Why Facebook?

by Brian 24. December 2013 07:37

What good purpose does Facebook serve with respect to its users today? It is questionable as to whether it delivers a net-positive degree of happiness or contentment. Studies seem to indicate Facebook is not helpful to our well-being.  We are deluded if we think by having hundreds of friends we’ve never met, and by engaging in superficial interaction, that somehow we will derive similar benefit to spending face-time with real friends. So what good is it then? I can see two purposes for Facebook that are potentially worthwhile. One is to share with your shortlist of real friends and family. The other is a global forum where we might engage in the Great Conversation.

There are those who keep their friends and family list short. They post pictures of their vacations, pets and kid’s graduations. These posts are received on their friends’ newsfeed with genuine appreciation. No matter how many pictures they upload of pets or plates of food, their friends will probably *like* it. Under this scenario you typically steer clear of controversy. It’s better to avoid politics, philosophy and religion. Share a recipe or funny story and everyone will love it. Get into weightier matters and you might get unfriended. To these folks, a contrary comment might get you labeled as a troll. And of course if your only intention is to irritate those around you, then trolling is a vice. If on the other hand you articulate an idea and those who oppose it are irritated and offended, then trolling merely reveals our culture of reticence and political correctness run amok. That aside, it seems to me this is a legitimate use of Facebook even though I’m less inclined to use it for this purpose.

Then there are those of us in the camp who see Facebook as a global forum to discuss any topic. There was a time when we had speak-outs in the town square where one would stand up and engage the public in discourse. I’ve heard stories of my grandfather who would go down to the local pub and take part in philosophical discussions. The bartender kept a copy of Webster’s dictionary behind the counter to settle disputes over terms. He and his friends would look forward to these engagements over a scotch. No one knew who would wander into the fray on any given night, or how they might be bent. But regardless, there was a general respect for the opinion of others. Listeners were expected to form their own perspective, and if you had the courage, you might even articulate it openly. Tolerance actually meant something positive then. Though today we may have regressed in the practice of rational discourse, Facebook might actually offer some means of revitalization.

Even though Facebook has much to be desired for in-depth discussion, it does have an interesting characteristic. As you pursue weightier matters, conversions on topics considered taboo, your friends-list will inevitably evolve. Those who are intolerant of your views might unfriend you. Other uninterested friends in the first camp might hide your posts on their newsfeed. If you are tolerant in the traditional sense of the word, then you might unfriend those who are vulgar, offensive and incorrigible, but not those who can articulate a contrary view. On the other hand, you might choose to block those who agree entirely with you but add nothing but derision and noise to the conversation. With all of these configuration changes over time, your friends list will evolve to be comprised of those who are suitable for engaging in meaningful discourse on all sorts of topics.

You may be wondering how this applies to apologetics. Well, cordial and thoughtful discourse can improve our understanding of a topic and help us to better articulate a position to others. It also opens up opportunities for third-party observers to learn and grow. There are several people on my friend’s list with significantly different worldviews to mine. Still, I respect and appreciate hearing from them. To be sure, the more substantive and developed one’s worldview becomes, the more unlikely a contrary belief is integrated. A well-developed Christian worldview may find little to no common foundational ground with an atheist, but there may be plenty of possibilities around the periphery. We are certainly better suited to speak to someone with a different perspective after we have taken the time to understand it. If we communicate with each other with clarity and mutual respect, others watching will take note. I have found engaging in the Great Conversation on Facebook to be fruitful, especially as we employ 1-Peter-3:15 gentleness and respect. We inevitably learn more from those we disagree with than from those we already agreed with.

Coming Out

by Brian 22. October 2013 21:29


I wonder if we are reaching the end of the divine saga where the Lord extinguishes the firestorm of complete nonsense sweeping his creation. Let me see if I have things straight: Many atheists are adamant their position is simply one of rejecting belief in God or gods.[i] Yet mere rejection of a belief (that P) is not equivalent to believing that not-P.[ii] These people are not by definition atheist (asserting God’s nonexistence) but agnostic. So even though they really don’t know, many act as if they do. This is shown by their rallying, suing, writing, speaking, arguing, complaining, and devoting countless hours of energy against those of faith. Now a famous swimmer comes along and says she can be an atheist and believe in a postmortem soul. But Oprah says Ms. Nyad is not really an atheist because by valuing awe and mystery she believes in God[iii] (someone please direct a C-130 to OWN immediately and douse that hot-spot!) Then the Friendly Atheist says the talk show host ought to apologize for mislabeling who atheists are. The apology is demanded even though on his view we live in a materialist universe where everything is absurd including talk show hosts [iv]. But through all of the noise and confusion, one thing is clear. Atheists are slowly admitting their religiosity and their need for denominational boundaries.[v]

I did find something positive in this recent string of events. As a result of Oprah’s comments, the Friendly Atheist has created some “highly-sharable images” which include the following text:

“Atheists feel awe and wonder just like ordinary people do…because we ARE ordinary people. We’re parents, teachers, first responders, engineers; we’re part of every community. And we feel hurt, too, like anybody else, when media figures use their influential platforms to spread misunderstanding and bias about our way of looking at the world.” [emphasis added]

Thank you Friendly Atheist for your candor and confirmation of what I’ve been saying for a while now. Despite receiving numerous comments and emails to the contrary, atheism (practically speaking) is a worldview[vi]. Here we have a notable atheist and his collaborators openly admitting this in a marketing piece. So now that this baby step has been taken, it’s time to come the rest of the way out of the closet. It’s time to accept the fact that for many: Living out the atheistic worldview looks a lot like a religious life. After all, you even have churches popping up from East London to Los Angeles to prove it[vii]. Quite frankly, these new steps are appreciated by some of us. At last atheists might receive the same religious tolerance as Christians and the same legal treatment under our convoluted view of church and state. I’m all for fairness here.

 



[i] Nielsen, Kai 2011: "Instead of saying that an atheist is someone who believes that it is false or probably false that there is a God, a more adequate characterization of atheism consists in the more complex claim that to be an atheist is to be someone who rejects belief in God…”

[ii] http://www.apologetics.net/post/New-Atheism-Epistemology.aspx

[iii] Oprah: “I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery that that is what God is … God is not the bearded guy in the sky.” This after Diana Nyad says “So to me, my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity.”

[iv] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/10/16/boston-atheists-tell-oprah-to-stop-relabeling-atheists/

[v] Which atheist church do you belong to? The new, friendly, or ah-theist sect?

[vi] http://www.apologetics.net/post/Atheism-is-a-worldview-(II).aspx

[vii] http://theweek.com/article/index/250032/why-atheists-are-starting-their-own-global-church

On Tolerance

by Brian 16. June 2013 03:48


I find my tolerance waning over the misuse of the very word itself in contemporary discourse. Tolerance used to be a virtuous quality. Yet to be associated with the modern attribute is not particularly impressive. In this post I will attempt to to restore tolerance to its good and proper meaning. As long as the distortion continues, productive dialog will have to deal with this unnecessary barrier.

From etymology we find the word tolerance has its origin in the Latin tolerantia for endurance and forbearance. In the context of discourse where there are conflicting views, endurance and forbearance are often essential to a productive outcome. One does not need to forbear if they are simply going to hate and ridicule their opposition. In the original and virtuous sense of the word, tolerance was about how one behaved and held up under confrontation. One was tolerant if he or she was able to engage someone with a conflicting position, even one contrary to their deeply held belief, and do so with gentleness and patience. Likewise, intolerance was the complete lack of endurance or forbearance when confronted with any creed, belief, or opinion that differed from their own.

Given the traditional meaning, tolerance is a quality we ought to have.  Unfortunately today the word often means something very different. Merriam-Webster says tolerance is: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own. In addition to being sympathetic or indulgent today: One is tolerant if he or she is accepting of opposing views, where accepting implies holding your view in such a way that you permit without restriction the practices associated with any contrary view. Someone is intolerant in a moral disagreement if their position in any way restricts the practices of the one holding the opposing view.[i] 

Of course the restriction-caveat is silly. Take Valerie the vegan. She has a strong moral conviction concerning the slaughter of cattle. To her, it is morally wrong to kill animals for food. She is doing what she can to prevent it. She is using every social and political means at her disposal to prohibit the consumption of beef in the US. Then there is Marty the meat eater. He has a contrary view to Valerie and feels strongly he should have the right to eat beef. Yet Valerie is telling Marty his actions are morally wrong. She votes yes on Prop-7: The Protection of Cattle Act. This law would prohibit Marty from doing what he wants to do – that is, eat beef. The law is restrictive. Valerie’s view, according to Marty, is restrictive. So here’s the question: Is Valerie being an intolerant bigot here? Of course not! Merely because one’s view is more restrictive of social practices than the opposition, it does not follow the holder of said view is intolerant. You and I might disagree with Valerie; we might find her animal-rights presuppositions false, that they are based on bad information or ignorance. But Valerie sincerely believes her presuppositions and the views that logically follow from them. How can we charge her with some kind of hate-based character flaw merely on these grounds? Honestly and rationally we cannot.

So how do we demarcate tolerance from intolerance? When you present your view thoughtfully and carefully and opponents respond with hate and name calling; their response is intolerance. When you persevere with gentleness and respect against opposing views, then you are showing tolerance. When you hold up under intolerant opposition, you are displaying something even greater than tolerance - meekness. When you blindly accept, celebrate or indulge all views and behaviors, you are not tolerant using any virtuous meaning of the word. How ironic it is to find those who carelessly throw the word intolerance around are often the same ones who lack the endurance and forbearance to consider the beliefs and opinions of others.

 



[i] I am ignoring the epistemological relativists out there as they are far too unreachable on this topic anyway. If everyone has a private-truth on every issue, then even the charge of intolerance is just an opinion without any objective substance. This post is meant to reach the majority of sensible folks who hold some notion of a correspondence theory of truth. I am also leaving out the unfortunate fact mere restraint from restricting behavior is often not enough to prevent being labeled intolerant. There are those who expect you to celebrate the diversity of views and the practices that follow – or keep quiet.  

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About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, a partner and lead architect of EasyTerritory, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, avid kiteboarder and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs)

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