Monday, May 28, 2012

Another Great Spam Message

It's been over a year since I published a couple of the wonderfully bizarre spam messages caught by Blogger's spam filter (the previous ones are here and here). Today I got one that's a winner. This is a great illustration of how syntax tricks our brains into expecting substance where none exists; just try and read it without imagining there's some story here you just can't quite understand. You won't be able to do it. And yet, all the while, you'll know it's gibberish. Enjoy the stupendous absurdity! And thank you foreign spammers with mediocre translation software. Keep up the terrible, terrible work you are doing.

"Even his own falsely accused attackers prepared to have a court around Detroit, typically the 54-year-old priest assured the actual members which he has never been afraid during the harm The following thursday, while some other gentlemen endured within the stop with out going to this assistance. Methods express the woman's seven available perfect hits photos, and a remix selection, can along distribute concerning 20 or so,Thousand to successfully 60,1000 clones with week's conclusion in Wednesday, May possibly 20. (Together with fewer than A single,Thousand last month.) The key dealer of your bunch may just be "The Excursion: The superior involving Donna Summer season," sega's discharged during '03. Moreover performing very well will be your girlfriend for starters best-of, 1979's "On radio stations." Monsignor Bill Hodge mentioned they've happy regarding Hagar's monetary gift, which will be which is used to fatten the particular groceries baggage of your hundreds of individuals that visited the actual church's nutrition pantry twice per full week, many of so, who job low-wage job opportunities but still do not have sufficient to chow down."

What do you make of it? I imagine that, in its native language, it was a story about a priest who got caught supporting a soup kitchen with the proceeds of a dirty website appealing to disco fetishists. It's a gripping tale asking a challenging moral question about the ends justifying the means. Sammy Hagar plays a role by weighing in publicly to support Father Hodge, and even gives a large financial contribution to the priest's defense. Unfortunately, an angry mob is not satisfied by Sammy Hagar's wisdom, and threatens to string up Father Hodge before he can get a fair trial. The mob is so large, it completely encircles all of the city of Detroit. Father Hodge then gives an impassioned explanation, complete with hard data about the sixty-one-thousand clones whose souls were saved by the dirty website. The mob still thirsts for his blood, but he is rescued by none other than your girlfriend, who performs well in the daring escape. Left with no priest to hang and nothing but their low-wage jobs, the angry mob ironically finds solace by sitting down together for a huge meal at the (actual) church pantry, where they all chow down.

That must be what it's about, right? Alternate theories welcomed.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

For the Record

I am so angry right now that my stomach is tied in knots and my fists clench, but I’m doing my best to be, to use a Christian term, graceful. 

After posting a piece about Pastor Sean Harris advocating abusing children, one of my Christian relatives commented on my Facebook page. “When is the last time you have apologized to me for insinuating that christians are feeble minded, racist, hate filled etc etc etc? These are things you believe to your core (or so the many threads you have posted over the years here on facebook would suggest)” This is simply false. I can’t state that any more clearly. As I tried to explain, I have never implied, said, nor do I believe that Christians are feeble minded, racist, or hate filled. The most important people in my life are Christians. My wife, my parents, my siblings, and the vast majority of my friends are all Christians. Could anyone really think it's my core belief that all these people are racist or hate filled or feeble minded? Apparently, someone could, because he reiterated the charge with this qualifier: “I have been on facebook for several years and every post I have seen you make on religion paints believers as somehow less intellectual and capable of free thought as non believers, which is why I did not say those ARE your core beliefs, but rather I said it would seem that way based on the many threads you have posted on facebook.

This is just wrong. It’s demonstrably wrong. If you were to go to my timeline right now and scroll down to yesterday, May 11th, you’d see a video posted by my mother. My mother is very smart. She’s the furthest thing from racist (she majored in history with an emphasis in African American history before the term African American existed). Rather than being filled with hate, she’s devoted her life to sharing the love of Jesus Christ with her congregants as a minister, with her clients as a life coach, and is soon headed off to Egypt to share that same love with the people of Cairo, Egypt. Scroll down to May 3rd, you’d find a post voicing my agreement with a quote from Barack Obama. Barack Obama is a Christian. He’s certainly intelligent. Nothing he’s ever said has ever struck me as hate-filled. Nor is he a racist. Back on April 28th there’s a video of my son Noah performing with one of my students, named Dean. On April 21st there’s a link to an article by Edward Norton. On April 19th there’s a question from my friend Layli. Dean is Mormon. Edward Norton was raised Episcopalian. Layli is not a Christian. She’s a Bahá'í. I include her just to show that I respect people who aren’t Christians, too. (Layli’s not hate-filled, nor racist, and she’s a hell of a lot smarter than I am.)

Christians are tall and short. They are black and white. They are beautiful and ugly, inside and out. They are smart and stupid. The live, as far as I know, in every country in the world, and I’ll bet some of those scientists in Antarctica are Christians, too. There is so much variety among Christians that the only thing they all have in common is the same professed religion, and even that contains a multitude, because being a Christian means very different things to different Christians.

I am under no obligation to note, every time I agree with someone about something, that they are a Christian. “This person makes a good point. Oh, and by the way, she’s a Christian.” “This person said something that is not filled with hate. Oh, and he’s a Christian.” “This guy sure isn’t racist. Oh, and he’s a Christian.” It’s just as ridiculous as it sounds. I rarely write anything about religion on Facebook, but I’m also under no obligation to explain that some Christians are really smart and filled with love and the leaders of the civil rights movement every time I mention the faith. That’s absurd.

I can write about whatever I want. I choose to write about what is important to me. Sometimes that’s NBA basketball. Sometimes it’s politics. Often it’s just a funny thing my son has said. Among the things I write about, I not only feel that I can call out hypocrites, but that that I should. Now, this isn’t a religious imperative. My religion (if agnosticism can be called a religion) does not impose any moral edicts regarding my behavior. I have to choose that for myself. One of my pet-peeves is hypocrisy. I recognize that’s my personal issue. If your religious beliefs excuse hypocrisy, that’s your business. Posts on my blog or Facebook page are only that. Ignore them. But, back when I was a Christian, I was taught that Christianity also frowned on hypocrisy. So, when I see a professed Christian, especially a Christian leader speaking from a position of authority within the church, calling for a war, advocating child abuse, defending torture, or advancing the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and powerless, I just can’t keep my mouth shut (or keep my fingers from doin’ the walkin’). 

Maybe that’s wrong. Maybe, since I’m not a Christian, it’s not my place to criticize. But, from where I’m sitting, too few Christians are taking Jesus’ advice to expel unrepentant people from the church. “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17, NRSV). To me, it seems that some churches are reasonably faithful about this when it came to some kinds of sexual immorality, fraud, and some other infractions. However, when leaders advocate for violence, hatred, or oppression in other forms, this is accepted as a political difference of opinion, or an alternate interpretation of scripture. Even that is their business. I don’t have a vested interest in who Christians choose to include within their body. But when one of these Christians tries to influence public policy outside the church, using, in part, the authority provided by his or her association with the church, if the church can’t stand up for itself and kick this person out, it falls on people outside the church to say, “This person’s behavior is hurtful to people outside the church. If that alone is not enough to motivate his congregation to act, maybe the hypocrisy of his actions will be enough to motivate them to disassociate themselves from him.” Alternately, the demonstration of that hypocrisy to others outside the church compromises the hypocrite’s claim that their authority comes from that church. It undermines his political capital. I wish pointing out that a Christian is being hurtful to his/her neighbor were enough. It isn’t. Luckily, Jesus told his followers to love their neighbors, so when one is being cruel to his neighbors, or even being dismissive of the needs of the poor, the prisoner, or the oppressed, if he calls himself a follower of Christ, that meets the test for hypocrisy, too. Thanks for that, Jesus. Nicely done.

So, for pointing out the hypocrisy of some Christians (who, I believe, real Christians should expel from their midst), I am accused of “seeming” to express a core belief that all Christians are feeble-minded, racist, and hate-filled. This really has nothing to do with Christianity at all. It has to do with lazy reading. I never wrote such a thing or insinuated it. But here’s the irony that is so galling. My lack-of-religion doesn’t prevent me from making false accusations. If I wanted to read something into someone’s writing, come to a conclusion without being able to support it with any evidence, and then make wild accusations, I could. I’m not sure if there are any gods who exist, let alone care. Then, if someone called me on it, I could double-down and say, “Well, that’s just the way it seemed to me.” I wouldn’t be compelled by any scripture or divinity to offer an apology for the pain I’d caused. I choose not to do that because that’s not the kind of person I’ve chosen to be. In the past I’ve made cracks about conservatives and Republicans that were too broad. (I’ve never made these cracks about Christians, and “conservative” and “Christian” are not interchangeable terms.) When I realized I’d offended people, I went back and apologized. As an agnostic, I don’t have to do that. But this Christian relative of mine has, according to his own religion, sinned against me. He has borne false witness. I reserve the right to call out that kind of hypocrisy. 

That’s not a knock on all Christians. Just this one.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Response to Pastor Sean's Non-Apology

In case you managed to miss the viral video, a pastor in North Carolina named Sean Harris amused his congregation by advocating that they beat their children if they suspect the children of being gay. “Dads, the second you see that son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give them a good punch. OK?" I was one of the folks who sent Sean Harris a letter demanding an apology. To his credit, he responded. He didn’t apologize. Not really. But he replied. He sent me a link to his blogpost on Pastor Sean’s Blog in which he made his non-apology apology. There, he claimed that when he had said, “Can I make it any clearer?” and then proceeded to advocate breaking your child’s wrist and punching him, he was not making it very clear, because, “Clearly, I would like to have been more careful with exactly what I said, but sometimes I say things without enough clarity.” Pastor Sean sure talks a lot about clarity, doesn’t he? He now claims that, immediately after asking if he could make it any clearer, he “misspoke.” He doesn’t want people to do the thing he clearly told them to do. He just “was speaking in a forceful manner to emphasize the degree to which gender distinctions matter to God.” I guess that means these distinctions matter so much to God that He inspires people to misspeak to the degree that, “Parents should not punch babies or children,” becomes “Give them a good punch,” when stated forcefully. It’s so important that God caused Pastor Sean to say the opposite of what he believes? And yet, Pastor Sean continues his apology by writing “Either Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 are true and we should communicate the truth in love for fear of not entering the Kingdom of God or the entire Bible cannot be trusted to be the Word of God.” I would guess that’s pretty important to Pastor Sean. I would think it’s pretty important to his God, too. Is it so important that God might cause Pastor Sean to say the exact opposite when speaking forcefully? Would Pastor Sean misspeak and communicate something other than the truth in love for fear of not entering the Kingdom of God? Would that misspeaking include some hatred instead of love?

Pastor Sean ends his non-apology apology by whining about how he’s been called mean names by the LGTB community, “using ungodly and profane words.” It’s a good thing none of the men of his congregation are around to act on his advice, “Man up,” and whoop Pastor Sean for his whining. It’s also a huge relief to know that, now that his congregation has been made aware that they shouldn’t hit their children, when they abuse their gay kids verbally they will do so using godly and holy words instead of the ungodly and profane ones that have so wounded their pastor. He closes by criticizing the LGTB community for being intolerant. Yeah. Seriously. 

But I’m not in Pastor Sean’s congregation, nor am I a Baptist, nor am I a Christian anymore. When I posted the video, I made some crack about how I refuse to be associated with any religion that included Pastor Sean or his congregation. One of my Christian relatives accused me of dismissing an entire religion because of a “fanatical nut job.” But I hadn’t written that I lost my faith because of people like Pastor Sean. In fact, as a Christian, I tolerated them, even though I resented the association, precisely because I felt it was my obligation as a Christian to look beyond our disagreements and focus on what we agreed upon. I lost my faith for more fundamental, epistemological reasons. This is just a bonus. Now, from the outside, I'm very glad to not be wrestling to justify my belief in any religion which would associate me with people like Pastor Sean.

It’s too easy to point out how obtuse, cowardly, hypocritical, and heartless Pastor Sean is. Plus, it hurts his tender feelings. I'm more upset that his congregation laughed at their pastor telling them to beat their children, and that none of them had the courage to stand up for their own sons and daughters and the sons and daughters of their fellow congregants when he made those “jokes.” I wasn’t raised Baptist, but in our Presbyterian churches, when a child was baptized, we all stood up and made a very solemn promise to that infant and to his parents, saying that we would help raise them in the love of God. As I’m no longer a Christian, I won’t tell those congregants what that should mean to them, but I’ll bet the Baptists, no matter how homophobic, don’t interpret the love of God to include child abuse, and I doubt their rejection of infant baptism is a loophole for allowing it. So if they ever made a similar promise to the children of their congregation, someone (someone more qualified than Pastor Sean) might want to remind them of what that means.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Flash of Insight

I just had a flash of insight. Certain critics of public school teachers (read: Republican politicians) complain that teachers get long vacations in the summers. They also say President Obama shouldn't be re-elected because the unemployment rate is over 8%. During the summer, most teachers want to work but can't, and aren't paid. So, either teachers are not the evil, greedy freeloaders Republicans like to make us out to be, or President Obama has presided over an economy in which more than 8% of the population is spoiled by long vacations.

Which is it, Republicans?

Advice to the Graduating Class of 2012

I've been asked to offer some advice to our grads in our school's newspaper. Teachers usually offer some short quote, but I've never done well with brevity. I asked if I could write something longer, then put out a request for help on Facebook and got some wonderful suggestions from my army of wise friends. Here's my first draft. It should probably be shorter, but let me know what to add, cut, or fix.
College, the military, work: They’re all hard work. They’re much harder than high school. Imagine how easy your classes would be if you went back to middle school. That’s how easy high school is compared to the world beyond. Get ready to work a lot harder.

In college, don't worry so much about picking the right major that you avoid taking classes you are curious about. You may miss the thing you'll love to study, and that's more likely to lead to the career you are good at and truly enjoy.

That being said, take money seriously. Tax payers gave you a gift of a public education, and they didn’t expect a thank you card. Sallie Mae will expect your soul. (Your credit card company will be even worse. Avoid those guys.) Whether you get a student loan or a gift from your parents, learn that it’s real money and that you have to pay it back somehow. Hopefully, you’ll even learn that you have to pay society back for that public education, too.

Don't get a tattoo until you're at least 25. Some of you will ignore this advice, and, when you're older, you'll regret it. If you get a tattoo somewhere you can't hide during a job interview... Well, unemployed people have lots of time to think about their bad decisions.

When dating, try to find somebody you would be proud to introduce to your good friends and your parents. Recognize that the thing you will do most with this person, in the long run, is talk. Once you’ve found this person, if you want to keep him/her, keep talking.

Travel. Go to China. Go to Europe. Go camping in eastern Oregon. Go to Ashland, watch some Shakespeare, and travel to ancient Rome or a world filled with magic creatures. Travel by reading a good book. Just go. Traveling doesn't just increase what you know; it expands what you're capable of imagining.

The world can be a very difficult place. In some ways, it's going to get harder during your lifetime. You will have opportunities to make it better, and I hope you take those. But, more than anything, remember that the world is worth it; it’s filled with enough beauty and wonder to justify all the hope you'll need to get through it.

Oh, and keep in touch with your high school teachers. We deserve to hear about your successes, because we’re very proud of you.