britain’s recent abdication of the subcontinent.  Like empires before it, the UK had strategically pitted the people against each other to create constant turmoil in order to save face and give good reason for its presence—maintaining economic and military stability in the region (Aslan, 262-263).  However, with the Second World War leaving Britain in ruins, surrendering its centuries old Asian powerhouse would prove trying but nevertheless wise (262).  Now, with the “Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, etc.” fighting over control and dominion, a subcontinental schism ensued (262).  Pakistani leadership encouraged Muslims across the region to migrate and work to create a unifying Islamic state, thus leaving the Hindus to bicker amongst themselves.

“Despite drafting a constitution that envisioned a parliament elected to write the laws and a judiciary appointed to decide whether those laws were in accord with Islamic principles, Pakistan quickly gave way to military dictatorship at the hands of the army’s commander in chief, Ayub Khan” (264).

This process continued over the course of sixty years—dictatorship, democracy, dictatorship, democracy, and so on (264).

Interestingly, Aslan concludes the ultimate glue/cohesive to create a successful democracy is not secularism but, rather, pluralism.  Democracies can be founded upon specific moral frameworks (e.g. America’s Judeo-Christian origins, the UK’s Anglican foundation, India’s former theological bent towards Hindutva theology, Israel’s orthodox rabbinical courts) all the while refraining from theocracy (269-271).  Duly noted, societies that have attempted to formulate a fluid church-and-state paradigm have failed epically (e.g. Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iran) (268).  However, as aforementioned, this does not negate the religious undertones, or connotations, inflected throughout society in holidays, national observances, or communal “mores” dictated or tolerated by explicitly religious or quasi-secular governments (268).  Aslan continues by saying, “Pluralism implies religious tolerance, not unchecked religious freedom,” and quoting the Quran, “‘There can be no compulsion in religion’ (2:256)” (271).  In other words, democracies are possible within Islamic societies despite oppositional Western rhetoric; however, this does not delineate such countries (e.g. “Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Senegal, etc.”) as entirely (that is, 100%) free in every respect (271).

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Aslan slowly draws an end to his book by carefully detailing the origins and, as the title states, “future of Islam.”  He likens the radical ideologies plaguing the social egalitarian religion to the “archaic, rigid, and inequitable strictures of tribal society” across the Arabian peninsula (292).  This new reformation—a surge of informal, independent, and untrained dilettantes—pervading the airwaves and into the homes via Internet and satellite television is, in some ways, liberating but also troubling.  After years of the Ulama—similar to the Papacy—dictating the interpretations of scripture and forming society’s perception of God with the self-ascribed authority to exegete, the people revolted.  They revolted literally (that is, violently) as well as socially, creating new forums and branching out into new regions of the world to explore Islam’s roots for themselves and discover true religion.  This reformation has inspired charismatic preachers and radical jihadists alike (284-292).  However, Islam is not alone in its centuries-old quest to create unity between authenticity and individualism.  Hearkening to the Christian Reformation, Aslan alludes to Martin Luther’s cry for separation from the Catholic church due to egregious misinterpretations of Scripture and ubiquitous corruption.  After Luther nailed the 95 theses, stood before council at Wittenberg, and translated the Bible from Latin to German, peasants and commoners rose against the papacy (and fellow reformers alike) to oust all sorts of religious mutiny—while committing a type of mutiny. Eventually, after a long war, the violence quelled and the people assumed their roles in society once again.  This cycle continues in all forms of religion.  Though unfortunate, it serves as a reminder to cherish and behold all that is dear.  While pluralism acts as a societal cohesive, it, ironically, inspires individualism by cultivating a sense of cultural preservation, thus creating civil dialogue in a world filled noise.

Livin’ Like Larry

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Recently I read Ross Andersen’s “Radical Life Extension Is Already Here, But We’re Doing It Wrong” with The Atlantic. This research is apart of my Philosophy class—thinking deeply about the ethics of life extension. We are challenging ourselves and the preconceived notion that life extension is impossible.

Within the article, Andersen proposes the American outlook on life extension is flawed by our overall acceptance of natural selection. Andersen alludes to the “American Lobster, which, despite living as long as fifty years, doesn’t seem to age much at all.” Some suggest evolution has not only the end-say but knows the reasons for relatively “premature” death: “If our bodies grow old and die, the thinking goes, then there must be a good reason, even if we don’t understand it yet.” Philosopher Bennett Foddy from Oxford University suggests life extension, or enhancement, is prolific throughout human history such as steroids, cloning, children, testosterone, vaccines, surgeries, pasteurization of milk and cheese, sewers, and, in recent years, Viagra and Cialis.

“Lobsters seem to have evolved an adaptation against the cellular lifespan…[T]he DNA in our cells basically unravel after they’ve divided a certain amount of times, but lobsters have this enzyme that helps them replenish their telomeres—the caps that hold DNA together. “

Foddy hypothesizes that the extraneous movement throughout the one’s life contributes to the aging process due to a long history of hunting and gathering—basic survival. However, unlike humans, lobsters’ lethargic-seeming movements, while being productive, inhibit the extraneous burning of calories and cell death and regrowth. He infers, “But it could have easily not turned out that way.” He continues by alluding to our “incremental” fight against cancer. He also observes, “The second thing to say is that aging usually happens to an organism after it reaches menopause.” Foddy argues against Frances Fukuyama who presumes all derivatives of natural selection are beneficial,

“The thing that I disagree with him about is his presumption that if we have a trait that’s evolved, that it must be beneficial to us in some way, and that we have some good reason for allowing that trait stick around.”

Whether it is menopause or some vestigial cellular process, though natural selection has determined a set number of years, it does not mean we must accept the results.

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Furthermore, there are other arguments postulating death and aging as a disease. In “Live forever: Scientists say they’ll extend life ‘well beyond 120’”,  Zoë Corbyn with The Guardian writes, according to Silicon Valley hedge fund manager Joon Yun,

“the probability of a 25-year-old dying before their 26th birthday is 0.1%. If we could keep that risk constant throughout life instead of it rising due to age-related disease, the average person would…live 1,000 years.”

Partnering with numerous research centers, “In September 2013 Google announced the creation of Calico, short for the California Life Company.” Chief scientific officer of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (Sens) Foundation, Aubrey deGray, is fighting the worldwide “pro-ageing trance.” Accompanied by billionaire investors delving into the scientific arena founding and funding projects to not only extend life but health as well, deGray, Joon Yun, and many others are attempting to conquer the misconception that life is finite. Moreover, this far-sighted goal will cure prevalent diseases along the way (e.g. heart disease, cancer, strokes, and Alzheimer’s). By inhibiting the progress of biotechnology, one is constraining the potential eradication of diseases.

However there is an ethical dilemma. Many adhere to the egalitarian/communitarian train of thought: redistribution. If successful, not everyone will be able to attain these life extending drugs. Pharmaceutical companies currently increase costs exorbitantly. Therefore, only the elites, the capitalists reigning in their “ivory towers,” the oligarchs, the plutocrats will be able to purchase the miracle medicine. For example, former President Jimmy Carter announced in August 2015 he had melanoma (i.e. cancer). By February 2016, physicians had successfully “cured” his cancer with experimental, highly effective, and very expensive (i.e. $150k a year expensive) immunotherapy treatments.

This process will continue. It isn’t unethical. It’s only unethical if it is prohibited for specific socioeconomic classes. For example, powder cocaine, which is more expensive, carries a less harsh sentence than crack cocaine, which is cheap. In recent years, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act to mitigate racial disparity and curb “institutional racism.” I digress.

Nevertheless, the debate over life extension continues. These advancements in biotechnology are astounding. This is the new Space Race. Whether we have the materials at our fingertips via the animal kingdom (e.g. lobsters, hydra, jellyfish) or not, humanity will persist to discover new avenues to prolong life. In my opinion, this is the new frontier.

We Found Life On Mars

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Just kidding. We, for the time being, have not found life on Mars. However, what if we had? What, on earth, would change? Our curiosity and ingenuity would kick into gear. Our thirst for discovery would be unquenchable. But, imagine we found life here. We discover new species every day. Humanity discovers roughly 15,000-18,000 new species yearly—many of them being insects. Furthermore, according to The Huffington Post, “Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours.” We are surrounded by death. Moreover, 99% of “living space on the planet” call the oceans home. And we have only explored 10% of it. However, what if we discovered life even closer? Inside of us. No not pinworms, tapeworms, or parasites from that disgusting French snail cuisine. Think deeper.

With the recent death of Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade, the decisive Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, I’ve decided to write a brief but personal reason for being pro-life. Or anti-choice…You choose. *wink wink*

I remember sitting down in my General Zoology class and opening the dreadful two-inch thick textbook with eight point font rife with scientific terminology no normal person could ever understand. However, on this one occasion, it being my first official Honors class, I decided to be a good student and read…just the first few pages. However, these first few pages cemented my pro-life sentiments.

The first question of this public-university-issued textbook asked, “What is life?” Understanding science is the interpretation of data, the constant quest for discovery, and the undying humiliation of our infinitesimal existence as well as the falsifiability of various hypotheses after years and years of research and experimentation, the answer wasn’t so clear. It basically said, and now I’m paraphrasing, “We don’t know.” People can observe life and its functions (e.g. reproduction, response to light, organic makeup, etc.); however we cannot pinpoint and specify a proper definition of life. Yet, like those who discard religion, which is not falsifiable, vast swaths of society determine an embryo, which is a part of the reproductive process, as lifeless, despite meeting the scientific prerequisites for life. This baffled me.

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We currently have the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute collaborating with NASA and the United Nations about what protocols man should pursue after discovering intelligent life. Moreover, in a 2003 essay entitled “The Search for Life in the Universe,” Neil deGrasse Tyson writes, “To declare that Earth must be the only planet in the cosmos with life would be inexcusably egocentric of us.” This hypocrisy by the most high-minded, educated individuals is perplexing. Discovering rudimentary elements or molecules on a deserted planetary surface is revolutionary, yet the biological majesty of creating a human life is irrelevant.

Overall, the double-standard convenience of the anti-life movement is an enigma. We are complicated creatures with warring ideologies. But the scientific community upholding the stalwart theses “Religion is a farce” and “A fetus is not a living organism” is antithetical to their fundamental claim in the search for truth. It is okay to search for extraterrestrial life, colonize celestial bodies, and aspire to improve our way of life, but excusing barbarism for social creditability makes them no different than the religious imposters they claim to detest.

Me, Myself, and I

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With President’s Day coming up (it’s actually called Washington’s Birthday) and in light of recent national events (i.e. election of the POTUS), I decided to delve into the psyche of former Presidents.

Psychology Today published a brief article in 2016 comparing and contrasting the mental state of past presidents. As a matter of fact, according to a Duke University Medical Center study, half of the first thirty-seven presidents represented signs of mental illness—“and 27% met those criteria while in office.”

The most common diagnosis is depression. Presidents James Madison, JQA, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, and Calvin Coolidge were all listed. Also, though unmentioned, Andrew Jackson’s wife died shortly before his second inauguration, leaving him melancholy, driving him into what we would call a type of dysphoria. The second common diagnosis “rang[es] from social phobia to generalized anxiety disorder,” affecting Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Woodrow Wilson. Moreover, the study listed both LBJ and Theodore as showing signs similar to bipolar disorder. And in recent years, Ronald Reagan showed symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s.

(Somewhat fun fact: Woodrow Wilson suffered from a stroke while in office, severely debilitating his cognitive state. As a matter of fact, the 25th Amendment passed, not only to avert a potential Constitutional crisis but in commemoration of President Wilson. To read the amendment, click here.)

The writer notes depression’s prevalence seemed to fade with the advent of “electricity and indoor plumbing.” Coincidence? Additionally, Presidents William Henry Harrison (who is mistakenly believed to have died of pneumonia) and Zachary Taylor contracted illness due to the White House’s poor plumbing system. Could this have been a factor in the mental illness debacle?

Furthermore, several presidents were notorious drinkers. Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Nixon are a few. Others held cocktail parties during Prohibition. However, the drinking, in my opinion, is not the problem but the symptom of something far worse. For example, a couple of months before his inauguration, Franklin Pierce’s son died in a train accident before his eyes. Andrew Johnson succeeded Lincoln after the rather abrupt ending to the Civil War. Grant quite possibly may have suffered from PTSD. (However, this is pure conjecture since he was an avid drinker before the Civil War.) And Nixon was…well, nobody really understands the “Tricky Dick” quagmire.

It seems several presidents even hated the job. James Buchanan, our 15th President, somberly detested his job after his scandalous lover died. Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd President, was prompted by his family to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather—William Henry Harrison. James A. Garfield, our 20th President, pushed into office by colleagues, stated, “This honor comes to me unsought. I have never had the president fever, not even for a day.” William H. Taft aspired to one day be US Supreme Court Chief Justice. And so on.

Overall, the office of president is a mystery. Many loathe the burden. Others, in their own “sick” way, lust for power. Mental illness plagues many globally. One may say, “The President must show merit and cognizance”; however, though this is admirable, it seems farfetched. The illness, despite how worrisome (and rightly so), is a sign of their humanity. Leaders are not high on a pedestal, towering over the commoners. Our democratic republic chooses from within. The people choose who most resembles themselves, and if that someone is, God forbid, mentally ill, it should not surprise anyone.

Technology, Politics, and Consumerism

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I recently watched a YouTube Red episode from Michael Stevens’s, creator of Vsauce, new series “Mind Field,” which, in Episode One, examines the effect of isolation on the human brain. Stevens secluded himself in a sound-proof, hyper-illuminated, radiantly white room for three days to test the biological and psychological effects upon the human body for observational learning. Throughout the duration of the time spent in this mundane, roughly 10’x5’ cubicle, his perception of time was substantially altered, thus causing sleep deprivation and the effects following suit. Even after keeping himself occupied by counting steps, attempting pushups, and building makeshift pyramids with water containers, his dreams began to morph with reality. He, at one point, opened the door—though narrowly—as if believing himself to still be within the dream sequence. This hallucinatory, illusive pattern continuing from early morning to late at night pummeled Stevens’s inquisitive brain. After the three days, he exuberantly hugged and joined hands with his family awaiting his, in his own words, “Resurrection.”

Though this is an extreme scenario, the self-seclusion and isolation of technology and its effects upon the human psyche is ubiquitous. With the world ever depositing its wealth of information and social value onto a screen, professional and technological advocates have stressed the importance of these networks while others suggest these anti-personal systems cause anti-social behavior and inducing a type of isolation. In an article by the Wall Street Journal, according to forty-year-plus research psychologist Larry Rosen, quoting psychology cohort Sherry Turkle, “we are only getting ‘sips’ of connection, not real communication.” These anxiety-inducing proclivities edging us away from the real world into the virtual realm of depression and fantastic desire are only perpetuated by the annual advent of the new and greatest version of *fill in the blank*. According to Dr. Rosen, this an emotional health hazard.

On the other end of the spectrum, the writer, Keith N. Hampton, argues the technological revolution should be welcomed. Hampton recounts a 1909 observation of the rising distractions, which are a detriment to the socialization and cohesion of the family unit:

“Consider ‘what a strange practice it is…that a man should sit down to his breakfast table and, instead of conversing with his wife, and children, hold before his face a sort of screen on which is inscribed a world-wide gossip.’”

The writer submits to the drastic changes of our time, yet appeals to human nature’s intrinsic, built-in desire for entertainment and distraction—recognizing the supplementary benefit of social media as opposed to its purported replacement.

Inside The F8 Facebook Developers Conference

Many have conducted studies to find the exact effect of technology on our social skills. In “Does Technology Reduce Social Isolation?”, the writer notes,

“It turns out the size of the average American’s social circle is smaller today than 20 years ago, as measured by the number of self-reported confidants in a person’s life.”

On the contrary, people plugged into the social arena are more likely to get involved within the community by volunteering at various places and visiting parks, cafes, and amusement parks. Yet the study found a catch:

“People who use social networks like Facebook or Linkedin are 30 percent less likely to know their neighbors and 26 percent less likely to provide them companionship.”

Scientists at Stanford University conducted a study in 2005 elucidating the affects of social networks and technology upon the human body. At the time,

“…those [who use the Internet frequently] spend…70 minutes less daily interacting with family, 25 minutes less sleeping and 30 minutes less watching television.”

Since 1985, based on a Pew Research study, people have “dropped” their number of friends by one-third—that’s 30%. Though the number of people admitting personal confidence in close friends rose 300%, people connected to the outside world via electronics are more diverse while preferring “face-to-face communication as the primary means to stay in touch with friends and family.”

But why do we plug in?

According to Amitai Etzioni, writer with The Huffington Post, consumerism is, “the obsession with acquisition that has become the organizing principle of American life.” Distinguishing between consumption and consumerism, he delineates the difference by needs versus wants. Trends are set by the collective desire for knowledge or “acquisition” of extra. For example, according to Etzioni, “the good life,” the philosophical terminology for an absolutely flourishing life, has been pursued by different cultures for various reasons. War, philosophy, poetry, reason, art, music, and religious eras have been formed under the duress of crisis all the while contributing to the advancement of civilization to innovate and repeat this cycle, this circumambulation around the same petulant selfish mantra of ultimate satisfaction—not realizing ultimate satisfaction is not contingent upon the accruing of wealth, things, fame, and pseudo-nirvana. Regardless of social status, joy cannot be bought. Happiness can be bought because it can and continue to happen. Joy is deep-seated within the soul. And the soul shall never perish.

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The writer argues for communitarianism; however, this is facile.

“Communitarianism refers to investing time and energy in relations with the other, including family, friends and members of one’s community.”

Though beneficial physically, emotionally, and, some would say, spiritually, for one to spend time with family and friends, life extends beyond the community. This world is hurting. Children are starving; people are warring over dirt and old sins long forgotten; people are committing atrocities in the name of God and nationalism; people are selling each other into slavery for menial gain; and people sacrifice their family, friends, and insurmountable potential for new cars, new televisions, new games, new homes, and new technology for a life of bitterness and misery. Contemporary America, alongside our European and Canadian counterparts, promulgate introspection and deep inner-searching for enlightenment and self-realization to only find emptiness and the eternal desire for stuff.

Throughout history, consuming material goods in excess has been propagated by governments to instill a desire for more and a distraction from reality. Historian Lizabeth Cohen writes,

“The good purchaser devoted to ‘more, newer and better’ was the good citizen since economic recovery after a decade and a half of depression and war depended on a dynamic mass consumption economy.”

In the 1950s, while President Eisenhower was formulating new foreign policy guidelines, expanding the capabilities of the intelligence community, and directing covert operations worldwide to coerce and assassinate foreign leaders for economic advantage, the patriarchal model was propagated by an ever-expanding government to combat Communism, a movement temporarily ignored by FDR to combat the lesser, more pregnable Nazi Germany. Furthermore, the government promulgated cookie-cutter-ism and conformity—discouraging individualism and free-thought—to fight the atheists impinging on freedom worldwide.

I digress.

In “The Rise of American Consumerism

“Historian Elaine Tyler May noted, ‘The values associated with domestic spending upheld traditional American concerns with pragmatism and morality, rather than opulence and luxury. Purchasing for the home helped alleviate traditional American uneasiness with consumption: the fear that spending would lead to decadence.’”

Though recognizing the degradation of family cohesion, even after decades of success and failure, we, as a people, never change. Interestingly, Simon Parkin, writer with The New Yorker and video games connoisseur, writes about the 2014 game Destiny,

“In this way, from a certain angle at least, Destiny exposes the alluring futility of the consumerist systems on the other side of the screen. The game is designed to keep you dissatisfied with your lot so that you will continue playing and investing. Like World of Warcraft, when you peel back the metaphor, the game offers a bleak (if unintended) critique of consumerism: once you reach the endgame, you become a character that has everything in world. Everything, that is, except for a purpose.”

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Overall, whether one is secluding himself into a 10’x5′ cubicle literally or figuratively, accumulating stuff to fulfill his empty desires, thus replacing commmunity  (i.e. family, friends) with facile endeavors, running to receive a perishable reward, to “box as one beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:25-26), seeking inner-revelation only to find a soul filled with despair, or disseminating propaganda to continue moving the world via covert operations and thwart nature’s course, one must remain aware of the human hunger that leads to friction and quarrels. It isn’t worth it.

Against Anarchism

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(Please refer to Stephen’s “Fun with Anarchism” for further context.)

The following argument shall be threefold, dividing the sub-arguments into three bite-size portions: discrimination, individualism, and compliance.

Discrimination

Under Mosaic law, judges and representatives (Ex. 18:19; Num. 1:44 ESV), under God’s authority exercised their power “to do justice…and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). Discrimination within the heart, soul, and mind towards another human being, group of human beings, or object, living or inanimate, (though detestable) is absolutely a right. However, once that individual discriminates against another individual physically, violating their freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion, that is intolerable. Though extreme, murder is a type of discrimination. Concerning theft, except for the fact of basic survival, it is disingenuous to that person’s hard-earned labor and wages as well as their family. Now, although an anarcho-capitalist would consider taxation a theft, I would make my argument two-parts: 1) taxation is simply the trading of goods, a direct derivative of a free market between the people and the duly elected leaders and 2) for one who adheres to the Bible, it is properly prescribed forty-three times throughout Scripture. Furthermore, the companies comprising the free market must turn profit. And in order for the company to be profitable, one must make a type of…(wait for it)…tax.

Individualism

One should be wary of the hyper-individualist arguments by anarcho-capitalists as well as their more left counterparts. Centrism is dull, bleak, lacking life and exuberance. Such neutrality is robotic. The so-called unbiased, centrist, neutral media lacks personality, humor, and an overwhelming desire for truth. Simply reporting as a squire or stenographer is lifeless and, eventually, disinterested with the truth. However, centrism, in the sense of personhood, is selfish. And selfishness is fatal (Prov. 16:18; 1 Tim. 6:10; Matt. 19:24). Additionally, arguing for the protectionist or isolationist policies for one’s government is, though intriguing, antithetical to basic human function. Society flourishes with the procreation of more people, the relationships formed by friends and lovers, and the self-sacrificing charity by all.

I am not arguing for the forcible charity such as pure socialists. I am simply arguing that the very existence of society itself could not be securely knit together without social interaction. And such social interaction (e.g. alliances)—I’m not advocating for globalization—is necessary for the free-flowing markets.

Compliance

There’s a fine line between non-compliance and apathy/complacency. Non-compliance, in my opinion, disguises itself as civil disobedience. Non-compliance, if enacted upon principle against, emulates the MLK-style anti-establishment rhetoric. However simply refraining from various activities solely based on principle of juvenile rebellion can actually be harmful. It could hurt one’s cause. Without the aggregation of diverse people and a solid case against such, a cause could die young.

Symbolic Funeral of Jim Crow

Though Stephen notes the immorality and inherent evil within the hearts of mankind (with which I wholeheartedly agree) (Ps. 14:3; Rom. 3:9-18), he contradicts his basic argument of free communal organization since it intrinsically believes man to be inherently good. Unbeknownst to him, Stephen is utilizing the argument neo-liberals lay hold to in order to justify their overreaching social dominance. James Madison stated,

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

The argument collapses on itself. President Obama has, in the past, voiced his firmly held belief that people are innately good. However, if men were good, the very platform, party, job occupation he uses to propagate his position would be useless. Furthermore, the anarcho-capitalist mantra, the actual libertarian conservatism, is counterintuitive. Why is there an “anarcho-” prefix if the unchecked suffix promulgates indentured servitude, inequality, and discriminatory policies. Though Stephen believes anti-discriminatory policies shouldn’t be mandated by the federal government, since men aren’t angels, discriminatory actions are inevitable. Therein lies the logical, subsequent natural order: “survival of the fittest.” Therein lies chaos.

Overall, the Preacher states, “…there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). If God, or some form of spiritual authority, did not exist, we would not have the capacity to believe or find the need to organize. Additionally, this intrinsic need to organize, or compartmentalize, whether it be via groupism, tribalism, racism, sexism, or hierarchies, is a representation of our primal subjugation. Servitude and slavery in all its forms and severities is inevitable. We form religions and governments because it is so. If there was no God; if there were no metaphysical, transcendental figure to govern the patterns of creation, anarchism and all of its sub-organized factions would be successful and superfluous throughout human history. However, it hasn’t and never will. Just as the fish cannot live without water, neither can anarchy survive reality.

(For a more in depth take on anarchism, check out “Power Creates Necessary Resistance.”)

Trump: The Typical American President

 

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Recently I finished listening to a Washington Post podcast entitled “Presidential”, outlining the lives of all the presidents. Lillian Cunningham, the narrator, interviewed experts, historians, biographers, fellow journalists, and curators about the personalities, characteristics, flaws, and scandalous conceptions as well as misconceptions of past Commanders-in-Chief. The episodes were quite eye opening and provided much-needed perspective for today’s perception of what a President is and should be.

Five days ago, the United States, for the forty-fifth time, successfully made a peaceful transition of power from one elected leader to another. Businessman Donald J. Trump is now the leader of the free world. With the advent of this radical, unconventional movement, sparked by anti-establishment, pro-nationalistic esprit de corps propagated by this unabashed narcissist, millions of Americans have taken to the streets with chants of, “Not my president!” and “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” But…he is our president. This uproar of this seemingly unparalleled phenomenon clouds the media, failing to take into account the history of the office he now holds.

Since the ratification of the Constitution, Federalists and Anti-Federalists, Whigs, Know-Nothings, and Republicans and Democrats have fought over the preservation of states’ rights, foreign policy, and immigration. Nothing is new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9 ESV).

The most obvious example is the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Hence Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.

Moving along, John Adams, the second President of the United States, was, despite his impeccable background and political rapport, a fairly disastrous president. He restricted the rights of Americans, particularly the press with his implementation of The Alien and Sedition Acts.

Thomas Jefferson—who wrote, “all men are created equal”—owned slaves.

John Quincy Adams was loud and boisterous, expressing in all his hubris and “prestige” the ills of others. He was an “unconventional” candidate all the while being a progressive.

Moreover, with the media touting Hillary Clinton as the most qualified individual to ever run for the office, I, and history, would beg to differ. For example, Martin van Buren, our eighth president, who served as a state senator, attorney general of New York, US Senator, Governor of New York, Secretary of State, ambassador to the UK, and Vice President under Andrew Jackson was arguably one of the worst Presidents we have ever had. Additionally, he, not Jackson, instituted the Trail of Tears campaign.

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Like van Buren, James Buchanan, our fifteenth president, who was highly experienced within the factions of government, implemented policies that allowed the secession of the southern states, ultimately leading to Civil War.

In the twentieth century, Herbert Hoover, our thirty-first president, was a self-made millionaire, Director of the US Food Administration, natural disaster relief advocate, Secretary of Commerce, and an extremely charitable person. However, his policies, even during a surplus (think about that for a second), contributed to the Great Depression.

This attests to the skewed idea that a successful (that’s debatable) businessman can effectively govern the American economy. But I digress.

Concerning personality, Trump mirrors Grover Cleveland’s hatred for the media, the brashness of Theodore Roosevelt, the prejudice of Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon, and the infidelity of Warren G. Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton. Nothing is new under the sun.

So, if you are one of the persons who believe the republic is under siege, I would say, when hasn’t it? Men are corruptible. Men are imperfect. We make mistakes. Putting our trust in a single individual to either make or break the nation is foolish. That is the purpose of the Constitution. Whether President Trump is truly a fascist or simply playing the people doesn’t make any difference. We will persevere as we always have.

Why It’s Okay To Negotiate With Terrorists

BUSH ADDRESSES THE NATION AFTER TERRORIST STRIKES

For years the United States has held to the “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” narrative. However this is, according to Vice, “arrogant, hypocritical, and favors some prisoners more than others.”

Noah Feldman, with Bloomberg L.P., notes, “In theory, it’s great to say that the U.S. government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. In practice, we negotiate with terrorists all the time.” He continues,

“Thus, to give just one recent example, the Obama administration may wish that it never traded for captive U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl. But it did. The government may try to make a distinction by saying that Bergdahl was held in Afghanistan by the Taliban, with whom we are at war, so this wasn’t negotiating with terrorists, just an ordinary trade of prisoners. But the U.S. has also designated the Taliban a terrorist organization.”

This mantra, this “draconian statute” emphasizes the United States’ position that “makes it a crime to knowingly provide material support to a terrorist organization.”

Concerning the above statement, the United States has provided and continues to provide financial and material aid to countries partaking in and funding terrorist organizations.

In Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 113B, § 2339A of the U.S. Code,

“Whoever provides material support or resources or conceals or disguises the nature, location, source, or ownership of material support or resources, knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, a violation of…or in preparation for, or in carrying out, the concealment of an escape from the commission of any such violation, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life. A violation of this section may be prosecuted in any Federal judicial district in which the underlying offense was committed, or in any other Federal judicial district as provided by law.”

With the advent of technological advancements tantamount to the world-changing revelation of the atomic bomb, terrorists have been adamant about their destruction of Western civilization. Their recruiting efforts only strengthen with anti-Islamic rhetoric reverberating within the stadiums, houses, and ears of millions of Americans. Islamic extremists capitalize on the emotional instability of young people. Even well-seasoned soldiers, generals, and policymakers aren’t immune to the devastating effects that threaten their children and surrounding communities.

“After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States Department of the Treasury initiated the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) to identify, track, and pursue terrorists – such as Al-Qaida – and their networks. The U.S. Treasury Department is uniquely positioned to track terrorist money flows and assist in broader U.S. Government efforts to uncover terrorist cells and map terrorist networks here at home and around the world.”

This is taken from TFTP’s official website, explaining its primary purpose. However, in delving into the technological and cyber nexus of financial transactions and illegal activities, the United States has taken hypocrisy to a whole new level.

John Kerry, King Salman

According to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, Iran, Sudan, and Syria qualify as “state sponsors of terrorism.” Furthermore, according to a 2001 report from the CATO Institute, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China were all state sponsors of terrorism. In a recently released portion of the originally redacted 9/11 Commission Report, this declassified intelligence document revealed that higher ups within the Saudi government not only knew of but were directly funding terrorist activities related to al-Qaeda. In some cases, some within the Saudi royal family had direct communication with the hijackers, 15 of the 19 of whom were Saudi. Yet, as of mid-2016, the federal government revealed it had conceded to a $400 million delayed payment to Iran, coincidentally after “three American prisoners were released the same day.” However, while conservative opponents and the always neutral Fox News (I’m being facetious) cried out against this ransom payment, media outlets and the Obama administration, to ease the American public’s worries, assured that the United States does not make ransom payments. This way actually a deferment for a long overdue payment going back to the late 1970s. Nevertheless, the purpose of this blog is not to elucidate the manners of this particular action, but to draw notice that the American government was instead indirectly funding terrorist activities.

In an interactive map provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the federal government overtly explicates we currently send $9.412 million to Sudan, $10k to Saudi Arabia (not including military equipment and air support in their war against Yemen), $238.47 million to Syria, $742.2 million to Pakistan, $20.5 million to Libya, $6.8 million to China (not including our workforce), $15 million to Communist Cuba, $131.912 million to Communist Vietnam, $196.27 million to Somalia, $233.51 million to Hezbollah-funding Lebanon, and so on.

The fact that the “U.S. Gives Financial Aid to 96% of All Countries” is mind-boggling. Since the United States has enough cash to throw around to fund military programs in foreign nations, many which include nefarious and dubious connections, why can’t the United States forthrightly pay ransoms? After all, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain have conceded to pay ransoms to terrorists. Israel, “With its unrelenting approach, the state will strike deals and offer concessions for the release of its citizens, and even for the remains of soldiers killed in battle.”

A study conducted by Christopher Mellon, Peter Bergen, and David Sterman with New America, entitled, “To Pay Ransom or Not to Pay Ransom? An Examination of Western Hostage Policies,” made a compelling argument for paying ransoms. The study reads, “Hostages from European countries known to pay ransoms are more likely to be released,”and “Citizens of countries that make concessions such as ransom payments do not appear to be kidnapped at disproportionately high rates.” In other words, not only are Europeans released at higher rates than Brits and Americans, but though seemingly counterintuitive, they are less likely to be abducted. This is, in my belief, because terrorism isn’t solely about money. It’s about fear.

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Hearkening back to my previous blog post “Who won the War on Terror?”, this puts us in a bit of a pickle. Terrorism, by definition, is psychological warfare. By changing our national security policy we would be in effect giving into terrorist demands. However we have already succumbed to these fears in past years (e.g. NSA mass-surveillance, PATRIOT Act, Department of Homeland Security, full-body scanners, wiretapping foreign ally leaders, etc.). Either way, we would be giving into the demands of the terrorists.

Yet these actions do not explain the United States’ continual indirect sponsorship of terrorism.

In Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 55, § 1202 of the U.S. Code,

(a) Whoever receives, possesses, or disposes of any money or other property, or any portion thereof, which has at any time been delivered as ransom or reward in connection with a violation of section 1201 of this title, knowing the same to be money or property which has been at any time delivered as such ransom or reward, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

(b) A person who transports, transmits, or transfers in interstate or foreign commerce any proceeds of a kidnapping punishable under State law by imprisonment for more than 1 year, or receives, possesses, conceals, or disposes of any such proceeds after they have crossed a State or United States boundary, knowing the proceeds to have been unlawfully obtained, shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined under this title, or both.”

With the kidnappings of multiple Americans, President Obama in 2015, during his tenure, unveiled plans to pave the way for private ransom payments by families. Currently, under U.S. law, families can be prosecuted for attempting to buy their child’s, their brother’s, their sister’s, their friend’s freedom.

On June 24, 2015, President Obama stated,

“Today, I’m formally issuing a new presidential policy directive to improve how we work to bring home American hostages and how we support their families. I’ve signed a new executive order to ensure our government is organized to do so.”

Not only has he signed an executive order circumventing bureaucracy’s stalwart approach to ransoms, but he has, in effect, created an interagency hostage task force to solve these issues militarily as well as diplomatically, providing a better alternative for American families.

Overall, it would behoove the federal government to abstain from allocating funds to countries that we have or may be invading in the coming years. Furthermore, politicians have played off of the emotions of the American public for too long. Rather than inciting violence and inflicting war upon third world nations and various countries who simply do not wish to conduct business deals with the imperialistic United States, we should look at the proofs for hostage negotiation reform as well as our foreign and environmental policies.

Liberty > Equality

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(I chose this picture because it was the only result in Google Images that wasn’t people of different races holding hands)

I think that we can all agree that racism has always been a problem throughout all of history.  Discrimination can go as far back as the Israelites being victims of discrimination by many other countries and tribes (although it can be argued that discrimination here was for religious purposes, regardless it is not right).  In my personal opinion, there is no good reason to be discriminatory against anyone only based on race, nationality, sexual orientation, et cetera.  It is ungodly, and immoral even from a worldy perspective.

However, dealing with racism in the US and in the world is a tricky business.  Social justice warriors cry “Equality!” Groups like BLM gather and protest for their equality with white people. However, equality is not the answer to solving racism.  

It is safe to say that racism is a form of collectivism.  A racist person would say that every person of said race is exactly the same as the rest.  Racism gathers lists of stereotypes and says that every person of that race fits in these stereotypes.  For example, a common stereotypes about Hispanics is that we are lazy (as a Hispanic I can tell you that this is definitely a misconception). The racist man would go about his daily life and assume that every Hispanic he sees is lazy.  Though some may be lazy, he is putting every Hispanic into one group and not focusing on the individual.  Of course, this is how everyone wants to be treated.  People (at least most people I know) want to be treated for who they are, and not be defined by a group someone may put them in.

This is where minority groups are getting it wrong.  Us Mexicans like to cheer, “¡Viva la raza!” which literally translates to “Long live the race!” however, it is more of a Mexican pride saying.  Having pride in your race or nationality can be fun to joke about, but let’s be realistic… Why are you proud? You did not accomplish anything.  Why do take pride in something that you had no control over?  Minority groups wish to be treated as an individual, but then turn around and take pride in their race, take pride in the group in which they wish not to be defined by society.  I see this happen too when a minority celebrity wins a major award, or something is pioneered by a minority.  A person of the same minority will be proud and casually will something along the lines of, “Yea! Way to win one for us *insert race*.”  Again, minorities putting themselves back into this group thinking.  Groups like BLM do the same thing.  They wish to be treated like individuals, but then will take pride in being black and make themselves into one group.  Minorities choosing to group themselves like this, I think, makes you even more susceptible to racism due to the fact that these people are choosing to put themselves in these groups.

It sounds like I am saying that it is the minorities fault that they are discriminated against.  That is not what I am trying to say.  People are born with evil in their hearts.  Discrimination is an evil that some people have, and it is sick.  Mainstream media loves to feed off this group mentality minorities have, and then feed it right back to them.  If you watch any mainstream news race will always show up.  Anytime some sort of crime occurs they like to mention if the victim and perpe are of different race.  This usually angers people of these races and splits each race up even more.  

If you have not noticed yet, I have italicized individual every time it is typed.  Because that truly is the key to solving this issue, individualism.  Whenever we stop grouping ourselves by race, and stop letting mainstream media group us then we can start looking at each other as individuals.  Fighting for “equality” and trying to legislate racism out is not possible.  Racism is in the heart, and you cannot legislate anything out of someone’s heart.  The trick is to have less government interference and let us as individuals treat each other the way we should.   
               

Peace, love, empathy,

Stephen Michael Langlais

Fun with Anarchism

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(Anarcho-Capitalist symbol) 

Anarchy- noun- absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.

In this blog post I will give a brief history of Anarchism, uncover some myths about Anarchism, and talk about why I am an Anarchist.  

Most anthropologists agree that humans lived for thousands of years self-governing within tribes without any type of political powers to govern these societies.  After the rise of hierarchical forces came into most societies that the anarchist principle came about as a response to resist against any coercive political institutions.  Modern Anarchism comes from the secular or religious thought of enlightenment.  William Godwin came up with the first modern though of anarchism during the 1790s in the wake of the French Revolution.  Godwin argued that government has an inherently malevolent influence on society, and that it perpetuates dependency and ignorance.  

Anarchism has a casual association with chaos and violence while this is not the case.  Breaking the word down literally you have “archy” which means “rule” and “a” which means “lack of.” Anarchy does mean chaos, but without authority.  Unless of course you believe that chaos and violence is avoided when under authority (but as you can see through history, that is simply not true).  Authority exists in all facets of society, and their legitimacy should be challenged and removed.  Anarchism is the attitude of identifying authority and working on increasing human freedom by removal of that coercive power.   

Another myth being that anarchists are terrorists.  It is true that some anarchists do choose to set off bombs, and what not.  The reality is that true anarchism is non-violent.  Anarchists (mostly anarcho-capitalists) believe in what is called the NAP or Non-Aggression Principle. In short, this principle is an ethical stance that asserts violence and aggression as inherently illegitimate.  Anarchism challenges the notion of terrorism.  

In my last article, “Question Everything” I spake about my ideology journey from staunch conservatism to Anarchism.  To be more specific, I am an anarcho-capitalist (also called a Free Market Anarchist).  Anarcho-capitalism recognizes the uselessness of the State and chooses to have services that are provided by the State privately funded (Google Voluntaryism).  The difference between this form of anarchism and others is most anarchist ideologies is most anarchists do not believe that capitalism is truly free (i.e. Anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, et cetera)  In layman’s terms, anarcho-capitalism suggests that if I choose to make a product/service and sell it, I have a right to.  If another person chooses to make the same product/service and challenge me with better price/quality, then they have the right to do so.  The economy is based on this competition of businesses, and is truly fair competition unlike the “free market” we have in our crony capitalist market we have in the US today.  We believe that the Black Market is the only true free market.  No government interference in buying property, and things like guns, drugs, and sex (voluntary prostitution, not sex-slaves. Remember what I said about coercion) should all be free to be sold.

By now you think I am crazy.  Personally, I find things like drugs, prostitution, homosexuality as wrong (as I am a Christian). But I do believe that it is not up to me, any person, or any system that should be able to tell a person otherwise.  

In other words… Buy what you want, do what you want, just do not come in my yard.  

Peace, love, empathy,

Stephen Michael Langlais